The characters and situations in this story belong to Alliance Atlantis, CBS, Anthony Zuicker and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is in response to an improv challenge at the Unbound forums; again, the first and last lines were givens. A bit implausible, perhaps.

Spoilers: none


"Do meal worms ever just snack?" Brass asked Sara.

Sara looked amused, but didn't bother replying, instead dangling the twisting invertebrate over the spiky ball cupped in her hand. A leather glove covered her hand, and Brass watched in revolted fascination as the ball split and a twitching nose emerged. "That's got to be some of the weirdest evidence I've ever seen."

"Weirdest? An African pygmy hedgehog? Jim, you're slacking," Grissom said, walking into the breakroom with a handful of folders. "How's she doing, Sara?"

"Fine," Sara replied as the long snout seized the meal worm. The hedgehog, munching, uncurled further, and Sara tipped her gently onto the table and put down another worm.

"Hey, people eat off that," Brass objected, as the hedgehog snagged her next mouthful.

"They usually use plates," Grissom pointed out, taking a seat. "Did you get anything?"

Sara nodded. "Blood samples indicate that she'd been kept in a contaminated environment for quite some time. The perps may have dumped their meth equipment, but they didn't think about their pets."

Brass snorted. "This is almost as wild as the time you got a soil sample off that woodchuck."

"Guinea pig," Grissom corrected absently, paging through a folder, and Brass rolled his eyes.

"Whatever. You going to keep it when the prosecution's done with it, Sara?"

"Her," Sara corrected, earning another eye roll. "She'll go to the Humane Society. The adoption rate for hedgehogs is pretty high."

"Why would anyone want one of those? You can't even pet it."

"Because it's cute," Catherine said from the doorway, and came in to peer over Sara's shoulder. "Did you see any when you were in England?"

Sara shook her head. "I wasn't really in the right places."

Grissom dropped his folder on the table with a smack that startled the hedgehog back into her curl, and picked up another, paging through it and frowning. "This isn't good."

"What isn't?" Catherine asked.

Grissom looked up over his glasses at her. "Missing evidence."

They all stiffened at the implication. "You mean from the Evidence locker?" Sara said, frowning in turn.

Grissom blew out his breath. "Yes. It looks like some has either been misplaced or stolen."

A moment of chilly silence settled over them. Lost evidence, even if it was only misfiled, could be disastrous for a case, either because it couldn't be found in time, or because it could be used to make the entire lab look bad. Stolen evidence was even worse.

Catherine lifted her chin. "So? Not to be obtuse, Gil, but what's that got to do with us?"

"Unless one of us mislabeled something--" Sara began, but Grissom shook his head.

"No, we're not at fault. The chain of custody log clearly states that the items in question were handled by two techs and the prosecuting attorney after Warrick logged them in."

"So what's missing?" Brass asked, leaning one elbow on the table and then hastily removing it as the hedgehog uncurled.

Grissom scanned the file. "The murder weapon, six three-point-five inch computer disks, and the hat belonging to the Marine uniform that the victim was wearing."

"Sounds like one box," Sara mused, dropping another worm in front of the hedgehog. "I remember that case, Grissom. We had the perp."

Grissom sighed. "I know. But without this evidence, the case may fall through. Wait here." He stood up and strode out.

Catherine sighed, stretched, and went for the coffee. "Anyone?" she asked, holding up the pot.

"Sure," Brass said.

Sara declined. "I'm going to take Miss Atelerix here back to her cage. Back in a minute." She scooped the animal carefully into her leather gauntlet and vanished.

Brass grimaced at the leftover smear of meal worm on the table, and took the cup Catherine handed him. "Thanks."

Sara was back before Grissom, settling into her chair with a sandwich, and Brass turned to her. "Miss what now?"

She grinned. "Atelerix. It's the genus name for African hedgehogs."

Grissom appeared in the doorway behind her. "Somebody page Nick. The Sheriff said we can look for the evidence."

Catherine dumped the rest of her coffee. "Yeah, sure he did. What did you do to him?"

Grissom's face was solemn, but his eyes twinkled. "I merely explained the logic of the situation."

Nick met them at the Evidence locker, carrying a footstool and a battered stepladder. "Maintenance is using the aluminum ladder," he said in answer to Sara's doubtful glance.

"You couldn't trade?" Brass asked as they signed in.

Nick snorted. "You ever try getting anything away from Maintenance? I'm lucky they didn't just confiscate this one."

The team spread out through the aisles of the locker under Grissom's direction, and Catherine's thoughts went back to the last time she'd had to hunt through stored evidence. But this time it wasn't in the cold locker--fortunately for my fingers!--and Warrick was off for the day instead of at her side. The search was tedious and time-consuming, like much of their daily work, but had the slight distraction of bringing back memories every time they went through evidence that they themselves had collected.

"Hey, Grissom, what is the murder weapon? What are we looking for here?" Sara called as they began.

Grissom scanned the paper he held. "A wooden decoy, painted green and brown."

Forty-five minutes into the search, they got lucky--Grissom found a sealed envelope underneath one of the shelves, containing the missing computer disks. But the next hour and a half yielded nothing. Brass excused himself eventually when his beeper went off; Grissom counted it fortunate that no pressing case interrupted their search.

Finally Nick, lifting box lids on the highest shelf, gave a whoop. "What did you find?" Grissom called, but couldn't understand the response from two aisles over. He abandoned his own search and strode over to where Nick was looking. "I didn't hear you."

The younger man's grin was infectious. "Duck and cover!" Nick called, from his perch on the wobbly ladder.