Jacqueline Sloane had always been a woman of many secrets. She knew all too well what to share and when some things were best kept hidden. On this dreary morning, the one thing she wasn’t hiding was her exhaustion. She had been up late the previous night reading through old case files with Ducky. The latest crime on the streets of D.C. had been kicking their asses— not to mention leading to a dead end with almost every new suspect.
She sat at her desk, her eyes heavy and her fingers frozen over her keyboard. She finally gave in and decided to venture downstairs for another cup of coffee, her third of the day.
Suddenly, Ellie ran hurriedly into her office.
“Bishop, what’s up?”
“You have got to see this,” the younger agent made no attempt to hide the laughter on her face. “Meet me in the squad room— You have approximately thirty seconds before all he’ll breaks loose.”
And with that, the blonde disappeared down the hall, leaving Jack in a state of utter confusion. She sighed in defeat. The coffee would have to wait.
When she entered the area overlooking the bullpen, she heard the familiar ding of the elevator, promptly followed by voices raised in a heated debate.
“I’m retired, Jethro!” his name was spat like a particularly bitter memory. “You can’t just stick me on a case like this!”
“Well, I just did!” Gibbs retorted. “Besides— my case, my jurisdiction. I outrank you here, Colonel.”
Jack knew full well his ploy about outranking the woman below wasn’t the truth— and so did she, by the sound of it.
“Not on your life, Gunny,” snapped the woman following the lead agent, She was wearing a jet-black blazer adorned with government-issue patches and insignia. On her feet was a set of matching black pumps that clicked against the floor as she stormed in behind Gibbs.
He tossed a file on his desk, muttering, “Army women.”
“Hey, I heard that!” Jack called, making her way down the stairs.
“Ah, jeez— Now there’s two of ‘em!”
The new arrival smirked at his comment. Jack winked at her as she came to a stop next to the bickering pair. “Jacqueline Sloane,” she extended her hand.
“Hollis Mann,” the other woman grasped her hand and shook it firmly. “Lieutenant Colonel, retired DoD.”
“Got anything, Sloane?” Gibbs barked.
“Nothing but a desperate need for caffeine—“ she replied smartly. “Bishop told me there might be some excitement going on.”
“Really,” Gibbs rolled his eyes as Bishop stifled a giggle. “McGee! Update!”
“On it, boss,” a moment passed and the senior field agent had three profiles displayed on the screen. “We’ve got Walter a Ellington, just released from prison two months ago. In for drug smuggling. Private Dean Williams, dishonorably discharged in 2017 for possession of contraband aboard a Navy ship.”
“Here’s where you come in, Agent Mann,” Gibbs put a stress on her name, causing him to shoot him a sideways glare.
“And lastly, retired Army Captain Patrick Gilman,” McGee continued. “All three are rumored to be involved with a Virginia drug ring that claimed responsibility for the attacks yesterday. These three are the only suspects without a solid alibi, boss.”
“Captain Gilman and I worked together in Special Ops around ‘02, right before I got promoted,” Colonel Mann chimed in. “He was a good team player. Not the kind of guy I’d picture in a drug ring.”
“Well, start picturing, ‘cause it looks like he’s the head of it,” Gibbs noted.
“You have got to be kidding me. Gilman?” Colonel Mann’s voice was incredulous.
“That’s why we called you in,” Gibbs reminded her. “You have a history with this guy. You’re our only link.”
“But is that an excuse to bring me out of retirement?” her voice was scalding. “I believe in justice and all, but I flew in from Cancun this morning! Cancun, Jethro!”
Jack took this as her cue to return to her mission for coffee. She started down the hall to the break room, slowing as she heard Ellie’s eager footsteps retreating after her.
“I told you there’d be drama,” the younger agent laughed.
“I take it the two of them have a history,” Jack commented.
“Oh, yeah. McGee told me they had a thing ten or fifteen years ago.”
“Back when Gibbs was young enough for flings?” Jack chuckled to herself. “She’s clearly aged well.”
“I’ll say. The first time I met her, she had just gotten engaged and Gibbs sounded like he wanted to strangle the guy when he congratulated her.”
“Married?” Jack questioned. “I don’t recall noticing a ring. Maybe I was too busy being amused by their argument.”
“Divorced in 2018,” Ellie said matter-of-factly as the pair arrived in the break room. “I did my research.”
“You are quite the investigator, Eleanor Bishop,” Jack smiled as she started her coffee in the machine.
“I do try sometimes,” Ellie responded earnestly.
The coffee machine beeped and Jack poured the steaming drink into her mug and added three generous spoonfuls of sugar before stirring gently.
“Sweet enough for you, Agent Sloane?”
The two women turned around to see Hollis Mann leaning against the counter on the opposite wall, an amused smirk on her face.
“Battery acid black, more sugar than coffee,” Jack grinned, brown eyes meeting emerald green.
“Gibbs used to joke that I took my coffee the same way I liked my women,” Hollis laughed. “Sweet and blonde.”
“Sugar and cream,” Jack commented. “You and Agent Bishop would get along well.”
Ellie raised her eyebrow, glancing between the two Army women.
“Got tired of arguing with Gibbs?” Jack asked.
“I’m never letting him hear the end of this. I was in Cancun for Christ’s sake!”
“We know,” the agents said in unison, sharing a glance.
This prompted a brief bout of laughter from the retired Colonel. “I see my reputation precedes me,” Hollis smiled warmly.
Ellie nodded seriously in response.
“I’ve only been here two years myself, so I’m not quite caught up on the famous office tales,” Jack informed her.
“Hmm... Maybe you and I should become acquainted… Jacqueline,” Hollis finished by using her full name, a glimmer in her eye.
Jack murmured her agreement, taking a much-needed sip of her steaming beverage. “Please, call me Jack.”
“Jack it is,” she nodded. “Hollis— Since it looks like I’ll be working in close quarters with team Gibbs for the time being.”
“Hollis!” came the call from the hallway. “Get your ass out here, got a call in MTAC.”
“Speak of the devil,” Hollis smirked. “Duty calls.”
Jack and Ellie shared a knowing glance as the Colonel whisked away in the trail of the lead agent.
“I see why Gibbs liked her so much,” Jack commented.
“And why is that?”
“He likes a good fight. I’m convinced that’s the only reason he’s keeping me around,” she chuckled.
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not the only reason,” Ellie had a mischievous grin on her face.
“No,” Jack’s tone was dark. “You don’t really think...”
“Jack, the whole office thinks!”
“I can’t believe this.”
“After Valentine’s day... It’s pretty obvious,” the younger agent laughed. “Come on! Who else would send you flowers and chocolate... and then kiss you on the cheek when you offered him one?”
“First of all, Gibbs is most definitely not the type to send a valentine, much less send me one. Besides, it wasn’t him.”
“There was a mix-up with the delivery. The gift was for someone down in human resources. It wasn’t for me.”
“Do I hear a hint of regret in your voice, Agent Sloane?”
“No, you do not, Agent Bishop. Now leave me and my coffee in peace,” she started down the hall, the nimble-minded agent trailing in her footsteps. “Listen,” she whipped around, startling the woman behind her. “There is nothing going on between me and Gibbs. And I don’t want to hear another word on the contrary.”
“Okay, okay,” Ellie frowned, unnerved by Jack’s sudden intensity. “I’ll drop it.”
“Thank you,” Sloane resumed her walk and decided against the elevator for just one floor. She made her way up the carpeted stairs and passed by MTAC on the way to her office. She could hear raised voices from the locked room, but they were muffled just enough that she couldn’t pick up on the conversation.
She continued on the path to her office, leaving her door ajar and placing her coffee cup on her desk. She settled down, resuming the work she had begun earlier and smiled.
She was beginning to miss the company of Hollis Mann.