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neon to the first floors

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But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment's splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

- Elizabeth Bishop, "Suicide of a Moderate Dictator"


"It's a suicide, Grissom," Catherine says, and tilts her head. "You know it is."

You nod, bow your head, tuck your chin to your chest - and pretend the twenty year old girl in front of you doesn't look like the lab tech Catherine fired for you last year.


You'd think, growing up so close to the Nevada desert, that when you first moved here you'd be used to the dry, to the wind, to the howling empty waste. It's so, oh so not true. The desert gets into your teeth, your eyes, into your hair, under your skin and between your toes.

As an entomologist, it's a small price to pay for such riches.


Greg wants to go to this one; a stabbing, blocks from the Strip and two extra uniforms sitting there because, sure as shit, there's already a gang crowd. North Vegas. Lovely. "Listen, Greg--" you start, but he cuts you off with,

"please," and his hunger is tacky, out of place. Someone's throat has been cut. Catherine has a double homicide in a hotel room; there's going to be DNA samples enough in these two cases alone to keep him busy, inside and on shift, for weeks.

You look him up and down. Still a rumpled tee-shirt under that white, pristine, washed-by-the-department lab coat. You pause, and his face falls, and then he smiles, grim: he knows he's in the lab. "Hurry up, then," you tell him, spontaneously, and turn around. "if you're coming."


Sara doesn't understand why you pass off the suicide to her, because she never met the short, blond girl that Catherine fired. You can't even remember her name, now. She only worked here a week. There are files and files and pieces of paper strewn around behind you - department paperwork - that might yield the answer. The smart thing to do would be to ask Catherine, because Catherine will know.

When your shift ends, you drive out to see Heather, instead. Always Heather, without the title. You're pretty sure she appreciates that your fantasy is all about sharing what it is you have in common.

When you get there, she asks you, "why does it bother you?" and hands you a delicate cup of china, full of very expensive tea. Heather has made time for you today.

There is no reason it should, except there's every reason it should. A lesser man would shrug everything off, and you don't want to be a lesser man.


The next night Greg is still collecting evidence from the stabbing - a lot of blood drops, a running assailant. Lucky the department had a lax policy on overtime this month. You think they do, anyway; make a mental note to check with Catherine. You put your kit down beside Greg, and ask, "how much longer?"

"Well--" he starts, and then stands up, cracks his back. The street is dry, and the asphalt smells hot, like tar and charred dirt. Welcome to Vegas outside of the air conditioning.

"Just take your time," you tell him. There's a small blood smear on the door to your left that he hasn't found yet. As you turn, he does too, and the soft sigh he gives you when he sees it is indicative of his eternal failure. When the two of you go to examine it, the smear looks unholy from the neon light across the street, all blue and then pink instead of rusty brown.

"Sometimes," and Greg's already pulling out the camera for this, probably blood smear number four hundred and forty-nine, "I wish I'd inherited a little more from my psychic of a grandmother."

You stand up, and turn around. From here, the Stratosphere's just barely visible, and behind you, there's a crack house. There's no dust on the asphalt, and no bugs either, nothing alive on this block. "You must lie in the bed you make," you tell him.

Greg swivels around, stares at you for a long moment. "Yeah," he answers, "I guess the price for seeing the future might be a little high."


Catherine would know her name, but you're not going to ask her because that would be admitting you need to know. She comes to find you in your office, says, "how'd Greg do?"

There's a new article in the latest forensic journal on your desk about the life-cycle of a rare beetle in Arizona that you're planning to read before lunch. "Fine," you say, and then, "he's working out."

"Good," she tells you.

"Catherine, do you remember," you start, as she's leaving, and then you stop, can't get it out.

Catherine turns, and makes a face. You're pretty sure it's a face she reserves specifically for you. "Her name was Lara, Gil," she tells you. "Next time, just admit it."

Her suicide won't make it to the papers, because this girl isn't Lara, this girl is a nobody who worked in a diner in North Vegas, who slit her own wrists. The word suicide means 'self-murder'. Sometimes you wonder what the latin word for 'light pollution' would be, because you suspect it might sound the same. Las Vegas is a beautiful, crazy, off-the-charts unbelievable city, and nothing grows in it without a completely artificial environment.

You open the journal, and feel grit between your toes.