"The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked. 'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'"

(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Go ask Alice

When she's ten feet tall

(Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit")

Chapter One

"I'm only suggesting you take it into consideration," Mobley said smoothly. His smile was as immaculate and reflective as fine porcelain. Nothing of it showed in his eyes. Those were distant, and wary. "This isn't an ultimatum. Just something for you to think about." The smile widened as he stood. "Thanks for your time, Gil. I'll talk to you next week sometime."

Gil Grissom regarded the sheriff calmly. "My answer will be the same then."

"We'll see."

After Mobley was gone, Gil leaned back in his chair, releasing a sigh he hadn't realized he was holding. He glared at the stapled pieces of paper, and then stuffed the whole thing into his already full inbox.

"This a bad time?"

He looked up at Warrick, and shook his head. "No. Come on in."

"Because I saw Mobley down the hall, and that ain't ever good." Warrick sat in the chair the sheriff had so recently vacated. "What's going on?"

"A few proposed budget cuts." Gil smiled without much humor. "I'm sure you've heard rumors."

"Yeah. A few things. So we're taking a hit?"

"Possibly. I don't think it will mean anything substantive, but you never know. What can I do for you? Still working on Hendricks?"

Warrick nodded, and made a face. "And I'll BE working on Hendricks until next month if we don't get some help around here. Just tell me this budget stuff doesn't mean personnel cuts, okay? We're short-handed as it is."

"I know about as much as you do on that. But if I hear anything I'll let you know, all of you. As far as I know none of us needs to polish their resume quite yet."

"Good thing. Okay. Listen, just wanted to remind you I'm in court all day tomorrow. How's the overtime looking?"

"As little as possible, according to Mobley."

Warrick made another face, this one grim. "Yeah, and that means you don't got me tomorrow night. Tellin' ya, Grissom, we keep working like this and people are gonna start working on resumes anyway."

"Hopefully it won't come to that. I'll see what I can do about the OT. Best I can offer."

"Got it. All right. Later."

"Later, Warrick."

Alone again, he kept his hand flat on the unopened file on his desk. Budget cuts weren't all that surprising. They could handle a little less money for materials, equipment. They were already fairly well set in those departments. But personnel? Gil's crew worked hard, and still there were cases stacking up, waiting for someone to work down the pile and get to them. It simply took time, with not enough people to take care of all the older matters and still address the new ones arriving every night. There weren't enough hours in the day – or night – and each person could only do so much.

He put on his glasses and made himself open the file. Maybe it was time to think about retiring. He didn't have the stomach for a recession-borne personnel cutback. They couldn't afford to lose anyone, not now. If their case load had been substantial before, it would be insurmountable minus one person. It wouldn't fly.

His morose mood communicated itself to his staff, unfortunately. That plus rumors meant few smiles at the late-night meeting. Gil surveyed everyone and felt a helpless sense of dread. Who would be first to go, if it came down to it? He couldn't imagine the lab without any of them.

Catherine looked tired – hell, all of them did – but also a little relieved, filling him in on her progress with the bodies found late the previous afternoon. "DNA turned up a couple of matches. Still working on the rest, but we should have that in a couple of hours, if they're on file. If not, we're still looking at two other John Does."

"Family? Criminal history?"

He listened with interest to her story about their disinterred car. Four sets of skeletal remains. All adult males, all with no trace of injuries or overt causes of death.

"Keep me informed, would you?" he asked, when she wound down. "But we have to keep this one low on the priority list. Those men have been dead for years; a few days won't make that much difference."

"That we know of," Catherine said, but nodded. "Will do."

Next to her, Nick looked more tired than his colleague. Gil took in his pale cheeks and frowned. "You all right?"

Nick stirred. "Yeah. Fine. Listen, it's a no-go on Rupert Johansen. That alibi's sticking."

"So we're back to square one. McAda find anything out?"

"Nope. We got DNA, but no matches." Nick swallowed. "You care if I head out on time for once?" he asked with a hooded look. "Day shift can work this one later."

Gil nodded slowly. "Get some rest. You look like you could use it."

"We all could use it," Nick told him. His smile was tired but real. "Present company included."

It might have been the power of suggestion, but a few minutes later Gil wrapped up as well. No sense in killing himself over it. It would keep. If Ecklie's crew couldn't push things through, it would all be waiting the next evening. Absolutely no question about that.

It felt odd leaving before the sun was up. The eastern horizon was only just beginning to turn pale. Gil brushed past a sleepy-looking uniformed cop he didn't recognize and walked over to his truck. A few spaces down, Nick stood in quiet conversation with Al Robbins. Both men glanced at him as he approached.

"Everything okay?" Gil asked, smiling automatically at Robbins. "I thought you were going home, Nick."

"I am." Nick nodded. "Listen, Doc, thanks. Appreciate it."

Robbins' inscrutable gaze left Gil and focused on Nick. "Any time."

When Nick was inside his own vehicle Gil gave Robbins a narrow look. "Do I even want to ask?"

"Think he caught one of the bugs going around. You know, I've noticed none of you seems to ever visit a regular doctor. I'm starting to think I should hang out my shingle again."

Gil smiled, but the first sentence had caught his attention. "If you're telling me to expect people out sick soon –"

"Relax. Just a stomach bug, I imagine. Not pleasant, but should pass quickly. As it were."


Robbins walked slowly with him back to Gil's Tahoe. "I take it you got a visit from our friendly neighborhood sheriff tonight, too?"

"Possible budget cuts. He didn't say whether or not personnel might follow."

"Sounds pretty much the same as what he told me. You worried?"

"Sure." Gil fished out his keys. "But I'm more worried about being short-handed tomorrow, if you want the truth. Warrick's out for court appearances, and Sara's not back until Monday. You did get Nick a prescription, didn't you?"

Robbins snorted. "Rest and plenty of fluids, if he can keep them down. Aside from that time is the only cure I know."

"Wonderful. At least I had some warning." Gil shook his head. "Night, Al. See you tomorrow."

"Night, Gil."

Nick called in sick the next night. Gil nearly told him to suck it up and come in anyway, but hell, Nick wasn't a malingerer. He sounded like crap, and no question that at the pace they were working, people were bound to start paying a physical price. Gil gave his resigned assent, and got up to tell Catherine they were pretty much the whole team for the night.

But fortune was kind for once, and only one new case passed his desk that night. And Catherine's half-ironic challenge to see how fast they could crank these things out proved more fruitful than Gil had expected. It felt pretty good to do some of the work he'd been delegating to younger colleagues for years. Get his hands dirty. Not that he didn't anyway, often, but he felt invigorated, and by three they had a substantial list of accomplishments between them.

"We better watch it," Catherine said dryly, eyeing Gil's latest analysis. "We get this much done, it'll be like this every night."

"We got lucky, that's all." Gil smiled at her. "But at least we're mostly caught up."

"Amen to that."

Hodges stuck his head through the doorway. His faintly obsequious smile gave Gil a familiar twinge of reluctant dislike. "I've got the DNA results you wanted," he reported with obvious satisfaction. "Anything else you need?"

Gil took the printout and shook his head. "That's all for the moment. Thanks for your help."

"My pleasure. If you want I can stick around, fill in for Stokes. I know he left you in the lurch tonight."

"We're fine," Gil said pleasantly. "Tomorrow should be back to normal. Listen, if you're done you can head out. Have a good night."

Hodges looked a little disappointed, but nodded. "See you tomorrow, sir."

When Gil looked at Catherine he caught a tiny moue of dislike on her expressive features. "What?"

"Nothing." The moue disappeared. "So, unless you want to challenge me to see who can run fingerprints faster, I'm going home."

"We finished all the prints."

"I know," she said gently. "I was kidding."

"Oh." Gil smiled, and took off his glasses. "By all means."

"See you way too soon."


Cont. in ch. 2