Welcome to my newest fic! It's going to be a multi-chapter one. A bit ambitious on my part, but I promise it will be updated regularly, so no worries about being left hanging. This first chapter is a little shorter than the others will be, but I hope you enjoy it! This is set sometime around the third season.

The sound of another car approaching reached Nick's ears. Number four. The far away hum of the engine became louder and louder as the car neared. His emotions fought again, just as they had when the other three cars had come…fear and hope battling it out inside of him. Were they coming back to make sure he was dead? Or was it someone else? Someone looking for him? He doubted it. Not yet. They wouldn't be this close to figuring out what happened to him or where he was. Just a random car then. The road obviously was one not traveled much, as evidenced by just four cars passing in…how long had it been? He couldn't be entirely sure, but it felt like hours. This car was bound to pass as the others had. They couldn't see him down where he was even if they did stop to look…not even in the daylight, much less in this early dusk.

He lifted his head and listened as the car passed and the sound of the engine faded. He fought off the despair that was creeping into his heart. It was too soon for that. He needed to stay focused. There was no sense in wasting his energy trying to crawl up again…not in the darkness. He would wait until morning. His body shivered, and he tried not to think about how much colder it was bound to get as the night wore on. He hoped that at least the chilly air would help numb the pain in his ankle and leg. Right now it had subsided into a dull ache because he hadn't moved in so long. But he knew it would awaken with a vengeance the next time he tried to crawl. For that he needed rest, and resigning himself to his situation for now, Nick laid his head back down against the weeds and dirt and closed his eyes as somewhere in the trees a mourning dove called.

24 Hours Earlier

"What have we got, Jim?" Nick slammed the passenger door of the Denali shut as Warrick exited the driver's side.

Jim Brass was leaning against his own car, waiting for the two CSIs. He joined them in walking up to the prison gate as he explained, "Paul Keller…guard…whacked over the head with a crowbar. They've already taken him to the hospital, but the docs say death is imminent." He flashed his badge to the guard at the gatehouse and they were let in.

"Damn." Warrick joined the others in checking their weapons and presenting their ID badges for documentation. "Are we starting from scratch or are there suspects?"

"Oh yeah," Brass said. "There are suspects. Eleven of 'em just waiting for you."

"Eleven? Great." Nick said without enthusiasm as he signed the log book. He clipped his visitor ID badge to his shirt, then followed Brass and Warrick out of the gatehouse. But Brass turned right instead of heading toward the prison. "Aren't we going in?"

The captain stopped and shaded his eyes with his hand, shaking his head. He pointed to a small metal building not far from the gatehouse. The area was marked off, and several guards and prison officials were milling about. "Keller was supervising the storage shed in the yard. Looks like one of the inmates out here working needed something from out of there. None of the other guards saw anything out of the ordinary until a bunch of the other cons ran over there. Next thing you know they're all fighting and nobody knows where Keller's gun is…the guards ended up having to use a water cannon to get 'em under control."

"Did they find the weapon?" asked Warrick.

"Yeah…outside on the ground by the door. Couple of the officers here took some pictures and they secured it for you." Brass headed for the shed, the two CSIs close behind. He pointed to a larger building next to the shed. Two armed guards stood in front of it. "They've got the guys who were in the mob holed up there in the rec. building, waiting for you. You'll need to collect DNA."

"Rec. building?" Warrick wrinkled his face. "What is this? A country club?"

"Nah." Brass waved his hand. "Just a few pool tables…some cards…that kind of thing. Some of the cons earn time in there for good behavior."

"I assume 'good behavior' doesn't include clobbering a guard with a crowbar," said Nick.

"Exactly." Brass nodded to the guard at the shed and the three men were let inside. Despite what had happened, the interior of the building had a neat appearance. All of the tools seemed to be in place…except for the crowbar lying in the middle of the floor, a large smear of blood on the floor next to it. "Keller was lying here when they found him. It looked like there'd been a struggle, but the hit to his head was the only injury…well, almost."

"Almost?" Warrick asked.

"Yeah. You'll see." Brass walked back to the door. "So whichever one of them it was…some of the others either helped or got wind of it, 'cause it was a free for all when the other guards got here."

"So there's eleven of them? In the rec. room now?" asked Nick.


"I hate to state the obvious, Jim," Nick continued as he and Warrick followed the captain back outside, "but their prints are on file. We lift 'em from the crowbar and match them to one of the guys. Why are they waiting for us to collect their DNA?"

"Well," said Brass, "you can try for prints, but all these guys were working out here…had work gloves on."

"How's DNA gonna help?" asked Warrick. "Or do I wanna know?"

Brass stopped in between the two buildings and pointed to an upside down paper cup on the ground.

Nick and Warrick went over near the cup and leaned over to get a better look, then turned their heads to look at Brass. "Is that what I think it is?" asked Warrick with repulsion.

Brass nodded.

"Whose is it?" asked Nick as he stood back up, looking just as repulsed as Warrick. He opened his field kit and placed a marker next to the severed ear.

"Paul Keller's," answered Brass.

"And they found it out here? But his body was inside?" Warrick asked between snapping pictures of the ear.

"Yeah…it doesn't look like any of the altercation happened outside. No one saw anything out here until the rioting started. The attacker must have had it in his hand or pocket and threw it down…or spit it out."

Warrick looked confused. "So why didn't they just pick out the guy with the bloody mouth?"

"They all have bloody mouths, Warrick," replied Brass. "They were fighting. Besides, they all got doused with hundreds of gallons of water. Any blood evidence is gone."

"Ah. Got it," said Warrick.

Nick used a pair of tweezers to pluck the ear from the ground. He swabbed it and placed the swab in its container, then put the ear into a plastic evidence bag. "I need the cooler to put this bag in."

"We just need to get the DNA off of it, man," said Warrick. "No need to preserve it. Keller ain't gonna need it anymore."

Nick shot a look at his friend. "They're gonna want it, Warrick," he said evenly as he stood up. Warrick sighed and the two men stared at each other for a minute before Nick said, "Never mind…I'll get it."


"I said I'll get it!" Nick called without looking around as he headed back to their truck. When he returned after having carefully placed the ear in a cooler with ice packs, Brass and Warrick were already inside the recreation building. Nick picked up his kit and went inside.

On the left side of the room, eleven men wearing wet blue jeans and orange t-shirts stood in a line against the wall. One uniformed guard stood at the back of the line and one at the front. On the right side of the room Brass stood next to an unarmed prison official in a suit. The captain introduced him as Alan Haynes, the yard supervisor. He would provide the identification of the men in line.

Warrick had his kit open on the table getting things set up. As Nick approached, Warrick said in a low voice, "We're collecting evidence, man…not prepping a body for a funeral." He laid out eleven bags and a log sheet for recording the swab evidence. When Nick did not respond, he added, "Okay…last one to get here…you get to do the swabbing." He looked up at Nick and grinned.

Nick tried to be serious, but he couldn't stay upset with his friend for long. He laughed a little but grimaced. "Great. Thanks." He sighed and looked up and down the line of prisoners. As Brass had said, there wasn't a bit of blood on any of them. But a buccal swab of their DNA would tell the tale. Any sign of Keller's blood in one of their mouths…or of their DNA on Keller's ear…and they would have their man. He tried to reserve judgment, but a few of the men stood out as looking surely capable of biting a man's ear off before…or after…killing him.

Nick set his kit down on the table opposite of Warrick and opened it up. He removed a set of swabs and labeled tube containers. He opened one of the swab packages and the guard motioned for the first man, a dark haired Latino, slightly shorter than Nick, to step forward.

"Manny Juarez," said Haynes as he checked his roster. "ID 415765."

Nick noted the information on the first tube label and Warrick recorded it on his log sheet and on one of the evidence bags. The prisoner stepped up and stood defiantly with his mouth closed in front of Nick until the guard told him to open up.

"Yeah, that's what I said to your mama last night," the man said to the guard, but receiving no reply he complied and moved back to the end of the line as directed.

Nick snapped the swab into one of the tubes and handed it to Warrick, giving him a look that his partner knew all too well. I'm gonna kill you for this. Warrick just laughed as he took the tube and bagged it.

Haynes announced the next man in line as Lawrence Lambert, ID 625884. The tall, thin, pasty white man with glasses opened his mouth without being prompted and proceeded to say "Ahhhh" when Nick swabbed, as though he were at the doctor's office.

Warrick laughed again as Nick passed the tube to him. "Just think…only nine more to go."

Nick shook his head and turned to face Kevin Turner, ID 327418. As round as he was tall, the bald black man opened his mouth and exhaled, causing Nick to close his eyes for a moment and hold his breath, wrinkling his nose. He took the DNA sample as quickly as he could, but the man just stood there with his mouth open, emitting the foul odor. Nick smiled weakly. "That's okay, man…we're done. You can…uh…close up shop there."

"Ron Becker, ID 332715, step up," announced Haynes.

The man with shaggy blond hair hanging at his shoulders came forward. He was at least a head taller than Nick, with arms that bulged beneath the sleeves of his t-shirt. His face seemed to be set in stone, and Nick expected to be hassled as he asked him to open his mouth, but to his surprise the man silently did as he was told.

Warrick wrote the prisoner's ID number on the log sheet but noticed that the one above it was missing a digit. "Hey, Nick…"

Nick snapped the tube shut and turned to face Warrick. "Yeah?" He saw the change in Warrick's face, his eyes widening and his mouth falling open, just milliseconds before he felt the tightening around his neck. Whatever it was that had him was squeezing harder and pulling him backwards. He dropped the swab and pried at his throat but was unable to dislodge the arm wrapped there. He felt the pressure of a large hand on the side of his head and struggled again to get away, but he was growing weaker as both his oxygen and blood supply to his brain were being cut off. A roaring noise filled his ears as he fought to stay conscious, but it wasn't loud enough to block out the only sound in the room.

"Nobody move! Or I swear to God I'll break his fuckin' neck!"

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first chapter enough to keep reading! Please sign up for story alerts if you'd like to be automatically notified when a new chapter is added. I hope to put up a new one weekly...two weeks at the most. And it will not be left unfinished, I promise you that.

I welcome any and all feedback and would love it if you would leave a review letting me know what you think. :-)

Oh...and if you haven't figured it out already, Four Eighteen (418) is Las Vegas police code for "missing person". ;-)