As I entered the break room of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, I rubbed my hand against my bearded face and sighed; it was time for another shift. I had never liked beards before, but I stopped caring about my appearance and this job six months ago when I lost one of my closest friends. If my friend had been killed the loss would have been much easier to deal with because I would know the younger man was no longer in pain and was at peace.
Six agonizingly long months ago, the night shift CSI's had come across evidence of a slavery ring. Young women and men were being kidnapped to sell to the highest bidders in secret slavery rings in several different countries. We had all been appalled by the discovery and eager to do anything we could to help put an end to it. That was our first mistake.
The slavery ring was a very sophisticated operation. The slavers never stayed in the same city for more than a few days to avoid detection. They would set up an auction with their members in a random city, auction off the slaves, complete the transactions in cash, and leave as soon as they were finished. The members were an elite group, and no one knew who ran the operation. It made finding them and stopping them that much harder.
Our second mistake was made when the FBI asked for our assistance to go undercover in the slavery ring. They had been lucky enough to find the location of the Las Vegas auction. The FBI wanted us to observe everything that was going on so they could clearly describe everything in court later. We wore our typical court attire to look like we were there to buy slaves. We had been foolish enough to believe that the Vegas auction would be the one to break the case and put an end to the slavery ring for good. We were wrong, and the mistake had cost us dearly.
It had all been a horrible set up by the slavers. They allowed the FBI to obtain a false location. Instead of breaking up a massive slavery operation, we interrupted the annual Vegas Fire Fighters Charity Auction. When we first burst in and saw a shirtless man on the stage with excited women in a bidding frenzy over him we assumed we had the correct location. After a lot of confusion and complaints by the Fire Fighters Association we finally left the building feeling like fools. After everyone left the building we realized we were missing a CSI. He was supposed to stay near the exit along with several FBI agents, but in the confusion of the wrong auction, the agents had left my friend alone. We spent hours searching the building for him. The GPS built into his department issued cell phone had led us to find the discarded phone in an alley behind the building. We had feared the worst.
Two days later our fears were confirmed. We received a strange package addressed to the nightshift CSI's in the mail. Upon opening it we found a DVD labeled "Missing CSI". After unsuccessfully trying to get prints off the package we went to the A/V lab to watch it. I don't think I will ever be able to forget what we saw. I know it will forever be burned into my mind. We all watched as our missing friend was led onto a stage by a leash, like a dog. He wore only a pair of skin tight black leather pants and a collar that the leash was attached too. He had a dazed look in his eyes; we assumed he had been drugged to be compliant. I know he would not have otherwise allowed them to lead him across that stage without putting up a fight. None of us had failed to notice the welts that covered his back; it looked like he had been whipped for a long time. The welts crisscrossed over most of his back hiding the burn scars that had been there previously. Bruises also marred his face and chest. All I could do was clench my hands into fists and watch as my friend stood perfectly still while a mechanical sounding voice introduced him as a law enforcement officer and started taking bids for him at $20,000. I don't remember ever seeing him so still before.
The bidders seemed highly interested in having a law enforcement officer as a slave. The bidding quickly became more frenzied than what we had witnessed at the fire fighters auction. But our friend was not being sold for charitable purposes. In the end we could only watch as he was sold for $150,000 and led off the stage before the DVD ended.
By the time Archie Johnson, the lab's audio/video technician, had been able to discover where the auction had taken place they were gone. There was no sign of where they had been previously or where they were now. Other than the location, the DVD yielded no other useful information. Everyone on stage had worn masks, and the bidder’s backs were to the camera leaving no one to identify. We had lost a friend and colleague because we were stupid enough to believe we could help stop monsters.
"Nick, you and Catherine have a DB in the desert," Gil Grissom's voice interrupted my thoughts. The older man handed me a piece of paper with the address and details of the crime I would have to solve. It was just another pointless crime to solve. We couldn't save the victim, they were beyond saving; all we could do was find out what happened leading to their untimely demise.
Over the past six months I had not been allowed to go to a scene by myself because I have been prone to losing my temper easier than before. A couple of years ago I would have hated that my supervisor didn't trust me to work on my own, but since my friend's abduction, I just don't care. The rest of the team had looked like me for several weeks; but they had gradually seemed to return to normal almost as if they had not lost a friend. But I could not force myself to move on. I did not want to. How can I move on with my life knowing my friend will never be able to do the same?
I know what hell my friend is most likely going through. The FBI had shared the autopsy results of victims they suspected to be former slaves of the slavery ring; it was not pretty. They had been repeatedly raped, beaten, and whipped, amongst other things while still alive. One of the victims was most likely tortured for years before she was finally blessed with death. Although her death had been no less brutal than the torture she had had to live through.
The FBI is still searching for the slavery ring and any clues to our friend's whereabouts. I know one day either in Nevada, another state, or perhaps even another country someone will find the lifeless body of our friend. That may not be for a long time though. My friend would most likely suffer a lot before he was finally granted the peace that only death could grant him. And although the rest of the CSI team still held onto the belief that we would one day find our friend alive, I did not. I do not want them to find him alive. I hope they find his body and discover he had died six months ago instead of having to live with the constant horrors his owners are surely subjecting him too. I know that if my friend is found alive he will never be the same again. Greg Sanders was forever lost to us and he is better off dead.