betaed by Jake and Jordre
I’m not going to over indulge in science. Forensic science is fascinating, if you’re interested. Or boring as hell if you’re not.
characters: Abby, Jimmy, Tim, Ducky. Gibbs and SEALs on a mission.
Abby sorted through her mail with a disgruntled expression on her pretty face. She hated snail mail, it was so untidy. All anyone had to do was send an email, if the recipient wanted a hard copy they could print it out. One envelope stood out, it was thick and heavy and its contents were stiff.
“Hum. Okay. Present?” Abby read the card again then went on to the letter. She was being invited to do a dual presentation with Ducky. They’d written a paper covering their discoveries in blood analysis and the American College of Forensic Examiners wanted them to present. “Sweet. I wonder if Ducky got an invitation of his own?”
Her phone rang just then. “Labby! Lab of Abby. How may I help you?”
“Abigail! Good day. Did you get your own invitation to present?”
“I did. Isn’t it great?” Abby did a little happy dance.
“It is. But you will need an escort, and I’m taking Jimmy. I fear wrestling luggage is beyond my strength anymore.”
Abby sighed. “I know. I’ll take care of my stuff but we will need some help with other stuff. I think getting Tim to go as my escort and tec expert might be a good idea. Jimmy can handle your luggage and his. Might need him to help Tim with some stuff. What do you think?”
Ducky thought for a moment, then replied, “Excellent idea. I’ll contact Director Vance and make the arrangements, shall I?”
“Please.” Abby smiled at the click that indicated that Ducky had hung up. “You all copy Jet; rude.”
Leon Vance was not a happy director. Abby and Ducky were presenting and wanted Jimmy and Tim to accompany them. Gibbs and the SEALs were assigned somewhere. He was pissed that the Marines had threatened to reactivate Gibbs unless Vance signed off on the mission. He’d signed, but made his displeasure at the threat evident.
This left him without a Mortician, Mortician’s Assistant, one Forensic Expert, one IT expert/agent, and the whole of the rest of his MCRT. Tony was commanding the SEAL mission. The SEAL contingent that had been working as TDAs to gain experience in investigations. He wasn’t looking forward to the bitching and moaning from the other team leads, but NCIS needed the recognition they’d get from two presenters at the ACFE, not to mention the SEAL mission.
He instructed Cynthia to do the paperwork necessary to send Ducky, Abby, Tim, and Jimmy to Chicago, or a suburb thereof. He wasn’t sure exactly where the convention center was; there were several in Chicago, most of them attached to a large hotel or complex. Cynthia would sort it all out.
What he was really worried about was his SEAL team, and yes, they were his. They were headed into God knew what top-secret op in the ass-crack of the Middle East. Okay, he worried. He hated the fact that they would be out of contact for the foreseeable future.
Cynthia scowled at the schedule she’d downloaded. The convention started in four days. She wondered what TBI had decided that a four-day warning for a presentation was a good idea. She set about getting flights and hotel reservations for four.
While Cynthia was coping, Abby was grumbling, Tim was wondering how he’d gotten Shanghaied into this Charlie Foxtrot, and Jimmy was assuring Ducky that he was delighted to get to go.
Ducky promptly told him he was in charge of luggage for both of them; he, Ducky, would be responsible for keeping track of tickets, boarding passes, and so on. Jimmy just nodded, expecting exactly that.
Ducky looked up as Abby and Tim entered the Morgue with a whoosh of hydraulics. “Ducky! What’s up?”
“Abigail, calm down. Sit there.” Ducky pointed to a chair in his office. He was well aware that Abby didn’t like the Morgue much and tried to accommodate her as much as possible.
Abby settled into the chair. “I’m calm. Really.”
Ducky smirked genially at her. “I can see that. Tim, Jimmy, come in as well.”
Tim and Jimmy entered the office; Jimmy sat in his favorite chair to one side of the desk. Tim leaned against the door frame to avoid crowding the small room.
Jimmy waited for Ducky to start, while Abby vibrated in place and Tim crossed his arms over his chest and stood on one foot, with the other crossed over at the ankle.
Ducky cleared his throat and explained everything to Tim and Jimmy, with Abby interjecting from time to time. He ended, “So, you see, dear boys, we do need your help. I don’t think Abby and I can manage everything ourselves.”
Tim nodded. “Jimmy’s in charge of paper. I’m in charge of equipment, and we’re all in charge of our own luggage.” He shrugged. “Sounds doable. I won’t need a suit; I’m not going to be on stage at any time. Unless something breaks down, and no one will expect the audio-visual guy to be in a suit. I’ll bring ...”
Abby interrupted him, “No, Tim, you’re my escort so I don’t have to attend three banquets with some... fruitcake, WOMBAT, misogynistic waste of air and space hitting on me.”
Tim winced, remembering her complaints about her escort to some banquet or other. She’d threatened to poison the next escort that turned out to be a nutjob.
“Okay. I’ll pack my charcoal grey suit.” Tim smiled at Abby as she nodded once in approval. “Other than that... office casual for actual presentations and MARPAT the rest of the time. I don’t trust the laundry facilities to be safe for much else.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Same for me. I’ve got that nice dark navy blue; if I take three different shirts, I’ll be good to go.”
Abby grumbled, “And HR called before I came down, so I’m taking my court suit and both blouses. But when I’m not schmoozing or presenting, I’ll be my usual Goth Queen self.”
Tim sighed, “I wonder how Gibbs and AJ are? Anyone know anything?”
Ducky shook his head. “No. And don’t go poking about, either.”
Tim shook his head. “Last time I tried that, AJ took me on the mats. Kicked my ass good. Not goin’ there again.”
Jimmy snickered, “That was a show.”
Ducky frowned. “And when was this?”
“You remember when I sprained a finger?” Ducky nodded. “Then. And AJ felt really bad. He never intends to do real damage.”
“I see. Well, I do hope you learned your lesson.”
“I did.” Tim stood up straight and stretched. “Well, I’m for home and packin’. Come on.”
Abby nodded. “Me too. I want to make sure that I have enough things so I don’t have to send anything to the hotel laundry.”
They all went their separate ways, Ducky, Tim, and Jimmy to Mallard Manor and Abby to her apartment.
Abby eyed her wardrobe with some disfavor. She was eclectic, goth, and happy, and tried to show it in her wardrobe. She was very unhappy right now. She’d sent some of her favorites out to the cleaner to be sure she had enough things to last. The dry cleaner had just called to tell her that their service had somehow managed to fade everything she’d sent.
“Well, shoot. Darn it. Now what?” Abby decided her best bet was to call Tony, then realized that Tony was now on his way to the outback of somewhere.
So she called Tim. “Timmy! You’ll never believe it. The dry cleaner faded all my stuff. I’ve got actually nothing suitable to wear. I need you to come shopping with me.”
Tim groaned. “Abby... no.”
“Yes! Please. Timmy, you know I have no idea what to get for something like this and... since I have to get new clothes anyway, I ought to get something good to wear to presentations... and another court suit. Please?
Tim groaned then grunted. It was obvious that someone, probably Jimmy, had punched him. A hissed, “Just go, damnit,” came down the line.
“Okay, okay. I’ll go. But I’m not spendin’ all day at it, I’ve got to pack too, you know.”
Abby nodded. “Okay, but ... do you have enough underwear? I know you, Timmy, and you do tend to let it go until you’ve only got... like three.”
Tim sighed audibly. “Abby... but...” Abby heard cloth rustling. “I really, really hate you right about now. I’ve got two pair of tighty-whities and one boxer. I’ll be there in half an hour or so. Soon as I take inventory.”
Abby, not a bit insulted by Tim telling her he hated her, started an inventory of her own.
She just finished when the doorbell rang.
“Timmy! I’m just finished.” She brandished a small note book in the air with a triumphant expression on her face. “Let’s go.”
Tim snorted a laugh, turned and followed Abby to the door. “Oh! What car are you driving?” She made a face. “Not that monster Humvee, please.”
“No. I told you I finally decided to sell the Boxter and get something a bit more practical... not time for the obligatory change-of-life convertible just yet.” He pointed to a Chevy Colorado. “The green truck.”
Abby eyed the truck. “Very nice. Crew Cab, 3.6L V6 DI DOHC VVT engine, four wheel drive, Forest Green metallic paint. Nothing fancy...” She smiled happily. “But it’ll get you where you want to go with a bit of style. I like it that you didn’t junk it up with a lot of vanity flash.”
Tim shrugged, “The people I want to impress will be impressed with the motor, drive train and interior. Anyone who’s impressed with fuckin’ spinners, matte-black carbon fiber roll bars ... which are actually fairly damn useless ... and all that shit? Well, don’t need to know them. Come on.”
Abby got into the truck, remarking, “Nice interior.”
“Thanks.” Tim started the engine and put the truck in gear. “Okay, where are we going?”
Abby fiddled with the GPS then said, “There.” She tapped the screen with one finger and the display zoomed in a bit.
“Okay. Got it.” Tim headed out.
On the way they visited about this and that, speculated as to where the SEALs had gone, and made a few plans for Chicago.
It wasn’t long before Tim was parking in front of the shop Abby had gotten her court suit from.
“I just hope they can come up with something in... four days?”
Tim thought for a moment then offered, “If they do it like the English tailors do, they’ve made a pattern to your measure. That way they can cut and sew the first fitting in a day. Then you’ll have your first fitting and they’ll make corrections. If that’s good, they’ll hem and you’ll have your suit in a week? If you pay extra, they might get it done on time.”
Abby let Tim open the door for her. “Thanks. Just have a seat on the couch, I’ll ring for service.” She went to the counter and pressed a door bell button mounted there.
A voice from the back called, “One moment, please.”
Tim settled on the sofa. It was covered with soft micro-suede in a soft brownish-green. “Mmm. Nice.”
Abby smirked at him. “Yeah? You should have seen the horror that AJ got stuck with.”
“Yes. Awful. How may I help you today?” It wasn’t Miss Pince. This lady was older, a bit more friendly but was obviously as competent.
So Abby explained her problem ending, “So I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out. I really need another suit... and something to wear to a cocktail party that I really don’t want to be at. Something... fancy but not fussy or girly.”
“Yes, I see. I’ll bring out a sample book, shall I?”
“Great. And what is your name, please? I hate talking to someone whose name I don’t know.”
“My name is Mrs. Steel. I’ll be back in just a moment.”
Abby eyed Tim for a moment then said, “AJ had to sit on one of those hard, slick company sofas. Be glad they changed them.”
Tim nodded. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Mom dragged me around with her a couple of times. Sara was amused; I wasn’t.” He settled more comfortably.
Mrs. Steel came back with her book and put it on the podium. “There. Miss Sciuto, I understand we have you to thank for the new furniture.”
“Me? Probably more like AJ. Tell all while I look at the book.”
“Very well.” Mrs. Steel managed a genteel smirk. “Miss Pince told Mr. Clark, the owner, that she’d had several customers complain about the furniture ... we’d all been fussing about it for months. So he came in, at her suggestion, and sat on the sofa. For all of fifteen minutes. Two days later, this arrived. Thank goodness. You know how distracting all that sighing and squirming can be.”
Abby dimpled at the woman and nodded, “Oh, yeah, very distracting.” She tapped a page with one finger. “I like this.”
Mrs. Steel looked at the pattern for a moment. It was a simple sheath, slightly longer than knee length, but not mid-calf. The neck line was high in the back and had a modest low cowl front. It was tied at the waist with a sash.
Abby frowned. “Don’t like the sash thing... I think I’d rather use something of my own. I’ve got a really nice gold leather waist cincher with some fancy stitching. Sorta paisley, only not. If you show me some fabric samples I could match it.”
Mrs. Steel frowned at the picture for a moment then offered, ‘It’s a bit out of style but, if we lowered the back to mid... just below your shoulder blades...” She trailed off as both Abby and Tim shook their heads. “Um... it’s still very modest.”
Abby giggled. “Tats. Wouldn’t do to freak out the stuffed shirts.”
Tim began humming Waltzing Matilda. Abby stuck her tongue out at him. “I am not freaking the mundanes, thankyouverymuch.”
Tim snickered and settled back, only commenting, “Mrs. Steel, Abby has a very good memory for colors, smells... and a bunch of other stuff. If she says she can match from memory, just go with it.”
“As you wish. You’ll need a drape-y fabric, so ...” She started flipping through a swatch book. “Mmmm, this one? Or this.” She showed them to Abby. “They’re all white but once we decide on the fabric I’ll know which book to show you. I do hope you don’t want a special order... that’ll take three weeks or more so, if time is of the essence, you’ll have to choose something in-house.”
Tim pulled his phone out of a pocket, consulted it then said, “As of now, we have seventy-six hours to take-off.”
Mrs. Steel frowned for a moment. “The dress will take two days, the suit less as we only need the final fitting. We can just squeak by.”
“Oh, goody. So. I look better in jewel tones than pastels, never mind that I hate most of them. Lavender is nice. So is Emerald Green, Sapphire Blue, that sort of color. Nothing yellow; makes me look like I’m in the last stages of liver failure.” As she talked Abby flipped through the swatch book. “Oh, I like this. Is it drape-y enough?”
“Yes, that’s a very nice fabric. A bit old-fashioned as it’s rayon, but it drapes very nicely and it’s easy to clean. Hand wash, cold; line dry.”
“Great and...” Abby accepted the color swatch book and flipped through it. “This color? Maybe?”
Mrs. Steel eyed the swatch for a moment. “Let me see if I have it in the back.” She hurried off to look.
“Tim? What do you think?” Abby turned to Tim for his opinion, only he was fast asleep with one leg thrown over the arm of the sofa, the other braced under the coffee table. Abby threw up her hands. “What is it with you guys?!”
Mrs. Steel returned with her bolt of cloth and shook her head at the sight. “You wouldn’t believe how many men fall asleep. Here... let’s see if it suits.”
Abby obediently stood in front of a mirror while Mrs. Steel fussed with a length of fabric. “There... what do you think?”
Abby turned one way then another, making the fabric shimmer. “I’ll take it. It’s just a bit darker than the stitching on my cincher.”
Mrs. Steel carefully wrapped the Deep Sapphire cloth back onto its bolt then produced a tape. “I need a couple more measurements... hem length and all that.” She took her measurements then wrote up the order.
Abby produced a credit card and paid her bill. “There we go.” She went over and kicked Tim’s feet. “Tim! Wakey-wakey.”
Tim grunted and sat up. “Done?”
“Yes. Come on, we still have to shop for you.”
Tim snorted. “Ten minutes, fifteen if Wal-Mart is crowded.”
Abby sighed. “It’ll take you an hour or I miss my guess.”
The nearest store happened to be a Target a half mile away.
It didn’t take long for Tim to get parked.
“Okay, stick with me. Don’t wander off because I don’t want to have to chase you down. Come on.” Tim got a carry basket and headed into the store. Abby trotted after him looking puzzled.
“Don’t you need a buggy?”
“What for? I’m gettin’ one package of socks, one of briefs, and a package of boxers. Might get some t-shirts while I’m at it.”
Tim led the way to the men’s section and, true to his word, got exactly what he’d said he would. As he headed for the checkout Abby handed him a five dollar bill. “Jerk.”
Tim wisely kept his mouth shut.
After he’d paid and accepted his bag, Abby said, “And I still need to find some more things. I seriously have no clothes. Oh! And I need to stop by the dry-cleaners and pick up that check they promised me.”
It took them a half an hour to make the drive and Tim was hot under the collar by the time they arrived at the cleaners.
Abby hopped out announcing, “I’ll only be a couple of minutes. Relax.”
Tim grumbled, “You relax. I’m gonna have ta drive in that mess again. What the fuckin’ hell was that anyway?”
Abby shrugged. “Someone texting when they were driving. Wreck backed up traffic. What?”
Tim just glowered at her. “Not what I meant and you know it. I’m practically married to my phone, but I don’t text or talk while I’m driving. It’s stupid.”
“It is. It’s also against the law, but people always think it won’t happen to them. So. I’ll get my check and then you can take me to Dilly’s; it’s in the opposite direction and only about six blocks.” Abby trotted off to collect her check.
The cleaner was very apologetic, offered to have things re-dyed, and handed over a check.
Abby agreed that some of her things could be over-dyed but told the man that she’d have to make arrangements later as she was going out of town. He said to just call and they’d figure something out. He apologized again and Abby got away before he could initiate a long conversation. She wanted to get home so she could wash her new purchases before wearing them.
Abby hopped up into the truck seat, waving her check at Tim. “They paid for most of my stuff but the owner wants to try to over-dye some of it. Mostly the cotton stuff. Wool is all ruined. So... more shopping. But you can drop me at Dilly’s and Jeff will drive me home. Okay?”
Tim, just happy that he wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day following Abby around, agreed. “Sure. But... just thought of this. Where’s your rod?”
“In the shop, I hit a chug hole and busted the suspension. It’ll be done by the time I get back. And that reminds me, I need to call the shop. You don’t mind?”
“No. Make your call. Just put the address to Dilly’s into the GPS first. And call me if Jeff can’t drive you.” He didn’t turn his head as he was backing out but his tone of voice said it all. “Abby, I mean it. If Jeff can’t drive you, call one of us. None of this Uber shit. DC is not a good place for that right now.”
Abby punched in the address of Dilly’s then called the shop to check on her car.
Abby asked for the mechanic that was working on her car and was obviously displeased to be told that he’d broken his hand so someone else was working on it.
“Okay. Just remember, I’ll drive it before I approve the repairs. And, if he treats me like a... helpless female, I’ll maim him. Now, I’m gonna be out of town for about a week. I’m giving a presentation to a forensic group in Chicago.” She listened for a minute then said, “Okay. Bye.” She tucked her phone away then said, “If they treat me like a featherhead, I’m gonna hurt someone. My usual guy is really good and treats me with respect. I’m not sure about the guy they have working on my rod. In fact, I’m not too sure about the new shop boss either. Oh, well, if all else fails, I’ll sent Jet.”
Tim frowned. “Doesn’t sound good. Want me to run backgrounds on all of them?”
“Like I didn’t already do that. But a background check won’t show if they’re jerks or not.”
“Too true.” Tim jerked the wheel just in time to avoid taking the bumper off a 1987 Dodge Aries. “Christ on a cracker.” He yelled, “You jackass. Rear-view mirrors!”
Abby shook her head. “You’d think that someone driving a car like that would... I don’t know... be more careful.”
“Jerk is probably such a fuckin’ bad driver that that’s all the car he can afford. And I’ll bet you anything he’s got no fuckin’ insurance either.”
Abby nodded her agreement then pointed. “Dilly’s.”
Just then the GPS pinging and announced, “Turn right next exit.”
Tim turned and followed the GPS’s directions to the back parking lot. He just pulled up to the back entrance and let Abby out. “You call if you need me.”
“I will. Bye.”
Cynthia glowered at her monitor and said a few very unladylike things. She decided to turn this over to Vance. “Director Vance? I need your opinion. I’ve booked Dr. Mallard’s party on Delta, reservations confirmed and everything. I decided to check back then print out the boarding passes and tickets here to save time at the airport. They are telling me that I didn’t make a reservation and there’s no seats available within the time frame needed. What should I do?”
Leon Vance was usually a patient man, no matter what anyone said, but he’d had a hell of a week. “I don’t know. Why don’t you let McGee deal? He’s good at this sort of thing. This week has been hell on wheels. I’m just done.”
“I know. Me too. So, I’ll email Agent McGee and let him know. I hope there’s time for them to make some arrangements.”
Tim’s phone pinged so he opened the email. “Well, son of a bitch and all her pups. Damnit.” He shrugged. He was in the office alone finishing up some of the interminable paperwork; the stuff seemed to breed. Abby swore it was related to Tribbles somehow.
It didn’t take him long to get down to Abby’s lab.
Abby’s music of the day was something loud. Tim wasn’t sure who it was, but the singer just screamed something unintelligible over and over. He turned it off.
“Hey! Oh, Tim, what’s up?”
“Delta fucked us. They say they didn’t get our reservations. It’s too late to make new ones with them. So... what do you want to do?”
Abby checked something then said, “Why don’t you call Ducky and Jimmy, get them here, and we’ll all figure it out.”
Tim did as she suggested and Jimmy answered the Morgue phone. Tim explained the problem and asked if they could come to Abby’s Lab to talk it over.
Ducky smiled at Abby when he came in the door. Jimmy just looked annoyed.
“Well, Tim, I understand our travel arrangements fell through?”
“They did. Delta...”
Ducky held up a hand. “Say no more, my boy. That... bunch of lugnuts could screw up a two-car funeral, as Jet says. So. We have approximately thirty-six hours to figure out something. And that includes flying time.”
Abby shrugged, “I’m sure you have some contacts that could help us get where we’re going. Call someone.”
Ducky shook his head, “My dear Abigail, all my contacts would provide would be seats on a C-130.”
“That’s fine. I’m not some delicate flower that can’t stand a bit of turbulence and discomfort.”
Ducky eyed her for a moment then said, “Very well. Let me get back to my office and see what I can do.”
Jimmy nodded. “Okay, can I stay here for a bit? I’ve done all the cleaning and such, I just need a bit of a break.”
“That’s fine.” Ducky got up and ambled out, mumbling to himself.
Tim got up from the rolling chair that he’d gotten from Abby’s office. “I better get back to my desk. I swear, paper work is never ending.” He left, followed by a burst of ‘music’. “Damn. What she sees in that crap... never understand. Seriously fucked up.”
It took an hour, but Ducky saved the day. He’d managed to get tickets on a C-130 headed in the right direction and had been assured that, due to the cargo, they wouldn’t be diverted. He sent an email to everyone, then went to print out their documentation. The only problem was, they were going to be twelve hours earlier than expected. He sighed and called Jimmy.
“Jimmy, come here a moment, would you please?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“The sky.” Ducky smirked at Jimmy then got serious. “I need you to call our hotel and see if we can move our reservations up a day.”
“I thought of that. I’m waiting for a call back right now.” Jimmy grinned, he knew Ducky hated dealing with hotel booking agents.
“Excellent. Well done.”
Jimmy grumbled a bit then suggested, “How about we have tea while we wait?”
“Wonderful idea. I’ll put the kettle on. Will you prep?”
“Sure.” Jimmy went to get the tea pot, tray, sugar and cups. He smiled a bit at the little sugar spoons. He remembered finding them in an antique shop. Ducky had been delighted when they realized that they matched his second best silverware.
They were relaxing when the phone rang. Ducky answered, “Dr. Mallard. How may I help you?” There was an indistinct mumble from the receiver but Ducky replied, “Excellent. Thank you so much.” He went to the printer and punched a couple of buttons. The printer promptly spat out an inch thick stack of paper.
Ducky fumbled with it for a moment then said in an irritated tone, “Jimmy, blasted things are all stuck together.”
Jimmy just took the stack and said, “I’ve been telling maintenance for weeks that the thing uses too much ink. They should come out of the printer almost dry but they’re so wet they stick together. I think we should spread them out for a bit so they dry.” He proceeded to do exactly that, spreading the sheets across one of the tables, sorting as he went.
“There. When that’s all dry I’ll fold them into envelopes so I can keep everyone organized. We’re due to take off at 0640 in the morning. I should get home and pack. I’ve got it all put out but I was waiting to see whether we were going commercial or military. Would you like me to pack for you?”
Ducky smiled at Jimmy, not at all offended that he offered to pack for him. “No, I’d rather do it myself. That way I know where everything is. Do you think my wheelie will cause trouble?”
“You know it won’t. I’ll deal. It’s not like our luggage together will weigh as much as my ruck. In fact, I might just pack in my ruck then put your wheelie in it. Or maybe put it on the bottom and my bags on top of it.”
Ducky blinked, “Your bags?”
“I’ve taken to packing my clothing and stuff in stack bags. Makes it easier to find things. They’re different colors so... jeans in one, underwear in another and so on. And the black one is dirty stuff.”
“Well, aren’t you the clever one?” Ducky nodded to himself. “I’ll just pack my things in my old duffel and you can organize your ruck to suit.” He glanced at the clock. “I believe it’s late enough that we can call it a day.”
Jimmy agreed. “Sounds good to me. Let me send an email to Abby and Tim so they know what’s going on.”
Jimmy now drove Ducky to and from work. He admitted that his eyes weren’t what they were even a couple of years ago, so he refused to drive except in full daylight. As they usually left for work at gray dawn and weren’t home much before dusk, Jimmy drove to and from work.
They visited about not much of anything important on the way to the garage.
Abby glowered at her email then grumbled, “Six Forty? Fuck. I’ll have to scramble to finish packing. And a C-130? I’m so glad I have my ruck.” She made a few quick notes so she wouldn’t forget anything, stuffed them into her purse and headed for home. She had wash to do.
While Abby was fussing, Tim just sighed. He didn’t mind military transport. It was loud, but ear plugs fixed that. It could be crowded, but this time, it seemed they were to be four out of thirty or so. He did like the leg room and the fact that he could keep his luggage with him. He had requisitioned the projector and laptop he needed for the presentation when he found out he was going, it was set and ready to go in a hard-shell case, and he had a back-up on a USB drive and another in the cloud.
Tim left to deal with his own packing and call Jimmy to make sure he knew what was going on and set his alarm.
Tim woke to the jingle of his alarm. He had a digital alarm and had tinkered with it until it sounded like an old-fashioned double bell top. After a quick scratch, Tim headed for the bathroom, yawning.
He showered quickly, dressed in BDU’s, and checked for his phone, tablet, and pocket junk.
Before he went downstairs, he knocked on Jimmy and Ducky’s doors. Satisfied with Jimmy’s “I’m up! I’m up!” and Ducky’s “Nearly ready,” he went down to start coffee. They were going to get sausage biscuits from a drive-through on their way to pick up Abby.
Tim was going to call Abby to make sure she was awake, but she called him instead. He put her on speaker so he could make coffee and talk at the same time.
“Tim. I’m all packed and waiting. The tailor actually got everything done for me. You need to be here in half an hour so we can board on time.”
“I’m just making coffee. We’re going to drive through Nancy’s on the way and get sausage biscuits. Want one?” Tim measured coffee and set up the pot while he was talking.
Abby dropped her phone, picked it up and answered, “Yeah. Sounds good.”
Tim started the pot, then said, “Abby, if you drop that phone one more time the screen will crack.”
Abby just gave him a raspberry and hung up.
Ducky came in just then and demanded tea. Tim started the kettle, remarking, “We just have time if you put it in a carry cup.”
“Fine, fine. I believe we were going to get sausage biscuits?”
Jimmy wandered in, grumbling, with his ruck over his shoulder. “I’m ready.”
He glanced at Ducky then demanded, “Are you sure you packed enough?”
Ducky nodded. “I am, dear boy. I have enough underthings for two weeks. Shirts for a week. I brought two casual trousers and a vest. And my suits can be dry-cleaned overnight. I packed one and I’m wearing the other. What more do I need?”
Jimmy frowned for a moment then said, “I don’t know. Just seems awful light somehow.”
Tim shrugged, “He doesn’t wear jeans. They’re heavy. Those trousers he wears are all light.”
Ducky frowned, “I’ve suddenly realized that I have no idea what vehicle we’re taking.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Vance is sending an SUV and driver. Should be here any minute.”
Just then the driver pulled up in front, Ducky turned to lock the door and set the alarm. They didn’t have to worry too much about the house; NCIS would send an agent to check it every day.
Agent Hammel got out of the SUV and opened the back hatch. “Tim. Jimmy. Dr Mallard. Morning.”
Jimmy tossed him his ruck and got into the back seat. Ducky got into the front beside the driver. Tim handed over his ruck and the hard-shell case with their electronics.
Agent Hammel looked at the luggage then asked, “You sure you’re not forgetting something? Dr Mallard’s stuff?”
Jimmy called back, “No. I’m carrying his stuff in my ruck so he doesn’t have to deal.”
Agent Hammel slammed the hatch, got into the driver’s seat and said, “Okay then. Dr Sciuto next?”
Tim answered, “No. We want to get breakfast biscuits first. Drive through... Nancy’s?”
Ducky and Jimmy agreed that Nancy’s was good, so Agent Hammel headed that way. It wasn’t that much out of the way and Tim called in their order on the way.
Jimmy hopped out and trotted inside to get their order. He checked the bag, just counting the sandwiches, then brought it out. He passed out the food, handing everyone their order. He also handed a sausage-and-egg biscuit to the driver saying, “I hope you’re hungry.”
“Thanks, man. I got up so early I only had time for a MickyD coffee.” He happily unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. “Mmm. Really good.”
It took about ten minutes to get to Abby’s place; she was actually dressed in BDU’s and waiting at the curb for them. She didn’t wait for Agent Hammel to get out, instead she called, “Just open the hatch. I can manage.”
Agent Hammel pushed the button to open the hatch then watched as Abby wrangled her ruck into the back. He shook his head but allowed, “Woman is something else.”
Jimmy agreed. “That she is.” He got out to let Abby have his seat but she just hopped into the rear seat and settled in.
She dimpled at Agent Hammel in the rear view and said, “Thanks. And… just so you know… I’m one of three people in the world who could actually murder you, get rid of the body, and leave no forensic evidence behind. Seriously.”
Agent Hammel grinned back and said, “Remind me never to piss you off. Settled?” Every one sounded off, so he put it in gear and eased into traffic.
Abby groaned. “Food? Please?” Jimmy passed the last two sandwiches back with a chuckle. “Mmm. Food. Yum.” Abby dug out a biscuit, unwrapped it and took a huge bite.
It didn’t take her long to devour her food; she was really happy to see that Jimmy had gotten her an orange juice box to wash the biscuits down with. “Thanks for the juice, Jimmy. Everyone hand back your trash and I’ll put it all in the bag so Agent Hammel doesn’t have to clean up after us.”
They all obeyed; Ducky collected Hammel’s trash and balled it up with his, then he just tossed it over his shoulder.
Tim caught it, exclaiming, “Hey! Easy, Ducky.” He then tossed it to Abby and caught her in the chest.
“Easy yourself, jerk.” But she laughed as she stuffed the ball into the bag. “There. All done. Are we nearly there?”
Hammel nodded. “Yeah, just about. I looked at the work order, but they didn’t note a terminal. Where to?”
Tim frowned at the travel order. “Um… it doesn’t have a name, just a T number. T-134.”
Hammel made a quick right turn. “Okay. You are aware that that’s a military transport terminal, right?”
“Yeah. We’re takin’ a C-130 to Chicago. We couldn’t make connections to be on time any other way. So… Not that big a deal.”
Abby nodded, pigtails bobbing. “Really not. Last time we took a commercial flight… it crashed.”
Jimmy took exception to that. “You’ve flown several times since then.”
“All either private or provided by the venue or SecNav. Not the same at all.”
Tim laughed. “Only you, Abby. Only you.”
Abby intelligently gave him the finger then turned to look out the window.
It wasn’t long before they were at the hangar that was considered a terminal by the military. It was huge enough to earn the name cavernous and nearly empty. There were about thirty people gathered at the opposite end near the huge open doors.
Hammond parked and opened the hatchback. He started to get out to handle the luggage, but Ducky patted his shoulder, saying, “Don’t bother. We’ll have to wrangle our baggage ourselves, so we might as well start as we mean to finish. Thank you for a safe and comfortable ride.”
Hammond nodded to Ducky, “You’re welcome and thanks for breakfast.”
“Don’t mention it. Good-bye.”
Hammond checked to make sure everyone had their stuff then called, “Someone shut the hatch, please.” Tim slammed it shut for him then banged on the roof; he nodded once and drove off.
Tim shouldered his ruck and started for the group. Jimmy followed with papers in hand, with Abby and Ducky on his heels. Ducky offered to carry Abby’s ruck, but she just giggled and said, “Oh, Duckman, you’re such a gentleman, but no, I’ve got it.”
“As you wish, then.” Ducky smiled gently.
Abby was actually first up, as her papers were on the top of the pile. She handed over her ruck to be weighed.
“Ma’am.” The Loadmaster took her ruck and hung it off the hook. “You sure you can manage this? It’s sixty pounds.”
Abby nodded. “I’m sure. It’s fine, but thank you for asking.”
Tim handed his over next. “I also have a hard-shell case, but it’s cargo, not personal luggage. NCIS registered equipment.”
The Loadmaster nodded, checked papers, and hung Tim’s ruck. “Um… seventy-five pounds.”
Tim accepted his ruck. “Not that heavy. I’ve done ruck runs with full battle gear and a ninety-pound ruck. Thought I was gonna die by the end of it. Badger is a madman.”
“Badger? Ltcmdr Anthony DiNozzo?” Tim nodded. “Heard of him. He as scary as they say?”
“Worse, but he won’t ask his men to do anything he won’t do. It’s all good.” Tim accepted his ruck with a smile and got out of Jimmy’s way.
Jimmy handed over his ruck after taking Ducky’s duffle out. The Loadmaster gave him a stinkeye, so Jimmy said, “I’m carrying Ducky’s stuff too. We don’t want him wrangling a duffel on a C-130.”
“I see. Okay.” He weight Jimmy’s pack. “Fuck me! This monster weights ninety pounds.”
Jimmy flushed a bit. “I forgot to clean it out; it still has a full medic kit in it.”
Ducky’s duffle weighed in at forty pounds but the Loadmaster was no dummy and said, “That puts your combined ruck at a hundred and thirty pounds.”
Jimmy just shrugged. “Not a problem. I did the same run Tim did.”
“You’re all crazy. Seriously fuckin’ crazy. ‘Scuse my French, Ma’am.”
Abby snickered. “You should hear me when one of my babies gives me hinky results.”
Loadmaster Jenks looked at her for a second. “Babies? Ma’am?”
Ducky smiled at Jenks. “She’s a scientist. Her ‘babies’ are her lab equipment.”
Jenks nodded his understanding. “I see, sir. I’ll need to weigh that case, too.”
Tim handed the case over. “Be careful with that. It’s got electronic equipment in it.”
“Okay. So… I guess I’m not supposed to drop kick it into the cargo bay?” Jenks grinned to show he was joking.
Tim smirked at him. “Only if you want AJ to take you on the mats.”
Jenks winced. “Heard about that. You ever?”
“Yeah. I fucked up an entry … nearly got myself shot. He does tend to get a bit pissy about that sort of thing.”
“I bet. I’d be pissed too. Well, you’re all weighed and under allowance. You can board now.” He handed all the papers back to Jimmy who put them in a thigh pocket and buttoned it.
“We ready?” Jimmy shouldered his repacked ruck and looked around. Everyone replied in the affirmative, so they headed for the plane.
They were met by another Loadmaster, who was responsible for cargo distribution and seating. This made sure that the payload was balanced and the passengers were safe.
Jimmy tossed his ruck through the door, then took Abby’s and did the same with it. He sat on the door sill and turned on his butt to get his feet in, then stood up. He gave Abby a hand up, then Ducky. Tim tossed him his ruck, then got in. They got out of the doorway as quickly as they could, just so they didn’t piss off the Loadmaster or crew.
Abby bounced a bit, she was so excited. She looked around, but didn’t really see a place to sit. “Where are we gonna sit?”
Tim pointed. “How about there? It’s a bit away from everyone else, and we can fort up a bit.”
Jimmy grinned. “If we move one box and add my ruck, we’ll be nearly hidden.”
Ducky glanced around. “This reminds me of the time…”
He was interrupted, very kindly, by one of the crew, “I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but we have seating for your group up front. Since there’s only thirty of you and cargo is palletized, we have onboard side seats for everyone. This way please.” He started off but turned to say, “Oh, and your luggage can stay with you as long as it stays out of the way. Except for the clam-shell; we’ve already secured that.”
Ducky made a face but followed the crewman with Jimmy, Tim, and Abby right behind him. He privately though they looked like a drake and a gaggle of ducklings.
Abby was just as excited about this as she was about most experiences. Flying in a C-130 wasn’t new to her, but she did love doing things that AJ and Gibbs had done.
As she settled into the seat she pelted the poor crewman with questions.
“How do you attach the seats? I don’t see how. Where do the seats come from? We flew in a C-130 before and it didn’t have any seats. Why not? Is there coffee? I’d rather have a Caf-Pow but drinks in soft cups aren’t allowed only why you call that white plastic thing soft I’ll never know. When are we taking off? I hope it’s soon. Is there a ladies’ room? Or not. Is there any kind of toilet?”
Tim took pity on the crewman, waving him away and answering Abby. “The seats are screwed into sockets. The same sockets that accept the cargo tie-downs. The seats are stored somewhere and sent to location on request. The C-130 we flew in was over seat capacity or they just didn’t provide. No coffee. Those white cups will collapse if you squeeze them, so they’re considered soft.” He glanced at his watch. “Take off in ten. No ladies’ room. No C-130 has a toilet. You brought some of those Biffy Bags, right?”
Abby patted her ruck and nodded. “I did.” She blinked then exclaimed, “Oh! Do we have seat numbers?”
Tim answered that. “First come, first served.” He sat next to her on her right, Ducky took the seat on her left, and Jimmy sat on his other side.
The Captain came aboard just then and yelled as he walked to the front. “Sit the fuck down. Take off in ten. If you’re not buckled in, don’t piss and whine when you get fucked up.” He then entered the cockpit, followed by the rest of the cockpit crew.
Everyone settled in their seats, secured their stuff, and snapped seat belts. Ducky popped a piece of gum into his mouth, then offered the pack around.
Tim refused. “Got some already.”
Jimmy accepted with thanks, as did Abby. She passed the pack to the man next to her after glancing at Ducky, who nodded. The pack made its way down the row until the last man realized that he’d taken the last piece.
“Hey! Man. Really sorry about that. We’ll get you a new pack at the next port.”
Ducky waved a hand. “No bother. Don’t worry about it. I knew that would happen. That’s why I bought the large pack.”
There was a chorus of thank-you’s from the whole row.
Then it was take-off. The pilot announced takeoff, then began to taxi. They sat in holding pattern for an amazingly short fifteen minutes, then took off with a roar of jets which pushed everyone into their seats.
Abby promptly leaned against Ducky and went to sleep.
Tim stuck his feet into the aisle and did the same while Ducky leaned back against Abby. Jimmy copied Tim and they were all soon sound asleep.
As the flight would only last about an hour and a half, they didn’t expect to get much sleep, but it had been an early morning and a bit of a scramble to get there, so they napped.
They actually managed to sleep all the way, much like the rest of the passengers. Abby said later that the lack of screaming kids, running up and down the plane, made a real difference.
Ducky woke first when one of the crew started to shake him awake.
His reaction was not what the young man expected at all. Ducky grabbed his hand and the pain made him fall to his knees.
“What?” Ducky let the crewman go, sitting up with a start. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” The crewman was now on his knees at Ducky’s feet, hand cramped over. “Please, sir?”
Ducky let go. “Oh, dear. I’m very sorry, young man. Let me take a look at that.”
The crewman let Ducky check his hand and wrist. “So sorry. I do believe you are going to have a rather nasty bruise. I do apologize.”
The crewman rubbed his hand. “That’s okay, sir. I was warned about shaking people awake. I just… Um…”
Jimmy patted the kid on the shoulder. “Never assume. Ducky’s RED, and what he did is called a thumb-tap. Put some arnica jell on that bruise.”
The crewman got up and hurried away, rubbing his hand. Ducky watched him for a moment, then said, “I am truly sorry, but shaking me is a very bad idea.”
Tim nodded. “Shaking any of us is not a good idea. But… he’s not hurt and maybe he learned a lesson that will keep him from getting really hurt later. We better get set for landing.”
They got ready for landing, bracing themselves with their heels on a T-beam. The plane bounced once then rumbled down the landing strip, brakes screeching, tires smoking.
Once they were cleared to taxi, it wasn’t long before they were in front of another hangar. They were so similar that, if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought they never left DC.
Abby, Jimmy, Tim, and Ducky had decided to wait until everyone else was off the plane to deplane themselves. They had the clamshell to find, and they didn’t want the crew overloaded.
They didn’t have long to wait; all the other passengers were military and deplaned in good order.
They all got off and clustered around the door while the crew found their case. The same crewman that had awakened Ducky came to the door with it.
“Here you are, sir. And… um… no hard feelings about waking you up like that?”
He looked hopeful so Ducky took pity on him. “Of course not, young man. How is your hand?”
He showed his hand to Ducky. “No problem. One of the guys had some ice left in his drink so he gave it to me. I’m fine. Lesson learned with a minimum of pain. We can both call it good.” He saluted, then scurried off when someone shouted at him to “move your ass, dude.”
Jimmy frowned at his phone. “Well, the car we arranged for wouldn’t change their time, so I cancelled it. We’ll have to hump our shit to the concourse and find something.”
They lucked out as the short bus that had been sent to take the excess from the school bus sized vehicle had seats for them. The driver pulled up beside them and called, “Don’t give a damn if you’re civvies or what, I’m not leavin’ y’all to hump that shit all the way in.”
Jimmy grinned at him. “Thanks, man.” He tossed his ruck to a waiting corporal then added Tim’s stuff. Abby’s ruck was next and she followed it, quickly getting out of the way. Ducky got on board while Abby was getting seated. They realized that someone was going to have to stand. Ducky offered and was soundly refused. Jimmy said, “Oh, no, Ducky, not a chance. AJ’d have us all on the mats in a second. Except for Abby.”
Abby added, “No mats for me, but he’d give me that disappointed look of his. No, thankyouverymuch.”
Tim and Jimmy rock-paper-scissored for standee, which Jimmy lost. So he stood on the drive to the terminal, which was against regs but the driver cheerfully announced, “Man, civilians, what can ya do?” and eased up to speed gently.
When they reached the huge building Jimmy pointed. “Rent-a-Center.”
They gathered their stuff, thanked the driver, got his name, then headed for the rental agency.
The agent was very helpful, found them exactly what they needed, gave them maps and some directions, then actually programmed the GPS for them. She cheerfully ran Tim’s company card then waved to them as Tim drove off.
Abby had happily taken the back seat, Ducky always got shotgun, and Jimmy was sprawled across the middle seat. Abby babbled away about everything they saw, cursed a couple of idiot drivers, but allowed that Chicago traffic had nothing on DC. Jimmy dozed.
It took them nearly an hour to reach the convention center, which was actually located in a suburb of Chicago. Naperville was clean, neat, and actually a city in its own right. It was not a bedroom town for Chicago although many residents worked in the city.
The hotel they had booked was a new Marriott and was only a stone’s throw from the convention center. It was actually so new that it didn’t show on Google Maps yet, something that annoyed Abby no end as she couldn’t find any restaurants nearby.
Tim parked and tossed the keys to the valet. “Take it easy on that. It’s a rental.” Tim grinned at the boy. “My boss will be pissed if something happens to it.”
The valet grinned back. “I’ll treat it like it’s my own.”
Ducky snorted then said, “Best you treat it like it is your mother’s.”
The valet laughed good naturedly then said, “The key will be at the desk. If you want it, just ask for it. However, I’d really advise using Uber or taxies as much as possible. Traffic is going to be hell. Convention.”
Jimmy slipped the boy a ten then shouldered his ruck. “We’re part of that madness so we’ll walk as much as we can. I hate driving in a strange city, but Tim seems to be doing okay.” He trotted after the group, catching up just in time to collect his key card.
They’d lucked out as Cynthia had pulled a couple of strings to get them reservations at such a late date. Jimmy and Tim would share a double king suit, Ducky had a similar room down the hall two doors, and Abby had a nice single across the hall from Ducky.
Jimmy gave Ducky his duffle, offering to take it to the room for him but Ducky said he wasn’t quite that decrepit yet. Abby winked at Jimmy and trotted after Ducky.
Tim had their door open by the time Jimmy got done with Ducky so he just ambled in, dumping his ruck by the door for the moment.
He flopped into a chair then groaned, “Man, nice. I’m not gonna wanna get up if I sit here too long.”
Tim shrugged. “So, stay seated.”
“Can’t. I gotta get that ruck under control. Or get something else to carry.”
Tim brandished a messenger bag. “Ought to get one of these. You can carry a lot of stuff in it. And, for now, all you really need is a small medic kit, your laptop, a couple of note books, and pen and pencil.”
Jimmy grinned, “Go you one better.” He brandished an object in Tim’s general direction. “Multi-pen. I’ve got black, blue, red, and green ink and a mechanical pencil.”
Tim snatched it out of Jimmy’s hand, causing him to exclaim, “Buy your own, jerk.”
“I will. Bitch.” He examined the pen for a moment then tossed it at Jimmy’s head. He reached for his tablet only to be tackled by Jimmy.
“Tickle fight!” Jimmy quickly pinned Tim and soon had him begging for mercy.
“Nonono. Damn it! You cheated. Somehow.” Tim scrambled to his feet the second Jimmy got off him. “Go clean your ruck, you menace.”
Jimmy obeyed, literally dumping his ruck on the floor. He quickly sorted out what he felt he actually needed and put it on the small table provided. It was supposed to be a dining table, but it was tiny. As Tim observed, it was meant for either midgets or one person, he wasn’t sure which. But it did the job Jimmy needed.
He was sorting through when something smacked him in the back. “Hey!”
“Hey your own self. Happy whatever.” Tim smirked. He’d found his backup messenger bag at the bottom of his ruck. He’d thought he’d lost it so he’d wound up bringing two.
Jimmy grinned, “Well, thanks an’ all that. Here.” He produced the companion to his multi-pen. “I thought I’d left this at home, so happy what the fuck ever to you too.”
They spent the next half hour or so unpacking, packing their messenger bags and getting settled.
“Okay. Now that that’s done, what do we do? I’m not sitting in this room for the rest of the day.” Tim looked at his watch. “It’s only ten.”
Jimmy closed his ruck and put it in the closet then said, “Well, we could just wander over to the convention center, poke around, get in everyone’s way and ask stupid questions. Figure out where Abby and Ducky should be before the fact. See what you’ll need to make your shit mate with their shit… that sort of thing. And find something to eat. I’m hungry.”
Tim blinked then snickered, “Well, why not. I’ll call Abby to let her know where we’ll be. She can drag Ducky to whatever the hell she wants to see before the convention starts. I’m not goin’ to the range of museums and shit she wants to see unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.”
Jimmy shuddered. “I swear, she’ll want to go to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the pendulum and the sub. Been there, done that. So not interested in a repeat. I was bored shitless the first time.”
They agreed to sneak out then call, rather meanly leaving Ducky in the lurch.