She stuck her hand further into the drawer. There was something in there she couldn’t very well reach and had to move her hand from side to side. She hit her thumb on something long and sharp and cried out in pain and unwelcomed surprise. Tears ran down her cheeks but for once she didn’t try to hide them – it was a necessary excuse to show everybody she felt bad. She didn’t know why but she wanted to cry since she had woken up in the wee hours of the morning and was grateful for the excuse to do just so.
Sometimes she saw the McGee she didn’t know, only heard of from the older members of NCIS bullpen – hesitant, unsure, feeling a bit lost in emotional situations. She got along quite well with that confident senior field agent McGee, but it was good to see these particular traits of character still showed through and marked him as a full-fledged human being.
“Bishop? Can I help you? What are you doing over at this desk?” He came closer and Ellie sat on the floor to hide the little unsteadiness.
“Are you hurt?” McGee bent over the surface of the desk and peered down at her. “What were you doing here?” Now he sounded a tad suspicious.
“A bit.” Ellie sniffled and looked up. “I was told there might be spare stapler, mine’s broken somehow.”
McGee looked at her with a visible doubt, then shrugged.
“I’ll get you one, but you might want to go to your desk before Gibbs sees you.”
Ellie nodded and took the hand out of the drawer. She was hurt indeed. Something sharp enough cut the tip of her thumb a bit too deep. She didn’t feel anything inside the wound, so she stuck the thumb into her mouth.
The new addition to Gibbs’ team sighed and crouched lower, trying to peek into the far side of the drawer, but it was too dark a corner to see anything that far inside. Ellie plopped down beside the desk and in the n-th time wondered why Gibbs had this simple office appendage moved to the side to make place for Ellie’s new desk rather than let her sit here.
She glanced up at Tim, who stood nervously on the other side of the desk offering her a brand-new stapler. The young woman sighed again and got up.
“Thank you. Why is this desk still even there? It just irrational that Gibbs doesn’t let me have it and doesn’t let anybody take it away. I mean, don’t you…”
“I…it…it’s too dark here.” McGee stuttered rather out of character.
“Huh?!” Ellie raised an eyebrow. She didn’t know how to reply to that, so she walked around the desk and went to her own.
“Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What…”, Ellie looked at her boss with the widest open eyes she could master. “Do you really mean you don’t know what’s that that I need to find?”
“Must find…” He looked at her impassively, knowing full well that it was exactly the kind of task she enjoyed the most. Ellie Bishop was a good agent – decent investigator, passable shooter, but her absolute speciality was finding anything lost. The more lost - the better. Puzzles, riddles, enigmas were her best friends and confidants – from mere newspaper crossword to a puzzle with only third remaining pieces to the one evidence found at a crime scene were the problems everyone went to her with.
Her boss knew exactly who he needed to resolve this one conundrum.
‘There is an agent or was, though I hope still is, who got lost somehow. We don’t know how, where, even if he is lost for real or have to hide or even decided to quit altogether and go live by and for himself.”
Her boss was an interesting person. Quite small for a man of his appearance he compensated with his strong personality, vast knowledge and expertise in different fields of law enforcement, and apt understanding of human nature. That’s why he threw her the most enticing bone.
“There’re two sides of this loss, actually.”
Ellie pricked up like a hound. “Huh?”
“We do not know for sure not only what information got lost, but who provided us with it as well.”
That was for her like a cherry on top of the best dessert. “Hmm…”
“Yes, it is. You’re quite right.” The boss looked at her inquiringly.
“So… the agent…” Ellie wasn’t sure how to formulate her question.
“An agent. There was an agent. Not ours. Definitely not CIS. Quite possibly, strong possibility he was… is… just an ordinary NCIS agent, who…”
“Not so ordinary if he managed to acquire and hold your attention.” Ellie began to sort the meager information she was being given into various subcategory folders in her mind. “Not as ordinary if he uncovered information you found not only useful but valuable…”
“Yes. Not so ordinary. Well trained, that was obvious from the beginning – he managed to get a hold of me through a trustworthy ally from abroad – but too unconventionally thinking to be ours or CIS…”
Ellie swung from heel to toe, thinking. “You know who it is you’re thinking about…”
“I might.” He hesitated. That was uncharacteristical of him, but she understood – she wouldn’t name a possible ally and confidant even in the friendliest working environment, just to be on the safe side.
“You want me to keep my eyes and ears open…”
“Exactly.” The boss collected himself and turned as businesslike and closed off as she always knew him. “There is an opening on the Gibbs’ team. You should apply. You might want to ask around about Gibbs…”
Ellie smirked. If there were a person whose reputation preceded him, their name was Gibbs.
One of the agents once called her “baby agent” instead of “probie”. Little did he (and most other agents on their floor, to tell the truth) knew in their ignorance about her previous experience. Somehow, Ellie liked it that way. She liked to catch people unaware, though she rarely showed it. She cautiously believed Gibbs to be as ignorant, though with Gibbs you never knew.
The nickname stuck and she became the “baby agent”. It was even amusing of sorts.
Ellie dutifully did everything that was asked of her, even the most unpleasant of probie duties, like garbage bin dives. It was not the most exciting thing in the world, but it felt so peaceful, calm after all the turmoil. She sorts of liked it.
McGee didn’t bully her. He asked Ellie time and again to fetch something, to fill one form or the other. Sometimes he trusted her to deliver some evidence to Abby, though Abby didn’t like her much for whatever reason, so McGee asked her rarely of that particular favor.
Once he realized Ellie was extremely good at fishing out any kinds of information from anybody leaving them non the wiser, he began to use this particular trait of her in earnest. Though he was honest enough to pay his dues.
Oh, Ziva! She didn’t like Ellie at all. She always played her card of a senior member of the team, at least senior female member. Ziva knew full well how to do it innocently enough from the outside perspective, on the inside, though… Let’s say Ellie had to be on guard all the time. She had to be quiet and do everything that was asked of her to maintain superficial peace on the team.
Bishop knew how to be meek. And she knew how to let others (the ones she wanted to) to see through the façade.
It was obvious enough Gibbs didn’t want to know anything about the powerplay inside the team, though he himself did play the power game quite well.
Ellie couldn’t understand what was on his agenda even after a month of working with him.
“It fascinates you as well?”
Ellie didn’t hear Balboa coming closer and she even jumped up a little.
“I mean, that desk…?” The older man nodded towards the fateful desk. “Tony’s desk?”
Ellie turned her full attention to him. Finally! “Do you know who had sat there?”
Balboa glanced at her clearly confused.
“What do you mean – who?”
“I meant just that – who had sat behind that desk?” Ellie sighed. “Nobody’s saying anything. Nobody! As if it’s the closest guarded secret in the entire world!”
“For Gibbs’ team it might as well be.”
She knew she didn’t need to know that. Objectively she didn’t need that sort of information to complete her assignment. Personally, she was sure that the mysterious person was that very agent who delivered so much valuable information to her boss.
Ellie Bishop was no fool and deep down she was sure her boss knew full well who that agent was. She realized along the way that outside of this whole sordid story her boss knew this man (she was sure he was a man), may be not as a friend but at least as a person he placed quite high and might even admired.
What she didn’t understand at all was why nobody was willing to talk about the agent whose place Ellie occupied now. She might (might being the key word) understand her teammates who somehow lost (not necessarily violently) their friend and were not being able to talk about him. Some losses required time to heal.
But why did agents from the other teams played functional mutes when she tried to ask even the most innocent questions was beyond her. Even the civil personnel at the NCIS avoided that kind of conversation with her like the plague.
Ellie discretely looked around and realized they were left almost alone in the bullpen – it was well past the midnight and she literally drowned in her thoughts and ideas.
“So, you were telling me…”
“Nah.” Balboa looked at her intently, nodded to himself and told her rather loud, as if he intended somebody else to hear him. “Let me take you home. You won’t find any more useful information in these files being nearly asleep on your feet. And don’t let McGee use you as a research fellow.”
The older man smirked somewhere above her head and steered her towards the vicinity of the elevators. Looking through the closing doors Ellie realized one thing she was too sleepy to notice before – for the whole conversation Balboa placed them so the only things people reviewing the video and audio stream would be able to hear and see were the most innocent words and unsuspicious poses.
“Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What…” It became Ellie’s mantra for the last month. Sometimes she just muttered it under her breath without even realizing it, and the other times she said it in frustration thinking of smashing something, preferably her boss’ head. And she didn’t think of Gibbs these times.
“What are you doing here?” The gruff and unfriendly voice of her boss, Gibbs-boss, shook her out of the reverie. She didn’t even realize she was looking at The Desk again. In her mind it was always The Desk. She had her suspicions as to what was so special about it, though no one apparently gave it a thought about explaining anything to her, but her boss, not Gibbs-boss, told her to find the most likely place to store the valuable information and not to take her eyes of off it.
The Desk was the most unlikely place to store the information (being the obvious one) but on the other hand – the most likely being the obvious. According to Ellie’s late-night conversation with Balboa, the previous owner of this desk was quite interesting and unique thinking guy at the NCIS (though not everybody here would’ve agreed with the older agent) and he might have very well used that obvious object to store the item in question.
“Thinking”, she looked up at Gibbs. “You know, there’s something not quite adding up…” and with that probie NCIS agent Ellie Bishop was back to the task at hand – their current boring case about a theft on the Naval base in Spain.
Ellie watched Gibbs from the corner of her eye.
Her boss was the only person whose role in the whole affair she couldn’t comprehend. At least for now.
As per Balboa’s words Gibbs was the only person on the team who knew the true value of DiNozzo’s work – the amount of effort his SIC put in each case, the depth of his perception, his understanding of human nature.
On the other hand, Gibbs resented him for it – pure jealousy on the older man’s part. He wanted to be the one to make that leap in understanding that close cases. Gibbs didn’t understand… didn’t want to understand that he was the whole different type of thinker, the more conservative, the one who believed in the force of his own personality more than in his ability to think out of the box, the one who wanted to be the star of a show, the “one who did it” more than “cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s” one.
What did Ellie not understand in this situation was – who played a role in DiNozzo’s disappearance. She was sure he disappeared – under his own will but due to the overwhelmingly difficult circumstances. Ellie could easily see all of them playing their nefarious part in Tony DiNozzo’s vanishing, but then – as harsh as it might be – her main concern was in retrieving the hidden information. All she needed to understand of the character of the lost man was his way of thinking.
They had quite a long talk the previous night, her and Balboa. She didn’t want to alert him, though by the end of their conversation she was quite sure his thoughts aligned with her own thoughts. Ellie didn’t ask the fellow agent about it.
“…he did what?!” She couldn’t quite believe all the stories Balboa told her. The level of DiNozzo’s expertise in working with the information was astonishing. She was a bit jealous herself.
“So, he just came to this guy and basically told him he was sure it was he who killed the old guy, but the team couldn’t back their knowledge up with enough evidence, so they had to let him go. And then Tony told this man he’d be watching him quite intently.” Ellie shook her head and took a sip from her cup.
“Yes.” Balboa said smugly as if it was his very own devious plan.
“How long did it take for the guy to turn himself in?”
“How did you?...” Balboa stared at her.
“I just thought as your DiNozzo might. It’s very difficult for quite an ordinary person that guy seemed to be, to live under the constant pressure. Especially if he believes the other people have all the cards close to their heart and have all the available surveillance equipment in their hands. So…” Ellie yawned.
Balboa laughed and got up.
“You should go to bed. It’s quite late already. And I think Tony DiNozzo would’ve been glad to meet you.”
Ellie looked at the closed door in bewilderment for a long time after Balboa left – her boss, real boss, might’ve as well been right all the way: she could get into the head of the hypothetic provider of information and find the said information even if she didn’t know what had been lost and where.
It was a pure chance Ellie noticed the attention Ziva paid to The Desk. At first the younger woman was sure her hyper-aware imagination played tricks on her – Ellie saw Ziva patted and stroked the empty desk on her way to and thro. It was subtle enough that nobody would pay any attention to it, but Ellie knew the signs of somebody surreptitiously trying to search the inanimate object.
And Ziva did just that.
Couple of nights after Ellie found out about Ziva’s interest, the older woman tried to discretely find a way to stay after hours behind the others in the bullpen. Bishop found several overlooked evidences from the previous cases to keep her behind her desk for hours on end.
Then Ziva tried to be left in the bullpen while others went on a case. Ellie argued with Gibbs about some minor procedural details and was left behind with the strong advice to review the procedural papers.
Ziva wasn’t pleased.
The next time Ellie had to surrender the battlefield but managed to find a perfect hidden place to watch over the fellow unfriendly teammate.
The said teammate spent some time knocking on the desk in various places with different intensity. Nothing was out of sorts.
Then Ziva began to look from down under. It seemed to be clear as well. For some reason the Israeli didn’t look through the drawers as Bishop herself did. “She might have had time to go through them before,” thought Ellie a bit sleepy while still watching the fellow agent circling around the desk.
Finally, Ziva sat in the armchair and put her hands on the desk. She might be trying to imitate DiNozzo’s usual pose behind the desk, decided Ellie.
“What are you doing here?”
Both Ziva and Ellie jumped up guiltily. Ellie was also furious because she managed to bang her head in her hidden place.
Both women – one in the open and the other through the tiny crack from behind the closed door – observed the newcomer.
McGee looked at Ziva a bit nervously but determined. “What are you doing behind the desk?”
“And what are you doing here yourself?” Ziva looked at her colleague and smirked.
“I… I forgot to… to put the surveillance tape into the evidence log.”
“At two in the morning?” Ziva positively leered at Tim.
“And what did you forget here this time?”
“I fell asleep.” Even Ellie fell silent from her impudence. She was tempted to leave her hidden place behind and join this surreal conversation, when Ziva’s phone rang and she reluctantly answered it.
Tim waited till his sometime friend finished her talk in Hebrew and they left the office together.
Ellie waited a while and left for home as well. It was the high time to find a new approach to the problem.
She didn’t believe it was a little bit more than a month since she started working at NCIS. It was somewhat entertaining in terms of field work and a lot more interesting in terms of her main task. It was just she was running out of ideas. For the time being.
The Desk was the obvious choice from the first moment Ellie stepped into the bullpen. It was as if it stood there all decked in neon winking pretty letter – “Touch Me!”, “Search Me!”, “Look at Me!”, “Here I Am!”, “Don’t look anywhere else!”. It was suspiciously unsuspicious. Innocently alluring. Perfect decoy.
That was it. Perfect decoy.
Ellie sat up straight and took a long thoughtful look at The Desk.
That guy was smart, she would give it to him. Tiny, almost invisible signs didn’t even tell anything out loud – they whispered. Small scratch near the edge of the surface, uneven spot at the keyhole, spilled liquid mark right in the middle of the countertop… She saw it now as it was– yellow brick road to the imaginary Emerald City. She just had to find the real Emerald City, is all.
Ellie Bishop as imaginary probie as her elusive Emerald City was deeply at work… on the surface. She might be not as good as a Ceasar, but she was quite able to put up a decent multitasking activity.
On the surface she was looking through some logs in attempt to… actually she wasn’t at least bit concerned with their current case. It was routine theft connected to an old cold case and while being impressively done in a way a theft might occur it was at least people-harmless.
On the inside Ellie was working hard trying to think as that unknown agent with such an intricate way of thinking. She knew that the materials she was tasked to find were a bit time sensitive and the clock was ticking louder and louder.
“… just like that time Tony pranked McGee? Right?” Ellie was so deep in her thoughts she didn’t realize Abby was up from her lab and was sitting on Ziva’s desk talking to everybody and no one in particular. “Remember, Tim, when he put these tiny pseudo-bombs with coloring powder between your keyboard keys.”
Ellie glanced towards her SFA and saw his slight wince. She’s got distinctive feeling he wasn’t as upset with this particular memory as he was worried about Gibbs’ reaction to Tony-mention. The younger woman wasn’t still too sure she understood the relationship between these three – Tony, Tim and Gibbs – as well as this silent policy around Tony’s name. Sometimes she was sure both men knew Tony’s double agent role and approved of it on some level, still it wasn’t her problem to psychoanalyze them. So…
Ellie Bishop wasn’t prone to genius’ leaps of understanding in her case-solving practice. Her success based on the mathematical mind and a lot of ground work. Though this time, maybe for the first time in her life, she really heard a click in her brain when the problem of ‘how quickly hid an evidence in the open’ merged with the idea of pranking.
She casually got up and walked out of the bullpen, nodded towards McGee something like “I realized what I need to look for in the archive…”
Her boss turned the stapler – big, almost industrial-sized stapler – in his hands and glanced up at Ellie.
“Why did you think of it?”
“Dunno. I tried to imagine what part of his desk might be the most likely place to hide something, though I was sure that it was searched at least twice – by Ziva and by me. On the other hand, he had to put it somewhere in the office building, to be sure you have at least somewhat limited space to search through. And it had to be an innocent looking place. What I didn’t realize at first, I had to begin with people, not the place…”
“Wise observation…” Ellie stiffened hearing this reach smooth baritone and turned around. There was a man. A bit thin and pale looking but very handsome and friendly with the ready smile hidden in the crinkled corners of his green eyes and up-turned corner of his mouth. He nodded to her and let his smile bloom in full force. “I am actually quite interested in hearing how did you imagine the idea of a stapler as a hidden place?”
“Your McGee prank with the color-powedered bombs.”
Tony (Ellie finally connected this man with the portraits in Abby’s lab) threw his head up and laughed.
“It was the only explanation. You had to find a relatively big closed space that woudn’t be investigated even if the owner heard strange sounds within it. This kind of stapler has quite a big space inside, so the only thing you had to do – to pull some innocent but impressive prank to explain a sudden noise from the inside. The best way to ensure it – make a small explosion…”
“I’m impressed you managed to talk Mrs. Brisquily into loaning it to you…”
“Oh, I was threatened with all kinds of managerial problems if I dared to put her in such a jeopardy again, though I believe she gave it to me in the memory of you.”
Tony smiled softly and a bit boyishly. “And how did you find it was she who was the proud owner of this wonder of the seven wonders of the world?”
“You owe me an apple pie, gallon of cocoa and all the tales of your pranks for this story.”
“It’s a deal…”