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Prisoner 4929

By Moonstarer

Thriller / Mystery

James Price

Chapter 1

James Price

Catherine shifted the official Crime Lab Denali into park and checked that she had everything she needed for what she was about to do. She was feeling nervous. Of course she always did feel a little anxiety after driving out through the Nevada desert to be greeted by the sight of lookout towers and armed guards, wouldn't anyone?. Just being a female walking into a high security men's prison usually felt like asking for trouble. Today though, she was particularly anxious about meeting the inmate she was here to question. Taking a deep breath she stepped out of the vehicle and was struck by the blazing heat and glare reflecting back from the concrete surfaces around her.

At least it was cooler inside. Catherine approached the grille at the security desk. "Catherine Willows from the Vegas Crime Lab," she said, offering her I.D. "I have an appointment to interview prisoner 4929, James Price."

The officer on duty checked his paperwork. "Yep, you're down here. Let me call ahead, then he should be ready and waiting for ya once we're done with the formalities here."

The formalities included paperwork, a brief search and checking in her weapon and cell phone, to be collected again on departure. This was nothing that Catherine hadn't done a hundred times before in her years as a CSI, but still this time felt different. Eventually everything was in order and an officer arrived to escort her down the sterile, over lit, pale grey corridors to the secure interview rooms. She wanted Price to be able to talk to her freely, so they'd be alone together in an enclosed room. Catherine knew that plenty of officers would be nearby, watching through a window and able to hear any shout, although normal levels of conversation would be inaudible outside the room.

Finally they reached their destination; Catherine had been silent for most of the journey, feeling little urge to speak to her escort and still mentally bracing herself. Ahead of them another guard was leaning against the wall beside a steel door. Next to the door was a window, through which the other half of Price's escort could be seen, obscuring Catherine's view of his charge. Seeing her arrive, the officer outside the room straightened.

"Morning Ma'am. I believe you've interviewed inmates solo before?" Catherine nodded. "Then I won't give you the full lecture. Just keep your own voice and body language as calm as possible, don't allow physical contact, don't even let him talk you into going too near him, and if he makes any move at all that seems aggressive or makes you feel uncomfortable just yell out or hit the alarm, we'll be on him like a ton of bricks before he knows it. And don't feel you have to be in there alone with him, one of us is happy to sit in whenever you want." The guard grinned as he reached to open the door. "Don't look so nervous, Ma'am, we'll be keeping an eye on you both at all times."

Catherine hadn't been aware her feelings were so obvious; she took a deep breath as she entered the room, willing herself to at least appear calm.

As she walked through the door the guard inside nodded at her briefly and, after admonishing his charge to "play nice" left Catherine alone in the room with James Price.

The grey walls were a darker shade in here and, although the lighting was more than adequate it was dim in comparison with that outside, making the place seem almost cave like. Cath dropped the file of photographs which she had brought with her onto the steel table and sat in the nearest chair, taking the few moments while the prison staff reorganised themselves outside to observe the prisoner who was seated opposite her.

Price was dressed in the prison's standard issue blue shirt, though he was managing to look smarter in it than many inmates did, despite his slumped shoulders. His hair was freshly clipped into the shortest of crew cuts and he was sporting a greying moustache and goatee beard. His glasses appeared to have slightly tinted lenses, making it difficult to decide what the true colour of his downcast eyes might be. Rather than dangerous or angry, he looked drawn, tired and deeply sad. He looked so different from how Catherine had expected him to that, in the last moment of waiting to be absolutely sure the guards were out of earshot, Catherine found herself checking for the scars she knew would confirm the man's identity.

There they were, left eyebrow and right jaw line, small but noticeable if you knew where to look. Swallowing the last lump of discomfort at addressing the man before her she opened her mouth.

"Gil?" she spoke hesitantly, making his name a question, not because she was unsure of whom he was, but because she was unsure of whom he had become.

"James Price" started a little and his eyes flicked up from the point on the table that he'd been staring at and darted to the door, confirming for himself that they could not be overheard before acknowledging her utterance with his own "Catherine".

Still feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances Catherine tried to pull herself together. "How are you doing?"

His response was a trademark glare at the stupidity of her question, which he did not deign to reply to verbally. That he did not peer over the top of his glasses to give her that look led Catherine to theorize that his new lenses were some form of varifocals, saving him from having to remove them, and their accompanying anonymity, when he wasn't actually reading. Someone had put a great deal of thought into subtly disguising Grissom's identity from his fellow inmates, many of whom he had been instrumental to bringing here.

Catherine tried again. "We've been worried about you."

"Have you? Cut the niceties Catherine, you know I'm not good with small talk and I've never had much patience for 'little white lies'. Just give me the case file and ask your questions. I'm not going to run the risk of the Sheriff claiming I haven't kept my side of our 'deal'." Grissom's tone was full of bitterness, something Catherine had rarely heard from him, not even when Sara had left, leaving him with little more than what some would describe as a 'Dear John' letter.

"Look, Gil, whatever has happened over the last month, it hasn't changed the fact that I care how you're doing, especially in a place like this." Catherine automatically looked around her again as she said this, and tried to suppress her shudder at the bleak austerity of the jail.

"Then 'care' enough not to make me talk about it and give me the file."

"Gil, I..."

Finally giving in to his annoyance Grissom gave a frustrated sigh and leant across the table to grab the file for himself. Until that point his hands had been resting on his lap, but now Catherine realised for the first time that Grissom was handcuffed. Hearing her sharp intake of breath Gil looked at her briefly then drew the file closer to the edge of the table, so that he could turn the pages with his fingertips, keeping his wrists out of sight below the table's edge.

Catherine tried to calm herself, she'd interviewed handcuffed prisoners before and been glad of the protection. She needed to distance herself from the fact that it was Gil Grissom sitting across from her. Even the man's own comments seemed to indicate that that was what he wanted her to do. It was hard though and, now that Grissom seemed engrossed in reading the case notes in front of him, horrified fascination made her glance under the table for a second look.

Yes, there they were, forcing him to hold his hands just a few inches apart. Catherine tried to distract herself; Grissom had always looked good in denim and the fact that the jeans he was currently dressed in were prison issue didn't seem to be reducing the effect. Although her relationship with Grissom had always been Platonic it hadn't stopped her occasionally admiring his form. She let her eyes trace down his legs.

Nausea surged through her, bringing her to her feet before she had time to think.

Grissom looked up at her. "Please sit down, Catherine."

"You're chained to the floor." It was true. Grissom's ankles were linked by shackles, the central chain of which was padlocked to a hasp set into the floor between the legs of his chair, which was also fixed in place.

"I was aware of that," Grissom responded, dryly, "now, please, sit down, you're making my 'friends' out there uncomfortable."

It was true, the guards outside had seen Catherine stand up suddenly and appeared to be considering if this was enough for them to take some form of action. "They should be feeling uncomfortable, I'm going to get one of them in here to get those off you, right now."

"No." The statement was not loud enough to travel beyond the room, but it was forceful. Catherine stared at Grissom, who indicated her chair with his head. She sat down.

"Tell me Catherine, have you ever seen a prisoner secured this way before?"

She nodded, mutely.

"Did you get this upset then?"

"No, but they could have been dangerous."

This time Grissom was silent, just looking her straight in the eye. Catherine broke their linked gaze first, which seemed to fulfil Grissom's expectations. Now he began speaking again, his voice steady, the volume low enough to force her to pay attention, a trick she'd noticed him use before.

"I'm being held in segregation, and that automatically means close custody, escorts, shackles, handcuffs, all of it, I can't have one without the other and I need to be kept separate, I wouldn't be safe any other way. I also need to be treated like everyone else on the same regime, including by you, anything else would just raise questions that I don't want asked.

"All that those guys out there know is that I'm a convicted murderer and that the Warden had me put in segregation so fast I didn't even go through induction with anyone else. And, of course, the police still seem to want to talk to me rather a lot. As far as they're concerned all that means I must be dangerous. The only way they'll take these chains off while you're present will be if at least one of them is in here to. If that happens then you'll be Ms. Willows and I'll be 'James Price' and I won't be able to answer your question because 'James Price' knows nothing about forensic entomology."

Catherine saved him from continuing. "And if I don't go back with an answer then you might be considered in breach of your plea bargain and risk losing your anonymity."

Grissom inclined his head to confirm her conclusion.

"So, what is your question?"

"Just the usual, how long had the victim been dead at the time these photographs were taken? There's a sheet in there with ambient temperature, humidity, other environmental stuff like that. I hope it's enough."

Grissom returned his attention to the file. Catherine watched him leaf through the documents. He stopped for a moment so that he could raise his cuffed hands to scratch at his beard immediately underneath his lower lip. Catherine wondered if this itchiness was the reason he'd always left that part of his chin clean shaven in the past, even when the rest of his beard was nearly full.

Suddenly, and despite her best intentions when she'd known she'd be coming to see Grissom, Catherine found herself asking him a question.

"Why did you do it, Gil?"

He looked at her, the pain she had just caused evident in his eyes for a moment before he blinked them back to blankness.

"Are you asking me why I killed her, or why I agreed not to offer any defence? No, don't bother answering that." He sighed, gathered the file's contents together and pushed them back across the table.

"Vic had been dead around thirty-six hours. And no, normally what you gave me would not have been anywhere near enough, fortunately the species of larvae is both common and predictable. Those are blow fly larvae, Catherine, it should not have been necessary to consult someone with a PhD to work that out. There should be at least one CSI on every shift who can spot and do a rough time line on those, and know how to take the right measurements to pass on to an entomologist for more complex regressions, it's my fault, I know, the Lab should never have got to the stage where everyone had to keep running to the 'Bug Man'. That's why I was so pleased when Sara..." he stopped, unable to continue for a moment.

"Give me a pen." Grissom demanded after a second. Taking the one Catherine offered he scrawled a name on a piece of scrap paper from the file. "You'll find this man's number in my Rolodex, he runs a six week introductory course in forensic entomology. Send Greg if you can spare him, he's shown an interest in my regressions before. Make it a priority Cath. Even with the right observations there's only so much I can do from in here without access to my library, with the right information to pass on you'll be able to consult someone else a lot more easily."

Running out of steam suddenly, Grissom sank his head into his hands.

"We're done now, Catherine, please go."

Catherine hesitated, she didn't want to leave things this way, but it seemed she had no choice, she couldn't even risk offering a touch as physical comfort, with the guards watching from outside. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, but Gil stopped her.

"Please, Catherine," he said again, "just go."

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