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A Slap In The Face

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A Slap In The Face

 

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Tony eyed his computer with some disgust. He had finally gotten his father to turn his inheritance over to him, sort of. All he had to do was enter four 16-digit strings into the bank interface and he’d have it. He’d been trying for two years now. He only had four attempts every six months. As it was, he couldn’t even access the interest. He knew his father had something to do with this. The old goat had said out right that, if he couldn’t have it, Tony couldn’t either.

“Son of a bitch!”

Tim looked up. “What the hell, Tony?”

“I’m really getting sick of this. I can’t enter the codes to my account fast enough.”

“Cut and Paste it. Seriously, Tony, you’re not that computer illiterate.”

“Ok, McSmartass, you do it. But I’ve only got three tries before I’m locked out for another six months. Oh, and the thing won’t let me cut and paste.”

Tim frowned then ambled over to Tony’s desk. “That can’t be right. It’s … scrooch.”

Tony moved to allow Tim access. Tim tried cut and pasting the strings and they didn’t even show. “Hum. Shit! This is really not right. Who’s your bank?”

Tony gave him the name of the bank, branch, and account number. “I’ve called them every time this happens and I get told that they’ll look into it.” Tony made a face. “Yeah … sure they will.”

Tim read the card, thought a bit then said, “Let me make a call. This whole deal … well, only you, Tony, could get yourself into a mess like this. Just leave it to me. MIT grad and all.”

Tim dialed Tony’s phone then waited a bit. “Hey! Frank. Long time.” He listened for a minute then replied, “Ok. I’ll be there. So … need a bit of a favor. Friend of mine is having trouble accessing his account. He’s a bit of a Luddite but I can’t seem to cut and paste the passwords. It’s not allowing enough time nor accepting the cut. See what the problem is for me?” He listened for a moment then leaned back. “On hold.” He waited about two minutes while Tony glowered beside him. “Ok. That’s … you might want to investigate that. So … here’s what we really need. I’ll read you off the numbers, you do your thing and … Tony?”

Tony nodded. “I’ll give him an account number to transfer all funds to. That work?”

Tim relayed the info and his friend asked for the account number.

Tony took the phone and gave it from memory. “Thanks for helping me. I really appreciate it.”

Tim took the phone back and listened as his friend confirmed the transfer went through.

“There. Now stop bitching about it and do something useful.” He didn’t notice the narrow-eyed look Tony gave him.

Ziva wandered in with a coffee and a smirk. “How are we this fine day?”

Tim sighed, “You’re late.”

“And?”

Tony just snorted. “Never mind. I’d write you up … again, but Gibbs’ll just file 13 it. Keep it up, Sheppard will notice, sooner or later. Now … I have to leave early today. Keep yourselves out of trouble until Gibbs gets back.”

Tony ignored Ziva’s surly glower in favor of answering his phone. He fiddled with it for a moment, blinked then swore. He grinned around and started to do a little victory dance. “Yes! I got it! Thanks, Probie.” He turned around just as Gibbs was about to deliver a head slap. The crack of the slap was loud. Everyone in the room turned just in time to see the vivid red hand print bloom across Tony’s cheek.

Tony froze. “Oh, that’s just great.” He watched as Gibbs opened his mouth to say something. Tony held up a finger in a just a moment gesture. “Not a word. I do not want to hear it.”

Meanwhile, Ziva was laughing her head off while Tim looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or run.

Tony sat down at his desk. Gibbs glowered for a moment then sat at his. Tony clicked his mouse, typed a moment then the printer started up.

Tony stood up to take the papers out of the printer. “You know, I have no idea what I ever did to any of you to merit this level of disrespect but I’m done. I did everything I knew how to do to hold this team together for you, Jethro, but all I got was ‘Gibbs wouldn’t do it this way.’ and ‘Don’t try to be Gibbs.’ No way to win. Now you’re back and you don’t give a shit that neither one of your junior agents will even follow my legitimate orders. Now this? I’m so done.”

Ziva opened her mouth and was told, “Just shut up. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care about Mossad or any of that shit.” She shut her mouth with a snap.

Tony signed a page, stapled several together then did another group. “I emailed my resignation to Sheppard. And here’s your copy.” Tony tossed the pages into Gibbs desk. “There.” He picked up his coffee mug, Mighty Mouse stapler, and his letter opener. He stuffed them and a few files into his go-bag and headed up the stairs.

Tim looked at Gibbs who was looking a bit shell shocked. “What just happened?”

Gibbs sighed. “I fucked up … big time.”

Ziva sneered. “Tony’s just having a dizzy. He’ll be back with his tail in his hand, begging to come back.”

Gibbs frowned for a moment then snarled, “Next fucked up saying will be your last. Either get it right or forget it. And it’s ‘tizzy’. As to the other, tail between his legs, or dick in his hand. It’s not cute, it’s not clever; it’s just annoying as hell.” Ziva blinked then turned to her computer and began to type. “And the next report that comes across my desk littered with Hebrew, or any other language not English, will put you on report.”

Tim stuck his nose in his computer, curious to see if he could find out exactly what sort of accounts Tony had been trying to access. He found out quickly as all he had to do was get access to Tony’s computer, which he’d had for years. He was shocked to find that Tony’s ‘little’ inheritance was from his DiNozzo and Paddington grandparents and his Mother. It amounted to a little over 120 million dollars, what with interest being turned into the principle for over twenty years.

.

Jeniffer Shepard, Jen to her friends, was startled to find one of her SFA’s standing in front of her desk. “Tony, what can I do for you?” She blinked, “And who hit you.”

Tony handed her his resignation. “Gibbs.” Jen blinked but didn’t get a word in as Tony walked over her. “I’ll continue the op I’m on, with better back up. Or I can turn it over to someone else. I’ll keep the job at Georgetown on my own merits. I like Jethro but I’m not putting up with Gibbs’ abuse anymore, not to mention the disrespect of David and McGee. Also, I’m not going undercover with the only contact I have being someone who’s in meetings and out of contact more than not.”

Jen had known things were coming to a head with Gibbs and Co. she just hadn’t expected it this soon. “Very well. I’m sorry it’s come to this but …I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while. I’ll … assign you to Cynthia then. She’s handled undercover ops before and her job won’t interfere as she’s never out of contact. I’ll file this now but put it on hold until the op is finished. In a way, this is good, it’ll allow you more time to … romance your target. As to Georgetown?”

Tony shrugged. “I actually have the qualifications to teach the class. I have a Master’s in Cinematic History. I also have one in Cinematic Arts. Then there’s the Criminal Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and a Bachelor’s in Police Practices and Criminal Justice. I’ll expect a glowing recommendation from you to Georgetown ASAP.”

Jen just nodded. “I am really sorry it’s come to this.” She rubbed her forehead then asked, “What do you want to do about your leave time?”

“I’ll ask to be paid for it as I’m not taking it to do an Op that I should be paid time and a half for. See to that, will you?” He paused for a moment. “And don’t screw me over. You’ll hear from my lawyer if you do.” And with that he turned and left, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.

Jen picked up her phone, put it down; then picked it up again. She dialed then waited, when it was answered she just snarled, “Jethro … my office … NOW!” and slammed it down.

It wasn’t long before Gibbs entered without knocking. She just demanded. “What the hell happened? I’ve got an SFA with a slap mark on his face and a resignation in his hand so start talking and make it good.”

Gibbs rubbed his face then admitted, “I messed up. I was just going to slap his head like I always do but he turned around and I slapped him in the face.”

Jen shook her head. “I’ve been warning you about that for years. You finally did it. And I’m not even going to ask him to remain. He’s endured enough of your bad temper and surly attitude. I will warn you to rein in your dogs before I smack you all with a rolled up paper. Now, do your own work from now on and make McGee does the SFA work on time … for now. I’ll deal with Ziva. Anything else?”

“No. But I’ll call him tonight and see if he’s cooled off yet. If he has, you can just File 13 that resignation.”

“No, I don’t believe I will. He’s … lost his edge. It’s better if we make a clean break of it. And do not go hounding him.” Jen gave her old boss an assessing look. “If you want to salvage anything of your relationship, I suggest you take a good, long look at yourself. Now get out.”

Gibbs glared for a moment, realized that he wasn’t going to get anywhere until everyone cooled off, and left, slamming the door behind him.

.

Ziva read the email from HR then smirked happily. “Well, that was quick. Tony has quit. I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you with Gibbs when I’m made SFA.”

Tim shook his head. “And what makes you so sure you’ll be SFA? I did the job while Tony took Gibbs’ place.”

Gibbs stormed in and barked, “And did a shitty job of it. He did all the paperwork for both positions. I don’t see that you did much of anything. And Ziva? Not a chance in hell. I’ll be bringing in an SFA from outside the team.” And with that, he got his sidearm and creds from his desk and stormed off.

Ziva announced, “I will speak with Jenny.”

She was startled and dismayed to hear, ‘I don’t believe you will.’ from just over her head.

“Jenny?”

“I’ve made arrangements for HR to speak with both of you. Where’s Gibbs?”

Tim gulped. “He just left. He was really pissed.”

“Too bad for him. You’re both on two weeks unpaid, disciplinary leave. You will be escorted out, the escort will collect your creds and guns.” And with that, she turned on her heel and walked back to her office, slamming the abused door behind her.

Tim blenched, “Oh, shit, she’s never slammed a door before.”

Ziva also blenched, “I think we have … stabbed ourselves in the back.”

Tim gave Ziva an aggrieved look. “Someone else stabs you in the back, which is what we did to Tony; shooting ourselves in the foot in the process.” He shut down his computer, put some things in his pack and gathered his creds and gun. “Oh. Don’t call me. I’m turning off my phone as soon as I hit the gate.”

Ziva huffed. She had been going to call him as soon as she could to nag him into agreeing with her. Now he would be thinking for himself and that wasn’t to her benefit at all.

Tim nodded at the elevator, “They’re here. And do not kick up a fuss. I’m not up to soothing ruffled feathers at the moment so you’ll just make yourself look like a roaring bitch.”

The security officers approached in tandem. It seemed that no one was taking any chances so both Tim and Ziva had been assigned two men.

Tim just nodded, picked up his things, surrendering his arm and wallet without comment. He shouldered his pack and followed the two officers to the elevator.

Ziva gave up her arm and wallet with a scowl, grabbed her bag with a glower and stomped after him. The two men assigned to her glanced at each other, shrugged in tandem, and followed.

It was a bit crowded in the elevator as the four security men were active duty Marines who dwarfed Tim, not to mention towering over Ziva, but they managed.

One of the Marines nodded at Tim and Ziva. He handed them some papers, saying, “Ok. Here’s your paperwork. There’s a copy of your formal reprimand, a receipt for your arm and creds, and an Ex Parte order for the Yard. You’ll get your arm and ID back when you return.” He turned to Ziva. “For your information, just so you can’t say you didn’t know. An Ex Parte order is a temporary order forbidding you to have contact with a person or to enter a property. In both your cases there’s one for Special Agent DiNozzo and one for the Yard in it’s entirety.” He smirked at Ziva’s shocked face. “Have a nice day.” He nodded to his companions and they all marched off leaving Tim and Ziva to the not so gentle ministrations of the officer in charge of the front door.

He just pointed to the doors and said, “Out!”

Ziva started to argue but Tim snarled, “Do. Not. Start. Anything.” He left, leaving her standing there with egg on her face.

.

Abby sang along to one of her favorite songs, dancing in place while she waited for results.

Her Skype binging brought her attention to Tim. “Timmy! Hi!” She eyed him. “Hey, what’s with the long face.”

“You won’t believe this.” He told her the whole mess, ending, “So now I’m on unpaid, disciplinary leave for two weeks.”

Abby gave a little screech. “No! Nonono! Tony can’t quit! He’ll ruin everything. Call him up! Tell him to come back right now.”

“Can’t do that. There’s an Ex Parte and I’m not breaching it. Beside the fact that it won’t do any good.” Tim shook his head. “I’m beginning to wonder why he stayed as long as he did. I’ll talk to you later … I just wanted to break the news before some catty bitch did it. Don’t call me later, I’m turning my phone off. Bye, Abs.”

Abby stared at the screen for a bit before she decided to have a fit. She stormed around her lab, slamming drawers and swearing. After that, she tried to hack HR to see what was going on. She was mortally embarrassed when she got a flashing, spinning pop up that said, “Abigale Scuito! Stop hacking internal systems! You are warned!”

She signed out early and went home.

.

Tony realized that he had several choices to make so he went back home to his apartment to have a drink and think.

He wasn’t sure exactly what to do about Jeanne. He felt bad about his whole involvement with her. He’d been telling Jen that she didn’t know anything for over a week now but she didn’t want to listen. He’d gotten the feeling that she, Jen, was desperate so he was going to slowly withdraw from Jeanne’s life and make no excuses, a written report that the op was done would do. He’d give that two weeks. He also needed to decide how to go about keeping his professorship at Georgetown. That shouldn’t be too difficult, they’d been actively looking for a professor before Jen talked them into giving him the job. He had been very careful to do the best job he knew how and had been pleased to read the staff reviews students left for him. He had a solid five star rating. He’d have to speak to his department head as soon as he could.

But, for tonight, he was going to take time to cook a nice meal, have a glass of wine, and relax for the first time in weeks. He was not putting up with anyone’s angst fest, temper tantrum, or toddler tizzy. He picked up his phone to make sure that Ziva, McGee, Abby and Gibbs were all temporarily blocked. He ambled over to his door, locked it, put on the chain, then wedged a chair under the knob.

He decided on a simple dish of spaghetti, broccoli, chicken and Alfredo sauce with some garlic bread made from stale rolls. The cooking would help him calm down. Since he’d already had a finger of bourbon he limited himself to one glass of white wine. There was no salad as he hadn’t had a chance to shop in two weeks. He put a bullet point on his to-do list. He was going to deal with all his put off to-do tasks this week. Period.

He was just finishing his meal when his phone rang. “DiNozzo.”

He’d been expecting this call. “Jen. Give me a sec to put you on speaker. I’m just finishing supper.”

“Tony. I just called to ask if you have anything to report on the op, if you’re even going to continue it.”

Tony picked up his dishes and put them in the sink as he answered, “I am, conditionally. No. Not at present. Jeanne is at a conference in Detroit. She won’t be back until Thursday at the earliest. I though I’d use this time to solidify my place at Georgetown. She’s starting to ask some uncomfortable questions about class times and lecture sites.”

“Well, take care of all that at your soonest opportunity. I don’t want this op to go down the drain because someone messed up your back story.”

Tony wiped his plate with a soapy sponge. “I know. And who the hell decided my name should be DiNardo? That’s Hollywood Italian at it’s best. I’m going to just use my real name. I’ll make some excuse about not noticing until someone addressed me then not wanting to make waves my first week. Don’t worry about it.”

“Well, I will. I need this op to go well. I’ve got a lot invested in it. La Grenouille is one of the top rated targets on earth. I want him!”

Tony snorted to himself, then said, “Do not queer my op. Stay out of it. I’ll report to Cynthia on Friday. Right now … I’ve got plans to make … a woman to romance … and a team of very unpleasant people to deal with. And the hot water just went out.” He frowned at the faucet.

“I really don’t care about your damn hot water. I’m more concerned with your attitude toward my op.”

“And that’s one of the problems. You’ve got blinkers on over this. You can’t see that the lack of hot water is very important. I can’t shower in ice cold water, therefore I can’t visit Jeanne. She has a very sensitive nose and smells bother her. Ergo, I can’t stink. And I can’t have her over because I haven’t cleaned my kitchen since I cooked. Again, she hates grease. You can’t get grease off with cold water. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

Jen sighed, clearly heard over the phone. “I do. I’m sorry. I just need this to go well. I’ll step back and give you some breathing room. Just report to Cynthia at least every other day … Ok?”

“I’ll do that. Now … why don’t you go home, have a drink, and relax. I’ve got this under control.”

“Ok. Good night.”

Tony sighed, picked up his personal phone and called his landlord. He got the service so he left a message. He wondered how long it would be before the heat went out as well.

It was about 2:30 AM when that question was answered.

He woke up shivering so hard his teeth chattered. He could actually see his breath. When he tried to turn on the lights nothing happened. He grumbled sourly as he packed a rolling suitcase by flashlight, taking most of his clothing, and called a hotel to make a reservation.

He nearly hurt himself as he’d forgotten the chair under the doorknob. He moved the chair then left, headed for a small but very nice hotel he knew of. He didn’t like big, fancy hotels like the Adam’s House, they were all too visible for him. He liked places like the Marriott Rooms and Suites he was checked into.

He’d booked a two bedroom suite with kitchenette and office. He could afford the $400 a night.

The cab ride was quick, this time of night the traffic was nearly non-existent. The driver was happy to chat, in fact, after stuffing the suitcase in the trunk, the first thing he did was ask, “And why are you going to a hotel at this time of night? Not that it’s my business, just makin’ conversation.”

Tony shrugged. “Heat went out. I’ve got enough money that I don’t have to put up with that shit. I like the building and most of the people but I’m seriously considering selling out and moving.”

The driver, whose name was Henry, agreed, “Don’t blame you. My wife and I moved out of a similar building about two years ago. We needed three beds because of the kids but the last one went off to college so we moved into a better neighborhood and into a security building. It’s really nice. And no Renters Association.”

Tony, who’d had trouble with his association over his piano, his hours, and his fish, said, “I wish. I even had trouble with mine over a damn gold fish. Seriously? They don’t think I ought to have two gold fish, what with my hours and all.”

“Goldfish? Really? You need to move. I’ll get you my address … not the apartment number … just the street. If you’d like, that is.”

“I really would. If I don’t like your building, maybe the realtor will have something else that I do like. Thanks.”

They visited about other things until they arrived at the Marriott Suites at 3:15. Tony took his bag and gave Henry his fare plus a nice tip, he received a scrap of paper with an address in return. He tucked the paper into his wallet, thanked Henry again and went to check in.

The clerk looked up as he approached the desk. “Good … um … night? May I help you?”

Tony handed her the print out with his reservation details. “Yeah. Anthony DiNozzo to check in.”

Naomi didn’t even bother to look at the paper. “You’re not Mr DiNozzo. I know him. So …”

Tony walked over whatever else she’d been about to say. “Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, Jr. NCIS. You’re thinking of my sperm donor. Do I have a reservation or not?”

“Oh. Well … I’m sure we can accommodate you somewhere.” She turned to her computer and tapped at the keyboard for a moment. “I see. Are you sure? This suite is $400 a night.”

“I’m sure” He glowered for a moment. “Look, I’m tired. My heat went out. All I want is a place to sleep until check out. Just … whatever. But if you stick me with some crappy single-single I will complain. So find me something.”

Naomi gave him a dirty look, fiddled with her computer for a moment then handed him a keycard. “Here you go. Room 204.”

Tony took the card then took a floor plan brochure from the rack. “Fine. Second floor. Good night.”

He got on the elevator, went up and found his room. It was a single with a king. He just parked his suitcase, found pajamas and went to bed. He’d deal in the morning.

.

Abby spent a hour finding Tony’s address; she also cancelled his credit cards, turned off his utilities, and had his car repossessed. The last was doomed to fail as it was in the shop for an oil change and general checkup.

After she finished with her petty vengeance she went to his building, not caring that it was now 4am, and up to his apartment. After ringing the doorbell and waiting a couple of minutes, she knocked. She waited again, getting angrier and angrier as she did so. After five minutes she began to ring the door bell while pounding on the door.

Another couple of minutes saw her not only ringing the door bell but kicking the door and yelling, “DiNozzo! Open up! I know you’re in there!” She continued this, even though doors were opening all up and down the hall.

It wasn’t long after that that police arrived, arrested her for trespass, destruction of property, disturbing the peace and assault on an officer. They took her to the station and let her have one call.

She decided to call Tim, but he’d turned his phone off, just like he’d said he would. She was allowed another call, which she made to Gibbs.

Gibbs showed up at 4:30 in a very grumpy mood. “Ok. I’m here.” He showed his ID. “What’s going on?”

It wasn’t long before Gibbs was in an even worse mood. “Damn it! She … I … how much?”

The desk sergeant wasn’t impressed by Gibbs’ ID, not that Gibbs had intended that. “No idea. Judge hasn’t set bail yet. I’d suggest you come back at about ten.”

“Ok. Can you put a note in her jacket to call me so I can get finances in order?” All he really wanted was to go back to bed.

“Yeah, professional courtesy, I can do that.” The sergeant felt sorry for the guy. This nutjob had to be a full time thing.

“Thanks. I’ll get a bail-bondsman to deal with it.” With that he turned around and left dialing his phone as he went.

.

Tim called Tony at about 9:30, got the voice mail and left a message that he wanted to talk to Tony at his convenience as long as that didn’t violate the ex parte, he admitted he wasn’t sure. He also left an apology.

Gibbs called at 9:45 with a request to call him when he wanted to.

Jen called at 10:00 to tell him that she’d sent his recommendation to the head of the Cinematology Department and demand to know how his NCIS phone was disconnected.

None of the calls were answered as Tony was still sleeping. Until housekeeping knocked on the door at 10:45 to tell him he needed to check out now.

Tony grumbled then called out, “Ok, ok. I’m up. I’ll be dressed and out in ten minutes.”

The housekeeper called back, “Ok. I’m sorry but we got to clean. Ten minutes.”

Tony gave himself the sniff test, put on deodorant and after shave, got out jeans, t-shirt, leather jacket and biker boots. At this stage of the game he really didn’t give a shit what sort of impression he gave.

He was at the check out desk at 11:00. “DiNozzo to check out.”

The new front desk attendant frowned for a moment. “What room?”

“204.” Tony scowled. “And that’s not the room I booked. I booked a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen and office.”

“Yes, sir. I have no idea why you were given a different room.” Amanda eyed her monitor like it might bite.

“I’ll tell you why. Your snob night clerk took one look at me and decided that a man in dockers and a rugby shirt couldn’t possibly afford the suite.” Tony tapped his credit card on the counter. “Here.”

“Yes, sir.” She scanned it, frowned then scanned it again. “I’m sorry, sir, but this card has been cancelled. Do you have another?”

“I do.” Tony stopped. “I need to make a call.” He pulled out his phone and dialed, thank goodness Abby had cancelled his NCIS phone instead of his personal one. “Dennis. Hey, did you check my accounts? Yeah. So, I need you to un cancel my credit card.” he listened for a moment. “Long involved story which can be told in one word … Abby. Fix it. I’ll be in on Monday to talk about things.” he hung up and turned to Amanda. “I have an ex-friend who thought it would be hilarious to cancel various things … including my credit card, utilities and phone. Give it long enough for me to get coffee and try again.” He just walked off, leaving the card with Amanda.

Five minutes later she called him over from his coffee and Danish. “Well, I wouldn’t have anything to do with that ex of yours. Seriously. We had to make you a new card as the old number can’t be used since the account was canceled. So … here you go.”

Tony took the card which looked suspiciously like a key card. “Thank you. This is on the same bank as my old one?”

“Yes, sir. I’m so sorry for all the confusion.” Amanda gave him a rather shaky smile and ran his card. “There we go. Would you like to renew your reservations for a suite?”

Tony shook his head. “No. It’s not your fault but I really don’t feel comfortable here. I’ll look elsewhere for a place to stay for a week.”

Amanda paled. “I’m really sorry, are you sure there’s no way to convince you to stay?”

“No, sorry. I hope you don’t get in trouble.”

“I won’t. All you have to do is leave a review and mention names. Mine is Amanda. The night girl is Naomi.”

Tony called Uber for a car then went outside to wait.

While he waited he called NCIS, got put on hold, got transferred to the wrong department then finally got hold of Delores Bromstead. “Dee, what’s up with my NCIS phone? I was supposed to keep the number for 30 days. And could you please check to make sure my resignation is processed ASAP? I’ll love you forever. Oh! And I’d like paid for all my sick days, vacation days, and over time days.”

Delores snorted inelegantly. “Oh, yeah. I’ll see about getting your phone reinstated until that stupid op you’re on is done. And I’ll personally see that all your paid hours are paid, never mind what the bean counters in Accounting say. Also … you’ll want to check to make sure that your utilities are back on and check your car. Little Miss Abby has been a very naughty bunny. I’d have though you’d know by now.”

Tony took the phone away from his ear to stare at it for a second. “I woke up at some ungodly hour freezing. I could see my breath. So I checked into a hotel. So … share the dirt … come on, doll, dish.”

So Delores told all ending, “Gibbs is steaming. He called a friend of his who’s a bail guy but wouldn’t co-sign for bail. Sheppard is boiling. She had Scuito served with an Ex Parte in your favor. Now. A little bird told me that you finally got your inheritance? I hope you have a good financial advisor.”

Tony smirked. “I do. He’s a frat brother. We made dream plans years ago. He’s gonna invest for me. Ever heard of French, Bishop and Lange? He’s Bishop.”

“Oh, my. I feel much better. The man is a shark. Isn’t he the son of the Bishop who is Bishop, Bishop and Keaner?”

“He is. And they all hate the old man.”

Delores thought for a moment. “Why don’t you change your name? You know Senior is always dumping debts on you, then you have to go through all that song and dance to prove it’s not your responsibility.”

Tony frowned. “Frankly, I never thought about it. Maybe I could just drop Dominic? Never liked it. Sounds like a mafioso.”

“Well, I’ll have papers done when you come in to sign all the shit you have to to make sure that NCIS knows you’re quitting. All you’ll have to do is sign. You’ll be getting all your pay via electronic deposit. That way Accounting can’t mess with things.”

Tony looked up as a nice Lexus drew up to the curb. “Uber’s here. I gotta go. I’ll let you know where I’m staying until I get my utilities back on. Thanks, Dee, I really owe you.”

He let the driver put his suitcase in the trunk then asked, “Have you got any recommendations for a nice hotel that has two bedroom suites with kitchen and office and no snobby help?”

“Adams house is good. They don’t care about looks, just if you can pay. Don’t care for them myself but some like it. There’s Watergate but the name can be a deal breaker. There’s a couple of new places I like, the new Hyatt down on the river is one. It’s really new, not even listed yet.”

Tony thought for a moment then said, “Ok, take me there, please.”

The twenty minute ride was busier than Tony had expected. He got a text from Clark asking if he wanted to initiate their plans. Tony texted back that he did but was expecting some changes would be needed. Then he got his first financial statement. It seemed that he’d also inherited a few small businesses including DiNozzo Trucking LLC. He blinked then scrolled down. His total worth was over 200 million dollars. “Well, son of a biscuit.”

“You ok?”

“Yeah, more than. Just got a nice surprise.”

“That’s good … and we’re here.”

Tony handed over his credit card, the driver swiped it then pointed to a small touch screen. “Just use your finger.” Tony signed then got out, waited for his suitcase then went in.

A perky young thing sporting a huge name tag that proclaimed her to be Billi chirped, “Good day. How may the Hyatt help you?”

Tony smiled at her. “Anthony DiNozzo. I’d like a suite … two bedrooms, kitchen and office please.”

A few taps at her keyboard had Billi informing him that they had several suites available and would he like to see their virtual tours or actually see the suites.

Tony thought for a second then said, “Why don’t we virtual first then, if I have trouble deciding, we’ll go see them in person?”

“Excellent.” Billi brought up the first one.

Tony took one look and said, “No … um … it looks like someone spilled Pepto all over everything.”

Billi giggled. “It is very pink. We also have that suite in lavender, black, and yellow.” Tony made a face. “I take it that those are all a no-go?” Tony nodded. “We have themed rooms as well. There’s Danish Modern, very artsy, all glass and steel? No? Didn’t think so. There’s a southwestern theme, it’s not too bad, very low key; the colors are all desert sort of things, turquoise, clay, and buff.” Tony grimaced. “No. There’s an English club sort of thing and a sort of nondescript ’80’s American. I like the English Cottage one. It’s old furniture, lots of wood paneling and almond paint.”

Tony nodded. “Ok. I think I’d like to see the English and the ’80’s American. Thanks.”

“Ok. Great. You can leave your case here or bring it with. Frankly, I’d bring it.” Billi took a couple of keycards with the Hyatt logo on them out of a rack and trotted off to the elevators with Tony right behind her.

He found the ’80’s American theme to be what he thought of as IKEA bland. “Sorry. I’m sure it suits some people but … no.”

“Ok. I didn’t think you’d like it but …” She shrugged then turned to the next door down. “Fortunately, the English theme is right here.”

Tony loved it. The room was done up like a gentleman’s club with wood paneling in a walnut panel from the middle of the wall down, a chair rail separated that from the almond painted upper part. All the furniture was heavy leather club common done in ox blood. The lighting was subdued but bright enough to read by. “Yes. I’ll take it for the week with an option to renew. My building is old and the heat is out, plus an ex shut off my utilities so there’s no water or electric.”

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear that. Give me a sec to initiate my tablet then we’ll get you all set up.”

The tablet made a noise that indicated it was ready. “Ok. Today is Saturday so you’ll check in today and you want the suite through …” She looked at him expectantly.

“Next Friday with an option for another week.”

“Ok. Since you’re technically taking it for a week … it’ll be $340 a night.”

“Great. Run my card for me. Oh, and check on the limit, my financial advisor was going to up it.”

“I’ll be happy to do that. I have to check it anyway … company policy.”

Her soft exclamation made Tony grimace and demand, “What?”

She just turned her tablet so he could see the infinity symbol. “Unlimited.”

Tony smirked. “Oh. Well.” he took the tablet. “Where do I sign?”

“Right here.” Billi pointed.

Tony saw the tip button and tapped it, entered a nice tip then signed. “There.”

“Thank you, sir. Enjoy your stay. If you need anything just page the desk.” She handed him his key and trotted out.

“Well, that’s something.”

Tony wandered the rooms a bit then unpacked, carefully hanging his suits in the closet and putting things in drawers. He checked his toiletries and realized that he was nearly out of shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream. He decided to check the kitchen before he did any shopping.

It turned out that the kitchen was supplied with staples and a tablet that was a shopping list; all he had to do was enter what he wanted and how much.

He was just finished when his phone rang. “DiNozzo.”

It was Clark who wanted to set up a face-to-face meeting on Monday. Tony thought for a moment then said, “I’ve got to see the Department Head then the Dean at Georgetown. I’m going to try to expand my temporary professorship to a permanent one. Then I need to get out of that building, the Renters Association is driving me crazy. Not to mention the heat being iffy and the … never mind. So … I can come to your office at nine?”

Clark said, “Nine will be great. I’ll set my secretary on your landlord. If you decide you want to sell out, I’ll deal with that. As to professor? What the actual fuck?”

Tony knew he could share almost anything with Clark and he’d never say a word so he just told as much of the story as he was comfortable with and finished by saying, “So I resigned effective immediately but agreed to finish this op. I’m hoping the Dean and department head will agree to keep me on. I’m qualified to teach, I actually do have all the credentials to be a full professor of my chosen field.”

“Well, good luck. I hope you get the job. I’ll have a bunch of shit for you to deal with but it’s mostly straight forward. See you at nine Monday. Oh! Before I hang up. What’s up with the NCIS number you gave me?”

“Someone cancelled it. Probably Abby. She threw a tizzy or I miss my guess. But … enough of her. I’m done. The only people I’m still comfortable being in contact with are Delores Bromstead, Jimmy Palmer, and Ducky … Donald Mallard. Which reminds me. I need to call both of them. So, I’ll see you Monday. Bye.” He hung up with a slight smile.

As soon as he hung up he pressed 3 in his speed dial. The phone only rang three times before it was picked up.

“Anthony! Oh my goodness, I’m so glad to hear from you my dear boy. Please, tell me all.”

So Tony repeated his story. “So I’m gonna see if I can’t get a real job there. Not that I really need it, but I’ll drive myself nuts if I try doing nothing.”

“Well, I’m very happy for you. I can call the Dean. I know him well. If you think that will help?”

“Thanks, Ducky, I’ll take you up on that offer. And I want to make a firm date for lunch, dinner something, at least twice a month. Please?”

“Of course.” Ducky let his delight show. “I’d be very pleased to meet with you every other Thursday for supper. My club, trade off paying.”

Tony nodded to himself. “Great. Just what I’d love. See what time is available and get back to me. I’ll hang up now so I can call Jimmy. Don’t want him to feel neglected.”

“You do that. Good-bye.” Ducky hung up then settled back in his chair with his tea. “Jethro, you’re a fool.”

Jimmy was also happy to hear from Tony. He hadn’t heard about the mess yet as he’d taken a personal day to see his dentist. When Tony was done Jimmy told him. “I’m not the least bit surprised that your accounts were hacked. Abby did it and you and I both know it. So … have you called Dr Mallard yet?”

“Called him before you. He’s setting up a standing date for supper for us. I … well, would you like to come too? I’ll have to call him back and ask if it’s ok. It’ll be at his club.”

“Oh, that would be great. I’m sure he won’t mind, we’ve been meaning to set up a standing date, just the two of us. Call him then just text me … um … I’ve gotta go. I’m on call and just got a text.”

“Ok. See you soon.” Tony hung up then called Ducky who was delighted to include Jimmy. He also said he’d text him with details as soon as he had them.

After that, Tony settled at his desk to make a list of accounts that Abby had probably hacked. He was dismayed to realize that she’d probably cancelled his Dish, Netflix, Internet, all his utilities and he wasn’t sure what all. He was beginning to get pissed when his phone went off again. It was his garage telling him that there had been an attempt to repossess his car. George was delighted to inform him that he’d claimed a mechanics lien on it which put the repo man in a temper. His chuckle made Tony laugh back. “Thanks, man, I really owe you. You all done with it?”

“I am. I can have it delivered?”

“Please.” Tony gave him his address and added, “Just have the valet park it. Ask him to leave the keys at the desk. Send me a bill and I’ll transfer funds.”

“Ok. Have a nice day.”

Tony eyed the beautiful view of the river for a moment then said, “I believe I will.” He settled back in to unravel the mess Abby had made of his life.

It actually didn’t take him that long. He called each company and reinstated his accounts, he didn’t even have to do that with his online accounts, most of them had only been suspended as Tony hadn’t answered the emails to affirm his cancellations. He spent most of the morning setting up better passwords and security protocols.

He was jerked out of his work by a knock on his door. He got up to answer it wondering who it could be.

It turned out that it was a bellboy with his grocery order. He let the man in, helped him put things away and handed him a twenty. “Here. Have a nice day.”

“Oh, thank you, sir. I’ll get to take my girlfriend out to lunch. If you need anything else you can ask for Brandon. I’ll be glad to run errands for you any time.”

“Ok. I’ll remember. Oh! Shit! I have dry cleaning to pick up. I’ve got the ticket, is there any way I can get someone to go for it?”

“Sure. I’ll go. They may call you to verify permission, do they have your number?”

“They do. Here’s the ticket. How do I pay?”

Brandon grinned. “We’ll just add it to your bill. See you in about …” he glanced at the address. “Oh … forty-five minutes or so.” He hurried out the door with a casual wave over his shoulder.

Tony rubbed his face then decided to go out for lunch. He didn’t feel like messing with any cooking.

Billi was happy to point out several restaurants within walking distance, her opinions of all of them were personal experience. She ended with the remark, “I don’t think you’ll like Le Posset. It’s very … shi-shi, if you know what I mean. Tiny portions of weird stuff, snooty staff, itty-bitty tables with chairs that might fit a three-year-old. And they crowded so many tables in that you’re cheek by jowl with strangers. I didn’t like it, my fiancee hated it. Mom, the queen of snobs, said it was pretentious. If you take my advice you’ll walk the four blocks to that Italian place. Mama Angelica’s is really nice, good food, nice decor; a bit old country Italian but nice. And the servers are all real Italians, not someone just paid to put on a phony Italian accent.”

Tony grinned. “I’ll go there. My Italian is Sicilian but good. Any recommendations on what to get?”

“Let the server know if you have food allergies then just sit back and eat.” Billi grinned, then trotted off calling, “Be right there.” to the people at the desk.

Tony ambled out the door, glad he’d decided to bring his jacket. The air was down right cold, winter was just around the corner and the weather was due a change for the worse soon. Last night and the night before were just the start.

The walk to Mama Angelica’s didn’t take long and helped Tony work up an appetite. He entered through a cut corner door into a cheerful vestibule with a podium at the back. He signed in on the register for a table for one then sat down at the short bar to wait.

It wasn’t long before someone showed up. “Hi! How are you today? I’m sorry … the bar isn’t open until four, but you can have wine with your lunch.”

“That’s fine. I’d only have had a glass of wine anyway. So … what’s good today?” He craned to get a look at her name tag which read Felicia

“We’ve got Veal Picatta with a side of steamed veg. Don’t recommend that but ladies like it. The veal is ok but the veg is just … bland. There’s also Shrimp in garlic and white wine sauce. That’s good. I’d actually recommend just a nice side salad and garlic bread. But that’s just me. So … here’s your table. I’m sorry it’s so near the kitchen but we only have four single tables and they’re all at the back.”

Tony gave an exaggerated sniff. “I’d rather sit near the kitchen than the front, get to smell what’s cookin’” He settled in his chair then said, “I’ll take the shrimp, salad and bread. Glass of house white … if it’s good. I’ll take your opinion on that.”

“Our house white is very good. We have our own vineyards you see. Coffee?”

“No thanks. I’ll consider coffee after I eat.”

“Ok … shrimp in white wine sauce, salad … dressing?”

“Italian, of course.”

Felicia nodded. “Of course. And garlic bread. On it’s way. About twenty minutes.”

“Grazie, Felicia. Non posso aspettare.”

Felicia blinked, then asked, “Siciliano? O solo un oratore?”

Tony grinned, “Just a speaker. My grandparents were from Italy.”

“Well, you have a very nice accent.” Felicia walked back to the kitchen and Tony could hear her calling in Italian. “Hey, we got a speaker. Make it extra nice for him. And talk the language to him, he needs some practice.”

She returned in a couple of minutes with a glass of wine and a small basket of bread sticks. “Here. Don’t fill up on the bread sticks. I just brought them so you’d have something to sop up the wine.” Tony was very pleased that she spoke Italian.

“Thank you. I have a fairly hard head but I appreciate it.” Tony also spoke Italian. They all spoke the language for the rest of his meal.

Tony spent his five minute wait for his salad sipping his wine with an occasional nibble on a bread stick. He wasn’t expecting salad yet so he said, “I thought salad came after.”

Felicia nodded. “For dinner, or supper, it does. Lunch is more casual so it comes before. Take your time with it there’s still about fifteen minutes before your main is done.”

“Ok, thanks.” Tony turned to his salad to find that it wasn’t one of those American style things, all iceberg lettuce, soppy dressing and soft croutons. This was old fashioned Italian, made with spring greens, spinach, and bib lettuce ; covered with pitted olives, feta cheese, crunchy croutons, and slivered parmesan cheese; the dressing was simple Italian with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil. He speared a bite then sighed as he chewed it. “Mio Dio.”

“Nice isn’t it?” Felicia turned and headed for the kitchen. “I’ll give Ma your compliments.”

Tony took his time with the salad. He alternated big bites with tiny sips of wine. It was delicious.

He was just finishing his salad when his main arrived. The whole dish was a wonder, tender jumbo shrimp carefully placed on a bed of paparadelli dressed with the sauce then more sauce poured over all, sprinkled with black pepper and topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Felicia took his glass replacing it with another, the lightly chilled wine made the glass sweat.

He was almost finished when his phone beeped. He’d put the ring tone on that simple sound so it wouldn’t disturb the other diners.

“DiNozzo.” Tony listened for a second then just hung up. Abby was on a tear but he didn’t have to put up with it anymore. At one time he’d considered her to be one of his best friends, but she was turning into a spoiled prima donna and he didn’t like it. If she wanted to be his friend, she was going to have to change her ways, apologize for her bad behavior, and quit stalking him.

He returned to his meal. Felicia checked in on him carrying a refill of garlic bread. “How is it?”

“Wonderful.”

“I saw you frown a bit ago?” She made it a question.

“Someone I’m on the … outs with called. I didn’t answer. She’s too much of a bitch right now. It would have spoiled my meal. Next go around could I get an espresso?”

“I’m sorry your girlfriend is being horrible. Expresso with?”

“She’s not my girlfriend, just a friend who happens to be a girl. And plain.”

Felicia nodded. “Coming up.”

When he finished and signaled her Felicia came to take away the dirty plate and bring his coffee, and a piece of Tiramisu. When he said he hadn’t ordered it she just winked and said, “I know. Ma sent it. She’s been listening to you speak. It’s a reward for speaking so well.”

“Well, thank you. Tell her thanks too.”

Felicia smiled. “You go back an’ tell her. She’ll love you forever.”

Tony grinned then returned to his coffee and sweet. It didn’t take him long to finish both.

He eased out of his chair and sneaked into the kitchen, shaking his head at the boy who was about to question his presence. He knew he’d found Ma when he saw her. She was tiny, with grey hair, but she was vigorous, proven by the way she was kneading dough. He wrapped his arms around her and in his best Italian said, “So delicious, but how could it be anything else when cooked by such a lovely woman.”

Ma squeaked then turned around and smacked him on the chest. “Boy! What are you doing? Scare a poor old woman into a fit.”

“No. No old woman here, beautiful.” Tony turned on the charm, grinning brightly.

“Bah! Silly thing.” But Ma looked pleased, if a bit flustered. “You go on now. No customers in the kitchen. Shoo.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He gave her another hug then skipped out of the way of her half-hearted swat.

He left the entire kitchen in giggles and went to pay his bill.

Felicia checked him out, scanned his card, and handed him the invoice to sign. “There. Thanks for talking to Ma. She misses Da something awful and you just made her day. All the other guys around here are cousins of one sort or another and scared to death of her. Here.” She handed Tony a couple of mints. “For the garlic. Come back soon.”

Tony popped a mint into his mouth then nodded. “I will.”

.

He ambled back to his hotel, taking his time and window shopping. He stopped in at one place to get some shampoo, conditioner, and shaving soap. He wound up with a whole line of product from shaving soap, body wash, and shampoo/conditioner to cologne.

He got back to the hotel with two bags in hand and headed for the elevators, he was stopped by a call from Billi. “Oh! Mr DiNozzo. I need a moment.”

He put his bags down on the floor in front of the desk. “Sure, what’s up?”

“I need you to sign here for your dry cleaning. It’s up in your suite already.” She produced a tablet. “Sign by the red X”

Tony finger signed then added a tip for Brandon. “I really like Brandon. Smart. Polite. Accommodating.”

“He’s good. He’s enrolled in a junior college and majoring in Hospitality. We’re hoping to promote him from room attendant to front desk soon.”

“Good. Well, if that’s all?” Tony picked up his bags and made his way to his suite.

He took time to unpack, unwrap, and unseal everything before he put it all in its proper place. Then he braced himself to deal with the Dean.

The hiring process at Georgetown was so convoluted that Jenny had used a figurative machete to cut her way through the red tape. Tony was, on paper, tenured but in reality he needed the signature of both the Dean and President, he already had the signature of the Department of Cinematology which was a sub-department of the Arts Department.

He managed to get hold of both men’s secretaries and make appointments for Monday and Tuesday. He hoped all he had to do was hand them the papers and get a signature. He started to settle in for a marathon of Magnum when he realized that he had a semester plan to turn in and he hadn’t prepared. He swore, got up and settled at his desk to make an outline and start planning movies and lectures for the rest of the semester.

He spent the rest of the day working on lesson plans and lectures. It was just beginning to get dark when he closed his laptop and stretched. First thing tomorrow he was getting a new one, this one had crashed twice, loosing his unsaved work. He scratched his head, idly wondering when he’d bought it. He opened his computer then pulled up a document he aways kept, one with the computers history in it. When he’d bought it, when he’d upgraded, if it had gotten a virus. He blinked at the start up date; he couldn’t believe that the thing was over three years old.

He used his old computer to find a local Apple store so he could get a new one. He was seriously considering ditching both Apple and Windows in favor of Linux but he wasn’t sure how much nursing a Linux system would take. He was not as computer illiterate as McGee thought but he didn’t like spending time messing with a fussy system. He decided against Windows as 10 was a nightmare of unstable subroutines and typical Windows ‘make the customer beta’ shit. He thought he might get a fairly powerful Mac then invest in a different computer to see how Linux worked for him.

He put getting a new computer on top of his to-do tomorrow list and got up to figure out some supper.

He finally made a panini of sour dough bread, Swiss cheese, genoa ham, and mustard. The press was simple, just a glorified waffle iron, but it did the job. He settled at the table with a hot sandwich and cold beer.

He was half-way through his sandwich when his phone rang. He’d re-adjusted his ringer so he knew it was Jenny by the ring tone. He didn’t let her know that her assigned tone was The Imperial March from Star Wars.

“Jenny.” He put his phone on speaker then dropped it on the table.

“What was that? Never mind. I got some calls from Georgetown. Now that you’ve resigned … I’ll re-address that silliness at a later date … the powers that be want you on staff full time. They’ve already sent you a class schedule that is, frankly, a bit over powering. You have lectures on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Thursday you have office hours from 3pm to 6pm. There’s also a couple of virtual classes but I’m not sure how they’re getting squeezed in. How are you going to keep up with your op with all those classes?”

Tony snorted. “You didn’t worry about that when I was doing Tim’s job, my job, all the reports, and running the op, which included the same class schedule, office hours and romancing Jeanne. Leave it all to me. I have a third the work load.”

Jenny sounded embarrassed as she said, “Well, I am sorry. But I need regular updates on this. It needs to be completed soon.”

“I’m working on it. Jeanne won’t even be back in town until next Monday … I think. And do not suggest me following her to her conference, she’s already said she doesn’t need the distraction. So … I’m going to get a real office on campus, that’ll make it easier for her to drop in on me … big plus. I’m also contemplating trying to find housing near campus which will put me closer to her circle of friends and acquaintances. Keep Abby away from my accounts and tell McGee that if he queers this op by hacking my phone, computer or anything else I will personally break his knees. Gibbs?”

“Jethro is sulking. I’ll get McGee and Scuito to leave you alone. I understand that Abby actually tried to break into your apartment?”

“She did. I wasn’t there. The heat is out, you know. I sent you an email with all the details. How much trouble is she in?”

“I’m not actually sure. I know she had to spend the night in jail, waiting for bail to be set. If she bothers you again let me know.”

“Ok. Now, I have other work to do so I need to go. Good night.”

He didn’t wait for Jenny to say anything else, he just hung up, turned the phone off, and went back to the last of his food.

After he cleaned up from his meal, he turned the TV on to the Magnum, P.I. marathon and settled in to watch a couple of episodes before showering and going to bed.

He woke up in the middle of the night with a tight chest and a dry cough. He made a mental note to get his inhaler prescription refilled. He also decided to get back to running. He used to run like it was a religion and had breathed better for it. The last few months he’d been so busy he’d slacked off and was feeling it.

He grumbled a bit, rolled over and went back to sleep.

.

Morning came all too soon but Tony dragged himself out of bed, started the coffee maker then went to clean up. He’d showered before bed so all he did was shave, fix his hair and dress.

He settled at the breakfast bar that divided the galley kitchen from the small dining area and started sipping his coffee. While he jumpstarted his brain he decided that he needed to make a list of chores, he’d started one so he opened that file on his tablet. He added, get new computer and check sigs on contract, housing, and call Jeanne.

He decided on calling Jeannie right now. He dialed and listened to the phone ring until her voice mail picked up, “Jeanne, I need to talk to you. It’s a bit on the urgent side so let me know A. S. A. P.” He hung up without the usual “Kisskisshughug” and went on to call his Department Head Dr. Benjamin Aspacian.

He was passed on to him by his TA, who filled in for his secretary on Saturday mornings. Dr. Aspacian had morning office hours from 6am to 9am every other week. Tony lucked out that this week was office hours.

Dr. Aspacian was happy to hear from Tony. “Dr DiNardo, I’m so glad you decided to accept our offer of full time hours. What led to this?”

“I had a bit of a falling out at my other job so I quit. And it’s actually DiNozzo. I tried to correct it but it’s taking a bit of time. So … The semester re-starts in a week?” This was one of the reasons things were working out as well as they were, Georgetown was on mid-semester break.

“No. Monday. This week is off. I hope you have a better schedule planned.”

“I do. No more of this showing a movie one day and discussing it the next. There’s plenty of resources available to watch a movie on their own time. I expect them to have watched the assignment on their own time and be ready for discussion during class. I’ll also record lectures for on-line watching but non-attendance will lower their grade significantly. I’ll submit my lesson plans tomorrow.”

“No hurry. As long as we have time to publish your book list.”

“There isn’t one. I’ve looked at everything available and none of it is worth setting on fire. I’ll be publishing an on-line set of class notes as we go along. And it’s copy-written, I might turn it into my own book. I’ll have to look into locking it so no one can copy and paste it into a pirated work.”

“See someone in the computer department about that. And … Welcome to the staff. Full time.”

“While I’ve got you on the phone … I’m seriously looking at moving closer to campus, who should I talk to about a house?”

“I have no idea. I’ll leave a note for Becky, she’ll know. Now … I squeezed you in between two appointments so I’ve got to go.”

“Thank you for your time. Good-bye.”

Tony put his phone down on the table and rubbed his face. “Well, that went well.” He was a bit startled that things seemed to be falling into place so easily. He was totally unaware that Jenny had literally blackmailed the Dean into signing off on Tony’s tenure. It didn’t hurt that he was the only professor of Cinematic History in town and Georgetown was adding a feather to their cap by allowing other colleges and universities in the area to attend his classes.

He finally got up and carried his last cup of coffee into his bedroom to decide what he was going to wear. He sighed then brightened, today he didn’t need armor, he needed comfort. He dressed in a tight green long-sleeved henley, comfortable jeans and biker boots. After putting his cup in the dishwasher he snagged his bomber jacket and messenger bag and headed for a mall about six blocks away. He put the jacket on before he walked out into the hall, it wouldn’t do to freak out some old lady or skittish preppie couple by flashing his shoulder holster. He’d had to turn in his NCIS issue but he had a carry permit and a sleek Glock.

He stopped at the front desk to tell Billi where he was going and why. She just nodded and advised him that, since he was going to that mall, he should stop at a small store on the ground floor before he went to the Apple store. “John is really good at this sort of thing. He’ll send you to the right person. He might even close down and go with you. Take his advice, he has, like, three degrees in computer stuff.”

“I hate to take him away from his business. But I’ll go talk to him.”

Billi grinned, “He won’t mind. His Dad is a pain in the butt so John likes to get out of the shop anytime he can.”

Tony walked the six blocks to the mall. He wasn’t about to get his car out and try to drive. It was six blocks. He was surprised to see that it was only one story but when he entered he found that it was actually three stories which covered most of the block. The two additional stories were below ground. He checked the map, found the small shop where John worked and window shopped as he made his way to it.

He looked around for John and was greeted by a voice from the back room. “Be right out.”

“Take your time. I’m here to see John?” Tony ambled to the back, looking at the various bits and pieces on display. He realized that this was a very upscale discrete repair shop.

“I’m John. I’ll be out in a sec.”

It was a bit more than a sec but not more than two minutes before a young man pushed the curtain aside and walked out into the space behind the counter. “Ok. What do you need?”

“Tony DiNozzo. Billi said you could help me pick out a computer?” Tony offered his hand. He liked the look of John, his ability to quickly assess a person said he was good people.

John shook Tony’s hand then nodded at a counter. “I’ve got a few second hand ones that are still more than serviceable Just depends if you want new for show or just want something to get the job done.”

Tony shook his head. “Don’t really care about shiny new. I just need a good computer that won’t crash and lose my work every five minutes. Here … take a look.” Tony dumped his messenger bag on the counter.

John took the computer out of the bag and turned it on. It crashed before it even booted properly. “Well that’s a bitch. When did it start doing that?”

“Just now. First time it’s actually crashed on boot. It crashed about three times last night … lost everything after the last save. Pain in my ass.”

“Well, I’m not even going to try to diagnose what the problem is. It’s a waste of time and resources since you’ve decided to get a new one.”

“I showed it to a co-worker about three months ago but Tim said it was beneath him to fool with it.”

“Tim McGee?” Tony nodded. “He’s got a big head. All he’s this big shot Fed with a badge and a gun. And a book. I read the first one but … shee. It was a piece of shit.” John shook his head. “I’ll also say that he’s behind the times like whoa. Bet he hasn’t taken a class in at least a year.”

Tony thought about that for a moment. “Is that bad?”

“It’s bad. The industry moves so fast that a year can put you in the dark ages. I take a class every three or four months just to keep up. You ought to take some classes if you’re going to be doing a lot with computers.”

Tony held up a hand. “I’m a professor of Cinematic History and Film Arts. I probably don’t need one.”

“Film Arts? You need at least a firm understanding of CGI. There’s a class at Georgetown that’s starting next semester. Ought to at least audit it.”

“That’s a good idea. I don’t need to know the details of how everything’s done. All I do is look at the projects for content and visual appeal. I’ll look into it. Now … computer.” Tony easily guided them back to the subject of the visit, taking any sting out with a genial smile.

“Ok. What I’d like to do is check the hard drive. I’ve got a good idea what’s wrong. Your mother board is fubar but I need to check to be sure. And I’ve got a couple of machines that I’ve taken via mechanics lean. If you don’t pay, you don’t get your machine back. Period. I’m tired of us going into the red because Pop has a soft heart and doesn’t understand how much it costs to fix these things.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m gonna get coffee. You want?” Tony was already more than ready to do business with John. He really didn’t care whether his computer was Apple, Windows based or what; as long as it did what he needed and didn’t blue screen him every ten minutes he was happy.

“I’d love. Pop has a doctors appointment and won’t be in until late. Finally got him to go for a check up. I’ll get you some money.”

“Forget that. I can afford a cup of coffee. What do you want?”

“Plain, black, hot, big.”

Tony laughed, waved over his shoulder and said, “You got it.”

He was back in twenty minutes with a hazelnut late with whipped cream and chocolate shavings for himself and a large plain coffee for John.

“Ok. Coffee. And what can you tell me?”

“A bunch of technical jargon that just means intermittent mother board failure. So … I lined up the best of what I’ve got. Now … depending on how much cash you’ve got, there’s several choices.”

Tony waved a hand. “I can afford just about anything, justify your best pick to me.”

John nodded. “Ok. This one. It’s a gamers special. That means it can handle anything you throw at it. I picked it because you said you’d be watching videos a lot. This thing will loaf. It’s also got a great hard drive, huge. And it comes with an external backup drive. It’s $1,934.56. So?”

“If you think it’s the best choice, I’ll take it. Can you move my data?”

“Take about as long as it takes you to drink your coffee.” He picked up the computer and his coffee and went into the back.

Tony wandered around for a bit, looking into cases at the odds and ends. He saw a real Rolex, a Cellini Moonphase with a slightly worn leather band. “Hey! How much for the Rolex?”

“It’s a knock off. Pop priced it at a Benjamin. You want it?”

Tony fought himself for all of a second. “It’s real and worth $26,750. Call your Pop and ask what he wants for it.”

John came out. “Ok. I’m just waiting on your files to download.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. “Hey, Pop. Got a guy here who wants that Rolex with the moon on it. He says It’s real.” He listened for a moment then said, “Don’t know. Let me look at the sticker.” He opened the case and took out the watch. There was a sticker on the back which he read. “Ok. Says fifty.”

Tony winced. He didn’t want to cheat these people but it seemed that Pop had either screwed someone over or none of them knew what they had. So Tony said, “Let me talk to him please.”

John handed him the phone. “Sir, I know my Rolex watches and that’s an older Moonphase, it cost 26K plus new. I feel really bad taking it for a hundred dollars.”

Pop replied, “Look I got it in a box of junk from a guy who was cleaning out his grandmother’s house. You pay what I ask. Ok? Look I gotta go, the nurse is calling my name.” And with than he hung up.

Tony handed John back his phone. “I’ll take it but I’m paying … a nice price. You name it with the knowledge of what it’s worth.”

John nodded. “Ok. you say it’s real, Pop says knockoff. I don’t know and don’t care one way or the other. Give me five hundred for it and neither one of us feels guilty. Now… that data should be done transferring so I’ll go check on that.” He picked up the watch and carried it to the counter, put it down behind the register and went into the back.

He was back out in about five minutes. “Great. Perfect download. All your programs moved like a charm and none of your data was corrupted. So.”

Tony just handed over his credit card. “Just charge it.”

John ran the card then just put Tony’s new computer into his messenger bag. He started to put the watch in too but Tony stopped him. “I’ll wear it, thank you. And you can have my old computer for parts.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I feel like I can trust you. Just triple wipe the hard drive. I’m really not comfortable trying to keep track of it. I’m moving soon and life is going to get hectic.”

“Ok. I’ll take care of it. Hope you like that watch.”

Tony glanced down at the Rolex a bit guiltily. “I will. I destroyed my old watch on a job a week ago and this is the first time I’ve had time to get a new one. I hate using my phone for a watch.”

John snorted in amusement. “That’s because you old geezers are stuck in the past.”

Tony grinned back. “Can’t help it that you young whipper-snappers can’t read analog.”

John offered his hand. “Thanks for your business. If you have any problems please come back. I gave you a year free warranty.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate that. Bye.” Tony shouldered his bag and walked out.

He glanced around then decided to window shop for a bit. He needed a few things and had the whole day to take advantage of the mall.

He spent most of the rest of the morning shopping for some clothing to replace pieces that had been destroyed on the job. He considered a new suit but discarded that idea. He didn’t really need another suit, what he really needed was something more in line with his new job of professor. He finally found a men’s wear store that he considered acceptable and ambled in for a sports jacket.

He was treated to a display of snobbishness that made him grit his teeth.

“I do believe you’ve wandered into the wrong store … sir.”

Tony shrugged, “Might have. I need a sport jacket. I have a lecture series and I’m not sure Armani is the impression I want to give. Maybe something Botany 500?”

The clerk just pointed. “There.”

“Thanks.” Tony found two jackets that he liked. One was something that Ducky would love; Donegal tweed in a forest green with gold and orange flecks, leather elbows and buttons. The other was brown with snuff and green flecks and horn buttons. “I like both of these.”

Again the clerk pointed. “Register.”

“Self-serve?” Tony was a bit doubtful of that but quite happy to scan his purchases himself. “Ok.” He scanned his jackets, bagged them himself, taking a hanging bag and keeping the commercial hangers. He stuck his card into the reader, let the chip do it’s thing and took his receipt. He smirked as the tip window had popped up but he’d tapped $0. He wasn’t going to tip someone who only pointed at things. He juggled his bag and the suit protector until he had them in a comfortable configuration and headed back for the hotel.

.

Tony was glad he’d gotten to his room before his phone started blowing up. Abby called, then Tim; he refused both calls. Jimmy called just to see how he was doing and tell him that Abby was having fits, Gibbs was still sulking and saying that Tony would come back. Jenny was tight lipped and stonily silent. He, Jimmy, and Ducky were both staying in Autopsy and refusing to comment to anyone. Tony told him he was fine and to give Ducky his best. Jimmy hung up with a cheerful, “Ok. Just remember that we’ve got your back. Bye.”

Jenny was last to call, only to be told that no, Jeanne hadn’t called and still wasn’t going to be back early. Yes, he was now instated as full time, his department head was delighted. He listened with as much patience as he could manage while Jenny babbled about how this would put NCIS on the map, she wanted this bust. La Grenouille needed to be brought in, dead or alive. She nearly whined about him not contacting Jeanne. He finally put the phone on speaker and went to make some lunch. He wondered why he was putting up with this then realized that he shouldn’t. “Jenny. I’m sorry you don’t like the way this is going but do remember … I quit. And I meant it. HR has processed the paper work. I’m only doing this as a personal favor to you. But, if you keep nagging me about this …” he was interrupted by another whine along the lines of you can’t quit on me. He just disconnected the call then blocked the number.

“Fuck that shit. I’m only waiting to break up with Jeanne until she comes back because I don’t want to try to explain this over the phone.” He made a turkey, lettuce, tomato, and pickle sandwich with plenty of mayo and sat down to go over his new computer. He wished he could go home and play his piano.

He decided to go down to the bar in the front of the hotel restaurant. It had four stars on GoodEats so it couldn’t be horrible. Maybe they even had a piano.

He was delighted to find out that they did have a piano and, if he didn’t drink, he could play it until customers complained. The bar wasn’t that busy at lunch time, only a few jaded businessmen drinking their lunch so he settled in to play some easy listening jazz.

He lost himself in his music and played for quite some time. He ended his impromptu concert when the bartender told him they were closing up for set up for the late rush. He apologized but the bartender waved it off, saying, “That’s ok, man. We all enjoyed it a lot. If you ever need a real job, give us a call. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

Tony shook his head. “Thanks but, no thanks. I’ll drop in from time to time and play while I’m living here, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t mind. Music soothes the savage drunk, you know. The tips were really good. I’ll have your share for you in a moment.”

Tony grinned, “Thanks. But I don’t really need it, I’m actually loaded. You split my share amongst you.” He closed the piano and got up. “If you take my advice you’ll lock that. The keys were sticky, I had to wipe them off. Locking it will keep wanna be players from insulting your ears with endless rounds of chopsticks.”

“Good idea. We’ve got a peg board behind the bar. I’ll just hang them there.” He turned to lock up the piano, when he turned back to ask if Tony was sure about the tips he was out the door. “Well, thanks, man.”

Tony returned to his room, soothed by the hours playing piano.

He worked on his lecture notes and syllabus. He kept a copy of his class schedule at hand so he could note the dates when he wanted to deliver each lecture and when to assign outside work as well as when it would be due. He worked on that well into the evening, finally closing down when he started yawning.

He took a shower then settled in to watch TV for a bit before going to bed and sleeping through the night.

The next morning saw him up and ready for the day in less than fifteen minutes. It didn’t take him long to shave and fix his hair. He coughed several times so he fished his prescription out of his wallet and put it under the wallet on the counter top. He made his coffee but while it was making he called down to the front desk. Billi answered so he just asked if there was any way he could get his prescription filled, perhaps Brandon could run it for him?

Billi was solicitous at once. “Oh, prescription? You aren’t sick, are you? If you are, we have a house physician who is more than competent. I can call him and have him give you a quick checkup in your suite.”

“No need. I have a dry cough, result of pneumonia several years ago. I just need my inhaler refilled. If Brandon could run the script to a pharmacy, that’d be good. Or tell me where one is and I’ll get it myself.”

Billi gave a relieved sigh. “I’m so glad you’re not ill. I’ll send Brandon right up to get the prescription. Is there anything else you need?”

Tony, who had marveled at the selection of juices, smoothies and other drinks in the fridge and mini bar, said, “No. I’ve got everything I need. I have lecture and class notes to do before the midterm is over so I’ll be doing that all day. While I have you on the line … is there a gym?”

“Yes, sir. It’s behind the Grand Ballroom. Take the elevator to B1 then turn right, then left at the T-intersection. It’s the first door on your left. The next one down is the pool. There’s usually a trainer on site, if there isn’t please be aware that we’re not responsible for any accidents that occur if you use equipment or swim alone.” She giggled. “I know you’re smarter than that but corporate insists we inform all guest not to do silly things. Brandon will be knocking on your door just about now. Bye.”

Tony chuckled at Billi then went to open the door for Brandon, scrip in hand. He handed Brandon the bit of paper folded up with a twenty and said, “Here. Just add the scrip to my bill, ok?”

“Sure thing. I hope it’s nothing serious.” Brandon gave Tony a sharp look.

“No. I’ve just worn myself out trying to keep up with a thankless job, which I quit. Now I’m paying for it with a dry cough and some breathing problems. The inhaler will take care of it. I need to get back to running, improves my lung capacity and efficiency.”

Brandon took the paper, nodded then headed off for the elevator. “Hour, tops.”

Tony decided to wait on his medicine before he did anything else. He had a bunch of emails to deal with so he started on them.

He was annoyed to find his inbox clogged with junk mail adverts for everything from Viagra to hair growing schemes. He grumbled, “Abby, damn it.” and started deleting things. He used a filter to sort and batch delete ads and got it down from over 2000 to just over 150. He then resorted the results by sender. The mail from Ziva was all of the nastier, demeaning sort that she’d started sending after Gibbs came back. She was an expert in the subtile and not so subtile dig. Tim had sent over 20 passive aggressive ‘I don’t like the way you ignore me’ sort of things along with some complaints that Tony didn’t even give him a finders fee for getting him into his accounts. He wondered if Tim had hacked his bank or something. Gibbs had sent him one email that said, “Sorry. I was an ass. My door is always open to you. Don’t let Jenny talk you into anything.” Jenny had sent nearly 50 mails demanding intel on ‘the Benoit’ op. He also had three chatty emails from Jeanne about what she was doing at the conference. He got a funny feeling about that, the tone was off somehow.

He sent Ziva one email that told her he was blocking her and she was not to circumvent the block or she’d hear from his lawyers. Tim got one email telling him he was being passive aggressive and needed to get over it. Then another that said if he wanted a finders fee send him a bill.

Gibbs got a mail that said simply, “Still mad.”

He was really pissed at Jenny so he spammed her email using a bot that Tim had written. All the mail was the same, “I’m working on it. Stop emailing me.”

He thought about not mailing Jeanne but finally sent, “Miss you.” Which was actually true.

He was distracted by a knock on the door and Brandon’s voice calling, “Mr DiNozzo? I’ve got your inhaler.”

Tony went to the door, calling, “Be right there.”

He opened the door to see Brandon’s smiling face. “Here you go. The Pharmacist said you should use it immediately. Hope you feel better soon.”

Tony nodded. “Thanks.” He tried to tip Brandon again but he refused it saying a twenty was more than enough.

Tony took the bag to the kitchen and ripped it open. He tossed the bag as he shook the inhaler, one hit and he felt much better. He read the brochure to be sure he was using it properly and realized that the recommended dose was two sprays five minutes apart two doses a day for ten days then one for another ten. After that it was as needed.

He contemplated calling Dr Pitt but decided to wait and see how he felt.

He took his second dose then put the inhaler in his pocket. A glance at his new watch told him that his next dose was due in the middle of the night so he decided on 8am and 8pm as his schedule.

He took several deep breaths, decided that he was good for a run so he went into his bedroom to find his jogging clothes. It didn’t take him long as he’d unpacked for himself so he knew where things were. He could never understand the thing of allowing someone else to unpack for you, how would you ever find anything? He decided on a pair of NCIS athletic shorts and a worn thin white t-shirt.

He put his key in his wallet then tucked that into the only pocket on the shorts.

.

It wasn’t hard to find the gym, there were signs all over the place. What he found wasn’t a pokey, dark room crammed into some convenient, to the hotel, corner. This was a very upscale, clean, well lit room with all the proper machines which were placed a good distance apart. Tony examined the treadmill with interest.

“Don’t jump.” But Tony did. “Sorry. Can I help you? Or do you know how it works?”

“Help. I have no idea how to set this up. I just want a standard flat run.”

“Ok. My name is Jeff. If you need anything just yell for me. So … “ Jeff walked Tony through setting up the treadmill and getting started.

Tony had agreed to a standard track with a slow increase in speed to his preferred pace then a cool down. Jeff ended his instruction by saying, “It’ll beep three times then stop. It’s not sudden but you do need a bit of warning. I’ve set it for half mile warm up, a mile run, and a quarter mile cool down. If you feel stressed at any point just pull the tab and it’ll slow down and stop. It’ll also signal me in my office. If you want me, either yell or push the yellow button. Have a good run.” Jeff walked off with a quick wave.

Tony got on the tread mill and pushed the green start button. He was hoping for a bit longer run but decided to go with the flow for now and see how it went. He hit his stride the second the warmup was done, the treadmill sped up slowly until he was running at his preferred pace and it felt good.

He realized half way through his mile that it wasn’t going to be enough. “Jeff!”

Jeff popped out of his office. “Yeah? Problem?”

“Not really. Just … how do I add to my distance? A mile isn’t doing to do it.”

Jeff poked at the control pad for a moment. “Ok. um … how many miles are you used to running?”

“Six to ten. But I’ve missed workouts for a while due to work. I’d like to add two miles.”

Jeff showed him how to change his distance while saying, “Six to ten? Wow. You run like it’s a religion or something.”

“I’ve got lung problems due to illness. Dr Pitt, my pulmonologist, advised keeping lung function up by running and swimming. He’s gonna be pissed at me for missing out so much.”

“Ok. I’m gonna keep an extra good eye on you for a bit.” And with that Jeff just settled to sit on a nearby machine.

Tony really hit his stride at the end of the second mile, he considered adding more miles but decided not to, he did have Jeff add another quarter mile to his cool down.

Jeff, satisfied that Tony wasn’t going to over do and collapse, went back to his office.

When the treadmill finally stopped, Tony got off, picked up a towel and dried his face and neck. He went to the office door to tell Jeff he was leaving. Jeff looked up from something he was reading and said, “Leaving? Ok. Drink plenty of fluids and rest a bit. Have a nice day.”

Tony nodded. “You too.”

His path led him past the bar where someone was playing rather badly. He winced as the woman hit a particularly bad clanker. He was glad it was early and the bar was still closed. He escaped the noise by entering the elevator. He was in desperate need of a shower and clothing that wasn’t sweat soaked.

He luxuriated in the enormous shower with its multiple heads and computerized temperature control and massage settings. He also loved the towel warmer. He just wished he’d known about the shaving cream heater before he’d bought a can that wouldn’t fit it. He’d finally tossed it and had Brandon get him one that did fit.

A glance at his watch said it was nearly 10am. His stomach growled reminding him that he hadn’t eaten breakfast. Brunch sounded good so he dug out the makings for sausage and egg biscuits and had biscuits baking in short order. He timed it carefully so he had the eggs and sausage ready by the time the biscuits were baked. He’d made enough to have three now and three later. He wrapped the supper biscuits in paper towels then put them on a plate which he covered with foil. Now all he had to do was take the foil off the plate, split the biscuits and toast them while he warmed the sausage and cooked the eggs in the microwave.

He settled at his desk with his food and munched while he finished his lectures and movie schedules. He finished around 2pm and emailed the whole thing to his department head for approval. He got back an approval notice while he was printing out all the files. He saved the email then printed it out.

He was just finishing up when his email binged for an incoming mail. He opened it and was disgusted to see a definite threat. Abby was threatening to remotely wipe his computer if he didn’t withdraw his resignation. He just CC:’ed it to Jenny with a simple, “If she does this, I’ll sue you personally, Abby personally, and NCIS. Get her under control.” He rummaged around in his messenger bag to find his USB flash drive. It was a 128G and perfectly capable of holding all his stored data so he just set it up to backup everything. Tim had talked him into getting it but he’d never bothered to use it as there wasn’t much on his personal computer than he was worried about losing, all his important work data was on his work computer. He used his personal computer for games, net surfing, and emails.

Another email came in from Jenny. She was obviously upset at Tony’s threat but said she realized that he was right and Abby was completely out of control. She, Jenny, had spoken to her on Friday but hadn’t checked in on her as it was the weekend. She’d have a real talk with her on Monday — and how was the op coming?

Tony shook his head. Jenny was completely obsessed with this thing. He wondered what it was really about but decided he really didn’t care as he was ending it by telling Jeanne the truth about the whole thing.

He sent an email to Gibbs telling him about Abby and asking him to see what he could do with her. Then he sent a warning to Tim not to fall victim to Abby’s plans. He was pissed at him but didn’t want him to ruin his career by doing something stupid. Ziva he ignored, he’d blocked her and she hadn’t managed to find a way around it, or hadn’t cared enough to do so. He really didn’t care which, he laid most of the problems in the MCRT at her feet. She’d been driving wedges between Tony and his coworkers for years. She’d succeeded but she hadn’t won much.

The email from Gibbs was simple and straight forward. “Abby’s on my shit list. Tim is too. MCRT won’t be the same without you. Call me.”

Tony thought about that but realized that he was still too pissed to deal with Gibbs’ usual attitude.

After cleaning up his plate and policing the kitchen he decided to just take some time to veg out. He knew he’d been doing a lot of that lately but he was physically and mentally worn down and just needed to recharge. He knew he was going to be running around like mad, or like a chicken with it’s head cut off, as Ducky would say, so he was taking down time now while he had a chance. He spent the afternoon and evening channel surfing, eating his supper and thinking.

.

He spend Sunday reviewing his notes and adding comments. He took a good run on the treadmill, impressing Jeff with his quick progress. He also went through his wardrobe and put some things out for dry cleaning or laundry. He made a few notes about other pieces he needed to add. He knew he was going to be busy as all hell for the next couple of weeks and he didn’t want to be distracted by missing clothing. He decided on a shopping trip late in the week.

Monday saw him up early for a run, use his inhaler, shower, breakfast, and a call to Clark. Clark said, “Bring coffee and be prepared to stay awhile.”

So Tony got coffee and pastries then arrived at the office at 9:30am as agreed.

Clark greeted him at the front desk with their fraternity handshake, they didn’t bother to call it secret as everyone who’d ever been in the frat knew it. “Tony! Lookin’ good, brother.”

“Feelin’ better. I never realized what a strain that job was until I quit. So … Senior showed up yet?”

Clark took his coffee, handed the box of pastries off to an aid then said, “No. But I expect to hear from that shyster Holmes any day now.” He pointed to a chair beside his desk. “Sit.”

“Thanks. What are you going to do about him?”

“Not much. He’s well on the way to being disbarred, we’re actually hoping he’ll pull some stunt or other so we can complete the process. And I want an accounting firm to go over all the accounts with an eye to embezzlement, or any other misfeasance, malfeasance, or fraud. The Ol’ Man is slick as gun oil.”

Tony sighed. “Well, shit. So what’s first on the agenda?”

“Your retirement from Baltimore, then NCIS. After that distribution of assets. We’ve got to move them around some to make sure everything is insured, invested to best advantage, and protected from … poachers.” He handed Tony some papers then sat back to drink his coffee while Tony read.

Tony barely understood half of what he read but he did make notes of questions. Finally he handed the whole mess back and said, “I’ve trusted you for years and you’ve never let me down. I’m gonna trust you to make the best decisions, explain them to me, then carry them out. Do what you gotta. All I want to know is how much I’ve got a month, can I afford to buy a house and a new car, and how do we get Senior off my back permanently?”

“Ok. Well. Properly invested your principle will yield about 20%, that’s at premium rates. I can get you that but most of your investments will be out of country. I don’t see a problem with that and I’ll make sure that all the proper taxes are paid. So you’ll have approximately two million dollars a month less taxes so around a mill and a half spendable income.”

Tony felt stunned. He’d never even made that much a year. “Um … give me a sec. That’s a … hell of a wad of cash. What the actual fuck?”

Clark nodded. “I’d advise taking a great deal less as personal income and putting the rest in a savings account until you have a certain amount there then investing or buying a CD. I’ll keep an eye on the market and see how stocks are doing. Don’t worry about it. Just spend what you want until I tell you to slow down.”

Tony nodded. “Ok. Um …. think I might need a new credit card. I’ve been using one that the hotel made me to replace the one Abby messed with. I want a different checking account and maybe a debit card. My car is not paid for so can you take care of that? And I need a house near Georgetown campus. I … this goes no farther.” Clark nodded so Tony told him all about the professorship, Jeanne, Jenny and her ridiculous off the books operation. He ended, “And so I’m going to come clean to Jeanne and tell her about her father. Not lookin’ forward to that, I can tell you. But it’s not fair to her to leave her in the dark about Benoit and his business. It leaves her too vulnerable to manipulation. And I’m keeping the professorship, I like the subject and enjoy sharing with other interested people. Not sure how long it’ll last but I’ll enjoy it while I can.”

Clark smiled. “Only you. Ton, I swear, you get involved in the damndest things. But … not my circus, not my monkeys. As to a house. What sort? Car? Again, what sort?”

“House. Close to campus, at least two bedrooms, preferably three. Library, place for my piano, office, media room. Nice kitchen, I’ll give up the media room for a kitchen. Car? Lexus? Something good sized, Mafia trunk, fast but steady.”

“Well, I can get you anything you want, Ferrari, Lamborghini …” He grinned as Tony began shaking his head. “No? Didn’t think so. Lexus? Saturn? I know you want a sedan; not an SUV, or a minivan. Might look at a MiniHummer. Or a four wheel drive truck of some sort.”

Tony frowned as he went over the advantages and disadvantages of each. “No Ferrari or Lamborghini, I’m secure in my manhood, thank you. SUV? Not my style. MiniHummer, don’t want to look like a Schwarzenegger wanna be, and they’re not that much better than a minivan. Truck? Not my style either. So a good Lexus or a Saturn. Four door, big trunk, lots of head and leg room. No weird colors. Black, gun metal, dark blue, dark green; interior should be … not white.”

Clark seemed to think nothing of having Tony ask him to buy a car or a house.

“Ok, got it. I’ll call Cherry Mills and … Um … not sure who for a car. There’s a couple of places that I like but they’re very pushy. I know you hate being poked at but Doug is really good. He’s also a brother, about four .. five years behind us but still. I’ll give him a warning and hope for the best.” He made a couple of calls while Tony read yet another contract.

It was late, nearly two before they got done. Clark gathered up the last of the papers and then asked, “Didn’t you have a meeting with some … university guy?”

Tony nodded. “I do. Three, so I better get out of here. Uber?”

“I’ll call one of our cars and a driver.”

“Thanks.” Tony offered his hand which Clark grasped in a simple handshake.

“Get out of here and let me do my job.”

“Heh, you’re gonna go have late lunch.”

“That too.”

Tony left, taking an elevator to the garage floor where a driver with an old fashioned London Cab was waiting for him. It was a signature of the law firm to use the decommissioned cabs. Tony liked them, the leg room was amazing and the head room let him wear a hat, not that he would, and not brush the ceiling even at his height of 6’2”.

The driver held the door open then got into the drivers seat. “Where to sir?”

Tony gave him the address then settled back to worry all through the drive. There was still the chance that this would all fall apart. He really hoped it didn’t, he wanted this job.

He was dropped off at the front of the Administration Building where Dr Aspacian had his office. He walked into the office and smiled at the receptionist. “Dr. DiNozzo to see Dr Aspacian. Thank you.”

Tanya nodded. “He’ll see you in a minute. While you’re here there is some confusion over your name. Is it DiNardo or DiNozzo?”

“It’s DiNozzo. I’m sure the secretary at my old job mixed up something somewhere. Could you see that it’s all straightened out? I’d really appreciate it.” He gave her his best flirtatious smile.

“Oh, put that away. I’m immune.” But Tanya smiled and started fixing things. She fiddled for a bit then said, “I think the guy who put your bio on our staff page couldn’t type. Some guy named McGee.”

Tony snickered. “He’s … a bit on the jealous side. Can’t stand it when someone does better than he does.” Tony realized as he said it that it was unfortunately true, Tim really hated it when someone did better than he did and Ziva poked that bruise at every opportunity.

“Well, Mr McGee better watch it. I don’t care if he’s the Grand Poo-Bah of NCIS, this isn’t the way things are done. Now. That’s all fixed. I’ve found you an office and a TA. You still need a secretary but I’ll let you pick from the ladies available.”

There was a soft click and Dr Aspacian’s voice came over the intercom telling Tanya to send Tony in. She looked up from writing a note. “Well? You heard the man, go in. Stop by here after you’re done and I’ll give you directions to your office and written introductions to your staff.”

Dr Aspacian stood and reached across his desk to shake Tony’s hand. “Ok, this undercover stuff … what’s going on with it?” He pointed to a chair and said, “Sit down and explain things.”

Tony sighed, “Nothing. I’m closing the op down. I found out from a blabbermouth that it’s not sanctioned. I won’t be involved with an off the books op, especially one where my only back up is … not. I didn’t realize that Jenny was going to be my only back up. I assumed, and you know what that does, that she would roll me over to another handler when she was out of touch. She didn’t so I started asking some very discrete questions and wasn’t too pleased with the answers. I was going to speak to her about it but … This goes no farther.” Dr Aspacian nodded. “My immediate superior slapped me in the face. I tolerated other physical … reprimands but that, combined with other things, was the straw. I resigned. Now, I love this job. Movies are sort of somewhere between a passion and an obsession. So I’m hoping that I’ve really got a position here.”

“You do. Jenny called in some favors and I did a bit of a hard sell to a couple of fence straddlers. The Board of Governors, President and I have all agreed that you have a job for as long as you want it. The pay isn’t the greatest but it’s a full professorship. We’ll see about a raise in a couple of years. Also, your student load is going to be … huge. There’s 23 colleges and universities. 18 of them have some form of cinema school, from technical aspects like CGI to writing scripts and financial aspects. I’m sure you know a great deal more about that than I do. But, many of them want to send students to your lectures so we’ve arranged for some reciprocity. This benefits more than the Arts Department. We’re all very pleased with this. So … Tanya will have the full details but to sum it up. You’ll have larger lecture classes, more students. You’ll also need to make arrangements with audio visual to show your movies.”

Tony held up a hand. “No, I won’t. All movies are homework assignments. History classes, english classes, etc. all assign outside reading. Like, Read chapter 21 for next lecture. I’ll assign movies to be watched on their study time. There’s very little literature available for this subject just now so I’ll be writing reading assignments myself, and they’re copy-written, I’ll be combining them into a book. If the students have trouble finding a movie I’ll try to get it uploaded to the local server for them to stream. I’ll need some help with that I think.”

“Well, it does look like you’ve got everything well in hand. On to other business, I hear you want a house near campus?”

“I do. I’m living in a poky little apartment with a very annoying Tenants Association. I play piano and practice to relax. I’m more than a little tired of having someone bang on my door at 6pm and claim that people are trying to sleep. There’s no children in the building young enough to have a bedtime that early and no day sleepers. So, no idea what the problem is and don’t really care. I want a house.”

“I see. Well. I do recommend Wells, Taft, and Bascom as realtors. They’re very good, very discreet and will stay within your budget.”

Tony shook his head. “My financial advisor is taking care of finding some places for me to look over. Cherry Mills is doing the actual job.”

“Mills? She’s very expensive. Very, very good, but expensive. You sure?”

Tony couldn’t help a bit of a satisfied smirk. “I am. I came into a bit of an inheritance. I’m spending part of it on a house.” He glanced at his watch. “If there’s nothing else, I’ve taken up enough of your time.”

“Nothing I can think of. I’ll call if I do. Now …” He produced a new contract. “This is your new contract. Take it with you. Have your lawyer go over it. Bring it back before next Monday.” Dr Aspacian handed Tony the contract then escorted him to the door. “I expect you to be happy here. If you’re not, let me know.”

They shook hands and the Director returned to his office. Tanya just grinned, handed him some more papers then pointed.

“Go down that hall three doors, door on the left says, “Media Department. You’ll be sharing your office space with two others. You don’t share a secretary just a receptionist. Your secretary and TA have space in your … suite of offices. In other words, there’s a main waiting area and your office has a small front room for your secretary and TA and you have a larger back room for your office. And believe me when I say, they are tiny. Now shoo.”

Tony followed directions to the office and found himself in a very nice Mid-Victorian style office. The door led straight into a reception room about a third blocked by the receptionists desk. The lady behind the desk was a middle aged woman in classic business dress of charcoal dress pants and a silk blouse with a large bow, her jacket was neatly hung on a hanger on the wall nearby. “Good afternoon, how may I help you?”

“Tony DiNozzo. My office is here, somewhere.” He handed her his papers with a smile. No flirting here, he could tell she wouldn’t tolerate it and he didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot.

“Yes. Tanya called me. You’ll have the middle office. I’ve already cleared out the squatters. Now, I have a short questionnaire … things I need to know to keep the office efficient.”

Ok. I can do that. Is my secretary in? Or my TA?” Tony took his fountain pen from his inside jacket pocket and waited for his answer.

“No. I haven’t chosen them yet. I’ll present you with three applicants for each position, it’s up to you to chose. The questionnaire will help me decide. I’ll handle all your secretarial needs until the position is filled.”

“Ok. What’s your name?”

“Kiran Grey. You may call me Miss Grey. If I decide I like you … you might call me Kiran.”

“Well, thank you. You can call me Tony … or Professor DiNozzo. Whichever you’re more comfortable with.”

“Thank you, Professor. Now … Write.” She pointed to the pages in his hand with a slight smile.

Tony opened the door to his office and smiled. It was the same Mid-Victorian style as the outer office, heavy dark paneling, dark chair rail, oxblood colored leather covered furniture. The small secretary’s office had three wingback chairs with attendant pie-crust occasional tables, a secretary desk that completely blocked the door to the inner office. He opened the door to his office and was delighted to find that it boasted a huge desk, several glass fronted lawyers bookcases and a small sitting area that contained one wingback chair, a foot stool, and a larger piecrust table. He loved it.

Tony settled at the desk to fill out the questionnaire. It wasn’t hard, most of the questions asked about things like coffee or tea, bagel or pastry, written memo or verbal reminder. Did he write short-hand or use a dictaphone. Yes, he wrote short-hand but he preferred a dictaphone, voice mail, or something similar. After he was done with the questionnaire he added a couple of notes. He drank coffee before noon but tea, English Breakfast or Irish Blend, after noon. And a couple of other notes.

“Here you go. I’ll be available by phone so just call me when you schedule the interviews. I’m also house hunting but should be able to get in with in the hour. Now. I’m going to wander campus to find my lecture hall. Do I have a class room or just the hall.”

“Just the hall. It’s easier to just have smaller classes move to the front of the room. The hall you’re in has accordion dividers that pull across the room to cut off the tiers. There are three. You also ought to stop by the Security Office and get your ID. You’ll need it to open certain doors.”

“Thank you. See you tomorrow.”

“You’re welcome.”

Tony exited the building, found a campus map, and located the Security Building. It didn’t take him long to register his carry permit, show them his void NCIS ID as proof that he’d had training, and collect his ID. The office didn’t have a front desk, just a chubby, elderly man who took care of dispatch and schedules. The ID was already made up so Tony just took it with thanks and left.

He took time to call Cherry and check in. She said she would have a couple of places lined up by tomorrow.

Since it was fairly early Tony went back to the hotel with plans to spend the evening playing the bar piano.

.

Jenny Shepard was just tired, she had another headache, it had to be stress. Her best agent had quit in a snit, her chief forensicist, Abby, was on a rampage, Gibbs was sulking and Tim was flinching at every loud noise. Ziva was amused and scornful of the whole thing. She just hoped that Tony’s ruse held. She knew Gibbs could keep up the illusion as long as necessary. She was just waiting for Abby to come to her office so she could have words with her. Getting arrested for making a disturbance in Tony’s apartment building was a huge black mark in her record.

It wasn’t long before Abby stomped in, without knocking, and flopped into the chair Jenny pointed to.

“You tell Tony he has to come back to work right now.”

“Abby, you do not stomp into my office, flop down like a beached fish and give me orders. I give you orders and here they are. Stop harassing DiNozzo. He quit. Period, end of report. If you harass him too much, he might not come back. We need to give him a cooling off period. I’ll process his papers after he’s out of paid leave, vacation, and sick leave; just like I did for Jethro. And do not let Ziva egg Tim into doing something … unfortunate. All of you leave Tony alone or be real friends. I’m sure you will realize what damage you’re doing to an already shaky relationship by acting a fool.” Abby started to say something but Jenny cut her off. “I’m not in the mood for pouting, tantrums, or whining. I have a killer headache and I don’t need it exacerbated by you having a screaming tizzy. If you have anything to say, say it quietly and with respect.” Jenny gave Abby a steely eyed glare that dared her to yell once.

Abby blinked, sniffled then whined, “But I want him back. Now. I miss him.”

Jenny vowed to have words with Ducky and Jethro. Abby was a sweet soul but they’d spoiled her, much to her detriment. “I notice that you haven’t said a word about what Tony wants. I think you ought to got back to your office and think about yourself. Perhaps speak to the nuns. Good day.”

Abby called Ziva, who said she’d sneak in, then caught Tim, who’d gotten permission to come in to get a few things he owned and didn’t want to leave in the bullpen, and dragged him back to her lab. She wasn’t sure what was going on but she was going to know before the day was over.

Tim left the second he realized that Abby wanted them to actually break into Tony’s apartment and search it. He thought about it for a moment then decided to send Gibbs an email, completely forgetting that Gibbs only checked his emails immediately after arriving in the bullpen or when he was told to do so. Tim went home immediately after this. It wasn’t even noon yet so he went straight home and locked his door, putting a chair under the knob to foil any lock picking attempts.

Gibbs was in MTAC and looked like he’d be there the rest of the day. Jenny had him coordinating a raid on some gun runners who seemed to be involved with La Grenouille somehow. He wouldn’t see Tim’s email until it was way too late. He wouldn’t have done anything about it anyway. He’d warned Tim, Abby, and Ziva to leave Tony alone. He’d told Jenny flatly, ’Not my circus, not my monkeys’ unconsciously repeating Clark’s words to Tony, and he meant it.

After Tim walked out on them Ziva and Abby put their heads together and came up with a half-baked plan. They’d go to Tony’s place and badger him into returning to NCIS. If he wasn’t home, they’d search the place. Ziva wanted to just to nose into his business, Abby wanted to because that’s what you did, right? You searched the place for clues. What the clues were supposed to lead to Abby didn’t think about.

Jenny had no idea what Ziva and Abby were up to, Tim was too scared of Gibbs, still, to jump the chain of command.

So Ziva picked the lock on Tony’s apartment door and she and Abby went in to search for clues as to what Tony was doing.

Tony being the paranoid undercover that he was, had all the papers he had on the Benoit operation in a hidden safe. It took Ziva nearly twenty minutes to find it and another fifteen to get it open.

Abby hadn’t limited herself to searching the kitchen, she searched the freezer, putting all the frozen foods on the counter tops. She also searched the bathroom, emptying several bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash into the tub. Luckily, they were bottles of things that Tony had bought then stored as he disliked them for one reason or another. She took the top off the toilet tank and propped it against the tub then unscrewed the bulb from the flusher.

Ziva had pulled all the linens from the linen closet and scattered them up and down the hall. She also pulled boxes off all the closets shelves and scattered their contents around the living room, bedroom, and kitchen. She also emptied the tiny coat closet next to the entry and tossed it’s contents around.

Ziva finished her path of destruction by scattering Tony’s personal papers around the living room, only keeping those that she thought of use, these she stuffed into a small messenger bag for later. Between those and the contents of the safe, she had an interesting collection of personal documents, bank statements, reports on Jeanne Benoit, Renee Benoit, and information on Tony’s undercover persona.

She also made even more of a mess by opening the fireplace and working the damper open and closed in an attempt to dislodge anything stuffed up the chimney.

Unfortunately for both of them, they made enough noise that the snoop across the hall called the President of the Renters Association, who listened for a moment then called the police.

Abby screeched in fury as she was arrested for the second time in a week.

Ziva tried to fight, claiming that she had diplomatic immunity but the officers weren’t impressed. The woman officer just snorted and said, “Honey, you got balls. I don’t care about immunity. All that means is we can’t prosecute you. It don’t mean we can’t arrest you, hold you for 48 hours, then turn you over to your embassy with the order to get you out of the country. An’ if you kick my shins one more time, I’m gonna mace your ass.”

The other officer was a huge man who corralled Abby easily and slapped cuffs on her. “You … I remember you. We tagged you a couple of days ago. Josie! You remember this one?”

Josie turned to look at Abby. “I sure do. She was kicking the door … right here, come to think of it. Got brought in for disturbing the peace, damaging property and some other shit. Stalker you think?”

“Might be. We’ll tell the captain and let him sort this shit.”

They hauled both women down to their car and radioed for more transport, they separated Abby and Ziva and drove them to the station in two cars so they couldn’t get their stories synced. Gibbs didn’t say his number one rule was never let suspects stay together for nothing.

They were booked and locked in cells. Then the fun started. The captain had to call Tony and tell him that his apartment had been trashed.

Tony just called Jenny. “Jenny, Abby and Ziva trashed my apartment. You better get down to the cop shop and see if either one of them managed to get into my safe. There were documents in there pertinent to the current Benoit op. If Ziva manages to get them out of the country there’s gonna be hell to pay. I’m going to take a look at the mess. I’ll expect a cleaning crew to show up within twenty minutes of me. Or a good reason why not.”

Jenny started to sputter but Tony just hung up on her. Jenny scrambled to get a crew on the road, simply telling the crew chief. “No idea how much of a mess there is but Abby was involved. DiNozzo’s pissed. Take care of it, please.”

She then called one of her assistant directors, Leon Vance, and told him the whole story. She finished her near tirade by saying, “So … could you please go down and sort this mess. Abby’s already out on bail so I’m not sure what to do about her. Ziva is here on a political visa and thus has diplomatic immunity. You could rely on that, I suppose.”

Leon Vance had his own ideas of how some things should be run and had been annoyed, when he actually read DiNozzo’s un-redacted file, to realize that the summary page of his file had been written by Miss David. What she was doing adding anything to a superior agent’s file, or any NCIS file, he didn’t know.

He gathered what information he had, went down to legal, then on to the police station, accompanied by a lawyer.

The lawyer, Barton Mitchel, was not pleased. “I’m not sure we can keep Miss Scuito out of jail. She’s already out on bail on a similar charge. They’ll at least revoke that. So … And Miss David is here on a work visa … and why she’s allowed to be on the MCRT when she’s a … honey trap assassin is beyond me. So …” He shrugged and got into the waiting car followed by Vance. “We’ll see.”

“That’s all I can ask. I’m sure that we can work out making both women pay for the clean up and any damages.”

It wasn’t long until they arrived at the station. Vance spoke to the desk sergeant who escorted them to an interview room. They were stopped just outside by an officer who announced, “Miss Scuito is in back. She’s not going anywhere. Her bondsman revoked her bail. If you want to repost it … well, I’d suggest thinking again. She’s pulled the same basic shit twice. Obsessive stalker, if you ask me. As to Miss David, she’s been in touch with her embassy and they’re sending someone down. Also … she had classified documents on an undercover in her possession. Frankly, I’d ship her back to Israel on a slow freighter.”

Vance frowned then asked politely, “Would it be possible for me to see the documents in question?”

“Sure. We’re just waiting for the chain of evidence document to be signed by the arresting officer. I’d really like to turn them over to you but I need to actually see ID.”

Vance produced his NCIS ID, as did Mr. Mitchel. The Sergeant eyed both of them then nodded. “As soon as they get organized they’ll bring it to me. I’ll be happy to turn it over to you. Really happy.”

Vance eyed David through the one way mirror. “I’m not happy with this whole thing. Miss David is the daughter of the Director of Mossad.”

Mr Mitchel looked at the two officers in the room. One was the Captain of the Precinct the other was the equipment operator. “Would you gentlemen step out for a moment, please?”

Both men just got up and went into the hall.

“Assistant Director Vance. I have definite concerns about Miss David even being a liaison to NCIS. I really feel that you should use this opportunity to send her packing. I can justify it. If the documents are sensitive enough.”

“We’ll make a decision as soon as we see the documents. I’d like to be rid of her as well. She’s a disaster waiting to happen. She doesn’t have a clue as to proper procedures as far as I’ve been told. And wouldn’t care if she did.” Vance turned to take and sign an inventory sheet that a CSI handed him. “Thank you.” He took and opened a manilla folder, glanced at a couple of pages then sighed. “Fuck me. Damnit!”

He looked at Mr Mitchel, demanded, “What’s your clearance level?” When Mr Mitchel told him he shook his head. “Not high enough. This is bad. I’ll need to call DiNozzo. And I really, really don’t want to.”

Mr. Mitchel just shrugged. “That is not in my job description. I will help him sue if he wants.”

Vance just dragged his phone out of his pocket and dialed, after checking a scrap of paper from his inside jacket pocket.

Tony’s phone rang, dragging him away from the mess he was contemplating. “DiNozzo.”

“Special Agent DiNozzo. This is Assistant Director Vance. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

“What the hell did Abby do now?” Tony went from pissed to furious in half a second.

“Not Abby. Ziva has some papers in her possession that I’m sure you didn’t leave out. We need to meet.”

Tony hurried to where he’d hidden his safe. “Son of a bitch. That’s torn it. I’m not coming down to the station. I’m calling Captain Majestic. I’m pressing charges on both of them and suing for damages. They literally tossed the whole place. Dumped shampoo and shit in the tub, put all my food out on the counters and scattered my possessions all over. I’m done. Tell … never mind … I’l deal with Shepard, you deal with David and Scuito.” Tony found himself panting so he used his inhaler, a few seconds later he felt better.

Vance thought for a moment then gave up. “All right. I’ll have the papers sorted and deliver any personal papers to you ASAP. The mission related information I’ll return to NCIS. And I wish to apologize to you on behalf of NCIS. This is inexcusable.”

Tony was a bit mollified by the apology and managed to be civil. “Thanks for that. Now all I have to do is arrange to have the apartment cleaned. The heat’s back on as of early this morning. Landlord emailed.” He stopped talking for a moment then said, “Someone’s at the door.”

Vance said, “Hopefully that’s the NCIS cleaner squad that Director Shepard sent. Again … I’m truly sorry for this.” He hung up and turned to Captain Majestic. “Well, Special Agent DiNozzo is … not happy. Start making up the incident reports, statements and whatever else you need to arrest Miss Scuito … for the second time. And Miss David.”

Mr. Mitchel interrupted, saying, “We can’t hold her for more that 24 hours without allowing her to call her embassy. But … leave that to me. I’ll … Do you want her out of the country or what?”

“I want her out of NCIS and the country ASAP. Shepard will throw a tizzy but I don’t care. I do not want a foreign agent in NCIS. No matter how advantageous Shepard thinks it is.”

Mitchel was already dialing. It didn’t take him long to get a connection. “Hello. I need to speak to someone about Miss David.” He pronounced it Day-vid. “Yes, I’ll hold.” He waited a moment then put his hand over the phone, “On hold and the music is obnoxious.”

Vance smirked. “I think it’s all disgusting. It’s intended to make you want to hang up and forget about whatever you wanted.”

It wasn’t that long before someone came on the line. Mitchel explained what had happened and offered to get Miss David bail as long as she was out of the country in 12 hours. The man on the other end said that he’d send someone to collect Miss David, pronouncing it properly as Da-veed, within the hour.

“Well, she should be out of the country by midnight if I know Mossad.”

Vance shrugged. “Good. Now … what about Miss Scuito? She’s one of the best forensic scientists in the country so I really don’t want to lose her, but something needs to be done about this … stalking thing.”

Michel sighed and rubbed his face. “Ok. Leon, David is out of our hands as of now. Whatever happens is between DC and Mossad, forget about her. As to Miss Scuito … I believe we can rescue the whole mess by claiming diminished capacity, put her on a 48 hour psychiatric hold then make sure she is in therapy, court ordered and records guaranteed sealed if she finishes her therapy. That I can do.”

.

Tony answered the door wearily. “Hello.”

Carl Franks, no relation to Mike, offered his hand. “I hear you had a break in?”

Tony shook hands. “I did. Bitches trashed the place. Left food out on the counters … come in and take a look.”

Carl looked around. “Well, hell. Ok. My crew is bringing in trash cans and boxes. We’ll have to toss all the food. Sorry about that. All your clothing will be taken to cleaners … no telling what they might have dumped on them. We’ll pick up all the papers and such and box them … you’ll have to sort and refile them yourself. Anything else we can do, we will. So … just let me get a good look around. We’ll have this place clean by morning. If you have a place to stay, I’d go there.”

Tony made a decision. “I’m moving out soon, how about I get a Pod and you just pack things up and put them in there. I know it’s a bit of an imposition but I’m done with this shit. I’m moving into a house as soon as I find something acceptable, until then I’m staying at the hotel I’m in now. The heat was out for most of a week, just came back on this morning.”

“Ok. We can do that.” He winked, “NCIS pays us by the hour. I know a guy so I can get a Pod in about an hour. You’ll have to stay that long to sign for it and set up payment.”

“Ok. I can do that. If you have boxes, I can start boxing up my movies and books.”

Carl nodded. “We can do that.” He turned to his partner and said, “Boxes for movies and books, double tape, please. And send the rest of the crew up.” He looked at his watch for a start time and sighed, it was a little after four. He hoped the job didn’t take too long, he wanted to watch the game on tv.

Tony wandered through the apartment while he waited for boxes. He glanced at his piano to make sure it hadn’t been damaged then swore. “Shit! Piano.”

Carl heard him and called, “We don’t move pianos. No experience.”

Tony called back, “I’ve got a frat brother. I’ll call him now but it’ll be a couple of days maybe before he can move it into climate controlled storage.” Tony called his frat brother who agreed to put the piano in his storage, at standard fees, Tony insisted, and offered to get it tonight at 6pm. Tony was delighted at that and said so.

It was then that Maya came from the bathroom, “Mr. DiNozzo, you better come see.”

Tony sighed then said, “It’s actually Professor but call me Tony.”

“Professor? That’s nice. Professor of what?” Maya felt sorry for the poor man. Those girls had made a real mess.

“Cinema. History, specifically.”

Maya just pointed to the bathtub. “It’s plugged. We can clear it but … well, you need to see. I know pretty much every product there is on the market so I know what that stuff cost. Were all the bottles full?”

“They were. I took the opened ones with me. What a mess.” Tony just eyed the ooze in his tub with disgust. “If you pour boiling water on it, will that help?”

“Yeah, it might. My usual procedure is to use a wet/dry vac to suck up as much as I can then rinse the rest out. So … I’ll get my vac and see what I can do.” Maya shook her head, muttered something in Spanish that Tony was glad he didn’t hear and left to get her equipment.

Carl poked his head into the short hall and announced, “Special Agent DiNozzo, boxes.”

Tony decided he wasn’t going to waste breath correcting them so he just said, “Thanks.” and went to pack his movies.

It took him an hour to find them all as Ziva had opened many of the cases and tossed the disks in one direction and the case in another. He managed by putting all the disks on the breakfast bar then picking up the cases and matching them. He’d had everything organized by year then alphabetically so he could find what he wanted. It was going to take him hours to reorganize, hours he was going to try to bill NCIS for. Yes, he was feeling vindictive, especially as the dust made him have to use his inhaler again.

The clean up crew were all CSI’s in training so they did what they could to collect any evidence there was. Tony was a bit surprised to see how much there was. Ziva and Abby had both left finger prints all over. Abby had actually thrown a piece of chewing gum into his bathroom trash. Ziva had used his hair brush, leaving long hairs in it. He’d happily allowed Maya to keep the brush as evidence, telling her to throw it away instead of returning it to him.

He was sad to see all his carefully made casseroles thawed and spoiled. He was going to add the cost of ingredients and his time to the final bill. He watched as the blond guy took pictures of the whole mess then started emptying containers into the trash. Tony stopped him, saying, “Just toss the whole container. I don’t have any glass and I’ll never use plastic that had something spoil in it.”

Bobby, blond guy, shook his head. “Shame about all this. Some of this looks so good. Who made it?”

Tony shrugged, “I did. I love to cook but don’t … didn’t really have time for it so when I had time, I made dinners that could go from freezer to microwave.”

Bobby nodded, “Mom does the same thing. Well, I’ll keep track of the containers I toss and add them to the damages. Sorry about all this mess. I’ll mop the floor as soon as we’re through tracking all over.”

Tony, who had not been looking forward to that, thanked Bobby then went to answer the door.

He was delighted to find that the piano movers were just a bit early. He wasn’t that happy to find his beloved baby grand covered with finger print powder. One of the movers just pulled a rag out of his pocket and began to wipe it off.

The head of the crew turned out to be Bill Jackson himself, Tony’s frat brother. “Hey, Tony. What the actual fuck?”

“Dick-headed ex-coworkers decide to be dickish. I’m not sure why they wanted to find my classified stuff but they tossed the apartment for spite’s sake. I’m moving out. By the way, congratulate me, I’m Georgetowns new Professor of Cinematic Arts and History.” He grinned at his friend.

Bill reacted in the expected way, congratulating Tony on his new job, slapping him on the shoulder and telling him, “We got to get together for some sort of celebration.”

Tony nodded. “I’m looking for a house near campus. When I find it, I’m having a house warming. I’ll probably invite my department head and a few other professors that I meet. How’s that?”

“Great. No carry-in. Maggie hates carry-in’s. So … let’s get this situated. Did they damage it?”

“Not that I can tell with a casual check. But I’d like to have you check the felts, dampers and what-not. There’s a couple of strings that might need a new one.”

“Got it.” Bill realized that his men had the piano blanketed and strapped to the dolly already. “Well, we’ll get out of your hair.” He looked around. “Man, what a mess. You need anything call.” They shook hands and Bill closed the door behind the movers.

Tony realized that he was exhausted. It was still Monday although it felt like it should be at least Wednesday. He glanced out the window to see the piano movers truck pull away only to be replaced with the Pod and a moving crew. Tony just muttered, “Nice to have friends in low places.”

Carl overheard and replied, “Isn’t it just. We’ll have this whole place cleared out in a couple of hours. We’re bonded through NCIS so why don’t you just go home? This has to be messin’ with your head.”

“I am. I just realized that I’m just about done in. It feels like Wednesday to me. I’ll just sign for the Pod and go.”

“You do that. You look like crap on toast. No offense.” Carl patted Tony on the shoulder sympathetically.

Tony realized that he’d gotten more support from total strangers in one day than he had gotten from supposed friends in a year. Excluding Jimmy and Ducky.

He found his coat and went downstairs to deal with paper work. It wasn’t hard, sign here, swipe card, get a key and location. Done deal. He smiled at the driver/crew chief, said thanks, and headed for where he’d parked his car in his assigned parking spot. He was disgusted to realize that it was gone.

Done with the whole thing he reported it stolen then called his bank and left a message telling them, too, that it was stolen. If it had been repo’ed they could just keep it. He didn’t even have anything in it as he always took everything out when he had it serviced. He called Uber and was told that there was a car about two blocks away.

He saw the car ease around the corner and pull up opposite the Pod. He approached the car and said, “Ride for DiNozzo?”

“That’s me. Where do you need to go?”

Tony told the driver the address, adding, “The new Hyatt Suites down by the river.”

“I know. How is it?”

“Nice.” Tony leaned his head back on the seat and sighed.

“You ok? That was a hell of a sigh.”

So Tony took advantage of the situation and unloaded on the driver, apologizing once.

When he was done, they were at the Hyatt.

“Well, that’s hell of a mess. But, home sweet temporary home. You get a good meal in you and have a good night’s sleep. Things will look better in the morning.”

“I hope so. Here.” Tony signed the tablet, added a huge tip and got out. “Drive careful.”

“Hey! Thanks, man. Very generous.” And with that he drove away.

Tony went inside and skipped checking at the desk, he was too tired to deal. He looked at his watch and saw that it was only 8pm. He glanced at the bar but decided against stopping in to play.

He settled in front of the tv but fell asleep while channel surfing. He woke at about 1am, stumbled to bed, stripping as he went, and fell into bed to sleep some more.

(Tuesday)

Tony woke with a thundering headache. He decided on coffee, gym, shower then NCIS. He’d had to call Delores, apologize, and explain that he had just run out of time. She’d been understanding and only said she needed the papers signed ASAP. He snarled as he realized that he was going to have to deal with a car today. Uber, while nice and convenient, was getting old. And he sure as hell wasn’t riding the looser cruiser and cabs usually smelled like smoke and sex.

He finished his coffee, picked up last nights clothing, and hit the gym. Jeff greeted him cheerfully then examined him. “How you feelin’?”

“Pretty rough. Some ex-coworkers decided to join the spite patrol and trashed my apartment, as if I didn’t have enough trouble there as it was. My car was repo’ed, Abby hacked the bank records and put a repo notice on it. I’ve had to use my inhaler three times and … I’m just …” Tony ran out of steam.

“I hear ya. As to the inhaler use. Stress will do it. Now. I’d advice a good hard run then a very short strength workout. Take a really hot, steamy shower … might consider using that inhaler before that, open up the airways. Sound like a plan?”

Tony nodded. “It does. Thanks.”

He did his routine then left after thanking Jeff. He realized that he was a Phys. Ed. major and shouldn’t have had to have Jeff set a routine. He was educated and should have used it. This led to the realization that he’d been letting his physical well-being slide, as if he hadn’t been vaguely aware before. He just needed a real routine to settle into. He was tired of up at all hours, eating shitty food, drinking coffee to make up for lack of sleep, and thankless co-workers who took advantage at every turn.

He used his inhaler before getting into the shower and felt the tightness in his chest loosen considerably. He was going to avoid smoke, heavily perfumed areas, and dry heat for the foreseeable future.

He called Clark and told him about his car. Clark agreed that he should just let it go. It had been a compromise between what he wanted and what he could afford. Clark gave him an address, telling him to go there some time this week and see if they had anything he liked. He also told Tony that Cherry had found three houses he might like and wanted him to call her before Thursday noon.

His Uber came and he apologized to the driver in advance for being on the phone all the way to NCIS. The driver wasn’t happy about the security check at the gate so Tony just got out, paid him, and went through the gate on foot. The walk up to the building let him stretch his legs from the ride.

“Mac. Good morning. I’m here to see Mrs. Bromstead, I need to sign some papers.”

Mac nodded to him with a sad smile. “Heard all about it. You got a carry permit?” Tony nodded. “I need to see it so I can get the number.” Tony produced his wallet and handed Mac the card. “Sorry to hear about the mess. Gibbs was always a hot head. This time we all lost out. You gonna be ok?”

“I am.” Tony took his wallet back. “I finally got my inheritance and a professorship at Georgetown. So I’m pretty well set.” Tony decided on a bit of payback. “I’m set up at a Hyatt for now. Abby screwed with all my utilities and shit. Then she and Ziva trashed my apartment. I’m looking for someplace a bit more high security that that rundown antique I’m living at now.”

Mac blinked. “Wow. I heard that Tim and Ziva were on disciplinary leave. Abby got arrested?”

“Twice. She created a riot outside my apartment then broke in with Ziva. Tim’s been good. He left me a message apologizing. So did Gibbs but the damage is done. A slap to the back of the head is a wake up call, no matter that it hurts like hell; but a slap to the face is an insult. And boy was I insulted. So I quit.”

Mac offered. “I think Gibbs’ brains are still scrambled. He knows better, or knew better. Everyone lets Abby get away with shit because she’s just so cute, until she’s not. Ziva? No one likes her, no one wants to work with her because they don’t trust her. Tim is just … a geek with illusions of agent-hood. He’s nice but he really doesn’t relate well with the other agents … no frame of reference. Know what I mean?”

Tony nodded. “I do. So … escort?” He’d been keeping up the conversation while he waited for his escort but it was taking too long.

“Escort? Oh, shit! You do need one, don’t you?” Mac looked around. “Oh, there’s Carmody, he’ll take you to where you want to go and they can bring you back down.”

Carmody was happy to oblige and spent the short journey to HR lamenting Tony’s loss to the agency. Tony was actually a bit glad to see him go when they reached HR. His effusive praise had been a bit embarrassing. He offered his hand and said, “Thanks for the escort, Carmody. See you around.” He then entered the office practically shutting the door in the man’s face.

Delores was happy to see him, she actually came around her desk to hug him. “Now that I don’t have to worry about fraternization rules. So …” she went back to her chair pointing to one at her side. “Sit and I’ll walk you through this maze of red tape.”

It actually didn’t take that long to complete the last of the paperwork, since Delores had already deposited his accumulated pay in his account, all he had to do for that was sign a statement that he agreed that he was paid in full for all accrued leave of any kind. He absently checked the amounts and said, “Well, that’s nice. I expected some bean counter to manage to cheat me out of some of it but it’s there. Every penny.”

Delores smirked happily. “I saw to that myself. It was paid before accounting even knew there was a need. Now. This is your change of name petition. The judge has already approved it. And that was a piece of work. Just sign here with your old name and here with your new. You’ll have to change a few things here and there.” She handed him a print out. “Friend in IT did a search. There’s actually not that much. Since you use Tony on nearly everything it’s considered your ‘name of use’. The few things that are Junior … well, I’d cancel them and start a new account. That’s your passport, one bank account, a credit card … you should just cancel that … and three deposit boxes, all here in DC. I’d empty them out and put those things in some other box.”

Tony eyed the print out. “Well, that’s interesting. And thank you so much … I owe you. You’re a peach.”

Delores smiled at him then pointed. There, on a plinth was the Cherry Pie doll that he’d given her for Secret Santa years ago. “If you can find it … there’s a Peach Parfait dress I’d love to have for her.”

“It’s yours.” He glanced at his watch and realized that he could get to the auto dealer before lunch if he left now. Beside that, he didn’t want to run into anyone from his team. “I better get out of here before someone I don’t want to deal with catches me.” He air kissed his friend on a cheek, she patted his shoulder and he left, completely forgetting to get an escort.

.

The dealership was one of those places where, if you had to ask the price you couldn’t afford it, was an actual thing. Tony didn’t mind, he knew what he wanted, he could afford it, and he wasn’t taking any shit.

The dealer eyed Tony for a moment. Tony was well aware that he was assessing Tony’s ability to pay. He was wearing $200 jeans, a $500 leather bomber jacket, and $175 biker boots, not to mention the fact that his henley and wool plaid shirt were both Pendleton.

“May I help you?”

“Car. New. Big trunk.” Tony was not in the mood to be friendly with a suck up like this. He just wanted to get a car and get out of here.

“I see. Mr. DiNozzo?”

“Professor.” He had the chops, why not use them? Another way to separate himself from The Ol’ Man.

“I see. My apologies. I have several very nice new cars and a small selection of used. There’s also a very few antique cars that could be daily drivers.”

After checking every car on the lot Tony was a bit disgusted, the daily driver antiques were all badly restored Caddies. He frankly told the dealer, “I wouldn’t drive any of those to a dog fight.” The used cars were in excellent shape but none of them hit the spot. He finally decided on a new Lexus IS-F 5.0 with a moonroof, blu-tooth, navigation system and backup camera. It was Dark Forest Green with caramel leather seats, V-8 8 speed with automatic overdrive. He liked everything about it.

Tony offered the dealer his credit card when he asked about a payment plan. “Just charge it. My financial manager will handle it. Can you get the license and taxes taken care of or do I have to waste my time sitting around at the DMV.”

The dealer ran his card, blinked, cleared his throat then said, “We can take care of all that. You’ll have to wait a bit but we have a very nice waiting room right here. Wi-fi, coffee, snacks, and pastries. Please help yourself. I’ll get everything ready for you.”

Tony finally go to do something he’d always wanted to. “And make sure the tank is full. I’m not leaving here with my new car sucking fumes.”

“Of course.”

An hour later Tony had answered all his email, drunk two cups of very good coffee, eaten a cherry danish and an apple fritter, and sent texts to several people.

“Your car is ready, Professor DiNozzo. Right this way.” The dealer led the way to the only garage bay customers were allowed into and handed him the keys.

Tony walked around the car then settled into the drivers seat. He adjusted the seat, mirrors, and steering wheel then turned the key. The V-8 started up with a very nice, muted rumble. He put his new car in gear and drove out the door with a jaunty wave to the dealer.

He decided to go back to the Hyatt and clean out his go bag. There was stuff in there he wanted to keep and a few things he wanted to burn.

.

He pulled up to the front door and a valet trotted over. “Sir?” Tony showed him his key card. The valet took it and swiped it through a reader on his wrist. “Inside or outside?”

“Would you park this outside?”

The valet grinned at Tony. “No, sir. But you wouldn’t believe the way some people treat their cars.”

Tony nodded then got out of the car leaving the keys in the ignition. “Now. Someone let a tow truck into your lot. They also allowed the truck to illegally repo my old car. If this happens to this car, which is paid for in full. There’s going to be real trouble. Park it inside.”

“I heard about that.” John made a face. “The jerkwad that let them into the lot took a bribe to do it. I can’t see losing a 15 dollar an hour/40 plus hours a week job for a 50 dollar bribe. How did he think he was not going to get caught? Seriously.” John hurried over to a small lectern style desk and got a bundle of cloth out of it. He came back, unrolled the cloth then covered the seat with it, carefully velcroing the top around the head rest. “I’ll put it way in the back. You cannot get a tow in there. And I’ll drive it like it was my sisters.”

Tony gave him a blank look. “Like it was your sisters?”

“Yeah. She’s a car nut of the worst sort. She’d kill me if I so much as breath on her car. It’s super safe with me.” John started the Lexus up and eased away from Tony.

Tony was happy to see that he didn’t rev the engine and allowed the clutch to slip naturally into gear instead of hot shifting. He went inside, checked at the desk where Billi told him he didn’t have any messages or deliveries. He smiled at her, handed her a twenty and said, “For John.”

Billi dimpled at him then tucked the bill into an envelope with John’s name on it. “Thank you very much.”

Tony made his way up to his room, feeling accomplished. He had a nice car, now all he needed was a house. He settled at his desk and called Cherry.

Cherry was happy to hear from him. “Oh, Professor DiNozzo. I know you’re really busy so I set all the walkthroughs for Thursday. Kinda take the heat off, if you know what I mean.”

Tony did and thanked her for that. “I was just calling to check in and see what time Thursday you want to see me.”

“Well, as all the houses are within four or five blocks of each other and within six blocks of campus, I thought ten would be good. That gives you time to run, shower, and so on. That was one thing Dr Aspacian said … you run a lot. I do have one house that is about ten blocks out but it’s near a park with some very nice running trails. I run there myself and I can tell you that it’s really nice. So. I’ll pick you up at about ten?”

“Great. I’m looking forward to it.” Tony hung up, satisfied that he’d find a house. He was seriously considering the last one mentioned, he had to run and it sounded like the park was a good place.

He dropped his phone on the desk with a soft thump and went to find his go bag. After a quick search he found it in the back of his closet tucked neatly between his shoes and rolling suitcase.

“Ok. What do I have?”

Tony just dumped the whole bag on his bed, emptying the side pockets as well as the two main compartments.

He took his letter opener, American Pi mug, and Mighty Mouse stapler out to his desk and put them down. He sighed then returned to his mess.

He found that he had a bunch of evidence bags and containers, gloves, a finger print kit and his sketching things. He remembered a time when art had been fun, then he’d been shanghaied as the prime crime scene sketch artist. He now had nothing but a sketch book, a few pencils and the gadgets needed to make sure his proportions were correct. He wondered idly what had happened to his watercolor box. He grimaced, his Mom would be disappointed in him. She’d always told him that a well rounded Paddington did art, played music, was sociable without being overly friendly … and other things he couldn’t remember. He’d kept up his music but let his art slide as he just didn’t have time or room. Now he had time and he’d make sure he had room.

He kept the bags, jars and tubes; tossed the inventory papers and stubs of pencils from his sketch kit. He fingered the gloves then tucked a few into an inside pocket and left the rest in the bathroom. Finally he set the fingerprint kit aside, it was NCIS property so he’d return it. He flipped through his sketch book and looked at several of the sketches. He decided to keep the book and add to it as inspiration struck him. He thought he could make some really beautiful landscapes from some of them.

Then he sat down and glowered at the NCIS hat and jacket. He’d had to pay for them himself so they were his. He wondered if the staff would be pissed if he tossed them into the tub then set them on fire. He decided that that was a bit petty, the staff shouldn’t have to clean up after his tantrum. He decided to give them to Jimmy instead.

A quick look at his watch told him that the reason he was feeling grumpy was, he was starving. He decided to just make an omelet. Since bacon, cheese, mushrooms, and onions were already provided that’s what he made. The bacon was already precooked, sort of. The sad, limp strips provided needed to be cooked more so he tossed three in a pan and sorted his cheese, mushrooms, and onions while they were crisping. He couldn’t understand this acceptance of half cooked bacon. He knew trichinosis was no longer a concern but his childhood in a kitchen womaned by old fashioned Mexican and Italian cooks made him subconsciously leery of bacon that didn’t crunch when bitten.

He checked the bacon, decided it was done enough and put it on a paper towel to drain. He added the onion and mushrooms to sweat while he cracked eggs and whipped them quickly. He then just poured the eggs in with the mushrooms and onions, who said the goodies had to be rolled in the eggs anyway. A good sprinkle of salt and pepper later all he had to do was crumble the bacon on one half of the omelet add the cheese then fold it over. A quick flip and his lunch was done.

He sat at the small dining room table and ate while watching the noon news. There wasn’t much of interest, they were mostly covering some new construction and pointing out detours around a combination of road work and new building that was being done at the same time. He really didn’t care as it was across town from him. He flipped around a bit then just shut the tv off. He rummaged the shelves until he found a book to read. He turned on the stereo, found an easy listening jazz station and spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening reading.

.(still Tuesday)

Abby was beyond distraught, she’d just spent a day in jail and was headed for a 48 hour psychiatric hold. She wasn’t nuts. She wanted things to be the right way and she just had to make sure they stayed the way they were supposed to be. She didn’t understand why people couldn’t see something so simple.

So now she was headed for Bethesda Psych Ward and 48 hours of justifying herself to some shrink. Boring. And did they have to cuff her? Seriously.

“I really don’t need to be cuffed. I’m not some psycho.”

The big woman who was her escort snorted. “Honey, you do. And you are. Really? Have his car repo-ed, same as keying it. Create a riot in his building? Kick his door until the panel cracks? Pick the locks then trash the place? Sounds psycho to me. All because he quit. What part of his life, his choice don’t you understand? Stalking charges are being recommended.”

Abby shook her shoulders in agitation. “He belongs at NCIS, with me. He needs his friends around him. He’s …” she stopped, opened her mouth then whined, “Oh, My, God. I do sound like a nut job. What? I mean. Oh, shit! I’m such a bad friend.” Then she started to cry.

“Huh! Got it through your head just now? Good. Make good use of your time at Bethesda. Then you’ll be back here in front of a judge. Do not get stupid. Come on, the bus is here.” She helped Abby onto the bus, fastened her seatbelt for her then patted her on the shoulder. “You listen to me, honey, no use cryin’ over spilled milk. Just do better. Make amends if he’ll let you but do not make a nuisance of yourself. Send him an email after the ex parte expires. Be contrite but don’t grovel, that’s not attractive. And if he says no? …”

Abby sniffled but said firmly, “No means No. So leave him alone and hope he gets over being mad and contacts me. Thank you.”

“Good girl. I bet things come out ok. Now … let me dry your eyes.” The Officer pulled a tissue from her pocket and dried Abby’s eyes for her. “Blow.” Abby obediently blew. “There you go.”

Abby settled back, thinking furiously. She’d screwed up as badly as Gibbs had and with just about as much reason.

.

Tim had actually contacted an old MIT friend and asked if it was violating his ex parte if he emailed Tony. The friend had offered the opinion that it was skating the edges of intent but, if Tim emailed him once to ask him to mail back, that would be okay. But he’d emphasized that Tim had to wait for Tony to mail him back before he sent another.

He settled at his keyboard to write another email to Tony. He apologized for being a brat and begged forgiveness. He asked if Tony would please mail him back with permission to mail him again or tell him to leave him alone until he was over being pissed. He bit his lip then decided to let it cool off before he read it again. If it still seemed to say what he wanted after he had time to think he’d send it first thing tomorrow.

.

Gibbs was furious with himself, Jenny, Ziva, Abby, and Tim; but mostly with himself. He knew better than to push that hard. But he was getting older and felt Tony breathing down his neck. He wasn’t ready to give up his job just yet. But something was wrong with that attitude, he just wasn’t quite sure what.

He knew he wasn’t at full mental health but he was getting better. Jenny had been nagging him to see a therapist but he was resisting. Or had been. This last fuck up had him reconsidering his refusal. He’d talk to her in the morning, across her desk. She was really pushing to rekindle a relationship that had been one of convenience and lust when it was hot. It was cold ashes now and he really wasn’t interested. Especially the way she was acting now.

He worked on his boat, drank an unreasonable amount of bourbon, and thought.

.

Ziva was furious. She’d been taken to the Israeli Embassy in transport shackles. Ori Ben Gibbon met her at the garage doors and informed her that she was being recalled. She tried to kick him but the leg irons nearly tripped her. Ben Gibbon smirked at her in a most unbecoming way and motioned to her two Marine guards to bring her.

“Sorry, sir, we’re required to turn her over to you at the gate. We sort of went over and above by actually entering the embassy grounds.” The guard offered Ben Gibbon a clip board. “If you would please sign here?”

Ben Gibbon signed using a broad nibbed fountain pen to sign in Hebrew. “There. And I would like to thank you for bringing her into the garage if you weren’t supposed to. It is a great convenience.”

“You’re welcome.” The Marine gave a sharp nod, turned with neat, military precision and walked back to the transport followed by his partner.

Ori Ben Gibbon was not a happy person. He hated dealing with the mess that was the David family. Eli was what they called a man whore. He had sex with anything that would hold still for him and had at least three acknowledged bastards. Now it was coming back to bite him in the back. Ziva was a disgrace, Ari was a failure, Tali was dead, and the two other bastards wanted nothing to do with him. He shook his head.

“Well? Bring her.” The two guards, who had been patiently waiting while Ori made up his mind, poked Ziva into motion.

She snarled but moved, more because one of her guards actually took her by the arm and dragged her.

Ori spoke as they walked, “We’re not taking any chances with you. You’ll be leaving the country immediately via one of our cargo/mail carriers. Before you snark at me, all your possessions have been packed up already, they’re on the same plane you’ll be on. And glad I am to be shot of you and your mshuge.” He handed the necessary papers to her new guards and walked away.

Ziva argued with her guards but didn’t get far. Before they put her in the back seat of their car one of them told her, “Please just shut up. We follow orders, you do not. You’re nothing but an embarrassment to the whole country. You’d have an unfortunate accident if your Papa wasn’t Eli David. You both might anyway.”

Ziva shut up and stayed silent.

.(Wednesday)

Tony hopped out of bed, feeling much better now that he wasn’t permanently mildly sleep deprived. He did his morning routine and decided to do some art. He could sketch.

When he got his sketching things out and checked them, he realized that he only had a couple of 6B’s, a 5B, and a stub of 4B. He tucked things away again then looked at his watch. It was nearly 10am so art stores should be open. He checked Google Maps for the nearest one and found several. He was more into the smaller indie shops than he was large places like Dick Blick. There was nothing wrong with them but he liked the more personal touch of the smaller places.

The one he picked, called The Paint Pot, was about fifteen minutes away by car so he went downstairs and stopped at the valet desk. John wasn’t there but an older man was.

Tony handed him his keycard and ID. “Professor DiNozzo. I’d like my car please.”

“Sure thing, Professor. It’ll be about five minutes.”

Tony squinted a bit then said, “Thank you, Jamal.”

This got him a brilliant smile. “Welcome.” Jamal trotted off to find Tony’s car. Five minutes later his car eased up to the desk and Jamal got out. “Here you go. Beautiful car. And bran’ spankin’ new.”

Tony blinked. “How’d you know that?”

“Milage … we keep track. No problems with our valets joy riding in a patron’s vehicle, not that they would anyway, but we like to keep ‘em honest.” Jamal winked, “And … it’s got less than 100 miles on it. You have a nice day now.”

Tony pressed a bill into Jamal’s hand, got in and drove away.

The store turned out to be in a strip mall set back from the street, nestled neatly between a lady’s wear store and an empty front. Tony parked in front of the front door, locked up with a quick press of a button and opened the door. The jingle of a spring bell made Tony grin.

A voice from the side of the store called, “I’m stocking. If you need anything just yell for Aggie.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna look around. If I pick up something can I just dump it by the register?”

A greying head popped up from behind a display of easels. “Sure. You stockin’ up?”

Tony nodded, “I am. I lost some things somehow, I suspect a co-worker of borrowing them.” He made Aggie chuckle with his air quotes. “And I used up a lot of stuff.”

“Well, help yourself. Like I said, if you need me, yell.”

Tony wandered around a bit. He knew he didn’t want to work in oils yet; he didn’t have any place to put the canvases to dry which could take up to a year. He wasn’t familiar with acrylics so he didn’t want them either, he intended to experiment with them later. So, watercolors it was.

He found the watercolor aisle and wandered down it, poking at things and whistling softly.

He found a palette that he liked, then another. He decided to get a pocket palette, a glass tabletop palette, and a covered moisture retaining deep well.

He picked a Windsor & Newton 12 color field box set because of its water bottle and container arrangement, he liked the fact that the bottle fit into the box and the container held everything together. The tabletop palette was actually a large sheet of unbreakable pyrex glass with a cut out to make it easy to pick up. The covered palette turned out to be a Blick Covered Palette with 22 wells. He fingered a porcelain Quiller 32 well palette then nodded. He could afford it so he was getting it.

He eyed the paints then realized that Aggie had a complete line of Daniel Smith watercolors in sticks, pans, and tubes. He had a vision of the palette he usually used so he picked up tubes of that first, then sticks of the same. He took his load to the register then went back, he needed 20 more colors. He was happy to find a color wheel of all the DS colors. This helped him pick the colors he wanted. He also bought several sticks of colors that he wanted but knew he wouldn’t use much.

He was happily considering an assortment of brushes when a voice at his elbow said, “You setting up a studio?”

He realized that that was exactly what he was doing. “I am. I don’t actually have a place yet, but I’m buying a house.”

“Oh, you lucky thing, you. I’d love a house. My studio is in the back. Good enough but I can’t get up in the middle of the night and work. What do you paint?”

“Landscapes mostly. Crime scenes lately.” Tony grimaced as he realized that he’d let his art slide because what art time he did have was usually touching up sketches.

Aggie made a face. “Crime scenes? Ugh. Not my idea of fun.”

Tony shrugged. “Not mine either but someone has to do it. You wouldn’t believe how important a sketch can be. Pictures are really two dimensional but with a sketch you can put measurements and mark directions. You can also note how far one sketch is from another and peripheral details like paths and roads.”

Aggie nodded. “I see. Well, paper?” Tony nodded. “Ok. Blocks, loose, or bulk. If you buy ten sheets I’ll cut it down for you.”

“That’s nice, but I really prefer pre-cut, books, or blocks. And heavy weight, I’m a wet painter. I really like Saunders Waterford blocks 140 lb. Or Arches.” Tony fingered one gently.

“I’ve only got the 9”x12” Waterford. But I do have it in cold, hot, or rough press.” Aggie looked hopeful.

“Good enough. I’ll take two of each and an Acquerello Portofino Hot Press in 12”x16”. And these brushes.” Tony handed off the brushes he’d been selecting while they talked.

“Ok. And, since you’re buying so much, you can pick one $20 item free of charge.” Aggie hoped that this would keep the nice man coming back. She had several people who drove clear across town to shop here.

Tony turned to other things, a portable easel, a messenger bag, and some odds and ends wound up on the counter. “Ok, that’s all … I think. Paints, brushes, paper, Guerrilla Box, water cups, what ever.” He waved a hand over the pile. “If I’ve forgotten something I’ll just come back.”

“You do that, sir. Now, one twenty dollar free-bee. I’ll start ringing all this up.” Aggie started scanning things and took the time to arrange things so that no tubes got squashed.

She was nearly done when Tony came back with a palette knife. “I forgot one of these.”

“For watercolors?” Aggie wondered about that. Most watercolorists didn’t use one.

“There’s a couple of techniques on wet paper that I use. And I do mix some colors in palette.”

Tony accepted the bags and ambled for the door. He stopped for a moment then said, “You remember an artist from … oh, ’70 something? Paddington?”

Aggie blinked, “Well, that’s a bit out of left field. But … yeah, I do. Lovely person, played piano. English minor nobility of some sort. Did landscapes, flower still lifes, and that sort of thing. Really good. She married some rich Italian trucker or something. Gone just like that.”

Tony frowned and bit his lip. “You know if any of her stuff is still around?”

“Not that I know of right off hand. That trucker … he bought up a lot of it. He said out right that it was shameful for his wife to have trash art out in public. Never did like that man. Waste of skin. What ever happened to her?”

Tony looked sad, then pasted on a bright smile. “Oh, she died. Been a while. I just wondered if any of her art survived.”

“Well, if you give me some way to contact you, I can ask around. Might be some stuff in private collections, you could approach the owner for a viewing.”

Tony put his bags down and got out his note book, he scribbled his email and phone number then handed it to Aggie. “Here. I don’t have an address yet … I’m at the Riverfront Hyatt until I can find a house.”

“So you said earlier. Well, remember, make sure your studio has good light. I’ll be in touch when I find something.” Aggie really wanted to help this man. After all he’d spent over a thousand dollars without a blink.

Tony gathered up his bags and actually got out the door.

He got back to the Hyatt quickly and parked by the valet desk. He pushed the button to open the trunk, got out, and got his bags. He waved to Jamal and called, “Park her back in the same spot, please.”

“You got it. Have a good day.” Jamal eased into the driver’s seat. He was bigger than Tony by a couple of inches and heavier too.

Tony seeing the trouble Jamal was having just yelled, “Adjust the damn seat, man. You’ll hurt yourself.”

Jamal called back, “We don’t like to do that. Messes the seat up for the owner.”

Tony nodded his understanding. “Got a button. All I have to do is push it and it goes back. Adjust the seat, dude.”

Jamal waved, adjusted the seat and drove away carefully.

Tony shook his head. “Man. Good people.”

He nodded to Billi on his way by. She gave him a bright smile then returned to dealing with a young couple with a crying baby.

One thing Tony really liked about the elevator was, no Muzak, he hated it; instead, the elevator just had a rather bland, female voice which announced the floor number and told you the door was opening or closing.

He carried his loot into the living area and soon had it all unpacked. He eyed some of the packaging then grumbled, “Atom bomb anyone?” He took his knife out of his pocket and started opening things. He soon realized that he needed a huge trash bin, the tiny can under his desk was overflowing after the first three or four things.

After a moments thought he went into the hall and looked for the supplies closet. He was sure there would be large garbage bags there and was hoping to take a couple. He was a bit surprised to find it was locked. He jumped when a woman’s voice behind him said, “Sorry, sir. That’s employees only. Cleaning supplies.”

“Yeah. I was just going to get a couple of large trash bags. I bought a bunch of art supplies and they’re all wrapped and packaged in a mountain of plastic. I need something to put it all in.”

“I know. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Here … I’ll just get you a couple. Leave them in the hall when you’re done.” She started unlocking the door. “Oh! While I’m at it … do you need more towels? Maria usually leaves two sets per bathroom but we ran short.”

Tony said, “Well, I don’t actually know. I haven’t checked. But I do appreciate clean sheets every night. Some suites only change them once a week. Kinda cheap, really. I’m payin’ $400 a night and only get clean sheets once a week? Tight. That’s what it is.”

Juana made a face. “It is. We pride ourselves on making sure our patrons have enough towels and clean sheets every night. Here you go. I’m giving you three. Make sure you leave enough room to tie the tops. We don’t use those weird ties that come in the box. They don’t stay.”

Tony took the bags with thanks and went back to his room.

It took him most of thirty minutes to unwrap everything. He really did understand the reasoning behind putting tube paints in clam shells, a squeezed tube tended to burp paint all over the place. But putting sticks in clamshells just baffled him.

He put the small field set in the Guerrilla Box along with the stick paints. He didn’t put any paints in the palettes yet as he was just setting up his plein air bag. He fiddled around with things until he realized that he just wanted the Windsor & Newton field box and half a dozen sticks in the messenger bag along with an extra water cup and a few more brushes. He wondered how he could protect his extra brushes from being damaged by stuffing them into a bag while wet. He decided to just put them in the tube left over from a roll of paper towels for now. He’d left it on the counter so he got it and stuffed a towel in one end. He just have to be sure to put it in the bag in such a way that the bristles didn’t get deformed. He put his unfinished spiral bound sketching pad in the bag and was satisfied.

He stuffed all the waste into two bags and put the third in his Guerrilla Box for now. He put the porcelain palette in the box and all the other brushes as well as a block of paper. He got an empty plastic box from under the bathroom sink and put everything else into it. He’d have to find something else before he left but that wouldn’t be a problem. If nothing else he’d just pay for the box.

He sat down at the desk with a note book and drew out the palettes then numbered the wells. He took his time and thought carefully about what colors he really needed in the Guerrilla Box then wrote the names beside the numbers on the Quiller palette. This would go in the Guerrilla Box as the colors wouldn’t dry out between sessions, due to the seal. The porcelain palette would stay in his studio. He absently wondered if he really needed, or would use, 32 colors then decided to just go for it. He was finally done so he closed his note book and settled in to actually do some art.

Tony spent the afternoon refining several landscape sketches then drawing the vase of flowers tucked neatly into a small niche in the wall. He realized that his nearly extinguished passion for still life and landscapes was rapidly rekindling. He flipped the page and started another sketch, he was startled by the loud growl his empty stomach gave.

After closing the sketch book he tucked it neatly into the messenger bag and put it underneath his desk. He got his phone and searched for a restaurant nearby, he wasn’t fond of eating in hotel as their restaurants were either very good and very expensive or not that good and very expensive. He wasn’t up to taking the chance. He realized that, due to stress and an unfamiliar kitchen, he really wasn’t up to cooking, much as he loved it. He finally decided on a hole in the wall noodle kitchen with five stars, he just hoped there was room for him.

He walked the four blocks to the restaurant, pulling his collar up against the increasing chill of the evening.

It turned out the restaurant was a rather traditional style with a front dining room, a high counter, and a kitchen behind. The counter went the full width of the room with a small pass at one side. It was blocked off with a swinging flap and a lift up counter top.

He eyed the menu written on a blackboard on the wall over the counter and decided on a traditional ramen. The lady behind the counter nodded and said, “Got it. Name?”

“DiNozzo.”

“Ok. I’ll call you when it’s done.” She bustled around the table in the middle of the kitchen area and started making food. Tony decided to stay at the counter and watch.

“Hey, you can sit down.” The lady eyed him for a moment.

Tony gave her his patented ‘I’m not dangerous’ grin. “So you said. I just like to watch. I learn stuff that way. By the way, what’s your name. I can’t keep thinking of you as the noodle lady.”

“Kathy. I’m forth generation American and don’t even speak much Chinese. People from China come in and talk at me. No idea. I can only figure out whether it’s Mandarin or Cantonese. So … if you got questions go ahead and ask.” She pulled the noodles and poured soup over them then added prepared ingredients. “There. Soup’s on.”

Tony snickered at that and took his bowl to a table. “When do I pay?”

“As soon as you know you don’t want more. Second bowl is half the price.”

Tony settled on the tall stool and reached for his fork and spoon. He sniffed the broth then sighed. He knew he should use chopsticks but he just never mastered the skill. He apologized to Kathy. “Sorry about this. I never mastered chopsticks.”

“And why should you? My kid can barely use them. Just enjoy your food. If eating with chopsticks is part of it, fine. If not, just get the food from plate to mouth.” She laughed as she went to wipe the prep table down.

Tony enjoyed his noodles but decided that one bowl was more than enough. After all, the bowl was the size of a small tureen. He paid then walked around the neighborhood for a bit before starting back to the hotel.

The walk was a bit more than bracing and Tony was shivering a bit by the time he got back to his temporary home. He started the coffee maker and leaned against the counter to answer emails until it was done.

There was a mail from Jen demanding he send her a progress report ASAP. He sent back that Jeanne still wasn’t going to be in town until Monday at the earliest. He didn’t expect her until Wednesday or Thursday as there were still some workshops scheduled and she wanted to attend a couple of them. He also told her to stop nagging him.

An email from the Israeli embassy told him that Ziva had been deported and was persona non grata at the moment. The Ambassador also apologized to him for her behavior. He sent a thank you in reply, he refrained from comment on her behavior.

There was a rude email from Abby which called him several uncomplimentary names and demanded to know when he was returning to work. He cc’d it to Evan with a note asking him to get her to stop.

Tim sent him a very short email telling him to ignore any mail from Abby as she’d sent a couple before she’d had an epiphany on the jail bus. She was trying to line up a therapist through NCIS. He apologized again for being a bad friend and hoped that Tony could forgive him in time.

 

Tony deleted the mail from Jen and Abby. Answered Tim with a quick, “Thanks for the heads up. I’m working on it.”

The coffee maker burped so he poured a cup and ambled back to his desk. He needed to check on a few things for his lectures. They weren’t vital but he’d have to check them or he’d never rest.

It didn’t take him long to find out what director had directed the movie in lecture three and who the head stuntman had been in the movie for the lecture on bad stunts. He saved to the university cloud and went to bed a bit early. A luxury he hadn’t had in more years than he cared to contemplate.

.thursday

His workout went well, he was pleased with his increase in endurance and strength. He didn’t have to use his inhaler at all. He was going to keep it with him for the foreseeable future however.

Jeff entered all the pertinent details in his computer then advised him to have a breakfast high in protein and low in sodium. Tony just groaned in mock dismay and exclaimed, “What? No salt on my eggs? Evil!”

“You can have salt if you leave off the V-8. And you need to cut down on coffee for a bit. I don’t like the look of some of your vital statistic readings.” Jeff frowned at his monitor.

“You are seriously telling me that you can check my vitals?” Tony frowned at the ceiling.

“While you’re on the treadmill I can. Sensors built into the hand grips.” Jeff smirked a bit.

“Ok.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I better get showered and changed. I’ve got an appointment for a house viewing at ten but I wouldn’t put it past that woman to be early.”

“Seriously? Can I get her to talk to my girlfriend?” Jeff grinned.

“Better not. Just realize that what you consider late, women consider right on time. Tell her thirty minutes before the time. Or find a girlfriend who respects you enough to be on time.”

Tony had no patience with that old business of women being late by nature. There was no excuse for that sort of behavior. It was passive-aggressive control at its stupidest.

After a shower Tony dressed in a heavy weight winter suit then called Cherry. “Miss Mills. I’m ready anytime you are. Any place you’re fond of for breakfast?”

“I just have a protein shake for breakfast. And coffee. If you want food, I could bring you a burrito or something. If you want me to come early that is.” Cherry sounded about half awake.

“No. That’s fine. I’ll just get something here at the hotel. And there’s no rush unless starting earlier would be good for you.” Tony didn’t care. All he wanted was a house to be moved into before the mid-term was over. That meant he had until Monday to deal with everything. Of course, if he threw enough money at it nearly anything was possible.

Cherry made a weird cooing noise. “Oh, ooo, that’d be great. My fiancee is in town, just made it in from Paris. I had to turn down a lunch date because I figured we’d still be on the tour. If we work it right I can meet him. I won’t rush you, I promise. But this is really nice.”

Tony looked at his watch and said, “I’ll be done with breakfast in about forty-five minutes. Meet me at the portico in an hour. That gives me some lee-way.”

They exchanged a few pleasantries then hung up. Tony went down to the restaurant and had a rather ordinary egg and bacon breakfast that cost way too much. He really didn’t care, he was just glad to be house hunting instead of marking time.

He didn’t have long to wait as Cherry was early. He hurried to the car and got in. “Morning. I’m glad you’re early. I’m anxious to get started.”

Cherry smiled happily. “Me too. Unfortunately, one of the houses was sold yesterday. My company doesn’t assign houses to a certain realtor. We just have a pool that we choose from. But, it was smaller than all the others and way too close to frat row. It’s been on the market for a couple of years. I understand that it was bought by a bachelor who was a member of a nearby frat. I was only showing it because the boss asked. I did find another house to replace it but it’s a bit pricy.”

Tony shrugged. “I can afford nearly anything I like. I fell into an inheritance that I wasn’t expecting. So …” he waved a hand. “Shall we?”

Cherry nodded. “We shall.” She eased away from the portico and out into traffic.

They drove in silence most of the way. Tony wasn’t inclined to maintain his hail fellow well met mask anymore and being a class clown had brought him more pain than benefit. He was done with the whole thing. He was who he was and anyone that didn’t like it could take a hike.

Cherry wasn’t that chatty with her clients, she felt it was not necessary to make friends with people she’d never see again so she kept it professional. She did, however, point out places of interest.

“If you look on the right, that’s Georgetown. We’re at the official back side of the campus, not that that makes much difference in the long run. It’s actually more accessible than the front as there’s no fancy gate and the parking lots are all assigned parking. And the student parking is all near the dorms. Faculty offices are there.” She pointed out the faculty office complex and dining facilities.

Tony was pleased to see that she turned at the side of the campus and drove for a couple of minutes before pulling into a driveway.

He took one look at the tiny bungalow on a lot the size of a postage stamp and said, “I was really looking for something larger. Did I forget to tell you that I need room for a baby grand piano and an art studio?”

Cherry blinked. “If you did tell me, I completely forgot. Well. This puts a bit of a different slant on things. I was basing my choices on your projected salary over ten years. Perhaps you could give me a ball park figure of what you’ll be able to handle?”

Tony pulled out his phone. “Give me a sec to check what Clark has made available.” He poked his phone, looked at the figure then said, “Six mil give or take a quarter.”

Cherry eeped then said in a choked voice, “Oh, okay then. I need to think.”

Tony smirked at her and offered, “Take your time. If you need to go back to the office I could look at some listings?”

“No need, but thanks. One of the reasons I’m so highly paid is … I keep a listing in my head. I’m good at keeping track of most of our listings. So …Ok.” She pulled out and drove around the block. “How about this one?”

Tony eyed the mid-Victorian gingerbread three story. It was badly in need of paint and a new roof. “If it wasn’t for the fact that the roof is shot, I’d look at it. It’s much more what I had in mind but I need a turn key. I have to be in by Monday. Classes start and I’m teaching a heavy load so I won’t have time to mess with repairs and shit.”

“Great. Not that you don’t like the house but now I have a good idea. I know you want near campus but I’d really recommend not this near.”

Tony had thought about that and decided. “I know I want no more than a fifteen to twenty minute drive so near or on less well traveled streets. And I don’t much care about things like style except no steampunk. Or that glass and steel, cold, impersonal shit they call Swedish Modern.”

“It’s actually Danish and I don’t care for it either. One bit of something out of place and the whole thing looks messy. But … I do have a really nice place but it’s a bit of a weird one. It’s huge, very reasonable and nearby. But it’s a converted warehouse.”

“I don’t care about outside appearance. It’s the inside I’m interested in. I won’t take a place that echos like a barn but I’m open to looking.”

Cherry just offered, “It’s really nice. It’s not that expensive but it’s on the edge of an industrial park. No trucks in the middle of the night or anything like that, it’s all abandoned. The developer who bought it went bankrupt before he finished more than this one project. There’s another four warehouses, exactly like the one finished. Very good investment but the idiot gambles. So the bank repoed the whole mess and is trying to unload the buildings individually.”

Tony brightened, texted Clark then turned his attention back to Cherry, who’d stayed quiet as Tony texted.

Cherry pulled into a driveway, pressed the button on a remote and waited while the gate opened. “This is the first house. Big, but not too big. It’s got a library slash music room that the former owner used as an office. The kitchen is well appointed but galley style. The dining room is across the hall from the kitchen with a small breakfast/sunroom right off the kitchen; between the kitchen and the living room.”

Tony got out and looked the garage over. He wasn’t fond of the arrangement of garage beneath the house. Car smells got into the house too easily. But he wasn’t going to pass just because of that.

He did pass when he saw what Cherry referred to as a galley kitchen. What it actually was was a hole in the wall; dark, cramped, and in dire need of a refurbish. Also, the music room/library/office , it was no more than 10x10 and how Cherry thought a baby grand would fit was beyond him.

“Cherry, no offense, but do you have any idea how big a baby grand is?”

“It’s about four by ten and five feet high.”

Tony shook his head. “No … that’s an upright. A baby grand is about five feet wide by six feet long, that foot print isn’t going to fit in that room. This is a no.”

Cherry sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t know a lot about pianos. I go to the concerts at the college sometimes so what do they play?”

“That’s a concert grand piano, or a grand, and some of them are huge. I like my piano but I really covet a concert grand piano. I might just get one if I have enough room.”

“Ok. The next place on my list might be better. There’s no music room as such but there’s a ballroom on the second floor that the current owner has turned into a library office. And a walk in attic for a studio.” Cherry looked hopeful.

“Okay. Let’s take a look.” Tony patted her on the shoulder. “You’re doin’ good so far. There hasn’t been anything really wrong with the houses. It’s just that I don’t want any major repairs and do have some very specific wants that I’m not prepared to budge on.”

This house was right on a very busy main drag and had such a small side yard that the street was right under the windows. Tony shook his head. “No. Sorry but how the hell did they wind up so close to a street?”

“The street was widened in the late ’70’s and they took most of the side yard for it. If you tried to build so close now you couldn’t get a permit. Grandfathered. I don’t think we’ll ever sell the thing.” Cherry shrugged, it never hurt to try. “Last place is the warehouse. It looks like exactly what it is; a 1930’s brick warehouse but it’s triple insulated.”

Tony smiled. “That was one of my concerns. How far out are we talking?” Tony was going to turn it down if it was more than thirty minutes away, he’d had enough of commuting an hour or more. He knew it depended on the average traffic load more than the distance so he wasn’t looking at that so much.

Tony was happy to see that the five buildings were set around a huge parking lot and the whole lot was surrounded by a high brick wall. The gates were ornate but solid and slid to the side on big rubber wheels. The building he was going to look at was the largest and situated across the lot from the gate with the other four buildings two and two on each side. They were also nearly 100 feet apart. “Wow. Huge lot.”

“Big trucks. The developer had plans to tear out most of the middle of the lot and put in some sort of garden or park. You can see where he marked it out. Just eyeballing it … each building will have somewhere around ten parking spaces. You’ll have more as your building faces the lot instead of being side on. Want to take a look?”

Tony nodded. “Yeah, I do. Where are the loading docks. There have to be docks if this was a warehouse.”

“Your building has a rather big one around the back it’s just a big empty space with … I don’t know how to describe it but the trucks backed in and there’s a walk way that matches up with the back part to let people unload right from the back. All the other buildings have the same arrangement only outside.” Cherry frowned. She knew what it looked like but describing it was hard as she didn’t know what to call things.

“I’ll have a good look at it but if it’s a standard ditch-drop that might be a problem.”

“There’s no steep thing. It’s all flat.”

“Ok. Let’s park and take a look.” Tony thought this was going to be his place.

The front door was set in, a commercial safety door with a heavy steel panel and a pick-proof lock. Tony opened the door and stepped into an entryway with heavy, built in coatracks on both sides with mud-catchers underneath. The room was probably seven feet wide and four or so deep, plenty of room for two or three people to use at the same time.

The inside door was more to keep drafts from the open main door out of the huge main room. Tony glanced around and breathed in a sigh. The main room was divided into areas by free standing bookcases, the load bearing members were clad in brick and paneling with screens and more detached cases to further define the spaces. The kitchen was half walled at the front to create a breakfast bar with a wall on each side to support cabinets, fridge and range. He poked here and there and was pleased to see that the sinks were on the front half wall and there were three of them and there was still a bunch of counter room. The range was a huge commercial thing with two ovens, a warmer, a salamander, and six burners; two of which converted into a flat top, more counter space on each side included a coffee station. The fridge was a larger standard style with a great deal of room.

Cherry smiled as Tony examined the fridge. She pointed to a short, nearly unnoticeable hall in one corner of the kitchen. “Go down the hall.”

Tony went and was delighted with the pantry, small walk in freezer and fridge that took up half the space behind the kitchen.

“What’s in the other half of this space?” Tony, very used to looking for hidden spaces, knew that there was more room behind the kitchen than the freezer and fridge took up.

“Utilities and laundry room. I don’t really understand how it all works but there’s an on demand hot water heater there and a washer and dryer. There’s also the circulation system for the climate control. Why they don’t just say AC I don’t understand.” Cherry shrugged.

Tony went to investigate and realized that the unit was an air conditioner/ heater combo that was more efficient than most and huge. He knew it was industrial, it had to be to cool or heat an area this size.

“I like it. Where are the bedrooms?”

Cherry pointed. Back against the side wall was a wide staircase that led up to a half floor. Tony realized that they were the old offices for the company that had built this complex. He trotted up the stairs to see that there were two guest bedrooms and a bath between them. The rest of the floor was taken up with a large sitting room, a good sized bedroom, a walk in closet, and a bath with both a tub and a shower.

He stood on the small landing at the top of the stairs and mentally moved a couple of things around. He put an office right beside the front door, then marked out an area for his piano, next was a sitting and media area and back in the odd space made by the stairs and kitchen his studio and a small gym. The room was well lit by huge triple pane windows and hanging fixtures with Tiffany shades; hidden can lights made sure there were no dim areas. He was amused to see that the designer had put drop down wiring on all the posts, this resulted in there being a plug-in every six feet or so.

The floors were original, evidenced by the odd marks all over it, but sanded and sealed then waxed to a high gloss. The walls were bare brick which had been sealed. He squinted for a moment then saw the high railing half way up the walls all around the room that allowed him to hang things without having to figure out how to put hangers in the brick, all he had to do was clip a special device to the rail, attach some chain, then put a hanging hook on the chain. He thought a few bits of paneling would look nice but that wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’ll take it.”

“Ok. We can go back to the office and I’ll start preparing the loan papers.”

Tony couldn’t help the smirk he gave her as he said, “No loan. I’m paying cash … e-transfer actually.”

Cherry looked like she might faint for a second. Tony actually reached out for her. She got herself together quickly and said, “Oh. As you wish. We still need to go back to the office to start the transfer of deed.” She took a deep breath then walked to the door. Tony held it open for her then locked up, pocketing the keys.

The drive back to Cherry’s office was quick, it was on the other side of campus from Tony’s new home but the traffic was light. Or as light as it ever was in DC. She parked and headed for the door. Tony took the opportunity to tell Clark that he wanted to buy the whole complex. Clark sent back that the whole property wasn’t worth more than five million so not to let Cherry talk him into more.

Tony trotted to catch up with Cherry. She led the way to her desk and sat down. “If you want coffee there’s an office assistant I can send out, or we have a coffee pot in the break room.” She made a face. “I really don’t recommend that as the coffee is usually weak and burnt.”

Tony shook his head. “No coffee just now. Once we conclude our business I’ll take you out for some, if you’d like.”

Cherry didn’t go out with clients, personal rule, so she just smiled and said, “No thank you. Remember I have lunch with my fiancee. Now … I’ve got the property you want and the four others in the compound as one purchase, I’ll have to do some legal things to separate it out.”

“How much for the whole compound?” Tony couldn’t help a small smile as Cherry brightened.

“It’s listed at seven million but … and this doesn’t even eat into my commission … the bank will let it go for significantly less. I can get it for you for five; and, since we don’t have to separate the lots, we can have the paper work done in a day. Come back at three and I’ll have it ready.”

Tony nodded. “Great. Now … you better get out of here or you’ll be late for lunch. I’ll take a cab back to the hotel, pick up my car and be back at three. Scat.”

Cherry grinned, she’d been resigned to missing her lunch with her fiancee. “Ok. Thank you.” she snatched up her purse and scurried for the door, telling the receptionist to call Tony a cab on her way out.

Tony stopped at the desk to tell the receptionist to make sure that Cherry got her full commission. The receptionist just nodded.

Evidently the cab had been close as a honk from outside had Tony trotting for the door.

Three saw Tony back at the office. Cherry wasn’t there, her fiancee had proposed and she’d called in. The receptionist had all the papers and keys, she passed the keys over, pointed, said, “Sign there.” and went back to her work.

Tony took the contract and settled in to read the whole thing. He wasn’t about to sign something he hadn’t read. It took him a few minutes to read it all. It was exactly as Cherry said it would be. He signed then returned the contract to Mindy. “Here’s the contract. Who do I see to collect the deeds?”

“Me.” She rummaged for a moment, moving piles of papers from one place to another. “I hate it when one of the realtors is out at a time like this. But Cherry is great, she’ll give me a bonus. And her fiancee is a great guy. I’m really happy for her. But still … Ha! Here it is.” She handed him a brown cardboard accordion folder. “That’s the deed for the whole complex, all five buildings. And the lot is four square blocks. ”

Tony nodded, checked that she’d given him the right papers then smiled and left. He now had three days to get moved in.

A return to the hotel saw him seated at his desk. Things had to move fast now. He called all his frat brothers he thought could get to DC or were already in DC. He would have called Abby, Tim and Gibbs but that was out now. He did call Jimmy and Ducky. Ducky wondered what he could possibly do and Tony flat out told him, “Make sure my kitchen is organized and that the towels and sheets have a place. Order pantry items and meat, cheese, eggs; that sort of thing and make sure they get put away.”

Jimmy was nearly begged to come retune his piano as he, Jimmy, was the only person Tony trusted to do it right.

Ducky slyly called Gibbs and told him to come help. “You started this mess. If you want Anthony to forgive you, you have to start it. And your dick won’t fall off if you say sorry. Think about it.” he hung up before Gibbs’ could literally squawk, “Ducky!”

The call to Pods left the operator delighted when Tony told her to have the driver use the loading dock. He gave directions then sighed. This was going to be a race no matter how many people showed up.

Bill Jackson called back within twenty minutes. “Hey, Di, find a place? Dispatch said to deliver your pods to an address in a small, abandoned warehouse complex. What the fuck?”

“I bought it. Some dipshit gambled away the whole thing. He was going to make housing out of all the warehouses but only managed one. It’s the main building and it’s great. Wait until you see. You are coming yourself? Right?”

“I am. We can start delivery at 9am. Earlier if you pay for it.” Bill sounded eager. “We’ll have you moved in in no time. You got any help coming? Frat bros are always willing. I can call some.”

“I already called and lined up half a dozen and a couple of guys from NCIS are coming.” Tony yawned, he was worn out. “See you tomorrow at 8am?”

Bill agreed and hung up.

Tony spent an hour fixing supper then eating it. After that he sat down at his desk, turned on his computer and looked for a blue-print program. He didn’t want a really expensive one, but not a free one either. He wound up spending twenty dollars on one that was adequate. He used it to move the bookcases around then place his piano, desk, treadmill, and bow flex. He didn’t have either yet but he wanted to make sure to get everything in its place so he could show the movers where things went.

He then made a list of furniture that he wanted. A new bed was top of the list; full size with a head and foot board. A new dresser to match the bed and some other bits and pieces that he wanted. The place was cavernous at 6000 square feet just on the lower level. The half floor was just over 2000. With a foot print of 100x60 it looked as big as it was. Tony decided that he loved it more every second. The closet was an impressive 8x12.

He fiddled until he had everything just as he wanted it then indulged himself with creating a 3D walk through rendering in high def complete with plants and nick-knacks on the bookcases, occasional tables, and shelves. He rubbed at his bleary eyes and realized that he needed to get to bed. He sent his files to the commercial printer at the front desk. He’d collect them in the morning.

He packed up most of his stuff before he went to bed, surprised that everything still fit in the rolling suitcase and his messenger bag. He flattened his go bag and stuffed it into the suitcase.

.Friday

Morning came and with it a good run, a quick strength routine, shower, and breakfast. While he was eating Bill called, “Di, we’re ready to head out. Can you meet us or will we have to wait?”

“I’ll be there in twenty.” Tony crammed the last of his toast into his mouth, grabbed his bags, and headed for check out.

“We’ll be about thirty be ready to point the way. Bye.” Bill hung up.

Tony smiled. He was ready to check out of the Hyatt, no matter that the place was very nice, it wasn’t a home.

Billi smiled at him. “How are you this morning?”

“Checking out.” Tony couldn’t help his wide grin. “I found a place. I sent some blue prints to the commercial printer last night. I’d like to collect them.”

“Oh, congratulations on the new house.” Billi went into the room behind the desk and came back with Tony’s prints. “Here you go.” Tony took the prints and rolled them up. “We’re sorry to see you leave us but I bet it feels nice to have a place of your own again.” Billi clicked things and took Tony’s card to run.

“Make sure to include a hundred dollar tip for Jeff, Brandon, the head valet, and yourself. And no argument. You’ve all done a great job of making my stay exceptional.” Tony gave Billi a stern look.

Billi did as she was told, had Tony sign the receipt then said, “I hate to see you go but good luck in your new place.”

Tony nodded then hurried out. His car was waiting for him so he put his bags in the trunk, hopped in and headed for his new place.

He was a bit surprised to see that several of his frat brothers had already arrived, along with Jimmy and Ducky.

He waved them to the front door and waited for them to gather. “Hey! Thanks so much for doing this for me. The truck should be here soon.” He glanced at Jimmy. “My piano will be here at nine.” He passed his prints to Guy and said, “Here. Roll these out somewhere, they show where everything should be.”

It didn’t take long for Tony to realize that Gibbs was the one organizing things. He didn’t comment, taking Gibbs’ help as the apology it was. He wasn’t mad anymore, he was just sad and disappointed.

The pod came so Tony went out to show them how to find the docking bay. Since the pod was an independent unit that couldn’t be opened until it was dismounted the driver just dropped it in the middle of the bay and pulled out. It didn’t mate with the four foot unloading platform so they started by taking everything out of the pod and putting it on the floor. This turned out to be a good idea as they could sort it before taking it in the huge roll away door that opened into the hall that ran behind the kitchen, in fact it was most of the hall wall. Tony realized that this was done so that all the appliances and climate control as well as the washer and dryer could just be carried in then walls built around them. This accounted for the odd hall that went more or less nowhere.

They were lucky the hall was nearly four feet wide, in fact all the halls were wide, as it made it much easier to get Tony’s huge couch into position, as well as the accompanying TV, entertainment center, and stereo. Gibbs kept consulting the plans as he supervised moving bookcases and bits of furniture around.

No one realized how big Tony’s desk was until they tried to move it in. He’d picked it up somewhere or other in an estate sale. It was a huge roll top. Tony loved it. But it wouldn’t fit through the turn in the hall so they put it on a two wheeled truck and brought it in through the front door.

Jimmy was left to deal with the piano, he knew that they were not getting it in through the loading dock, the turn in the hall, no matter how wide, was too sharp. The desk had proved that. He had them bring it in through the front just like they’d had to do with the desk.

Gibbs directed the movers as to where exactly Tony wanted his piano. After they got it in place he began to move the bookcases into place. With books in place and a few nick-knacks it would be in a sort of room of its own. Gibbs looked around. “Tony, do you have one of those sheet music chest things?”

Tony looked up from his plans. “No. I don’t have one. It’s nice to have a cabinet with drawers to keep it flat but I never had room in my apartment. I keep what I have in the bench.”

“Ok. I just wanted to make sure before we set the shelves. It’s not that hard to move them again but it’s a nuisance.” Gibbs pulled a small note book out of his pocket and made some notes.

“One of those is on my list of furniture as well as a taboret for my art supplies. And I need to get either an easel or a desk. Maybe both.” He didn’t notice Gibbs scribbling in his book again.

Gibbs put his notebook away and commanded himself to suck it up. “Tony. A minute?”

Tony eyed him warily. “Ok.”

“I’m shit at this stuff and you know it … I’m really sorry. My head’s still more screwed up than I thought. Jenny’s makin’ passes at me like a sixteen year old with a crush and that’s puttin’ me on edge. But that’s no excuse for me bein’ a bastard to you when all you ever do is try to help me and do the right thing. So … again. I am sorry.” He gave Tony an open, hopeful look then held out his hand. “Friends?” Gibbs hoped for friends, he knew there was no hope of Tony returning to NCIS.

Tony gripped it. “Yeah. Friends.” He had to turn his head away to hide suspiciously wet eyes.

Gibbs ignored it, cleared his throat harshly then asked, “So. How’s the plumbing?”

“No idea. You could check it out when you get a chance.”

And that was that, it was hard to mend a broken friendship in just a minute but they’d made a good start and both men were hopeful.

It wasn’t long before all the furniture was in place, linens in Tony’s walk in closet, towels in the unit in the bathroom, and all the floors swept.

The kitchen was still a bit of a work in progress as Ducky had gotten sidetracked ordering food on the internet.

Jimmy was still tuning the piano.

Gibbs was still moving bookcases with some help from a couple of Tony’s frat brothers.

Tony just started putting the things on the counter into cabinets. He couldn’t believe how much cabinet space he had. “I need to set up the coffee station. And … good dishes out of storage.”

Bill, who was walking by, stopped and nodded. “We’ve still got all that other stuff of yours to deliver, you want it today? It’s not a problem to get it. I put it in a pod as soon as they started making them.”

Tony was delighted and showed it. “Man, I love you. Yes, please. I’ve got room for all of it, one place or another.” He looked at his watch. “I’m starving. Why don’t you have the other pod delivered while I order some pizzas.”

Bill grinned. “You got it. You’re gonna have to order at least a dozen extra large.”

“You know it. Let’s see … there’s you, Bud, Jimmy, Gibbs, Ducky, Frank, Clark, and your whole crew. How many men?”

Bill snorted. “Five.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and texted someone. “And the new driver.” His phone beeped with an incoming message. “Yeah. Dispatch thought you might want the other pod so they had the gate open and got it ready. It’ll be here in half an hour.”

Tony, who’d been doing some texting of his own, nodded. “Pizza will be here in twenty.”

Gibbs ambled over. “Food? Drinks?”

Tony sighed. “Pizza place won’t deliver drinks anymore. The tax on sugary drinks makes it hard for them to make a profit so they don’t have them now. Could you go get something? I think there’s a grocery about three blocks that way.” He pointed with one hand as he reached for his wallet with the other.

Gibbs patted his shoulder and said, “That’s ok. I got it. Be back ASAP.”

The pizza, drinks and pod truck arrived almost at the same time. The pizza arrived first, the driver made one trip to the door, asked for payment then went back to bring in the rest of the pizza. Gibbs nearly trod on his heels with the drinks and the pod truck driver poked his head in the door right as Gibbs was bringing in the last of the drinks to ask where they wanted the pod. Gibbs went back out with him to show him where to drop it then invited him in for pizza. He declined saying he was going to take the opportunity to have lunch with his wife and kids.

They all sat around the room on various bits of furniture, gobbled pizza, and guzzled soda. Everyone offered advice on where Tony should put what. He nodded, took some advice and ignored the rest.

The second pod contained some furniture, more kitchen things, several boxes of keepsakes, and several paintings his Mother had done. One, which embarrassed him half to death, was a portrait of him at about six in a sailor suit with an old fashioned formal sailors hat called a Donald Duck. He turned so red that no one had the heart to tell him that he looked cute. He declared the smallest bedroom a storage room and had all the artwork carried up there until he could decide what he wanted to hang.

The pod also contained several trunks that Tony insisted on taking upstairs himself. No one said anything as most of the group were used to Tony’s sometime secretive ways, the rest didn’t care. After he was done with the trunks, Tony sat down to rest a bit.

Gibbs had taken one look at most of the wood and gone out to his truck returning with a can of polish and a handful of rags. “I’m gonna polish all the wood. You got any objections?”

Tony shook his head. “Just not the piano.”

Gibbs just gave him that look and went to work on an occasional table.

Tony tipped the Pod crew as they filed out the door past him. Bill said it wasn’t necessary but Tony ignored him with regal distain, until Bill tickled him. Tony squealed like a girl and ran out the door with Bill right behind him. They ran around the parking lot, dodging vehicles and laughing.

Bill finally got into his truck and drove away. Tony returned to the house and started putting movies onto the bookcases nearest the entertainment center. He scowled a bit then moved the couch back a couple of feet and a foot to the left. “There. Much better.” He looked around then pulled his notebook from his back pocket and wrote, ‘Buy loveseat, two recliners to match couch.’

One by one his frat brothers finished the job they were doing and came to him to schmooze a bit, set up a date to meet then leave. He felt reconnected with them all.

Jimmy was still tuning the piano, Tony could tell by the constant sound of one note played over and over again.

Ducky ambled over. “Well, my dear boy, I’ve done the best I could. A couple of the movers did the actual work … excellent fellows. I finally finished polishing the silver. Do please keep it in the proper cupboard. The one lined with silver paper.”

Tony glanced at Ducky’s blackened fingers. “Oh, man, Ducky, you didn’t have to do that. But thank you so much. You need a ride?”

“No, I drove myself. The Morgan needed a bit of a run and it’s a fine day, if a bit chilly. But … I’m off. Congratulations on your new house.” Ducky patted Tony on the shoulder. “One thing. Jethro is absolutely devastated over this mess. Please forgive him … after a suitable amount of groveling.”

Tony nodded. “It was more … the straw. I’m done with pacifying everyone and their dog. I’m not moving forward in my career there and no promotion in sight. I like teaching and I love movies.” He grinned. “Another perk … no one’s gonna be shooting at me.”

Ducky smiled, patted Tony again and left.

Jimmy plonked on a different note and Tony winced, he hadn’t realized that the lower register was that out of tune. Of course, moving it could cause a lot of problems, the harp would flex no matter how careful the movers were.

He was sorting through a box of DVD’s that seemed to be out of order and thinking about which VHS tapes he wanted to replace with Blu-Ray and which ones to just store. An ‘A-ha!’ from Gibbs attracted his attention. “What you got, Boss?”

Gibbs popped up from behind the desk. “A couple of hidden compartments.”

Tony blinked at him for a moment then said blankly. “What?”

“Hidden compartments. Common in this age of roll top. Come see.”

Tony trotted over to check it out. “Oh, man. You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve had this desk for … since Peoria. I never thought to look for such a thing.”

Jimmy stopped tuning to come over and take a peek.

Gibbs pointed to the back of the footwell near the right bottom corner. A drawer was pulled out, sticking into the well by about eight inches. “There. Nothing in it but some dust.” He got up and pulled the small shelves out of one of the cubby holes then pushed against the back causing a door to swing open. Behind the pivot door was another hidden compartment the same size as the back of the cubby hole and about three inches deep. “That one had a small book in it. I didn’t look in it.” Gibbs pointed to a leatherette bound book that would just fit the cubby hole. “Looks like a journal or ledger book.” He smiled at Tony who grinned back. “I’ll forget all about where those are.”

Tony snorted. “Yeah, sure you will. But … neat!” He crawled under the desk to examine the drawer more closely. “How do you open … never mind, I got it.” He crawled back out. “This is great. Thanks again.”

“Welcome. I’m done polishing everything. I better get going.” Gibbs wasn’t taking any chances that Tony was still mad. He’d apologized, helped with the moving, and polished every piece of wood he could find.

Tony wasn’t furious anymore but he was still pissed so he said, “I really want to thank you for showing up to help. I really appreciate it.”

Gibbs nodded then thought of something, “You havin’ a house warming? Might be a good idea … invite your new co-workers and staff … that sort of thing.” He gave Tony a hopeful look.

“Yeah, that is a good idea. And since it’s yours you can come by some day soon and help me plan it.” Tony couldn’t help a smirk.

“I’ll be happy to. Name a day and, if I don’t have a case, I’ll be here.”

“Good enough. I’ll see you out.” Tony headed for the front door, walking around a book case that divided the office area from the rest of the room. “I think I’ll move that book case three or four feet from the wall. Then I’ll put a case right in front of the door about six feet into the room. What do you think?”

Gibbs eyed the current arrangement and realized that now, you had to walk around a nine foot long three section bookcase to get to Tony’s desk. But there was a straight shot from the front door right into the whole of the room. “Yeah. Better arrangement. Easiest way to do that is take down the section where you want to make a door and move it to the other end. I’ll help you if you like.”

“I do, but not now. I want to live with it for a week or so, just to get a feel for what needs to be moved. I’ll call you?” Tony glanced at Jimmy who nodded. Gibbs grunted.

Tony opened the door and offered Gibbs his hand. Gibbs shook it, nodded to Jimmy, and walked out to his car. He gave Tony a sad look and a gentle wave before getting into his car and driving off.

Tony watched him drive away with mixed feelings. He was still angry, and a bit stunned, at what had happened, but he was beginning to feel more and more that it was going to turn out to be a good thing.

By the time Tony got back inside Jimmy had returned to his tuning. Tony went upstairs to make his bed but found it done, the military corners told him Gibbs had done it. “Oh, Jethro, how the hell did we wind up like this?” Tony sat down on the bed and put his elbows on his knees, he rubbed his face with both hands then just sat for a few minutes.

He was glad when Jimmy called him down to test the piano for himself.

“Ok, what would you like to hear? If I know it, I’ll play it.”

Jimmy shook his head. “No, I’d love it, but it’s actually distracting. Just run the full scale.”

So Tony sat down and ran a scale from the lowest note to the highest. “Sounds good. Thanks a bunch.”

“You’re welcome.” Jimmy started to pack his tools away. “I better get going too. I’m starving … and, no, you’re not feeding me. I’m going to get a meatball sandwich from Tony O’s and go home. See you.”

“Ok.” Tony gave up easily, he really didn’t feel like cooking after all the work he’d done. “But … house warming. You’re coming, right?”

“I will. Just let me know when.”

.

Director Shepard was furious, she actually threw her coffee cup at the wall. Ziva was gone, out of the country before she, Jen, had any warning. She was sure that it was some sort of conspiracy to keep her out of the loop.

McGee was still on leave or she’d have him find her. And that was another thing that got to her. The rest of her MCRT was either on disciplinary leave or had quit. Except for Jethro who was raging around his bull pen like a wounded bear terrorizing the TDA’s and refusing a probationary agent. She knew that Tim wasn’t a good candidate for SFA but she was at a loss.

She decided that, as he had caused this whole cluster fuck, she wanted to know why he hadn’t been called on the carpet. She was told, by Delores Bromstead herself that, as he was the instigator he should have, but HR felt the more appropriate punishment was to have to deal with the mess he had made.

Jen rubbed her forehead then rummaged her desk for the Tylenol. She took four then returned to work. She was still trying to hold DiNozzo to his word on the Benoit op but she could feel him slipping through her fingers. If he dumped this op she wasn’t sure what she’d do.

.

Gibbs worked on his boat, drank too much cheap bourbon, and tried to fill in the blanks in his still spotty memory.

He was getting better, he remembered Tony and why the man was so offended. He also remembered a time when they had been a very effective two man team. He wasn’t sure how they’d broken down so badly but he was going to fix what he could.

The fact that Ziva was so inappropriate as an MTAC investigator had hit him hard. How the hell had he allowed her to stay on his team when she was obviously tearing it apart he couldn’t figure out. He’d ask Jen, but she’d only tell him half truths or out right lie. He was assuming political pressure from above. Or currying favor with Mossad in the person of Eli David. He knew Jen loved to brag about who owed her favors, she was also an unrepentant name dropper.

Tim didn’t bother him nearly as much. The man was easy to brow beat. Ziva and Abby had that down to a fine art. Abby was also a mistress of the guilt trip while Ziva could gaslight with the best. Poor guy didn’t have a chance. He’d bring him back to the team when his disciplinary was over but he’d be damned in hell before Tim would ever be his SFA

Gibbs actually contemplated sending him down to Cyber Crimes permanently but he really didn’t want to have to rebuild his whole team. He’d give Tim another chance but any step out of line would result in a written reprimand.

He wasn’t going to do anything about Abby. He’d finally found out about the ‘Trainee’ name tags and the amazingly embarrassing shrine to him and was justifiably pissed. Abby was a grown woman; he wasn’t her father, brother, husband, or uncle; she knew better than to behave like a toddler throwing a tantrum because she couldn’t have a cookie. The bail-bondsman had re-bonded her but it was going to cost and he wasn’t helping her. He hoped like hell that tough love really worked.

Finally deciding that he wasn’t getting anywhere but drunk he went to bed.

.

Tim sent another hopeful email that he was sure was going to be ignored. It was the last one and he said so. He said he didn’t want to be an annoyance but he really wanted to make amends. He was looking at ten more days of nothing to do but play no longer satisfying MMORPG’s and single person shooters.

He wondered how he let Ziva and Abby get him in trouble time after time. He remembered Tony telling him, several times, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Grow a spine, McJellyfish.”

He finally called Penny and had a talk with her. She was ready to skin him and said, “What part of learning the ropes didn’t you understand? It’s standard protocol in misogynistic, quasi-military organizations to train by creating an uncomfortable environment. In this case, quite understandable. Your failure to accommodate the learning experience is very disappointing.” She clucked a couple of times then added, “I think you should remember back when you were young. Your father tried to instill some discipline in you with that sort of thing. Your mother and I discouraged it, thinking you were too young for it. Perhaps we shouldn’t have sheltered you so much. I’ll have to meditate on this. You need to decide if you still want Mr DiNozzo as a friend or will you chose Abigale and Ziva? You need to do a cleanse and meditate. I’ll send you a couple of recipes and some meditation music. Good-bye.”

Tim sighed. He wasn’t going to cleanse, that stuff she wanted him to drink tasted like pond scum. The music, maybe.

.

Ziva was furious, not that unusual a condition for her, Eli had issued an executive order to all Mossad, she was not allowed out of the country. If she left he had told her he would send Kidon for her and they wouldn’t be careful. She didn’t doubt that for a second.

She was now imprisoned on the family farm. It had orchards of olives, lemons and peaches, and a vineyard of grapes that were only good for vinegar. She was expected to oversee the operations there. In other words, be seen every day so that the minions were sure she hadn’t done a runner.

She was allowed to go into the nearby village but couldn’t stay for more than two hours before someone came looking for her. Shopping was terrible, TV was antenna only and her internet was so obviously watched that she rarely used it. Her emails were scrutinized and redacted. Her phone was tapped, the beeping so annoying that she kept her conversations to a minimum. And the worst part of it was the end of the thundering lecture she’d gotten from Eli. He’d simply said that she was so compromised that she wasn’t even useful as a body guard for visiting pop stars. She was going to end her days in obscurity, not even allowed to ‘go out in a blaze of glory’ as Tony would say.

.

(Monday)

Tony felt relaxed and happy. He’d spent all day Saturday getting all his movies back in order and shelved on the bookcases that delineated the entertainment and kitchen area. He’d had to move one case to make room for his slab table. It had been in storage since his current apartment hadn’t even had room for a four seater. The only eating area had been the breakfast bar. He’d managed to create a couple of seating areas away from the TV. One was a small place at the bottom of the stairs with a very comfortable chair, footstool, and reading table. He’d surrounded it with bookcases loaded with all his favorite books. He really liked the reading table as it was a combination of magazine rack, table top, and reading light.

Another was on the other side of a bookcase that formed the inside wall of the area where he’d put his piano. It was full of things he’d picked up here and there.

He’d gone furniture shopping on Sunday and actually gotten the full office, extra chairs and tables, and the bed, dresser, high boy, and nightstands delivered and put in place that afternoon. It didn’t hurt that he’d offered to pay the driver and movers himself. They’d been very pleased at the overtime and bonus he’d offered.

So now he was getting ready for his first lecture of the day. He’d hated to change everything at mid-term but the influx of students who’d transferred from on-line to real life lectures had made it a necessity.

He walked out onto the stage and shuddered. The place was huge, his TA had said that the capacity was five hundred and his class was above two. The only other lecture hall available at this time was the, so called, little theater with a seating capacity of twelve hundred.

A voice from the back made him jump. “Hello? Who’s there?”

“Professor DiNozzo. Who are you?”

“I’m George. Your AV specialist. In other words, I’m supposed to run whatever clips and stuff you want. Or I can set it up, give you the clicker, and just hang in case something stuffs up.”

Tony grinned. This was good. “Come down here please. I need to go over what I want to do with you. If it’s standard stuff, I can do it. If you have to do anything fancy, you’re stuck.”

It didn’t take long for George to set things up and show Tony how to work the remote. Tony was a fast study, no matter what Tim thought, and had it down in a couple of minutes.

.

Tony waited until the last minute then called, “Guy who just walked in the door.” A young man pointed to himself. “Yes, you. If you know how to lock the doors please do so.” The man flipped the simple turn key then found a seat. Tony got an older student to check the other door then lock it too.

“Alright. First, I will not tolerate lateness, it’s a sign of disrespect. If you are always coming in late it distracts the rest of the class, interrupts everyone’s train of thought, and pisses me off. Leave in time to be on time. No excuses.”

There was a bit of mumbling but one clear voice said, “Finally. Thank you.” Everyone laughed at that then settled down.

“Excellent. Two, for some reason my name was mangled, it’s DiNozzo, not DiNardo. Please correct it where ever you need to. I’ll remind anyone who makes a mistake for the next week. After that, I won’t answer you. And … last but most important. This is a lecture and discussion class. Other classes assign you chapters to read, worksheets to do … that sort of thing. I assign movies. You will watch the assigned movie on your own time, come to class and be prepared to discuss or you will fail the day. I will be giving handouts to read. There’s no decent book. These handouts are copy written to me, don’t copy them, hand them around, or post them.”

A hand went up so Tony pointed to it, “Yes?”

“Professor DiNozzo, what about those of us who live in dorms, or don’t have access to the movie for some reason?”

“Actually not my problem but … streaming Netflix is one way. If the movie isn’t available in any form, I’ll make arrangements to show it here either Friday or Saturday night. But, rent it somewhere and make a movie night of it. Or play it on your laptop. Take notes. Be ready to discuss. I will give you a good idea of what you’re supposed to look for. If it really becomes a problem I’ll see if I can’t get one of the theaters for a showing.”

The young woman sat down, satisfied.

“Anything else?” No hands went up.

Tony started his lecture but was interrupted after about five minutes by someone rattling the door.

He looked around and spotted a middle aged man who looked like a retired cop or some such. “You.” he pointed to the man. He glanced around, scowled at the rattling door, then looked back at Tony. “Go tell whoever it is that they’ve failed the day and never be late again. And don’t let them in.”

“Yes, sir.” The man practically saluted then went to the door. When he opened it the jock on the other side tried to push in and found himself kicked back. “Son, you better be on time. You’re locked out.”

“Do you know who I am?” The guy tried to get in again and found a large hand planted in the middle of his chest.

“No, and I don’t care. Prof said you can’t come in. Don’t be late as the doors are locked on the dot. I’d suggest getting a friend to give you notes from today. Now go away.”

“Hey! Coach said this was an easy A so what’s the prob?” The guy sounded like a self-entitled, A-string loafer.

Tony shook his head then announced, “Another thing. This class is not an easy A. It’s not just watching a movie and that’s it. I expect you to learn something from every movie and discussion. I will be testing you rather extensively. Now. Mr … “

“Roman, sir.”

“Mr Roman, shut and lock the door. Take your seat. And my thanks for handling that.” Tony made a note. He looked up to see a hand. “Yes.”

“How do you … I mean … aren’t you going to take attendance?”

Tony shrugged. “I did. I can count. And, as my count came up one short, I figured I’d let it slide as a mis-count. If I have to assign seats to ensure attendance, I will. I’d rather not.”

“Ok. Thank you.” The girl sat down looking perplexed. Tony knew she was wondering how he knew who was who. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that he’d just looked up the class sign up sheet, found their pictures on the colleges websites and made himself a three-ring binder with just a copy of their pictures and names, nine to a sheet. It was a two inch binder and it was full.

Tony continued his lecture on what they were going to accomplish this half term. He’d done the same thing at the beginning of the term but it couldn’t hurt to repeat things.

He finished his lecture with about five minutes to go and dismissed the class with the reminder, “Ok, that’s it for today. Watch The Scarlet Letter and be prepared to discuss. And not the moral stuff. I’m more interested in the character development.”

The class scrambled to leave, gathering up their things and crowding into the aisles. Tony watched with some amusement. He remembered the days when he was in their shoes.

He was pulled out of his musings with a start as someone began shouting at him from the side door. The usually locked side door.

Tony was no where near intimidated by the football coach who was trying to scream in his face. He just stood up, proving that his 6’2” frame was taller than the coach.

“Are you even listening to me?” The coach was now red faced and sweating.

“Actually … no. If you don’t get out of my face in one second … I’ll move you.” The coach backed up at Tony’s cold tone and frosty glare. “I do know. I know more about this shit than you do. I kept up a double major of Sports Medicine and Education. I also played basket ball and football. There’s no excuse for some dumb jock showing up fifteen minutes late. And this class is not an easy A. It’s actually rather hard. We’re not just watching movies and filling out a worksheet. Students are expected to think, discuss specific subjects, and actually learn things.” Tony sneered at the coach. “And you’re not doing them any favors by this sort of behavior. Our football isn’t even on most people’s map and not likely to be. Also … you do realize that the chances of any college player going pro are fifty to one. Right?”

Coach sputtered incoherently for a moment the pointed at Tony. “I don’t believe you’ve ever even touched a foot ball.”

“Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Jr. Class of ’89. Look me up.” Tony decided he’d had enough of this and turned to pick up his briefcase and jacket. He didn’t bother to turn around, he only said, “If you take a swing, I’ll swing back. Believe me, you don’t want to do that.” He walked to the same door the coach had used and left.

The coach decided to pay a visit to his department head, he left with what Ducky would call a flea in his ear and a clear threat to his job if he ever pulled a stunt like that again.

.

Tony drove home and parked in the loading dock. It was huge and high, built to accommodate the taller heavy trucks of the time, but not high enough or big enough to accommodate an 18-wheeler which was the reason it had been abandoned. He stopped to look around and realized that, with the three wide doors his new garage was capable of housing at least nine, and possibly more, cars or trucks. He decided to mark out wide parking spaces and see what he had. He was going to buy himself a truck and possibly a motorcycle.

He paced off the room just by walking it. His standard stride was about thirty inches so he would have a good idea how much room he had. It turned out that each door was 24 feet wide with a two foot pillar between them. The loading dock was 76 feet wide. If he just marked it out with three spaces per door that made three spaces for him, one each for Ducky, Jimmy, and Gibbs, and three for guests. He could envision a neatly painted name on each space.

He wandered in using the walk-in door beside the huge loading dock door and hung his coat up in the mud room. He’d had to put that up himself. The original builder had intended the front door to be the main entryway. Tony was not about to park in the garage then walk all the way around the building when there was a perfectly good door in the garage. He’d just had some hooks put in the wall at the very wide corner between the back hall and the side hall. There was plenty of room for several.

As he walked through the kitchen he turned on the coffee pot and the TV, he’d left the remote at the coffee station when he’d left. He trotted up the stairs and into his private suite. He gave his suit the sniff test and decided it needed cleaning so he hung it in the area designated ‘need to be cleaned’ and changed into jeans, henley, t-shirt and flannel over shirt. He decided on slippers instead of boots then headed back down to get some coffee and settle in to do some of the endless round of paper work.

He swore that he was going to put each and every single piece of paper on a separate flat surface so they couldn’t breed like rabbits. He signed yet another bit of red tape and tossed it into the out box. Why he couldn’t do all this on-line was beyond him.

He heard a ping from his computer and decided to check his email just to get a break from paperwork. He open his client and blinked, he had several emails from Jen, of course, a couple from Gibbs, Ducky, and Jimmy and one from Abby. He ignored Jen, it was all going to be the same thing, What’s going on with my op? Gibbs sent one email offering to put his coat hooks up to make sure they were in a stud. He wondered what the hell a stud had to do with coat hooks, he was totally ignorant of carpentry and admitted it without shame. He opened the next one; it was offering to return to help finish moving bookcases, if he needed. The last one was to tell him about Ziva. He was glad that she was denied travel papers, he didn’t need her showing up at his door. Ducky just asked Tony to please consider forgiving Gibbs. Jimmy wanted to know how the piano was. Abby apologized very nicely for being a ‘giant, whiney, bitchy bad friend’ . Her words, not his. She also offered anything he wanted as a peace offering, including her favorite collar.

He replied to Gibbs in one mail, saying that he was free to come any day after work and do whatever with the hooks and help him finish moving and bracing the bookcases. He admitted that he was sure they needed bracing as a couple of them wobbled alarmingly when he touched them. He ignored the question of Ziva as he had read about her in an email from the embassy. He told Ducky that he and Gibbs were making up but he was taking it slowly and establishing some very firm boundaries. Jimmy got a quick mail that said the piano was perfect and would he please return in six months to retune it, and every six months after that. He also told Jimmy that he was paying the going rate and to shut up about it. Abby got a rather cold message that he was still very pissed at her and hoped she would make arrangements to pay for the damages as soon as she could. He also told her she was going to pay him for all of it and she could sue Ziva for her half.

After all that he wasn’t in the mood to do more paperwork so he decided to set up his studio. He had a Bow-Flex and a Nordic-track treadmill delivered at the same time as his furniture and had been lucky enough to get the delivery men to put everything together for him.

He got everything out and spread it all over the breakfast bar. He realized that he really needed a taboret of some kind but his Guerrilla box would do for an easel, for now. He went into one of the sitting areas and got an occasional table that he didn’t like much and repurposed it as a work table to put some things on. The box would hold his block, brushes, and palette, but he still needed something for a roll of paper towels, water containers, and a few bits and pieces.

Since he wanted to set up his palette he started a color chart for mixing. He had his initial palette guide but he was having second thoughts about the arrangement and choice of colors. He happily spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening making his color book, blending each color with every other on a grid, then filling his palettes. He went to bed tired and satisfied.

.Tuesday

Since he didn’t have a lecture until late, Tony slept in a bit then went for a run on his treadmill. He’d rather run outside but it was getting too cold for his lungs to like it. He also did a round of strength training on the Bow-Flex. A shower, some breakfast and he was back to what to do.

He decided to try to paint something. That led him to the realization that he had no inspiration. He poked around a bit but decided to just stare at the paper for a while, hoping for something to hit him.

He played with colors for a bit, just doing some wet in wet sky to ground blend and settled to wait for it to dry. He liked watercolors but, like oil they needed time to dry. He had considered acrylics but he did’t have any experience with them and was a bit put off. He thought he might get a few colors to mess with but that meant he needed canvases or boards.

He cleaned his brushes then wandered around the room for a bit. He finally settled to try to watch something about touring Great Britain. He watched with an eye for something to paint but finally shut it off in favor of going over his lecture notes and the class roll.

He finally stopped fussing and fixed some lunch. He decided he was going to have to move a few things. Who wanted their glasses all the way across the kitchen from the fridge? And he needed part of his plates by the range and part of them at the breakfast bar. He made mental notes of what he wanted to do then shook his head. He had so much going on that he was going to make actual notes on paper or he’d forget something important.

After one last cup of coffee he picked up his messenger bag and, on an impulse, tucked his travel palette and a block of paper into it.

The lecture went off like a charm. Everyone paid attention, took notes, and asked intelligent questions. He assigned the movie for next session and answered the same question as last lecture. He decided to have his TA, Hamilton ‘call me ‘Ham’ Bowman, make up a hand out about where, how, and when to watch the assignment. He answered a couple of questions by students who stayed behind and told one young woman flatly that flirting with him would cost not gain points. She frowned then flounced off, texting furiously.

Tony shook his head then turned to Ham and said, “If she shows up for an appointment for a … any reason, make sure that Kiran or Tabitha are in my office before her.”

“You got it.” Ham’s cheerful grin made Tony sigh. “No biggie. You wouldn’t believe how many professors, men and women, have the same arrangements.”

Tony thought about that while he got his things together. “Yeah, I probably would. Make up a hand out with instructions on how, when, and where to watch their assignments for next week, please. Well, I’m gone.”

“Bye.” Ham returned to what he’d been doing.

Tony wandered the campus just enjoying the warm day. It was predicted to be the last warm day of fall, winter was breathing its frosty breath down the back of their necks.

It didn’t take him long to find a nice, sheltered but sunny place to sit. He got out his block and settled back to sketch the building in front of him. It was old, part of the original campus, covered in some sort of vine that wasn’t ivy, and interesting.

He spent an hour sketching the building, bits of cornice, window frames, and some bushes. He decided to wait until he got back home before adding any color.

Tony ambled back to his car, put his bag on the floor in the back seat and settled behind the wheel. He was just about to turn the key when his phone rang. It was Jeanne, he knew because he’d assigned her a personal ring tone.

“Jeanne.”

“Tony. We need to talk.”

Tony winced, nothing good ever came from starting a conversation with those words.

“Face-to-face or now.”

“I’d like to just get this over with.” He could hear her draw a deep breath. “I saw my father while I was at the convention. He … he said you’re not a professor. He said you work for NCIS and are harassing him … I mean NCIS is. Why are you interested in me?”

Tony gave it up without a thought. “I was assigned to romance you to see if you knew anything about your father’s activities.”

“I see. Mother left Father when I was about four. She left because she couldn’t condone his activities. I don’t know anything about what he does, other than it’s illegal. I’m not interested in it, I’m not involved in it. And I don’t want to be. He offered to have you beaten up for me. I said no, so relax. But I don’t want anything to do with you. Never contact me again.” She drew another deep breath, let it out on a heavy sigh then demanded, “Well? Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”

“No. I pretty much don’t. I’d say sorry, but that’s meaningless. I’m glad you aren’t involved in your father’s business. I hope you have a nice life. Good-bye.” And with that hope, he hung up.

He wasn’t even going to call Jen. She’d find out through the grape vine that he’d been dropped. He just hoped that Madam Director didn’t try to rope some other poor fool into this op. It was way more dangerous than he’d been told. Monsieur Benoit had more of an eye on his daughter than anyone had thought.

His phone rang again just as he was trying to decide what to do next. “DiNozzo.”

“Well, well, Professor DiNozzo. A pleasure.”

“Kort. What the fuck do you want?”

“I just want to explain to you what a bad move it would be to continue Madam Director’s vendetta against a CIA asset. Leave Benoit alone. The young lady knows little to nothing about what her father gets up to.”

Tony snickered. “Kort? Tell you what … I’ll just throw this out there and let you deal. I quit NCIS, never mind why. Jeanne just broke up with me over the phone. I’d be delighted if you’d handle Madam Director. I like being Professor DiNozzo so, if you mess this up for me, you’ll find out why Don Macaluso still considers me one of his best enforcers.”

“I see. Well, we’re on the same page then. I have no intention of interfering in your life. And I’ll be happy to keep Madam Director from doing so as well. All we want is for you, specifically, not to mix in things.”

Tony let Kort sweat for a moment then said, “Deal. And Kort? You owe me.”

“I do?” Kort knew he did but he wasn’t about to admit it if he could get out of it.

“You do and you know it. I’ll call when the debt comes due.” Tony hug up.

.Chapter 2

Jen gave a squeal of fury and threw her phone at the wall. She’d been called on the carpet by SecNav himself. It seemed that he’d gotten a call from the head of the CIA who’d asked him why some podunk alphabet was interfering in a three-year op to bring down a smuggling ring specializing in heavy arms, endangering their inside man, and generally making a pain in the ass of herself. Not to mention putting a man undercover with no backup.

Cynthia stuck her head in the door. “You ok?”

Jen rubbed her face with both hands, her head was killing her again. “I’m fine. Just one of my ops blew up and I had high hopes for it. SecNav wasn’t happy with me. And I have a headache again.” She looked up hopefully. “You wouldn’t happen to have some Advil, would you? I’m all out.”

“I’ve got some in my desk. I’ll just run and get it.”

Cynthia returned with a one dose pack of Advil and a glass of water. “Here. I wasn’t sure if you still had water in your carafe or not.”

Jen took the pills, swallowed them then went back to her endless reams of paperwork. She was tired, her eyes were blurry, and all she really wanted was to take a nap. She decided she needed to see her doctor but she was so busy.

.

Tony wandered his place just looking at this and that. He decided to hang some of his mother’s art work so he trotted up the stairs and opened the door to the bed/storage room. He was happy to see that the art was all propped up around the walls instead of stacked. Some of it was even leaned against the pile of boxes that took up the middle of the room.

He put the painting of himself into time out. He wasn’t sure he wanted to share himself in all his glory in a 1940’s style sailor suit and Donald Duck. He couldn’t not hang it but he wasn’t sure it was for public consumption.

The rest of the paintings could all be hung without looking crowded, in fact, he could hang five times the square inches without looking tacky. He took all the paintings down, making several trips, and set them around the walls to try to decide where to hang them.

While he was digging around he found a huge portfolio neatly tucked between two stacks of boxes. He eyed it then muttered, “It couldn’t be, could it?” he opened it and found nearly twenty paintings, unframed, that he’d done in Peoria. He took them out and frowned, he didn’t remember being that good. He vowed to get back to that level again as soon as he could.

He eyed the unframed pieces and decided to frame them himself. Seriously, how hard could it be to cut sticks and nail them together?

He glanced at his watch and realized he’d have time to find an art store nearby, drive over, get some framing materials and some acrylic paints. After a rather fruitless search, he changed his mind and drove to The Paint Pot. He hoped Aggie would have some suggestions.

She did, but it really wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Oh, honey, don’t even. Making your own frames is really a lot harder than it seems. You either have to buy expensive, tacky aluminum things, or learn joinery. Otherwise, and sometimes even then, the frames don’t go together right. The aluminum pieces have to have special hardware and, if you screw them together wrong, the joins don’t fit right and you can have them come apart and fall right off the wall. And wood is even worse. You can’t nail them properly without some pretty specific equipment and stapling just won’t work. I can sell you sticks and equipment but I can’t teach you the skills. You really need a woodworker. I can teach you to cut mats, but not how to build a frame.”

Tony thought for a moment. “Well, I know how to cut mats already.” He gave up the notion of building his own frames with very little struggle. “I’ll just have to find a competent framer somewhere.”

“Good luck with that. The last really decent framer who didn’t charge an arm and a leg retired. You could get one of the big, hobby type places to do it but I don’t think you’ll be satisfied with them.”

“Probably not. I have a problem with anyone who pays so little and can truly mess up something because of preconceptions. I’ll have to ask around. So. That being settled. Matting equipment, just the straight stuff. I don’t intend to do any fancy stuff. And acrylic paints. I’ve decided to try them.”

“Ok. I have a couple of very nice beginners kits. I’d supplement them with some other things. I can get it all together, if you like.”

Tony was looking at brushes so he replied a bit absently. “Yeah, that’d be really nice.”

So Aggie scurried around her shop, getting a matting kit, an acrylic beginners set, and some other bits and pieces together. Tony came to the counter and added some palette knives and brushes to the pile.

“I think that’s all.” Tony picked up a bottle. “Extender?” He fingered another. “Retardant?”

“Extender keeps the paint from drying out too quickly. Helps with blending. Retardant does the same thing … except you can add water to thin without affecting your color. I got both … smallest jar I’ve got so you could experiment. Some people swear by one, others by the other. I use gel medium instead of water as I don’t like the way water thins … some paints will sort of curdle. This …” She held up a jar. “Is brush cleaner. Do be sure to clean all your brushes the second you’re done with a session. There’s nothing on earth that will clean a brush full of dried acrylic.”

Tony nodded. “I remember. Thanks anyway. Um … canvas? Or boards?”

“I like canvas. Boards are nice but you have to have pre-primed ones or you have all sorts of trouble.”

“Ok. I’d like several in different sizes.”

They went to look at canvases, Tony picked several in small and medium sizes. He might do a few large pieces but not until he decided between oil and acrylic.

It didn’t take long to get everything into his car. His drive home was accomplished in a daze. he spent the drive planning a series of paintings from around the city. There were several very nice parks and a botanical garden he wanted to explore. And the Georgetown campus had a couple of things he was eyeing. He was so distracted that he nearly had a wreck when some red-neck in a junk truck cut him off. He dragged his attention back to his driving.

When he got home Tony unloaded his car and carried things in thanking his lucky stars for his loading dock with its chest high access. He realized that he was going to have to move a couple of bookcases again. He needed more studio space. He could take it out of the space dedicated to his gym as the Bow-Flex didn’t take up as much room as he’d thought it would. He smiled in silent pleasure as he contemplated his new life. He felt like a ton had been taken off his shoulders. He did love the job, he wanted to help people but he had been more and more miserable as Abby, Ziva and Tim had ganged up on him. He really felt like they didn’t have his six anymore. He could feel the prickle of something between his shoulder blades and that something said ‘run’. He couldn’t help but think he’d dodged a bullet.

He pushed those thoughts aside and went to find some tools to move the bookcases. He realized that he didn’t have the tools, Gibbs did.

He rubbed the back of his head, the other hand on his hip. “Well, shit. Now what?” He decided to make the next overture in his repair of his friendship with Gibbs. He’d never trust the man like he used to but he mourned the loss of his friend. If Gibbs would meet him half way things might get better.

Tony dialed his phone. “Hey, Jethro, I know you’re just getting home but I was hoping to pick your brain a bit.”

Gibbs was delighted to hear from Tony, even if he didn’t show it. “Since Ziva’s deported and Abby and Tim are still on punishment, I’ve been cleaning up the back log of paperwork they left and working cold cases. So … pick away.”

Tony explained about moving the bookcases and framing his mother’s works and his own, when he got something done.

Gibbs said, “Hold on a sec.” Tony heard him rummaging around a bit then he returned to the phone to say, “I did take the tools, I’ll bring them back. Also I’ve got a miter box and a saw. I need lumber but that’s not a problem.”

“Thanks. I can get sticks from The Paint Pot. I like the owner and she’ll cut me a deal.”

Gibbs cleared his throat. “I’ve got a router so I can make nearly any design you want. Paint and stain aren’t a problem either. As well as … well, I haven’t gilded anything in years but I can practice up a bit.”

“Wow, Boss, you’d do that for me?”

“I would. I owe you and don’t argue. I didn’t have your six when I should have. My memory is still so full of holes it might as well be Swiss Cheese but I’m remembering more all the time. And faster too, since I don’t have Ziva whispering in my ear all the time. How I let … well, done is done.” Gibbs sounded so frustrated that Tony actually felt a bit sorry for him.

“Well, like you said, done is done. We both just need to do better in future. So, if I call you on your shit you don’t get to have a tizzy.”

Gibbs sounded faintly insulted. “I’m a retired Marine. We don’t have tizzies.”

“Yeah, sure, you don’t.” Tony couldn’t help the dig, but tried to take some of the sting out of it by snickering.

Gibbs’ laugh sounded embarrassed. “I’ll come over soon to see what you need done.”

“Ok. Give me enough warning that I can hide the dirty underwear and order a pizza.”

“Saturday?” Gibbs sounded just a bit eager.

“That’d be good. How about 8-ish?”

Gibbs snorted in amusement. “Show me 8-ish on a clock. Eight on the dot.”

Tony said good-bye and hung up feeling like they’d really accomplished something. He couldn’t believe that he’d already been resigned from NCIS for two weeks.

As it was Tuesday and he was done for the day, Tony decided to take pity on Tim. He knew Tim was psychologically incapable of withstanding a strong willed woman. He glanced at his watch and, as it was only 5pm, decided to email Tim. He quickly typed up a short email which told Tim what he was up to now. He left it a bit open-ended which gave Tim the opportunity to reply with an email of his own. He knew he really shouldn’t as the Ex Parte was still in effect but he didn’t think Tim would snitch on him.

.

Tim heard the bing that signaled an incoming email. He sighed, it was probably Penny, she’d emailed him once and ripped him a new one. She’d told him that Ziva was a poisoned honey trap and he’d fallen for her shit. He, after much soul searching, had already realized that. And Abby wasn’t much better, she used guilt as a prod to get him to go in the direction she wanted.

He was done with all that and had even emailed Abby to tell her that she was in his black books for the foreseeable future. He was well aware that she was having to go to mandated counseling, he wondered if it was going to do any good but hoped that it would.

After reading the email he sighed in real relief, Tony had said that he was welcome to visit as soon as the Ex Parte expired but he, Tony, wasn’t putting up with any shit. Tim sent a message back that swore he wasn’t going to give Tony shit and if he did Tony should feel free to call him on it.

.

Tony read the email from Tim with a small smile. “That’s my Probie.” He thought about emailing Abby but decided against that, he was still really pissed at her. Ziva was completely off his radar.

He settled at his piano to just play, he needed to brush up on a few of his favorites. The Moonlight Sonata rolled off his finger tips leaving him smiling to himself.

He spent most of the evening playing; only stopping for a supper of salad and wine then, later, for coffee and a pastry.

As he ate his pastry Tony checked his email one last time. He always checked before he went to bed unless he was exhausted. This time there was nothing of interest but you never knew.

.

The rest of the week was more of the same. His lectures went well. His office hours were uneventful as most students didn’t have any problems, yet. Ham was great, in fact, his whole staff was. He had to pinch himself every now and then, he had staff; shared, true, but still.

He got up early enough on Saturday that he could have a nice run and a workout on the BowFlex before Gibbs came. He showered, enjoying the opportunity to take his time.

Breakfast consisted of a protein shake, toast, and coffee. He sipped his coffee and nibbled toast as he read an online newspaper. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was ten till. A knock on the door left him smiling. Gibbs’ idea of on time was ten to fifteen minutes early.

“Coming.” He trotted for the door, he didn’t want to leave Gibbs waiting too long, it wasn’t polite.

He unlocked the inner door and left it open. When he unlocked the outside door, Gibbs actually waited to be invited in.

Tony didn’t leave him waiting, “Well, come in. I’ve got coffee.” He turned and headed back inside only to be stopped by Gibbs.

“Mind giving me a hand?” He motioned to three tool chests. “I can carry two, but not three.”

“Sure.” Tony picked up a box and took it in. He put it down just inside the inner door then went to close the outer door so Gibbs wouldn’t have to put one of the boxes down then pick it back up.

Gibbs looked around. “What are we moving?”

Tony pointed. “Those three. I need more room for my studio area and less for the gym. That BowFlex doesn’t take up as much room as I thought it would.” He walked to the area and put the box he was carrying down.

“Ok. Coffee?” Gibbs followed him to the gym/studio area and put his burden down.

Tony pointed to the coffee center in the kitchen. “I made fresh. I also got some pastries. They’re last night’s but still fresh enough. Give one of those apple things about 15 seconds in the microwave and it’s almost like fresh out of the oven.”

Gibbs followed Tony to the kitchen and smiled at the collection of bar stools on the outside of the bar that divided the kitchen from the great room. “Nice. You refinish these?”

Tony could tell from Gibbs’ expression that he didn’t think much of the job. “Me? Hell no. I bought them from a second hand shop years ago. I’ve had most of my stuff in storage since Baltimore. My old apartment there was twice the size of the one here.” He grinned. “Why? Don’t like it?”

“Don’t like it is an understatement. I’ll take them home one at a time and redo them. If you’d like?” Gibbs was really trying not to overstep or bulldoze Tony but those stools offended the woodworker in him.

Tony shrugged. “I’d appreciate it. I love the eclectic look but not the finish. I’m not even sure what it is.”

Gibbs fingered the back of the stool next to his. “Spray on acrylic varnish. Shit stuff. Looks great, real shiny. Bad for the wood and, when it starts to wear off, really a pain in the ass.”

Tony just handed Gibbs a cup of coffee and settled to lean on the counter to drink his own. “Well, I wasn’t really a fan of the shiny finish but I like the shapes. And they’re tall enough.”

“Yeah, that’s a consideration. I hate sitting at a counter and having it bump my chin.” Gibbs took a sip of his coffee. “Good stuff. I still don’t see how you can defile good coffee with that …” he waved a hand. “Syrup. Smells nasty.” He shrugged one shoulder. “But it’s you and yours.” He finished his coffee in one long pull. “Come show me what you want moved.”

Tony also finished his coffee. “Over here. See. I need room on the studio side for a drafting table, an easel, and a taboret. I’ll also need some canvas racks to put wet canvases in. I’m considering starting with oils so that’s a must. Also, watercolors need to dry too. Acrylics … I’m very uncertain about that whole thing. Luckily I can afford to experiment with them. I’m seriously thinking about boards if I decide to do oils. They’re very out of fashion but I like the support. Nothing freaks me out the way a canvas flexing does. That’s why a lot of master works are crazed. The canvas flexed and cracked the varnish, which in turn cracked the paint.”

Gibbs listened to this with unfeigned interest. He’d always liked to listen to Tony talk about his interests, until he didn’t. He wondered when he’d gotten so impatient with his … friend? Co-worker? He remembered when they’d been a team, just him and Tony and whatever TAD they’d needed for the job at hand. He wondered if catering to Kate had started some sort of downhill slide into — indifference? He gave those musings up as a bad job and turned his attention to Tony.

“Sorry. I zoned. What did you want?”

Tony didn’t get mad, he just started again. “Ok. I need to move this book case … there. And that one here. Then we need to brace them and a few others. I don’t like it when they wobble. They need to be able to stand up to being bumped into.”

Gibbs nodded. “I know. I didn’t fasten them down as tight as they should be. I knew you’d be moving some of them after a bit. I thought I told you about that.” He shrugged. “Doesn’t make any difference as I’m going to check all of them as often as you’ll let me.”

“Thanks. I think you said something about that but I was distracted. Sorry. So … what next?”

They spent the next hour moving bookcases and fastening them down firmly. Gibbs went on to work on the other bookcases while Tony filled the cases with art supplies, books, and various knick-knacks.

They talked back and forth while they worked with Gibbs asking questions about Tony’s job as a professor. Tony felt that they were getting back to the place they’d been before Kate came into their lives. He was pleased as he thought that was Gibbs’ objective.

It took Gibbs nearly an hour to tie down the bookcases to his satisfaction. When he finished he dug into his kit and found a rag to wipe his hands on, the graphite grease some of the turn buckles were greased with was messy. He resolutely ignored the fact that he needed to wipe most of it off all the fixtures before Tony got into it and made a mess.

Tony grinned at his disgusted face. “I don’t know why that black grease is everywhere but, unless you tell me no, I’m wiping it off as soon as I have time. So … food?”

Gibbs nodded. “I could eat.” He tossed his rag into the trash. “What’s on the table?”

“Steak Diane, asparagus, and potato rosettes. There’s salad, if you want.” Tony looked hopeful.

He knew that Gibbs liked things like that but didn’t know how to make them. He, Tony, loved them and loved making them.

“Sounds like a plan. What do you need me to do?” Gibbs went to the sink to wash his hands. “And what the hell is a potato rosette?”

“Mashed potatoes piped out onto a baking sheet then put under the broiler. Only I have a salamander.” Tony grinned. “Love it. I adore that range. I haven’t had time to really cook but week-ends? I’m gonna be so fat.”

Gibbs snorted. “You’re not gonna get fat. Really. How far do you run on a daily basis? And I know you do strength training twice a week.”

“I run about four miles a day. It’s good for my lungs … I can breath so much better now that I’m using my inhaler like I should, too.” Tony turned to turn on the salamander so he didn’t see Gibbs’ disgusted face.

“Why … never mind … I know. Ziva and Tim made fun of you so much that you quit.”

“Yeah. It just got to be too much. Too much sarcasm. Too much disrespect. Too much … everything. Tim’s a follower … do not trust him to make a reasoned decision about anything but computers. He’ll season, in time, but not yet. Ziva?”

Gibbs interrupted him. “She’s out of the country permanently. How could Jen put her on my team if she wasn’t trustworthy?”

“Is that why you let her on? You trusted Jen? And as to her, there’s something very wrong with her. She’s getting more and more unreliable by the day. And she’s always got a headache. You really need to check into it.”

Gibbs thought about that for a moment then pulled out his phone. He dialed then waited a minute. “I’d like to speak … no, Gibbs. Ok.”

Tony blinked, he knew Gibbs had connections but this was just ridiculous. “Who?”

“Confidential … Yes. I have some concerns about Shepard … acting odd, lots of headaches … and she’s gotten on the wrong side of the CIA. Yeah … Thanks Tom.” He pocketed his phone. “Tom’ll look into it on the low down. Don’t tell anyone about this.”

Tony gave Gibbs a wide-eyed look. “About what, Boss?”

“Good.”

While Gibbs had been phoning Tony had made salad and cut the mushrooms and shallots and measured out the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, butter, and wine.

He turned to check the salamander then put the potato rosettes and asparagus under the heat.

It only took him a few minutes to cook the steaks and make the sauce. He sliced the resting meat into slices, arranged them on plates, poured sauce over them, then added potatoes and asparagus to the plates. “There.” He turned to find that Gibbs had already put the salad into shallow bowls and tossed the croutons on top. “Thanks. Bring them to the table, please.”

Gibbs followed Tony to the after thought dining room table a few steps to the side of the kitchen counter. He saw that Tony had already set it with silverware and wine glasses.

Tony put down the plates then went back for the bottle of wine. “This isn’t really expensive. It’s very nice though. I don’t much care for the price of wine, just the taste.”

Gibbs actually chuckled. “You know I don’t give a shit. I drink what I like, not what some snob says I should.”

Tony poured them both a glass then settled in his chair. “Great. I hope this turned out good.”

Gibbs already had a mouthful of steak and was chewing in enjoyment. He swallowed, took a sip of wine then announced, “This is great. I knew you could cook but not how well. Where did you learn?”

“Misspent youth. I got a sports scholarship but it didn’t include books, food, much of anything beside tuition and board. So I worked part time, mostly restaurants so I could eat at least once a day.”

“Well, what your father was thinking is beyond me. He should at least have seen that you had meal tickets.”

“I was told that he’d support me if I went to Harvard and joined his choice of fraternity. I didn’t want to go into business management and contract law, nor did I want him to control my life anymore, so I told him to stuff it and managed for myself. If I could pay my frat dues in thirds I was good for the year. They made it happen. In the frat, dues included food.”

“How did you manage to finish your degree in three years?” Gibbs had always wondered about that.

“Summer session, at that time, only allowed for 18 hours. So that gave me plenty of time to work, study, attend classes and still keep up my obligation to do deep cleaning and repairs on the house.” Tony shrugged. “I know a lot about a lot of things, undercover you learn or you die.” He finished his last bite of steak then stood up. “And that’s that.”

Gibbs stacked his dishes and followed Tony to the kitchen. Tony began to scrape the plates and rinse them.

“So you got a picture of this tab or … thing you want?” Gibbs was going to build Tony the best one he could. A peace offering so to speak.

“I’ve got pictures of several. And a paper safe.”

“You lock up paper? What’s it made of?” Gibbs handed Tony the wine glasses to put in the dishwasher.

“It’s mostly cotton rag. But it’s called a safe because it keeps it safe from damage. But … It’s expensive … or it can be. Some papers are a hundred dollars a sheet, not for me, even though I can afford it. I think it’s just pretentious. If you want that just use Arches. The company has been in business since 1492 and sell all over the world. I don’t have any right now because Aggie was out. But I’m going to have her order some special cuts later.”

Gibbs nodded. “I see. So show me some pictures.”

“Ok. Gimme a sec to finish cleaning up.”

Gibbs helped again by wiping down all the counters while Tony finished loading the dishwasher then started it.

“This way.” Tony led the way up the stairs to the smallest bedroom. “I had a lot of stuff put in here until I could go through it. I started with artwork. I found some of Mom’s stuff, which is already framed so I can show it here. Some of my stuff, which is framed, and some isn’t. But here.”

Tony had the framed things leaned against the walls and some piles of boxes. He just waited while Gibbs examined the pieces. Then he got the portfolio out and pulled all the paintings out of it. “There’s about fifteen or twenty of my early works in there.”

Gibbs looked at the paintings without comment for a moment then offered, “I could make the frames for you. I just need to measure them.”

Tony eyed the smaller pieces then said, “Some of the smaller pieces need a mat. They’re too small to just frame, they’ll disappear against the brick work.” He sorted for a moment then put the small pieces aside. “Here. They’re all the same size. I usually paint on standard cuts, saves me trying to mat to size. But there’s a couple that just scream for a mat. And all of them need backing and spacers. I don’t know if that makes a difference.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Have no idea but I’ll find out.” He pulled a small tape measure from his pocket and started measuring one of the paintings.

“Boss, you should make that a rule.”

Gibbs gave a non-commental sort of grunt. “What?”

“Always have a tape measure … along with ‘Always carry a knife.’”

An eye roll told him what Gibbs thought of that.

After measuring and writing down the results, Gibbs announced, “Well, it’s getting late enough that I need to go. Email me those pictures of that taboret and paper safe and I’ll see what I can come up with. And don’t say you’ll get some Ikea piece a’ crap, won’t last you more than a couple of years and won’t fit in here.”

“Well, thanks, then.” Tony led the way back downstairs and into the kitchen. “There’s about three cups of coffee left, I’ll split it with you.”

“Thanks.” Gibbs took the cup and swallowed half of it in one go. “Made room for the rest of my share.”

Tony just shook his head and poured. He took his own cup and fixed it to suit him, leaving the rest of his share in the pot. “And do not snitch my other cup.”

Gibbs smirked then said, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

They sipped their coffee and discussed this and that. Gibbs admitted that Abby was on his last nerve while Tim seemed to have reverted to his probie days. They ignored the elephant in the room that was Ziva.

Finally Gibbs put his empty cup on the counter. “Well, I’ve hung around here long enough. I better head for home.”

“Ok. I’ll help you with your tools.”

Gibbs handed Tony one box, saying, “Careful, it’s heavy. I’ll get the other two.”

Tony led the way to the front door. He held the inner door open for Gibbs then followed him out.

After putting all his tools in the bed of his old truck Gibbs said one last good-bye and drove away.

Tony went back inside, carefully locking the doors behind him. He wondered if he should get some sort of security. He left that until he could consult a friend who owned a security company. After making sure his kitchen was clean he went to the newly created studio space and started arranging his paints and equipment.

After getting his pallet in order he filled a couple of stainless steel quart restaurant containers with water. He had to chuckle a bit, he’d lifted four of the quart salad bar things from a restaurant that had gone out of business in Peoria. The owner just told the crew that they could have anything they wanted, fuck the bank. So he’d taken the containers, a couple of spatulas, a cutting board and a huge whisk. He still had all of it.

He mounted some paper on a backing board and just stood and stared at it. He wanted to paint but he wasn’t sure what. He wound up just slinging some paint around and finished the wet in wet washes as a desert scene. He was happy with the result although he knew he was going to have to go back to it when it dried to add some details.

He mounted a piece of rough finish paper, made a note to get more Gorilla boards, then eyed the pallet. He had a DS Sap Green that he wanted to experiment with. He eyed the paper then picked up his swatch book.

He hadn’t completed his greens mixing chart yet so he switched to completing that. He wondered whether it was that much of a difference between oils and watercolors, they both had to dry between sessions just oils took a bit longer. He remembered having six or seven pieces going at one time. The whole frat had insisted that he take his art to the attic so visitors wouldn’t damage it by fingering it. He wondered what they thought they’d feel, beside wet paper, or worse, oil. He shrugged and went back to mixing colors.

When his stomach rumbled sourly he realized that he’d finished most of his swatches and was starving.

He threw a salad together then settled at the bar to eat. He liked all sorts of salad but Cobb was one of his favorites. He poked a cherry tomato then stabbed it and dragged it through a small puddle of dressing. He loved the feel of the skin popping between his teeth. He wondered if he had enough ham for another salad. He knew he needed more cheese so he absently scribbled down a list as he ate.

After cleaning up the kitchen he went to laze on the couch and watch the news then tried a mind numbingly boring bio of Humphrey Bogart. He gave that up after ten minutes or so and changed channels to watch a game show. That reminded him too much of Tim and Abby playing Any Where But Here so he gave the whole thing up as a bad job and went to play his piano.

He played from five or so until about eight. He only stopped then because someone knocked on the front door.

He opened the inside door then looked through the small window in the outside door. All he could see was an expanse of black. “If you want in, step back so I can see you.”

The officer stepped back until Tony could clearly see his badge. “This far enough?”

“Yes, thank you.” Tony opened the outside door and stepped away to give the officer room to enter.

He wasn’t surprised when two police officers stepped into the entryway.

“How can I help you?” Tony wasn’t going to cut them any slack. He wasn’t sure what this was about but he was sure he wasn’t going to like it.

“Well, this is just weird … we got a call about a break in and some noise so we came to check it out. The caller said there was a rave here.”

Tony snorted then started to laugh. “A what? Rave? Don’t think so. I was practicing my piano. I really don’t think Bach is appropriate for a rave. Do you?”

The older officer offered his hand. “Officer Brady. I heard a bit. Very nice. We’ll be checking into the complainant. If this is the beginning of harassment, we’ll deal with it.”

Tony blinked. “Harassment? You having problems with SWATing?”

“We had a problem on the other side of this neighborhood. There’s a couple of idiots that just won’t give the idea of an association up. No one wants one except them. If you have problems with people bothering you at night give us a call.”

Tony nodded. “I have a carry permit and I was a Fed until I retired. I’m a Professor of Cinematic Arts at Georgetown now.”

“Ok. Try not to shoot anyone. But do not let someone hurt you. Give us a call if you have problems. Thanks.” He touched his hat then turned and left.

Tony sighed but gave it little thought. Instead he went back to his piano and decided to play Chopin’s Prelude No. 24, he even put up the top. After that he played Schubert-Liszt’s Erlkonig. He eyed the clock but decide it was late enough that he needed to quit. He didn’t feel it was right to play before 6am or after 10pm. He had only done so when he was really angry and had never done it when he lived in an apartment. He put the top down and wandered back to the couch. As the news was on by now he turned the tv back on and watched that.

He woke at midnight, stumbled up to bed and fell back asleep.

.

Sunday was his day to do nothing. He woke up late and drove to a nearby place to get a breakfast burrito and some coffee. He liked this Mexican Mom n’ Pop because they made a regional favorite coffee which had cinnamon, cardamom, and something he hadn’t figured out yet. It was topped with steamed foam and a curl of Mexican chocolate.

He drank his coffee as he drove home but saved his food, he didn’t like trying to eat while he drove, he always wound up with a mouth full of paper.

When he got home he pulled up at the gate and glared. He’d carefully closed the gate when he left. He’d had it open most of last weekend so trucks could come and go at need. Otherwise he was only leaving it open when he was home and accepting guests. Now he had unwanted guests standing in his parking lot.

He pulled up in front of his building by the simple expedite of yelling, “Get out of the way!” and honking his horn until the crowd parted to allow him through. He parked and got out of his car, eyed the group then demanded, “Okay, who are you? And what the hell are you doing trespassing on private property?”

At that everyone began shouting all at once, Tony couldn’t understand a word. He gave a shrill whistle, then shouted, “Shut up!” There were several shocked gasps but everyone did shut up. “I can’t understand any of you.” He looked the small crowd over then picked a grim faced but calmer woman. “You. Speak. Do not yell at me.”

The woman looked around for a moment then said, “My name is Emely Brown. We’re from the local homeowners association in cooperation with the historical society. We want to know what you mean to do with this historically significant site.”

Tony shook his head. “I’m going to live here. I’m going to turn the other buildings into either quadplexes or two family dwellings. As if it’s any of your business in the first place. Anything else?”

A fussy looking, balding man stepped forward. “Yes, as the President of the local Homeowners Association, I’d like to know when you’re going to do something about this eyesore.” He gestured at the unmown and overgrown lawn that surrounded the five buildings.

Tony eyed him in disgust. “First, I don’t acknowledge a homeowners association. You have no business bothering me with that shit. I won’t join one, don’t want one, and won’t tolerate you interfering in my business.” He eyed the crowd. “Frankly, I don’t know how you thought you had the right to enter my property. Gated communities are exactly that … Gated. Do I have to hire a mercenary to guard my home while I’m away? Seriously. As to the lawn … I’m having someone come in and consult as soon as I decide whether to put in a …” He froze as he realized something. “You know? I don’t have to explain or justify myself to any of you. Get off my property. Now!” He dialed 911 and glared at the whole bunch as he informed the dispatcher that he had a crowd of trespassers on his property and wanted them removed. Dispatch said that there was a unit on the way and that he should tell them all that, if they weren’t gone by the time the unit got there they were subject to arrest.

It only took ten minutes for the unit to arrive, meanwhile, half the crowd left as quickly as possible. Tony noticed that the group that stayed all seemed to be the self-satisfied, entitled, snobbish type that thought the whole world owed them. He watched in some amusement as the two officers shouldered their way through the group of ten or so people.

“Ok, what’s going on here?” It was Officer Brady and his younger partner. Tony took time to get his name this time. Officer Hanson stood back a bit then turned to keep an eye on the crowd.

Tony shook his head. “I’m not really sure. Something about the Historical Society and me not doing something to some historically significant something. And the rest are a Homeowners Association that has nothing to do with me. Please sort this mess out and get them off my property. I’m going inside and eat unless you say otherwise.” Tony morned his now cold burrito, he hoped it warmed up in the microwave without getting tough.

Officer Brady nodded. “That might be a good idea. We’ll sort this all out and send you a report.”

Tony shook his head. “No. Just come in and tell me. I know you have to fill out a report and I’d appreciate a copy but … can’t send coffee via email. Just knock and walk in, I’ll leave the door unlocked.” He started to turn away then turned back. “Oh! And while you’re at it … tell them that I’m putting in a security system that includes a locking, electrified gate.”

“We’ll do that. And coffee would be great.”

Tony went inside and started coffee, leaving the two officers to do their job.

As he waited for his coffee to make, he warmed his burrito and tried it. Since he’d wrapped it in a warming paper, it was ok. He’d rather have eaten it fresh but, as Ducky said, ’Needs must.’

He was just finishing his food when there was a tap on the front door then both officers walked in.

“Wow! Very nice.” Jr. Officer Hansen looked around Tony’s home in appreciation.

Officer Brady poked him in the back. “Stop gawkin’. Coffee.”

“Oh. Right.”

They made their way through the semi-maze of assorted bookcases and pieces of furniture to settled at the bar. Tony grinned, handed out coffee and said, “Thanks. I’m really happy with it. Now … report? What the actual fuck?”

“Well, it’s that bunch we told you about that want to establish a homeowner’s association. It’s not going over well. The neighborhood is mostly older people who’ve lived here for years. They don’t want a bunch of young shits mixing in their business. Mr. Lavinski’s words not mine. And the rest are with the Historical Society. They don’t want anything done to anything. Preserve the precious, tumbling down, condemned buildings. Only condemned because they won’t let anyone do anything with them.”

Tony nodded. “They want all repairs and renovations done with historically correct materials, never mind that they won’t meet code. Inspectors would make you rip it all out … if you could even find someone to do the work in the first place. Well, they’re in for a nasty surprise here. This is all still industrial until I petition for a re-zone, which I’m not about to do until after I decide what I’m going to do with it and actually do it. Until it’s zoned residential, they can’t do shit.”

“You sure?” Officer Hensen looked doubtful.

“Yes. Because it’s industrial all repairs are under a different set of ordinances. Besides that, I’ll sue the pants off them. And no judge wants to get on the wrong side of DiNozzo Trucking, LLC. Not in this area at any rate.” Tony shrugged. Most of the judges that would grant an injunction were either friends of his father or in his pocket. He didn’t like it but he wasn’t ashamed to use it.

Officer Hensen shrugged. “Ok. Well … good luck. And don’t hold off calling. We’re sick of these jerks and are really looking for a reason to arrest them all. We don’t like having our long time residents upset by a bunch of …” He cleared his throat well aware that he was about to overstep his bounds.

Tony poured more coffee as he said, “I know. Self-satisfied, self-righteous nouveau-riche jackwads. They think they’re so great. I’ll tell you a secret. I might be a DiNozzo, nouveau-riche myself, but my mother was a Paddington; that means old, British, money. My uncle is a Count. Do not spread that around, I usually don’t tell anyone but you’re good people so I fessed up.”

Both cops had no idea what that really meant but they were impressed anyway.

It didn’t take them long to finish their second cup and stand. “Well, thanks for the coffee but we need to get back on patrol.”

Tony nodded. “Ok, Thanks again. Stay safe.” He walked them to the door then locked it behind them.

A moment later and he was placing a call to another frat brother. “Hank! Hey! It’s been a while.” They exchanged the usual chit-chat then Tony got down to business. He explained his problem then said, “I got my money finally so … I don’t care how much it costs, I want all the bells and whistles. I want razor wire on top of the walls and electronic locks on the electrified gates. I’m tried of everyone thinking they have a right to a piece of me. Done with it. So how soon can you start?”

Hank thought for a moment. “I’ll have a guy … no, I’ll come myself. I’ll be there in about half an hour or so. I’ll give the place a once over then have an estimate to you by tomorrow. I’d recommend at least three cameras to cover. More … well, never mind. I’m leaving now.” He hung up without saying good-bye.

Tony took the phone away from his ear, glared at it, then grumbled, “Damn, you know Gibbs?”

He puttered around, looking the rest of the lot over, and decided that it really did need mowing. He frowned trying to remember if he knew someone, or someone who knew someone. He realized that his best source was Gibbs.

“Jethro. Hey. You really look at this lot? It’s a disgrace. Needs mowing in the worst way and some landscaping. I’m thinking of tearing out a big chunk of the parking lot as I don’t really need it. I’d rather have a gazebo and some kind of garden or something. You know anyone? I don’t.”

Gibbs smiled to himself and accepted the olive branch for what it was. “Yeah. Friend of mine. Left the corps after 20 and started a landscaping company. He’s really good, got a degree in botany and all that shit. He also provides a mowing service. I’ll call him?”

“Please. If you can get him here soon, I’d really appreciate it. I’ve got to get the security system in and the clean up done before I get a notice from the city. Hank is coming in about half an hour to do the estimate for security. You want to come over and give him some suggestions? I’m going to.”

Gibbs didn’t have anything to do, he was waiting for the glue up on the taboret to dry so he said he’d be over in about twenty minutes.

Gibbs and Hank arrived one behind the other. Gibbs was last so he got out of his old Ford truck and opened the gate. Hank drove in and just parked in front of the converted warehouse. Gibbs shut the gate and parked his truck beside Hank. Gibbs offered his hand to Hank. “Jethro Gibbs … just call me Gibbs.”

Hank shook hands, saying, “Hank Jensen. Jensen Securities, LLC.”

“Huh. Heard good things.”

Hank nodded, “Thanks. Well … Tony is wanting the best. So … walk the property?”

Tony walked out the door, seeing that they weren’t going to come in, and said, “We’ll all walk it.”

It didn’t take long to realize that the only security that Tony had was an eight foot tall two foot thick brick wall. Hank shook his head. “Shit. I’ll put alarmed razor wire on top of the wall and electric locks with a key card stand on the gate. There’s only one so that’s a plus. Computer monitored cameras at each corner and one on the gate, electronic doorbell system on both front and back entrances. As to the inside … alarms on all the windows and doors, including the rollups. Key card entry on every door and the rollups only unlock from the inside.”

Tony shook his head. “One has to open with a remote, and the gate too, I’m not leavin’ my car out, unlocking a door then going back outside to park my car. Put a code on the remote or something.”

“Ok. Lazy. I’ve got a top end system but it’s expensive.” Hank didn’t want to take advantage of Tony.

Tony shrugged. “Under frat secrecy.” Hank nodded. Tony fiddled with his phone. “Projected income for this quarter.” He handed Hank his phone.

Hank took it and eyed the screen. “Holy shit! Ok, ok. Top of the line all the way. I’ll have to order some parts but I can start the initial installation in two days or so.”

Tony nodded. “Good. The sooner the better. I don’t like the feeling that someone’s sneaking up on me. I hate that I feel like I need … This is so fucked up.”

Hank just shook his head. “No it’s not. People just opened your gate and ambushed you in your own home. A place where you’re supposed to feel secure. I’ll deal.”

Gibbs cleared his throat. “Um … I could stay … if you like. I … well, if it’d make you feel better?”

Tony felt something break loose in his chest, some tightness was now gone. “I’d like that. I don’t feel like I can go to work and not feel like someone’s hiding somewhere in the house. I’d have to clear it every time I got home. Thanks.”

Gibbs grimaced. “I have to go in to work myself, but I can arrange to be here before you. Since Tim and Abby are all on administrative leave and Ziva’s back in Israel, I’m on cold cases.”

“Ok. Good, not that you’re doing cold cases but that you can babysit my home. Hank, let me know when you’re going to be ready to start and I’ll make arrangements to be here.”

Hank nodded. “Day after tomorrow. That’s … Tuesday. I have to get the crew lined up and decide what systems I want to use. I better get back to the office and start an inventory sheet. I’ll have a bid for you tomorrow afternoon.”

Tony grinned at his friend. “Don’t bother. Do it up right then give me a bill.”

Hank nodded then looked hopeful. “Coffee?” He loved Tony’s coffee, he didn’t know if it was the beans or the method but it was really good.

“You know it.” Tony nodded at Gibbs. “You’re comin’.” It wasn’t a question.

Gibbs just nodded.

Gibbs and Hank sat at the breakfast bar while Tony operated his coffee maker. It was one of the newer De’Longhi home/office models and Tony loved it. He now had his own roast and grind that he got from a local roaster. He steamed milk then handed over cups. Gibbs’ cup was naked, just coffee in the cup. Hank liked milk only. Tony had steamed milk and all the froth. He hummed happily, “More froth for me. Yum.”

Gibbs couldn’t help a bit of a smile as he watched Hank admire the great room.

Hank got up and wandered around, sipping his coffee. “Hey! I remember this one. We went … somewhere with mountains. San something or other. You spent as much time painting as you did hikin’ and stuff.”

Tony snorted into his coffee, blowing foam onto his chin. He wiped it off with a towel then said, “San Andres in New Mexico. Scenery was something. I’d like to go back … and I want to go to the Great Smokeys in Tennessee. I’m gonna go this summer … I’m not teaching any classes then. Well, as far as I know.”

Gibbs had a bad feeling about that. He knew that Shepard now had it in for Tony. She was sneaky and sly and pissed. He’d done what he could by making his call, now all he could do was wait. Something he wasn’t that good at. He dismissed his feelings and returned his attention to Tony.

Tony watched Hank for a moment then turned to Gibbs. “You saw the yard. What the hell am I going to do with that mess?”

Gibbs pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. “I’ll see if Bill will come take a look. Served with him in Dessert Shield/Storm. He served his 20 and started a business.” It didn’t take more than three rings for the call to connect. “Hey, Bill, Gibbs. Got a job, if you’re interested. DiNozzo inherited a pile of cash, bought a house, yard’s a mess. Needs mowing and landscaping. Wants a chunk of the parking lot removed and some sort of central something instead. Yeah.” He handed the phone to Tony. “Give him the address.”

“DiNozzo.” Tony gave the address. “When would you like to come by?” Bill told him he’d be down in half an hour or so. Tony was delighted but told Bill, “It’s Sunday. You don’t have to come right away.”

“Oh, hell. My wife has her church charity group over, I’ll be glad to get out of the house.” Bill hung up without saying good-bye.

Tony eyed his phone for a moment then demanded, “Is it Marine training or something? I swear .. none of you say good-bye.”

Gibbs eyed his empty cup then said, “What’s the use? Waste of breath and time. You know I’ve hung up.”

“How? There’s no dial tone on a cell.” Tony took the hint and started making more coffee. This time he used the commercial brewer instead of the espresso maker.

Hank turned down another cup, saying, “I want to get home to my office and start work on this. I don’t care if it’s Sunday either. I enjoy the design process, not the installation so much. So … see ya. Give me a call if you think of anything.” He saw himself out, shutting the door firmly.

Gibbs eyed the coffee maker while saying, “You really shouldn’t leave your car out front. Go move it to the garage. I’ll keep an eye on the coffee.”

Tony wasn’t offended Gibbs just wanted first dibs on the coffee. “Ok. But you’ll need to move your truck too. I’m not that fond of the idea of leaving any of our vehicles out front. Come on.”

Gibbs gave the coffee maker a baleful glower then followed Tony out. It didn’t take them long to move Tony’s car and Gibbs’ truck back to the loading dock area and park them. Tony nodded to the floor. “I’m actually considering painting parking lines but … how many spaces do I have?”

Gibbs eyeballed the huge room. “Depends how wide you want them.”

“Wide. I don’t want the longest door to reach within six inches of the other vehicle.”

Gibbs mentally measured then said, “Ok. This room’s a hundred feet … right?” Tony nodded. “I’d allow ten feet … nothing anyone has is more than eight feet wide. But you’re going to lose a bit for some sort of stairs, I’d put them slightly off set from the big doors so a truck can pull up and offload right to the door.”

Tony rubbed his neck as he thought. “Just leave room for the staircase then mark it off in ten foot sections and be happy. Also, this dock is deep enough that I can get spaces along the walls. Probably only one so that no one parks someone else in.”

Gibbs agreed. “I’d say just get a set of concrete stairs delivered and put right in place then mark out. I’ll borrow a paint striping machine. We could use tape but that wears fairly quickly. If we paint it then throw down reflective beads it’s done.” He nodded at the upper dock. “A line up the wall wouldn’t hurt.”

Tony opened the walk-in door and lead the way back into the kitchen. “Ok.” He went straight to the coffee machine and poured Gibbs a cup. “Here.” He settled back with his own cup to wait for Gibbs’ friend to arrive.

They’d just started another pot when someone knocked on the front door. Tony got up to answer while saying, “I’m glad Hank is putting in a doorbell I wouldn’t hear that if I was upstairs.”

Gibbs contemplated the room for a moment. “That why you put the piano where it is?”

“Yes and why my desk is close to the door too.”

Gibbs thought for a moment. “Might ask him to make sure that you can hear it all over the house but also that it’s not annoying.”

“I will.” Tony opened the door for Bill.

Bill offered his hand. He was big, as tall as Tony with muscular arms and legs. He was obviously not the desk-bound owner, his hand was calloused and hard.

“Mr. DiNozzo.”

Tony pointed, “Coffee. And call me Tony. Everytime someone says Mr. I look for my dad.”

“Ok. Coffee. Gibbs.” He nodded to Gibbs and took the mug. “Now … good coffee… tell me what you want.”

Tony sipped his coffee while he organized his thoughts. “Well, I want that mess mown down, some garden beds, not too tall, and an idea for something in the middle of that mess of a parking lot. A gazebo, fire pit, bbq area … something.”

Bill finished his coffee and stood up. “I’ll take a walk around, inspect the lot, take some soil samples … that sort of thing. I have a few ideas already. How much cooking do you do?”

Tony snickered, “I love to cook. I was going to suggest an herb garden but didn’t want to put expectations on you.”

“Oh, please, the more expectations, the easier my job is. Herbs, things like lavender and roses, all have specific environments they need. I can create micro-climates up to a point. So … in this area herbs are good, roses are not. There are a few antique and heritage types that do well. As to a gazebo, that’s a good idea, that soil is going to be sterile. A BBQ pit is also a good choice. You could actually have both. A fire pit in the middle of the gazebo is a possibility but you’d have to have a spark arrester and a chimney. It’s going to be somewhat expensive.”

Tony nodded. “I don’t care. If you’re uncomfortable just winging it, give me a bid. But I want the whole yard mowed within 48.”

“Ok, I can do that. As to an estimate, I’ve got a number in mind already.” He took a pad out of his shirt pocket, wrote something down, tore out the page then handed it to Tony.

Tony eyed it for a moment then said, “Double it. Use best quality materials and build to last. I want the gate area done. I have to look at it so I want it nice.”

Bill blinked then looked at Gibbs who nodded. “Ok. You got it. I’ll have someone here to mow first thing tomorrow. You need to have someone here to open the gates for them.”

Gibbs nodded. “I’m on cold cases because my team … isn’t. I’ll be here as soon as Tony wants.”

Tony mentally reviewed his schedule. “I have a lecture at 10am and 11am then office hours from 1-3. The virtual lecture starts at 2:30 and goes until I’m done. It usually only lasts 45 minutes or so. Most virtual lectures are shorter than face-to-face as they don’t ask a lot of questions. I just read the lecture, ask for input or questions and watch the sign-offs scroll.” He knew it was standard procedure for all students in virtual lectures to do the least work possible but he also knew that they were going to get very low grades because he tested on things brought up in question and answer. He cheated just a bit by guiding the questions into areas he wanted his students to think about.

Bill checked his schedule on his phone. “I can have a crew here by 9am. That give you enough time to get to work?”

Tony shook his head, “Not quite. I have to leave by quarter after or I’ll be late. I’m usually gone by nine. It doesn’t look good for the professor, who insists on punctuality, to be late.”

Gibbs offered, “I can be here anytime after four. I’ll come at 8:30. I can bring breakfast if you like.”

Tony grinned. “That’d be great. I’m always hungry after a run.” Gibbs and Bill both looked at him. “What? I run at least three miles a day. And do BowFlex. Except for Sunday. I slack off then.”

Gibbs shook his head. “How the hell did you keep up a routine like that?”

“I started slacking off and started losing lung function. Balance, Boss, Balance. You got to have balance.”

After rubbing his face Gibbs said, “When you’re right, you’re right. Why … you used to get in my face and make me listen, when did you stop?”

“When you quit listening to me. You started sicin’ the terrible twins on me. But that’s behind us. Movin’ on now.”

Gibbs nodded. “Ok. So … If you don’t need me anymore I’ve got a glue up drying. I’m hopin’ it’s done. You call, I’ll come.”

Tony nodded. “Same here. I’m gonna … paint, play piano, hang. See you tomorrow.”

Gibbs just walked out with an absent wave.

Bill snorted. “Man of few words.”

“He’s a fuckin’ functional mute. We done?”

“Just about.” Bill pulled a folded 4x6 card out of his pocket and unfolded it. “Need you to fill this out.”

Tony took the card which was a check list of what he wanted done when. He glanced it over then checked mow, rake, weed eat, clean garden beds, and a few others then wrote in the note, “To be done as needed.”

Bill examined it quickly then tucked it into his pocket. “I’ll come tomorrow to walk the yard with my guys. After that someone will drive by every couple of days. If you want something done just leave a message on my office machine or send an email. We’ll get to it within 48 hours or let you know when we will be in. Ok? Any questions?”

Tony shook his head. “No. I think we’ve covered everything. If I do have a question, I’ll give you a call. More coffee?”

Bill shook his head. “No thanks, I’m all coffeed out. Better get back home. Hopefully the gals have cleared out. I’ll help clean up then there’s a game on I want to see. Good-bye.”

After Bill left Tony settled down to watch a football game.

.

Tony woke with the realization that Gibbs had to be in his house. He got up, dressed in jogging gear and thumped down the stairs. He accepted a cup of coffee from Gibbs with a glower.

“What?! Those locks are shit.” Gibbs shrugged with a hopeful expression.

“I hate you. You do know that, right? But I forgive you for coffee’s sake.” Tony grinned to take any insult out of his words then sipped his coffee. “Oh man. Thanks. I’ll just do my run. We can talk about whatever brought you over so damn early. Bill said …8:30?”

Gibbs nodded, “He did. But I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d get a jump on a couple of things that need doing.” he pointed. “You’ve got a couple of windows that need re-calking. And I want to check that the outside brick doesn’t need tuck-pointing.”

Tony shook his head. “You don’t need to do that. I can get someone in.”

“I’m not doing it. Just checking to see if it needs done. Do your run and whatever else it is you do. I’ll meet Bill and we’ll get the mowing started. I have some ideas for garden beds. I was wondering if some containers on the gazebo or the base pad might make a nice addition but I need to talk to him about it.”

Tony sighed. “We good? I mean … I don’t need you to do penance, a sincere apology was good enough.”

Gibbs shook his head. “Not doin’ penance. Just tryin’ to be a good friend. If I needed to set up a home theater you’d do it, right?” Tony nodded. “So … I got skills, no sense in payin’ done what I’ll do for a nice Italian dinner. Right?”

Tony snickered as he headed for the treadmill. “I see it now, you just like me for my cooking.”

Gibbs snarked right back. “An’ you love me for my steaks. Fair trade.”

“True.” Tony got on the mill and started his warm up. “I’m going to do three miles but, since Bill is coming, I’ll skip my strength training. Once won’t hurt me. If you want anything for breakfast, you know how the kitchen works.”

“I do. I’ll make another pot of coffee but I’m really not hungry.” Gibbs wandered back to the kitchen absently turning on the tv as he went.

Tony listened to the morning news as he ran, Gibbs wandered around the room making notes in his pocket note book.

When Tony was done with his run he grabbed a cup of coffee and took it upstairs with him. He showered while he drank it then shaved. A quick trip to his closet saw him dressed for the day.

He heard Bill’s voice so he hurried down stairs.

Gibbs was already outside with Bill, and his coffee, so Tony joined them.

Bill had brought three men with him and a trailer full of machinery. He nodded to Tony and Gibbs, said something to one of the men then walked over. “Mornin’. I thought we’d just mow and rake today. Then we can see what we’ve got in the way of soil, get an idea of the actual lay of the land, and stake out some beds. I’ll have you give an ok to the placement.” Tony nodded his understanding. “And I’ll mark out the central installation according to how bad the pavement is. The edges seem to be thicker than the middle so it’s cracked rather badly. I also thought some plants in tubs by the front door might be a good idea.”

Tony nodded. “Something that smells nice. And I do want an herb garden, containers or whatever. Just remember that one basil plant is only good for one pot of sauce.”

Bill smirked, “I know. I did have a good idea for an herb garden. I’ll warn you that I tend to draw heavily from Gertrude Jekyll. Hell of a woman.”

Gibbs had no idea but Tony was delighted. “I love her gardens. The Paddingtons have several gardens designed by her. They’re all private but I have layouts you can look at.”

Bill looked delighted. “Wow. How did you managed that? I’d love to see them.”

Tony smirked a bit. “I’m a Paddington on my Mother’s side. I’ve got certified copies of all the gardens at Paddington Hall. I’ll get them for you.”

“Ok. Well, we’d better get started, some of those horse weeds are as high as my head and thick as my thumb. We’ll probably have to cut them by hand. Also, I thought I’d take all the clippings away as most of it isn’t compostable and you don’t have a pile anyway.”

“Ok. That’s a good idea. I was wondering what to do with it all. As to compost pile; you take what you can use to compost. I don’t want a pile around.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I better get going, traffic can be a bitch and I don’t want to be late. Gibbs, call if you need me.”

Gibbs just raised his mug and nodded. Bill waved as he walked over to consult with his team.

.

Tony tugged at his tie, wearily wondering if he could just hide for the rest of the semester. Tabitha handed him a cup of tea, saying, “Tea. You don’t need any more coffee. The little monsters were bad today?”

Tony shook his head. “Not particularly bad, just … unobservant. I swear they couldn’t smell shit if I rubbed their noses in it. I actually had to point Alfred Hitchcock out with a laser pointer. We were taking about effective use of cameos so I was showing them some clips. At least half of them haven’t watched the assignment yet.” He sipped his tea with a sigh.

Tabitha patted him on the shoulder. “Most of the class can’t get it through their heads that this is not an easy A, no matter what the coaches say. You’ll lose most of your problem students by the middle of the semester. Go. Sit. Relax for a bit. You’ve got a video lecture in about ten minutes. And I don’t see why you don’t record them then have Ham run them.”

“What if someone has an actual question?”

“You tell them to post the question to the chat room you’re going to set up and moderate. That’ll save your voice and your sanity. If you can’t mod for some reason Ham is perfectly capable of doing it. And don’t say you’re not earning your salary that way, most professors leave 90% of the teaching to their TA’s so you do way more than most.” She patted him again then went back to her work.

Tony shook his head, it felt like cheating, but he did have papers to grade. He settled in to grade his first set of essays. He read the first one in disbelief, what little of it he could. He sat back in his chair shaking his head. The whole thing was written in present tense, in text speak. He wrote F- on it and added, “Redo in proper tense and real English.” He paused as he realize that he hadn’t established any rules for essays.

After some thought he got on line and searched for some sort of How To Write An Essay instructions. He found several good sites on how to compose an essay but nothing on specifics. So he posted links to the two best, in his opinion, sites then added his own rules, proper English constructions, no net or text speak in the body except as quotations or part of dialogue, past tense, and no foreign language inclusions that were just lazy refusal to translate.

He pinned that to the top of his board then checked his emails. After answering what needed answering and creating filters to get rid of 90% of the spam, he went back to grading papers. He knew he was going to have to explain his reasons for giving a low grade or even refusing to read them so he made notes as he went.

By 3:30 he was exhausted, mentally and physically, so he decided to call it a day and go home. He was hoping that the mowing was done so he could relax and do his strength training.

The drive home was quick as the hours between 2pm and about 4pm were working hours for most of the population. The drive in was worse as 9am was still prime driving time.

He started to get out to open the gate mumbling, “Have to get a remote for that.”as he did so.

He was happy to see one of the mowing crew waving him to wait. The man pushed the slide-a-side gate open then waited as Tony drove through then closed it.

As he drove around the building Tony looked over what work he could see, it all looked good from the car but he wanted to walk the yard before approving the job.

He left his overcoat in the mud room along with his dress shoes. He padded into the great room in his socks, went upstairs and changed into a henley and jeans, rummaged his closet for his boots then carried them back downstairs. After putting his boots on he went outside to look the yard over.

He noticed that Gibbs was gone but Bill was still there. He ambled over, caught his attention and said, “Let’s walk the yard together.”

“Ok. We were just finishing up. After a good look over I realized that some of the far back areas were so overgrown that we needed a heavy duty weed cutter. It took some time to get it here because it was at another yard so we’re just finishing up the trimming. I marked out where I want to cut the pavement for the gazebo. I also marked out a couple of places to put concrete flower boxes … to act as speed traps … keep people from getting a good run at the front door. Gibbs’ idea.”

Tony nodded. He knew exactly what Bill was referring to, large concrete troughs with dirt and flowers in them. The blocks were a lot shallower than you’d think as the majority of the block was solid concrete with about a foot of actual dirt. This was more than enough to keep the plants alive and healthy with a little extra care. In his estimation each six foot long, four foot high, three foot wide flower box would weight in at about 10k.

“As big as I want them, how are you going to get them here?”

Bill shrugged, “Build forms and pour them in situ. I’m not about to try to move something that big and heavy if I don’t have to. I’ll have the gazebo pad poured first then we’ll see exactly where we want the flower boxes. I don’t recommend making a maze but putting three in front of the front door, two and one, would do the trick. And some sort of something to keep them from getting in at the back.”

Tony nodded. “Got that covered. Hank is putting in heavy duty, solid steel roll up doors.”

“Ok. Gibbs would have my head if I fell down on this job. Don’t know what he did to feel so guilty but … well, it had to be bad. Be nice to him … Ok?”

Tony sighed. “I will. I’ve forgiven him; now, he needs to forgive himself. So … garden beds?”

Bill smiled his relief then returned to business. “The gate is a slide-a-side so we’ve got several options. I don’t want anything too tall as it’ll interfere with line of sight for the security cameras but we can manage with a variety of shorter bloomers. I sketched out some ideas just using colors. I’ll see what perennials are available when we start setting the beds. And that’s a problem. The soil is so poor that we’ll be amending all winter. There’s no sense in planting anything now they’ll just freeze. The first hard frost is predicted for this week.”

Tony nodded. “I know. But that gives us all winter to get the beds set and soil up to par. I’d like to get the troughs set soon though.”

“Ok. Come see what I’ve got marked out.”

Tony followed Bill to the center of the huge parking lot. He’d spray painted the entire broken area plus a bit more. As the lot was 30 acres, give or take a few square yards, and the parking lot took up about a third of it, it was large. Cutting the center out still left plenty of room to drive and for parking spaces. There was also room for more barrier planters. Tony pointed out that they probably weren’t necessary as all he really wanted was his front door protected as there was no reason to believe that the other buildings would need it.

Bill pointed to the pavement. “As you can see it’s pretty much gravel here. All the center is at least two inches thinner than the edges. I’d advise you to have an expert come in and give you a bid on capping what we don’t cut out. I was looking at an octagonal section at least four inches thick. We’ll have to rebar the hell out of it or it’ll crack in a few years. But, rebar, cold weather concrete, and some fancy footwork and it’ll last. I want to sub-contract the gazebo itself, I’m a gardener, not a carpenter. I recommend teak but you should follow the contractor’s advice on that.”

Tony nodded. “All he has to do is write up a plan with an estimate and give it to me.”

Bill smirked which Tony thought was rather strange. “Ok. I’ll tell him.”

They visited a bit then Bill said, “I’d better get. I promised my wife I’d be home for supper.”

“Can’t disappoint the little woman.” Tony grinned.

“Little?” Bill snorted. “Don’t let my six foot Amazon hear you call her that. And, she out ranked me in service. See you.” With than he headed for his car followed by Tony’s delighted laughter.

Tony went inside to do his paper work. He had some things from the college and some from Clark. He sighed and started. He was now responsible for about 35,000 people’s livelihoods.

Once he’d finished the paperwork he went to the kitchen to make something to eat. He kept a full larder and fridge now. He shopped at the farmers market and local mom ’n pop grocers and deli. He was actually surprisingly domestic. He felt it suited him.

The rest of the week went without drama, he lectured, worked in his office at Georgetown, and at home. He also watched as they cut the asphalt for his gazebo. He couldn’t believe how quickly the job went, but considering the size of the pavement saw, he should have. The cut took up approximately one fourth of the pavement in an octagonal shape. The actual gazebo would be half that. This left room for flower boxes and vases. He was really looking forward to spring when all the gardens and containers would start to bloom.

.

Gibbs started out pissed, he’d come in to the office today especially to find out what was going on with Tim and Abby. Jenny wasn’t in for whatever reason so he called HR. They told him that Jenny was taking a sick day. They also told him that Tim was allowed back as his two weeks were up. Abby was not, she’d asked for a month off to do a retreat with her nun friends.

He returned to his desk and called Tim. When he told him that he was off leave as of tomorrow Tim actually cheered. “And I expect you to act like an agent instead of a sulky, spoiled child. You followed Ziva right in to a trap. I don’t know what she thought she was going to accomplish by her actions but all it did was get you and Abby into a whole heap of trouble. And call Tony. You’ll have to grovel but if I can, you can.” And with that he hung up.

He called the convent and left a message for Abby. “Abby, I know you’re incommunicado but when you get a chance call Tony and apologize … and you better really mean it. He’s really hurt by all this. He’s well on his way to forgiving me but he’s still really ambivalent about you and Tim. I hate this whole thing so make up or lose him … and me. Sorry but I’m not gonna lose his friendship because you want to be Daddy’s favorite.” Gibbs shivered. “And that just sounds all kinds of wrong but you know what I mean.” He hung up then rubbed his face with a sigh. “Jethro, when you fuck up, you do a really good job.” He turned to his paper work, wondering when he’d acquired all these forms to fill out.

He must have said that last out loud as Balboa, who sat closest to his desk, called, “Tony’s been doing his paper work, most of yours and half of McGee’s and David’s for years. Man should have quit three years ago. Sorry for you … so not.” And he returned to his own work with a snort.

Gibbs sighed, another sign of how far he’d drifted, lost the plot, however you wanted to put it. He regretted so many things. That slap had startled him, pushed Tony over the edge, and made Jen re-evaluate something she’d planned. He didn’t know what it was, only that it involved Tony and no backup. He also knew it had something to do with Tony now being a professor.

His phone chimed, he hated the new ring tone, so he picked it up. “Gibbs.”

“We’re sending up the entire back log of uncorrected reports from David and McGee. See that they are corrected and returned within … I’d have said the week but it’ll take you most of a month to do it.” Ms. Bates, the Head of Processing, hung up on him.

He cringed, remembering that he’d told Tony to either get McGee and David to redo the reports or do them himself. He’d said he wasn’t doing them himself anymore and he, Gibbs, had assumed that the two junior agents were doing them. Evidently, they hadn’t, they’d just returned them to HR and filing and gone on their merry way. Now he was responsible for all the corrections.

Five minutes later and he was seriously considering murder. The expected files came carried by two rather husky Marines who were escorted by Delores Bromstead herself.

“Gibbs. I expect all this done within the month. I’m not best pleased with you right now so watch your step. And tell McGee that he’s not all that and a bag of chips … or whatever slang expression is current.” And with that she gestured to the Marines to put down the boxes of files.

They did so and one of them hissed, “I don’t know what you did, Gunny, but you better damn well fix it.” They turned and hurried off before he could figure out what to say, or if he should even say anything.

He turned to the boxes and realized why Delores had needed help, there were six boxes of folders. He rubbed his face wearily. Each box held from 40 to over 100 files depending on how thick they were. He eyed the files in the first box. He couldn’t be lucky, each file only held three to five sheets stapled together.

After cursing under his breath for a few moments he perched his glasses on his nose and dove into the stacks of files. He worked steadily for a couple of hours then took his glasses off and tossed them onto his desk. If Ziva hadn’t been in Israel already he’d have shipped her there himself. All the rejected reports that were hers were littered with Hebrew, Yiddish, and a collection of punctuation errors, poor syntax, and improperly constructed sentences. He mentally slapped himself in the head. Tony had been telling him about this for years and he’d just ignored him confident in the belief that Ziva wasn’t foolish enough to ignore his orders to clean up her reports. She’d told him several times that Tony was just nitpicking and he’d believed her, more fool he. So now he was suffering for it.

.

Abby was on her knees, saying a Novena, while she paid her penance for being ‘very naughty and rude’ as Sister Helen put it. She privately though it was more like she’d been a giant, nasty bitch. She’d confessed to the Abbess, Sister Marie Grace, and she’d advised that she, Abby, try to look at it from Tony’s point of view. This had had her sobbing into the Nun’s skirts.

Now she was seriously in a retreat and counseling mode. She’d spoken to the NCIS therapist that she’d been assigned to, or had assigned to her, she wasn’t sure on that. She had agreed to six months of therapy at least once a week and more if needed. She didn’t want to be some sort of obsessive nutjob.

Her first objective, agreed to by her therapist, was to make up with Tony. How? She wasn’t sure but she thought that the first step should be to fix what she had broken. This meant that she was going to spend several hours checking Tony’s financials and utilities and returning them to their previous state. She knew that she was also going to have to be very careful not to disturb any new arrangements Tony had made.

After several hours of very careful work Abby found out that her ‘best’ friend was not only rich, but very, very rich. And in possession of several companies and multiple safety deposit boxes and had cars and boats in storage all over the world. She thought this was a terrible waste of money but didn’t do anything about it. She’d ask Tony if he wanted her to do anything before she did more than print out a list to give to him.

Abby hoped it wouldn’t hurt anything to wait until she as done with her retreat so she decided to discuss it with the Mother Superior of the convent. After she finished her Novena.

.

Abby tapped on Sister Mary Grace’s office door. “Do you have a minute? I can come back later but I really need to speak with you.”

Sister Mary Grace crossed herself, ending her meditation, then said, “Yes, certainly. Come in and sit down.”

Abby settled in the rather comfortable chair and bit her lip while she got her thoughts in order. “Well, I was wondering what I should do about some information I’ve got.” She went on to explain what she had done. “So, I know I really shouldn’t have … but I broke it so I thought I should fix it. I didn’t mess with any new arrangements … in fact everything seems to be in order … but there’s a lot of stuff out there with Tony’s name on it that’s costing him an arm and a leg in storage fees and I’d bet Senior is behind it so Tony needs to know and do something or decide not to do something but how can he decide if he doesn’t know so … should I mail, email, or text but that’s a huge text so maybe not text so much as send him a paper copy or email to tell him about it all.” She stopped babbling and fixed Sister Mary Grace with a hopeful look.

“I see. Give me a moment to think.” The Mother Superior, also addressed as Abbess, spent a few moments to unravel Abby’s rather convoluted explanation. “Well, my best advice is to give it to me. I’ll send it on. That way you don’t violate your probation. Now … how are you doing on your Novena and penance?”

Abby fiddled with her rosary. “I’m doing well. I’m on my fourth hour of the nine, I’ve decided that twice a day is best. I also saw my therapist yesterday. He said that I’ve made astonishing progress. But … I feel really, really bad. Tony never did anything but be kind to me and … stuff. And I pull this … stuff on him. I wish I could do something really nice for him but … I’m not allowed to contact him until he says he’s not mad anymore but how can I find out if he’s mad if I can’t contact him?”

Sister Mary Grace nodded her understanding. “I think the best way to proceed is to just wait. After your retreat is done, I’ll call him and see if he won’t at least see you here. We might clean up one of the old visitors booths.” Abby gave her a blank look. “When the convent was first established we were a full … isolation might be the best explanation. No contact with the outside world at all. Family that visited came in through a single door and went straight to a booth somewhat like a confessional and spoke through a screen. If we use one of those, he might be a bit more receptive … you’ll show that you want to respect his feelings.”

Abby frowned but said, “That might be a nice idea. We can talk but he can get up and leave if he needs to without feeling that he’s … on the spot? Great idea. Thank you so much.”

Sister Mary Grace stood up and held out her arms. “Hug?”

“Please.”

They hugged then Abby said, “I better go. I’m on KP today. We’re having roasted butternut squash glazed with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, steamed Brussels sprouts, and fried ham. I’m on squash patrol so I better get moving.” Abby scurried out.

Sister Mary Grace sighed, “Oh, dear. Abby, you’ll never really change.” She sat back at her desk and turned to her books.

.

Tony woke to a tap on his door. He was hyper aware of everything just now as his nearest neighbors seemed determined to drive him to drink. They invaded his property at will and knocked on the doors at all hours of the day and late into the evening. He came home to a veritable blizzard of notes and flyers on his front door. They also called the cops at least once a day. Most of the complaints were about the construction, destruction of valuable historical structures they said. How asphalt could be historical he wasn’t sure. He was sure that they were going to get their pants sued off if they didn’t stop.

He opened the door to see Gibbs grinning at him. “Morning, Tony. Need a gazebo build?”

Tony sighed. “Gibbs. Coffee. In.”

“Not awake yet?” Gibbs couldn’t help a bit of a smirk. The only reason he was here so early was the lumber yard had scheduled the delivery at 7am.

Tony scowled a bit then announced, “Too damn early. Coffee.” He scrambled around a bit then got the coffee maker fired up.

“Actually, it’s a bit early for me too. But the lumber yard wanted to deliver and I’m not about to reschedule a delivery of prime teak. So … coffee, please.” Tony gave him a disbelieving look. “It’s Tuesday. You know I’m usually in the office by 6am or so. I had to get up at five to get here before the truck. It’s due at 7.” He glanced at his watch. “That’s about thirty minutes from now … depending on how reliable their clocks are.”

Tony grunted. “Huh! Ok, I need to do something?”

“Sign for the delivery. Then I’ll head for the office. Tim’s due back today. And he’s got a bunch of reports to redo so we’re off rotation until further notice.” Gibbs made a face at the very thought.

Tony just turned to get the coffee, he wasn’t about to comment on anything going on at NCIS. As far as he was concerned it wasn’t his problem anymore. He poured coffee, fixed his, then put both mugs on the counter. “Well, I’m going to have to head out fairly early. I’m running out of some art supplies and Aggie isn’t in after 10. I need to order some things and the clerk won’t do it without her approval. But I don’t have to leave until about 9 in order to catch her before she gets busy. So, I’ll hang here as long as I can. How long do you think it’ll take them to unload?”

“Not long. I ordered a drop trailer so they’ll just unhitch it and take the truck. I don’t want that teak laying on the ground, it won’t rot but it’ll warp. You need to figure out where you want to put the trailer though.”

Tony shrugged. “Behind one of the buildings. The one on the left coming in is good. Just have them pull up near the loading dock and drop it.”

“Ok. Got it. You gonna make apartments out of the other buildings or what?”

“Don’t know. Might … might not. Might turn one of them into an art gallery.” Tony sipped his coffee while he played with a few ideas. “I also might turn one of them into a storage garage for collector cars. I’m gonna have to wait until I get more settled in whatever I decide to do. I like teaching but the routine is killing my art. I don’t get enough time to paint. Sounds stupid when I say it but I have to stop right in the middle of inspiration to go teach. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love. Just … I don’t know.”

Gibbs finished his first mug of coffee. “I know. I’d like to spend more time on my boat … and other woodworking projects but, when they call, I go.”

Tony nodded, he knew how that went.

Further conversation was put on hold as the gate buzzer went off. Tony hurried to the door to answer it, muttering, “I need to do something about that.” He buzzed the truck in then went out to meet the driver, followed by Gibbs.

It didn’t take long to get the trailer dropped where they wanted it. It was going to be some work to move the lumber from where they dropped the trailer to where they were going to build the gazebo but Tony offered to rent a forklift or something, if needed, and Gibbs took him up on that.

After getting everything arranged Gibbs left, leaving Tony to shut the gate and go back inside. It didn’t take him long to take care of the necessities, as Ducky called them, and make a quick list so he didn’t forget anything. He was soon on the way to The Paint Pot.

.

Gibbs got to the office about twenty minutes later than he usually did. That didn’t mean he was late by any means, office hours started at 8am and he was forty-five minutes early. He turned on his computer and drank coffee until it booted.

As he waited he reviewed the reports that were delinquent. Tim had almost three boxes to do while he, Gibbs, had the rest. Ziva had been passive aggressive, and in some cases downright aggressive, about getting reports done. He’d assumed that Tony was handling it, but it seemed that even the ever diligent SFA couldn’t keep up with her shit; and, in the end, had just given up.

Tim showed up right on time, carrying a cup of coffee and a Danish. “Morning, Boss.” He turned on his computer and sipped at his coffee while he waited for it to boot. He didn’t get more than a couple of sips before Gibbs pointed to the boxes of reports. “There’s your reports. Every one is to be reviewed and fixed before we can go back on rotation. I’m doing Ziva’s as she’s not here anymore, nor ever likely to be. And I’ll thank you to deal silently. No mutinous muttering, grumbling, or bitching. You should have thought of what was going to bite you in the ass before you decided to undermine Tony. Now, get to work.”

Tim didn’t protest his dressing down, mild by any standards, he just picked up the first box and moved it to the wall next to and behind his desk. He stacked the other box on top of it then moved the pile Gibbs had pulled to the top of that. He opened the first folder and sighed. He wondered why he’d decided to be such an ass then chastised himself for being a follower who just went along to get along. Ziva was a nag but he shouldn’t have let her talk him into doing something he knew wasn’t a good idea. Abby, on the other hand, was just clueless, she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it and she hated change. He was pissed at both of them but blamed himself as much as them.

.

Tony drove to The Paint Pot glad that the early morning traffic was mostly over, this late nearly everyone was already at their destination. He hummed along with the radio, Big Band was one of his favorite genres. It wasn’t that hard to find a place to park so he was soon striding happily up to the door.

The jingle of the spring bell got a call from the back. “Who is it?”

“DiNozzo. I need some supplies.”

Aggie came out of the back room, wiping her hands on a rag. “Hey! Glad to see you. I’ve got some news about your Mom’s art. Most of what is left is in the hands of private collectors, the rest is in a modern art museum that specializes in watercolor’s by lesser known artists. The museum is in Vermont but they’ll be glad to arrange a private showing for you anytime. I’ve got their card here somewhere. The private collectors are divided into two camps, one won’t allow you into a private home but will send you a good scan or picture if you ask. I just told them to send them to me and I’d pass them on. The other camp is more on the call and make arrangements. I also asked them to send pictures.”

“Aggie! I love you. I’d love to have good pictures of anything you can get. I think I’ll make a coffee table book out of them. Thank you so much.” Tony beamed at her.

“Ok. I can actually have all the files sent to a book binder and have them make up a nice book. It’ll be expensive.” She warned Tony.

“I don’t care. I can afford it. Just let me know where to send a check. Now.” Tony rubbed his hands together. “I need … stuff.”

They spent the next two hours getting Tony’s ‘I want’ list filled. Aggie was delighted as the order totaled nearly a weeks worth of sales not to mention the things she didn’t have that he wanted her to order.

“Ok, I think that’s it. I’ll start carrying it out to my car.”

Aggie helped by schlepping all the boxes to the front door. Tony took them from there to his car.

Tony wiped his hands on his jeans. “Thanks. When you have news on the book just give me a call.”

“Ok, I can do that. Have a nice day.” Aggie smiled then turned, “I better get back in there. I’m expecting several calls and I have to put in your order.”

Tony waved while saying, “Thanks a lot.” He pulled away from the curb smiling faintly. He had a bit of work to do before he ate lunch then got ready for his class.

When he arrived, he drove around the building to the loading dock/parking garage and parked in the space nearest the stairs. He loved this garage, it was big, big enough for all the cars he wanted. And a motorcycle. He idly contemplated the idea of getting a pickup, it might not be a bad idea. Or a panel van to move large pieces of art in. Or both, he had the room and the money.

He checked that the roll down had closed completely then went to make coffee and figure out something to eat. He wound up making a toasted cheese sandwich and some soup. It was getting cold enough that soup was good.

He was just finishing his lunch with the gate bell went off again.

A quick buzz and the messenger came in, drove to the front door, handed him a manilla envelope and said, “Sign here please.”

He signed, good a look at the return address and said, “Man, I hope this isn’t a list of my sins.”

The messenger grinned. “Doubt that. Sister Mary Grace would bring that herself with a demand for penance … right now. Great woman.”

“That she is. I really like her. She usually sends me neat stuff. Well, here.” Tony pulled a bill out of his pocket and handed it over.

The messenger eyed the twenty for a second then said, “Thanks a lot, man. Have a nice day.”

“You too.” Tony nodded then shut the door. He eyed the package with some interest. “Wonder what the hell.” He opened the pinch clasp and pulled the pile of pages out.

It didn’t take him long to realize that it was a list of things with his name on them. He had no idea what most of it was but had a sneaking suspicion that his old man had put his name on a lot of things to hide them from the IRS, business partners, or ex-wives.

He fiddled with the pile of papers then decided he’d send it all to Evan Bishop and let him and Clark figure out what to do. He found a new envelope and called a messenger service to come pick it up.

.

Evan Bishop had been delighted when his son had gotten him a new client. He was even more delighted when Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Jr. had put him on retainer. He didn’t like Senior at all and felt that the man had victimized his son from the word go. He was going to make sure that it didn’t happen on his watch. So, when he got an envelope full of lists of things in Tony Jr.’s name that he didn’t know anything about, he was outraged.

“Ok. First thing we do is send out some junior partners, secretaries, mail boys, whoever we have to to find out exactly what we have on our hands; then we make arrangements to collect it all.”

His secretary frowned, “Maybe we should ask Mr DiNozzo first?”

Evan shrugged, “First, it’s actually Professor DiNozzo, helps to keep him separate from Senior. Second, I really don’t care, he’s entitled to anything with his name on it and he’s probably been paying for most of the Deposit Boxes and storage without knowing about it. We get his proxy and collect the contents of all the boxes and storage rooms, check cars and boats out to see if they’re salvageable. As to anything else? We’ll see what’s what.”

“Ok. You got it. I’ll start sending out people as soon as I can make up some sort of plan. I think we need to sort every thing by what, then where. Save on one time runs.”

Evan smiled at the woman, Hannah had been with him longer than his wife.

Hannah returned to her desk and started making lists by location. She’d send someone to each location to assess the situation and give recommendations. She knew it wasn’t going to take as long as Evan thought, a lot of banks were very meticulous about safety deposit boxes, others weren’t, the banks in question fell into the later group. All she’d have to do was get Professor DiNozzo to sign a few papers and the bank would cooperate.

She finished her lists and wrote the power of attorney document. Evan signed them then sent the whole mess back to Tony via one of the legal research assistants.

.

Tony was just back from his class when the messenger arrived. He followed Tony’s directions and parked in front while Tony drove to his usual parking place then hurried to the front to let him in.

“Sorry about that but no unauthorized people in the back parking. What do you need?” Tony waved the man in and headed for the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Oh, no thank you, sir. I’m only here to deliver some lists and go over them with you. If you have any question that I can’t answer we can call Mr. Bishop. Either Clark or Evan, depending on the question.”

“Ok. Well, I’m having coffee and I feel bad drinking in front of you … so what do you want in it?”

“Half a spoon of sugar, sir.”

Tony efficiently fixed coffee then, as he turned with mugs in hand, demanded, “And what the hell is your name? I can’t keep thinking of you as ‘a junior partner’.”

“My name is Frederick Henkel. I’m actually a legal research assistant. In other words, I could be a lawyer but I find it boring so I do research, run errands, and generally make a nuisance of myself.” He grinned, took his coffee and sipped. “Excellent. Thank you. So … to get down to it. There are several lists of things here. They’re set up by what, where, and estimated value. My recommendation is that you have all bank accounts emptied, as well as all safe deposit boxes. The contents of those should be separated into documents, which we will go over and advise as needed, stocks and bonds, and what we call other valuables. Things like guns, jewelry, and other such trinkets. Those we could just bring to you.”

Tony was flipping through the lists. “Well, jewelry can come here, guns dispose of; other, what you call trinkets, I’ll take a look at. As to cars, unless they’re antique or muscle, sell. If there’s a nice motorcycle have someone take a look, I want one. As to boats, yachts and such. I’d like one really nice yacht.” He flipped another page. “I’ll keep the villa in Italy, it’s attached to an orchard and vineyard, but make sure that Senior and all his … chums know that they’re not welcome. The apartment, season boxes, and the one car in New York City I’ll keep. I love theater and am going to use the season tickets. Senior, et. al., are not welcome there either. All the rest? Sell unless there’s a really good reason to keep it. Paddington Farms are to be kept and brought back to it’s prime. Stocks and bonds just add to my portfolio.”

Frederick had been taking notes in shorthand, so he stopped for a moment to advise, “I’d sell the car in NYC, you don’t need to try to drive in that mess. If I were you, I’d hire a limo and driver to be on call while you’re there.”

“Ok. Sounds like a plan. If there are any cars that I might be interested in, send me a video and I’ll decide whether I want you to bring it here or not. And now, I have a yacht in Italy, Spain, the Caribbean, Florida, California, and … um … Sri Lanka? What the actual fuck?”

Fredrick made a face. “I have no idea, sir. I’d suggest having someone you trust take a look at all the boats and give you advice. I do believe one of the yachts is a modern facsimile of an old sailing ship, very popular right now. And another, much more livable in my uneducated opinion, is a hybrid sail and electric motor trimaran. Both take a crew of twenty. You don’t have to worry about putting anyone out of work as they aren’t crewed until an actual sail date is set. But … do what you will.”

“I’ll … I have no fucking clue. I have a friend who might know someone, I’ll call him and have him call you when we know something. Ok. What else?”

His rather plaintive tone made the other man snicker. “Nothing until we know what’s what. I’ll be going now and you’ll have a proper proposal soon. Thank you for the coffee.” And with that, he stuffed all his papers back into a portfolio and left.

Tony shut the door behind him and sighed. “Well … fuck.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin as his phone rang. “DiNozzo.”

“Gibbs. I’ll be over this weekend to build your gazebo. I’ve got a crew to help me and … no, you can’t. You’ll cut off something important as we’re using power tools. If you like, I’ll pick up one of those burrito things you like. Eggs, sausage, cheese, and hash browns, right?”

“Yes, Thanks. Um … weird question. I know you build boats in the basement but what do you actually know about them.”

Gibbs blinked. “Well, I’m a certified sail master and a licensed recovery agent. Why?”

“Dad, in his infinite stupidity, has acquired half a dozen boats and yachts which are scattered all over the world. I was hoping that you would know someone who could inspect them, advise me on one to keep, and help sell the rest.”

“I know several certified and bonded captains that could do the job. You have a list?”

Tony said, “I do. I figure you can give it a look when you come over.”

Gibbs hug up after saying, “I’ll do that.”

Tony eyed the phone in his hand with some disgust. “Just once could you say ‘good-bye’ first?”

He then went to make some supper before spending the rest of the evening grading essays. “And why the hell did I assign an essay?” He poked at another page. “Oh, yeah, so I’d know who knew how to actually write and who needs remedial classes in English. And … oh, holy hell, Hermione-syndrome much?” He sent the essay back to the student with a firm, “Assigned 1500 words, not 20k. Rewrite within assigned parameters or fail.” He was glad tomorrow was Friday.

.

Saturday dawned and Tony dragged himself out of bed. Gibbs was going to be over to start on the gazebo within the hour or Tony missed his guess. He decided against a shower, he hadn’t done anything strenuous after his shower yesterday and he was going to get sweaty today so it wasn’t worth the hassle.

A cup of coffee and a slightly stale danish later he was waiting for someone to show up. He glanced at his watch to see that it was nearly 7am, Gibbs and his crew should be here any minute.

He was just finishing his second cup of coffee when the gate buzzer went off. He could see the truck so he waved then trotted inside to let them in.

Gibbs had his friend park at the front of the house as they had tools to unload. Tony eyed the driver for a moment then said, “Damon Werth. How are you, man?”

“Doin’ good. Finally found my place. Construction is … well, I just like it. Makin’ something that lasts .. you know? And no one much cares about my past.”

Tony nodded at the big man with a smile. “I teach now. Don’t know how long it’s going to last but I’m happy with it.”

Gibbs nodded. “We better get goin’. Werth, bring the lumber over to the build. Tony, help him, if you would.”

Tony followed Werth back to his truck. “Ok. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”

Damon shrugged. “All you have to do is spot me. I’m going to back up to the trailer and pull it to the site. We’ll put it back tonight. That teak is really expensive and I wouldn’t put it past someone to just break the gate and tow it away.”

Tony shrugged. “I really am considering more security for the grounds. Dogs or something.”

Damon shook his head. “Not dogs unless you want to hire handlers. You can’t just turn a dog loose and expect it to do more than shit all over.”

Tony made a face. “Hadn’t considered that. It’s all up to Hank anyway. He’s getting all the equipment lined up before he starts the job. He called and said that, as soon as the gazebo was done, he’d start. I think he wants to mount a camera on top of it.”

“Jensen?” Tony nodded. “He’s really good. Expensive as hell.”

“I can afford it.” As they were now backed up to the trailer, Tony got out. “What am I supposed to do?”

Damon smirked at Tony. “Just stand at the right front corner of the trailer and hold up a fist when I mate the hitch.”

“Ok. I can do that.”

Damon backed up carefully but made a perfect match the first try. Tony threw up his fist and Damon braked. “Ok. Now what?”

“You just drop the receiver over the ball then flip the lock. I’m not going to bother with the chains as we’re not leaving the lot.”

Tony did as instructed then went back to the truck. “Ok. Done.”

“Great. I’ll just pull the trailer up to the pad and park it.”

Gibbs directed Damon to the spot he wanted the trailer parked so Damon pulled up then dropped the trailer and parked his truck off to the side.

Damon ambled back, pulling on a pair of heavy gloves as he came. “Ok. Is this precut? Or are we working off a blue print?”

Gibbs snorted at the thought of precut anything. “Blue print.”

Meanwhile, Tony was eyeing the array of sharp, unfamiliar power tools with dismay. “Boss? I think I’ll … um … go grade papers. I have no business anywhere near any of that shit. I’ll make lunch. Sandwiches or something else?”

Damon shrugged. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you are better off out of this. Play piano, right? Need all your fingers for that.”

Gibbs chuckled. “Whatever you fix will be good. So … what ever. If you play, open a window or something so we can hear.”

“Over power tools?” Tony gave Gibbs a skeptical look.

“Maybe.” He made shooing motions. “Shoo. Grade your papers.”

Tony rubbed his face. “It’s so bad, Boss. I’ve got one girl who writes in text speech and another who took Hermione Granger as a role model. I ask for 2k she turns in 20. And a couple of the guys are more or less pre-verbal. I’m dyin’.”

“Can’t be as bad as dealing with Ziva’s passive aggressive style.”

“Yeah, there is that. At least they all write in English, sort of.” Tony shrugged and went back to his desk to deal with essays and some business.

He mostly ignored the noise of sawing, hammering, and general construction until a glance at the clock told him it was time to do something about lunch. He decided on a quick stir-fry as he knew Gibbs liked it, he had all the ingredients, and Werth would eat anything that didn’t bite him first.

He spent about twenty minutes starting the rice cooker, chopping things and mixing others. He sliced the beef last as he’d put it in the freezer hoping to firm it up a bit so he got nice, even cooking slices. He finished his prep by setting the table and starting coffee. He’d call Gibbs and Werth in as soon as the rice was done.

.

He went to the door to see if the men were at a good stopping place. Gibbs was just getting down from the rafters with Damon holding the ladder steady. As soon as Gibbs had both feet on the ground Tony called, “Come wash up. I’ll start the stir fry as soon as you’re clean.

Damon blushed a bit but Gibbs swatted him on the shoulder, no more head slaps for him, and said, “Move it. I’m hungry.”

Tony chuckled and started the stir fry. He’d decided to keep it simple, just beef, onions, broccoli, and mushrooms in oyster sauce. He tossed the broccoli into the hot wok and stirred until it was beginning to color then added the onions and mushrooms. When they were just about done he took them off the heat and dumped them into a covered dish.

Gibbs settled at the counter to enjoy the smell of the cooking dish. Damon joined him, handing over a cup of coffee as he did so.

Tony wiped the wok with an oiled paper towel then put it back on the heat. It wasn’t long before the smell of garlic and ginger filled the air. He added the meat and tossed it in the ginger and garlic laden oil. As soon as it lost its red color and started to sear he added the vegetables to the mix and gave the whole thing a quick toss. As soon as everything was heated through he poured the sauce mix in the pan, it only took seconds for the sauce to thicken.

Tony put the stir fry in a large trencher and dumped the rice into a bowl. “Here we go. Food.”

It didn’t take long for them all to have a plate. Tony gave Damon a dirty look as he manipulated his chopsticks with ease.

“I really hate both of you.” Tony speared a chunk of beef with his fork.

Damon gave him a rather wide-eyed look but Gibbs snickered then said, “Can’t use chopsticks. He can play the Minute Waltz in forty-five seconds but can’t pick up anything with ‘em.”

Damon snorted. “Had a guy in my old company that was the same way.”

Tony laughed then sobered. “Gibbs, I need a favor. Not much of one but it’d really help me out.”

Gibbs chewed, swallowed, then said, “Ok, what is it?”

Tony handed him the part of the print out that listed all the boats he owned. “I want to keep one, or two, maybe? See what you think, please.”

Gibbs actually managed to eat with chopsticks and examine the list that Tony had given him.

It didn’t take him long to demand, “Red pen.”

Tony uncapped a pink highlighter while saying, “Don’t have one. Use this.”

Gibbs shrugged and started highlighting. “Everything with a highlight over it, get rid of. Seriously, do you need three cigarette boats?”

Tony shook his head. “Nope. Might keep one.”

“I did. It’s just down the river a bit. I know a man with a good marina, I’ll have him send someone to bring it up. Need papers.”

Tony nodded. “I’ll have ‘em.”

“And … Christ on a cracker. Do you really want a … no not even askin’ I wouldn’t put you on any body of water in a damn dingy. You want a big yacht or a sail boat?”

Tony thought about that for a moment then offered, “I don’t want anything that I have to have a huge crew for. But I would like something big enough to live on part time. Maybe you could captain and I could crew? You decide.”

Gibbs smirked at Damon. “Damon is good crew so you could keep your pick of three or four. There’s three that are … floating palaces. I wouldn’t keep one of them on a bet … the other two … just too big for what you want. I’ll take some of that damn vacation time Shepard is always buggin’ me about and take a look. If you want.”

Tony caught the hopeful look and caved without a struggle. “Sure do. I like a nice sail as much as the next guy so keep something that takes two or three to crew. Then one bigger that’ll sleep … four?”

Damon just looked back and forth like watching a tennis match, kept his mouth shut unless he was putting food in it, and let them deal.

Gibbs and Tony discussed which of over fifteen yachts, boats, and sloops to keep and which ones to sell. Gibbs offered to check every one over and sell most of them, when school was out they’d eyeball the rest and keep a couple.

After more discussion Gibbs announced, “Well. If we want to finish that gazebo we better get back to work. As soon as we’re finished you can have the planters in and that camera installed.”

Tony nodded. “Ok, good. How long before you’re done? I’m just asking so I’ll know when to have coffee and pie.”

Damon sighed. “Man, can I work for you?”

Tony snickered, “Don’t know what you’d do. I’m just a college professor now.”

“For food like this? Damn near anything.” Damon grinned.

Gibbs snorted. “No, you wouldn’t. Come on, let’s get this done.”

Gibbs and Worth went back out and Tony turned to clean the kitchen.

.

Jen Shepard scowled at the report she was trying to read. Her head was killing her, she had double vision, and her hands shook constantly. Ducky had taken blood and run some tests; his results were inconclusive and he wanted her to go in for more tests but she wasn’t going to. She had too much to do. DiNozzo dropping his undercover and quitting on her was just the last in a long list of problems she was coping with. She knew he’d dropped it because Jethro was an ass to him and that he’d found out that she was his only backup. She wondered wearily what would go wrong next.

Jen decided that she couldn’t take the weird smell anymore so she lit a scented candle. After trying fruitlessly to read her report for some fifteen minutes she got up and lit another. Twenty minutes after that she lit a third and gave up on the reports. After pouring herself a stiff scotch she sat down in her favorite wing-back chair, put her feet on the stool and put her head back. A shooting pain in her head made her put her drink down on the coffee table; unfortunately, she missed her mark and put it in the plate that held the candles. She was dead of a ruptured aneurism before the heat of the burning candles shattered the glass sending the scotch into the plate and over the table. The scotch caught fire and soon the whole room was engulfed in flames.

A later investigation would prove that she’d been dead long before the house went up.

.

Leon Vance stepped in and took over quickly. But not quickly enough to keep the whole thing from the morning news. The fire had been a four alarm disaster, nearby structures had had to be drenched by the fire department to keep them from going up as well.

The local TV station ran breaking news broadcasts on the quarter hour and had a ticker tape with constant updates running along the bottom of the screen. Traffic was snarled hopelessly.

Abby called Gibbs who left the basement to watch. She also called Tim who also watched the devastation.

No one thought to call Tony but he was up still grading papers. He watched the coverage with mixed feelings, he was sad she died but he was relieved that he didn’t have to try to manage her demands anymore. Also, he’d feared that she might try to interfere with his place as professor. He stayed up late listening and watching.

It was early when Gibbs called him, even for Gibbs.

“Tony, you see the news?” Gibbs had no doubt that he had but he knew better than to assume.

“Yeah. What the fuck? This is going to be a shit storm.”

“I’ll go in and try to run damage control. Vance is probably interim director. He’s by the book but not unreasonable. Call you when I know more.”

Tony sighed audibly. “Ok. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

Gibbs hung up then headed for the Yard stopping on the way to get coffee.

It didn’t take him long to get in to see Leon Vance. He just handed him a coffee and said, “What the hell? How do I help?”

Vance sighed. “Not sure exactly what happened but she was already on the radar. Her behavior has gotten … problematical lately. That op with DiNozzo wasn’t sanctioned. I’m not sure why he quit and I don’t want to know. Unofficially, Jethro what the fuck?” He took a gulp of the coffee and sighed in appreciation.

Gibbs flushed slightly. “I screwed up. He’s a professor at Georgetown now. It started out as part of his cover but, when he quit, Jen thought she’d still get him to do the op and got him the job. He’s actually very well thought of by his students and he’s got a Masters in Cinema Studies or something. I’d leave him alone. We’ve got more important shit to deal with.”

Vance rubbed his face. “Like the funeral and cleaning up some crap. Scuito should be back on Monday?” Gibbs shrugged. “Ok, I’ll ask Cynthia about that. McGee is back?”

“He is and still working on a backlog of rejected reports. I’m dealing with all of David’s mess. How I let that shit slide I’m not sure. But I’ll shoot my own dog. Let me know what you need, I’ll see what I can do.”

Vance nodded. “Thanks. As to your team? I’m keepin’ out of it unless you ask for help or there’s a lot of complaints. DiNozzo can deal with his shit himself.”

“Thanks for that.” Gibbs left to head down to work on Ziva’s reports.

.

Tony called his staff and told them that a good friend had died. They were all very solicitous and took over his responsibilities for the week. He had recorded his lectures so he could listen to himself and adjust his delivery, so George was going to play the recordings at lecture. Ham would run the Q&A after the lecture. The rest of his responsibilities were suspended for the week. He’d have a hell of a time catching up with things but this was a sort of closure to a phase of his life. He needed this.

He made a couple of calls, one to Delores who said that the planning was falling on Vance and he wasn’t doing a good job. He told her to tell Vance that he’d do it.

The second call was to Clark Bishop. “Clark. Jennifer Shepard … well, you probably saw it all on the news. She was … my Director. I’m going to have to deal with some shit so I need you to put all the cars and boats and stuff on hold for a week.”

Clark had a better idea. “Why don’t we just continue to gather the deposit boxes and cars. We’ll just gather it all in one spot and let you deal later. Cars, we can park in a garage until you feel like seeing them. Ok?”

“Great. I’m just all shaken up. She was a force to be reckoned with and I can’t envision her as … gone. But … well, something was wrong with her and I have some questions. Probably never get answers. Well, thanks.”

“You need anything, Tony … anything at all, let me know. Ok?”

“Thanks. Good-bye.” Tony hung up feeling much better.

He called NCIS and was put on hold by some bean counter at the switchboard. He just wedged his phone between ear and shoulder while he made coffee. After several minutes of listening to a worn out hold music tape he got Tim on the line.

“Hello? Agent Tim McGee. How may I help you?”

“Tim. Tony. What the hell?”

“No idea. What’s up?”

“You tell me. I’m just touching base.”

“From the scuttlebutt it seems that Director Shepard had lit candles on the coffee table which somehow set the room and then the house on fire. She was seated in a chair close to the table, didn’t move which indicates that she was already dead, or at least unconscious, when the fire started. No one is sure what exactly happened. Ducky is doing an autopsy but we’re not that hopeful; the body is pretty badly burnt. We’ll probably never really know what happened for sure.”

Tony sighed. “Ok. Can you transfer me to Vance, please?”

Tim didn’t argue he just transferred the call.

Leon Vance was feeling a bit overwhelmed, he was taking over the reins of NCIS, attending briefings from several regional directors and trying to plan a funeral. He was ready to tear his hair out. This led to him being more than a bit abrupt when he answered his phone. “Vance.”

“Mr Director, Tony DiNozzo. While I’m not a member of the team anymore, I’d still like to offer my help. What can I do?”

“Can you plan a funeral? I’m swamped with the take over, what with it being so abrupt. I’m running on coffee and stubbornness. If you could do that, it’d free up Cynthia and me to deal with the takeover and … well, I’ve been told that everyone likes you. And I’m not sure who to trust with it.”

Tony thought about that for a second then offered, “I could plan but you’d have to sign off on everything. I’ll figure out who all will be coming and go over the list with you, then plan security and that. You’ll have to give a eulogy but I could write it. Other people, like SecNav and SecDef, will want to speak. I’ll deal with all that.”

“Thank you. I am truly grateful.” Leon hung up with relief, one more thing he didn’t have to worry about. He actually wasn’t sure who to trust with the arrangements. Jen had pissed off all the Assistant Directors and Division and Region Heads. Taking the job outside NCIS was the best decision all round.

Tony sighed and wondered what he was getting himself into.

.

Leon told Cynthia to get Tony DiNozzo an office and someone to run for him. She just smirked and sent a memo. Five minutes after it hit the boards she had eight volunteers to help him. She just picked the first one to hit her desk.

Cynthia nodded to herself as she picked an office for Tony. It had to be big enough, but not too big. It had to be near the Directors office but not part of it. It had to have at least two desks, one for Tony and one for Madelyn Jessup, his aide. She just gave up and assigned them Meeting Room 304. It was the smallest and situated behind the director’s office. It wasn’t a favorable position but it fulfilled all the requirements and wouldn’t put up anyone’s back.

She called Professor DiNozzo. “Professor DiNozzo. Cynthia here. I’ve found you an office. It’s Meeting Room 304. Close to the director’s office but no personal access. Big enough for you and your aide but small and in an odd location. Your aide is Madelyn Jessup from the secretarial pool. Do you know her?”

Tony just chuckled at the verbal assault. “Thank you. I know where Meeting Room 304 is and it’s perfect. Madelyn Jessup? Um … tall, pink glasses, bit zaftig, Blond, eager to please but no BS thank you?”

“That’s her. I’m sure you’ll get along well. And thank you for doing this. Director Vance has quite a few messes to deal with and I’m overwhelmed trying to help him.” Cynthia eyed a stack of papers on her desk with a very jaundiced eye. She was still sorting things that should have been filed but were just shoved into cupboards in the director’s office. Vance had actually sworn when he’d been showered with files from a cupboard that should have held nothing more that a couple of cups. She hung up without saying good-bye.

Tony took his phone from his ear and eyed it for a minute. “I swear that hang up without a good-bye is catching.” He realize that he was at the gate so he dropped his phone into his jacket pocket and readied himself for the entry check.

Everyone and his dog, as the saying goes, knew Tony or knew of him. The senior guard at the entry point knew him.

“Hey! DiNozzo. How’s tricks? Pop the trunk.” PFC. Jones was easy going until it was time not to be.

Tony popped the trunk without argument. “Just watch that case. It’s full of art supplies so don’t squeeze anything.”

“Ok. Paint? Not about to squeeze a tube of paint. My sister did that in art class. Pissed the teacher off and ruined a blouse.” He shut the trunk without slamming it.

Tony had to grin, the other guard was as green as grass and wanted to prove himself.

As Pvt. Randall ran his mirrors under the car he wondered if he should take out the seats, unfortunately he wondered out loud.

Tony was amused but wasn’t going to allow that. “No. Sorry. You’re not taking the seats out, not without probable cause. Which you don’t have.”

“And you know so much.” The idiot managed a creditable sneer.

Tony’s was better. “I do. Professor Anthony DiNozzo. Former SFA of the MCRT. And don’t give me that look. I’m supposed to meet with Director Vance in …” He looked at his watch. “ten minutes.”

PFC Jones eyed Pvt. Randall for a moment. “I’d head back to the booth, if I were you. And check that attitude. You run your mouth on the Director, or SecNav, or even, God forbid, SecDef and you’ll be cleaning latrines until dooms day.” He eyed the back of his partner as he trotted back to the tiny building. “I swear, God must love stupid, he sure made enough of it. Clear to go.”

Tony chuckled. “I agree. I’ll give you a bit of advice. Get him off the gate ASAP, his sense of self worth borders on arrogance.”

Jones just rolled his eyes and agreed. He walked back to the booth and put the gate up.

Tony drove through, found a guest parking spot and went into the building. He was stopped at the security desk by a guard he knew well.

Jim greeted him with a smile. “Hey! DiNozzo. We miss you. You know the drill.”

Tony did so he emptied his pockets, took off his shoulder holster, knife in sheath, and hold out. He put them all in a bin and let the other guard take it. “Mike, how’s your wife?”

Mike said, “She’s good.” as he poked at the contents of the bin then checked the bi-fold wallet for Tony’s carry permit. “Clear.” He pushed the bin to the other side of the metal detector.

Tony walked through the arch of the detector with nary a beep. “Ok. Mr DiNozzo. Clear. You can take your stuff.”

Tony nodded and started replacing all his things in the various pockets he kept them in.

Mike scolded Jim. “He’s a professor at Georgetown now. Lena is taking his online Cinematic History class.”

Jim gave Tony a grin. “Really? Wow. Congratulations. I’m impressed.” He noticed that Tony was struggling a bit with getting his holster back on. “Here, let me help you with that.”

Tony happily accepted the help and some help with his jacket. “Thanks so much. Would you call up to tell Vance that I’m on my way up?”

“Sure.” Mike grabbed the phone before Jim could get it. Jim scowled a bit but shrugged it off with good nature.

Tony caught the elevator and punched the button for the proper floor. He was glad that he didn’t know the man that entered with him. He needed a bit of time to really prepare himself for the coming day. He knew Tim was back and, since it was Monday, Abby might be. He was prepared for Tim but not Abby.

As he stepped off the elevator he was surprised to see Jimmy standing and waiting. He stepped forward and offered his hand while saying, “Tony. So glad to see you. Ducky was hoping you’d have a minute or two for us. We love the lunch dates and were hoping for one today.”

Tony grabbed Jimmy in a hug. “Man, no problem. I’ll call you and we can have lunch, baring a body. Ok?”

Jimmy hugged back with enthusiasm. “Sure. Great. I’ll tell Ducky.” He hurried to get into the elevator before the doors closed.

Tim approached him next. “Tony. Good to see you. Um … I’m really …”

Tony held up a hand. “No. You’ve apologized enough, just … you need to prove yourself now. No more catty remarks, snide asides, or put downs. I’m done with all that. You may have degrees in science based subjects but I’ve got degrees too. We’re not dick measuring anymore. Got me?” Tony managed to take most of the sting out of his words with a sincere smile but Tim knew Tony was serious.

“Ok. Maybe we could get together some time and just … shoot hoops or something?”

“Didn’t think you liked basketball.” Tony frowned a bit, wondering what Tim was up to.

“I don’t … not really. But I thought if I came more than halfway … well, you’d like that.” Tim looked hopeful.

“Ok. I can see that, but don’t hurt yourself. I know you don’t like that. How about a run in Rock Creek Park? There’s some really nice trails.”

“Ok. Give me a call and we’ll set something up.” He sighed, then said, “Well, I better get back to work. I’ve got something like two boxes of rejected reports to get done. And Gibbs is redoing all Ziva’s reports from day one. He is not a happy guy.” He turned back to his desk.

Tony watched him as he returned to his desk. He could tell that Tim was really sorry but he was still on probation as far as Tony was concerned. He was just waiting for Abby to pull one of her stunts.

A quick trot up the stairs got Tony a nice surprise, Vance was waiting for him at the end of the hall to his office with Madelyn Jessup by his side.

.

Leon Vance wasn’t convinced that Tony was a desirable agent but he was socially aware and well connected so this planning thing should be right up his alley. “Thank you for coming in. I realize that your leaving was … unplanned and abrupt. Gibbs up to his usual …” Vance realized that this wasn’t going over as well as he’d thought it would so he was at a loss.

Tony just scowled at him, shook his hand, then said, “Madelyn. How are you? Nice to see you again.”

Vance covered his faux pas as best he could by saying, “I’ll leave you to it then. If you need anything let me know.” He nearly scurried into his office, flinched at Cynthia’s scowl and vowed to read all of DiNozzo’s jacket, not just the summary. If he’d checked to see that Ziva David had written it, he’d have torn it out and shredded it before bothering to read it.

Tony motioned for Madelyn to go ahead of him. “Tell me I have a desk instead of a huge conference table.”

His plaintive tone made Madelyn snicker. “You do and so do I. I saw to the furniture myself. Nice chairs that I frankly stole from the guest offices down the other end. And one four drawer filing cabinet. Also all the supplies we’ll need and our own scanner/copier. I got us a land line too. We might not need it but if you give out a phone number either give it or one I’ll get you in a second. You don’t need your phone blown up with idiots who can’t understand who to call and who not to.”

She led the way to the conference room with a quick tap of heels on the floor. “Here we are. I had them take the big table out but we have our own coffee pot and a fridge.”

Tony entered the room on her heels and was pleased to see that she’d had the desks set in an L shape that put his back to the windows with her on his right. The desks were the large executive style with comfortable looking chairs pushed up to the knee wells.

“Wow. You did a great job. I really like it. Thanks.” Tony sat down in his very comfortable chair and got out a yellow legal pad and a pen. “Ok. Lists. What do we need done? Who should do it? Who do we invite? Who expects an invitation? Anything I’ve missed?”

“Visitation. Yes or no? If yes, and I’d recommend we have one. Refreshments? If so, what kind? Where? Funeral and visitation. And what about cards and flowers?”

Tony nodded. “We’ll have a visitation here. No liquor. Coffee, tea, soft drinks. Anyone caught spiking anything is out. Circulating security staff to supplement everyone’s personal security. Make arrangements for any cards or flowers that get sent to her home to come here, pick someone from the pool to send thank you cards. All the flowers can be arranged both here and at the funeral home. Which one?”

Madelyn handed him coffee just as he liked it. “I don’t know. I really don’t like the idea of moving her around. I don’t see why we can’t have the visitation and funeral right here. Not like that banquet hall isn’t a barn. Put up a catafalque at the back of the room and set up all the chairs. Set the book by the doors, who’s going to take charge of that by the way? Everyone will want to sign the guest book but she doesn’t have any living family.”

Tony frowned over that for a moment then said, “Vance. We need to ask him about that, but my idea is that he takes it in loco parentis. We’ll use it to note gifts and send thank you cards, then? No idea. I do like the idea of having all the proceedings here. We can use NCIS security as honor guards and crowd control. Parking is good, if we have it on Sunday, there’ll only be the usual skeleton crew. Some of our Marine compliment can valet so that cuts out vetting anyone. Any car with a driver can be parked by the driver and we’ll set up someplace for them to relax unless they want to attend.”

Madelyn wrote that up quickly then said, “Guest list. Who the hell?”

Tony rubbed his face. “That’s a bit of a problem. SecNav, SecDef, and all the Regional and Division Heads have to be invited. We need to get the invitations out by tomorrow. Glad that modern embalming techniques give us more than the traditional three days. This is looking more like a week. We have to have it by next Sunday. I have responsibilities at Georgetown that I’ve actually dumped off on my staff. And … I have staff, how weird is that?”

Madelyn dimpled at him then said, “I’m your staff, too, you know.”

“No, you’re more like a partner in crime. If this all goes to shit, I’m throwin’ you under the bus.” He gave her one of his brilliant ‘I’m innocent’ smiles then went back to list making.

It took them most of the morning to finish the guest list which included several people that Tony knew had done Jen favors including his own department head. He wondered how much of that was tit-for-tat and how much was blackmail. He decided it didn’t matter.

“Ok. I’m going to take this agenda and guest list to Vance for an ok. You start lining up people to help with the invitations. I’m really glad this is a private ceremony. Imagine the chaos if this was public. Holly hell.”

Madelyn gave him a rather owl eyed look. “Oh my God. No … just no. Everyone and their dog would be trying to get in just to say they’d been. And with all the big wigs … security would be a nightmare and a half. We better put something in the paper about it being a private ceremony. I’m on that right now.”

Tony left for Vance’s office.

He nodded to Cynthia then said, “I need a second. Mr. Director have a break soon?”

Cynthia nodded. “He said to send you right in if you needed him. Just knock then enter. He’s with SecNav right now. But I’m sure they won’t mind.”

Tony knocked but waited for someone to say, ‘Come in.’ before he actually walked in.

“Mr. Director, Mr. Secretary. Good day. I’ve got an agenda and guest lists for Jen’s funeral. If you’d take a moment sometime soon to look them over and make whatever changes you need I’d really appreciate it. I was planning on Sunday. I need to return to my classes on Monday. I squeezed out a week but I don’t feel comfortable taking more.”

Clayton Jarvis, the SecNav, said, “I didn’t know you were taking classes.”

“I’m not. I’m teaching them. Now, I’m going to leave these documents here. Feel free to annotate as needed. Excuse me.” Tony gave Jarvis a look and left.

Jarvis shook his head. “Not too sure about that man. How did he manage to get a teaching position anywhere?”

Vance, who’d had a quick look at Tony’s full jacket, replied, “Jen got it for her unsanctioned op. He kept it through merit. Georgetown seems to be very happy with him. They’ve got him set up with transfer students from other colleges and universities in the area.”

“Hmmm. And why did he leave?”

Vance sighed. “I’m not too sure. I assume that it had something to do with him finding out that his op was unsanctioned and Jen was his only backup. Gibbs … he threw a hissy fit when I said I wasn’t going to ask him back. Seriously, the man made a decision that seems to have been what was best for him. And, after the way Dr. Scuito and Agent McGee acted, I’d have quit too. Best not to poke that bear.”

“Ok. If you’re satisfied, so am I. Now. About that funeral.”

.

Tony returned to his office to call down to Autopsy. “Ducky! Lunch? I’m free.”

Ducky was happy to say, “I’m just winding up. Jimmy and I can meet you in about twenty minutes. If that is acceptable?”

“Fine. Where are we going?”

“Surprise.” Ducky hung up quickly so he wouldn’t succumb to Tony’s pleading, he always tried to wheedle the location out of Ducky.

Ducky finished changing his clothing, stripping off the scrubs he wore in autopsy and putting on a nice pair of dark brown trousers, a beige shirt, and a red and beige checked bow tie. He put his brown tweed coat over his arm as he called, “Jimmy, are you changed yet?”

Jimmy came out of the little odd space he used as an office/ changing room and said, “I’m just done.” He brushed his hand over his hair, smoothing the disarranged curls into order. “I hope I’m ok.”

Ducky looked Jimmy’s black slacks, green shirt, and dark moss green jacket over. “You’ll need a tie. Other than that, very nice.”

Jimmy flushed a bit at the praise. He held up a green tie with a narrow, diagonal, dark red stripe. “This ok?”

“Yes, very elegant. We better shake a leg, Tony’s waiting.”

They met up outside the building. Tony was going to drive as Jimmy didn’t own a car and Ducky’s Morgan was a two seater.

Tony didn’t honk, he got out and walked around the car then called Ducky.

Ducky saw him at once and hustled over to give him a quick hug. “Tony, dear boy. You are looking well.”

“Thanks. Feel good. My blood pressure is way down. And I actually sleep the night through.” Tony turned to Jimmy. “Gremlin, how goes it?”

“Good, good.” Jimmy opened the front passenger door and held it for Ducky.

“Thank you, Jimmy.” Ducky settled in the front seat with a soft sigh. “So nice.”

Jimmy got in the back passenger side seat, remarking, “I like to sit in your back seat. Lots of leg room. Especially as Ducky likes his seat as far forward as possible.”

Tony paid more attention to his driving than to conversation so he was soon out of the Yard and headed out, following Ducky’s directions.

They finally arrived at a house set back from the street in the middle of a large lot. Tony pulled up under the portico and let Jimmy and Ducky out. He flinched a bit as the valet tapped on his window.

“Oh! I’m sorry, sir. I’ll park for you.” It wasn’t an offer.

Tony nodded and got out. “Feel free to adjust the seat, I have auto set.”

“Thank you. I don’t like to move the seat but we do. It’s safer. Here’s your claim check.” The valet handed Tony a metal tag with a number cut into it. “Enjoy your meal.”

Tony took the tag and put it in his pocket. “Thank you.”

He ambled after Jimmy and Ducky to find himself in a reception area with a lectern near the door.

The hostess looked up from her book with a smile. “Dr Mallard! Welcome. And your guests?”

“James Palmer, MD; my assistant, and Professor Anthony DiNozzo, Georgetown. I believe we have the Jade Room to ourselves?”

“You do. Right this way.” The hostess clicked off, her heels making a rather annoying noise on the hard wood floors.

Ducky grimaced but refrained from remark. They were led to a small dining room, small by commercial standards but it was a good fifteen to twenty feet square with a table that would sit ten easily.

The hostess nodded at the table. “Your server will remove several leaves in a moment.” She put menus on the table at one end then left.

Tony blinked. “Well? That’s … not what I expected.”

Ducky was visibly unhappy. “They’ve recently changed hands. The hostess is unfamiliar to me. I may not be patronizing this place much longer.”

They were just getting ready to sit down when a busboy scurried in. “I’m so sorry. We were just told that this room was reserved, not that there would only be three seated. I’ll have your table set up in just a moment.”

Tony glanced at Jimmy who nodded. They moved to help the young man.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that. I’ve … got it … I think.” James tugged at the table, trying to pull it apart enough to remove the leaves but it kept sliding.

Tony took hold of one end while saying, “No, you don’t. This is definitely a two man job. We’ll help you get this.”

Jimmy started taking leaves out of the table and it didn’t take long to reduce the table from seating for ten to twelve to seating for four.

James gathered up the leaves and hurried out with them. As soon as the door had cleared a waitress came in with linens and silverware. It didn’t take her long to get the table set.

“There you go. I’m so sorry for the confusion. Mabel quit when we changed hands and the new hostess is a mess. I’m leaving, too. I’ve got a really good offer from …” She flushed. “Well, listen to me. We’re all wrong footed recently. I’ll be back in a moment with water. You have menus?”

Tony waggled the pile at her. “We do. We’ll seat ourselves, thank you.”

Tiff nodded and hurried out, grumbling to herself. She was back in a few minutes with water, coffee, and a basket of rolls. “There you are. Are you ready to order or would you like a few more minutes?”

Tony deferred to Ducky. “Duck?”

“I’ll have the baked cod, grilled asparagus, and salad with ranch. Tea, hot.” Ducky nodded to Tony.

Tony had eyed the menu with some disfavor, he wasn’t coming here again. “I’ll have the roast beef, rare, roast root veg, and salad with blue cheese. Coffee.”

Jimmy wasn’t impressed either. “Cobb Salad with poppy seed dressing. Coffee.”

Tiff scribbled quickly then offered, “I’ll just drop this at the pass then bring you some butter for your rolls and your salads.”

Ducky blinked but didn’t say anything until she was gone. “If she’s brining us salads that quickly, they’re already made up. And, if she brings me iced tea, I’m going to be very disappointed.”

Jimmy and Ducky were both doomed to be disappointed. Tiff brought Jimmy’s Cobb Salad along with Tony and Ducky’s side. She also brought Ducky a huge glass of iced tea with lemon.

Ducky gently pushed the glass away saying, “I do believe I said hot. Please take that away and bring me a pot of very hot, nearly boiling water and a coffee cup. Thank you.”

Tiff picked up the glass of tea with a sigh. “I’m so sorry. I remember you did say hot. I’ll be back in a moment. I’ll have to boil the water myself as the kitchen is in chaos. The chief quit this morning.”

She took the glass away and returned a few moments later with a pot and cup. She noticed that Jimmy wasn’t eating his salad yet so she asked, “Is something wrong with your salad?”

“It’s a main. I’ll just wait until Tony and Ducky get their mains to start eating. There’s rolls.” He took another and started buttering it.

Tiff took a quick look and scurried out. She wondered if she was even going to get a tip. She also vowed to look for another job this one had gone South on her.

Tony knew that Ducky was upset so he said, “Ducky, don’t worry. We’ll just finish our meal, pay, and vow not to come back. You never know until you try. I didn’t know they’d changed hands recently or I’d have checked UrbanSpoon or OpenTable. We’ll leave reviews. So … anything really interesting happen?” He poked at his rather limp salad and prepared himself to listen.

Ducky was appeased by Tony’s good cheer and began a rambling discourse of his most interesting, to him, recent autopsy. Jimmy gave Tony a grin and nod then turned to listen.

They talked, listened, asked questions of Ducky, and enjoyed the twenty minutes or so that it took to get their food. Ducky didn’t even realize that he’d finished his salad until Tiff asked if he was keeping his salad fork.

“Oh! No, thank you.” Ducky put his fork on the table to allow Tiff to collect it.

Tiff took both salad plates away, saying over her shoulder, “Mains out in just a minute. Do you need more coffee?” She didn’t really wait for an answer so no one said if they needed more.

She returned within five minutes with Ducky and Tony’s main, more rolls, and a fresh carafe of coffee. Ducky asked for more hot water so she took the pot away to refill it.

Ducky took a bite of his fish and sighed in pleasure. “Just right.”

Tony also liked his beef, declaring it to be perfect.

Jimmy poked his salad then said, “Well, the bacon, eggs, chicken, and tomatoes are fine, but the lettuce is … limp. I’m disappointed.”

Ducky nibbled at a piece of asparagus. “I do believe the change in ownership has created dissatisfaction in the personnel which has affected the service. I don’t believe I’ll be back any time soon.”

Tony tried his veg. “The veg is ok. Bit underdone but edible.”

They finished their food over more spirited conversation.

They were interrupted by a loud voice announcing, “I’ll have you know that I am Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, Senior. I have plenty of money. I’ll buy this dump and fire every last one of you. Run the card again.”

Tony blenched, “Oh, shit. I do not want to deal.”

Ducky just got up and shut the door with a firm click. “There. I do hope the idiot doesn’t try to come in.”

Jimmy shrugged, “He won’t. Just stick a chair under the knob. What is his problem anyway?”

Tony snickered. “He’s been running on the interest from my inheritance for years. Now that I’ve got it, he’s more or less broke. I’ve also taken possession of all the cars, boats, deposit boxes, and stocks and bonds that are in my name.” He stopped talking and got a funny look on his face. “I wonder if he’s ever bought any airplanes. I better have Clark check on that.”

Jimmy blinked a few times. “Seriously? He really just … stole your inheritance?”

“He did. He bought a bunch of shit with it and put my name on it to avoid taxes or some such shit. I have half a dozen … apartments, houses, and flats. I’m selling all but a couple. And I’m keeping a farm that … evidently my English relatives gave it to Mom and I got it when she died. Senior has done his best to run it into the ground but it had a trust of it’s own. And Paddington Mills and DiNozzo Trucking are also mine. I’m brining them all up to snuff, as you would say Ducky. The three companies employ a combined total of somewhere around forty thousand people. I’m responsible for seeing that they keep their jobs. I won’t let them down.”

Ducky smiled at Tony’s mini-rant. “Here! Here! Dear boy, I didn’t realize all that. And holding a professorship at the same time. It must be exhausting.”

Tony shook his head. “Not really. I’m leaving most of the business arrangements to Clark. He’s a financial wizard. I have to make some decisions myself but he’s really good so I know if he needs my input it’s important.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy had unashamedly put his ear to the door. He flapped his hand at Tony and Ducky, hissing, “Hush! I’m eavesdropping.”

Jimmy listened for several minutes, occasionally making faces. Finally he turned with a grin.

“Well, he’s screwed. He was complaining that all his investors are demanding repayment at once. He’s over run his credit limits on most of his cards. He had to have the desk run five before he got one with some credit on it. And … he’s being investigated for fraud … a complaint was lodged by your lawyer. That’s Evan Bishop, right?”

Tony nodded. “He is. And whatever he’s doing has my backing. I’m tired of Senior running rough shod over everyone, especially me. His pigeons are coming home to roost and I hope they shit all over him. And did I mention that he’s rented safety deposit boxes all over the world and paying for them from the interest on my accounts? Seriously? What the fuck is wrong with that man?”

Ducky shook his head. “I don’t know. All I know is that he’s as oily as a greased eel and so slick it’s disgusting.”

Jimmy sighed. “Can we not think about or talk about that … that … asshole anymore?”

Tony nodded. “He’ll sour our stomachs for sure. So … let’s finish our food then decide if we want to risk a desert or not.”

They returned to their food finishing quickly.

Tony got up, went to the door and called Tiff. “Miss Tiff? Would you bring our bill please?”

Tiff who was trying to recover from Seniors snit just nodded and hurried off to get their bill.

Ducky paid and made sure to give Tiff a nice tip. He was well aware that she wasn’t responsible for the food and her service had been good. He gave it to her instead of leaving it on the table.

Tiff looked at the twenty in her hand then at the smiling trio. “Thank you so much. I’m so sorry about all the confusion. And for that scene at the desk. I hate it that you had to hear that. I shouldn’t talk about customers but … no one likes that man. He’s cheap, at best; tight as an old maids girdle at worst. And rude. No one wants to wait on him and there’s several places that have black balled him.” She turned at the sound of her name. “Shit. I better go. Thanks. Have a nice day.” She hurried off to tend to her other customers.

Tony gave his claim check to the valet who hurried off to get his car. When it came he gave it a quick walk around then got in. Ducky and Jimmy followed him and he drove off.

.

When they got back to the Yard Tony parked in guest parking and they all walked back to the building together.

They parted at the elevators, Ducky and Jimmy headed back down to Autopsy and Tony back up to his office on the mezzanine.

When he got there and sat down at his desk he found that his arrangements had been reviewed and approved by both Vance and Jarvis. He sighed as he realized that all the formal invitations had to be hand addressed. It was considered gauche to do it by machine. He had wondered if there should be a public visitation but decided that Jenny wouldn’t have wanted strangers wandering in and out. And, as there wouldn’t be an open coffin, it was a bit difficult to have a viewing.

Tony got up and went to see Vance.

He tapped on the door after Cynthia nodded to him. Vance called ‘Come in.’ so he opened the door.

“You’ve got problem face. What’s wrong?”

“Well. A viewing is traditional but she’s in no shape to be seen so what do we do?”

Vance put his pen down. “That’s the main reason we decided on invitation only, rather than public. Not sure how to explain it or if we should even try. Whatever you decide is fine with me. You’ll also have to be there as more than a visitor.”

Tony nodded. “I know. I’m the event organizer in case anyone asks. I have ultimate power of decision and do not jump chain of command and go to you to get around me. Right?”

Vance agreed, “Yes, you are; and yes, you do. Anyone who comes to me will be told to return to you. Your decisions are backed by SecNav and SecDef. In other words, we have too much more important shit to deal with. Anything else?”

“Yes. I’m going to need help addressing the invitation cards. As it’s private they really need to be hand addressed. The cards can be printed in our print shop but the names need to be hand written and the envelopes hand addressed, so I need help. People with good handwriting, not just neat but elegant. If they know calligraphy that would be really nice. I can set the style sheet and do some myself, but, if we want them out in a timely manner I’ll need at least four people. There’s over three hundred of them.”

Vance thought about that for a moment then advised, “Ask Cynthia. Baring that, send out a memo. If I were you, I’d get that invitation down to printing asap. Just write it out on a piece of paper and go down. They’ll help you pick the font, card stock and what not.”

“Thanks. I know about that, I just didn’t want to assume that it met with your approval. Now I can say, ‘Vance said.’ without being a jerk. I’ll get going. If you have any suggestions, let me know. All the plans will be finalized by 6pm today.”

Vance shrugged a bit then returned to his work without further comment.

Tony saw himself out.

“Cynthia, my darling, help a guy out?”

Cynthia gave him a fisheye. “Ok? What do you need?”

“Calligraphers to help do the invitations. Ideas?”

“No. I’ll send a memo. How soon do you need them?

“As soon as the printshop has them printed up. Make sure that whoever signs up knows that they don’t have to write the whole thing, just the name of the invitee on the card and address the envelope. Or should I have Vance actually sign them?”

“Oh, hell no. He’ll have a conniption. There’s an Autopen in the printshop, just have them do the signatures as they print.”

“Great! One more thing off my list. Thanks.”

Cynthia had to wait until Tony was out of her office before she dried her eyes for the forth or fifth time that day. She then sent out the interoffice memo and waited for results.

It took about forty-five minutes for her to get six replies, which included Gibbs and McGee. She sent back to ask them all to get her a hard copy example of their skills. That took another half hour. She was pleased to see that five of the six were more than acceptable, the sixth was good but not quite up to standards. She sent that man a nice thank you and just said they had taken people on a first-come; first-accepted basis and he’d not made it in time. She took an extra second to admire Gibbs’ neat, tight calligraphy, the man had the most elegant hand.

.

Tony went down to the printshop with his write up. There was a little bell on the counter but he could hear the presses running and knew that Carl wouldn’t hear it. He sat down on the counter then swung his legs over and hopped down on the other side. A quick check proved that the door wasn’t locked so he just walked in.

“Carl!” Carl jumped then turned around to look at Tony. “Can you turn that off for a minute.”

Carl turned the press off and took out his ear plugs. “Sure. The old thing is really noisy but it still works. You should hear the folder. So … what do you need?”

“As if you didn’t know. Jenny’s invitations and envelopes. We need to decide on the size, card stock, font … all that shit. So …” Tony just waited for Carl to do his thing.

“Ok. We also need to do something about a program. But we’ve got time for that as they’ll be handed out at the door. So …” He pulled a book off the shelf next to the paste up table. “Jen liked buff so I was thinking buff 64 lb. linen card stock. It’ll crease very nicely and take real ink like a champ. Also, envelopes; embossed shield on the flap, buff again but in a 32 lb. linen smooth finish.” he showed Tony what he was talking about.

Tony fingered the stock and paper. “Looks nice. What about we use the same paper for the programs?”

“Great. That’s the paper and whatnot done. Do you want a velum enclosure to the invitation and what about an RSVP card?”

“Good idea. RSVP or don’t come. I’ll have to revise the wording.”

Clark picked up the rough draft. “Don’t really think so. Just add something below the RSVP like … RSVP to be sure you get your clearance card.”

Tony nodded. “And no clearance card, no entry.”

“Perfect. But we won’t put that on the invitation. Seriously. What do people think?”

“Mostly they don’t. Now … font.”

Clark got out another sample book and opened it to a page of elegant fonts. “I’d advise something that the calligraphers can copy. I’ve got a ton of fancy shit but simple Copperplate is a good one. It’s not that hard to copy but it’s simple and elegant. It embosses well for the invitations.”

“Ok. You’re the expert. So, here’s the text. Give it a look then just do your thing. I’m expecting several calligraphers to help me write all this. Oh! And Cynthia said to Autopen Vance’s signature. He’ll be too busy to sign them all himself. Ok?”

“I already figured that out. Vance, like most directors, never hand signs a mass mailing. I actually just stack things like this and run them through the Autopen before I stick them in the folder. And the envelopes are even easier. I print the return address, emboss the flap, then toss them in the folder. Everything goes into a box then up, or down, to the requester. I’ll print up about fifty extras so you don’t have to worry about running out due to mistakes.”

“Great.” Tony clapped Clark on the shoulder. “Thanks man. You might make a couple of examples and get them to me and the director before you do the run.”

“Right. You go get some coffee. You’re lookin’ really ragged around the edges.”

Tony sighed, realizing that Clark was right, he felt like he’d been dragged through a hedge. He nodded to Clark and left in search of coffee and snacks.

He’d just settled at a table in the break room with a crappy coffee and a stale pastry when Abby bounced in. He was not in the mood for her hyper, Eveready Bunny personality so he picked up his stuff and tried to leave.

“To-neeey! Tony,Tony,Tony. Please? I’m so sorry. I really, really am. Please don’t be mad at me anymore. I did send you those lists. Right? Right? And when you’re back we can be besties again.” Abby gave Tony a hopeful look.

Tony dodged around her, snarling, “Not ready, Abby.” And hurried back to his office where he sat down at his desk, tossed his pastry and swallowed his coffee in two gulps. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand put another cup in front of him.

“Sorry, thought you heard me.” Gibbs eyed the trashed pastry then said, “Not even askin’. Abby way-lay you?”

“She did. And I’m just not ready to put up with her demands. I never realized how demanding and selfish she’s become until just recently. She … She just bulldozes over everyone and she’s now someone I don’t really want to know. Tim … he’s really trying. Abby … not so much trying as a trial.”

“I know. I’ve been watching her and I don’t like what I’m seeing. She’s in therapy but until she admits that there’s something wrong, she’s just going through the motions. So … how are the plans going?”

“Good, good.” Tony took a sip of the coffee Gibbs had brought. “Oh, man. Thanks so much. And .. I’m forgetting something but I don’t know what. Give this a look?”

Gibbs seated himself in the comfortable chair in front of Tony’s desk. He accepted the plans and gave them a quick look. “Pall bearers. And don’t just have the security people do it.”

Tony made a quick decision. “I’ll leave that up to you. I expect you’ll be one?”

“I will. And it would be an honor to do this. Jen might have been a royal pain in the ass but we were … something … for a while.” He sighed, finished his coffee and went to the door. “Go home, get some rest.”

“I will. I’m leaving in about an hour.” Tony raised his coffee in salute then turned to his computer to finalize some arrangements.

It turned out to be more like thirty minutes. He was sending out a few emails to try to find a few things when his phone pinged.

“DiNozzo.” Tony listened as Hank told him that he’d be ready to start installation of the full security system tomorrow. “Ok, I’ll let you in at 7am and leave you to it. I’ve got a funeral to deal with so I’ll actually be at the Navy Yard. You can call me if you need me, I’ll be able to get away for a couple of hours.” He listened for a moment more then just hung up.

.

Abby sighed, she’d been doing so well, but she’d back slid badly. She just didn’t understand how she could manage with the nuns, her therapist, and most of the team leads; but the second she had to deal with Tony, Tim, or Gibbs she turned into an idiot. She decided she’d better call her therapist and talk with him.

After thirty minutes on the phone with him she realized that she was obsessing again. “I need to stop that. I need to be calm. I need to…”

Gibbs voice from the door made her jump. “You need to leave Tony alone. The more you push, the more he’s going to retreat. You’ve well and truly pissed him off. He’s the sort that doesn’t get mad quickly but once he’s mad, he stays mad. I’m pissed at you too. I’m doing my best to just be his friend but it’s slow going. I can still see that ghost of hurt once in a while. And you’re not helping things. If Vance finds out that you’re harassing him, you’re gonna be suspended again. You can only take so many black marks before he has to do something that no one wants. Just leave it be. Let him come to you.”

“Ok. But how’d Timmy get back in his good graces?”

Gibbs made a face. “He’s not … yet. But Tim kept his distance, apologized practically on his knees, and waited. Tony’s slowly getting over being mad at Tim, but mostly because Tim respected Tony’s wishes. Now. I’ve got to get back to cold cases and I’m still correcting Ziva’s reports. Some of the damn things are mostly Hebrew. One is actually mostly in Dari.” He turned and left without his usual kiss to her cheek.

Abby sighed heavily and turned to write in her journal. She was keeping a paper journal so she could sketch in it as well as write. It wasn’t helping that much but John, her therapist, wanted her to so she did. She didn’t want another suspension, especially as Vance was much tougher than Jen had been. She shuddered at the memory of the dressing down he’d given her. She spent some time re-reading her entries about Tony, trying to figure out how she kept slipping so badly.

.

Tim looked up when Gibbs returned to the bull pen. “Boss, I might have done something bad. Only I don’t think so. It’s up to you … you can always back out but … Tony called for calligraphers to address the invitations so I put your name down at the same time I put mine down. I used one of the examples you had in your desk. I really hope you don’t mind. I thought it might be a nice way to … um … gain some friend cred?”

Gibbs shrugged. “Ok by me. It’s gonna be a bitch though. Any idea when we need to get started?”

“Tomorrow at nine. I’m wondering how they’re going to get them to the proper people in time.” Tim frowned at a piece of paper in his hand. “And I’d like to know how I thought this was going to pass muster. Seriously, you should have head-slapped me into next week and got Tony coffee.” He picked up a pen and started writing.

Gibbs realized that Tim was only paying him half his attention but he answered the question anyway. “The invitations will be delivered by personal messenger. Probably Navy couriers. They’ll be taken as written as we’re short on time. Usually a funeral like this takes up to ten days to plan, but Jen wanted to be buried within the week so we’re respecting that.”

Tim nodded absently. “Oh, ok. Guess we’ll find out how that’s going to work tomorrow.”

Gibbs finished the coffee in his right hand and dropped the cup into the trash. He took a sip of the hot coffee in his left hand then put it down on the desk. He had a lot of reports to get through so he needed to get started, a day of writing invitations in copperplate was going to eat into his time and patience.

Tony went back to his office to figure out where they were going to have room for all the special desks they’d need and all the other bits and pieces they had to have. He called Madelyn who just yelled back, “Yeah! What do you need?”

Tony got up, it wasn’t like Madelyn to just yell back. “What’s going on?”

Madelyn was struggling with some odd shaped, bulky object; trying to get it in the door.

Tony got hold of it and lifted. “Here. Let me. What is this thing?”

“It’s a calligraphy desk. You never used one?” Tony got a grip on the desk and put it down on the long table in the middle of the room.

“No. I always write flat. We should find out who needs a slant desk and who doesn’t before we wear ourselves out. Go, find out, shoo.” Tony flapped his hand at her then called after her. “You better find out who has a good pen and who needs one.”

“Right!”

She hurried down the hall to actually physically find the calligraphers and ask if they worked flat or slanted. And did they use a fountain pen or a dip?

She was soon back with the information that they all used oblique pens of various brands. Tony nodded at that. “Did any of them say what brand of nib they use? We better get in some extras. I wear them out at an astonishing rate.”

Madelyn sighed, this meant another run through the office.

Tony shook his head. “Go down to the print shop and check on their progress. I’ll just phone everyone and ask. I know what they’re talking about so it shouldn’t take long.” He grinned. “I was taught calligraphy at RIMA. I know you don’t know much about it so don’t worry. If you have a question ask me. In fact. I’m leaving as soon as I know who uses what nib. I’d rather buy the ink myself. I’m sure whoever should be responsible will get the cheapest shit they can find.”

Madelyn grinned. “I know. And cheap ink comes out expensive. I’ll call if there’s a problem … which I doubt.” She left again, headed down to the print shop where she’d stay for the rest of the day, running the finicky Autopen.

Tony called around and found out, much to his surprise, that everyone used the same Leonart 300 nib. He used that one plus a couple of very esoteric nibs for some of his mixed media.

Tony left as soon as he knew what nibs to get, headed for The Paint Pot.

.

Tony had to smile at the cheerful jingle of the spring bell over the door to The Paint Pot.

“Aggie? Where are you ?”

Aggie popped out of the back with a smile. “You sound stressed. Not good for an artist. How can I help?”

“Did you see the news that a condo burned and the owner was killed?” Aggie nodded. “Well that was my old … not boss, but my boss’s boss. Her funeral is Sunday. And we need to hand address the invitations as it’s a private funeral. So … I need nibs and ink. Probably ought to get some nib holders as well. So … and blotters.”

Aggie nodded. “I’m so sorry to hear that she was a … friend? But … What kind of nibs and ink?”

Tony pointed to the display, saying, “How many Leonart 300’s do you have? Never mind, I’ll take all of them and six best quality oblique holders. As to ink? Not a damn clue. I use Moon Palace Sumi ink a lot. Why not just buy a couple of big bottles of that?”

“No reason I can think of. It’s very nice and not acidic so it won’t eat your nibs up. Any paper?” Aggie snatched up the box of nibs and went to find her best holders.

Tony followed her. “No. It’s all preprinted invitations and envelopes. I would like a whole pack of blotting paper though.”

“Are you sure you need nearly four liters of ink?”

Tony blinked. “I didn’t know it came in a bottle that big. We’re hand addressing 300 envelopes and heading 300 invitations. And plus one cards. I need to make a quick call.” Tony couldn’t believe he’d forgotten the plus ones.

A quick call to Madelyn informed him that she hadn’t. He sighed then got back to business.

“We’ll be doing envelopes, invitations, not the whole thing just the names, and plus one cards. How much ink?”

Aggie thought for a moment then said, “Best to get the 15 oz bottle. If you run out just come back and get more. And you ought to get some ink wells. I bet no one thought about that. You could use a jam jar but … not really that good an idea. I’ve got some nice ones, come take a look. I don’t have any antiques but that’s not what you want anyway. Here’s a couple of really nice ones.”

Tony eyed the selection for a moment then pointed to a glass well set in a wooden holder. “That one. It’s fairly big. Looks like an oz and a half or so and it’s set in a tip proof holder with a pen rest. And they’re not that expensive. I need six.”

Aggie got out six and put them next to the register. “And what about a drying rack? If you try to handle them before the ink is dry, it’ll just smear.”

Tony nodded. “And I need to make another call.” He called the print shop to find out if they had a drying rack. Clark told him they had something better, a dry booth. This was a cabinet about the size of a refrigerator which was kept at less than twenty percent humidity by a dehumidifier and fan arrangement that kept the dry air circulating to dry the ink as fast as possible.

“Ok. That’s that. And … I think I’m done.” He produced the NCIS credit card he’d been given and paid for all the supplies.

Aggie smiled. “I’m always happy to see you. I’ve actually tracked down several more of your Mother’s works that are tentatively for sale. I put the sellers in touch with your man of business. I hope that was ok?”

“Fine. I haven’t heard anything from him yet. He’ll probably do all sorts of research before he even tells me about it. But thanks a bunch.” He eyed his watch then said, “I’d love to hang and talk but I need to get going. I’ve got a class in two hours.”

.

Tony got home, called Madelyn to tell her he had the supplies and would be in at 7am to help with the final setup. He was glad he’d decided to go ahead and teach this class. He needed the distraction.

This class was an online lecture followed by a question and answer on a closed forum. The lecture was available anytime but the Q&A was scheduled. If you hadn’t listened to the lecture he could tell by the questions asked. He answered questions as asked in real time, in order asked, the forum held a que of forty questions at a time. If you didn’t get answered within the time limit it was possible that he’d answer via IM, or not. It really depended on whether or not the question had been answered in the lecture or the supplemental reading. He didn’t answer questions you could research easily. Some questions were answered with more reading, other’s were answered directly then the information was listed in private notes to be included in future lectures.

And God forbid that you be in a combined class where you were expected to listen to the online lecture, do the worksheet, and be prepared to participate in live classroom discussion. He was tempted to have every online class come to at least one discussion session a month. He made several notes then went to bed.

He was up at 6am and on the treadmill by five after. He ran for forty-five minutes then went to make coffee. The construction crew was supposed to be coming at seven and he expected them to be right on time.

They were actually five minutes late, Tony had the gate open and was waiting for them.

Hank called a cheerful greeting, then asked, “Hey! Where do you want us to park?”

Tony waved a hand. “Anywhere. I’m heading in to NCIS pretty soon so just make yourselves at home. Coffee is made and in the pot minus one cup.” He waved his mug. “Don’t leave me a mess. I’ll tell Gibbs.”

Hank laughed. “Do not tell Gunny on me. Beside the fact that I won’t. My wife would kill me.”

Tony just laughed over his shoulder as he headed back to the house to finish getting ready. He wasn’t wearing a suit, instead he dressed in a t-shirt, henley, flannel shirt, jeans, and heavy boots. He wasn’t punishing his feet with dress shoes anymore. He’d get enough of that at the visitation and funeral.

He smiled as he settled in his Lexus. He had a penchant for classic cars but had given up on having one, he swore that someone somewhere had it out for his cars. He’d had two classic cars either blown up or wrecked, not to mention his Vet, which had been stolen and wrecked right before his eyes. So he’d have a new car and keep any collectable cars safely in some sort of storage, maybe in one of his other buildings.

He enjoyed the drive in, traffic was light and most was going in the opposite direction.

He checked through the gate with his temporary pass and parked in guest parking. A quick trip through the metal detector, with an annoyed grimace from Tod, and he was in his office. He noticed a certain lack so he called, “Madelyn! Where are the desks?”

Madelyn stuck her head in the door. “I had a brain storm last night. We had them all set up on the conference table. Bad idea. What if someone bumped the table? So I had all the stuff set up in a different location. There’s a desk for each writer, the drying thing is there, and I’ve got some long tables to hold all the supplies. Come see.”

So Tony followed Madelyn to a small office which had been one of the secretarial pools before the whole had been consolidated several years ago. She’d managed nearly new desks and good chairs. “You did good. Very nice. Everyone know where we are?”

“I sent email … um … except to Gibbs, him I called. Grumpy.”

“He’s a Luddite. Good thing you called, he’d have gotten the email next year … maybe.” Tony chuckled, remembering McGee’s horror when he’d been told to do something about the inbox. He’d found several thousand messages, mostly spam. He hadn’t known McGee knew most of those words.

A knock on the door jamb and a cheerful voice saying, ‘Hi! Here’s your run.’ let them know that their invitations were here.

Tony got the messenger to help him set things up. He had envelopes on one table, invitations on another, and plus one and RSVP cards on another. He didn’t consider the RSVP cards necessary as they were going to have to call in their acceptance but they were traditional. He was just glad the two cards were stuffers and didn’t have to have any additions written on them.

He was still fiddling with things when Gibbs and Tim walked in. Gibbs looked around with a slight smile. “Looks like you’ve got things set up well. Last time I did this we were all crowed into that meeting room down from the print shop. Things did not go well.”

Tony grimaced, if Gibbs said that, it had been a fiasco. “Well, I’m depending on all of you to do the job. You need something, ask, I’ll try to get it for you. We better get started.”

Gibbs picked a desk close to the supplies. Tim took the desk to his left.

Tony settled at the desk nearest to the door and the drying cabinet.

Madelyn, who had flatly told him her writing was more doctor than calligrapher, was going to be their runner. She would bring the envelopes and invitations to whoever needed them, collect everything and take it to the drying cabinet if needed, then get them to the stuffing desk where another crew of volunteers would get the invitation, RSVP card, and Plus one card into the right envelope. She would also get the invitations into the hands of the messengers for delivery.

“Hey, Tony, what about having the messenger wait for an RSVP? Have them text it in or something?”

Tony thought about Madelyn’s suggestions. “Sounds like a plan. Have them ask if the person wants them to wait. If they do, the messenger can just take the RSVP card, record if there’s a plus one on the back of it and we’re good to go. The only thing I’m really worried about is someone bringing an unplanned for Plus one.”

“Not a problem, we’ll just have seating for everyone and a plus then take out any unused seating at the last moment.”

Tony smiled a Madelyn. “And I’d like to know why you’re wasting your time here when you could be an event planner and make six times what you do.”

“I’d love it, but I need seed money so I’m still here. Six months from now, gone like a very gone thing.” Madelyn grinned back then trotted off to escort Delores Bromstead to a desk. Tony waved at her then went back to his work.

The rest of the scribes trickled in one at a time, but no one was actually late. Tony smiled at each one as they came in but let Madelyn take care of getting them set up.

.

Gibbs sighed and leaned back in his chair, flexing his hands as he did so. “Well, I’m for coffee. Anyone what anything?”

Tim wanted coffee and a sandwich. Tony asked for the same. Delores wanted a salad. Gibbs just nodded to each person as they told him what they wanted. He ambled out the door, headed for the coffee shop he liked. He could get everything either at the coffee shop or the diner nearby. He used his phone to call in orders to both places.

It didn’t take him long to collect the food and drinks.

Gibbs made it back easily, both places had packed his purchases for easy transport, one of the reasons he liked both places. As he distributed the food and drinks Tony checked on their progress. It had only been three hours but they were making good progress, they’d completed nearly a quarter of the invitations.

“Real good work, folks. Looks like we’re going to get done in plenty of time. Madelyn? How many have actually made it out the door?”

Madelyn looked up from her egg salad. “Most of the dry ones. And I’ve gotten back several RSVPs already. Things look good.”

Tony grinned. “Great. We have enough ink?”

Gibbs took that question. “We do. I took over refilling the wells. I’m the only one with a steady enough hand.” He eyed one of the calligraphers. “How you can shake like that and still have such a good hand, I’ll never know.”

The man grinned around his ham and cheese. “You’re just jealous. Your hand is way old fashioned.”

And that was when Tony realized that they had a problem. “You’re using Copperplate, right?”

“Um .. no, I use Spencerian.”

Tony and Gibbs both groaned. “Madelyn, how many of his invitations have you sent out?”

“None. He’s very juicy so all his are in the cabinet. I’ll go take a look.” She got up and opened the cabinet. “Yup. Spencerian. This won’t do.”

Tony looked at the man. “Did you not get the message that Copperplate was the standard we required, or did you just not care?”

The man shrugged, “I didn’t see that it made any difference.”

Tony shook his head. “You’re excused, go back to your duties.”

The man, whose name Tony never learned, just gathered his food and things and left.

Tony frowned at the small pile of useless invitations. “How many did he spoil?”

“About … um … twenty. We’ve got enough to cover this. It’ll just take a little longer to get done.” She frowned at the waste but shrugged it off. “We’ll make it.”

And they did. It took them until 6pm to get all the invitations done and sent out.

Tony thanked everyone and let them leave. He stopped Gibbs and Tim.

“Hey! Thanks for all the help. Tim, call me next weekend and we can do something, if you’d like.”

Tim’s smile lit up his face. “I’d really like that.”

Gibbs patted Tony on the shoulder. “Thanks.”

“No, thank you. Your hand is excellent. Wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. I need to get with you about those boats some time next week. Can I let you know?”

“Sure. Just glad I could help. I’m outa here.” He nodded to Madelyn then followed Tim out the door.

Tony relaxed then sighed. “Man, I’m beat. But we made it.”

Madelyn grumbled, “Just barely. And I don’t expect all the RSVPs to be in before Thursday end of business. That leaves us Friday and Saturday to get all the arrangements finalized. We will barely squeak by but we can do it.”

Tony sighed, rubbed his face, “Have to. And have you heard back from pallbearers?”

Madelyn patted Tony on the shoulder, “Gibbs dealt with it. I swear, he lined all the volunteers up and just picked them by height. It works.” She checked the lists one last time then said, “Go home. Get some rest. We’ll need you here tomorrow to deal with the catering.”

Tony shook his head. “No, I’m not dealing, you’re the one who wants to be an event coordinator … you do it.”

Madelyn picked up a couple of pages. “I thought you might say that … so, read … initial. If you don’t like something suggest something else.”

Tony flipped through the pages reading quickly. “Looks good to me. Only … no liquor. No Champagne … nothing. A funeral is not a place to get plastered. I really dislike the new attitude that every function has to serve drinks. Snacks, ok; liquor, no. Get plastered on your own time.”

Madelyn nodded. “I think it’s really disrespectful. I’ll make arrangements to have soft cider, coffee, tea, soft drinks and nothing else. Go. Home.”

Tony left feeling like he’d accomplished more than he expected. He just wanted some time with his piano and his bed.

.

When he got home, he found that all the security was installed and he actually had a grounds manager. Damon Werth had agreed to stay on to manage the security system and the cameras. That didn’t mean he was going to live there, he was just going to stop by every week to check that everything was working as it should and the system was uploading the footage to the cloud on schedule.

Damon grinned at him saying, “Great deal for me. I get paid for this and can still do construction. And, best of all, I have a great excuse not to go out of town. Only thing I hate about construction, they’re always wanting me to go to some podunk town for six weeks to help build who knows what. Don’t like it.”

Tony grinned back and agreed, “Don’t blame you a bit. I hate going on out of town assignments. Well, I won’t keep you. I’m beat and my hand hurts. I spent all day writing invitations to Jenny’s funeral. And I have to go back tomorrow to finish arrangements. And … flowers. Fuck! I forgot flowers. Or did I? I’ll have to make a note to ask Madelyn.” He grimaced at Damon. “Sorry man, my brain is all over the place.”

Damon leaned against his truck. “Do you need me to go over the system or can you figure it out yourself.”

Tony frowned for a moment. “Give me the penny tour.”

“Ok. The gate has a remote, I put it on your breakfast bar. The front door has a key pad as does the back door. The rollups are on their own system. It’s all controlled from a master pad on the wall by the stairs. We couldn’t hide the wires but they fit in with the industrial theme of the place. There’s an owners manual, three ring binder I made up myself. It’s on the bar under the remote. Get stuck or have questions just give me a call.” Damon waved his phone.

“Ok, give me your number. I’ll give you mine.”

They exchanged numbers then Damon got in his truck and drove through the gate. Tony went inside and set the system which closed the gate.

It didn’t take Tony long to figure out all the bells and whistles. The fence had been put up outside the stone wall and was ten feet tall topped with razor wire. The gate was a roll-a-side which allowed it to open to different widths and was set in a six inch deep channel to prevent crawling under it. It was also topped with razor wire but it was the one weak spot in the fence as it was only eight feet tall.

The rest of the system was fairly standard and included alarms on all the doors and windows, constant pings to the company and a link to 911. If the pings weren’t answered an alarm went off, if any access point was breached, an alarm went off. If the alarms weren’t shut off within one minute, the company would send in a SWAT style team and the police were called. He was very satisfied with the whole set up.

He decided to paint instead of play his piano so he set up his pallet with fresh oils, he’d used up the last set, and started to sketch in what he was going to paint. It didn’t take him long to have an acceptable cartoon so he roughed out the shapes and stepped back to eye the effect. He was startled by a loud growl so he looked at his watch.

“Damn! It’s getting late already and I haven’t eaten.” He realized that he was talking to himself so he wandered into the kitchen to wash his hands and fix something. A quick rummage through the fridge got him leftover pasta and a salad. He started on the salad while he waited for the pasta to warm in the toaster oven. A glass of rough red and he was set.

As he washed the dishes he realized that he didn’t miss NCIS or the chaos that had been his life for so long. He missed people, Gibbs, Dorney, Delores, Tim, Ducky, Jimmy, several of the security guards and a few others. He didn’t miss Abby, which surprised him, or Ziva, which didn’t. Vance was a null as were most of the team leads except Balboa. He shook his head.

“I should have left there years ago.”

He checked his email and voice messages then went to bed.

.

Wednesday was interesting; it was a combination of routine and panic. Madelyn sat at her desk all day, checking off people as they called with their RSVP. She also went through a pile of RSVP cards that had either been returned with the messenger or returned during the day by return messenger.

The panic happened when someone called with demands that couldn’t be met, said they were bringing a staff of unvetted people, or needed specific security. Tony handled them.

One such was actually a dignitary, no names mentioned, who insisted that he had to bring not only his mistress but three personal assistants, a secretary, three body guards, and an aide. None of said people were vetted, and, Tony checked to make sure, the man had actually not been invited.

Madelyn passed all the information to Tony, saying, “I’m not dealing. This guy is so self-entitled that he’s irritating. You tell him he’s not welcome.”

Tony punched the button to connect and said, “DiNozzo here. Who is this?”

The man gave his name then barked, “I need to be there. I’ll be bringing an entourage of nine. I want seating up front and center. I trust that your tiny mind can cope with something that simple.”

Tony took a dislike to the man instantly so he put on his best Paddington snark. “My tiny mind is perfectly capable of understanding that you are not invited, not welcome and not coming. If you show up, you’ll be escorted out. I have your name and it’s on the black list. And calling Vance will only get you the same answer. Now … I have more important things to do than stroke your pathetic ego. Good-bye.” He tapped the disconnect then sat back. “Dumbass.”

“Seriously. Tony … I’ve never heard you talk like that. You sounded so … British. Really sexy. And snarky.” She grinned at him.

“I am a Paddington, you know. Mom was the youngest of four kids. And do not let weasels like him speak to you like that. Hang up on them. They’ll call back. When they do, roll them over to me. I’m impressed with how quickly you got his details to me.” Tony settled back more comfortably in his chair.

“Oh, that. I figured out as best I could, who wasn’t invited that might think they should be. There’s a couple that Jen actually put in her will not to be invited. I got everything I could on them and have it handy in case we need it.” Madelyn eyed the pile of RSVPs she still had to enter. “I really don’t need to deal with those nutjobs, I’ve got enough to do to get all this entered and make sure that everyone gets their ID in time.”

Tony leaned forward, extended a hand and said, “Give.” Madelyn happily handed over part of her pile of cards.

The rest of the day was, as Gibbs would say, wash, rinse, repeat. Tony fielded half a dozen more calls from mortally offended minor officials who were sure that their invitation had been miss-delivered, lost, or forgotten. Tony swore the more minor they were the more offended they got.

Lunch was a carry in from the diner. Tony ordered for Madelyn, shrimp and lobster salad with mayo and guacamole on whole wheat toast, her favorite. For himself he ordered a meatball and mozzarella sandwich on a toasted Italian roll.

“Madelyn. Lunch.”

Madelyn looked up. “Lunch? I didn’t order …”She took the container with a little squeak. “Oh! Tony! My very favorite. Thank you.”

Tony grinned. “Welcome.” He took a bite out of his sandwich and chewed happily. “Good.”

Madelyn poked at her salad. “It is. And now … I’ll have to leave you with all this for at least two hours this afternoon so I can go speak to the catering staff. I got Vance to ok using Navy Culinary Specialists to do the actual cooking. They’re checking over the kitchen now. Would you believe that the cafeteria is actually capable of turning out a gourmet banquet?”

Tony grimaced. “I don’t believe that. The food is bad on average. But … if you say so.”

“I do. Beside the cafeteria ladies won’t have anything to do with the stuff for the reception. I’ve got the menu here.” She slid a page across the desk to Tony.

Tony eyed the list. “No to the egg salad. Other than that, looks good.”

“Why no egg salad?”

“It’s just a bad idea. I’ve gotten food poisoning from it at least once. No one gets that eggs and mayo have to be cold. Most hors d’oeuvres get left out too long or circulated too long. They get room temp then you’ve got trouble. I’d rather not be accused of trying to poison some potentate or other.” Tony stretched. “I’ll get back to this. You head on down as soon as you’re finished with your food.”

Madelyn made a mental note about mayo and then said, “Ok. I don’t really think it’ll take too long. The Chief is a nice guy, I spoke with him a bit last night. I might just give him my list and let him take it from there. No sense in having an expert then not taking their advice. So …” she went back to her salad, humming happily.

Tony finished part of his sandwich then had to answer the phone. Madelyn slipped out while he was bitching out someone about parking.

After a day of placating bruised egos, reassuring heads of security, and making lists, Tony finally got the seating arrangements done. There was no way they were going to have free seating, that was a sure road to disaster. Someone would be seated too far back because they chose to be fashionably late, or someone would be seated by someone they didn’t get along with. Madelyn left seating up to Tony who seemed to know or know about everyone.

Tony ran his hands through his hair then finalized the seating, for now.

“Ok. That’s it for the day. Let’s get home. I’m going to have carry out and wine. Then hit the bed. Wonder if I can get Gibbs to come over?”

Madelyn shrugged. “He hasn’t left yet. He’s still dealing with David’s mess.” Her scornful tone and mispronunciation of Ziva’s last name made her opinion clear.

Tony snorted. “Better him than me. I’m glad she’s gone. Frankly, she was a stain on NCIS’s reputation.”

Madelyn just nodded as she got her things together. “I’m so gone. You better hurry or Gibbs will be gone too.” And with that, she hurried out the door.

Tony got his things together too and trotted down the stairs just in time. “Gibbs! Gibbs! Wait up.”

Gibbs turned to wait for Tony. “What’s up? Problems?”

“No. I just don’t feel like eating alone. Join me? I’ve got a nice bottle of rough red and I was planning to pick up something from Rosario’s.”

At Tony’s mention of a very popular local Italian restaurant Gibbs brightened. “Sounds good. Thirty?”

“More like forty. I’ll call real quick and check.” Tony called and was told that, if he put in his order now, they could have it ready by the time he got there. “Ok. Gibbs?” Gibbs loved their baked penni so he wanted that. “A double order of baked penni and an order of sausage lasagna, salads, double garlic toast …” he didn’t bother to put his hand over the phone. “Anything else?” Gibbs shook his head. “That’s all. Thank you. Do you want me to pay now, or at pick up?”

The voice on the phone said, “If you pay now it’s five percent off.”

“I’ll pay now.” Tony did what was necessary to pay then hung up. “I’m gone. Meet you at my place.”

Gibbs just nodded as he got his things. They headed to the elevator together then split at the door to go to their vehicles.

.

Gibbs had just pulled up at the gate when Tony arrived, he used his new remote to open the gate. Gibbs drove through then stopped and rolled down his window, Tony pulled up beside him and asked, “What?”

“Were do you want me to park?”

“Follow me around to the loading dock and just pick a space.”

Gibbs obeyed, parking in the spot next to the stairs on the opposite side from Tony. He got out and hurried to help Tony with the food.

“Careful. It’s really hot and those bags don’t have much insulation.” Tony gave Gibbs his penni and the salads, keeping the lasagna and garlic toast to carry himself. He shifted both bags to one hand so he could punch in the security code. He also closed the roll-up doors.

“There. I swear this remote is sick. It controls the gate and the garage doors. The keypad here also controls the doors but you have to use the security code and the codes for the garage are different from the ones for the house. Man, I have to write Hank a really good review. Come on, I’m starved.”

Gibbs smirked and followed Tony down the hall to the kitchen where he put his burden on the counter then sat down on one of the barstools.

Tony nodded at the bags. “Open all that and get some plates, will you? I’m going for that bottle of wine that’s been calling my name all afternoon. Rough red ok?”

Gibbs started opening the containers while he said, “I don’t care, wine is wine to me.”

Tony snorted. “Philistine.”

“Nope, pretty sure I’m still a Lutheran.” Gibbs’ grinned at Tony who snorted again then went down the hall to his cellar to find a good wine.

He was soon back with the open bottle. “I’ll just pour this.”

“Doesn’t it have to breath?” Gibbs got plates and cutlery and began putting them out.

“It should but I’ve got an aerator that actually works.” He got the device out of the cabinet and poured them both a generous glass. “Here. Enjoy.”

Gibbs took the glass, tried a sip then said, “Very good. You want some of this penni?”

Tony did so they swapped containers. Gibbs took a hunk of the lasagna and Tony helped himself to some of the penni.

They ate in silence for a few moments before Gibbs cleared his throat. “My friend … you know him … Jason Adams? Boat guy?”

Tony nodded, chewed vigorously to clear his mouth then said, “Yeah, yeah. I remember. Medium height, grey eyes, dark brown hair, tan like a surfer. What did he have to say?”

“I just gave him all the paper work … in copies. He said the boat down the way is in great shape because it hasn’t been in storage too long. He went down to Florida and suggests that you sell both boats at the Port Echo Marina as they’re in sad shape and sue the marina as they’ve been collecting maintenance fees but it’s obvious that they haven't done shit. The three boats at various marinas in Miami are in good shape. He said you should keep the Mary Dear and sell the other two. Getting her up here won’t be a problem, he’ll bring her. Hates to fly. My advice is to get rid of the rest of them. You don’t really need them and getting them somewhere where you’ll actually use them is gonna cost an arm and a leg. If you want anything bigger than the Mary use some of the sale money to but something new.”

“Ok. That was quick. Thanks. More wine?” Tony didn’t wait, he poured Gibbs another half glass.

“I’ll have to sleep in my truck but it’s worth it. And I was quick because Jason did the US ports himself, he knows nearly every pilot and retrieval captain on earth. He just put out the word on some bulletin board or other and got answers back in something like 48 hours. This Jen business put the whole thing out of my mind or I’d have gotten back to you sooner.”

Tony made a rude noise over the thought of Gibbs sleeping in his truck. “Ok, one; you have a room here, you’ll sleep in it. You’ve got your go bag. And that’s not a question, I know you do. If you need something to sleep in, I’ve got stuff. As to forgetting the damn boats … you remembered before I did. So … we’re good. After the funeral we could go down to get it. Maybe have Tim drive us down then meet him at the new dock, which you will pick, and go for something to eat?”

“Good idea. I’m glad to see you and Tim making up. Ziva really threw a wrench in the works, didn’t she?”

“Yeah. I will never understand why you let her on the team.” Tony poked at his food, his distress obvious to anyone who knew what to look for.

“Jen begged me to take her to get her out of Mossad before she was irredeemable. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. More fool me. I’d really like to know what Jen’s real agenda was.” Gibbs took a drink of his wine.

“If you want my opinion, it had something to do with The Frog. I’ll bet you good money she was planning on making Ziva so grateful to be away from her father that she’d kill him for Jen if she couldn’t get him arrested. Just my uninformed opinion.”

Gibbs gave Tony a rather stricken look. “Well, son of a bitch. I think you’re right.”

Tony just pushed the penni closer to Gibbs. “Don’t let it spoil your apatite. The food’s too good for that.”

Gibbs agreed so he helped himself to more penni and garlic toast. His salad was long gone and he’d made impressive inroads into the pasta. “One more glass.” He pushed his wine glass in Tony’s direction as Tony poured himself one last glass.

“Ok. Then you can watch TV. I’m gonna beat up my piano for a while. Probably until the news comes on. Then I have papers to grade. And that’s just sad. I have three or four students who are going to fail because they have no idea how to write an essay. I swear there ought to be a book I can assign. If I can’t find one, I’m gonna write it myself.”

Gibbs, who never watched much except news, sipped his wine before saying, “I’ll just sit and listen. Don’t let me make you self-conscious.”

“Won’t bother me a bit. If you get tired of listening you can turn the tv on. If a bunch of rowdy frat brothers didn’t bother me, you sure won’t.”

Gibbs got up and went to the coffee maker. “Grounds?”

Tony pointed. “There.”

Gibbs got out the coffee and filters, filled the reservoir and started making coffee. He smiled to himself as Tony started playing honky-tonk.

Tony played for over an hour then got up, shutting the piano as he did so. “Did I hear my phone ring?”

“You did. I answered it because you weren’t gonna get it in time. Wish I hadn’t. Some bitch whining about your piano playing. Like it’s time to go to bed at 7pm. I told her to call back at ten. You’ve got a bunch of asshole neighbors.”

“I do. But what they don’t realize is that the zoning changes at my property line.” He pointed to the wall between him and the back yards of the nearest neighbors. “I’m zoned commercial while they’re zoned mixed.” He glanced at his watch, it was just gone 9:30pm. “You ever heard Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2?”

“I think maybe. Why don’t you remind me?” Gibbs wasn’t sure what song Tony was talking about but he did know that Tony was pissed.

Tony returned to his piano, opened the top all the way and sat down. Gibbs settled in a chair where he could watch Tony, he wasn’t worried about hearing him.

The pieced ended and the silence was a bit stunning. Gibbs realized that he’d been half holding his breath. “Tony. I know you’re good but that was … magnificent.”

Tony flushed and grinned. “I used to perform at the frat house. They liked me.”

The phone started to ring and, as he was closest to the charging station, Gibbs answered it. “Hello, DiNozzo residence, Jethro Gibbs speaking.” He listened for a moment then said, “Well, that is too bad. This area is zoned commercial. Look it up. As such the noise ordinances don’t apply. Out of simple courtesy he usually stops playing about 10pm. Piss him off and he can play until dawn and there’s not much you can do about it. If you call the police you’ll hear the same. They might come out and ask us to keep it down but … if we were a bar, you wouldn’t have a leg so deal.”

Tony sighed. “Who was that?”

“No idea. Whiny, about 40, smokes, bad attitude, no kids. And she’s bitching about late hours.”

Tony thought for a moment, “I have no idea either, don’t care. I’m gonna take a shower then work on my grading. You want a shower go ahead and take one. The water pressure is great and each bathroom has it’s own on demand heater.”

Gibbs snorted. “I don’t even try to sleep before midnight and you know it. I’ll just watch the news.”

Tony shrugged. “Up to you.” and with that he headed up the stairs to take his shower.

He was back down in about half an hour dressed in sleep pants, t-shirt, and robe.

Gibbs had the tv on low and was sprawled across the couch. Tony snickered as he was half asleep and shivering slightly. He took the blanket off the recliner and tossed it over him. Gibbs opened one eye all the way to see what was happening then closed it again. “Thanks.”

“I’ll grade papers until I’m done or you fall asleep. After I’m done, I’ll wake you up to go to bed.”

Gibbs grunted, pulled the blanket higher on his shoulders, and went back to his news.

Tony settled at his desk and started wading through the fifteen essays he had left. He’d saved the longest and worst for last. It took him nearly an hour to work his way through them. If they had been proper essays it would have taken much longer. Of the fifteen essays six were just impossible, written in what he called text speak; u for you, 4 instead of for, no punctuation to speak of and littered with dropped letters and nonstandard abbreviations. He simply gave them all an F with the notation, “This is not English. Do not submit another paper written in text speak.” Of the remaining nine, three were easily twice the required length. One was acceptable because the writer had quoted some very interesting reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and a couple of reviewers that had fleshed out some of the opinions of the person. He took his time to read it through and make notes, he gave that one an A. The other two were just long, rambling, pointless trash; littered with malapropisms and spoonerisms, the grammar was bad and punctuation almost nonexistent. He gave them F’s also. He also advised them to take a supplemental or remedial English course. The last six were C material; suffering from some of the same things the fail essays did but not as bad. He corrected where he could and noted that they should read up on writing essays.

When he finally put the papers into his briefcase to be returned on Monday he realized that it was very late, nearly 1am. Gibbs had gotten up and gone up to bed sometime or other, Tony hadn’t noticed. He went up and crawled into bed. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

.

The next morning was more of the same, quick breakfast, run, shower, dress, head to NCIS. Gibbs was the only difference, he got up at his usual time which meant that breakfast was more than a protein bar and veggie juice, he didn’t make anything heavy but the steel cut oatmeal was a welcome change.

Gibbs checked over the security system and walked the perimeter while Tony ran. He was back inside within a half hour so Tony cut his run a bit short. “Gibbs, make some coffee, like I really need to ask.”

Gibbs just gave Tony a sloppy salute and started making coffee.

Tony hurried up the stairs and through his shower, taking five minutes to accomplish his shower and another three to get dressed. Since he was wearing jeans again he didn’t fiddle with his hair.

Gibbs was waiting at the bottom of the stair with coffee in a travel mug. “Here.”

Tony took the mug with a smile. “Thanks. How was the walk around?”

“Good. They did a great job. This place is buttoned up tighter than a gnats ass. Just remember to turn the damn thing on.” Gibbs raised his own mug. “We better get going.”

“We should. I’ll follow you out.”

Tony opened the roll-up door so they could back out then used the remote to close the door and turn on the house security system. Gibbs drove out the gate then Tony. He used the remote again to close the gate and turn on the wall security system. He wondered what would happen if he lost the remote then shrugged, it wouldn’t happen.

The drive to NCIS was accomplished in good time so Tony was at his desk by 8am with coffee and a danish. Madelyn followed him up grumbling about inconsiderate people who drank all the coffee before she got any.

They settled in to make up all the lists they needed; a list of invitees and plus ones by name with pictures, a list of all catering personnel, a list of all officiants including pall bearers. And a couple that Madelyn made up herself.

The day went quickly and they were done by five. Tony posted a notice on the NCIS website that the lists were now closed, anyone who had not gotten in their RSVP would not be allowed in. Also that all service personnel were accounted for and no last minute substitutions would be allowed. He turned all the lists, especially the one for attendees, over to security and left. He wasn’t going to come back until time for the service baring some apocalyptic event.

.

Leon Vance went over the finalized arrangements with a great deal of relief. He hated planning this sort of thing, he wasn’t any good at it. He was sure his wife, Jackie, could have done it but he didn’t want to put that burden on her shoulders. Nor endure the grumblings of nepotism that it as sure to generate.

He initialed where he was supposed to then turned all the lists back to the head of security. He sighed and headed for home.

Jackie, Kayla and Jarod met him at the door. After kisses and hugs all around Jackie sent the kids to wash up for supper then said, “All the plans ok? I’d be glad to lend a hand. I know you’re swamped.”

“I’ve got it. DiNozzo is brilliant at organizing. Whoever wrote that summary for his jacket must have had it in for him. I’m hoping to lure him back but … I have a feeling it’s not going to work. He’s teaching cinematic studies at Georgetown and they seem to really like him. He’s making twice what he would at NCIS and not putting up with disrespect at every turn. So … no more business. What’s for supper?”

Jackie led the way to the dining room but stopped him at the door, pointed to the kitchen and said, “Wash. No one comes to the table without washing their hands.”

Leon just tickled her to make her squeak and went to obey.

.

Tony chose to spend Friday and Saturday morning fielding complaints from offended dignitaries who felt that the funeral should be moved to accommodate their schedules, culinary specialists who were having fits about dietary restrictions, and security heads who seemed to feel that they should supervise all the security arrangements no matter who they were for. Tony dealt with the specialists first.

“This is Tony DiNozzo, event coordinator for Ms. Shepard’s funeral. The problem is non-existent. All you have to do is put out stand-ups which explain that anything on a red plate is not kosher/halal, green is vegan, don’t bother with vegetarian selections as vegetarians will eat vegan but not visa-versa. Also put pork on a blue plate, seafood on yellow, and beef on white. Make sure that the servers know to keep the foods separate in the kitchens. If anyone wants to change the arrangements in anyway, ask me. If it’s some self-entitled dumbass who is flexing their ego, tell them to fuck off. We don’t have time to deal. If it’s a Rabbi or an Imam, listen, then put them in touch with me.” He ended, “You’re a Master Chief, act like it.” He hung up then rubbed his face.

The next call was a conference call with all the heads of security for all the attendees. “Ok, people, I don’t have time to fuck around. NCIS Security will be in charge of all the security arrangements. If you have concerns the Head of Security is Phil Jackson, call him. Do not get snotty with him. He’s a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sargent and won’t put up with it. If you mess around with him too much, he’ll sent Gibbs to speak with you. Now, if you have any intelligent input, I’ll hear it. If all you’re interested in is chest beating and saber rattling, hangup.” He gave it three beats then just hung up. He grinned at Madelyn who was eyeing him in awe.

“What?”

“I never heard that tone of voice out of you before.” Madelyn approved.

“I never used it because it wasn’t my place. Gibbs ran the team, I backed him up.” Tony shrugged and went back to work.

Madelyn sighed and went back to trying to placate some jerk from somewhere, she wasn’t really sure where, who wanted the funeral backed up nearly two weeks because he’d promised his mistress a vacation. She bit her lip, really there was no need to call her names.

Tony noticed her distress and just took the phone out of her hand. He listened for a moment then said, in Russian, “No. You either come when it’s held or don’t come. I don’t care. And, if you ever speak to my assistant like that again, I’ll cut out your tongue and feed it to you, raw.” He dropped the phone into the cradle and turned to Madelyn. “You do not put up with that sort of crap. If they swear at you or even get rude, hang up. I mean it.”

“Ok. Thanks. I’m getting really tired of all the abuse. Who do they think they are … God? Really, the tiny fish are the rudest.” Madelyn set her phone to redirect calls to the main switch board. “I’m going out for coffee. You want something?”

Tony shook his head. “No. I’ll just sit here and wait for the next panic to strike.”

Madelyn thought for a moment then said, “The funeral is in a bit less than … twenty hours? Why are we even doing this?”

“I’ve no idea. All the plans are finalized and we really don’t have anything else to do until the morning of the do. I’m leaving. You should too. If something drastic happens, Vance knows how to get hold of both of us. Come on. I’m going to go home and paint.”

“I’m going to go home, have some wine, and watch chick flicks until my brain melts.” Madelyn got her things and headed for the door. “You ought to tell Vance we’re jumping ship.”

Tony followed Madelyn to the door of Vance’s office, she went on down the stairs, he went in.

“Cynthia, I’m leaving. Do I need to tell Vance or will you?”

Cynthia smiled. “I’ll tell him. How are the arrangements?”

“Done, except for the whining. I’m leaving and my phone is shut off. Don’t forward any calls to me. If it’s important, get Vance to call me. I’ll come in and deal. I’m not rearranging everything to satisfy some asshole with an over inflated ego. I figure that, if they get a message that my phone is off, they’ll go away. If they don’t, not my fault if they get their ears roasted.”

“I’ll tell the Director. And Tony? Good call.” Cynthia nodded to him. “Now shoo.”

Tony just bolted. He made it down the stairs, nodded to Gibbs and Tim, said, “I’m jumpin’ ship before I shoot someone. If anyone wants me, I’m unavailable until in the morning.”

Gibbs nodded. “I’ll bring over some steaks.”

“Great. Bring enough for Tim. Tim?”

Tim brightened. “I’d love steaks. I’ll bring wine?”

“Beer. That micro brew that Tony likes.” Gibbs shut off his computer, making Tim wince. He never went through the proper shut down procedures, he just hit the power switch and let digital nature take its course.

Tim got his stuff together and followed Tony and Gibbs to the elevator.

They broke up to go to their cars agreeing to meet at Tony’s at five. Tony glanced at his watch, it was just past noon.

.

Tony decided to stop at a grocery store and pick up some salad stuff and a pie.

He got home and reveled in the security of not having to leave his car to open the gate, especially as he noticed two of the women from the home owners association sitting in a car across the street. He called the police on the non-emergency number and complained then drove to his parking space.

While he was waiting for Gibbs and Tim to arrive he checked that the kitchen was clean then went to set up a new piece of paper. He didn’t use a mounting board as the paper was thick and stiff, it held up well to wet in wet, so he just stuck it to his back board with snot dots and went to work.

He was still painting when the gate alarm went off. He got up and went to the control center on the breakfast bar. “Yes?”

“Gibbs.” There was a short pause. “Tim just pulled up behind me.”

Tony pressed the gate button. “Come in. Park in the garage.” Tony pressed another button then went to open the garage doors for Gibbs and Tim.

He went out onto the walkway and watched as Gibbs parked in his place. Tim stopped at the door then pulled into another space. Tony grinned, he’d had name plates made for Tim, Gibbs, Jimmy, and Ducky. That still left six places for him. Of course, two of them would only hold motorcycles.

Gibbs got out of his truck and headed for Tony, a package of steaks in his hand. “I get my own parking place? With my name on it? I’m …” Gibbs paused for a moment. “awed and …” He waved his empty hand.

“I know. But it’s yours. And Tim?”

Tim was just staring at the name plate with a flustered expression. “I don’t know what to say. I’m … glad I didn’t ruin it all. I swear, if I had it to do over … well, I hope I’d do better, knowing what I know. So …” He held up a half case. “I got one of those cases that has three bottles of four different kinds. I know you like the Porter, Gibbs likes that moose piss lager, and I like the Amber Bock. So … We’re set.”

Gibbs scowled at Tim. “It’s not moose piss, that’s PBR. This is a very dry, hoppy lager. Come on.”

Tony snorted, swatted Tim on the shoulder then followed Gibbs into the kitchen. “You need anything?”

“Garlic. Not salt or powder. Olive oil.”

Tim and Tony watched as Gibbs rubbed the steaks with olive oil then cut the cloves of garlic in half and rubbed the cut side on the steaks. He then salted and peppered them, put them on a platter and covered them with plastic wrap.

“Ok. I’ll need to light the grill so it’ll heat. I’d rather have charcoal but the gas grill you have is nice. Come on, I’ll show you how it all works.”

Tony chuckled, “I wondered if you’d show me … or just let me burn my eyebrows off.”

Tim snickered. “No. That’d be me.”

Gibbs laughed out loud then offered, “Well, it was only half of one. And I did warn you.”

“You did. Teach me not to listen. Also, my landlord has forbidden me to have a grill.”

Tony laughed too, remembering the time when Tim had invited the crew over for hamburgers and used way too much lighter fluid, despite Gibbs’ warning. The fireball had been impressive.

They calmed down then gathered all the things they needed and went out to the gazebo to cook steaks. Tony brought the salad fixings and tableware. Tim followed him with beer and chips.

Gibbs examined the grill in detail then went over how it worked with Tony. Gibbs had wanted charcoal but Tony had overruled him so it was gas.

As they sat around, drinking beer and waiting for the steaks to get done, Gibbs and Tony discussed the mess that Senior had left. Tim was of the opinion that he was deep in some sort of something illegal. Tony shrugged then said, “I’m having every safety deposit box I can get my hands on emptied and all the contents sorted. If he’s involved in anything truly shady, my lawyer will turn all the evidence over to the proper authorities.”

Tim sighed. “I hope I did the right thing. Abby insisted that it was a good idea so I helped her.”

Tony looked up from fiddling with the fire pit in the center of the gazebo, it was getting chilly enough that they needed some source of warmth. “It was a good idea, the fees were being taken out of the interest on one of my accounts. I’d really like to find out how Senior managed any of that.”

Tim offered, “Well, I could look into it with a bit of hacking.”

“No. I’m going to instruct my lawyer to look into it. I’ll suggest your name as a cyber forensic expert. I appreciate the offer but I want all the evidence to be admissible in court.”

Gibbs watched Tony fiddle for a moment then went to light the fire pit. “There’s no starter, you have to use a long lighter.” He brandished the object then got the gas on and started. “There.”

Tony nodded. “Ok, got it.”

Gibbs went back to the grill to check the temperature. “Ok. Steaks are off in four. We got sides?”

“We got sides. I’ll toss the salad when you set the steaks to rest.”

“Doin’ that now.” Gibbs deftly hooked the steaks off the grill, put them on a platter and covered them with foil. “Ten minutes.”

“Salads are ready now. We should start eating.” Tony sat down at the table to one side of the fire pit. “I love this. You did a good job, Jethro.”

“Thanks.” Gibbs glanced around. “It was a bit of a bitch getting the roof joists up but Damon is good help.”

Tim poked his salad. “I really like this gazebo, I can’t wait to see it in the spring. Great work, Gibbs.”

Gibbs nodded his thanks as his mouth was full of steak.

Tony grumbled, “I can’t wait until this mess is over. What could go wrong next?”

Tim covered his face with both hands, moaning, “Oh, shit, Tony! You just jinxed us for sure.”

Gibbs snorted then went back to his steak.

They finished their meal then turned off the fire pit and the grill. Gibbs ducked under the gazebo, not that much of a duck as it was on eighteen inch piers, and turned off the main gas.

“Ok, that’s done. Tim, help me with the dishes. Tony, just go open the doors.”

Tim didn’t bother to object, he just started gathering things into piles. “You got it.”

Tony didn’t say anything either, he went to open the doors. He was tired and looking forward to a good night’s sleep. He had to be up and going, due to Jen’s request the funeral was at 1pm.

It didn’t take them long to get the dishes in the dishwasher and start that. There were no leftovers so that wasn’t a problem. Tony handed out one last beer then realized, “Well, shit. Neither one of you is going to be fit to drive. Tim, bedroom at the back on the left. Gibbs, you know where yours is.” Tim started to argue but Tony held up a finger. “No argument.”

Tim shrugged, Gibbs smirked. They settled in to watch TV until 11pm. Then dragged themselves up to bed.

Gibbs grumbled, “I could have driven home. Four beers, three hours.”

Tony snorted. “You could. Tim’s a lightweight, you really want him at the wheel of that cracker box Boxter?” Gibbs shuddered. “Thought not.”

.

The next morning saw them all scurrying around to get ready. Tim had to go home to dress, as did Gibbs. Tony got up and started breakfast, no reason for any of them to do without.

Gibbs was down first, of course, with a grumpy expression. “I need to get home soon, I need to check that the dresser got my fruit salad on the salad bar right.”

“You don’t own a dress?” Tony poked the coffee maker then turned to work on breakfast.

“No. Have you seen how much a full dress costs? I don’t wear it that often but I’m commander of the pallbearer team so I need to wear full honors.” Gibbs eyed Tony. “Don’t bother with breakfast, I’ll get something on my way home. You’ll never make it in time if you mess with food.”

“I didn’t think Jen was entitled to a full ceremony.” Tony passed Gibbs a cup of coffee then leaned on the counter for a moment.

“She’s not. But, as the Director of NCIS, she is entitled to a military escort or casket team. I made up one of two Marines, two Sailors, and two security team members. I’m commandant by default.” Gibbs took the coffee with a soft sigh. “I’m really ready for this whole shit show to be over with.”

Tim came into the kitchen area and settled at the breakfast bar. “Me, too. I’m one of the ushers. I’m glad you and Madelyn made up a seating chart.”

Gibbs nodded his agreement. “It’ll keep the bitching to a minimum. Everyone thinks they’re entitled to be front and center. Most of them need to stick a pin in their head.”

“Yeah, let out most of the hot air.”

Tim snickered, “If we let out all of it their heads will collapse.”

Gibbs looked at his watch. “Tim, we need to leave now. Get something to eat on your way home.”

“You too. But you’re right. We need to get going.” Tim finished his coffee, put down his mug and thanked Tony. He hurried out, headed for his car. “Open the doors for me.”

“Opening pod bay doors.” Tony chuckled at his own joke and poked the button to open the door that Tim and Gibbs needed to leave through.

Gibbs gave him an odd look but Tim’s cackle of laughter echoed from the hall.

Tony watched as they both drove through the gate. He shut the gate then went up to change into his suit. He’d decided on the dark blue Brioni with a steel grey tie and pocket square. He eyed a very comfortable pair of slip-on loafers but knew he’d be the scorn of everyone if he wore them. He got out his Ferragamo lace up dress shoes. They were a couple of years old but he took good care of his clothing so they didn’t show wear. He just hoped they weren’t going to kill his feet. He’d never stood in them for very long at a time.

A quick shower, shave, and hair style later, he dressed, checked himself in the cheval mirror then hurried down the stairs. He needed to be at the venue soon, who knew what sort of mess there’d be if he didn’t stand over everyone.

He gathered up his pocket junk, phone, and keys, patted his jacket to make sure his sidearm didn’t show then hurried to his car.

It didn’t take him that long to get to NCIS.

He stopped to check that the gate knew not to let anyone not on the list into the parking lot dedicated to the funeral attendees. Vance had decided that no one was allowed into the covered employee parking except for SecDef, SecNav, and a couple of other high ranking officials. He was glad he didn’t have to put up with the bitching the gate guards were going to endure.

After a quick gossip with the guards he parked and went in through a side door. The single guard there knew him and just nodded at him as he went through.

He went directly to the ballroom/banquet hall and found controlled chaos. Madelyn was standing near the back doors with a clipboard in her hands. Since she didn’t look stressed Tony took the opportunity to check around. He walked the room, making sure everything was as it should be.

He noticed that all the chairs were nearly touching each other so he called a Pfc over and told him. “We’ve got half a football field here so move the chairs so that they’re at least six inches apart side to side. More if there’s room and …” He sat down in one and stretched out his legs then pushed the chair in front of him until he had leg room and there was room to pass without stumbling over someone’s feet. “that far apart. If anyone argues with you, send them to me.”

The Pfc. just nodded, said, ‘Yes, sir.’ and started moving chairs, several of his buddies hurried to help.

Tony then went to the kitchens to check on that. He was happy to see that everything was going well, dishes all finger food and plated according to instructions. There was a samovar with hot tea and a huge coffee pot that held about five gallons, perking away on a sturdy table.

As he was wandering around he overheard, “No liquor at all. There’s some mixes and sodas but no liquor. DiNozzo nixed it. He says, and I agree, that a funeral or reception is not somewhere to get smashed. I think it’s disrespectful.” Tony just patted the man on the shoulder as he went by.

It took nearly two hours to confirm all the arrangements including check in lists for all the attendees and their essential staff. The doors opened at 10am and not a second sooner, the reception would continue until 11:30 when the funeral began. This wasn’t to last more than an hour and the grave side was limited to Gibbs, Tony, Vance, SecNav, and SecDef.

Madelyn wandered over, eyes fixed on her tablet. “Everything’s going great. What is going to go wrong?”

Tony grinned then grimaced, “Gate crashers, or I miss my guess.”

Gibbs’ voice startled them both. “Not gonna be a problem. I doubled the gate guards and told them flat out that if the person isn’t on the list they don’t get in. If they insist just arrest them and hold them until the funeral is over. The cavalcade will leave by the south gate and head directly to the cemetery. The grave side will commence the minute everyone is in place. That shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes. We should be done with this whole thing by 12:30 latest.”

“Thank god.”

At 10 the doors were opened and people began filtering in, some just on time, some fashionably late but none so late they were locked out. The usual chaos of a large group of people confined in a small space, relatively speaking, was kept under control by roving couples of security from NCIS, the Marine Corp, and Navy. The security teams for various VIPs kept to themselves and only intervened when their principle was involved. Tony roved the room, separating people who wanted to argue about anything, simply telling them, “This is a funeral reception not a forum for your particular talking points. If you want to argue take it outside.” Most people did split up, a few wanted to argue with him but the threat of being evicted kept them in line.

Tony checked that there were no more disturbances then went to stand by Jenny’s coffin half hidden behind a huge flower arrangement in a huge, white rattan basket. Between the ribbons and drooping flowers no one even knew he was there, except Gibbs.

“You ok?” Gibbs positioned himself beside Tony, hands clasped in front of himself.

Tony turned his head. “Yeah, just … wish this had turned out different. Not sure how … just different.”

“Me too. But … I think she was sick. She was having a lot of headaches lately. She was confused sometimes. And her hands shook. She wouldn’t admit it for love nor money, but … I just don’t know.”

“Me neither. I’ll be glad when this whole thing is over. Like the absolute end of something and the beginning of something new.”

“New and better, I hope. I have a good feeling about Vance. You comin’ back? You could have your own team.”

Tony sighed then shook his head. “No. I’ve been in law enforcement one way or another since I was twenty. Fifteen years is long enough. I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. I’ve still got a lot to do to rescue the businesses that the Ol’ Man ran into the ground. That’s a lot of people depending on me keepin’ them workin’. I’ve got to do my best for them. Still helping people the best I can.”

Gibbs nodded. “Ok.” He glanced around. “About time for the service to start. I’ll bring in the honor guard in five.”

Tony glanced at his watch. “Ok. I’ll call for seating to start.”

Gibbs snorted. “I’ll do it. You’ll have to shout.” He stepped forward, nodded to the six pall bearers standing at ease behind the catafalque, then did a heel and toe turn to face the room. “Attention! Attention! The service will commence in ten minutes. Find your seats.” As a Gunnery Sergeant he knew how to project his voice. The room started to mill as people, who had been instructed not to do so, tried to grab a chair front and center.

No one bothered to try to keep them from doing this, let them suffer the public embarrassment of having to move, they’d been warned in the handout.

Tony and Gibbs circulated to keep the arguments to a minimum. They both had to settle a few tempers but no one made an actual scene, most of it was on the order of, ‘do you know who I am?’ and ‘I’ll have your job.’ Tony was happy to inform them that he had a job they couldn’t touch.

One man snorted then said, “If you think you can keep me from getting you fired, think again.”

Tony sneered at him. “I’m independently wealthy. I teach at Georgetown but I don’t need the money. Mess with me, my lawyers will love it.”

The man wilted like an unwatered plant and went to his assigned seat quietly.

Gibbs called them to order in exactly ten minutes, this caused a slight disturbance as people who were standing talking sat down. Gibbs eyed the participants with a rather jaundiced eye then turned to the first speaker and nodded.

Father Richards intoned, “Let us pray.” Since Jen hadn’t specified a prayer and the group was of mixed religions the prayer was silent. Father Richards allowed two minutes for the opening prayer then ended the silence by saying, “Amen.” He then motioned to the hidden string quartet who played some properly grave piece while the officiants changed. Father Richards took a seat at the side of the front row and the man seated next to him got up.

He spoke about dedication to duty despite illness, hinting that Jen had been suffering from some sort of wasting illness. Gibbs allowed him five minutes and a bit then cleared his throat, the man wound up his remarks easily and went to his seat.

Next up was SecDef who also gave a very short speech about Jen’s accomplishments. SecNav just announced, “She was a good woman and a good director. Her loss will be felt forever. Remember her with kindness.”

He sat down and Gibbs announced, “Let us pray.”

After the second prayer there was another musical interlude, during which many of the attendees shuffled and mumbled to each other.

Vance frowned then motioned to Gibbs. “They’re already restless, who else is speaking?”

“Reverend Father Richards is going to read a Psalm. There was going to be another interlude then an invitation for others to say a few words but I think we can dispense with everything after the Psalm.”

“Me too. And ask the Reverend father to keep his remarks to a minimum.”

Gibbs approached Father Richards and bent down to say, “The vultures are getting restless could you keep your remarks to a minimum? We’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course. I did notice a rather dismaying lack of respect and reverence. Not that unusual in this sort of event. I’ll just bless the congregation and let them go, a nice Psalm would just be wasted.”

He got up, interrupting the string quartet who silenced themselves as soon as was appropriate. He eyed the crowd then said, “Bless this congregation, oh Lord we Pray. Let there be peace between us. Amen.” He waited a moment then nodded to Gibbs.

Gibbs instructed the ushers to lead the group out then went to supervise the pallbearers. It was more usual for everyone to follow the coffin out but they were not going to have some sort of mess here. This group wasn’t worth the effort and they didn’t want the procession disrespected.

The room was soon clear. The pallbearers carried the coffin out to the hearse then went to their two SUVs.

The graveside was much more respectful as it was just Abby, Ducky, Jimmy, Tony, Vance, Tim, SecNav, and SecDef. The security for both secretaries kept to the background. Vance said a few words, they said a prayer then it was all over.

.

Tony invited everyone back to his place for drinks and a carry out meal. Everyone accepted happily. Abby stopped Gibbs to ask, “Does he really mean me too?”

“He does. This is your last chance, don’t waste it.”

“I won’t.” Abby hurried to her car. She was going to stop by a liquor store and get a really nice bottle of wine.

It wasn’t long before everyone who was coming was in the great room. Vance had excused himself and SecNav and SecDef were not invited.

Ducky took a seat in front of the TV and declared, “I’m not moving until there’s food.” then settled back to watch BBC.

Tim and Gibbs offered to help set up for the coming meal. Tony just pointed out where everything was and started making salad.

Abby had hung back a bit until Tony wasn’t busy calling in the order then getting the table set. “Tony, I brought wine. I hope it’s ok.” She handed Tony the four pack of bottles. “I’m not sure what it is, the guy at the store suggested it to go with Italian.”

Tony took the little bag with a smile. “Thanks, Abby. It’s not Italian, I’d never. It’s Chinese.” He took a bottle and inspected it. “This’ll do fine. Here. Open two and let them breath.” He gave her a quick hug.

Abby beamed, she knew she was well on her way to being forgiven. She whispered, “I’m really, really, really sorry I listened to Ziva instead of my heart.”

Tony overheard and smiled to himself. He forgave her, she just didn’t need to know just yet. He was hoping to guilt her into giving up her family gumbo recipe.

The food came and Tony buzzed the delivery boy in. He took the food, passing it on to Jethro and Abby then tipped the man. He waited until the gate was clear then locked it and all the doors. He was tired of fending off his nearest neighbors who insisted on buzzing the gate until he answered.

Gibbs chuckled, “Problems?”

“Nothing I can’t handle. Where’s the forks?” Tony wasn’t about to try eating with chop sticks, he’d starve.

“Here.” Abby handed him a fork. “And I put serving spoons in all the containers. I hate serving myself with chop sticks.”

They all gathered around the table and began to serve themselves. Tony poured the wine, announcing, “Courtesy of Miss Abby.”

They enjoyed the food, visiting about this and that.

Tony was still a bit stand-off-ish with Abby but he was polite. He was friendly with Tim, Gibbs, and Ducky.

After they were finished eating Tony poured one more glass of wine for everyone. Abby eyed it then said, “Unless I’m welcome to sleep on your couch, I won’t have this.”

Tony eyed Abby. “No couch. There’s three guest rooms. Tim and Gibbs can double up, that leaves one for you and one for Ducky.”

Ducky refused, saying, “I’ve only had the one glass. And I’m not leaving until after the news. I’ll be fine.”

Gibbs shook his head. “I’m staying. Abby?”

Abby nodded. “I’d rather stay, please.”

Tony shrugged. “I wouldn’t have invited you if I didn’t mean it. You got something to sleep in?”

“One of your old t-shirts. And I’d like to borrow something to go home in tomorrow. If it’s not an imposition.”

“Not a problem. I’ll just run up and put everything out on the bed. Your room is the first on the right. Bathroom is next to you, between your room and my suite.” Tony trotted up the stairs, got out a tall t-shirt that he’d hated and a pair of sweat pants and another shirt. He put them on the foot of the bed, made sure she had an extra blanket then went back downstairs.

Ducky made his excuses just after the news complimenting Tony’s new residence and thanking him for his hospitality and his personal parking space.

Gibbs nodded as he headed up the stairs, saying, “I’m gonna read for a bit then turn in early for once.”

Abby sighed, stretched then said, “I’m not a bit sleepy. Wanna watch the last of the Magnum marathon?”

Tony yelped, “There’s a Magnum marathon!? And I’m missing it!” He flopped down on the couch making Abby bounce.

Abby chuckled, she knew she was forgiven now. “Not so much, we’ve only missed one ep and it wasn’t that good a one.”

Tony settled in to watch tv with Abby. It wasn’t long before the phone rang.

“DiNozzo. No, I’m not interested in your homeowners association that you’re pushing. If you think I’m going to rezone before I’m done work, you’re nuts. Leave me alone.” He hung up wishing he could slam the phone.

Abby scowled. “Homeowners association? Oh, no, not a good idea. You remember all the trouble you had with that renters association in your old building. Not good.”

“Really. And I’m probably going to have to sue them to get them to leave me alone.” He went on to tell Abby all about his troubles with his Dad’s mess, and the yachts, and the safety deposit boxes, ending, “I know you found all that stuff for me and I really thank you but I wonder what sort of mess I’ll have to deal with next.”

Abby just cuddled him. “Don’t worry about it so much. We’ll all help you deal. Me and Jimmy and Ducky and Tim and especially Gibbs. We’ll never let you down again. Pinky swear.”