– – – –
Tony greeted the security guys as he entered the building at 0730 then took the stairs up to the second floor. He was feeling rested and recharged after the weekend—he had taken Beth’s advice and not done anything about work. Somewhat reluctantly, he’d accepted her invitation to the theater and brought along a woman he used to date who had managed the rare feat of remaining a friend after they stopped dating. To his surprise, he’d really enjoyed the evening. Beth’s husband was a writer and historian, and both were great conversationalists. The night was the first fun he’d had in a long time.
This morning was a crash landing back in reality. He’d gotten up early and finally checked his voicemail. The number of messages from his former team was ridiculous, and all of them passive aggressive or outright aggressive. He forced himself to listen to each one then saved them all. There had also been several from Abby, including one on Friday where she blamed him for her getting a one-week suspension because she’d hacked into his HR record.
Ducky had also left a message congratulating him and requesting that they meet for dinner some time soon. Tony had actually talked to Jimmy over the weekend, explaining what had happened and what he’d chosen to do. FSVU didn’t deal with many dead bodies, so their paths wouldn’t cross much at work, but they committed to get together to hang out whenever possible. Hopefully, Tony wouldn’t be put in the position again where fourteen to eighteen hour days was the norm, so there’d be plenty of opportunity to continue their fledgling friendship.
After the voicemail session of doom, he’d started to get dressed in his best suit, but, at the last minute, had toned it down to a sport coat, slacks, and no tie. A lot of his weekend had been spent thinking about what Beth had said about being his authentic self. After so many years carefully managing the team and Gibbs, and before that, being the ‘type’ of person who does well as a police officer, Tony knew that dropping the masks wouldn’t be easy, but he was determined to take this opportunity to truly start over.
To some degree, he already knew everyone on his new team. Jacy Jarrett was the team SFA. She was a petite black woman who had joined the Navy in the early 80s, survived white male bullshit for twelve years, and made it to the rank of petty officer, first class before leaving to complete her education. She was a complete and total badass. She then joined NCIS and had been with the agency for nine years, had three children, and she was married to a teacher.
Erin Keene was the team’s junior agent. She was the same petite 5’4 as Jacy, thirty-five, single, Caucasian, and had a master’s degree in sociology with a minor is psychology. No previous law enforcement or military but had been with NCIS for four years. She was also secretly an epic nerd from everything Tony knew. She appeared to be sweet as pie but Jacy had hinted that Erin’s temper was vicious when aroused. There was a fragile, innocent look about her, but Tony had seen her in the gym and new that Erin could more than handle herself.
There was another guy on the team, Andrew Quon, and he was pretty reclusive. So, even though Tony technically had met him, he didn’t know much about the guy. And since he was leaving for Florida almost immediately, Tony hadn’t bothered to learn anything else about him.
The final fourth member of the team would be Tony’s probie, Michelle Lee.
While there was a large open bullpen on the second floor—much like up on Tony’s old bullpen upstairs—the FSVU’s bullpen was actually behind closed doors. Considering that many of their cases dealt with sexual abuse or violence, and sometimes children, the team was given more privacy. What Tony supposed had been intended to be a large conference room had been converted into a bullpen. There were four main work areas in a square and one desk by the door that seemed kind of crammed in.
Beth was sitting on that fifth, seemingly extra desk with her legs crossed, sipping a cup of coffee. She offered him a bright smile. “Good morning, Tony.”
“Hey, Beth. How goes the move prep?” he asked as he let his backpack slide off his shoulder.
She groaned. “I’m already drowning in boxes, and the movers won’t even arrive for two more weeks.” Hopping off the desk, she started walking toward the far end of the room. “Come on, let me show you your desk.” The empty desk she led him to was by the window, though there was a short cubicle partition obscuring the lower part of the view. “This is yours. Already empty and ready for you. IT delivered your computer before I even arrived. I take it facilities has your stuff?”
“Yep. They said they’d drop it off at 0900 along with Michelle’s.”
“Great. So, next to you by the window is Jacy, on your other side along the wall is your probie, and Erin sits kitty-corner to you. The TAD desk by the door is usually covered in case files and other crap, but I’ll be sitting there for the week. We used to have two plasmas but found we only ever used the one, so gave up the second to another team. The whiteboard just fit better for us. But if you decide you want the second plasma back and get rid of the whiteboard, it’s totally up to you.”
Tony was impressed by how mellow and accommodating she was being. He did not plan on coming in and changing everything, however. Dropping his backpack behind his new desk, he looked around a little more closely. There were some things tacked up on the board and some notes written about the active case. The team actually had a high-end coffee maker on a side table that was currently percolating. Everything else was dark and quiet. “What about Agent Quon?”
“Florida wants him ASAP, but they know you need to determine his release date. Could be anytime in the next couple weeks, but the faster you phase him out the better. I have him at a TAD desk in the main bullpen by the elevator. He’ll be available to run backgrounds and anything else you need, but my recommendation is that you not get used to having him in the field.”
Nodding, Tony replied, “Fair enough. So, what’s this?” he asked, tilting his head toward the board.
Beth sighed. “Rape case going cold. You’ll need to make the decision this week to keep investigating or file it as a cold case.”
Great. Tony knew Beth’s team were top notch—they had the best closure rate of any FSVU in the agency—so if she felt the case was going cold, it was cold. FSVU closure rates were hard to compare to other general crime teams because so many cases went cold or had no closure. People didn’t want to testify in rape cases, or even report them; battered spouses wouldn’t admit it; child abuse cases were sometimes hard to prove; stalking was especially difficult to get charges to stick.
Beth seemed to be reading his thoughts, because she said, “All you can do is your best, Tony, and you have to let the rest go. I wish we weren’t throwing you into the fire your first day, but such is life.” She handed him a sheet of paper.
Three cases assigned to his team today: one stalking case, a child pornography case, and a domestic violence report. He rubbed his forehead. Damn.
“How would you approach?” Beth asked gently.
With what little information he had, he replied, “The laptop in the suspected child pornography case has already been secured and is in evidence. Since I’ve got Quon, I’ll take advantage and get him started on that. Agent Keene and I to the hospital to get the battered wife’s statement and collect evidence—see if she’ll give us permission to enter her house or enough info to arrest her husband. Jacy and Agent Lee out to Bolling to get the statement from Lieutenant Smyth to determine if there’s enough to pursue the stalking case. After we get back, sync up with Quon and determine if we’re arresting someone on the pornography case.”
Beth nodded, looking thoughtful. “Why’d you pick the DV for yourself?”
“Because my first inclination was to send two women to talk to the battered wife, but I can’t always put the women on the team on the front lines talking to the victims,” he replied honestly, even though he wasn’t thrilled about admitting it.
She smiled faintly. “Good for you. I think you’re going to do just fine, Tony.”
– – – –
At 0810, Mike was seated with his feet propped up on his new desk, sipping his tea and waiting for his late agents.
Five minutes later, a tall man with short hair and soft features scrambled into the bullpen and to the desk across from Mike’s. When he noticed Mike sitting here, he came up short and blurted out, “Who are you?”
Mike raised a brow. “I’m your new team lead. I was under the impression that start time was at 0800, Agent McGee.”
The other man flushed, his fair skin doing nothing to hide his emotions as they played out on his face. “I- yes. Yes, it is. I was working on a report backlog and was trying to finish it last night so I was up quite late.”
“Yeah, I know all about your backlog,” Mike said dryly. “And?”
McGee stared at him for several seconds. “Oh! Yes, I got them all submitted, but I still need to check the system and make sure they were accepted.”
“Hm. Well, you should do that. I assume I’ll be getting the month-end reports sometime today?”
A blank look was his answer for several seconds. “Month-end reports.” He looked panicked. “Uh, today’s the 31st, isn’t today the end of the month?”
Mike blinked several times and finally pulled his feet off the desk and stood up. “Agent McGee, I assume as the SFA that you are aware that the literal last day of the month is simply the last day of the month? Official close of the month is the last Friday, which was… last Friday.”
“Ah. Right. I forget that.” The agent looked like he’d rather be anywhere else right now. “Um, what reports do you need?”
Eyes narrowing, Mike bit out, “Monthly case summary, evidence report, time log summary, supply and inventory reports—usually accompanied by the next requisition form—summary of all incident reports, expense summary, travel summary, recertification reports… the list is quite long and they’re due every month. I assume you’ve been filling them out as you go and you just need to finalize them?”
“I’ll have the evidence report done, I promise.”
Stepping out from behind his desk, Mike moved closer to Agent McGee, who moved back a bit. “The evidence report,” he repeated slowly. “Agent McGee, yes or no, do you do all of these reports or not? And your answer had better be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
“No,” he finally managed.
“I see. Then I’d like to see the team agenda so I at least know when we’re going to find time for you to do your job.”
“Team agenda?” he echoed.
“Yes. The team calendar. The official record of when members of your team are scheduled for court appearances, firearm reups, mandatory physicals, security checks, vacations… you know, the team agenda.”
“Oh. Well, Gibbs always just knew that stuff.”
“I assure you he did not just know that stuff. His Senior Field Agent maintained the calendar and he probably kept a hard copy in his desk. The question is, why haven’t you been maintaining it since you were promoted to SFA?”
“Tony never mentioned…” he trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
“Agent DiNozzo never told you that there was paperwork and additional responsibilities that went along with your promotion?”
“No. Well, I mean, he did, but I thought he was trying to pass off his own work.”
“I’m sorry… you what?” he asked dangerously.
McGee cleared his throat. “I thought–”
The sudden arrival of Officer David interrupted the discussion. “Who are–”
He quickly interrupted her. “You are thirty minutes late, Officer David. That is not acceptable on my team. Now, you will stand there and be silent until I am finished discussing this issue with Agent McGee.” Not waiting for her to agree, he turned back to the SFA. “You were saying?”
“I thought Tony was trying to pass off his own work,” McGee responded hesitantly.
Mike’s eyebrows shot up. “So you were under the impression that Agent Gibbs did all that work?”
McGee opened his mouth and closed it quickly, looking confused. “Well, no.”
“How many times did Agent DiNozzo talk to you about the scope of your job?”
“I-I’m not sure.”
“More than twice?”
“Yes,” McGee replied.
“More than five times?”
“Yes,” McGee returned with obvious reluctance.
Stepping into McGee’s personal space, Mike said lowly, “Some of what you provide in your reports is the raw data for your team leader to construct their own reports, which is why it’s vital the SFA not be late. Other reports are entirely your responsibility. But what’s important here is that you were told to do something by your senior agent, and you refused to do it. I don’t think that will be happening again, now will it?”
“You will call me, ‘sir,’ Agent McGee.”
“Gibbs never wanted to be called that,” McGee replied so quickly it almost seemed automatic.
“Gibbs isn’t here, and I don’t particularly care what he wanted,” Mike said dangerously. “I’m here now. I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and I have twenty-five years at NCIS. I don’t care what you think of me personally, but when we’re on the job, you will show me respect.” He stepped back. “Now, I suggest you find out if you’re done with your case report catch up, and then start figuring out how to get your actual job done. Oh, and, Agent McGee, don’t ever be late again.”
Not giving McGee a chance to respond, he turned to David, who was standing there with her arms crossed, glaring at Mike.
“McGee should not be punished for Tony’s failures as a leader,” she said aggressively.
“I would ask how insubordination is the responsibility of any but the insubordinate but, frankly, I don’t care to hear your opinion on the matter. Tell me, were you injured this morning?”
“What? No. I am perfectly well.”
“Were you witness to a crime or an accident?” he prodded.
She blinked at him. “No. Of course not.”
“Were you rendering first aid or assistance to someone who was injured or in distress?”
Her eyes narrowed. “No, I was not.”
“Then there is no reason for you to have been thirty minutes late to work. Do not let it happen again,” he warned.
“I was working late,” she shot back sharply.
“I. Don’t. Care. I believe it was explained to you that your failure to properly complete your case reports the last two months were not going to be my problem.” Not giving her a chance to reply, he asked, “Are they done?”
She raised her chin and stared at him belligerently. “No, they are not.”
“I hope your evenings are free then. In the meantime, you can begin reviewing the cold case I pulled.”
“If I am to work on a case that is cold, why can I not resume work on my reports?”
“Because this is my time. And you work on what I say. If you have a problem with that, the director will see you. But if you choose to stay, don’t ever be late. Now, get to work. Our fourth will be here at 1000 hours and then we’ll be back in the rotation.” With that, he stepped away and went to the first empty conference room he could find. He pulled the post-it the director had included with the team paperwork out of his pocket and punched the number provided into his cellphone.
“DiNozzo,” a voice answered strongly on the second ring.
“Agent DiNozzo, this is Mike Weppler, new lead for the MCRT. You got a minute?”
“Yes, of course. What can I do for you?”
“Monthly reports,” he said succinctly.
“Submitted,” Tony replied. “Except the evidence summary report, which McGee does.”
“They’re already submitted?” he clarified.
“Yes. The only way for me to get them done is to keep them updated daily. We wrapped our last case on Wednesday, the director told me on Thursday morning she was pulling us off rotation until Monday, so I wrapped the month-end reports while I was off on Friday and submitted them. Except, of course, the one McGee completes.”
Mike rubbed one hand over the top of his head. “Right. Well, I appreciate it. Wasn’t looking forward to trying to close the month with a new team and an SFA who doesn’t know any of the procedures.”
There was silence for several seconds. “Yeah. Look, I’m sor–”
“Don’t be,” Mike interjected tersely. “He already told me he refused to do them. Good luck to you, Agent DiNozzo.”
“Same to you, Agent Weppler.”
Mike hung up and paused to consider what he was going to do. After a few minutes, he returned to the bullpen. His new computer was already set up so he logged in to download copies of the reports DiNozzo had submitted. He found an email from DiNozzo with a .zip file attached.
Director Shepard mentioned that you would be delivering the team’s midterm reviews. Hope the attached helps. Also, everything I used in my time as SFA to get the work done is included. Let me know if you need anything. –ADD
Brows shooting up, Mike settled in to see what DiNozzo had sent him. He’d already read through the midterm reviews while he was waiting this morning, but what was especially useful was that DiNozzo had included scans of sketches or copies of reports to back up the development areas he saw. That would help Mike deliver the reviews as he would have something solid to point to.
He went through DiNozzo’s report preparation folder and found it interesting. Every SFA came up with their own way of keeping track of the information that was needed for month-end, although some chose to just comb through the records at the end of each month, a ridiculously time-consuming process. Mike found DiNozzo’s tracking methods and spreadsheets to be particularly well thought out and easy to understand. He knew it was dickish, but he wasn’t going to pass them on.
McGee wasn’t ready to be an SFA, so Mike would do the SFA work while the still-clearly-junior agent fumbled along. He planned to leverage DiNozzo’s methods for himself… he hadn’t been an SFA in nearly two decades. He’d forgotten more about that job than he remembered.
DiNozzo had also included some random other documents with some suggested process changes, some questions he’d submitted to the legal department, and various other minor things.
He blinked a few times at the questions to the legal department then quickly sent them to the printer. Just as he was grabbing them, McGee asked, “Uh, sir, what is your name?”
Mike stared. Yeah, he hadn’t introduced himself, but for fuck’s sake, seriously? “Agent McGee, the org chart is available online to every employee. But, I’m Michael Weppler.”
“Of the Cold Case Unit? I thought you were retiring?” McGee asked sounding bemused.
“Do I look retired?” he shot back.
Mike turned and headed up the stairs. He stopped at the secretary’s desk. “Is the director available?”
“One moment please,” she said and picked up the phone. A couple seconds later, she gestured to the door. “You can go in.”
“Agent Weppler, what can I do for you? Is everything all right?” Shepard asked from where she looked buried in personnel files.
“Shortly after DiNozzo took over the team, he sent a few questions to the legal team, asking for clarification on a couple issues regarding Officer David. First, he pointed out that she effectively falls under the contract employee provisions of NCIS, but that it has to be remembered that she’s a foreign operative.
“His first question was about the liability issues of her driving agency vehicles for official business. He wrote, ‘Guidelines state that contractors may not drive agency owned vehicles without special written permission and an insurance waiver, and I can find no such permission on file for Officer David. Even if it were obtained, please clarify the liability issues if someone, either NCIS employee or civilian, is hurt or killed while Officer David is driving.’
“Next question was about her officially checking in and signing for evidence or evidence logs. He pointed out that she has never been to FLETC and had no oath of office. And I quote: ‘While the regulations certainly allow for evidence handling by contractors who carry specialized certifications, such as lab technicians, contractors without certification seem to fall under different guidelines. As I understand it, non-certified contractors may assist with investigations, including evidence gathering, provided they are supervised at all times. However, they may not perform tasks that are part of the legal chain of evidence, such as checking evidence in, or signing for evidence in any capacity. While I realize Officer David is in a unique position, I’m not convinced we should treat her as if she were on secondment from a sister agency. She has taken no oath of office, nor has she received formal training at FLETC.’
“And finally, he questions her clearance level and the level of access she has to the NCIS system. That her access outstrips her clearance and wants a legal assessment of the situation.” He looked up from the paper to find the director looking stunned. “DiNozzo followed up on these questions three times over the last two months and was put off by legal each time. He noted in his personal log that he refused to allow her to drive vehicles or check in evidence, but could do nothing about the access.”
Mike worked on unclenching his jaw. “What is going on?”
The director blew out a breath and looked like she was steadying herself. “I think this is part oversight and part grievous error. We put Ziva in the system and treated her like a liaison from another agency, but he’s right, she’s not the same as an agent from the FBI.” She paused looking thoughtful. “I confess, it hadn’t occurred to me that she shouldn’t be driving NCIS vehicles on official business, but he’s likely right to be concerned about that, too. As for the clearance… I just signed off giving her the same system access as an agent on an investigative team. I know her clearance level is low, and I just missed…” the director trailed off wincing.
“And why hasn’t legal answered the questions asked repeatedly? He even noted in his log that he asked these questions informally when she first joined the team and was told by legal that only the director or a senior supervisory agent could officially make those inquiries.” Mike was utterly disgusted by the situation.
“I’ll find out immediately why legal hasn’t responded to DiNozzo. I’ll have an answer for you today,” she promised.
“Well, she sure isn’t going to be driving vehicles or involved in the chain of evidence until we have those answers, but the clearance issue is completely clear cut. I’m sending her home until that’s resolved, and her system access since she arrived is being audited.”
Shepard looked like she wanted to protest, but she eventually nodded. “However you want to handle it. I’ll take care of legal. There’s another matter regarding Agent McGee I need to discuss with them as well.”
Mike froze. “Like what?”
“He wrote a crime novel. I wanted to be sure he didn’t overtly leverage case information so asked him to submit the manuscript to the legal team. I’m hoping they’re done with it by now. Just want an all clear from them before that book is out in the public.”
Would the crazy ever stop? “I assume you’ll let me know if there’s an issue?”
“You’ll be the first.”
– – – –
Tony exited the hospital and paused to take a breath and blow it out slowly.
“I don’t mean this patronizingly at all but you did really well,” Agent Keene offered neutrally from where she stood next to him staring off into the distance.
“Thank you. She looked so upset when I first entered the room, I thought I was gonna blow it.”
“Yeah, but you turned that into an advantage. We approach our job the best we can without regard to gender, but sometimes it does matter. Sometimes a victim can only talk to another woman or another man. And today you did what a female agent wouldn’t have been able to do. You were a man who looked a little too much like her husband, and yet you were calm and gentle and told her he had no business treating her that way. And what she hasn’t believed from anyone else, she believed, at least a little, from you. So now we get to go arrest the asshat.”
“Such language, Agent Keene,” Tony said with a smile.
She snorted. “If swearing shocks your delicate sensibilities, you’re in for a rude awakening with this group. And, again, it’s ‘Erin’ if you please.”
As they walked toward the car, Tony asked, “Is she going to change her mind, do you think?”
“It’s likely that she will. It’s the shittiest part of this job. But we keep going, try to persuade them not to recant, and hope for the best.”
Tony slid behind the wheel, then paused and looked directly at Keene. “Does it get to you?”
“All the damn time,” she responded as she pulled her sunglasses from atop her head and put them on.
– – – –
Tuesday mid-morning found Tony listening as his team argued about the stalking case. The sergeant in the battery case was in custody, and Tony had managed to get him to admit he’d beaten his wife on several occasions. The Navy commander with the child porn had also been arrested and was pending interrogation this afternoon.
Michelle was adamant that they should arrest the stalker, Jacy felt it wouldn’t hold up, even though that pissed her off, and Erin was arguing that they needed to investigate more.
“Can I see the witness interview notes?” Tony interjected. Jacy passed them over and Tony read through them as he twirled his pencil around his fingers. “Hm. Was she fearful or annoyed?”
“That shouldn’t matter,” Michelle blurted out indignantly.
Tony gave her a look. “Unfortunately, it can matter, whether I like it or not. Jacy?”
The SFA sighed. “She wasn’t at all afraid. Annoyed and pissed, yes, but not fearful.”
“Well, while the Navy might do something about this guy, the bottom line is he’s a civilian and this will never get past a prosecutor.”
“Tony,” Michelle said, sounding devastated.
“Agent Lee,” he remonstrated gently, “our personal opinions matter very little. In the state of Maryland, the three elements that have to be provable are course of conduct, presence of threats, and criminal intent to cause fear.”
“And he never threatened her?”
“Actually, that’s not the one we have the real problem with. The law says that the stalker simply has to act in a way that would cause a reasonable person to be fearful in order to constitute threat. While that could be arguable, the real issue is the criminal intent.
“He has to either willfully intend to cause fear, even if he doesn’t succeed, or intentionally commit acts that cause fear, even if he didn’t intend them to. In this case, we know it’s not the first thing, because he’s following her like a love sick puppy, sending her jewelry and flowers and being a nuisance. So his intent isn’t to cause fear. That leaves causing fear unintentionally through deliberate acts. Yes, his acts are deliberate. No, she’s not afraid.”
He tossed the file on the desk and realized everyone was just staring at him. “Hey, I was a cop in Maryland. I saw more than one stalking case.” He didn’t mention that he usually saw the worst side of it, when the law had failed to do anything about reported stalkers and women got hurt or died.
“So, we’re not going to do anything?” Michelle asked incredulously.
“I didn’t say that. I said we don’t have enough to arrest him.” He looked to Erin. “With what you know from reading the report, will it be beneficial to bring him in for a conversation or harmful?” The psychology of these types of criminals was unpredictable.
She lifted her hand and wobbled it back and forth. “I believe he’s got a delusion that she doesn’t mean it when she tells him to go away. It’s hard to say without talking to him how advanced it is or how he’ll react if you challenge it. We’re going to challenge it either way, but it’s uncertain how he’ll perceive the more aggressive step of bringing him here.”
Tony nodded, thinking through the issue. “All right. You and Jacy go talk to him. Let Jacy lead the discussion, and you observe unless there’s something you need to know, then you make the call on whether to bring him here. We may not be able to arrest him but we need to impress on him that we won’t tolerate him stalking one of ours.”
He was keenly aware of Beth just watching as Jacy and Erin gathered their stuff, secured their weapons, and left the room. Turning his attention to Lee, who just looked upset, he said, “You need to work on detaching, Michelle. It’s your first case, and I know this is hard, but it’s going to get harder. You can’t get wrapped around the axle every time.”
“But we arrested the other two! We’re going to get justice there. This guy shouldn’t get away with just following her around and doing whatever he wants!”
“On a personal level, I completely agree with you. But when you put on the badge in the morning, we’re constrained by the law. You were a legal assistant, you know how the law works. I’m not telling you to like it or even accept it, really, I’m saying you better start figuring out how to compartmentalize.”
She looked so frustrated, and he wasn’t sure how to help.
“Do you want to talk about why this case is pushing your buttons?”
Michelle looked away and swallowed. “No.”
“All right. But the offer’s open. Why don’t you take twenty, go for a walk, get some of that tea you like, clear your head, then come back and we’ll review your reports from yesterday.”
Once Michelle had left the bullpen, Tony looked to Beth who had her head cocked to the side, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Any issues from your perspective?”
“No. I doubt I’d have taken the case further. I’m not second guessing you, just wondering if it’s the right move, a reflection of new leader idealism, or if maybe I did this job too long and have become jaded.”
Tony wasn’t sure he had any meaningful answer to that. Before he could say anything else, his cell rang. “DiNozzo,” he answered.
“Agent DiNozzo, this is Cynthia from the director’s office. She needs to see you right away. Are you in the building?”
“Yes. I’ll be right up,” he replied with a feeling of dread. He hung up and got to his feet. “Director Shepard needs to see me.”
Tony avoided the MCRT bullpen by going up the back elevator and to the director’s office. Cynthia waved him through, and inside he found the director and who he knew to be Mike Weppler seated at the conference table. The first thought that crossed his mind was that he’d screwed up somewhere already, but he knew he hadn’t.
The other agent got to his feet when Tony entered and extended a hand. “Michael Weppler.” The man’s handshake was firm without being aggressive or bruising. He was about 6’0 tall, bald, pale skin, broad-shouldered but slender, and looked about ten years younger than his age of fifty-seven.
“Anthony DiNozzo. Pleasure to meet you. What can I do for you?”
“Have a seat, Tony,” Jenny said, sounding tired and resigned.
The feeling of dread intensified, but Tony sat.
Weppler passed him a few pieces of paper with some yellow highlighting then took his own seat. “Can you tell me in the course of your work for the last year, if you or anyone on your team would have reason to access the highlighted files?”
Brow furrowing, Tony began perusing the list. “No. Most of these are from under the Europe and Africa, or the Middle East Field Offices. I mean, I don’t know about Gibbs—he ran ops in MTAC all the time I wasn’t read in on.”
“To your knowledge, did Agent Gibbs direct anyone to access those case files?” Jenny asked tiredly.
“No.” Though he suspected he now knew where this was going.
Agent Weppler handed him another sheet of paper with more highlights. “This is from your time as team leader. Did you personally, or did you direct anyone on your team to access those files?”
Slowly and carefully, Tony ordered the pages, then pushed them away from him. “No. There’s no reason for anyone on the MCRT to access any of those files. I neither ordered, nor gave permission for Ziva to access or download those records.”
Weppler just arched a brow.
“Download?” the director asked woodenly.
“I hadn’t gotten to that part yet,” Weppler remarked without inflection.
“That little disk icon at the end of some of the rows means that the file was downloaded,” Tony clarified.
The director pulled the report closer and started looking at the list again.
Tony asked, “Why did legal suddenly decide to take my questions seriously?”
“It was in the work notes you left,” Weppler offered succinctly. “I pushed the issue with Director Shepard, and she personally got on legal. You were right about all three issues, by the way.”
Tony just nodded. He had known he was right. He could read after all.
“Why didn’t you say something to me, Tony?”
He cocked a brow. “Honestly, ma’am, I didn’t know until Thursday that you were willing to have that discussion about Officer David.”
Shepard sighed. “I know I forced her onto the MCRT against Gibbs’ wishes, but I never intended for that to mean that she had carte blanche to do as she pleased.”
Tony knew there was more to it than that. Gibbs had some other reason for the things he let Ziva get away with. Tony had a pretty strong suspicion what it was, but this wasn’t the right time or setting for that discussion. “I honestly thought if I could get legal to weigh in on the matter, it would carry more weight with you, but they’ve been refusing to give me an answer.”
“I know. That came down to one person who apparently thought they were doing what I wanted by stalling your requests and protecting Ziva. And nothing could be further from the truth, Tony, I assure you.”
“So what now?” Tony asked, not wanted to get into recrimination mode.
“She’s coming in tomorrow and will have to answer some questions,” Weppler replied. “Where it goes from there depends upon what she has to say. However, at a minimum, the director will be discussing the situation with SecNav, and he may have some questions for you.”
“Joy,” Tony muttered as he smoothed down his hair reflexively.
“One more question,” Weppler said. “Did you ever mention the three legal issues to Agent Gibbs?”
Tony suddenly felt on the spot. He felt his long-term loyalty to Gibbs rearing its head and warring with his newly cemented self respect.
“I understand this is difficult, Tony, but it would help to know if these issues were raised at all before you became lead,” Jenny said gently.
Forcing himself to stay relaxed, he nodded. “Some things more directly, other things a bit obliquely, but, yes, I raised all of them to him when she joined the team.”
“Can you expound on that?” Weppler prompted.
Blowing out a breath, Tony decided to just say what happened and see how it all fell out. “I told him directly after she nearly got McGee and me killed that I was fairly certain she wasn’t even authorized to drive NCIS vehicles. The evidence issue was a constant problem because I would refuse to let her do any chain of custody tasks if I was around. And, finally, the clearance issue came up because with her clearance level, she should not have been able to access the reporting system. When it came time for the first case report, I expected hard copies McGee or I would have to transfer to electronic and file the originals. When the report came through the system, I mentioned to Gibbs that I was confused that Ziva had access since it was above her clearance level.
“I was left to assume that an exception had been made for the report submission system. But when I became the team lead, I asked for a verification of her access. That’s when I went to legal.”
Jenny looked pained. “How did Agent Gibbs respond to these prompts?”
“For the most part he didn’t. The way he ran the team was none of my business, apparently,” Tony replied.
“The security clearance and system access is the major problem here,” Jenny began, “and that’s going to fall squarely on me, so don’t worry, okay?”
“It’s not particularly reassuring that it’s on your shoulders, either. It would just be an oversight if she hadn’t exploited it,” Tony retorted, feeling incredibly angry with Ziva.
“Yes, well, this is the situation I find myself in. Before you go, there is one other issue,” the director said as she passed Tony a large stack of paper held together with a big binder clip. There were lots of post-its in various colors sticking out the sides. “Did you know Agent McGee was writing a novel?”
The seeming non sequitur threw him for a second. “Writing? Yes. Finished? No.” He stared at the mound of paper like it was a snake about to bite.
“Do you know what the novel is about?” she asked tentatively as she flashed him a concerned look.
The concern was troubling. What the hell was in this book? “No. He’s never been willing to really talk about it.”
“If you’d look through some of the marked pages—of most interest to us are the pages marked with pink post-its; we need to know how closely these might mirror real cases. But the other colors may be of interest to you as well… at a personal level.”
Knowing this was going to be a disaster, Tony folded back the cover pages and began to look over the book. He had barely read a paragraph before he blurted out, “LJ Tibbs?! You have got to be kidding me!”
– – – –
Tony was furious, but he managed to rein it in as he jogged down the stairs to the subbasement. He found Ducky and Jimmy finishing a report.
“Anthony, my dear boy, I am so pleased to see you!” Ducky said with real enthusiasm as he got up and pulled Tony into a hug.
“Hi, Ducky.” Tony was startled for a second, but returned the hug quickly enough. He knew Ducky wanted to have dinner soon, and Tony made note to be sure to make the time. “Hey, Jimmy,” he offered as he pulled back and gave Ducky’s shoulder a squeeze.
“Tony,” Jimmy replied, frowning. “What’s wrong?” It figured that Jimmy had gotten to know Tony well enough to realize when he was pissed.
“Is something troubling you, Anthony?”
“Yeah. It doesn’t affect you as much as it does Jimmy, but I’ll fill you both in.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I think we all know McGee’s an aspiring novelist.” At their nods, he added, “Well, he got a publishing deal, and his book will go to print in a month or two.”
Ducky’s brows pulled together. “That’s good news for the lad, isn’t it?”
“Maybe for him but not for anyone else!” Tony gritted out.
“McGee based the characters in the book on the MCRT members, Abby, and you guys.”
Jimmy and Ducky exchanged a look. “Oh, well, gracious,” Ducky said haltingly. “I’m sure that’s flattering, but it would probably have been best to have consulted us first.”
“It’s really not flattering,” Tony retorted. “He’s turned us all into the worst caricatures of ourselves, except himself of course — Agent McGregor. Abby is Amy Sutton, Ziva is Lisa, I am Tommy, Ducky is Dr. Moulard, Jimmy is Pimmy Jalmer, and Gibbs is LJ Tibbs.”
“Oh dear,” Ducky managed, looking stunned.
Jimmy just stared.
“It gets worse,” Tony began. “If it wasn’t for LJ Tibbs and Pimmy Jalmer, it might be debatable that he based this on us—though I think McGregor gives it away, too. The other thing that gives it away, in the case of the field team, is it’s the absolute worst of us.” He hesitated, not wanting to say the rest. Outside of the egregious abuses to their characters, the field team matched the physical descriptions as well, which could be problematic to say the least.
“What else?” Jimmy said with his arms crossed over his chest.
Tony took a breath. “Pimmy Jalmers had necrophiliac tendencies.”
“What?” Jimmy screeched. “Oh my god, I’d never live that down.”
“What in the world was Timothy thinking?” Ducky asked, sounding bewildered.
“Unfortunately, NCIS legal has reviewed the book, and it doesn’t seem like he used enough actual classified material in it for them to get a legal injunction to stop the publication. There’s no doubt he was inspired by actual cases, but he didn’t use any restricted information. There’s still some question about how closely the book physically mirrors the team, and would it put us at risk in undercover situations if McGee’s real identity got out. The director is pushing that question back through legal today.”
Tony huffed in annoyance. “Agent Weppler is going to talk to McGee this afternoon and advise him that NCIS is, at a minimum, going to send a letter advising the publisher that the book doesn’t even make much of an attempt to mask the identities and some defining characteristics of its field agents and employees, and that because of the nature of the characterizations, that it’s likely the publisher and McGee will be met with a lawsuit for defamation of character. And that if it’s determined that the book poses a credible threat to federal agents, they will seek an injunction to stop the publication.”
He gave Jimmy a pointed look. “While he did my character no favors, and I am more than willing to bring a lawsuit against him if he doesn’t change that shit, in reality, you are the one most defamed by the book. The question is, are you willing to take that step, to even make the threat to see if we can’t get him to stop this? Assuming legal ultimately doesn’t feel a legal injunction will work?”
“Yes!” Jimmy nearly yelped. “Dear god, yes! I’ll do whatever.”
Ducky took the few steps to his desk and sat heavily in his chair. “I am so disappointed in that boy. What could he have been thinking to base it so closely on his coworkers?”
“I have no idea,” Tony replied. “I do know that just changing Pimmy Jalmers to something like Tom Smith isn’t enough. He’s too closely modeled the team and not done enough to mask his own identity; anyone could figure it out with a little research. He needs to damn well do more than a few name changes. Ziva’s not going to do anything, nor is Abby, and Gibbs is MIA and unlikely to threaten legal action even if he were here.”
“So, it’s up to us? Well, that’s perfectly fine because I am not letting him put out a book calling me a necrophiliac!” Jimmy looked as angry as Tony had ever seen. In fact, he looked like he was ready to storm up to the bullpen and rip McGee limb from limb.
– – – –
Mike escorted Agent McGee to the conference room with the copy of the book in an interoffice envelope tucked under his arm. As soon as he’d heard from DiNozzo that he, Dr. Mallard, and Palmer were willing to pursue legal action, he’d rounded up McGee for the difficult conversation. He’d have to have another one with McGee tomorrow because Mike was done pussyfooting with this team. McGee wasn’t ready to be an SFA, and the charade was at an end, though he knew today was not the right time to address it considering the book fiasco.
“Is there a problem, sir?” McGee asked as he took a seat.
“A few,” Mike responded tersely. “Let’s talk about this first.” He dumped the manuscript out of the envelope. “Legal reviewed this and though they feel you skirted the line in a couple places with using cases for inspiration, they don’t feel you crossed it, and the director and I agree. In the future, be sure you’re nowhere near that line.”
McGee looked relieved. “Yes, sir, I’ll look into that for the next book.”
Holding up a hand, Mike added, “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Legal also said that modeling your characters so closely on NCIS employees, particularly your own team, was a very poor idea. Most notably, they’re concerned about how much ‘Tommy’ and ‘Lisa’ physically resemble Agent DiNozzo and Officer David.”
Flushing, McGee sputtered, “The characters are not based on them!”
“Agent McGee! We both know what utter bullshit that is! The team composition exactly mimics the MCRT and the physical characteristics are the same. Anyone could see the similarities. And if they were especially obtuse and missed it, LJ Tibbs and Pimmy Jalmers are a big clue!”
The junior agent looked ready to burst from indignation.
“Now, legal has already determined that the resemblance is too close to the real people. We don’t think NCIS has real legal basis for stopping the publication. Although we’re pushing the question through about the danger this book presents to field agents who work undercover. Since you simply wrote under a pseudonym, and made no other attempts to hide your real identity, it would be fairly simple for people to connect you to Agents DiNozzo and Gibbs and Officer David. But while the legal minds percolate on that part of the problem, at a minimum, we are not pleased with having our employees put in this type of position without their consent. Also, modeling your team structure and then the physical characteristics of agents who are sometimes required to work undercover was a piss poor idea, and possibly criminally negligent. That could put their lives in danger in the right circumstances.
“Legal will be sending a letter to your publisher stating these things, and also that three of the people you took your caricatures from will be filing lawsuits for defamation of character against the publisher and you personally if the book is printed as is. None of these threats will necessarily stop the publication from happening, though I’d think most publishers wouldn’t take the risk, but if you go forward with that book without revision, the lawsuit will become a reality. And there is still the chance that legal will be able to get an injunction.”
“They can’t! You can’t do this to me!” McGee exploded. “I worked hard on that book!”
Mike got up and slapped his hands on the table, leaning forward. “I didn’t do it to you, nor did they. You did it to yourself with that disgusting abuse of people who should have been able to trust you.”
Abruptly, McGee leaned away from Mike. “I-I’ll change the names.”
“That’s not enough!” Mike snapped. “Anyone who knows you wrote it will be able to identify who those people are. You’ve got some serious editing to do if you want to avoid a lawsuit!” He grabbed the stack of paper and shoved it under his arm again. “Get yourself together and then get back to cold cases.” He started for the door but then paused. “You know, I would have said I didn’t have a litigious bone in my body, but if you had pulled that shit on me, I’d have sued you until you didn’t have a pot to piss in.” With that, he walked out of the conference room.
– – – –
Wednesday morning, Mike’s third day on the job, he arrived extra early to mentally get himself ready for the day to come. David was due in at 1000. She had been told her security clearance had needed to be reviewed and that she should come in then to sign paperwork. Instead, she’d be answering some tough questions about why she was accessing and downloading case files that had nothing to do with her actual work assignments.
He also needed to deliver McGee’s midterm review and handle his demotion. Part of him wanted to let McGee fall on his face to teach him a lesson, but the bottom line was that Mike didn’t have the time for a floundering SFA. With David likely off the team, he had two slots to fill immediately.
He’d already identified who he ideally wanted as his SFA, but it remained to be seen if Shepard could make it happen, and if the agent in question would agree. That left him picking another junior agent, and he needed to take care of that today, too. They had released the TAD agent to a team taking active cases since the MCRT was off rotation again with all the issues.
By the time McGee arrived, looking rather harried and sullen, Mike had a good start on everything. “Agent McGee, midterm reviews are due. Let’s hit the conference room.”
“Oh god,” McGee said under his breath, no doubt hoping Mike wouldn’t hear, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with Mike’s aural sensitivity. Still, he decided not to respond and led the agent to the conference room.
Taking a seat and waiting for McGee to do the same, he handed over a printed copy of the review, and began to go over it point by point. When they got to the critique of some skill areas, Mike was able to pull out the examples provided by DiNozzo to show exactly where the improvements were needed.
In the end, McGee was pleased with some aspects of the review and angry about others, seemingly wanting to say something, but biting his tongue.
“Is there a problem, Agent?”
“Gibbs would never give a review like that!” McGee retorted. “This is all Tony nitpicking my work. If Gibbs wasn’t happy with my performance, he corrected it.”
“I don’t know how Agent Gibbs conducted professional development, McGee, but I assure you this is a fair review with a well thought out development plan. If you follow and complete it, you’ll be in good shape at year end. Frankly, I think DiNozzo was kind in his assessments in some areas considering that you have a little over two years’ law enforcement experience and yet you think you know more than someone who has almost twelve. You continually felt free to ignore the chain of command, and, more importantly for your career growth, to ignore the advice of an agent with a decade more experience than you have.”
McGee looked like he had his feet dug in though and wasn’t hearing the voice of reason, so Mike just continued. “In that vein, I discussed it with Director Shepard and now I am officially informing you that you did not pass the ninety-day probation period required to secure your promotion. You will be returned to the position of Field Agent effective immediately.”
Mouth open and staring, it took McGee several moments to reply, “You can’t do that!”
“Watch yourself, Agent!” Mike snapped. “Remember who you’re talking to! To be blunt, you should never have been promoted. SFAs need three years of field experience and you don’t have it yet. Further, your own work product shows that you are not yet ready to work entirely unsupervised, nor are you qualified to take the responsibility of training others. As if that were not enough, you’ve been in the position for more than ten weeks and do not even know the scope of the role!”
“That’s not entirely my fault!”
“Agent McGee, this is not a negotiation. Director Shepard feels that you are an asset to this agency, and she’d like to see you receive some intensive training so that you might some day be ready to have that promotion and be able to keep it. However, if you are no longer interested in being a field agent, a place can be found for you in Cyber Crimes.”
McGee straightened up and, in the first encouraging thing Mike had heard, said, “I’m a field agent!”
“Then prove it,” Mike challenged.
– – – –
Tony stepped into the observation room and nodded to the director. She was the only other person present besides the tech, who had headphones on. She’d asked Tony to be here when Ziva was questioned in case they needed to verify any information she gave.
“Good morning, Tony,” she said softly.
“Ma’am,” he replied formally. With someone else around, he wasn’t going to be informal with her.
“Mike is bringing her up now.” She gave him a quick look. “We’ll try to keep this short. I know you have several cases open.”
He nodded. “I asked Agent Matthews to take Lee to try to get a statement on another suspected domestic violence. Keep things moving, and Michelle can only benefit from Matthews’ experience.”
“Good thinking,” she murmured as the door to interrogation opened and Ziva stood in the doorway glaring at Weppler.
“Why am I to be questioned in here?”
“The conversation will be recorded. Now, have a seat.” She tried to take the interrogator’s chair, but Weppler glared at her and pointed to the opposite side of the table. “You can be cooperative or I have permission to have your access canceled. I’m not giving you another warning.”
Ziva got up and moved, sliding into the correct chair and sitting with her arms loosely crossed. “Well?”
Weppler sat and opened his folder, pulling out several sheets of paper. “Did you access the files and records highlighted on these sheets?”
After looking over the pages, she pushed them away. “I cannot remember every file I have accessed for the last ten months.”
“Officer David, perhaps I wasn’t clear — whether or not you remain at NCIS and in the United States depends upon satisfactory answers to these questions. ‘I don’t remember’ is not to be considered a satisfactory answer.”
She glared for several seconds then pulled the pages close again. “It seems most likely, yes.”
“The highlighted lines were not cases your team was involved with; in fact, most of them weren’t even conducted under the auspices of this field office. Why did you access case work and field reports that had nothing to do with your or your team’s work assignments?”
Shrugging one shoulder, she replied, “I was given the access, so I utilized it.”
“I see. Most of the files were under the Middle East or Europe and Africa Field Offices. I would like to know why, and if you continue to prevaricate, this will be over and we will be done.”
“I do not know this word… prevaricate.”
“It means to speak misleadingly, or to deliberately misstate, or create an incorrect impression.”
“You believe me to be untruthful?” she shot back.
“I believe you to be disingenuous. Now answer the question. Why those field offices?”
“Mossad is always interested in what is happening in our part of the world and that of our neighbors.”
“It’s clear from the electronic records that you downloaded many of these files. Did you pass them on to Mossad?”
“Many of them, yes,” she replied unflinchingly, and Tony was stunned.
“Oh god,” the director said softly.
Weppler drummed his fingers on the table for a few seconds, but Tony couldn’t read anything in his body language from the back. “You shared confidential NCIS documents with Mossad? Why?”
“No one said I could not do this,” she replied arrogantly.
Tony dragged his hand down his face and refused to look at the director, knowing she was caught up in her own hell right now and probably needed the illusion of privacy.
A couple sheets of paper were almost thrown at Ziva, and Weppler bit out, “This part of the contract you signed with NCIS to allow you to be a liaison specifically states that you will not reveal information to other agencies or entities, including Mossad, without written permission by the director of the agency.”
“No,” Ziva retorted, ordering the pages. “It says that I will not reveal information or details about my work with NCIS to other agencies or entities. I did not reveal information about my work. I made certain that all the information I sent to Mossad was not part of any case I was currently or had ever been working on.”
Tony just wanted to bang his head on the window.
“Let’s be clear, even if it’s found that you did not violate the letter of your contract, which isn’t certain yet, you clearly violated the spirit of it. Question is, did you know you were violating the spirit of the agreement, or are you really that clueless?” Weppler taunted.
Ziva glared. “What are you asking me?”
“I am asking, when you downloaded those files and sent them to Mossad, if you knew that NCIS would have a problem with it?”
“I cannot speculate on what NCIS will have a problem with and what they will not. They keep ridiculous buffoons around for years and promote them when there are more experienced operatives available.”
“You are not an NCIS agent!” Weppler yelled. “Even if you had ten years more experience, you can’t even sign an evidence log, so your opinion of the chain of command at NCIS, and your place in it, is irrelevant!” Before she could say anything, he slammed his hand on the table in the first real serious display of temper. “I will ask you one more time! When you were passing information to Mossad, did you believe that NCIS would stop you if they knew what you were doing?”
Her eyes narrowed and she glared. “Yes, but your failures in leadership and even in your written agreements cannot be held against me!”
Shepard reached out and tapped on the window.
In response, Weppler cracked his neck to the side then calmly gathered up all the pages, stuck them back in the folder, and got to his feet. “You will stay seated until I return for you.”
“Who is watching?” Ziva asked.
Weppler ignored her and walked out of the interrogation room, quickly joining them in the observation room.
Shepard tapped the tech on the shoulder to get his attention. “Please wait in the hall for a moment. Once they were alone, she asked, “Well?”
“She’s splitting hairs,” Weppler responded.
Shepard looked to Tony, who replied, “Contractually speaking, she knew she was violating the spirit of the agreement when she did it. She’s relying on a legal loophole that may not even be much of a hole. Only the lawyers can say for sure, but I think they can make the case that she broke her contract.”
“I just want your opinion. Do you think it’s enough to prove espionage?”
Shocked, Tony rocked back on his heels. “When we gave her the access and, in her mind, didn’t explicitly tell her not to? I doubt it. Not without a lot of public embarrassment, and maybe not even then. I think the nail in the coffin is that we gave her the access. Were you going there?” he asked tentatively.
She sighed. “No, but I need to brief SecNav this afternoon and I need to be prepared for all his questions. I realize legal is the final word on the matter, but I wanted your opinion. Thank you, Tony, Agent Weppler and I will finish up here, though I will let you know the final outcome.”
Knowing he’d been dismissed, he nodded to them both and left the observation room. His mind was spinning over the revelations about Ziva, but there was nothing he could do at the moment.
He decided to focus on work and put the situation out of his head as much as possible. With his entire team in the field, he decided to go look over the case that needed his decision on whether it was going to close as unsolved.
– – – –
Startled, he looked up to find Jacy standing by his desk. He’d been so immersed in what he was doing, he hadn’t heard her and Erin return. It wasn’t like him to let his situational awareness slip, but he realized he felt more comfortable in the more confined and controlled spaces of the FSVU.
“Hey,” he replied, leaning back in his chair. He’d sent Jacy and Erin out on a reported case of child abuse. “How’d it go?”
Jacy frowned and propped her hip on his desk. “I suspect the kid is being abused, but we got nothing out of him.”
Tony threw his pen on his desk with a huff. “Does it ever help to go to the offending parent’s CO?”
Erin got up from her desk and joined them. “Sometimes, but it can also backfire, so we usually don’t take that step. The abusive parent can become ineffectually enraged about the scrutiny from their commanding officer and take it out on their child. All we have are suspicious injuries, a kid who says he fell off his bike, and a mother who won’t let us talk to her son without her present. But…” she trailed off then shook her head.
“What is it?” he prompted, noticing that Jacy was giving Erin a curious look.
“It’s nothing.” She started back towards her desk then spun on her heel and blurted out, “There was a moment when we were talking to the kid when I thought the mother was probably the abuser. We certainly know women can easily be the physical abuser, but it was easy to discount her in this situation. She’s petite, and even though he’s in his early teens, he’s bigger than she is. And the timeline we were given seemed to rule her out, but his body language when she was close to him was defensive and wary.”
Jacy was nodding slowly. “I could see that.”
“You got the timeline and pictures?” Tony asked.
“Sure. Let me get the photos uploaded. They’ll be on the plasma in a second.”
A notebook was passed to Tony by Jacy. He flipped through the notes. “Okay, supposedly happened on Saturday, mother was at work, father was on duty. Father was also on duty on Sunday, but mother was home. Kid missed school on Monday, teacher reported the bruises as suspicious to the police yesterday, it was bumped to us this morning.” He looked at Jacy. “Do we know the father’s duty schedule yet?”
“Yes. Father was home on the Saturday morning of the supposed accident but then worked a double shift, so presumably he did not see his son that night. We don’t know if he saw him Sunday morning or not, but he was on duty for a single shift on Sunday night. According to Brandon, he did not see his father until Tuesday morning.”
Tony frowned. “Why would that be?”
“Father’s typical duty hours have him home after Brandon goes to bed, but he usually sees him in the morning and on his off-duty days of Tuesday and Wednesday. There was no explanation when we asked why he wouldn’t have seen his father on Sunday morning or Monday morning.”
The plasma flared to life with a bunch of photos tiled over the screen. Tony got up and stepped close to look over the photographs. “Hn.” Tony pulled out his cellphone and punched the speed dial for autopsy. When Ducky answered, Tony said, “Hey, I could use a medical opinion on a case if you have a minute?”
“I can certainly spare a few minutes. I shall be there shortly.”
“What are you thinking?” Jacy asked.
“I want his opinion on the age of the bruises and the angle of a couple of them.” His phone chimed with a text from Beth that they were on their way back and were bringing Chinese food for lunch.
Ducky arrived a couple minutes later and went to Jacy first with a smile. “Jacelynn, my dear, it seems to have been an age since I saw you last.”
“Hello, Ducky,” she replied with a smile and accepted a kiss to the cheek.
“And, Erin… it’s always a delight to see you, dear girl,” he offered and pecked her on the cheek. He turned to Tony. “How may I be of assistance?”
Tony gestured to the plasma. “Age of these bruises.”
“Hmm… that poor boy. I do imagine he’s feeling quite under the weather. Did you know the origins of that phrase are nautical in nature? When one was feeling unwell on a ship, they were taken below deck to get them away from the influence of the elements. Hence getting them under the weather,” Ducky rambled almost absently as he looked at the photographs. He fell silent for a moment, then offered, “While there are many variables in how contusions of this nature form, based on his age, weight, build… two days. Three at the very most.”
“Not four?” Tony asked.
“Four?” Ducky looked back at the screen. “I rather think not, unless he has a bleeding disorder of some sort, but if that were the case, I would expect to see signs of excess bleeding around the contusions themselves, and a significant amount of gravitational shift of the excess blood in the subcutaneous tissues. I cannot rule out another health problem that might make him susceptible to easy bruising. However, I believe these contusions to be absolutely no more than three days old. Two days is most likely.”
Tony used the remote to enlarge one of the photos. “What can you tell me about this bruise?”
“Blunt object, but there’s something odd about the shape… I can’t quite make it out. The strike was delivered at a slight upward angle, so he was standing above the perpetrator or they are shorter than he is by approximately two to four inches.”
Jacy and Erin exchanged looks, but Tony just asked, “Could that angle be achieved by striking the face against a hard object when falling off a bike?”
“Even if that were possible, there are no abrasions on any of these wounds, Anthony. I’m sure you are already aware that these wounds are not the product of a fall.”
“Mm.” Tony was noncommittal as he watched Ducky look closely at the pictures.
“Ah!” Ducky finally said. “I do believe your perpetrator is right handed. This is purely conjecture mind you, but I would not be at all surprised if the blunt object in question were a French rolling pin delivered primarily with a back-handed strike.”
That made a lot of sense. The length of the wounds had looked like something longer, but not thin like a cane or a fireplace poker, and certainly not deep enough for the latter. The kid claimed the long bruises were from getting tangled up with his bike frame, but the width of the bruises and the way the end of the contusions narrowed didn’t make sense. But Tony had the mental picture of the mother backhanding her son across the face with a French rolling pin before beating him with it, and he was pretty sure that’s exactly what happened.
“Thank you, Ducky, I really appreciate your help. Beth is going to be back shortly with lunch. Did you want to join us?”
“Anytime, my boy, and no, I’ll have to ask for a raincheck. I’m talking Mr. Palmer to lunch today. He’s still in a bit of a strop, as I’m sure you’re aware.” He gave Tony a speaking look.
“Yeah,” Tony said vaguely. If he let himself think about it, he’d be in a strop, too.
Once Ducky was gone, he turned his attention back to his team. Jacy looked pissed, while Erin just looked resigned. He’d known before he’d joined the team that child abuse cases were Jacy’s hot button. “After lunch, go get the father and bring him in for questioning. He’s military, I don’t need a reason.”
“But we’re pretty sure he didn’t do it,” Erin replied, though Jacy nodded, obviously knowing where he was going with it.
“I want him away from him wife so I can present him with evidence of the abuse and see if he’s going to do something about it or keep turning a blind eye. So let’s get some printouts of these photos.” He scribbled a list of photo numbers and handed it over to Erin.
– – – –
“So what’s up?” Beth asked, rolling Jacy’s chair over and propping her feet up on the very corner of Tony’s desk.
Tony raised a brow.
“You wouldn’t have sent all three of them for a simple pickup if you didn’t want to talk to me. Something happen with the director this morning?”
“No. Well, yes, but it’s not something I can get into.”
“Just tell me she’s not pulling you from the team,” Beth asked sounding worried. “You’re doing great. I don’t want to see her reassign you.”
“It’s not that. They just needed me available to answer questions about activities on my old team. It doesn’t have much to do with me. No, what I wanted to ask you about was this.” He handed over five pages with a bit circled in red on each one.
Beth looked at the first one. “The rape case that went cold?” She glanced up at him.
“The victim’s statement specifically. Just read the part I circled and then look at the next page.”
On the second page, Beth frowned. The third page caused her to drop her feet to the floor. By the fourth page, she went, “Holy shit.” She flipped to the fifth page.
“It’s pretty much only in the victims’ statements. That specific touch and those words were considered innocuous by themselves, so they weren’t tagged as part of the signature,” he hastened to add, not wanting her to think they’d missed something. Considering what he’d seen so far of the case flow, and the checking he’d done into historical trends, he doubted the FSVU ever had much opportunity to pick up cold cases. They were usually juggling multiple open cases at a time, and some of them could drag on interminably.
She waved it away. “How’d you find the other cases?”
“Two of them I just remembered from reviewing cold cases. I felt the cases were truly cold, so didn’t actually pick them up. When I was reading the file, it tripped a memory and I pulled up all the rape cold cases I’ve ever accessed. That accounts for two of them. I was still combing through the other cold cases when Jacy and Erin returned. He’s working all over the east coast and no one team ever caught more than one case.”
“So we have a serial rapist targeting Navy women.” He could tell Beth wanted to jump into action and take over but was restraining herself. “What’s your next step?”
“We gotta find the rest of the cases. The more we know about his movements, the better chance we have of finding him.”
She pushed back from his desk. “I’ll start combing through the cases now.”
– – – –
Jenny walked out of the Pentagon, past the security dividers, and to where her driver/agent escort was already waiting for her. The minute she’d finished with SecNav, she’d called for a pickup.
As soon as she was in the car, she directed, “Back to the Navy Yard.” Abruptly, she changed her mind. “I’m sorry, I think I’d rather go home.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied quickly. She didn’t particularly need to be at the Yard for the next conversation, and there was nothing she had to say to Ziva right now. She was too angry. After everything she’d heard, she’d made the decision to hold Ziva in custody until after SecNav had time to review the situation and decide what would be done. Making the decision on her own would have been unwise considering how much responsibility she bore for the problem.
Ziva had abused her trust, and it was possible that Jenny could pay for it with her job, because Davenport was furious with her right now. It was unclear what Davenport would do, but having Ziva on the MCRT was definitely out. One of the many options Davenport was considering in order to keep any of this from getting out, was keeping Ziva at NCIS in another capacity with no access or clearance. If it were Jenny’s decision, Ziva would be on the first plane back to Tel Aviv. Although, she knew it wasn’t good to make decisions when she was this pissed.
While driving, she listened to her messages from Cynthia. Cassie Yates had agreed to transfer in as SFA for the MCRT and would start on Monday. Yates had been promoted quickly from junior agent to SFA, but her current lead noted that she would be ready for her own team sooner rather than later. If she succeeded for a year or two on the MCRT as SFA, she’d definitely be eligible for promotion. That left finding a new junior agent. With Ziva gone, it could also be a probie. Jenny made mental note to talk to Tony to see if Michelle Lee was a better fit for FSVU or for the MCRT.
As soon as she walked in the door of her townhouse, she kicked off her shoes and poured herself a drink. Curling up on the couch, she sipped her drink and took a couple minutes to get her thoughts together.
Finally, she grabbed her cellphone off the end table, thumbed through the contact list, and hit send at the right number.
“Director Shepard. What can I do for you?” There was the sound of movement and then a door closing. “Is everything all right?”
“As it can be,” she replied tiredly.
“Jenny…” he trailed off.
“Don’t worry, Tony. Everything will work out. Secretary Davenport would like to speak with you tonight. Informally. He’s going to meet you in the lounge at The Jefferson at eight.
Tony made a little coughing-choking noise.
“Just… whatever he asks you, be honest and tell him what you think. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” With that, she took a page out of Gibbs’ book and hung up. She still needed to call Mike Weppler and fill him in, but she decided to give it a bit and went back to her drink.
– – – –
Tony’s team was immersed in checking to see if there were any more cold cases that matched the signature of their serial rapist. As much as that needed Tony’s attention, so did Brandon Smyth. Pushing away the thoughts of other cases, not to mention his upcoming meeting with SecNav, he entered the conference room where Staff Sergeant Jerrod Smyth was waiting.
The man got to his feet and stood to attention. “Sir.”
“Have a seat, Staff Sergeant,” Tony said, waving the Marine back into his chair.
He sat but his hands were curled into fists and his jaw was clenched, though Tony thought he looked upset and not angry. “I didn’t hurt my son.”
“Hm,” Tony murmured noncommittally as he took his own seat and set a folder carefully on the table. “Have you ever laid a hand on Brandon?”
“I may have swatted him on the butt when he was little to get his attention, but I made sure it didn’t hurt him. I never even spanked my kid, sir!”
“Well, let’s say that’s true, the question becomes, do you care if your son is being hurt?”
“Of course I do! I love Brandon,” Smyth said fervently. “He’s a klutz sometimes. Tina says he’s still growing into his feet, but he doesn’t get hurt more than any other boy his age.”
“Maybe not, but he certainly gets hurt more severely,” Tony insisted. His instincts said the Staff Sergeant was possibly oblivious but not complicit in what had happened to Brandon.
“No. You don’t understand. He fell off his bike… he hit his face on the ground.”
“Right. The ground,” Tony remarked dryly. “Tell me, Sergeant, does Mrs. Smyth own a French rolling pin?”
“I don’t even know what that is, sir.”
Prepared for that, Tony pulled a photo from the top of his folder. “They’re solid wood, usually a hardwood, and have no handles. Instead, they taper on the ends.” He passed the photo across the table.
Smyth looked confused but nodded absently. “Yeah, she’s got one. She makes lots of pies and cookies and what not. I swear, Brandon has a hollow leg now that he’s a teenager. Why?”
Tony began laying out the photos showing the bruises, starting with Brandon’s face, then his shoulder, arm, and upper chest.
The Sergeant stared in horror. “I don’t understand. They said it was just his face.” He looked at Tony with a bewildered expression. “Why lie to me?”
“Our medical expert believes these contusions,” Tony pointed to the long bruises, “were caused by being struck backhanded with a French rolling pin. The upper body is meatier, but Brandon is lucky he didn’t have fractures in his facial bones.”
Shaking hands hovered over the pictures and the man suddenly looked broken. “You think Tina did this?” he whispered.
“We do. But only Brandon can tell us for certain, and with him denying anything happened, and Mrs. Smyth refusing to allow us to speak to him without her present, we are unable to help him. In light of the information from our medical expert—that the bruises occurred at least a day after the story given by your wife and son, and the nature of the injuries—we could push to have social services take him from the home and–”
“No! You can’t take my son,” Smyth said pleadingly.
“Then it’s up to you to help us,” Tony said bluntly. “You need to let us bring Brandon here. Then you need to talk to him, reassure him that you’re going to help, that you don’t want him to be hurt; see if you can get him to admit what really happened.”
The Staff Sergeant’s eyes were wet as he abruptly pushed the photos into a pile and shoved them back toward Tony. “Yes. Anything. Just help me protect my son.”
– – – –
Brandon Smyth finished giving his statement then turned to his father, looking for reassurance. The process of getting the statement had been halting and painful. Apparently Brandon had been scared his father, the strong Marine, would think he was weak, so had borne the abuse from his mother in silence for years.
Jerrod Smyth pulled his son into his arms and squeezed his own eyes shut when his son started to sob.
Tony and the representative from Children’s Services slipped out of the room to give them privacy. Jacy and Erin had gone to arrest Tina Smyth, even though it was getting late and Jacy tried to go home to her own kids on time as much as possible. Still, child abuse cases were her personal demon, and Tony hadn’t been surprised that she’d stayed late for the arrest. Unfortunately, Tony wouldn’t be here for Mrs. Smyth’s interrogation as he had to leave in fifteen minutes in order to be on time for his meeting with Philip Davenport.
He couldn’t really imagine what Davenport thought he’d gain by talking to Tony, but at the moment, he didn’t really care. In some ways, the FSVU was harder than anything he’d ever done. The cases were uglier to him than most of the cases he’d worked on the MCRT. But he’d keep doing it for moments like this when he felt like their work had made a real difference in someone’s life.
– – – –