“I do believe I was told we were here for ‘a break from our every day lives’,” she responded, quoting the words that he had used when he had asked her to accompany him on this vacation.
“Is it my fault you believed that?” Gil smirked, glancing back at her, so that the ‘adorable’ effect of his smile would alleviate her anger.
She rolled her eyes and continued to follow him as they passed the many hotels that lined the street. A tram passing on the other side of the road made her smile a little. This town was like an amalgamation of many different times and styles. The trams were old-fashioned by modern standards, a flashback to days before the bright lights and music of the bustling casinos came on the scene.
One such casino drew her attention as her mind continued to explore their location; trusting where her body was going completely to Gil. The multi-coloured lighting, attention-grabbing signs, and multiple mentions of how much money was on offer, were just like home; and it occurred to her that if, perhaps, she had researched into where this vacation was taking place, she would have realised before arrival that there was something specific here to make Gil choose it as a vacation spot: Because it certainly didn’t seem like much of a break from their every day lives.
As this thought flitted through her head, her eyes caught site of the actual reason for their visit. Towering above the seafront - steep drop right in front of her, just to give her something to look forward to – stood “The Big One”. A rollercoaster. She really should have known.
It was as she studied this, trying to calculate how high up that drop began, that Gil stopped walking and she ran right into the back of him. She was about to reprimand him for his sudden cessation of movement, when she noticed they were behind a crowd of people, and the flashing colours she could see were coming from police cars.
Gil turned behind him to look at her, an intrigued frown on his face, and she nodded her head in the direction of the crowd to encourage him to move in further.
He smiled before turning back and driving them a path through the gathered people.
At the front of the crowd they were greeted by the familiar sight of crime scene tape. It spanned the entire pavement, blocking the entrance to the theme park.
“Ah,” Gil said, as they came to a halt again. “My other favourite pastime.”
Catherine raised an eyebrow. “So much for a break from our every day lives.”
“It seems we have the Jessica Fletcher curse,” Gil commented, eyes watching what was going on behind the tape.
Catherine turned her head slowly to look at him, a frown creasing her brow. “The what?”
“‘Murder She Wrote’ he explained. “Everywhere Jessica Fletcher went, someone, inevitably, was murdered.”
Catherine looked at him disbelievingly. “It’s not a comforting thought, Gil.”
Gil looked like he was about to respond, when they were distracted by a rather loud conversation, taking place between, who they presumed was, a detective and a mobile phone.
“Well how far away are they? … We’ve already been here for over two hours! … Yes, and in the meantime the evidence will just fade away … It is ostensibly a trampling, but I think there may be more to this, there’s a lot of blood spatter.”
Gil nodded to Catherine, “Your favourite pastime,” with a small smile.
The detective snapped his phone closed and turned to where more officers were gathered around; the wall they were making clearly intended to block the scene from the view of their audience. He sighed heavily and then looked back to the crowd, shaking his head slowly.
The first thing Catherine knew about Gil’s plan to offer their services was when he called out “Excuse me, Detective,” and offered their services. That he just happened to have their ID cards in his pocket made Catherine make a mental note to question him about it later.
The Detective was reluctant at first – probably even more so because of the look of complete and utter shock on Catherine’s face - but once she schooled that, and smiled politely when Gil mentioned that she was a blood spatter expert, he came around and held up the tape for them to enter.
The human wall parted to let them through; the police officers smiling charmingly at Catherine then frowning, warily and jealously, at Gil. He just smirked to himself and stepped closer to Catherine.
On the other side of the ‘wall’ blood was pooled on the floor and spattered onto a nearby fence, and traces of sand were on the ground, along with a white handkerchief, with a knot in each corner.
Nearby movement seemed to catch both of their attentions at once because they both slowly lifted their heads to look towards the park entrance. Both sets of eyes widened at what they saw there and their heads turned to look at each other, disbelief etched on their features. With the confirmation that they weren’t seeing things, they turned back to what in fact was a donkey.
“Detective,” Catherine began, hesitantly, “When you said ‘trampling’…” she trailed off, the focus of her eyes letting him know what she was thinking.
“The donkey got loose and escaped from the beach,” the detective explained. “It – somewhat miraculously – made it across the tram lines and the busy road without injury and, according to witnesses, trampled a poor man. The owner was able to catch it before it caused anymore harm.”
“The blood spatter isn’t consistent with that,” Catherine commented from where she now stood by the fence, examining the trails of blood. “And there’s blood leading from here, to where the victim was,” she continued, following the pathway that she spoke of. “I’d say he was stabbed… And he staggered over here… And was most likely already on the ground when the donkey encountered him.”
“So it’s not Charlie’s fault then?” A man standing beside the donkey stepped forward, having clearly been listening to Catherine’s theory.
The detective turned to him. “We don’t know for sure until we’ve finished processing the scene.”
Catherine frowned a little then crouched down beside the pool of blood. She looked at it closely, then looked towards the donkey.
“Which way did Charlie go after stepping on our victim?” she asked.
The detective flipped open his notepad. “He ran into the Pleasure Beach,” he read.
Catherine manoeuvred, still bent down, and looked carefully at the paving. Smiling, slightly, she then stood up and made her way towards the park entrance, observing the ground as she took each step.
The detective leaned towards Gil. “What’s she doing?”
“She’s working,” Gil stated simply.
The detective nodded and straightened up again. “Right.”
Catherine had reached the donkey, and the man standing beside Charlie was lifting up one of his feet. Catherine examined the base of the hoof, and then nodded to herself.
“I would say,” she began, treading carefully back towards the two men, “That the blood had already begun pooling on the ground when Charlie here arrived… There are bloody hoof prints leading towards the entrance of the park, and his full hoof is covered in blood… That wouldn’t have happened if it was his foot that caused the bleeding injury… Of course, the man’s injuries would confirm that.”
The detective nodded as he took in all of the information. “Well, one of our crime scene examiners has managed to make it to the hospital to collect evidence from the victim… Hopefully some time soon, some of them will make it here.”
“Busy morning?” Gil asked.
“Apparently,” the detective replied. “So you could go talk to her?”
Catherine’s eyes widened slightly and she glanced at Gil, who was nodding thoughtfully.
“Er, Gil… Could I have a word?” she asked, with a fake smile.
Gil smiled back at her. “Sure.”
“Excuse us,” she said to the detective – forcing the smile even wider, before turning away and leading Gil off to one side.
“What’s up?” Gil asked as they stopped just inside the crime scene tape.
“Are you actually considering continuing with this case?” she asked. “We’re on vacation… Not to mention that we’re in another country, and have no jurisdiction here at all.”
The centre of Gil’s brow creased. “Don’t you want to help?”
“We have helped, Gil… We’ve helped confirm the detective’s suspicion that there is more to this than trampling by donkey.”
“And aren’t you intrigued as to what that ‘more’ is?”
Catherine was silent.
“Are you not curious as to who stabbed the victim? … As to if you’re right about him having been stabbed?… And, don’t you want the answer to the ultimate question?”
Catherine studied the mischievous glint in his eyes, unsure as to whether she actually wanted to know the answer to what she was just about to ask. “And what might that be?”
A smile lit up his face. “Why did the donkey cross the road?”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head, and then she narrowed her eyes at him as she realised that he was right… She did want to know the answers to all those questions, and she was also interested in seeing what CSIs were like in Blackpool.
“Okay… We’ll go to the hospital and speak to their CS… E?”
They walked through the sterile corridors of Blackpool Victoria hospital trying to remember the directions that the receptionist had given them. That was harder than it sounds – the place was like a maze. They had already got completely lost once, and now were half way through their second attempt at finding the desired room.
“I think we should have turned right at that previous junction,” Gil commented. “This corridor looks familiar.”
They both stopped and turned back the way they came, looking closely for any clue as to whether they had been along here before.
“Yeah, I think we came along here last time, but I think it was the next left turn where we went wrong,” Catherine said.
Gil looked doubtful for a second and then nodded. “Okay, we’ll keep going.”
As they turned to continue, they walked straight into a woman coming out of one of the rooms that lined the corridor.
She was slightly taller than Catherine; her blonde hair was pulled back into a pony tail, and she wore a fitted black suit… Oh, and her breasts must have been at least 34EE, Catherine deduced, from the way they protruded in front of her, before shaking her head, and reprimanding herself for focussing on that.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said, politely, a hint of a cockney accent to her voice.
“It’s okay,” Catherine smiled. “It was our fault.”
The two women smiled to each other and then the other woman turned to Gil and smiled before she moved past them and started along the corridor.
Gil’s gaze followed her as she passed them, and Catherine slapped his arm.
He looked at her in shock, rubbing his arm. “What was that for?”
“You were staring,” she declared.
“I was thinking,” he said.
“Yeah…” Catherine scoffed. “I know!”
“Not about that,” he argued. “I think she might be able to help us.”
With that he began walking in the same direction she had gone.
Catherine rolled her eyes and jogged to catch up with him as he called “Excuse me,” to the woman in front.
She turned around, smiling, but frowning inquisitively. “Yes?”
“Are you Lucie Richardson?” Gil asked her.
Her frown deepened, and the smile faltered. “You are?”
“Sorry,” Gil fumbled in his pocket for his ID. “Gil Grissom and Catherine Willows… Detective Jordan sent us… We were assisting him at the Pleasure Beach scene.”
The smile returned, in full force. “Ah yes, he called the hospital… Sorry about that… I used to be a model, and people are always stopping me for autographs. It can be very inconvenient.”
“I imagine it would be,” Catherine commented.
“So you want to see Mr Marshall?” Lucie asked, starting to lead them back towards the room she had come out of. “Rob mentioned that you theorised he was already on the ground when Charlie trampled on him… I’d say that’s probably true. He has injuries which are consistent with stabbing, in addition to the bruises caused by Charlie.”
“You speak of the donkey as if you know him,” Gil observed.
Lucie smiled. “My daughter loves him… Every time I have a day off, I have to take her to the beach to see him.”
“He did seem like a very pleasant donkey,” Catherine said.
“He is,” Lucie nodded. “I don’t understand what would have caused him to run off the beach like that.”
“Well, hopefully, we’ll find out,” Gil smiled.
The threesome stopped outside Mr Marshall’s room, and Lucie faced Catherine and Gil.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the help,” she said, “But why are you still on the case? My colleagues have arrived at the scene now. We can take it from here.”
“We have difficulty letting go,” Catherine said, smiling. “Once we’re intrigued, we need to find answers.”
Lucie laughed. “I know what you mean… I can never rest until all pieces of the puzzle are in place… But, aren’t you on holiday?”
“We came to ride the Big One,” Gil answered her question. “We can’t do that until the crime scene is cleared away, so we might as well help if we can.”
Lucie nodded. “Okay, then… So, you should know that Mr Marshall has been sedated so that he won’t move around too much and rip his stitches… He has three stab wounds to his chest, and bruises on his legs and right side of his back – most of which look like they were probably caused by Charlie… There is a large bruise in the centre of his back though which seems inconsistent with those injuries…. I have photographs of them all,” she said, holding up the camera she held in her hand.
“May I see?” Catherine asked.
“Sure,” Lucie smiled, passing the camera across.
Catherine switched on the camera, and waited for the images to load onto the viewscreen. “Because I think I may know what caused the bruise on his back,” she explained, as the three of them walked into the hospital room.
Upon return to the Pleasure Beach crime scene, the three investigators saw that Catherine’s suspicions were true. Just inside the gate of the park, there was a fence post, and on the floor, just in front of it were tiny droplets of blood.
“Drips from the end of a weapon,” Lucie said, nodding understandingly.
“We need to expand the crime scene,” Catherine said.
“And I think,” Gil’s voice drew them around to face him, neither of the women having noticed that he had walked away and was standing at the edge of the road, “That we need to extend it this way,” he said.
Frowning, they glanced at their blood drops, and then walked towards Gil’s location, observing the pavement as they walked, and noting that there was a trail of the small red blobs.
“The distance between the droplets suggests the weapon was running,” Catherine offered.
“I would be, if I’d just stabbed someone,” Lucie commented.
“And it was running across the street,” Gil added.
The three of them looked up, and gazed outward towards the other side of the road; and beyond that towards the Irish Sea.
The blood drops led down onto the beach, but then it became impossible to trace them – shifts in the sand having no doubt buried any traces that may have been there.
The investigators came to a halt and glanced around the expanse of beach.
“It could be buried anywhere,” Lucie said. “We’ve had weapons discarded on the beach before.”
Gil seemed to be frowning more pensively than the two women.
“What is it, Gil?” Catherine asked.
“Where are the donkeys normally based?” he asked Lucie.
“There are several groups,” she replied. “Charlie would have been based just over here.” She led them towards the wall, where all three immediately noticed streaks of blood on the wall.
Lucie approached them and looked more closely.
“I guess we know why Charlie ran away,” Catherine said.
Lucie slowly turned back to face the others. “If the attacker came down here, and spooked Charlie… Then Jacob must have seen who it was.”
“Jacob?” Gil asked.
“Charlie’s owner,” she explained. “He was interviewed, but he never mentioned it.”
Catherine smiled, sympathetically for the woman who seemed to know this man well. “Looks like we’ve got a suspect.”
As it turned out, when Lucie phoned Detective Jordan to tell him about their discovery, Jacob had already turned himself in. Apparently some officers had arrived at his stables to take Charlie away, and Jacob had confessed everything in return for the donkey’s freedom.
Mr Marshall was a frequent visitor to the seaside town and on each visit would spend time goading the donkeys and teasing Jacob about his choice of profession. This time, he had finally gone too far, and Jacob had pursued him with the knife he used to cut up carrots for the animals.
Being of a sensitive nature, Charlie had run from the beach when Jacob returned with blood on his hands. That the donkey had happened to trample the injured body of the man who constantly aggravated him was entirely a coincidence – resulting from people running round screaming when they saw the animal approaching. In the chaos that ensued, Mr Marshall must have been knocked to the floor, and the running crowds had, unintentionally, directed the creature towards the fallen man.
Night was falling as Gil, Catherine, Lucie and Rob Jordan exited the town’s police station after completing all the necessary paperwork.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get to ride your rollercoaster,” Lucie said, smiling apologetically at Gil.
“There’s always tomorrow,” he returned, smiling himself.
Lucie giggled when she saw the look of un-enthusiasm sweep across Catherine’s features, and Gil turned to look at his partner, who just smiled innocently.
“Hey,” Rob spoke suddenly, drawing all three attentions to him. “Are you two any good at pub quizzes?”
Lucie looked pleased with his question. Catherine and Gil, however, looked totally confused.
“At what?” Catherine asked, her tone one of bewilderment.
“Pub quizzes,” Rob repeated. “Don’t tell me you don’t have pub quizzes in America?”
“We don’t have pubs in America,” Gil explained. “We have bars.”
“Ah,” Rob nodded understandingly. “So, do these bars have quizzes?”
“Like a test?” Catherine asked.
Rob frowned. “Why would anyone do a test in a bar?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Catherine replied, now more confused than she had been at his opening question.
“I think something’s getting lost in translation,” Lucie said, a laughing smile on her face. “We go to a pub quiz once a week… We’re in teams, they ask general knowledge questions, the winner gets a share of the quiz entry fees. It’s fun.”
“Ah!” Catherine and Gil said simultaneously.
“Okay…” Rob said, “Thanks, Lucie… So, do you think you’d be good at that?”
Catherine and Gil looked at each other and nodded.
“We could give it a try,” Catherine answered him, smiling.
“Excellent!…” Rob exclaimed. “It starts in about an hour. What do you say we get some fish and chips first?”
Lucie nodded enthusiastically and rubbed her tummy. “I’m starving!”
Catherine and Gil feigned looks of confusion again.
Lucie laughed out loud at their expressions, and Rob shook his head. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what fish and chips is!”
It turned out that Gil and Catherine were quite good at pub quizzes, helping their team to reach joint first place with the team who, apparently, won every week. And when the tiebreaker question was “How many segments is a spider’s leg split into?”, it was no surprise that they managed to walk out of that pub with the prize.
It was an evening well spent, both of them agreed, and they had arranged to keep in touch with Rob and Lucie who – Catherine suspected – were a little more than just friends.
This was something that she had been trying to convince Gil of that night at the pub, and she was still trying to persuade him round to her way of thinking the following morning as they strolled along the beach on their way to the reopened Pleasure Beach.
“Why are you so concerned about me not agreeing with you on this?” he asked her.
“I just can’t believe that you can be so oblivious to what is going on right in front of you?” she exclaimed.
“I’m a man,” he shrugged. “We don’t have women’s intuition.”
“No, but you have eyes Gil… I mean… Have you even managed to notice that Sara has a huge crush on you?”
He stopped walking, and she cringed, thinking that maybe she had hit a touchy subject.
“Sara has a crush on me?” he asked when she turned round to face him.
She frowned with disbelief and opened her mouth to speak, but before she got any words out, a smile crept onto Gil’s face.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You…” she exclaimed, charging at him.
He laughed and stepped out of the way, and she skidded in the sand before managing to change direction and run after him as he began to jog further down the beach.
“You’re lucky we’re not near the sea!” she shouted, “Else you’d be in it!”
He turned around to laugh again, and ran backwards so she could see his gloating face.
Playful rage flashed in her eyes and she put full force behind her running, to catch up to him. As she approached, at the highest speed possible when running on sand, Gil stopped. And Catherine clearly expected him to move out of her way, because she didn’t slow down.
He stood still though. And let her run right into him.
The force of the collision knocked them both off their feet, and they landed side by side on the sand, both laughing breathlessly.
“Ow!” Catherine said through her laughter.
“My thoughts exactly,” Gil replied.
“Why didn’t you move?”
“Why didn’t you change course?”
“I thought you’d move.”
“I’m not scared of you.”
“And proving that is worth this?” Catherine asked as she sat up and tried to shake the sand out of her hair.
“Hey!” Gil exclaimed, as the sand she was removing was going all over him.
Catherine giggled. “Sorry.”
Gil looked at her smiling face. “I don’t think you are.”
She raised her eyebrows in challenge. “And what if I’m not?”
Before she knew what was happening, he had pushed her back down onto the sand and was making sure that there was plenty of sand in her hair. She screamed and wriggled underneath him, but his weight pinned her to the ground.
“Okay! Okay! I’m sorry,” she squealed.
“For what?” he asked as he started to scoop sand over her kicking feet.
“For shaking sand all over you,” she stated as if it was obvious.
“Ah,” he said with a nod, before returning to trying to bury her feet.
“Hey! I said I’m sorry!” she protested, still squirming.
“But, are you also sorry for accusing me of being oblivious?” he asked, stopping the digging so he could focus intently on her face as he spoke.
“I think it was an accurate observation,” she replied.
“I do know that Sara has a crush on me – ”
“A huge crush,” she interrupted.
“Yes, okay, a huge crush,” he conceded. “I also did notice that there seemed to be silent exchanges going on between Rob and Lucie; that their eyes met frequently and they held the other’s gaze slightly longer than people who are just friends usually do… I did notice that their hands brushed at every opportunity, and he placed his hand on the small of her back whenever they were walking anywhere together…”
“Well, why didn’t you just say that?” she asked, incredulous that he had in fact noticed more between Rob and Lucie than she had, and yet he had let her go on and on.
“I didn’t think it was our business to be talking about… Just like it isn’t their business that we stand within each other’s personal space whenever possible, that we tease each other, and strive to make each other smile; that, when I decided to come to Blackpool, I wanted you to be here with me… And if you’d have said no, I wouldn’t have come… Yes, despite the appeal of the Big One.”
Catherine couldn’t think of anything to say, so she just smiled.
“So, are you sorry for accusing me of being oblivious?” he asked her smiling face.
She nodded. “I wasn’t giving you the credit you deserve.”
He nodded his gratitude. “Thank you.” Then he stood up off her and helped her to stand.
“You’re more observant than I thought,” she said as she stamped her feet to encourage the sand to fall off her jeans.
He took a step forwards so he was standing directly in front of her – in her personal space, as he had mentioned. “Yes I am,” he whispered, head moving closer to hers as his left hand wrapped round her right.
A smile crept onto her lips as his fingers prised her fist open and sand fell onto the beach. “Yes you are.”
“Nice try though,” he grinned, stepping back again.
“I’m not going on the Big One looking like this,” she announced.
“Your loss,” he said, as he walked towards some steps, knowing that it would be easier to access the park if they left the beach now, and walked along the road.
“You can’t expect me to be seen in public, covered in sand!” she called after him.
This seemed to get through to him, because he stopped and walked back to her.
“You look beautiful,” he complimented her as he neared.
“Flattery isn’t going to work this time, Gil… I’m a mess!”
“Okay, then we’ll go back to the hotel and you can get cleaned up.”
“The public would see me…”
“You’d think you were a celebrity hiding from your adoring fans.”
“Just go across to one of the shops and buy a towel?…” she asked. “As long as I can get most of this sand off me, I’ll go with you on your rollercoaster.”
“Okay,” he finally gave in… Don’t move from here or else I won’t be able to find you.”
About ten minutes later, Gil was back from the shop, with a towel and a mysterious white bag.
“What do you have in there?” she asked him as she used the union jack towel to rub sand out of her hair.
“I got some rock for Lindsey,” he said.
She stopped the action of the towel and frowned at him. “You got a rock for Lindsey?”
“Not a rock… Some rock!” he said, pulling a stick of rock out of the bag for her to see. It was bright pink, with the word ‘Blackpool’ in red, running all the way through it.
“Ah!… A lovely, thoughtful gift… Something to rot her teeth.”
“People buy rock from Blackpool, Catherine, it’s tradition.”
She laughed. “I know… I’m sure she’ll love it… You spoil her!”
“I want her to like me,” he said, pout on his lips, but it was edged with a smile.
“She already loves you… I think the ant farm for Christmas saw to that.”
Gil smiled proudly. “However, I think that also saw to it that you don’t love me.”
“Gil, it would take a lot of ants to stop me loving you… Although, all this sand brought you closer to that point,” she smirked.
He stepped closer to her and dusted some grains from her cheek before pressing his lips softly against hers. “Could that be reversed by me telling you I also have a present for you in this bag?”
Her eyes lit up and she snatched for the object. He pulled it out of her reach. “You can’t have it until we’re on the plane.”
“What?” she screeched. “Why not?”
“Because it’s something for you to remember this trip by when we’re back in a world where our relationship is a secret.”
She gave in, reluctantly. “Okay… I’ll… Well, I won’t be patient, but I’ll wait impatiently ’til we’re on the plane.”
Gil smiled and leaned forward to kiss her again. This time, her arms wrapped around his waist and pulled him towards her; and his hands moved into her hair, pulling it back from her face. Their lips caressed each other’s, and their bodies pressed together. She dropped the towel so she could squeeze his butt, and he jumped slightly, separating his mouth from hers.
She took the opportunity to giggle, until his eyes met hers, asking a question that had remained unspoken between them since they had first kissed, three months ago.
Her eyes reflected his sadness, and she pulled his body back to hers. “We’ll speak to Ecklie as soon as we get back,” she said, quietly. “He’s probably suspicious by now anyway,” she smirked.
“Nah… Us taking a vacation together wouldn’t make Ecklie suspicious,” Gil smiled. “… Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I think we’re ready. And they’ve probably all figured it out anyway… We work with CSIs you know… And Rob and Lucie had it figured out within hours of meeting us.”
Gil frowned, wondering how she knew that.
“Lucie asked me last night,” she explained.
“What did you say?”
“I told her the truth.”
“Yet you didn’t take the opportunity to ask her what was going on with Rob?”
Catherine shook her head. “It’s none of our business.”
They both laughed and shared one more kiss before Gil stepped back and picked up Catherine’s towel.
When Catherine had been satisfied that she was adequately uncovered in sand, they had made their way, hand-in-hand, to the rollercoaster that had brought them to Blackpool.
And, on the plane on the way home, Catherine realised that it was a good job they had decided to make their relationship public knowledge.
Because, inside the bag, was a white t-shirt, with a small picture of Blackpool tower in one corner, and, in red across the centre, were the words: “My boyfriend went to Blackpool, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”