USS Jimmy Carter, off Bermuda, August 2009
"There's something snagged in the towed sonar array," said the XO. "It's making noise."
"Damn," said Captain Wolfe. "What's the weather status?"
"Good. No storms in the area."
"Okay. I don't want to surface; can we get a diver out to take a look?"
"I'll get on it right away, Captain. Probably best to send the ROV first, make sure it isn't a mine."
"You're right. See to it."
"What have we got?" asked Captain Wolfe, looking at one of the monitors in the control room.
"Should know in a moment," said Hull Technician David Farrell, carefully steering the remotely operated vehicle down the length of the towed sonar. "It'll be in view… yes, that's it." He steered the ROV closer and ran its spotlight over the obstruction.
"What the hell is that?" asked Wolfe.
"Looks like a trash bag with duct tape around it. There's a loose end of tape, it's tangled around one of the hydrophones. It can't have been there long; it would have torn off if we'd been making more speed."
"Can you detach it?"
"I'll try, sir," said Farrell, reaching out with the ROV's pincers. "If I can get the bag separated from the line it ought to be easy enough to remove…" He pulled at the side of the bag, and it tore open.
"I think that's an arm," said Farrell, looking at the remains the tear in the bag had revealed. Large chunks of flesh floated out of the hole. Small fish darted in to snatch at them. "Oh Christ..."
"Don't just sit there," said Wolfe. "Grab it before it floats away or something eats it."
"Uh... Yes, Captain." Farrell grabbed at the arm with a pincer, missed it, and tried again. This time he was successful.
"Get that in and have it put on ice, then see what you can do about clearing the array. I don't want to give anyone any hint that we're here."
Washington Navy Yard, September 2009
"What do you make of it, Ducky?" asked Gibbs.
"I could really wish that they'd found it at the end of their patrol, not the beginning," said the elderly medical examiner. "Nearly four weeks in their freezer hasn't helped. It would have been nice to have had rather more of the body, for that matter."
"We can't always get what we want, Ducky. What can you do with what you've got?"
"It's a left hand, of course, severed quite neatly just below the elbow. Caucasian, obviously, judging by the size I'd say male. Some evidence of decay."
"How was it removed? Surgically?"
"Any chance of getting prints off it?"
"Dear Abigail is already working on it, of course."
"There are odd indentations on the forearm," said Jimmy Palmer, showing them the marks. "It's like he was gripped by a pair of tongs."
"After his death, dear boy," said Ducky. "Well after. There's none of the bruising we'd expect if he'd been alive at the time."
"It was hauled in by an ROV," said Gibbs, "I've seen about thirty seconds of the tape; I think that's the mark of a gripping claw."
"I'd be grateful if you could confirm that," said Ducky. "Some imprints for comparison purposes would be good."
"I'll ask for it," said Gibbs. "Any idea when he died?"
"Far too early to tell," said Ducky. "If you can find out more about the circumstances in which the remains became... ah... attached to the submarine it might tell us a little more, of course."
"I'll ask," said Gibbs, "but everything about submarine patrol routes is classified. They may decide we don't have the need to know. Can you at least give me a ballpark figure?"
"Six months to a year."
"We deployed the sonar array as soon as we were out at sea on the seventh," said Captain Wolfe. "We didn't notice anything unusual until the twelfth; then we started picking up clicking noises. I'd guess that there was something in the bag weighing it down, and that's what we heard rattling. I've looked at the recording from the ROV; it seems to me that something fell downwards when the bag was torn."
"We'll need to see as much of that recording as possible, not just the moment of capture, we can probably enhance it and figure out exactly what you saw."
"That might be difficult, it shows hydrophones and other details of the sonar array."
"Anything that shows the bag or the hand, beginning at least thirty seconds before it came into view. Our techs have the clearance. And any sonar recordings you have that include the clicking."
"Do you even begin to know just how classified that would be?" asked Wolfe
"Yes. I still need them. At least a couple of minutes. Now, can you show me where you were when that happened?"
Wolfe hesitated again.
"Approximately," Gibbs said patiently. "I don't think I need to know your exact position or heading, at least for the moment, just approximately where you were when it happened."
Wolfe indicated a spot on the map, off Bermuda. "About here, fairly deep."
"Any particular reason you were there?"
"I don't think I can answer that."
"Anything special about that location that you can tell me?"
"Not really. It was a good place to monitor some surface vessels."
Gibbs looked at the chart then said "In the Gulf Stream?"
"Were you travelling with the Gulf Stream or against it?"
"Against it, making just enough headway to stay on station and keep the sonar array extended."
"Okay, so let's say that the bag was travelling with the Gulf Stream, just floating along. McGee, where would it have come from?"
"Roughly, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, or off the Florida coast. That's assuming it wasn't just thrown overboard from a ship, of course."
"I don't quite see how it ended up tangled in our sonar," said Wolfe. "Wouldn't it just float, or stay on the bottom?"
"Flesh decays," said Gibbs. "Must have made enough gas to get the bag floating around the time you came along."
Wolfe looked ill.
McGee tapped at his computer's keyboard, then said "I make it about a year if it started out anywhere on the Florida coast, longer for the Gulf of Mexico. If Ducky or Abby can give us a better estimate of time since death I might be able to pin it down more precisely, but that's the best I can do for now."
"Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs!" Abby said several days later.
"What have you got, Abs?"
"The hand! I've ID'd the hand!"
"Are you sure? I thought you said the fingerprints were too badly damaged."
"They were too badly damaged for a hundred percent positive ID, but I was able to get the blood type, A Positive. The partials gave me a couple of thousand possibilities, adding the blood group took it down to about five hundred, still not great. But the size of the fingers and the diameter of the bones gave me some rough indicators on his height, got it down to under three hundred, then I was able to work out his approximate age from calcium deposits in the knuckles. When I factored that in I ended up with forty-eight possibilities from the Florida area. There were only DNA records for five of them, but sometimes you get lucky."
"And?" Gibbs asked quietly.
"And what, Gibbs?"
"And who is he, Abby?"
"Just a second," said Abby, hitting a key on one of her computers. It began to play the 20th Century Fox fanfare. As it ended, a mug shot appeared on Abby's plasma screen. "Ladies and gentlemen, Abby Sciuto productions is proud to present Mister Nathan Marten, of Miami, Florida."
"Why are you so chipper?" asked Gibbs.
"Because he's a total scumbag, Gibbs. Child molestation, kiddie porn, multiple counts. Last seen in August last year, reported missing in November."
Gibbs silently handed her a jumbo Caff-Pow.
"All we have to figure out now how his hand ended up in the Gulf Stream."
"Well, if it was easy everyone would be doing it."