“He’s got to go!”
Abby’s declaration had Gibbs sighing inwardly. His favourite forensic scientist had taken Stan Burley’s departure from the team with all the grace of a teenager in a sulk, and had greeted Gibbs’ choice of Anthony DiNozzo to replace him with all the grace of a toddler in the middle of a tantrum.
“No, Gibbs,” Abby said, waving at her computer monitor, “have you seen his FLETC results? He was ninth in his class, Gibbs! Ninth!”
“And?” Gibbs said mildly. He held back the Caf-Pow he had gotten her.
Abby looked at him from heavily kohl lined eyes, her trademark black hair up in its two side ponytails, revealing the spider tattoo on her neck. Her clothes under the white lab coat were standard for her; wearable jeans, black top with some kind of weird band slogan, and Doc Martens.
“Your team is the best of the best, Gibbs!” Abby declared fervently. She waved at the monitor again. “This tells me he’s anything but!”
Truthfully, coming ninth in FLETC could still be classed as the best of the best, although most agencies stopped boasting about a recruit after the top three, certainly the top five. Gibbs was very certain DiNozzo had chosen his ranking with extreme precision and wasn’t surprised that his new recruit had eschewed making a ranking of significance; coming first or second would have ruined the cover DiNozzo had built for himself.
“And he only got 950 on his SAT scores!” Abby continued. “OK, so his Master was in Criminal Psychology, but his Bachelor was in Physical Education!”
Gibbs looked at Abby with disappointment. “You think I’d choose anyone but the best for my team, Abs?”
Abby looked at him wide-eyed. “But, Gibbs…”
“I would have thought you of all people would know not to judge a book by its cover,” Gibbs concluded.
He dropped a kiss on Abby’s forehead and left the Caf-Pow on the table. He knew he’d pricked her curiosity. She’d dig deeper than the surface and hopefully give DiNozzo a break. He really didn’t want Abby running the kid off.
Gibbs checked his watch. DiNozzo should be arriving any minute, he mused, as he made his way down to security where he’d arranged to meet him. He was looking forward to it. He’d enjoyed working with DiNozzo in Baltimore. The detective was quick on his feet, had a very sharp mind, and he was principled. Moreover, he was loyal. As far as Gibbs was concerned DiNozzo checked all the boxes required to be his Senior Field Agent.
Tom Morrow had been a little shellshocked when Gibbs had personally added his recommendation to DiNozzo’s application and he’d almost fainted at the request to appoint him directly into Gibbs’ team (and Gibbs ignored the fact that at the time his team had consisted of only Gibbs himself). DiNozzo had a probationary period to get through but Gibbs had no doubt DiNozzo would pass that.
Satisfaction filled him for a moment as he spotted DiNozzo already there and chatting with Fred, one of the security guards.
DiNozzo had changed his appearance for his first day; he’d kept the slicked back hair but it looked a shade lighter, he’d thinned out his sideburns, and he’d slimmed down. He was in a suit; not too expensive, a decent enough shirt, left open-necked. His shoes were shined, good quality. He looked less street, but he wasn’t quite full-on federal agent either which suited Gibbs just fine.
Gibbs walked straight up to him and nodded. “With me, DiNozzo.”
“Hey, Gibbs,” DiNozzo said.
Fred shot DiNozzo a sympathetic smile. “Good luck, Agent DiNozzo.”
DiNozzo smiled back at him, friendly and charming, laying down the groundwork to make contacts. Gibbs preened a little inside at his choice.
Gibbs led the way into the elevator.
“So,” DiNozzo shot him a glance as he pushed the button to get to the bullpen, “apparently I shouldn’t call you ‘sir’?”
“Only if you want me to kick your ass,” Gibbs replied, straightening.
Gibbs glanced at DiNozzo and frowned as something caught his eye, or rather didn’t catch his eye. “You’re allowed to wear a wedding ring.”
He had never bothered but he wasn’t going to stop DiNozzo if he wanted to wear his and if he remembered the invitation he’d declined rightly, DiNozzo had been due to marry his fiancé Wendy a few weeks before. He’d met her and Wendy was smart, feisty and beautiful. He approved of DiNozzo’s choice for all Gibbs had sworn off marrying anyone ever again after the disaster with Stephanie.
DiNozzo smiled a touch too bright and sharp. “Not necessary; didn’t happen.”
And that was a whole minefield Gibbs figured he should avoid like the plague.
“At least you saved money on the divorce bills,” Gibbs murmured, not without sympathy.
Thankfully, the elevator arrived at its destination and he walked out, confident DiNozzo would follow. He was inured to the orange walls and glare from the skylight but he saw DiNozzo wince anew at them.
“Bathrooms, break room,” he pointed out briskly, “interrogation rooms are just down here, up the stairs is MTAC – you don’t have access yet, Director’s office along the corridor.”
He ignored the rubbernecking from some of the other agents keen to catch sight of the agent Gibbs had handpicked. He came to a stop in front of two desks in the bullpen. He’d had the partition wall removed and the desks backed onto one another leaving him and DiNozzo face to face with only their computer monitors between them. “We’re here.”
“Cosy,” quipped DiNozzo.
Gibbs pointed at the desk on the other side. “That’s you.”
DiNozzo nodded and slung the backpack he carried onto the floor by the desk. He tapped the waiting folder and raised an inquisitive glance at Gibbs.
“Induction pack is in there, credentials for the computer and all the other crap you need,” Gibbs informed him briskly. “Agent Pacci will be round to give you a tour later.”
“Great,” DiNozzo tested the chair, adjusted it a few times and stopped when he caught Gibbs looking at him.
“I’ll introduce you to a few key people and the Director wants to meet you this afternoon, fourteen hundred,” Gibbs informed him crisply. “We’re on rotation as of Wednesday so get anything you have to get set up done before then.”
“Got you,” DiNozzo said.
Gibbs huffed and sat down at his own desk, ostensibly getting on with his own work. He sneaked a look at DiNozzo. He was immersed in the induction pack, eyes scanning the information efficiently. Gibbs gave a satisfied nod. Yes, DiNozzo would do very well.
“Grab your gear!”
Tony tossed the newspaper with its dramatic headline of a bank robbery the previous day on the other side of town. He snagged his backpack and followed Gibbs out of the orange monstrosity which was his new workplace. He was looking forward to getting his teeth into an actual case after a couple of days of doing nothing but induction and weeks of FLETC before that.
He followed Gibbs down to the car park and into a sedan. He figured his chances of getting to drive were somewhere between zero and minus a million. He took the passenger seat and pulled on his seatbelt quickly. Agent Pacci had warned him about Gibbs’ driving ten times in the time they’d spent together. Pacci had also confirmed the second ‘b’ stood for bastard but had also said that the first ‘b’ stood for best.
Gibbs pulled out with a screech of tires which had DiNozzo wincing. “What have we got?”
“Missing dog,” Gibbs said tersely.
Tony’s eyebrows went up. “Missing dog?”
That was it? That was the case?
Gibbs looked over at him for enough time that Tony began to worry they’d crash. He breathed out as Gibbs returned his gaze to the road.
“You think you’re too good for a missing dog case, DiNozzo?”
Gibbs’ tone was mild but Tony wasn’t going to make the mistake of thinking that meant Gibbs meant the question mildly.
“No, Gibbs,” Tony said, “just not what I thought we handled.”
He’d done his fair share of rescuing cats from trees, tracking down missing pets, and on one occasion in Peoria corralling a snake for animal control to pick up. A police beat was a never-ending pick and mix of crime, misdemeanours and community action.
“Normally we don’t,” Gibbs conceded, “but Director wants to give us a milk run. ‘Sides, the dog belongs to Admiral Coating.”
Tony hummed and pulled out his notebook. “Any details?”
“Doberman pincher puppy,” Gibbs stated. “Less than a year old. Coating’s nephew gave the dog to his father for his birthday six months ago.”
Tony scribbled everything down. “Dog might have been stolen by a breeder or an animal trafficking group if he’s purebred. Those dogs can go for hundreds of dollars, Gibbs.”
“Yep,” Gibbs agreed. “Dog fights are popular too.”
Tony grimaced. “You a dog person, Gibbs?”
Gibbs shot him a look.
“I’m guessing not,” Tony said. “I mean, I think you’d get on with dogs, you’re definitely all Alpha and…” he trailed off as Gibbs shot him another look.
He waited in silence for a while. He’d known from their time in Baltimore that Gibbs was a man of few words and he’d proven that tenfold since Tony had started working for him. Unfortunately Tony didn’t do well with silence.
“I’ve never had a dog,” Tony began, “or a cat.”
Gibbs muttered something under his breath.
“My mother was allergic to animal hair,” Tony continued, undaunted, “at least that’s what she said.” He frowned as they took a corner too fast and grabbed for the handle to brace himself. “Of course it never stopped her wearing fur.”
“You don’t say, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said dryly.
“I had sea monkeys,” Tony declared. “You have pets, Gibbs?”
Gibbs shot him another look.
“I should be quiet, huh?” Tony guessed.
“You can talk,” Gibbs allowed. He waited a beat and added in the driest tone Tony had ever heard. “When it’s necessary.”
Tony smiled and changed the subject. “What do we know about Admiral Coating?”
Gibbs’ succinct description was evocative for all it was short; the Admiral was retired, widowed, and had served with honour. He’d lost his only child, a Marine Captain in the Middle East. The house was large and had a driveway and gardens that had Tony automatically calculating a real estate figure which would have made his father drool. They were shown in by the Admiral’s carer, a pretty woman in her thirties named Julia.
The Admiral sat in an upright recliner looking out of the window mournfully. He was old; silver-haired with a paunchy belly held in by an old green cardigan over a loose white shirt. He wore grey pants and had black leather slip-on slippers. There was a cane propped up on the arm of his chair.
“Gunny,” Coating greeted Gibbs with a sad smile. “Thanks for coming.”
Tony noted silently that Gibbs knew Coating. He figured that had something to do with them taking the case.
“Admiral, it’s good to see you, sir,” Gibbs said.
And Gibbs was fine calling someone ‘sir’ when they’d earned his respect, Tony realised. He nodded politely at the Admiral as Gibbs introduced them.
“Washington’s kennel’s out back,” Coating began.
Gibbs jerked his head at Tony.
Tony smiled at Julia. “Perhaps you can show me the way?”
Julia led him through the house, out of a large spacious kitchen and into a patio area. Off to the side, there was a sizeable patch which had a low fence and a kennel sitting close to the house. Tony began to take photos as he examined the scene in detail. He bagged the broken chain and the remnants of what looked like a steak. He did a check on the security and found it lacking; there was a camera but he suspected it didn’t record anything. He went back inside and found Julia beginning to make lunch.
“Hey,” Tony said. “Could I ask you a few questions?”
Julia smiled at him shyly. “Of course, Agent DiNozzo. I’ll do anything to help. The Admiral’s already so fond of that dog. He’s been beside himself since I found him missing this morning.”
Tony coaxed her into telling him the tale. She’d just finished when Gibbs walked in.
“You done, DiNozzo?” Gibbs’ tone informed him he’d better be done.
Tony smiled charmingly at Julia as he flipped his notebook closed. He offered her his card which she took with another shy smile. He hurried to join Gibbs and they left the house.
He almost didn’t get his seatbelt fixed in time as Gibbs drove off without waiting on him.
Tony smoothed his shirt down and got out his notebook. “Julia Roberts, no relation to the actress…”
“…started working for the Admiral six months ago. She calls him sweet,” Tony continued, “she was appointed by the nephew, by the way. Washington was a lovely puppy, very well behaved. The Admiral always put him into the kennel after dinner around twenty-hundred.”
“He said the same,” Gibbs agreed.
“Julia was responsible for feeding Washington breakfast,” Tony said. “She went out around oh-seven-hundred every morning. She found the kennel empty; the chain broken.” He paused. “She confirmed that they haven’t had the place alarmed for the past six months. They couldn’t get the motion detectors into pet mode so the security cameras are a bust and won’t show anything.”
Gibbs huffed. “You got all that from Julia?”
“What can I say, Gibbs? Women like me,” Tony smiled sharply. Even if they didn’t want to marry him. He pushed the thought of Wendy and his failed wedding out of his head.
“The back gate was missing its chains and padlock; bolt-cutters if I had to guess. I think they used the same on the dog chain. I’m betting Doctor Scuito finds sedatives in the scrap of meat I picked up,” Tony concluded, “I bagged everything.”
Gibbs hummed, but his body language was relaxed and loose; satisfied.
Tony breathed out. He’d done a good job. Well, he’d made a good start. If they solved the case and got Washington back home, then he could say he’d done a good job.
The paper on the counter kept Gibbs occupied while he waited for his coffee. He grimaced at the lurid headline but the main article about the ongoing investigation into the bank robbery was interesting. Nothing but security boxes had been broken into and the robbers had scarpered. There was a lot of bluff from Metro P.D. about tracking down the two suspects.
It was, thought Gibbs grumpily, a lot more exciting than a missing dog. He had a lot of respect for Admiral Coating but frankly the talents of himself and DiNozzo were wasted on the case. Not that he could complain without looking like a hypocrite to his junior partner.
Also, they hadn’t actually found the dog the previous day.
Gibbs gave himself a pat on the back for DiNozzo again.
The young agent had put in a full day, running down leads. He’d ferreted out that Washington had come from a litter of six, identified the breeder and had confirmed with Nancy Owens when Washington had been purchased, the value of the dog (which was frankly gobsmacking and made Gibbs wonder about the lack of sense in the world), and that Owens hadn’t heard of or seen anything suspicious herself in breeding circles.
Gibbs had also come out of overseeing a debrief in MTAC to find DiNozzo in the midst of initiating full background checks on the Admiral, Julia and the nephew, Andrew Coating. It was probably overkill but Gibbs supported DiNozzo practicing utilising NCIS resources.
Gibbs wasn’t too surprised as he took ownership of his drink to find Fornell sidling up to him. He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “What do you want, Tobias?”
“Can’t a guy drop by and say hello to an old friend?” asked Tobias.
“Sure, a guy can,” Gibbs replied, “you? No.”
Tobias sighed. They’d kind of worked past Tobias getting married to Diane, Gibbs’ ex-wife. But they weren’t really back on the kind of terms where Fornell could ‘drop in.’
“Most of the alphabet is talking about your boy,” Tobias commented. “Word is that he played FLETC like a violin.”
Gibbs let a small smile cross his lips because that pretty much summed up what DiNozzo had done.
“I can take him off your hands if he’s not working out for you,” Tobias finished.
“Like you did with Diane?” shot back Gibbs dryly.
Tobias grimaced. “Poor choice of words.”
“Poor choice,” Gibbs stated unequivocally. “And keep your hands off DiNozzo.”
Tobias blinked at him. “That’s high praise coming from you.”
Gibbs was about to reply when his mobile went off. Damn phone. What had been wrong with a beeper anyway? He snapped the phone open. “What?”
DiNozzo cleared his throat. “Hello to you too, Gibbs. Metro just got a report of a missing Doberman. The lady owner found him missing from the kennel this morning; chain looked as though it had been cut through.”
“On my way,” Gibbs said briskly. He snapped the phone closed. “Got to go. Hot case.”
“So I heard,” Tobias said. “Good luck finding the missing puppy!”
Tony approached the lab with trepidation. Doctor Scuito seemed like an interesting woman. She and Gibbs had a close relationship, more father-daughter than anything creepy. She’d also seemed a little cold to him when they’d been introduced on his first day and she hadn’t warmed up any when he’d dropped off the evidence from the stolen puppy that morning.
He had no doubt that she wasn’t going to be happy it was him and not Gibbs himself appearing to receive her report. But Gibbs had a classified briefing in MTAC and he’d sent Tony so Tony was going to have to suck it up. He hefted the Caf-Pow drink which he’d noticed Gibbs deliver to her regularly and entered the lab.
For a second, he watched her flipping through photos on the monitor and admired her from afar. Scuito had a great personal style; he enjoyed the individuality of her appearance and the sass which she displayed. He pushed any inkling of attraction into the depths of his mind. He figured Gibbs would shoot him and, honestly, he was too wounded after Wendy to even try to make something happen with another woman.
He cleared his throat over the backbeat of a heavy metal song.
Scuito glanced over her shoulder and turned back to the monitor.
Tony entered and put the Caf-Pow down beside her. “From Gibbs,” he lied, “he sent me for the report since he’s stuck in MTAC.”
Scuito looked at him sceptically but accepted the drink, taking a large slurp. She motioned at the monitor. “I’m tracking down the exact bolt-cutters. They’re definitely this type but the teeth are pretty distinctive. I figure if I can get a match, we might be able to track down anyone who bought them recently.”
Tony nodded. “Any results on the rest of the evidence?”
“Not much,” Scuito turned away from the monitor and led him to a different part of the lab. “These are the samples from the scraps of meat found at both crime scenes. Weirdly, the meat from the second scene this morning shows a higher dosage of sedative than the first.”
“Maybe they realised they needed more?” theorised Tony.
Scuito grimaced but nodded. “Maybe.” She sighed. “The sedative is a common garden sleeping tablet which is prescribed like to over a hundred thousand people in D.C. alone.”
Tony winced. Yeah, that was a dead end, although if they found a suspect they might be able to use it for corroboration.
“Those poor puppies,” Scuito murmured. “I hope they’re OK.”
His phone beeped. He took it out and smiled. Owens had confirmed she’d sold the second puppy.
“Wow,” Scuito said, her eyes wide and twinkling, “you could catch a lot of honey with that smile, DiNozzo.”
“Or dog snatchers,” Tony offered her another smile. “Thanks for the report, Doctor Scuito.”
He headed out, a spring in his step. He caught up with Gibbs coming down the stairs from MTAC.
“The breeder is a connection,” Tony informed him briskly, “I thought we might want to pay her a visit.”
“Works for me,” Gibbs said, his face brightening.
Nancy Owens lived on the outskirts of Washington. It was a large property with two outbuildings which housed the kennels. One was the nursery and one was for her breeding dogs between heats.
Tony knocked on the door of the house and smiled at the petite brunette who answered. She was mature – he put her in her forties, grey hairs mingling with her natural dark brown colour, brown eyes. She wore practical clothes; jeans, a sweater, boots.
He smiled politely. “Afternoon, Miss Owens, we spoke on the phone; I’m Special Agent DiNozzo, NCIS,” and didn’t that send a thrill through him, “and this is Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs.”
Her brown eyes flared with interest as she took in Gibbs and Tony hid his amusement.
Tony glanced over at Gibbs and was surprised to see a complete look of understanding and agreement already in the other man’s blue eyes; Tony had made the initial contact, but Gibbs would take lead.
They settled into Owens’ front parlour. There was a lot of dog paraphernalia; ornaments and knick-knacks, pictures…Tony let himself wander around as Gibbs sweet-talked Owens with small talk. He stopped in front of a display cabinet of pictures and framed awards. He listened along to Gibbs’ interrogation (and it was an interrogation for all Gibbs couched it in gentle tones and flirting) as he catalogued each item in the cabinet.
Tony headed back to the seating area and cleared his throat noisily, partially to break up the very long story about the Doberman puppy Owens had received as a teenager who had apparently set her career in motion when her father hadn’t been able to bring himself to have the animal castrated.
Gibbs looked up at him as though annoyed but Tony was a master at playing undercover and he saw the flicker of relief that flittered over Gibbs’ expression. “Yes, DiNozzo?”
“Sorry, Boss,” the word slid over his lips automatically, a choice to emphasis his own junior status and Gibbs’ seniority in front of their suspect, “ma’am,” he turned to Owens with a sheepish smile, “would it be possible to use your facilities?”
Owens didn’t bother to hide her amusement. “Bathroom’s first door on the right up the stairs.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Tony excused himself and headed upstairs.
He did a quick check of the upstairs rooms and found them all empty and depressingly decorated in more dog pictures. He entered the bathroom and quickly did make use of the facilities to give more credibility to his lie. He took an inventory of the bathroom cabinet and smiled in satisfaction at the prescription bottle not even tucked away on the bottom shelf.
He rejoined Gibbs and Owens, who’d moved somehow to the kitchen where they were drinking iced tea, just in time to take part in the tour she’d apparently offered to Gibbs. Tony tagged along. He played into his bumbling sidekick persona; slipped on some mud, wrinkled his nose at the smell and generally acted like he couldn’t find his own ass without a flashlight and Gibbs’ help.
They made it back to the vehicle having seen every cupboard and room in every outbuilding.
Tony pulled on his seatbelt as Gibbs drove off. He reached for his notebook and started scribbling.
“You check the upstairs’ rooms?” asked Gibbs.
“Yep, nothing there except crocheted blankets and dog pictures,” Tony gave a shudder. It occurred to him that neither he nor Gibbs had actually spoken aloud their suspicion that Owens was most definitely their prime suspect. He wondered at the synchronicity for a moment before dismissing it as a lucky break in their new partnership. “You?”
“Everything but the basement,” Gibbs confirmed. “But I doubt the puppies are being kept here. She was too willing to show us everything and she’s not that stupid.”
“Just stupid enough not to hide her sedatives,” Tony said with a wide grin.
And Gibbs smiled back.
Gibbs was a little startled to find DiNozzo already at work when he arrived in the office. They’d ended on a high note after the visit to Owens the day before. Gibbs couldn’t remember a time when he’d had a partner he’d been so in step with; maybe Franks, but that had been after years of working together. And Franks would never have pulled off the sleight of hand trick DiNozzo had used; fooling Owens with his bumbling idiot act and causing her to overlook their competence. Hopefully it would make Owens more relaxed, more likely to make mistakes.
Unfortunately, a missing dog couldn’t justify the overtime of assigning NCIS personnel to watch Owens’ property overnight and while Gibbs had thought about assigning DiNozzo the duty anyway (he was the new guy and tradition almost decreed some hazing), he’d decided to do it himself. It had been a cold night in his car. He took a sip of his coffee and set it down. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and frowned at the dampness on the lower strands of his hair. He’d taken a three-minute shower in the gym when he’d arrived.
DiNozzo was on the phone, scribbling notes with one hand. He looked up briefly and nodded an acknowledgement of Gibbs’ presence.
“Thanks, Mark, appreciate the heads-up.” DiNozzo put the phone down. He tore the piece of paper off the pad. “We have another missing pooch, Gibbs.”
Gibbs picked up his coffee again and turned for the elevator. He was pleased to find DiNozzo on his six, just off to the right. They entered the elevator and Gibbs stabbed the button.
“Report,” he ordered crisply.
“Dog was reported stolen this morning by his handler, George Baker,” DiNozzo said. “He’s a security guard at Washington Security Bank; they actually own the dog.” He paused. “Dog is more than two years old; he’s not exactly a puppy but he is a Doberman.”
“Washington Security Bank,” repeated Gibbs.
“You noticed that, huh?” DiNozzo nodded as they left the elevator and walked toward the car park. “That was the bank that was robbed on Tuesday.”
“Couldn’t have been Owens,” Gibbs stated. “I was parked outside her property until oh-six-hundred.”
“So her accomplice,” DiNozzo got in the car, reaching for his seatbelt in the same motion as he’d closed the door. “She’s not strong enough for the bolt-cutters. Doctor Scuito identified them, by the way, four stores carry them in D.C., Chris said he’d track them down.”
It took Gibbs a moment to realise that DiNozzo was referring to Pacci. And Abby. He wondered when Abby would relent.
“You know what this reminds me of?” DiNozzo commented brightly.
Gibbs already knew DiNozzo was going to tell him whether he replied or not. He settled for offering a grunt.
“The Doberman Gang,” DiNozzo continued, “cult film, 1972, starring Byron Mabe and Julie Parrish. Not a film to watch if you’re scared of dogs, I mean it’s not Cujo but there’s a lot of biting there at the end, although with very unrealistic blood…”
“Your point, DiNozzo?” prompted Gibbs impatiently. He had a feeling if he didn’t interrupt DiNozzo would babble for the next year without pause.
“Gang of dogs does a bank robbery, only the human thieves get betrayed by the animal trainer,” DiNozzo recited succinctly. He flipped through his notes. “Bank robbery started at oh-ten-hundred, usually a quiet time, with two suspects in black combat gear wearing balaclavas; only one spoke and was identified as male. Our latest dog owner, George Baker was on duty.”
“Of course he was,” Gibbs murmured.
“As was the dog,” DiNozzo said gleefully. “According to Baker and witness statements, he and the dog were placed into the manager’s office. He was then told to open all the security boxes which were raided. However, the manager noted the only box whose contents were apparently not touched was 187650-ABP.”
“Pretty specific,” Gibbs commented.
“Very specific,” DiNozzo said, “the box is owned by Lenny Panini, former accountant for the suspected mob boss Pauli Coterelli. Panini died last year and his estate is tied up in probate.”
Gibbs lifted his eyebrows. “How did you get all this, DiNozzo?”
DiNozzo offered him a toothy smile as though it was the answer. It probably was. DiNozzo had a way of charming people out of their lunches with that smile.
“Yeah,” Gibbs said dryly, amused, “that’s why I hired you.”
“It pays to be nice to LEOs, Gibbs,” DiNozzo chided him teasingly.
“I wouldn’t know,” Gibbs shot back.
He had to admit DiNozzo’s cop background and bonhomie had been useful the day before in convincing the Captain to give them the dog case and any future related dog case, citing that the LEOs had enough to do and as NCIS was already involved why not just hand the whole waste of time over to them? If it was going to net him details like those DiNozzo had dug up on the bank robbery, Gibbs was going to congratulate himself all over again for snagging DiNozzo from Baltimore.
“Well, Captain Keating is very talkative when he’s got a few beers in him,” DiNozzo said.
Gibbs hid his amusement.
It dissipated rapidly in the face of George Baker. There was no doubt in Gibbs’ mind that George Baker was the inside man on the bank robbery.
It wasn’t his appearance, although his pock-faced, swarthy complexion and oily hair weren’t attractive, but more the sneer on his face and the look of smugness in his dark eyes.
“Helluva week you’re having,” Gibbs said. He’d elected to stand in the dingy area that masqueraded as the den in Baker’s house. “First the robbery and now the dog going missing.”
Baker’s expression flickered briefly into worry.
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs barked and waved at Baker.
“Right, Boss,” and DiNozzo slid straight into hapless sidekick right on cue as though they’d been working together for years.
Baker looked ecstatically happy, believing he was pulling the wool over their eyes with every answer he gave DiNozzo.
It was pretty standard bullshit.
Baker claimed he always chained the dog in the front yard, as though he wanted them to ignore that fact that the kennel was out the back. The chain wasn’t even cut. There was no sign of break-in at the back.
Gibbs prowled around the den as DiNozzo coaxed Baker into telling him about the bank robbery.
“And then Andy told me to stay in the room…”
And there it was.
DiNozzo changed in a blink of an eye. “Andy, huh?” His smile went from sheepish to a shark looking at a lone surfer bleeding out in the ocean.
Baker’s eyes widened in stunned realisation he’d just turned into prey and bolted.
“Why do they always run?” complained DiNozzo, leaping after him.
Gibbs followed enough to know Baker was heading out the back with the intent to run around the back. He got back in the car, reversed and accelerated down the street. He took the corner too fast, but controlled the car’s swerve and whipped it back straight, only to brake sharply so Baker ended up banging into against the front of the vehicle instead of being run over by it.
DiNozzo was right behind Baker and he was on the felled guard in a heartbeat. He dragged Baker up, put him over the hood of the car, forcing his feet apart and ensuring Baker’s hands were at the small of his back so DiNozzo could cuff him. DiNozzo was already reciting the rights as Gibbs got out of the car to help DiNozzo put him in the back.
“Thanks for the assist,” DiNozzo said as he made to get in the passenger seat. “But you know I had him.”
Gibbs shrugged. “Couldn’t be sure you had your tube socks on,” he quipped, reminding DiNozzo of their first meeting when DiNozzo had ran him down.
Gibbs didn’t wait for his new partner to secure his seatbelt before he drove off; DiNozzo would learn to get faster.
Tony slapped the phone down and picked up his notes. He pushed his chair back and headed for the interrogation.
“Hey, Tony!” Chris Pacci waved to him with a folder of his own. “One set of bolt-cutters found at Baker’s place along with his purchase of them two weeks ago.”
“Great,” Tony said, “thanks for helping out, Chris.” He turned back to head to interrogation.
“Word of advice, DiNozzo,” Chris offered, “don’t disturb Gibbs when he’s in the middle of an interrogation. Only thing he hates worse is someone spilling his coffee.”
DiNozzo thanked him and continued on, rethinking his next action. Instead of knocking on the interrogation door and handing Gibbs a note as he had planned, he headed into the observation room.
He paused as he saw Doctor Mallard standing watching Gibbs question Baker but shut the door gamely and moved to stand beside the M.E. with a nod to the technician sat recording.
“Ah, Agent DiNozzo!” Mallard said brightly.
“Doctor Mallard,” Tony answered politely.
“It’s always fascinating to see Agent Gibbs in action in interrogation,” Mallard commented, answering Tony’s unspoken question of why the M.E. was there.
The observation door burst open and Scuito entered at a fast clip, an arm filled with a popcorn tub. “Ducky, did I miss it? Tell me I didn’t miss…” she trailed off as she caught sight of Tony.
Tony lifted an eyebrow. “Sorry, didn’t realise this was meant to be a private party.”
“Indeed it is not,” Mallard replied quickly, “you are more than welcome.”
Scuito and Mallard exchanged a pointed look which had Scuito huffing. She closed the door and took a position next to the doctor.
“Do you do this often?” Tony asked.
“Gibbs is like a work of art in interrogation,” Scuito said firmly.
Mallard shook his head at the popcorn offer. “He has a way of getting people to talk as they say.” He smiled genially at Tony.
Tony smiled back. He turned his attention to Gibbs and the interrogation.
Baker was almost white as Gibbs hammered home to him the consequences of a conviction before offering the carrot of cooperation and potentially a good word with the judge.
“Actually, my dear boy,” Mallard said, “I was hoping to catch you and ask how you were settling in.”
Tony glanced over and found nothing but sincerity in Mallard’s eyes. “I’m good, thank you. Getting used to the way things are done here, of course.”
“Of course,” Mallard said, “and you’re coping with Agent Gibbs and his lack of…verbosity? I imagine that can’t be easy when beginning a new position.”
Tony shrugged. It was true Gibbs was a man of few words, but he was a functional mute. “We get along.”
“Remarkable,” Mallard murmured. “You seemed to have tackled the case with some verve.”
Tony nodded. “It’s been nice to do some work after FLETC.”
“Ah, yes,” Mallard raised his eyebrows, “you must tell me how you managed to be so precise in achieving the ranking you wanted.”
Tony ignored Scuito looking at him with sudden interest as though he was one of her forensic specimens. “I have no idea what you mean, Doctor Mallard.”
“Of course not,” Mallard replied jovially, “oh and please; call me Ducky.”
“Tony,” he offered in return. He glanced at Scuito who just raised her eyebrows as a reply to the likelihood of her providing him with permission to use her first name. His lips twitched.
Scuito pointed at his folder. “Did you find something?”
“Telephone conversations between Baker and a very bad man,” Tony quipped.
“Did you want to give it to Gibbs?” asked Scuito, the attempted innocent expression not really working given the amount of glee in her eyes.
There was another brief chiding look between her and Ducky, with Ducky surrendering to Scuito’s want to have a little fun at Tony’s expense.
“You should definitely disturb him,” Scuito said out loud. “He hates it when he doesn’t have all the information.”
Tony hummed. He figured Chris was being nothing but truthful and helpful in his warning, and Scuito was setting him up. As hazing practices went it was fairly mild and God knew he’d had worse at every single police department he’d worked. He decided he might as well let her have her fun.
He checked where Gibbs was in the interrogation; wrapping up…it was ostensibly a good moment to interrupt.
He headed out of the observation and knocked on the door, poking his head. “Boss? If I could have a moment…”
The glare Gibbs gave him was not friendly.
Gibbs got up though and walked out of interrogation, closing the door carefully. He got right in Tony’s face. “Do you know what rule 22 is, DiNozzo?”
“I’m going to guess at something about never bothering you when you’re in the middle of an interrogation,” Tony pushed the folder into Gibbs’ chest. “Baker’s been talking to the mob.”
Gibbs held his gaze for another beat before taking the folder and storming back into the interrogation.
Tony breathed out. His lips twitched at the sight of Scuito and Mallard quickly moving back inside the observation room to hide the fact that they’d been watching.
He shook his head and headed back in.
Gibbs watched as DiNozzo efficiently strapped the vest to himself and holstered his weapon. “You stick close to me.”
DiNozzo gave a quick nod.
Gibbs signalled for Pacci to take the other vehicle. He tapped his radio. “All units, let’s move out.”
The early evening drive was quiet and Gibbs was glad of the peace given the hectic day. It had been one meeting after another to plan the op, especially since DiNozzo had talked him into bringing Metro into the loop.
Gibbs wondered at DiNozzo’s silence. He seemed contemplative and not inclined to babble nervously. That was either a good sign or a bad sign. Gibbs sighed inwardly there was only one way he was going to find out.
“You OK, DiNozzo?”
DiNozzo’s head snapped towards him and there was a look of blatant surprise on his face. “Sure.” He shifted in his seat. “Guess I’m just not used to taking down the mob from this side.”
Gibbs considered everything he’d read about DiNozzo from the background check he’d done. “How many times have you gone undercover with the mob?”
“Four, no…five times,” DiNozzo laughed. “I always forget the time with Russinki.”
Russinki. A Chicago drug lord who’d been put away during the time DiNozzo had supposedly been nothing more than a beat cop in Baltimore.
Goddamn it. It looked like DiNozzo’s file had holes in it. It was a rule; always double check. Gibbs should have double checked. He resisted the urge to head slap himself.
“You really leave all those PDs after two years?” asked Gibbs casually.
“Yep,” DiNozzo met Gibbs’ eyes in the dim light of the car as they pulled up in front of the restaurant which acted as a front for Coterelli.
Gibbs held his gaze. “You going to tell me about your time in the mob?”
DiNozzo cocked his head to the side. “Nope.”
“That's what I'd thought you'd say,” Gibbs admitted and got out of the car. He waved the other agents arriving around to the back, positioned others at the front. He tapped his radio. “Balboa, you guys in position?”
He’d sent his fellow Supervisory Agent and Balboa’s team along with animal control to pick up Owens and find out where they were keeping the dogs.
The radio crackled.
“In position and ready, Gibbs,” Balboa confirmed.
“Go in five,” Gibbs ordered. He slapped his baseball cap back on his head and motioned for DiNozzo to follow him through the front door.
Two of Coterelli’s enforcers stepped up almost as soon as Gibbs and Tony were over the threshold.
“Hey, Boss,” DiNozzo said in an obnoxiously cheerful voice, “it’s a welcoming party!”
“Let them in,” Coterelli called out from his place at the bar, destroying what looked like an entire lobster.
“Pauli Coterelli,” Gibbs said firmly, “you’re under arrest.”
Coterelli didn’t move. He was in his fifties, fat and had a combover. “You got nothing on me.”
“Nothing, huh?” Gibbs stated dryly. “DiNozzo, do I have nothing on Mister Coterelli?”
“No, Boss,” DiNozzo grinning inanely. “I wouldn’t call dognapping nothing.”
“Dognapping?” Coterelli snorted, not looking up from the lobster he was taking apart with his hands.
His minions laughed.
“I think you also forgot to mention the bank robbery charge, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said.
Coterelli’s gaze whipped to Gibbs.
“Sorry, Boss,” DiNozzo said in the most unapologetic tone Gibbs had ever heard.
“I know nothing about a bank robbery,” stated Coterelli.
There was a crash from the kitchen…
as everyone turned, both Gibbs and DiNozzo drew their guns…
… and the restaurant staff entered through the back door with their hands up as they were shepherded in by Pacci and the other agents.
“Hands where we can see them!” Gibbs ordered as the police outside flooded the restaurant with lights, flashes of blue whirling across the walls.
There was a moment of tension when it looked like Coterelli might try and fight, but he deflated like a balloon.
Gibbs jerked his head at DiNozzo.
DiNozzo secured his weapon and all but skipped to Coterelli. “Mister Coterelli, it is my extreme pleasure to inform you that you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent…”
Coterelli growled angrily as DiNozzo handcuffed him and continued reading his rights. Agents were moving in on the minions, everyone surrendering to the arrest.
Gibbs lowered his weapon with a satisfied nod.
Tony smothered the urge to yawn.
It was early and they’d been up all night taking apart Coterelli’s operation. It had been surprisingly easy to find evidence of Coterelli’s involvement in the bank robbery. The detailed plans had been in plain sight in the office at the restaurant.
Owens had also sung like a canary. Tony was still doing a happy dance that Gibbs had let him take that particular interrogation. It had revealed the location of the missing puppies and substantiated a theory Tony had floated.
Which brought them to where they were right at that moment – back at Admiral Coating’s house.
The second team of agents Gibbs had brought with them remained outside.
Gibbs rapped on the door.
Julia answered. She was dressed despite the early hour.
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs ordered briskly.
Tony smiled at her. “Miss Roberts? Or should I say Miss Coterelli? You are under arrest…” he caught her hand before she could punch him and in a second had her turned around and facing the wall, legs splayed, hands behind her back as he handcuffed her.
Gibbs had already moved past him into the house and Tony quickly handed her off to the team outside so he could back up Gibbs.
“What is the meaning of this, Gunny?” The Admiral snapped. “You come in here and arrest Julia and…”
“We’ve arrested your nephew, Andrew, too, Admiral,” Gibbs said. There was a note of regret in his voice.
The Admiral sighed and sat back down in his recliner. He closed his eyes briefly. “Tell me, Gunny.”
“DiNozzo,” Gibbs gestured at him.
Tony startled; he hadn’t realised Gibbs had known he’d entered the room. He cleared his throat. “Last year the accountant for the Coterelli family died. He was meant to leave his insurance, a microchip coded with all the illegal transactions Coterelli had done for twenty years, all the fraudulent tax returns he’d made to Coterelli.”
Tony shook his head sadly. For all mafia bosses tried to emulate Al Capone’s business dealings, he would have thought that they might have tried to avoid his mistakes.
“Only the estate ended up in probate and the contents of the security box Coterelli inherited wasn’t going to be released for years,” Gibbs chipped in.
“Which is when they started to plan the bank robbery,” Tony let himself grimace dramatically. “Would you believe they wrote everything down, sir? Every single convoluted detail. I mean, if they’d kept it simple, they might have gotten away with it.”
“But they decided to complicate things,” Gibbs added.
“Like making it appear that the one box which they really wanted to open wasn’t opened,” Tony continued. “Of course, they did open it and put in a false microchip.”
“They injected the real one into the security dog,” Gibbs said dryly.
“But, of course, if the security dog went missing straight after the robbery it might have prompted suspicion,” Tony paused, turning to Gibbs, “well, truthfully, it did prompt suspicion.”
“Because their clever plan of stealing two other dogs to hide the theft of the security dog wasn’t enough camouflage,” Gibbs agreed.
They both turned back to the Admiral.
“Especially not when all three animals had the same breeder,” Tony continued, “and everyone involved had links to the Coterelli’s if you dug deep enough.” He motioned to the outside. “The second dog owner? The lady was one of Coterelli’s informants in the Mayor’s office. Julia Roberts, formerly Julia Coterelli; she’s Pauli’s niece.”
“Your nephew was in deep,” Gibbs said, “gambling debts, mostly.” He sighed. “And you, Admiral? You helped Coterelli steal Navy weapons and had your own reason to make sure the microchip never came to light.”
The Admiral gave a small laugh and sighed heavily. His look at Gibbs was almost apologetic. “I told Coterelli it was a stupid plan, but he figured nobody would take a case of missing puppies seriously. Guess they didn’t count on you, did they, Gunny.”
Gibbs jerked his head at Tony in what was becoming an almost familiar way.
“You have the right to remain silent,” began Tony and headed over to escort the Admiral from his home.
Gibbs paused at the entry way to Abby’s office. For a long moment, he let himself just observe the two people in the lab.
One of them was Abby herself. She wasn’t in her lab coat but rather slouched in her office chair wearing her usual band t-shirt and jeans, her metal-studded cuff and rings all in place. Her chair was leaned back at an odd angle and her feet were up on the desk.
DiNozzo stood at the side of the desk, not leaning against it; his posture not rigid but not relaxed. He was in another suit of decent quality with an open-necked shirt. It seemed to be the uniform he was going with every day.
“…and the bolt-cutters came from Billion Hardware on Canape Street?” DiNozzo was scribbling it down in his small policeman’s notebook.
“Yeah,” Abby confirmed. She tilted her head back. “Gibbs threw your report back at you, didn’t he?”
Unlike most reports from the agents he’d worked with in the past, there really had been nothing wrong with the first report DiNozzo had given him. DiNozzo had worked too long in law enforcement to muck up a report. It had been succinct, written in plain English, had captured the required facts and had laid out the investigation in a way that would make JAG happy. Still, Gibbs had given it back to DiNozzo to improve because DiNozzo needed the challenge and the competition even if it was with himself.
By the time Gibbs was done with him, he intended for the best young investigator he’d ever worked with, to be the best period. DiNozzo had it in him to be that exceptional.
DiNozzo laughed uncomfortably at Abby’s question, but then he shrugged. “Any report can be improved.”
Abby hummed. She grabbed a squeezy toy from her desk and began to toss it between her hands. “Hey, do you know what happened with the puppies?”
Gibbs figured Abby knew exactly what had happened to the dogs. She was nuts about animals.
DiNozzo flipped a couple of pages back in his notebook. “The security dog for the bank, Butch, is already back with the senior guard. He recovered well after having the microchip removed. Washington has already been rehomed. And the second puppy, Belle, is already gaining a lot of interest at the rehoming shelter.”
“You followed up on them,” Abby’s eyes were wide on DiNozzo and Gibbs could see her already reassessing him in light of what she would assume to be his altruism and what Gibbs knew to be his diligence.
“Had to improve my report,” DiNozzo covered. He raised his notebook. “Speaking of which, thanks for the info.”
“How did you make yourself rank ninth at FLETC?” asked Abby bluntly.
DiNozzo was completely taken aback, but he recovered fast, offering her a harmless smile. “I never said that I did, Doctor Scuito.”
Abby started to smile. “Oh, you so totally did.”
Gibbs decided it was time to intervene. He marched forward, drawing both of their attentions. He set the Caf-Pow on Abby’s desk. “Good job, Abs.”
DiNozzo took in the praise Gibbs offered to her and the gift without saying a word.
Gibbs pointed at DiNozzo. “Don’t you have a report you should be writing?”
DiNozzo tapped his notebook into the palm of his hand and nodded. “On my way, Gibbs.”
Gibbs watched him leave the lab before turning back to Abby. “You ever going to give him a break, Abby?”
Abby leaned forward. “Maybe if he tells me how he contrived to get a specific ranking at FLETC.”
“How isn’t the interesting question,” Tom Morrow called out from the doorway, “the more interesting question is why.”
Abby scrambled to straighten her position into something more professional when faced with the Director of NCIS.
Gibbs looked over at Tom. “Were you looking for me, Director?”
The Director nodded. “If you have a moment.”
Abby picked up the Caf-Pow and subsided back in her chair with a thoughtful look as Gibbs left her, joining Tom to walk the short distance to the elevator.
They got in and Tom pressed the button to take them to his floor before he spoke.
“The Director of the FBI called me this morning.”
“Ostensibly to congratulate me on taking down Coterelli,” Tom allowed a small smile to cross his lips, “but mostly to complain about us treading on their toes.”
Gibbs let his own lips twitch upwards. He’d already had Fornell whining at him about the same. “Nothing to complain about. Our case. We just followed the evidence.”
“Indeed,” Tom said, “and it helped that we were able to convince Metro to work on a joint take-down given the bank robbery was theirs.” He eyed Gibbs speculatively. “I’m going to guess your new hire had something to do with that since I know you hate working with Metro.”
Gibbs huffed out a laugh as they exited the elevator. “DiNozzo had something to do with it.”
Tom stopped them at the railing overlooking the bullpen. They looked down to where DiNozzo was typing away, notebook open to the side. He was the picture of steadfast competence.
“The other reason the FBI was complaining,” Tom continued quietly, “they’ve apparently been trying to recruit DiNozzo for years.”
Gibbs lifted an eyebrow. “It’s such a shame they missed their chance.” His tone was smug and he didn’t care.
Tom laughed under his breath.
“I appreciate what he did with his ranking if we’re going to use him undercover; people will underestimate him,” Tom remarked. “Doctor Mallard thinks you’re going to have a battle on your hands to convince him he doesn’t need a cover and can be himself within the agency.”
“Not sure that’s even going to be possible,” Gibbs murmured. He was waiting for the moment DiNozzo called Gibbs ‘Boss’ for real and not just when DiNozzo wanted to deflect attention from himself or to make someone underestimate him.
Tom looked at Gibbs. “He did a good job, Gibbs. You should tell him.”
“Not sure he’d believe me,” Gibbs admitted. And he wasn’t sure ‘nice’ was what DiNozzo wanted or needed him to be; DiNozzo didn’t trust ‘nice.’
Tom hummed. “Well, lost pups can take a while to build trust with new owners.”
Gibbs lifted his eyebrows at that, because seriously, dog jokes?
Tom held Gibbs’ eyes. “Tell him I said he did good job.” He turned for his office and walked off before Gibbs could reply.
Gibbs swallowed down his annoyance and headed to his desk. He nodded at DiNozzo as he sat down. “Director said good job.”
DiNozzo looked up from his report, his eyes brightening at the praise. “Does this mean I don’t have to redo my report?”
“What do you think?” Gibbs shot back.
DiNozzo laughed. “That’s what I thought.” He typed for a moment before pausing. “Just out of interest, how many times are you going to make me redo this?”
“How many times do you need to redo it to maintain your cover?” Gibbs retorted.
DiNozzo cocked his head to the side thoughtfully before he smiled, wide and cocky. “I guess we’ll find out.”
Gibbs hid his huff of laughter and turned to tackle his email. He guessed his life wasn’t going to be boring with DiNozzo around.