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PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 9:30 am 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Title: House of Cards
Genre: Casefile
Warnings: None
Rating: FR15 - Nothing you wouldn't see on the show
Summary: When a homeless former sailor is killed one morning across the river from the Navy Yard, it seems like a simple case. But by the end, the team might wish they'd never gotten the call on this one.

Author's Note: This was written for K9Lasko. Her prompt to come at the end so as not to give anything away. ;) Story is set in Season 11 after Bishop joins the team, and prompt was issued before the last several episodes aired, so any overlap with those episodes was unintentional on her part or mine. Also, this story relies heavily on actual happenings on Capitol Hill and issues in the news about a couple of political topics both because of the prompt and because I tend to ground my stories in reality. That does put a fairly heavy dose of politics in here, and if that's not your cup of tea or you disagree with the way the characters are addressing issues, please feel free to stop reading. My feelings will not be hurt. :) I tried to keep actions, words and thoughts consistent with the characters as they appear on TV, whether I agree with them or not. If you'd like to debate those choices in comments feel free. If you want to attack your perception of my views based on the story, please re-read the last few sentences. :) Huge thanks to Kesterpan for betaing and coming up with the title, and to everybody who cheered me on to finish this monster of story.

Disclaimer: Not mine, not making any money off of them, not planning on hurting them (well, much), will return them when I'm done.


Chapter 1

January 2014

"So where exactly is Gibbs?" Bishop asked. She sat on her desk, laptop propped on her knees.

"Staring time in the face. Defying the ages. Recalling boot camp." Tony looked over at the probie. "Those reports need to be done before he gets back." He smirked at the expression on her face.

McGee rolled his eyes. "Gibbs is down taking the annual agent qualifying exam," he told Bishop.

"But I thought it was only every three years," she said, propping her chin on one hand. "That's not annual."

"It is for most people," McGee replied. "But once you hit 50, they make it an annual test. Mandatory field agent retirement age is 55, and you can't petition to stay active past that date unless you meet certain scores on your last three exams."

"Gibbs is 54," Tony said. He tried not to think about what would happen next year if Gibbs didn't make the cut. Even Tony's sources hadn't been able to find out how Gibbs had done the past two years.

"And if we keep talking about him, he's going to show up," McGee said, keeping his voice low.

Tony whipped his head around, looking, but his shoulders relaxed when he saw the team leader wasn't anywhere around. "Back to work, Probie," Tony said. "Chop, chop."

McGee rolled his eyes again. "And I suppose you have all your paperwork done, Tony?" he said.

"Yes, McFileClerk, I do," Tony said, letting the grin stretch across his face. "What about you? You were in here awfully early today."

"Just getting a head start," McGee said.

"That's what you said last night when you stayed late," Tony said, rolling his chair over to McGee's desk. He lowered his voice. "No date with the delightful Delilah last night?"

"Delilah was working late," McGee said. "She's been pushing hard on her latest project."

"They've got her on high-priority cases again. That's good," Tony said.

McGee shook his head. "No, they don't," he said. "That's the problem. She's getting frustrated that her boss isn't giving her anything important to do, so she's been staying late and working on things on her own, trying to pick up other projects and dig around for something she feels is important." He sighed. "She's been looking at other jobs."

Tony stared at him. "She's planning on leaving the DOD?" he hissed.

"No!" McGee shook his head. "Well, maybe. I don't know. She's thinking about putting in for an analyst position. I think. She hasn't said anything, but I've seen the USAJobs website up on her computer when I'm over there, and she closes the browser window if she sees me nearby."

"If she closes it, then how..." Tony paused. "You haven't been McSnooping, have you? On your girlfriend who knows as much about computers as you do?"
McGee's ears started to turn pink. "Tony, it's not like-"

"Isn't it?" Tony asked. "You know-"

"I know there's a dead sailor across the river," Gibbs said. "Grab your gear." The team leader headed for his desk, hair still dark from the shower. "McGee, with me. DiNozzo, Bishop, take the truck. Duck's going to meet us there."

"On it, Boss," Tony and McGee said in unison, while Bishop just followed along.

But as they headed out, Tony couldn't help thinking of his own words to Bishop earlier as he saw Gibbs walking just a little unevenly. Not quite a limp, but close. Or so he told himself. He really should stick to thinking about Delilah and her secret job search and the possibility that Tim was going to end up getting busted — and possibly dismembered — by her if she found out he'd been snooping. Gibbs would be fine. He had to be. He was the boss.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Tony snapped photos from the crime scene under the overpass where I-695 crossed the Anacostia. He kept an eye on Bishop as she bagged and tagged the evidence, but she hadn't made any missteps yet. The construction site to the side was silent, after the foreman had discovered the dead body there when they started up that morning. He frowned. There was a decent amount of traffic on the road that ran alongside the park, at least when they didn't have it blocked off. He wondered what time the crew had arrived on site. If the body hadn't been moved after death — and it didn't look that way — somebody should have noticed it while driving by once the sun rose.

He focused the camera on the blood spattered on the ground near the sailor's head and listened to McGee and Ducky as he tried to press the shutter button with his thick gloves on. "Metro was right, he was a sailor," McGee said, holding up the portable fingerprint scanner. "Former petty officer John Briggs. He did four tours, including time in the Middle East, then received a less than honorable discharge eight months ago." McGee paused. "I'll have to pull his records when we get back, but it looks like he was caught driving drunk three times in his last posting, at Little Creek."

"From his appearance, Timothy, I suspect he continued to abuse alcohol after he left the service," Ducky said. "How old was Petty Officer Briggs?"

"He turned 37 back in October," McGee said. "He's not wearing much for as cold as it's been. If his head wasn't mush on one side, I'd wonder if he died of exposure."

"That could have been a contributing factor, certainly," Ducky said. "With the ambient temperature as cold as it's been, I'll need to examine the body more closely once we get him home to determine how much that affected the temperature Mr. Palmer just measured. Judging by the bloodstains on the shoulder of his jacket, I would wager that he had no additional outer layers on prior to his death. Life on the streets has not been kind to him, even before somebody decided to use his head as a baseball."

Tony couldn't help but agree. He stepped closer to the military-issued rucksack against the concrete abutment and crouched down, focusing on the things that had spilled out on the pavement. Briggs didn't have much, but it still was folded and organized. He frowned. Not what you typically would find with a homeless man, even a veteran.

"What ya got, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked.

Tony almost landed on his ass as he rocked back on his heels in surprise. "We need to put a bell on you, Boss," he said. He rose to his feet, knees cracking as he did. "What's Metro say?"

"Homeless man, found dead this morning," he said. "They could tell it was homicide, so when they saw the Navy tats on his arms, they called us."

"What time?" Tony asked.

"Construction crew arrived about 7:10, found him first thing, called it in," Gibbs said.

"That would explain why a driver didn't see him," Tony said. "Sun didn't come up much before then, not this time of year. He's a former sailor," Tony added, repeating what McGee had found. "His gear is pretty squared away for somebody living on the streets, though, especially if he's an alcoholic."

"You and McGee canvass the area," Gibbs said. He raised his voice. "Bishop, you're with me."

Tony loaded gear and evidence bags into the truck, then got the keys to the Charger from Gibbs. "Come on, McGee," he said. "Let's go ask people some questions."

As he and McGee walked away from the scene, McGee lowered his voice and asked, "Is Gibbs protecting the probie?"

Tony shook his head. "Not if she's the one pulling his SRB and calling his CO. The admiral in charge down at Little Creek is still pissed at Gibbs for that case last month, remember?"

"The one where we couldn't prove that he was complicit in the sexual assault cases on base?" McGee said. "Yeah, he's going to love being called by Bishop and her million questions."

"Never bet against the Boss," Tony replied. "Now, let's see how many ways people can tell us they didn't see or hear anything." He walked along beside McGee and felt his shoulders relax just that little bit. Gibbs had been mixing things up since Bishop started, and he'd come to enjoy the times he and Tim paired up. Gibbs had been pairing him with Bishop — Tony would think it was supposed to be mentoring, but Gibbs didn't mentor. He just expected you to meet his standards. He had to admit, they'd had a run of technical cases where Boss had needed his geek-to-Gibbs translator along, and Bishop still hadn't figured out how to talk tech to the Boss. At least this case was going to be simple police work, nothing that would take a master's degree in hacking to solve.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



As Mr. Palmer drove the van back to the Navy Yard, Ducky ruminated on the evidence at the scene. Petty Officer Briggs was an anomaly, and he was quite curious to learn what the sailor would say once they had him on the table.

Once they had Briggs laid out and Mr. Palmer had left to bring trace evidence up to Abigail, Ducky leaned close to the petty officer's face as he cleaned the body. "Now, what do you have to tell us today, my dear boy?" he asked. "You do not have the stench of many in your position, but you clearly have been on the streets for a while. I rather suspect your liver will tell us of your past failings, but I do wonder what else we shall find."

"Abby said she'll have results later today on some of the tests, Doctor Mallard," said the voice of his assistant. Ducky looked up to see Jimmy walking across the morgue.

"Good, good," Ducky said. "Now, Mr. Palmer, shall we begin?"

As they began the routine of slicing open the body and inventorying its contents, Ducky found several of his initial hypotheses confirmed. He sighed as he examined the liver. "Our young sailor's liver has been abused, though not as bad as I might have feared. His alcohol issues might have been severe, but I suspect they are of recent origin, likely in the past three years."

"Self-medicating?" asked Mr. Palmer.

"Quite possibly," Ducky said. "I shall be most curious to learn what Abigail discovers in her toxicology report."

"He doesn't seem to have defensive wounds," Mr. Palmer said. "Could he have been too drunk to fight back?"

"Or asleep, or unsuspecting," Ducky said. "Our job is not to guess, Mr. Palmer, but to determine the facts with which we can form conclusions about what happened."

"Yes, Doctor," Mr. Palmer said. "We'd better hurry — Agent Gibbs will be along soon asking us what we've got."

"Indeed he will," Ducky replied. "Patience has never been Jethro's strong suit."

___________________________
Words in this post: 2136

Last edited by colorguard28 on Sat Jun 28, 2014 9:36 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 9:36 am 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Chapter 2

"What ya got, Duck?" Gibbs asked as he walked into Autopsy, Bishop following behind.

"Ah, Jethro," said the medical examiner as he looked up from his work. "Petty Officer Briggs is a sad story, one we see far too often." He laid down his scalpel. "Cause of death was blunt-force trauma, as you might expect. The blows were delivered from above and behind, and there is a marked lack of defensive wounds on his arms, indicating he did not fight back."

"So the killer was taller than him?" Bishop asked.

"You have been studying up, my dear Eleanor," Ducky replied. "While that is one possibility, I do not think so in this case." He pointed to the sailor's knees. "These abrasions indicate he was kneeling, and the marks on his left knee are deeper. The wound, as you can see, was on his right side."

"Right-handed blow while he was kneeling," Gibbs said. He leaned closer to look at the marks. "Why?"

"He was not restrained in any way prior to death, which rules out his killer forcing him to kneel for an execution," Ducky said.

"No bruising around the mouth, either," Palmer added. "Not to mention that then there would have to be a third person involved."

"No-" Bishop stopped. "Oh. You mean..." She shook her head. "There's no indication of that in his files. And DADT was repealed well before he was discharged."

"Not everything's on paper." Gibbs shifted position to look at the body's hands. "He didn't try to break his fall?"

"No, it appears that the first blow incapacitated him, and then the other blows were just adding insult to injury," Ducky said. He pointed to a scrape on the petty officer's face. "This appears to be the first point of contact with the ground once he was struck. Based on the position of the body and the presence of the bridge abutment, I would wager a guess that our petty officer was kneeling facing the concrete and fell into it once he was assaulted."

"Anything else?" Gibbs asked.

"For a young man living on the streets, his body was rather clean," Ducky said. "I would venture a guess that he had someplace he could go in the evenings, at least some of the time. Either that, or he hadn't been on the streets for very long."

"Bishop, call DiNozzo, let him know," Gibbs said. "Track down what happened to Briggs after he left the Navy last year."

"Right away," she said, scurrying out of Autopsy.

"Anything else, Duck?" Gibbs asked.

"If we discover more clues, Jethro, we shall call," Ducky said. "I do believe once Abigail has some test results, we might have more questions to ask this poor fellow."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"So why do we get the hopeless task?" McGee asked as he and Tony walked away from the crime scene. "Nobody will have seen or heard anything, and if they are, they won't tell us."

"Because we're less likely to make them uncomfortable than Bishop is," Tony said. "Gibbs might find her eager-beaver ways endearing-" He ignored McGee's snort. "But we have a better chance of not scaring anybody off."

"True," McGee replied.

Tony scanned the area. The riverwalk led to Anacostia Park, which was sparsely populated on a weekday morning. "If it had been later, the construction crews might have seen something," he said, pointing to the project. "But this was earlier, right?"

McGee nodded. "The construction crews didn't notice anything until they found the body, and they were here at 7:10. Much before then, it would have been dark still, except for the streetlights."

"Not many witnesses nearby," Tony replied. "That park probably serves as home for many people at night, but they wouldn't have seen much, even with streetlights."

McGee pulled his skinny neck further into the collar of his coat. "Even in this weather? There's got to be a shelter or something around here — it was down below zero all last week. If Briggs was outside, he would have died of exposure from the polar vortex long before somebody decided to bludgeon him. Ducky still hasn't ruled exposure as one of the contributing factors to his death."

"Good thinking, McZero," Tony said. "So, what's our best bet?"

"There's a high school over that way, and I don't think anybody would have given the OK to set up a shelter too close to that," McGee replied, pointing north along the river.

"There are elementary schools all around the Metro station, though," Tony replied, thinking about it. "Maybe we need to head away from the river." He scanned the street signs and snickered at the one leading away from the area. "Let's try that one," he said, pointing to Good Hope Road SE.

McGee rolled his eyes. "Sure, Tony. Why not."

But they first stopped at every shop and house along the park by the river, unsurprised to get a few nods of recognition from residents, but nothing substantive.

"I'm sorry, boys, but maybe you should talk to Kelvin Marques," said one elderly lady who spoke through a chained door. "Mr. Marques, he done have a place for them to go at night, organizes them to help pick up litter and clean up the streets during the day."

"Where can we find this Mr. Marques?" McGee asked.

"Down the road some," she said, pointing a wrinkled hand away from the river. "They're nice boys, always call me ma'am."

"Thank you, ma'am," Tony said. "We appreciate the help."

She nodded, then shut the door in their faces.

"Let's go find Marques," Tony said. "If he can't help, we can always come back this way."

McGee pulled out his phone and tapped away for a minute. "Fair Winds Shelter," he said. "It's down this way about three blocks."

"And it clearly caters to sailors," Tony said. "Sounds like a place Petty Officer Briggs might have washed up." As he'd expected, McGee groaned at his pun.

The shelter doors said it wouldn't open until 1600, but the lights were on and they could see people inside.

"Wonder what that means," McGee said.

"Let's go ask." Tony opened the door and stepped inside, scanning the room. He saw an office in the far corner and jerked his head that direction. McGee just nodded and followed him.

"Mr. Marques?" Tony asked as he stood in the doorway of the office.

"Yes, I'm Kelvin Marques," the man said. His close-cropped hair was shades darker than his cocoa-colored skin, though threaded with gray, and steel-rimmed glasses gave him a serious appearance. "How can I help you?"

"Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS," Tony said, showing his badge. "This is Agent McGee."

"What's NCIS doing down here?" Marques said. "Did something happen to one of the men?"

"Why do you assume that?" McGee asked from his spot behind Tony's shoulder.

"What else would NCIS want with this place?" Marques said. "I've been out for a decade, so you can't be looking for me. That just leaves one of the men."

"You served?" Tony asked.

"Five tours, including three in the Gulf between the first war and the second one," Marques replied. "Hit my twenty in 2002 and they didn't promote me. Tried again in 2003 and they said no again. So in 2004, I got retired, even though there was a war on."

Tony mentally revised his estimate of Marques' age up by at least five years. "So you started a shelter," he said.

"Not at first," Marques said. "I started volunteering with some charities, figured if the Navy wouldn't let me serve overseas, I'd serve at home. Then I started hearing about sailors and Marines, good men and women, who were coming out with nowhere to go. One man in my apartment complex was evicted after he woke up screaming every night for two weeks — his neighbors complained. He was on one of the SEAL teams that went into Afghanistan right after Sept. 11, one of the few who survived. If you can call that survival." He straightened up. "We asked them to serve, and we owe it to them to be there for what they need after they come home. I had to do something."

Tony exchanged a look with McGee. "Do you know this man, " he asked, holding out his phone with the photo of Briggs.

Marques looked, then looked away. "Dammit," he said, slumping in his chair. "Briggs was one of the ones I thought could turn it around."

"What do you mean?" McGee asked.

"He was making some progress," Marques said. "He really needed medication and therapy, but the VA program that funded benefits for vets in his situation has been cut the past three years, so he was on a waiting list longer than my arm. But he was making a go of it."

"How?" Tony asked. "If he wasn't getting the benefits, how was he able to afford...?"

"St. Teresa of Avila Church had stepped in," Marques said. "Briggs was Catholic, and his PTSD also seemed to bring out some OCD. St Teresa's had dropped off some rosaries a few months ago when it delivered a weekly food donation, and Briggs found one of them." He paused. "We don't push any religion on the men here, but when churches leave things when they donate, we put them in a corner. The men know they're there, but they also know they can completely ignore that if they want."

"But Briggs didn't want to," Tony said. He thought back to his Catholic school days. "He found the rosary comforting?"

"It gave him an outlet for his OCD," Marques said. "He always seemed calmer when he was saying the rosary, so the next time the sisters came by, I made a point of introducing them."

"And he didn't mind?" McGee asked.

"No, quite the opposite," Marques said. "He started walking down the block to go to daily Mass. I'm not Catholic, but I went one morning, just to see."

"And?" Tony prompted.

"He sat in the back, and he didn't go up for communion," Marques said. "But he stood and knelt at the same time as everybody else, and he seemed a little more calm after Mass."

Tony thought. "Did you ask him why he didn't go up?" he asked Marques.

Marques shook his head. "I'm Baptist, and while I don't expect everybody to share my faith, I can't say as I understand the details of those other denominations," he said. "I didn't know if it was something that might agitate him if I brought it up, so I didn't."

"How long ago was that?" Tony asked.

"It must be at least three months," Marques said. "Briggs seemed to stabilize after that, though there were nights I had to ask him to move to another room because he would be saying the rosary over and over throughout the night. It was disturbing the others."

"And yet you said he was getting better," Tony said.

"He was," Marques replied. "He was focusing more on staying sober, cleaning himself up, keeping a neat appearance. A few of the barbers in the neighborhood served and donate some time to cut hair. Not many are willing to take advantage of it, but those who do seem to be the ones most likely to find their way back to a good place. These last several weeks, he was one of them. If you didn't know he was homeless, you could see him on the streets and think he was a good young man. I don't know if St. Teresa's had a therapist donating time to help him, but whatever the reason, he was improving."

"Was he here last night?" McGee asked.

Marques thought for a second. "He was here, but he left early," he said. "At least, if I'm remembering the right night — they blur together sometimes, you know? He was restless, saying the rosary over and over, so once I unlocked the doors at 0500, he was gone. I had hoped it was to the church and that he would find some peace there."

"Our medical examiner estimated his time of death as before 0700, so it doesn't appear so," Tony said. "Certainly not to morning Mass, unless they have an unusually early one. He would have needed at least 15 of those minutes to walk to where he died." He made a note to add the information to what Ducky had learned and possibly narrow down the time of death more than that two-hour window.

Marques bowed his head. "I should have tried to get him to stay," he said. "He'd be alive if I had."

"You don't know that," McGee said. "We still don't know why he was killed — it could be something that would have happened anyway."

"Small consolation when a man's life is at stake," Marques said. "If you gentlemen will excuse me..."

Tony flipped his notebook closed. "I think we have everything we need for now," he said. He turned and left, McGee on his heels.

The cold air blasted them in the face as they walked outside. "Car, McGee," Tony said. "I think we need to head back to the Navy Yard to see what the others-" His phone rang, interrupting him.

"Yes, Bishop," he asked, putting the phone on speaker. They listened as she ran through Ducky's autopsy findings.

"Bishop, could he have been on his knees praying?" Tony asked.

"I can ask," she said. "But why?"

"Tell you when we get back," Tony said. "Let Gibbs know we're on our way in." He disconnected the call before she could reply.

"You think he was praying?" McGee said.

"If he was obsessively saying the rosary all night, he probably kept going after he left the shelter," Tony said. "I always remember the nuns making us kneel to say it. Briggs probably did, too."

"I wonder if the nuns were Abby's nuns," McGee said. "The motherhouse is at Abby's church near Georgetown, but they have another location in this part of the city where they do a lot of charity work. Abby's told me about some of the projects before."

"She'd remember if they were helping out a homeless veterans shelter," Tony pointed out as they walked down the block. "Knowing Abby, she would have hit us all up for donations and volunteer time."

"True," McGee said. "We still should ask, though. Just to make sure. Maybe she didn’t know about it."

"I want to talk to Ducky, too," Tony said. "If Briggs really had PTSD, I have a hard time thinking a bunch of beads could help him."

"Maybe it was just the distraction," McGee said. "Aren't you the one who plays the piano when you have nightmares?"

"That's classified information," Tony retorted. "Also, it's not the same thing."

"Gibbs sands his boat, or whatever his latest project is. You play the piano. I work through decryption algorithms," McGee said. "Bishop will probably drive her husband insane with something once she gets blown up, shot or stabbed enough times to have PTSD."

"You're just full of cheer today, Tim," Tony said. "Come on, let's head back and see if we can figure out what got our petty officer killed."

"Hang on a minute, Tony," McGee said. He held up a flyer Tony remembered seeing inside the shelter. "Marques said he's been running this place less than 10 years, right?"

Tony did the math in his head. "He got out 10 years ago, but he said he didn't start this right away. Why?"

McGee stopped and turned, looking back at the shelter. "He's got an entire block of buildings, and this brochure says the shelter serves more than 200 people a night."

"Well then, they would need the whole block, wouldn't they," Tony said. "Fire marshal and building inspector set the occupancy for a building."

"Not my point, Tony," he said. "Prices are starting to go up at this end of the neighborhood — I looked at houses down here a couple of years ago but decided to wait. When I went back to look last month-"

"You're getting ready to buy a house?" Tony asked, turning to look at his partner.

"Focus," McGee replied. "I don't know what I'm getting ready to do — it depends on Delilah. But the point is, housing prices had gone up a bunch since the last time I'd looked. If Marques' nonprofit bought the buildings, how did they afford them, even a few years ago. More importantly, how'd they get the bank to approve a loan? And if they rent, how are they affording the increased prices for that much space?"

"Donations?" Tony said. "Maybe he found some of the one percenter with money to burn who want the good press of helping out veterans."

"Maybe," McGee replied. "But I think we need to look into the shelter more. We only have Marques' word on what Briggs' last day was like, and we don't have any reason to trust him."

"Looks like we have a lot to check back at the office," Tony replied. "Let's go, before Gibbs calls to ask what we've got."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Gibbs walked into the lab.

"Not good, Bossman," Abby said without turning around. "Petty Officer Briggs' tox screen came back completely clean."

"That's bad?" Gibbs asked.

"It's not good," Abby said. "Bishop sent me his file, and he should have been on all kinds of medications. He had PTSD and was self-medicating before he was discharged and he wasn't getting any kind of therapy that we know of because the VA doesn't have a record of him in the system — I checked. He was still on the waiting list, and it's a long waiting list, like months or even years long. His blood-alcohol level was normal, so he wasn't drinking, and I can't even find any evidence that he'd been smoking pot. Briggs wasn't getting any of the help he needed, and that's bad. That's really bad, Gibbs, especially for somebody with PTSD."

"Anything else?"

Abby shook her head. "The debris Ducky and Jimmy picked out of the wounds on his hands matches the gravel and dirt on the ground under the overpass, and the scrapes on his knees just had flecks of cotton from his jeans." She pointed to the monitor on her workstation. "I'm trying to re-create the attack, but everything I've found matches what Ducky and Jimmy figured out — he was hit from behind and above on the right, and he was probably kneeling at the time."

"With what?" Gibbs asked.

"I don't know yet, Gibbs," Abby said. "It's an irregular shape, which makes me think it's a branch or something similar, but there's no bark or anything in the wound like a branch would leave behind. A bat, a pipe, anything like that would be more regular. All I can tell you is it's that type of object, no hard edges that would leave a corner in the wound."

"Good work, Abbs," he said.

"If it was good work, I'd know what it was, Gibbs," she said. "There's something else hinky, too. When I said there was no bark or anything in the wound, I meant anything. Wouldn't he have a hat or a hood or something with the weather as cold as it's been? I should have found fabric fibers in the wound, and I didn't and that's the weirdest thing in a case that's overflowing with weirdness."

"Still good work, Abbs," he said, kissing her cheek. "We'll figure it out."

When Gibbs walked into the bullpen, Bishop was there, staring at the plasma.

"What ya got?" he asked.

She jerked her shoulder in surprise. "Gibbs, do you always sneak up on people?" she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she zoomed in on the screen. "Petty Officer Briggs was part of the flight deck crew on the USS Enterprise before he left the Navy," she said. "He did two tours in the Middle East and was almost killed with an IED when they were on shore leave in Istanbul one time. A group of suicide bombers had decided to target military personnel on leave. He and his shipmates were the first group targeted, but not the last. Briggs was shielded from the bulk of the blast, but he had vertigo, ringing in his ears and some temporary damage to his hearing."

Gibbs lifted an eyebrow.

"After that, he was shipped back to Little Creek for treatment and a shore posting. He went through mandatory therapy and was diagnosed with minor PTSD, but was cleared by the base medical team after treatment. Then he started drinking and was discharged within three months."
Gibbs frowned. "Personal?"

"No significant other on record, and no indications of where he went after he left the Navy," she said. "He's originally from rural Pennsylvania, but there's no evidence he went back there."

"Where?" Gibbs had a bad feeling about this.

"He grew up in a small town named Stillwater, but graduated from high school in Pittston, about an hour northeast of Stillwater near Scranton. He's the only son of a single mother, Sabrina Briggs." Bishop hesitated. "She was 18 when he was born in 1976, and there's no evidence she ever married."

"No, she didn't." Gibbs said.

"How do you know that?" Bishop asked.

"I went to high school with her," Gibbs said.

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Chapter 3


"Went to high school with who, Boss?" Tony asked as he walked in the bullpen, McGee right behind him. Ducky entered from the other side.

"With whom, Anthony," Ducky admonished.

"Briggs' mother," Bishop said. "Gibbs, was she-?"

Gibbs shrugged one shoulder. "Coulda been," he said.

"Really?" she said. "Briggs was 37. Could somebody your age-"

Gibbs glared and Tony stepped back a bit. "Bishop, go see what Abby's got," Tony said. "McGee, go with her and ask about the nuns."

McGee followed his lead, making sure Bishop followed, though Tony could hear her asking "Nuns?" as they walked out.

"You discovered nuns in this case?" Ducky asked once they were gone.

"Ducky, the director at the shelter Briggs stayed at said he seemed to be getting better, but sometimes would repeat the rosary over and over." Tony frowned. "Could that really do anything to help him?"

"PTSD, as you know, is a challenging disease to treat," Ducky said. "For those experiencing flashbacks, sensory therapy to help them remind themselves they are not at the location of the flashback is a technique many therapists use to help those who suffer from it deal with its symptoms."

"So you're saying that by feeling the beads-"

"Petty Officer Briggs was no doubt remembering that he did not encounter anything like that in his experiences that traumatized him," Ducky said. "We didn't find a rosary on the body, though."

"There wasn't one at the scene," Tony said. "The shelter director said the nuns from a local parish had donated some to the shelter, so it can't have been anything special, though."

"No, it most likely was the sort of inexpensive plastic kind that are easy to come by," Ducky said.

"That rules out robbery of the rosary as a motive," Tony said. "I don't think it was anywhere at the scene, though."

"Was Briggs Catholic?" Ducky asked. "I didn't see any sign of that in his file. Or any sign of any religious affiliation, for that matter."

"His mother was raised Baptist," Gibbs said. "Her parents belonged to a hellfire and brimstone church west of town. Jack never had much use for the preacher there."

"And our probie's poor choice of phrasing aside, if you went to high school with his mother, she had to be a teen pregnancy," Tony said.

"There were whispers," Gibbs said after thinking back. "After graduation, there was a big party down by the lake, drinking and swimming. She wouldn't go in the water, and Chuck Winslow's girlfriend and her friends were saying that was why."

"Winslow's girlfriend sounds about as charming as he was," Tony said. He checked the plasma. "Briggs was born in October," he said. "She would have been what, five months along?"

"I left town two weeks later for boot camp," Gibbs said. "Didn't go back much, even after Kelly was born."

"Any guesses as to who the father was?" Tony said. At the look Gibbs gave him, he sighed. "Your old buddy Chuck really couldn't keep it in his pants, could he?"

"Sabrina was a little wild," Gibbs said. "Her parents were strict; she rebelled."

Tony didn't make the obvious comment — if they were headed back to Stillwater, Gibbs didn't need any reminders that he and Jack had once been like that. "So how did he get that familiar with a rosary if his mother was Baptist and his father was at least officially unknown?"

Ducky spoke up. "His record indicates he graduated from a Catholic high school," he said. "Perhaps his mother, disillusioned with her upbringing, found refuge with a Catholic church. After all, the church has a tradition of welcoming unwed mothers and providing care for them."

"No Catholic church in Stillwater, or anywhere nearby," Gibbs said. "Bishop said Briggs didn't leave Stillwater until he was a teenager."

"That sounds like another puzzle to add to the pile," Tony said. He gave Gibbs a rundown on what he and McGee had found. "Boss, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Briggs was kneeling because he was praying, but that doesn't explain what happened to the rosary or why he was killed."

At Gibbs' look, he nodded. "Right, starting calls now to find out more about the shelter and St. Teresa's."

"While you're making those calls, Anthony, please inquire of the medical personnel at Little Creek just how they allowed Petty Officer Briggs to receive a less-than-honorable discharge instead of a medical discharge," Ducky asked. "That undoubtedly made it difficult for him to find a job or treatment, and everything in his files indicates he qualified under medical grounds."

"On it," Tony said.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Once they were in the elevator, Bishop turned to McGee. "What was that all about?" she asked. "And why are you asking Abby about nuns?"

"She bowls with nuns," McGee said, as if that explained everything.

"She what?" Bishop stared at him. "Even if she does, why does that matter?"

She listened as McGee gave her the rundown on everything he and Tony have learned. "So you think nuns are the key?" she asked.

"Right now? I don't think we know what the key is," McGee said. "That's why we're investigating." He stepped out of the elevator and led the way to the lab.

Bishop rushed to keep up with him. "Tim, why didn't Tony want me to ask Gibbs about Briggs?" she asked as they walked in.

"Besides the fact you were about to imply he was old?" McGee said.

"Gibbs isn't old," Abby said, turning around. "Who says Gibbs is old? He's just experienced."

"Briggs is almost 15 years older than me and his mother went to school with Gibbs," Bishop said. She looked at her two teammates.

"Careful, probie," McGee said. "Briggs isn't that much older than me, and he's younger than Abby or Tony."

"You're supposed to forget that, McGee," Abby said, slugging him in the shoulder.

"Ow!" McGee rubbed his arm. "And that's not why we got you out of there," he said. "You were about to ask Gibbs about his kids."

"Gibbs doesn't have kids," Bishop said. She thought back to the case with Fornell and his ex-wife. "He's been divorced three times, but I haven't heard anything about kids except Emily, and she's Fornell's daughter, not his."

"Remember that real wife we mentioned during that case?" McGee said. "Gibbs' first wife and his daughter were killed by a Mexican drug cartel to keep Shannon, his wife, from testifying about a murder she'd witnessed. Gibbs was serving overseas at the time. Kelly was eight."

"Kelly would be turning 31 this year if she was still alive," Abby said, wrapping her arms around herself. "Gibbs doesn't talk about them."

"None of us knew until Gibbs got blown up in a terrorist attack and lost his memory," McGee said, his voice quiet. "I'd been on the team for two years at that point."

"Even Ducky didn't know, and he's known Gibbs longer than anybody," Abby said, leaning into McGee, who reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders without even looking at her. Her eyes were bright as she blinked, and Bishop wondered if she'd ever seen Abby cry before.

"Why didn't somebody tell me?" Bishop asked, swallowing down the feeling that she was the outsider. Again.

"It's not our story to tell," McGee said. "But if this case has a Stillwater connection, better you know."

"Wait, what do you mean, Stillwater?" Abby said, pulling away from McGee. "I mean, I know you said Briggs' mom went to school with Gibbs, but he's from someplace else, outside Scranton."

Bishop explained what she'd found. "I don't know what that has to do with who killed Petty Officer Briggs, though."

"I'm still trying to figure out what killed Petty Officer Briggs," Abby said. "Whoever hit him did it five or six times, based on what Ducky and Jimmy found, and nothing I've run through the simulator comes close to making the right kind of damage."

"If you're stuck there, do you two want to help me with some financials?" McGee asked.

"What, down here?" Bishop asked.

"Until Tony tells me it's OK to bring you back up there, yes," McGee said. He outlined his questions about the shelter. "Bishop, start running the financials on Marques and any other shelter employees. I'm going to run background on him and pull the shelter's financials. Abbs, can you talk to the nuns and find out about the St. Teresa's connection and how much help they give the shelter?"

"Sure thing, Timmy," Abby said. "Bishop, you can work at my desk."

As Bishop headed for the inner office, she noticed neither of the others followed her and wondered if this was another probie thing. She suppressed a sigh and decided the best thing she could do would be find everything she could as fast as possible. Then she could start analyzing.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"Abby, I've got a question," McGee said once Bishop was working in the office. "Marques said Briggs had been going to daily Mass, but he didn't go up for communion. That means something for Catholics, right?"

Abby nodded. "You're not supposed to go to communion unless you're in a state of grace," she said. "Basically, it means you've been to confession and not committed any major sins since the last time you confessed." She frowned. "It's not something you see a lot, though," she said. "I mean, most people go to communion anyway, or they don't go to church at all. The only time I've ever seen somebody go to Mass and not go up for communion is when they're visiting and not Catholic."

"So Briggs was feeling guilty about something," McGee said. "Otherwise he would have gone up. If he had confessed to a priest, he would have gone up, too."

"He had PTSD, and he survived when other men in his unit didn't," Abby said. "You know and I know and Ducky can tell us that he could have felt guilty because he survived and they didn't and whatever he was doing was some sort of self-imposed penance even though if he'd gone to a priest he might have felt better but then he would have had to talk about it and lots of people don't like talking to priests about what they've done that they should confess to — even I don't tell the priest everything I should because I know he's not supposed to judge me but a lot of people do when they hear things and I don't like to think of-"

"Abbs, I get it," McGee interrupted, cutting her off. "So maybe all the rosary stuff was his way of trying to find absolution without actually talking about what was bothering him?"

"It could be, McGee," Abby said. "Hey, that rhymes."

"Forget rhymes and figure out if the nuns know anything that can help us," McGee said. "I'll be in the bullpen. Don't let Bishop back up until we tell you it's OK or Gibbs calls looking for her."

Abby snapped off a salute with the wrong hand. "I love it when you get all commanding, McGee."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Vance hung up the phone in his office. He paused a second, then, mind made up, headed downstairs. He was just rounding the corner at the bottom of the staircase when he heard the ding of the elevator. The agent who stepped off was followed by a man in his late 30s dressed impeccably in a designer suit, hair cut into a traditional style.

Vance made sure he was at the mouth of the MCRT bullpen to meet the pair.

"Thank you, Agent Dunlap," Vance said, giving him a nod. The agent returned it and headed back down to the security desk. "Congressman Schenck, this is an unexpected honor."

"I appreciate your time, Director Vance," Schenck said. "After Mrs. Briggs received the word of her son's death, she was heartbroken. Her parents reached out to ask my office to find out what was being done about her son's death. How does a sailor stationed aboard a ship end up dead in Southeast Washington?"

"He wasn't stationed aboard a ship," Gibbs said, looking up from his desk.

Vance looked over at the team leader. "Agent Gibbs, this is Congressman Schenck, who represents-"

"I know who he is," Gibbs said. "Congressman, our investigation is just beginning." He stood and walked around the desk. "But Briggs' grandparents are wrong. He left the Navy last spring and was living in Anacostia."

"Are you sure?" Schenck was two inches taller than Gibbs, and he looked down his long nose at the man. Vance didn't know if that made him ballsy or stupid.

"I'm sure," Gibbs said. "Are his grandparents? Last I heard, they had disowned Sabrina before Briggs was born."

"Sabrina?" Schenk said.

"Their daughter, Briggs' mother," Gibbs said. "Scranton's outside your district, so why are you really here?"

Vance turned to stare at Gibbs. "You know the Congressman, Agent Gibbs?"

"Heard Jack talk about him," Gibbs said.

"Jack?" Schenck asked.

"Jackson Gibbs," Gibbs said. "My father. You're Tom and Marcy's son, right?"

"You're Jack's mysterious son?" Schenck said.

"No mystery here," Gibbs said. "Sabrina Briggs was in my class at school. So were your parents. They married the week after graduation. My father mentioned in a letter to me on my first tour that you were premature, but a full eight pounds."

Vance managed to hide his surprise at the information, but he wondered what the hell else Gibbs hadn't told him. "Congressman, if you wouldn't mind, Agent DiNozzo will escort you to one of our conference rooms," he said. Once the two were out of earshot, he looked at Gibbs. "My office, now."

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 6:35 pm 
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Chapter 4


Once Tony finished putting the congressman in a conference room, he headed back to the bullpen and texted McGee to meet him there. They arrived at the same time.

"Where's Gibbs?" McGee asked.

"Director's office," Tony said, and filled him in. "Apparently everybody in Gibbs' high school class was having unsafe sex senior year."

McGee made a face. "Tony, I did not need that mental image," he said. "Is that even relevant?"

"It's certainly interesting," Tony said. "We've got two men born about the same time to women who got pregnant as high school seniors in a conservative, rural town. One is a Congressman who wears suits nicer than mine and the other died a homeless Navy veteran."

"You think there's a connection?"

"Rule 39," Tony said.

"Right," McGee said. "You know what that means."

"Somebody should call Jack and tell him to change the sheets in the guest bedroom?" Tony quipped.

"Not if we can solve this first," McGee said. "What have you got?"

"Trying to out-boss the Boss?" Tony retorted. He shook his head. "Not much. Little Creek didn't want to talk about how they classified Briggs when they separated him from the Navy. The most they would say was that he received the standard discharge for his behavior."

"He was on his fourth tour," McGee said. "He could have qualified for benefits from the first three."

"He probably didn't know that," Tony said. "You know because your family's career Navy. I know because I've been working for NCIS. Briggs was a kid with minimal family support and no family history in the military. He probably didn't know, and he had nobody to tell him."

"Marques should have known," McGee said. "As many veterans as he's worked with, he has to know all the details, or have somebody on staff at the shelter who does."

Tony looked at the smirk on McGee's face. "You hacked into his computers to get a list of the volunteers, didn't you," he said.

"Bishop's running them down now, but I already spotted one familiar name from JAG," McGee said. "Your favorite OCD lawyer."

"Faith Coleman volunteers down there?" Tony paused, considering. "You're talking about a woman who scrubs her sneaker soles with a toothbrush after a run. She works with homeless veterans, men riper than the banana sitting on Bishop's desk?"

"We haven't seen her in a while," McGee said. "Maybe something changed her. The last time we worked with her, you and Kate were still calling me Probie."

"I hate it when you have a point," Tony said. "I'll check into JAG files on Briggs. You'd better get on those financials before the Boss gets back."

McGee didn't reply, just started tapping away on his computer.

By the time Tony had pulled all the JAG files and made sure there were no pending cases that involved Briggs, McGee's keyboard clicks had blurred into a whir. On a hunch, Tony accessed Coleman's service record. She was a captain now, promoted the previous year, and headed up the Pax River JAG office. He scanned her personal information, and there it was.

"Coleman's Catholic, McGee," he said. "She lives south of the city, though, not anywhere near Anacostia."

When he didn't get a response, he called, "McGee."

Still nothing.

Tony crumpled up a piece of paper and lobbed it at McGee. It hit the agent on the side of the head.

"What the hell, Tony?" McGee said.

"You were lost in your computer, Tim."

"Yeah, because I think I found something." McGee bent back over his keyboard and Tony walked over to stand behind him. "Look how much the shelter is getting in federal funds, according to their records."

"With the frozen budget and the sequester coming up?" Tony asked. "That can't be right."

"The tax records end in September, but I should be able to get into their books and see if they're still getting the money," McGee said, tapping a few keys. "Yes, they just got another installment last week."

"In the middle of the month?" Tony asked.

"That's when the grant funds seem to come in," McGee said, scrolling down the page. "Every month on the 15th."

"Grants are usually lump sums, not monthly payments" Tony said. "That can't be right."

"Unless the agency started doing it this way to give themselves flexibility with all the budget uneasiness," McGee said. "This way they don't disburse all their money the first few weeks of the fiscal year, get everything slashed in March and have to shut down because they're already in the hole."

"It's possible," Tony said. "I still don't like it. It's an anomaly."

"And Gibbs hates anomalies," McGee finished. "I'll keep-" McGee stopped. "We've got a problem." But he didn't say anything more, and Tony had to resist the urge to headsmack him. Until he looked up and saw who had just gotten off the elevator.

"That's not good," he whispered to McGee.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Gibbs followed Vance up the stairs to the director's office, ignoring the priests in his gimpy knee. He closed the door after entering the room and stood against it, his arms loose by his sides. Vance had one hand wrapped over the other fist, just like the boxer he'd been. Gibbs waited for the director to speak.

"Congressman Schenck has power over this agency, Gibbs. He's the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services committee, an he chairs its budget subcommittee," Vance said.

"Nobody gets special treatment, Leon," Gibbs said.

"I'm not saying that." Vance's hand tightened over his fist, a tell Gibbs knew was coming. "I know you, and the sailors and marines we investigate will always come first. But needlessly antagonizing somebody who has the power to defund this agency is poor politics."

"Politics?" Gibbs lifted an eyebrow.

"You don't care about the politics. Never have. That's one of the reasons your team is so good, even if it does make you a son of a bitch to deal with sometimes," Vance said.

Gibbs let one corner of his mouth quirk up at the description.

The director let his hands drop, turning and pacing. "I want your team to find out who killed Petty Officer Briggs. I don't want you to take a sledgehammer to Capitol Hill in the process," he said.

"That's your job," Gibbs replied. "You do yours; we'll do ours."

"Of that I have no doubt," Vance said. "Now, before I go talk the Congressman down, what can you tell me about him?" He looked straight at Gibbs. "Don't leave anything out."

"Like his parents?" Gibbs said. "Not much to tell, Leon. His mother was in my class, and his father was a year ahead of us. Stillwater's a small town, rural. Most folks spend a lot of time at church."

"Even you?"

Gibbs just shook his head, unwilling to talk about those days after his mother died. "Every year, you'd see a few girls vanish, off to visit an aunt for six months. Or they'd get married right after graduation, have a 'premature' baby that winter. Schenck's mother was one of those."

"In my neighborhood, you didn't hide it," Vance said. "Nobody had time to worry about appearances there."

Gibbs cracked a small smile. "Jack always told me that if he ever found out I was doing something like that, he'd put me to work in the store to pay for everything. The idea of not being able to join the Corps was enough threat."

"You know much about Schenck's family?" Vance asked.

"Tom, his father, went to work for Old Man Winslow in the mines," Gibbs said. "Jack said he got killed in an accident, much have been not long before I shipped out to Kuwait." He did the math. "Congressman would have been about 14."

"He's been in office four terms," Vance said. "Got elected in 2006, right after he turned 30. Before that, he was a state senator for the region."

"Career politician," Gibbs said. "Jack doesn't have any complaints, far as I know."

"You make sure of that," Vance said. He tipped his head in the direction of the conference room. "You talk to Schenck, get what you can. Then you call your father. I've met the man; he'll know what people in town are saying about this." His phone rang, but the director ignored it.

"Need to find out how Petty Officer Briggs' grandparents are involved," Gibbs said. "They didn't know Briggs wasn't Navy anymore." Vance's phone rang again.

"I'm sure you and your team will cover all the bases," Vance said. "Now, before-" There was a knock on the door. At Vance's nod, Gibbs opened it.

"Director, I'm sorry, but the front desk just called to warn me," the director's assistant said. "They said she was very angry when she walked in."

"Who?" Gibbs asked.

"SecNav is on her way upstairs," she replied.

"With me, Gibbs," Vance said.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee watched as the Secretary of the Navy stalked across the floor, her heels audible even with the carpeting. He dropped his eyes to his monitor and started going through the grant records again, cross-checking them with the VA program that was listed as the source. He could feel Tony lean close behind him.

"Vance just came out of his office, with Gibbs right behind him," Tony said, words barely louder than a breath by his ear. "We'd better find something before they realize we're here."

"I know, Tony, I know," McGee muttered. He cracked open the file he'd been trying to open. "Tony, look," he said.

"Lots of money," Tony said. "It's a government program — what did you expect?"

McGee kept his voice quiet. "VA falls into domestic spending, Tony, not military. It's been slashed with all the budget issues in Congress this year, even more than the military budgets have been cut."

"Oh, right, the 'no overtime' rule that we've been mocking," Tony said. "So what's your point, McNumbers?"

"This one program's spending has quadrupled this fiscal year, and the Anacostia shelter isn't the only one that's getting money from it," McGee said. He tapped a few more keys to pull up the documents. "But look at this: the program's portion of the budget was supposed to be cut — it should have less than half the funding it had last year."

Tony's hand rested on his shoulder for a minute. "Good work, McSpreadsheet," he said. But before he could say anything else, the rising noise by the window wall became impossible to ignore.

"Why are you holding the Congressman here?" SecNav asked, her arms crossed. Her chin was tilted up and McGee blanched, knowing that look all too well — every time Abby, Penny or Sarah got that look, it was time to duck.

"We're not," Gibbs said. "He walked in looking for information while my team is still in the middle of investigating." He straightened up, and only then did McGee notice Gibbs had been favoring one side. "I was about to go brief him when you showed up."

"You kept him waiting long enough that he called my office demanding answers," SecNav replied.

"If you people would stop interrupting me, my team might be able to find them," Gibbs retorted, and McGee winced.

"Enough," Vance said, and the entire room fell silent. "Madam Secretary, why don't we both go brief the Congressman. Gibbs, you and your team better figure out what's going on, and make sure you follow up on those leads we discussed earlier."

Gibbs jerked his head and walked to his desk as Vance escorted SecNav down the hall toward the conference room. McGee held his breath, and wasn't surprised when Gibbs slammed out his desk drawer, grabbing his ID and SIG.

"Boss, McGee's got something," Tony said.

"Good. Follow it." Gibbs pulled his go-bag from under his desk.

"Boss," Tony said.

"Save it DiNozzo. You're in charge."

"No." Tony walked over and stood in front of Gibbs, his back straight as he used his extra two inches of height to try and intimidate Gibbs.

McGee didn't know if Gibbs was intimidated, but he wasn't sure he wanted to find out, either.

"Grab your gear, McGee," Tony said. "You're going with Gibbs."

At Gibbs' glare, McGee swallowed. This wasn't going to be pretty.

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Chapter 5

"DiNozzo." Gibbs stared at his second-in-command, and McGee swallowed hard. He couldn't look away, but he didn't want either glare to vaporize him if the men looked his way.

"Boss, you know I'm right." DiNozzo held Gibbs' glare until finally Gibbs looked away.

McGee blinked. He couldn't remember the last time Gibbs had backed down, even to Tony.

"The killer's not in Stillwater," Gibbs said, looking back at Tony. "I need my team here finding that SOB."

"As long as McGee has internet, he can work there just as well as here, Boss," Tony said. "You need to go to look his grandparents in the eye and know if they're telling the truth or not. But you'll be back tomorrow, and Jack will be glad to see McGee."

"Rather see you," Gibbs said.

"I'll see him next time," Tony said, his expression softening a bit. "You two go, before SecNav or the Congressman come looking for you. I'll deal with them."

"Schenck's hiding something," Gibbs said.

"We'll figure out what it is, Boss," Tony replied. "Now go."

"McGee," Gibbs said.

McGee stood, go-bag in hand. "I've got my laptop, Tony. You'd better see what Bishop's found on the shelter employees."

"On it, McBoss," Tony said. "Now leave, before Vance comes back."

McGee followed Gibbs to the elevator.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Abby finished talking to Sr. Jerome, then hung up the phone and frowned. She had an answer, but Tony wasn't going to like it. Neither was Gibbs, or Timmy, or even the director. She moved enough to see into her office, where Bishop was working on the computer. That wouldn't work — she could never pull it off. And Timmy and Tony couldn't help, either. Maybe Gibbs... Abby frowned again. She wasn't sure she could ask Gibbs that. Maybe Tony could suggest it. But if she was right, Gibbs wouldn't give her a choice because he wasn't going to like her plan at all.

Abby tried to decide if she should go talk to Gibbs and leave Bishop in the lab or take her up, too. But Timmy hadn't let them know Bishop could go back up there and normally Abby thought probies getting glared at by Gibbs was just the rite of passage they all had to go through, but this was Kelly and it was different and Gibbs wouldn't want Bishop trying to be nice.

Decision made, she left the lab quietly, or as quietly as she could in her boots.

"Gibbs, Gibbs-" Abby stopped talking as she rushed into the bullpen. "Tony, where's the Bossman?"

"Gone," Tony said. "Stillwater. Don't worry, I made him take McGee." Abby frowned. Although this would be easier with just Tony around. "OK, then. Tony, I know what we need to do." She bounced a little in her clunky boots. "I talked to Sr. Jerome, and she said that her order does work at the shelter, even though it's not many of the nuns from the motherhouse, mostly the ones actually at St. Teresa's. But they do and they have a lot of time and effort and money and help over there and they're always looking for volunteers."

"OK?" Tony just looked at her.

"That's the answer, Tony," Abby said. "We go undercover as volunteers."

"Abbs, did you not hear me say Gibbs is out of town?" Tony looked around. "Where's Bishop?"

"Still in my office," Abby said.

"Good." Tony motioned her closer. "Gibbs is gone, and Tim and I have already been to the shelter as agents. Bishop's too green for undercover work, especially with nobody to follow. Sure, we've had her go places with me or Tim before as a date when we're undercover, but that's not the same thing and you know it."

"Don't send Bishop." Abby smiled, determined to make sure Tony agreed. "You send me. I've been helping the sisters out with projects for years, and it'll be easy for me to pretend that I'm just branching out. They won't know the difference, and since the sisters who know that I work for NCIS don't usually help out over at the shelter, it'll be easy to keep that quiet."

"Abby," Tony said. "That's-" He stopped. "That's actually a good idea. But you can't go solo. Gibbs would kill me, and he'd be right to."

"Tony, I'll be fine," Abby said. "Besides, you said it yourself, I can't take Bishop. She'd never work, not for something like this."

"You can't go alone," Tony replied. "It's too dangerous."

Abby marshaled her arguments, the ones she'd thought over when she figured it was Gibbs she'd have to convince. "Tony, we've got some weapon we can't identify," she said. "If I see it, I'll know it — it's too distinctive to not recognize. But if you and Bishop go back there, they're going to make sure it's hidden. If Marques really is behind this, he's got no choice. And I can't take Bishop because you need her to go with you if you go back there while Gibbs and Timmy are gone. Wait, how long are they gone for?" Without waiting for an answer, she continued. "This is the best way, Tony, and I'll be surround by a bunch of nuns. It's a men's shelter, so anybody who tries to get me alone will be a man and the nuns won't stand for that — they're very big on appropriateness. And Sr. Jerome says they have a policy that the sisters always stay in pairs when they go, just because they know the men have PTSD and things like that and they just think it's a smart safety precaution. But if I'm there, I can watch for stuff and listen and see if I can find things out. You know I'm the best choice and so would Gibbs if he was here."

"If Gibbs was here, he'd be finding a way to go undercover with you," Tony said.

"As my father," Abby said. "Retired marine, helping his brothers in arms who have fallen on tough times." She stepped back. "Um, that kind of what I might have told Sr. Jerome I'd be doing, bringing him along. The sisters know he's like a dad to me, so she wasn't surprised. She didn't even seem to think that was bending the truth, and she's a nun." Tony just stared at her, and she waited, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from babbling all the words that wanted to spill out. But she knew Tony and if he was going to do this and take responsibility for this while Gibbs was gone, he had to think about it and she needed to stop talking until he did.

Before he could say anything, Abby heard Vance's voice. "Here comes the director," she said.

"Oh, hell." Tony frowned. "Abbs, whatever you do, stay out of whatever hell is about to break loose."

Abby wanted to ask why, but before she could, the director, SecNav and some guy in a suit were right there. Abby moved over behind McGee's desk and sat down, then pulled her lab coat closed. She didn't mind how she dressed, but she was pretty sure the new SecNav wouldn't approve and she didn't want her telling Vance he had to make Abby wear court clothes, like Jenny had when she first started. Especially not with Gibbs not here to stop that before it started. That would be bad, really bad.

"Agent DiNozzo," Vance said. "I've briefed Congressman Schenck on the status of the investigation, but if you have any updates, I'm sure we'd both like to hear them."

"Certainly director," Tony said. "Agents Gibbs and McGee have gone to investigate some leads, and they should have more in a couple of hours. Agent Bishop is digging into a lead McGee found before he left, and Abby was just filling me in on the lab results. We have more questions than answers right now, unfortunately, but I'm certain that will change by the end of the day." He turned to face the guy in a suit. "Congressman, if you hear anything you believe might help us, we'd really like to know about it." He handed the man his card.

"Of course," Schenck said.

"Oh, and Congressman?" Tony asked. "Does the VA fall under your committee at the House?"

"No, it has its own committee, though we are briefed on what they're doing," Schenck said. "Why do you ask?"

"I was wondering that myself," Vance said.

"Just something we found when we were investigating," Tony said. "If the congressmen had been involved with VA issues, he might know the answer, but since it's not his committee, it's unlikely. I'm sure it will turn out to be nothing."

Abby tried to stay quiet behind McGee's monitor until they left, but she couldn't help but wonder what Tony and Timmy had found. Once they were gone, she asked.

"What's going on with the VA?" Abby asked.

"The funding is, to use your word, hinky," Tony said. "It might not be anything related to the case, but it's definitely weird." He sighed. "And to figure out what's really going on, we probably do need somebody undercover at the shelter."

Abby bounced. "See, I told you I had a good idea."

"Gibbs is going to kill me." Tony tipped his head and cracked his neck. "I can feel the headslap already."

"Why is that, Agent DiNozzo?"

Abby looked over Tony's shoulder to see Vance standing there, alone this time.

"Leon, we have this perfect solution to figure out what's really going on at the shelter," she said.

"Abbs." Tony's words stopped her. "Director, Abby has a way into the shelter as a volunteer through the order of nuns that have been volunteering there. She works with another chapter of them in her neighborhood. But her plan was to go in with Gibbs posing as her father, and he's not able to do that."

"And the shelter employees have already met you as an agent," Vance said.

"Yes," Tony said. "I don't think this is the right assignment for either Bishop or Dorneget."

"Agreed." Vance stood there, and Abby wished for once she could read his expression because he had a better poker face even than Gibbs did and when he got like this she couldn't tell what he was thinking and she really wanted to know and -

"I'll go," Vance said. "Miss Scuito can introduce me as a family friend, somebody who served with her father."

"That could work," Tony said. "Abbs?"

"Sure," Abby said. "Thank you, director. I know you'd rather be home with your kids, but this is really important and I think it's the only way and-"

"I understand." Vance held up a hand. "DiNozzo, draw up a plan, then read us in."

"Yes sir," Tony said. Once the director was gone, he turned to Abby. "You can sell this story to Sr. Jerome, right?"

Abby nodded so hard her braids bounced. "She'll totally go for it — the nuns heard about Briggs when they brought donations over after morning Mass and had already called Sr. Jerome to ask that he be added to the order's prayer list. If they can help, they will."

"Good," Tony said. "Send Bishop up here, then call Sr. Jerome and make the arrangements. Try to get in there for dinner tonight, if you can. The shelter's closed during the day, so tonight is when they'll be talking about what happened."

Abby saluted him, and hurried back down to the lab. Now they just had to hope Bishop understood why she wasn't going. Abby frowned at the idea of making the newest agent sad, then realized the answer. "She'll have to help Tony in the van," Abby said to herself. "With Timmy gone, he'll break things if he has to do it alone."

"Who'll break what?" Bishop asked as she walked in. The analyst was sitting on the floor in front of the refrigerated case in the main lab, papers spread everywhere. "I hope it's somebody breaking the case, because I'm not finding anything here."

"Um, yeah," Abby said. "Tony's looking for you — he'll fill you in. I think you're handling tech in the van for an undercover op tonight. Gibbs and McGee went to Stillwater to investigate, and you know Tony and technology when McGee's not around to work his magic."

"I hope that means Tony has something," Bishop replied, gathering her papers. "All the shelter employees are coming back squeaky clean, except for a few parking and speeding tickets." She looked up at Abby. "Are you letting me back upstairs because Gibbs is gone?"

"Because they need your help," Abby said. "Gibbs would have been down here to get you already if he hadn't left town. Better go, before Tony has to come looking for you."

As Bishop left, Abby reminded herself that Tony and Timmy were that green once, too. Bishop would learn.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee tuned out the sheer insanity of Gibbs navigating the city streets on their way out of town in order to research the congressman and his connections to Stillwater. "Boss, why would Schenck show up now?"

Gibbs didn't reply.

"Right, that's what we need to find out," McGee said. He couldn't dig into secure government files until he got to Jack's store and could hardwire a connection, but he could do some basic digging online to take his mind off the trip. He focused on the hunt, making notes in a file he could ship back to Tony. There wasn't anything all that remarkable in the congressman's file, but a check of Federal Election Commission records showed Chuck Winslow was a fairly big donor, one of the biggest outside of the usual DC lobbyists and think tanks. In the eight years the congressman had been in office, Winslow had donated the maximum each year, and a number of Winslow Mining employees had also donated the maximum. McGee pulled their names to run queries once he had a faster connection. That was a lot of money coming out of Stillwater to DC each year, and the town wasn't well-off. Winslow could be funneling the money to Schenck through his employees. It wouldn't be the first time something like that had happened. But that didn't explain how it connected back to Briggs, or if Schenck knew about the fraud.

"Chuck Winslow gives the congressman a lot of money," McGee said.

"Always did like to buy things," Gibbs said.

"Do you think Winslow's involved?" McGee asked. At the look on Gibbs face, he sighed. "Right, he's Briggs' father, whether he knows it or not. He's involved somehow." He thought for a second. "How intelligent is Schenck?" McGee asked. He looked up and saw they were on I-83, north of Baltimore.

"Didn't get much time with him, Gibbs said. "Jack would know." He was quiet for a minute. "Why?"

McGee outlined what he'd found. "I don't know if Schenck knew Winslow was behind this or not."

"Probably didn't want to know," Gibbs said.

"Plausible deniability," McGee replied. "It's possible. Are you sure Winslow isn't Schenck's father."

"Marcy wouldn't have cheated on Tom," Gibbs said. "Chuck's lots of things, but he isn't the kind to force himself on a girl. Wasn't back then, anyway. He knew which ones were his. Just like Ethan."

McGee nodded at the reminder of the first time they'd met Winslow. "I've got some things to look into once we get to Stillwater."

"Jack will let you set up in the store," Gibbs said. "Connection between Briggs' grandparents and Schenck?"

"Nothing I can find," McGee said. "It could just be them asking their congressman for help."

"Conversations with Winslow?"

"I can't check that in the car," McGee said. "I can ask Tony to check it, though." He didn't wait for Gibbs' nod to fire off a text. He added a couple other things for Tony to investigate.

"Bishop says volunteers squeaky clean," came the reply. "Coleman's next on my list."

McGee suppressed a smile as he wondered how that was going to go.

A text from Delilah came through. "Dinner?" she asked.

McGee squeezed his eyes shut. He should have thought to call her. "In PA with Gibbs on case, back late or tomorrow," he texted. "You need Tony or Abby's help?"

"I've got it," came the reply after a few minutes. McGee winced, knowing she would have said more if he was there. They still hadn't found a new equilibrium since she'd gotten home from the hospital, and he was beginning to wonder if they ever would. Maybe he could ask Jack for advice. He wasn't sure it was fair to explain everything to Gibbs, and he knew Tony couldn't be impartial, even if Tony hadn't realized that yet. McGee wasn't even going to think about that complication. He was beginning to miss the simple days of his back-and-forth with Abby that didn't satisfy either one of them. At least he knew he was in limbo then.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2014 8:21 am 
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Chapter 6

Tony was at his desk when Bishop returned the the bullpen.

"You struck out, I heard," Tony said. "But there is one familiar name on the list."

"Captain Faith Coleman, JAG," Bishop replied.

"Very good."

"Well, she's Navy and she's JAG, so it figures that Gibbs would have run into her before," Bishop said. "How do you know her?"

"She's been on a few cases we've worked," Tony said. "Not for a while, though." He pictured Coleman's reaction to Bishop and her quirks. "She'll be at Pax River now," he said. "Let's see if we can get her online in MTAC and save a trip over there."

Bishop nodded. "You think she knows something?" she asked.

"I think it's worth seeing what she thinks about the shelter," Tony said. "Come on, before Gibbs and McGee call in to find out what we've learned."

He headed for the stairs, Bishop right behind him. MTAC was mostly empty, so it didn't take long for the techs to get Coleman online.

"What's this about, DiNozzo?" Coleman asked. "I'm busy."

"Nice to see you, too, Captain," Tony said. "You've moved up in the world since last we met."

"And you're still on Gibbs' team," she said. "So why is NCIS calling me?"

"You volunteer at Fair Winds shelter in Anacostia," Tony said.

"Yes, occasionally," Coleman replied. "I used to go to St. Teresa's when I was living closer to DC, and I've stayed in touch with many of my friends. When I heard they had started donating to the shelter, I wanted to be part of it."

"Did you ever meet this man?" Tony asked, sending a copy of Briggs' photo over.

"No, I can't say that I did," Coleman said. "Why?"

"He was killed this morning," Bishop said. "He spent last night at the shelter, and he was a regular there."

"About half the veterans at that shelter are sailors or marines," Coleman said. "I don't know all of them."

"What can you tell us about the shelter itself?" Tony asked.

"Well-run, with lots of community support," Coleman said. "That's unusual, but I think the base's presence in the community and the support from several of the churches has a lot to do with that. The shelter doesn't serve solely veterans, but they have high percentage of residents who are veterans."

"And the veterans who are there, you try to help any of them with paperwork?" Tony asked.

"Some," Coleman said. "I know the process, so part of what I do there is volunteer my time to help them fill out the paperwork for benefits and other issues."

"And Briggs never approached you about that?" Tony asked.

"I'd remember the name, even if the face looks different than his Navy photo," Coleman said. "I haven't met Petty Officer Briggs."

"Thank you, Captain," Tony said. "We'll be in touch if we have more questions."

He signaled the tech to end the session.

"That wasn't much help," Bishop said.

"It helped us rule a few things out," Tony said. "At this point, we need to figure out exactly what is going on — we have too many possibilities." He led the way back downstairs. "McGee started running financials on the shelter," he said, and explained what McGee had found. "Can you see what else you can find about funding through that program and contact some of the other shelters getting those payments. We need to figure out what's going on there."

"Sure," Bishop said. "What are you doing?"

"Abby and Vance are going undercover tonight," he said. "I'm going to make sure we have everything we need because if this goes sideways, Gibbs will not be happy."

"Oh, that's what Abby meant," Bishop said. "Why Abby? She's not an agent."

"No, but she's friends with the nuns," Tony said. "Now get digging — if we can figure this out before tonight, we won't need to send her undercover and Gibbs won't kill us both."

She went to her desk and Tony headed to the supply lockup to make sure they had everything they needed for the van. He would stop by autopsy on the way back, see what else Ducky had learned.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Vance returned to his office and replayed the video from the meeting he and SecNav had with the congressman.

"Congressman," Vance said as they walked in. "I understand you're looking for answers for Petty Officer Briggs' family. We are, too. Anything you know could be helpful to our investigation."

"Please, Will," SecNav said. "Director Vance has his best team on the case."

"I don't know much," Schenck said. "A friend in town called on behalf of his grandparents. They're from the town where I grew up, so they thought I might be willing to help them. The death of their grandson has hurt them deeply, as I'm sure you can understand."

Vance nodded, even if he did think the sailor's grandparents sounded an awful lot like Jackie's father. "They told you he was at sea," he said.

"Yes, I had no idea he wasn't in the Navy anymore," Schenck said. "I'm not sure how they got it confused, though they are getting older."

"It can happen," Vance said. He outlined the basics of the case. "As you can see, the petty officer might not have been in touch with his family since he returned last year. I can see where they would be worried."

"It's a tragedy how many of our troops fall into this situation," Schenck said. "I'm sure if his family had known, they would have helped."

"I'm sure," Vance said, though he wasn't at all sure based on what Gibbs had said. "As you can see, Congressman, we're working on the case, but it might take some time. There were no witnesses at that hour of the morning, and very little information for our team to go on. But you can assure the Briggs family that we are doing everything we can to find out who killed him."

"Nobody saw it?" Schenck said. "It seems a shame that a man can die in a city this big and not have anybody notice him."

"Unfortunately, it happens far too often," Vance said. "Now, if there's nothing else I can help you with?"

"No, thank you," Shenck said.


Vance stopped the tape rather than listen to the polite inanities that followed. It sounded like Schenck was telling the truth, but he still didn't like this. Too many coincidences, and you didn't have to be Gibbs to dislike that. He wondered what Gibbs and McGee would find in Stillwater. Vance stared at the video screen for another minute before making up his mind. With a nod, he turned the TV off and picked up the phone.

"Hello, Ron," Vance said. "Leon here. What can you tell me about the members of the House Armed Services Committee?"

As he listened to details on the rest of the committee, Vance made notes. They weren't part of this case, but their decisions did impact NCIS. And if Schenck was up to something, he needed to know where the pressure points would be if NCIS had to counterattack. But when his old friend on Capitol Hill finally got to the committee leadership, Vance made sure to keep his renewed interest hidden.

"Contracts?" he said. "I don't remember any Pennsylvania contracts in the last round of hearings."

"Small contract by Navy standards," his friend said. "It was parts that fit into the Navy planes. The Navy wanted to consolidate into two or three big suppliers, get rid of the smaller firms that were scattered around the country in the districts of congressmen who wanted to show their constituents they could bring home the jobs. A lot of the seats were held by Democrats, with contracts dating back to the Clinton administration. Bush left them in place as bargaining chips, but the House leadership is facing too much pressure from the tea party to cut money anywhere they can, and they know they won't get Democratic votes on anything anyway. So they cut. But this district was held by a Republican, so they gave in and let the company keep the contract and the jobs."

"It was small enough that nobody was complaining too much because it was just a decimal point in the budget," Vance said.

"And Schenck manages to stick to the party line about cutting spending while keeping his spending intact because he's got enough money that nobody in the district is trying to challenge him," his friend said. "You know how it goes."

"I do," Vance said. "Thanks for the intel. With the sequester looming, it helps to know who's making the decisions over there."

After he hung up the phone, Vance debated whether the information was relevant to the case, or just leverage if the case turned out in a way the congressman didn't like. Once he decided it was just good intel for the future, he filed it away in an encrypted file. Nobody else needed to know he had this.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Ducky leaned back over the body of Petty Officer Briggs as Mr. Palmer left autopsy with more samples for Abby. "My dear boy, what have you gotten yourself into?" he asked. He examined the man's right hand, and found callouses on the pad of the thumb and near the first joint of the index and middle fingers. "Just where one would expect," he said. "You did find great solace in those beads, didn't you? But was it the repetition? Or was it the sense of the divine? Or was it something else entirely?" He frowned. "You know, the repetition of the rosary, and even the use of beads with which to mark it is hardly unique to the Catholic faith, though it is probably the best known instance of the ritual. In yoga and in the Hindu tradition, the practice of japa and mantras are the same combination of beads and prayers. Many Eastern religions, in fact, use mala beads in the same way that the Catholics have used rosary beads. It's quite a fascinating practice really, though one that to me has always seemed more akin to writing lines or repeating the same phrase on the blackboard as a reminder not to do whatever transgression is outlined. I never did like those afternoons at school."

He shook his head at the memory, but moved on. The petty officer's arms were in good condition, no obvious old injuries or significant deterioration. "I hardly imagine your life on the streets allowed you to stay in some sort of shape," he mused. "Perhaps you were doing some odd jobs for people." He made a mental note to mention it to the team.

"Now, my dear boy, what have we here?" Ducky looked at the petty officer's head again, noting the blows and their location. The scar on his head was old, though, and deep. Shrapnel, most likely. Ducky pulled out the folder with Briggs' medical records to check . "Indeed, it was quite deep," he said. "You were most fortunate, according to this report. Shrapnel to the head, but no brain damage. However, I rather suspect this auditory nerve damage was a factor in this attack." He continued reading, then pulled out a small flashlight to examine inside the petty officer's ears. "Just as I thought." He walked across the room and looked at the skull X-rays Mr. Palmer had placed there earlier. "The damage doesn't show up here, but I wouldn't expect it to, not with that report."

Ducky tucked the flashlight back in the pocket of his lab coat. "You were quite unfortunate and yet fortunate all at the same time," he said as he looked back over. "I do wonder what other secrets you might be hiding in your body." He crossed the room and leaned over the lab table. "You were indeed unfortunate in your outcomes." He shook his head. "For a nation that claims to take care of its military, we do indeed do a rather poor job sometimes, when one such as yourself slips through the cracks," he said as the doors hissed open behind him.

"Who slipped through the cracks, Ducky?" came Tony's voice from the doorway.

"Petty Officer Briggs was involved in an IED explosion in Afghanistan," Ducky said. "Rather, the attack was in Istanbul during a shore leave, but while he was stationed in the Gulf. He was not badly hurt, but many of those around him were, and two of his shipmates died in the attack."

"Bishop filled me in," Tony said. "Hell of an R&R when you come back worse off than when you left and alcohol wasn't involved."

"Quite," Ducky said. "What's interesting is what happened after that."

"Briggs was shipped back stateside," Tony said.

"Yes, and he was examined by base doctors and reported ringing in his ears and vertigo," Ducky said. "After a few days, he reported the ringing was gone, as was the dizziness, and he was released from sick bay."

"And proceeded to drown his PTSD in a fifth of scotch, or whatever his beverage of choice was," Tony said. "

"That is where I think the Navy made its second mistake," Ducky said.

"I'll bite," Tony said. "What was their first mistake?"

"When the doctor diagnosed the immediate damage in Petty Officer Briggs' ears, he said he expected it to wear off in a few days, and to let him know if that didn't happen."

"But it did," Tony said.

"Petty Officer Briggs was flown back to the States," Ducky said. "The ear canals are especially susceptible to pressure from the altitude changes in a flight. Furthermore, when Petty Officer Briggs was examined the second time, it was by a corpsman and a nurse," Ducky said. "The records show he was given some baseline tests, but nothing that truly tested his hearing. Just whether the tinnitus and vertigo had disappeared as he reported."

"What are you saying?" Tony asked.

"I am saying that it appears the ringing stopped when Petty Officer Briggs lost his hearing completely in his right ear," Ducky said. "He sustained damage near the auditory nerve from shrapnel in the attack, and it was quite severe. Several days after the corpsman and nurse cleared him on the ear issues, there are notes in here that some small bits of shrapnel had emerged from the wound on his head as it healed, pushed out by the body through the healing scar."

"That's not unusual," Tony said, remembering the number of times he'd gotten glass bits into cuts at explosions. "I've had it happen before."

"Yes, I'm quite aware of that," Ducky said. Honestly, you'd think the agent didn't remember how many times Ducky himself had patched Tony up when he refused to go to hospital. "However, given the location of the wound, the depth and the amount of shrapnel expelled, along with the notes about his ears and the information I have gathered though my autopsy, I do believe Petty Officer Briggs had lost most or all of his hearing in that ear."

Tony looked at him. "Wait, he was deaf? Why didn't the Navy catch that?"

Ducky straightened to his full height. "That, Anthony, is one of many questions I have about how his case was handled. He should have been given a medical discharge well before he was able to drink himself out of the Navy, and at that point there would have been no need to self-medicate because he would have been treated for the PTSD they had correctly noted in his record. His case was mismanaged from start to finish, and I have to wonder what the command at Little Creek is doing to have allowed this." He shook his head. "I know Gibbs does not have a high opinion of the command there, and right now, I must agree with him. They should not have allowed this to happen and it's unconscionable that they did. Wasn't anybody watching what they did?"

"That is an excellent question," Tony said. He walked around the body, looking at it. "Ducky, you said his right ear, didn't you?"

"Yes, on the same side from which he was struck," Ducky said.

"That's the side we think the killer approached from," Tony said. "There was construction on that side of the overpass. The construction workers were the ones who discovered the body this morning."

"I highly doubt our sailor would have been able to hear anybody approaching from there without some visual cues," Ducky said.

"Marques said the shelter doors opened at 0500 and Briggs left immediately," Tony said. "It's probably a 15-minute walk to the overpass from the shelter."

"He did not die much after that," Ducky said. "Mr. Palmer and I place the time of death at least 15 minutes before 0600."

"So he leaves the shelter at 0500 and gets to the overpass at 0515," Tony said. "He was dead by 0545. Somewhere in that 30-minute window, somebody came upon him, assaulted him and killed him."

"That is a much narrower window than we normally have to work with," Ducky said.

"At 0530, it would have been dark except for the streetlights in that area, and as far as we can tell, Briggs was facing the concrete wall under the bridge," Tony said. "So if the killer came from the side and he was lost in thought with the rosary, even if his PTSD made him jumpy, he probably wouldn't have known there was a threat."

"That is just adding insult to injury," Ducky said. "Anthony, I know you and the rest of the team always do your best, but this is a young man who was not treated well by the Navy in life, though no doubt not out of any actual malice." He sighed. "There are just too many young members of the military these days who are suffering from injuries or emotional or mental trauma for the Navy to appropriately catch all of them, especially when our resources are cut again and again."

"You had to send Jimmy home yesterday so he wouldn't go over hours again, didn't you," Tony said. He rubbed his hand over the back of his head. "I'm not disagreeing with you, Ducky."

"Then find his killer," Ducky said. "Let us make sure that even if it is too late for us to remedy the deficiencies the Navy contributed to his life, we can at least render justice for him after his death."

"We will," Tony said as he headed for the elevator. "Thanks, Ducky."

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:11 pm 
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Chapter 7

Gibbs pulled up in front of the old general store, the windows gleaming in the sun. His father couldn't have been up on the ladder polishing them — though Gibbs knew he would if his body could handle it. Jack must have had Cal up there, the young man he'd hired a year ago.
Gibbs opened the door, not waiting for McGee.

"Leroy," Jack said. "You didn't tell me you were coming up."

"Got a case, Dad," Gibbs said. "Stillwater connection. Wanted to ask some people some questions without them having time to prepare."

"Now, Leroy, you can't just go barging in on the Briggses," Jack said.

"I didn't say it was them," Gibbs replied.

"It's been all over town that their Navy grandson died this morning," Jack said. "I've been expecting you to call."

"What do you know about Congressman Schenck," Gibbs said, changing the subject. Just in case anybody walked in, he didn't want to get into the Briggs family. Not yet.

"Oh, he's not bad, as politicians go," Jack said. "Young man, you know, and I'm not sure he understands what it's like for us older folks. He always talking about cutting spending, and that sounds good enough to some people, but when it's your spending he's cutting, well, that's not as popular." Jack moved out from behind the counter, leaning heavily on his cane. "Sit down a minute," he said. Gibbs pulled out a chair for Jack, then sat down himself, his knee giving a sigh of relief as he did. Gibbs pushed that aside.

When McGee walked in, gear in hand, he set it down by the table and joined them.

"You were talking about Schenck," Gibbs said.

"Oh, right," Jack replied. "He talks a good game, and folks here like the sound of less of their tax dollars going to Washington, rather than staying home. They have a hard enough time making ends meet as it is, and if they can't spend money, I don't do so well either." He sighed. "But then when the cuts hit the Quartermaster plant up the road in Benton, that got people's attention. Schenck fought to keep that contract, parts for some Navy plane, I think. Without the contract, the plant would have had to cut half its workforce. That's almost 600 jobs, almost as many as in Winslow's mine. You know what that means."

"Schenck saved the plant?" McGee asked.

"He fought for it in the budget," Jack said. "Made sure to show up here, talk to people who worked there, let them know he was fighting. When the contract got saved, lot of people here looked up to him for that."

"How'd he make it to Congress, Dad?" Gibbs asked. "Tom was just a coal miner, and Marcy must have struggled after he died."

"Winslow again," Jack said. "He has a scholarship that his daddy started to the high school, to help pay for college at State. Schenck won his year, used that to get his degree."

"Not too many go to college from Stillwater, not unless things have changed," Gibbs said.

"Oh, they go," Jack replied. "Most to the community college, a few to the state college in Wilkes-Barre. Not many go to a real college, one people have heard of. But Marcy Schenck, she planned on it. She wanted to go to school to become a teacher. Would have, too, if not for Jimmy."

"Jimmy?" McGee asked.

"The Congressman," Jack replied.

"He said his name was Will," McGee said. "That's the only name he's ever mentioned as in news reports."

"James Wilbur Schenck," Jack said. "He was named after his mother's father, his grandfather, but he never liked the name. Marcy's parents didn't take kindly to Tom and what had happened, so they weren't close."

"Marcy thought a grandson with his name would make a difference," Gibbs said.

"It never seemed to," Jack replied. "Not that I could tell. Now, her mother was different. She'd go to see Tom and Marcy right up until she died a few years back. But she never let Jim know that. Just kept it a secret. Those of us who knew, we helped. I don't like to think of any parents and child being estranged, and so when I could help, I did."

"So Schenck went to college," Gibbs said. "Winslow paid for it?"

"That he did," Jack said. "He was a big contributor to the Congressman's campaign too, I do believe. Asked everybody in town to contribute, too."

"But not you," Gibbs said, letting his lips quirk up in a half-smile.

"You know me and politicians, son. Can't hardly trust them. After Schenck got on Armed Services, I was glad I hadn't. He had no hold over me, and I had no hold over him. When they started talking about all those cuts last year, I wondered if I should have given, maybe talked to Schenck about not cutting NCIS and all the good work you people do."

"But you didn't," McGee said.

"No, I didn't," Jack replied. "I didn't donate, that is. I did try to talk to him on one of his trips back, glad-handing people and trying to make out like he cared. Maybe he did, though his way of caring and mine are different. But when I said something, he just asked why I would ask something like that, what I'd done for him." Jack shook his head. "Oh, not in those words. But that was what he meant. I shut him down quick after that. To my mind, we elect these people to serve us, not for them to make us pay to serve them. Didn't shy back from speaking my mind about it when it came up."

"You never told me," Gibbs said.

"Leroy, you listen to yourself," Jack said. "Do you really think that I'd tell you about this?" He shook his head. "You would have gone down there and said something to him, told him to back off from bothering your old man and probably gotten into trouble. I wasn't about to let that happen, not on my watch." He thumped his cane on the ground. "But I'd keep an eye on him. The man has his price, and you never know how high it is until you ante up."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee followed Gibbs out of the Charger. "Where to now, Boss?" he asked.

"The grandparents, before they hear we're in town," Gibbs said. But as he did, the sheriff's car driving down Main Street pulled over and stopped across from the store.

"Again, Boss?" McGee muttered. Gibbs just smirked.

"Afternoon, Leroy," said the sheriff. Ed, McGee thought his name was.

"Afternoon," Gibbs replied.

"You here to bother Old Man Briggs and his wife?" Ed asked.

"Here to do a job," Gibbs said.

"That's what you said last time, too," Ed replied. "Folks here, they still haven't forgotten that."

"You know how it goes," Gibbs said. "We follow the leads."

"They want you gone, I won't hesitate to pick you up," Ed said. "You or your boy here."

McGee rolled his eyes at the sheriff's attitude. No wonder he and Gibbs didn't get along. Still, he kept his mouth shut, let Gibbs handle this one.

"Let's go, McGee," Gibbs said, getting in the front seat of the car.

McGee opened the door and got in, ignoring Ed as effectively as the sheriff had ignored him.

"Will they try to throw us out?" he asked Gibbs once the car was moving.

Gibbs just shrugged a shoulder, and McGee figured he'd just have to see how this went.

They pulled up outside a small house, the paint faded but neat. The gardens were tidy, and McGee wondered if they did that or if they had somebody come by to do it. He did the math and figured that the Briggses had to be at least 75. Jack must be their age, and his steps without the cane were few and far between. He was leaning on the cane more now than the last time he'd been in town. McGee remembered the man they had met when they first came to Stillwater, one who carried a cane but didn't seem to need it except now and again. These days, he wondered if Jack could take more than a step or two without some sort of support.

He followed Gibbs up the walkway to the front door. He was letting Gibbs take the lead on this one. He knew them, after all.

The old man who answered the door recognized Gibbs after just a second of looking at him. "Leroy, you look more and more like Jack every day," he said. Gibbs just nodded.

"We're sorry to bother you, Mr. Briggs," Gibbs said. "But Agent McGee and I are investigating your grandson's death, and we wanted to ask you a few questions." McGee followed Gibbs into the house.

The room was tidy, with doilies in several spots and a cross on the wall. A Bible with a worn leather cover sat on a small table below the cross, and McGee suspected it was mostly for comfort; that the couple sitting on the sofa in front of them could recite the verses word for word if asked.

He scanned the room surreptitiously, and saw several photos, but all older ones. He didn't see any of Briggs, and the girl who was in pictures that had to be new back when Gibbs was a boy didn't appear in any after a graduation photo on the upright piano against the wall by the door. That must be Sabrina, the petty officer's mother. McGee tried to study the graduation photo. Sabrina's face was soft in that one, her cheeks more rounded than in some of the others on the piano. McGee wondered how much the gown had covered up, and if her parents knew about the baby when that photo was taken. The piano was dust-free, but there was no music on the stand, just the stack of papers by the graduation photo. McGee wondered if Sabrina had been the one to play.

The Briggses seemed proud of her, based on all the photos they had, but there was nothing after that graduation photo, and no pictures of their grandson at any age. McGee wondered how much communication they had with their daughter.

"Sabrina called you?" Gibbs was asking them.

"She did," Mr. Briggs said.

"You didn't go see her?" Gibbs asked.

"Father, he doesn't drive long distances anymore, and I have trouble getting around," Mrs. Briggs said. The two canes leaning on the chair next to her made it easy for McGee to believe her.

"You're able to get around town, though," Gibbs said. "Friends and family look out for you, I imagine?"

"My nephew checks on us most days," Mrs. Briggs said. "Such a good boy. He was just a few years behind you in school."

"Sabrina has her life someplace else," Mr. Briggs said. "You know how it goes, no time to visit the parents back in the small hometown. I imagine Jack was glad to see you today."

"You believed Petty Officer Briggs was still in the Navy," Gibbs said.

"Why else would you be here if he wasn't?" Mr. Briggs asked. "I still can't understand why he wasn't on board his ship."
Gibbs looked over at McGee.

"Sir, Petty Officer Briggs left the Navy last year," McGee said. "Now, I'm sure he meant to tell you, but he was having some challenges." He looked for the right words. "I imagine your daughter didn't want to worry you by telling you what John was doing until he'd settled on something permanent now that he was out."

"She never did tell us much," Mrs. Briggs said. "Now, John, he was good about writing his grandparents, sent us a letter a few times a year. He sent one just last month, talked about how things were on his ship and he was hoping to return to Virginia soon, maybe come by and visit."

"Did he visit often?" McGee asked.

"When he could," the grandmother said. "He was busy, of course. We understood that. We were glad to see him if he did come."

"If?" Gibbs asked.

"When he came," the grandfather said, his voice firm. "We were glad to see him when he came."

"It's difficult when you're serving on a ship, to get leave," McGee said. "My father's in the Navy, and he was often gone for months at a time when I was a boy. I'd mark down the days between his visits." He smiled, glad the grandparents didn't know the pieces he was leaving out. "I could probably still tell you when every one of them was." He kept his position relaxed. "You were probably the same way, always excited to see him return."

"My memory isn't what it used to be," the grandfather said. "Mary, when was the last time John was here?"

"Can't say as I know, exactly," she said. "Son, when you get to be our age, the days start to blend together a little bit."

"Of course," McGee said. He gave Gibbs a chance, and the team leader didn't hesitate.

"We're doing everything we can," Gibbs said, and continued into the practiced spiel. McGee tuned him out as his phone buzzed with a question from Bishop.

"Excuse me," McGee said, getting up and heading toward the door — and the piano near it. He texted the answer back to Bishop, then snapped some pictures with his phone, using his body to block the grandparents' view.

Once they were outside, Gibbs raised an eyebrow at him.

"I'd bet Tony a week of lunches that they haven't seen Briggs in years," McGee said. "And Bishop and I think the shelter's where we're going to find our killer."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Bishop checked the information McGee had pulled, then started making calls to the other shelters he had flagged.

"Yes, that's everything I needed," she told the director at one. "Thank you." As she hung up the phone, she made more notes in the folder she'd started. "This doesn't make sense," she said.

Frowning, she gathered up her papers and crossed the room to sit on the floor between Tim and Tony's desks. "There has to be something here that we're missing." There was nobody around to hear her, but she talked out loud anyway. She spread out the papers and started looking for anomalies. "The shelters are all in different parts of the city," she said. "They all help veterans, but they also help homeless people who aren't veterans, and they get funding from other sources." She frowned, and used her laptop to run a search. No, no other shelters turned up. She tapped her pencil against her chin. "What am I missing?"

She looked over the information on each shelter again. All nonprofits, all serve large populations of veterans, all get federal funding," she muttered. "And all seem to have gotten funding increases while everybody else was seeing cuts. Shelters inside Washington didn't get funding and veterans shelters outside the District didn't see increases either." She pulled up the federal budget site and started running checks against the budgets for the agencies. HHS was no help — all their housing programs had been cut as well. And the VA programs were cut across the board.

"Why this program?" Bishop wondered. "Why would this one not get cut?" She reviewed the rules of the Congressional budget problems, but they were clear — across the board cuts. "The president didn't want the ability to tailor the cuts because he thought he'd get accused of playing favorites if he saved some programs from cuts and slashed others further. But somebody's done some tailoring."

Bishop blew out a breath and kept digging, trying to find the common vector. Each shelter was located in the city, and each one had military connections — former sailors or marines involved in them. "No soldiers or airmen." She stared at the papers spread out before her. "That means there's got to be a connection with the Navy somehow. With four or five shelters, there should be at least one soldier, even if there's no Air Force connection." She ran a search on veterans shelters in other major cities, then cross-referenced them with the listings of former and retired military. All came back with a fairly even spread of connections to all the services, at least in proportion to the number of people who served in each service.

She checked the rest of Washington. The same pattern showed there, but only the Navy-connected shelters were getting extra money. Bishop pulled the list of non-funded shelters with Navy connections, determined to find out what made the two groups different.

"Any luck?" Director Vance stood in front of her.

"Not yet," Bishop said, not looking up. "There's something here, but I'm not finding it." She ran through her findings.

"What about affiliated agencies?" Vance said. "Agent DiNozzo found the way into this shelter through Miss Scuito's nuns. Is there any common group among the shelters?"

Bishop frowned. "I can try lists of donors, but I'm not sure how much that's available."

"If you need help, check with McGee," Vance said. "I'm sure he has a way of getting that information from the IRS."

Bishop nodded, but something on the papers in front of her caught her eye. She pulled sheets from the different folders.

"You found something," Vance said.

"Maybe," Bishop replied. "It's crazy, but-"

"That doesn't mean it might not be the break we need," Vance said. "You run down that lead. If your team needs help, tell DiNozzo I can give him Dorneget as an extra body."

Bishop nodded, but didn't reply. She instead compared one sheet to the next, then against the other two. She picked up her laptop and ran a few searches, crossing the information from her last two searches against each other. "This might explain it," she muttered. "But I don't understand why."

She looked around, but Vance was gone and Tony still wasn't back. Pulling out her phone, she texted McGee with a question. When her phone buzzed two minutes later, she looked down.

"That's got to be it."

"What's got to be it?" Tony rounded the corner from the back elevator.

"I think we just stumbled on something really big, bigger than murder," Bishop said. "We've got to tell the director."

"Not yet," Tony said. "Why don't you fill me in first."

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Chapter 8

Tony leaned against his desk and looked down at Bishop's pile of papers on the floor. "What do you think you found?"

"All the shelters that are getting the extra money also have a Navy connection, a former sailor or Marine involved in running them," she said. "And all of those shelters run by former sailors and Marines have one thing in common: They all served former sailors and Marines who filed paperwork to get benefits through the Pax River JAG office."

"What about the other shelters?" Tony asked.

"Some of them have veterans who filed appeals for benefits, too, but they didn't go through Pax River JAG," she said. "Some went through Annapolis, some went through another branch and some didn't go through JAG at all, but went straight to the VA." She looked up. "I checked with McGee. He said that the grant program funding these shelters goes through a particular VA office, while the other programs go HHS."

"So you're thinking we have a JAG-VA connection to the extra money," Tony said.

"I'm thinking that somebody's pulling some strings somewhere to make sure these shelters get funded, and the connection has to be at JAG." Bishop popped up to standing and Tony suppressed a sign at the lack of clicks and creaks from her knees. "More importantly, it has to be at the Pax River JAG office."

"Capt. Coleman again," Tony said. Before he could say anything else, his phone rang. "Go get a car from the motor pool. I'll meet you downstairs." As she left, he answered. "OK, McTraveler, what do you have?"

After he finished talking to McGee, he headed for the lab.

"Abbs, need the spy glasses," he said.

"Tony, those are for Vance to wear tonight. He doesn't need them now," she said.

"I'll have them back before then," he said. "We'll meet in the evidence garage at 1700." He took the glasses from her lab table and left before she had a chance to ask him anything. A quick stop in autopsy to brief Ducky, and then he was on his way to meet Bishop.
He found her waiting at the car, her laptop open on the hood as she bent over it.

"Find something?" he asked.

"Maybe," she said. "Faith Coleman has four brothers. All five of them have served in either the Navy or the Marines. Their father was a machinists mate in Vietnam, stayed in for his 20. Not a lot of money for a family that big, but all the children had their education covered by the service when they served."

"She went the JAG route. What about the others?" Tony asked.

Bishop smiled. "That's where it gets interesting. The only one younger than her was a SEAL. Malachi Coleman finished his training and was assigned to a team in August 2001."

An old memory pinged Tony's brain. "'Everybody thought because the Taliban fell quickly, it was a cakewalk,'" he repeated. "She wasn't just talking about Petty Officer Curtin."

"What are you talking about?" Bishop asked.

"Old case," Tony said. "Long story." He frowned. "So her brother went into Afghanistan as a baby SEAL after Sept. 11. Did he survive?"

"He did," Bishop said. "That mission, and the one after it and the one after that. He went on more than 50 missions in his first four years as a SEAL. Then one went bad. He made it out, but his swim buddy didn't. Half his team didn't."

"PTSD," Tony said, not even bothering to ask.

"Yes," Bishop said. "About that time, his sister was promoted to full Commander and shifted her focus from the criminal side of JAG to the administrative side. She moved to the office that deals with the status hearings. Her brother Malachi was still keeping things under control, but his supervisors had started to note issues in his records. Within two years, he was out of the service, with a medical discharge. A year after that, he still wasn't getting services from the VA and he was living on the streets."

"And I'll bet that's when the commander started volunteering at the shelter," Tony said.

"It's not in her personnel file, but I'm sure you're right," Bishop said. "Last year, she was promoted to captain and given command of her branch of JAG. She oversees all the JAG teams in the world in that field, but she makes sure to keep her hand in with a few cases." Bishop hesitated. "Tony, back in the fall, she got a commendation because one of the regional JAG offices had been the one with the slowest processing times for those status hearings. She went out there for three weeks in the spring. Within a month, they were among the top units in all of JAG, and they've stayed in the top five since then."

"This is personal for her," Tony said. "She sees her brother in the men who come to the shelter, and she wants to help them." He pulled the glasses from his shirt pocket. "We're recording this session for Ducky to review. She knows I don't wear glasses, so you get them this time." He headed for the driver's-side door. Once they were on their way, he glanced over at Bishop, who was examining the glasses.

"The camera's in the frame," Tony said. "Good thing these heavier plastic frames are a style choice for some these days. Just keep you focus on where Coleman is — without staring — and Ducky will be able to see the entire interview when we get back to the office."

"Do you really think Capt. Coleman is a killer?" Bishop asked.

"No," Tony said without thinking. Then he paused. "No, even if she's changed some from the last time I dealt with her, she's not a killer. She could do it in self-defense, but this was a cold-blooded attack. That's never going to be her. She's too by-the-book."

"She can't be that by-the-book if she's the reason the shelters are getting money they shouldn't be getting," Bishop said.

"Shouldn't is a strong word," Tony replied. He focused on the road ahead as he talked through the thoughts that had been bouncing around in his head all day. "We ask a lot of military personnel in this country, and we don't give them a lot in return. That's been especially true lately. We make all these promises of benefits and services, then when those start to cost too much, they get cut and veterans wait years for what we told them we would give them in exchange for their service." He hesitated. "I didn't become a cop for the money. If I'd wanted that, I'd have gone into business like my father wanted. But I have enough to live on, more than enough. If I have to go out on disability, that money will be there for me. I never need to worry it won't be. Our veterans can't always say that. A petty officer might be making more than he ever could have in a small town with no job prospects and no college options, but when we break him and then let him go without any training or medical care, a lot of people would say as a country we should be helping them."

"You sound like you're arguing for whoever is moving the money over to the shelter," Bishop said. "Even if that's stealing?"

"We don't know that," Tony said. "Sure, I've worked for Gibbs long enough to know that sometimes the ends do justify the means. Until we know the money actually was misappropriated, we have to be careful. Maybe somebody on Capitol Hill cut a deal."

"And if we do find out the money was stolen?" Bishop said.

"I don't know," Tony said. "Let's make sure it was before we worry about that."

As he continued the drive out the Pax River, he wondered just what NCIS would do if they were right.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Gibbs didn't say anything else, but as soon as they were out of sight of the Briggses house, he pulled the car over. "Talk, McGee," he said.

"They had copies of the letters from Briggs on the piano," McGee said. "I took pictures of them, and I'm going to check them against anything I can find with his handwriting in his files."

"He wasn't coming to see them," Gibbs said. "You think he wasn't writing to them either?"

"The man Marques described to us this morning didn't sound like he was together enough to fool anybody, even just in writing," McGee said. "Whether they're from him or not, we need to know."

"Bishop?" Gibbs asked.

"She found a JAG connection to the shelter and others like it," McGee said, explaining the money trail he had found and she'd traced. "We don't know where the money is coming from, but it can't be a coincidence that they all have the JAG office connection in common."

"Rule 39," Gibbs said.

"Exactly," McGee replied. "Now, there has to be something there, and we think Briggs might have gotten too close to it and gotten killed. Marques, the shelter director, said he was starting to clean up his act. In Briggs' case, that would mean he was going to file for his benefits, but we can't find any paperwork with his name on it in the system."

"Trashed?" Gibbs asked.

"Or he realized something was wrong when he sat with the JAG volunteer to fill it out. That's the only connection we can think of," McGee said. "Maybe she got a phone call and he realized something was hinky."

"She?" Gibbs turned to face him more fully.

"Faith Coleman volunteers at that shelter, and she's the one who signs off on all the paperwork for those type of requests," McGee said. "She's in charge of that department at Pax River now."

"Not Coleman," Gibbs said.

"We didn't think so either," McGee said. "But how else would all of this happen if she wasn't in on it?" He hesitated. "The Faith Coleman we've dealt with before was in criminal law, and she was fastidious — practically OCD. Volunteering in a homeless shelter isn't something I could see her doing. Donating money, yes, or helping behind the scenes. Someplace where she could keep all her pencils sharpened. Maybe working in a domestic violence shelter for women. But not talking to men with psychiatric disorders, alcohol issues and other problems who sleep on the streets."

"What happened?" Gibbs asked.

"That's what we need to find out," McGee said. "I'll call Tony, see if he's gotten any more details on that since the last time we talked."

"Shelter," Gibbs said.

"He's got a plan for that, too," McGee said. He hesitated, but figured Gibbs was going to shoot the messenger at some point, and that meant he was screwed no matter what. "Abby has an in through her nuns. She and the director are going in tonight as volunteers. Tony can't go since Marques knows him, so he and Bishop are going to stay in the van, work tech." He held his breath, waited to hear what Gibbs was going to say, if he was going to kill him — and how.

"OK," Gibbs finally said. "Vance will keep her safe. So will DiNozzo."

But McGee noticed that Gibbs' hand was gripping the steering wheel until the knuckles turned white. He maybe wouldn't mention that when he called Tony.

"What's the JAG-money connection?" Gibbs asked. "They don't have any more than we do."

"I don't know," McGee said. "But I'll call Tony, and if he doesn't know, I'll get on it." Gibbs just nodded and turned back to face front, starting the car and pulling away from the curb. McGee dialed his partner's number.

"Yes, McTraveler?" came the reply on the other end.

"Did Bishop connect the money trail?" he asked.

"Not yet," Tony said. McGee listened as Tony explained they were heading to Pax River. "That one's on you, Tim."

"I'll let you know," McGee replied. "See if you can get video of the meeting with Coleman."

"Why?" Tony asked.

"You can't bring Ducky, and you shouldn't do this on MTAC, but I'll bet Ducky can give us some more information about Coleman," McGee said. "There has to be something we're missing here if Capt. By-The-Book has gone rogue."

"Good thinking, Tim," Tony said. "Call you later."

After the call disconnected, McGee looked up to see they were back at the store. He got out and headed inside to find Gibbs was sweeping up.

"Boss, I'm going to try and connect the dots," he said.

"Good, go." Gibbs said.

McGee sat down and hooked up his laptop, dialing in to get a secure connection. Then he starting investigating. When he looked up again, it was dark and Jack was swapping the sign on the front door to closed.

"Now, Tim, don't forget to eat," Jack said. "Dinner will be ready in about half an hour, then you can do whatever it is you do as long as you want."

"Thanks, Jack," McGee said. "I'll be up in a few minutes."

But then two dots connected and he was on a whole new trail.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Capt. Faith Coleman looked up as they walked into her office. "Agent DiNozzo, I didn't realize you had more questions," she said.

"Neither did I," Tony replied. "Agent Bishop, Capt. Coleman. Now that we're in person instead of on an MTAC screen."

"It must be important to change things from an MTAC conference to a drive over here," Coleman said. "How can I help NCIS?" She put her pen down, setting it perfectly parallel to the edge of her desk calendar. Tony wondered where the truth was and where were the lies. She certainly seemed as OCD as ever.

"We have a few questions about paperwork that's gone through this office," Tony said. "Hearing requests and paperwork for benefits."

"We're only charged with handling paperwork for active-service members," Coleman said. "I thought the case you were investigating involved a veteran."

"Yes, but this JAG office processed lots of paperwork from veterans at that shelter, and at three other shelters in the city," Tony said. "Care to explain, counsellor?"

"Explain what?" Coleman replied. She folded her hands on the desktop, her spine straight. "We don't typically handle that paperwork, but we can. Since many of the JAG members have experience with this sort of paperwork, many of us volunteer at shelter, just as I do."

"And you process the paperwork?" Tony said. "You're just a one-stop shop for these sailors."

"Just because JAG doesn't typically handle paperwork for veterans doesn't mean we can't be the intake agency," Coleman said. "I've encouraged people to send the paperwork through me, as I know people at the VA agency and can send it straight there. It's complicated and confusing and as you've no doubt heard, many of the claims can get backlogged behind the Agent Orange claims."

Tony could feel, rather than see, Bishop's surprise. "The U.S. finally decided to issue blanket eligibility to Vietnam servicemen in the past few years," he explained to her. "Anybody who served in Vietnam is assumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, so if they later develop Parkinson's or other neurological disorders associated with exposure, they don't have to prove to the VA that they were in a location where Agent Orange was used."

"You stay on top of these things, I see," Coleman said. "Yes, and the backlog from all the Vietnam-era veterans who are filing for claims has meant that the relatively straightforward claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans often get stuck behind them solely because of the large stack of paper."

"So you've been expediting them," Tony said.

"My office handles the requests for status change hearings," Coleman said, straightening up just that little bit more. "Many of the soldiers who suffer from PTSD and were discharged for substance abuse issues need to go through that hearing before they can go to the VA. We handle one, and then we send on the paperwork to my friend in the Baltimore claims office."

"Baltimore has one of the biggest backlogs in the country," Bishop said.

"Yes, and the men and women my office helps would be waiting an extra six to nine months if we didn't expedite things," Coleman said. "For many of them, that six or nine months makes the difference between getting help in time or letting the demons in their minds destroy them forever."

"So you step in to help," Tony said. "How else do you step in and help them?" He leaned forward a bit in this chair.

"I volunteer two weekends a month at the shelter," Coleman said. "I told you that this morning."

"Is that it?" Tony asked. "No grant applications or other financial aid?"

"I donate a portion of my pay to the fund St. Teresa's set up to help the shelter," Coleman said. "I don't know what else I could be doing."

"So you aren't helping the shelter apply for VA grants?" Tony asked.

"No," Coleman said. "I help with my time and with whatever clout I can offer from JAG, and I help with my money through the church. I don't know enough about the grant process to help with that, and I don't know anybody who does."

"What about the other members of your branch here at Pax River?" Bishop asked. "Do any of them help with that?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Coleman said. "I do keep an accounting of the time they spend on these cases so that I can break it out if the Admiral ever asks how I'm spending my office's time. I've been trying to make the case that JAG should automatically transition all of these status hearing cases to the VA and expedite the paperwork, but to do that, I need to show what it would take and what the benefits are. I've been tracking the data for the past six months, but with the current budget situation, I can't even think about asking."

"So you have records of every case and all the time spent by your staff for the last year?" Tony asked.

"Yes."

"All color-coded and highlighted, I imagine," he said. "We'll need a copy of that."

"Do you have a warrant?" Coleman asked.

"Do we need one?" Tony replied. "You were planning to use them as evidence in budget hearings, which means that they'll be public records soon enough anyway. And if you obstruct our investigation, well, you know how Gibbs is about that."

"It's hardly obstruction if you don't have a warrant," Coleman said. She eased back just an inch or two in her chair. "But I don't really feel like a visit from Hurricane Gibbs, so I'll send copies to you."

"Send them to Agent McGee," Tony said. "He's the one working on this angle."

"So you're just here to see if you can annoy me?" Coleman replied.

"Something like that." He stood and grinned, the biggest smile he had. "Ciao."

He looked over at Bishop as they were leaving and glared as she opened her mouth. "Later," he said once they were outside Coleman's office.

Sure enough, back at the car, Bishop spit out words from the time they entered until they were off base. Tony let her run down, then said, "Which question do you want me to start with?"

"Why are we just taking her word on this?" Bishop said.

"We're not," Tony replied. "Trust me, McGee's going to cross-reference those records six ways from Sunday to see what he can dig up. All we really needed to do with this visit was see how she reacted."

"And?" Bishop said.

"She didn't act like she was guilty, but she definitely also thinks everything she's done is completely within bounds," Tony said. "I'm no lawyer, but at least some of that is at the edges of what JAG, or her branch of JAG, does. So if she's managed to deceive herself about that..."

"You wonder if she's done the same thing about anything else," Bishop said.

"You're learning, Probie," Tony said. "Now, let's get back to the Yard before we have to let Abby loose undercover."

Tony checked his watch as they entered the main NCIS building. He had 20 minutes to brief the director before they had to meet Abby for the op. "Bishop, get the van ready. We'll meet you there," He said. "Drop the glasses off with Ducky and Jimmy — Ducky can be analyzing the footage while we're at the shelter."

"Sure," she said. "Anything else?"

"Yeah — keep Abby from bouncing off her shoes in excitement," he said, grinning. But as soon as she was in the elevator down, he dropped the smile. This was bad — really bad. He still wasn't smiling when he walked in the director's office a few minutes later.

"Report, Agent DiNozzo," Vance said.

"We've got a problem," Tony said. "A big one." He outlined what they had. "At best, we have a major scandal brewing that will bring down all sorts of Congressional hell, especially with all the debates about the sequester, the budget and the debt ceiling," he said. "That's on top of what it will do to the men and women who use these shelters if we have to shut them down. If that's not handled the right way, we could have dead veterans all over Washington and everybody in the country will be demanding answers."

"And your dead petty officer is the key to this?" Vance said.

"We don't know," Tony replied. "That's what you and Abby need to find out. If he's not, it's one hell of a coincidence, and I don't need to tell you what Gibbs thinks about those."

"No, you don't," Vance said. "Not real fond of them myself. They never seem to work out as actual coincidences."

"So what do we do?" Tony asked.

"Right now, we run this op," Vance said. "We get me and Miss Scuito in and out of there alive, unharmed and hopefully with answers to as many questions as possible." He paused. "Gibbs back tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir," Tony said. "I don't think he wants to be in Stillwater any longer than he has to — especially if it means interrogating former classmates."

"When he and McGee return, we all sit down," Vance said. "We've got to do this right or you're right about what will happen — we'll have a full-scale mess on our hands that will make us wish we were just dealing with Gibbs and a feuding ex-wife."

Tony smiled. "You've met more than just Diane, I see."

"No, but I've heard the stories," Vance said. "Now, let's get this op on the move, before anything else goes wrong."

Tony followed the director down to the evidence garage, where Bishop was waiting with the van.

"Where's Abby?" he asked.

"I don't know," Bishop said. "She wasn't here, and nobody's seen her. Jimmy said he'd gone up to the lab about an hour ago and couldn't find her."

"Abby's missing?" Tony said. He could hear Gibbs now. "Director-"

"I know," Vance said. He stepped aside and made a phone call.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 24, 2014 9:15 pm 
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Chapter 9

Vance ended his call. "Miss Scuito left the building 73 minutes ago. Security reports she was alone," he said.

"A Caf-Pow run doesn't take that long," Tony said. His gut twisted at the thought of anything happening to Abby.

"Security checked with the gates," Vance replied. "She left in her car six minutes after she left the building."

"She couldn't have talked to anybody after she left," Bishop said. "There's not enough time, if all the clocks are synchronized."

"They are," Vance said.

"So where would she go?" Tony asked. "And why isn't she here?"

"That's an excellent question, Agent DiNozzo," Vance said.

"What's an excellent question?" Abby asked as she walked into the room.

"Abbs, where have you been?" Tony said, muscles in his shoulders and back relaxing. He hadn't even realized they were tense.

"I went home to change," Abby replied. "You really think I'm going to wear a miniskirt to help in a shelter with the nuns? In this weather?"

"I don't know how you can wear a skirt at all in this weather," Bishop said. "I've been wearing thermals under my jeans all week."

"Practice," Abby said. She took off her black cape to reveal jeans, a black sweater without a single skull and red and black striped leg warmers. She'd coiled her braids up into two knobs on her head. "Leon, are you really wearing a suit?"

"No, Miss Scuito." He held up his go-bag. "If you will all give me just a minute, now that we know Miss Scuito's not missing." He headed for the bathrooms and Abby whirled and faced Tony.

"You thought I was missing?" she said. "What, like I'd just walk off the case?"

"Abby-" Tony said, but Abby kept going.

"You know I would never do that to you, no matter what I'm always here when you need me, no matter what-" She stopped when Tony put a finger to her lips.

"I know, Abbs," he said. "We thought you'd been kidnapped or something. We have this crazy case that's looking more and more like it involves the kind of people we don't normally arrest for random homicides and it wasn't too hard to think that maybe one of them had come up with some excuse to get you alone."

"I'm fine, Tony," Abby said. "Really, I just went home to change. I left a note on your desk."

Tony flushed. "I never got back to my desk before we came down here," he said.

Abby slugged him in the arm. "See, Tony, everything's fine and you overreacted."

He held up his hands. "All right, I admit, I overreacted. If you knew Gibbs was going to kill you if anything happened to his favorite, you'd overreact, too."

Before Abby could say anything else, the director returned wearing a well-worn Annapolis sweatshirt and jeans.

"I'd believe you were retired Navy," Tony said. "So, you two know your cover story, right?"

"I'm helping the nuns and my father's friend Leon is helping too. My father's a retired gunny," Abby said. "Tony, we've got this."

"Nicely planned," Vance said. "If we have to go back again, we've set it up so Gibbs can go with us."

"Let's hope we don't have to," Tony said. "Director, we'll be about five minutes behind you, and we'll set up near the shelter while you two check in with the nuns."

"Let's do this," Vance said.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee didn't look up until a bowl of beef stew landed on the table next to him.

"Eat," Gibbs said.

"Sorry, Boss," McGee said as he caught sight of the time.

"Rule 6," Gibbs said. "Find something?"

"I think so," McGee replied. "There's money I can't account for flowing through the VA program that funds these shelters, but I haven't been able to figure out where it's coming from. It's part of the general fund, but that means something else is getting shortchanged and I don't know what it is."

"Who wouldn't miss it?" Gibbs asked.

"Congress has everybody focused on cutting spending," McGee replied, "I don't-" He broke off. "Boss, that's it. If the money's going out, it has to be hidden as something people wouldn't question, which means something that might have extra, unexpected spending. That's a lot of places to check, but it's not as many as the entire federal budget."

"Don't stay up too late," Gibbs said. "Jack's a light sleeper, and you'll wake him if you come up to bed too late."

McGee nodded and set the alarm on his phone. "On it, Boss."

He turned back to his computer and kept digging, determined to find the link.

But when the alarm went off an hour later, he still hadn't.

McGee thought about going later, but that wasn't fair to Jack. He packed up his gear and headed upstairs. Gibbs was on the sofa, wearing his red Marine Corps hoodie and under a heavy blanket.

"Spare room's yours," Gibbs said.

"You sure, Boss?" McGee asked. "That's your old room."

"I sleep better on the couch," Gibbs said. "You take it."

McGee took his go-bag and headed back to the room that had clearly belonged to a young Gibbs, even if Jack had cleaned it up some over the years. But old boat models and race cars lined the top of the two small bookcases, and the blanket on the end of the bed had a Marine Corps logo on it. He quickly changed, shivering and got into bed, the air in the room too cold to be comfortable. He opened his weather app on his phone. "Negative fifteen," he said, shivering. "Whose idea was this polar vortex anyway?" Before he could lock his phone, it rang. He looked down at the caller ID and saw Delilah's photo. For a minute, he thought about not answering it, but that was the coward's way out.

"Hey, Delilah," he said as he answered the call.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Bishop pulled the collar of her coat up around her chin. "No heat, really?" she said. "It's thirteen below outside."

"We run the car, the exhaust will create fog. People see the fog, they know it isn't some randomly parked car," Tony said. "They wander over to look and the entire op is blown." He reached under the counter as they settled in at the control center. "We do have a space heater, though." He pulled two plastic packets from his jacket pocket and tossed them over. "Here."

Bishop caught them and turned it over to read the label on the front. "Glove warmers?" she asked.

"You ever stand on a football sideline in Michigan for four hours in November?" Tony said. "Coaches used to bring these in by the case for The Game."

Bishop decided she wasn't going to ask. "Thanks," she said. While she put them inside her fingerless gloves, Tony was bringing up the audio and video.

"Abbs, need to check your audio again," Tony said.

"Leon, don't you think Dad will be glad to be home again. You know he hates leaving the ones he calls 'the kids' in charge at work."

"Thanks, Abbs, love you, too," Tony said. "Director?"

"Can't say as I blame him sometimes.”

"We hear you loud and clear," Tony said. He muted the feed to them. "Am I the only one who thought they had too much fun with that."

"Nope," Bishop said. Before she could say anything else, Tony unmuted the feed. Bishop leaned in to fiddle with the dials on the video monitors. "And we have nuns," she said, raising her eyebrows at the sight of two elderly women in full habit. Wisps of white hair poked out from beneath the thingie around their heads.

"Wimple," Tony said.

"I said that out loud, didn't I?" Bishop said, fighting not to blush. She bit down on her lip to make sure she wasn't talking as she mentally kicked herself for letting her thoughts just spill out of her mouth.

The taller one, almost as tall as Vance, was Sr. Martha, the friend of Abby's nuns who had organized this. The other nun was tiny, even in all that black fabric. Bishop decided she'd be a giant next to the little nun, and she always felt dwarfed by her teammates. Well, except Ducky. She watched as the entire party arrived at the shelter.

"I'm not seeing anything that fits Abby's description of the murder weapon," she said 15 minutes later.

"Director, when you get a chance, see if you can look into the offices up front," Tony said.

Vance didn't respond, but she had footage from him inside 10 minutes, and she tuned out the audio and live feed as she focused on scanning the room recordings Vance had taken for them.

A loud crash on the audio made her jerk her head up as she listened to Tony shout, "Director, is everything OK?"

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 24, 2014 9:19 pm 
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Chapter 10

Vance followed Abby into the small stucco church a few blocks from the shelter.

"Are you Sr. Martha?" Abby asked the nun inside the door.

"You must be Abby," she said. "Sr. Jerome has told us so much about you over the years."

"This is my father's friend, Leon," Abby said. "He's retired Navy, so when he heard I had offered to help out at the shelter, he wanted to come along, too."

"I thought Sr. Jerome said your father was coming?" the nun asked.

Vance held his breath, but Abby's cover was flawless.

"Oh, Dad had to go out of town for work," Abby said. "That's the other reason Leon volunteered to help — he knew Dad felt horrible about having to cancel on me."

"You're a good friend, and a good person," the small nun said to Vance. "Now, normally we walk over to the shelter, but with the weather what it's been, we've been driving."

"I have room for two more in my car, if you'd rather save on the gas," Vance said.

"Thank you, that's most generous," Sr. Martha said. "Sr. Cecelia and I greatly appreciate it."

As Vance led the way to the car, followed by Abby and two nuns, he had a brief moment where he wished Jackie was still around — she would have loved to hear this story. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, and wondered if he'd ever get to a point where thinking of her didn't blindside him — and then decided he wasn't sure he ever did want to get to that point.

When they walked into the shelter, Marques was waiting for him. Vance didn't recognize any of the other faces from the ones he'd seen while prepping for the op, but he hadn't looked at every employee. Once introductions were done, Vance was quick to volunteer to bus tables.

"Reminds me of my days growing up and helping with the bills for my momma and daddy," he told the elderly nun.

"Such a nice young man," Sr. Martha said.

Vance nodded and took the apron Marques offered him, then started working his way around the room. He wore the glasses, since Abby said the nuns would wonder why she had them on since they weren't bowling. He hadn't wanted to ask.

"Anything unusual, director?" came the voice in his ear.

"Nothing," Vance muttered, keeping his voice low. He started out at the edges of the room, clearing places without disturbing the people still eating. There were just a couple of people who were done already, ones who had inhaled their food. Vance took the dishes back to the kitchen and set the bucket down on the counter. He headed for the entryway to the shelter, where the offices and entrance to the sleeping areas were located. He approached Marques, who was helping one man with his meal. The man leaned heavily on a battered metal cane, a dent in one side making a sharp V in the metal tube. Vance made a note to see if he could find anything that he could "retire" from the undercover wardrobe room that would be in better shape for the man.

"Do you need some help?" he asked Marques.

"We're good, but check in the front, see if anybody else could use a hand," Marques said. "Night like this, we get everybody in here, no matter how they're moving."

Vance nodded and continued on his way. But the front of the shelter was empty. Vance took advantage of the window to look in all the offices, scanning around, then moving on. "You getting this, DiNozzo?" he asked quietly.

"Bishop's analyzing the footage now," DiNozzo said. "If our weapon's in there, we'll find it."

Vance had just finished with the last office when the shelter door opened and half a dozen men came in, bundled up in mismatched clothes, their faces red. One limped heavily, another hobbled along with a wooden cane, dragging one foot a bit. A third had a faded scar slashed across his face.

"Son of a bitch, it's cold out there," the man with the scar said. "Let's hope they have something to warm us up."

"We've got beef stew tonight," Vance said. "The sisters brought it over."

"If they could stick to food and stop bringing those damn beads we'd be a sight better off," the man with the cane said as he headed for the food line.

They had to dodge men starting to come out of the mess area, so Vance headed back in before Marques started wondering what he was really doing.

He took his time cleaning the tables, careful to listen to the conversations around him.

"You hear about the guy who got himself killed?" one person said to the men around him.

"What was he doing down that way?" the man with the scar replied. "It ain't safe down by that bridge. If the cars don't get you, the punks will."

"Foolish," a third man said. "Shoulda known better. Got him killed."

More conversations, more comments wondering about Briggs' death. Nobody seemed to know the man well, but they'd all heard he was dead. He hadn't heard anything that would help solve the case, though, and he hoped Abby was having better luck.

Vance was on his third trip to the kitchen with dishes when two guys at the table in front of him got into it, arguing over something. One of the men in front of him jerked away and stumbled into Vance, sending the dirty dishes flying. Vance managed to stay on his feet, but his apron was a mess and so was the floor around him. He looked around for a mop and saw Abby, hands in the air, backing up. His hand drifted to where he'd hidden his SIG.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Abby followed Sr. Martha into the main room, then into the kitchen.

"You'll handle the vegetables, won't you dear?" the nun asked her.

"Of course," Abby said. As the men came through the line, she watched to see if anybody was acting unusual. Although as she saw the number of people with behavioral quirks, she realized that deciding what was unusual would be tough to quantify. She looked up and saw Vance in the dining hall section of the room, clearing tables after the veterans had finished. He looked every bit the busboy in his T-shirt, jeans and apron, and Abby saw him stopping to talk with the men as he went, a smile on his face. He looked much less scary when he smiled.

A clank in front of her brought her back where her attention should be. The man leaned his wooden cane against the metal table from where it had fallen, his balance shaky as he straightened up.

"I'm so sorry," Abby said. "I should have helped you with that — I just wasn't paying attention."

"I don't need help," he said, scowling. "I need carrots."

"Oh, right." Abby dished out some of the steamed carrots in the dish in front of her. "Would you like green beans, too?"

"They taste like nothing, not like real green beans," he said. The traces of a southern accent edged his voice, and Abby had to smile.

"Once you're used to Southern green beans, these just don't seem the same, do they," she said. "My mama made the best green beans in Jefferson Parish."

"Louisiana girl," he said. Then a tray crashed to the ground behind them and he jerked, the movement sending his cane to the floor again. "Damn noisy people. No respect. This isn't a barn; people shouldn't treat it like one." But he kept looking around, and his shoulders hunched in. "It's a trap."

"I've got it," Abby said, bending over to pick up the knobby wooden stick.

"No! Back off." The man crouched in on himself, his hands balled up into fists. Abby stepped back.

"It's OK," she said.

"Stay back," he said.

She stepped back, her hands held up in front of her so he could see them. "I will," she said, trying to keep the shakiness from her voice.

"Is everything all right?" Sr. Cecelia asked. The tiny nun joined them and Abby didn't know how to answer her. "Kenneth, would you like more beef stew?" she asked.

"Get her away," he said, pointing at Abby.

"Now, Kenneth, I'm sure Abby's just trying to help you," Sr. Cecelia said. The tiny nun held out a bowl of stew. "Go eat it while it's hot," she said.
Abby held her breath, but the man took the bowl from her and put it on his tray on the table. She let him bend over to pick up his cane without trying to help this time. He straightened up as she put a few more carrots on the tray.

"Here you go," she said, making sure to have a big smile on her face. "That's a nice walking stick."

"Found it outside a brownstone in Georgetown when I was up there once," he said. "Somebody was just throwing it away. Neighbor said the old man who'd lived there had croaked, guess it was his." He moved on, one hand gripped over the knobby top of the cane, looking back over his shoulder a few times. "Don't you go stealing it now."

Abby moved back behind the table and returned to serving the men as she tried to see what was going on near the director. He had something smeared all over his white apron, and she could see Marques over there with a mop. The director caught her eye, and she smiled at him. Maybe she could keep him from telling Gibbs about that little incident. After all, she was never really in danger.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tony cranked up the heat as he started the ignition, drove two blocks and waited in the van for Vance and Abby to drop the nuns off and rejoin them. The side door slid open less than five minutes later, sending a rush of cold air into the van that was just starting to warm up.

"Everybody OK?" he asked.

"Messy, but unhurt," Vance said. "Did you find anything?"

Bishop shook her head. "I can go over the footage again back at the office, but I didn't see anything that looked like the murder weapon Abby described."

"Did anybody act suspiciously?" Tony asked.

Vance tapped a finger on the console. "Pull up the video feed from when I was helping the men inside the lobby," he said.

Bishop reached over and found the right spot, then hit play. They listened.

"He didn't like the rosaries," Tony said after the one man spoke.

"But listen to him walk," Bishop said. "With his foot dragging, you can hear him coming even on this feed."

"Briggs couldn't," Tony said.

Abby nodded, her normally pale cheeks pick with cold. "The city outside is noisy at night, even in winter. The sounds would have all blended into a buzz or a hum for the petty officer, especially if he didn't have a visual to go along with them. One of my cousins, if he doesn't see anything to cue off of, his hearing's almost as bad as some of the people in my family who are completely deaf."

Bishop found a clear, full-body shot of him and started running facial recognition.

"Wait, that's it," Abby said.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 8:54 pm 
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Chapter 11

Tony turned to face the forensic scientist. "What's it, Abby?" he asked.

"His cane," Abby said. "I saw it up close a few minutes later, when he was getting food. It's wooden, looked like it might have been a branch that was polished into a cane. I've seen those before. He said he got it from a house in Georgetown a while back — somebody had died and it was in the trash."

"You're saying that's our murder weapon, Ms. Scuito?" Vance said.

Abby nodded had enough to loosen one of the braids coiled up on her head. "I said all along it looked more like a branch, but there wasn't any bark or bits of wood in the wound, so we ruled that out."

"But the cane would have been polished and sealed, so unless he hit him hard enough to splinter it, the cane wouldn't have left anything behind," Tony said, putting the pieces together. "Abbs, do you think we could still pull evidence off the cane?"

"He can't have done much to clean it up," Abby said. "Once he left the shelter this morning, they wouldn't have let him back in until tonight, and there can't be many places on the streets to clean it up, especially as cold as it's been."

"DiNozzo, with me," Vance said. "Bishop, you and Ms. Scuito take the van, go back to the Navy Yard, get that footage cleaned up. We'll be back with him and the murder weapon shortly." The director pulled out his badge and motioned for Tony to follow him.

"You heard the man," Tony said to Bishop as he closed the van door. He and the director headed back to the shelter, where Marques was just getting ready to lock the doors.

"Just a minute," Tony said, holding up his badge.

"Agent- I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name," Marques said. "How can I help you and-" He stopped as he caught sight of Vance.

"One of your residents killed Briggs," Tony said. He described him.

"Kenneth," Marques said. "I can't believe that. He's very quiet, doesn't cause trouble."

"If you'd like to keep this quiet, get him out here without the others suspecting," Tony said. "We take him in, you come by the Navy Yard tomorrow so we can confirm few things and this all gets taken care of quietly. Or we can barge in there to arrest him, get the men all agitated and let you deal with the fallout — and the publicity."

"I'll go get him," Marques said, and hurried out of the room.

"Nicely done," Vance said. "I couldn't have put it better myself."

"Gibbs isn't the only one I've learned a few tricks from over the years," Tony said. "He doesn't want publicity — that's for sure. The only question-"

"Is if it's because he doesn't want the neighbors shutting him down or he doesn't want to risk people digging deeper and finding out things they shouldn't," Vance said. He turned to look at Tony. "Has the team found any evidence linking Marques to the money source?"

"We still don't have the money source, not unless McGee found something while we've been out here," Tony said.

"Find out," Vance said as Marques and Kenneth returned. The shelter director steered the veteran over to the two agents, and Tony shifted to the side to be in position.

"What's all this?" Kenneth said.

"NCIS. You're under arrest for the murder of John Briggs," Tony said, flashing his badge. Vance had the handcuffs on Kenneth as the man stared at Tony.

"We'll take it from here," Tony said to Marques. "Now, Kenneth, here are your rights." He started reciting them as they manhandled the unresponsive man out the door.

"Wait, what?" Kenneth tried to dig in his heels, but Vance frogmarched him along and into the car.

"His balance is shot," the director whispered to Tony once Kenneth was stowed in the back seat. "Bet that's why he uses the cane, instead of to carry his weight."

"Even with the dragging foot?" Tony said.

"We can get Dr. Mallard's opinion, but he seems to drag it along OK without the support," Vance said. "But he kept swaying as we walked, and I don't think he's drunk."

"I'll have Ducky evaluate him once we get him into holding," Tony said. "Interrogation can wait until after Abby runs the tests on the cane."

"I've got it right here," Vance said, holding it in his gloved hand. "Evidence bags in the trunk."

"Of course," Tony said. "You driving, or would you like me to?"

"As long as you don't drive like Gibbs, you can," Vance said. "I'd like to talk to our killer a bit more on the ride back."

Tony just headed for the front seat. At least Gibbs would be back tomorrow. Tony would rather partner with Bishop than the director.

He only hoped Abby's tests proved Kenneth was the killer so they could figure how he and Briggs connected with the hinky shelter funding. "I've been hanging around with Abby for too long," he muttered to himself when he realized his word choice.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee lay in the twin bed that had belonged to Gibbs as a boy and reminded himself that this might be weird, but it was weird he was used to. Well, mostly. He kept his voice down as he replied to his girlfriend. At least, he thought she was still his girlfriend.

"First, you complain that I'm smothering you, now you're frustrated that I'm out of town," McGee said. "We had a case."

"I'm not frustrated, Tim," Delilah said. "I just didn't realize you were gone and wanted to have breakfast with you before work tomorrow."

"I'm having breakfast with Gibbs and his father tomorrow, assuming Gibbs has anything more than coffee," McGee said. "If we solve the case, I can meet you for lunch, but I don't know if we'll solve it by then. I haven't heard from Tony yet." At that, his phone beeped. McGee pulled it away from his ear to check it. "Delilah, this is Tony now. I'll call you back."

"Don't bother," she said. "Call me tomorrow, hopefully after you've solved the case."

McGee sighed as he switched lines.

"What's wrong, Tiny Tim?" Tony asked.

"Don't start," McGee said. "Did you get anything tonight?"

"Our killer," Tony said. "At least we think so. I just dropped off the potential murder weapon to Abby for her tests, but my gut says this guy did it."

"Because of the money?" McGee said.

"No, this doesn't seem to have anything to do with the money," Tony replied. "Did you find anything more?"

"Some; not everything," McGee said. "Tony, whoever's doing this isn't at the shelter. The money's being redirected from the DOD budget to the VA budget, and it's being sent specifically to this program."

"Who has that kind of access?" Tony said.

"If it's legitimate?" McGee replied. "OMB is the most likely source. But that doesn't make any sense. Cabinet members and their staff, maybe, but they're policy people, not the bottom-line administrators. They probably have the authority, but not the computer access to actually move it. And there's no paperwork anywhere in the government servers authorizing this higher level of funding. Believe me, I checked."

"So we're talking embezzlement of some sort?" Tony asked.

"I guess?" McGee replied. "This doesn't really seem like stealing, though."

"It is if the money is supposed to go to something else," Tony replied. "Where at DOD is the money coming from?"

"That's the one thing I don't know yet," McGee replied. "I managed to ping the source as DOD, but not find the budget line that's down by that amount of money. My laptop and Jack's high-speed connection don't have the a tenth of the capacity of the computers and dedicated lines at the office. It's been slow going."

"Does this have to be someone who's authorized to move money?" Tony asked. "Could somebody have hacked it from within the agency? You could do it if you wanted to, right?"

"Yeah, but why would I?" McGee asked. "The government employes lots of hackers, but we're mostly either DOD or Homeland Security, and neither one is likely to move money away from DOD, even if it is to the VA."

"Sounds like we have more questions than answers, still," Tony said. "Gibbs is not going to like this."

"No, but if we have the murderer, he'll like that," McGee said. "We should be back tomorrow morning sometime — if this wasn't connected to Briggs and his family, then it doesn't matter how hinky things are here."

"Save the hinky stuff for when we compare notes tomorrow, Tim," Tony said. "I have a bad feeling that this case isn't anywhere close to being done."

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 9:09 pm 
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Chapter 12

McGee sat at the kitchen table, where Jack was just setting down a plate of eggs.

"Eat up, Tim," Jack said. "I know my boy, and he'll have you running around all day. You at least should have a good breakfast to start things out."

"Thanks," McGee said, and took the cup of coffee Jack handed to him. "We really appreciate you letting us stay here," he said.

"It's no trouble at all," Jack said. "I don't get down to DC to see you kids enough. How are things going with you? You know Leroy, he doesn't talk much."

McGee laughed at the understatement. "We're all doing fine," he said.

"You sure about that?" Jack asked. "I couldn't help but hear you on the phone last night."

McGee started to reply, but Jack held up his hand.

"Now, not what you were saying, and don't worry about disturbing me," Jack said. "I'm an old man, don't sleep as well as I used to. But is you need someone to listen, well, I know that's not my boy's style."

McGee sighed. "Did he tell you about what happened to my girlfriend this fall?" he asked.

"That terrorist fellow?" Jack said. "He did, and I've been thinking about her since then. Everything all right with her?"

"With her? I think so," McGee said. "With us, not so much." He thought about what to tell Jack. "She's determined to not let this stop her, and I'm really glad for that. She refuses to let anybody treat her like a victim."

"And sometimes you do?" Jack said.

"Sometimes," McGee admitted. "She's good about calling me on it, and so is Tony. I don't think I'm the problem, though." He thought about the past few weeks. "She's frustrated at work, and I think she's looking for a new job, but she's hiding that from me. She's changed, and I know that's normal because she's been through a lot — you can't go through all that and not change. But ..." he trailed off.

"But you haven't changed," Jack said. "Or not as much as she has."

"Maybe it says something about me that I haven't changed," McGee said.

"Or maybe you both just need to recognize that life changes us, and it doesn't change us all the same way," Jack said. "When the girls died, it affected me, but not the same way as it did Leroy, and for a long time we were too far apart to have anything to do with each other." He shook his head. "Some of it was my doing, some of it was his, but neither of us were to blame. We just couldn't relate the way we had, and we couldn't figure out how to relate the way things were after that."

"And by the time we came to Stillwater for that one case, enough had happened since then that you started to get back to where you had been before," McGee said.

"No," Jack said. "We got to a place where we could talk again, but it wasn't the same place. You can't go back, Tim. You just have to go forward, and figure that if you go forward as best you can, you'll get where you need to go."

"And if Delilah needs to go someplace different?" McGee asked.

"You need to be willing to let her go," Jack said. "I know you, and you're not going to want to because you feel like that's letting her down. But you said it yourself, she doesn't want to be treated like a victim. If you're staying with her when it's not working just because of that, what is that saying to her?"

"That I don't think she can handle me leaving," McGee said. He thought back to his instinctive question about if she needed help when he was going out of town. "So by staying when I wouldn't otherwise, I'm just making things worse." He sighed. "It just seems wrong, though."

"Sounds like you and Delilah need to talk, really talk," Jack said.

"I guess we do," McGee said. He wondered if it was bad that he was hoping this case lasted another day or two so he wouldn't have to do it just yet.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Gibbs woke up and blinked his eyes at the unfamiliar ceiling. The noise from the kitchen reminded him: Stillwater. His father's living room. The case. He started to sit up and stifled a groan at his aching muscles. Right, the annual qualifying exam. He settled back and tested his muscles, starting with his shoulders, but everything seemed to- The spear of pain would have had him cursing if his father hadn't been in the next room and McGee down the hall.

Gibbs slowly sat up, then reached down. His bad knee was swollen, nothing some time and ice wouldn't handle. Not that he had either right now. The last thing he needed was for either his father or McGee to realize how badly he was hurting. Jack would smother him and Gibbs didn't want to put McGee in a bad position with Vance. Sure, Gibbs had passed his test. But if Vance realized how badly he was hurting today after passing it, he'd have no choice but to yank his field status and Gibbs wasn't ready for that yet. Wasn't sure he'd be ready for it ever.

"Leroy, breakfast is almost ready," came Jack's voice from the kitchen.

"Just need coffee, Dad," Gibbs said. He gritted his teeth and forced himself up. He could check out the damage in the shower.

McGee was just exiting, rubbing his damp hair with a towel, when Gibbs approached.

"All yours, Boss," McGee said.

Gibbs just lifted his chin a bit. In the bathroom, he leaned heavily on the edge of the sink for a minute. At least his knee brace was in his go bag. He hated wearing it, hated admitting he wasn't 18 anymore, but didn't seem like there was much choice today. He stripped and propped his foot up on the edge of the tub to see. The knee was swollen, but not bruised. Gibbs could tell it was puffy because it was his damn knee, but it wasn't bad. Not as bad as the last time he'd landed on it, hard, during a case. He put all his weight on his good leg and tried to bend the sore knee. He hissed as pain radiated out. He couldn't even get Ducky to look at it, not without risking his field status.

Gibbs realized McGee would wonder if he didn't hurry, so he stepped into the shower and cleaned up, careful to keep a hand on the wall. His knee couldn't recover if he slipped and he'd be damned if he was going to go crashing to the floor of his father's bathroom bare-ass naked.
By the time he was dressed — yes, with the damn brace — and joined the others in the kitchen, they were almost done.

"Kept a plate warm for you, son," Jack said.

"Coffee's fine, Dad." Gibbs took a mug from the cabinet over the toaster. He poured a cup, leaving more room at the top that usual, just in case.

"Breakfast is important, Leroy," Jack said. "Tim, you make sure he eats. I need to go down and open the store."

As he headed downstairs, Gibbs made his way to the table, the coffee sloshing a bit with his uneven gait.

"Everything OK, Boss?" McGee asked.

"Fine," Gibbs said. He managed not to grunt as he sat, but it was close. "You find anything last night?"

"Abby and Vance found our killer, or at least Tony thinks they did," McGee said. "He was waiting on tests of the weapon, but he planned to interrogate him first thing today. He'll probably be done by the time we get back."

Gibbs looked at McGee.

"Sounds like it was just one man irritated by another man," McGee said, relating the details. "But we're pretty sure we're on to something with this missing money."

"Rule 39," Gibbs said.

"I know," McGee said. "Trust me, we've talked about that. We can't find a connection, though."

"McGee."

Still working on it," he said. He hesitated. "Boss, the grandparents were lying yesterday."

"About seeing Briggs," he said.

McGee nodded. "Last night, I pulled some of Briggs' files from his time in the Navy. The handwriting on the letters doesn't match."

"Who?" Gibbs asked. "And why?"

"Could be somebody trying to scam the grandparents," McGee said. "Make them proud of their grandson the sailor, then have a sob story about how he needs money."

"They don't have much," Gibbs said. "Old Man Briggs worked in the mine. Only person who ever got rich off the mine was Winslow."

"They have clout," McGee said. "Look how quickly they got the Congressman down to NCIS."

"Winslow owns Schenck," Gibbs said. "You want to get to Schenck, you go through Winslow."

"Maybe they didn't have any leverage over Winslow."

Gibbs snorted.

"Except for the multiple children he fathered, including Briggs" McGee said. "Right, Boss. Winslow has his weak spots."

"Let's go," Gibbs said. "Too many questions we need answered."

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Bishop was sitting on her desk that morning when Abby bounced in.

"Did you get a match?" she asked the scientist.

"Every last bump," Abby said. "The center of the wound was hit several times, so each subsequent blow altered the impressions from the ones before it, but around the edges, there were lots of places that had only gotten one hit, and I managed to match the cane handle in at least three spots."

"And as odd-shaped as it is, any defense attorney's going to have a tough time demonstrating that something else could have delivered the same blow," Bishop said. "Tony's down in interrogation. Want me to let him know?"

"No, I can do it," Abby said. "You must have something else you're working on."

"Not really," Bishop said, sighing hard enough to make her bangs flutter. "McGee's been working on the money angle on the road, and I'm afraid anything I do would just be redoing his work."

"Oh, that's easy," Abby said. "McGee always backs his work up to his computer, and I've got the password."

"You have his password?" Bishop asked.

"Well, he has mine, too," Abby said.

Bishop lowered her voice. "That's a huge breach of security protocol," she said.

"Pretty much everything we do on a computer is a huge breach of protocol," Abby said. She grinned. "Usually Gibbs and Vance will give us a get-out-of-jail free card if anybody catches us, even though that almost never happens. But every so often, they can't. So we're each others' alibi. If they're after Timmy, I can throw them off the trail by logging in as him from someplace when he's somewhere else and people can see him. Or he can tell them it must have been me, not him."

"Abby, that's not any better," Bishop said. "You both could get fired and all of NCIS could get sanctioned."

"All we need to do is slow things down," Abby said. "Usually if we're hacking, it's because somebody's trying to hide something from us. Once we solve the case, the agency usually decides that going after us would cause them more problems than it would us."

"That's a dangerous game," Bishop said. She tried to imagine how well that would go over at the NSA and shuddered. "One of these days, you won't pull it off."

"Oh, that's happened, too," Abby said. "McGee resigned over it — so did Tony and Ziva. And everything's fixed now."

"Ziva's not here," Bishop said, and then bit the corner of her lip.

"No, she's not," Abby said. "But that was her choice." She motioned for Bishop to join her at McGee's computer. "What I started to say was that you can see everything he's done." She clicked through to a folder. "Looks like he backed everything up this morning, and they probably left Stillwater by seven."

Bishop looked at the clocks on the wall. "So they should be here soon, unless they hit traffic."

Abby laughed. "The way Gibbs drives, it won't matter if they hit traffic." She opened a file. "Looks like he's got some letters in here from Briggs to his grandparents, and some papers from Briggs in the Navy. Handwriting doesn't match, which means somebody was pretending to be Briggs."

"Any letters to the mother?" Bishop asked.

"None that I see," Abby said.

"If somebody was sending letters to the grandparents, maybe they were sending them to his mother as well." Bishop texted McGee. "It could be a scam."

"But that doesn't have anything to do with his murder," Abby said. "I pulled Kenneth Horton's service record, and the former Marine doesn't have any prior connection to Briggs. He was younger, their tours never overlapped and Horton's only been on the streets for a few weeks, as far as I can tell."

"That's it?" Bishop said, remembering the smell from interrogation this morning.

"He got out of Walter Reed-Bethesda a month ago after rehab," Abby said. "He couldn't get housing vouchers because they're backed up heading into the sequester and he had trouble finding a job between the economy and his leg."

Bishop nodded. "Right, any job that requires him to be on his feet is out."

"And he only had a high school diploma, barely scraped by to get that and never took additional classes in the Corps," Abby said. "He qualified near the bottom of the acceptable range of ASVAB scores, and if the Marines hadn't been shorthanded, he probably wouldn't have qualified at all."

"So a desk job wasn't something he could do, either," Bishop said. "Let me guess — he was infantry, and the skills he learned there didn't translate once he got back."

"So he landed on the streets and ended up at the shelter," Abby said. "He probably wouldn't have shown up there yet — a lot of veterans don't like to use them, especially at first. They feel like they failed, or they don't want to be around all those people — especially if they're having PTSD and flashbacks. But it's too cold to live on the streets and survive."

"So he went, and he was surrounded by people, including one sailor, Briggs, who stayed up all night reciting the rosary." Bishop looked up at the big screen where they had posted Horton's file. "He wasn't Catholic," she said.

"No, but he is Southern and Christian," Abby said. "Looks like evangelical from the name of the church. A lot of those churches, especially in the South, don't think Catholics are Christians."

"I can think of some churches where I grew up like that," Bishop said. She thought about it and frowned. "But you're Catholic, and you're from the South."

"I'm from Louisana," Abby said. "We're different."

Bishop couldn't argue with that one. "So you think, what, Horton thought Briggs was possessed or something?" She heard the ding of the elevator.

"That's what Tony's hopefully finding out now," Abby said. "Before Gibbs gets back and asks-"

"What ya got?" Gibbs said as he walked into the bullpen.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tony reached for the handle on the interrogation room door just as his phone rang. He checked the caller ID.

"Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo," he said.

"Agent DiNozzo, this is Kelvin Marques. I'm sorry, but I've run into a bit of an issue — can I come by later this morning?"

"What kind of issue?" Tony asked, spidey senses tingling.

"Plumbing issues at the shelter, and I was able to find one of our volunteers who is a plumber and can come, but it has to be right now," Marques said. "I should be able to come by about 10 o'clock, though."

"That's fine," Tony replied. "Thanks for letting me know." But as he disconnected, he made a note to have McGee check into whether Marques was telling the truth or not — just in case. He opened the door and walked in as he tucked his phone back in his pocket.

Tony sat at the table in interrogation, just watching former Lance Corporal Kenneth Horton. The veteran sat there, twitching his elbow as he sat, hands folded. The man's knuckles were white, and Tony figured his elbow was bouncing around because Horton wouldn't let his hands move.

"You said last night that you didn't like it when Petty Officer John Briggs would say the rosary," Tony said.

Horton shook his head. "I don't know who you're talking about."

Tony pulled the photos from the folder and set the one from Briggs' service record down. "Petty Officer John Briggs."

"Never met him," Horton said.

"No?" Tony lay the other photo down. "How about now?"

"That nut?" Horton said. "He wouldn't shut up."

"He said the rosary over and over, all night long," Tony said. "And when the shelter doors opened, he left. And you followed him."

"It's hard enough to sleep, and he just kept talking and talking and talking." Horton squeezed his hands, then relaxed them, over and over. "He wouldn't stop and it was like somebody had a hold of him and just kept going and going, taking the Lord's name and misusing it, giving him reason to smite us. They did that too, praying over and over, all the time. Out on patrol and they'd be there, praying before they tried to kill us again."

Tony wondered what Gibbs would make of this.

"So when they unlocked the doors in the morning, he left," Tony prompted.

"It had to stop," Horton said. "They didn't make him, so somebody had to."

"You left the shelter?" Tony asked.

"They wouldn't do anything," Horton said. He looked around the room. "Are they here? Listening?"

"Nobody's here but me," Tony said.

"I followed him. Somebody had to stop him and nobody else was. It's dangerous out there when people don't keep quiet. They can hear you, and they know you're there."

"Who can?" Tony asked.

"The Taliban," Horton said. "They're everywhere."

Tony let Horton talk until he had a confession, coaxing him when he faltered.

When he stepped out into the hallway, the director was standing there. "Good work, DiNozzo," he said. "You've got the murderer. Now what about the money?"

Tony pointed to the ceiling. "Gibbs and McGee should be here by now. Let's go see what they know."

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 9:33 pm 
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Chapter 13

"Gibbs, McGee, my office," Vance called from the catwalk. "Bishop and Scuito, you too."

McGee wasn't surprised to see Tony in the director's office, but Ducky was unexpected.

"Now that you're all back, what do we know?" Vance asked.

"We know that Briggs was killed by another shelter resident, Kenneth Horton, because Briggs' incessant rosary praying drove Horton crazy. Well, crazier," Tony said. "Horton followed Briggs, killed him by bludgeoning him with his cane, threw the rosary in the Anacostia River and left Briggs to die. Briggs didn't hear Horton coming because he had hearing damage from his injuries."

"We know that the shelter is getting much more money than we should expect from government funding, primarily the VA," McGee added. "We can find three other shelters in the same position, all with Navy or Marine Corps connections."

"The four shelters are linked to the Pax River JAG office, specifically the section of the office that Capt. Faith Coleman oversees," Bishop said. "Coleman has a good explanation for why her staff has connections to those shelters, but nothing explains the money."

"Capt. Coleman herself is a fascinating study in how circumstances can change one," Ducky said. "She is still the same JAG lawyer we have dealt with in the past, but I rather suspect she is not that same woman. Life has changed her, and I do not think we yet can ascertain just how much."

"But we still don't know how the shelters, the JAG office, the VA funds and their source in the Department of Defense are connected," McGee said. "We also know that Petty Officer Briggs was not on good terms with some or all of his family, and that those family members — his grandparents — got their Congressman involved in our case. But we have no links between Briggs and the missing money, or any sense that his family issues contributed to either his murder or the missing money."

"We also don't know for sure that there is missing money," Tony said. "We can't explain it, but we can't prove that anybody's broken the law, either."

"So we don't know a lot of things," Vance said. He looked each of them in the eye. "This agency might have solved a murder, but you also seem to have stumbled on something much more interesting. Something we need to make look like part of the murder investigation. This has major implications on a number of fronts, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you. We need to handle the investigation discreetly before we end up all over the front pages of the Washington Post and SecNav becomes the target of dozens of Congressional hearings."

"We can hold Horton another 36 hours before we have to charge him," Tony said. "Until he's charged, we can still pretend we're working the case."

"What about Marques?" Bishop said. "Didn't he see you arrest Horton last night?"

"He won't be here-" Tony checked his watch. "He won't be here for another hour. I can make sure he thinks we're still stuck."

"Do it," Vance said. "I'll do the same with SecNav and Congressman Schenck — and anybody else who calls asking."

"We done, Leon?" Gibbs asked.

"We are," Vance replied. "I want to be kept in the loop on anything that I need to know before it comes back and bites me. The rest of it, I don't need to know and I don't want to know."

Gibbs jerked his head in a brief nod and turned to leave. McGee followed him, Tony and Bishop on his heels.

As they walked down the stairs, McGee whispered to Tony, "Any idea how we're supposed to keep Vance in the loop and still give him plausible deniability?"

"Yeah — learn to speak Gibbs," Tony said. "He says more with fewer words than anybody I know."

McGee headed for his desk, convinced that today was going to end in disaster.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Gibbs managed not to sigh with relief when he sat down, but it was close. He looked at the team. "McGee-"

"Keep tracing the money, figure out where it came from and if it's legitimate or not," McGee said. "On it, Boss." His fingers started flying across the keyboard.

"DiNozzo-"

"Talk to Ducky, find out what he's learned about Capt. Coleman and then follow that trail, see if I can connect it back to the money trail McTracker's following," DiNozzo said. "I'll be in Autopsy." He headed for the elevator.

"Bishop, shelter funding and shelters in the city," Gibbs said.

"Because unless we know what normal is, we can't show that there's something off about these?" she said. "I can do that."

Gibbs gave a nod, then looked at his own computer. He would rather talk to Ducky, or see Abby, make sure she was all right after last night, but he didn't want to risk either of them noticing his knee. The brace helped; it didn't feel like it would collapse under him. But the joint throbbed, and he couldn't take anything with McGee and Bishop there.

He could dig around a bit, though, even if he wasn't as fast as McGee. Gibbs pulled up Briggs' service record and found his last CO, then called to Little Creek.

"Gunny, what are you calling me for?" came the familiar voice on the end of the phone.

"One of your former sailors got involved in a case," Gibbs said, identifying Briggs. "You know anything about his family?"

"A mother's the only family I ever heard about," the commander said. "Always got the impression they were close, like they were it."

"Girlfriend? Boyfriend?" Gibbs asked.

"Briggs was married to the Navy, you know how that is," Commander Yallon said. "Toward the end, I almost wished he did have somebody. He needed something to ground him, keep him on the right path. The Navy did for a long time, but after that bombing, he was never the same."

"You got shipped back after the bombing, too?" Gibbs said.

"My tour ended two weeks earlier," Yallon said. "They were shuffling command around, you know how it goes. I picked up a berth at Little Creek and the they brought in a new XO on the carrier. After the men and women injured in the attack were shipped stateside, I tried to keep an eye on them."

"Briggs fell through the cracks," Gibbs said.

"Shouldn't have happened, Gunny," Yallon said. "That's on me."

"His mother know?" Gibbs asked.

There was silence on the end of the line. "You know, I don't think she did," Yallon said. "A few weeks after Briggs left, he got mail on base. Same last name, town in Pennsylvania. We didn't have a forwarding address for him, so we couldn't send it on. I told the clerks to send it back, but it's possible they didn't."

Gibbs nodded and made a note. "Thanks, Commander," he said.

"I feel terrible about what happened," Yallon said. "If there's anything I can do, Gunny, you tell me."

"Yes, sir," Gibbs said. "The case is wrapped up, though. This was just tying up a loose end."

He got into his email and found the photo McGee had sent of the letters lying on the piano at the Briggs' house. It took him almost half an hour to figure out how to make them bigger without asking McGee or Bishop for help, but finally he got them big enough to make out the handwriting. Gibbs stared at it, then closed his eyes and thought back to junior year chemistry. Sabrina was his lab partner, and she took notes during the experiments because her handwriting was neater. He tried to picture those notes sitting on the cafeteria table as they spent study hall preparing their report for class. They had done that every Thursday morning for the entire year.

He opened his eyes and looked at the screen again. A nod. It had been a while, decades. But the handwriting in those letters looked enough like what he remembered from back then for him to suspect what had happened. He picked up his cell phone and dialed a number from memory.

"Boss?" came the answer from the other end of the line.

"You're still in Philly, right Burley?" Gibbs asked.

"Going on a year now," he said. "You have a case up this way?"

"Not exactly," Gibbs said. He outlined the basics. "Mother's up in Scranton. I know it's a haul for you, but I want to tie off this loose end."

"You want me to drive up there and talk to her, confirm that she was sending the letters to her parents, pretending to be her son, and find out why," Burley said.

"Good as ever, Stan," Gibbs said.

"On it, Boss," Burley said. "I can leave the kids in charge here for the day. I'll call when I have something."

"Thanks," Gibbs said. He disconnected. The murder might be solved, but Gibbs wanted to make sure there wasn't something they had missed.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"Anthony, as you requested, I reviewed the tape of Capt. Coleman. Fascinating to see the changes, though hardly unheard of. They are, in fact, very similar to what you would see in someone who has undergone a traumatic event," Ducky said.

"How so?" Tony asked.

"Well, as you noted, she's behaving in ways she didn't for many many years," Ducky said. "The precision and neatness that have always characterized her before still are there, but they are tempered a bit by a greater empathy."

"She didn't help Corporal Yates, even though she wanted to," Tony recalled. "She said she couldn't bend the rules like that. It was the same thing with the guy who was suspected in that killing back in his hometown."

"Quite correct," Ducky said. "She valued rules and order above all else, which can be a good attribute for a JAG lawyer. Based on what I've read of her family history, it's hardly unprecedented, either. Between her Navy father and the way they all had to work for their future because of the family's income, it's not at all unexpected that it would manifest itself as a care for appearances and following the rules. Those traits are no doubt how she succeeded where others with more advantages did not. She went from being one of the poorest children in her high school class to holding a position of great authority where she commands respect."

"But then there was her brother," Tony said.

"Indeed. And this is where the trauma comes it. Imagine you are somebody who has followed the rules and been rewarded at every turn. She did what she needed to do, and she succeeded. So did her brother, but he did not. The very rules that had served her so well in the Navy now served to hurt her brother and make it impossible for him to succeed as she had."

"And yet she stayed in the Navy," Tony said. "I might have given up and left. In fact, I almost did after what Jenny did to me with the Frog op."

"Yes, and it took great fortitude for you to stay Anthony, something we all appreciate. But you are quite a different personality than Capt. Coleman. Your experience has taught you that there are rules you can break and those you can't, and the difference in life lies in knowing which are which. You also have worked for Gibbs long enough to know that sometimes breaking the rules leads to better outcomes, or at least more-just outcomes, than following them."

"That's why Gibbs and Coleman never got along," Tony said. "She hated that about him."

"As well she should," Ducky replied. "Oh, not that she was right to hate him, but Jethro's single-minded focus on the outcome does occasionally leave the rest of us in rather a sticky wicket. Sometimes I do wish he was somewhat more inclined to caution." He paused. "He's not standing behind me, is he?"

"No, he's at his desk," Tony said. "That's why he sent me down here. I wouldn't be surprised if Vance has something else for him to do."

"Then, as I was saying, you can see the difference between the two extremes of personality. I rather suspect that Capt. Coleman has started to recognize that following the rules will not always produce the ideal outcome, but she also has little experience in bending the rules, even after her associations with Gibbs. That can be dangerous."

"How so?" Tony asked.

"You and Jethro both understand that there are lines you can cross and ones you can't, though sometimes you differ on where they are. Likewise, when Timothy is breaking the rules with his hacking, he knows what he's doing and how far he can go without getting into trouble, or at least trouble that the director can't get him out of. That sense is one that can either be instinctual or honed through practice. Capt. Coleman has neither option available to her."

"So she could have gone too far without realizing it, and rationalized it away as ends justifying the means without really being able to do that when you look at the facts," Tony said.

"She could have," Ducky said. "Unfortunately, since that relies on her delusions, it is most difficult for me to tell if she actually has crossed the that line. The most I can say is that she's capable of it. However, should you find that lines have been crossed and the captain is involved, I am certain you can trace it back to that sense of righteousness."

Tony slid off the steel table. "Thanks, Ducky," he said. "I think we need to take a closer look at that connection of hers at the VA and see if he or she has any connection to the program that's funding those shelters. That would be an easy way for the money to get targeted." He headed out of autopsy and Ducky watched him go.

"I do hope I'm wrong about this," he said to the empty room. "I would not want Jethro and Anthony to have to arrest the captain."

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2014 8:26 pm 
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AN: The report Bishop mentions is a real report, as are the numbers she cites. :(

Chapter 14

McGee remembered to text Delilah that he wasn't going to be free for lunch — or dinner, at this rate — then went back to following the money trail. As he pulled documents from hearings and reports from departments to cross-check, he wondered why it had to be so much harder to figure out if there was money rerouted within the federal government than to trace a terrorist organization's money around the globe. "We don't even use Swiss banks," he muttered.

"Did you find something?" Bishop asked.

McGee snorted. "Just a headache," he said. "Whoever said computers would lead to a paperless society never counted on bureaucracy using it to generate 10 times the number of pages, all in electronic form."

"Thanks to all those pages, I think I found something," Bishop said.

McGee looked up to see her sitting on her desk, laptop balanced on her knees. "Something to help us solve the case?" he asked.

"Maybe?" Bishop frowned. "HUD, the office of Housing and Urban Development-"

"I know what HUD is," McGee interrupted.

"Did you know they do an annual homeless count?" she asked. "Every January, all over the country. That means in November, after they've processed and analyzed all the data, they release a report."

"And how does this help us find the missing money?" McGee asked.

"Well, I don't know that it does," Bishop said. "But I now know that a year ago, there were 499 homeless veterans in the city, and all but 64 of them had some sort of shelter, either through a place like Fair Winds or through transitional housing. That's 12.6 percent, which is slightly lower than the rate for all non-child homeless in the city."

"So veterans are doing a little better than average, but still not great," McGee said.

"How many people did you say were at the shelter?" Bishop asked.

"They have room for about 200, I think the brochures said," McGee said.

"And how many are veterans?" Bishop asked.

"I don't know," McGee replied. "Marques said many of their residents were veterans, but we didn't pin him down. Why?"

"You got the files from Capt. Coleman, right?" Bishop asked. "The ones Tony asked her to turn over about all the cases her office worked on."

McGee opened a folder on the server. "They're right here," he said. "Right down to a spreadsheet documenting time spent on each case."

Bishop set the laptop down as she bounced to her feet, somehow without falling or dropping the computer. "Can you sort it based on the source of the paperwork?" she asked.

"What, like the shelter the veteran was at when he or she filed the paperwork?" McGee asked.

Bishop nodded. "I don't want to know the shelter, but how many of the veterans that they helped are homeless?" she asked.

McGee filtered the data down. "It looks like in the past two years, they've filed paperwork on behalf of 600 homeless veterans," he said.

"But there are only 499 in the city," Bishop said.

"They file on behalf of veterans in Maryland and Virginia, too," McGee said. "And as fast as they help somebody get off the streets, more replace them."
Bishop ignored that comment. "Just the Washington ones," she said. "That's what we're dealing with here."

"200," McGee said.

"That has to be almost all the sailors and Marines in the city," Bishop said. "Although that number is across two years — some of these men might not be homeless anymore."

"Here's a question for you," McGee said. "Why aren't the Maryland and Virginia shelters also getting funding if the JAG office is the key to the puzzle? If this is all about helping veterans, wouldn't all of them be getting helped?"

Bishop frowned. "Unless..." She tapped her chin. "Maryland and Virginia are states," she said.

"Right...?" McGee waited for an explanation that made sense.

"The District isn't a state," she said. "Congress handles its funding and everything else."

He was already searching for the files before she finished what she was saying. "Which means that the only funding they can count on is federal because everything else has to go through Congress and a lot of District residents think that means their funding is based on what Congress wants, not what the residents want." He found the set of files he was searching for. "So if somebody wanted to do something, they would have to use federal resources and hide it because Congress gives the local city budget more scrutiny because they don't always agree with the City Council."

"Exactly," Bishop said. "And the district's congressional representative isn't on Armed Services or Veterans Affairs, so she has limited ability to influence what comes out of those committees."

"So maybe somebody decided that a little off-the-books help with funding would be a good idea," McGee said. "That probably means we're looking for a District resident — people who live out in Maryland or Virginia usually don't care too much about Washington's lack of local control."

"Don't you live in Maryland?" Bishop asked.

"Abby, Tony and Jimmy don't," McGee said. He rolled his eyes. "They all have different reasons for not liking it — even if Tony's is mostly because it gives him a reason to complain about how hard it is to park his car — but none of them like it."

"I will... make a note not to ask them about it," Bishop said. "Coleman's office has a connection in the VA, which is how they get the paperwork through."

"That person must be connected to the DOD somehow, because that's where the money's coming from," McGee said. "Coleman didn't tell us who her source was — and she's not going to now — but if you run a vector to find people in that office who have a connection with the DOD and live in the District-"

"We should have a list of suspects," Bishop said. She grabbed her laptop and started typing.

"And once we know who we're looking at, I can stop combing through about 80 percent of the budget lines in the DOD and narrow in on the ones most likely to be the source of the money," McGee said. "That will take me a lot less time."

He just hoped it was quick enough.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Burley pulled up in front of the neat ranch home. The carport on the side of the house sheltered an older-model Ford sedan, the blue paint faded from time. The walk and driveway were properly shoveled, no icy patches anywhere. He walked up and knocked on the door, waited a minute, then knocked again.

The woman who opened the door was thin, her shoulders bony under the sweater than hung on her, one purchased for a larger woman. But her face was puffy, the skin dull, and her sweater tightened across her belly.

"Sabrina Briggs?" Burley asked.

"Who wants to know?" she asked, her voice raspy.

"Agent Stan Burley, NCIS," he said. "I'm helping the team investigating your son's death."

Sabrina looked at him for a moment, then nodded and stepped back, allowing him in. She moved slowly toward the living room, then took a seat.

"What happened to John?" she asked.

"That's what the team in Washington is trying to figure out," Stan said. "Ma'am, I'm very sorry for your loss. Do you know anything that might help? Had your son mentioned any problems the last time you talked?" He hoped Gibbs had managed to keep the news that they had somebody in custody quiet, or he wouldn't get anywhere.

"I haven't talked to John," Sabrina said. "I didn't-" She stopped and gripped the arm of the chair until her knuckles showed white spots.

"Ma'am, can I get you anything?" Stan asked. "Are you all right?"

Sabrina laughed, sandpaper over a metal edge, ending in a coughing jag. "It's too late to help me," she said. "That's why John didn't know."

"Didn't know what?" Stan asked, although he was starting to put it together.

"I got sick," she said. "Real sick, and I'm not getting better."

"Cancer?" Stan wondered how much one family should have to bear.

"Ovarian," she said. "Stage IV, back when they discovered it nine months ago. My lungs, liver, everything inside — filled with cancer. The tumors probably weigh more than the rest of me these days."

"I'm sorry," he said, hating the inadequate words.

"I had my run," Sabrina said. "Some would call this what I deserve." She pointed to a photo on the wall, a small boy dressed in a button-down plaid shirt, hair slicked down except for a single piece, one front tooth missing. "That's John, in third grade. Stillwater Elementary, same as me. He had my old teacher, too." She winced and shifted position slightly. "My boy, he was everything to me. I did my best to raise him right, and to do right when he grew."

"That must have been a challenge," Stan said. "I understand your parents weren't much help."

"You've never been to Stillwater, have you?" she said, her laugh turning to a cough. "My parents had rules, lots of them. Things good girls did and didn't do." She clasped her hands on her lap. "I was never enough for them, never able to do what they wanted perfectly enough for them to love me."

"So you turned to somebody you thought did love you," Stan prompted.

"At first, I thought he loved me enough to leave behind his perfect girlfriend, and suddenly I'd be the princess of the class," Sabrina said. "Then I knew he wouldn't leave, and he didn't love me. But I felt that way with him a damn sight more than I ever did at home."

"And then you got pregnant," Stan said.

"At first I didn't know. It was different back then. You're too young to remember, but they didn't use to teach this sort of thing in schools," she said.

"I'm not that young," Stan said. "I remember those days."

"Then I didn't want to tell anybody, and I didn't have the money to do what his girlfriend would have done in the same situation. Not that she would put out. That's why he found me."

"Your parents were angry when they found out," he said.

"Threw me out," she said. "They wanted me to tell who the father was, and I wouldn't. They wouldn't have believed me. He was a nice boy. They thought it had to be a troublemaker." She shook her head. "The year before, they nearly made me drop science class because they didn't like my lab partner."

"Nearly?" Stan asked.

"Leroy's father runs the general store in town, and Mr. Gibbs kept Leroy on a short leash. He was rough, but he wasn't a bad boy. He wouldn't have done what Chuck did," she said.

"Wait, Gibbs was your lab partner?" Stan said.

"You know Leroy?" she asked.

"His team has the case," Stan said. Except she should have already known that after Gibbs went to Stillwater. He picked a course of action quickly. "Gibbs' team is the best one at NCIS. They'll find out what happened to John." He waited just a second before pushing the conversation back to Stillwater. "Your parents had letters from John at their house, recent ones. Ones where he didn't mention he wasn't in the Navy anymore."

"I didn't know," Sabrina said. "John doesn't know I got sick, because I couldn't call him and pretend. I waited for him to call me, but he didn't. I figured he was overseas, no phone calls. I had email at work, but I had to go out on disability almost right away. Hospital work is hard, and I was hurting. That's the only reason I went to the doctor in the first place."

"You wrote the letters," Stan said, just to confirm it.

"I tried," she said. "Over the years, even after we moved, I tried to stay in touch with them. Even when they didn't reply. I thought maybe they'd change. Maybe John would get better grandparents than I'd had parents. He didn't have nobody else."

"Did they?" Stan asked.

"I still know people in town," she said. "Mr. Gibbs was the one who told me how proud they were of their Navy grandson when I went back once to see a friend. That was the first time I knew they had opened any of my letters."

"So you started writing letters from him," he said.

"I printed, tried to make it look like a boy had written it," she said. "He'd tell me stories, and I'd tell them like he was saying it."

"Why?" Stan asked.

"They were all he has," she said. "I hadn't written in a few years, and then I got sick. I knew I had to start writing again."

"You wanted them to be there when you were gone," Stan said.

Sabrina nodded. "I wrote to them, and I called Chuck. It was the first time I'd talked to him since the night I told him I was pregnant and he brushed me off."

"Did he brush you off again?" Stan asked

"No," she said. "No, he didn't. Said he'd learned a lot, and lost a lot because he'd never claimed another boy of his." She let her lips curve up in a mockery of a smile. "Guess I wasn't all that special after all."

"Did John know?" Stan asked, resisting the urge to lean forward. He didn't want to spook her, not now.

She shook her head. "Chuck said he'd talk to a friend of his, find out how John was doing. He sent me a letter, sealed. Said it was for John if he wanted it. After I'm gone. It's on my desk, on top of the bills. He won't miss it." Her tone was even, stating just the facts in front of her.

Stan didn't point out that Briggs would never have the chance to see it. "You don't know who this friend was, do you?" he asked.

"He didn't say, and I had plenty to worry about," Sabrina said. "But I kept writing to my parents, kept hoping maybe this letter they would respond. Maybe this time they would realize what they missed by shutting us out." She looked up at Stan. "They didn't, did they?"

All he could do was shake his head.



~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Once his office was empty, Vance called down to the holding area and spoke with the agent on duty. Once he was satisfied that Horton was there for the long haul, he moved on to the next round of calls. He needed to deal with the congressman and SecNav, not necessarily in that order. He started with the person with the most power over him.

"Yes, Leon?" came the voice on the other end of the line. "Tell me you have answers so Schenck will let me get back to running the Navy."

"I have my best team on it," Vance said. "Gibbs and his team are working on a theory, but they need to make sure the evidence is in order before we can act. A case that could be this high profile, I want to make sure everything is by the book."

"As long as you have this resolved before I have to appear before the Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning to defend whatever they decide to question in my budget," she said. "I don't want any surprises from the committee members, and I don't want any questions about why we can't bring a killer to justice."

Vance raised one eyebrow. "We will ensure justice is served in this case, Madame Secretary," he said. "On that, you have my word."

"Then the next time I hear you're on the other end of the phone line, it had best be to tell me you've solved this case," she said. "Before my hearing."

"Agent Gibbs works well under pressure," Vance said. "Good afternoon, Madame Secretary."

Once that call was complete, Vance made the more difficult one — to Schenck. SecNav wanted to believe and trust him — he thought. He couldn't say the same for the congressman.

"Director Vance," said the congressman. "You're calling to tell me the awful person who killed Petty Officer Briggs is behind bars, I hope."

"I have my best team working on it," Vance said. "We do have a suspect, but as I'm sure you can understand, we don't want to put an innocent man behind bars."

"He's out on the streets?" Schenck said.

Vance cursed to himself. "We have him in custody, Congressman," he said, careful to keep his tone measured. "We're just making sure we have all the evidence lined up before we charge him. I'm sure you can respect our team's diligence."

"Yes," he said. "Yes, I can. Thank you for the update."

But something in the congressman's tone left Vance staring at the phone after the call ended. He thought over the conversation in his head, then made a call.

"Check the records from last night, Gibbs," he said. "Start the clock; make sure we charge Horton before that 48-hour window runs out. I don't want this case falling apart on a technicality." Vance listened to his response. "Then you'd better solve the rest of the case before then."

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2014 8:32 pm 
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Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
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Chapter 15

Gibbs answered the phone. "Yeah, Gibbs."

"You were right, Boss," Burley said.

"She sent them." Gibbs said.

"She did." Burley hesitated. "She's sick, Boss. Cancer, bad. She didn't want to tell Briggs because it was too far along to treat, so that explains why she didn't know he wasn't in the Navy anymore."

"Letters?" Gibbs asked.

"She was trying to build a bridge," Burley said. "I think she was hoping her son would be able to do what she couldn't — reconcile with her parents."

"Not now," Gibbs replied. He thought for a second. "Son didn't know?"

"She says not," Burley said. "I believe her, Boss. She said the only person she did tell was the boy's father."

"She told Winslow?" Gibbs lifted an eyebrow. "He care?"

"One day I want to hear the story about this town of yours, Gibbs," Burley said. "He gave her a letter for the boy to read after she was gone. She said he said something about missing his chance with another son."

"Ethan," Gibbs said. "My case, too."

"That's a pretty big coincidence," Burley said.

"Rule 39," Gibbs said. "No way out of town except enlisting. Winslow was friendly with a lot of girls back then. Lots of women later on."

"And any murder case in the region gets kicked to your team, so if they get killed, you catch the case," Burley said. "I think you were right, Boss. This was just a loose end, one that doesn't make a difference in the case."

"Thanks, Stan," Gibbs said. "Appreciate it."

But after the call ended, his mind kept drifting back to what Burley had told him. He'd seen friends die, and colleagues. Just in the last year he'd watched Ziva and Vance mourn. But those still were expected. You killed or you were killed. He'd always figured Jack would outlive him. He'd thought the same about Shannon and Kelly, though. Kate, Jenny, Macy — they'd all shocked, but none had surprised.

But Jen had been sick. Duck had said she was going to go soon anyway. She wanted to go out fighting. He did, too. None of this retirement crap. Gibbs pushed that aside. It was over, done with. Jenny was long gone. He wasn't going anywhere, knee or no knee.

Gibbs took a piece of paper from his desk drawer and started laying out what they knew and what Burley had learned.

Sabrina had found out she was sick shortly before Briggs was kicked out of the Navy. He probably hadn't wanted to worry his mother with his problems, so he hadn't called. She hadn't called because she didn't want to have to tell him the news. Gibbs wondered if that might have changed things. All the drunk-driving charges were in the month after Sabrina was diagnosed. If she had called her son to talk to him, would she have noticed he needed help? Or if she had reached out, would he have said something?

Gibbs shook his head. It was too late now. Maybe nothing could have saved Briggs from the streets. Nothing Sabrina could have done from Pennsylvania. The Navy could have helped. Could Chuck have helped? Briggs didn't know Winslow was his father, might not have cared. Would Winslow have paid for help? 10 years ago, never. Now? Gibbs didn't know.

What did Winslow know? He'd brought Schenck into this. Schenck was his man, and Schenck had enough clout now to force the issue at NCIS. He didn't a few years ago, or he would have used it. Schenck would have just been finishing up his first term then. No seniority. Had Winslow contacted Schenck to get answers for Sabrina? For the grandparents? Or for himself?

He'd screwed up. He should have talked to Winslow while they were in Stillwater. Gibbs checked his watch. Almost five. He couldn't get Winslow down here now. He could drive back to Stillwater. But he shifted his position and his knee protested. Another drive to Stillwater was out. He might make it, but Ducky or Vance would notice him limping after another day in the car and bench him for sure.

Decision made, Gibbs picked up the phone. It took more bullshit to get through to Winslow than to some Pentagon generals, and Gibbs didn't have time for this. When Winslow finally got on the phone, Gibbs wanted to reach through the cord and pull him to DC.

"Chuck," Gibbs said. "It's Gibbs. You tell your pet Congressman that the boy was yours?"

"Leroy?" Winslow said. "I didn't expect to hear from you."

"Like hell you didn't," Gibbs said. "You knew I'd know about you and Sabrina."

"You were gone," Winslow said.

"I saw things before I left," Gibbs said. "You're not a suspect. This time."

"I didn't do it last time, either," Winslow said. "You remember, Leroy. You were the one who knew it wasn't me."

"You caused it," Gibbs said. "Want to make sure you didn't cause this one, too."

"John was killed in Washington," Winslow said.

"Ethan was attacked in Washington, and your house held the answers then." Gibbs reined in his temper. "You. Washington. Tonight."

"Leroy, I'm a busy man," Winslow said. "I can't just drop everything and come to Washington because you say so."

"If I send an agent to pick you up, the charges are going to include bribing a congressman and obstructing a murder investigation," Gibbs said. "Schenck's career will be ruined. All that money you spent on your pet Congressman? Wasted. The next one won't be local. He won't owe you anything. Your call."

"I'll be there," Winslow said.

"1700, NCIS office, Navy Yard. Don't be late." He hung up without waiting for a response.

"What does Winslow know, Boss?" McGee asked as he looked up from his desk across the way.

"Maybe nothing. Maybe everything," Gibbs said. "You trace that money yet?"

"Working on it," McGee said.

"Stop working on it for now," came Vance's voice from above. Gibbs looked up to see him standing on the catwalk. "Gibbs, your team, my office, five minutes. Dr. Mallard and Ms. Scuito, too."

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"What do we know?" Vance looked around his office. Gibbs sat at the table instead of standing for once. Vance decided he didn't want to ask. Plausible deniability wasn't just for cases. Gibbs was joined by Ducky, Tony and McGee, while Bishop sat on the floor against the wall and Abby stood, tiny bells on her braids jingling every time she moved. Vance was glad he had ibuprofen in his desk drawer.

"I can trace the money most of the way, but I still haven't figured out if it was rerouted legitimately or not," McGee said. "I can't find any authorization, but if this was a side deal somebody cut to get around Congress and its inability to pass a budget, there might not be anything in the system."

"Even if it was legitimate, it's unusual," Bishop said. "I checked into all the shelters in Washington and all the veterans shelters in the mid-Atlantic region. I called a handful of them to ask some 'survey questions' and got the same response. Public funding is scarce and getting scarcer, even with the push to help reduce the number of homeless veterans, and private funding is dwindling even as the number of people who need shelter grows. With the cold weather this year, all the shelters are hemorrhaging money to cover utility bills. In fact, that's where most of the aid for average shelters has come from — utility companies that are cutting them a break on the rates."

"Leon, that's a problem," Abby said. "If we find out these shelters shouldn't be getting the money and tell people, they're either going to have to close or cut back on the number of people they serve." She wrapped her arms around herself. "The weather's supposed to be below freezing for at least three more weeks and that's assuming the polar vortex doesn't come back and if that happens there are going to be lots of people who won't be able to afford their heating bills. The shelters are going to be worse off and if they close that means those veterans are out on the street and that's bad because when it gets cold out they're either going to freeze to death or they're going to try to keep a fire going all night to stay warm and that means a lot of the old, abandoned buildings where people can squat could go up in flames and take people, innocent people, along with them."

Vance held up a hand. "Ms. Scuito, I realize the gravity of the situation," he said. "Dr. Mallard?"

"When we are dealing with trained troops, they often have the survival skills necessary to make it through difficult weather such as we face," he said. "However, these veterans are at a disadvantage in terms of resources even before we factor in the effects of their physical, mental and emotional states on their behavior. The weather also could trigger flashbacks. Imagine, if you will, a Marine who served in Afghanistan during the winter and was away from base overnight. He would have had to camp in hostile weather and stay alert for enemy activity. Now we send him out on the streets into that same hostile weather when he is, in fact, in a different sort of enemy territory. If he were to wake up shivering, cold down to the marrow of his bones, as though icicles could form on his body, how easy it would be for his traumatized brain to believe he was in the Hindu Kush, surround by Taliban encampments."

"Point well-taken," Vance said. "Do we have any other concerns?"

"The source of the money," Tony said. "You know as well as I do, Director, that the type of handshake deal this might be is always on the down low. If there's nothing on record, any indication that we're investigating could force the person who OK'd the funds to reverse his or her decision. Then we have real problems."

"I'm not hearing anybody tell me we know who's behind this," Vance said.

"Bishop and I have narrowed it down," McGee said. "We cross-referenced everything we had and came up with three people at the VA in the office that Capt. Coleman's friend works in who have connections with the DOD and live in the District."

"I missed the city piece, but don't explain, McGoogle," Tony said. "Who are the connections at the DOD and how many people are we really talking about?"

"It's not that simple," Bishop said. "There are lots of ways to combine people and access and-"

Vance was impressed that McGee was able to stop her with a gesture, although he wasn't sure if they were training her not to babble or McGee had just started channeling Gibbs more.

"When I said I could trace the money most of the way, this is the piece I'm working on," McGee said. "We have a good idea who the possible players are, but I need to run their phone and email records, along with credit cards, to see if I can find points of contact at the right times to have something solid to accuse them with. I found a pair of college roommates on the initial list, one at the VA and one at DOD, and thought that was the most likely, but we can't find any evidence they've had contact since they graduated from college 10 years ago. They aren't even Facebook friends."

"So you're running down the list to find the connections," Vance said. "Make that your priority. We need to connect all the people in this before one of them realizes and destroys the evidence."

"Yes, sir," Tony said. "Boss, Marques came by this afternoon, but he didn't have anything to add. I don't think he has anything to do with the murder or the missing money. But I let him think we were still trying to find evidence to finish off the case. He said he doesn't remember when Horton left, just that he wasn't there for breakfast at 0700."

"So if anybody asks, he'll say we're still investigating. Good work, Agent DiNozzo," Vance said. "Gibbs, you and your team have 22 hours before we have to charge Horton. Make them count."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Gibbs got up from his desk.

"Interrogation, Boss?" Tony asked as he fell into step with him. "Why are you interrogating Winslow?"

"Too many links," Gibbs said. "Knows something."

"He knows something, or you want him to know something?" Tony asked. "Not that you're wrong, Boss, but it's just-" He faltered.

"Schenck is Winslow's," Gibbs said. "Bought and paid for. Need to know what he was buying."

"Was Winslow just looking for the plant to stay open, or was he trying to arrange something on behalf of his son?" Tony said. "Good questions, Boss. But aren't there easier ways to help your bastard son than using up chips with your pocket politician to get him help?"

Gibbs didn't answer, and Tony kept walking with him. After a minute his second-in-command said, "Of course, that's what you think, but you need to make sure. Because if Winslow was pulling strings and now Schenck's backing off something's rotten in Denmark. And if Winslow wasn't pulling strings, why did Schenck get so involved in this?"

Gibbs stayed silent, but he could tell by the smile on Tony's face that Tony knew he knew Tony was on the right track. The senior agent walked into the observation room. One of the agents from legal was outside the interrogation room door.

"You need me to stay, Agent Gibbs?" the kid asked.

Gibbs just shook his head and walked in. Chuck was pacing the small room.

"What's this about, Leroy? Why did your man lock me in here?" Winslow asked. "You said yourself you know I didn't kill John."

"Not my man," Gibbs said, the arrogance of Winslow's assumptions setting off the same anger they had years ago. "He's an NCIS agent."

"Leroy," Chuck said.

"Sit." Gibbs waited, and when Winslow headed for the wrong side of the table, Gibbs shook his head and pointed.

Winslow sat, leaning back in the chair. Gibbs waited, then seated himself, setting the folder on the desktop. Winslow's eyes were focused on the folder.

"You think I have information in here," Gibbs said. "Information you want."

"I just want to get this done and get back to Stillwater," Winslow said. "What's all this about, Leroy?"

"You talked to Schenck," Gibbs said.

"I can get a hold of him instead of one of the people in his office," Winslow said. "The Briggses needed to know what was happening and I offered to make the call for them."

"Sabrina called you," Gibbs said. "Before her parents did." He tapped the folder as if he had phone records in there.

"Yes, she called me," Winslow said. "She called me several months ago to tell me about John, and that she was not going to be around. She called again on Tuesday to tell me about his death."

"Schenck," Gibbs said.

"I stopped by the Briggses house to see if there was anything I could do," Winslow said.

"They know?" Gibbs asked.

"That I'm John's father?" Winslow shook his head. "I never told them. Sabrina said she never told anybody, even John." He paused. "How'd you know?"

Gibbs just lifted an eyebrow and waited for Winslow to move on.

"They were a mess, upset about John. Sabrina said she had called them and when they didn't pick up — because they never had, not after they threw her out — she left a message on the answering machine."

"Cold," Gibbs said.

"They didn't want anything to do with her," Winslow said. "She didn't have to tell them."

"And they welcomed you in with open arms," Gibbs said.

"They didn't know," Winslow said. "Telling them wouldn't have made a difference, then or now."

"You sure?" Gibbs asked.

Winslow didn't respond.

"Schenck," Gibbs prompted.

"I called him," Winslow said. "The grandparents said Briggs was serving on a Navy ship, and Sabrina said he was killed in Washington. I wanted to find out why, and I knew Schenck would be willing to get answers."

"My father." Gibbs said.

"You know what Jack thinks of me," Winslow said. "Same thing he thought of my father. I could have asked, but he wouldn't have helped. I didn't know if you and Jack were on good enough terms for him asking to make a difference anyway."

"You didn't want him to know you were Briggs' father," Gibbs said.

"Gibbs, I screwed up. I messed up with Ethan, and I messed up with John. I messed up with Emily, too, not telling her. All I was trying to do was make this right."

"You talk to Schenck before?" Gibbs asked.

"About what?" Winslow said.

"Shelters. Aid." Gibbs said.

"Leroy, I didn't know John was living on the street," Winslow said. "If I had known, I would have tried to do something about it. I didn't talk to Will Schneck about any of this. I just asked him to find out how John died."

"Navy contract," Gibbs said.

"What, the Benton one?" Winslow said. "Sure, I called him about that. The area needed that money," he said. "My mine can only employ so many people, and without those other jobs, people would leave, and I'd start losing my best workers. All that would be left would be the ones with nowhere else to go."

Gibbs went a few more rounds, but after another 15 minutes, he took the folder and left.

"Can I go now?" Winslow asked.

"Stay," Gibbs said.

"Leroy-"

"Stay." Gibbs stepped out, surprised to see the agent from legal still there. "Told you you could go," Gibbs said.

"Director's orders," the agent said. Dunlow, Dunlap, something like that. Gibbs never bothered to learn the lawyers' names. "Visitors we can leave. Suspects we stay and guard."

Gibbs didn't reply. He walked into the observation room.

"Hey, Boss," Tony said. "I hate to say it, but I think your old buddy is telling the truth."

"For once," Gibbs said.

"So is Schenck involved because he thinks he needs to keep Winslow happy to keep his support and his seat?" Tony asked. "Or is he up to something else?"

Gibbs just looked at him.

"Right, Boss. Let Winslow go, then find out," Tony said. "On it." He left the room.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2014 9:17 am 
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AN: My favorite line in this story is in this chapter. :)

Chapter 16


By the time Gibbs made his way through stop-and-go traffic in his truck, his knee ached from the clutch. He gritted his teeth all the way up the walk and into the house. He didn't need to look to know the swelling hadn't gone down. He could feel the stiffness in the joint. The agent secured his weapon, then grabbed sweats from the laundry basket in the dining room and stepped into the bathroom downstairs to change. The stairs weren't happening tonight. Good thing he always slept on the couch anyway. He promised himself he was just going to sit for a minute, but the moment he got his aching knee propped up on the sofa, the iron spikes of pain dulling into a throbbing ache that echoed the one behind his eyeballs. He fumbled for the ibuprofen on the end table and dry-swallowed three. Ten years ago, he wouldn't have kept grunt candy handy, but 10 years ago, his knee still worked fine most of the time. Now the cranky days outnumbered the good ones.

Just like its owner came Shannon's voice in his head, and he squeezed the bridge of his nose. Most days he only thought of her while sleeping, when his subconscious made him forget that his girls were gone. But after his trip to Stillwater, he shouldn't have been surprised. The past was coming back to him. He wondered when he'd reach a point where the past stayed in the past, where it belonged.

He thought about getting up, making dinner. His knee hurt more just thinking about it. Before he could talk himself out of it, he called Tony.

"Break in the case, Boss?"

"No." Gibbs had trouble finding the words. "My knee."

"It's still acting up?" Tony said. "You calling for a dinner delivery or a ride to the hospital."

"It's just a knee, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled.

"I'll be there in 30," Tony said and disconnected.

Gibbs tossed his phone on the end table and lay back against the arm of the sofa. He had a feeling Tony would walk in with dinner and his go bag. He knew he should worry about Tony's words. If Tony had noticed his knee was acting up, Vance or Ducky could have, too. Oh, hell.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tony walked in, careful to hang up his good wool coat before bringing the Thai food into the living room.

"How bad is it, Boss?" he asked as he headed for the dining room table. When Gibbs didn't respond, he looked back to see the yellow light from the small lamp in the living room casting the lines around Gibbs' eyes into sharp relief. "That bad?" He said, keeping his tone light. He headed for the kitchen and grabbed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer.

"Here," he said, picking up a box of food and chopsticks as he walked by the table. "Put this on it." He lobbed the peas at Gibbs, who caught them and put them on his knee.

"Pad thai," Tony said, handing him a box and chopsticks. "I got drunken noodles if you want that instead."

Gibbs just opened the box and dug in.

Tony got his own food and settled into the armchair in the room. He waited for Gibbs to say something, and realized he might be here waiting all night. At least he had his go bag in the car.

"You really need to have Ducky take a look at that, Boss," Tony said. "Just in case."

"No Ducky," Gibbs said, but no glare accompanied it.

"Right, I know," Tony said. "If you see him, he has to report it and you don't want that right after your annual evaluation."

He waited, but Gibbs didn't say anything. Tony blew out a breath, then decided to take a swing at the elephant in the room. "I get it, you know," he said. "You don't think I go through the same thing every time I get a cold anywhere near evaluation time? Or anytime I get a cold at all?" He rubbed his sternum in remembered pain. "Brad said it right after it happened — he couldn't guarantee I'd be able to stay in the field, and every time I start hacking up a lung, I wonder if this is the last time."

"Not the same," Gibbs said. "You can do something else."

"You think so?" Tony said. "I'm a cop, Gibbs. Always have been. McGee could happily work behind a desk if he had to, but me? I need to be out doing things. Why do you think I majored in pays ed?"

"You're young," Gibbs said.

"Not as young as I used to be," Tony said. "Gibbs, you could retire. You hit your 20 years a few years ago, plus you have your Marine pension. Between active duty and the reserves, you have at least 30 years there."

"Need to do something," Gibbs said.

"Like building a boat in the basement?" Tony asked. He set his box of noodles down. "I know, Boss, it's not the same. And you won't stay with NCIS if you can't be in the field. You'd sooner tap-dance with Abby's nuns in the parish musical than sit behind a desk."

Gibbs snorted at that, and Tony decided to take it as a good sign.

"You'll figure something out, Boss," he said. "You always do."

"Don't have to like it," Gibbs said.

"Have we ever had that option?" Tony asked. "We get what we get, Gibbs. And you look at what some people get, people like Briggs, and we're not doing too badly."

"Mines," Gibbs said.

"Mimes?" Tony asked. "You're pretty good at getting by without saying anything, but I'd call you more of a functional mute than a mime. Most mimes want people to understand them, and you just expect us to read your mind."

"Coal mines," Gibbs said. "Growing up, that was the only choice."

"Your dad started the store," Tony said, wondering where this was going. "You joined the Corps."

"Coal mines," Gibbs said again. "And now the defense plant."

"Except the Navy wanted to shut down the plant," Tony said, remembering what McGee had told him. "Schenck saved it."

"It's a way out," Gibbs said. "I left. He stayed to make things better for the people who couldn't leave."

"What about making things better for the ones who enlisted to get out?" Tony asked. "McDetails pulled his records, and Schenck hasn't done a lot to stop cuts in the VA."

"Shelters?" Gibbs asked.

"We thought about that," Tony said. "Nothing specific to the housing program, though. But he's not the only Congressman — many of the reps who serve on Armed Forces don't do much to support VA funding, or any domestic programs. Last year, they blocked a plan by the Pentagon to cancel a weapons system contract. The system was outdated, but the company that had the contract had plants in several key districts, so they insisted it stay in."

Gibbs just grunted.

"We'll nail them, Boss. We always do," Tony said. He got up and cleaned up the remains of dinner, taking the peas and replacing them in the door of the freezer, than grabbing a bag of corn to replace them. "I'll stay tonight and drive you in tomorrow. You need anything, you call me."

Gibbs didn't say anything, but he caught the bag of corn and didn't growl, so Tony figured it was a win, of a sort. It just didn't feel that way.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2014 9:24 am 
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Chapter 17

Tony turned out the lights when he went upstairs, and Gibbs lay there in the dark. He tried to roll over, but it sent sparks of pain through his knee. He sighed. On his side, he could pretend he was in the bed upstairs, Shannon spooned next to him the way they had been for not nearly enough nights. He closed his eyes, but sleep eluded him, chased away by the throb in his knee.

He wanted to go down the basement, sand his current project until his eyes pulled themselves shut. Instead, he was here, staring at the ceiling. Stuck. No other options.

Tony's words came back to him: You could retire. He hadn't lied. He needed to do something. He thought of Jack, running the store even though he could stop and do something else. Gibbs hadn't pushed harder for Jack to move to Virginia back in the fall, but he thought about it. Thought about it more after seeing Jack moving around, slower than he had been. Jack would never retire. One of these days, he'd get the call from Cal or somebody else in Stillwater telling him Jack was dead. He hoped it wasn't for a long time, but if hoping made a difference, he'd be in bed upstairs with Shannon helping him with his knee, not alone on the couch with DiNozzo in the guest room humoring his cranky boss.

Schenck's father died early. Gibbs did the math — Tom died the year before Shannon and Kelly, a victim of the mine that killed and saved so many in town. Jack and L.J. weren't willing to let its fickle whims or the bad decisions of the Winslows ruin their lives, but most had no choice. Jack wouldn't let him go work there, and Gibbs had never wanted to work in the store, answering to his father day after day. The Corps was his way out. He could have died in Kuwait the year after Tom Schenck, but he'd been lucky. Unlucky, he thought. Some days he didn't feel lucky at all. Tom was dead. He'd lost his girls. Sabrina was dying by inches, and not many of them left if Burley was right. She knew, too, what it was like to lose a child too early.

Winslow could sit back in his nice house and lord it over the town as long as he wanted. His grandson, Emily's boy, would be 12 or 13 by now. Winslow could train him, pass the business to him in time. He wouldn't need to get out of Stillwater. John Briggs got out the same way Gibbs had — he enlisted. Sabrina moving out of town when Briggs was a boy didn't matter — the Navy was still his way out, the way the Corps had been Gibbs. Schenck got out and made it look like he'd stayed.

Gibbs wondered if the fancy suits came back to the rural mining community when Schenck was in town, or if he had flannel shirts and jeans with creases to wear when he was "back home." He looked at home in a suit, but then, so did Tony. And Tony could look just as at ease in his jeans and Ohio State sweatshirt when Gibbs pulled them in on a Sunday for a hot case. But Tony had been raised in a suit: Prep school fancy vacations, all the things his father's conman ways had purchased to create the illusion of wealth. Schenck started at the bottom, probably in second-hand jeans from a neighbor whose son had outgrown them, maybe one of his older cousins. Even on Sundays, he'd probably grown up wearing just a button-down shirt, maybe a tie borrowed from Tom on special occasions. If Tom had a second tie, that was. How did anybody get that far from his roots?

Gibbs shifted his weight and ignored the red numbers of the clock on the mantel. He just had to wait it out until morning. The heaviness on his knee wasn't cold anymore, but the joint was no worse, so he tried not to worry about it.

He was so focused on not thinking about how little sleep he was getting that Gibbs never noticed when his eyes slipped shut, his breathing slow and steady as he drifted into dreams.

The next morning, Gibbs had soggy corn on his knee, but it felt better — the swelling was down considerably — and he was beginning to think today would be normal.

"You need any help, Boss?" Tony asked as he walked through the living room, rubbing his damp hair with a towel.

"Corn. Trash." Gibbs said, levering himself up. His knee didn't feel bad when he stood, and he took a few cautious steps. Some pain, but more the dull ache he felt when it rained than the throbbing he'd lived with this week.

"Better?" Tony asked, holding the bag of warm corn by the corner as he headed for the kitchen.

Gibbs just grunted and checked his watch. "Need to move out, soon."

"I'm almost ready," Tony said. "You're the one who hasn't showered." He grinned and Gibbs enjoyed the headslap he delivered.

"Thanks for not messing up my hair, Boss," Tony said. "OK if I use the bathroom down here?"

Gibbs just headed upstairs, not even wanting to know what Tony would need the bathroom for. Some junk in his hair, probably.

His knee held up through the shower and getting dressed, but Gibbs put his knee brace on anyway. Just to be sure. Embezzlers usually didn't run, if that's what they had on their plate, but he wasn't tempting fate.

Tony was waiting with a travel mug in hand. "One cup of sludge to go," he said.

Gibbs took the mug and sipped. Not as strong as he would make it, but acceptable.

When they got to the Navy Yard, Tony dropped Gibbs off at the NCIS building before heading for the parking lot. He walked inside, and one of the security guards started to comment on Tony being his ride, but Gibbs glared him into submission.

He stopped by the holding cells and made arrangements for Metro to pick up Horton around lunchtime. That would buy them more time, but still make sure he was charged in time to avoid the charges getting tossed out. That done, Gibbs headed upstairs. Bishop and McGee were at their desks, and McGee was wearing the same shirt as yesterday.

"Why didn't you go home?" Gibbs asked.

"Not until I figure this out, Boss," McGee said. "I crashed on Abby's futon for a while."

"Delilah?" Gibbs asked.

"Can we not talk about that, Boss?" McGee asked. The edge in his voice made Gibbs wonder, but he decided to wait out McGee. Tim would talk when he was ready and not before.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"McGee, turn on the TV," Abby said as she ran into the bullpen. "ZNN, now."

Tony grabbed the clicker from McGee's desk and put the channel up on the plasma. "What's-" He broke off at the sight of Schenck on screen at a podium outside Capitol Hill, his black wool coat expensive looking even on TV.

"After revelations that the shelter where one veteran was killed by a shelter resident this week was funded with money embezzled from the Department of Defense, Congress has shut down four shelters funded with the stolen money," the anchor said. "Here's Pennsylvania Congressman Will Schenck speaking about his committee's actions." The audio cut to Schenk.

"We on the Armed Forces committee are at a loss to explain how the money was removed from the important defense programs it was supposed to fund, and we are heartbroken at the loss of a young man's life," Schenck said. "I grew up knowing his grandparents, and the idea that somebody would take their grandson's life after he served this country honorably is something I cannot, will not, forget. We will not rest until we make sure this never happens again."

Tony punched the mute button. "That was a convenient editing of the truth," he said.

"Tony, they're all shut down," Abby said. "That's almost 500 homeless people, including almost half the homeless veterans in the city, who have no place to go and it's supposed to get even colder tonight."

"They won't survive," Bishop said. "Not in this weather."

"There won't be enough beds at other shelters to handle that many people," McGee said. "Boss, Metro's going to have dozens of bodies on their hands if Schenck really shuts down the shelters. We have to stop them."

"Too late, Agent McGee," Vance said as he walked down the steps. "The shelters were padlocked an hour ago — the inspectors were there waiting when the residents left this morning."

"Director, we have to do something," Tony said. "For the veterans and to Schenck."

Vance nodded. "Gibbs?"

Tony saw the brief nod, and looked back up the director.

"Miss Scuito, collect Dr. Mallard and Mr. Palmer and meet in my office," Vance said. "Gibbs, we'll take care of the veterans. You take care of the politicians. And don't shoot them."

"Can't promise that," Gibbs said. "DiNozzo-"

"Tracking down the source of the leak to Schenck and the committee, on it, Boss."

"McGee-"

"Still tracking the path of the money, but I'm almost there, Boss," McGee said. "Coleman's the common vector, but I don't think she's actually involved."

"Bishop, with me. Pax River," Gibbs said.

"Because..." She grabbed her jacket. "We're going to talk to Capt. Coleman and see if we can get her to help connect the dots."

Gibbs nodded, already halfway to the elevator.

Tony looked up at Vance. "Burley's still at Philadelphia, right?"

Vance nodded. "If I can help, let me know." The director pivoted and headed back to his office.

"McGee, could somebody have hacked our files?" Tony asked.

"No," McGee said. "And Metro isn’t supposed to pick up Horton for another hour, so they can’t be the source, either."

"If the committee has a source in NCIS, that person could have leaked the information about the embezzled money," Tony said.

"Or the leak could have come from OMB or DOD," McGee said. "When I was making calls yesterday, somebody could have looked in the files and seen the same traces I saw."

"Or one of our dirtbags could have spilled the beans without realizing it," Tony said.

"I wouldn't call them dirtbags this time," McGee said. "I can't find any evidence that any of the money went to anything but the homeless shelters, and all the shelters check out — the money went to programs. No big bank accounts, no unusual purchases, no lavish trips. Or any trips for that matter, except to ferry some patients to VA appointments."

"They're not exactly upstanding citizens, either," Tony said. "If they were, we wouldn't be investigating them."

"Point taken," McGee said. "Come on, let's figure this out before either Gibbs or Vance wants an update."

Tony nodded and picked up his phone, dialing the NCIS-Philadelphia office. It only took a minute to be put through to the SAC's office.

"Agent Burley," came the voice on the other end of the line.

"Stan Burley," Tony said. "Now I'm hoping the very special agent in charge in Philly can help Team Gibbs out."

"Hey, Tony," Burley said. "What can I do for you this time?"

"You see the news this morning?" Tony asked.

"The DOD embezzlement case," Burley said. "Does that tie into the murdered sailor case Gibbs had me helping on yesterday."

"One and the same. We had that one locked down," Tony replied. "Somebody leaked it to Congress, and we're wondering if that person's connected with the case."

"You think I might have contacts on Capitol Hill who can help you," Burley said. "That was a long time ago, Tony. Senator Kopenhauer's still in office, but I'm not sure how many of his staff are still there."

"If we don't fix this, almost five hundred people are going to end up on the streets tonight, and you know how that's going to end," Tony said. "Congress might realize its error tomorrow, but that won't keep people alive tonight."

"I'll do what I can," Burley said. "Just watch yourself. The Boss likes to step on toes, and if the spotlight's already on this story, the politicians are going to throw him under the bus."

"Not if we find out where the leak came from," Tony said.

"I'll call you if I find something," Burley replied.

AN: If you remember the prompts, you now know which one I picked, if that wasn't already obvious. ;)

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:09 am 
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Chapter 18

Bishop didn't even try to talk to Gibbs on the ride to Pax River. Instead, she focused on all the pieces they'd learned. She couldn't spread everything out here like she could at the office, but she could think. McGee was still connecting the dots, but that would tell them who. She needed to figure out why. What would drive somebody to take this kind of risk? They were talking to Coleman because she had a reason to pull strings for the veterans. She saw her brother in them, and she wanted to help them. But from what they had learned, the most she was doing was pushing paper through some shortcuts. She wasn't signing off on veterans who shouldn't be getting benefits — she didn't have that authority. All her office could do was make a case to the Navy on the veteran's behalf. Coleman got into JAG because she valued rules and law and order. Who works for the VA? People who think veterans are important. Bishop tugged on her lower lip. The JAG to VA connection made sense, but that wasn't where the money was coming from. JAG was just identifying the people who needed help, and the shelter information was on their forms. So if somebody in VA was steering money, they were doing it based off the forms JAG was submitting, which explained why it was just those shelters. If Tony was right about the Agent Orange backlog, the forms for veterans from other shelters that didn't go through Capt. Coleman's fast-track were probably still waiting for somebody at VA to see them.

If they had time, they could try to push through paperwork for six or eight veterans from another shelter and see if that shelter started getting the money, too, but they didn't have time. Bishop put the idea aside in case they were able to get the shelters reopened but still needed more evidence for the money routing. The money was the key. The VA didn't have the money — that was coming from DOD. What would motivate a DOD employee to move his or her office's own money to the VA? Moving it within the VA was pretty low risk. But moving it between agencies was a bigger risk for both people. Who would take that kind of risk? It had to be somebody who wasn't afraid of losing, or who thought the cost of losing was worth the benefit of moving the money.
Bishop wasn't sure about the laws, but there had to be some kind of jail time involved in a case like this. Definitely the person would get fired. So somebody who could afford to get fired had to move up the list. Somebody who had family money, or a spouse who made a good living. Maybe somebody who was close to retirement? Or somebody like Sabrina Briggs who was terminal? She fired off a text to McGee as they entered the Pax River gates.

"Are you going to bring her in?" she asked Gibbs as they walked across the base. "Or just ask her questions?"

"Start with questions," Gibbs said. "Mine. Not yours."

Bishop nodded and tried not to say anything.

"Gibbs," Coleman said as they walked in. "I was wondering when I'd see you."

"You heard?" he said.

"That NCIS shut down several veterans shelters? I did." Coleman stood behind her desk at attention. "Aren't you all about bending the rules, Gibbs?"

"We didn't shut them down," Gibbs said. "Congress did. We were trying to buy enough time to keep them from being shut down."

"Dr. Mallard couldn't spend enough time finding nothing on Petty Officer Briggs' body this time?" Coleman said.

"Coleman, we're trying to help," Gibbs said. "Who is your contact in the VA?"

"Why?" she asked.

"Because somehow, your contact or somebody else in that office is connected with this," Gibbs said. "We need to find out what happened before Congress decides to investigate. Or do you want them asking you and the Admiral questions about the work your office is doing?"

Coleman paled. "Henry O'Meara," she said. "He served with one of my brothers and he's a good friend. He made sure the new veterans got put in as fast as possible so they could get their benefits before they broke too much for anybody to fix."

"VA?" Gibbs said.

Coleman nodded. "He's a good man, Gibbs."

"You brought two Marines to arrest a Medal of Honor winner," Gibbs said.

"SecNav's orders," Coleman said. "I didn't want to do it."

"SecNav wants this solved," Gibbs said. "Does O'Meara know anybody who works for DOD administration?"

"He served for 20 years before he retired and moved over to the VA," Coleman said. "I'm sure he knows lots of people."

"We need to talk to him," Gibbs said. "Off the record."

Coleman picked up her desk phone and dialed a number. "Henry?" she asked. "It's Faith." She listened for a few seconds. "No, I have NCIS here. They need to talk to you. Quietly." She listened, then handed the receiver to Gibbs.

Bishop sat on her hands as Gibbs picked up the phone. Only hearing one side of the conversation was killing her. She recognized O'Meara's name from the list McGee had compiled, but Gibbs didn't want her talking so she tried not to.

"You're sure?" Gibbs said. He paused. "Thank you." He handed the receiver back to Coleman. "And thank you."

"Are we done?" she asked.

"For now." He got up and left, and Bishop followed after him. She managed not to say anything until they were outside the building. But as soon as she opened her mouth to talk, Gibbs was dialing his phone.

"McGee?" he said. "Henry O'Meara. He's VA. Check out Chris Reynolds, Drew Zakim and Tonio Vespucci at DOD. He mentioned the problems to all three." Gibbs hung up.

"Back to the office?" Bishop asked. When she didn't get an answer, she just followed Gibbs. What else was she supposed to do?

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Ducky followed Abigail and Mr. Palmer into the director's office.

"Gibbs and his team are working on the case," Vance said. "I need the three of you to handle the more important task — finding a place for these men to sleep tonight."

"I'll start calling other shelters," Mr. Palmer said. "Maybe they can take some of them."

Vance motioned him over to his desk.

"Are you sure?" Jimmy said. "I can go into a conference room-"

"This is our top priority," Vance said. "Just don't touch anything."

Jimmy nodded and Ducky smiled as his assistant sat gingerly on the chair and reached for the phone. "You're sure?"

"Get on with it, Mr. Palmer," Ducky said. "Director, what if Mr. Palmer is not successful?"

"He won't be," Abby said. "I mean, Jimmy, definitely try because we might find places for some people, but most of the shelters are full to overflowing with the weather so we can't expect them to be able to handle another 500 people on short notice, which means we need to find another option but that's a lot of people."

"It is," Vance said. "What types of places might have that much space available on short notice?"

"Does the Anacostia base have any unused buildings that could work?" Ducky asked.

"I can certainly check, but we would need to have a plan in place to secure the facility," the director replied. "Access to bases is regulated, as you know, and SecNav will want to make sure that security is maintained. The last thing these men need is for Congress to find out and shut down that option as well because they believe it poses a security risk."

"Yes, I quite see the dilemma," Ducky replied. "Abigail, do you have any suggestions?"

She shook her head. "The shelters I've worked with are for battered women, so they won't take any men, and I can't ask them to. And Habitat is all about individual houses. They don't have the space for a lot of people. We need something with space for a lot of people, like a gym."

"Would the public schools be willing to let us use their facilities?" Ducky asked. "If we found a high school in each neighborhood where a shelter closed, we could keep these men in the comfort zone, which would undoubtedly help them psychologically."

"I can make some calls," Vance said.

"Schools usually have to charge rent for their facilities," Abby said. "The sisters have paid a few times to get the gym at the high school near them for the annual basketball game against the Sisters of St. Joseph because the school has bigger bleachers than any of the order's schools."

"I have a bit put away after selling Mother's house in Reston," Ducky said. "I will gladly contribute it to this worthy cause."

"Thank you Dr. Mallard, but you won't be the only one chipping in," Vance said. "I'll cover the fees."

"A school gym really isn't the best option," Abby said. "It's too bad we can't find space in a college dorm so they can have actual beds."

"Abigail, you might have something there," Ducky said. "I was having lunch with my old friend Robert the other day, a friend from back when I served in Afghanistan-"

"How does that help us, Dr. Mallard?" the director asked.

"Ah, yes," Ducky said. "Robert is a professor at Waverley University, and he was mentioning that the students don't come back for spring semester — such a misnomer in this weather — until after the holiday Monday. The dormitories are quite empty until Monday, when they can begin moving in."

"What about all their things from fall semester?" Abigail asked. "I don't remember bringing everything home at Christmas."

"One of the dormitories is used over the semester break to house visiting scholars," Ducky said. "Those students must take their things home or store them in units on campus during the break. But the scholars left Monday. I do believe that we can find spaces for at least a portion of the students in that dormitory, and Robert likely can convince his chancellor that that community benefit is worthy enough."

"Dr. Mallard, make that call," the director said. "Mr. Palmer, are you having any luck?"

"No, sir," Jimmy said. "A few of them even laughed when I asked if they had any space."

"Then you and Ms. Scuito work with Dr. Mallard," Vance said. "Doctor, if Waverley doesn't have enough space, see if your friend can suggest other colleges we can talk to."

"Absolutely," Ducky said.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Bishop looked up from her monitor. "Schenck's getting all sorts of attention for shutting down the shelters," she said.

"Tarred and feathered?" Tony asked.

"Tea party darling," she said. "It's the usual 'government spending is evil' line, and they're glad he struck a blow for democracy by weeding out waste and corruption." She wrinkled her nose. "I wonder what they think about the colleges stepping in to help."

Tony looked at Bishop, the conversation from yesterday playing in his head. "So Schenck came out ahead," he said.

"With the tea party, he did," she replied. "Why?"

"Because after saving the plant in his district, he was seen as part of the problem," McGee said. "Jack said everybody was glad he saved it, but it increased the pressure on him to cut government spending."

"And if people inside the district thought like that, it's not a stretch to think he could face a primary challenger who would insist that Schenck had been corrupted by his time in Washington," Tony said. "Schenck saw this as an opportunity to keep his power."

"You think he was the leak?" McGee asked.

"He had the most to gain," Tony said. "He was already in touch with the grandparents and with NCIS, and it would have been easy for him to call in and get an update, especially since he is on Armed Services. His committee assignment is how they were able to shut down the shelters."

"Vance and Gibbs are going to kill whoever told him," McGee said. "If he did this on principle, it's bad enough, but if he did it for political power-"

"We're going to stop him," Vance said from the staircase. "Bishop, meet Gibbs in the evidence garage. NCIS has secured spaces for the veterans, but we need to help them get there. You'll lead the team of agents helping the shelter volunteers spread the word."

"What about us, Director?" Tony asked.

"You two are going to finish nailing this son of a bitch so we can end this once and for all," Vance said.

"But I just finished tracking down the money trail," McGee said. "The information Gibbs got from Coleman gave me the last pieces I needed."

"That can wait," Vance replied. "We need to end this before anybody else gets hurt, and that means making sure that Schenck doesn't contact his friends on the Education committee or any other place that could pressure the colleges away from helping us. All we need is for alumni and parents to find out and raise holy hell on the evening news and we'll be back to square one."

"On it," Tony said. "Phone records, McOperator." He ignored the eye roll from McGee.

"Looks like somebody in legal talked to Schenck twice today," McGee said. "Schenck talked to him once yesterday, too."

"Him?" Tony said.

"Agent Foster Dunlap," McGee said. "He's a lawyer who was JAG in the Navy, then joined NCIS after he got out."

"Any connections to Pax River?" Tony asked.

"His rackmate on his last deployment, Lt. Alan Richardson, works in Capt. Coleman's office," McGee said. "And Richardson works in the office next to Coleman's. Richardson called Dunlap after you and Bishop were there the other day."

"He heard us Tuesday," Tony said. "He knew we were looking at Coleman and called his buddy to find out why. And since the agents in Legal are the ones who escort people upstairs, he either met Schenck then or knew Schenck had been here."

"And Dunlap thought he could make friends on Capitol Hill by telling Schenck what was going on," Tony said. "Schenck got lucky."

"We talked to a lot of people on this case," McGee said. "JAG, DOD, VA — there are lots of military connections in all three agencies, and Schenck's on Armed Services. Everybody's worried about what's going to happen with the sequester and the debt ceiling. If you can get an in with a Congressman who might have clout to get your department enough money to keep it running, wouldn't you take it?"

"Do we go after Dunlap, Richardson or Schenck first?" Tony asked, avoiding the question. He wasn't sure he knew the answer.

"We can threaten Dunlap with Gibbs," McGee said. "He knows enough to be afraid of him."

"Let's do it," Tony said.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:51 am 
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Chapter 19

McGee led the way into the offices where Legal had their desks and scanned the room, checking faces against the one on his phone.

"Over there," he whispered to Tony. "By the window."

"You're sure Richardson didn't call Dunlap after Gibbs and Bishop were there today?" Tony whispered back.

"Not unless he called in the three minutes it took us to walk down here," McGee replied. "Come on, let's take this guy in before Richardson does call him."

"Agent Dunlap?" Tony said, walking toward his desk.

"Yes?" The agent looked up. "Um-" He stood and looked like he was about to bolt before Tony shook his head.

"Don't be stupid," Tony said. "Oh, wait. That would be more stupid, because interfering with one of Gibbs' cases is about as stupid as it gets."

Dunlap opened his mouth, but Tony cut him off. "Save it," he said. "Agent McGee and I need to talk to you. Downstairs. In interrogation. If you're lucky, we'll be done before Gibbs gets back." He grinned, and McGee wondered if Dunlap was smart enough to realize that was the same smile as a shark before the kill.

McGee managed not to laugh at how much Tony was enjoying this. "Your cell phone," he said to Dunlap.

"You can't-" Dunlap shut his mouth. "Fine." He handed over an iPhone and McGee checked it for recent calls and texts.

"Just what we knew," he said.

Tony nodded and led the way out, with McGee behind Dunlap to make sure he didn't try anything.

But they stopped in a hallway before they got to the interrogation room. The stairwell created a small open space, like the one behind the bullpen. Tony turned to subtly herd Dunlap in the corner and McGee caught on, closing in from the other side.

"You made a phone call yesterday," McGee said, holding up the iPhone. "You should have known better, Dunlap."

"I-" The agent held up his hands as if to ward them off. McGee stepped closer, Tony right in sync.

"You leaked information on an ongoing investigation," Tony said. "I don't know every page of the NCIS manual the way McMemory here does, but even I know that's listed as something you should never, ever do."

"Page 37," McGee said. Not that he remembered, but he could tell where Tony was going. This would be fun if the stakes weren't so high. "Right before it lists what happens if you do leak the information."

"Nothing good," Tony said. "Nothing good happens. Especially not when the director of NCIS is involved in the investigation."

"Or Agent Gibbs," McGee said, taking another step forward. Now he and Tony were less than two feet from Dunlap. "Tony, what happened to the last person who interfered with one of Gibbs' investigations?"

"Did he let Abby loose on him?" Tony said, fingers stroking his chin. "No, that was the one who tried to interfere. I think he handed the last person who actually interfered over to Ducky."

"I think we should hand this one over to Gibbs himself," McGee said.

"No, I think Director Vance wants to handle this one personally," Tony said, stepping closer. McGee echoed him, and now they were just inches from Dunlap. "But the director might want Gibbs to help." Tony leaned in. "Dunlap, you do not want Gibbs helping. Unless you have a death wish."

"All I did was answer a question," Dunlap said.

"McGee, did he answer a question?" Tony asked.

"Abby's still pulling the tapes of his calls with Congressman Schenck," McGee lied. "But he called the Congressman. Maybe he told the Congressman what question to ask."

"Is that what you did, Agent Dunlap?" Tony asked.

The agent shook his head, shrinking down as Tony loomed in.

"What did you tell Schenck?" McGee asked. "Remember, if you lie, we'll know."

"Just that you'd caught the killer and were investigating missing money," Dunlap said. "I didn't tell him who killed the sailor, just that you caught him."

"No, you told him we were investigating the money," Tony said. "That's much worse." He straightened up. "Tell him what he's won, McGee."

"A cozy holding cell and a chat with the director whenever he finds time after clearing up the mess you caused," McGee said.

"I-"

"Don't talk," Tony said. He looked over at McGee. "They always want to talk. Do they think it's going to help?" He looked back at Dunlap. "Come on."

After they turned him over to the agents in the holding cells with specific instructions, the men headed back upstairs. Tony stopped in front of the wall of windows and looked out, across the river. “You can almost see where Briggs was killed from here,” he said.

McGee stopped next to him. “It makes me wonder how many other people are out there that we should see and don’t,” he said. He stared out the window without seeing and wondered if that was a metaphor for this case.

“More than we think,” Tony said. He sighed, then turned to face McGee. “Back to the case: Where did the money come from?"

"Drew Zakim, a clerk at the DOD who retires in the spring," McGee said. "He has a pension from the Marines for 20 years of service there, plus a federal pension for 22 years with the DOD as a civilian, or he will once he turns 60 in June."

"So even if he got caught and fired from the DOD, he has his Marine pension to fall back on," Tony said. "How does he know O'Meara?"

"They served together during Zakim's last tour," McGee said. "They're not close friends, but last summer everybody who served on the USS Reuben James got together for its decommissioning. I found candid photos from the event that have both men in them, so they must have talked there. I found a few emails from them in the first few weeks after that. Then the communications I could find on legitimate channels stopped."

"Well if you have to specify, I need to ask what illegitimate channels we're talking about," Tony replied.

"It looks like they both started anonymous Gmail accounts," McGee said. "I managed to find traces of one on O'Meara's work computer, and then it was easy to crack into it and find the chain of emails. They started out just talking about the problems they saw with the way veterans were treated, but then it got serious."

"Whose idea was it to transfer the money?" Tony asked.

"Zakim's," McGee said. "He never told O'Meara he was doing it, but he started asking O'Meara about the VA and its programs, carefully. O'Meara probably never realized what was going on."

"Until now," Tony said. "After Gibbs was asking questions today, O'Meara had to be thinking about what happened."

"Gibbs and Bishop are out on the streets now," McGee said. "Think we can get them over to Zakim's office before he finds out what's going on?"

"If anybody can get there fast, it's Gibbs," Tony said, pulling his phone from his pocket. "Good work, Tim."



~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



McGee sat in the chair at the interrogation table, while Tony lurked behind him. Knowing Tony, he was in the corner getting ready to intimidate at just the right moment.

"Drew Zakim," McGee said, looking at the man across from them. "Retired Marine, served with honor." He laid Zakim's SRB file on the table. "Outstanding DOD employee, according to your personnel file." Another folder on the table. "And embezzler." He looked up. "That one's not in your file."

"I'm not an embezzler." Zakim sat in his chair, spine straight. After 27 years, he still wore his hair close to a high-and-tight, and McGee wondered if the Corps did something to make Marines think the haircut looked good.

"Last time I checked, misappropriating money was embezzlement," McGee said. "Right, Tony?"

"Punishable by all sorts of penalties, including termination and loss of your pension," Tony replied.

"We have the pieces all lined up," McGee said. "Capt. Coleman's office files paperwork for the veterans with Henry O'Meara's VA office. O'Meara makes a note of which shelters are helping the veterans, and when he sees ones that help a lot, he tells you and you move the money from the X78B-1 account at the Department of Defense into the housing program for homeless veterans at the VA."

"That's not embezzlement," Zakim said.

"The money was tagged for the X78 program at DOD, not for the VA," McGee said. "That's misappropriation, which means it's embezzlement, and that's a felony."

"Tell me, Agent McGee," Zakim said, his hands folded on the table in front of him. "When your electric bill gets higher in the winter, do you pay it?"

"Yes," McGee said. "Of course."

"And you have a budget for your money," Zakim said. "An organized person like you, I'm sure you have one."

"I do," McGee said.

"So when you move money from wherever you take it in your budget to pay your electric bill, are you embezzling?" Zakim asked. "Or are you just adjusting your budget?"

He was clever, McGee would give him that. "But I make my budget," he said. "Congress makes the budget for the DOD and for the VA, and so only Congress can move the money around."

"Congress hasn't passed a budget yet for this year," Zakim said. "They haven't passed one for a couple of years. In the meantime, our needs keep changing. X78 managed to cut its costs by $78 million this year, but the agency level funds everything because there's no new budget."

"So you moved the money to the part of the budget that needed it — the veterans," McGee said.

"We were DOD before we fell under the VA," Zakim said. "The DOD doesn't need as many of us anymore, so we're the VA's responsibility."

"You moved the money to keep up with the troops who were leaving the service," McGee said. He paused. "Why just that program? Why not other VA programs?"

"That was the greatest need," Zakim said. But he looked down.

"Was it?" McGee asked. Zakim didn't reply.

"It wasn't," Tony said. He walked over and put his hands on the table, leaning toward Zakim. "But it was the program at the VA that sent money outside the agency. If the money started pouring into other offices at the VA, somebody would notice. OPM would notice it was getting more job openings to post, or the hospitals would realize they had more supplies. You knew if somebody noticed, you'd be caught. But each shelter getting a grant would just assume it had a bigger share of the same pool of money, not a piece from a bigger pool of money. And by the time the annual audit rolled around, you'd be retired and the trail of money would be muddled."

"I did not embezzle," Zakim said. "But if you would like, charge me. When this goes to trial, we will see whether people believe your definition or mine."

"Here's what I want to know," Tony said. "Why just those shelters?"

"He has a point," McGee said. "Why not all the shelters? Why just those four?"

"Was it because they were in Washington?" Tony asked. "You didn't like the way Congress handled the federal budget. Maybe you didn't like how they handled the city's budget, either."

"I made sure the programs that needed it got the money," Zakim said. "I did my job. If Congress cannot do theirs, the men who served should not suffer."

"So you did reroute the money," McGee said. He stood up and started gathering the papers from the tabletop. "Oh, and thanks to what you did to move the money around, Congress shut down the shelters today. It looks like the men who served are suffering."

When he and Tony left the room, Zakim was still sitting there, silent.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"There are too many connections in this case," Palmer said from his desk in the corner of autopsy. "Doesn't Agent Gibbs have a rule about that?"

"Washington's an incestuous city," Tony said. He sat on the table closest to Palmer’s desk. "It's all about who you know. In this case, too many people know each other."

"That doesn't seem odd to you?" Palmer asked.

"Our favorite FBI agent used to be married to Gibbs' ex-wife," Tony said, holding his hands up in front of him.

"Good point," Palmer replied. "I guess it does happen. That's how we found a place for the shelter residents. Dr. Mallard called on one of his old college classmates who's a professor now at Waverley. Once Waverley was on board, they were able to get the others."

"That was good work by all of you," Tony said. "Without a place for the veterans to stay, the only thing the rest of us could have done would have been try to contain the fallout today."

"Except that they no longer do, Anthony," Ducky said as he walked into the main autopsy room. "That was my friend Martin. Some of the alumni work on Capitol Hill and they found out what we were planning. They alerted the media, and started making phone calls."

"Let me guess," Tony said. "They threatened to pull their hefty donations and the college presidents caved."

"And we still have no place to house these veterans," Ducky said. "It's not safe for them to be on the streets tonight, and every shelter Mr. Palmer called has a waiting list already."

"Schenck," Tony said with disgust. "If he'd just waited, or checked his information with us."

"Reserve your ire for Agent Dunlap," Vance said as he joined them. "Schenck did what every politician does — served his own best interests. Agent Dunlap is the one who put these men and women at risk."

"So we need to convince Schenck it's in his best interests to fix this," Tony said. "Guess that means a trip to Capitol Hill for me."

"Let me go," Vance said. "He can't afford to make it look like he's not cooperating with me after he's talked publicly about what good work we did uncovering the embezzlement. He's smart enough to know the media will wonder why we're arguing and he can't afford those questions."

"And you're smart enough to make sure the media's around when you try to talk to him," Tony said. "Nice work, Director."

"I have the easy job," Vance said. "I'm just getting him here. You all have to get him to fix this. That might be beyond even Gibbs' powers of persuasion."

"Oh, I don't think persuading him will be what Gibbs has in mind, Director," Tony said, his smile stretching wide. "Scaring him is more like it. Especially after Abby hears about this."

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 8:59 am 
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Chapter 20

McGee saw Vance stop at Gibbs' desk, then leave the building. Gibbs was scowling worse than normal, and McGee figured he'd better get out before Bishop said the wrong thing. Besides, Vance had come from downstairs, which either meant autopsy or the lab. He'd bet on the lab, and that meant Abby would know what was going on.

But when he got there, all he found was Tony.

"Abby left you alone here?" McGee said.

"Abby's in the ballistics room taking out her frustration at politicians," Tony said. McGee realized he could hear the faint pop of bullets.

"She's still mad about the shelter," McGee said.

"No, she's mad that the colleges backed out because some idiot on Capitol Hill found out and got the alumni all upset," Tony said. "Ducky was just as mad, but I think he's off to give Dunlap a good talking-to."

"Dunlap will be busy for a while, then," McGee said. He sat down at the work table in the main lab. "I don't get it," he said. "Don't all the flag bumper stickers and speeches about keeping our men and women in uniform safe mean anything?"

"They're not in uniform," Tony said. "They're former military, many of them discharged for reasons that aren't seen as honorable."

"So it's OK to let them freeze to death?" McGee said. "That's cold, Tony."

"It's easier that way," Tony said. "It's easy to blame them for the drugs and the alcohol and forget about what we asked them to do that put them in a place where they thought they needed drugs and alcohol to survive."

"Just another homeless drunk on the streets?" McGee said. "You don't really think that, do you?"

"Walking the beat in Baltimore, I saw dozens of them a day. They'd beg for money, use that for a bottle of cheap booze or some drugs." Tony looked up and out the small windows set high in the wall. McGee watched the side of his face, waiting for Tony to explain. "I'd bust them, little charges. Some of them had dozens of those charges, then more when they skipped court, didn't pay their fines. The charges piled higher, the drunk tank never got any emptier and none of them got off the streets unless they died."

"Veterans?" McGee asked.

"Don't know," Tony said. "I couldn't spot a sailor at 50 yards like I can now. Back then I didn't get it. When Coleman talked about Petty Officer Curtin and his unit, I didn't get it."

"I don't think we can," McGee said. "My father saw action at the tail end of Vietnam, and he doesn't talk about it. He doesn't talk about anything. At this point, he's not going to."

"My father does it, and he's never been in battle," Tony said. "He doesn't want to think about something, so he has a drink. I swore I wouldn't do that. Until the first time I woke up in a cold sweat and needed to stop thinking."

"After Kate?" McGee asked, his voice quiet.

"Before then," Tony said. "I came back to work that week because all I was doing at home was falling asleep and waking up screaming." He looked at McGee, his face looking more his age than McGee had ever seen before. "That's why I don't go to see Gibbs in the basement when I have nightmares about blue lights and drowning without getting near water, McStable. I'd end up drunk on the floor of his basement and it would be too easy to do that again and again."

"And you're afraid you'd end up like them," McGee said.

"Aren't you?" Tony replied.

"I don't think about it," McGee lied. "Besides, Penny and my sister would stage an intervention."

"That's why these veterans slip through the cracks," Abby said.

McGee looked over his shoulder to see her standing in the doorway to her office, her eyes shimmering with tears she somehow was holding back. "Abbs?" he asked.

"Most of them don't have family or any kind of support network once they leave the service, just like Petty Officer Briggs," she said. "The veterans who have family, they get help more often, and they don't wind up on the streets as much. Somebody's there to stop them."

"That's why the coaches in college had all the freshmen and sophomores live in the dorms," Tony said. "There was an RA to keep an eye on problems."

"At MIT, it was the geeks that needed the extra eyes," McGee said.

"If you're at MIT, aren't you a geek by definition?" Tony snarked. McGee ignored him.

"It got so competitive, suicide was a big risk. The university watched the library, not the bars, for the students at risk."

"That's it!" Abby said. "McGee, you're a genius."

"Abby?" Tony said.

"What are you talking about?" McGee said as she ran into her office.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Vance had his driver pull the car over near Capitol Hill, then got out to have a word with the security guards. The Capitol Police hesitated before nodding.

"Twenty minutes," one of them said. "Then we're going to need to move you along."

"Understood," Vance replied.

He headed for the Capitol, certain that Schenck wouldn't be hiding away in the Rayburn building where his offices were located. Not today. When he saw the crush of TV cameras, including several of the local stations, bunched up on the steps, he knew he'd been right.

Vance worked his way around the edges until he knew the congressman could see him. When Schenck didn't stop talking, Vance tapped his watch.

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I have to go," Schenck told the reporters. "If you talk to my aide, Justin will make sure you get any additional information you need." He extricated himself and motioned for Vance to join him.

"Do you have news, Director?" he said.

"We do," Vance said. "We're going to need you to come down to NCIS with me."

"It's the middle of the day," Schenck said. "I could make time for a briefing later this afternoon."

"It's not a briefing." Vance straightened up. "We have our killer. We have the people who moved the money around. And we have the person who leaked confidential information about an NCIS investigation, which obstructed that investigation."

"That's wonderful," Schenck said. "The media's all right here — I'm sure we can get them back here so you can announce that." He moved in that direction, and Vance held up his hand.

"You don't seem to understand, so let me make myself clear," Vance said. "Agent Dunlap is in a holding cell at NCIS. You're going to be joining him there."

"You can't do that," Schenck said.

"Watch me," Vance replied. "Now, you can come quietly, or I will call those reporters over here. I'm sure they'll be happy to show footage of a sitting congressman being arrested in connection with murder and misappropriation of government funds."

"I'll come," Schenck said. "Just don't tell the media or you'll ruin me."

"Perhaps you should have thought of that earlier," Vance said. "This way."

It wasn't until they were in the car, the Congressman in the back seat, that Vance turned to face him.

"The child safety locks are on so don't try and run," he said. "Being shot while escaping federal custody wouldn't make for very good headlines."

"The media is a necessary evil," Schenck said. "You know that."

"Necessary for you to get re-elected, maybe," Vance said. "You don't need it to do your job."

"If I don't get coverage of my work, the people back in Pennsylvania forget about what I've done to help them," Schenck said. "Then I'm unemployed."

"You mean like you helped Petty Officer Briggs?" Vance said.

"I made sure he got justice," Schenck said.

"No, my team made sure justice was served in his case," Vance said. "They didn't work any faster or any harder because you were pressuring them. Gibbs treats the murder of a seaman the same as the murder of an admiral."

"I don't appreciate your tone," Schenck said.

"Ask me if I care," Vance said. "I've been privy to Gibbs' investigation, and I know there wasn't much difference between you and Petty Officer Briggs except that you got a better break once or twice in life. Those breaks are worth a lot. Ask me how I know."

"How," Schenck said, his voice sullen.

"I got those breaks and my best friend didn't," he said. "He died because some punk thought my friend was standing in his way. You and Petty Officer Briggs, you were the same age. Stillwater's a small town. I'm sure you knew each other as children. Yet you don't seem to care that he's dead, just that you were able to get good press because we caught his killer. Did you not want people to know that you came from that background?"

"That's-" Scheck broke off, sputtering.

"You see, that's the difference between us," Vance said. "I never forgot where I came from or who I am. You have. I know what it's like to have no opportunities, no way out and to somehow find a way."

"You don't know anything," Schenck said.

"I know you're facing charges for obstructing a federal investigation and Agent Gibbs wants a word with you," Vance said. "If I were you, I'd worry more about that than about what the media will say when they find out about this."

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"McGee, you're a genius," Abby said. She ran into her main office, ignoring the guys calling after her as she dialed a familiar number. Her foot was bouncing as she waited to get connected with the right person.

"Sr. Jerome, it's Abby," she said, finally. "I've got a really, really important favor to ask you, something to help all the people who were using the shelter Sr. Martha's nuns help at and the other shelters like it."

"Slow down, Abby," the nun said. "I'm not sure we can help you, not after what happened last time. Sr. Martha is grievously vexed that all of those young men are suffering, and she — quite rightly — pointed out that had we not helped you and your friends, the shelters would be operating still."

"I know, I know and we didn't realize that was going to happen," Abby said. "But I know how we can fix it, at least long enough for Bossman and the Director to get the shelters reopened." She outlined her plan. "Can we, please?"

"I suppose what the Cardinal doesn't know can't hurt him," Sr. Jerome said. "Yes, Abby, we will help."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Abby said.

When she finished the phone call, she looked up to see McGee and Tony standing there.

"You want to fill us in, Abbs?" McGee asked.

"Sr. Jerome will help," Abby said. "Well, she's not really telling anybody she's helping because some of the sisters are still upset that the shelters were shut down and people were thrown out onto the street, but Sr. Jerome believed me when I said we hadn't thought that was going to happen and we wanted to fix it and we had a really good idea for fixing it."

"And this idea would be...?" Tony asked.

"Holy Trinity Catholic School closed after last year because the parish couldn't afford to keep it open at prices people in the parish could afford," Abby said. "They had four or five nuns who were getting too frail to keep teaching and no new nuns coming in and the cost of adding that many teachers all at once meant that tuition was going to go way up and a lot of the families couldn't afford it and the Cardinal shut them down and the nuns were really upset because they love teaching and they were worried about their students going to the public schools because people are a lot more likely to shoot them or knife them or beat them up or-"

"Abby, focus," Tony said. "How does that help us?"

"Catholic University needed some overflow space for the fall semester because renovations on one of their buildings weren't done in time, so they used the school building," Abby said, as she pulled up a map of the city on the big screen. "The professors had to move all of their stuff back this week because the new building is open for spring semester, which starts on Tuesday, so the old school is empty and the power and heat aren't scheduled to be turned off until tomorrow afternoon, which means there's space and even if it's not space with beds, it's still better than being outside because they can be warm and have a place to eat a hot dinner."

"And the nuns will let us use it?" McGee asked.

"Sr. Jerome said there are a few rooms that still need to be cleaned out by the professors, so we can't use all of them, but there's enough space in the rest of the building," Abby said. "Just for tonight, though, because of the power and heat."

"We'll have another solution by tomorrow night," Tony said. "The way Gibbs is acting right now, he'll personally march them over to Capitol Hill and help them bed down in the hallways there so the politicians can see what they did."

"Tony's right," McGee said. "Abby, better go tell Vance what's going on before he decides he's not going to stop Gibbs from punching Agent Dunlap or anybody else involved in this mess."

Before Abby could tell McGee that Vance had just walked in behind them, Tony said "Dunlap could use a good beating."

Abby shook her head, pigtails bouncing.

"Abbs-" Tony said.

"Is there a problem, Agent DiNozzo?" Vance said.

Tony jerked his head around as though Gibbs was behind him. "Oh, hi, Director. I said Dunlap will learn what it takes to be a good agent after talking with Gibbs. Sir."

"No, I think you were right the first time," Vance said, and Abby couldn't help but giggle at the expressions on the guys' faces. "Please tell me one of you has a solution for our immediate problem."

"Abby does," Tony and McGee said in unison.

"I'm pleased to hear it," Vance said. "Then perhaps you two can get back to figuring out what's really going on here before I find myself testifying before Congress. Congressman Schenck is sitting in a holding cell, waiting for Agent Gibbs. I think we'll let him wait a little longer, until we have answers."

"On it," Tony said, rushing out of the room, McGee on his heels.

Vance gave a nod, then looked at her. "So, Ms. Scuito, what is this solution and am I going to like it?"

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 9:03 am 
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Chapter 21

Two hours later, Gibbs walked into the interrogation room where Schenck sat, face damp with sweat.

"You leaked intel," Gibbs said as he sat down. He stared at the Congressman. "You used your position to get information you shouldn't have had and you used it to impede our investigation."

"I was fixing a problem," Schenck said.

"The embezzlers almost got away because of you," Gibbs said.

"Did they?" Schenck asked. "From what I hear, they were proud of what they did. Proud that they stole government money. The taxpayers deserve to know that."

"That money went to a legitimate program in the Veterans Administration that was authorized for more funding until Congress failed to pass a budget," Gibbs said. "Your committee made the decision that politics was more important than need when they kept that contract in Benton."

"That was a need," Schenck said. "That contract preserved jobs in a small business. You know the area. Without those jobs, there's no way out. Without them, the only jobs are in the mine, and nobody comes out of there. I was helping a job creator."

"At the expense of the men and women who serve this country," Gibbs said. "We looked back. Your committee cut a deal to take money from the VA to keep it in Defense, and the DOD was supposed to pick up some of the VA services and roll them into the process when servicemen and -women leave."

"It's more efficient that way," Schenck said. "We need to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers' money."

"Keeping a small contract for $15.6 million with a local company instead of letting those parts roll into the master contract the Navy has would have saved almost $10 million. That's more efficient," Gibbs said.

"Sometimes there are tradeoffs," Schenck said.

"Who decides? You?" Gibbs said. "You and your buddies on Capitol Hill with your donations from people like Chuck Winslow?"

"What does Winslow have to do with it?" Schenck said.

"You trying to tell me you don't know?" Gibbs said.

Schenck shook his head. "I don't know. He told me about Briggs, asked me to help the grandparents. That's all I know."

"Winslow was Briggs' father," Gibbs said. "He was pulling strings for his family, and you let him because it let you make headlines and keep your political power, because you needed Winslow and you needed the tea party."

Schenck swallowed. "I didn't know," he said. "God as my witness, I didn't know."

"What, did Chuck spin some sort of tale about Briggs?" Gibbs said.

"He said he didn't trust the Navy, that they had to be lying to the grandparents," Scheck said, his voice low. "He said he knew I had connections since I was on Armed Services, he knew he could count on me to help. He knew that if I helped the Briggses, people would remember that come election time."

"So you helped him." Gibbs sat up straight.

"He's the only person who would take a chance on me, Gibbs," Schenck said. "You know Stillwater, you know my family. The scholarship from Chuck's daddy was the only way I got out of that town, and I owed them. I needed to show them it wasn't a waste. I worked hard, made something of myself. You know what that's like." He hesitated. "The plant, that's the only way out. I couldn't let that disappear. That's our problem in Stillwater: there's no way out. Winslow doesn't help most people. Everybody else, they're just scraping by on the scraps Winslow and his family let fall from the table. Your daddy bucked the system, started his store, but most can't or won't."

"Briggs got out," Gibbs said. "And then when the Navy failed him, you didn't help him. Why? Because Winslow was his father?"

"I told you, I didn't know," Schenck said. "If I had, I would have done something."

"You want to do something?" Gibbs said.

"Anything," Schenck said.

"We've got five hundred people with no place to go because of what you pulled today, and many of them are veterans," Gibbs said. "We found space for them tonight, but that runs out tomorrow. You have clout, and a Republican who supports veterans is good publicity. Use it. Get those shelters reopened and funded by morning."

"And if I don't?" Schneck said.

"You're not the only one who can leak information," Gibbs said. "You leave them hanging, we'll hang you on your own words."

Schenck nodded. "I'll fix it," he said. "You have my word."

"Your word's not worth much around here. Your actions are what counts." Gibbs stood. "Go on, get out of here."

He watched as Schenck rushed out of the door. Now to see if the Congressman would actually follow through.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Later that afternoon, Vance finished his call with SecNav and headed downstairs to inform the team. He was curious what they would think about the decisions those above them had made.

McGee and DiNozzo were at their desks, sniping back and forth over something. Vance wasn't sure he wanted to know, so he didn't listen too hard. Bishop was sitting on her desk — again — and Vance wondered when DiNozzo had become the most normal member of Team Gibbs.

Gibbs was just returning to his desk, most likely from the lab. Vance was glad to see he was walking normally again. He knew the day would come when he had to bench the man, because the alternative was that Gibbs would die a line-of-duty death before age caught up with him. Vance didn't want either to happen, but he'd take the benching. Better Gibbs live long enough to retire and give them all hell. Some days Vance hated the decisions this job forced upon them.

He entered the bullpen, and everybody but Gibbs looked up.

"Director," DiNozzo said. "I thought we finally had everything fixed, except for whatever the Boss scared Schenck into doing to fix his part of the mess."

"We do," Vance said. "I've spent a great deal of time today making sure that if we couldn't get justice served, we could at least get a reasonable facsimile. Fortunately, all involved had a vested interest in resolving this quickly."

"So what's going to happen to Horton?" Bishop asked from her perch on her desk.

"Unofficially, I've heard that they're arranging a plea deal for him," Director Vance said. "He'll agree to a civil commitment, which should help him get some of the treatment he needs, and he won't get a criminal mark on his record. In exchange, the Navy will do the paperwork to make sure he gets the benefits he should have gotten." He looked around the room. "As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, this deal is one that an ambitious politician could use in any number of ways, so do not talk about it outside this room. We need to keep this one under the radar."

"And our talkative agent in the legal department?" DiNozzo asked.

"Agent Dunlap turns out to be deficient in some of his professional development and has been sent to FLETC for additional training," Vance said. "When he returns to NCIS — if he returns to NCIS — he'll be reassigned to a posting where he can be closely supervised and where his operations manager will be quick to address any shortcomings in his skill set."

"You're sending him to OSP, aren't you," McGee said, smirking.

"Ms. Lange and Assistant Director Granger have both proven excellent at weeding out those who are not ready for the responsibility of being an NCIS agent," Vance said. "I'm certain that if Agent Dunlap successfully completes his assignment there, we need have no further concern about his work."

"Do you think he knows Hetty is at least as scary as Gibbs?" DiNozzo said. "I mean, not that I'm scared of Hetty-"

Vance held up a hand. "Unless you'd like me to test that out by sending you out there for a case, I suggest you stop there, Agent DiNozzo."

"Yes, sir," DiNozzo replied. "So Dunlap's been sent to hell, Horton's getting as much help as we can give him. What about the others involved in the money transfer?"

"The Veterans Administration and Department of Defense don't share their internal disciplinary reports with me, but I understand that all those involved are being appropriately handled," Vance said. "I do know from SecNav that those in JAG who inadvertently provided the targets for the misdirected funds are not being disciplined. SecNav reviewed Capt. Coleman's reports and data on the cases her department had forwarded on to the VA and is adjusting that section of JAG to take official responsibility for that transfer. She told me that she would coordinate with the VA to formalize the shortcut from JAG to the appropriate VA office and she plans to work with the other branches of the military to see if those JAG offices can do the same."

"So now we just need to see if Schenck comes through," McGee said.

"We do indeed," Vance said. "Gibbs, my office, please."

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 9:34 am 
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Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
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Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
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link: First Novel
Chapter 22

Gibbs stood just inside the door, watching Vance.

"Relax, Gibbs," Vance said. "I signed off on your annual evaluation paperwork today. You're set for another year unless you go out on medical leave."

Gibbs waited. The director had called him up here for something.

"Your scores are still within the range to stay on as an active field agent after you turn 55 next year. Barely," Vance said. He stood in the middle of his office, his shoulders relaxed.

Gibbs waited.

"I've been reviewing my options," Vance said. "I'm glad to see your knee's feeling better."

"Director?" Gibbs asked.

"I've hidden enough injuries in my day after getting my ass kicked in the ring to know when somebody's trying to hide one from me," Vance said. "I'm sure Dr. Mallard also noticed, though he gets his practice more with DiNozzo than with you."

"Knee's fine," Gibbs said.

"Today it is," Vance said. "I don't want to take you out of the field, Gibbs. You're an asset to this agency, one I don't want to lose. You're also an asset I don't want behind a desk. You and I both know that would not work."

"There a point to this, Leon?" Gibbs said.

"Stop trying to tough it out when that knee acts up," Vance said. "You have a good team. Let DiNozzo and McGee take the lead in the field if you need them to. You're not 30 anymore, Gibbs, or even 40. Neither of us are. Step back when you need to, focus on making Bishop as good an investigator as she is an analyst and as good as the rest of your team in the field. You do that and I'll work with Dr. Mallard to make sure we can keep you in the field."

"Why?" Gibbs asked.

"You're a son-of-a-bitch to deal with, Gibbs, but you're like that with everybody, including the dirtbags," Vance said. "I want you on my team as long as possible. I'm willing to bend the rules to do it. Just don't spread it around."

Gibbs shook his head.

"Go on, go," Vance said. "If Schenck doesn't have things fixed by noon tomorrow, let me know. I have a few more strings I can pull there. Now, your team's done good work. Go home."

Gibbs just nodded and left the room. But as he walked downstairs, he felt a bit lighter than he had before.

~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



"Come on," Abby said. "I volunteered to help with dinner over at the school. Who's coming with me?" She looked around the bullpen.

"I will," McGee said.

“What about Delilah?” Abby asked.

“She’s busy,” McGee said. He didn’t explain, just started packing up his gear in his backpack.

"Breena's meeting us there," Jimmy said. "Dr. Mallard, are you coming?"

"Yes, I believe I will," Ducky said as Gibbs walked down the stairs. "Jethro, are you joining us?"

Gibbs gave a nod.

"Count me in," Tony said. "Bishop and I are helping cook. We already promised Abby."

It wasn't long before the entire team found themselves over at the old school, down in the basement cafeteria. Abby watched as Tony, Bishop and Ducky headed for the kitchen, while Jimmy started setting up folding chairs at all the tables.

"Come on, Gibbs," she said, linking her arm in his and tugging him toward the serving line. "Let's carry the food over so the sisters don't have to."

"We can handle it, Abby, dear," Sr. Jerome said as she set a tray full of lasagna into the steam table. "But we won't turn down the help, either." She winked.

Within a half hour, the food was set up and Tony and Bishop were bringing out the last of the vegetables for the trays on the line.

"We've got more cooking, Abbs," Tony said. "You guys just say the word."

Before she could say anything, the men started pouring into the cafeteria from the wide hallway outside.

When Abby finally had a chance to look up 45 minutes later, she saw Jimmy, Vance and Vance’s children clearing tables. Gibbs was talking and laughing with some of the men going through the line. She looked over her shoulder to see Ducky, McGee and Breena up to their elbows in dishes while Tony and Bishop stirred dishes on the stove.

Abby decided they needed to do things like this as a team more often, not just when they felt responsible for screwing up people's lives.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



The next morning, Tony sipped his coffee while Bishop and McGee talked some weird nonsense. Then Abby came running into the bullpen. "Turn on the TV," she said. "You aren't going to believe this."

Tony swiveled in his chair and turned on the TV to ZNN. Schenck stood in front of the cameras on Capitol Hill.

"I am pleased to announce that thanks to the donations of my fellow congressmen, the four shelters that closed down have reopened, serving the men and women who served this country with the services they need to get back on their feet," Schenck said.

"That smile must be frozen to his face," McGee said, the snark evident in his voice.

"He got it done, Tim," Tony said. "I don't know that I like how he did it, but he did get it done." He watched the flashbulbs popping as Schenck spoke.

"Sr. Jerome is going to be really happy," Abby said. "I have to go call her." She ran back out of the bullpen.

"I think I'll make a few calls myself," Bishop said. She actually sat at her desk, her attention focused on the phone. Tony looked over at McGee. "You have any calls to make?" he asked.

McGee shook his head and got up, walked over to the window wall. Tony joined him.

“Tim?” he asked.

"Am I the only one not excited about this?" McGee asked. "Schenck’s solution isn’t serving the troops and the veterans the way they need to be served, not really. What happens next month when the spotlight's off the shelters and the loopholes that let Zakim and his crew fund the shelters still are closed? Will all the politicians shell out more of their money to keep the shelters running?"

"I don't know," Tony said. "I guess we have to hope that they do." But he sounded uncertain, even to himself.

"Zakim might not have had a legal plan, but at least he wasn't leaving people to only rely on hope," McGee said.

Tony couldn't disagree. He stared out the window, not sure he wanted to see Tim’s face. "Do you ever wish we hadn't started investigating?" he said, his voice quiet. "We could have left this alone and nobody would have noticed. We were the only ones who saw the shelter and its size."

McGee sighed. “I know,” he said after a minute. “You think I haven’t asked myself that a hundred times this week? But we didn’t know it wasn’t part of the murder case.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Tony said.

"We couldn't let it continue," McGee replied. "We had to follow the trail, and once we realized, we had to do something about it." He didn’t sound convinced.

"But some days doing the right thing leaves you feeling like you're doing it all wrong," Tony said.

McGee didn’t have an answer for that.

Tony stared across the river at the highway overpass and wondered if he should have looked the other way, just this once.

Quote:
AN: And here's the prompt: "The team investigates a local veterans' shelter that is being funded by embezzled government money. When the shelter is shut down during the coldest winter on record, the team grapples with what's lawful and what's moral. You can focus on a specific character, too, if that's more of your thing."

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