blue flamingos

Quitting

Fandom: CSI

Category/Rated: Slash, PG

Year/Length: 2007/ ~3305 words

Pairing: Catherine/Sofia

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Pre-series/AU: Sofia gets called to a dead body at a strip club...

Author's Notes: Recipient: [info]teh_gandu

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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Catherine's been looking for something to make her give up smoking for weeks now, ever since Eddie broke up with her, again, and she had to start paying for manicures to cover up her yellow nails.

A dead body out back of the club wasn't exactly what she had in mind.

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Sofia doesn't say a thing when she gets pulled off her grocery store robbery to go down to some sleazy strip club and see about a dead client, or maybe not a client, maybe a pimp, and her lieutenant doesn't look at her when he shoves the call docket at her.

"Yes, sir," she says smartly, and wishes saluting was part of their day to day address, just so she could poke him in the eye while she was doing it.

She knows why she's going: she's new and she's young and she's female and this case, just like every other case they've had at a strip club, just like her grocery store robbery, will go nowhere and get shoved in a drawer.

"CSI are down there," the Lieutenant adds. "They'll have a detective with them, he'll tell you what he wants doing."

"Yes, sir," Sofia says again, and goes back to her desk to grab a notebook. Andy, her partner, keeps his eyes on the files he's got in front of him. "You're not coming?" she asks, like she doesn't know the answer and doesn't care what it is.

"Nah. Lieutenant wants me to keep going on this. Thinks the tip we got yesterday might pan out."

"Great," Sofia says lightly. All that interpersonal relations training she's had, she might as well put it to good use. "Good luck."

She slams the car door a lot harder than really necessary, and peels out of the parking lot too fast, because it's the only time being out of control feels good.

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A couple of uniform cops come on the 911 that Catherine's boss makes, muttering all the time about what this will do to business, they'll have to close while the cops trawl through the place, messing up God knows what, and why can't people have the decency to die on city-owned streets and save businessmen all this hassle.

The rest of the dancers sit around the empty club, the lights on high, cardigans and wraps tossed round their shoulders for maximum effect, half of them chain smoking, all of them gossiping: who was he, a regular, did he come here, did you know him?

The uniforms sit Catherine down in a corner, and the woman offers her tea, to calm her down, while Catherine tries not to look at her partner, who was stuffing dollar bills in her g-string two nights ago.

"I've seen much worse out there," Catherine tells the woman, reaching for the cigarette she didn't get to smoke.

"Those things will kill you," the man says, looking at the packet.

"Not if something else does first," Catherine says, and blows a smoke ring over his head.

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CSI beat her there, of course, just to make her look bad, when she wanted to be there when they rolled up, cool and in charge of the scene. Instead, she gets passed through three different people trying to find her detective, who seems to have vanished into the ether. Probably conducting a private interview with one of the dancers, Sofia thinks spitefully, and finally spots him through the club's back door, talking to yet another science geek. She doesn't know why they aren't all out there, since it's the crime scene, but she's not asking; not interested today in science babble and long explanations. She just wants to do her job and get out of here, the mix of alcohol and cleaning fluid making her nauseous.

"Ah, Detective Curtis, we've been waiting for you." Detective Parker finally turns around, and the CSI wanders away. Sofia's seen him round crime scenes before, recognises him as Grissom once she gets closer. He's got some weird fascination with bugs, according to the bullpen gossip, which is all she needs to know about him.

"I came as soon as the Lieutenant assigned me," Sofia says firmly. "He said you'd run things, tell me what you want me to do." She's said it at dozens of crime scene before this, so maybe it's the club's atmosphere, but she feels herself not-quite-flushing at the unintentional double entendre. "Where you want me," she corrects quickly, which just makes it worse.

Parker ignores it. "The uniforms are talking to some of the girls, I'd like you to interview the woman who found him."

"OK," Sofia says, surprised. She'd have assumed Parker would want to do that, and leave her to talk pointlessly to the other girls. Unless he knows something she doesn't, which is entirely possible.

"Catherine Willows." Parker points out a blond at a corner table, smoking and tapping ash into the saucer of a tea cup, which seems an odd thing to have in a strip club. She must be one of the dancers, though she's got a black jacket zipped to her neck, and Sofia can't see under the table; whatever she is, she looks bored.

"Anything interesting at the scene?" Sofia asks, pulling her attention back to Parker, who shakes his head.

"Looks like she was stabbed a couple of times and left to bleed out, but the ME's reserving judgement, since it doesn't look like he tried to go for help. Nothing's obviously missing, he's still in his suit..." Parker trails off, looking disgruntled. "Figure he got too friendly with one of the dancers and the club's security wanted to discourage him. Wouldn't be the first time."

It wouldn't, though it would be the first time Sofia's seen them do it with knives instead of fists – far too easy to slip and kill someone with a knife. Still, times change, she supposes.

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"Ms Willows?"

Catherine smiles up at the detective in front of her, who's pulling out her notebook and looking for a pen, making the smile a waste of time. "Catherine," she says.

"Good. I'm Detective Curtis, from the Las Vegas PD. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"Of course. Have a seat." Catherine nudges the chair next to hers out, but Curtis takes the one opposite instead, arranges her notebook and looks at Catherine, her face shuttered. Catherine revises her estimation of the woman's experience, if she's not even bothering to fake sympathy for the traumatised stripper; she's obviously done this before and got a clue. "What do you want to know?"

"You work here?" Curtis asks.

Catherine nods. "Six months. Jack stole me from the last place I was."

"Uh huh. And you found the body?"

The questions are tedious and routine, and Catherine suspects Curtis is as bored with them as she is. She never breaks the professional façade though, not even to react to Catherine's flirting. It's frustrating as hell, and not just because Catherine's got to enjoy being able to needle the cops who come into the place.

"You're sure you didn't recognise him?" Curtis repeats.

"I'm sure. I went over to see if he was breathing, I got a good look at his face. He wasn't in here last night, I'd have seen him." She was playing hostess last night, delivering drinks and letting men drag her into their laps and touch her; she saw all of their patrons, far more closely than she wanted to in most cases, but she's already told Curtis this.

"And yet, there he is, dead in your back alley, where apparently no-one noticed him all day." Curtis' eyes are as sharp as her voice, and Catherine feels a perverse burst of entirely unfounded satisfaction at the crack, even if it is caused by frustration rather than anything she's doing.

"Our cleaning crew come in after we close. There'd be no reason for anyone to be out there during the day. We don't spend much time in alleys – might break a nail." Catherine taps her silver nails against the table slowly, watching Curtis' eyes flicker down to them, then back up to her face.

"Ms Willows –"

"Catherine," she says again, smiling. "No need to be so formal, Detective Curtis."

Curtis' eyes twitch like she's suppressing the urge to roll them. "Ms Willows, you don't seem particularly concerned that someone was murdered right behind your place of work."

"If I worried about every bad thing that happens behind my place of work, Detective, I'd soon lose my good looks," Catherine tells her, looking her straight in the eye and dropping her act.

Curtis meets her gaze and nods in understanding.

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Sofia's not entirely surprised when the desk put a call through to her the next evening from Catherine Willows. She's up to her ears in statements saying no-one knows the dead man and no-one saw anything, reports from the ME on his pre-stabbing head wound and CSI on how there's nothing useful at the crime scene, and interview notes from surrounding business owners, all claiming to know nothing about dead men, attackers with knives, or alleys behind strip clubs. Despite all the paperwork, she's got nothing.

"Curtis," she says sharply, putting down her pen and leaning back in her chair.

"Detective Curtis," purrs Catherine's voice, and Sofia absolutely does not think about the woman's fingernails tapping a slow staccato beat on the club table. "We met at Déjà Vu yesterday."

"I remember. It was only yesterday." She means to be completely professional, but she can't help the comment.

"Ah, a detective's memory," Catherine says, and laughs. She's got a nice laugh, and Sofia's surrounded by men who think toilet humour is still funny and lesbian jokes the height of wit. It's the only reason she hasn't hung up on this woman yet, because she *cannot* afford to get involved with a female witness in an open homicide, in any way, and she already knows that this is why Catherine's ringing her.

This is why she gave Catherine her card in the first place, as Catherine's cool hand closed over hers when they shook.

"Your card days Detective S Curtis," Catherine says, like Sofia's put the thought in her mind. She pictures Catherine turning the card between her fingers. "Can I guess what the S is for?"

"I don't know about you, Ms Willows, but I have work to do. Finding the people responsible for a murder at your place of work, currently."

"I'm not sure the alley actually belongs to us," Catherine says, teasing, but she's slipped out of the stripper tone she used all through the interview. Sofia likes it, feels less like she's being played, even though it's probably all part of the game.

"Be that as it may," she says. "Did you call for something in particular?"

"Yes, actually. I think I might have seen the man before."

Sofia's been through the ID in his wallet, spoken to his landlord, who doesn't remember him, and got permission from Parker to send CSI round to his apartment. As far as they can tell, he didn't work and hadn't for some time. Since he was paying rent, and wearing a nice suit at the club, Sofia's willing to bet he had some kind of job that wasn't so legal, one she's going to find evidence for just as soon as Parker gets off the phone and comes to give her a ride to their victim's apartment.

"Really? And where was that?"

"You should come back to the club so I can tell you in person." Catherine slips back into the flirtatious tone, but she giggles at the end and Sofia can't stop herself laughing a little, sharing the joke.

"I don't think so," she says, coiling the phone cord round her finger. "Why don't you tell me now and I'll decide if it's worth me coming?"

"I'm sure it'd be worth it," Catherine says, sounding like she's smiling. "Anyway, there's a bakery down the street, I think I saw him in there a couple of weeks ago.

Sofia rolls her eyes. "Thanks, Ms Willows, I'll definitely look into that." She pauses, then adds, "that would definitely have been worth the trip down to the club."

Catherine laughs. "It would've been. I know who owns the bakery." Sofia wavers between vindication that she called it on the illegal job, and the unpleasant sinking feeling that comes from knowing the case is about to get a lot more complicated. "Frank Zorelli."

"Frank Zorelli," Sofia repeats, and now the sinking feeling is definitely winning. The man owns a large number of food stores across the city, pretty much all of them covers for something he shouldn't be doing. "And this is interesting because...? Everyone has to buy bread."

"He wasn't buying," Catherine says.

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The police building wouldn't be too hard to find even if Catherine didn't know where it is already, so it's easy for her to be leaning against the desk when Curtis comes through the front door and stops abruptly. "Hello, Sara," Catherine says. "No, not Sara. Sam? Sheila? Sophie?"

Curtis smiles like she doesn't mean to. "Ms Willows."

"Catherine, really. Sasha?" She smiles charmingly.

"Not even close." Curtis takes her elbow and leads her a little away from the desk. Catherine feels the receptionist's eyes on them, and Curtis keeps her own eyes firmly on Catherine. "What can I do for you?"

"I was passing by, I wanted to see how the investigation was going."

Curtis raises her eyebrows doubtfully. "The investigation."

"Yes." Catherine drops her voice, suddenly nervous. "Look, if he knows Zorelli, it's not... it might be something serious."

Curtis sighs. "I can't discuss an on-going investigation with you," she says. "But I can assure you that neither you nor your colleagues are in any danger."

"OK," Catherine says slowly. She remembers the brief glimpse of the man's face as the door swung closed behind the counter. "Are you going to need me again? For the investigation."

"I shouldn't think so." Curtis shifts uncomfortably, glancing round the room, then takes Catherine's elbow again and propels her out of the building. "Look," she says, as Catherine's fingers twitch for her lighter. "I'm sure you understand what this is like. We're not likely to make it to court." Her eyebrows draw together, and Catherine wants to reach out to her. She looks miserable and frustrated, but Catherine does know exactly what she means.

"Have a little faith," she says. "You can't be that bad a detective."

Curtis smiles, briefly. "You don't need to keep contacting us. If we need you, we know where to find you."

"I know. It's just easier to keep finding you."

Curtis looks down. "You have to stop," she says quietly. "This isn't – I can't be seen here with you."

"So be seen with me somewhere else," Catherine suggests, finally, finally sure that they're talking about the same thing. "We could go for a drink."

"It's half past eight in the morning," Curtis points out. "And we both work nights."

"I'm off the day after tomorrow."

"I –" Curtis glances into the building. "I can't," she says firmly. "I have to go back to work."

"Is it Sandra?" Catherine calls after her as she opens the door, and hears Curtis' huff of involuntary laughter.

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Zorelli's conveniently out of town when Sofia and Parker go round to talk to him, and his baker denies all knowledge of their murder victim. It actually makes Sofia feel better than if Zorelli had been there and denied everything, because at least it supports her lead, and stops Parker looking at her like she's a little unhinged, following leads from strippers.

Unfortunately, vindicated as she is, it doesn't help with the case. By the day after Catherine's visit, Sofia's actually missing her calls, if only to alleviate the boredom of crime scene files and reports. It's pages and pages of nothing, and knowing this is because Zorelli can cover it up doesn't help.

Finally, she tosses it all on her desk and heads for the crime scene labs.

Grissom's in one of the evidence labs when she walks in, turning clothes over and scanning them with one of their many coloured lights. "Detective Curtis."

"Dr Grissom. Anything new on the case?"

Grissom takes his glasses off and switches out the light. "Detective Parker received the weapons report at the start of the shift."

"Really?" Sofia forces a smile. She's seen nothing of the man all shift. "Do you have a copy, by any chance?"

Grissom digs one up and Sofia flips through it, sitting in the CSIs' break room. Two knife wounds, clean cut, like they were made on someone who wasn't struggling, like the ME said at the scene. There's a lot of technical speak that she doesn't really follow, then a series of photos: knife wounds on their victim, test wounds made in the lab or pulled from their files, and finally a sample photo of the type of knife that was probably used.

Something clicks in Sofia's head, sharp and familiar, and she slips the files closed, heading out into the corridor and down to Records.

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It's a sad comment on Catherine's life that she has so little to do with her evening off that going into work to pick up a cardigan she left there, despite having no intention of wearing it any time soon, seems like a worthwhile use of her time.

Jack's in the dressing room when she gets there. "Willows. What are you doing here?"

"Guess I must have missed you," Catherine offers, opening her locker.

"Yeah, well, who wouldn't? Here." He thrusts a scrap of paper at her. "I'm not your secretary."

"Sorry," she says automatically. The note says, call Det Curtis, followed by her phone number. "Did she say what she wanted?"

"Nope. Apparently they closed the case – the dead guy. Good thing too, all those cops around the place, making it look untidy..." He wanders off, still talking, leaving Catherine alone to dial the number.

"Curtis."

"That was fast, Sally," Catherine says, leaning back against Lisa's table, as far as the phone cord will stretch. "You got Zorelli?"

"He wasn't involved. The knife was linked to another case. We made several arrests earlier today. I thought you'd like to know, since you were worried."

"It wasn't Zorelli?" Catherine repeats. "So who was it?"

"I'm not at liberty to disclose information on a case pending trial," Curtis says, and Catherine wouldn't swear to it, but she thinks the detective might be smiling.

"You could tell me," she wheedles. "I wouldn't tell anyone else, I know how to keep a secret."

"I'm sure you do," Curtis agrees. "How big a secret?"

"Big," Catherine assures her, suddenly unsure if they're still talking about the case. "Kennedy assassination conspiracy big."

"I'm not sure I've got any secrets that big," Curtis says.

There's a long pause.

"Look," Catherine says finally. "I understand, in your job, you can't be... open. But I'd like to take you to dinner. Tonight. As friends, if you like."

There's another long pause, and Catherine wants to kick herself for saying the wrong thing. Obviously the detective's nervous, she should have just kept her mouth shut, and now she'll have to go through a refusal that will just be embarrassing for both of them.

"OK," Curtis says suddenly. "There's a pasta place near my apartment. We could meet there. In half an hour?"

"Sounds good," Catherine agrees. "Let me get some paper and you can tell me how to find it." Near her apartment sounds good. Near her apartment sounds like Catherine will be going up for coffee.

"Sure," Curtis says. The line crackles as she takes a breath. "By the way – my name's Sofia."


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