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A Fed, a General and a Linguist Walk into a Bar...

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Very Special Agent Anthony D. DiNozzo Jr., senior field agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, on the D.C. Major Crimes Response Team, realized he was screwed, royally screwed, the moment he asked for an update and didn’t get a reply over his ear-bud.

Fucking typical, and he should have known better than to go ahead with this op when he knew his team lead, Jethro Gibbs, would be side-lined at the Navy Yard for the night. But he knew, in spite of the doubts of his superiors and teammates, he *knew*, there was a serial killer hunting here tonight, and if he didn’t want to find another body in a dumpster, he had no choice but to come out hunting himself.

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They’d been called out to Alexandria on Wednesday morning for a dead marine, Sergeant Warren Coyne, found in a dumpster behind a bar near the river. The body had been stripped naked, signs of violent and bloody sexual assault, pre-mortem torture (ligature marks on wrists and ankles, beatings, burns, knife slashes, broken bones, internal bleeding), post-mortem mutilation of the genitals… it all had an odor to it, and Tony had begun trolling through VICAP, and any other law enforcement database he could get his hands on, to look for similar signatures. He’d even put in a call to a buddy who worked out of the Quantico FBI offices, Derek Morgan, for advice…

He’d had to be cagey about the details, because, lord knew, Gibbs would have a screaming hairy fit if the Behavior Analysis Unit of the FBI tried to take jurisdiction. Hunting serial killers was their thing, after all. But Tony had known Derek Morgan a long time. They had met up at the various YMCA centers around DC over the years, playing pick-up games of basketball and football as their insane work schedules allowed, with other cops and feds from the alphabet agencies, and occasionally coaching the kids at the centers with other volunteers. Derek had recommended him for a couple of criminology programs at Georgetown, put in a good word for him and helped arrange for him to go for bumping up his masters to a doctorate in criminology. Derek was sharp as they came, an excellent profiler, and had inspired Tony to take some courses in that particular area himself.

With Derek’s help, and his own contacts in Interpol and the FBI International Response Team, Tony found other cases that seemed eerily similar… five bodies were left behind bars near the docks in Marseille France over the space of a month two years ago, and another five in Manila in the Philippines, one year ago. Which meant, if Tony was right, unless they did something pretty damned fast, they were going to be looking at four more bodies in Alexandria, before this guy was in the wind again.

Derek had warned Tony how dangerous this particular unsub might be (obviously a violent but organized sexual sadist with power and control issues), and offered to get his team involved at the barest hint NCIS might need help, if Tony would only let him. But the BAU had a hands-off policy unless explicitly called in by the locals on a case, so all Derek could really do here was keep an eye on and look worried.

Gibbs thought it was all pretty thin, and the two other members of his team laughed right in his face. They thought Coyne had been running with a bad crowd, black ops bad, and that had got him killed. Coyne’s record with the Corps was anything but squeaky clean. He had some redacted sections in his jacket from special ops assignments, a two year period when he was supposedly serving at the NORAD Base in Colorado Springs, and after that he seemed to have gone off the rails in a fairly big way, passed from post to post for behavioral issues, and getting himself tied to some pretty shady people. He had been cited for a wide assortment of offences, minor and major, until he was half an inch from getting himself a dishonorable discharge. Someone in his chain of command had pulled strings to get him re-assed to DC, obviously to keep him out of trouble until he could finish out his twenty. Gibbs was thinking the ploy hadn’t worked so well. But to Tony’s mind, that didn’t explain the level of sexual sadism he was seeing in the way the marine had been tortured and left.

Tony, with some advice from Derek, had figured out a probable geographic profile, and was able to get enough information from his Interpol contacts on the Marseille murders to narrow down the victimology on his ‘unsub’, as Derek called the perp. The guy was looking for white males in their thirties, businessmen under enough stress that they went alone to bars outside their own comfort zones to do some serious drinking… and never realized the new drinking buddy beside them had laced their scotch and soda with rohypnol. He didn’t seem to care if they were gay or straight, and the rape was probably more about torture and exerting dominance than any sexual desire. Their marine was a little off the victimology, but Coyne had been wearing a nice civilian suit the last he was seen, Monday afternoon, having gone to a job interview – for a job he hadn’t got, so he would have been an angry drinker that night.

Well, surprise surprise, Tony happened to be a white male in his thirties, he could certainly dress the part of a stressed-out businessman, and while scotch and soda was not his drink of choice, he could manage to scarf down a couple if he had to. So all he needed was a lucky break on whichever bar he chose… well, lucky being a relative term.

When he took all this to his boss, Gibbs had shrugged, still not convinced. But Vance, passing by the bullpen close enough to overhear, had intervened, shocking him green, by backing Tony up. More or less… with a curt, “You got a better plan, Gibbs? Then we won’t lose anything going with this.” So Vance authorized the undercover op to test out Tony’s theory. He had two days to show results, one way or another.

Of course, McGee and Ziva had vocally protested to Gibbs once Vance had left. And what was Gibbs’ ringing endorsement and way of supporting his long-time second and loyal Saint Bernard?

“You heard the Director. You got anything better? No? Then we might as well go with this crap until we do get something better to go on. In the meantime, McGee, put through the paperwork to get us those classified records on our vic. Ziva, see what your contacts can get you on the black-ops front. And DiNozzo… don’t screw this up.”

Yeah, thanks for that, Boss. Make it clear to the team that his undercover op was make-work to fill in their time, and spoil a rare night off, until a real lead came in.

But Tony was becoming more convinced all the time that he was right about this. Which meant the op tonight was vital if he wanted to catch this guy before he left more bodies in dumpsters across the city.

He certainly didn’t count on McGee and Ziva being his only back-up on the equipment in the unmarked NCIS surveillance van. If Gibbs had been there, Tony knew he could count on the Boss to back him up and keep the other two honest, no matter what he thought of the usefulness. But when Gibbs had been called back to MTAC for some other op, it left just his two team-mates to watch his back.

And Tony didn’t trust either one of them further than he could throw them.

As soon as he knew Gibbs had bailed on him, he should have called an end to the op. He knew he should have. But if he didn’t want to see another body dumped come morning…

He told them, he *told* them, that they had better not screw the pooch this time, or there would be hell to pay, because he wasn’t going to let it pass this time. He didn’t care what Abby or Gibbs had to say about it. So okay, when they turned off coms during the Military-At-Home case, a few months back, while he was out trolling for voice-prints in the wealthy suburban neighborhood where their domestic terrorist murder suspects were to be found, there was no actual fall-out. Just a joke, right? Tony was only getting as good as he gave out? That seemed to be what Gibbs and Abby thought, when they both argued him out of filing a reprimand on the pair.

Yeah, no. You back up your partner, and you do a proper job of it, or you aren’t a partner at all. Whatever pranks or jokes he might have pulled back at the office to lighten the incredibly tense and stressful environment, Tony had never, ever, failed to have a partner’s six. Never. And no one had better even think of mentioning Jenny Shepherd in this context, because that had been a direct order, damn it, from a superior to stand down.

After he found out about the coms thing, his own sense of humor had suddenly dried up. He kept his head down and his mouth shut, and he tried to figure out what the hell he was going to do the next time he had to trust his butt in the field to these two.

And this time, he was lining up to be a hot lunch for a serial killer. Even if it was a killer neither McGee nor Ziva believed existed. Like they had so much more insight into this sort of thing than Tony, with his fifteen years of law enforcement experience.

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The bar was near the river, and not so far away from the business districts, in a direct line from the bar where Coyne was last seen, and the alley where he had been dumped. This was one of two such places Tony had targeted as possible hunting grounds for their ‘unsub’, and the likelier one in his mind, because it was just blocks from Wednesday’s crime scene.

Dressed in one of his nicest suits, wearing black-frame glasses, the ones with the built-in camera, armed with the requisite cell phone (a burner he had bought and loaded up with various apps himself, so as not to risk blowing his cover with his own or his work cell), he stumbled into ‘Joe’s’, loosened his tie with a weary grimace, and gravitated straight to the bar, apparently ignoring everyone else in the place.

It only took him minutes to scope out the other patrons. Derek had given him a best-guess on the unsub, as also a white male, probably older but in fairly good shape, given he chose mature men still in their prime, but needed to drug his victims to control them, and seemed to need to prove his dominance with the torture and sexual subjugation. Someone who was attractive enough, charming enough, with the social skills not to alarm his targets as he got close to them… Derek warned him that there really wasn’t much of a profile to go with this guy at this stage, so not to depend on the guess at his age being in his forties or fifties. If the unsub was looking for some kind of payback on a surrogate, the vics might represent a father figure, probably an alcoholic parent, someone who had failed, neglected or abused the unsub, which might make him younger than his targets.

Tony looked around, his face and posture deliberately taking on the mask of bleery, slump-shouldered and stressed out as he waited for his scotch and soda. Joe’s wasn’t exactly a bustling happenin’ place on a quiet Thursday evening, the clientele mostly men, all of them white, mostly on the mature side, no one under thirty, all serious drinkers and mostly local regulars, to judge from the familiarity the barman and two waitresses showed, delivering people’s ‘usual’ without even being asked in most cases. So he focused on the male customers who had to be asked for their orders, as those were the strangers in town, and Tony was looking for a stranger to this bar. He counted four possible unsubs… and one guy at the far end of the bar who wasn’t so unlike himself, handsome even with the gold wire-framed glasses, in his thirties, smart and expensive business attire, and therefore another potential vic.

He had gone over the drill with his impatient and short-tempered team-mates as they had prepped the van for stake-out. Not only did he have a wire on him, an ear-bud and a camera in his thick horn-rim glasses, but McGee was to tie in to any surveillance cameras, on the street, parking lots, ATMs, and in the bar itself. Joe’s happened to have a few of them, as the owner had apparently begun to suspect his employees of skimming the profits. Tony would point out the possible perps, and McGee and Ziva would ID each one and do a background check to see if they had any travel on their history, say, to France or the Philippines. Meanwhile, Tony would play the frustrated businessman in need of a couple of stiff drinks, and not particularly careful of how much he was imbibing. He had come prepared with a number of tricks to disguise that he wasn’t actually drinking all that much.

With a tap at his ear-bud, and a frustrated mumble to act the part, he told his wire, “I got eyes on four possibles. One in the north west corner booth, second under the TV by the pool table, third and fourth at the bar watching the game. Get pictures and IDs on them, ASAP. And check out the guy at the far end. He might be a target, so make sure you keep him in sight. I want to know if he moves, or if anyone approaches him.”

Tony waited for a reply, an ‘on it’, a question for clarification, anything… and got only silence back.

Oh no, they didn’t… not again. Not tonight! He decided he could play up his burn-out persona by growling at subordinates over his cell… he pulled it out, angrily punched in a number he knew well, and barked out, “Where the hell are you guys? Are you not listening at all?”

“Tony?” McGee grumbled back. “Lay off, okay? We’re just getting set up.”

“Just getting set up? You were supposed to be done half an hour ago! What the hell? Did you get the message about the four competitors?”

“Ziva says she’s got it.”

“And our one potential customer? You got him on your radar?”

“Our what?”

“Oh for… Do not screw this up. Do not!”

“Give me a break, Tony. Nothing’s going to happen, because there is no serial killer out there. So stop barking out the orders like you’ve got a right.”

And with that, the line shut down. A second call went straight to voice mail. Tony was ready to throw his cell at a wall… but it was recording everything tonight, on the chance it could be used as evidence. Yeah, evidence of dereliction of duty and insubordination, among other things. So much for rule three, do not be unreachable, and rule one, do not screw over your partner.

Angrily, and not much acting required when he was so disgusted and fed-up with his team-mates and their incompetence and betrayals, both petty and grand, he worked at a text message to request an ID of the poor schmuck at the end of the bar, who had just as much chance of ending in a dumpster as he did.

And just as he hit send, another patron entered the bar. He was tall, trim and fit-looking, straight military bearing but comfortable in his body, with short-cut silver hair, ruggedly handsome, in the age range Tony had been thinking might fit their unsub, mid-fifty-ish.

The guy gave one quick, comprehensive glance around the bar, noting Tony’s four ‘competitors’ and both he and the potential ‘customer’. Then he sauntered over to the stool next to Tony.

He ordered a beer on draft, and pretended to focus on the large screen TV above the bar and the game running with the sound turned low.

Not daring to say anything aloud, Tony texted ‘got another competitor, right beside me, may have caught a bite’ and sent it off before huffing and grumbling into his drink, taking a larger-than-wise swig.

His neighbor sighed and said, “You’re too young to be that stressed, kid.”

Tony frowned. “Not a kid. By any stretch. Old man.”

“You a regular here?”

“No. First time. I was on my way home when I decided I needed a place where no one knows your name.”

The neighbour chuckled. “Good one. Cheers. Hey Norm! This doesn’t seem like your kinda place, though. I woulda pegged you as an Adams House sorta guy.”

Tony snorted. “Yeah, maybe once. Then I decided to go out on my own… you heard that it’s tough to get good help? Is it ever. The bozos I got working for me now… I can’t trust them to tie their own shoe-laces without supervision, let alone close a deal.”

The older guy gave a “tut-tut” noise and settled in to listen to a tale of woe.

Tony spun it out, careful to follow rule seven, always be specific when you lie, and rule twenty-five, the best lies keep close to the truth. He even felt better, venting freely on his incompetent subordinates. His neighbour took it all in, nodding and making agreeing noises at all the appropriate places.

Exactly the kind of guy, and the kind of reaction, Tony had been looking for. Only…

Something was off, here. This guy… his eyes were sharp with shrewd intelligence. His hands were large, strong and sure, with calluses Tony recognized… the hair cut, the cocky attitude, the hands… this guy was military. Or maybe ex-military, since he was certainly old enough to have served his twenty and then some. Not a marine or army, either Navy or Air Force from the ace-pilot swagger. No doubt about it, he was an officer, and pretty high up the chain of command. Not that he couldn’t still be the unsub, was actually a good fit for it when service often called for a lot of foreign travel, but…

The guy’s attention was not all one-way. It was split between Tony and the guy at the other end of the bar, the other potential vic. Whenever any of the other suspects made a move in the direction of the other guy, his neighbour got all tense, and tapped at his ear…

Damn. He had an ear wig too. Competition of an entirely different sort. But who? Not FBI, Fornell would have been all over that, but maybe one of the other services? But what would have put him onto this case? The Marseille and Manila vics had all been civilians, none American, only their marine sergeant Coyne would have called out any of the DoD agencies undercover, and, surely, that was Tony.

Taking a quick check of the sparsely populated bar, to make sure no one was close, Tony took a calculated risk.

“You here looking for someone?”

The other man turned laser-sharp brown eyes on him. “What do you mean?”

Tony smirked. “You’re not here to meet someone, or if you are, they stood you up. You’ve been eyeing the good-looking guy at the other end of the bar, but you’ve only made any kind of move on me. And you’ve been letting me rant away for almost an hour now. How is that anyone’s idea of fun, unless you’re getting ready to hit on me? I’m just sayin’… if you are, I probably wouldn’t say no. And… the name is Tony.” He held out a hand to shake.

Slowly, suddenly and surprisingly unsure, his neighbor extended his own, and they shook. He had a nice firm grip, without trying to assert any kind of power play. “Jack. You really don’t seem like the type to pick up guys in a bar.”

“I was kind of thinking you were the one doing the picking up. I just get veto power.”

Jack seemed to consider that… and then nodded decisively. “Yeah, okay. What do you suggest? You said you *probably* wouldn’t say no, and I gotta think it depends on what I put on the table. So what would you say yes to?”

“How about dinner? I’ve had a bit too much to drink to want to drive home without a solid meal in me.”

“Joe doesn’t seem to have much of a menu beyond nachos and beer nuts.”

“No, but there’s a pretty good Italian restaurant a few blocks from here. Drive me over there, feed me, and I can walk back to get my car. Or not… Deal?”

With a shit-eating grin, Jack straightened from his stool, tossed a nice tip on the bar, and helped a less-inebriated-than-he-seemed Tony stand straight, and led him out of the bar.

And sauntering down the street, Jack holding onto his elbow to keep his wobbly gait steady, Tony still heard absolutely nothing over his ear-bud. His back-up, any reasonably competent back-up, should have been screaming at him right now, and rushing to contain the guy, who exactly fit the profile they were looking for, leading him away to the potential slaughter.

They turned a corner… and suddenly there were half a dozen armed and uniformed guys surrounding them. Jack gave a curt order, “Somebody see this guy gets home safe and sound. He’s just way too trusting in the goodness of strangers to be let out on his own at night,” and turned toward an unmarked van across the street that looked very much like Tony’s own NCIS surveillance van.

But Tony held tight to Jack`s arm and dug in his heels, bringing the older man to an abrupt stop, blinking back at him in surprise at the sudden sobriety. “Hey, Jack. You might want to re-think side-lining me. I’m an NCIS federal agent working an undercover op to draw out a serial killer.”

Slowly, Jack passed his free hand over his face. “Well, crap. Welcome to the party, NCIS federal agent Tony. You better come with me so we can sort this out.”

“Yeah, I better, because my Boss is not going to want to give up jurisdiction, no matter who you represent.”

Jack shrugged and gestured toward his van. The back opened up and they both climbed in, and the squad of military (service branch, unit, base, even rank unknown in the stripped-down green BDU’s they wore) melted back into the night.

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