"Three times?" Tony sputtered, nearly spilling his beer. "He's been married three times? And you told the Chief to assign me to work with him? Gimme a break, Pete."
Though Pete O'Donnell was not partnered with Tony DiNozzo, he had become a good friend, and one of the few colleagues Tony trusted implicitly.
Older, wiser and senior, O'Donnell had taken Tony under his wing and polished the twenty-six year-old's natural skills. When NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs from D.C. asked for assistance with the department on a case that had crossed over to NCIS territory, Chief Wolenski had immediately assigned DiNozzo after O'Donnell had recommended him.
Tony, however, was clearly less than enthused.
"It's only for a few days, Tony," O'Donnell said. "Help the guy go over the reports. Give him your two cents. He might find something, he might not." He shrugged. "He's supposed to be some hotshot Navy cop and the chief wants to impress him."
O'Donnell drained his glass. "You know the chief. Believes one of these days, his brown-nosing's bound to pay off somewhere, somehow. And you know? He's right." O'Donnell's lips twisted in a parody of a smile.
"So this Navy cop. He's good, huh?" Tony asked.
"Supposed to be. Heard he's being promoted. Going to head up their Major Crimes unit."
Tony huffed. "Hope it's worth three marriages. Must be a right old bastard."
O'Donnell chuckled. "That's what the second ‘b' stands for, apparently."
"You saying from personal experience?" Tony looked askance at his friend and colleague.
"From the horse's mouth, actually." Pete chuckled. "I met him a couple of times when I was working a case that was connected to one of his."
"If you're trying to persuade me to work with the guy - not that I have a choice -this is not the way to do it."
"Listen, Tony." Pete's voice turned serious. "You've got to watch your back with Wolenski."
"I know," Tony murmurred. "I'm careful."
"Can't be careful enough. Just promise me," Pete said. "If things look like it could turn nasty, get the hell out. You're young, you're smart. You don't need to be a daily target for homophobes like Wolenski."
"I haven't given him any reason to target me," Tony said, and that was true. Wolenski had made no bones about his hatred of queers and Tony had been extra careful never to give the Chief any cause to even speculate about his sexual orientation.
Pete O'Donnell was the only guy in the precinct who knew Tony was gay. O'Donnell had invited Tony home the first weekend Tony joined the BPD and met his extended family - Nora, his dermatologist wife, three kids and an assortment of siblings and cousins who lived with them in the ten-bedroom house Nora had inherited from her wealthy grandparents. His eldest son, David, an eighteen year-old, had come out to his parents when he was fifteen and seeing Pete relate to his gay son as if nothing was amiss had prodded Tony into eventually coming out to his colleague.
As Tony had expected, not everyone at the BPD had been as accepting. The opposite, in fact. The usual homophobic slurs and jokes were commonplace, Tony having been at the receiving end enough times simply because he was ‘a pretty-boy' with the body that was seen more on Calvin Klein underwear packaging than in a cop's uniform.
"No, but one of these days, you might slip up," Pete warned. "I just want to know you won't go all stubborn on me. Learn to pick your battles, DiNozzo. Some aren't worth fighting. I've only got a week left before retirement. We're packing up and moving West. I'm looking forward to it and I want to leave knowing I taught you to fight smart and sometimes that means walking away. From the job, if it comes to that."
"Promise me, DiNozzo."
Tony sighed. "I'm sick of walking away. Of running away. I did that in Peoria. I thought I could stay in Philly but I ran again. I can't run a third time."
"Then you might want to reconsider being a cop because guys like Wolenski come with the territory. Look, just keep what I said in mind, okay? You'll know what to do when the time comes."
O'Donnell paid and they left the bar. The older detective would go home to his noisy family with the familiar smell of home-cooked dinners, dog hair (they had three retrievers) and the television turned up as if the family was hard of hearing.
The younger detective, however, would drag himself up the stairs to his one-bedroom apartment and eat his chicken chow mein in front of his TV, telling himself there had to be more to life than running and hiding.
It was Friday night and, as usual, he'd meet his friends at Down & Out. Tonight, he was particularly wound up after bringing in the guy suspected of masterminding a string of burglaries in an upscale neighborhood.
He raked his long fingers through his hair, making it stick up untidy bunches. What he needed tonight - and badly - was a fuck. Hard, rough, fast. Anonymous. Down & Out rarely disappointed but anonymous hookups were an exception. He far preferred sex with someone he knew and liked, not a stranger whose name, if he even bothered to ask, would be forgotten as soon as he'd shot his load.
o o o
BPD squad room
"Where the hell's DiNozzo?" Chief Wolenski barked, poking his head out of his office.
"Men's room," O' Donnell replied.
"Tell him to get his pretty li'l ass in my office when he comes back." Wolenski's head slid back in his room like a tortoise and the door slammed shut on the sniggers that followed his words.
O'Donnell directed a frown at the chief's door. He'd heard some talk when he walked in early this morning. Apparently, some cops had let it be known that DiNozzo had been seen leaving a gay bar last Friday night. Not the front exit, but the back one. And with another guy. They were said to have driven off in DiNozzo's car. Looked like the report had reached the Chief, too. There was talk that same-sex marriage would be legal in the capital within ten years but as far as the Chief and some of the cops on the precinct were concerned, DADT should never be repealed.
"DiNozzo's probably jerking off in the john," Simpson said to the others.
"Yeah, to your photo!" another added.
"Fucking faggot!" Simpson, a veteran on the force, and DiNozzo's partner muttered. Simpson had applied to be assigned to another cop, a straight one, and had been denied because no one else would budge. Someone had tried to tell him to tone it down but the general consensus was that there was no place for fags in their precinct and the Chief himself shared that sentiment. That was followed by a comment that DiNozzo ought to put in for a transfer to the San Francisco PD instead.
"And someone tell DiNozzo when he goes to a crime scene, ‘be sure to wear some flowers in his hair...'" Simpson added, singing the lyrics to the iconic 60s song. Naturally, the squadroom broke up in laughter.
"Cut it out, guys," O'Donnell said, disgusted that Simpson would be such a jerk. "Leave him alone. He's a good cop." In an undertone, he added, "And he's your partner."
"So says the man who's oh-so-tight with him. You fuckin' him, O'Donnell?" Simpson retorted loudly.
O'Donnell rose from his seat, ready to face down the resident-jerk but Tony walked in that moment. "DiNozzo, Chief wants to see you," O'Donnell said instead. Tony turned and headed for Wolenski's room. "Can it, Simpson," O'Donnell told the other officer. Simpson merely made a limp wrist gesture and sauntered off.
O'Donnell sighed. The more Tony stayed out of the way of the other cops, the better. It was why he'd rec'd Tony to assist Special Agent Gibbs. It was the least he could do for DiNozzo before he retired from the force and packed off with his family to San Francisco. David's firm had relocated him to their LA office six months ago and Kathleen, the youngest, was starting SF's art college in the Fall.
o o o
Opening the door to Chief Wolenski's room, Tony entered and immediately noticed the man sitting in front of the Chief's desk.
"DiNozzo, this is Special Agent Gibbs." Chief Wolenski nodded towards the silver-haired man. "Special Agent Gibbs, Detective Tony DiNozzo. He's been assigned to help you with your investigation into your Marine's death."
The two men shook hands and Tony found his clasped by a warm, callused palm. The strength of the man came through the handshake. Not by a bone-crushing grip but through the steady gaze of the startling blue eyes accompanying the firm, confident grasp of his hand.
"Thank you for giving me your time, Detective DiNozzo," Special Agent Gibbs said. "I shouldn't take up too much of it. If you could pass me what you have on Lieutenant Wilson, I'll try to cover as much as I can and get out of your hair in a couple of days."
"No problem, Special Agent Gibbs."
"Just Gibbs will do."
Tony nodded. "Shall we get started, then?"
"Tell O'Donnell to come in, DiNozzo," Chief Wolenski said, as the two men headed for the door. "Special Agent Gibbs, hope your visit will be a fruitful one."
Gibbs gave a nod. "Thanks. I hope so, too."
o o o
Gibbs was impressed. DiNozzo's reports were clear and succinct, capturing important details and summarizing each investigative stage so that Gibbs was able to easily form a strategy for his case. Most times, he'd had to wade through piles of papers trying to decipher the long-winded and incoherent waffling. And failing that, he'd end up having to question those responsible for the piss-poor reports and type up his own.
With DiNozzo's accounts, both verbal and written, he would be able to wrap up his investigation and return to D.C. earlier than he expected. He had enough evidence to get a conviction for the guy they had in custody. He was also in a hurry to get back. Director Morrow had asked him when he'd be able to get his team together and while he'd shortlisted half a dozen or so, he hadn't made a decision yet.
The rest of the day was spent going through the files with DiNozzo and as each minute ticked by, Gibbs' respect for the young officer grew.
It was almost seven p.m. and he'd told DiNozzo they could call it a day.
"Hey, Gibbs," DiNozzo's head popped up from the next section in the squad room. "Want to grab a beer and a bite with O'Donnell and me?"
"Sure," Gibbs replied. "I'm done here."
"You heading back in the morning?" O'Donnell asked, getting up from his seat.
"Tonight, actually." Gibbs replied. "Thanks to DiNozzo."
o o o
It was one of the more enjoyable dinners as Gibbs' dinners tended to go. Usually, it was a Chinese takeaway, shoveled into his mouth as he worked on his reports. Once in a while he got adventurous and made himself a pasta. On occasions, he'd give himself a treat and stick a steak in the fireplace.
Tonight he was having a great time over a sloppy burger, steak fries and a cold beer. It enabled him to shove aside the depressing thoughts that threatened to overrun his senses every time he ventured there. Tonight, he would not. He would not think about his divorce - his third! And he certainly would not think about Stephanie finally realizing that the breakdown of their marriage wasn't her fault.
Both DiNozzo and O'Donnell were good dinner companions, their conversation ranging from sports to movies and trading stories about their cases.
He learnt that DiNozzo came from money and had a small trust fund from his mother. O'Donnell, on the other hand, came from a large, working-class Irish family. He had a wife who earned several more times as dermatologist with her own private practice and line of skincare products than O'Donnell could ever hope to earn as a cop. This exchange of personal data had Gibbs telling them how he'd been married three times and that he'd shoot himself than marry again.
DiNozzo was a little thin and Gibbs suspected he preferred spending his money on toiletries and clothes rather than food. His clothes fit him too well to be off the rack and his shoes looked like they cost three times more than what Gibbs was prepared to pay for. Then there was that expensive-smelling aftershave that he noticed every time DiNozzo walked by.
Noticed far too well.
They were just finishing their beers when a call came in for DiNozzo.
"That was Simpson. Sorry," DiNozzo said, getting up. "Gotta run." He took out some notes from his wallet and left them on the table, told Gibbs to stay in touch and ran out of the diner.
o o o
Gibbs and O'Donnell didn't stay on after Tony left.
"I'm going to catch the train," O'Donnell said, as they left the diner.
"What happened to your car?" Gibbs asked.
"Got banged up in a chase," O'Donnell said. "Getting it back in the morning. I came in with Tony."
"Give you a ride home."
"Nah, it's okay. I can get a cab then you can be on your way back to DC."
"I'll take you home," Gibbs repeated.
Shrugging, O'Donnell followed Gibbs to his car. "Not going to turn down a lift a second time. Thanks."
They were just going past an alley in one of the rougher neighborhoods when O'Donnell suddenly told Gibbs to stop.
"Back up! That was DiNozzo." The sound of gunshots could be heard.
Gibbs backed up, reaching the mouth of the alley in time to see DiNozzo hit the ground. Pete called it in and both men got out of their cars, weapons drawn. The men who had been chasing and shooting at DiNozzo had made a quick exit, vanishing like rats.
O'Donnell called for the paramedics as DiNozzo lay on the ground, bleeding from a wound in his arm.
"Where's Simpson?" O'Donnell asked but DiNozzo was losing consciousness.
"He must have hit his head when he fell," Gibbs said. "Don't see any other wounds on him. Just the arm."
"Hang on, DiNozzo," Pete said. "Backup's on its way. Paramedics, too."
The paramedics arrived some ten minutes later, followed by the black and whites and soon the alley was a jangle of sirens and radiophones squawking. Residents that had wisely stayed out of sight when the gunshots were heard, started appearing and O'Donnell headed off to question them.
Gibbs waited until DiNozzo was taken into the ambulance then looked for O'Donnell. "DiNozzo have any family that need to be notified?"
"He doesn't really have a family. He and his father haven't spoken in years but I'll try and reach him. He'll likely be somewhere in Europe with his latest girlfriend," Pete said, wryly.
"You going with him to the hospital?" Gibbs asked.
"Yes," O'Donnell replied. "You'd better get going, Gibbs. Nothing you can do here. I'll let you know how he is in a day or two."
Gibbs nodded. "Appreciate that, and thanks. Call me when you're in DC."
o o o
One Week Later,
NCIS, Washington DC
The phone rang just as Gibbs powered up his pc.
"Gibbs. It's O'Donnell."
"Hey. How's it going? Gibbs asked. "How's DiNozzo?" O'Donnell had called him a couple of days ago to say that DiNozzo was recovering well. He'd fractured his skull when he fell and hit his head on the edge of the dumpster.
"He's got a mother of all headaches but otherwise he's alright. The arm's healing nicely and he's being discharged today but he won't be going back to work."
"Why not?" Gibbs asked.
O'Donnell hesitated. The guy didn't even know him and here he was, about to ask him a favor.
"Look, Gibbs. I need a favor. I know we've only met but it's for DiNozzo. Not me."
"I could tell you over the phone but I'd rather do it in person. If you can meet me today, I'll drive down."
"O-kay." Gibbs frowned, wondering what this was about. "If you can get here before noon today, it'll be good. I have interviews lined up all afternoon and need to hire someone by the end of the day."
"I"ll be there in a couple of hours. Thanks."
After O'Donnell's call, Gibbs ran through the five shortlisted candidates again. He wasn't particularly excited about any of them but he'd promised the Director he'd have his team soon so he'd have to start with at least one.
He sat back in his chair, staring unseeingly across the bullpen at the empty desks. Desks he expected to be filled in a week's time as he got down to his new position as head of the Major Case Response Team.
o o o
Gibbs handed O'Donnell the cup of coffee and sat down next to him on the bench.
"Thanks for meeting me, Gibbs," O'Donnell said. "What I'm about to tell you is in strict confidence. I've worked with you a couple of times - enough to know you're a decent man, a fair man and not a bigot. That last one's critical, you see." He sipped the coffee and sighed. A troubled man, Gibbs could see that. He let O'Donnell take his time. Whatever it was, it had to be important for the newly-retired cop to drive down and see him.
"My son, David. He's twenty now...came out to his mom and me when he was fifteen. We were surprised - or I was, anyway - I think mothers tend to know first, but whatever...we told David we didn't love him any less or think any less of him. But, we did warn him that there were going to be people who would. That proved true, of course, and there were a few times he came home with a black eye and other bruises." O'Donnell paused. "I brought DiNozzo home for dinner one night soon after he joined the BPD and I saw the way he made friends with David. He came round almost every weekend after that and became an older brother to my son. DiNozzo didn't even bat an eye when I told him my son was gay.
"Is DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, belatedly wondering what made him ask that.
"Yeah. He is, and that's the reason why I'm here," O'Donnell replied. "DiNozzo came out to me some months after he joined the force." He paused to take another sip of coffee. "That shooting last week," he continued. "It was a trap. Engineered by our own." At Gibbs' stunned expression, O'Donnell nodded. "Yep. Our very own boys in blue arranged for DiNozzo to walk into that trap. That's why he needs to get out of the BPD. I warned him something like this could happen. His current investigation's going to bring the IA down on us and there are some of us that don't want what Tony's found out to get out."
"He been talking to IA?" Gibbs asked.
"Yes. He found out about some dirty deals and had been conducting his own investigation. I know they have a meeting set up next week and I warned DiNozzo he's in danger but he said they can't be allowed to get away."
"Can't fault him for that," Gibbs smiled. "That's what we're getting paid for."
O'Donnell sighed. "It's dangerous enough for DiNozzo to be gay, but to be involved in an IA investigation that's fingering his colleagues, I don't need to tell you if he goes to that meeting, he's not going to walk away alive. He wasn't meant to walk away from the one last week."
"How did you know it was a trap?"
"When I questioned DiNozzo at the hospital, he told me he'd gotten a call from Simpson, his partner, that the guy they'd been looking for was at that address. He met Simpson then they went to the address. Expecting their suspect to be there, he entered the premises but found he'd walked into a drug deal in progress. He told me Simpson was with him and they were only going to take their B & E suspect into custody. Both he and Simpson entered the building and up the stairs to the apartment. He said he was surprised the door wasn't locked so he let himself in. Simpson was behind him then, but when he realized they'd interrupted a drug deal happening in the kitchen, he backed out of the apartment quietly, expecting Simpson to be doing the same. That was when he realized Simpson wasn't there anymore. He assumed Simpson was checking the other rooms. Then one of the dealers' cell phone rang and all hell broke loose. The dealers started reaching for the weapons, spotted him and started shooting before DiNozzo could say anything. He ran, calling Simpson as he ran, telling him to get the hell out and to call for back up. He doesn't know why they started firing, how they even knew he was there, but they went after him and shot him just as he got out into the alley. It's a good thing we got to him when we did because they were still pursuing him. To finish him off, would be my guess."
"So where was Simpson?"
"DiNozzo said he reappeared after we arrived. I questioned Simpson when I got back to the squad room. He was getting ready to go home. I asked him if he was going to the hospital to check on DiNozzo and he said it was just a flesh wound, that DiNozzo was fine. Unless he was a pansy, he added. I asked him why he wasn't there backing DiNozzo up. His version of what went down isn't the same as DiNozzo's. Simpson claims he had gone round the back of the building to check the fire escape and told DiNozzo to watch the front and wait for him. He says DiNozzo wasn't supposed to go upstairs on his own but next thing he knew, DiNozzo was rushing down the stairs from the fire escape and the drug dealers were firing at him. Then he saw DiNozzo get hit and fall and then our car pulled up. The guys turned and started heading his way so he ran off and came back out from another direction, by which time backup had arrived and DiNozzo was on his way to the hospital."
"And you don't believe him," Gibbs said.
"No, because when DiNozzo called and told him to get out and call for back-up, Simpson ten-four'd it but when I called it in, the operator didn't say back up was already on its way or that it had already been called in by Simpson. Before I could ask him anything else, the Chief calls me and tells me I've got one week left before I retire and suggested I bring it forward a week, which would effectively make that my last day. Tells me not to go digging up stuff better left alone and that DiNozzo will realize a transfer is the best thing for him. I handed in my badge that night.
"And that's why I'm going to ask you for that favor. I know DiNozzo will be in a good place with you. I saw how you dealt with that young man, Steven Haskell, that was accused of killing his lover, the Marine captain." At Gibbs' raised brows, O'Donnell explained, "I got a copy of the taped interrogation because of the connection to one of our cases. I saw how you treated Haskell with respect even though he was a suspect. In case I forget, Haskell's in the clear. We arrested Captain Murphy's killer yesterday."
"That's good to hear."
O'Donnell nodded. "Well, what I want to say is that DiNozzo needs a mentor just as he was a mentor to my son when David needed one most. I'd be there for DiNozzo any time, but he needs to get out of Baltimore if he's going to stay alive."
"Baltimore's only an hour away," Gibbs said. "What's stopping whoever's trying to get DiNozzo there from coming over here to finish the job?"
O'Donnell looked at Gibbs. "You."