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How to Solve a Crime? Essay

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all Brass had on him. He laid a credit card on the bar counter and wished it luck. It only had to bear the price of a couple of rounds, but his salary and his expenses were not on speaking terms lately. It was Christmas in Las Vegas. Every year, it set him back until April. Which was tax time. Which set him back until Christmas. There was a comforting rhythm to it. ‘They have some good single malts,’ Catherine said, and ordered a beer. That was one of the things Brass liked about her. She had class, but didn’t make a man pay for it.

Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows, Las Vegas Crime Scene Investigation senior supervisor. Catherine is the glamorous commander of a crack team of forensic criminologists It was 4:30am on Christmas Eve, meaning it was Christmas morning to anybody who had got some sleep in the interim, and crime scene investigators Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes had just finished dropping off bodies and registering the evidence they’d gathered at a messy murder scene. The fatal string of Christmas lights was wound around the female victim’s neck so many times the coroner was going to have to cut it from the corpse. The second victim was her husband; they assumed he was the one that did the strangling. With the steak knife in his neck, he’d only had just enough blood in him to finish the job.

‘The weird part,’ Nick remarked, leaning on the bar with his heavy forearms, ‘is the lights around her neck were still on when we got there.’ ‘It lent a certain festive air to the scene,’ Brass replied. Brass’s understudy for the evening, a young detective by the name of Ottman, known as ‘The Otter’ among the wittier senior staff, sat uncomfortably between Catherine and Brass. He looked ill. He hadn’t worked many murder scenes before, and this one wasn’t just bloody, it was ironic. Irony always made things worse. The knife was part of a gift set intended for the dead man. It had his monogram burned into the handle. For the veteran CSI team, it was just another couple of dead people, another raft of evidence and paperwork. Ottman cleared his throat before he spoke, a habit that irritated Brass.

‘There’s nothing festive about people killing each other on Christmas Eve,’ he objected. ‘He doesn’t mean it,’ Catherine said. ‘It’s awful. Every murder is awful. But if we mourn the dead every time we find them . . . ‘ ‘Some do,’ Brass interrupted. ‘They don’t last in the job.’ He fixed his melancholy eyes on Ottman and waited for the message to sink in. Before he could be sure it had, the drinks arrived. Beer all round except Ottman, who opted for one of those Tiger Woods non-alcoholic things that used to be an Arnold Palmer. The kid didn’t even know how to drink. Catherine decanted her beer into a glass. Nick picked at the label on his.

George Eads as Nick Stokes. Formerly Catherine’s deputy, he has just been promoted to be her co-supervisor. Occasionally over-emotional. ‘Lot of murders this time of year,’ Nick said, in much the way he might observe it was a chilly night. Ottman cleared his throat. ‘People always get crazy around the holidays?’ he asked nobody in particular. ‘If you’re going to kill somebody, the season of joy is a popular time. Statistically speaking,’ Catherine replied. She checked her watch. Coming to the bar had been her idea: it was too late to go home and get in bed. She’d wake her daughter Lindsay up, and now that she was 18, Lindsay didn’t like early rising at Christmas.

So Catherine was pretending it was the previous night, rather than the following morning. Nick had proposed they get coffee and breakfast, but he lived alone and his family was in Texas. He could lounge around all day. Catherine had a full schedule of family events, and breakfast at home was one of them. Brass glanced over at Ottman. The guy wasn’t cut out for this work. He was a fairly good detective. Book smart, but not great at murders. He would be best at property crime, hustles, something like that. Brass’s first reaction to any weak-hearted cop was always to push his buttons, expose the soft parts and toughen them up – that, or drive him out of the department before he made a costly mistake. Still, it was Christmas Eve or morning, according to your tastes, and the poor guy was clearly having a hard time. ‘Sometimes, even with murder, there’s Christmas spirit,’ Brass said. ‘The steak knives were good quality,’ Nick agreed.

Catherine shook her head. ‘Go easy,’ she said, observing Ottman’s discomfort. ‘No, seriously,’ Brass continued. ‘Remember that time, it must have been seven, eight years ago, the one with the 60-G watch?’ Nick raised his bottle to his mouth, trying to recall, then snapped his fingers and set the bottle back down. ‘The big guy and the little guy.’ ‘And the dancer,’ Catherine added. She never forgot the dancers. Ottman had his hands folded in his lap, his drink untouched in front of him. He clearly didn’t want to ask. But the others were looking expectantly at him, so he asked anyway, rather than let the silence get too long. ‘So how was there murder and Christmas spirit?’ Brass took a pull of his beer, dabbed at his lips with his handkerchief, and twisted around so he could face Ottman. ‘I’ll tell you,’ he said.

It was a warm Christmas night back in the high times when people went to Las Vegas just to get rid of their excess cash – by the truckload. There was still plenty of crime, but it was a different kind of crime, the kind that comes from an opportunityrich environment. These days, it’s the kind of crime that comes from a lack of opportunity. The difference is academic to most victims. Gil Grissom was supervisor back then. There had been various robberies, a couple of fatal accidents and a gang fight that night; nothing serious. Then the call came in, around 9pm on Christmas Eve.

‘The call came in from the Mediterranean Hotel on the Strip. Maid finds a corpse in one of the VIP suites. He’s lying on the floor in his boxer shorts,’ Brass said. ‘Ambulance shows up, medics think it could be foul play, they call us. I was first on the scene, me and a couple of patrolmen. ‘Hell of a suite he had, about the size of Yankee Stadium. Looked like the Pope decorated it. As crime scenes go, not too shabby – especially compared to Latrine Alley, where at that moment most of the graveyard shift was on its hands and knees, looking for shell casings with a flashlight.’ Brass took a swig from his beer.

Ottman cleared his throat, but Brass got there first: ‘So we take a right at the grand piano and there’s the victim, in the split-level living room.’ ‘Dead,’ Nick added, in case Ottman was as slow as he thought he was.

Paul Guilfoyle as Captain James Brass, a Las Vegas Police Department homicide detective who does things by the book ‘Fatally so,’ Brass resumed. ‘Frank “Bozo” Bozigian, heir to the automotive floor mat fortune. Big guy. Always rents this same suite, every weekend. He was lying face down on the carpet with his head busted open against this gold-plated coffee table the size of my house. ‘The table was interesting. There were five lines of coke laid out on it, and a stack of $20 bills that would keep a stripper in business for five years. And most importantly, a chunk of meat with hair in it – from where this individual’s head came in contact with the corner.’ ‘An accident,’ Ottman interjected. ‘Yeah, except for one thing: Bozigian’s knuckles are all busted up. There’s blood under his fingernails. Maybe it’s relevant, maybe it’s not, but this guy was in a fight some time around when he died.’ ‘Sounds circumstantial,’ Ottman said.

Brass ignored him and carried on, determined to get to the exciting part: ‘So I look around while I’m waiting for these two CSIs to show up, and I can’t figure it out. Looks like Bozigian just fell down and busted his head, right? Death by misadventure. Except he’s only got his drawers on. And when I look around, all I find is a fully packed suitcase in the bedroom. Where’s the clothes he walked in with? Where’s his shoes? ‘Only thing the victim has on is gold chains and a wristwatch, which is one of these Swiss automatics that sets you back 60 grand. Basically, I’m stumped.’ ‘Which doesn’t happen that much,’ Catherine said, and raised her glass to Brass. ‘Here’s to Christmas,’ Brass said, and they all drank. ‘Took us a while to get there,’ Nick said. ‘The other major scene, the gang fight, was a mess.

Gil Grissom and the rest of us were working it for hours. When we finally got out of there, me and Catherine showed up at the Mediterranean looking like trash pickers.’ He laughed at the memory. Catherine smiled. It hadn’t been funny at the time. Nick went on: ‘There wasn’t any camera surveillance on that floor, but we got hotel security to secure video from all the elevators. Then we went into the suite. The deceased was a huge guy, twice my size, steroid muscle all over him. Shaved head, tattoo of a pole dancer on his back.’ ‘The tattoo probably scared the maid more than the blood,’ Catherine added. ‘No question about the head injury,’ Nick said. ‘He got it from the table. Scalp is split open with a furrow gouged out of the skin, and on the iron corner of the table there’s a corresponding scrap of tissue with identical hair on it. You could see at a glance this guy hit that table hard enough to kill him. But we never guess at anything if we can prove it instead.

So we take a set of one-to-one pictures of the whole scene. Then we collect the tissue, the hair, the money, the cocaine. Then it’s time to move the body.’ ‘Corpses are always heavy, but this guy weighed a ton,’ Catherine observed. Brass clapped Ottman on the shoulder. ‘It took all three of us to roll him over,’ he said. ‘If you’d been there, Ottman, it would have been easy.’ Nick stepped in to continue the story. ‘The front of him was more interesting, from a forensic perspective. He’d been bleeding, and it had pooled under him and glued him to the carpet, which is one reason he was so hard to move. His hands were clenched into fists. We found some blonde hair caught under a chain on his wrist. Several skin tags. They got pulled out hard.’ ‘He wasn’t blonde, needless to say,’ Catherine added.

‘So we bagged it. There was blood, maybe even tissue, under his fingernails, so we went to bag his hands, too, and that’s when we start realising the watch is a factor after all. I remember the make. It was a gold Vacherin Constantin automatic, and like Brass says, it was worth five figures. ‘But it didn’t fit his wrist. Had a dive-style bracelet on it – you fit those exactly to size on a watch like that, by adding or subtracting links with tiny screws. It was way too tight. So we opened the clasp and found blood on the underside of the bracelet. No lividity where it squeezed the skin, so as far as we can tell, the watch was put on after death. And get this – a patent fingerprint on the crystal. I mean you could see it in ordinary light, it was that clear, and printed in blood.’ Ottman cleared his throat, and Brass suddenly understood why they called him ‘The Otter’. When he swallowed, he looked like an otter eating clams. It was perfect.

William Petersen as Dr Gilbert ‘Gil’ Grissom, Catherine’s predecessor as CSI senior supervisor ‘If there was blood on the watch, did it correspond with the corpse?’ asked Ottman. ‘Did his hand fall under his head, or maybe his knuckles bled on it?’ ‘No,’ Catherine said. ‘But good question. His hands were down at his sides, palms downward, and the blood was all up under his head. His knuckles had stopped bleeding some time before death.’ ‘So the blood either came from the earlier fight, or it came from somebody else putting the watch on him after the guy was dead.’ Ottman nodded as he figured it out. Brass added: ‘That’s not all, though. It was on his right wrist, which makes sense if he’s a southpaw, but it wasn’t a left-handed watch.’ ‘So we looked around,’ Nick said, ‘collected whatever we could, and then I accompanied the body to the morgue. Brass and Catherine went to LVPD to file the preliminary report.’

‘That was it until we had some more information,’ Brass said. ‘So back at Crime Central, I did a little research. Bozigian wasn’t unknown to the authorities.’ Brass paused. ‘Bozigian was from Glendale, California, but spent most of his time in Vegas, always at the best hotels. Looking at his rap sheet, he was one of these playboy types with a fat trust fund that didn’t go as far as he wanted it, so he was always looking for more money. But he was too lazy to actually earn it, so he went for the quick scores: private bookmaking, junk real estate, money laundering through clubs. Most of all, gambling. ‘He loved the cards, so even if he made any money, he lost it just as fast. Got into some wild bets. People got hurt. But he never did a day’s time.’

Nick counted off a few details on his fingers: ‘The assistant coroner determined Bozigian’s time of death to be an estimate of one to three hours prior to the maid finding his body. So I checked out the hotel’s elevator security footage, looking for any visitors to that floor during this time frame. ‘Sure enough, a guy gets in the elevator alone. He’s suspicious because he’s got a towel to his face. Can’t get a good look at him. He rode up from the parking garage, exits Bozigian’s floor. Five minutes later, he gets in the same elevator car and rides back down.’ ‘By now,’ Catherine interjected, ‘Grissom is working another scene, which is a jewellery-store robbery. Apparently this guy drove his monkey-brown Toyota truck straight through the front window of a store on the Strip, jumped out, grabbed what he could, and drove off.

Not a real criminal mastermind. They have his plates and everything. Name is Henry Carson. There’s an APB out on the truck.’ Catherine said: ‘Brass and I have ten minutes free, so we decide to go crazy and get a cup of coffee at the place next door. Halfway across the police department parking lot, we see the truck. Same plates, same colour, the front all smashed in. ‘Out gets this little tiny man, smaller than me. And it looked like somebody ran him over with a train. Face pummelled. Blood all over his shirt. He sees Brass, walks up to him, and says, “I’m turning myself in. I killed a man named Frank Bozigian.” ‘ But how could one of these little people murder a 300lb man mountain with just their bare hands?


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