When LaSalle entered in the NCIS building, the first sense that alerted him that something wasn’t completely right was his hearing; alongside Pride’s voice- which was higher than usual- he heard also a woman talking, with an accent he knew very, very well- she was an Alabama girl, all right –but with a voice he had never heard before. And yes- her own voice was as at least an octave higher than what it should have probably have been, as well.
They weren’t in the garden, nor in the squad room like he was, and yet, with maybe some too many doors left open, he could almost hear the whole argument- forensic, Kinkaid, Rowell, evidences were words thrown a lot by both parties.
Kinkaid, he knew- he was a serial killer they had apprehended a couple of weeks before, after he had made the mistake of adding a Petty Officer to his collection of victims- but as much as he tried to recollect who, or what, Rowell may be, he didn’t have any idea. Not a case they had been working on, that was for sure.
And then… it happened. He moved his eyes slightly to his left and he was awestruck.
People used to say that when you see something you want- something you’ll hold dear for the rest of your life- you know right away. Christopher LaSalle knew it to be true: he had felt it the day he had seen for the first time, at eight years old, his little sister, and then again, many, many years later, when a feisty red-head had gone and sit right before him in class.
Honestly, thought, he had never thought that it would have happened again. Never believed possible to be… bewitched again. He wasn’t talking about love, of course- never believed in love at first sight, way too rational for that- but a connection? That, he actually believed.
Even if it wasn’t the first time Christopher LaSalle was seeing the brunette inspecting with a curious look the garden of the NCIS NOLA office, her eyes filled with mirth and some kind of magical light- like it was the most wonderful place in the whole wide world. Like she was some kind of magical creature.
A short woman was kneeling on the ground, in front of the medical examiner, her head tilted to the side as she looked at the body of the Navy Officer who had died during the bank robbery at the Union Bank; LaSalle was taking pictures of the crime scene when he noticed her, someone who, in his books, had no reason whatsoever to be there.
“Ma’am? That’s an NCIS active crime scene - I’d leave if I were you.”
She turned, looked at him curiously with those huge dark eyes of hers, still kneeling on the ground- she was wearing purple latex gloves, he noticed, the professional kind, and seemed a little bit older than himself. She looked around, confused, then, finally she met his gaze. “I’m sorry, were you talking with me?”
He rolled his eyes dramatically, spoke slowly, hoping that she would get the hint. “Yes, I was. I don’t know what you think you are doing, Nancy Drew, but…”
She chuckled and left her position, joined him and, taking her right glove off, offered him her hand, once noticed the jacket and the shiny badge at his side; she was friendly and carefree- way too much for someone who’s been kneeling right next to a body until few seconds before.
“Actually, I was examining my body. FBI Special Agent Newman, hi.” She moved with her left hand her leather jacket to the side, revealing an FBI badge and a gun; she opened her mouth to continue, but he cut her short, not even shaking her hand in answer.
“Listen sweetheart, I don’t know how it works in your book, but that guy over there? He was Navy Personnel. Which makes this our case.”
She chuckled, crossed her arms over her chest, tsk-tsking him. “Bank Robberies are considered Federal Crimes, hence they are handled by the FBI; your officer was merely a victim of opportunity in the primary crime- the robbery- which means that we call dibs here.”
“There’s a man here who died to save lives- a man who served his country. Which makes this an NCIS investigation.”
“I’m aware, and I’m grateful that he was serving our Country, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Rewire Brothers had never opened fire before; I can understand why he felt the need- the rush- to help people out, but had he kept his cool in an uncontrolled situation where he didn’t have any back-up, nothing would have happened.”
“You can’t know for sure.”
“Listen honey, I’ve been globetrotting the country for this case for months, contrary to your, what, five minutes? So yes, sorry but not sorry, I know what I am talking about.” She was still smiling, but it was grim and thigh, a little venomous.
“Children, don’t argue!” SSA Pride joined them, chuckling, laughing under his breath “Well, well, well, Special Agent Christina Georgina Newman, long time no seeing!”
She grunted behind clenched teeth, her huge eyes huger when filled with anger. “You can either let us work this as one case or we can fight each other and work two different cases at the same time. Your choice.”
She took the remaining glove off with a loud snap, and made her way to the exit; when she was still at hearing distance, though, she turned, and looked at Pride with a sarcastic glow in her eyes and humor in her voice. “And, by the way, Pride, you should teach your new puppy some manners!”
Pride looked at his new recruit, and shook his head; he could see that Christopher, had he not been a true southern gentleman, would have done something very, very ungentlemanly. “Don’t worry Christopher, I’m sure you’ll win her over in no time. Newman is all talk, but she is one of the best cops that I’ve ever met. Besides, she is been raised in the Navy, so you can bet that she’ll do anything in her power to give our Officer the justice he deserves.”
“So what was that, King? Some show of power? Because I gotta say, didn’t expect that from Shorty.”
Pride chortled. “Don’t let her looks deceive you, Christopher. She’s been around Gibbs from as long as I can remember. Which means,” Pride snickered, patting Christopher on the shoulder. “She is way out of your league.”
“Georgina Newman! You left the FBI, moved all the way to Los Angeles, you never call, never visit…”
Hands in his pockets, Chris made his way towards the brunette, who turned and smiled as soon as she saw him, and met him half-way. Ten years after their first encounter, a few cases worked together in her FBI days, and they had leveled their differences and become… fond of each other.
“Ehy.” She simply said, as they hugged, longer than what they were probably supposed to; she closed her eyes, and sighed. They parted, and Chris smiled, all shiny white teeth.
“Always known that you were crazy for me!” They laughed, and she playfully hit him on the chest. “Deny it how much you want, but you still wear my jacket.”
She readjusted the black leather jacket she was wearing, pouting. “It’s not yours. It’s a woman jacket you bought me because you got mine ruined during that sting at that club, how was it called, Derrière?.”
Chris chuckled, shaking his head and leaning against the wall at his back. “Seriously, though, I don’t think you are here because of li’l old me…”
He titled his head in direction of Pride’s… office, apartment, kitchen, whatever he was still calling it nowadays. His boss was still arguing with the mystery woman, who seemed to want the last word.
“That would be my boss. She heard that Pride and I had history, and hoped I would make him, her words, reason. Told her that I have enough on my plate fixing my own family’s relationships, but she didn’t want to listen….” She sighed, turned and looked in direction of where the voices were coming from. “I spoke with Loretta a while back, she said he was still living here?”
“At least he doesn’t fall asleep at his desk like a certain someone I know.” Chris smiled, then took a breath and became serious. He searched for her eyes. He had known Georgina Newman for a good decade- and he knew that her eyes couldn’t lie; not to him, at least “Seriously, though, let’s cut the small talk. What’s going on?”
She sobered up, took the few steps that separated them from the small table at the center of the beautiful garden, and went to sat there, Chris following her and lazily sitting in front of the woman. “It’s about Kinkaid.”
“The serial Killer we stopped a few weeks back?”
She nodded. “His M.O. is uncannily similar to that of Stephen Rowell. My boss and I, we put Rowell behind bars a few years back. And he hasn’t stopped proclaiming his innocence since the first time I brought him in for questioning.” She paused, her eyes betraying her words. She liked to think, tell everyone, that she wasn’t afraid. But of this, she was scared of. And not only for her career. “I’m starting to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t just too good for it.”
“Access. Is that what your boss want?”
“Yeah. To him and to evidence.” She nodded, sighed, crossed her hands on the table. “Rowell is on death row. I have to find out if he is innocent. I don’t think I could live with myself otherwise. I’ve given up on a lot of things for the job’s sake, made sacrifices- this is the only thing I have. The only thing I’ve ever been good at. I need to know that I can make it right.”
Chris sighed, and lifted his hands from his lap, feeling the urge to put it on her own, to console her. He knew what Georgina was talking about, what she truly meant, as they shared a similar kind of pain: his beloved Savannah was dead, killed because he was NCIS and Pride’s protégé, while Georgina, long before they met, had buried her own husband, Noah. Killed in the line of duty, his case was now cold, and he knew that she believed that, by not solving it, she had betrayed – failed -him.
“Flirting on the job? It’s a big no-no, LaSalle!” Brody joined them, all smiles.
“Nah. Georgina here is out of my league. Always have, and always will.”
Newman pouted like she was a child, mocking him. “Don’t listen to him. Our Christopher is only scared of my… godfather? Do you think that it’s the right word to describe the man?”
Chris lifted his face and looked at a very confused Brody with a knowing expression. “Girl got Gibbs’ seal of approval. Guy’s practically a second father to her.” He turned to look at Newman, lowered his voice. “They worked together on a case, but they don’t want to talk about it. We believe they had had an affair.”
“Children! Enough with the chit-chat! Time to learn things!” Pride looked out into the garden, knocking on the heavy metal door separating it from the squad room to get anyone’s attention; then he went to his desk, followed by a blonde woman with a huge purse, and he turned on the monitors.
“Did Pride just called us children?” Meredith asked as they went in to follow Pride.
“It’s a reference.” Chris laughed, scratched lazily the back of his head. “When Georgina and I started working together, we didn’t hit it off immediately. King always used to call us children whenever he saw us having an argument.”
“He called us children because you didn’t have any respect whatsoever for authority or your eldest. Which you still don’t have, otherwise you would be calling me Newman.” Newman smiled, playfully hitting him on the shoulder as they walked.
“Detective Lieutenant?” The blonde woman asked, cutting them short; Georgina nodded, and handled Pride a thumb drive she was keeping in her jacket.
“We’ve got a new case?” Brody asked before the computer would download the files from the drive.
“Not exactly. More like an old one.” Pride had to admit, quite serious. “Captain Raydor, Lieutenant Detective Georgina Newman, LAPD. Those are my agents, Christopher LaSalle and Meredith Brody. And now, ladies, tell me things.”
Brenda, who had been there for the first case, was the one who started talking.
“Ten years ago we got the first body. Our killer would hit every 180 days, no more, no less; at the beginning, it was always high risk victims with no apparent connection but with a strictly physical similarity…”
“Brunette with short hair, early to middle twenties, petite, look-a-like…” Pride sighed, and soon, together with the portraits and the DMV pictures of Rowell’s victim, he put the image of the woman from the Navy killed by Kinkaid in New Orleans– the victim that had gotten the NCIS involved to begin with.
The similarity with the Californian victims was, as Georgina herself had put it, uncanny.
Georgina took the word, her arms crossed. “Three years ago we started going through the old cases with a profiler and a cyber-analyst. We cross-referenced anything we could think of, and between the names we got, Rowell stood out; the victims looked like Teresa Santiago, 25 years old. She had died in 2001 of overdose, and had been engaged to Rowell; the two of them had a daughter, taken away by social workers shortly before the first murder.”
Brenda continued. “His daughter’s loss was an obvious trigger. He fitted the profile. Didn’t have an alibi for any of the cases we knew of. The DA suggested a deal: if he confessed, told us if there were any victims we hadn’t found, she promised that she would have taken away from the plate the death penalty. But he refused, and preferred to go to trial.”
“Rowell couldn’t afford a lawyer, so he got one appointed by the state, a guy fresh out of law school with too many cases, little time and who didn’t even bother to try to defend his own client.” Georgina continued, her eyes not on the screen but on the people around her. “Rowell was found guilty, and he is now awaiting the needle. But, really, everything was circumstantial at best. And the captain couldn’t break him, as much as she tried. He never faltered. Not even once. Kept saying he was innocent and that someone had framed him.”
Brenda grimaced, even after years, it still stung that she hadn’t gotten a confession out of the killer; Rowell had still been found guilty at the end, but it had taken some time.
“A source in the FBI tipped us off about your killer. We’ve checked what we could so far, and I have to say that the Lieutenant is right; both Kinkaid and Rowell have the same, exact MO, even if your victims were low-risks, the opposite of ours. But it doesn’t have to mean anything; many killers evolve from high to low risks subjects with time, either because they subconsciously want to be stopped or out of hubris.”
“Yes, but, looking at the data,” Meredith bit her lips, and studied the file on the screen. “There’s been almost two years between Rowell’s arrest and our first victim. If Kinkaid had been the real killer all along, why stopping and not following his own pattern?”
Georgina shrugged. “We don’t know where Kinkaid was before our murders occurred, only that after Rowell’s imprisoning he had been working in the Middle East as a military contractor for some time. Chances of a body standing out there are slim. I’ve got few contacts at Interpol and with the military police, but I haven’t heard back yet, and frankly, I don’t expect them to.”
Brenda’s lips were in a thigh line as she heard Brody talking next, with, probably, the most rightful argument possible. “You can’t even leave out the possibility that there’s no real connection at all between our cases; even I know that in the past, Rowell has been a media sensation, the press has gotten their hands on every single detail of the murders. As far as we all know, Kinkaid may simply be a copycat.”
“The Injustice Project has been tipped off on this. As we speak, they are working on getting an hearing to get the sentence overruled, and the DA isn’t happy with this, nor the new Chief of Police.” Brenda said, sighing. She stopped to look at the victims, the casefiles, and turned to face Pride. “ I need to know if Kinkaid could look good for my murders as well, or if he learnt Rowell’s MO…. I need to know where he has been in the last ten years, what he has watched, the sites he had surfed, the books he had put his hands on… Rowell has been sentenced to death. I need to know if the LAPD made a mistake.”
She turned to look at Georgina, who ended the sentence for the both of them. “We need to know if we made a mistake.”