A handsome gigolo is murdered in his hotel cabana, and the team sifts through a list of clients, competitors and jealous lovers to find the killer.
Natalia and Ryan arrive at the Hotel Ember, where they find the body of Derek Vaughn in a poolside cabana. He was hit over the head multiple times with a heavy object, but the murder weapon is not in the cabana. However, they do find several long hairs and a box of condoms.
Derek has been renting the cabana by the week for the past six months. It was $2000 a day, and he paid by check. When they look at the checks, they realize he’s a gigolo. His only client the night before was a married woman named Gretchen Cambridge. Her husband doesn’t know she’s been having a longterm relationship with Derek, and she says she doesn’t care about the other women who paid Derek for sex. When they were together, she felt like she was the only woman in the world.
Someone damaged the propane shut-off valve on the fireplace in the cabana, causing a leak that filled the building with gas. The head injury only incapacitated Derek, leaving him vulnerable on the floor. The propane displaced the oxygen in his lungs, suffocating him. The only way for the leak to go unnoticed is if the gas was lacking the necessary additives to give it a distinctive smell. The hotel started struggling when the economy took a downturn, so the owner, Hector Romero, was looking for ways to save money—like buying inexpensive, illegal propane. He’s going to be charged with negligent homicide.
Calleigh finds a piece of singed paper in the cabana. It’s a parking pass from a high school, and it belongs to a teacher named Emma Davis. She was a virgin until she met Derek. She had a good time, and he made her feel special. However, she saw him arguing with another man at the hotel, and she thinks he’s another gigolo. Joe Grafton argued with Derek about clients, and he says Derek has been taking his business. This makes him suspect number one.
There are flakes in Derek’s head wound from a snow globe. Joe says some of the women give them gifts, and Natalia and Walter go through financial records until they find a client who purchased a snow globe: Gretchen bought one in Paris. They find a piece of glass and a hammer with some white flakes in the garage, so Gretchen confesses. She says she killed Derek by hitting him on the back of the head, but that’s not how he was injured—she’s covering for her husband Steven, who suspected she was cheating and saw her with Derek. He confronted the man, asking him to stop seeing his wife, but he lost control when he saw the snow globe. Steven saw his wife buy that in Paris, and he assumed it was for him. Gretchen thought her husband stopped loving her, but he never did. Steven admits to hurting Derek, but he says he didn’t go anywhere near the fireplace.
They reassemble the fireplace valve and find a piece of leather from the sole of a shoe. The killer kicked the valve, and it would have taken two hours for the level of propane in the cabana to become deadly. The killer must have known the gas had no scent. Hector made a lot of money from Derek, so he had no reason to kill him. Hector’s daughter Luisa, however, runs the day to day business of the hotel, and she knew about the illegal propane as well. She kicked the valve while wearing open-toed shoes and got frostbite on her toe. She says she was dating Derek, and she thought she could handle it. She asked him to quit because she was falling in love with him, and she couldn’t handle seeing those checks. She knew he wasn’t going to stop, so she kicked the valve thinking he and the next woman who paid for his services would die when he lit the fireplace.
“Stiff” brings the team into the world of high-end male escorts. It’s very sexy and very CSI: Miami, filled with gorgeous men, intrigue, jealousy and, of course, murder. Despite the sexy premise and the twisting-and-turning storyline, my favorite part of the episode is Ryan being spooked by the floating hat. He snaps a picture from outside the cabana, but when Natalia opens the door, they find the hat sitting on the ground. Ryan tries to show her what he saw, but his camera only took a photo of his own reflection.
Eric and Walter tease him about the hat, but Walter believes his story. They only need to figure out a reasonable explanation for why the hat was floating. He’s able to explain the phenomenon in the lab: propane is heavier than air, so it settled near the ground as it collected in the unventilated cabana. The hat is light enough to float on the heavier gas. Ryan is fascinated by the truth, but he realizes that Eric and Calleigh are still collecting evidence in the cabana. The gas is building up inside, and one spark could cause the whole place to go up in flames. Ryan tries to call them, but they don’t pick up the phone. He contacts Horatio, who rushes to the scene, but he’s not quick enough. Eric realizes there’s a leak moments before Calleigh picks up a robe with the fireplace remote inside. The remote slips out, and Eric yells to warn Calleigh as it hits the ground and lights the fireplace—along with the propane built up in the room. Horatio helps them escape, but the evidence is destroyed. Luckily, the team is able to salvage the parking pass from the singed cabana, and they reconstruct the fireplace and locate a piece of shoe leather that leads back to Luisa.
After the explosion, Eric readily accepts Ryan’s story about the floating hat. Walter, however, can’t help teasing Ryan one more time. Ryan walks by the empty lab at the end of the episode and sees the hat sitting on a table. He glances around before he heads inside, reaching for the hat as a graduated cylinder nearby starts to rise from the surface of the table. Walter is standing on the walkway overhead, lifting the graduated cylinder using a fishing line as he puts on a spooky voice to startle Ryan. Ryan walks out while Walter doubles over laughing. Poor Ryan, he might not live this down for a while. However, despite the fact that Walter continues to tease Ryan about the hat, he never doubts Ryan’s story. The friendship between these two remains one of my favorite elements of the series. They have a great dynamic, and Jonathan Togo and Omar Miller always make the most of their scenes.
Natalia has an unexpected run-in with a handsome stranger after her car alarm malfunctions for the umpteenth time this week. She’s waiting in the parking lot, trying to get help over the phone, when a good-looking guy walks up and offers his services. He is able to correct the problem in under a minute, and Natalia expresses her gratitude. The man’s name is Joe, and he flirts with Natalia. She flirts right back, and she gives him her card when he asks if she’d like to go out for dinner. He’s surprised to learn she’s a cop, but he says it’s not a problem. Natalia has a spring in her step when she walks away, but her euphoria is short-lived. Later in the episode, the team discovers that Joe is another gigolo, and he and Derek competed for clients at the hotel. Natalia chases him down on foot, and she stops to ditch her shoes so she can run faster when he heads onto the beach. Frank pulls up in his patrol car, and Joe tumbles over the hood before Frank jumps out to handcuff him. Natalia points out that he had her fooled, but it’s too bad Joe is a gigolo—Eric Winter is a very handsome man, and Natalia’s enthusiasm is adorable when he starts flirting with her. She’s been though a lot lately, and going on a date with a nice, normal guy might be a good thing.
When Natalia and Walter are going through the financial records for all of Derek’s clients, words fly around the screen. It’s a fun visual element, and I especially love the highlighting and the little gas gauges next to the cups of coffee. The text adds a lot of interest to a scene that would be pretty boring otherwise—after all, they’re just looking through bank statements. The scene reminds me a bit of the subtitles used in “Hunting Ground” last season. I wasn’t a huge fan of the subtitles moving around the screen in that episode, but that isn’t an issue here. There are only a few phrases that need to be read, and even those are optional. Another similarity between these two episodes is the use of French. Natalia reads out the bank statement from Gretchen Cambridge’s trip to Paris, and Walter identifies a snow globe on the list of purchases. Walter’s ability to speak French was illustrated in the aforementioned scene from “Hunting Ground”, and I’m glad the writers included a nod to that skill this week.
See also: “Stiff” episode guide