Life Begins at The End of Your Comfort Zone – 3/4 – SASundance

Title: Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone
Author: SASundace
Fandom: NCIS, Criminal Minds
Genre: Crime Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Relationship(s): Anthony DiNozzo/Detective Andrea Sparr; Timothy McGee/OFC
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Violence – Graphic, Character Bashing, Reference to past sexual assault of a child; Reference to sexual assault of an adult; Reference to past child abuse and neglect
Author Notes: This is essentially an NCIS story with a minor Criminal Minds crossover of three characters – Rossi, Reid and Hotchner. There are a number of reoccurring NCIS characters, several OCs and minor characters who feature in the story. The story is set in the time mainly between the episode S05e15 In The Zone and S06e04 Heartland. Many thanks to Darian for the awesome artwork for this story and much appreciation to Arress for her help, too.
Beta: Arress
Word Count: 117,750
Summary: When Tim missed out on an assignment in Baghdad which he believed should have been his, everyone told him that he wasn’t ready yet, that his time would come. Frustrated, he turned to his writing, immersing himself in his alternate reality. Four months later, he was instrumental in finding the mole, after working undercover in Cyber Crimes and meeting the love of his life. McGee thought his life was perfect, unprepared for his alter-ego to draw him and everyone around him into a dark malevolent evil which would change everything forever.
Artist: Darian MacAver



PART 3: DANGER ZONES


Chapter 10

Tony regained consciousness aware of the all-encompassing darkness and his inability to move his limbs. Oh, and he had a headache of massive proportions. Cautiously, with infinite circumspection, he tried to move his head and much to his relief he could, although it was pure unadulterated agony to do so.

So, a cautious appraisal of the situation yielded several possibilities.

He was blind. He was blindfolded, or he was somewhere with no light. Perhaps underground.

He might be paralysed but not above the neck.

As he felt a panic attack threatening to engulf him, he realised several additional facts. He now became aware of sharp stinging pain in his palms which paradoxically was comforting. It meant that he had sensation in his hands or at least, the inside of his hands.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to wiggle his hands, only to have the stinging sensation subside a little, replaced by the tingling of his fingers. Interesting. He must have been clenching his fists so that his fingernails were digging into the fleshy part of his palms.

So, take away information – he could move his fingers and he could also feel them. Good news!

The second important clue was that his butt was sore as in his coccyx, which he’d injured at one point on the beat, falling down the stairs. It was protesting about being in the same position for too long, unable to take the pressure off by shifting position. As much as the pain was extremely unpleasant, it was further evidence that he wasn’t paralysed, so he welcomed it.

Since he could move his head (although he wasn’t going to do that again) and wiggle and clench his hands and fingers, Tony tried to determine if he could move his feet too. Ah…that was a definite maybe. He could wriggle his toes and feel a hard surface underneath them; he couldn’t lift his feet off the ground. He did note though that he was not wearing shoes, only socks and that his feet were in contact with the ground which was flat.

Despite his excruciating headache and his fuzzy thinking, he concluded he was upright, sitting, not lying down and he was most likely restrained in a chair indoors. So now they were getting somewhere.

Not in a hospital, not paralysed, and possibly…hopefully he was blindfolded rather than blind. All of which was not  good, it meant that he had probably been abducted and that he was restrained very effectively. Still, he preferred that scenario than being injured, paralysed and blind.

WOW! How pathetic was that that he was comforted by the knowledge he was a prisoner rather than a patient? Still, it wasn’t the first time he’d been abducted, unfortunately. The last time  it happened he’d managed to escape and free a nearly dead Marine at the same time. If there was any possibility of escape, he would!

There was still the issue of his head – it seemed that while he was tied to a chair and blindfolded, he had incurred a head injury. Hopefully, it was just a bad concussion. It wouldn’t be the first one of those he suffered from, either. He had rather a hard head which was lucky since Gibbs had been so keen on whacking it whenever he was feeling stressed.

There was a chance that it was a lot worse than a concussion though and that was concerning. He didn’t have any memory of how he’d been taken or who his abductor might be.

The very last thing he remembered was waiting for Judge Gomes to sign off on the warrants for the DNA and blood samples for the workers at the coal mine in Stillwater. Unfortunately, there’d been a delay; the judge failed to sign off on them because his daughter was involved in a car accident and he’d rushed to her bedside. Tony didn’t blame Gomes for that, but he’d passed the matter over to Judge Oliphant Nestow, a jurist who was no fan of the MCRT, thanks to Gibbs often high-handed attitude and wilful disregard for the law. In the past, Judge Nestow had tossed out two of their cases on technicalities and His Honour appeared to enjoy making Gibbs sweat when he testified in his court; or in this case, was waiting on warrants.

Tony understood Oliphant’s frustrations. He happened to share them since he had to spend a lot of his time and energy as SFA trying to mitigate his team’s cavalier attitude to observing the law when investigating suspects. That said, Judge Oliphant Nestow, in punishing the MCRT even when everything had been done by the book, was simply punishing the innocent victims and their families. He was potentially, also allowing a murderer to escape.

Corporal Taylor’s parents desperately wanted to know why their son was dead. In Tony’s book, wanting to score cheap points at their expense to get under Gibbs’ skin was not the way that the law was supposed to work.

There was a reason why Lady Justice was always portrayed as blind!

DiNozzo thought he had a very vague memory of deciding to go home, figuring that the judge would probably keep them hanging on until the morning before signing the multiple warrants. Not because there was a reason to refuse – he’d done his usually meticulous job of preparing those warrants and Joe Landers, the Head of Legal had checked them over too.

Nope… Judge Nestow was being an arrogant ass. Simply because he could. Like Gibbs.  Birds of a feather – they were both as bad as each other.

Try as he might, Tony couldn’t remember anything after floating the idea of going home. He honestly had no idea if he had gone home, although looking at things logically, he was here…wherever here was. It was highly unlikely that he would have been abducted while he was still at NCIS, at least he hoped not. So, it was probable that he’d gone home or was on his way home when he was ambushed since it seemed clear that he’d been captured.

The question was, why didn’t he remember? Retrograde amnesia was not an uncommon occurrence after a concussion and he already suspected that he had a head injury.

Still, it wasn’t the only thing that could have left him with no memory of what had happened to him. Certain drugs affected memory too. He’d interviewed enough date rape victims to know that Rohypnol could and did induce retrograde amnesia, along with benzodiazepine, which was used in general anaesthesia so people wouldn’t remember the surgery.

He also had a vague feeling that some drugs like scopolamine were often used by criminals to commit crimes like theft or rape. One of his law-enforcement journals had talked about an elderly couple who were robbed at a train station in Italy after accepting a cappuccino from a stranger. When the old guy regained consciousness, he’d fallen off the platform onto the train tracks and straight into the path of an oncoming train.

Tony wasn’t sure which scenario he preferred, having no memory due to drugs, because he had a concussion or worse, a serious head injury. He decided that neither one appealed that much to him but since his immediate aim was to get out of here, drugging was a slightly preferable option since it meant that his head injury wasn’t all that serious.

If he’d been drugged, Tony wondered if it was because whoever had taken him was trying to extract classified intel from him. He had, after all, been privy to a lot of sensitive information, not just as an NCIS field agent but also during his sojourn as an agent afloat. His log in codes to the Pentagon servers, which he’d used to access the vital data about the NCIS mole a couple of weeks ago at the behest of Gibbs and McGee, would have been changed. But Tony still had knowledge in his head that might be useful to enemies of the United States.

If that were the case, he knew that he needed to escape as soon as he could. He was fairly confident of resisting physical interrogation due to having a high threshold of pain courtesy of having a lot of ‘accidents’ during childhood. Plus, he’d had a variety of sports-related injuries and a lot of work injuries over his years in law enforcement. He was not anywhere near as sanguine that he’d be able to resist chemical interrogation though. He liked to think he would resist, but he wasn’t cocky enough to believe that he wouldn’t reveal classified information. Particularly when his reaction to an unknown number of medications was decidedly idiosyncratic, not to mention fucking embarrassing at times.

Tony was determined not to allow the negatives of the situation which he found himself in to overwhelm him, lest it affected his ability to act. He decided what was needed was to break down what he needed to do into manageable steps and focus on the goal at hand. Step one – he needed to get free of his current physical restraints so he could figure out how the hell he was going to escape.

As he reviewed the situation, he realised that he needed more information about his head injury. Could he use the fact that he could move his head to maybe figure out a way to reach his knife in his belt buckle? There was only one way to find out – he needed to investigate if he could reach his belt with his mouth. He couldn’t afford to wait.

Sure, he knew that the moment he failed to report in for work, the alarm bells would start ring, alerting NCIS that he was missing. His team would be leaving no stone unturned in trying to find him, right? With Gibbs in charge that went without saying.

Still, he couldn’t afford to rely on the fact that they’d be searching for him. Without knowing who had abducted him and why he had to assume that his team wouldn’t be able to find him in time. Tony needed to assume that he was one his own. It was just SOP for the expert in undercover work. He’d often operated without the luxury of backup, so he was extremely self-reliant.

Tony knew that it was up to him to get himself out of this situation and not assume that he’d be found. He also had no way of knowing how long he’d been missing – it could be hours or even days. If it was hours, then it was likely no one would notice his absence until tomorrow at the earliest. He could wait, see if an opportunity arose, then he needed to grab hold of it with both hands.

You might only get one chance and you had to take it and give it your best shot. Tony had enough regrets to last him a lifetime, he didn’t need more. Carpe diem!

Tony thought regretfully about Caitlin Todd. If only she hadn’t hesitated for a split second. If she hadn’t identified with her abductor, deciding that he had kind eyes (a Kidon trained assassin and a sociopath no less), then she might still be alive. He missed the former secret service agent even now. Cate might have been an awful profiler, but she didn’t deserve to die because Gibbs reminded Ari of his asshole sperm donor.

So, Tony resolved not to make the same mistake hesitating as she did. He would assume that he was on his own, no help was forthcoming and get himself out of this mess. He was used to relying on only himself – a child of alcoholic parents might lack trust in other people, but as a trade-off, those kids were usually highly self-reliant. In his case, his father wiped his hands of him when he was twelve years old, for some heinous crime which to this day he wasn’t clear upon, unless it was for asking for help from outsiders when he’d forgotten him in Hawaii. That was all ancient history now, but the point was it had made him tough, mentally.

Deciding that it was vital for him to learn more about his head injury, he was steeling himself to move his throbbing head a fraction. He realised it was also crucial for him to discover was he still wearing his belt, as that would give him access to his knife. Unfortunately, amid his plan making, he heard a sound, a creaking that if he had to guess (and he did) was a rusty-hinged door opening slowly. Either someone had an abundance of caution about what they’d find on the other side of the door or it was very heavy, requiring effort to open it.

Reflexively he turned his head in the direction of the sound and felt knife-like pain sear through him. He was aware of bile rising his throat before he felt himself losing consciousness. In agony, he thought he heard Darth Vader say something but that was quite obviously nuts. He must be delusional.

~oO0Oo~

A menacing-looking figure dressed in black jeans, black t-shirt, black hoodie and white dragon mask entered the room with infinite caution, even though the man was still tied to a chair, blindfolded and his hands zip-tied behind his back. Still, there was nothing to be gained from being careless. While Agent Tommy was a tool, even idiots could surprise you sometimes.

The black-clad masked individual regarded the prisoner in disgust, noting during the past 17 hours he’d been here he’d pissed himself AGAIN, judging by the acrid olfactory information which, unfortunately, the mask did little to conceal. Agent Tommy STANK!

Although the fool had been conscious when they’d entered the room and had heard them, causing him to turn his head towards the door and he’d let out an anguished yowl of pain. Tony’s abductor, startled by his yelling had let out a string of curse words, fortunately, using the voice synthesiser to disguise their voice. Regaining their composure, the masked individual felt overwhelming relief that the prisoner was finally regaining consciousness. Tommy had been out cold for a lot longer than anticipated and frankly, it had been extremely inconvenient.

The NCIS agent had a lot to do and there was not a lot of time to do it in. Removing Agent Tommy’s blindfold carefully, his abductor was furious to discover that the juvenile agent had lost consciousness again. Feelings of rage at being prevented from carrying out their plans engulfed his abductor, who reacted by violently slapping the annoying agent across his face, leaving visible marks. To begin with, the blows were an attempt to rouse the unconscious federal agent, since it was clear after the first strike that he wasn’t pretending. The blows also served to bleed off some of the rage felt by the abductor at not being able to achieve their goal.

Agent Tommy had proved to have a head that was way more fragile than expected. So much planning and effort to waylay the arrogant buffoon agent as he drove home and predictably enough, he’d stopped to pick up takeout rather than cook for himself. Who’d have thought that a tap on the head with a wrench would see him out for the count for almost a day? Such a precious snowflake!

~oO0Oo~

Abby and Jimmy had ended up at a bar not far from the Naval Yard soon after the forensic Scientist had finished running the urgent test for Abramson team. They’d chosen to discuss Tony’s disappearance and figure out how to proceed, away from NCIS and this seemed as good a place as any. Getting underway as soon as their drinks had been served, Abby had been her usual overly-optimistic self, insisting that of course she could persuade her Silver fox (as she called Gibbs) into doing a one-eighty degree turnaround to take the fact that Tony had failed to show up for work seriously. That was even after Jimmy told her of the conversation with Dr Mallard in Autopsy.

Stubborn to the core, Abby had called him to plead, beg and remind him that Tony would never leave the team high and dry like that. She’d reminded him how the senior field agent had dragged himself back after he had the plague, well before his sick leave had finished and ended up saving three of his colleagues’ lives because of it. Even though Cate was dead 24 hours later, it didn’t diminish his heroism or willingness to sacrifice himself.

Gibbs, probably angry from the highly emotional case in Stillwater which had stirred up a heap of old ghosts from his past, had grown increasingly short with her. Even when she’d grow tearful and distressed at his seeming lack of caring for his agent, he’d been pig-headed. Not giving an inch.

Finally, he snapped at her, “If he’s such a damned professional, as you say, then explain to me why he left Jen to die in the desert, Abs!”

She sobbed but before she could defend Tony, Gibbs hung up on her.

Jimmy took a sip of his beer and bit his tongue. There was nothing he could say that would make her feel better, aside from Tony turning up safe and well. Somehow, he knew, without having any evidence that DiNozzo was in trouble. Was this what Gibbs’ gut felt like? If so, it sucked… majorly.

He remembered having a drink with Tony about five months ago, following a rather nasty clash with McGee in MTAC. McGee had said some spiteful stuff to the senior field agent, but one thing stuck in Palmer’s memory about the case of missing Petty Officer Jeffrey Steadman. Tony had explained that the last time he’d been sighted had been a few hours after his 48-hour leave commenced at a dockside bar in the company of a sex worker and was never seen again. Tony told him Jeffrey’s shipmates hadn’t been concerned by his disappearance – that they didn’t like him.

McGee had told Tony if he went off the grid, no one would notice or care since he didn’t have any friends at NCIS. Jimmy had scoffed but Tony was concerned that maybe McGee was right. The senior field agent had been quite maudlin, questioning why he’d stayed on the MCRT.

Jimmy glowered at his blameless glass of frothy ale like it was a sworn enemy, thereby avoiding the tearstain face of the distraught Goth. It was frustrating that Gibbs refused to take Tony’s disappearance seriously but while Abby Sciuto and James Palmer might not be trained investigators,  they were far from inept. They were both trained scientists and good at analysing data.  Abby was damned good with computers, so, if necessary, they would find Tony themselves.

He decided that they needed to be logical and start by checking out his apartment, Jimmy handed Abby a handkerchief to clean up the black track marks on her cheeks from her mascara.

“Let’s go to Tony’s apartment. Just because he isn’t answering his phone doesn’t mean he isn’t there, Abby.”

The Goths jaw protruded, a sure sign she was about to argue with him. “If Tony were at home, he would answer his phone, Palmer. It’s rule three and besides, he wouldn’t worry me like that. Before you say that his phone might not be working, I called his cell phone and the landline. The statistical odds of both not functioning is incredibly minute,” she protested icily.

Jimmy held up his hands in supplication. “Hey, Abby! I wasn’t implying that Tony wasn’t answering his phone because he was ignoring us. I was wondering if he can’t answer the phone. He might have had an accident or become ill and he can’t get to the phone to call for help,” he explained reasonably.

Abby sighed mournfully. “Sorry, Jimmy. I should have known you’d never fall for the hype about Tony being a jerk who doesn’t take anything seriously. I’m just so sad that Gibbs seems to have forgotten how good he is. Why didn’t I think of that myself?” she berated herself.

Jimmy noted that she was twisting the previously immaculate white linen handkerchief with his blue monogrammed initials tightly in her hands. It currently resembled a rag with an abstract pattern of black from her makeup admixed with globules of snot and slashes of red lipstick on the linen. It kind of reminded him of a piece of gross abstract art – something Abby might display on the walls of her lab.

“Let’s go around to his place and check it out. What if he’s fainted and cracked his head open and lying there hurt?” she said urgently.

Abby pulled out her cell phone from the handbag which she rather quaintly called a reticule, saying, “I’ll never forgive myself for not going there sooner. I just gotta text Viv because she was going to swing by the bar so I could fill her in. We can meet up with her at Tony’s place instead.”

Ignoring his handkerchief, Jimmy asked, “Who is Viv?”

“Sorry, I forgot. Viv was before your time, Jimmy. She used to be on the MCRT but before Cate. Well a while before Cate,” she conceded. “She did something stupid, and Gibbs got rid of her, so she went back to the FBI and for a long time it was just the two of them on the MCRT. Viv and Tony stayed in touch and I was hoping if she hasn’t heard from him, she might help us look.”

As Abby sent a text and waited for Viv to text her back, Jimmy looked confused. “If Gibbs threw her off the team, then why do you want her help?”

“Viv is an FBI agent, Jimmy.”

“Yeah, I got that part. But we don’t need someone incompetent, especially if he’s in some sort of danger?”

Abby pupils contracted and she folded her arms. “Viv is NOT incompetent, Palmer! Why would you assume that? She’s a very capable agent.”

Jimmy looked even more befuddled. “Well, you just said that Gibbs threw her off his team after she’d done something stupid, right? Considering all the dumb things that Cate did, like letting that crazy bomb maker lady blow up a building and kill people or not take down a killer because she thought he had kind eyes, Viv must have done something calamitous for Gibbs to get rid of her.”

He looked at Abby cautiously, he knew she and Caitlin Todd had been close. “I liked Cate – when she wasn’t being bitchy to Tony or lecturing me about the male patriarchal society and why it was so hard being a female in a male-dominated world. But by no stretch of the imagination could you call her a competent agent, she wasn’t even a half ways decent profiler, Abby.”

Abby looked like a pricked balloon and Jimmy felt like a bastard. But it was all true from his perspective.

“I’ve never thought about it like that, you know. Viv was a good agent, honest injun.” Abby crossed her heart in a child-like gesture to indicate her honesty, her pale green eyes enormous in her pale face.

“It was just the last case that she worked on was a personal one for her,” she said gravely. The dirtbag they were after was responsible for the suicide bombing of the guided-missile destroyer, the USS Cole. Viv’s brother was serving on it and she became obsessed with finding his killer. So, when they set up an ambush on the docks in Spain, she accidentally tipped him off.”

She shrugged, “Tony said it was because she kept glowering at the terrorist. He started a gunfight on the dock and Gibbs received minor injuries from a concussion grenade.”

Jimmy frowned. “That’s it? Was anyone killed? Was property destroyed?” he asked, thinking about the mess at the Bombe Fernendeckung Fabrik HQ.

“Apart from the terrorist’s ship getting shot to shit, you mean. Nope!”

“So, I don’t get it,” he said. “She made one mistake and lost her job, even though there were clear mitigating circumstances. Cate stuffed up regularly, had no excuses for it and got to keep her job. Why?

Abby looked torn. “I don’t know. I admit it seems hinky, but Gibbs must have had a good reason, Jimmy.”

“Yeah, Abby, just like he has a good reason for believing that Tony took off to have a ginormous sulk-fest because he didn’t take him to Stillwater with McGee and Ziva. Even though DiNozzo was headed up there a day later to deliver the warrants and to make sure you and your forensic equipment arrived safe and well.”

Abby looked like she was about to start sobbing again when her phone pinged, indicating an incoming text. Probably from Viv, he figured.

Jimmy hoped she was as competent as Abby maintained. Having someone who might be able to spearhead the investigation, even though Tony was only missing for about 38 hours, not the 48 hours required to report a missing person would come in handy. Of course, if Gibbs or Vance had made an official report, Jimmy was certain it would have been taken seriously. But surely an FBI agent like Viv could cut through the crap, particularly if it were for a missing federal agent.

Of course, this was all moot if Tony wasn’t missing. He might be lying on the floor of his apartment, injured or ill and unable to summon help. Abby was right- they needed to go there right now and check. Looking over at Abby, he noticed that she was staring fixedly at the text on her phone, biting her lip which was quivering.

“What’s up, Abby”

She looked at him. “Viv says she’s already been to Tony’s place, Jimmy. She showed him her FBI creds and persuaded the superintendent of the building to do a welfare check on Tony. He’s not there.”

Palmer felt the simultaneous emotions of relief that he wasn’t lying on the floor of his apartment unable to summon help, or dead and a sense of dread about where he was. When he expressed those sentiments to Abby, she looked grave.

“Viv said she pinged his phone and located in in a dumpster behind an Italian restaurant approximately halfway between NCIS and his apartment. She said two nights ago, Tony stopped off to pick up some takeout. The owner, Aldo Pedrotti chatted with Tony in Italian until his order was ready, and he told Aldo that he was heading home. He said that he had an early start in the morning because he was driving to Pennsylvania with a colleague,” she finished with a stifled sob.

“Why didn’t I do something sooner. Jimmy? I should have raised holy hell when he didn’t come in. How could I just go to Pennsylvania without him?”

Jimmy swallowed audibly. He didn’t know what he was feeling. He did feel relief  there was corroborating evidence that something had happened to his friend. But like Abby, he was now second-guessing himself, he should have checked on Tony sooner, no matter what Ducky had said.

He also felt relieved that this Viv person was very decisive and hadn’t wasted any time in starting the search for Tony. Looks like Abby was right about her being competent, thank heavens!

But knowing that Tony’s phone had been found in the dumpster confirmed his worst fears. Something bad had happened to him. Palmer vowed to himself and Tony not to let him down a second time. He would fight tooth and nail to find him before it was too late.

He looked at Abby. “What’s Viv going to do, now?”

“She’s going to start ramping up the search for him, and his car. She wants us to stay here. Said she’ll be here as soon as she can and wants to ask us some questions.”

Jimmy nodded. “Okay. Good, that’s good.” He looked at Abby and started to babble. “No, it’s not good, it’s not good at all, it’s bad. Really, bad. Like awful, terrible bad. But it’s good that she believed you.

Abby smiled briefly. “Yeah, I knew what you meant, Jimmy.” Her phone chirruped again, indicating an incoming text message.

“Is that Viv? Has she found something new?” Palmer asked with an equal measure of dread and hope.

Abby shook her head, her pigtails whipping back and forth violently. “Not Viv. It’s one of Tony’s buddies from Metro PD, Detective Andy Kochifis. He recognised the BOLO Viv put out on Tony’s car, so when he couldn’t contact DiNozzo, he sent me a text wanting to know what was going on.”

“And you know him, how?” Jimmy asked curiously.

“We ran into him a couple of times when I was out with Tony at cop bars,” she said, shrugging. “I’ve met a few other DC cops over the years, mostly they’re detectives who Tony’s friendly with, she said nonchalantly. “But he’s also friendly with the unies, too.”

Jimmy raised his eyebrows. He knew that Tony had an ex-cop friend from the FBI who he went out running with sometimes when their schedules permitted. Huh maybe it was Viv – he’d just assumed it was a guy. He also knew Tony was always the one who liaised with DC, Maryland, and Virginia cops during joint investigations. He never realised he also socialised with cops outside of work…or FBI agents either.

“Did Viv say how long she’d be?” he asked, impatiently.

Abby said, “About 30 minutes. Problem?”

Jimmy shrugged. “I just feel like I should be doing something. Out looking for him.”

“Yeah, but Viv wanted us to wait. She said…” Another text message arriving interrupted what Abby had been about to say. She opened the text and raised her eyes in surprise.

Jimmy, on tenterhooks, asked. “Something wrong?

“Did you know Tony was dating that Metro Homicide Detective, Andrea Sparr again?” Abby asked incredulously.

Seeing Jimmy’s blank look, she explained. “The MCRT worked on a case with her back in April, staking out a storage locker in a warehouse downtown in a real skanky neighbourhood after they received a tipoff about the stolen navy radar. Purely by accident, the team witnessed a murder.”

Jimmy frowned. “Did we do the autopsy?”

“No, it was a Metro PD case.” She frowned. “Tony asked Ducky to get the autopsy report from DC medical examiner.”

A look of realisation crossed Jimmy’s face. That was also the case where Dr Mallard had you run the blood of that John Doe and we thought the specimen was Ducky’s and he was sick and didn’t want us to know. And you were trying to change your spatial orientation to get a new perspective,” he said dryly.

Abby grinned, “Oh yeah. I was spinning on my chair and getting dizzy,” she finished.

Jimmy chuckled a bit. “Yeah. So that cop he was working with was Andrea Sparr? I knew that he went on a couple of dates with her but then they both caught a few cases and it petered out. I don’t think I knew her name or if I did, I forgot it.”

Abby looked pensive. “Well, she just said that Tony called her up after he got back to DC this month. They caught up and decided to start dating again. Andy Kochifis told her Tony’s missing.”

Palmer looked surprised. “Tony didn’t say anything to me about it, but I do know he was miserable when he was agent afloat. Maybe he did some re-evaluating about stuff and figured life was too short to spend all of it working so he decided to see if they could work things out. I don’t think their break-up was acrimonious, was it? More like it was too hard to coordinate their schedules.”

“I see what you’re saying. Tony re-evaluated what was important to him and decided he wanted to try again,” Abby said suddenly getting teary again. “We have to find him before it’s too late, Jimmy. He deserves to have some happiness in his life.”

Jimmy nodded, “I know, Abby.” He just hoped it wasn’t too late.

Chapter 11

FBI Special Agent Vivian Blackadder stole a brief look at her companion as they left the Deputy Director’s office aiming to gauge his mood. Special Agent Tobias Fornell looked stony-faced, giving away little aside from a feeling of agitation… maybe anger. She probably didn’t know the man well enough to discern the difference. One thing she was rather confident about, though, he was not a happy camper.

She snorted mentally. It was such a dumb saying. Fornell was probably the least likely person to go camping…oh so if he went, he’d probably be quite pissed off. Yeah…got it!

Taking a deep breath and deciding to grasp the bull by the horns she said, “I didn’t mention your name, Sir. It was Deputy Director Kirsch who wanted you on the case.”

Fornell stared at her and Viv steeled herself not to look away or show submission. Respect? Yes of course, that went without saying, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to be his flunkey. If Fornell thought she was or he could browbeat her, well, all she could say was the seasoned supervisory agent was in for a nasty surprise. First off, she’d worked with Gibbs at NCIS six years ago and he was a bastard of the highest order…no one could match his assholery. And second, Tony was her friend and she was determined to find him.

Sighing, he gave her a brief nod, like she passed some sort of test. “Fair enough, Blackadder. My office in ten so we can formulate a plan of attack.”

He looked at her searchingly. “And I appreciate you were being succinct in your sitrep to our esteemed leader, he said with a touch of sarcasm, “but I need you to fill me in on all the data you left out. I want the supposition. I want to hear the gossip. I especially want your impressions and any potential difficulties that we might encounter going forward.”

Blackadder looked at him and hoped he would truly listen to what she had to say. She knew he and Gibbs shared an ex-wife – that was common knowledge around the Hoover Building. She sincerely hoped it wouldn’t get in the way of investigating what had happened to Tony.

“Yes, Agent Fornell,” she replied. “I’m ready to get started now if you want to?”

Fornell grinned. Which kind of reminded Viv of a shark. Not that she’d seen a shark smile, except when she and her brother Rex used to watch cartoons together as kids.

“I appreciate your work ethic, Vivian but I have an agent to reassign,” Fornell replied frowning as he envisioned how that would go down

Viv fervently hoped that her new temporary supervisor/partner was referring to Special Agent Ron Sacks who hated DiNozzo. The feeling was mutual though. Viv reckoned that being arrested once for a non-existent murder and investigated a couple of years later for a cold-blooded assassination gave Tony solid reasons for not liking Sacks, who made it clear he didn’t believe he was innocent.

Aside from the problem that having Ron Sacks on the investigation would pose, Viv had to concede that Fornell having twice investigated Tony’s life, he was uniquely situated to head the case as he already had fairly intimate knowledge of the details of Tony’s life. He’d be able to hit the ground running. When looking for a missing person, someone presumed to be taken by force, that was an important bonus.

She deciding to use the ten minutes before reporting to Fornell’s office to grab a strong black coffee from the coffee cart in the foyer and duck into the ladies for a toilet break before getting back on the job. She’d quite literally been on the go since Abby had contacted her at approximately 5.20 pm last night.

She was exhausted but knew that time was of the essence. Her intuition was screaming that someone had ambushed DiNozzo on his way home several nights ago. There was simply no other reason for him not to respond to her, Abby, Palmer, or the other friends who had tried to make contact. They’d already lost far too much time as it was.

~oO0Oo~

Fornell sighed as he pulled up outside of Gibbs home, noting the 1971 yellow Dodge Challenger RT Hemi in the driveway. According to Viv (who’d got the gossip via Abby Sciuto) the lovingly restored car was a gift from Jethro’s father, a gesture of rapprochement following years of estrangement and bad blood.

As the lanky FBI agent manoeuvred his way past the muscle car, Tobias couldn’t help but admire the vehicle with more than a touch of envy. The quality of the restoration was an impressive piece of work, but it was more than that – it spoke volumes about the love of a father towards a son. He wished his old man had been capable of the skill that Mr Gibbs so clearly possessed and he wondered if the stubborn jarhead would ever let him take it for a spin. Doubtful, even if they did share an ex-wife and alimony woes.

At least Mr Gibbs hadn’t burnt his project or been unable to get it out of the garage, unlike the numerous boats that Jethro had built over the years. In Tobias’ humble opinion, those boats were follies, indulgences to Gibbs own overweening case of self-pity and refusal to face his grief. After each ritual burning, Fornell had thought that surely there must be any number of charities for disadvantaged and troubled youths, kids who’d have benefited from learning to sail the boats he meticulously handcrafted and then egotistically destroyed.

Still, that was on the former Marine’s head. Now was not the time to be worrying about Gibbs lack of philanthropic sentiments. He had much more immediate concerns about the welfare of one of Gibbs’ team to occupy his attention. Not bothering to knock on the door, he entered the house and headed straight for the basement, knowing that if Gibbs was awake, he was likely down there working on some project or drinking.

As he descended the unvarnished wooden stairs, Gibbs barked without turning around, “What do ya want, Fornell?”

Tobias wasn’t sure if Gibbs had intended to throw him off guard by demonstrating his seemingly magical ability to know who’d entered his house without looking but if it was his intention, then Gibbs would be disappointed. It took a helluva a lot more than that to impress him. Unlike Jethro’s bunch of obsequious acolytes at NCIS, he wasn’t so easily swayed.

Snorting irreverently, he replied mildly, “Why hello, Jethro. Nice to see you too.”

Gibbs turned and glared at him. “Not in the mood for a chat, Tobias.”

Fornell smirked his sharp predatorial grin at the NCIS agent, the one he usually reserved for perps. “Well, that’s lucky, because I’m not here for a social call.”

Gibbs looked taken aback. “A case?”

“Yeah,” he replied monosyllabically. It was one of Gibbs favourite tactics to put people on the defensive and Tobias felt a rush of satisfaction at using it against him for once.

It went without saying that the Marine didn’t appreciate having the tables turned against him by using his tactics. The fibbie remained mute, determined to win the silent battle, knowing he held all the cards.

Looking frustrated, Gibbs waited and waited. Finally, through thinned lips, he asked, “So?” When no answer was forthcoming, he blinked, demanding, “What’s the case?”

Fornell said, “DiNozzo.”

Gibbs rolled his eyes, clearly irritated. “Abby?”

Tobias quirked an eyebrow. “And Jimmy Palmer.”

“Sorry, they wasted your time. I told them both that he was fine. Just pissed off because I left him behind when I went to Stillwater, so he decided to go off and sulk. I’ll deal with it,” he vowed grimly.

When the FBI agent remained silent, he looked at him, curiously. “What? What else do ya want me to say? It won’t happen again.” he stated ominously.

Fornell shook his head. “My God, Gibbs. You’ve never pretended to be anything other than a first-class bastard but tell me, how long have you had shit for brains? You and Vance are a fine pair!” he ranted furiously. “A federal agent fails to report for work and doesn’t respond to efforts to contact him and you just blow it off as a childish temper tantrum without any basis at all for that dumbass assumption. “

He shook his head in complete disbelief. “You have a federal agent who has a security rating that is several grades above mine and mine is pretty damned high, who isn’t taking calls or showing up for work. A federal agent who, only recently, has returned from serving aboard two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and been given access to classified counterintelligence and terrorism intel. Yet despite these facts, neither his immediate superior nor the fucking director bother to report him missing,” he continued to berate the NCIS agent incredulously.

“To be brutally frank, I can’t make up my mind if both you and Vance are guilty of criminal negligence or you’re just extraordinarily fatuous, in which case, you should not be allowed to organise a Sunday School Picnic! Please tell me, is this situation with DiNotzo an example of the colossal stupidity that is NCIS without Tom Morrow’s steadying influence?” Fornell challenged him, his voice dripping with scorn. His eyes were full of pained disillusionment as he paused to let Gibbs respond.

Once he was finally given a chance to respond, Gibbs slammed his hand down hard on the bench, yelling furiously, “Why don’t you just piss off, Fornell. You don’t know what ya talking about. DiNozzo will turn up sooner or later, begging for attention. Just like he always does. He’s fine!”

Fornell sneered, “So fine that we located his cell phone in a dumpster near the last known sighting of him on Thursday night, at an Italian restaurant where he stopped off on his way home to pick up takeout. The proprietor, Aldo Pedrotti, reported that they chatted and DiNotzo told him he was headed home for an early night because he had to drive to Pennsylvania the next day. His cell phone was smashed, but the FBI geeks were still able to trace it,” he said, grimly.

He didn’t share that they managed to pick up a set of prints from the phone that wasn’t Tony’s. “At that point, we put out a BOLO on his car and approximately 20 minutes ago, Metro PD reported that they’d located what they believe to be his vehicle dumped in the Anacostia. But I’m sure your right, DiNozzo’s fine and just pouting,” he said with forced irony.

Gibbs momentarily looked like he’d been sandbagged before he recovered his stoic mask. Breathing deeply, he asked, “Any sign of DiNozzo?”

“It will be a while until they can recover the car,” Tobias stated simply. A discreet way of saying it was too early to know if there was a body inside.”

He left Gibbs house soon after, leaving a much shaken NCIS agent in his wake.

Good, Jethro sorely needed a boot up the butt, Fornell concluded.

~oO0Oo~

Fornell was in his office, a cup of strong black coffee and pastrami and pickles on rye bread on his desk. Viv sat on the other side, a latte and a Cesar salad sitting virtually untouched beside her’ her expression equally as grim as her superior.

Following the good news from Metro PD Detective Kochifis that Tony’s car had been recovered, sans anyone inside, Fornell began outlining what their next moves into the investigation would be. Everyone was relieved that they hadn’t found Tony’s body, but the abandoned car, along with the phone, certainly made it obvious that Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo had potentially met with foul play of some sort. And whoever had taken him had almost a two-day head start.

“We need to rule out suspects who have a grudge against DiNotzo,” Fornell said, pronouncing Tony’s last name in the Italian fashion despite his own family name of Fornelli had been Anglicized by his father in an attempt to fit in better as a second-generation Italian American.

“We need to look at criminals he’s put away at NCIS, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Peoria PDs.” He told her listing the police departments he worked for before joining the federal agency. “Plus, we need to check up on that Chip Sterling guy who tried to frame him for murder, make sure he’s still locked up tight.”

“There’s the Macaluso family Tony took down or anyone connected with them,” Viv contributed as Fornell nodded.

“Right, and we’ll also need to look into any of the women that DiNozzo dated who might have been pissed off with him and if they were married, look closely at their loving and jealous husbands.”

Viv rolled her eyes in disgust. “Tony isn’t half the skirt chaser he pretends to be, Fornell, he’s all talk. Women throw themselves at him, but he turns most of them down,” she said heatedly. “I also know that anyone married is off-limits… even anyone who’s in a committed relationship. He refuses to go out with them.”

Fornell gave a humourless chuckle. “After investigating him twice, I’m aware that he’s all smoke and mirrors, Blackadder Calm down okay? But that doesn’t rule out that a woman might lie to him about her status to get him into bed. Men frequently lie to women and say that they aren’t married when they are, but women can lie too, you know.”

Viv looked disgusted at the notion, but she knew that Fornell was right. Liars came in all shapes and sizes and they couldn’t afford to discount anyone who might have wanted to abduct DiNozzo. She didn’t want the complacency and negligence demonstrated by NCIS to hinder the FBI’s investigation into his disappearance. Every possibility had to be considered, no matter how remote or implausible it might seem.

“Okay, point taken, she granted. “And what about for the four months he served as Agent Afloat on the USS Ronald Reagan and the Seahawk? He might have ruffled some feathers with somebody on board. You know, Tony did mention in a letter that he charged the Doc on the Seahawk with overprescribing of pain meds,” Viv mused. “There was no love lost there and there could be others on board he’d busted who had it in for him.”

Tobias nodded. “Yeah, that’s good thinking Blackadder. Plus, we need to think about if someone snatched him due to classified intel. he might have had access while he served on the two carriers.”

Viv pursed her lips, thinking. “And not just while he was Agent Afloat. Don’t forget that the MCRT has access to a lot of classified data.”

“And DiNotzo had a high-security clearance, not quite as high as Gibbs but it was still higher than mine,” the FBI agent conceded, unable to keep the note of pique out of his voice.

Viv smiled discreetly but stored it away to tell Tony when they found him. Since NCIS often investigated crimes by prominent naval and Marine personnel, they often had access to military intel in the course of their work. So, it stood to reason that anyone who had served as the SSA as Tony had when Gibbs resigned, would need to have a high-security clearance.

He looked at the list of suspects that Viv had been painstakingly compiling before sighing gloomily. “This is going to be a massive job to rule out all these people. We’re gonna need help.”

“What about any cases where Tony is scheduled to give evidence at a court-martial or a criminal trial? “Blackadder asked, agreeing that the list of possible suspects seemed depressingly long and quite overwhelming.

“Yeah, that too,” Fornell groaned rather pathetically as she added it to the already extensive list.

“Are we getting any assistance from NCIS?”

The grizzled FBI agent winced before admitting, “And therein lies another avenue of investigation. Currently, we need to view the folk at NCIS as suspects, so no help at this stage.”

Doing a double take she said, “What all of them?”

“Well no,” Tobias rolled his eye. “Obviously, but the MCRT, for starters. And anyone else who he worked closely with or who might have had a motive for wanting him removed. From what you’ve told me, they were all singing from the same hymn book about him throwing a tantrum and I want to know why.”

Tobias considered his words carefully knowing that she had worked with many of these same people. “It could have been an attempt to conceal his abduction, Viv. Plus, Director Vance and Gibbs were either negligent in not following up on his disappearance, or else they may have deliberately wanted to delay any investigation for as long as possible.”

“What about Dr Sciuto and Mr Palmer? They were the ones who reported him missing, despite being encouraged not to.” Viv objected.

“I admit that it sounds unlikely, but it would be remiss of us if we didn’t run a check on them. They can go first on the list and then if they want to help, we’ll get them to follow up on leads from Tony’s time in the police force. That would be extremely helpful, but we’ll keep them away from investigating anything or anyone related to NCIS,” he warned her.

“And Dr Mallard,” Viv gave a visible shudder, unable to control her visceral reaction to the thought of NCIS medical examiner who hadn’t stopped hitting on her the whole time she’d worked at the agency. Despite her making it clear she wasn’t interested in the creepy old lecher, he’d been annoyingly persistent, refusing to take no for an answer. She’d always been uncomfortable being alone with him, especially down in autopsy.

Looking at her oddly, obviously having picked up on her tell, Tobias held his tongue which Viv was grateful for. Everybody loved Ducky and even Abby felt like she was making a mountain out of a molehill at the time. The lab rat was adamant that Ducky was harmless, and Viv had just misunderstood him, or he was teasing her. So, she didn’t want to be patronized by Fornell too and told it was all in her head. Instead, he looked at her gravely as he leaned forward to emphasize what he was about to say.

“I want you to interview David and McGee since you don’t have a previous history with them. They don’t know about us locating the cell phone and the car unless Gibbs has told them – which he was warned not to do. Talk to them as if you’re trying to ascertain if DiNotzo is really missing or not. If they do have something to hide, they might slip up and give us something for a warrant.”

Viv stared at the veteran agent in consternation. “Do you think that one of Tony’s co-workers is responsible for his disappearance, Fornell?”

“If even half of what you’ve said about what’s been going on, is true, then yeah, I think it’s highly likely. There’s a lot that’s happened since Tom Morrow went to DHS, which to put it bluntly, is disturbing and very dodgy. There’s that whole ludicrous break up of Gibbs team after Shepard’s death about four months ago – what the hell was that about?” he asked rhetorically since Viv didn’t know either.

“Then just as suddenly, David, McGee and DiNotzo are back again and the new team are gone. Plus, one of the new agents, who was a formerly FBI, Special Agent Langer, he’s dead? Does any of that sound remotely normal to you?”

The redheaded agent pulled a face. “As Abby would say, it sounds pretty hinky, I think. And you might want to check out what happened to Tony’s mustang. Someone blew it up approximately 13 months ago.”

Fornell did a double, take having forgotten about that whole absurd La Grenouille/CIA mess, not to mention Jeanne Benoit. And how could that slip his mind? That supercilious Pommy prick aka CIA spook, Trent Kort was not a fan of Shepard’s little undercover vendetta. Kort strongly detested DiNozzo, who was something of an acquired taste. He sighed at the endless possibilities they needed to check out, feeling disheartened. How did one federal agent have so many enemies?

“Okay, that’s a good call on the car, Viv,” he told her tiredly. “That’ll need to be investigated too. I also want you to run a check on a Dr Jeanne Benoit who used to work at George Washington Hospital in DC, but she was on furlough. Off working with Doctors Without Borders somewhere in Africa, I think. Find out where the hell she is now,” he ordered decisively.

“Before or after I interview McGee and David?”

“First. Benoit falsely accused DiNotzo of killing her father six months ago. She most definitely had a grudge against him because he was investigating her father before his death.”

Viv wondered if it was the same Jeanne that Tony had talked to on the phone a couple of times when they’d met up for drinks after work. She thought at the time it was someone he was seeing. She’d ask Abby to fill her in later; it sounded like a possible lead.

Fornell followed her out of his office telling her, “I need to give the deputy director a sitrep and beg for more help. Plus, I need to get read in on what the hell has been going on over at NCIS. Let me know when you find out about Benoit, Viv.” He flashed her a small smile and she hoped this might be the breakthrough they’d been looking for.

~oO0Oo~

Fornell and Deputy Director Adrian Kirsch watched via a video monitor in the comfort of the AD’s office, as Special Agent Vivian Blackadder skilfully interviewed Special Agent McGee and the Mossad liaison officer about the disappearance of Anthony DiNozzo. As they sipped coffee well above the quality found in FBI breakroom in the Hoover building, Tobias had to admit with more than a smidgeon of admiration that Blackadder was damned good. She’d easily and quickly established a rapport with both individuals.

He was forced to acknowledge he’d been guilty of prejudging the FBI agent, purely on the basis that Gibbs had kicked her off his team. It was a very pleasant surprise to discover she wasn’t just competent; she was a very skilful interviewer. Blackadder used her shared history working on the NCIS major case response team with Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Tony to establish camaraderie with each one. It was damned smart of her, and then having won them over, she’d subtly played to their biases.

It was an elegant display of establishing rapport with a subject on Viv’s part. It could easily be used for training purposes in a class teaching interrogation techniques, Fornell admitted, quietly to the deputy director.

With McGee, she joked about how frustrating it must be to work with a troglodyte like Gibbs, who when it came to technology, barely managed to read his emails and even that was on rare occasions. She commiserated that Jethro wouldn’t appreciate how valuable McGee’s skills were to the team’s success. Next, Blackadder sympathised with him for having to play second fiddle to such a juvenile and mediocre agent as DiNozzo who was cocky and constantly joking around. The former NCIS agent observed that he must feel very threatened to have someone like McGee on the team, constantly showing him up.

Although AD Kirsch expressed some doubt, wondering if she wasn’t laying it on a bit thick, McGee seemed to lap it up.

Fornell shrugged. “I know, but she’s talked to Dr Sciuto and Palmer, Dr Mallard’s assistant about him, Sir. Plus, she read through his psychological evaluations”

He rifled through his burgeoning case file of information, handing it over to Kirsch who read the first page, his eyebrows rising incrementally as he took in the contents.

“Mildly neurotic introvert with an overly sensitive ego? For fuck’s sake! Who in their right mind would hire him to work as a federal agent? Especially in a federal agency routinely dealing with classified military intel and counterintelligence?”

Kirsch shook his head incredulously before offering his assessment, borne out of many years in the job. “This guy is, psychologically speaking, a spy or mole’s wet dream to be turned/ blackmailed or exploited. He’s a ticking timebomb!”

Fornell nodded. “Not to mention he’d be a highly attractive prospect for a criminal cartel because it would be easy  for them to target him too.”

The FBI assistant director rolled his eyes in frustration. “He’s easily manipulatable,” he admitted as he watched Viv schmooze him expertly.

McGee freely admitted (after she told him she’d found DiNozzo annoying to work with) that he had been promised a promotion from the junior field agent after his four months in Cyber Crimes. He didn’t hide his resentment very successfully that DiNozzo had returned and resumed his role as the senior field agent. It was clear to Fornell and Kirsch that despite saying he got on fine with DiNozzo, McGee was at best, ambivalent about him.

As the interview preceded it became increasingly obvious that he resented DiNozzo’s position on the MCRT as Tim’s immediate supervisor. Even when the interview with the FBI agent was supposedly about trying to find out what had happened to him, McGee couldn’t help boasting to Viv about his superior intelligence. He argued that his education made him more qualified to be the second in charge. Fornell noted he was quick to put the former cop’s skills down to pure luck rather than talent or expertise; downplaying DiNozzo’s undercover work. He boasted to Blackadder that he’d been undercover for four months working on something classified and extremely complex, and she’d fed his ego accordingly.

As she wrapped up the interview, Kirsch ground his teeth in irritation. “For someone who’s supposed to be a certified genius, he’s got the emotional IQ and maturation of a child. How did such a gullible candidate ever get accepted as a federal agent?”

Fornell said cynically, “His father is Admiral McGee, plus Agent McGee has a master’s degree in Computer Forensic.”

“He’s had barely four-years of field experience, yet he truly believes he’s ready to supervise other agents.” Kirsch declared, sniffing disdainfully.

Tobias smirked. “I know, right! It would be like taking candy from a baby to compromise him,” he said shaking his head. “How he ever got through the security checks is a mystery, let alone granted a super-secret security clearance to work on that encryption, I can’t fathom.”

Kirsch glowered. “It a travesty and even if he’s blameless re Agent DiNozzo’s situation, I’m going to make sure his position and security clearance is reviewed. He’s a security crisis waiting to happen,” he stated with steely determination as they watched the Israeli enter the conference room.

They noticed the Mossad officer surreptitiously searched for a video camera and/or recording devices, locating them discreetly placed in the corner of the conference room – the light indicating that it wasn’t active. It was more than McGee had done, he’d been rather blissfully unaware that his interview was being watched and recorded for a detailed analysis. Obviously, none of what he said would be admissible should they decide to charge him. He was so incredibly cavalier; it was incredible that he had such a high opinion of his abilities when he was less than circumspect.

Ziva David, although she was without a doubt more cautious than McGee, still quite complacent, taking the situation at face value. Despite being Mossad trained, she overlooked the pair of glasses that Viv was wearing, which were sending and recording video while a microphone was sending an audio feed from a bug implanted in the video teleconferencing phone that was sitting out in plain sight on the conference table.

Granted, she wasn’t allowed to search the room for bugs or cameras other than the obvious ones in the corner of the room which discreet, were not hidden. Yet as the interview proceeded, it soon became clear to Tobias that even if she’d been presented with the chance to search for additional recording equipment, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to her.

As the interview proceeded, Officer David (daughter of the deputy director of the Mossad, Eli David) was oddly complacent. She bragged about her superior training while underrating the deviousness of US law enforcement personnel. Generally, she seemed arrogant, and Vivian Blackadder played to her cognitive biases that the US was soft and inferior to Israeli counterintelligence and security organisations. The FBI agent skilfully built a rapport with her by commiserating about how difficult DiNozzo had been to work with, so childish with his jokes, pranks and endless movie analogies and references. She spoke longingly about how she wanted to render him mute, if not unconscious on occasions since he never knew when to shut up.

Fornell stifled a chuckle. Way to go Viv! She’d zeroed in on the time when David had killed a suspect in her custody because he was too mouthy and wouldn’t shut up. He guessed DiNotzo must have told her about it.

Kirsch and the SSA watched with increasing admiration as Blackadder skilfully empathised with the liaison, talking about how hard it must be for someone of her reputation, skills, and experience to be placed on the MCRT as a liaison. How it must suck not be able to handle evidence, interrogate suspects (when someone with her training would be able to easily get a confession) serve warrants or arrest suspects, if only she wasn’t a liaison. She expressed sympathy with her, saying that it wasn’t fair that a technicality (that only sworn law enforcement could carry out those duties in the USA) forced  her to watch from the sidelines while inferior agents carried out work she was far better at. All due to some dumb rules about her nationality.

Giving Viv a bemused somewhat haughty look, the Mossad officer told her, “I do not sit around and twiddle my toes while my team members collect evidence. And when Gibbs doesn’t do interrogations himself, I am his…who do you say it? His backout.”

Viv had corrected her automatically, “Back up.”

Ziva had shrugged, coolly. “Yes, that. And I have arrested quite a few miscreants over the years. I am much more athletic that McGee, you see. He spends too much of his free time in front of the computer playing childish games,” she crowed with a sly toss of her head.

Viv, though she seemed shocked by the revelation, rallied, asking her, “But how is that possible? You aren’t a US citizen. You don’t have the legal authority to carry out those duties, Officer David. You are a liaison from a foreign agency.”

Adrian Kirsch, his jaw clenched in anger and his eyes narrowed in an obvious sign that Fornell had no trouble recognising that the Deputy Director was extremely pissed off, growled, “Very good question, Agent Blackadder”.

While the FBI agent seemed visibly surprised at David’s revelations, Fornell did wonder if it was an act on Viv’s part. It was obvious to him that she’d known about the death in custody fuckup. It seemed likely that Tony had told her about other stuff too.

Ziva shrugged and tossed her dark hair over her shoulder, before responding to Viv’s question with a haughty half-smile. “Gibbs and I have an understanding. He knows I am too valuable an asset to be wasted as a mere liaison, restricted basically to observing like a wallpaper flower, yes?” She boasted as she murdered an idiom.

Narrowing her eyes at Viv, she told her, “We are willing to do whatever it takes to win,” she shrugged. “On his team, he makes his own rules. He has no patience for stupid rules that get in the way of a successful outcome. But you must already know that if you have worked for him,” she told her archly.

The FBI agent responded quickly, despite the bombshell which had just been dropped in her lap by David. She retorted knowingly, “Oh yeah, I know all about Gibbs’ Rules. And his most important one…do as I say, not as I do. “

Cocking her head to the side, Ziva said, “I do not believe that I am familiar with that particular rule, Agent Blackadder. Which number is that?”

Viv chuckled, “Oh it doesn’t have a number, it’s an unwritten one, like there is no such thing as coincidences or if you intend to shoot a suspect, do it while they’re running away, not after you’ve caught them.”

Ziva looked at her. “I have heard of the coincidences rule but not the others.”

Viv shrugged. “Well there are at least fifty written rules, I believe. Plus, the unwritten ones.”

With an imperious nod of her head, Ziva said, “So I have been told.

As the pair traded stories about Gibbs rules, Kirsch had his head in his hands. “Oh. My. God! That fuckwit lets a foreigner carry out the duties of a sworn law enforcement agent. How do his cases not get thrown out on technicalities? This is just an outrage!”

Fornell winced at the volume of the assistant director who was standing right next to him. He admitted he didn’t know how Jethro got away with such flagrant violation of the rules of law.

But he said, “I do know that Ziva David killed a suspect in her custody because he annoyed her. It was ruled an accidental death because he had a brain aneurism but if she hadn’t struck him, he wouldn’t have died in custody,” he reasoned.

“If he was in her custody then it wasn’t lawful,” AD Kirsch looked appalled, but he muttered under his breath something about there being a time and place to follow up on it and turned to watch the rest of the interview with a grimly renewed focus.

Viv had turned to talk to Ziva about ‘DiNozzo the jock’ and how Ziva must hate having to work with someone who was constantly trying to seduce her. Ziva had looked momentarily off-balance before she started talking about how he did not take his job seriously, giving his feelings way too much credence during investigations. She mocked his obvious flirting with witnesses and suspects and his chauvinistic habit of blaming wives for murdering their husbands.

As Vivian got around to asking the Mossad liaison about her opinion regarding Special Agent DiNozzo’s disappearance, she’d vacillated for all of a minute before launching into a diatribe about him feeling guilty that Jenny had died.

Fornell felt the metaphorical raising of the Deputy Director’s bushy eyebrows re a Mossad officer referring to the former director of NCIS with such a lack of formality. The veteran agent found it equally discourteous. Beside him, Assistant Director Kirsch agitatedly finger-combed his already immaculately arranged iron- grey-coloured hair, spoiling the effect. Tobias guessed it was a sign of how disturbed he felt right now.

He recalled that Adrian Kirsch had not been a fan of the whole insertion of Ari as a mole into the Hamas terrorist cell fiasco. He warned everyone involved that the David family was trouble.

Meanwhile, in the interview room, Ziva was fluctuating between acting solicitous and suggesting that Tony might be depressed and crawling into a bottle of booze to cope with his feelings. Then she would switch. She would berate him for being soft, according to her, like all Americans. The Mossad liaison cited his stupidity by falling in love with the mark during an undercover assignment and then suffering from misplaced guilt because a weak female had gotten her precious feelings hurt. She said he should know better since marks in undercover operations always got hurt in the end and besides which, her father was a monster.

Adrian looked across at Fornell for an explanation. “The almost year-long unsanctioned undercover mission with La Grenouille, Sir.”

Growling, he asked, “What the fuck were the powers that be thinking when they appointed Shepard as Thomas Morrow’s successor?”

Tobias, realising that it was rhetorical question stayed quiet. The two men watched the last bit of the interview with Officer David, who suggested in all seriousness that DiNozzo could have gone to drink and seek absolution at Jenny’s graveside or possibly gone to his former girlfriend, Paula Cassidy’s grave or maybe visited Long Island, the resting place of his mother.

“No doubt he is sobbing, guilt-ridden over their deaths and drinking to try to erase the pain. That is what is wrong with Americans… you are too quick to want to get rid of pain. In Israel, we embrace the pain. We make friends with it, and we use it to make us stronger. And we are already stronger than you Americans are.”

After Viv concluded the interview and walked her new gal pal (not) out of the building, the AD looked at Fornell. “Well, that was interesting. Where are we at with the other NCIS interviews?”

Tobias pulled a face (that would have probably won him a place in an English gurning competition) which expressed his frustration before proceeding to discuss the other interviews of DiNozto’s co-workers.

“I conducted interviews with Dr Sciuto, James Palmer, Dr Mallard. And I also interviewed a couple of other individuals who approached me when they heard I was looking into Tony’s disappearance.”

Kirsch leaned forward, interested. “Who were they?”

Fornell consulted his file. “The head of the Legal Department, Joseph Landers. He’d been working closely with DiNotzo to obtain warrants for the case in Stillwater.”

“And why did he reach out?”

“Heard the theories from Tony’s teammates that he took off because he was depressed or pouting about being left behind when Gibbs took McGee and David to Pennsylvania with him. He wanted to assure me that he seemed fine. He said he was completely professional and expressed his enthusiasm for the drive up the Stillwater to deliver the warrants the next day.

Landers said the only thing DiNotzo seemed annoyed about, was that the judge was jerking them around. It seemed that Judge Nestow and Gibbs had quite an adversarial relationship. The lawyer said that Tony was frustrated that the victims and their families were being held hostage by what he said was a pissing competition between the pair.”

There was a knock on the door and Vivian Blackadder entered the office. Fornell assumed she’d escorted Officer David out of the building.

“Come in Special Agent Blackadder,” Assistant Director Kirsch ordered her. Nice job with those interviews,” he said, and she flushed slightly and nodded her head in acknowledgement.

Kirsch pursed his lips and tapped his foot for a moment before resuming the previous discussion. “So, Landers told you this information because he wanted us to investigate Special Agent DiNozto’s disappearance? Interesting.”

Vivian cleared her throat apologetically. “Ah DiNozzo, Deputy Director.”

Adrian looked at both agents. “Why do you call him DiNotzo if it’s pronounced DiNozzo, Fornell?”

Looking slightly uncomfortable, he said, “Because that’s how it supposed to be pronounced in Italian.”

Blackadder looked irritated, “But he isn’t Italian. His great grandfather emigrated from Italy and his grandfather decided to change the pronunciation. Probably for similar reasons as to why one of your relatives dropped the I on Fornelli and made it sound more Anglicised”, Viv said dryly.

“Lord only knows, I wish my parents or grandparents would have had the common sense to shorten our last name to Black when they came here from England. It’s derived from old English awedur  which means running waters or stream, but worse, there was an extremely popular British pseudo-historical sitcom back in the ’80s about an Edmund Blackadder who was an extremely unlikeable, nasty character. I could have done without all of the teasing my name caused.”

Kirsch quirked an eyebrow at Fornell who was looking uncomfortable. “What do you have to say for yourself, Agent Fornelli?”

Tobias scowled at Viv who smiled back at him, looking all innocent. “Um point taken. DiNotzo um DiNozzo is kind of good at pushing people’s buttons. It’s a technique he uses to distract people and make them underestimate him, so I push back. It’s just a bit of harmless interagency hazing,” he assured the deputy director before shooting Blackadder a look that promised retribution.

She smiled at him sweetly, clearly not worried about possible payback and Fornell figured that compared to Gibbs, he wasn’t all that scary.

Tobias sighed, he needed to work on that.

Chapter 12

The Deputy Director, Adrian Kirsch had watched the nonverbal exchange between Fornell and Blackadder over Anglicisation of last names with a quizzical expression before getting their meeting back on track.

“So, who else approached you from NCIS?” he asked the two FBI agents.

Looking at his file again, Fornell said, “An intelligence analyst, works the Middle East division, Nikki Jardine. Vivian interviewed her,” he said, knowing she didn’t like being called Vivian as payback for the Fornelli jibe.

Viv didn’t react, much to his disappointment. She looked down at her palm pilot. “Jardine wanted to tell us that she and Tony had something planned this weekend and she was positive he hadn’t taken off because he was pissed off or in the depths of clinical depression.”

Kirsch looked interested. “Are they in a relationship?”

Viv looked like she wanted to roll her eyes but managed to control herself. A romantic partner was always a prime suspect. “Not in the way you’re asking, Sir. They are friends. They worked an investigation over in Iraq nearly six months ago when she was his interpreter. She said that during the case he found out that her brother had been wounded in Baghdad and had ended up in a vegetative state. She mentioned that when she visited every week, she made a mixtape of music for him to listen to.

“Tony started turning up with his guitar when he wasn’t working, playing live music to her brother Eric. When he was assigned agent afloat, he continued the impromptu music therapy sessions, sending CDs for Eric that he burnt and after he’d returned to DC from the Seahawk, he’d been too busy with cases but he’d promised Nikki he was going to visit Eric this coming weekend. Jardine wanted me to know that something must have happened to him, she was adamant that he wouldn’t let her or her brother down like that.”

“Interesting dichotomy between co-workers who sought you out and the MCRT and Director Vance. Why the great divide in opinions, I wonder?” Kirsch frowned as he interlinked his right and left fingers and leaned his chin on his clasped hands as he pondered the situation. “Where do we stand with the other co-workers?”

Fornell spoke up. “Dr Sciuto and Palmer have been cleared. They sounded the alarm about his disappearance, albeit a bit late. Everything that they told Viv about the things that have been happening was corroborated by other individuals.” The veteran FBI agent flashed a look at Viv.

“Neither appear to have a motive to want to harm Di Not…DiNozzo and they aren’t in debt or had any suspicious financial activity in their bank accounts. As sure as we can be right now, they’re in the clear.”

Viv looked pleased to hear that. “So, we can put them to work then? They keep ringing and badgering me. They want to help.”

The assistant director looked at Fornell who nodded.

“Under the circumstances, they can start checking into anyone who might have had a grudge during the period Special Agent DiNozzo spent in the police force,” Kirsch said.

What about people who might have a grudge on cases he worked as a federal agent?” Fornell asked, curious to see what the deputy director would think.

I’m not happy with them doing that, there could be a conflict of interest, and I’d rather avoid it, even if it is merely a perception. We’ll get some of our agents onto that. Maybe Agents Sacks, Wentworth and Wang can check on cases he’s worked on at NCIS. “

Fornell rolled his eyes, but even though Ron hated DiNotzo with a passion, he was also a dogged agent and he could check on Charles Sterling since he was well acquainted with that situation. The Jeanne Benoit case, as well. Agent Luke Wentworth had also assisted them on the Rene Benoit investigation and Gibbs had stolen Luke’s ID. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t a big fan of the former Marine. Hopefully, Special Agent Melissa Yang would be a fresh set of eyes who’d hopefully balance out Ron’s bias…okay his out and out dislike of Anthony DiNozzo.

Blackadder had established that six months ago, Jeanne Benoit returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after falsely accusing Tony of killing her father. There was no record of her leaving DR Congo or re-entering the USA, either so, she’d been ruled out as a suspect at this stage. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Benoit was due to fly back into the States to take some medical exams next week though. If God forbid, they hadn’t located DiNotzo by then, they’d need to interview Dr Benoit and investigate her further.

It was clear that she had a motive to want to hurt him and theoretically she could have paid someone else to abduct him while she had an airtight alibi, canoeing past hippopotamus on the way to the medical clinic. As alibis go, you couldn’t get much more watertight than hippos and as a doctor, Jeanne Benoit was smart enough to pull it off. The question was, did she still hate DiNotzo enough to set this up, or had she begun to grieve her loss and move on with her life?

Nodding, he said, “Yes, Sir, I’ll inform Sacks and the others about the assignment after finish up, here. As to NCIS’ medical examiner, Dr Mallard, I spoke with him today. Although he has a massive blind-spot named Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and he was far too slow to understand the seriousness of the situation, he is extremely remorseful. He’s also fully supportive of Sciuto and Palmer’s decision to report DiNozzo’s disappearance.”

Deputy Director Kirsch nodded. “And this blind spot – would he cover up for Gibbs if he committed a crime?”

Tobias considered the question carefully. Would he? He remembered Special Agent Lena Reyes’ account of how Ducky and Gibbs had intimidated a bombmaker, Randal Moore, one of NCIS’ Most Wanted. She insisted that they’d forced him to watch an autopsy as an example of what his post-mortem would look like after they arranged his death in custody by hanging. Of course, Ducky had also demanded that Ari Haswari be delivered as a corpse (a bona fide one this time) onto his autopsy slab for him to dissect as payback for maiming his previous assistant, Gerald Jackson.

Kirsch noted the agent’s apparent reluctance to answer his question and said, “The fact you’ve taken so long to answer a straightforward question tells me all I need to know, Fornell. We might have to revisit Dr Mallard later.”

Fornell looked across at Blackadder and saw a strange expression which he couldn’t identify. He remembered her physical reaction to Mallard’s name previously and decided when he had a spare hour, he was going to find out what that was all about.

Sighing regretfully because he liked the eccentric ME, he conceded, “Agreed,” automatically noting Viv’s look of surprise, then her calculated expression as she watched his non-verbal cues. Yeah, there was something there.

Aware that they’d all been avoiding a major elephant in the room, the deputy director finally decided it was time to acknowledge the said pachyderm head-on. “You haven’t talked to Gibbs or Vance yet?”

Fornell shook his head. “Vance is smart and politically savvy. And he’s also extremely ambitious. I think we need to find someone he doesn’t know to interview him, Sir.”

Adrian cocked his head to the side before leaning forward ever so slightly, a tell that Tobias had learnt meant the DD was thinking. “I see. Anyone particular who you had in mind?”

The special agent in charge frowned. “The same guy who I was thinking would be the best suited to doing Gibbs’ interview too.” Seeing the assistant attorney’s look of surprise, he explained. “I don’t think that I should be the one to officially interview him, Sir; there’s too much water under the bridge between us.”

“Gibbs is a master interrogator – even if he doesn’t play by the rules,” he said, thinking specifically about his pre interrogation ‘softening up processes’ like with that terrorist bomber, Roland Moore.

The former US seaman had converted to Islam after being medically discharged after an accident and losing two fingers. He’d blown up a recruitment office before becoming a suspect in the attempted assassination of an Iraqi war veteran, Lt. Commander Micki Shields. He was not exactly a snowflake, but Gibbs and Ducky had scared the crap out of Moore, according to Reyes. Not that Tobias had exactly condoned her methods on that case, either.

“He’ll be more likely to slip up if someone he hasn’t had a chance to size up does the interview.” He said, diplomatically.

Kirsch looked at the younger agent. “What are your thoughts on the matter, Agent Blackadder?”

Pursing her lips together, she reached for the glass of water in front of her and took a sip before answering. “Gibbs despises military officers, lawyers, shrinks and other law enforcement agencies. He basically thinks they’re stupid. Also, he hates it when professionals use jargon that he doesn’t understand, like scientists, computer techies and doctors, which is very hypocritical of him because he uses military jargon all the time.”

Fornell and the assistant director exchanged meaningful glances, wondering if they were thinking the same thing. Kirsch said, “I’d like you to put these insights down on paper please and anything more that occur to you, Agent Blackadder. I’m thinking we need to build a profile and that we should get the BAU to interview him.”

He paused for effect, “Specifically, Special Agent in Charge Aaron Hotchner and Senior Supervisory Agent David Rossi. Hotchner is the Unit Bureau Chief and a former assistant district attorney. Rossi is a highly decorated, former Sergeant Major in the US Marine Corps.”

Blackadder and Fornell exchanged a speaking look. Oh boy, talk about bringing out the big guns! Viv’s smirk indicated she was looking forward to the inevitable fireworks and he couldn’t blame her. Despite his relationship with the Gibbs, Tobias would most definitely be bringing the popcorn. Lots of popcorn!

“So, any insights into Director Vance,” the deputy director asked, looking at Viv.

“I didn’t have anything to do with Leon Vance when I was at NCIS. He was in the San Diego office. All I know about him is what Sciuto, Palmer and to a lesser extent, what Tony said about him. Oh, and Nikki Jardine, their Middle East intelligence analyst. Jardine said that when he was filling in for the former director, he was playing mind games with the MCRT during a sensitive investigation in Baghdad. According to Jardine, he was getting off on playing people against each other, even though the decision about who to send had already been finalised.

“Fornell snorted involuntarily. When they both looked at him curiously, he looked rather sheepish. “What your describing sounds just like how Gibbs runs his team.”

Kirsch said, “I think we’ll get the BAU to offer some advice on who should do the interviewing of Director Vance.”

Fornell nodded. “Yeah, he’s an unknown quantity, hopefully, the profilers will have an idea on the best way to approach him. After all, that’s kind of their thing.”

Kirsch nodded. “Absolutely. Well, I think we should wrap this up so I can consult the BAU and you can inform, Sacks, Yang and Wentworth.”

He looked across at Viv contemplatively. “Speaking of profiling, Special Agent Blackadder, nice job on your profiling of Officer David and Special Agent McGee. We got some extremely valuable information out of your little chats. We need to investigate both individuals thoroughly. I want to know everything about them both,” he ordered firmly.

Viv’s auburn colouring, courtesy her Celtic heritage, had flushed almost beet-red and she carefully avoiding looking in Adrian Kirsch’s direction. Fornell gave an evil little chuckle. It was a kind of obvious tell that she was disconcerted. It was obvious that Blackadder wasn’t comfortable with praise from the powers that be, perhaps it was vestiges of her Puritanical ancestors.

As they left the DD’s office, she looked at Tobias impatiently asking, “Are we going to let the two Metro PD detectives, Kochifis and Sparr help out too? They requested they be allowed to able to assist in the investigation to find Tony.”

~oO0Oo~

38 hours post abduction:

The black-clothed abductor who went by the name IGYB glared at Agent Tommy in frustration. That idiot kept lapsing in and out of consciousness, although maybe it was all an act. Striding over to the agent still restrained in the chair, the abductor slapped his face, but he didn’t react. Still not entirely convinced, IGYB poked Tommy’s bloodied head wound distastefully, happy to be wearing a set of surgical gloves. Apart from an anguished cry of pain, subsiding to a bunch of incoherent mumbling, there was no other reaction.

It seemed like he was out cold, which was very frustrating. Time was truly short, there was only an extremely limited window of opportunity each day to get stuff done. It was difficult as IGYB didn’t want to raise suspicions by missing work, plus they didn’t want to raise suspicions at home either. Yes, Agent Tommy had been caught but so far, little had been achieved, aside from his actual capture.

Catching him had been child’s play. IGYB had asked for help with a 79 Mustang that had broken down. Okay, so there was a moment or two when things looked like they might go south when Agent Tommy had looked at IGYB intently and asked had they’d met before. Trying to stay calm, the kidnapper muttered something about working in a hospital, which had resulted in him nodding and remarking that he spent a fair amount of time visiting hospitals. Luckily, he was satisfied with why IGYB looked familiar (despite having gone to considerable lengths to disguise their normal appearance) Tommy had offered to look at the car to see if it was something simple which he could fix.

While he was checking out the engine, it was simple enough to whack him over the head with a large wrench, shove him into his car and drive him to the location that IGYB had already prepared. Getting him there would be problematic since moving an unconscious man was not as easy as television shows would have the audience believe.

Plus, at six feet two inches tall, and well built, he wasn’t exactly a small guy. IGYB had read somewhere that as muscle was denser than fat, if you compare same-size portions, then muscle was heavier. The kidnapper wasn’t sure if that was correct but suffice to say Tommy was muscular and therefore heavy, although unconscious made it harder to lift him because the centre of gravity was affected.

Of course, if he’d been conscious, he would have tried to resist or fight back so all things considered, unconscious was the best option. The difficulty in moving him had mostly been solved by a previously purchased bicycle trailer, drugs to render him compliant should he regain consciousness and the assistance of IGYB’s accomplice.

Once they’d reached the building where he would be incarcerated, he’d been tied to the chair that was fixed firmly to the floor, IGYB administered more drugs to make sure he’d forget what had happened to him. While Agent Tony was not going to be around for much longer, it would be stupid not to take precautions, in case anything went wrong in the meantime. Just like in Deep Six, when you thought the bad guy was going to get caught, something happened, and it turned out to be someone else or the bad guy would underestimate how smart Agent McGregor was and get caught.

So, it didn’t hurt to assume that someone might find the socially repugnant, swashbuckling Agent Tommy before IGYB had a chance to complete the mission. Should that happen, then hopefully he wouldn’t remember who’d taken him or how it happened.

Trouble was that the drugs or maybe the blow to his head had made him sleep a lot longer than his kidnapper had anticipated. He’d been out for over 31 hours now which was very much a cause for worry. Although Agent Tommy deserved to die and was going to pay for how he’d treated McGregor, before he met his maker, he needed to make amends and be punished.

Ideally, before he died, he would beg forgiveness for the harm he’d done. Then in the last scene, he’d die pleading for his life. IGYB couldn’t wait to submit the fan-video to the Deep Sixer fan site.

The sticking point to the kidnapper’s awesome plan was that when he’d finally woken up, Agent Tommy promptly passed out again, just from turning his head when IGYB had entered the room. And he’d stayed that way for hours. Knowing that it was time to go to work was beyond frustrating. Deciding that there was nothing else to do but return tomorrow, the furious IGYB relieved a considerable amount of anger by kicking the unconscious man numerous times on his shins.

Getting so up close and personal, the incensed kidnapper noticed disgustedly that Agent Tommy smelled very strongly of urine. Since his trousers weren’t wet, it was obvious he’d pissed his pants again, like a little whiney baby some time ago and his pants had dried. How socially repugnant was that!

~oO0Oo~

43 hours post abduction:

Tony came to, aware that his head was still pounding painfully, but more pressing, his bladder was uncomfortably full. He urgently needed to use the head… and his shins were incredibly sore. Initially, when he regained consciousness, he thought that he must have tied one over big-time and that this was the hangover from hell. When he tried to get up to attend to the call of nature, he found himself unable to move. Tony was half aware of the impenetrable blackness and he experienced a strong sense of déjà vu when he’d tried to stand up and realised, he couldn’t move.

That’s when he once again grasped the fact that he was sitting in a chair restrained with rope and zip ties. As his urge to void his bladder became more insistent, Tony’s sensitive olfactory cells became increasingly aware of the unpleasant aroma of Eau de Ammonia. Grimacing in disgust, his agile brain, despite its injury swiftly put together the pertinent facts as he knew them.

It seemed obvious that he’d been stuck here (wherever the hell here was) for a considerable amount of time if he’d already pissed his pants at least once before and was currently trying not to do it again. Tony had no idea how he got here, but more to the point; he had no idea how he was going to escape, either.

Maybe he could move the chair towards a door or wall, then find something sharp enough to cut the zip ties. Having a vague memory of moving at least once on an earlier occasion, and that it hadn’t worked out well for him, he hesitated. Still, his bladder was becoming painful, like it was about to explode, and he couldn’t think of any other option open to him right now. He was damned if he was going to piss his pants again!

Taking a deep breath, he pushed off with his feet, realising too late that while there was a tiny bit of movement in the chair, it had been secured to the floor somehow, albeit not all that effectively well. The result was however that the recoil made his head snap back then forward again violently.

Two things happened simultaneously after his abortive attempt to move the chair. Sharp piercing pain from his skull took his breath away and a wave of nausea hit him. Knowing he was quite possibly just second’s away from vomiting his guts up, he thought briefly about how lucky he was that his captor hadn’t bothered to gag him. If they had, he would almost certainly end up choking on his vomit.

Sure enough, he felt the unpleasant sensation of his stomach contents forcefully being ejected via his oesophagus. The vomiting reflex made his already pounding head feel like a red-hot poker had been inserted in his brain. It set up a chain reaction between the excruciating pain in his head which then triggered more vomiting as nausea intensified. That in turn, made the pain in his head intensify exponentially.

On some level he recognised that he had a serious concussion – after all, it wouldn’t be his first one. Although at this rate, it might well be his last.

Tony thought wistfully of a nice safe hospital bed, something he normally despised, plus a bucket load of anti-nausea meds and maybe even some analgesia (even if it made him loopy) would be very welcome right about now. As he continued the agonizing cycle of pain, vomiting and pain, he suddenly became aware of a feeling of warm wetness from his groin, even as the acrid waft of urine assaulted his keen sense of smell. Fuck it! He’d pissed himself…again.

As the vomiting continued unabated, he felt tears of misery and self-pity leaking out of his eyes and track down his cheeks. He knew it was incredibly dangerous to vomit when you were unconscious because you might inhale the highly acidic contents, ending up in the lungs. Gastric acid was composed of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride which was key to digesting proteins by activating digestive enzymes. In partnership, they broke down the long chains of amino acids which were the building blocks in proteins. More to the point, gastric acid was highly corrosive, damaging healthy lungs, let alone ones scarred by pneumonia as his lungs were.

So, knowing this, he willed himself not to pass out. After all, he reminded himself stoically, that was one of the rules for DiNozzo’s. DiNozzo’s didn’t cry, not ever. They didn’t show any weakness to an opponent and they most definitely did not pass out.

Unfortunately, Tony has never been all that great at following his father’s rules. Not when he cried copious quantities of childish tears when he was eight years old and his mother died. Not when Paula Cassidy, his friend and a former lover died by throwing herself on a suicide bomber to save Tony and his team and he’d wept for her. And when he lost Jeanne when she’d learned the truth about who he was after the CIA planted that bomb in his car, killing her father’s bodyguard, he shed so many tears.

And not even now apparently, because he found himself succumbing to the physical and mental exhaustion of trying to stay conscious. As he felt himself slipping away, he prayed that the pain nausea feedback loop would subside if he were unconscious.

He hoped like hell he didn’t aspirate. Gasping for every breath as you drowned in fluid from pneumonia was not a good way to go. He’d survive pneumonia after the plague, but he knew that aspiration pneumonia was a particularly severe form. With impaired lungs, he didn’t like his chances all that much.

Ever since he’d received his first police shield, Tony had always assumed he’d die from a gunshot wound, which would hopefully be mercifully quick if not painless. Not that that scenario seemed all that likely at this present moment.

~oO0Oo~

62 hours post abduction:

The kidnapper chucked the packet of adult diapers into the trunk of their car, having purchased them for that socially repugnant piece of trash, Agent Tommy, who’d peed in his pants like a baby, the pathetic loser. Quite clearly, he had no self-control or consideration for other people who had to be around him. It was highly mortifying having to put up with pitying looks and sniggering when IGYB left the drugstore. It was obvious that the store clerks thought that the diapers were for IGYB due to incontinence issues and that was humiliating. However, enduring the humiliation was still preferable to having to put up with his ripe stench.

Time was limited so this was going to be a lightening quick visit since IGYB was feeling paranoid, sure everyone was watching their movements like a hawk. It was time to divert suspicion. After spending a long time awake last night, the Agent McGregor fan had decided to throw the police off the scent today, even though it hadn’t originally been in the script. Still, scripts often went through any number of edits and redrafts. It was a necessary evil so despite it creating mayhem, it was a case of sucking it up and getting on with it.

It had meant skiving off work after going in for a few hours this morning and then pleading a migraine and needing to go home. It provided a few hours before the kidnapper’s presence could be missed back home but it should be enough time to get the job done. Having made suitable excuses at work, IGYB had driven straight from the office, stopping for the adult incontinence products plus picking up various supplies, before paying a visit to the socially repugnant Agent Tommy who was also very stinky.

Having skipped breakfast this morning after sleeping through the alarm, IGYB felt in serious need of a caffeine hit in the form of their favourite beverage at Starbucks, a latte grande. Of course, what was a coffee without a blueberry muffin too? As IGYB polished off the muffin greedily, the devout McGregor devotee tried not to worry, although it was difficult.

IGYB’s supervisor was getting quite suspicious about all their absences. The kidnapper knew this because they’d overheard the bitch talking about it in the cafeteria to her friend who worked in the HR department. They’d been speculating that IGYB was most likely having an affair and ducking off to have trysts during work hours.

Granted the foul-tempered bitch’s lack of trust was inconvenient, even if the stupid cow was dead wrong. But still, the constant mistrust and all the questions made it increasingly difficult to fly under the radar and IGYB preferred not to attract too much attention now. Once Agent Tommy cooperated and made things right, things would settle down again, and the kidnapper wouldn’t have to miss work any longer, becoming a model employee once again.

But it would take time to make the fan video and get everything exactly right. In the interim, people needed to back off and stop searching for Agent Tommy. To be honest, that was not an outcome the kidnapper had anticipated, given how socially repugnant he was. Surely everyone should have been glad to see the back of him, not just Agent McGregor, who even now must be excited about the upcoming promotion to senior field agent.

Of course, Amy Sutton’s determination to find him had been another bothersome and unexpected outcome in the plan. Sutton was supposed to be on McGregor’s side, not Agent Tommy but then, the bitch had not supported him over the assignment to Baghdad, either. She’d laughed at him, making fun of McGregor, belittling him when he explained that Tommy was spreading vicious cruel lies about him and hurting his career.

Perhaps when this was all over, Amy Sutton might need to be taught an abject lesson about loyalty and fidelity, IGYB mused thoughtfully. Frankly, McGregor was lucky that he had dumped the nasty little skank, she didn’t deserve him.

Entering the room where socially repugnant Tommy sat tied to the chair, the terrible odour of urine, vomit and Omigod, now faeces assaulted the abductor, making them stagger in disgust. It was overpowering and foul! OMG, socially repugnant was right. Pulling some air freshener out of the backpack, the Agent McGregor obsessed fan sprayed it indiscriminately around the room which usually smelt damp and musty from neglect and abandonment.

Well, that was bad enough, but this… this malodourous combination of biological emanations was intolerable!

Unfortunately, while the air freshener helped to mask the mustiness, it did little for the messes made by Agent Tommy. Donning several pairs of gloves and a surgical mask in preparation for having to clean up the repellent piece of shit, IGYB steeled themselves for the unpleasant task ahead. Since they would have to spend a lot of time working on the project together. IGYB couldn’t bear to smell that sickening excuse for a human for any length of time.

Still, IGYB conceded that it was going to be extremely challenging to put a diaper on someone who was tied to a chair – or clean him up since the pig had soiled himself, no doubt he’d done it out of pure spite. Determined to outsmart him, since he wasn’t all that bright, the kidnapper examined the problem. There must be a solution, it was just a question of working it out. The biggest obstacle of course was time, there wasn’t to be messing around when there were scenes to shoot and dialogue to learn.

But first things first, IGYB chided mentally. There was a suicide note to compose and deliver to buy some precious time. Deadlines were the enemy of creativity and there was much to be done.

Just as the crazed fan was beginning to panic, a text arrived from IGYB’s partner, effectively solving the time issue.

Late 2night. Don’t wait for dinner <3 yu EL.

Grinning triumphantly, IGYB knew straight away just what to do. They sent a text.

~oO0Oo~

66 hours post abduction

Tony roused again, feeling like he’d taken a dip in cold water. Although not the sort that came out of a faucet and a bathtub. It was more reminiscent of that time last year when he’d taken a swan dive into the Potomac River to save two people. A young woman named Maddie Tyler who was a friend of Gibbs’ dead daughter Kelly, and the stubbornly stupid Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who’d pulled one of his periodic, I must be the hero of the story stunts, again.

The leader of the MCRT was so busy trying to save Maddie, (Tony figured it was some misdirected form of personal redemption for not being there to save Shannon and Kelly) that he’d ended up seriously endangering Tony, who had badly compromised lungs. The boss had been so fucking intent on acting all lone wolfish, completely ignoring the significant expertise and resources available at NCIS. So, when Tony did get lucky and find the pair just as they drove into the river to escape a gunfight, he didn’t have any backup and had to act alone.

Yeah, he saved them both, no thanks to Gibbs’ stupidity. He’d ended up with a severe bout of bronchitis that only four night in the hospital and the effort of one of Bethesda’s finest respiratory therapists stopped turning into pneumonia. He grimaced at the memory of the painful lecture his doctor, Brad Pitt had delivered after that little escapade.

But this time, he wasn’t diving into a river to save someone. Nope, it was Tony who needed saving this time. A figure dressed all in black, with a freaky white dragon’s mask obscuring their face stood before him. The empty bucket in their hands and the water dripping down his face and onto his shirt, which was already stained with what smelt a lot like vomit was self-explanatory. The water was either creepy dude’s idea of personal  hygiene since he seemed to recall vomiting uncontrollably before he passed out, that or it was a wake- up call. Since abducting someone was not exactly a sign of an individual to whom social niceties such as personal hygiene mattered all that much, Tony felt that it was likely to be the latter.

One thing Tony was sure about and that was abductors usually had an agenda when they took someone. It was probable that this dirtbag wanted him to be awake so they could have a little tête-à-tête or something even more alarming. While Tony was reaching this grim conclusion, something suddenly hit him. All the times he’d regained consciousness since his capture, he’d always been blindfolded.

This time though, he could finally see where he was being held. It was a dark, dank area with not a lot of natural light but there were chinks in the roof that did permit light to enter so it was obvious that it was daylight. The walls appeared to consist of stone blocks and there was a heavy-looking door – a barn door? So, he was most likely being held in some sort of outbuilding – one where animals were housed. Had been housed – it was clear to the federal agent, that the structure hadn’t been used in many years.

Tony was also able to see at least one of his captors for the first time. Immediately he noticed that they were curiously androgynous. Not only due to the individual’s rather loose clothing consisting of black jeans, black t-shirt, black hoodie, plus the black boots, gloves, and a white dragon mask with holes for eyes, either.

His captor was about five foot seven; could be a shortish guy or a tall female. Their build was athletic but wiry, like a runner, not like a gym junkie. So, their gender was ambiguous. Feet often gave a person’s sex away, but this individual had feet that could have been on the large end of the spectrum for a female or was a male whose feet were on the small end of the scale for a guy, so no clue there. Looking at the abductor’s hands, which weren’t overly large was probably the clearest indication that the individual might be female but not conclusive.

Deciding to engage the black-clad figure in a conversation, Tony took a breath. “So, no offence, but this accommodation is most definitely substandard. I’m afraid I’ve got to ask for my money back.”

The abductor hissed, “You think you’re so funny, don’t you? Not laughing,” he or she mocked him. Tony was extremely creeped out by the captor’s voice which had been altered by a voice synthesiser, somewhat like the one which had been used by Darth Vader to make his voice scary, yet it was different. Importantly, it made the individual’s gender hard for DiNozzo to decipher.

While Tony was leaning toward his captor being female or possibly a transgender male, he also knew the abductor might have been a finely built male of Asian origin, possibly Filipino. His intuition though was telling him it was most likely a woman.

Which didn’t rule out that there was more than one captor, of course? As he catalogued data automatically, DiNozzo realised with embarrassment that he appeared to be wearing adult diapers. Suddenly, he flashed back to the memory of his last attempt to escape and how it had resulted in a cycle of nausea and uncontrolled vomiting and he remembered in humiliation losing control of his bursting bladder. Trying to ignore his deep sense of shame, he factored in the most unlikely scenario that a male captor would even know about the existence of adult incontinence supplies, let alone think to use them.

Unless they used them personally, he supposed. Had to be careful not to make assumptions because that was foolish. However, it was looking more and more probable that this wingnut was female. Although they might have a male accomplice.

Partly to deflect his thoughts away from what he was wearing and to a certain extent to gather more intel, Tony smirked at the creepy dragon dude. “Well, no offence but the view here is shit and as I said, the service sucks. I think I’ll be checking out now and I’m afraid I won’t be leaving a tip.”

Creepy-Dragon-Dude slapped him. Well, he’d been expecting a physical retaliation – Tony had been trying hard to enrage his captor.

Sneering, although it was difficult to explain how he could tell they were sneering at him, the Creepy-Dragon-Dude told him. “Nope, your ass belongs to me now, Very Special Agent Tommy.”

Tony hoped Creepy Dragon Freak didn’t mean that literally and he also noted not only had the freakazoid called him Tommy, but Very Special Agent too. So, someone who knew him personally who also knew about the McNanny Diaries and was a complete whack job. Although that barista guy had known about the connection between Amy Sutton and Abby Sciuto, yet didn’t know them personally but he was crazy enough to kill two of the people McWhodunnit base characters on.

But Landon Grey was still safely tucked up in jail, wasn’t he? Hopefully, some idiot had not given him parole or let him escape. That would be extremely bad, but it also wouldn’t be the first time someone messed up. Unfortunately, the system was far from perfect.

What was clear to DiNozzo was that Tim attracted crazies to him. There was that Bimby woman who was a case in point. Aside from Landon Grey of course.

The Freakazoid told him impatiently. “It’s time for you to make amends for the considerable amount of harm and hurt you’ve inflicted on Agent McGregor over the years, culminating in you robbing him of his well deserved promotion. But first, you’re going to write a note to your director telling him you’re depressed because you caused your previous director’s death in California and you can’t live with the guilt any longer.”

Tony felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up in dread. There were only a handful of people who knew about Jenny’s death, well aside from the team and TPTB. Mike Franks knew of course but much as he detested the crooked former federal agent, it didn’t feel like this was his style. Franks would just shoot you in the back if he were pissed off and wanted you gone. So that just left someone close to him at NCIS who’d betrayed him.

He felt what was left of his trust for the institution which he’d been fighting desperately hard to hang onto shatter into millions of tiny pieces, each sliver sharp enough to pierce his fragile heart. How could he ever recover from this level of treachery?

What the hell had he been thinking? He should have left NCIS a long time ago. Back when Ziva had set Caitlin Todd up to be murdered by her half-brother Ari, all to play some stupid game of cat and mouse.

Tony knew now was not the time to show this lunatic any sign of weakness. To let on that he was feeling utterly bereft and heartbroken would be to cede what little advantage he may still have to this crazy lunatic who was at such pains to conceal their identity from him.

Chuckling brashly, he said, “Ah no. That’s never gonna happen, Freak!”

He copped another slap across his cheek for his response, which admittedly wasn’t all that polite but then, it also wasn’t polite to abduct someone on their way home from work and tie them up in some musty old building for days, either. Someone should have pointed out to the freakazoid that it wasn’t an effective way to make friends with others so, perhaps Tony should.

As to the slap, he’d had much worse in the past. The lack of force was adding further weight to his suspicion that this lunatic was not a male.

Creepy-Dragon-Dude (or Dudette) spat at him, literally! Which was gross of course, but again he’d had worse.

“Oh, it will happen Very Special Agent Tommy or I will kill that skanky little bitch, Amy Sutton, that you all think walks on water. She deserves to die for what she did to Agent McGregor. Then you will have her death on your conscience as well as Jennifer Shepard’s, you socially repugnant pile of faeces. All because you refused to write a little note, you coward.”

The animus towards Abby by Tony’s captor was genuine and therefore, frightening. Even with the synthesised creepy voice, the venomous emotions were practically dripping off her. At this point, he was 95% positive that Creepy-Dragon was a dudette. For some reason, females tended to be bitchier to other females than they were to guys.

Gender aside, Tony believed that this individual was a few neurons short of Abi Normal.

Honestly, Anthony! Do you think it’s appropriate for you to be quoting movies, even if it is Young Frankenstein, he berated himself mentally? But it’s not just any movie, his inner Tony argued, it’s the comic genius of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, and Cloris Leachman. They were comedy royalty!

Refocusing on the matter at hand, he considered his depressingly limited options. Yes, the freakazoid might be bluffing about harming Abby, but DiNozzo wasn’t prepared to take that risk with her life. He’d never forgive himself if anything happened to her and he could have avoided it. If his captor was fixated on Agent McGregor (Tim) then clearly Abby was a target of the Dragon Lady, too.

Sighing in what he hoped sounded like defeat, he responded, “Okay, I’ll do whatever you say, just leave Abby alone. Your problem is with me.”

Tony knew it was a longshot but maybe he could send a message within his ‘suicide note’ but who could he trust? Once upon a time, it would have been Gibbs but truthfully, he didn’t think that was the case anymore.

His heart was breaking having to admit he didn’t believe his boss had his six, plus, there was no way he would imbed a hidden message in the note to Ziva or McGee, not when someone he trusted had leaked classified intel about Jenny Shepard. Tony knew he was taking a huge risk, but what choice did he have. Jimmy Palmer was not a federal agent and he didn’t want to put him in danger either, but he was smart – he was almost an MD – and he was also Tony’s friend.

Importantly, Palmer was also someone who Tony still trusted implicitly.

Chapter 13

Adrian Kirsch hadn’t wasted any time after watching Special Agent Blackadder’s interviews with NCIS Special Agent McGee and Mossad Officer David. What had been discovered while they were investigating Special Agent DiNozzo’s disappearance so far had horrified him. Still, in the middle of their search for a missing federal agent, he couldn’t ignore the nightmarish fact there was evidence of bigger issues at NCIS. There was something truly rotten going on in their sister agency.

While it was fair to say that there’d always been an unhealthy rivalry between the various federal alphabet agencies, graphically highlighted by the failures which lead to 9/11, this corruption for want of a better word, the perversion of the mission of the NCIS was a betrayal for anyone who worked in the justice system. When one agency failed, it was a blight against them all.

The deputy director had gone straight to the top, briefing the FBI Director who insisted on calling in the Justice Department for an urgent meeting. No doubt a full and thorough inquiry would be launched in due course, and Kirsch had no doubt there was much more dirt to be uncovered. Oversight would be conducted by people well above his paygrade, his current focus remained firmly focused on locating Agent DiNozzo.

He’d immediately had FBI lawyers obtain warrants to begin trawling throw every aspect of McGee, David, Gibbs, and Director Vance’s lives to see if any of them might be in financial trouble or blackmailed. Director Jansen was going to expedite the FBI being read in on some issues that were deemed as classified including the reason why Gibbs team had been abruptly reassigned after Director Shepard’s death and then reformed several weeks ago. Plus, he’d already determined that Aaron Hotchner’s team was on stand-down after handling a couple of extremely messy serial murder cases.

Fortunately, the Unit Chief was in the office and he’d requested a meeting ASAP. When he’d asked about SSA Rossi, he’d been pleased to hear that he was also in the office catching up on his paperwork too. Kirsch felt like the quickest way to read them in on the situation was to have them watch Vivian Blackadder’s interviews of McGee and Ziva. Their reaction had pretty much mirrored his own.

Aaron Hotchner’s grim visage was well known in the FBI. Watching the first interview, he exchanged numerous non-verbal conversations with the much more talkative veteran profiler, David Rossi. Adrian wouldn’t have thought he could look any grimmer, but he was wrong. Severe disapproval oozed out of every pore of the Unit Chief, washing over the deputy director like a wave.

David Rossi, in contrast, looked gobsmacked. “This a joke, Adrian?”

Kirsch shrugged. “I wish it were, Dave. But no, that was real. And bad as it seems, just wait till you watch the next one. It will blow you away,” he warned as he started up the video of the Blackadder interview with Ziva David.

At the end of it, Aaron Hotchner was scowling so violently that the assist director wondered how he could see with his eyebrows so furrowed over his dark brown eyes. Rossi, in comparison, was looking so incredulous, his brows were in danger of disappearing into his thick dark hairline. He was cursing in Italian and Adrian envied his ability to rant in a language that most of his colleagues wouldn’t understand.

Kirsch wondered if he had imagined the Unit Chief’s millimetric quirk of his upper lip for a nanosecond while Dave had been venting before realising that Aaron was a lawyer, an extremely gifted one by all accounts before he’d joined the FBI. It was highly likely that his grasp of Latin from legal language was more than sufficient for him to follow the main gist of Rossi’s tirade.

“I hope this is an extreme outlier, a terrible aberration and not the norm at NCIS, AFOSI or the US Army CID, Dave demanded angrily as he eventually switched back to English, again.

“If not, then we’re are totally fucked, because our national security is dangerously criminally compromised,” Hotchner stated, with a harsh finality as Rossi nodded his agreement.

Hotchner looked over at the assistant director and asked, “Okay, so what can we do to find Agent DiNozzo?

AD Kirsch said, “Considering they’ve all known and worked with Special Agent DiNozzo for a considerable time, Leon Vance being the exception, I find their behaviour quite disturbing. Did they honestly believe he was missing because he was sulking, drinking himself into oblivion or getting laid?” He paused for breath and Dave dived into the fray.

“Exactly or are they somehow involved and are trying to invent ridiculous excuses because they don’t want Special Agent DiNozzo’s disappearance investigated.”

Kirsch nodded, “That’s it in a nutshell. I can only think of one explanation for them impeding the investigation. They’re somehow mixed up in it,” he finished grimly.

Aaron looked at him, and the deputy director realised he hadn’t answered Hotchner’s question yet. “What I wanted to ask is first off, could you develop psychological profiles on Special Agent Gibbs and Director Vance.

“Secondly, I wanted to ask if you’d both conduct the interrogation of Special Agent Gibbs and lastly if you can give me advice on who you believe would be the best choice to question the NCIS director. I realise that you are supposed to be on stand down…”

Hotchner brushed that aside. “If we can help a fellow agent in peril, Dave and myself would be more than happy to assist in any way we can. Why specifically do you want Dave and me to interview Gibbs? Your agent Blackadder did a commendable job with the other two.”

Adrian smirked. “Gibbs has a history with Blackadder. She was on his team at NCIS a few years ago before he got rid of her. So, he knows how to get under her skin,” he said with a shrug. “Plus, he has a fearsome reputation as an interrogator.”

Rossi’s warm brown eyes looked at him shrewdly. “Okay, I can see where you’re coming from. You want him to on the defensive, and that wouldn’t happen with someone who he’s supervised. But why me and Aaron, specifically?”

Kirsch replied, “While Blackadder would not, in my opinion, be a good candidate to ask him questions, she did have several helpful insights into what would rattle him. He despises military officers and hates to be called Sir. He invariably responds by jumping down people’s throats before telling them not to call him sir, because he works for a living.”

Dave raised his bushy eyebrows. “Non-commissioned officer?”

“USMC gunnery sergeant. A retcon sniper, special ops, black ops and I strongly suspect he did wet work.”

Rossi nodded knowingly. “I see. So, common ground?”

The Deputy Director assented. “Yes and no. Blackadder says that he relates to Marines, identifies with them, holds them to a higher standard. But he also hates shrinks and lawyers passionately.”

Aaron nodded knowingly. “Ah…I see.”

Looking at the deputy director with his usual inscrutability, Aaron said, “Okay. We need files on both individuals – as much information as possible.”

Kirsch frowned. “We need to interview them ASAP.”

Dave smiled. “We get the urgency, Adrian.” He looked at Hotch. “Reid?”

Hotchner smiled slightly. “Definitely.” He saw the AD’s curious expression. Dr Reid speed reads at a ridiculous rate, so volume isn’t going to be an obstacle. Give us four hours to get up to speed, max five and we’ll be ready to interview Gibbs. And formulate a profile on Director Vance re recommendations on who should interview him.”

Rossi had a final question. “Can we borrow Special Agent Blackadder, even if it’s just for an hour. I think that will help us to get inside Special Agent Gibbs head.”

Kirsch nodded decisively. “Absolutely! Whatever we can do to help. I appreciate your willingness to assist us, gentleman.”

~oO0Oo~

Dr Spencer Reid looked disturbed. He’d been pouring over a mass of files, case reports, personnel files (including psych evaluations and fitness reports) and had just finished up. He stood up and walked into the breakroom to grab a cup of coffee. Not because he needed it, it was a diversion, a small, familiar but meaningless ritual that let him focus briefly on something mundane. Meanwhile, it allowed his neurons to process the data he’d just read – to find and make connections. As he stirred his coffee four times counterclockwise, his brain was galloping at a million miles an hour. Frankly, he didn’t like the patterns he was finding.

Shrugging, he went back to his desk and wrote a few scrawled lines that were probably unintelligible to anyone else but himself. Knowing that time was critical, even more so since Agent DiNozzo had been missing for almost 40 hours before anyone reported him, Spencer grabbed the pad, climbing the stairs, wondering if they were in Hotch’s off before following the low murmuring coming from Rossi’s office.

He knocked, entering without waiting for an invitation knowing they’d been waiting on him to complete his reading. As he stepped inside Dave Rossi’s domain, he noted that the two older agents looked relieved to see him. Both men were reading classified NCIS documents which they shut as he sank into a spare chair next to the two veteran agents, one of whom was his boss.

Dave stared at him in that benign way of his of reading you without you feeling like he was scanning you with his super psychological X-ray vision and smiled grimly. Spencer knew that Rossi’s unusually bleak demeanour wasn’t directed at him, though.

“Anything for us?” he asked gently.

Reid nodded. “Special Agent DiNozzo either has a death wish, which should have been picked up in his psych evaluations and not been hired as a federal field agent or his team leader thinks of him in terms of being an asset rather than an agent, and therefore is expendable. The final explanation is that Gibbs is threatened by him and is subconsciously trying to get him killed,” he said bluntly.

Both agents  sat up straighter in their chairs as Hotch gave him a scrutinising look, since Reid wasn’t given to make seemingly outrageous statements.

“Why?” Hotch asked, getting straight to the point.

“DiNozzo was sent out to follow a suspect in a serial murder case without a second agent as a backup.” Reid began without hesitation. “Of course, their suspect wasn’t the killer and the real unsub drugged him, abducted him and incarcerated him in the sewer system with an almost dead Marine and a very dead decomposing Marine. The unsub was starving her victims (all Marines by the way) and fortunately, DiNozzo managed to escape with the barely alive Marine, even though Sergeant Atlas was weak due to dehydration and lack of food.”

Dave cocked his head to the right. “Yeah, I recall that case, vaguely. It was noteworthy, because of the Marines and that the killer was a female.”

Hotch nodded. “We discussed if we’d interview the killer because female serial killers are rare. In the end, we decided against interviewing her.”

Rossi looked interested. “Why?”

Aaron shrugged. “Her motivation was revenge for her friends and herself being smuggled from the Philippines into the US. Their dumbass boyfriends thought it was a good idea to smuggle them back on the same ship as themselves but then the Marines got reassigned to other ships and the women were left high and dry, dying after running out of food and water in a shipping crate. The unsub was the only one who survived.”

Reid looked deeply troubled, even after all the depravity and cruelty they witnessed daily.

“The guy who saved the surviving Marine and got himself out of a mess that the Marines couldn’t? That was DiNozzo?” Rossi asked, impressed,

“Yeah. That’s him,” Reid said. “And then, there was the time he ruptured a ligament in his ankle when he got thrown out of a plane trying to arrest a Marine parachutist during a training exercise.”

Dave looked at the young agent’s wooden expression and asked the obvious question, “Okay, Reid, I’ll bite. Why did they try to arrest a parachutist during a training exercise? Why didn’t they just wait ‘til the suspect was back down on the ground?”

Reid said, “Because they were waiting on DNA evidence to prove who’d killed the parachutist’s teammate. Gibbs refused to wait for the test result, so they were trying to trick the killer into revealing himself a few hours earlier.

“Okay, stupid but Gibbs seems very results-driven – your typical Type- A personality,” Dave mused, looking closely at Reid. “So, Spencer, please tell me that Gibbs chose DiNozzo because he was a trained parachutist. As an ex-Marine, Gibbs would have had jump training.”

Aaron interjected. “Gibbs is still a reservist, not ex-Marine.”

Spencer smirked. “Oh yeah, DiNozzo had training, Dave. Maybe about 15 minutes of tuition from the jumpmaster about how to land. He’d been practising from a wooden jumping platform about ten feet off the ground and landing in a sandpit a few times. He was a real expert!” he said, with heavy irony.

Hotch’s eagle eye had picked up that he was holding something back. “There’s more?”

Looking furious, Reid said. “It was a night training exercise and although the jumpmaster wanted to go after him since he wasn’t going to be landing anywhere near the target zone, Gibbs told him DiNozzo would be fine.”

Dave looked equally grim. He flashed a look over Hotch and said. “Even for fully certified and experienced parachutists, night-time jumps are damned tricky, Hotch. Landing outside the target zone, it was incredibly risky and patently stupid to say he’d be okay. There’s a significantly higher element of risk for anyone jumping at night – hence the training. For a complete novice, letting him go up was nothing short of unforgivable, and negligent,” he said before lapsing into his previous cussing in Italian.

Hotch smothered a smile because the subject was extremely serious, even though Rossi’s rants were always highly colourful and frequently entertaining. Maybe he should start swearing in Latin – not that he cussed a lot, especially since Jack had arrived in his life.

Composing himself, he looked at Reid who was looking hot and bothered. “Is that all?” he asked, knowing from Spencer’s stiff posture and his attitude that wasn’t all there was. Not by a long shot!

Reid nodded. “Yeah, there’s more,” he replied. “There was an undercover mission to locate a pile of antiquities which disappeared from Iraq. The State Department believed they’d been smuggled Stateside by navy personnel. In an undercover operation to locate them, Agent DiNozzo was handcuffed to a prisoner they believed was the middleman and had the stolen goods.

“DiNozzo was posing as a dodgy pilot who’d been smuggling in drugs. After NCIS staged their escape from a prison transport bus, the suspect managed to conveniently destroy the tracking device DiNozzo was wearing so that Agent DiNozzo had no backup.”

Hotchner shrugged. “Not ideal, I agree but surely it was just bad luck, Reid. Not seeing the problem so far.”

Dave scowled. “There should have been secondary back-ups in place just in case the first tracker malfunctioned. Gibbs a Marine, he’s too well trained – that shouldn’t have happened. Sloppily put together mission,” was his verdict.

Reid shrugged. “Yeah, you could say that. The suspect after taking the tracker out of action takes Tony to meet his accomplice, Lane Danielson. Despite Tony leaving numerous clues for Gibbs to find, they don’t find the thieves’ hideout until the next morning. Tony and White were long gone.

“Gibbs did find the dead body of Danielson though. When the second smuggler, Danielson wanted to get rid of Tony because he and Jeffery White suspected he was a cop, White slit Lane’s throat, just like his other victims. Turns out that White was not only a smuggler he was a serial killer too,”

“Any idea why he killed his partner?” Rossi asked.

“Possibly because he’d developed romantic feelings toward DiNozzo.” Reid postulated. “He fit the profile of his other kills.”

“Why didn’t DiNozzo escape?” Hotch asked curiously.

Reid scowled. “White drugged him. DiNozzo didn’t know that White had killed Danielson.

He told Tony that he and Lane disagreed. Got Tony to drive him to where they had the goods stored. Then White tried to slit DiNozzo’s throat too. He ended up with a superficial cut on his throat and he shot White in the head.”

Dave winced. “Okay, that was FUBAR from beginning to end but not seeing how Gibbs tried to get DiNozzo killed. Negligent sure but premeditated? Not so much.”

Hotch smiled at the younger profiler, grimly. “What did you leave out, Spencer?”

“Just a minor point that DiNozzo managed to steal a cell phone, possibly Danielson’s and while they were driving to where the stolen goods were stored, he was calling Gibbs cell phone repeatedly to request help, but Gibbs kept hanging up on him.”

Spencer saw that both federal agents looked suitably shocked.

“Did he say why he’d do that?” Rossi practically snarled but both agents accepted that his anger wasn’t directed at them.

Spencer shook his head in disgust. “Gibbs claimed it was because someone had incorrectly put Gibbs’ phone number on an ad for a used car and he got pissed off because people kept ringing him. He does have a reputation for being extremely impatient and irritable.”

Hotch snorted. “Even if that’s true, when you have a team member who’s missing and you have the dead body of one of your suspects, there’s no excuse for not answering your phone. Not even from an unknown caller.”

Rossi snarled and stalked out of his office. Reid looked at Hotch uncertainly and his boss said. “Leave him. He probably needs a few minutes. It’s a Marine thing – leave no man behind!”

Spencer nodded, trusting that Hotch knew Rossi better than he did.

He resumed their conversation. “As I was saying, just because it was an unknown number, it was no excuse. It could have been a witness that DiNozzo had enlisted to help him send a message. It was simply inexcusable.”

Reid nodded. “True.”

Aaron leaned forward. “Was there any blowback over it?”

“A rap over the knuckles,” Spencer told him bitterly.

“Anything else, ringing alarm bells for you? Not that I’m suggesting there isn’t enough evidence already to investigate your hypothesis.”

Reid nodded, he knew Aaron Hotchner was someone who wanted to dot the I’s and cross his T’s and that caution was a carryover from his previous profession as a prosecutor. It was something which had served the BAU well in the past.

“My impression is that if we were to go through cases with a fine-tooth comb there could be even more, but two instances leapt out at me,” Spencer told him sombrely.

“I also need to preface these two examples by saying that Gibbs exhibits a complete disregard for the chain of command within the team, except for himself. According to reports from numerous sources, he undercuts DiNozzo’s position as the team’s 2IC with his other agents. He undercuts other senior agents’ authority too.”

Hotch looked disturbed. “ So a flat management style. He wants to create a personality cult with his agents loyal only to him?” he asked.

Reid shrugged. “It certainly looks that way to me, at first glance. Anyway, he sent DiNozzo and a rookie agent who was a former secret service agent down to Paraguay a few years ago to chase a CIA agent who was a brutal killer. He’d previously told the rookie agent that DiNozzo didn’t get to tell her what to do, only he did. Not surprisingly, when DiNozzo gave her an order, the agent argued with him in front of witnesses. The case turned messy, they ended up in a shootout with the killer who had a young female hostage.”

Hotch said, “Well, that could have been an incredible disaster if the agent had chosen to argue the score at that point.”

Reid nodded his head emphatically. “That’s what I thought too. Talk about an accident waiting to happen. Why would Gibbs do that? He was a trained gunnery sergeant and the military is predicated on the chain-of-command.’

“Gibbs shows many signs of narcissism,” Rossi said, coming back into his office and sitting back down again.

Spencer nodded. “That is true. But he also exhibits traits of psychopathy.”

Hotch winced. “Great, a narcissistic psychopath. Just who you want running their premier MCRT.”

Rossi exchanged a look with Hotch. If that assessment were accurate, the interview with Gibbs would be tricky.

Hotch looked at their resident genius. “You said you found another instance where it appeared that Gibbs tried to kill Agent DiNozzo?”

“Well, it was extremely suspicious. He ordered DiNozzo into a body bag to pretend to be the corpse and then he stole the body of the POTUS’ football carrier, named Commander Ray Trapp. The FBI had taken custody of Trapp after an epic pissing competition about which agency would investigate his death.

“Gibbs didn’t want to ceded jurisdiction, so he commandeered Air Force One by persuading the Secret Service agent to take off without the FBI. When they arrived back in DC, the FBI was waiting to transport the Commander’s body back to the FBI and he pulled a switch. The FBI transported the fake bag containing DiNozzo and NCIS took custody of Commander Trapp’s body.”

Hotch looked anything but amused but he said, “Not seeing the danger. When they got back to the morgue, they would have discovered DiNozzo was not a corpse.”

Reid avoiding making eye contact, “Yeah, I know, but he didn’t make it back to the morgue. When they’d gotten clear of the FBI, Gibbs rang DiNozzo’s cell phone and the switch of body bags was discovered in transit. Our guys were so pissed when they realised what had happened, they threw Agent DiNozzo (still zipped up inside the body bag) out into the middle of traffic.”

Reid paused for effect, “On the beltway. At night. It’s little short of a miracle frankly that he wasn’t hurt, or killed, aside from numerous contusions and abrasions.”

Rossi, who’d appeared to have his anger under control, growled. “Why would DiNozzo still have his cell phone switched on? Seems incredibly sloppy for an undercover expert.”

Aaron answered the question before Reid could. “When I was speaking to Special Agent Blackadder, she told me that Gibbs has a bunch of rules that he insists his agent follow. She said there’s hell to pay if they ignore them. One of them is that they must always be contactable. DiNozzo was extremely diligent about observing all Gibbs rules, particularly that one, even when it could place him in danger,” he finished ironically.

Rossi, normally an extremely affable person was practically snarling. “What possible reason did Agent Gibbs give for not simply waiting until the switch was discovered back in the morgue where it was safe?”

Reid told him curtly, “He wanted DiNozzo to go to Commander Trapp’s apartment to check for evidence, but I don’t believe that.”

The two older profilers looked at Reid, indicating he needed to clarify his statement, so he did.

“It’s my opinion the Gibbs wanted the FBI agents to know he’d outsmarted them, and they’d lost the Commander’s body. It was a game to him, and he didn’t care about the safety of his agent. DiNozzo was just a pawn he could utilize to manipulate his adversaries.”

Dave said, “Well that certainly jibes with a narcissistic psychopath’s behaviour, Spence.”

Hotch looked intimidating. “Did anyone notice his choice of agents for his team?”

Rossi raised one of his eyebrows. “You mean that they all had daddy issues?”

Reid objected, “Not Caitlin Todd. She was the former Secret Service Agent they met on the Commander Trapp murder. She came from a normal happy family.”

“I beg to differ, Spencer,” Rossi disagreed. “She was the youngest of five offspring. There were three brothers and the eldest daughter who was a clinical psychologist.”

Hotch mused “So, you’re saying that as the youngest in the family, she didn’t feel like she could compete for her father’s love and approval, so she over-compensated?”

Dave shrugged, “Not content with just being on POTUS’ protection detail, I think it’s likely that she decided to become a psychological profiler to outshine her older sister.”

Reid ceded, “So, Gibbs picked people who’d be easily manipulatable because they were looking for approval from a surrogate father figure?” Reid clarified. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Dave shrugged. “Maybe. As a theory, it explains why they all take his abusiveness.”

Hotch had listened without contributing. “Yes, that. But I was also referring to the fact that except for DiNozzo and Agents Blackadder and Langer, he singled out individuals who had zero skills in investigation or fieldwork. With Langer and Blackadder, they didn’t last long before he got rid of them, but DiNozzo, he kept.”

Rossi shook his head, “Okay, I missed that.”

Reid looked puzzled, “So why did he pick DiNozzo who didn’t fit the pattern.”

“Picking inexperienced people meant that they would owe him allegiance because they weren’t there on their own merits.” Rossi offered his two cents worth.

Hotch inclined his head slightly. “Agreed. But I think that he poached Detective DiNozzo because he was impressed by him. He had skills, experience, and talent. Things Gibbs lacked, especially his flair for investigation and uncanny ability to get inside an unsubs head.

“Gibbs spent most of his time running around doing black ops for NCIS – his law enforcement, particularly investigative experience was pretty negligible, you know. His talent was being able to recognise that DiNozzo could close out difficult cases – look at all the serials they solved.”

Reid nodded excitedly. “There were more serial killers that I didn’t mention. And statistically, its highly unusual for a non-specialist team to close that many …”

Rossi, looking pensive interrupted. “Particularly when most of the team aren’t experience investigators. They are an assassin/spy, a computer forensic expert, a protection agent with the USSS, a former aide to a US congressman or even a Marine recon sniper,” he said, referring to Gibbs as he gazed at Hotch with a speculative expression.

“DiNozzo made Gibbs and his team look good, his closure rates soared, but he was also a threat to Gibbs’ fragile sense of personal importance and power. So, Gibbs brings in other agents who have no investigative experience and then he feeds their sense of exceptionalism so, in their minds, they don’t need to earn their way onto the team.” Dave mulled over the facts out loud.

“A plausible theory, Dave,” Aaron agreed. “He conveys an implicit message that investigative skill and experience aren’t a big deal. They developed contempt for DiNozzo because he was a cop, a detective before joining the MCRT, and he had to work his way up the career ladder which they don’t.

“Sure, DiNozzo has law enforcement abilities, but they aren’t important in the scheme of things. Their skills were superior to his – they didn’t need the mundanity of being a cop – they’re exceptional!” he concluded rather cynically.

“But if our hypothesis is correct, even though Gibbs fed that attitude, that wasn’t why he chose them to be on the team,” the unit chief stated grimly, looking across at Spencer.

“They thought he picked them because they were special, but Gibbs chose them because none of them threatened him,” Reid said slowly.

“Gibbs is a spy and an assassin already; he is a Marine and therefore a protector like Todd and probably more than a match for either female agent in terms of physicality – unarmed combat and firearms.“ Hotch said as he folded his arms.

“And Timothy McGee?” Rossi prompted the Unit Chief.

“Gibbs doesn’t understand the complexities of computers; he has little patience and even less respect for the people who use them. He thinks the skills he has are far more valuable, so he typically doesn’t have a lot of respect for either the machines or the people who operated them.” Hotch stated. “He thinks he can just snap his fingers; demand answers and the techs can just spit out the data.”

If you underestimate something, you probably aren’t going to find it threatening, are you?” Spencer asked the two older profilers.

Rossi assented. “But as head of the MCRT, he prides himself on being the best investigator – he relies on his gut. But he knows that DiNozzo is easily his equal when it comes to investigating and his ego has trouble coping. He needs DiNozzo, but he doesn’t want him getting too cocky. Gibbs needs him to be weak. He needs him to be humble and eternally grateful for his job.”

“Because he might accept a promotion,” Reid observed.

“Ah huh, and that’s why he effectively blew his cover as a corpse and it might explain why he undercuts his authority with the juniors on the team, so he doesn’t get cocky and become a threat.” Hotch agreed. “It’s also extremely risky and stupid.”

Spencer looked pained before he remembered something and became animated. “Speaking of Gibbs’ gut. If it was wonderful, how come he had a mole on his team for four months and never suspected a thing. His gut, statistically speaking is no more or less correct at picking the right outcome in cases than pure chance,” he told Rossi and Hotchner indignantly as he built up a head of steam and they exchanged a fond look at their resident genius.

When it came to statistics he could talk for hours.

~oO0Oo~

Spencer had gone home, and Dave and Aaron had ordered Chinese takeout before getting to work on a profile for the NCIS Director. Leon Vance who’d only been in the job for a relatively short five months, so he was something of an unknown quantity.

They’d developed a reasonably solid profile for Special Agent Gibbs but even with Spencer’s prodigious abilities in the speed-reading department, it had swallowed up a large chunk of time. Neither agent had anticipated the complexity of working up a psychological profile on the gunnery sergeant. Still, they were quietly confident that they had a solid profile to work from.

Both men looked forward to discovering how accurate it was when they interviewed him and prepared that they might have erred along the way – such is the process of profiling. Often it was necessary to abort hypotheses that proved unproductive and be prepared to formulate new theories on the fly. It required flexibility in thinking that Dave suspected Gibbs didn’t possess, but the profiler wagered that his second in charge did. From what he’d learnt about him, DiNozzo was an extremely creative thinker.

The original plan to interview Gibbs this evening had been reconsidered. After consultation with the assistant director, Adrian Kirsch about doing the Gibbs interview and then developing a profile for Leon Vance, they’d reached a mutual decision that it would be best to schedule both interviews simultaneously for tomorrow morning.

Which was why they were working on Vance’s profile this evening sans Spencer. Some of what they were dealing with was highly classified military intel., so they’d sent Spencer home, despite his protests. Unfortunately, some of the files were well above his pay grade, since the BAU didn’t work many military or intelligence cases, so most of the team apart from Prentiss who’d worked for Interpol previously, didn’t need it.

It was not all that surprising to Dave that Spencer was highly motivated to find Anthony DiNozzo. He was one of them after all, a federal agent, even if he worked at a different agency. Yet Rossi had sensed there was a lot more to it than him being a federal agent. More than Reid just wanting to save a victim. Despite never meeting DiNozzo, Spencer seemed to have connected rather strongly with him.

Before he’d reluctantly gone home, Hotch had called him on it, and he’d admitted that he had strong suspicions that DiNozzo had been abused as a child. His mother had died when he was eight, and Tony had been sent off to boarding school when he was a 12 y/o where he’d developed a habit of getting thrown out of expensive boarding schools.

Plus, there’d been the incident where he’d come to the attention of the Honolulu Child Protective Service Department when he’d been abandoned in a hotel. When contacted, his father had reportedly claimed to have forgotten about him, and while the caseworker had expressed concerns to supervisors that the father appeared drunk, the case had inexplicitly been dropped.

When NCIS thought he wasn’t going survive the plague and double pneumonia, no one even contacted his father – which seems quite significant,” Spencer stated, looking pained. Damnit, the kid’s earnest woe-begotten air could move the most world-weary stony-hearted of agents. And Dave was neither of those things.

Giving weight to Reid’s suspicions was the highly interesting snippet of information that Gibbs was his medical proxy back then, not his father as one would expect. Interestingly, he wasn’t his proxy anymore. James Palmer, the NCIS autopsy assistant had been since mid-June 2006.”

Rossi had to admit, that the relationship that Tony had with his boss seemed to bear out Spencer’s suspicions. To all intents and purposes. it was abusive, physically, emotionally, and mentally but DiNozzo might have viewed it as a normal father/son dynamic. Dealing with their fair share of abused and neglected kids, some of whom evolved into serial killers and sadistic sexual predators, kind of gave you a sixth sense about kids who were victims. Spencer’s radar had certainly pinged, looking into Agent DiNozzo.

The veteran of the BAU couldn’t help agreeing with Reid’s assessment, trying to look at it dispassionately. It explained why someone of the calibre of Anthony DiNozzo, was so reluctant to leave the MCRT yet, according to Tobias, other agencies tried regularly to poach him. He either thought that his treatment by his team was normal or he was psychologically dependent on Gibbs because he’d very effectively undermined his self-confidence during his time at the agency.

After Spencer’s departure, Hotch had surprised him with another theory as to why their resident boy genius might have identified so strongly with DiNozzo. He’d been stunned when Aaron suggested that Reid might have reached a place where he was ready to accept that his relationship with his mentor, Jason Gideon had been abusive. In his case, emotionally cruel and dysfunctional, like the one DiNozzo had with Special Agent Gibbs.

Dave must have looked pretty dumbfounded, because Hotch told him abruptly,” What? Just because I worked with Gideon for years and had the utmost respect for him as an agent and a profiler, doesn’t mean that I thought he was perfect, Dave.”

He shook his head ruefully, “He wasn’t and when it came to his relationship with Spencer, he was arrogant, high handed and yes, he was abusive.”

Since Dave hadn’t been around back when Jason brought Spencer into the BAU, he bowed to Aaron’s judgement on the issue. And if it was the case, then it might explain why Reid had become so invested in finding DiNozzo.

Of course, Reid wasn’t the only one who might be less than objective about Anthony DiNozzo. Rossi had his own potential biases too, and, no, not because they shared a common heritage as Americans Italians, either. Although, despite his name, DiNozzo was one-half English on his mother’s side and his Italian heritage came from his great grandparents so he wasn’t exactly your typical American Italian.

No, the link between them was a lot more current than sharing Italian heritage. Rossi had been born and raised in the town of Commack, Long Island and he knew Anthony DiNozzo Senior, the so-called wealthy businessman who’d inherited a fortune from his father. While he wasn’t intimately acquainted with him, since they moved in different social circles, he was still a local and like everyone on the island, Dave encountered him from time to time.

The FBI agent knew his background, and to be honest, it wasn’t something most people would have proud of. Not only had Senior squandered all his inheritance, but he’d managed to work his way through his wife’s considerable inheritance too. Charlotte DiNozzo was heiress to one-third of the British Paddington North Sea oil empire. It took a certain type of cur to go through that much money without shame or remorse. After Charlotte’s tragic death when Tony was eight years old, he’d effectively been bankrupt.

Which was when DiNozzo had embarked upon a strategy of marrying wealthy heiresses or wealthy widows and ploughing recklessly through their money. He’d live an outrageously extravagant lifestyle on Long Island and made foolish investment decisions. In between wooing wealthy females and marrying them, he courted wealthy investors. Dave was aware that DiNozzo hadn’t been particularly fussy about who he accepted money from. In short, Anthony DiNozzo was not a successful tycoon. At best he was a grifter and a con artist, albeit one who moved in the rarefied of social circles, proving that wealth didn’t equate to intelligence. At worst, he was a money launderer of tainted money for the mob and a child abuser.

When Dave looked at Agent DiNozzo’s accomplishments, he couldn’t help marvelling at how well he’d overcome his adversity while resenting Charlotte and Anthony DiNozzo for having a child and not cherishing their gift from God. Rossi and his first wife, Caroline, only had their beloved son, James David for one day before he died but they treasured and loved him before surrendering him reluctantly back into the Lord’s waiting arms. It infuriated the profiler to see how little the DiNozzo’s had appreciated the precious gift entrusted to them. Some people didn’t deserve to have children.

Dave was impressed that despite having Anthony DiNozzo as a father, the younger DiNozzo had grown up into someone a real father could be proud of. With his less than admirable father as a role model, he could have so easily become a corporate raider, a Wall Street trader or a serial killer, yet he’d chosen to risk his life to become a protector of the innocent and an upholder of the law. That was damned remarkable, and Dave was going to do everything in his power to help find Tony and bring him back home.

So, yeah, he could understand Spencer’s investiture in saving Special Agent DiNozzo all too well.

Now they sat. eating pork dumplings and drank Evian water, tossing ideas around. Dave, taking a sip of water, couldn’t help wishing they were drinking beer from the Hong Kong Beer Co, brewed in Chai Wan, HK which was his preferred beverage whenever he was eating Chinese food. Since they were working, they had to be content with drinking spring water and sybarite that he’d become thanks to the success of his books, Dave mentally chided himself. DiNozzo may not even have access to clean drinking water so he should stop his whining.

Hotch was keen to get back into it, he had his son, Jack to get home to. Looking perturbed, he asked Rossi, “Did anything strike you as odd about Director Vance’s academic records from Annapolis Naval College?”

Dave considered the question. “You mean about the discrepancy between his results and lecturers’ feedback before and after his boxing injury you mean?”

Hotch nodded slowly. “So… not just my imagination. You picked up on it too.”

Dave took a healthy swig of water as he formulated what he wanted to say. “Yeah, it was odd. For example, he changed his major and became very much focused on computer science, Middle Eastern geopolitical studies, and cryptography. I think that bears looking into, but we don’t have the time or resources to do that now.”

Aaron glared at the half-eaten dumpling on his plate, which as far as Dave could tell, was quite inoffensive and sighed. “You’re right of course, but it is damned curious.” He took a deep breath and Dave could almost see him file it away in his mental to-do list. “So, let’s talk about the whole fiasco with the mole stealing classified data and the breaking up the MCRT five months ago.”

“It would seem like the most stupid method possible of trying to catch a dangerous threat to national security. Putting all three of his suspects together and then not telling Gibbs he was supposed to figure out which one of them was the mole, is ludicrous.” Rossi observed mockingly, shaking his head in disbelief.

Aaron nodded. “What was he thinking?”

“What if it had taken years?” Rossi asked incredulously.

What if they hadn’t discovered Petty Officer Vargo’s body?” Aaron countered. “It reads like something out of a poorly written TV drama about how to catch a spy.

Reid is right, you know! Despite Gibbs celebrated gut, it has let him down on many occasions when it should have been warning him that things were awry.

Dave gave a cynical chuckle, “Even without Spencer’s mathematical genius, I’d hazard a guess that his gut (his intuition) is probably on the money only slightly more than chance.” He told Aaron dismissively. “The way people go on about it, makes it sound like it’s unerring.”

Aaron pursed his lips and stared some more at his rapidly cooling dumpling. “Well in this situation, it certainly didn’t sound any alarms that he had a spy on the team,” he said dismissively.

“But Director Vance’s strategy was highly inconsistent and plainly, it was flawed, too,” Rossi argued, vehemently. “He took a junior agent whose security clearance wasn’t that high up then and confided in him about the mole, bumping up his security clearance. That’s despite clear evidence that McGee is a security risk due to him being easily influenced by Alpha males.”

Hotch emptied the Evian bottle as he said, “He adopted a strategic and focused approach with McGee even if it was flawed and yet with Gibbs, it was utterly illogical, almost like magical thinking.”

Rossi had been nodding as Aaron was speaking. “Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Sending Ziva David back and getting the Mossad to collect intel was consistent and logical, asking McGee to try to crack the encryption was logical. Although, I keep asking myself, with his background in cryptography, why the hell didn’t Vance work on it himself?

Acknowledging his point, Aaron continued in his logical manner. “Putting the suspects on Gibbs’ team to see if he could sniff out the mole without telling him was a laughable strategy. Having them where Vance could keep an eye on them is a far more probable explanation. Plus, there is his banishment of DiNozzo.’

Aaron looked deep in thought and Rossi waited him out. “Fornell said Gibbs told him Director Vance stated that he didn’t send him away for punitive reasons, so if he wasn’t lying, then there must have been another motive to send him off that we aren’t aware of yet,” he said slowly.

“Assuming that he wasn’t lying about why he assigned DiNozzo. There’s something very odd about the whole damned situation,” Dave agreed, before changing tack. “Plus, I’m curious about Langer. There’s nothing in his psych. evals or his security clearance which would explain why he’d suddenly commit treason against his country.”

Aaron nodded, “Yeah, I noticed that too. Something smells rotten about it, all right.”

“So, putting aside the business with the mole, for the moment, we’re agreed Leon Vance is an extremely intelligent individual.”

“And he’s markedly ambitious, secretive and I think it’s fair to say that he’s not socially adept at managing his agents. He controls through intimidatory behaviour. It is evident he has a high opinion of himself.” Aaron volunteered neutrally.

“Another one with marked narcissistic tendencies,” Dave observed with a cynical sigh.

Aaron looked amused. “Think some degree of narcissism might be a necessary prerequisite for directors, Dave,” he said irreverently, knowing that Rossi wouldn’t think he was being insubordinate, merely pragmatic. “But I agree, like Gibbs, he also exhibits marked Machiavellian traits, although he’s more discreet, less in your face, fuck-you if you thwart me attitude than Special Agent Gibbs.”

Dave looked troubled. “As if those similarities aren’t enough, both men are obsessively secretive, possibly pathologically so, and both are lone-wolf alpha- male types. What could possibly go wrong having them together?” he asked rhetorically.

Pausing, he looked across at his colleague of many years standing. “You don’t think that it was a pissing competition between the two alphas and Vance targeted DiNozzo to get one up on Gibbs?”

Aaron took a measured sip of his second bottle of water and shrugged. “It’s possible but I do want to know why he was determined to keep DiNozzo afloat and then suddenly capitulated. It doesn’t fit his psychological profile for him to cede his advantage to Gibbs, a subordinate, and a rival. I want to know what his motivation was.”

Rossi smiled. Despite not having the whole team helping to compile this profile, he and Aaron worked well together. “And that would seem like a good place to conclude our profile for tonight.”

Seeing Aaron was about to argue, he said, “Don’t forget we have Former NIS Agent Whitney Sharp arriving tomorrow. She recruited Vance into NIS straight out of Annapolis and we can pick her brains before we deliver the final profile to Adrian Kirsch and Director Jensen tomorrow.

“Why don’t we call it a night? I’m sure that Jack would appreciate you reading him a story or playing a game with him before he goes to bed,” he said firmly.

Aaron smiled at the mention of his son. “You’re right. And since the interviews aren’t scheduled until the morning now, it won’t hurt to sleep on in and see if anything new pops out at us,” he said.

He stood, gathering his things before wishing Dave a good night and leaving his colleague and friend’s office.

Chapter 14

Abby was exhausted. She’d been searching all of Tony’s cases in Peoria, Philadelphia, and Baltimore Police Departments, working throughout the night. At around 4.00 am she’d fallen asleep at her desk in front of her computer. When she woke up, she found her head resting on the keyboard, the keys had made an indentation in her forehead. She sighed in frustration, so far no one seemed to leap out as a suspect who might abduct Tony.

The Goth stretched, and her vertebrae popped, helping her to stretch out the kinks from her falling asleep sitting up and hunched over a keyboard. She decided to call it a night and grab a couple of hours of sleep. Luckily, she was used to doing without a lot of sleep during cases. Rolling out her futon mattress, she settled down and pulled up a black and red plaid coverlet, snuggling underneath it, with a tired sigh.

Falling asleep, Abby dreamed about Tony. He was in a barn…no not a barn, a barn usually would let chinks of light in through gaps in joinery. No, it was more like a cell and it was dim. Abby couldn’t tell if it was night or just that there wasn’t much natural light. Tony was sitting on a chair in the middle of the space and she realised he was tied to the chair.

Meanwhile, there was a dark ominous figure in the shadows who was speaking, but they sounded hinky. The figure sounded a bit like those creepy alien goa’uld thingies on that Sci-Fi show McGee made her watch while they were dating. What was it called again? Star something…um Stargate SG1.

Anyway, the figure was dressed all in black, except for their face which Abby couldn’t see – it was just a white blur. What did that mean? Was Tony’ s abductor albino?

Suddenly Abby realised that Tony’s lips were moving. Was he talking to the creepy entity and if he was, what was he saying? She concentrated as hard as she could but, all she could hear was the synthesized voice. Maybe he wasn’t talking to the spectre, maybe Tony trying to tell her something. The trouble was that the creepy figure kept drowning out what he was saying. If only the figure in black would shut up so she could hear him and maybe she could speak to him.

Which was when she realised that she didn’t need to hear him. Duh! Growing up with two deaf parents, Abby had learned American Sign Language long before she learned to talk verbally. Surprisingly, she’d been a slow talker as a toddler – probably because she wasn’t exposed to spoken language very often.

Tony sometimes joked that she was so chatty now because she was making up for lost time when she was a kid. Maybe he was right, she did tend to babble, to use a dozen words when two or three would suffice. Tony would be so laughing his ass off if he could hear her babbling even in her dreams!

Tony!

OMG! OMG! OMG! She was such a dumb ass!

Her friend was missing, and she was jabbering away like some demented monkey. She needed to focus in on what he was saying. Although she wasn’t anywhere as proficient as she was at sign language, she could also read lips. Why hadn’t she thought of it sooner?

Zooming in on Tony’s lips, she noted for possibly the millionth time that they were sexy. Not for the first time, Abby wondered what it would feel like to kiss them since as a scientist she explored unknown variables. Then abruptly, the Goth felt herself being drawn away like she was being sucked into a tunnel.

Frantically resisting, she concentrated as hard as she could on her friend and what he was saying as Tony faded away. He was saying the same thing over and over.

Help Amy Six. Help Amy Six.

As she was pulled further away from him into the black tunnel, Abby screamed, ‘Noooooooo’ but no sound came out of her mouthWhy hadn’t she tried to talk to Tony…ask him where he was…who had taken him. Was Amy some sort of clue?

Suddenly the scene shifted, and she was lying down. Not in her super snuggly coffin or the futon in her lab. She was reclining on a lumpy old sofa, dressed in her long white virginal nightgown and an old-fashioned white mop cap on her head. Candles were placed around the room and they were flickering casting long creepy shadows in the large sparsely furnished room.

Oh… not again! This was a regular dream of hers. Okay, a regularly occurring nightmare was probably a more accurate description and Abby fervently hoped she’d seen the last of them. It had been months since she’d had this one which began over eighteen months ago where that loony-tunes barista, Landon Grey had gotten it into his head that she (Amy Sutton) wasn’t good enough for Agent McGregor. The irony was that they weren’t dating, hadn’t gone out together in a long time so her suitability was kind of a moot point!

When she woke up a few hours later, Abby wasn’t feeling rested. Honestly, she felt like she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. Multiple times! She needed coffee and then she needed to get back to her list of people who had threatened Tony when he was a cop. Hopefully, Jimmy would be back soon, and they could make quick work of the remainder of the suspects. As she waited for her morning coffee to brew, she remembered her disturbed sleep.

She had the damned Amy Sutton dream again, she thought with a mental stamp of her foot. She finally thought that she’d put it behind her, but that wasn’t the case damn it! Although she hadn’t told anyone, that dream about the whack-job had stalked her nocturnal hours for many months after he attacked her at the convent, but she didn’t want McGee to feel guilty. It had slowly receded, and Abby assumed that she’d seen the last of it.

And suddenly it had reoccurred once more – what was that about? Maybe because she was worried about Tony it had triggered her trauma again.

Tony!

Abby suddenly remembered her first dream. The dream before the one where Grey killed her in the convent and then ground her up and mixed her into the coffee he sold at his café because Gibbs and the Giblettes didn’t rescue her in time. But it wasn’t the Landon Grey dream that had shaken her, it was the one before her nightmare. It had been about Tony and that creepy dude dressed all in black with a blurry white face and a hinky voice. She was certain that the dream was trying to tell her something crucial.

It wasn’t the first time she’d had a dream about Tony warning her that he was in danger. When he’d been drugged by Vanessa, the crazy barmaid, and locked up down in the sewer with Sargent Atlas and the other rotting corpse, she dreamed he was in big trouble.

~oO0Oo~

Fornell waited for the two profilers to emerge from their interrogation with Gibbs, noting automatically that both agents looked grim. He couldn’t imagine Gibbs would have made it easy for them, despite his agent being abducted, no doubt he’d be his usual ornery self. The FBI trying to figure out who’d taken DiNozzo would have pissed him off on principle since Gibbs would believe that he was best placed to investigate.

Tobias didn’t believe that Gibbs was involved, despite his faults and his failure to respond to Tony’s disappearance. No, you sentimental old fool, you don’t want to believe that he could be behind it, his cynical side whispered in his ear. So, sue me for wanting to believe the best about him, even if he’s a pompous, arrogant asshat, he told himself, crossly.

Noticing that the two veterans of the BAU were looking at him kind of oddly, he realised they were probably talking to him and he’d failed to respond. He grimaced. Hopefully, they weren’t profiling him as having some sort of fugue state or attention deficit disorder as they stood here in the corridor.

His cynical, seasoned investigator side was telling him to get it together and stop acting like a stupid moron or Hotchner and Rossi would think he was crazy and would recommend a full psych. eval, which was the absolute last thing he wanted or needed. Being around shrinks felt creepy and made him anxious and at least on that point, he and Jethro agreed somewhat.

He grinned at them, nervously. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”

The pair exchanged a look. What the hell were they thinking?

Rossi smiled affably at him, “I asked what you thought about the interview, Tobias. You know Gibbs better than most. Was he being honest in there?”

Fornell tried not to relax under the American Italian’s soothing demeanour, he knew that he was equally sharp, equally dangerous as Hotchner. Probably more dangerous because in his affability, people tended to let their guard down around him a lot more than they were likely to with the rather humourless unit chief.

And what did he mean by that crack about knowing him better than most? Was he under suspicious because he married Diane, who happened to be married to Gibbs before Fornell?

Hotchner looked amused. Well, Fornell assumed the slight quirking of his top lip was a sign of amusement. “Do we make you nervous, Agent Fornell? I assure you we aren’t in the habit of profiling our colleagues unless like Special Agent Gibbs, we have been specifically requested to do so.”

Fornell felt embarrassed that he’d been so transparent, especially when Dave Rossi chuckled without malice. “No. We don’t read minds. We observe behaviour – it’s an occupational hazard given our job and we learn to switch it off, except when we are working a case. Otherwise, we find people acting weird around us and that’s counter-productive.”

Fornell ducked his head in embarrassment. People tended to be uncomfortable around him in social situations when they found out he was with the FBI. He was being paranoid.

Focusing back on the initial question he said, “Sorry, but I missed the interview because something came up. I’ll watch it back on tape and let you know, though.”

The two agents looked mildly surprised as Fornell explained, “A suicide note was delivered to NCIS from DiNotzo… DiNozzo,” he corrected himself quickly. Damn it was hard not to slip, he thought grumpily.

He was lucky that Blackadder was not here, she wouldn’t have been amused about his slip, but it had been an honest one. She’d opted to run over to the naval yard and collect the note from NCIS and left a while ago to take possession of the note.

The two agents looked quizzical. “Is it genuine?” Rossi demanded.

Fornell shrugged. “I don’t know. Might be an attempt to throw us off the scent. Viv went to collect it. We’ll know more when the techs have had a chance to examine it.”

His phone rang and he answered it, speaking briefly. He hung up and looked across at his fellow FBI colleagues. “That was Viv. She said that Jimmy Palmer, the ME’s assistant is adamant that it isn’t a genuine suicide note even though he and Dr Sciuto, the forensic scientist, both say that it’s DiNo…zzo’s handwriting,” he said, stumbling over Tony’s name.

Hotchner said, “Get them both to come in, Tobias. I’d like to talk to them and see why they’re so sure.”

“Blackadder’s one step ahead. She was letting me know she’s bringing them and the note back here,” he smiled. “Sciuto is insisting that she can help analyse the note.”

Changing the subject, he asked, “What’s your assessment of how Gibbs’ interview went?”

Rossi looked solemn. “Gibbs has ambivalent feelings about DiNozzo. He needs the former cop because of his closure rate and paradoxically, he resents him because of it. Gibbs processes data in a linear fashion and Tony is a serial processor of information. So, although he’s quite threatened by DiNozzo’s ability to think outside the box and see patterns where others see disparate facts, he’ll happily accept the success that it brings to his team.”

Hotchner nodded. “I agree. Gibbs seemed conflicted that DiNozzo didn’t fail spectacularly when he resigned and then came back again. My impression is that when Gibbs returned, he was struggling badly and to feel in control again, he needed to convince Agent DiNozzo that he’d done a poor job and needed Gibbs to take over the reins again.

“Then there’s the whole mess with Agent DiNozzo working undercover and Gibbs not being informed. He has not forgotten that betrayal as he sees it. But to be honest, he still blames him for Director Shepard essentially deciding to commit suicide.”

Rossi looked Tobias in the eyes intently. “Which makes me wonder about the significance of this suicide note turning up now.”

~oO0Oo~

Fornell escorted Jimmy Palmer back to his office while Viv stayed down in the evidence labs to keep an eye on Abby Sciuto. The forensic scientist had insisted on staying and ‘helping’ but Tobias was certain that the NCIS forensic expert didn’t trust the FBI to get it right. Perhaps it was simply that she didn’t trust anyone’s work who wasn’t herself – in that idiosyncrasy, she was a lot like Jethro.

So, Viv had been appointed to make sure that Sciuto’s presence didn’t compromise the testing of the note, should they need to go to trial. Luckily, Sciuto and Blackadder seemed to be on good terms, so he doubted they would kill each other or come to blows. Fornell had also been rather surprised to discover that DiNotzo and Blackadder had remained so friendly after Viv transferred back to the FBI some years ago.

Perhaps though he shouldn’t have been. Gibbs had often spoken, slightly mocking but mostly boasting, about how loyal Tony was to him. It seemed that he had remained faithful to his former teammate too, even when Gibbs had gotten pissed off with her about a relatively minor cockup when compared to blowing up a building. It was also quite hypocritical of Gibbs, who frequently let his personal feelings get in the way of his job, Viv’s mistake had been due to her sighting the man who was responsible for the death of her brother along, with hundreds of other service personnel.

It was understandable she might have become overwhelmed. Still, the former Marine was all about the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ philosophy of law enforcement, so no real surprises there. There was one set of rules for Jethro and another for his agents.

Fornell had also never realised that the cocky young agent was so popular with his brethren from other agencies and police departments until Detectives Kochifis and Sparr had volunteered themselves to help out with the case and then word had spread through Metro PD about Tony’s disappearance. They’d been inundated with cops and the odd agent from various alphabets wanting to help, if, and when they had somewhere to search.

It seemed that while he and DiNotzo um DiNozzo tended to rub each other up the wrong way, he had plenty of friends in blue and a surprising number of agents too. Even FBI agents, although not Ron Sacks – the pair was like oil and water.

Which speaking of Sacks, Yang and Wentworth, as of this morning they’d received warrants to seize David and McGee’s work and personal computers, along with warrants to investigate their financial activity. He hoped to hear from his agents soon. Although Tobias didn’t want there wasn’t anything untoward, he was also quite desperate for a lead.

Then there was the note. Between the items seized by Sacks and his team, the note and the yet to take place interview with Leon Vance, euphemistically being referred to as the NCIS director helping the FBI with their enquiries for the missing agent, he hoped that something surfaced soon.

At this stage, they had nothing to go on, except a set of fingerprints on DiNozzo’s phone that they couldn’t identify… yet.

Sitting down at his desk, Fornell looked over at his guest who he’d motioned towards one of the vacant chairs. The bespectacled young man sat down gingerly and looked anxiously at the FBI agent.

Tobias smiled. “Okay, let’s talk, Mr Palmer.”

Shifting around in his seat, he chuckled nervously. “Um, would it be possible for you to call me Jimmy or even Palmer? Dr Mallard is the only one who calls me that and it’s weird.”

Trying to relax him, Fornell looked amused. “Really? I’d have bet money that Ducky called you, James. After all, he calls DiNozzo, Anthony, McGee, Timothy. He’s rather a stickler for a person’s name, not a diminutive or a nickname,” he said, bemused. “What’s that about?”

Jimmy shook his head. “I’m not exactly sure why he calls me Mr Palmer but then it doesn’t make sense that he invites other people to address him by his nickname, does it?”

Fornell gave a sudden bark of laughter, “I’ve never thought about it like that, but it does seem a tad hypocritical, doesn’t it?”

Jimmy tittered tensely. “Your words, not mine, Special Agent Fornell.”

The agent chuckled,” Touché, Palmer. Now, not that I have any doubts that DiNo…zzo was kidnapped, but you want to tell me why you’re so sure the suicide note is fake?”

Jimmy nodded. “Right. Well, you see, it isn’t fake in as much as Tony wrote it. I’d bet my bottom dollar on that. But it isn’t a real suicide note – he was writing it under duress.”

Fornell inclined his head. “What makes you so sure?”

So, the young aspiring medical examiner told him about a time when they’d been out for a drink before having dinner and seeing a movie like they sometimes did after work. DiNozzo had been feeling low after a disagreement with McGee. Palmer told him about the chief petty officer who’d disappeared and was believed to have met with foul play, but he hadn’t been missed until he was UA for several days. McGee told Tony that no one would miss him either if he disappeared since he’d had no friends and no one who cared.

Fornell couldn’t help wondering if that was a chilling threat, considering what had happened. It was obvious he would need to investigate that conversation more fully but not right now. Instead, he listened closely as Jimmy said he’d reassured DiNozzo, who’d been maudlin, uncertain if anyone would notice if he was missing. That was when Jimmy had come up with a bright idea which had seemed to cheer him up.

They’d decided on an innocent-sounding phrase, a duress phrase that would alert Jimmy that he had been abducted, that he hadn’t gone of his own volition. Afterwards, it seemed to have reassured Tony that Palmer had his back and he’d appeared more settled afterwards. Until the former Director Jenny Shepard had dragged Tony and Ziva to California with her and then she’d died, and the team had been split up.

Fornell nodded his understanding. A duress word was a common enough occurrence in their job, and it was smart. “So, what was it? “

Jimmy went rather pink and said bashfully, “Tell PJ his Kinky Boots DVD is on the shelf.”

Fornell couldn’t help staring. “What?”

“It was a joke, Agent Fornell. One night, Tony made me watch this movie called Kinky Boots and no, before you ask, it wasn’t porn. It was a British American movie about a shoe factory that was going bankrupt, so the owner teamed up with a drag queen and they started making large-sized boots and shoes for drag queens.”

Fornell looked at him oddly and he signed. “Okay, so I may have confessed that I have a shoe fetish to Ziva David, jokingly one day and people might have believed me. Then the next thing ya know, Pimmy Jalmer is a necromantic autopsy assistant with a fetish for women’s shoes,” he said huffily.

Tobias opened his eyes wide, struck dumb when he realised. “And so, PJ is…”

“Pimmy Jalmer. My alter ego in those stupid books McGee wrote.” He replied snorting.

“Let me guess,” he smirked. “DiNozzo picked the Duress code, didn’t he?”

Jimmy stared at him. “No, I did.”

Fornell didn’t know the kid well enough to figure out if he was pulling his leg or not so he dropped the subject. “So back to the note. It had the code?”

Jimmy smiled, happy to have concrete proof that he and Abby’s instincts had been right all along.

“Yeah. Said that he was bequeathing Abby his favourite Pretty Women Special Director’s cut and that he was leaving PJ his favourite movie, Kinky Boots because I was his friend and it was on his shelf. And just so we’re clear, Abby hates that movie more than she hates suntanning.”

Fornell knew someone had forced him to fake a suicide note and that didn’t bode well. However, it was good to have some solid proof to back it up. Something to throw in doubters faces that DiNozzo wasn’t off pouting because, wah wah… Gibbs didn’t take me to Stillwater to meet his estranged father who he’d previously said was dead.’

And as nosy as Tony was, Fornell knew after going through his personnel file when investigating him over Charles Sterling’s trumped-up murder (which never happened) DiNozzo would completely understand Gibbs not wanting them to meet his father. Especially if Gibbs the elder was as socially inept and rude as his son.

Of course, DiNozzo’s old man wasn’t rude, he was suave and charming and while he enthralled and seduced you with his BS, he’d be stealing your money for a dodgy investment idea and leaving you a pauper. The man had no morals, which made it utterly amazing that his son was essentially the moral compass of the MCRT.

Tobias sighed impatiently and wondered how long before he heard from the lab. Looking across at the signs of strain on his guest’s features he realised that he wasn’t the only one who was waiting, desperately hoping that they would get lucky.

Meanwhile, he wondered how the ‘chat’ with Director Vance was going.

~oO0Oo~

Vance was concerned. Sure, everyone was referring to this as an informal chat to try to determine what had happened to Special Agent DiNozzo, but really? Who the hell did these FBI fools think they were dealing with?

Not only was Leon the director of Naval Criminal Investigative Services (one of whose chief tenets was law enforcement) but Vance was a fucking genius. He’d been born and raised on the streets of Chicago, dealing with the grim reality of gangland wars, crime, poverty, and lack of opportunities. He’d been forced to fight tooth and nail for every damned opportunity he was offered.

No one handed him anything on a silver platter. He wasn’t part of the old boys’ club!

His thoughts flew to Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, the poor little rich boy who grew up in the lap of luxury. Wealthy, white, given opportunities that Leon could only dream of, he could have become anything, gone anywhere and yet, he’d managed to end up at NCIS – a pissant little federal agency getting in Leon’s way and trying to fuck up his career.

How ironic would it be if the juvenile agent ended up destroying everything that Leon had planned, everything he’d fought so desperately to achieve. All because of some elitist work ethic; some misguided do-gooder notion of protecting the weak which saw him reject the seductive offer to enter the world of commerce.

To be honest, it was a world that Leon would have given his right arm to be able to join. His dream had been to complete an MBA and end up with a hugely successful career on Wall Street. Where the rules were simple – where it was everyone for themselves, the survival of the fittest. Where the powerful were defined by their willing and loving embrace of the amoral gods of money and power.

Vance couldn’t understand why someone born into several generations of money, serious money, would choose to give up his inheritance for a poorly paid job and little recognition. Given DiNozzo’s family opportunities, he wouldn’t have thought twice about pursuing a lucrative business career. In his shoes, Leon would have gravitated to an environment where he could use his prodigious intellect to accumulate wealth and power. As it was, as a poor black male, Annapolis Naval College offered him a chance to leave the poverty, drugs, and gangs of his youth behind and he grabbed it with both hands.

Yet it didn’t come without a cost. He had to be willing to repress his true nature as an apex predator, an alpha male. For far too many years he had to force himself to kowtow to individuals who were his intellectual inferiors. While he’d never been happy doing it, Vance was a pragmatist and knew that if he were patient, a lifechanging opportunity would present itself sooner or later.

In the meantime, it meant taking orders from fools and incompetents who’d got where they were through cronyism and the old boys’ network. People like DiNozzo. Of course, he had never had to take orders from Special Agent DiNozzo, thank the Lord for small mercies. But there’d been plenty like him, born of wealth and privilege, who climbed the ladder, not because of superior skills or intellect but because of the power and influence of their position. Agents who weren’t fit for leadership, yet had it handed to them anyway, while Leon had been forced to follow the orders of buffoons and cretins, even when he knew he could do so much better.

Leon was forced to swallow down his pride, to kiss butt and sometimes to do a whole lot worse, to curry the necessary amount of favours to gain, first a supervisory special agent position and then the Operations Manager role. Of course, the sycophantic contortions required for him to rise to associate director and finally, to deputy director had taxed his admittedly limited patience to breaking point. When Jenny Shepard had been appointed as the new director instead of him, Leon had been bitterly disappointed, but he was also a realist – he knew he hadn’t been deputy director for long enough to have earned the top job although if he’d been white that probably wouldn’t have hurt.

The real problem which Leon had with Shepard’s appointment was she was uncommonly young. Leon wasn’t an unsophisticated rookie when it came to playing politics. He knew that a large part of Shepard’s promotion was that she’d been fast-tracked because she was female, even though he’d been an agent for a significantly greater number of years. But Leon also knew that she was also was part of the Washington elite – her father had been high up in the Military until he’d committed suicide after a scandal with the international arms dealer La Grenouille. Everyone knew that nepotism was still alive and well in the hallowed halls. Jenny had connections and those connections got her the NCIS director’s chair – simple as that!

When Shepard was handed the top job, Leon was resigned that there wouldn’t be a vacancy for a considerable time. Thomas Morrow had been director of NCIS for more than seven years before he moved on to what sounded like a demotion at Department of Homeland Security as Deputy Director. Although the reality was different; it was a huge step up from the junior league agency. So, when the position came up again, not quite three years after Shepard had been appointed, it caught him by surprise, initially.

Then, Secretary of the Navy, Philip Davenport broached the topic of appointing him as the new director of NCIS and Leon was politically savvy enough to know that the top job was his, with strings attached. Turned out he was right – and it was a doozy. Somewhere about five months ago, SECNAV had become aware that an NCIS agent was blackmailing PO Vargo, who worked in the Navy’s Office of Strategic Planning, next to NCIS at the Navy yard. Since Vargo’s security level was the highest level possible, SECNAV had been desperate to find out what the NCIS mole wanted to steal and of course find out who the mole was.

Davenport emphasized that he wanted the new director to discreetly find the question to both questions. Vance realised that Davenport didn’t want to draw attention to the mole. Of course, the whole situation with Jenny Shepard running an unsanctioned undercover operation was highly embarrassing for SECNAV. If Ziva David, who’d been poised to take out La Grenouille, hadn’t been called off at the eleventh hour, the CIA’s asset would have been splattered all over the tarmac in Quebec. And Vance knew that the shit really would have hit the fan.

No wonder Davenport was desperate to discreetly solve the mess, particularly when they realised Vargo encrypted a 2.7-gigabyte file and they didn’t have a clue what it contained. After Vargo disappeared, SENAV was beside himself. With no way to know if the mole had accessed the information or not until they broke the encryption, making it critical to do so before anyone else found out about it.

SECNAV had made it as clear as crystal that Vance’s longevity as an NCIS director hinged upon Leon’s ability to find the mole and work out what was on the encrypted file with complete discretion. Which was why Vance came up with his plan to break up the MCRT and send them off on various tasks. Then he brought in the three agents who he had suspicions about to work with Gibbs as the replacement for the major case response team. He’d been just waiting for an opportunity to move when Jenny’s unfortunate, but ultimately timely death gave him the excuse he’d been searching for.

Leon totally couldn’t help doing a bit of mental preening. It had been a brilliantly conceived and executed plan. Even now, no one had any idea of the real intent behind it all. Everyone assumed that he was furious about Director Shepard ditching her two protection agents and getting killed and it was the perfect cover to do what needed to be done.

McGee had assumed that he’d put Lee, Langer, and Keating together on Gibbs team because of his legendary gut. Gibbs would suddenly have a blinding epiphany and know how the mole was even without knowing that there was a mole. Even Gibbs believed that explanation when he learned what was going on, the arrogant prick.   He’d been flattered when he thought Vance had such faith in his gut, he could divine the mole’s guilt without being told.

Again, it had been merely window dressing. Oh sure, Leon wanted to keep an eye on all three suspects, but he was under no illusions that Gibbs would pull an identity out of his butt.

Until Vance knew what was on that encrypted computer file, the job was only partly done, because there was no way of knowing if the mole had already received the classified info. The key was knowing what was on the computer file and that was where Special Agent Timothy McGee came in. Leon was pinning all his hopes on McGee to find out what classified data Vargo had taken. He’d placed McGee on the Cyber Crimes team and he’d told him he wanted him to use the team to solve the encryption code.

Leon smirked. Oh, McGee was good, one of the absolute best he’d seen but Vance was better. He’d spent several days studying the computer file and was forced to admit that as good as he was at encryption, it would likely take him at minimum a year to break it, even with help. At last count, Vargo had built in more than 15 levels of security, possibly more – Leo couldn’t be sure. All he knew was, that as good as McGee was, Vargo was better.

Which meant that McGee and his bunch of computer geeks down in the basement were never going to solve this by cracking the encryption because SECNAV couldn’t afford to wait for a year to find out what was on the file and if the mole had accessed the information. The only timely way to find out what the file contained, well apart from confessing to the Pentagon that national security had been breached (which wasn’t an option) was to access to certain files via a secure naval communications room. Like the one aboard the USS Ronald Reagan or the Seahawk.

It had been a stroke of utter genius. DiNozzo was the key to the problem and no one would ever suspect it because he was not a hacker. Although McGee was needed to walk him through getting into the file, the whole plan had worked out brilliantly. The only problem was that it had taken almost twice as long as Vance had anticipated for McGee to realise there was a much easier solution than trying to get through all the layers of security. McGee had quite obviously been desperate to impress him with his encryption skills and had also plainly been far too confident about his ability to crack the code.

Vance suspected when he’d sent DiNozzo afloat, that for each level of encryption that they broke through, the next level of security would prove to be exponentially more difficult to solve. Not that he was happy to be proved correct on this occasion. Leon, and although he was cursed Stephan Vargo roundly for his diabolical encryptions, he also couldn’t help admiring him either.

He’d be the first to admit that the petty officer had some extremely impressive cyber skills. The NCIS director would have liked an opportunity to meet the dead petty officer. It wasn’t every day that he came across someone who abilities put his own in the shade.

But in terms of his plan, he still thought it had been an elegant solution to an impossible situation. While he was acting director shortly before Shepard’s death, he’d the opportunity to assess McGee thoroughly. While the junior agent certainly had impeccable academic credentials, a Master’s in Computer Forensics from MIT was nothing to sneeze at, something even more important had leapt out at him. Under Gibbs’ rather questionable influence, Agent McGee had become the maestro of computer hacking.

The man never baulked at hacking into classified mission data when a CO refused to reveal what Gibbs deemed was his right to need to know about a suspect or victim. Leon was positive that if sufficient pressure were applied and he’d expended a sufficient degree of effort to break the encryption, Timothy McGee would finally realise he couldn’t solve it. After all, he wanted to go back on the MCRT, and he’d cave, looking at other options of which realistically there was only one. And cave he did!

Just as Vance expected, McGee opted to take the easy way out, it just took him a lot longer than the director or SecNav had wanted. In hindsight, maybe if Gibbs had gotten more involved earlier, the situation might have resolved itself weeks ago. However, it got solved albeit belatedly.

SECNAV was ecstatic that finally, they’d identified Langer as the mole and that he hadn’t managed to obtain the intel. The success of the mission had made Vance’s promotion secure. Naturally, having uprooted his family to move across the country to the East, coast Leon was deliriously his job was permanent and he was determined to make the most of this move. He had no intention of staying at NCIS for the rest of his career, but right now he was in the perfect place in which to manoeuvre himself a lot higher up the political ladder particularly with SECNAV’s favour.

Vance intended to aim high. Morrow had shown everyone that becoming the NCIS Director didn’t have to be the end of a career. Well, he was considerably younger to Tom.

Leon wanted to head up one of the big agencies such as the NSA or CIA or even to go into politics. US Senator Vance had an impressive and powerful ring to it. A senate seat could ultimately lead to the White House if nothing went wrong and you were good enough… smart enough. Vance was both!

And yet, despite his foolproof plan to get McGee to do his dirty work for him, he’d made one minor miscalculation. He assumed, wrongly that McGee would be far more cautious in how he hacked into the Pentagon and equally, how he got back out again. Vance presumed that he wouldn’t have left a fucking big trail of breadcrumbs should anyone go looking for it. He was wrong…dead wrong

Call him paranoid but he’d suddenly decided to surreptitiously watch the security footage of the hacking to check that he was safe. Leon didn’t want it coming back to bit him on the ass at a later point in time. That’s when Vance had noticed that once they got the data, McGee had been too focused on finding out what was in the damned file to bother to erase their presence. Sloppy work!

It was a reminder about the stark differences between himself and McGee. Tim’s life, education, and career so far, was a testament to the privilege that meant he could afford to be sloppy. After all, should the worst happen and he got caught, with the resources of his father, not to mention his grandmother, Penny McGee, he’d likely lose his job, only to be immediately snatched up by some mob in Silicon Valley. Reemployed long before he had a chance to browse the positions vacant. It was highly doubtful that he’d go to jail – since his father was an Admiral in the US Navy.

Yet, if Leon had physically hacked into Pentagon for the information, and got caught, he’d be thrown in jail because his crime was not so much that had been poor or black but that he dared to engage the elite establishment and beat them at their own game. Leon had always known that if he slipped up, especially now he was the director, there would plenty of people ready and willing to punish him for daring to think he was better than they were. Not just think it, but prove it.

People such as the Witney Sharps and the Riley McCallister’s of the world, who saw him as nothing more than an asset, a poor black kid with ambitions well above his station, who they recruited for a suicide mission. Except they hadn’t bothered to tell him that the mission – his first – was also supposed to be his last. Against the odds, he’d survived and proved he was better, smarter than they were. He was now director, something that McCallister desired desperately but never achieved.

Which was why Leon flagged McGee to do the job in the first place. He’d fought long and hard to get where he was today – literally from the day he’d drawn breath outside of his mother’s womb. Leon had done some illegal and unethical things along the way, had to, to get where he was, but now he was the director and he was determined from here on in to stay pure as the driven snow.

That was why he’d decide that McGee would be the perfect candidate for the task of finding out what was on that stolen file. He’d figured all it would cost him would be promoting him to the senior field agent slot on the MCRT. He just hadn’t counted on him forgetting to cover his tracks or just being too damned arrogant to take precautions. After four fucking months messing around with a team of cyber geeks trying to crack an unbreakable code, he’d gone in with all the finesse of a bull elephant in a china shop. Leon had expected much more subtlety.

As he meticulously erased evidence, he’d watched the videocall between McGee, Gibbs, and DiNozzo on the Seahawk, amused over the fact that DiNozzo had been the only one with a modicum of self-preservation. He’d managed to make McGee assure him that what he was doing wasn’t hacking. Or, Vance wondered cynically, was it moral squeamishness, the realm of the ruling elite?

The truth was that McGee had already decided it was expedient to hack to get what they needed, would undoubtedly have tap-danced naked across MCAT if that’s what it took, to convince DiNozzo that they weren’t hacking. After four long months of frustration, McGee was probably in the cyber-geeks equivalence of bloodlust, having the scent of prey so close he could practically taste it. Still, it didn’t alter the fact that McGee flat out lied and DiNozzo had Gibbs as his witness that McGee told him he wasn’t hacking.

Of course, it was fortunate that DiNozzo hadn’t realised the full implications of what McGee had done and if the newest director had his way, he never would. He’d deemed it need-to-know and Leon needed the annoying agent not to know, for the director’s long-term employment. Not to mention Vance’s future political aspirations.

Leon was pleased with the outcome overall, but unlike McGee, Vance knew that the initial hacking and gaining the information was not the end…it was merely the beginning. Thanks to his lackadaisical retreat from the system, Leon needed to engage in damage control. The director had hoped he might be able to cover McGee’s tracks but to do so would put him right in the middle of the fiasco. If they were caught, he’d be the one in prison because he was the director and SECNAV would weasel out of any charges.

Yet when a young ambitious female director had killed a CIA asset in cold blood because she believed he’d killed her father; people were willing to step up and cover for her. When one of her old assignments (who were supposed to be dead but wasn’t) came back to bite her on the ass and threaten her old team because she’d messed up, she committed suicide by Russian. And the ruling elite had covered up for her, allowed her to be buried as a brave and resolute hero, not a vindictive, obsessed murderer and a screwup agent. Life wasn’t fair!

As he’d pondered his dilemma Leon concluded that the best thing to do was to bunker down and not draw attention to any of them. DiNozzo had another eight months to serve as agent afloat so with a bit of luck, there was no reason for anyone to investigate. If worst came to the worst, Leon had plausible deniability. He might still be able to wriggle his way out of it. After all, he’d been encouraging McGee to solve the encryption for four months. Why would they blame him?

No, it was far more likely that people would blame Gibbs for putting pressure on McGee to solve the case, ASAP. His impatience for answers was legendary, not only at NCIS but all the other alphabet agencies too.

When Gibbs demanded that his team be reformed, Leon had reinstated McGee immediately. In different circumstances, he might have tried to poach McGee, but he realised that Gibbs had ruined the young computer genius’ usefulness. He’d turned him into the ubiquitous blunt instrument, an armoured tank where a feather-light touch was required, possessing absolutely no subtlety or cunning. Leon’s daughter, Kayla, who was mad about Harry Potter. would say, he was not a Slytherin, unlike Leon.

If he’d been doing the hacking, it would have been done with the feather-light touch of a Slytherin. Leon would have left no trace of his hacking into the Pentagon to retrieve that file because not only was he smarter and better than the younger computer genius, but he had a helluva lot more to lose.

So, he’d sacrificed McGee to keep Gibbs happy and the silly fool thought he was being rewarded for doing Leon’s bidding. The dunderheaded idiot had no idea that hitching his star to Gibbs wagon and becoming his whipping boy instead of Leon’s Mr Fix-It would scupper any chances he had of becoming a future director of NCIS.

He’d even gone against his better judgement re bringing back Ziva and asked his old friend Eli David to send his daughter back to NCIS to keep the interferring old curmudgeon of an agent quiet. Long-term, having a Mossad spy in their midst worried him greatly because Jenny Shepard’s ridiculous Mossad Liaison position was fraught with legal minefields. It also hadn’t escaped his notice just how easily, Eli had capitulated and agreed to send his only child back to the US.

Oh, there was some angle there that Eli intended to take advantage of at some point, and he was under no illusions it would end up costing him dearly in the long run. Eli David cared not a whit about his daughter’s happiness when it compared to his vision for Israel. It worried him, not knowing why Eli had sent her back, but that was in the future. Right now, that was all that counted.

Leon shifted in his seat, noting he’d been kept waiting here for almost 18 minutes so far. This was not how the director of a federal agency should be treated, It was extremely disrespectful but unfortunately, when it came to pissing competitions, NCIS was viewed as a very insignificant minnow in a very big shark-infested pond, so it was also par for the course.

He snorted cynically. Probably inflating the FBI’s estimation of NCIS’ minnow status in their precious, albeit completely skewed Schema of the Importance of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies that he was quite sure existed. They likely saw NCIS as pond algae (a single-celled organism) rather than actual minnows.

Fifty-five minutes in, he was still waiting and pissed off. Finally, Leon heard voices in the corridor and took a deep breath, hoping to get this show underway. He had urgent business back at his office. He’d been trying to fix DiNozzo’s file (in case the shit hit the fan) to justify why he’d been slow to react when he didn’t show up. He was aware of Ziva’s theory that DiNozzo was feeling guilty about Shepard and while he didn’t buy it himself, he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Personally, Leon thought that DiNozzo was more worried about the fact that Gibbs held him responsible for Shepard’s death. Director Vance also thought it was a correct assessment. Because if he didn’t blame DiNozzo, then he’d have to ascribe the blame elsewhere.

Vance didn’t approve of Gibbs having a relationship with the director. It was hardly professional, but then Gibbs had never been one for following rules, unless they were rules that he’d created. And even then, he rarely stuck to them, although he expected others to follow his rules as if they were the Ten Commandments. Be that as it may, Leon knew that Shepard had killed Rene Benoit and Gibbs had gone to enormous lengths to cover for her and that gave him leverage, even if there wasn’t a ton of other fuckups that meant Leroy Jethro Gibbs would do as he was damn well told.

Yeah, sure, he’d done an end-run around Vance when he returned from the investigation aboard the Seahawk with DiNozzo in tow, but he knew that it was just Jethro’s alpha dog posturing. It was a typical Gibbs’, ha-ha I win, you lose thumbing his nose at TPTB tactic. Gibbs wanted to show he could piss higher up the wall than the director, that he could have been top dog NCIS Director, if he wanted to be. He just didn’t want to be!

Leon was  convinced that Gibbs didn’t want DiNozzo back again, but Abby Sciuto did. The director was starting to realise though when it came to the bratty, forensic analyst, Gibbs would do anything to keep her happy. He didn’t know if Jethro was screwing her, but she seemed to have him wrapped around her little finger.

So when Gibbs turned up wearing his arrogant fuck-you no one gets the better of Jethro Gibbs’ grin (and seriously, Vance wanted to deliver him a sweet left hook to the jaw) with DiNozzo running along in his wake, Vance had shrugged and decided to let him have his little victory. Around which time he realised that updating (adjusting) DiNozzo’s personnel file to include his doubts about his psychological fitness to serve an agent afloat was long overdue.

As the voices in the corridor increased in volume, he wondered briefly if Gibbs’ pet FBI agent would try to question him. He’d heard all about the FBI agent who’d been singled out to deal with anything to do with Gibbs or his team because they both shared an ex-wife, even when he was out in California. He’d briefly dealt with him during the murder investigation into the murder of Rene Benoit, last year. That was when it looked like Jenny might have lost the directorship – but it wasn’t to be.

He’d heard the rumours that Fornell was now investigating DiNozzo’s disappearance. Leon was frustrated at the investigation and being forced to answer questions, but he was not particularly threatened by Fornell. Gibbs had stonewalled the FBI agent when he was trying to prove that Shepard had murdered Benoit. He was certainly no match for Leon.

Of course, he would probably have a deputy director or even the current director of the FBI interviewing him for the sake of protocol, since Vance was the NCIS director. Not that they were adhering to protocol keeping him waiting and treating him like a criminal.  As Director, they also should have come to him, not the other way around – it was humiliating.

So, when three men came into the conference room, he was not surprised to see Adrian Kirsch, who was the deputy director of FBI in the lead. The second male was tall, black-haired, and serious. He was 40ish, his eagle eyes seemed to be taking in everything and Leon felt a small flutter of concern, probably because he was an unknown adversary and the unknown was always dangerous.

But it was the last individual who made Director Vance’s heart start racing and his hands and pits start sweating profusely. Deputy Director of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Morrow, who was looking cool, calm, and collected.

What the HELL was he doing here?

 


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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

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