"Thanks, Ian." Tony sighed, "Glad I could make someone happy with my pathos. Yeah, I know. … … No, seriously, I know you didn't mean it like that, don't worry. I have thicker skin than that… Oh, I do too. … … ... Fine, fine. I'll let you make it up to me Friday. … No, just tired and the pain meds are wearing off quicker than I'd like."
"Thanks for understanding. I'll give you a call to finalize plans."
Looking down at his planned list of calls, Tony sighed and drew a fine, almost steady line through Ian's name and moved on to the next punching the numbers in wearily.
"Hey Steve, have a minute?"
Waiting while his frat-brother apparently got up to close his office door, before giving Tony the go ahead, Tony rested his forehead in his hand, wishing that he didn’t have to do this when he was still tired and hurting but if he wanted things to work out as smoothly as he’d like, he was under some pretty close time constraints.
"You didn't have to do that, but thanks."
"Tony, you call me during work hours for the first time in 17 years, and you think I'm not going to sit up and take notice? "
"Oh, come on, we've talked during work hours."
"When I've called you! Trust me, Tony, it's not a complaint; you're just more considerate than the rest of us, but we've always known that, and... that's not what you called to discuss, I'm sure."
"Seque appreciated, thanks. Soooo, do you remember back when you were dating the future assistant district attorney, joking about becoming a professional 'fixer'? How would you like an opportunity to put those skills into practice and make a couple of connections along the way?"
"Tony, Man, what the hell? You sound wrecked, and on top of it, you need a fixer? What the hell have you gotten pushed into, and who is doing the pushing? What kind of trouble are we looking at?"
Touched by his friend's clear concern and automatic use of ‘we’, despite the assumption that they'd be facing trouble,Tony was flooded with a wave of longing for their old camaraderie. If he'd managed to hold on to that feeble sense of family he'd once believed was developing before they'd lost Kate, he'd have never thought about leaving the team, much less have had an unconsciously readied a grocery list of things to do as he left that had taken roughly seven minutes to write out with no significant additions to be made during the forty some minutes following that he'd sat staring at the list in shock… stunned by how ready he'd been to leave without realizing that he was ready to walk away from the place and people he'd anticipated being around until he retired.
"Come on, Bro, talk to me here." Steve interrupted his melancholy musing.
"Bro? Steve, really? You're 38… gainfully employed in the private sector, and never once said 'Bro' when you were sharing a dorm two doors down. I appreciate the diversion and attempt at humor, but it's not needed, and I'm not in trouble."
"Tony, if you could hear your voice right now, you wouldn't believe a word you just said."
"Ok, it's been a rough couple of days here, and I'm probably not in the best place mentally, but I'm not in trouble… just … I'm… I'm done here. I have a few things to wrap up and a few arrangements that I'd like your help with, but otherwise, that's it for NCIS."
Steve was silent for several seconds, in which Tony was internally cringing at the lecture he suspected Steve was getting ready to deliver.
"Oh, Thank God." The uttered response was so deeply relieved that Tony was taken aback.
"What did you want me to say, Tony? Maybe a couple of years ago, I'd have tried to argue you out of it, or at least to get you to think twice about sticking to a career posting, but the past two - three years? Where do I even start? The plague? Your partner being fatally shot? Being framed for murder by a lab tech, who - I'm sorry does NCIS not do background checks- because they dropped the ball on that one? And Cassidy? Not to mention the car bomb! Christ! A car bomb, Tony! None of us have wanted to say anything, but I know I'm not the only one who has been worrying that you won't make it to our next reunion."
"... … I - I don't know what to say…Steve... I'm sorry."
Tony could hardly believe what he was hearing: it had never occurred to him that his frat-brothers had paid much attention to what had been going on at work - from their irregular calls and updates, much less discussed any of it, as they must have since Steve had been involved in a major court case during the Benoit op and they hadn't talked for a while after the op until the trial was over much less spent more than a few minutes catching up even then.
"Again, not complaining, Tony. We've always known that it's what you signed up for, but there are some of us who feel closer to you than we feel to our own families, and speaking just for myself, I'm not ready to lose my favorite brother."
His throat too tight to speak for a moment, Tony didn't know how to respond, and for the first time in a long time, didn't try to force a glib response. Unlike the people he worked with, his frat-brothers had called him on his masks before his sophomore year, and made it clear that they wanted to deal with ‘real Tony’, not masks 1-10.
By the time they graduated, Steve in particular, but most of his other frat-brothers, as well, had learned to anticipate what circumstances would drive Tony speechless, so his friend wasn’t put off by his long silence and quickly moved the conversation on, "Tell you what: I'm not working on anything important right now, and it sounds like you're schedule is freeing up. Let me close up here and drop in: we can hash out the nitty gritty details better in person to begin with, and I'd like to get a better idea of your plans. I might have a few ideas of my own."”
“Okay, yeah, that would work. And Steve, thank you, it’s really appreciated.” Tony agreed with a sigh. As much as he didn’t feel up to visitors, Steve was right, and really, considering his goals, he’d probably need all the help he could get to finesse this thing. Steve seemed to understand and closed the conversation out with a brief ‘see ya soon’ - letting Tony move on to his next call.
“Hey Ernie… No, I’m not calling to cancel. I need to ask you a favor...”
Tony could appreciate the numb expression that had overtaken Corporal Werth’s marine-trained impassivity as the marine scanned the file that had Tony and Delores had put together for him (another of Tony’s called-in favors). Delores was a gem and had come up with a couple of angles that Steve, Tony, and even A.J. hadn’t come up with.
Flipping back to the first page, the corporal read through the file again, before looking back up at Tony with confusion and mild suspicion in his eyes after briefly scanning his eyes over Tony’s still-needed sling.
“Why are you doing this?” Werth challenged gruffly.
“Rule 5,” Tony answered feeling a tad (morosely) nostalgic. He wasn’t going to say the words, but knew they were true - even if it felt like one more little bit of his dynamic with Gibbs being co opted by Werth.
“The MLB Draft Rule? What does this have to do with 40 and under rostered-teams being able to pull players from other clubs?”
“Aside from being strangely appropriate in this instance, nothing in particular. Don’t worry, I’m pretty certain that you will get a thorough grounding on Rule 5 in the near future. I’m afraid I just don’t have time enough to explain it at the moment, and need to get your signature on that … if your good with it?”
Being the true marine he was, Werth visibly clamped down on the questions he must have had, gave a jerky nod, and signed the pages where Delores had sticky-noted’ the signature lines, before handing the folder back to Tony.
“What’re you doing here, DiNozzo?” Gibbs grumbled at him from the doorway.
“Just getting Corporal Werth’s signature to finish off the paperwork, Boss.” Tony answered, lifting the file by way of explanation, ignoring the inherent lie that it was. He’d explained the need for ‘discretion’ to Werth before handing over the file and was trusting that the marine wouldn't spill the beans on Tony's diversion.
From Gibbs' expression, Tony knew that his boss could tell that there was more to Tony's visit than that, but was irked because he didn't have enough information to speculate. Still, Tony had no intention of lingering to suffer his boss's suspicion, or worse his favoritism toward the corporal.
He wasn't quite fast enough to avoid an unintentional glimpse of it, though, overhearing Gibbs as the door closed.
"He bothering you?"
Wincing at the assumption and concern, Tony didn't wait for the door to hit him on the way out, so didn't hear the Corporal's reply.
As he left the witness stand, ignoring the obviously open seat with the rest of the NCIS team, who were sitting just behind the ‘prosecuting’ JAG officer, Tony walked past them to turn left into the third row behind Corporal Werth and his counsel. Scooting-in past one of Werth’s convalescing unit, he sat in the saved seat beside Ernie. Nodding to Davenport’s assistant, who was sitting further to the left past Ernie engaged in a quiet but animated discussion with Steve, Tony leaned over to Ernie asking in a quiet stage whisper, “How has it been going?”
Ernie jerked his chin down in a determined nod. “Good, I think, but who knows what the ‘officers’ think. Sshh, I want to hear this.”
Retired Rear Admiral, former Judge Advocate General, A.J. Chegwidden looked over his shoulder with a wry smile at slightly louder than appropriate comment, dropping his chin in a respectful nod and murmured a brief thank you, before he turned back to the convening panel to begin his closing argument.
"As we have an unprecedented number of character witnesses attending this hearing in support of Corporal Werth, and defense counsel is generally permitted some leeway in questioning witnesses and making final statements, I believe that it is rather a worthwhile exercise to elucidate for those who may not be familiar - the nature of article 32 hearings. In circumstances where the causes are considered sufficient to pursue court martial as potential punishment, before a defendant can be referred to a general court martial, an article 32 hearing must be held in order to determine whether there is evidence of malfeasance meriting a general court martial; however, it should be noted that in the event the offender is judged guilty of misbehavior, the convening body is not restricted to levying a court martial. The convening body may also elect to order non-judicial punishments including but not limited to demotion, reassignment of duty station, and administrative separation. '(*) A commanding officer, in the role as court-martial convening authority, will consult with the command judge advocate for advice on case disposition; in which, the factors to be considered include relevant statutes and articles of the code of conduct, the seriousness of the offenses, the strength or weakness of each element of the case, the promotion of good order and discipline, and the commander's desire for case disposition.'
'The witnesses called today have spoken to each of these points: under Article 112a, steroid use is illegal unless prescribed by a physician. Corporal Werth stipulates to the fact that in order to meet the Corp's health and stamina requirements, he has regularly taken steroids without the benefit of a prescription; regrettably, however, while the steroid cocktail the corporal took was accepted treatment in Europe and Canada, it was not approved until a year and a half after Corporal Werth was deployed on his first assignment and was not an eligible course of treatment until three months after that. Unfortunately, unlike other soldiers who have been given recruitment waivers after the use of illegal drugs and contraband substances including cocaine, opiates, and similar, the Marine Corps has not gotten around to defining the requirements for waivers on the un-prescribed use of steroids in treating medical conditions, so even if Corporal Werth had reported the treatment of his health condition, a waiver would not have been available. Given Dr. Sutherland's detailed statement of the proposed 'experimental treatments' being researched for use with active service members, though, we can surmise that future waivers are likely as three of the seventeen 'in service' treatments focus on and utilize similar steroid blends."
"Further, while the continued withholding of the nature of his medical rehabilitation increases the severity of the offense, Corporal Werth’s service record, the provided witness statements of his drill sergeants and subsequent commands, and the statements of his unit and attending character witnesses confirm that this sole, if continued, circumstance is the only mar to the Corporal’s records. Each and every command has recommended him on his diligence, commitment, and service to the Corp, on the consistency of his behavior and his reliability in both leadership and support positions, and his adherence in all other manners to the good order and discipline of the Corp. Similarly, following the only vacation he has taken during his service, to attend SAS training, the British command returned the reports of high commendation, also included in the submitted written testimonies, which in part reiterate their appraisal of Corporal Werth as an exemplar Marine and a desired participant in future joint operations. While counter to article 112a, Corporal Werth’s actions have in no other manner impugned his trustworthy status in the eyes of his command nor his unit.”
“To the last point, ‘the commander's desire for case disposition’, not only do you have the formal recommendations of Corporal Werth’s current and previous commands to demonstrate leniency on the basis of his service record, even before the actions which lead to his recommendation for the Silver Star, but you additionally have the recommendation of the Secretary of the Navy, submitted by Secretary Davenport’s Deputy Secretary Joshua Fielding.”
“As you will read, Secretary Davenport notes that while the unprescribed -and thereby - illegal use of steroids even for the treatment of medical conditions is a serious issue, the Marine Corp would be done a serious disservice by being deprived the service of a ‘Marine’s Marine’ for the sole purpose of making an example of a marine who - in the eyes of everyone he has served with - has represented the best and most noble qualities of dedicated marines. Similarly, it is the Secretary’s recommendation that the consideration of the conveyance of the Silver Star be considered a separate issue to be assessed and awarded or denied solely on the basis of Corporal Werth’s service record and performance on the battlefield - noting that refusing the conveyance of awards for heroism on issues that many would view as justified does nothing in the furtherance of the Corps’ order or morale.
Secretary Davenport further suggests that -until the Marine Corps has administratively concluded the issue of medical waivers toward steroid use, as well as the possibility that such waivers can be retroactively applied as they are in other services and agencies - that Corporal Werth be reassigned from his current duty to a temporary or permanent secondment with agencies which support the Corp and it’s members, but for whom the waivers of steroid use for medical treatment is not in conflict. The details of three of these potential postings were provided with Secretary Davenport’s recommendations.”
“For these reasons, the defense requests that the convening board order the non-judicial punishment option of the reassignment of Corporal Werth’s duty station to one of the recommended postings while the details of medical waivers is addressed and administrative separation to the recommended posting if Corporal Werth’s actions are subsequently deemed to be in conflict with the Corps final decision on these matters. Thank you.”
Tony had to fight to suppress a grin as the ever-composed, Lieutenant Coleman - playing the role of the reluctant and sympathetic prosecutor rose to give her closing ‘argument’; he would have felt bad for her having to argue against her former boss’ boss, to condemn a marine who’d taken the wrong path to ‘being the best’ marine he could be ~~OORAH~~ with the boss’s boss’s boss or the boss’s boss’s boss’s boss… (he wasn’t really certain where the Sec Nav fell in her hierarchy - other than pretty much at the top) supporting the defendant, if he hadn’t worked his tail off the past couple of days to stack the deck so thoroughly against her. As it was, if it hadn’t been for Steve helping there was no way he could have gotten all the depositions taken and processed properly so they could stand up in a military court.
Still, for facing daunting and, maybe not overwhelming odds, but as close to them as Tony could manage, Coleman played ‘remarkably composed’ very well, which he found a little daunting. Surely, she wasn’t going to still recommend the ‘making an example’ - court martial - and - stripped of all honors route. Not after meeting Ernie and seeing how deeply he still suffered from the effects of his own acts of heroism and service in freaking World War II. It was one of the reasons he'd asked Ernie to come to the hearing. The other was he really thought that Ernie and Werth might hit it off and give both men more connections. Tony knew more than most how much it sucked feeling cut loose and alone after giving your all to the people you served and served with.
“On consideration of the evidence and testimonies presented, as the investigating officer representing the interests of the United States’ Armed Forces, I can find no objection to the recommended course of actions with two stipulations: first, that Corporal Werth continue with medical and psychological treatment for both the pre-existing medical condition precipitating his reliance on steroids, his subsequent dependence on steroids - as needed, and the initially diagnosed PTSD. Second, that the Corporal should be further assessed for the possibility of suffering a psychotic break. While Dr. De La Casa’s assertion Dr. Mallard has received the requisite training to superficially diagnose a psychotic break but lacks sufficient experience with long term treatment of symptoms of battle-induced PTSD sufficiently to make a differential diagnosis between the extreme states and Agents DiNozzo and David’s testimonies that even at the height of his distressed state Corporal Werth did not use lethal force to resist which Corporal Werth was easily capable of - strongly support Dr. De La Casa’s narrative, before the Corporal is placed in returned to a potentially high-stress or sensitive position he is assessed for this potential.”
Well, Tony couldn’t really argue with that one, especially as it was already stipulated in one of the forms that the Corporal had signed off on for the new positions.
After a couple more comments that Tony only kept half an ear out for, the board announced that they would be ‘convening to discuss the matter in their offices to discuss the matter,’ which Tony strongly suspected meant that were actually going to the back room to call the Sec Nav, Sec Def, or ‘Sec’ up of their choice to find out what the big bosses actually want done now that the public relations gods had been appeased. Tony was hopeful that Davenport would actually stand behind his words, though, especially as the Sec Nav had been quick to pronounce Senator Hawkins a ‘dipshit’ and his public relations officer something a little less polite than that, before including a particular mention of Werth’s medal status into his recommendations. Hopefully, it wasn’t all for show.
The board returned a ‘respectable delay’ later, which -to Tony - was so short after their departure that - in Tony’s mind - their decisions had been made before they’d left their seats and they’d waited just long enough (probably watching the synchronized second hands on their watches) that it wouldn’t have been obvious they’d only taken long enough to make a phone call or two for permission could go through with their decision.
“Corporal Werth, remain standing. Everyone else may be seated.”
~~~ And the point of having everyone stand was???~~~ Tony thought snarkily as he helped Ernie return to his seat.
“Corporal, after careful consideration,” ~~~ This is what comes from watching too much court tv. ~~~ Tony sighed, just wanting them to get on with it; it had been a seriously long week.
“We have concur with both the defense and investigating counsels’ recommendations and decided to approve the change of duty station and secondment as proposed by Secretary Davenport, with one further remonstration and a stipulation. Corporal - to a one - every member of this board commends you both for your clearly exemplary service and heroism.”
~~~ uh-oh ~~~ that didn’t sound like a good start, even if they were agreeing to the recommendations, there was going to be a catch; Tony was sure of it and hoped it wasn’t one that would screw with his plans.
“Had you not taken the efforts that you did, to secure your position in the marines, it is highly unlikely that at least twelve other marines would have returned home and we cannot condemn the fact that your actions - even in breaking Article 112A repeatedly - brought about this result; however, breaking Article 112A should - in any other instance - have resulted in your General Court Martial. While you may not have suffered a psychotic break as Dr. Mallard believed, by becoming addicted to the steroids you were using to self-medicate, you put fellow marines, civilians, and yourself repeatedly at risk … and that cannot go unaddressed.”
~~~ ’Crap.’ ~~~ Tony thought to himself, not realizing that he’d spoken out loud until Ernie chuckled.
“Don’t worry, Tony. I know these types.” Ernie whispered back still a little too loud, but thankfully the mouthpiece for the board seemed more amused by the elderly man’s behavior than anyone else.
“To that end, the final decision on this matter will be held pending your completion of an addiction treatment program. If you fail to attend and complete an approved program within sixty days, the investigating officer will be instructed to initiate an investigation and court-martial proceedings - during which you will be favored with far less leniency than you are now receiving. If you successfully complete the addiction program and comply with the stipulations set forth by the investigating officer, this matter will be closed without further loss of rank, benefits, or other conveyances. Whether or not the steroids got you into the Marines, Corporal, you earned the rank, and - if the decision were ours - the Medal of Honor. That decision is not ours to make, however. With that said, it will be up to you to keep the rank and everything that goes with it, but as was clearly demonstrated today, whether you receive a medal or not, you have earned the respect and gratitude of fellow marines, and should be proud of that fact - whatever the outcome.”
“I am, Sir.” Corporal Werth answered gruffly, his emotions clear in his voice.
“Then with that said, Lieutenant Faith, I will expect to receive a follow up report in sixty days. This hearing is adjourned.”
With that, the board made a quick exit, leaving the assembled to converge on Werth and congratulate the visibly stunned marine, including Gibbs, the rest of the team, and Lieutenant Faith. For his part, though, Tony didn’t join the cluster of people surrounding the man. After patting Ernie on the shoulder and reminding him that their plan for lunch on Saturday was still in the works, Tony slipped out a side exit.
This was just part one of his plan, and he had a couple more parts to put into place before he could let himself drift into the woodwork and out of Team Gibbs’ Hair collectively and memories respectively.
Chapter 2: Bearding the Dragon in Her Den
Delores, Ian, and Director Morrow were waiting for Tony as he and Deputy Secretary Fielding reached Cynthia's desk.
"Director Morrow, I didn't expect to see you here."
"Well, Phillip and I had a brief discussion after you and your attorney-friend left his office and came to the decision that certain details of your pending reassignment are need to know only, including the scope, timeline, and origination."
Director Morrow's tone was entirely too dry, but his words were more than enough to make Tony’s throat tighten; without saying so directly, Morrow was letting him know that both Morrow (as Homeland Security Director) and the Sec Nav weren’t just standing behind him and supporting his exit plan, they were essentially ‘standing in front of him’ (to continue the metaphor) and putting up a smokescreen to buffer him from any negative feedback from Shepard or Gibbs - or, at least, to lessen it.
Tony was rather certain that Gibbs wasn’t going to take it well when he found out that Tony was ‘taking a long term assignment’ without his approval (in as much as Gibbs ever approved of anything that Tony did), much less when it dawned on his mentor that Tony wasn’t going to return to the team, which Tony was certain he’d realize well before the final announcement was made. Not that Tony believed either Shepard or Gibbs really valued his place on the team, and after the La Grenouille debacle, he was fairly certain that Jenny would have been more than happy if he’d been too slow to make it off the Chimera before it was torpedoed.
He'd like to think that Gibbs would at least miss his help with the team paperwork, but equally suspected that any extent of Gibbs missing him would only last as long as it took for the probie to learn the paperwork and set up some ‘bots’ to get it done in his stead. Whether Gibbs cared whether Tony was on his team or not, he was likely to make a stink because he hated when higher ups ‘messed with his team’. The kind of fit he'd have thrown on finding out that the assignment was Tony's exit strategy had actually been born from another idea that Tony and Ian had bandied back and forth at the only conference that he'd attended during his years at NCIS that just coincidentally happened to fall during Gibbs' temporary retirement to Mexico (~~~which was in no way relevant to Tony's attending 'extracurricular' work activities ... AT ALL … … … and moving on~~~) … well, Gibbs' response would have been 'epic' and potentially concussion inducing.
“Understood, Sir.” Tony nodded, marginally thankful when Director Shepard chose that moment to step out her door - saving him from a potentially ‘unmanly’ show of relief and gratitude, though Delores and Director Morrow’s slight smirks suggested that he’d been easier to read than he generally preferred to be.
“Gentlemen, please come in. Tony, thank you for escorting them up; you can go back to work now.” The director ordered, a bit too sweetly, while seeming to completely misread the situation.
Deputy Secretary Fielding cleared his throat in a somehow chiding manner as he corrected, "Jennifer, Agents DiNozzo and Edgerton will be attending this meeting."
"And just who is this other agent?" the director questioned, clearly attempting to pin down the purpose of the meeting in case she needed to come up with a defense.
"Our 'visit' is both a courtesy and a formality, Jennifer;" Fielding continued, "however, whether a formality or not, the topics we are here to address are not up for public discussion."
"Yes, yes, of course, please let's retire to my office." Director Shepard offered with a too polite smile that nevertheless communicated -if in a ladylike fashion- how truly pissed off the director was not only with being contradicted in front of her soon-to-be-former-agent (though she of course didn’t know it, yet, even though the presence of the Sec Nav’s Deputy Secretary and another department director should have been a big clue there)... but also with being publicly chastised and treated as if she were an afterthought only addressed as ‘a formality’ (and Tony was really beginning to like the deputy secretary for that alone).
“Now, Gentlemen, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Director Shepard asked, closing the door behind them and heading - somewhat tastelessly - to her desk instead of the conference room table and sliding into the ‘big chair’ in a blatant attempt to reassert a little bit of her authority.
While Tony wasn’t particularly a fan of political maneuvering, he had to admit that he found her attempt rather graceless and thought they should have been able to expect a little more skill from someone of her rank.
The Deputy Secretary appeared to agree as he noticeably refused to pander to the attempt, stopping just far enough inside the door to insure his comments wouldn’t be picked up by someone standing just outside, but noticeably not following her to her desk or moving toward the conference table, which would have been appropriate if seeming somewhat petty.
Instead, Fielding simply smiled thinly and explained, “As I said, this is simply a formality, Jennifer, but Phillip preferred that I inform the affected directors in person instead of official communication channels to reduce the shall we call it paper-trail associated to the matter in question. To that end, I am here to inform you that Agent DiNozzo will be accepting a lateral-reassignment for an indefinite period of time.”
Although he didn’t say so in as many words, the Deputy Secretary’s phrasing and understated tone suggested that Tony would be accepting the assignment whether he wished to or not, and Tony could have kissed him for it ~~Seriously, Full on the Lips, French-Kissed him ~~ for that, and for the director’s expression in response to it.
“Ms. Brumstead has the transfer order prepared for your signature, which again I will be taking with me to reduce the unnecessary visibility of associated documents.” As Fielding spoke, Delores walked over to her desk, similarly ignoring the seats to stand over the director’s shoulder, open the file, and point toward the sticky note arrows indicating where Shepard was expected to sign as if the director might have had difficulty figuring it out.
“Yes, yes, I know where to sign,” the director grumped, and Delores ~~ being the rock star that she was ~~ smiled benignly, answered in a mild, completely inoffensive tone, “Of course, Ma’am, but considering how easily documents can be misfiled or improperly signed, it is always better to make ‘everything’ as clear as possible.” … And even Deputy Secretary Fielding appeared to recognize that Delores was ‘getting a little of her own back’ judging from the man’s quickly hidden smirk in reaction to the NCIS director’s just as quickly hidden glower.
In normal circumstances, it would have been an incredibly foolish mistake to make, but Tony, Director Morrow, and undoubtedly Director Shepard knew that Delores had that particularly difficult to overcome form of political immunity that came from someone being born into an extremely-politically connected family (the multiple members embedded in the Whitehouse sort of extreme) who rose into her position without a hint of nepotism or using the influence that rested just at the edge of her fingertips and then proceeded to keep it by diligence, industry, and unbroachable integrity. Tony had teased her once that it would take a nuclear missile fired at close range to get her out of her position, to which her utterly dry and more than perfect response had been that no doubt there were some who had considered the possibility but decided the attempt wouldn’t be cost effective or guaranteed. ~~~God, he was going to miss Delores.~~~
Despite claiming that she knew where she was expected to sign, Shepard was doing a serious amount of not signing as she read through the boiler-plate forms - clearly trying to pick up a clue or two of where Tony was being transferred, and Tony was almost counting down the seconds until her eyes caught the ‘assignment details in secured attachment note’ and realized that she hadn’t been provided the ‘secured attachment’.
~~~ And Bham! ~~~ That grimace was almost … almost … worth the Rene Benoit debacle. Actually, it wasn’t anywhere near worth it, but Tony didn’t mind getting his pleasure where he could.
“Actually, these forms appear to be incomplete. There is nothing included regarding Tony’s pending placement.” Shepard retorted.
“Jennifer, I believe that I clearly stated that Agent DiNozzo, Agent Edgerton, and Agent Granger’s reassignments were not being processed through official communication channels to reduce paper-trail connections associated to the matter in question.”
“Yes, of course, Joshua. You had mentioned it; however, certainly, you can understand that as the Director of the agency providing one of the participants in … the operation you seem to be recruiting for ~~fishing much? ~~~ … that I would like to be certain that NCIS is providing the …”
The ‘sympathetic-but-reluctantly-required-to-tell-the-truth’ expression Shepard tried to adopt as she noticeably staged a ‘flashed-side-long-look’ at Tony before continuing was so awkward, weak, and... well … fake that it made Tony wondered how she had survived the few undercover roles that she had reportedly taken.
“... best operative we can for the position?”
And, seriously, if she tried the ‘I’m-sorry-but-I-do-have-to-ask’ expression, Tony was going to burst out laughing, which Director Morrow appeared to recognize and thankfully shot Tony a quelling glance right as the ‘current’ NCIS director shot him an incredibly trite version of that very expression.
“Thankfully, Jennifer, there is no need for you to be concerned with that as you are not being read-in to the ‘reassignments’ and do not have the required information to make that assessment. As Tom has been previously read-in on ‘certain aspects’ of Agent DiNozzo’s past service to the Agency and will be tangentially involved in certain aspects of the reassignment, Secretary Davenport was satisfied with Tom’s recommendations.” The Deputy Secretary answered blandly, with such a multi-layered and smoothly delivered ‘smack down’ that the man was seriously risking a full-out, French kiss the minute they stepped out of the office.
“I see.” Shepard answered sitting back, the pen switching back and forth in her hand, almost visibly fuming at not only at being clearly refused ‘operational information’ but being so politely told that they were seemingly ‘thankful’ that such a decision had not been left in her hands, as well as that there were ‘aspects’ of an underling’s file that she apparently hadn’t rated being read-in on.
~~~It was glorius!~~~
After being jerked around at the Director’s whim to cover her whole unsanctioned op, being the all-around buffer for everyone’s hurt feelings during Gibb’s Mexican siesta, often simultaneously being accused of acting both too-much like and not-enough like Gibbs to suit everyone’s taste, overworked, constantly-exhausted, and pushed into taking risks that even the dumbest rook (if he or she was even worth hiring) would recognise as idiotic: like say, supposedly ‘maintaining’ a cover (without a backstopped identity) as a film studies instructor while never actually going to any campus but going home each night (where a simple lease check could have proven that Tony Dinardo = Tony DiNozzo) and then to WORK every day at NCIS -- where, of course, an INTERNATIONAL GUN RUNNER would NEVER think to have a minion tailing any NEWcomer in his DAUGHTER's, his much-beloved daughter’s, life because whatever else the man might be Tony had no doubt he loved his daughter - enough to, say, evicerate and execute someone who was trying to get to him through his daughter - say with a car bomb; although, to be fair that was the CIA, but really who could blame them for thinking that Tony had needed a wake up call (and for the CIA, blowing up a potential enemy’s underling in your personal car probably equated to the milder side of possible wake up calls) considering that he'd been taking the already mentioned idiotic only-survivable-because-god-supposedly-protects-fools risks. …. Well, Tony was not above taking mild enjoyment of even the smallest beautifully delivered jibe at her expense, without feeling guilty in the slightest.
And all the saints and angels bless Director Morrow, who chose that moment to interrupt, “Speaking of which, Jenny, if you could move back a moment…”
Having no option but to comply, Shepard reluctantly moved aside as the Homeland Security Director walked toward her desk, pausing to pull a silver edged key card out of his wallet and insert it into what must have been a barely visible slot just under the over-hanging edge of NCIS Director’s desk… (based on the way Shepard jumped, she’d clearly never noticed it), waited until they all heard a slight buzzing then a hermetic pop from across the room, then walked across to the conference table, which now had a full side panel now standing out from the rest of the table’s support by 2-3 centimeters.
“Agent DiNozzo, if you would, your ‘complete’ ~~~ and ‘Boy!’ Tony loved how Director Morrow stressed the word ‘complete’ ~~~ file is in the second enclosed folder on the first shelf. I would like the first and fifth folders as well.”
“Yes, Sir.” Tony answered, quickly retrieving the specified files and nodding to the director to retrieve his key, closing and locking the sliding cabinet - only too happy to assist in rubbing her lack of knowledge in her face.
“Why was I not made aware of the existence of these files?” Shepard demanded sharply.
“Even Directors have probationary periods, Jenny.” Director Morrow scolded with a slightly disappointed tone.
“Yes, I remember, but that doesn’t really answer the question.” Shepard practically barked, just begging for another ‘smackdown’, which Deputy Secretary Fielding seemed only too happy to deliver.
“If you only consider it in the most superficial terms, Jennifer, well Tom’s response does actually your question fairly directly, but as you don’t seem to have understood it…”
~~~ Chapstick added to shopping list - check. ~~~ Tony thought to himself, listening with delight to how the Deputy Director carefully enunciated some of the words as he gave them additional stress.
“To state the matter plainly, installing an unvetted foriegn agent into a position with security access severely impacted any consideration of granting you additional clearance and significantly lengthened your probationary status, and the Monsieur Benoit incident has only increased the scrutiny placed upon these considerations. The only reason that I did not ask you to leave while Tom accessed the file location is due to the facts that he is simultaneously removing the most critical files which you have been actively restricted from seeing, he will be taking the access key with him, and the securities placed on accessing the file drawer are somewhat ‘ridiculously high’ even where clearly necessary, given the considerations mentioned.”
And Tony couldn’t remember ever having seen a more politely delivered verbal backhand, deciding: ~~~ Full-French is seriously not going to be enough appreciation.~~~
Grimacing as she glanced past the two visiting echelon, Shepard barely suppressed the glare that Tony was certain that she wanted to shoot at him for being both a witness and vehicle for her humiliation before seeming to decide that she would only face more of the same if she continued to delay signing the transfer order. With a soft disgruntled huff, she twisted her pen in a too- deliberate gesture as if the act would appear contemplative or sophisticated instead of a weak and blatant attempt to project composure, before practically stabbing the signature line and dragging the pen tip in a swirling scribble of ink that for all he could tell was as much of a legal signature as it was a bit of French Provencal scroll work (that didn't quite cut the paper as she seemed to hope).
Despite Shepard's mini tantrum, Delores didn't hesitate to pull the pages out from under the director's pen as quickly as Shepard signed them, then slap the folder shut with a proclamation of, "Gentlemen, I have what I need."
"Jennifer", "Jenny," Deputy Secretary Fielding and Director Morrow commented at almost the same time. Tony followed up with wriggled finger wave, and a quiet, "Bye Jen," using for the first time the nickname she had tried repeatedly to get him to use as the team lead, he turned to the door Ian was already opening.
"Excuse me?" Shepard demanded, finally standing up from the desk.
"Jennifer?" The Deputy Secretary paused before turning to face her.
Director Morrow didn't pause for even a step, gesturing for Dolores to step out before him; though, he did leave the door open behind them, giving Tony the chance to hear what was said in his former director's office.
"While I can certainly understand the necessity of handling Agent DiNozzo's paper work so discreetly, there is still the matter of the visuals be addressed."
"Yes, he is a prominent member on one of this agency's most prominent teams. While his presence isn't critical to the team's function, his absence is likely to be noticed. Certainly, it makes sense to draft a consistent narrative to explain his absence and discourage the curious from attempting to investigate it."
"I'm somewhat surprised that I have to remind you of this, Director," ~~~and the disdain in his choice of the title was impressive~~~ "However, as it seems necessary, I would like to remind you that the agents and support staff of this Agency -bar one- are trained, federal law enforcement officers sworn to protect our service members and their families, well as the staff, operations, methods, and secrets of the organizations entrusted with the protection and welfare of the nation and its citizens. '
'The sole consistent narrative necessary to explain Agent DiNozzo's transfer is that, effective immediately, he has accepted appointment to a classified posting, and will be bound by the security and information restrictions of that posting until released from them. Any member of this agency - or otherwise affiliated - would be strongly advised against investigating ANY aspect of ANY confidential operation that is not directly implicated in a concurrent authorized investigation unless they wish to not only forfeit their employment and all related benefit but to also face espionage charges and penalties under the Patriot act."
"Effective immediately?" Shepard questioned sharply.
"It really is advisable to read documents before you sign them, Director. Now, as there really aren't any other matters for us to discuss and I have other duties to attend to, I believe I will let you get back to your work; you have some staffing decisions to make." Deputy Secretary Fielding finished, stepping out the door and closing it behind him dismissively, with a curt, "Gentlemen, we have matters to attend to" as he accepted the file from Delores.
"Ms. Brumstead. Good Afternoon."
"Good Afternoon, Sirs. Tony, don't be a stranger. Cynthia, if Madam Director asks you to call me, I'm taking a couple of days off. Excuse me, Sir. There was a copy of my leave request included in the paperwork she signed. She has signed off on so many that I felt it hardly needed explanation by comparison to the other matters up for discussion."
Despite casting a raised eyebrow glance at Director Morrow, the Deputy Secretary thumbed through the file, pulled out the leave request forms, and handed them to Delores, with a thin smile.
Realizing that he might not get to see her for a while, although he fully planned to check in on her regularly, Tony realized that he couldn't go without giving the staunch HR rep a hug.
"Delores, you are a rockstar," he whispered into the startled woman's ear, before promising, "if you ever need anything, anything at all, call: I'll have your six."
"Oh, you," her sigh had touches of amused exasperation, but her smile reached her eyes, so Tony counted it a win even though she awkwardly extracted herself from the hug and hurried away.
Chapter 3: St. Bernards Can Growl, Too
Rolling over onto his stomach, Tony stared out 'his' bedroom window onto a decidedly unfamiliar view, which was only to be expected as 'his' room was actually a bedroom that Ian kept open for any member of his old unit who 'found themselves at loose ends'. While he appreciated having a port in the storm following his somewhat unexpected confrontation with Gibbs the evening before, it slightly irked him that the choice to stay over hadn't really been his own.
He'd known -at least subconsciously- that he was foolish to think that he'd be able to get away from the office without having to face Gibbs. Even if Gibbs had wanted to help Werth get settled in somewhere, the rest of the team had been there, and Gibbs was certain to make sure that they got back to work on cold cases, if nothing else, before he 'went for coffee' and ended up at Werth’s Barracks or Gibbs own home. Who knew where Werth might be staying? After all, Gibbs had picked him up from the hospital.
- For some reason, though, it had still been a surprise - to him - when Gibbs, Ziva, and McGee arrived in the elevator only a moment after Director Morrow pushed the button to call the elevator car to their floor.
- "Dammit DiNozzo," Gibbs growled, "What are the charges, this time?"
- ~~~And of course, he'd assume the worst.~~~
- Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum's exasperated and disdainful expressions behind Gibbs didn't help Tony's mood in the slightest, and Tony knew his irritation showed more than he liked in his answer, "Gee, Gibbs, thanks for the vote of confidence. I do have to ask, though, 'how often have you seen Deputy Secretaries and Agency Directors out in the field - personally making arrests?’ ”
- ~~~ But he was tired, damn it. Working as hard and fast as he could to make Werth’s case as ‘un-prosecutable’ ~if that was even a word~ as possible had taken almost every thing he’d had left to give the last few days, and really, he just plain didn’t want to do this right now. He wanted to sleep 14 - 24 hours, wake up for coffee and maybe a cruller, and crash for another 24. ~~~
- “Don’t be a wise ass, DiNozzo!” Gibbs almost barked, subconsciously flexing his hand.
- ~~~ Ahh, ah, ahhhh! ~~~ Tony waggled a mental finger at Gibbs, ~~~ Musn’t headslap underlings in front of former bosses and Deputy Secretaries. ~~~
- The gesture, or more tellingly, Gibbs choice not to use the implied headslap told its own story to Tony: namely that Gibbs knew he’d been out of line and ... apparently, hadn’t cared to get caught by a Director he respected or the Deputy Secretary (though Tony thought it was the former more than the latter). Considering that Gibbs hadn’t hesitated in front of ‘Jen’, it said quite a bit about his respect for her as the current director, much less for Tony.
- “Actually, Agent Gibbs, considering how drastically you are misreading the situation, Agent DiNozzo makes a rather valid point.” the deputy secretary pointed out.
- ~~~And seriously, does the man have a spandex suit hidden under his ‘mild-mannered’ Armani three piece? ~~~
- “Well, anyone who knows Tony would know it’s the most-likely scenario,” Mcjibe stage whispered behind Gibbs, earning a snicker from Ziva, which had probably made his day, and a slightly vengeful smirk from Gibbs. ~~~ And, wow, who knew that Gibbs had that much control over his expressions.~~~
- “Anyone who knows Tony, Gibbs? Or anyone who doesn’t have the skill and awareness to see behind his masks? And, which category do you fall into by the way?” Director Morrow interrupted, challenging Gibbs with a disappointed tone, which -from the quickly hidden grimace - struck home.
- “Just what exactly is the situation that I’m misreading?”
- “While the details are not a topic for discussion, inside or outside of the office,” Director Morrow threw in, likely anticipating that Tony would be receiving a summons to Gibbs basement after work, “Agent DiNozzo has been selected for and will be accepting a lateral-reassignment for an indefinite period of time.”
- “You did what?!?” Gibbs demanded, now completely ignoring the director and deputy secretary, “Conference Room, now!”
- ~~~Yeah… NO! Not anymore Gibbs.~~~ Tony answered silently with a determined lift of his chin.
- Tony had no intention of practically inviting the headslaps that he knew would be coming on the heels of the few home truths that Tony was too tired (and too tired of being tired of everything) not to share if they took the conversation ‘somewhere private’, besides…. ~~~ Not my boss anymore.~~~
- “Sorry, Agent Gibbs, as Director Morrow mentioned, the details aren’t up for discussion … nor are my reasons for accepting.” Tony announced, stiffening his spine and facing up to the man he still respected, despite knowing the respect and fondness clearly weren’t returned. As much as he appreciated Director Morrow, Deputy Secretary Fielding, and the Sec Nav backing his play, he wasn’t going to walk away hiding behind other people - even if he was fucking tired. Gibbs had earned at least that, despite his failings lately, and frankly, Tony knew he was better than that.
- “DiNozzo, get your ass in that elevator or I’ll put it in there.”
- “Agent Gibbs,” Tony stressed in a tone that he rarely used in or out of the office the ‘Agent’ hoping that Gibbs finally caught the lack of the word ‘Boss’ along with the lack of the kowtowing. “The decision has already been made; my paperwork submitted; and my transfer is as Director Morrow stated effective immediately, so really, I’m done here. There is nothing else I can or will say about the matter - regardless of the location. This posting is particularly suited to certain unique skills and experience that I can bring to the job, and I am happy to do so.”
- “Unique Skills?” Mcjibe stage whispered in the background, snickering, to which Ziva quickly suggested in a less subtle whisper, “perhaps, they need cannon feeder,” which no way in hell was Tony going to correct her this time.
- And Gibbs, expression set on some mix between disgruntled and shocked that Tony would speak to him this way, clearly having forgotten more than Tony had suspected - whether from the Pin Pin Pula incident or not (because really this had been a long slide that had started well before the explosion), glared at Tony before grinding out, “you’re done here when I say you’re done here, and not before.”
- ~~~ And Oblivious for $1000, Alex ~~~
- “Sorry, Gibbs. Not how it works. After the years, we’ve worked together, I’d hoped to leave matters on a better terms, but regardless of the terms, I am leaving.“
- He was tempted to hold out his hand to shake Gibbs in parting, but really didn’t want to find out if Gibbs would man up and shake it in return or try to continue the argument. Whatever else Gibbs was going to say was cut off by Director Morrow.
- “Enough, Jethro. I suggest that you check in with Director Shepard about the details she’s been given, then if you still have questions, you and I can discuss it at my office, privately. This discussion is over, and we have other places to be.”
- With that, Director Morrow reached between slapped the elevator button. Surprisingly, the elevator hadn’t been called to another floor ~~~ or was so in tune with Gibbs that it didn’t answer if it had been called (Tony sometimes musingly wondered) ~~~ so they were able to step in immediately. Morrow wasn’t quite done yet, though, and had a parting shot for Gibbs.
- “By the way, Gibbs get your people in order. What I just saw was completely unacceptable, and the last thing this agency needs is a bunch of ID Ten T’s.”
- Tony wasn’t quite sure what that reference meant, even though he was familiar with the police ‘Ten codes’ from Baltimore, Philly, and Peoria, but from the way that Mcscandalized squawked, Tony suspected that it was on the geekier side and a ‘good shot’.
- Electing not to have his disgruntled team’s expressions the last sight he had of the office, Tony glanced beyond the team, intending to just scan the bullpen one last time, but locked on Balboa standing up at his desk trying to catch Tony’s eyes. When he did, Ray grinned broadly at him, and gave him a two-handed thumbs up. Grinning back, Tony tossed him a boy-scout salute as the doors closed between them.
- They had only just reached the underground parking when Tony’s phone buzzed with a text alert. Before Tony had a chance to read it, though, Director Morrow held out his hand for Tony’s phone, demanding it silently. Barely hesitating, Tony obliged the director, and was immediately surprised when Morrow simply held his thumb on the messenger ‘alert’ to read the text instead of trying to open it. ~~~ Who knew the Homeland Security Director (who was at least a decade older than Gibbs) was so savvy with new tech?~~~ The raised-eyebrow sneer he gave the screen didn’t bode well for the message nor the sender, and Tony didn’t need to think twice about asking for his phone (or well his assigned phone) back when Director Morrow slid the phone into his own jacket pocket.
- Director Morrow wasn’t half done, however, and waited until they reached Tony’s rental, before catching Tony’s elbow when he started to walk to the driver’s side, holding his hand out for the keys, which Tony handed over more reluctantly than he had his phone.
- “First, if you think I haven’t noticed that you aren’t really in any shape to handle beltway traffic at this hour, you’ve forgotten how close an eye I keep on my people; second, I don’t want you going home tonight. Unless I miss my guess, not a single one of the lunkheads left on your former team got the actual point, and I don’t want you there if they show up on your doorstep unannounced. Ian, take him to Quantico and see if you can find him a bunk there, somewhere he can get some peace and quiet, and if you don’t mind letting him use your phone to let any ‘concerned’ ~~~ and boy was that stressed ~~~ friends know that he’s fine and will have a new number they can reach him at tomorrow, I would appreciate it.”
- ”Yes, Sir.”
- “That’s not necessary,” Tony answered uncomfortably, “I can deal with anyone who stops by, and…”
- “Son, neither Phillip nor I doubted that you could handle yourself and any guests you might receive, that’s not the point. The point is that there are times you shouldn’t have to, and this is one of them. From what I’ve seen and heard, you’ve been everyone’s back up, foil, and whipping boy long enough, without someone having your six. Let us step in while you get your footing, and you can take it from there.”
- “Yes, Sir.” Whether it was Director Morrow’s tone, expression, or use of the word ‘son’, or the combination, but whatever it was, Tony felt humbled by the seeming concern and unaccountably obedient - even if he wasn’t entirely certain he could believe in it. Before he got into the passenger seat, though, he just had to say something to both the director and deputy secretary.
- “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d both have spandex suits on under your secret work identities because you both totally rock. I can’t decide who’d be superman and who’d be batman, because you both have the vibes, but spandex all the way.”
- “I -- well, I am honestly not quite sure to say to that Agent DiNozzo, other than I believe I will elect to take that as a compliment, and wish you a good night’s sleep.” Deputy Secretary Fielding answered in a bemused tone.
- “Punch drunk is setting in DiNozzo; let Ian get you …” the director paused seeming to rethink what or how he’d been about to phrase what he wanted to say before simply leaving it with “Get some sleep, Son; we’ll speak in the morning.” ~~~ And, oh yeah, it was definitely the ‘Son’ that did it. ~~~
- As the door closed behind him, Tony thought he heard Director Morrow telling the Deputy Secretary, “I think you’ve earned a fan, Joshua.”
- The Deputy Secretary’s response made him feel a bit sad though: “I don’t need a fan, Tom; just someone who’ll do the damn job the way it’s meant to be done.”
- “Well, you’ve earned that too, trust me.” Tom… not Director Morrow’s response sounded at least a little encouraging, but Tony still found Fielding’s answer a little sad. As far as he was concerned, everyone needed a fan or two, someone to cheer them on when it got hard to just get up and do the job sometimes. That wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?”
- “No, DiNozzo, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for,” Ian chuckled in response, reaching over to pull the seat belt across his torso and buckle it. “Director Morrow had it right, though, about you being punch drunk; when you have an adrenaline crash, you crash hard.”
- “Yeah,’ Tony grinned giddily tired, using his hands to make a ‘kaboom’-’crash’-’explosion’ kind of sign with his hands as he tried to do the entry whistle of a bomb dropping, before a final boom. It took him a minute or two or three to actually remember to actually say the ‘boom’, but when he did remember to, it only seemed to make Ian chuckle harder, so that was a win.
- “I got the picture without the sound effect, but thanks for the follow up. It’s going to be a bit of a drive, so why don’t you catch a cat nap before we have to march halfway across the entry quad?”
- “Zounds Gut,” Tony agreed, mimicking someone whose name he couldn’t remember at the moment before falling soundly asleep.
Groaning as he realized that he’d suggested that the Deputy Secretary of the Navy and the Director Homeland Security were wearing superhero costumes under their daywear, Tony pulled a pillow over his head and wished he had the confidence he could suffocate himself with it - without ending up a drooling vegetable because, seriously, he wasn’t going to give Ziva and McGee the satisfaction.
“Here,” a familiar voice jerked him to alertness, even as he realized that the smell of the coffee that was being pushed into his hand was probably what had woken him up. “Rise and shine, SleepyHead, we have a meeting in half an hour.”
“God, what time is it?”
~~~Christ, he should have known. Quantico was filled with Marines.~~~
“What kind of sadist sets a meeting at 6:30 A.M.?” Tony groused, although he really wasn’t surprised.
“Eahhhhhhhhnnn.” Ian interrupted his sluggish thoughts with a fair imitation of a game-show ‘wrong-try-again’ buzzer.
“What? He’s not a sadist?”
“Nope, and it’s not 6:30 A.M. Director Morrow wanted you to sleep yourself out, and Director Cershaw had a full schedule today, so an after hours meeting seemed the best option all around. Neither one would put up with it on any sort of regular basis, but both thought that it was merited.”
“How the hell did I sleep that long?”
“I’d say you probably started the week out overworked and sleep deprived, then spent the rest of it trying to get this whole shebang going the way you wanted it. Am I right?”
Still too tired for much introspection, much less making excuses whether they were valid or not, Tony only shrugged and clung to his coffee like the lifeline it was. As it was, despite the over abundance of sleep, coffee, and the sugary pastry that was put into his other hand when Ian seemed to decide that he was awake enough to trust with something sticky, it still took Tony a good five minutes to realize that he had another problem (aside from still being too tired to do the kind of thinking he should be doing to attend a meeting): he didn’t have any clothes.
“Ugh… 30 minutes? Damn, that won’t be nearly enough time.” He groaned looking down at his sleep wrinkled clothes.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Were probably close enough in size that you can wear something I have.”
Not at all hopeful (because the only Marine he really had known for any length of time was Gibbs, who generally rocked whatever he found at Sears - possibly on sale), Tony still nodded his thanks and asked, “any chance you have a stash of clean toothbrushes for new girlfriends?”
“Nope, can’t say that I do, that’s why I grabbed one from the px with some other supplies when I was out this morning.”
“You are a saint among men. If we can come to an agreement, you’ve solved [my] biggest problem,” Tony answered, paraphrasing a quote from a story he’d recently read. (From Jim Hawkins: The search for Flint’s Treasure. by Roy Boobyer.)
“Oh, have no fear on that score,” Ian through back at him, paraphrasing a quote not much further down the page to give him an appropriate response, and dropping Tony’s jaw in the process.
“I can’t believe you recognized that.”
“What can I say? I’m a man of untold depths. Now, it doesn’t do to keep the brass waiting.”