Gibbs stepped into his basement, threw his phone on the work bench, and inhaled deeply. It smelled different than usual. He’d actually shelled out for the black locust for this boat, rather than his usual white oak. (Once he’d done plywood and fiberglass. That was not pleasant.) Only it wasn’t the smell of the wood; that had been around for a few weeks and he was used to it. Something else was . . . off. The back of his neck itched, and he scratched at it ineffectually.
He caught some motion out of the corner of his eye and had his gun pulled out of the drawer and aimed at it before he could even think. There was nothing there, though. He bent to look under the frame of the boat—no, just sawdust as usual. His gaze flicked around the room, but he didn’t set the gun down. Not yet.
A faint sound came from the other side of the room, where he’d stacked some spare lumber. He frowned. Just past the lumber was his washer and dryer, and past that, the old coal room, where he stored a handful of bottles of wine he’d been given that he’d never crack open and various other odds and ends. If someone was back there, he had them backed into a corner.
Snagging his cell phone with one hand and stuffing it in the kangaroo pocket of his sweatshirt, as well as a flashlight, he ducked down to about three-quarters of his height and headed for the dryer. Pressing up against the side, he looked over it into the dark back corner and pulled out the flashlight. He switched it on, holding the gun in one hand and the flashlight with the other.
There was no one back there, unless they were hiding flat against the wall on either side of the door in the coal room. Which was barely a possibility—the space was less than a foot—but he threw himself around the front of the dryer and washer and against the outside wall. He took a deep breath, wished briefly for backup, and threw himself into the doorway. “NCIS!” he bellowed, in his best come out with your hands up voice.
No one was there, but he felt something brush up against his legs. He jumped—no, he didn’t jump, but he did take an involuntary step backward, and waved the flashlight across the room, looking for whatever it was. Obviously some sort of animal, but—
There. A flash of light, and the dark streak flew out from behind the dryer over into the main part of the basement. He didn’t run, but he moved as quickly as he could until he was standing behind the boat. There was sawdust tracked across the basement in small, vaguely circular footprints. Where had the animal gone? He frowned again.
A moment later, a sound came from the top of the stairs, an odd sort of scratching noise and then—was that a meow?
Jesus. There was a fucking cat in his basement. He went to the base of the stairs and looked up. Yep. There was a black cat—kind of small, coated in sawdust—crouched by the closed door. Poor thing, he thought. Crouching down by the bottom step, he rubbed his fingers together and made a clicking sound with his tongue.
The cat turned and looked straight at him, eyes flashing as they had before. “Come on,” Gibbs said, in the voice that worked equally well on animals and probies. He rubbed his fingers together again. The cat took a tentative step towards the edge of the step and hesitated.
This was going to take a while. Well, it wasn’t like he really had something better to do. He risked a glance over at the frame of his boat and sighed.
Five whole minutes later, the cat was one step away from him, inching sideways as if it wanted to come forward but trusted him about as far as it could throw him. He sighed again—for about the twentieth time, actually—and said, “Well, come on!” for what he hoped would be the last time, and held out his hand.
Why he was doing this, he still didn’t know; he probably could have opened a couple of doors and the cat would have run outside. It was February, though, and although DC was in the middle of a warm spell, he didn’t like thinking of animals outside in the current weather. But the moment his concentration slipped and he started thinking about his knees, he felt a brush against his knuckles, and a moment after that, he was scratching behind the cat’s ears.
“Hi, there,” he said quietly. The cat did not answer in words, fortunately, but it did start purring after a moment or two. It wasn’t wearing a collar, but its fur was relatively clean and soft, other than the sawdust, so he assumed it was an escaped pet. Well, and also, it seemed to like humans some.
Right when the cat decided to flop over and let him pet her belly (incidentally discovering that it was, in fact, a girl-cat) his phone rang. The cat flipped over onto all fours in a crouching attack position, and Gibbs said, “Shh, shh,” as he dug the phone out of his pocket. “Yeah, Gibbs,” he said.
He listened for a moment, still absently petting the cat. “Yeah, I’ll be right there,” he said, and flipped the phone closed. “I gotta go,” he said to the cat. “Dead Marine. But I can’t leave you down here.” The piles of sawdust would be too much of a temptation. “How about you come upstairs and I’ll get you a box of sawdust?”
The cat obediently followed him upstairs and waited until he filled an empty dishwashing tub with sawdust, leaving it in the corner of the kitchen. He found himself opening up a can of tuna for the cat before he knew it and frowned. Damn cat. He was going to post flyers at the nearest opportunity, get her back where she belonged.
He gave the cat the tuna anyway. No sense in wasting an open can.
The last thing he saw as he left was the cat peering at him through the dining room window.