Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snowBeta:
Many thanks Alaidh for the beta.Pairing:
Continuing on from “The Loganising of Tony” – this one even has a plot!CHAPTER 4
The living room was in a state of bedlam. Tony recoiled from the noise of fighting children before even entering the room. He had to stop at the entrance to wait for Nicole’s two boys to stop wrestling on the floor so he could pass. Petey took the situation in hand, however, squeezing through and grabbing each miscreant by a shirt collar to haul them to their feet. “Hey, you two! Behave,” he said fiercely.
“Sorry, Uncle Pete,” the boys said in unison, then scampered off again. Tony and Pete exchanged looks before proceeding further into the room.
Tony moved into the room slowly, offering smiles and heys to faces only half-remembered, until he found himself beside his grandmother. The old lady was safely installed in a comfortable armchair, cooing over a dark-eyed baby, a member of the extended DiNozzo family.
“She’s beautiful, Gina,” his grandmother was saying.
Tony looked on, feeling bored and out of place. He had little or no experience with children of any age, and had no desire for fatherhood. His own upbringing had certainly left a lot to be desired in most respects, other than material goods, and even that had been cut off, other than some income from a trust fund that was so tied up in legal tape that he could never touch the capital. He no longer dined at the family watering trough. Still, he took a second look at Gina, having not seen her since she was a painfully shy, plump, pimple-faced teenager. He wondered when she’d turned into the confident, attractive, twenty-something brunette he now saw. Gina finally became aware that she was being subjected to scrutiny by her handsome cousin, caught Tony’s eye and blushed prettily.
“Hey, Gina,” he said evenly, although he couldn’t help following up with an impish grin at having caused her to react.
“Tony? Oh, my God, Tony, how are you…” Gina’s voice trailed off uncomfortably as the compassion seeped in.
He was saved from anything further by a voice at the other end of the room announcing that, “Lunch is served.” Gina scooped up the baby and looked around the room, eventually catching sight of whoever it was she was looking for, leaving Tony and his grandmother somewhat bemused by her quick departure.
“Come on, Gran, ups-a-daisy,” Tony said, locking his brakes for stability and giving her a helping hand to rise from the chair. He was gratified to find that Petey had appeared on the other side to give a helping hand under the opposite elbow.
“Go on, I got this,” Pete said, once the old lady was on her feet.
Tony nodded and pushed off smoothly. He had found that most people tended to step aside rather than have their toes run over, and this was no different with family members. He was pleased to see that there was one place setting without a chair, about a third of the way down the table and backing onto the windows.
“Is it okay?” Tony looked up, surprised to see that his mother was beside him.
“Fine, Mom. You think of everything.”
“I’m trying, Anthony.”
“I know.” He slid the chair into place.
A few moments later, Pete and his grandmother entered the room, which was slowly filling. “There. Is this okay, Gran?” Pete asked, helping her into the seat beside Tony and hanging her cane from the back of her chair before walking around the table to sit opposite.
“Thank you, sweetie,” she said, patting his hand.
“No problem, Gran.”
Petey took up a position opposite his grandmother and put a protective hand on the seat beside him, the one in front of Tony, holding it for the still-absent Emma. “Is this girlfriend real, or is she just some story you been telling us?” Tony snickered.
“Oh, she’s real,” he said, and watched Tony’s expression change from the usual cheeky grin to a neutral frown as his father took up a position at the head of the table. Joe DiNozzo returned his son’s look with a glittering, cold glare, then turned to smile at someone else and the moment passed. Tony shrugged at Pete, feeling like he’d just been stripped bare and found wanting. Gibbs really has something to learn in the “terrify the junior” department
, he thought.
A bevy of servants started serving the meal, most of them extras from an agency hired for the day. Tony was stunned at the beautiful girl who entered late and came up behind Pete, placing cold hands over his eyes with a playful, “Guess who.”
“Emma! You made it!”
“Stating the obvious there, but yeah, I made it.” Tony couldn’t take his eyes off the attractive brunette. She smiled at him and slid into the seat beside Pete, flicking back a stray strand of hair that had managed to escape her loose ponytail. “Hey,” she said to Tony, fixing him with candid hazel eyes. “I’m Emma Bachman.”
“Tony DiNozzo,” he said, offering a hand to shake across the table.
“Ah, you’re Pete’s cousin.”
“And this is my grandmother, Mrs. O’Rourke,” interjected Pete.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said, offering a well-manicured hand to the old lady, who looked somewhat bemused.
“Gran, this is my girlfriend, Emma.”
“Hello, dear. Glad you could make it.”
Emma turned the smile back to Tony, then wrinkled her nose in concentration. “Tony…you’re the cop, right?”
“Ah, not quite,” he said.
“Tony’s a Special Agent…” Petey started to speak at the same time as his cousin.
“I’m an Investigator with NCIS in Washington,” he said, flashing a look at Petey. Petey, if he registered Tony’s changed status or understood the import of what his cousin had actually said, didn’t comment. Even though Tony was back at work as part of Gibbs’ team, the nature of his injury meant he was no longer eligible to be a Special Agent: he no longer fulfilled all the physical prerequisites for a Special Agent – one of which is the possession of a fully-functional nervous system. Of course, Gibbs, being Gibbs, more often than not turned a blind eye to the rule book, and let Tony in on more than he probably should have, including helping out with surveillance and working on crime scenes. But, effectively, Petey had been right when he said Tony was tied to a desk, because he spent much more of his time in the office than he had in the past. As compensation, he was spending a lot more time interviewing suspects. There was something about Tony’s disarming charm coupled with the wheelchair that caught people off-guard.
“And that is?” Emma asked.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Navy cop, if you like.” He flashed her a quicksilver grin, the one that Anne, his PT, considered should be licensed as a lethal weapon, briefly dimpling both cheeks. “We investigate major crimes and terrorism involving the Navy and Marine Corps,” he continued.
“Oh,” she said, her eyes widening for a moment.
“How was…” Petey asked.
“Horrible,” Emma interrupted, leaning into Petey’s chest. “So was the weather…the flight. Chantelle was hit with the ‘flu, so I had to work the booth on my own for three days. My feet are killing me!”
“I do a pretty good foot massage.” Tony looked back over his shoulder, slightly startled, as a bowl of soup was placed in front of him. He quickly turned back to Emma, however, his eyes glinting as he silently cajoled her.
“Now?” she asked.
“No, tomorrow. I can fit you in around 10:00 am,” he grinned. “Of course now.”
“But the food is being served…”
Tony tilted his head slightly and fixed her with dangerously puppy-like eyes, seemingly all innocence. Pete grinned, having seen the act before, but was also confident that his girlfriend would completely see through his cousin. “Come on, under the table…” he prompted. “You worried about smelly feet?”
“Um, no, not really. Stopped by home and had a shower before I came…” She turned to look at Pete, who squeezed her shoulder and whispered something in her ear.
“Okay, then,” she shrugged. “But this better be worth it.”
He grinned. “It will be.” He carefully sucked some of the hot soup off the spoon. “Just let me…” His voice trailed off as he reached under the table to move his feet off the footrest to the floor, having realized that if he didn’t there’d be little or no space for Emma’s feet, delicate as they may be.
“Sure,” she smiled.
Emma stretched one foot across the dividing distance of the table before finding Tony’s knee. He reached under the table with his hands, feeling around for a moment, and started working some personal magic into Emma’s foot.
“Anthony, can you pass me a bread roll, please?” his grandmother asked. At this time of day, and with the larger gathering, they were having a light lunch – either lobster bisque or pumpkin soup being on the menu, with plenty of crisp rolls for dunking purposes. The main evening meal, usually attended only by close family, would be the full Christmas dinner disaster. Lunch was just a get together of people not seen for the rest of the year, most of whom had other functions to attend later in the day.
“Sure, Gran,” he said, reaching for the rolls with his right hand, while continuing to massage Emma’s foot with the other.
“You’ve never done that for me,” she commented, somewhat petulantly.
“Haven’t I? Well, we can do something about that later,” he said.
He exchanged a quick grin with his mother, who was watching him curiously from near the end of the table.
“Thanks, Tony,” said Emma, retracting her now very relaxed feet. “That was really good.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, smiling as he dipped a spoon into the rapidly cooling bowl of lobster bisque in front of him.
A maid came up behind Tony and tapped him gently on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Mr. DiNozzo,” she said softly. “You’re wanted on the phone.”
Tony looked over his shoulder at her and nodded. He grinned and shrugged at Emma and his cousin and gave his grandmother’s hand a pat. Looking at his mother apologetically, he caught an odd look from her, and saw controlled anger on his father’s face, before he backed away from the table. “Sorry. This must be important,” he said, and turned away, completely missing the shocked expression on Emma’s face when she saw the wheelchair.
Tony picked up the phone in the hall and said a cautious, ”Hello?” CHAPTER 5
“DiNozzo, I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. Don’t you ever pick up your phone?”
“Boss, I’m on vacation. Christmas? Ring any bells?”
“Rhode Island sent a call for help.”
“And this has anything to do with me how?” Tony said impatiently. “Look, boss, sorry, but I gotta go…I haven’t even had lunch yet.”
“Hear me out, DiNozzo.”
“Yes, boss,” he said from habit and, resigned, propped an elbow on the hall table and leaned his head on his hand to listen.
“Rhode Island’s stretched thin with a terrorism investigation. They got a coupl’a guys off with flu and Christmas and…well…someone walking a dog found the body of a navy commander in a park in Huntington…” Gibbs paused before continuing. “Seems to be a similar MO to that one in Norfolk. DiNozzo, you listening?”
“I’m here, boss.”
“I need you to get over to the crime scene. McGee is already on his way.” He rattled off an address.
Tony gave a huge sigh, surrendering to the inevitable. “Okay, boss. On my way.” Tony hung up the phone and sat still for a moment, his hand still resting on the receiver.
He gave a start. “Sorry, Mom, you startled me.”
He swiveled to face her. “Sorry, I gotta go, Mom.”
“But, Anthony, it’s Christmas.”
“I'll be back," he replied firmly.
Tony turned his back on her and went to his room, leaving her to either return to her guests or follow. He stripped off the lightweight hoodie he was wearing in favor of the heavier sweater he'd worn in the car the previous day. He pulled his jacket on over the top of the ensemble then rummaged in the bottom of the sports bag for his ID, shoving it into the inside pocket of his jacket. He also checked the charge on his phone and put that in another pocket. Finally, he checked the contents of his backpack before slinging it over the chair back and pulling on his gloves.
He turned to find his mother blocking the doorway. "So that's it? You're just going?"
"Mom, I have to do this. It's my job."
"No it's not – you're on vacation."
"Mom," he pushed forward, even though she stood her ground in the doorway, blocking his egress. "Can you get out of the way, please?"
She stepped aside. "So that's it?"
"I'll be back. Save me some dessert."
Tony looked into the rear view mirror just once before driving out the gate. He saw the house ablaze with lights, with his mother's form silhouetted in the window of his room watching him go.
Tony pulled up at the police barricade just outside the park and flashed his ID to the uniformed cop on duty. “Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS,” he said.
“Right. Detective Andrews said to expect someone.” He gestured in the direction of a set of playground equipment just off to the left of a winding path. “Just down there,” he said. “About two hundred yards. You can park your car over there.” The cop pointed to a pair of black and whites not far from the barricade.
Tony looked at the weather – rain was just starting to fall – and grimaced. “Any chance I could get a bit closer?” he asked, gesturing at the blue and white tag hanging from the mirror of the car.
“No, sir. No vehicles in or out for now.”
Tony tightened his lips and nodded, then put the car into reverse, intending to move it. He quickly changed his mind, however, and shut off the engine. “I’m gonna leave my car right here. You got any objections to that?” he asked, eyeing the young man, his expression deliberately blank in an attempt at a Gibbs stare-down. He opened the car door and started to assemble the chair in front of a now slightly bug-eyed cop. “You still gonna tell me I can’t take the car any closer?”
“Sorry, sir. Detective Andrews’ orders.”
Tony sighed, “Right.”
Tony completed the transfer, and blinking away some raindrops, pulled the hood of his jacket up over his head. He pulled a notepad and pen from his backpack and stuck them in the pocket of his jacket. “You gonna let me through?” he asked, gesturing at the wooden barrier blocking his path.
The cop obligingly moved the barricade and was already on the radio by the time Tony mounted the footpath to follow its sinuous curves down to the playground. “Brown here. Better tell Andrews that the Feds have arrived…yeah…guy in a wheelchair. Says he’s NCIS…”
Tony’s movements, as he pushed his way along the path, had a careless grace and assurance now, even as he negotiated the rough path that wound its way, higgledy piggledy, to the playground, crossed at intervals by other paths leading to other parts of the park, and bordered by what in summer would be grass and beds of flowers. As Tony got closer to the group gathered near the playground, one figure detached himself and walked towards him. “Tony?” He coasted to a halt at the familiar voice saying his name.
“Nick? Nick Andrews?”
“What the hell happened to you?”
Tony accepted the offered hand in a firm shake. “Long story,” he replied, falling alongside as Andrews started walking back to the crime scene. “When did you leave Baltimore?”
“Not long after you did.”
"So talk me through it."
"Woman walking her dog came across the body of a naval officer – around midday. Single gunshot wound to the chest."
Tony stopped again as his phone started ringing. "DiNozzo," he said without looking at the caller's ID.
"Tony, it's McGee."
"Oh, hey, McGee."
"I'm about thirty minutes out. Don't let them move the body until I get there."
Tony winced as the light rain suddenly started to get heavier. "Ay-sap, McGee." He shut the phone with a snap and thrust it back into his pocket, thinking that he was probably gonna be very cold and wet before too much longer. "Some days it just doesn't pay to answer the phone," he said, somewhat enigmatically.
Tony shrugged. "Sorta." He hunched his shoulders to pop a small wheelie, lifting the casters over the raised edge of the path onto mother earth.
The body was neatly laid out on the ground, hands by its side. The uniform hat sat to one side. The local cops had rigged a rough tarpaulin over the top to shelter the body and the immediate area from the weather. A tall, solidly built, gray-haired man in a dark overcoat, Tony presumed the State ME, knelt by the body.
The ground was soft and muddy – a direct result of a couple of warmer days earlier in the week coupled with the rain. It was slushy, unpleasant going on foot, let alone in a wheelchair. Andrews raised the tape marking the cordoned off area and allowed Tony to pass in and under the comparative shelter near the body.
“Whatcha got for us?” Andrews asked the ME.
“Time of death?” Tony added, fumbling for his notebook. The ME looked up at the unfamiliar voice. “DiNozzo, NCIS Washington,” he said, reaching for his ID.
The ME’s eyes narrowed for an instant at the man in the wheelchair. “At least twelve hours. I won’t be able to tell any more until I do the autopsy.”
Tony nodded. “Can you fax through the results to Dr. Mallard at NCIS in Washington, please?”
Tony rolled his eyes at finding yet another ME who knew the avuncular NCIS examiner. The ME stood a little creakily. “Can we move the body now?” his assistant asked.
“Would you mind waiting? There’s another NCIS agent on the way and he requested that the body be left where it is until his arrival.”
The ME grimaced. He had better things to do on Christmas day than stand outside in the freezing rain to wait for some member of a rival police authority to make his way there. “How long?”
Tony consulted his watch. “About 15 minutes,” he said, somewhat hopefully.
“I think I’ll wait in the truck,” the man said finally and, after nodding at Andrews that he had permission to touch the body, he trudged off.
Andrews withdrew a wallet and a set of keys from the breast pocket of the victim’s coat. Tony pulled off the wheelchair gloves he was wearing and swapped them for latex, gesturing for the wallet. “Well, it wasn’t a robbery,” he remarked conversationally, pulling out a couple of bills to show Andrews. He slid them back into place and turned his attention to the other items in the wallet. “William Andrew Johnson,” Tony read from a driver’s license. “The address is in Cold Spring Harbor.”
“Right in your backyard, Tony.”
Tony glanced up at Andrews sharply. “Gym membership…Cold Spring Harbor Gym and Health Club,” he continued, flipping the card over to see a name handwritten on the back: Nataliya.
“You know it?”
Tony just nodded in reply. “Dry cleaning receipt. Credit card. Couple of other receipts.” He replaced the contents of the wallet and dropped it into the evidence bag Andrews held out to him.
“You want me to send this stuff on to your lab?”
“Yeah, that’d be good.” Tony looked up in surprise at the co-operative attitude of his former co-worker. “Witness?”
Andrew gestured over towards a green painted park bench where a woman in a dark coat sat holding an umbrella in one hand and the leash of a patient but very wet Springer Spaniel in the other. The dog had his muzzle resting on neatly crossed paws as it lay on the ground. Tony eyed the dog warily. He had discovered over the preceding few months that certain larger members of the canine community liked to take advantage of his seated position and he had been the unwilling recipient of several slobbery kisses as a result. Irrespective of that, he pulled the hood of his jacket closer over his head and set off out from the shelter of the tarp, Andrews following with an umbrella.
“Tony, this is Danielle Phillips,” Andrews said by way of introduction, then handed Tony the umbrella to hold and walked off.
“Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, NCIS,” he said, pulling out his ID and flashing it quickly. He tried to ignore the dog, which was eyeing him with alert eyes. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Danielle regarded him gravely with serious blue eyes. “Okay, but I really haven’t any more to tell than what I said to the others.
“Humor me,” Tony said. He pushed back the hood of his jacket and ruffled his hair to relieve the flattened “hat hair” feeling. His hair was short, having been recently cut, and, without the mousse he often used, looked soft. He fixed Danielle with one of his cutest grins, the one Abby described as his shy bad-boy look –he often used it when he was up to mischief but trying to seem innocent. The woman in front of him was absolutely stunning. Her eyes were so blue they were almost violet and framed by thick lashes. Her hair, where it cascaded over her collar, was dark brown, shiny and fell in waves. The full lips parted to reveal perfect teeth as she gave him a slight smile in reply.
“Can you walk me through what happened – verbally, that is.” His grin became wry at the unintended pun and Danielle looked at him uncertainly – not sure what to make of him.
“Sure. Okay, about 11:30, we entered the park.”
“From what direction?” She gestured towards what was roughly the northern entrance of the park, and Tony noted the position of the gate on a hastily scrawled map of the scene. She looked down as the dog moved, sitting up, almost at attention.
“Sit down, Monty.” She grimaced as the dog reared up on his back legs, planting a pair of muddy feet on the knees of Tony’s jeans. ”I guess so.”
Tony shoved the dog back, pulling a face at the dirty marks he had left behind.
“Sorry, he’s young, doesn’t know any better.”
“That’s…okay,” Tony replied, trying to brush some of the mud away. He caught Danielle’s eye and grinned. “Dogs…do that to me.”
Danielle fumbled in her pocket looking for something, then looked back at Tony, who was still grinning inanely. “Where was I…” she said.
“You entered from the north.”
“Right,” she said, catching Tony’s grin and returning it. “We came in over there. I let Monty off the leash for a bit – there was no one around…he ran and then he started barking.” Danielle colored, blushing bright red under the NCIS agent’s smiling scrutiny. “So…I walked over to see what he was barking at and…do you always do that?”
“Do what?” Tony asked, the dimple appearing in his cheek for the briefest of milliseconds.
“I guess it must have been quite a shock.” Tony, the very stereotype of concern, leaned forward and looked at her seriously. She looked at him for a moment and smiled hesitantly, looking into his green eyes.
“Yes, yes it was, Agent DiNozzo. Not what I expected to find on Christmas Day, that’s for sure.”
“Tony,” he corrected. “I’ll need to get some contact details from you…in case I…”
“Need to talk to me again?”
“Yes, that.” Tony flashed a broad smile. “Maybe I could take you out for coffee…”
“I…don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“It wouldn’t?” Tony asked, somewhat crestfallen, although not giving up yet. “Why not?”
Danielle spoke gently, “I don’t think my partner would like it.” She pushed back her sleeve to look at her watch. “Speaking of which, I’ve been here for hours and he should be home soon.”
Tony looked at her in some surprise.
“He’s a doctor,” she explained. “Got called in on an emergency early this morning.”
“So…you’re married, thinking of getting married, relationship’s on the rocks?”
“No, we’re…we’re very happy. I don’t want to jeopardize that…” She laughed as she tried to let him down gently. “Look…”
Tony nodded and grinned. She took the pen and notepad from his grasp and wrote her contact details out for him. “May I go now?”
“Sure,” he replied and looked over his shoulder back at the group gathered around the body, hearing McGee’s voice.
“Hey, Tony, I’m done here,” McGee said, walking over to him. The rain had finally stopped in the last few minutes and Tony had closed the umbrella, handing it to the cop who came to claim it.
“Okay, probie, guess that’s it for now." Tony started to push off to go back to the car, not realizing that the ground was so wet that when he tried to move, he ended up sinking into the mud. He tried to rock back and forth to free himself and only succeeded in almost tipping over. He groaned then said quickly to McGee, "Okay, I'm stuck."
"You want me to call a tow truck?"
"Ha ha, very funny, McGee."
“Let me try.” McGee tried to pull the chair, with Tony assisting, by hauling on the sides of the backrest, almost tipping it up in the process. “Whoa!” Tony grabbed at the handrims in alarm as he lost his balance.
“Sorry.” McGee didn’t even attempt to hide his grin of sheer delight at his tormentor’s predicament, not that Tony could see it. All the same, he must have sensed something in McGee’s voice, because he turned to glare at him. “Well, Stanley, this is another pretty pickle you’ve gotten us into,” he said, the humor of the situation overriding his frustration.
McGee scratched his head, looking serious now that he was under scrutiny. “Okay, so…what do we do?” he asked. “Can you reach the bench and I can…”
“Too far away, McGee, and,” he looked at the green wooden bench, “it’s wet.”
McGee’s shoulder’s sagged as he realized what Tony wanted, having seen Gibbs do it a couple of times to get his senior agent into otherwise inaccessible locations. “Don’t you ever get tired of making me look like an idiot?” he sighed, but moved into position in front of Tony.
“No, probie, never,” Tony replied, grinning. He moved himself forward in the seat and climbed onto the back of the awkwardly crouched McGee, reaching up to haul himself on board. The junior agent straightened up slowly, grunting under the burden of some 170 pounds of extra weight, the nearby cops grinning at the sight. McGee took a couple of steps, then stopped. “What’s the matter, McGee?” Tony asked.
“Can you move your arms?” McGee gasped out. “You’re strangling me.”
“Oh, sorry.” Tony obligingly lowered his grip. “That better?”
“Now, giddyup, McGee. We haven’t got all day.”
A piercing whistle rent the air and a voice yelled out, “Ride ‘em, cowboy!” McGee blushed bright red, hearing a few of the comments from the local cops, but he doggedly started to stagger along the pathway back to Tony’s car, whipped along by the breezy commentary of the passenger on his back, who exhorted him onwards with a loud, “Heigh ho, Silver, away!”
The young cop on guard duty, grinning from ear to ear, opened the driver’s door of the car, where McGee half-lowered, half-dropped Tony into the seat, then stood leaning on the door, panting for breath. “You need to work out more, McGee,” Tony said. “You’re out of shape.” He grinned broadly, seeming to enjoy the younger agent’s discomfort. Tony sat with his legs dangling outside the car and watching his co-worker pant. “McGee?”
“Oh…” McGee gave Tony a look of complete disbelief, and cast a glare out in the direction of the three detectives who were still standing near the crime scene. While he longed to knock DiNozzo off his perch and demean him in some way, leaving him stranded without the wheelchair was not something he was prepared to do. He trudged back to collect the chair, giving Tony the opportunity to settle himself into the car properly.
“Damn, it’s cold,” Tony said to himself. He felt chilled to the core, and very quickly realized why when he dragged his legs into the car. His jeans were soaked through by the rain, and his legs felt like blocks of ice under his hands. He grimaced, and the thought crossed his mind that he needed to warm up…and fast. He looked over to see what McGee was up to, and was just in time to see him pull the still-stuck chair out of the sucking mud, spattering himself in the process. What had seemed funny earlier, and a way of upsetting McGee, was becoming more serious. “Hurry up, McGee,” he muttered, cursing the couple of days of unseasonably warmer weather earlier in the week that had resulted in his current predicament.
McGee was back quickly. “You got a rag or something I can use to clean this up a bit?” he asked Tony.
Tony looked at McGee in surprise – thankful for the consideration the junior agent had shown him over the months since his return to work, despite the merciless teasing he usually received from both DiNozzo and Kate. “In the trunk,” Tony said, handing McGee the keys.
McGee shrugged and plodded to the back of the car. Tony heard the trunk open. It took McGee a couple of minutes to clean off the worst of the remaining mud from the wheels.
“Thanks, probie,” Tony said, giving the younger agent a genuine smile of thanks before disassembling the chair and stowing the pieces in the front seat.
“You’re welcome, Tony.” McGee turned to go, the muddy rag still dangling from his hand.
“Hey, McGee, you get anything to eat before coming here?”
“No,” McGee replied, eyeing him cautiously.
“Come back to my place.”
“I need to…”
“Come on, McGee. We can call Gibbs from there.” Tony started the engine of the sports car and turned up the heat as far as it would go.
McGee looked at him doubtfully. “Okay…I’ll follow you.” CHAPTER 6
A mud-spattered and very cold and wet Tony let himself in through the living room door, attracting the stares of the half-dozen or so family members who were scattered around the various sofas and chairs in the room. He cringed at feeling all the eyes boring into him, gave an overly-cheery, “Hi,” and headed for the hallway to let McGee in the front door. His mother got there first, however, blocking his path.
“That’s it…hi?!” she said, annoyed. “Where have you been all this time?”
“I had to work, Mom, and, if you don’t mind, you’re in my way. Gotta let McGee in.”
She gave him a look a complete disbelief. “Who’s McGee?”
Tony’s response was delayed by the sound of the doorbell, and McGee’s muffled voice coming through the door. “Hey, Tony, you gonna let me in?”
“That’s McGee,” he said. He gave her a penetrating look and, after a long pause, she stepped aside so Tony could open the door for McGee.
“Hey, what took you so long?” asked McGee, water dripping from his coat as he stood on the doorstep – the short-lived break in the rain now over.
“Come on in.” Tony backed out of the way and looked up at his mother meaningfully.
“Oh, hey, Mrs. DiNozzo.” McGee had immediately recognized the woman beside Tony, seeing the family resemblance. “Agent Timothy McGee,” he said, offering his hand in a shake. “Nice to meet you.”
“Any friend of Tony’s,” she replied somewhat ironically. She exchanged smiles with the young agent, then looked down at her son, suddenly concerned as she heard his teeth starting to chatter despite the warmth indoors. She looked at him critically and took in his damp clothes, the muddy paw prints on his wet jeans and the mud on the inner side of his jacket sleeves and the gloves he had draped over one leg. “You’re cold and wet,” she scolded, refraining from adding “and muddy,” while mentally noting that she’d better check the floor where he came in for tread prints. “Go and have a shower and warm up. “I’ll take care of Agent McGee.” She was suddenly all business.
Tony gave a mental eye roll, but did as he was told, hearing his mother and McGee chatting as he left. “…just somewhere I can set this up, Mrs. DiNozzo. I don’t wanna be in the way…”
Tony gradually became aware of a persistent banging on the bathroom door. “Tony!”
He shut off the water, hung the shower head on its hook, and reached for a towel. “What d’ya want, McGee?”
“He wants to talk to you. On the phone…”
Tony sighed and leant back against the tiles, thoughtfully drying his chest.
“Just a minute.” He laid a towel across the seat and carefully transferred into the wheelchair, placing a second towel across his lap.
“Come on in, probie,” he said, taking malicious delight in that he knew he was causing his co-worker a certain amount of discomfort. The door opened a fraction and a hand clutching a cell phone came through the opening. Tony pushed forward, gently bumping the door onto McGee’s wrist, and stretched for the phone. “Got it, McGee.”
“Thanks.” He put the phone to his ear. “What’s up, boss?”
“DiNozzo, what are you doing in the shower?” Gibbs said, then added, “Never mind. I need you and McGee to get over to his apartment today. I want you to check it out immediately.”
Tony sighed, “I’m on it, boss.” Gibbs ended the conversation in his usual abrupt fashion. “Thanks, boss, and I suppose you’d like it if I ended up with frostbite out of this,” he said into the buzzing phone. “Probie!” he yelled. When McGee’s curious face peered around the door, he handed him the phone. “Don’t get too comfortable. We’re going out again,” he said shortly.
Tony, stranded outside the elevators in the foyer of the apartment block, turned to give the sign hanging from the piece of cord strung between two plastic chairs a sour look while he waited for McGee to come back downstairs. “Out of order,” he grumbled for the tenth time since McGee had vanished from sight with the wheelchair. “Anyone would think they’d deliberately planned this.” He looked up, hearing voices. A young couple came down the stairs. The guy had one arm around the girl’s shoulders and the other hand in his pocket, jingling what was probably his keys or some change. They looked at Tony curiously, but kept going. “C’m’on, Timmie,” he muttered, drumming on his right leg with impatient fingertips. “What took you so long?” he asked as the younger agent appeared at the top of the last flight of stairs.
McGee ignored Tony’s question. He quickly descended the last few stairs and presented his broad back for Tony to climb aboard. Once McGee had crouched in front of the seat, he scooted forward and grabbed McGee in a hug while McGee got a grip on his legs. “Let’s get this over with,” McGee said miserably.
“Never mind, probie,” Tony responded cheerfully, locking his arms around McGee’s chest. “We’ll have you fit in no time at all.”
“Easy, McGee,” Tony said in some alarm as McGee stumbled slightly on the approach to the final flight of stairs.
McGee paused at the bottom step, breathing heavily. He glared at the steps in front of him and adjusted his grip of Tony’s legs slightly, balancing the weight better. “There has to be a better way,” he muttered, half under his breath, and mounted the first step.
“What was that, McGee?”
“Nothing,” he said morosely.
Someone brushed past quickly, heading up. Tony glanced up in time to see the male half of the couple from before grinning down at him from the next set of stairs before the young man disappeared from view, obviously thinking that the piggyback was some kind of joke – which in a way it was. Tony was perfectly capable of getting up the stairs under his own power, even if that was on his backside and hands, but McGee made the perfect patsy.
McGee slowly plodded up the last couple of steps, and almost dropped Tony on the ground in his haste to get the senior agent off his back. Tony managed to save himself with a quick one-handed grab at the chair while he still held on with the other, dragging it underneath his body at the last moment, albeit sideways. He settled himself while McGee, leaning against the wall, caught his breath.
“Which way?” Tony asked, looking right then left along the corridor.
McGee gestured to his right and bent cautiously, feeling his back, to retrieve the backpack he’d left hidden behind Tony’s chair. “End of the passage.” McGee looked up to find Tony already heading down the hallway, checking the numbers on the doors as he went.
“How’re we gonna get…” McGee started to ask, only to find that Tony was already picking the lock.
The lock clicked open and Tony grinned up at his co-worker. “I still got it.” He gestured grandly. “After you.”
McGee, already pulling on a pair of latex gloves, pushed the door open with his shoulder and fumbled for the light switch. Tony’s nostrils flared briefly as he caught a brief whiff of something unpleasant in the stale air from the apartment. McGee was already going through a bundle of papers on the desk in the far corner of the living room by the time Tony had the door shut. “Whatcha got there, McGee?” Tony asked, looking around curiously.
“Bunch of paid bills,” McGee replied, “in the name of Mr. and Mrs. J Johnson. Must be the victim’s parents,” McGee surmised.
“Right.” Tony peered into the kitchen, wrinkling his nose at the faintly acrid odor that seemed to emanate from there. He noted a couple of unwashed dishes on the draining board beside the sink, along with a couple of empty take-out containers – although these were not the source of the smell, which was more animal in nature. Other than that, the room was tidy. “By the way, McGee,” Tony started, then put a finger to his lips, eyes narrowed, as he heard something. He looked up the hall and continued speaking, all the while concentrating on a scratching sound coming from one of the bedrooms. “How did you get here so quickly?”
McGee gestured for Tony to move ahead of him. Tony listened at the first door and positioned himself so that the way was clear for McGee to enter, one hand on the doorknob. McGee drew his Sig and waited, back to the door, for Tony to open it. Tony held up three fingers in a gestured countdown. On three, McGee shoved the door back with his shoulder, tried to take a step inside and instantly tripped, landing sprawled in a heap, as something shot between his legs and skidded down the hall, around the corner and into the kitchen. Tony doubled up with laughter at his co-worker even as the sound of frantic digging came from the litter box in the kitchen.
“You might wanna move your hand, McGee,” Tony observed mildly. “The cat must’ve been shut in here for a while.”
McGee recoiled from the unsavory pile on the floor, almost gagging on the smell now that he knew it was there. He sat on the floor looking up at Tony. “Albany,” he said.
“What?” Tony was confused.
“I was at my aunt’s house just outside Albany. That’s how I got here so fast – that and breaking a few road rules,” he said.
Tony nodded and offered McGee a hand to get back on his feet.
“You may as well keep going in here, McGee,” Tony said, reversing out of the room. “I’ll finish up out here.”
“I was done with the living room.”
“Right. I’ll just make sure you haven’t missed anything.”
Tony looked into the kitchen on his way past, where the cat was hooking the remnants of some dry food from a bowl, eating it off one paw like it was a spoon or fork. She looked away from the food and walked over to him, back delicately arched as she rubbed against the nearest wheel. “Hey, kitty,” Tony said softly, letting her sniff his hand. She rubbed her head against his fingers, obviously deciding he wasn’t a threat, then with a flick of her tail, went back to the food.
Returning to the living room, Tony checked under the cushions on the lounge, stacking them on one end. He looked at the pile of fabric-covered foam for a moment and yawned and stretched, feeling a dull ache in his back. He swung around and reversed up to the pile. He flipped up into a wheelie and allowed himself to drop gently back onto the pile, immediately locking the brakes to hold him in position in his improvised recliner.
His eyes were immediately caught by the glint of something shiny fluttering inside an air vent high on the wall in front of him, and a dull red glow immediately beside it. The vent was way out of reach, right at the top of the wall. Unable to do anything about it and unwilling to call McGee, he tried to figure out in his head what it could possibly be. Inevitably, his eyelids started to droop.
The cat finished its meal and sat just inside the living room washing her face. She stopped from time to time and studied Tony incuriously. Finishing her ablutions, she wandered over to sniff at one wheel of his chair again, rubbing her head against the hub. She leapt up lightly into his lap and settled on his chest, purring loudly as he scratched her head with one finger.
“DiNozzo, what the hell are you doing?” Gibbs shoved the door open unannounced, causing the cat to take fright. She left in a flurry of claws, fleeing up the hallway back into the bedroom to hide under the bed, almost tripping McGee for a second time. Tony resentfully rubbed his chest where her claws had dug in.
“Aww, did you have to do that so suddenly?”
Kate hid a grin by shutting the door.
“DiNozzo!” Gibbs snapped, exasperated.
“Back was killing me. Needed to rest,” Tony replied from his reclined position.
Gibbs fixed him with an icy stare, then spun on his heel and headed down the hallway to check on what McGee was doing.
“Kate,” Tony said, releasing the brakes and pushing himself back up into an upright position. He felt around in one of the pockets of his cargo pants and came up with his knife. “There’s something in the vent,” he said, pointing to the top of the wall.
“You’re kidding me,” Kate said, looking at him in amazement. To her, Tony always seemed to have this uncanny ability to find the deciding clue without putting in any effort. She fetched a chair from the kitchen and stood on it to peer into the vent. “There’s something in here,” she said, pulling on a pair of gloves. She eased the knife under the edge of the vent to pop the cover out of its frame, noting that the screws were already missing.
“I know that, Kate,” Tony said, smugly, pushing across to where she was standing on the chair. She handed down the dirty plastic cover and dusted off her hands before picking up a small video camera, the light glowing redly to show it was on, and an opened film packet with something inside it.Chapters 1-3Chapters 7-9Chapters 10-12Chapters 13-14