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TITLE: We Climbed So High... Once
AUTHOR: Tiv'ester
E-MAIL: tivester@lycos.com
STATUS: Complete
CATEGORY: Drama
SPOILERS: I’m sure there are some in there
SEASON/SEQUEL: After season 4
RATING: PG
CONTENT WARNINGS: Slight touch of nostalgia, accidents, shootings, a little cussing
SUMMARY: The team learns of Tony's secret past in Peoria when a killer he captured returns. Can they find the killer and protect Tony as their efforts are undermined by the FBI?

DISCLAIMER: I do not own NCIS, its characters, the sets, the cars, Gibbs’ boat-in-his-basement, none of it. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only. No money has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.


Originally posted in the zine “Gear Up” on the Ancientsgate website.


We Climbed So High… Once.


~*~*~*~*~


~*~ Day 1 ~*~


~*~*~*~*~


GW Parkway


Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way


Tony Dinozzo merged into traffic carefully, matching his speed with the other cars as he drove the short distance toward NCIS headquarters through the freezing rain. Wintertime wasn’t his favorite time of year, wintertime storms weren’t pleasant either, and the morning was cold, rainy and windy. It hadn’t rained like that in months. Definitely not an enjoyable drive. He turned the volume up on his radio. What better way was there to lift the spirits than listening to an Oldies tune blasting through the speakers? All was right with the world when Born to be Wild was playing on the Oldies station. Classic song. Classic movie. Naturally, he sang along.


Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space




He did like that song. Good tempo, nice beat, easy lyrics – It wasn’t merely an anthem for an age, it was the soundtrack to a great movie. The last time he watched that movie… no, he hadn’t seen that movie in quite a few years. Too many memories were attached to it, and he didn’t want to get mired down in the memories. He hadn’t even taken the tarps off his own motorcycles in years. He’d spent $500 at the police auction for the bikes because they needed another mode of transportation if his old Chevy Nova quit on them – a good deal, really. They had had so much fun riding around town on those bikes, and they clicked off a lot of miles. Now, the bikes were rusting in storage, gathering cobwebs along with the other mementos of that period of his life that he couldn’t bear to look at. He hoped no one else ever found out how he treated his motorcycles. It was inexcusable to own a couple of Harleys and just let them sit in a storage shed.


The song was a different story. He could sing the song, keep it separate from the movie; forget it was the last thing they heard when… No. He just had to remember that it was merely a song. Easy enough, right? Just a song with a good beat to help make the commute go by faster…


I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under


It wasn’t fun to drive in a fierce headwind that tried to push his car off the road, but racin’ with the wind was what he’d been told he’d done all his life. Spinning in place, moving fast but not going anywhere, never wanting anyone to get too close, never wanting to get close to anyone – that sounded like him, didn’t it? No one really knew or understood that he had to keep moving and stay distant. Maybe Gibbs did. Gibbs’ thorough pre-hire background check on Tony would have told him all he needed to know. Given his boss’ own past, Tony knew he would understand. Maybe he was the only one who truly comprehended that if Tony ever stopped moving, if he was ever still, if he ever allowed himself to really get close to people, he’d have to drop the mask he always wore and show people his real self. He’d have time to think, and thinking wasn’t always a good thing. It was better to stay busy, to stay moving, to never get accustomed to any one thing for a long time.


Then there was the undercover assignment where he met Jeanne Benoit, and he stopped moving, began thinking…


No, not going down that road, DiNozzo, he thought to himself. You loved her. You lost her. You could have told her the truth and explained that it was real. You didn’t. Your fault -- get your mind on something else. He cranked the volume on the radio up a little higher.


Maybe that was a reason he was so good at undercover work. A new mask would be firmly in place, a new personality -- no one would see the real Tony DiNozzo and he didn’t have to think about being Tony DiNozzo and all the baggage that went with it.


Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space


Traffic got a bit heavier, and Tony moved over to the next lane in order to get around a slower moving car. He checked his watch… he should reach the Navy Yard earlier than usual. He’d probably beat Gibbs, Ziva and McGee in to the squad room if traffic didn’t get any worse. Maybe he would make his usual morning trip by the deli just outside the base and pick up some doughnuts and coffee. That’d be a good pick-me-up on a cold, rainy morning.


Doughnuts for breakfast again? Isn’t that the cliché? And you were a Phys Ed major?” Tony could hear her voice ask teasingly… he still missed hearing her voice. She would always joke about the ‘doughnut’ stereotype and cops. Okay, so when he was a beat cop, he put away a lot of doughnuts. There was a reason for her to make fun of him -- Nope, don’t go there, DiNozzo. Don’t think that. Don’t think about her. Think of the lyrics to the song. He forced himself to keep on singing.


Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die

Born to be wild
Born to be wild


The traffic sped up a bit, and Tony glanced around the mirrors. A white van was coming up on the lane just to the right of him.


White van.


He unconsciously pressed down on the accelerator, getting further ahead of the van, forcing himself to not think of events of another time, of another white van, of the sound of gunfire, of a piercing scream, of tires squealing on pavement, of metal grinding on stone --


Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way


The van increased its speed and moved up alongside Tony’s car. He took a quick glance at the van door. “Carlisle’s Florist” was emblazoned on the logo.


Carlisle’s Florist!


“Oh, shit!”


Someone slid open the side door on the van – no, not just someone – it was Carlisle!


But he was dead!


Everything moved in slow motion. Tony saw Carlisle point an automatic rifle at his car, saw him squeeze the trigger, saw the gunfire blast through the door, shattering the window. Explosions – both passenger side tires blew out! More rounds – Carlisle shot more holes into the passenger side door. Tony swerved, tried to speed up, slow down, move into the next lane, anything -- the gunman targeted his hood and repeatedly fired bullets into the engine.


Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space


The hood of the car blasted off the chassis in a fiery cacophony of noise. It crashed back onto the windshield, smashing it, obstructing Tony’s view just as the van slammed into him. He turned his steering wheel hard over, against the van, tried to keep control as the van shoved the smaller car over the edge of the highway and down an embankment, flipping hood over trunk into the catch pond at the bottom.


Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die

Born to be wild
Born to be wild


The car landed on its roof, crushing it inward, pinning Tony beneath a mass of broken glass and smashed dashboard as the water seeped toward the slowly submerging roof. Just as consciousness fled, Tony’s last thought was that he wouldn’t be picking up doughnuts for anyone that morning.


~*~*~*~*~


Squad Room


Jethro Gibbs walked into the squad room, a large coffee clutched tight in his hand. Despite the ever-building thunderstorm outside the window, it was still relatively quiet inside the squad room – a condition that wouldn’t last very long once his team got in the office. They could be a noisy bunch when they wanted to be. He could almost make a bet with himself that within three seconds of arriving at the office, they would be picking good-naturedly at each other. Tony would be regaling them about his weekend conquests. McGee and Ziva would keep saying they didn’t want to hear anything about it only to find themselves responding to Tony’s leading comments.


Jethro let them have a bit of slack on the firmly held leash. If nothing else, their banter kept stress levels in the squad room at a tolerable level. Years earlier, Director Morrow had commented that Tony’s facetious fearlessness in the face of the ‘temperamental Gibbs’ followed up by the patented head slap was the comic relief everyone sorely needed from time to time. It was good for morale. Jenny Sheppard had pointed out several times that not only were his and Dinozzo’s rather unorthodox working relationship ‘necessary’ for the smooth functioning of his team’s dynamic, but their rather vocal synergy gave everyone some comic relief when stress levels were high. Comic relief. Both directors used the same term, so maybe it was true. That was a good enough reason for Jethro to let his agents simmer and percolate a bit, but he would rein in the leash when they got out of hand -- which could happen at a moment’s notice.


Sometimes, he really did feel like he was babysitting kindergarteners. Other times, he realized that he was witnessing some amused venting that hid unbridled anger underneath.


Especially where Tony was concerned.


But that was ‘before.’


Ever since Tony had returned from his assignment as Agent Afloat on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and the U.S.S. Seahawk, Gibbs could see a profound difference in him. Ziva had mentioned that Tony seemed ‘older’ when they met him in Cartagena. That wasn’t technically correct as far as Gibbs was concerned. Tony’s behavior was always an act that Gibbs alone could see through. Others thought him to be an over-aged frat boy with overactive glands but it was all a performance – one he could shut down at a moment’s notice and become as much a hardass as Gibbs was himself. For some reason, Tony wasn’t locked into the performance 24/7 anymore. Something had wedged itself into his personality, and he wasn’t as rambunctious as he was before the team split. Maybe whatever security he had found staying in one place for several years had been shattered by being exiled from Washington. Whatever it was, it went far beyond the unfairness of being relegated to a ship for months so Vance could try to find the mole in NCIS. It even went beyond his feelings for Jeanne Benoit and their breakup. What Gibbs saw was more of the anger bubbling to the surface that the good-natured smiles, bad jokes, and movie references weren’t hiding any longer. Tony’s coping mechanisms weren’t working like they were supposed to.


He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he was a little worried about his senior field agent.


He sat down at his desk and brought up his e-mail. He really hated e-mail. Why couldn’t people use regular mail anymore? He watched the new messages load into the in-box… then he read through the usual updates and briefings, the latest memos and alerts.


One after the other…


Did he mention that he really hated e-mail?


“He’d say Mustang,” McGee’s voice sounded around the partitions as Gibbs glanced up and saw two of his agents arriving.


“Ferrari,” Ziva corrected him. “He loves Magnum’s car.”


“Technically, that’s Robin Masters’ car. Magnum just got to drive it.”


“Have you been watching Magnum, McGee?” Ziva inquired.


McGee stopped just before he reached his desk and answered rather sheepishly, “There was a marathon on the other day. But I still think Tony would rather have his Mustang back even if he was offered Magnum’s Ferrari.”


Ziva squinted at her co-worker. “Think about it. Ferrari or Mustang.”


“Ferrari if it was a gift,” Gibbs said as the mail carrier brought in the morning mail. He watched as the carrier was about to place a large box on Tony’s desk before re-reading the addressee and brought it over to him. “1966 Mustang if he bought it himself. And don’t you two have work you can do?”


As Ziva sat down, she glanced over at Gibbs and asked, “Why do you think that?”


Without looking up as he opened one of the many envelopes now sitting on his desk, Gibbs said, “DiNozzo loves certain classic American cars. A ‘66 Mustang is an American classic. A Ferrari isn’t.” He then looked up at the two of them. “Do I want to know what brought up this conversation?”


Both agents shook their heads no. Gibbs didn’t press the point. Sometimes, it was better to not know.


He picked up the box the mail carrier had almost left on Tony’s desk. It was addressed to NCIS Major Crimes Team Leader: Tony DiNozzo. No wonder the mail carrier didn’t know who to give it to, Gibbs thought to himself. The return address was Peoria. Maybe it was for Tony? From someone who thought he was still the team leader? Gibbs thought for a moment… he was a big believer in not opening his team’s mail if it was personal… but the address… he’d look in the box and see if the contents were for the team leader or for Tony personally. He wouldn’t go beyond that.


The box opened up easily enough. Inside were several envelopes.


He opened the first envelope and peered inside. A small photo album filled with dozens of pictures was there. He casually opened the album -- DiNozzo was in every picture.


Only it wasn’t the Tony DiNozzo that Gibbs knew. This was a younger, genuinely happier DiNozzo. The smiles in the pictures were real, not a mask.


Tony in uniform, standing with another
police officer in front of a Peoria police car
Tony in uniform at a traffic stop, a Peoria police car behind him
Tony and a lady sitting on a garden swing in front a small house
Tony mowing the lawn at the same house
Tony and the woman hanging Christmas lights at the small house
Tony and the woman, obviously pregnant, talking on the front porch
Tony helping the woman out of a beat-up Chevy Nova as she held a baby in her arms
Tony sitting on the front porch, the baby cradled against him


Gibbs grabbed the paper wrapping and re-read the address. It was addressed to NCIS Major Crimes Team Leader: Tony DiNozzo. But Gibbs was the lead agent – why would someone send these photos? The postmark – it had been mailed from the local D.C. post office, but it was postmarked August 17th, three months earlier. Someone had hand-written on the envelope “Forward to: “ – It must have gotten lost in the mail for three months, which means whoever sent it may not have realized that the package was late. He glanced at the return address again. It was Peoria.


Definitely Peoria.


A second look… the return address was familiar… what – it was Tony’s address when he lived in Peoria.


But it had been mailed from DC.


And it was from someone who thought Tony was still the lead agent.


He pulled out another envelope that held another photo album in it. Casually, he turned the pages to see the next pictures …


Tony and the woman were sitting in the front seat of the old beat-up Chevy Nova, driving down the highway. The baby’s car seat was in the back. Both Tony and the woman were smiling. They looked as if they were talking and laughing. Well, Tony was talking. The woman was laughing.


The next group of pictures – it looked as if someone had a camera mounted on a gun sight and the picture taker was aiming down the barrel toward the beat-up car that was a few feet ahead of it.


Bullet holes in the passenger side.


Bullet wounds in both the woman and the baby.


Blood spattered on the windshield and the side window.


Tony desperately trying to control the car as the van slammed into the passenger side, a bullet wound in his arm.


The last few pictures showed the car going over the embankment and lying at the bottom of the ditch. No sign of the people inside the car.


Then, the last picture – two headstones side-by-side with the names Charlotte J. DiNozzo and Jesse A. DiNozzo, dates of birth and the date of their death – August 17, 1997.


There was a single note written in block letters on a torn piece of newspaper at the end of the photo album.


Round two DiNozzo
History will repeat itself
Game set and match


The newspaper was dated … August 18, 1997. And the page… it was the obituary page with the title name DiNozzo stating their death dating August 17, 1997. The rest was torn off.


What the hell?


On a hunch, Gibbs turned on his computer monitor, brought up the database and typed in the names Charlotte DiNozzo and Jesse DiNozzo into the search engine. His phone rang before the first link appeared. “Gibbs!” he barked into the mouthpiece without even looking at who was calling.


“Jethro, it’s Bob Torson.”


The fire chief? Calling him? That was never good. “Yeah, Bob. What can I do for you?”


Thunder echoed over the fire chief’s words. “We just got called to a car accident here on the GW Parkway. Sorry, Jethro, but it’s your agent, DiNozzo. Looks like someone shot up his car pretty bad and he went over the edge.”


Gibbs’ gut tied up in knots. Shot up car? He glanced at the photos of the Nova again. “How is he?” He noticed that he got both Ziva and McGee’s attention with that one question.


“Alive, barely conscious. He woke up a few moments ago. We can’t tell if he’s been shot. The car looks like it was used for target practice at the firing range. It’s overturned and upside down in a catch pond. We’re working fast since the water’s freezing and rising. We’ll take him to Bethesda as soon as we can get him out.”


Gibbs shut his phone without answering. He shoved the picture albums in his desk drawer as he yelled, “McGee! Get the car. Ziva –”


“Is it Tony?” Ziva asked quickly.


“Car accident,” Gibbs said brusquely as he shoved the pictures into his desk drawer. “Let’s go.”


~*~*~*~*~


Crash Site


“Keep talking, Tony,” the paramedic urged him. “Give me another show other than Magnum, A-Team, Airwolf…”


Tony felt the water rising, felt the paramedic shift his arm a little to get his head higher. Thunder vibrated through the water. He heard thunder. That meant lightning was still around… and he was in water… “Simon and Simon,” he said. “Rick and A.J. Rick got sent to Vietnam, A.J. went to college. Both private investigators.”


“Yeah, remember that show,” the paramedic answered. “How about Riptide?”


Tony painfully nodded his head. The water was biting cold! He tried to keep his teeth from chattering as he listened to the people just out of his sight trying to get him out of the car. “Chopper, boat, robot. Yeah.” He knew why the paramedic kept trying to get him to talk, kept trying to keep him awake, but he wanted to sleep. That wasn’t a good idea, not by a long shot. If he fell asleep, he might not wake up again. He had to stay awake, but the exhaustion was evident in his voice.


“Okay, Tony, stay with me,” he said. “We can’t get the doors open, we couldn’t get you out even if we did since you’re trapped by the dashboard. We’ve got to take the front end off to free your legs. They’re about to cut into the car.”


Tony almost smirked as the sound of the cutting gear vibrated through the air. “Makes you wonder who’ll win, them or the water.”


“Don’t worry about that,” the paramedic tried to joke. “We’ve got scuba gear we’ll let you wear if the water gets too high.”


“Right. Scuba gear,” Tony’s voice sounded eerily far away. The sky lit up in a vicious lightning display. “What if we get hit by lightning?”


“Know what the chances are of that happening?”


Tony didn’t answer for a moment. He felt his eyes shut, and he didn’t have the strength to open them.


“Halfway through!” one of the firefighters yelled out.


“Tony,” the paramedic called his name again. “Stay awake.”


Another voice crept into Tony’s hearing. It sounded like Bob Torson, the fire chief. He was an acquaintance of theirs. “Jim, this is Gibbs, NCIS. He’s Tony’s boss. Let him look after Tony, and you go get the stretcher.”


Gibbs? Gibbs was there?


Tony felt the arm under his head lift him up and move, then another take its place.


“DiNozzo, open your eyes.”


An order. A command. Tony could obey commands. He did that every day when Gibbs barked them out. Only this wasn’t just any command -- and his eyes weren’t taking anyone’s orders at that moment.


He felt a simple tap on his forehead. “Now, Tony,” Gibbs’ voice was stern but not demanding. It was the voice he used when he wasn’t in leader-mode but still needed someone to do something. It was as close to a ‘please’ that Gibbs would ever use.


Tony forced his eyes open and saw the damage again through blurry vision. He was trapped upside down, the steering wheel pinning him to the ceiling of his overturned car. The dashboard had collapsed on him, trapping his legs – good thing he couldn’t feel anything at the moment… wait. That wasn’t good. The water was cold! He was cold. Uh, no, he wasn’t cold anymore. He was numb. That’s why he was having problems feeling anything. He could feel his head though. It hurt! It felt like the London Symphony Orchestra was playing the 1812 Overture between his ears – cannons included.


“Oh,” he managed to say. He glanced to the side and saw Gibbs there, immersed in the water himself, lying halfway inside the car keeping Tony’s head above the water. Just beyond, he could see the EMTs standing by with a stretcher with Torson directing the activity.


“Hey, Boss,” Tony’s tired voice said. “You’re all wet.”


“That’s because I’m in the water trying to keep you awake.”


Right.


“I was going to get doughnuts this morning.”


“Next time,” Gibbs said gruffly as Tony heard the Jaws of Life finish tearing through the hood.


“Third car,” Tony muttered.


“What?”


“This is the third car that’s been totaled since I started working with you.”


Gibbs nodded, a slight grin on his face. “None were your fault,” he moved his arms further under Tony’s shoulders to help give him leverage. “One was stolen and crashed into a tractor-trailer. A rogue CIA agent blew up the second. This one is being cut in half after being shot off the road. Ever think of investing in a car company?”


“Car repair shop, maybe,” Tony’s voice came out as a whisper.


“Keep him talking,” he heard the paramedic tell Gibbs. Right. He could keep talking.


“Stay with me, Tony,” Gibbs ordered. “Talk to me. What happened?”


What happened? It happened again, just like before. Wasn’t Gibbs paying attention? No, because Tony hadn’t told him anything… right. He was freezing inside an overturned car; maybe getting his legs crushed… he hadn’t told Gibbs anything yet. “Carlisle. White van, again. Guy has no imagination. He’s dead though.”


~*~*~*~*~


Carlisle? Who the hell was Carlisle?


“Tell me about Carlisle,” he urged. They didn’t have time to go into a long explanation about something, and that was not a good moment to tell Tony he had no idea what he was talking about.


“You know…” Tony’s breathing was getting labored and shallow.


“Tell me, DiNozzo,” he said more forcefully. “Gotta keep you talking.” That was the main reason Torson had Gibbs take the paramedic’s place – if anyone could keep Tony going, it was his boss. Rehashing ‘old’ information would keep him talking, even if Gibbs had no idea what the information was yet.


“Drug dealer, Peoria, Chicago, killed cops, civilians, Charlotte, Jesse…” his voice trailed off.


Charlotte? Jesse? The names on the headstones. Both of them DiNozzos.


“Tony?”


His agent was unresponsive.


The front portion of the car fell away as a firefighter yelled, “We’re clear!” They could literally disembowel Tony from the car. Gibbs never once relinquished hold of his agent as the front of the car was yanked away, letting his legs fall free from the crushed dashboard.


A quick glance told Gibbs that there were no bones sticking out, but that didn’t mean nothing was broken. Still, the fact that Tony’s wince of discomfort wasn’t a scream of excruciating pain worried him. The cold water… how long had he been in it? It was cold. There was ice forming on the surface of the water. If hypothermia had set in… if frostbite had set in… He’s alive after being shot off the road, deal with everything else later, Gibbs thought to himself.


He helped the EMTs lift Tony from the water and secure him to the stretcher. One explained something about going to Bethesda as he handed Gibbs a blanket. Gibbs, not paying complete attention, only nodded with a cursory, “I’m going with you, and contact Doctor Brad Pitt at Bethesda. He knows Tony’s medical history,” as he hurried back up the hill to where Ziva and McGee were standing under a big umbrella. He could hear Torson telling Dispatch that they needed to tow a federal agent’s car out of a catch pond.


“How is he, Boss?” McGee asked worriedly.


“Breathing. You two process the scene. Get what you can and have the car shipped back to Abby. Call her and tell her and Ducky what’s going on. McGee, I want you to check Tony’s police files. Start in Peoria. See if you can find a drug dealer named Carlisle who committed multiple murders, some of them cops. There may be references to police reports about drug dealers from Chicago.” He looked directly at McGee. “Two of the victims were named Charlotte and Jesse DiNozzo. Some photo albums showed up this morning and they’re in my top desk drawer. Get them to Abby first so she can process them then cross-reference what you find out with what you can get out of those pictures. Understand?”


Of course, he didn’t, but he’d do exactly as Gibbs said.


“I want something by the time I call in, McGee!”


Without another word, he rushed to the ambulance and climbed in.


~*~*~*~*~


Bethesda Hospital


Four cups of coffee still hadn’t warmed him up. Hospital personnel had given Gibbs a dry set of scrubs to wear, but even the small amount of time he spent in that water had chilled him to the bone. Tony had been in the water longer. If he was in there too long… Gibbs mentally slapped himself on the back of the head. He needed to use some of Abby’s advice and not think negative thoughts.


“Agent Gibbs?”


Doctor Brad Pitt, the doctor who treated Tony when he had the plague, entered the waiting room. If Tony developed pneumonia – slow down, Jethro. Don’t put the cart before the horse.


“How is he?”


“Pretty damned lucky, if you ask me. He regained consciousness a while ago but fell asleep again. That’s okay, he’s had a busy morning and he’s exhausted. He’s also slightly concussed, colder than we want, but there are no signs of pneumonia, frostbite, broken bones or gunshot wounds. There are cuts from shattered glass and torn metal. He did pull muscles and bruise some bones, but nothing time and Tylenol won’t cure. We’ve put him under a warming blanket and we’re getting his core temperature back up to normal. All in all, he’s lucky. If that catch pond hadn’t been at the bottom of that incline, the damage would have probably been much worse.”


Gibbs felt an immediate relief. “He’ll be okay?”


Doctor Pitt took a deep breath. “Right now, I can give you a rather cautionary probably. We’ll know better in twenty-four hours, but I can’t give you a definite answer right now.”


”But you can say probably?” Gibbs asked.


“You and I both know Tony. The guy is too stubborn to let things like this beat him.”


Gibbs could have smiled at that statement if he still wasn’t worried. “I need to make sure he’s all right.” If he went back to the squad room without seeing for himself that Tony was all right, he’d never hear the end of it from Abby.


“They’ve got him in room 3. You can go in, but don’t wake him up.”


Gibbs walked quickly toward the hospital room. Inside, he saw Tony, pale and sleeping, but looking a bit better than he did trapped in his car in the freezing water. He was wearing an oxygen mask, the heart monitor showed a strong, steady heartbeat and pulse rate – he was going to be fine.


However, Carlisle wasn’t going to be fine when Gibbs found him.


~*~*~*~*~


Squad Room


As soon as McGee returned to the squad room, he put on a pair of gloves, went to Gibbs’ desk, took the envelopes and photo albums from the drawer and hurried back to his own desk. He studied the pictures, one by one.


He sat in near shock at what they showed. The implications of what he was seeing…. He couldn’t believe it.


Tony?


Their Tony?


Married?


A father?


Widower?


“What is it, McGee?” Ziva asked as she entered the room and put her backpack next to her desk.


“Pictures. The ones Gibbs wanted me to get them to Abby as soon as we got back. Have her run the usual tests. It’s just… look at them. Tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing.”


Ziva quickly joined McGee and stared at the pictures as McGee turned the pages in the photo album. None of what they were seeing in the pictures tracked with what they knew about Tony. Maybe it was an undercover assignment? Maybe the lady was someone he was protecting?


But the tombstones --- the name DiNozzo on them…


“Didn’t you do a background check on Tony for Ari?” Tim asked.


“Yes. A very thorough one. There’s no mention of… this… in Tony’s past.”


“Maybe it was an undercover assignment?” McGee suggested.


Ziva shrugged her shoulders. What they were looking at was a complete mystery. It was somehow connected to this fellow, Carlisle.


McGee wondered where to start. “Okay, Peoria is where the boss said to start looking for Carlisle. I can get a parallel search started. The Peoria newspapers night not have online versions of their stories and obituaries from years ago, but the police department should have their information on a shared database.”


He glanced at the pictures again. It was almost inconceivable. Search now, feel surprise later, McGee chastised himself. Ziva’s cell phone rang, and she grabbed it before the second ring. “Officer David… he is… I’ll tell them… right.” She hung up the phone and looked over at McGee. “That was Gibbs. The doctor thinks that Tony will be all right. He’ll be in observation for the next twenty-four hours. No frostbite, no pneumonia, no gunshot wounds.”


McGee took a deep breath and let it go. Looking at the pictures they took of the car, Tim had no idea how Tony had escaped without being hurt worse. The entire passenger side was riddled with bullet holes, and the pictures showed the car sinking slowly into the catch pond in the middle of winter. “Do you want to tell Abby and Ducky? I think Abby will be on her eighth Caf-Pow by now waiting for the car to get towed here. She’s probably bouncing off the walls.”


“Good idea. I’ll take these down to Abby if you’d like.”


Tim put the photo albums back in the envelope and handed them to Ziva. “This has been lost in the mail for months. There’s no way Abby will be able to get any usable fingerprints off the outside of the packaging.”


“Maybe she’ll have luck with the albums,” Ziva said as she hurried toward the elevator. “At least I can tell her that Tony will be okay. He was lucky.”


Tony was lucky. Now, McGee hoped he would be lucky. He began his search the ‘old fashioned’ way – using police work. A quick search on the police database provided nothing. A few calls to the Peoria police department didn’t turn up anything or anyone connected to a Carlisle, Chicago, drug dealers or a multiple killer. Cross-referencing those names with murders of police officers on insurance databases, obituaries and employment rosters didn’t yield any information. However, given that some of Tony’s police reports were for undercover assignments and task forces, the information wouldn’t be readily available unless there was something concrete they were looking for. Vague references to names wouldn’t help him.


Maybe there was another way to find out about Carlisle.


Tony had mentioned the names of a few people he’d worked with in Peoria. Who were they? McGee thought for a moment… he tried to block out Tony when he was rambling, but of late, it was becoming more apparent that Tony didn’t ramble. He gave them brief insights into his past in the form of tall tales and mere mentions. It took meticulous attention to learn what was real in his past. For instance, the only thing McGee knew about Tony’s police partner in Peoria, Dennis Murray, was that he was a great pool player. He had been an old-timer and had been walking an easy beat until retirement when Tony joined the Peoria police force. He had taught Tony the ropes about police work and a few tricks with a pool cue. A quick search told McGee that Murray had been killed at a routine traffic stop when he pulled over someone who turned out to be a drug courier about eight years ago. Lieutenant Packer had retired to Arizona and been killed in car accident five years ago. No help there. Captain Hastings – McGee remembered that Tony hadn’t been all that complimentary the one time he mentioned the captain’s name in regards to a story on the news about Hastings being made the police commissioner. He had given Tony bad yearly reviews. There was some sort of animosity between the two men that Tony’s attitude only hinted at.


Was there anyone else in Peoria McGee could call?


On a whim, McGee pulled up Peoria police cases, cross-referenced them with the name Anthony DiNozzo… Ah, there it was. Beat cop, narcotics detective, did a stint as a beat cop again for some reason… why was he working as a beat cop after becoming a detective? There wasn’t a hint in the case files he could access, but there was a name listed in a few of the cases written up in the in the post-detective-working-as-a-beat-cop time.


Ellen Roberts.


Records showed that she was a police dispatcher when Tony was there. McGee couldn’t remember ever hearing Tony mention the name, but if he had been tuning him out… he forced himself to forget it. He looked up the phone number for the Dispatching Office in Peoria and made a quick phone call. As it turned out, Ellen Roberts had graduated law school and now worked in the district attorney’s office. Immediately, he looked up that phone number and dialed. As he listened to the rings, the photos kept replaying in his mind. Maybe Tony had mentioned something about a Charlotte and a Jesse, and McGee had just tuned him out? He doubted if it was physically possible to tune out Tony if he mentioned the word ‘wife.’


Finally, someone answered the phone.


“District Attorney’s office.”


“Yes, this is Special Agent Timothy McGee, NCIS, in Washington DC. I’d like to speak with Ellen Roberts. Is she there, please?”


“One moment.”


Hold music. McGee hated hold music. Tony could go on for hours about the bad choices companies for their on-hold music. This one was some classical piece Tim couldn’t place.


“This is Assistant District Attorney Ellen Roberts. May I help you, Agent McGee?”


An ADA? “Yes, ma’am. I’m investigating a shooting incident that occurred this morning here in D.C.. There might be a connection to a case in Peoria that may involve one of our agents that took place about twelve years ago when he was working there as a police officer.”


“I see. May I ask why you wished to speak with me? I wasn’t in the district attorney’s office then.”


McGee had to tread lightly. “You may be acquainted with the individual connected to the case.”


There was a silent heartbeat before Roberts replied, “You’re NCIS, right?”


“Uh, yes, ma’am.”


“And I’m somehow connected with a shooting incident with someone in the military? I don’t know anyone in the military.”


Tim could hear something in her voice. “No, ma’am. One of our agents. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo’s car was shot off the road this morning. He identified the shooter as a man named Carlisle –”


“Enough,” Roberts’ voice wasn’t reticent. This time, her voice was crisp and worried. “Is Tony alive?”


“Yes, ma’am, he is. Do you know –”


“Agent McGee, there is nothing I can tell you. I suggest you not repeat anything you’ve just told me to anyone. Forget you ever heard the name Carlisle and drop the investigation. Is that understood?”


“I can’t do that, ma’am. I have –” Tim realized that she had hung up the phone.


What was going on?


He wasn’t about to stop looking. If an ADA wanted him to forget it all, then that meant there was something big being covered up – and if it was big and covered up, that meant a government agency involvement.


McGee logged into the database shared by the CIA and the FBI. Maybe there was a reference for Carlisle in there.


First, he had to call Gibbs.


~*~*~*~*~


Bethesda Hospital


“Dammit!” Gibbs swore as he slammed his phone shut.


He hated cover-ups. Once, he had worked with a marine sergeant who was a huge conspiracy theorist. Gibbs had been occasionally amused by some of his more off-the-wall ideas, but there were a few that even made the very practical, pragmatic Gibbs think twice. Giant cover-ups would require enlisting thousands of people to help, and there was absolutely no way that many people could keep a secret that long. Rule #4 stated it the best: The best way to keep a secret? Keep it to yourself. Second best? Tell one other person - if you must. There is no third best. Someone would talk eventually. This one… how big of a cover-up were they looking at?


McGee’s news wasn’t helpful. It just meant that Tony’s life was in greater danger than anyone thought by some killer no one claimed to know about. This wasn’t just an ordinary murder attempt. It was a hit.


There were immutable laws that governed his universe, and one of those was that no one tried to kill one of Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ agents.


Carlisle… multiple murders… civilians and cops… why was there no information on that? Bloodbaths and serial killers’ killing sprees were front-page news. A cover-up on that scale would take a lot of resources and influence. McGee was right – a government agency was behind it. FBI? CIA? The entire alphabet soup ran covert ops and covered up their mistakes.


That also meant that there could be two sets of hitters – the bad guys and anyone in an agency who wanted to keep this quiet.


Gibbs pulled out his phone again and dialed a number. ”Leon, I need more security at the hospital.”


~*~*~*~*~


FBI Headquarters


FBI Agent Tobias Fornell was not having a good day. The drive in to the Hoover Building was cold, wet and dreary. Then there was the traffic jam on the GW because of a car went over the embankment. He got into work about an hour late. The cafeteria was closed due to a power outage caused by the early morning storm. His window was leaking and his computer was down.


All in all, so far, Fornell was not having a good day, and he was not in a good mood.


To add to his rather sour disposition, his in-box was full. That was another great topper to the day.


The knock on his door didn’t improve matters any.


“Come in,” he yelled. He hoped it wasn’t some poor intern coming in to tell him bad news because he wasn’t in the mood for it.


“Agent Fornell?” an well-dressed man in a dark suit entered his office. Undoubtedly, he was another FBI agent.


“Yes, I’m Fornell.”


The man immediately showed his credentials. “I’m Agent James West, Criminal Division. My team and I have been assigned to the DC office for the last few months as we track down an objective. I’ve been sent as a liaison from my department to possibly enlist your assistance.”


Fornell looked at West. Definitely FBI issue. There was no doubt about that in Fornell’s mind. He pointed toward the chair. “Have a seat. What can I do for you, Agent West?”


Taking the offered seat, West handed a file folder to Fornell as he explained. “I’m sorry to have come here unannounced and without any warning, Agent Fornell.”


“I’ve been in the same position myself,” Fornell agreed.


“My department has been searching for a particular objective for the last few months. We have reason to believe that he might already be in the DC area. If not, he will come here eventually. Our assignment has been to ascertain his location, preferably without him knowing.”


Fornell leaned back in his chair and skimmed the paper in the file. Basically, the directors of both the DEA and Federal Marshals were requesting the FBI director’s help due to the fact that the objective fell under all three departments’ jurisdictions – all of which was being handed off to Fornell. “And this objective is who, exactly?”


“That information is classified,” West explained. “I’m not allowed to give any details without authorization from my superior.”


“Understandable, but then why are you here in my office asking for my help if you don’t tell me why?”


West cleared his throat. “My superior suggested that I make contact with you on the outside chance we need your assistance.


“My assistance?” This agent was not answering Fornell directly. That wasn’t a good contribution to his deteriorating mood. “In what capacity?”


“Again, sir, that is classified. However, my superior has allowed me to explain this much. Our objective is the target of various law enforcement agencies. There are individuals in law enforcement who have a personal connection with our objective, one agent in particular. Should the need arise, I have been requested to ask for your assistance with said individual and his superiors.”


Fornell crossed his arms and leaned forward on his desk. West kept using the word assistance. Fornell was getting the odd impression that West was quoting a script and had been ordered not to go off script. “You want me to act as a go-between? Agent West, I don’t care how classified anything you have is. Either I know what I’m getting into enough to do my job, or you can find yourself someone else to –”


“It’s NCIS, Agent Fornell,” West explained quickly. “More than that, I can’t say until our objective surfaces and makes an overt move. I have been told that you have extensive work experience with NCIS, and if our target should surface here, there could be jurisdictional issue as well as personal ones that could cause some problems.”


Fornell almost laughed. This agent had to have heard of Gibbs. Sometimes, knowing someone like Jethro caused more problems than it solved.


“What else can you tell me, Agent West, and don’t tell me it’s all classified. The NCIS team I think you’re referring to is a bunch of cowboys who play within the law but by their own rules. If I’m going to have to smooth their feathers, I need to know why.”


West seemed to consider the statement. Finally, he said, “The only other information I have been permitted to tell you is that the objective is connected with Project Lasso.”


Fornell closed the file and pushed it away from him. “I’ve heard of it. Project Lasso was an op that was run off the books to locate and arrest smugglers, drug dealers and arms dealers. It was closed down earlier this year after a fairly successful twelve-year run.”


West nodded his head. “Yes, it was. However, there is some mopping up action we have to take care of.”


“Such as this objective of yours.”


“Exactly.”


Fornell didn’t have a choice. The order was coming from his boss at the request of the Federal Marshals and the DEA. “One thing, Agent West.”


“Yes?”


“This goes across jurisdictions. That could cause me some problems. How are the other agencies involved?”


West shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “The DEA granted custody of several objectives to the FBI and the Marshals assisted us in relocating one particular individual.”


“Your particular objective,” Fornell surmised.


“Yes.” West stood up and looked at Fornell. “May we count on your help should the need arise?”


Fornell nodded his head. “Yes, Agent West. If you need my help with NCIS, I’ll do what I can. However, you should know that they’re not easy to deal with, and if you cross them, you’re not just taking on federal agents on the lowest rung on the ladder. The ones you’d be dealing with are a former marine sniper who never misses his mark, a former homicide detective with several commendations for bravery, a Mossad officer that’s a certified lethal weapon and a computer geek that could do terrible things to your credit rating.”


At West’s surprised look, Fornell added, “Just letting you know.”


West nodded his head and walked out of the room.


Fornell looked at his watch. “Well, that took all of about five minutes,” he said to himself. Then he looked over at his in-box. It hadn’t shrunk in those five minutes. He picked up the phone and called his assistant. “Taylor, is there any fresh coffee out there?”


~*~*~*~*~


Bethesda Hospital


“I don’t care what happens,” Gibbs ordered the three NCIS guards, “I don’t care if there’s a fire, a code red, code blue, if one of you gets sick or if there’s a lost puppy. Under no circumstances will the guard on duty leave this post and only the doctors and nurses you have on your list will be allowed in. Is that clear?”


“Yes, sir,” the guards answered, almost in unison.


Gibbs’ angry look had one of the guards backtrack. “Uh, Gibbs. Not sir. You want us to take an eight hour shift each?”


“Eight hours on, four hours off, with four hours overlapping. That puts two guards on duty at all times. Any questions?”


“Is there a description for who we’re on the lookout for?”


“Not yet,” Gibbs answered as he went back into the hospital room and sat down in the uncomfortable plastic chair. The monitor showed that Tony’s temperature was back to normal, as were his vital signs. Doctor Pitt’s latest report was that he was going to be all right, and there was no reason to worry that he hadn’t reawakened yet.


In a low voice, Gibbs muttered, “Someone’s trying to kill you, Tony, and someone else is covering up your past. What secrets have you been keeping?”


~*~*~*~*~


~*~ Day 2 ~*~


~*~*~*~*~


Squad room


Tim glanced up as Gibbs rounded the corner and walked to his desk, handing him a cup of coffee as he approached.


“It’s 3:00 in the morning, McGee. Were you here all night?”


“Yeah.” He took a quick sip of the coffee. “Thanks, Boss. How’s Tony?”


“Still sleeping. Under guard. He’ll be fine. What have you got?”


In the middle of a big yawn, McGee answered, “Not much. There are a lot of files that have been hidden and a lot of misinformation to sort through. It looks like a huge cover-up.”


“Who’s behind it?” Gibbs looked over McGee’s shoulder at his monitor.


“Don’t know yet. I’m working on seven different searches, researching about ten different people – it’s like I find one piece of information and it doesn’t make any sense but it fits into another search that I’m doing that isn’t related to the first.”


“Cover up and conspiracy,” Gibbs added. “How much longer do you think it’ll be?”


McGee shrugged his shoulders. “Before I can put anything together? It could be an hour, it could be a day. Someone went to a lot of trouble to hide information and make people disappear.”


“But you can find it, right?” Gibbs’ voice took on that irritated edge it normally had.


“Find it? Yeah. But it’s not just a matter of finding it, Boss. It’s a matter of putting all the pieces together in the right sequence once we find it. Someone literally took dozens of files, deleted them, rewrote them, rearranged them – I’m having to put little bits of information back together from areas in databases that haven’t been wiped clean, but I have to find them first without getting caught. The searches I’ve got going are hitting databases that just weren’t designed to do what I’m trying to get them to do which is probably why I’m still under everybody’s radar. I’ve got some preliminary data and I’m starting with that… It’s gonna take a little while, Boss.”


“We may not have a little while,” Gibbs told him.


McGee nodded his head. “I know. I’m working on a few hunches. I’m starting with Tony’s undercover assignments from when he was on the Peoria Police Department. You know he was a Narcotics detective there – according to one field assessment from a superior, they kept putting Tony undercover because he was so good at it. From what I’m reading, there were some long-term undercover assignments. There’s one in particular that I think fits in with my searches, but that’s also where a big problem is.”


“How big?”


McGee saw the worried look on Gibbs’ face. Gibbs didn’t worry. For him to be worried now, things were worse than McGee thought. “Long story short, there was a gap in Tony’s work history. The records show he was on traffic detail, but the date is from after he was a detective in Peoria. I don’t think detectives go back to doing beat work unless there’s a really good reason, and I can’t find anything about a strike, a flu epidemic, a convention, people on vacation, anything. It’s that stretch of a few months just before the date on the torn bit of newspaper when the daily sheets have Tony assigned to Traffic, and I think that means it was a very high-profile undercover assignment that no one wanted to keep records of that anyone could access. The undercover assignment doesn’t exist according to any written or computerized record. At least, not exactly.”


“Someone deleted it?”


“I’m finding evidence of files being tampered with during that time, both the Peoria police department’s and the FBI’s. And I’m trying to reconstruct it. It ended somewhere between mid-July to early August, 1997. The date on the headstones in the picture is August 17, 1997. I think that assignment might be the key.”


Gibbs patted McGee’s shoulder. “Good thinking.” Gibbs paused a moment. “You saw the pictures?”


“Yeah, Boss. All of them. Abby’s got them right now. I don’t really know what to make of them. Was he working undercover or --”


“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to Tony yet. Get what you can, get it good and get it fast. My gut tells me we’re on a time limit. I’m gonna check on Abby.”


“She’s in the garage. We’ve got Tony’s car down there.”


“Did she not get any sleep either?”


McGee let loose with a really big yawn. “No one went home last night.”


Just as he was about to leave the area, he asked, “Where’s Ziva?”


McGee noticed his co-worker’s empty desk. “Ducky went on an early breakfast run. Ziva went down to autopsy to get our food.”


“Duck’s here too?” Gibbs asked.


“He said he wasn’t leaving until he knew more about Tony.”


~*~*~*~*~


Autopsy


“There are reports of victims frozen in icy water for two hours and emerging absolutely fine. Of course, they had to be resuscitated,” Ducky explained as he and Ziva sorted out the food. “I’m thankful that Tony wasn’t in the water long enough to do any damage.”


“Except that someone shot his car,” Ziva reminded him.


“Yes. Unfortunately, that’s not a strange development. Talented, resourceful agents who are quite good at their job do tend to collect enemies over the years. I’ve met a few of Tony’s, two when he was a detective in Baltimore. I don’t believe any went to these extremes however.”


“Old boyfriends or husbands?” Ziva suggested.


“No, my dear Ziva. Tony may enjoy a lady’s company, but he is not one to seek out married women. Most of Tony’s enemies tend to run more along the lines of career criminals with a habit of using guns in order to remove their adversaries. Take the first time we met in Baltimore. He was trying to capture what he believed was a serial killer. His captain didn’t agree with Tony’s assessment and thought the murders were unconnected. Jethro and I went there when a petty officer was killed, and Tony was assigned to work with us. He explained his theory of a serial killer. It was a very meticulously thought out theory, I must say. Tony’s facts supported it. However, he and Gibbs did not get along quite so well that first day. In fact, they came to a head in the police department when Tony told Jethro in no uncertain terms that although Gibbs was searching for whoever murdered the petty officer, he was searching for a killer who had murdered five people. I don’t believe I’ve ever quite seen Jethro at a loss of words before.”


“Tony yelled at Gibbs?”


“Oh, yes. Our Tony is probably the only person who will stand up to Jethro in such a way that Jethro has any respect for. As it turns out, the murderer was a serial killer. He specifically went after Tony and cornered him in a warehouse. It was quite a remarkable shootout from a forensics perspective. Abby could go on for an hour about the trajectory of the bullets fired that day. Tony was lucky to have survived it, but I think part of that was because Jethro came to his aid when we heard Tony’s call for backup.” He lifted the bag and handed it to Ziva. “There you go. I believe Timothy is waiting for his breakfast as well.”


Ziva gathered up the bag and the coffee cups. “McGee is still trying to find out anything about this drug dealer. He’s becoming somewhat frustrated because he is making very slow progress.”


“I can imagine,” Ducky agreed. “However, progress, even slow, is still progress.”


“Gibbs’ gut is telling him something that goes beyond those pictures.”


Ducky smiled. “As Abby would tell you, one must never argue with the gut, my dear.”


~*~*~*~*~


Evidence Garage


Abby dug another spent bullet from the car door. Just like the others, she placed it carefully into an evidence jar. She was taking excruciating care with each bit of evidence. She didn’t want any defense attorney to find a way to exclude any of it for any reason.


She really wanted to catch the dirt bag that did this to Tony. She wanted to find him, catch him, crucify him – she’d do it and not leave any forensic evidence.


Someone was trying to kill their Tony.


She wiped away a tear just as Gibbs walked into the garage.


“Abs,” he said softly.


She turned toward him and suddenly found herself in a big hug.


“He’s going to be all right. The doctor said so,” she heard Gibbs say.


“He has to be, Gibbs. We can’t let him not be okay.” Of course, he was going to be all right. He was Tony. Tony was always all right. He had to be. The idea that he wouldn’t be all right just didn’t track. It was something that wouldn’t process in her scientific mind. So what if someone was trying to kill him? That had happened before, and he always survived. He’d survive this time. She then noticed that Gibbs had brought her a Caf-Pow. She stood up straight, grabbed the drink and took a sip. It helped a little, but only a little.


“What have you got?” Gibbs asked, his voice sounding more businesslike. Abby could do that, she could be all-businesslike. She just needed to ‘forget’ that it was Tony’s torn-apart car in front of her, that it was Tony in the hospital, that it was someone trying to kill Tony. She had to be Science-Abby at that moment. She had to think that this was any other case even if it wasn’t just any other case.


“I’ve got eight bullets out of the car so far. Just from a visual, they all look like they were shot from a rifle but I’ll know more when I analyze them. They’re kind of mooshed up. All the bullet holes are on the passenger side. All look to be shot at a downward angle, like he was trying to not hit Tony. I’ve got to do measurements on the door so I can get you a better description of the trajectories and car speed. I think some of the damage was done by the van slamming into Tony’s car because there’s white paint on the demolished passenger side. I know Tony has enemies, but why would someone do something like this on the GW where anybody and everybody can see him? That doesn’t make any sense.”


“When we find the guy, I’ll ask him. What else?”


“Ziva and Timmy found another fourteen shell casings on the highway. I’ve got a gut feeling that they won’t be very helpful other than telling me they came from the same gun.”


She took another sip of her Caf-Pow. It really did help a little. It gave her a little pick-me-up. “McGee’s trying to get anything off the traffic cameras, but he hasn’t called yet to say he’s found anything. I’ve got Major Mass Spec and all the guys working at super-speed analyzing everything I could get off the photos. The packaging’s a wash though. Too many fingers have touched it. I couldn’t get any DNA off the underside which only the sender would have touched. There were some fingerprints on the photos themselves and that’s all up to AFIS now.”


Gibbs glanced around at the amount of work Abby had done with the car. “How will you know when one of your guys ding?”


She pointed to the computer speaker on the nearby table. “I’ve got my microphone on in my lab. Gibbs, there are few things I can sort of speculate about… it’s not scientific or anything. It’s just me eyeballing the photo albums –“


“What, Abby?”


“Some of the pictures look like they were taken from the same camera, angle and location. The ones at the house? All taken from inside a car. I can see reflections from the windshield in the picture. The ones with Tony doing his job while he was a beat cop were all taken from the onboard camera in a squad car. I don’t know if it means anything or if I’m right or if it helps –“


“It could help,” Gibbs told her as he placed his hands on her shoulders. “It means whoever took these pictures wasn’t just watching Tony for a long time. It means they had access to police surveillance tapes like the car cameras that aren’t easy to get to. That’s good work, Abs. A good lead. Can you prove your speculations?”


Abby stood up straight. “I’ll start looking as soon as I get back to my lab.”


Gibbs’ cell phone rang at that moment.


“Gibbs,” he answered quickly.


Abby could hear McGee’s voice but couldn’t understand the words. Maybe he found something on this guy Carlisle? It was when he closed his eyes that Abby saw real pain, not just worry.


“Meet me in the conference room in five minutes, McGee,” he answered, his voice sounding almost worried as he closed his phone.


“Anything else on the packaging?” he asked her.


Abby made a bold suggestion. “I’d like to try to trace its path from the day it was mailed in D.C. to when we got it, but it’s just regular mail. Tracking it might be difficult. I don’t know how long the Post Office keeps records of items mailed. I might only be able to backtrack to whoever forwarded it here.” But wasn’t that what they did all the time? The difficult? The impossible?


“Okay. Keep working, Abs,” he said as he hurried back toward the elevator.


Abby noticed the sudden change in Gibbs’ demeanor when he was on the phone. It was as if he was dreading to hear something, but this was Gibbs. He didn’t really ‘dread’ getting information on a case. He lived for information.


Something else was definitely up.


~*~*~*~*~


“Conference Room”


McGee waited until Gibbs stopped the elevator between floors before opening the file folder he had in his hands. His boss stood like an emotionless stone. “First, I tried to access the traffic cameras, but there was a power outage this morning because of the storm. All the cameras got knocked offline when a transformer got hit by lightning. There aren’t any pictures of the GW in the area where Tony was run off the road.”


“No one’s come forward with a cell phone video on YouTube?” Gibbs asked.


“Uh, no. Not yet. And you know about YouTube?”


“McGee –”


“I got lucky, Boss. I was able to get some information off that non-existent undercover operation I thought was the key. That led me to a few other places, and once I found a few files containing the name Carlisle, I could tell that one person had changed all of them. I started doing a search with particular file changing behaviors, cross-referencing them with Peoria, Chicago, drug dealers, the months prior to the newspaper date, and then finding the times when they were created and changed –“


“Just give me the facts, McGee,” Gibbs said, his voice uncharacteristically undemanding. That only meant one thing – Gibbs was trying to hold in his anger, not loose it on the rest of the team. That meant he was overcompensating.


In other words, Gibbs was worried, and he didn’t handle worry well. He might have guessed the truth from the moment he saw the photographs, and now all he needed was the confirmation.


McGee cleared his throat, then pointed toward the first page where a mug shot was prominently displayed. “This picture is Thomas Pullman. He’s got a juvenile record, was in and out of juvenile hall multiple times as a teen on various counts like destruction of property, vagrancy, truancy, vandalism, joyriding –”


“How’d you get juvenile records unsealed, McGee?” Gibbs asked.


“Uhm… I didn’t exactly get them unsealed, Boss.”


“Right. What happened to him?”


“He fell off the radar for a few years until he turned up in Cincinnati. He was homeless, got arrested on a trespassing charge when he found an abandoned warehouse to sleep in. Got probation for that.” McGee realized Gibbs wasn’t really interested in the little details there. “There are a few other arrests along the way. Then he was arrested in Illinois in ‘97 on drug charges. He got a year in Joliet on a plea bargain when he testified against his boss but according to the records, he was killed in a jailhouse uprising before he was transported to the prison.”


“According to the records, McGee?” Gibbs asked, a bit irritated.


“Yeah, Boss. It turns out that almost every bit of that information I just quoted was fabricated by the FBI. It all looked okay on the surface, but once I started digging a little deeper, some things didn’t add up. I cross-referenced what I could figure out with some local newspapers and police reports –“


“McGee,” Gibbs stopped him.


“Right.” McGee pulled up another picture. It was Thomas Pullman, only it was a much older version of Thomas Pullman. “Uh, according to some FBI files I wasn’t supposed to ever get into, this man’s name is Edward Carlisle. Not sure which is the real name and which is the alias since the files have been reconstructed a number of times. I’m still trying to figure out who’s who. Anyway, his records state that he was born 1962 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was the head of a major drug smuggling cartel, but he’s like a ghost. No one was ever able to pin anything on him or make any charge stick. He walked out of court every single time. He eventually moved his entire operation to Illinois. The Feds tried several times to catch him, but he was too smart for them. Finally, the Feds decided to try a different tact. Carlisle had some trouble with local LEOs. A couple were killed, and some reports speculate that it was because they wouldn’t back off an investigation and got too close. They couldn’t prove it though. Several civilians were killed in drive-bys and shootouts as well. Again, no proof, no reliable witnesses, nothing to prove Carlisle was behind any of it. The Feds kept quiet about what they knew. They didn’t tell any police department what they knew about him. So, completely independent of the Feds, some local LEOs in surrounding cities got wind of his setting up his drug operation in the general area and sent in undercover agents. A few of them were discovered and killed. Only one police officer managed to stay undercover and get the goods on Carlisle.”


“Tony?” Gibbs asked.


“Tony,” McGee told him. “He was a Narcotics detective in Peoria, was undercover about five months in Carlisle’s crew – this is during that time when the records show he was doing traffic detail. That has to be a cover. His testimony would have put Carlisle in jail for life.”


That got Gibbs’ attention. “Would have? The case didn’t go to trial?”


“No. This is where Carlisle and Pullman’s records literally collide. Records show that Carlisle was killed in an uprising a day after he was remanded to Joliet. He was being transferred to another facility. There’s a record of a body being taken to the morgue and being buried at the local cemetery, but satellite images show that the particular plot is assigned to another family altogether.”


Gibbs understood how that would get any investigator’s attention. “And the FBI records are wrong?” she asked.


“Rewritten, actually. The FBI isn’t as good at covering their tracks as I am at finding them. Both Pullman and Carlisle are recorded as being killed on the same day in the same way, but the files are kept separate so anyone researching one wouldn’t have come across the other and start putting the pieces together.”


“What are the pieces, McGee?” Gibbs asked.


“It took me a little while to get these last bits of information into some coherent and logical order,” he explained as he pulled out another paper indicating a timeline of the lives of the two men, “but once I got the dates of the original files, I was able to put them in chronological order. Some of this is still speculation, but from what I was able to pull out of the databases, I think Pullman used the name Carlisle professionally, as a drug dealer. He would use the name Pullman and pretend to be a member of his own crew. I guess it was to make sure no one was plotting against him or just to keep track of what was going on in his organization. The FBI files don’t list any reason why he did that, but the hidden Peoria police records show that Tony had discovered that Pullman and Carlisle were the same person early on in the undercover op. The sting went down at a storage facility, arrests were made, Pullman was brought in with some of the other cartel soldiers. Here’s another point where the information gets murky and I’m still trying to make sense out of a lot of it. It looks like the FBI stepped in and made a deal with him. They’d dismiss the charges, fake both Carlisle’s and Pullman’s deaths, give him a third identity, let him set up an operation elsewhere and he’d hand over information on other drug dealers, gun runners, diamond brokers, black marketers, you name it. The Feds could arrest them and he’d get to continue doing business. There was one hitch.”


“Tony and the Peoria P.D.,” Gibbs said.


“The Peoria district attorney’s office had no idea what the Feds were doing and were going ahead with the prosecution. I can’t find anything that shows that the FBI and the Peoria police department had any conversation or agreement about Carlisle yet. I can’t find any deals with the district attorney. So far, there’s nothing. Tony’s testimony would have been the most damning testimony the DA had. When I talked to Ellen Roberts earlier – she’s an ADA with the Peoria District Attorney’s office – she told me to drop everything, so maybe the DA’s office does know something but there’s no paper trail to confirm it?”


As confusing as the information could be, he knew that what he had to say next would make everything painfully clear. Maybe.


“I was able to get a copy of the psych profile the FBI made on Carlisle. Actually, they made more than one and they all sort of contradict each other. One thing they agree on is that he takes betrayal seriously. The FBI knew that if Carlisle found out that anyone in his crew was an undercover cop, they’d be in danger. The fact that he’d killed the other undercover officers is proof of that, but Tony was still walking around and that would have been unforgivable as far as Carlisle was concerned. When the Feds sprung Carlisle from the local jail, faked his death and gave him his walking papers, they left him on his own. The Feds didn’t do anything to protect Tony or warn him that he might be in danger. I think Carlisle decided that he was going to make sure there were no eyewitness accounts of his business transactions, so he went after Tony.”


McGee brought out another picture. It looked similar to some of the pictures from the album, the one of the beat-up Chevy Nova lying at the bottom of a hill, the passenger side full of bullet holes. It was eerily reminiscent of Tony’s car when it was in the catch pond earlier.


“This was hidden in the police report that had multiple erasures and rewrites done to it. It says that on 17 August 1997, someone unknown allegedly shot at Tony’s car, passenger side, and forced him off the road. When he woke up in the hospital five days later, he told his lieutenant that it was Carlisle, but by that time, the Peoria police department was claiming that Carlisle had been killed during the transfer. The Peoria police didn’t have any leads to go on, so it’s still an open case.”


“And the reason it’s still open?” Gibbs asked expectantly.


McGee took a deep breath. “Part of the reason is because Tony was certain that it was Carlisle, a dead man, so the police claim to not have an actual ID on the shooter. Then there are other police officers who have a little trouble believing the official version. The LEOs didn’t like learning that the Feds knew all about Carlisle but didn’t say anything. Some of the LEOs thought the Feds were up to something more than just catching a drug smuggler. At first.”


“At first? There’s more to the story?”


“There may be. I’m still tracking down files and information,” McGee told him. “Anyway, I called the hospital and talked to the neurologist who was taking care of Tony after the car crash. He wouldn’t tell me much, doctor-patient confidentiality rules, but he did tell me that after the crash, he was worried that Tony’s memory had been affected, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary and not enough to worry anyone. Tony was released from the hospital, and he moved to Philadelphia within a few weeks. That’s the end of the officially sealed, buried and rewritten version that the FBI have hidden in their files.”


Official version. Sealed version. Hidden files. The truth was going to be far worse. He handed Gibbs the envelope with the pictures. It was the boss’ turn.


“You saw the date on the obituary page?”


“Yeah, Boss.”


“The postmark on the packaging was three months ago, August 17th. It got misdirected and forwarded back here. If Carlisle’s the one behind all this, why come back after all these years? Why wait months after mailing a package to Tony? And why did he think Tony was still the team leader?”


McGee thought for a moment. “I think I know why he’s here now,” he said quickly as he brought out another piece of paper for Gibbs to see. It was a hidden FBI report of the ‘death’ of Detective Anthony DiNozzo. “Carlisle thought Tony was killed in the car crash twelve years ago,” McGee told him. “The FBI files are pretty clear on the fact that they told Carlisle this. Then they moved Carlisle to the West Coast where he started up a new business, Tony was on the east coast, the chances of either one finding out the other was alive were pretty slim. Something must have tipped off Carlisle, and since those FBI psych reports all say that he takes betrayal seriously, he might be here for revenge. But that might not be the worst part.”


Gibbs paced the small space, thinking out loud. “Tony and the Peoria police department were lied to by the FBI, and a known killer, a cop killer at that, was allowed to go free in exchange for his help catching other criminals. What’s worse?”


McGee pulled out more paperwork. “The FBI tried to make this entire case just go away. They buried it. Every person killed just sort of disappeared in the system. Arrangements were secretly made so families could get their insurance payouts and pensions from the deceased, some just disappeared altogether. Two of the people killed had almost every bit of their existence erased.” He showed a picture of a young woman, smiling in what appeared to be a group shot for a yearbook. The wording underneath showed that it was a picture of the soccer team. “Charlotte Jenkins, goalie for the soccer team, worked in the library, graduated from Ohio State, accounting major, top of her class. Right after graduation, she moved to Peoria and got a job at a small accounting firm. She got married a year after that to Peoria police officer Anthony DiNozzo.”


The utter quiet in the elevator was almost palpable.


Gibbs took the picture and carefully looked at the woman. She wasn’t a beauty queen, but she was pretty, her eyes shining with laughter and mischief. It was the same look Tony had in his eyes so often. “So Tony was married?”


McGee nodded his head, looked at Gibbs who stood silent. “There’s no record of it I can find, no marriage certificate, no death certificate. She got caught up in the FBI sweep. That’s another reason the Peoria police department hasn’t closed the case. Some of them knew Charlotte. Still, I’ve only found a few bits of evidence of her existence. One is this college photo. Another is a hospital announcement of babies born in a given week.” He pulled out the newsletter. “Jesse Augustus DiNozzo, born to parents Charlotte Jenkins DiNozzo and Anthony DiNozzo.” McGee let the information sink in. “The only bit of evidence I’ve found on their death is the newspaper sent with the pictures. The online Peoria newspaper database has been altered too, so I had to call the Peoria library and have them look at hard copies of the local paper. They found the August 18th edition. It announced that Charlotte and Jesse DiNozzo, ages 26 years and 8 days respectively, were killed in a drive-by shooting when their car was forced off the road. The driver of their car, Anthony DiNozzo, was in critical but stable condition at the hospital. No information was given on the shooter.”


“Married and had a son,” Gibbs muttered, mostly to himself. “But Tony never said anything about it! He never mentioned them.”


“Tony talks a lot about some things, but he really doesn’t talk about his past. Every now and then he’ll say something that nobody was expecting. Normally, I tune him out,” McGee explained. “But this… he didn’t have anyone believe him when he said it was Carlisle.”


“He’s got us now,” Gibbs said. “Have you got anything else, McGee?”


What could McGee say to that? “Not yet. I’m still searching, Boss. The FBI has this information buried ten ways from Sunday. Some of the files are encrypted. I have to be careful. If the FBI realize what I’m doing –“


“I’ll have your six,” he said. “While you’re at it, get me any of the names of the FBI agents in Peoria at the time,” Gibbs ordered as his phone rang again.


“Gibbs…. He is? I’ll be there soon.” He looked at his watch – it was 3:30 in the morning and so much had already happened in a mere half hour -- and started the elevator again. “And get me the names of the agents on the West Coast who dealt with Carlisle. I want a list of the names he’s helped put behind bars. I want dates, details, everything. Fast.”


“I’ve already started working on the agents’ names, but those files have been altered too. It’ll take time to put the pieces together. Ziva’s working on the people he’s helped put behind bars, Boss.”


~*~*~*~*~


Squad Room


Gibbs and McGee walked silently back into the squad room. Ziva was on the phone speaking in Hebrew. She held up a bag and waved it as McGee passed by. Ah, breakfast. Good thing Gibbs wasn’t hungry. No one had brought him breakfast.


“That was one of my contacts in the Midwest,” Ziva explained. “This Carlisle is well known in certain circles. Some years ago, he was the largest drug dealer in that area of the country. He was killed in an uprising when being transported –“


“Which we now know is a lie,” Gibbs finished for her. “Anything else?”


“There was a rumor of an FBI operation starting in ’97 to pound out as many drug dealers, smugglers, gun runners and other types of criminals as possible.”


McGee looked up from his sausage and biscuit. “Uh, I think you mean round up, not pound out.”


“I prefer my version,” Ziva told him. “The operation had a measure of success and several of the larger drug dealers were arrested and convicted. Interpol also investigated a few international dealers. He’s e-mailing me the list of names now. That is all that is known at this time.”


“That’s all your informant knows,” Gibbs muttered. Someone somewhere had to know something more. Who was behind all this? He heard furious typing across the way. “McGee? Anything new pop up?”


McGee looked up, his sausage and biscuit forgotten, “Not yet, Boss. I’m putting in some new searches and cross referencing them with FBI personnel assigned to the sites. I’ve expanded the parameters to include international arrests and investigations. If they all have a common denominator, the searches should be able to find it.”


Computer searches. Gibbs knew computers had their uses, but he preferred good, old-fashioned ‘police work’ as Tony would say.


“All right. Both of you, keep on it. Pitt called me in the elevator. I’ve got to get back to the hospital.”


~*~*~*~


FBI Headquarters


Fornell marched into his office. Agent West was already there, sitting at Fornell’s desk.


“Get your feet off my desk, get out of my chair and explain to me why you called me at 3:00 in the morning to come in to my office.”


Quickly, West raised his hands in submission and stood up. “My apologies. I’m sorry about the early phone call, but your assistance is now needed.”


“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Fornell said as took his seat, “NCIS is now creating a bigger jurisdictional quagmire by looking into something you don’t want them to look into or investigating something you don’t want them to investigate, right?”


“Right,” West handed Fornell a file titled Operation Lasso. “Time to read you in to the whole thing.”


Fornell opened the file folder and scanned the operation summary. Then, he closed the file. “Forget this. Talk to me. What’s this about?”


“It’s about Edward Carlisle,” West explained as he sat down. “He was a drug dealer, the FBI had no luck trying to catch him, but the local LEOs in Illinois sent in undercover officers to gather evidence. As you read, it worked.”


“The Peoria PD sent in DiNutso. No surprise there. As much as I hate to say anything complimentary about him, he is a good undercover agent,” Fornell grudgingly said. “That still doesn’t explain why I’m here at,” he looked at his watch, “3:45 in the morning.”


“Using the name Patrick Evans, DiNozzo joined Carlisle’s gang, and he was the one member of law enforcement to find out the truth about Carlisle and gather enough evidence to put him behind bars for life.”


“The FBI had other plans,” Fornell stated.


West shifted uncomfortably. Fornell briefly wondered if the chair had a broken spring or if West didn’t like answering direct questions.


“Yes, the FBI had other plans. With the cooperation of the DEA and some assistance from the Federal Marshals, we made the deal with Carlisle to set him up elsewhere as long as he provided us with names of other criminals and helped us capture them. He agreed. We thought the case was closed from that standpoint.”


Fornell opened the file again. “You told Carlisle that DiNutso was dead from a car crash twelve years ago?”


“Yes. That story held up until this year. We’re not certain how, but Carlisle found out that DiNozzo was alive. Things got out of hand. He became focused on revenge. Carlisle’s psych profiles are in the folder. They indicate a desire for revenge against anybody who turned on him.”


Fornell opened the file again. What he saw was more than disturbing. “You think Carlisle’s here to kill DiNozzo, you’ve known this for months, and you didn’t warn him?”


West cleared his throat. “The information is classified, Agent Fornell.”


“How is Carlisle moving around DC?”


“Unknown, but we do have a few theories,” West explained. “We believe he had access to funds that we weren’t aware of. We believe that that –”


“You believe?” Fornell was having a hard time believing what he was hearing. “What do you know, Agent West? And how long have you known it?”


West seemed to think for a moment, then answered, “We know he’s here to kill DiNozzo. We’re here to stop Carlisle.”


“Stop him from killing DiNutso or just stop him?”


West stood up. “Our priority is to stop Carlisle. DiNozzo is expendable.”


Fornell looked at the file pictures. Tony DiNozzo sitting on a front porch swing, a Chevy Nova lying at the bottom of an embankment with a shot up passenger side. He read the information and details of Operation Lasso. Then he saw the autopsy photos of Charlotte and Jesse DiNozzo. He couldn’t go on to the next pictures. “Expendable? Like they were? A young woman and a baby?”


“Do you know how many lives we’ve saved –”


“Save it,” Fornell almost yelled. “This is why you wanted me involved in this. You want me to interference with Gibbs when you tell them in person that you knew about all this.”


“No, Agent Fornell. I’m not telling them about any of this. You and I are going to the Navy Yard because we’ve been alerted that Agent McGee is asking questions he shouldn’t. Also, I have reason to believe that Agent McGee is finding his way into files he has no right to be in. I need you in your FBI capacity to put a stop to all of it.”


“Don’t bet on it,” Fornell could almost hear what would be said and what would happen when all this hit the fan. “McGee probably already knows everything your little division has been up to which means Gibbs knows. You step in there, believing as you do that DiNutso is expendable and they will tear you inside out. The only thing you can do is fess up to your part in all this -- go over to NCIS and tell Gibbs you followed one of his people, took pictures of him and put them in a file, then lied to him about the death of the man who killed his family. I just want to know one thing.”


“What’s that?” West asked.


“It’s been a while since I’ve Gibbs perform a vivisection on someone other than me. Mind if I watch?”


~*~*~*~


Bethesda


“Oh, I love this song!” Charlotte said as she turned up the volume only slightly so she wouldn’t disturb their son sleeping the back seat. The lyrics began to sing out from the speakers.


Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way


Tony laughed as his wife swayed in time to the music. “Jess will probably be the only kid starting kindergarten knowing all the lyrics to every Oldie ever written,” he joked.


“I can’t help it, I love the Oldies,” Charlotte said. “And what about you, mister? You’ll have him quoting lines from old movies instead of saying mama or daddy.”


“The kid will always have an answer,” Tony joked. He turned the windshield wipers on high and slowed down as the rain began to fall harder. “Hey, how about before we go back to work, we take a weekend trip somewhere?”


“Where would we get the money?”


Tony noticed the traffic slowing down, the only vehicle coming up fast was the florist van behind him and to the right.


“We don’t go anywhere expensive. We could go camping at the park. You only pay a $5 fee per car. Get the tent and the sleeping bags, take some hotdogs, some smores, enough diapers to get us through a few days –“


“I like that,” Charlotte laughed. “I wonder if Jess will.”


“He’s our kid. Maybe it’s genetic.”


He saw the van coming up faster. Suddenly it was right beside him. Through the rain, Tony noticed the door on the van sliding open, a gun pointed at the car, light flashing from the muzzle --


His eyes suddenly opened and he clamped them shut against the dim light. He had dozed off again.


It was just a nightmare of what happened years earlier.


His head was aching.


No, scratch that. It was flat-out hurting.


In fact, if someone could remove his head from the rest of him, he’d be grateful.


Then there was the rest of him. It felt like pins and needles were burrowing inside his skin, trying to get out. It came in quick waves -- first he was hot, then he was cold, then he was just in pain.


What the hell happened … right. He was in the water.


Why was he in the water?


His car was upside down in the water.


Why was that?


He’d gone over the edge…


How?


Carlisle!


Tony’s eyes opened to a dimly lit hospital room.


Right. He was in the hospital.


That S.O.B. was alive! He knew it!


He’d shot out Tony’s car. Again.


He’d tried to kill Tony. Again.


What the hell was going on?


“Tony?”


He painfully turned his head and saw Gibbs standing in the doorway.


“How ya doing?” his boss asked as he took the seat next to the hospital bed.


“Feel like someone ran me over with a truck,” Tony said.


Gibbs nodded, then asked, “Close to it. Do you remember what happened?”


Tony took a deep breath. It hurt. He hoped he didn’t have bruised ribs. “Yeah. It was Carlisle. Same thing that happened before. He shot my car off the road, just like last time.”


Gibbs wove his fingers together and leaned forward on his knees, “Tony, I need you to walk me through the details of what happened last time.”


“You know the details,” Tony said, certain that Gibbs knew everything about his past.


“Not all of it,” was the answer.


“Really?”


“Some things got left out of the official record. How about just hitting the highlights?”


Tony cleared his throat. “Oh. Okay. Edward Carlisle was a drug dealer who moved his operation into Illinois after I made detective and was assigned to the Narcotics division. I went undercover as a drug pusher to catch him. I impressed him enough to join his personal crew after about a month. We had surveillance, wiretaps, recorded conversations, eyewitnesses, my undercover info. We finally got him in a sting operation and arrested his entire crew at a storage facility where he had put some merchandise. The op was done, I got some time off. Good thing, too. Charly went into labor about two weeks after the op was finished. Then, eight days after Jesse was born, we were on the highway heading into the city, and Carlisle was in the van next to us. He tried to get revenge on me and …” he really couldn’t say it.


“And he shot at your car and ran it off the road,” Gibbs finished for him.


“Yeah.”


“You were in critical condition?”


Tony nodded his head. “I was in a coma for five days. When I woke up, they kept telling me that Carlisle was killed the night before the shooting, but…”


“Tony, I need to ask – Charlotte and Jesse? Your wife and son?”


Tony’s eyes teared up slightly, he brushed the offending tears away. “They were in the car, you know. I was driving. It was raining. Charly and I were talking about taking a vacation before the maternity leave was up and we had to go back to work. Born To Be Wild was playing on the radio when the florist’s van pulled up beside us. The door opened, and Carlisle shot out my car.”


It was still so hard to think about that. Tony closed his eyes again. So he didn’t go into details. Why should he? Why was Gibbs asking… he opened his eyes and looked at his boss. There was something there, in his eyes, some shadow of sadness he rarely ever saw. “What is it?”


Gibbs took a deep breath. There was something he didn’t want to say, but Tony had never seen Gibbs uncomfortable telling anyone anything, especially him. “Something’s going on, Tony. I don’t know what yet, but the short story is that the FBI buried all information and evidence of Edward Carlisle, rewrote or deleted files concerning all the people he murdered including your wife and your son. The FBI basically wiped them and everyone connected to that operation out of existence including police officers. There’s no mention of Charlotte or Jesse in your background check anywhere. Even Mossad doesn't have anything on them from your background check. I didn’t know you had been married. There’s no record of a marriage certificate, no death certificate, no birth certificate, nothing. We do know that the FBI moved Carlisle to the West Coast, gave him a new identity, and he’s been giving them other dealers. McGee’s still checking into files that the FBI has hidden.”


Tony couldn’t quite comprehend what Gibbs was saying. No one knew? Gibbs didn’t know?


How could Gibbs not know about Charlotte and Jesse? And Carlisle was alive. The FBI orchestrated it?


“And yesterday,” Gibbs kept talking, “You received a box in the mail. It was addressed to the team leader, Anthony DiNozzo. The return address was your home address in Peoria. I, uh, I opened the box and it was full of pictures. A lot were of you when you were a beat cop in Peoria, some of you and Charlotte, a few of all three of you, and there was a note for you saying it was round two and history was repeating itself. That was when I got the call from Torson that you had been in a car accident. Abby hasn’t found anything incriminating on the box or the pictures yet, but her computers are still processing the evidence and running the fingerprints.”


Too much information too fast. Gibbs hadn’t known about Charlotte or Jesse? How was that possible? Photo album? FBI? What… “Boss, I need you to start at the beginning. Every bit of information you’ve got. I want it in detail.”


~*~*~*~


Of all the debriefings that Gibbs had ever given, that had to have been the most difficult. He related McGee’s information bit by bit, detail by detail, watching as Tony mentally relived that moment when his world was destroyed. Yet, it was the look of utter disbelief that no one knew who Charlotte and Jesse were, how two individuals so important to him were unremarked, unremembered and unknown.


But it was more than that.


Gibbs hadn’t known about them. That was a fact Tony hadn’t been prepared for.


Gibbs knew a lot about Tony’s past, even things Tony didn’t think he could know, but to not know about his wife and child…


It wasn’t like Shannon and Kelly. Gibbs was the one who made the choice to keep their existence unknown to his co-workers. Tony hadn’t had that option. The FBI made the choice, and Tony hadn’t known anything about it.


They had a lot to answer for.


Gibbs drove his car at a very respectable speed, mostly due to the less-than-travel-worthy condition of his passenger. He’d learned a long time ago, if Tony wasn’t badly hurt or unconscious, he would argue his way out of the hospital.


“The doctor hasn’t released you yet,” Gibbs pointed out. “They want to keep you under observation for at least twenty four hours.”


“I don’t care,” Tony pulled his shirt on. “Carlisle’s back, he’s coming after me, and I’m not staying here.”


“I’ve got guards on the door –“


Tony whirled on Gibbs, looking at him eye to eye, almost nose to nose. “That bastard murdered my wife and my son. He’s tried to kill me twice. He’s killed cops. He’s killed civilians. He’s back. I’m. Not. Staying. Here.”


Less than twenty minutes later, Gibbs was driving them away from the hospital.


In all the years he’d known DiNozzo, he’d never seen that particular look in his eyes. Tony had a lot of faces that he hid behind so no one knew the real him, but that look when he mentioned the name Carlisle was complete focus and utter rage. There was a profound seriousness, and if there was another immutable truth to Gibbs’ universe, no one ever wanted to be around a profoundly serious Tony DiNozzo. The no-jokes/no-laughs/no-movie-lines version of his senior agent was one of the deadliest, most focused individuals Gibbs had ever encountered.


That was the individual currently sitting in his passenger seat.


And Tony was quiet.


Tony was never quiet.


That meant things were going to be far worse than Gibbs wanted to contemplate.


His cell phone rang, demanded his attention.


“Gibbs.”


Jethro,” Tobias Fornell sounded a bit smug.


“What can I do for you, Tobias?”


You can get back to NCIS headquarters. Looks like your boy McGee looked someplace he shouldn’t have.”


“Hang on, Tobias,” Gibbs pulled the cell phone down and looked over at Tony. “Fornell’s at headquarters. He knows McGee got into the FBI files.”


Tony didn’t miss a beat. “Tell Fornell not to go anywhere.”


Gibbs almost smiled. “Tobias, stay put. We’ll be there soon. Get on the phone and call whoever you have to at the Hoover Building. I want every shred of information the FBI has on Edward Carlisle. And put McGee on the phone.”


Gibbs imagined Fornell’s look of resigned indignation and frustration as he handed McGee the cell. Good. The FBI were going to have to answer a lot of questions and it wasn’t going to be over the phone.


Yeah, Boss?”


“McGee, DiNozzo and I are on our way back. You and Fornell meet us down in Abby’s lab. We’re going to start putting things together fast. Did you find out anything else?”


Uh, not really, Boss. The FBI sort of unplugged my computer. Literally.”


“Get all your stuff together. Every detail, got that? I want all of us on the same page.”


He shut his cell phone and once again wondered at his silent passenger. If he was right, Tony was already making contingency plans. If Fornell was smart, he wouldn’t let the FBI get in their way.


~*~*~*~*~


Abby’s Lab


There was no music blaring in the lab when Gibbs and Tony walked slowly off the elevator, Gibbs’ slowed his gait to match Tony’s slower pace. There was only the sound of muted voices bouncing off the walls.


As soon as they entered the lab, Tony found himself enveloped in a gentle Abby-hug.


“I’m so sorry, Tony! A drug dealer, everybody lying to you, the FBI hiding him, him shooting at you twice, Charlotte, Jesse…”


Tony hugged Abby back.


Tony glanced at the others in the room. McGee and Fornell stood nearby, a file in Fornell’s hand. From the looks he was getting, Tony guessed that they knew the contents of the FBI’s so-called files, but now Tony wanted to hear the information that McGee couldn’t get.


And Fornell was the key to that information.


There was another man in the room. Definitely FBI.


“That’s Agent West,” Abby told him. “Ziva’s talking to a contact at Interpol or she’d be here. Are you okay?” Abby asked him, a worried look on her face.


“It feels like I went a few rounds with Joe Louis. Got a headache. Nothing that won’t heal.”


Fornell walked toward them. “Your geek unlocked a huge Pandora’s box, Jethro,” he said.


“You don’t know the half it, Tobias,” Gibbs answered as he pushed Tony toward a chair and made him sit down. “How are you connected to all this?”


“I’m here under protest. I’m not really involved with this, Jethro. I just thought it might be fun to watch you rip someone else to shreds for a change. If I knew there was going to be a crowd, I’d have brought popcorn.”


Gibbs didn’t smile at the attempted humor. “Carlisle did more than just kill some cops. I’m going to need the real FBI files, not the patched together versions McGee’s had to work through. And don’t tell me there wasn’t a copy hidden somewhere in the FBI vaults.”


“No, there are files, but just hold on,” Fornell put up a quieting hand. “We are getting into a huge jurisdictional quagmire here, Jethro. This goes way up.”


“How far up the ladder does it go?” Gibbs asked as he sat down next to Tony and stared at the FBI agent.


“That’s what I’d like to know,” Vance’s voice was heard as he walked into the room. “I got woke up from a very sound sleep by a call from the director of the FBI telling me that one of my agents had hacked into their computer systems.”


“No hacking involved,” Gibbs told him. “McGee was searching for a murderer and was doing a routine internet and database search. It’s a federal investigation.”


Vance didn’t even blink. “I see. Agent Fornell? What do you have for us?”


Every eye in the place turned to Fornell. “I have Agent West here who will be more than happy to explain things.”


West shifted his feet. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable being the center of attention. “That information is top secret.”


Tony almost laughed. “Not anymore. Oh, and just to let you know, it wasn’t top secret in the first place. At least, no one mentioned a single word to me about classifying it. I could have been blabbing about the op up street and down alley for years. So talk.”


West must have realized that he didn’t have any friends in the room at that moment. “I could lose my job over this.”


“I lost my wife and son over this,” Tony told him. “Guess which is more important.”


Fornell moved to the far side of the lab and leaned against the wall. “There’s no arguing that point, West. Time to come clean.”


“Or I could just contact the FBI director,” Vance suggested. “He’s #3 on my speed dial. Since he’s already awake, I’m sure he won’t mind a call back from me.”


West nodded. “You’ve all been told bits and pieces of the big picture. What you know so far is that Thomas Pullman and Edward Carlisle are the same person. Carlisle ran a very large organization. He used the name Pullman to pretend to be one of the crew members and spy on the rest of his employees. The Feds had no luck capturing him. All FBI profiles were completely off base. We had nothing to go on to guess which way he’d jump. So when the local police departments decided to set up a sting operation, we kept our mouths shut, hoping they’d have better luck. DiNozzo infiltrated the group successfully, found out that Pullman and Carlisle were the same person, and helped set up his capture. Once he was arrested, the FBI made a deal with Carlisle. If we put him in protective custody and give him a new identity, he’d give us other criminals. He was moved to the West Coast but not before he tried to get one final bit of revenge on DiNozzo by shooting up his car with him in it.”


Gibbs wasn’t amused. “We already know all that.”


Vance chewed on his toothpick a little harder than he should have because it broke in two. “So far, it sounds like a routine operation. What’s different about this one?”


“The FBI had told Carlisle that DiNozzo was dead. We don’t know how he found out that he was alive. Also, we haven’t been able to contact the FBI agent assigned to supervise Carlisle in California.”


Everyone was silent, all staring at West.


“You didn’t finish your little story,” Tony said. “You forgot to mention that Carlisle murdered police officers in Chicago and Peoria. He tried to murder me. He did murder my wife and son. Now he’s back, thanks to the FBI.”


West didn’t like the implication. “We don’t know if –“


“Yes, you do,” Tony interrupted, his voice taking on an angry tone. “The FBI made a deal with him without telling the police. You hid him, you let him stay in business while he handed others over to you – ya know, this is sounding a bit like the La Grenouille op Jenny had me on. Just how far is the FBI willing to go for this murdering son of a bitch?”


“Uh, Tony…” McGee stepped forward. “I called the Peoria District Attorney’s office. I talked to ADA Ellen Roberts, and she told me to drop the investigation. She must know something about it.”


“Ellen?” Tony asked. The wheels in Tony’s mind began turning, putting seemingly unknown and random pieces together, things only he knew, moments from his past.


“Fornell, how did you know McGee was researching Carlisle? If your computer geeks picked up on the fact he was doing searches, you would have either shut down our system or kicked McGee out or back traced the signal and shut down all of the NCIS computer service.”


Fornell shrugged his shoulders. “West told me. He said McGee was asking questions he shouldn’t have been asking. He seemed more worried about that than the fact that he was getting into some unauthorized databases.”


Tony thought … McGee was asking questions. It wasn’t the computer searches that warned the FBI agent.


“Who’s your informant?”


West just shook his head. “You know that’s not the way it works, Agent DiNozzo.”


Tony almost laughed. “No, that’s not the way it works with you boys at the Hoover Building. Want to see how a cop gets information?”


~*~*~*~*~


Tony grabbed the lab phone and quickly dialed a number. The others in the lab could only hear a one-sided conversation.


“This is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS. I want to speak to Ellen Roberts… Yes, I’ll hold… oh, come on, do not play Muzak on the hold music… Eye Of The Tiger does not work as a Muzak… Ellen, it’s Tony… Yeah, I’m still alive. My car is kaput. You ought to see it. It looks exactly like my old Chevy Nova. Remember that?... Yeah… Bullets, white florist’s van, flipping me off a highway… Yeah, McGee said he called you and you told him to drop the investigation. What gives?”


There was a long stretch of quiet. Tony listened intently. The look in his eyes grew angrier. Gibbs could see him continually making a fist. He was becoming angrier by the moment. That wasn’t good. Gibbs knew from experience that an angry DiNozzo could be more unpredictable than a quiet DiNozzo – and he’d seen both that day already.


“Who?... I want a name, Ellen… I’ve got an FBI guy right here, and … You have got to be kidding me…Who the hell knew?... Son of a bitch…. No, you did the right thing… I understand… Your job’s on the line, been there myself a time or two… Look, uh, this thing isn’t classified anymore. Get me anything and everything you can scrape together. All the files, all the paperwork… No, the FBI guy right here is named Tobias Fornell. If anyone says anything to you, tell them to contact him… Yeah, he’s got our back on this one… No, do not tell the Commissioner that anyone called, at least, don’t volunteer the information, I don’t want you to lose your job… Yeah, thanks. Bye.”


“Uh, DiNozzo, you cannot –“ Fornell began to say.


“Not one word, Toby,” Tony admonished him. “The FBI dropped the ball on this one. You’re picking it up. I don’t care what you have to do or what promises you have to make. Get on the ball.”


Fornell sighed. “What did ADA Roberts tell you?”


“Ellen had been my contact when I was undercover in Carlisle’s crew. She wasn’t an ADA then. She was a police dispatcher going to law school at night, so no one would have recognized her as anyone connected with the cops. I could meet her, make it look like she was my date, give her the information, no one would think twice about it. Charlotte wasn’t happy about it, but she knew it was part of the op. About three months ago, former Captain Hastings, now Police Commissioner Hastings, informed her that should anyone ask anything about any undercover operation I was involved with, she was to say to drop it and then hang up the phone. Then she was to call him, and he’d take care of it. Anything connected with me was to be considered highly confidential.”


That got Gibbs attention. “The commissioner said that?”


Tony nodded his head. “How’d he know three months ago to tell her that? And if we pull his LUDS, will we find he got a call from the West Coast or perhaps made a call to D.C. a few hours ago?”


Gibbs stood up and walked over to Fornell. “Tobias, whatever’s going on here, we’ve still only got bits and pieces. Carlisle is after DiNozzo. We need everything the FBI has on him.”


“It’s not my call, Jethro,” Fornell explained. “This has the brass biting nails for some reason, and I don’t know why. This is a huge operation –“


“That’s just been blasted out of the water,” Gibbs said.


Vance took the toothpick out of his mouth. “If Carlisle was supposed to be under wraps, then he broke protocol first. Looks like we’ll be the ones cleaning up the FBI’s mess.”


Tony wasn’t finished. He looked back at West and stared. “Hastings called someone at the FBI, didn’t he?”


West nodded his head. “Hastings is a contact for one of our FBI investigative teams.”


Tony laughed out loud. “A contact? This is the same guy who said that I was a rich boy playing cop just to impress my father. Always knew I didn’t like that guy.”


Tony sat down, leaned his elbows on his knees and placed his face in his hands. For the uninitiated like Fornell and Vance, they might have thought Tony was hurt and trying to deal with a headache. The others knew what that pose meant. Small pieces of a puzzle was being put together, small obscure references only Tony knew, small dotted paths only he connected. He lifted his head from his hands, a look of anticipatory revelation reflected in his eyes.


“The FBI couldn’t have done anything like it did without someone in the Peoria police department to watch their backs and tell them where to find the information they deleted and rewrote. It would have to be someone high enough up the ladder to make the paperwork look good, and the only person who fits that description was my captain. He was the one who told me when I woke up in the hospital that Carlisle was dead. He was in on the cover up.” Tony buried his face in his hands, sure that the others could hear his ragged breathing. “Fornell, who was the FBI agent who set up Carlisle’s disappearance?”


Fornell looked in the file folder. “Agent Vincent Littlejohn.”


“Littlejohn,” Tony almost sighed. “I saw him once. The other detectives were making jokes about Robin Hood and Maid Marian… it was right after the op closed down. He was in the captain’s office. The guy was a pencil-pushing dweeb. Everything by the book. No guts. No instinct. All procedure. There’s no way he came up with this on his own. He had to be a grunt. Who was he taking orders from?”


Fornell looked over at West, but the other FBI agent didn’t answer.


“West,” Gibbs’ voice held a subtle warning.


West just shook his head and tried to appear unintimidated. “I don’t have the names of all the agents who orchestrated the operation. It’s high-level. Even my clearance isn’t high enough.”


Tony stood, started pacing. “Littlejohn talks to Carlisle, tells him about the plan. They get him out of jail, set up his murder, then let him loose. Carlisle comes after me, then he heads to the West Coast. Was Littlejohn sent out there with him, West? He was Carlisle’s handler?”


When West didn’t answer, Fornell looked into the folder. “Yes, he was. He was stationed in California according to these records.”


“Do we trust those records?” Tony asked.


“Right now, I’m not big on trust, DiNutso,” Fornell told him, “even for members of my own agency.”


Tony paced a little faster. “Carlisle thought I was dead. Littlejohn kept up the pretense. But how did Carlisle find out I’m alive?” He stopped, looked over at West. “It may be a leap of faith on my part and goes against Gibbs’ rules about assumptions, but let’s assume for the sake of conversation that you did your job and contacted his handler. What did Littlejohn have to say?”


“We’ve left messages on his voicemail, but we haven’t been able to reach him,” West answered.


That got Tony’s attention. Maybe pieces were fitting into each other for him? “For how long has the FBI been unable to reach him?”


West didn’t seem to want to answer, but after he looked at Vance who was busily chewing on his toothpick, and finally said, “July of this year.”


That got a response from Gibbs. “The package was mailed in August from D.C. with the return address being Tony’s old address in Peoria.”


“Carlisle’s been in Washington since August, possibly late July, spying on me, and the FBI knew,” Tony stated, his voice not betraying any assumption. It was as if he knew without seeing any evidence. “What’s the exact postmark dated?”


McGee lifted the package. “August 17th. But the package got lost in the mail. It showed up here yesterday morning.”


Tony stood there, staring at McGee. Then he grinned. Then smiled. Then laughed. It was an odd laugh, not a humorous laugh. It was more of an “I can’t believe I didn’t see that” kind of laugh. “He murdered Charlotte and Jesse on August 17th. Carlisle has a sense of irony and symmetry.” Then, in a whisper, he said to himself, “What would he have done? He must have realized that the package never reached me when I didn’t start an all-out investigation. He bided his time, waited for a rainy morning, just like the one that morning. Waited until I was in an area where my car could go off the road… oh, crap. McGee, call the Oldies radio station. Find out if the song Born to be Wild was on their schedule or if someone requested it.”


“Why that song?” McGee asked.


“Because that was the same song that was playing on the radio twelve years ago when he shot us off the road.”


Tony shut his eyes. He was suddenly tired.


“Okay,” he heard Gibbs say. “Tony, you crash here on Abby’s futon. Abby, keep the music low and keep working the evidence. McGee, talk to the radio station. Fornell, you and Ziva are going to find Littlejohn. West,” Gibbs stared at the agent, maybe it’d be a good idea if you went back to the Hoover Building until someone called you.”


“Unfortunately for you, Agent Gibbs, I take my orders from another agency. I’ve been ordered to remain here.”


“Fine. But stay out of our way,” Gibbs warned him.


Vance made a motion with his hand toward West. “You come with me, Agent West. We’re going to call the FBI director and tell him just how badly his agency screwed up and make that file officially unclassified.”


~*~*~*~*~


Gibbs stood against the back wall of the elevator, processing everything that had happened in the last – had it only been less than twenty-four hours? Information was a necessity in his line of work. He built cases on information. Team leaders hired agents based on the information they could find out about them. Nothing in Tony’s background checks prepared Gibbs for what he had learned that day. He honestly didn’t know how to deal with what he now knew.


The elevator doors opened, but before Gibbs could walk out, Ducky walked in. The moment the elevator doors shut, Ducky commented, “The NCIS grapevine is in full swing. I have no doubt that staff in Legal will be aware of the recent goings-on minutes after they arrive.”


“I don’t want to hear it, Duck,” Gibbs said. “Not one word from anybody.”


“I know I’ve said before that you and Tony are a great deal alike, I didn’t think you two had suffered the same heartache. Poor boy.”


Gibbs didn’t say anything. He just stopped the elevator between floors. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Finally, he said, “There was nothing in his background check that mentioned Charlotte or Jesse. The FBI did a pretty good job hiding all that.”


“Jethro,” Ducky placed his hand on Gibbs’ shoulder and forced the younger man to look at him, “Twelve years ago, Carlisle destroyed Tony’s family. Perhaps he alone believed it after he had been told that the man was dead. Now this same man just tried to kill him again, and I believe I can safely say that there is no doubt that Tony saw him. If the FBI interferes –”


“They won’t,” Gibbs vowed. “I won’t let them.”


“Tony may wish to seek revenge.”


Gibbs looked at his friend, Ducky knew what was going through his mind. If Gibbs took revenge on the man who killed his wife and daughter, who was he to say that Tony didn’t have the same right to take his revenge? And no one would dare find out about it if he did, not if Gibbs could help it. He knew how to hide a body and leave no forensic evidence.


“In any case,” Ducky continued, “all of this may have some emotional ramifications we have not yet considered.”


“Then we’ll help him pick up the pieces,” Gibbs said as he pushed the button to make the elevator move again. “Do me a favor, Duck. Work up a profile on Carlisle. As quick as you can.”


~*~*~*~*~


Squad room


7:00 a.m.


7:00 a.m.? Gibbs looked at his watch again. It was seven in the morning. He hadn’t had any sleep, his caffeine level was lower than normal, he was doing everything he could to keep his temper in check while everyone on his team basically reconstructed destroyed case files with information scattered all over records of various agencies while trying to get a clue where the players were hiding.


“It’s a PC, Agent David. Not a Mac,” Fornell said.


“I am aware of that, Agent Fornell,” she answered. “If the FBI had not destroyed so much of this information, we would not be here now trying to retrace Carlisle’s steps and locate Agent Littlejohn. Instead, we would be out there hunting him down.”


“Please remember I wasn’t involved with any of it,” Fornell reminded her. “And despite all appearances to the contrary, I don’t like seeing DiNutso hurt the way he was. Littlejohn was part of all that, and I want to find him too.”


McGee hung up the phone with a hard bang. “I finally got hold of the DJ from the radio station, Boss. He was paid $500 to play Born To Be Wild at that exact time. He said that a fellow came in the studio talking on a cell phone, gave him the money, then told him when to play it. The DJ thought that it was whoever he was talking to on the other end of the phone giving him the exact time.”


“Any way to trace the call?” Gibbs asked.


“I can get all the telephone calls bounced off the towers at that moment. The problem could come when we try to narrow it down.”


“Maybe not,” Fornell said as he looked in the folder again. “West has been leaving messages on Littlejohn’s voicemail. His cell phone’s voicemail. DiNutso said Carlisle liked irony and symmetry. What if Carlisle is using an FBI agent’s cell phone to arrange the hit on an NCIS agent? McGee, see if you can track cell phone number 202-555-7439.”


McGee brought up the tracing program and quickly typed in the phone number. Almost immediately, he got a response. “Last time used… yesterday morning… on the GW, not far from where Tony’s car was shot off the road. The connecting call… in the vicinity of the radio station.”


Gibbs didn’t like it. “It’s too easy,” he said. “Carlisle had to know that we’d find the trail.”


“Maybe not,” Fornell walked over to Gibbs’ desk and placed the folder in Gibbs’ hands. “Remember what DiNutso said? Carlisle sent the package and probably expected Tony to try to find him. Nothing happened, so he waited –”


“He had a contingency plan,” Gibbs slapped his hand on his desk. “Carlisle is playing us.”


“Or he’s playing Tony,” Ziva told them. “Carlisle probably has another contingency plan since Tony survived the shooting.”


McGee started another search on his computer. “That could mean he’s been watching Tony, watching us, he knows how we work, how we operate. If Tony was out of the picture, Carlisle must know we’d try to find him…”


Gibbs heard something in McGee’s voice. “What, McGee?”


“How would Carlisle be able to watch us here? Know our search patterns or how we do things on our team?”


Gibbs quickly stood up and walked over behind McGee.


“I’m running the security tapes to see if Carlisle has been in the Navy Yard in the last three months.”


“Good idea,” he said. Why didn’t he think of that himself? Easy. His caffeine level was still low. Then, maybe even his caffeine-deprived mind could be inspired. “McGee, get a picture of Littlejohn. See if he’s been here.”


His team stared at him in surprise.


Fornell shook his head. “Now wait a minute, Jethro. According to our records, Littlejohn is a highly decorated FBI agent. He’s got a top security clearance, he’s –”


“He’s been Carlisle’s handler for twelve years. What if Carlisle has flipped him?”


Great. The last thing they needed was a rogue FBI agent.


“And McGee, check with that DJ again. See if he can describe the man who paid him $500 to play Born to be Wild.” Gibbs turned on his heel and hurried toward the elevator.


He really needed coffee.


~*~*~*~*~


Abby’s Lab


Tony heard something…


So help me if you can
I've got to get back
To the House
At Pooh Corner by one
You'd be surprised
There's so much to be done


Pooh Corner?


Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of
Christopher Robin and Pooh


Christopher Robin?

Winnie the Pooh doesn't know what to do
Got a honey jar stuck on his nose
He came to me asking help and advice
From here no one knows where he goes
So I sent him to ask of the Owl if he's there
How to loosen a jar from the nose of a bear


Tony opened his eyes – he was in Abby’s lab, lying on the futon. He’d fallen asleep. At least his head wasn’t hurting as much as it was earlier.


But Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins? If Abby wanted to keep him asleep, that was one way to do it.


He kept listening to the song. He vaguely remembered it from some time in his past.


It's hard to explain how a few precious things
Seem to follow throughout all our lives
After all's said and done I was watching my son
Sleeping there with my bear by his side
So I tucked him in, I kissed him and as I was going
I swear that the old bear whispered “Boy, welcome home.”


A Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear. Jesse had one. Their neighbors, the Dennisons, had bought Jess a few toys when he first came home from the hospital. His Pooh bear sat on the shelf in his bedroom.


Tony didn’t let himself think of Jesse.


Tony didn’t let himself think of Pooh.


If he thought about them, he was going to lose it, and DiNozzos didn’t lose it.


He sat up and leaned back against the wall while the song finished playing. He could do this. He could deal with the situation.


He just didn’t want to deal with the situation. He didn’t want to know that Carlisle was alive even though he always thought he was but had no proof or evidence to prove otherwise. He didn’t want to know that Charlotte and Jesse were wiped out of existence by the FBI and their cover-up. He didn’t want to remember that day…


The white van…


The sound of gunfire…


The piercing scream…


The tires squealing on pavement…


The metal grinding on stone…


“Coffee?” Gibbs voice interrupted his thoughts.


Tony looked up at his boss, saw two cups of coffee in his hands. Coffee sounded good.


“Sure.”


Gibbs walked over and handed him one of the cups, his entire demeanor very un-Gibbs-like. He also handed Tony a couple of aspirin. “We’re trying to track down Carlisle and Littlejohn. Looks like Carlisle had someone pay the radio station DJ to play Born to be Wild at that moment.”


“Ah,” Tony muttered. “Recreating the moment. Very Carlisle-like. Don’t expect to find the guy. Carlisle probably paid some guy he met on the street to walk in the radio station and deliver the message. That’ll be a dead end – if Carlisle is playing this smart, and he probably is. The guy’s no fool.”


Gibbs sat down in the lab chair and stared at Tony. “Tony, we’re flapping in the wind here. We don’t know anything about Carlisle. The FBI profiles are no help. You’re the resident expert on him –”


“Twelve years ago, Boss.”


“Twelve years ago,” Gibbs conceded, “but so far, you’re on track. You said he likes irony and symmetry? He used his FBI handler’s cell phone as one of the phones to set up the song on the radio.”


Tony swallowed the aspirin, sipped at his coffee, grateful that the 1812 Overture had ceased playing between his ears. He was still a bit sore, but nothing that would stop him from doing his job. “You think he’s turned Littlejohn?”


“It’s a possibility. We’re trying to find him now. If you were to guess, where do you think they’d go?”


Tony thought. He knew Carlisle as both Carlisle and Pullman. The two personas couldn’t have been more different, more diametrically opposed. Carlisle would know that fact, but would he adjust his actions accordingly?


“Tony?”


“Thinking, Boss,” Tony told him. “Carlisle liked the good things – expensive hotels, best restaurants, limos. As Pullman, he’d choke down a Big Mac or a Whopper just like the rest of us. He could put away a whole pizza all by himself. Drove a beat up Ford Pinto. He knows I know about both his identities and how they act. He might try to do something new, but…”


Gibbs waited for Tony to finish his sentence, then, “But?”


“He was a creature of habit. He couldn’t help it. Even when he tried to do something different, he did it the same way. If that makes any sense. When he went to the track, he sat in the same seat. When he drove someplace, he used the same route.”


In a way, it made sense. It also meant that if they could discover Carlisle’s current habits, then they could find him easier. “Any idea where to start looking?”


Where? Where would Carlisle go to keep an eye on Tony? To keep an eye on the team?


No, not keep an eye on the team. He couldn’t risk that. He couldn’t risk being seen once everything went down. He had to be able to hide for days, months… he had to be mobile when necessary… he had to be able to follow them on cases…


And he had to wait for a rainy morning once he realized that Tony didn’t get the pictures.


Symmetry.


“He’d be nearby. Maybe around the Navy Yard, probably near my apartment. Start with the better hotels, the ones that offer kitchens, not kitchenettes. If he’s gonna be holed up in a hotel somewhere, he’d want a few creature comforts like available food in the fridge.”


“Can you give me any kind of profile? The FBI screwed up the ones they tried to put together. I’ve got Duck working on one, but you know Carlisle personally.”


Profile? That was easy. “He’s got the rags-to-riches story going for him, drug-dealer style. He likes the good life but will get down and wallow in the mud with the rest of us grunts. He likes being in charge but he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Has a problem with authority but can follow orders. He’s good at pretending to be either rich or poor.”


Gibbs took a sip of his coffee. “You know who you just described?”


Tony laughed. “Me. Almost. There are some similarities. Maybe that’s why I recognized Pullman as Carlisle then. I recognized the same things in both of them.”


“Any idea why he thought you were still leading the team?”


Tony sighed. “Either his information is dated which I doubt or he wrote that as a way to make fun of me since I’m not team leader anymore. Probably bringing up that whole issue of me getting a promotion I didn’t deserve again.”


“What do you mean, you didn’t deserve? You did a hell of a good job as team leader.”


“But you gave it to me. Sure, I earned it, but I wasn’t given my own team. I was given yours because you left.”


Gibbs frowned. “What has that got to do with –”


“Do you know how I earned my detective’s badge?”


That question took Gibbs by surprise. “Is there another way other than the usual way a beat cop graduates to detective?”


“The police department was looking at some kind of discrimination law suit. I don’t know what kind or who was involved. As a concession, the department passed a new ruling that everyone who wanted to take the detective’s test could, only they have to have at least one year of service on the force first. That first test was given as a courtesy to everyone with over a year’s service to keep the lawyers happy. I passed with pretty high grades. I wasn’t ready to be a detective. I knew that. I only had one year of being a beat cop under my belt, but I passed so they had to let me be a detective even though I argued against it. They had to create a position in the Narcotics division – and the detectives there didn’t exactly greet me with open arms. Some thought I cheated. I even offered to take another test with them watching to prove I didn’t. My partner when I was a beat cop, Dennis Murray, was friends with Lieutenant Packer. He was in charge of the division. Dennis asked the lieu to let me do some undercover work. He thought I had the knack for it. I went on simple buys, stuff like that. That way –”


“You didn’t have a partner when you were in Narcotics in Peoria. No one to watch your back.”


“Nope. Dennis kept an eye on me, helped me out where he could. He was the one who suggested I be the one to go undercover in Carlisle’s crew. Packer saw I could hack it, so I found a way in. I didn’t meet Carlisle for a while, sort of. The guy I first worked with was none other than Thomas Pullman himself. I didn’t realize he was Carlisle until later.”


“Did he wear some kind of disguise when he was Pullman?”


“Scruffy beard, mustache, ratty old baseball cap, t-shirt, jeans, sneakers. He looked like the rest of us. Carlisle liked the nice $2500 Armani suits. He could make himself look like a dirt bag and be believable or he could walk into any country club in the US and be thought of as one of the gang.”


~~~


Gibbs didn’t like that profile. He didn’t like it one bit. Carlisle and Tony had similar abilities when going undercover. That meant that Gibbs was trying to find someone who could literally blend in with practically any group, in any situation. He could change his look just enough so no one would notice him or recognize him. Littlejohn – if the FBI agent had gone rogue and was helping Carlisle, then they’d have access to whatever funding the FBI was using to hide Carlisle.


He could be anywhere, anybody.


As for Tony, Gibbs could see he was close to the emotional edge. Tony wasn’t telling jokes, he wasn’t talking about old movies. He was shutting down emotionally. Old feelings dug up like this – he understood the feelings all too well. Still, they had a job to do, and he knew that Tony would do whatever he had to no matter how he felt. That was the way Tony worked.


That also meant that Tony needed Gibbs to be the professional investigator, just not the hard-ass he was famous for to help him get through the next few days.


“Any idea what we can expect next?”


“He knows I’m not dead, and that I know he’s alive and in D.C. He’ll want to have me off-balance before he hits next, but I haven’t got a clue what he’ll do next. I do know he’ll do it fast. He’s impatient. The fact he’s waited months for a rainy morning to shoot my car off the road, well, he can’t control the weather. He’s coming, Boss. He’ll hit me some way that’s gonna hurt.”


What could Gibbs do to help Tony? He’d be there for him the entire way, he’d be there when the case was over with, Carlisle was dead or in jail and Tony could break down – not that Tony would ever break down. DiNozzos didn’t break down.


Right at that moment, however, Gibbs could do something.


“Come on. I’ll get you some breakfast.”


~*~*~*~*~


Squad room


8:30 a.m.


Coffee.


McGee needed coffee.


At that point, he’d even mainline a Caf-Pow if he had to. It had been over twenty-four hours since any of them had got any sleep.


All the searches he was running, all the lines of code he was researching, all of it was running together. If he kept looking at it, he was going to be hypnotized. That meant one thing – break time!


He stood up and stretched a bit, easing his tense muscles, but his body was craving some form of caffeine. At that moment, Abby and Ducky walked off the elevator, a handful of fresh coffees in their hands.


“We went to the deli, McGee,” Abby said as she handed him a cup.


Ducky handed Fornell a cup as well. “We knew all of you would need a bit of respite by now. Where’s your associate?”


Fornell looked around. “No idea. I haven’t seen West since we were in Miss Scuito’s lab.”


“He was sitting on the steps earlier,” Ziva told them. “Then he went upstairs. I haven’t seen him otherwise.”


“Well, we did bring him a cup of coffee as well, should you see him, that is.”


“Have you found out anything else?” Abby asked.


“Not much,” McGee said, yawning. “I’m checking local hotels, car rentals, anything that someone visiting might need or use while he’s visiting. I’m not finding Carlisle yet.”


Fornell walked over to McGee. “It’s possible that Littlejohn is the contact man. No one may have seen Carlisle yet.”


“I sent Littlejohn’s picture over as well,” Tim told him. “So far, nothing. We’re looking for a needle in a haystack and we don’t even know where the haystack is.”


“D.C., McGee,” Gibbs voice answered as he and Tony walked off the elevator. Tony was still moving a little slow – his muscles still had to hurt.


“Big haystack, Jethro,” Fornell told him. “We don’t even know what Carlisle will do next or how he’ll do it. The FBI files never could predict his moves.”


“That’s because you didn’t know him,” Gibbs explained.


“What do you mean?”


Tony sat down at his desk slowly, easing his sore muscles into a comfortable position in his chair. “Carlisle would have made one hell of a good undercover cop if he was on our side. He blends.”


“Oh, dear,” Ducky began to pace. “Jethro, I’ve been using the few FBI files Agent Fornell brought with him to understand the profiles on Carlisle the agency used twelve years ago. There’s no mention of his being skilled at subterfuge.”


Ziva leaned back and looked at her team. “Is there anything useful in any of the FBI files?” she asked aloud. “The information we have from them has been wrong from the start.”


“I wouldn’t trust these files to be accurate, Agent David,” Fornell defended his employer. “My guess is that they’re also incomplete.”


Tony groaned, ran his hands through his hair and slammed his fist on the desk. “We’re idiots,” he muttered loudly. “Toby, just out of curiosity, who wrote the FBI files on Carlisle? The ones that exist after you guys made the deal with him in Peoria?”


Fornell looked at the files… “Agent Skinner.”


Tony grinned, then laughed. It was that disgusted laugh again. “Don’t tell me, let me guess –”


“Agent Walter Skinner!” Abby yelled out. “Right?”


Fornell double-checked the paperwork. “Exactly. How’d you know that, Miss Scuito?”


“Easy. A Walter Skinner of the FBI wrote up the files on Carlisle, and that’s about like someone named Detective Richard Tracy working for the LAPD or a Doctor Richard Kimble working at Bethesda –”


“What?” Fornell asked, confused.


“Toby,” Tony stood up and pointed to the plasma screen. A picture of the actor Mitch Pileggi appeared. “This actor played FBI Director Walter Skinner on the X-Files. Since the FBI was hiding everything to do with Carlisle, I’d say someone was playing a practical joke on the FBI records clerks, wouldn’t you?”


Fake names.


Fake files.


Fornell closed the file folder with a loud clap and tossed it onto a nearby desk. “Every bit of it is a sham. We’ve got nothing,” he said.


“We’ve got a lot,” Tony told him. “We’ll have more once you find Littlejohn, dead or alive. If he’s not working with Carlisle, then as soon as he realized that Carlisle tricked him somehow, he ended up dead. Carlisle needed information about me, it’s dated which means someone isn’t in contact with the home office or he’s got the accurate information and is just playing me by trying to mislead me. If Littlejohn is still his handler as those files say, then he’s the direct line to the FBI for Carlisle. It’s a game, Toby. Who can outsmart who. If you haven’t noticed, he’s leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. It’s not that he wants us to find him. It’s that he wants me to find him fast.”


“And this is round two as far as Carlisle’s concerned,” Gibbs finished. “He wrote that in his note.”


“Round two?” Fornell pondered the words. “Why that term?”


“I betrayed him,” Tony explained. “He’s a guy who takes loyalty very seriously. Round one was when he shot my Nova off the road… Damn!”


“Tony?” Gibbs was ready to get up and go over there if he needed to. “What is it?”


“I didn’t think of it before,” Tony said. “Round one didn’t kill me. He sent the message saying that round two was coming up, more or less, and history was going to repeat itself, right? He wanted me to be looking over my shoulder for who knows how long… it’s not that he didn’t know I didn’t get the package. He wanted me nervous until it rained one morning and he could recreate the moment when he murdered Charlotte and Jesse.”


Ziva seemed a bit perplexed. “And? What does that mean for us?”


Ducky began to pace the floor. “It means, my dear Ziva, that our premise of how Carlisle is attempting to come after Anthony is wrong.”


“Not wrong, really. More sideways,” Tony agreed. “Carlisle didn’t have to know my every move. He just needed to know my morning routine. He sent the pictures and waited for the right moment to strike… Probie, check out the deli. See if Carlisle or Littlejohn have been in there.”


“Why the deli?” McGee asked.


“Because I stop in there most mornings for coffee. Sometimes a doughnut.” Tony picked up the phone and started dialing a number.


“Who are you calling?” Ziva asked.


“Local body shops,” Tony answered. “That van had the name Carlisle’s Florist on it. Either he had it painted on or he got stick-on sign. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find who made it for him.”


~*~*~*~*~


Tony sat at his desk, looking through the pictures Carlisle sent. Him as a beat cop, the house in Peoria, mowing the lawn…


Charlotte, getting out of that old beat up Nova, holding Jesse in her arms…


He missed her.


Tony ran over to the Dean’s Office immediately after football practice. With the scholarship only being awarded to three people, he needed to get there quick and get his information in fast. Apparently, he wasn’t the one with the same idea. About a dozen people were already there. Almost every chair was taken. Across the room one was one empty one with a student’s books sitting in it. “Uh, do you mind?” Tony asked the young lady filling out the massive amounts of paperwork.


She looked up, glanced at the seat and shrugged her shoulders. She put her books on the floor and answered, “Nope, not at all.”


Tony dropped his backpack down on the ground and sat down. He pulled out a pen and began filling out his own paperwork. He hated this. Why did they have to know everything for a scholarship every single time? He’d filled out so many of these, he could do them in his sleep. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if he had.


“They ask the same thing every time,” the young lady commented.


“I’ve noticed,” Tony answered. “Too bad we can’t Xerox the information and just write in the date and the name of the scholarship each time.”


The lady chuckled. “What? And save time? Money? That would defy all kinds of office logic,” she joked.


“Make sense too. Could mean the end of the world as we know it.”


“Hmmm…” the lady pondered. “So by us filling out this paperwork, we’re superheroes saving the world.”


“All we need are costumes and names,” Tony laughed as he moved on to the next page.


“We’d need a super power as well,” she added.


“Super strength and the ability to see through solid objects would be nice,” Tony stated.


“Flying would be good. I wouldn’t have to worry about a car, buying gas, insurance –”


“There you go,” Tony said. “We’re only trying to save the world, and to do that…”


“We fill out page after page after page of scholarship paperwork.”


“Which one you trying for?” he asked.


“Gitmon.”


“Same here. They’re only accepting three, right?”


“With a high GPA,” she told him. “You’re an accounting major?”


“Phys Ed.”


“Gitmon’s an accounting scholarship.”


Tony nodded his head. “Yeah. I’ll take an accounting class, but if I don’t get one of the scholarships I’m trying for, I’m out of college. Part time jobs only pay so much.”


“You try for scholarships that cover majors that you’re not majoring in?” she asked as she finished her application.


“If it lets me stay in college, sure. I’ve taken classes all over the syllabus to keep a scholarship while taking the classes I need to get a Criminal Justice degree.”


“So your last scholarship was for a Phys Ed major?”


“It kept me in school, didn’t it?”


She smiled at him. “I can’t say I like the idea that a real accounting major might not get the scholarship because of you, but I have to admire your tenacity.”


“Want to admire it over a beer down at Michael’s Pizza Palace?”


“Move fast, don’t you?” she asked as she picked up her books.


“Is there any other way to move?”


“I don’t drink.”


Oh. “How about coffee in the cafeteria?”


She never let him forget that conversation. She knew he could be sneaky, but if it was something he wanted, he tried to find a way to get it. She would laugh when she joked with him about having enough credits to have a Criminal Justice degree but having to declare a Phys Ed major to keep that last scholarship and graduate.


He really missed her.


He missed more than her. He missed everything that was her. He missed her laugh, he missed her walking around the house in her bare feet, he missed how she would hum Oldies from time to time, he missed the conversations, he missed her theories on cops and doughnuts – he missed their life.


He missed what could have been. Him, Charlotte, Jesse, dog, car, picket fence, grandkids one day…


Jesse would be twelve years old. What would a twelve-year-old boy do? He’d probably be playing some sport in school. Maybe baseball or soccer. He’d be doing his homework while listening to whatever musical group he was interested in that week. He’d be embarrassed by his parents. He’d gripe and grumble about having to take out the trash or clean out the garage. He’d be doing normal twelve-year-old boy stuff.


He would have turned twelve on his birthday in August.


He shook himself out of his reverie. There would be time for reminiscing later. Back to business. He needed to put all the pieces of their mystery together. So, the pictures could mean that the scumbag knew that Tony was a cop from the very beginning, but how?


This was one of those times Tony put two and two together and came up with five. Without proof, all he had was speculation. Maybe Captain Hastings was an FBI contact way back before the undercover op? Maybe he and Littlejohn were in contact with each other? That would mean Littlejohn was working with Carlisle long before he became his handler. Or maybe Littlejohn was just a pawn and someone else in the FBI was leaking information to Carlisle. After all, the FBI knew the LEOs had sent officers in undercover…


The other undercover officers were found out and killed…


But Tony wasn’t…


His cover was no different from the others. Why did his remain intact and why did he stay alive?


And why didn’t Carlisle kill him when he found out –


Unless Carlisle didn’t know that Tony was an undercover cop at the time. There was no way to know who took the pictures of Tony and Charlotte. Former FBI agents had snooped on him and Jeanne and gave the pictures to Kort during the La Grenouille op… could something like that have happened in the case with Carlisle?


And if it had been someone other than Carlisle, maybe they kept the information from Carlisle for a reason and only told him after he’d been arrested. But who? Why?


The scenario worked better than what they’d been thinking so far.


Tony began to rearrange the pieces of the puzzle again mentally. Carlisle thought Tony was one of his crew, never had a reason to suspect him, some third party took pictures of Tony and kept them until Carlisle was arrested. Then, whoever it was showed Carlisle the pictures…


Maybe as a way to gain Carlisle’s trust, get him to work for the FBI and get him to roll on his fellow drug dealers?


Who would gain from that? Or maybe it wasn’t a matter of gaining anything. Taking the pictures could have been the normal investigative procedure. The FBI was getting pictures of anyone connected to the Carlisle crew. It wasn’t until later that they found out that Tony was an undercover Peoria cop. That could also fit in with the scenario that someone sold him out to Carlisle to gain Carlisle’s cooperation.


Try as he might, Tony couldn’t place Littlejohn in the role of snitch even though he was Carlisle’s handler. His gut was telling him to look at the problem another way, to think outside the box.


Point #1: He wasn’t killed like the other undercover cops.
Point #2: Carlisle didn’t try to kill him until after he’d made the deal with the FBI and was freed from jail.


Assumption: Carlisle didn’t know Tony was an undercover cop until after the assignment was over.


So when did he find out? Who would have told him? Maybe not the person who took the pictures… or maybe it was. Tony picked up the phone and called the Peoria county jail where Carlisle had been temporarily incarcerated while waiting to be transported to Joliet. Luckily, an old friend of his answered the phone.


“Peoria County Jail. Deputy Watkins speaking.”


“How ya doing, Freddy?”


“Tony? Damn, man, it’s been a while! How are you? How’s life in the big city?”


“I’ve had better days. Look, I need a big favor.”


“Name it, you’ve got it.”


“Can you pull a visitor’s sheet from twelve years ago?”


“Yeah. They’re on computer. What do you need?”


“Remember Carlisle?”


“Damn, Tony, don’t tell me that’s come back to haunt you.”


“He has. I need to know who he talked to while he was there.”


Tony heard Watkins muttering to himself in the background. “Strange. That week isn’t in the computer. The week before and the week after is.”


“Can you pull a hard copy?”


“Yeah, hold on.”


Tony suspected that anything on computer that had to do with Carlisle had been expunged by the FBI or maybe removed by Hastings more recently, but sometimes, even the FBI overlooked the obvious. Like hard copies.


Got it,” Watkins said. “It was Commissioner Hastings – he was a captain then. Did you know he made police commissioner? And a fellow by the name of Walter Skinner.”


Hastings? Skinner?


Tony’s mind started putting more pieces together. He didn’t like what he was seeing. “What day?”


Uhm… the 16th.”


And Charlotte and Jesse had been murdered the morning of the 17th.


“Thanks, Fred. Do me another favor, okay? Hide that paperwork and forget I called. Okay?”


Got it, Tony. Hey, you get this guy, okay? I knew the bastard wasn’t dead.”


“Yeah. I’m planning on it.”


Tony hung up the phone, putting the pieces of the giant puzzle together.


Point #3: Hastings was an FBI contact, Walter Skinner was someone’s alias, and they'd seen Carlisle on the 16th.
Point #4: They made the deal with Carlisle that night and faked his death.
Point #5: Carlisle had to plan the murder in a matter of hours.


Assumption: That was when either Hastings or this Skinner guy had told Carlisle Tony was an undercover cop or he was the primary witness or basically told him something that ratted Tony out, maybe to gain his trust. Or it was tit for tat. Carlisle demanded to know if there was an undercover cop and who it was.


If Carlisle was in the jail that night and only had hours to plan the murder, where did he get the gun? The van? The personnel to drive the van while he fired the weapon?


What was Tony missing?


Walter Skinner. Someone using that name, and Tony’s gut was yelling that this was part of the important to figuring out how all of it fit together. Whoever Walter Skinner really was, he was one of the key players in the little drama.


~*~*~*~*~


Ziva slammed down the handset of his phone. “McGee, we’ve got something from the traffic computers. I’m putting it up on the plasma.”


“What is it?” Fornell asked.


Ziva brought up the pictures so everyone could see. “I spoke to a contact of ours at traffic control. I sent him Littlejohn and Carlisle’s pictures and he ran them against pictures of people who have run red lights and not paid their tickets.”


“Great idea,” McGee said. “They probably wouldn’t want to pay fines if they’re trying to hide out.”


Pictures with various dates appeared on the plasma, all taken in the early morning. “The car itself is non-descript, definitely FBI issue, but look at who is driving it.”


They looked at the close-up of the driver. “It is Carlisle.”


“Driving an FBI car,” Tony said out loud as he sat back down, his forehead wrinkling in concentrating. “Littlejohn’s FBI phone, driving an FBI car…Walter Skinner is an alias… oh, my god…”


“What is it?” Gibbs did not like the sound of Tony’s voice.


Tony looked up, saw everyone staring at him. “I’ve been trying to put the pieces of all this together, and a lot of it isn’t adding up. I met Littlejohn or at least, someone calling himself Littlejohn when I was in Peoria. He was not what you think of when an FBI agent goes rogue. He was all about rules and following them. He’s not the one who turned…” Tony leaned back, all the pieces starting to come together in a terrible mosaic. “The FBI gave Carlisle a new identity, and this FBI agent, Walter Skinner is the one who orchestrated the paperwork. It’s possible that it was him and not Littlejohn who made the actual deal with Carlisle, right?”


“Possible,” Gibbs answered. Where was Tony going with this?


“What if something happened to the real Littlejohn, they gave that name to Carlisle and this fellow Walter Skinner is his handler? Maybe he’s the one who’s been flipped?”


Or…


“Wait,” Tony kept thinking. He started pacing, every step showing that he was still more than a little sore. “When I met Littlejohn in Peoria, he was a geek. He wasn’t like a McProbie geek. He was a pencil-pushing geek. What if there was an FBI agent who went by both the names Littlejohn and Skinner, he moved Carlisle out to the West Coast and set him up as FBI agent Littlejohn out there? Then he comes back here and resumes his real life? He’s just the contact for Carlisle who’s pretending to be an FBI agent.”


That thought hadn’t occurred to anyone.


“Impossible,” Fornell said. “Our records show –”


“Lies,” McGee interrupted. “Your records have been rewritten. You don’t even know if the information you have on Littlejohn is real.”


“Anything on the deli, McGee?” Tony asked.


“I showed the pictures to the people who work there. They recognized Carlisle. They didn’t recognize the picture we have for Littlejohn.”


“We really need to find this Littlejohn,” Tony said. “Actually, we need to see if this guy actually exists in real life or just on paper.”


“I’ll try my contacts again,” Fornell told him. “If it’s possible that this entire operation is a multi-level scam, it won’t be easy to find out the correct information.”


“Have we got a picture of this Walter Skinner?” Tony asked.


McGee shook his head. “I checked that out already. I haven’t been able to get past the encryptions yet.”


“What about West? Maybe he could get it for us.” Tony looked around. “He’s been kind of scarce the past few hours.”


“I don’t know where he is,” Fornell admitted. “I guess we can assume that he’s still in Vance’s office since we haven’t found a body.”


~*~*~*~*~


9:00 a.m.


Almost twenty-six hours since the current nightmare started. Tony felt like he was under a microscope, his every move watched by everyone in the place. Did they think he was going to break? He could see them taking quick glimpses of him in his peripheral vision.


“Hey, Tony, got something for you,” the mail carrier stopped at Tony’s desk and handed him a package. Great. More mail.


“Anything interesting?”


“Usual stuff, but this came by special courier,” the carrier told him. “Dropped it off with the guard at the door. He asked me to bring it you.”


Tony didn’t touch the package. He let the mail courier place it on his desk. “Special courier, huh? Thanks.”


“You’re welcome,” he said as he walked off.


Tony took a pencil and pushed the envelope around until he could read the address. It was addressed to NCIS Major Crimes Team Leader; Tony DiNozzo with his former home address in Peoria as the return address.


“Boss, Carlisle just sent something else,” Tony said.


Immediately, Gibbs was up and hurrying toward Tony’s desk. He pulled a rubber glove out of his pocket, put it on his hand and carefully lifted the envelope.  “Let’s get it to Abby.” He held it up to the light. Both men could see the outline of a disc inside. There was writing that they could just make out if they squinted their eyes.


The words on the disc said simply Salt In The Wound.


“CD or DVD,” Tony commented.


“Test it first, watch it second,” Gibbs said.


“She won’t find anything,” Tony muttered.


“We won’t know until she looks.”


“Trust me, Boss. There won’t be anything there that he doesn’t want us to find.”


“Tony, by the book, okay? We find him, we arrest him, and there won’t be one single procedure his lawyer will be able to use to say we messed up the investigation or tainted evidence.” Gibbs’ cell phone rang at that moment. “Gibbs.”


Tony knew Gibbs was right. They had to do this right. It was just so damned hard.


This all had to end soon. Gibbs couldn’t keep being this polite to him much longer. It went against both their characters to behave the way they were behaving.


~~~


“Gibbs! Gibbs!” Abby’s voice yelled over the phone. “I’ve got something! I need you and Tony down here now. Bring the FBI guys too. Hurry!”


“Abby’s got something,” Gibbs remarked as he led the way to the lab, walking slow enough so Tony didn’t have to hurry.


Fornell followed as well, probably feeling like a rookie working his first case with a band of professionals. “I hope your Miss Scuito has had better luck than we have,” he said.


“Get anything from your contacts about Littlejohn yet?” Gibbs asked him.


“I’m calling in some favors on this one, Jethro. I think your boy’s theory about Carlisle using the name Littlejohn and pretending to be an FBI agent on the West Coast is holding water. There’s a paper trail following Littlejohn, but it all stopped back in July. To put it in your forensic scientist’s words, there’s something very hinky going on.”


“Ya think, Tobias?” Gibbs asked. He glanced over at Tony. Why hadn’t he said anything when Fornell explained what he hadn’t found on Littlejohn? When this case was over with, Gibbs would have to find a way to get Tony talking again. A quiet Tony just… well, it wasn’t right. He didn’t like it when Tony was quiet.


However, the lab being unusually quiet again – that was wrong on multiple levels. Abby almost spinning around the room – that was a small bit of normality they needed.


“May I join you?” another voice asked.


Gibbs turned to watch West enter the room. He didn’t like the guy, he certainly didn’t trust him. He knew more than he was telling.


“Where have you been, Agent West?” Fornell asked politely.


“MTAC. Director Vance and I have apprised my supervisor of what’s happening here. It was a rather lengthy conversation.”


Right. MTAC. Gibbs might have to address the issue of FBI agents using NCIS facilities like MTAC at a later time with Vance. At the very least, the FBI could pay the long distance charges . “Whatcha got, Abs?” Gibbs asked.


“I’ve got gold! Well, not really gold, but I’ve got all sorts of stuff –”


“Abs!” Gibbs stopped and stared. “Talk to us.”


“Gotcha!” She whirled around to her keyboard and began typing. “And here we go…. Let’s start with the pictures in the album. There were fingerprints on the pictures. Carlisle’s, of course, surprise, surprise, and some belonged to Captain Hastings who is now Commissioner Hastings of the Peoria Police Department.”


“Which ones, Abby?” Tony asked.


“The ones that looked like they were taken from a camera in a police car.”


“Hastings would be able to get them,” Tony muttered.


“The other pictures, the ones taken of Tony at his house, had Carlisle’s fingerprints and someone who AFIS won’t identify due to an FBI block on the record.” She pointed to her monitor where the words ACCESS DENIED were scrawled over it. “So I backdoored the information.”


“Backdoored?” Fornell repeated. “What does that mean?”


“Don’t ask,” was the unanimous answer.


“The fingerprints belong to an FBI agent Donald Brasco.”


“You’re kidding,” Tony blurted out. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”


“Nope. Donald Brasco, working for the FBI from 1997 until now.”


Gibbs didn’t know the name. “You know him, Tony?”


Tony could only laugh. Laugh or cry, one or the other. They were chasing their tails. “Donnie Brasco is the alias that FBI Agent Joe Pistone used to infiltrate the Mafia. It’s another fictional name.”


“But not exactly a fictional person,” Abby pointed out. “I was able to chase Littlejohn, Walter Skinner and Donnie Brasco through the files. There’s also an Eliot Ness, just in case you’re interested. You won’t believe what I found.”


“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Tony answered. “There are a bunch of names listed there as comedic aliases for any of the FBI agents to use in order to hide their own identities.”


“Exactly!” Then Abby gave him a stare. “Now don’t you start telling my news before I do like Gibbs does.”


“Sorry.”


“No problem. These particular so-called agents have fingerprints on file, and none of them match anything we have on any real FBI agent. I ran a check on their locations, last times the names were used, operations –”


“How?” West demanded to know. “Those files are classified.”


Gibbs gave West his patented annoyed stare. “Pay attention. We just said don’t ask.”


“We know that a Littlejohn and a Skinner were in Peoria at the time. There was also a Ness and a Josh Smith and Thad Jones –”


“Please tell me you’re kidding,” Tony begged.


“Nope.”


“What?” Gibbs barked out.


“Joshua Smith, Thaddeus Jones, the names used by the bank and train robbers Hannibal Hayes and Kid Curry on the western TV show Alias Smith and Jones. Is there anyone in the list named Cartwright or Barkley?”


Abby nodded. “Yeah. Anyway, some of these rather suspicious names are tied together in Peoria in the months prior to August of 1997. There was an investigation into a drug cartel operating in the area, and agents using these code names were there. We may never know who was using which alias or who actually made the deal with Carlisle because there’s no record of exactly which FBI agents were in Peoria at the time using the names Littlejohn or Skinner. There are only the fake names being used.”


They were no closer.


Or were they?


“And Captain Hastings?” Tony asked her. “Any mention of him?”


“He’s just a contact in Peoria. That’s all.”


Nope, they weren’t any closer. Not to finding Carlisle or whoever was working with him in D.C.


“Tobias,” Gibbs looked over at his colleague, “what is going on here?”


“For all this information to be buried to this extent, it has to be big. There might be an entire department behind all this, using those names and –”


“For drug dealers?” Abby asked. “Isn’t that going overboard?”


“Way overboard,” Tony agreed, “unless this particular operation isn’t what the department normally investigated and it just got stuck with it. The same procedures and actions that an FBI group would ordinarily use for their cases would automatically come into play if they got stuck with a drug dealing operation, wouldn’t it?” He looked directly at West.


“Yes, to some degree,” West informed them. “We’ve been short-staffed just like all other law enforcement agencies over the years. Sometimes, certain crimes would be investigated by a group whose expertise is in something completely different. Or it could be that this particular group of agents were investigating other criminal activity and it crossed paths with Carlisle.”


Crossed paths. Tony glanced at his watch as he listened to West basically try to justify FBI behavior. Just a little over twenty-seven hours had passed since Carlisle shot his car off the road.


Twenty-seven hours since he knew for a fact Carlisle was alive.


Carlisle was cagey; there was no doubt about that. He was sneaky. He could pretend to be someone else, but when Tony looked at the situation more pragmatically, there was one overriding factor – Carlisle was the boss of his own drug cartel. Not a large one, but the one he had in Illinois had been a respectable size. Now, still in business and in the West Coast, it was probably bigger. More customers, more area to cover, more dealers, more contacts, more suppliers. Twelve years ago, the FBI couldn’t get a bead on him, couldn’t figure him out so they left it up to the local police. Still, they watched as the local LEOs risked officers’ lives, watched as police officers and civilians were murdered. Then, when the police had Carlisle, the FBI swooped in and took him, set him up and let him do business and Carlisle handed over other drug dealers.


All the while, living under an alias.


And if that alias was as an FBI agent, then what if Carlisle was making “deals” with these drug dealers?


Carlisle could have once again been pretending to be part of his own crew, pretending to be an FBI agent and running his little empire all at the same time, pretty much what he had done in Peoria.


But if Carlisle could pretend to be an FBI agent, then why couldn’t he have walked into any FBI office in the Washington D.C. area pretending to be Agent Vincent Littlejohn or any of the other names on that list?


It wasn’t that they couldn’t find him. Maybe he was hiding right under their noses.


Then he focused back on the conversation still going on. West, protesting as usual. “Agent Gibbs, I don’t have the clearance for –”


“Screw your clearance,” Tony walked over to Abby. “Can you see if any of the fake names are here in D.C. right now?”


“Already have,” she said as she typed in a command and a new screen showed on the monitor. “Agent Brasco came to Washington around the middle of July.”


Something began clicking inside Tony’s mind. Pieces were coming together. The mosaic wasn’t a mosaic anymore. It was solidifying. “The official blocks on these records – are the blocks put on the names or the fingerprints or the DNA or –”


“All of the above,” Abby showed him another screen with multiple ACCESS DENIED warnings on it.


“That’s how he did it. I was right. He’s pretending to be one or more of the FBI agents from the group who helped him set up camp on the West Coast. Any search into a name or a genetic profile automatically gets blocked so he’s moving around anywhere he wants to go. No one can tag him.”


“But we can,” Abby countered. “What I found out is that these particular names suddenly went dormant sometime in July, but a few have some activity.”


“What?” Tony asked.


“Most of the names got pulled and buried and are no longer in use which is why the name Donnie Brasco being used was so hinky.”


“And Carlisle might not know that the names have been File 13’d,” Tony thought out loud. “What about the other names?”


“We know that Littlejohn’s cell phone was used yesterday. “Then Abby crossed her arms and stared at Agent West. “The other name is Agent West. First name James.”


Tony leaned against the table and adopted Abby’s stance. That moment proved another of Gibbs’ immutable laws of the universe: NEVER cross Abby and Tony when they’re in agreement.


“James West?” Tony asked. “Don’t tell me. You’ve got a partner named Artemus Gordon, right?”


Gibbs knew those names. They were from some TV show he watched when he was younger.


“Agent DiNozzo,” West tried to explain.


“Save it. You’ll have a hell of a lot of explaining to do later,” Tony turned his attention back to Abby. “That disc that came earlier – any fingerprints on it?”


“All smudged,” Abby said as she brought up the next screen of AFIS running the prints. “I was able to get three points off two of the fingerprints, but that could mean a lot of people could make my baby ding. Once we get a few names, I’ll try to backdoor the information.”


“Have you played the DVD yet?”


“Not yet. I thought you’d want to see it first,” she told him as she carefully placed the DVD into the computer’s player. “Okay, let’s see what we’ve got… file says the DVD was burned only a few hours ago.” She hit the play button on her controls.


The screen went dark, then…


The little house in Peoria took center screen. It looked like a nice day, fairly warm, the sky was a light blue with only a few clouds. Then Tony came out of the house, Jesse in one arm, a bottle in another. He sat down on the front porch swing and quickly placed the nipple in the hungry baby’s mouth.


Gibbs moved next to Tony and put a hand on his shoulder.


“There ya go. Let’s see how quiet we can be for a little while since Mama is taking a nap. You kept us up pretty late last night. We’re gonna have to talk about that,” Tony’s voice said humorously over the speakers. The camera panned in closer and the baby’s face filled the screen. He was looking up at Tony with his big blue eyes as he talked, his little mouth continually sucking on the bottle.


“Now that we’re alone, maybe we need to have one of those man-to-man talks that fathers and sons are supposed to have. Let’s see… when you grow up, if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, football player, a cop like your old man, whatever, that’s good with me. Maybe by then, we’ll have enough money to send you to a really good college. I think you’ll love college. I did. Although when you’re older, you and I are gonna have to have a serious talk about girls. Sports – now, I was going to play professional football. I even had a couple of scouts for professional teams looking at me, but I broke my leg senior year and that put my football career in the trash. That turned out for the best. I’m a detective now, and I think I’m a pretty good one. They’ve got me working undercover in Narcotics, but my name’s on the list if there’s an opening in Homicide. Would you believe that I had to work Vice a couple of times? They were short-handed because of a flu bug that was going around. Now there’s a joke just waiting for a punchline. Vice, virus…” Tony turned his head sideways a little and looked at his son. “That’s another thing we’ll talk about when you get older. I guess it doesn’t make much sense to you at the moment.”


He took the bottle away for a moment, put the baby on his shoulder and gently patted his back until a burp could be heard. “Good one,” Tony said as he laughed. He put the baby back into the crook of his arm and returned the bottle. “The fine art of burping. That’s a good thing to know, especially if you ever join a fraternity. Now, as far as family goes, you’ve got me and your mom. We’re always gonna be here for you. There’s no one on my side of the family I’ll claim as family. Your mom has her parents, a younger sister, two brothers, and their families so you’ve got cousins there. Her parents don’t like me very much though. They used to when they thought I was going to inherit DiNozzo Enterprises, but when they found out I was on the outs with my father, they didn’t have any use for me.”


The scene shifted a little to the screen door. Charlotte was there, listening and smiling. “And what about if we get a dog?” she asked.


Tony looked up and nodded his head. “Hey, your mom’s right. We’ll have to get a dog. Maybe we’ll let her pick that one out, huh? Just no poodles. We’d have to get a real dog. Do you have any opinions on beagles or german shepherds or bulldogs?”


Charlotte came out on the front porch and sat down next to her two guys.


“I thought you were taking a nap,” Tony said.


“I was. I woke up and heard you two out here talking.”


“Just guy stuff.”


“Yeah. Right.”


The scene seemed so simple, so every day. Gibbs held back a sniffle, but he was the only one. Abby had tears in her eyes. Even Fornell was affected by the scene. Odd, Gibbs never thought he’d ever see Fornell empathize with Tony.


“You were in on it, weren’t you, West?” Tony said. “You were part of this whole operation to hide him. You were sent here when this operation went to hell in a hand basket to try to cover your collective asses when he went off the grid.”


West shifted uncomfortably. “My department was given the assignment twelve years ago. I had no personal association with Carlisle, but yes, I was involved with the operation. My superiors needed agents here should Carlisle show up which we knew was a possibility. I don’t think they anticipated your team’s investigative abilities. What happened to your wife and son was unfortunate, but collateral damage –”


Tony whirled around, grabbed West by the collar and dragged him to the monitor. “Collateral damage? Don’t you dare – don’t you dare – call them that.”


Gibbs moved behind Tony, ready to stop his agent from doing something he might regret later. “Tony –”


“He was an eight day old baby. He did nothing to deserve being gunned down like that. Nothing.” He pointed toward Charlotte. “And her? Let me tell you about what you call collateral damage.” He pushed West closer to the monitor so his view was completely unobstructed.


“Tony –” Abby grabbed her monitor when West’s head connected with it, almost knocking it off the stand.


“Her name was Charlotte Ann Jenkins DiNozzo. She got through college on scholarships and working odd jobs. She graduated top of her class. She was the second of four kids. She loved old movies. She could quote you entire scripts. She loved the Oldies. Know what her favorite song was? Born to be Wild. Know what her favorite movie was? Ghostbusters. Know what her favorite pizza was? Sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese. Me, I liked a pizza with everything, so we’d always get one half and half. She loved to go camping. We had Harleys. We’d ride all over on those motorcycles. She loved football. You should have seen the fun we had watching the Superbowl. That collateral damage you’re referring to, West, was a living, breathing human being who thought I was worth the trouble to be with. She had likes and dislikes and bad moods and good moods. She had good days and bad days. She lived every single moment of those twenty six years she was here, and you dismiss everything she was by calling her collateral damage?”


Tony dropped West, letting him fall against the table. He couldn’t take it anymore. He walked out of the lab and into a dark, empty office. He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor and let his forehead sink against his knees.


A few moments later, he felt a hand on the back of his neck and someone sitting down next to him.


“I’m getting my guts torn out on this, Boss,” Tony muttered, knowing full well who had followed him.


“I know.”


“I keep trying to not think about them or remember them…”


“I know.”


“I thought I could deal with this…”


“I know.”


Tony sat up and leaned his head back against the wall. In the darkness, he could just make out Gibbs sitting next to him, the reflected light showing that even he wasn’t unaffected by what he was seeing.


“Charlotte must have been really something,” Gibbs almost whispered.


Tony’s voice choked. “She was. You’d have liked her. She was fearless. She’d probably slap you in the back of the head and smile while she was doing it.”


Gibbs laughed. “Sounds fearless.”


“She had this great sense of humor, smiled most of the time. Outgoing. Some called her goofy, but she was this really smart, inquisitive woman with a slightly warped sense of humor. She was interested in everything. She beat the crap out of anyone playing Trivial Pursuit. She even beat me at the game when it came to movies. Oh, did she know old movies! She could quote lines from movies I’d never even heard of.”


Gibbs waited a moment, then asked, “How’d you two meet?”


“Filling out an application for the same scholarship. She wasn’t like anyone I’d ever met before. She didn’t flirt, she didn’t play games. She was straightforward. If she liked you, you knew. If she didn’t, you knew. But if she was your friend, it was real. She was always there for her friends,” Tony sniffed. “She was one of the only real friends I ever had. We didn’t date then. We’d… we would… she could call me at 3:00 in the morning to tell me she had a flat tire and would I come change it. I’d call her at all hours to help me study for a test. She rooted for me at the football games, I went to her soccer games. We were –”


“Buddies,” Gibbs finished.


“Then? Yeah. Best buddies. It wasn’t until Brad broke my leg in that football game when I was a senior. I had to be in the hospital in traction for a couple of weeks, and she came every day with my books and homework. First week out of the hospital, there was a party one of the academic groups had because they won some collegiate meet. Charlotte’s friend was on the team and she wanted to go. She asked if I’d mind going with her, we wouldn’t have to stay long, just long enough to give out congratulations. I was on crutches, so I sat down and waited. Charlotte talked to her friend for a few minutes, brought me back a piece of cake and some punch and… I can’t explain it, Boss. When she sat down and I looked at her, everything was different.”


“You don’t have to explain, not to me,” Gibbs told him.


“She didn’t drink. After that night, I didn’t go to another keg party. I didn’t want to. I didn’t hang out with my frat brothers. I didn’t stay out all night partying ---”


“Yeah, sounds like a bad case,” Gibbs agreed. “Been there myself. Once. A woman can have a strange effect on a man.”


“That’s from The Patriot. Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger. Mel played Benjamin Martin, Ledger played his son Gabriel.”


“Saw it the other night,” Gibbs explained.


“I was a year ahead of her in college. I graduated, found what jobs I could but I was having a hard time. I finally got a job as an assistant coach for a junior high school basketball team in Peoria. It was the only place that would hire me, so I had to take the job. I moved, got a rat hole of an apartment and basically lived hand-to-mouth. Talked to Charlotte every night on the phone. Sometimes drove back to Ohio on weekends. The school had budget cuts, and I lost the job at the end of the school year. Charlotte graduated and got a job at a small, family owned accounting firm in Peoria, not that her parents were happy about it. They liked me at first, then they found out I wasn’t going to inherit millions so they thought their little girl could do better than waste her time on a loser like me. She could have gone to Chicago and got in with a big firm, but she didn’t. I didn’t understand it at the time –”


“She loved you,” Gibbs stated, no doubt in his voice.


“Yeah. She showed up at the rat hole, walked in, looked around and said, ‘You really need to redecorate.’ I told her there wasn’t any point because I was about to be evicted. That was the night we made plans. I told her about a job in the paper, they were looking for applicants to the police academy. I’d be able to stay there if I lost my apartment. I had been thinking about joining, and that night made up my mind. I’d go to the Academy, become a police officer and have a steady job. She had the job with the accounting firm, she’d move in with me, we’d keep the rat hole until we got enough money for a better place. I didn’t have to ask her to marry me. We just knew.”


“It was like that with me and Shannon,” Gibbs told him. “I didn’t have to ask.”


“Everything came together really fast. I got out of the Academy, had a steady paycheck, got that fixer-upper of a house, got married and things were good for a while. I made detective, we found out we were going to have a baby, I got the undercover op with Carlisle and it ended a couple of weeks before Jesse was born.”


Tony reached into his pocket, brought out his wallet and pulled a single picture out. He handed it to Gibbs. “It’s the only one I keep with me.” It was a snapshot taken by one of the nurses just after Jesse had been born. Tony had the baby cradled in his arms and was handing him to Charlotte. The look of utter awe on both their faces shone from the picture. It was the moment of shock, surprise, glee, fear, elation and wonder that parents feel when they see their child for the first time.


Gibbs could only stare at the picture, seeing Tony in another new gut-wrenching light. He didn’t know what to say.


“We didn’t make it into the hospital. We got as far as the parking lot when Jesse decided to make his appearance into the world. I delivered our son in the emergency entrance because there just wasn’t time to call for help. The hospital staff was nice enough to chip in to have the car cleaned afterwards,” Tony almost laughed at the memory.


“You know, when you and I worked together that first time in Baltimore, I did a background check on you. I found out about what happened to your family. When I started working here, you never mentioned Charlotte and Jesse. I just thought you knew what it felt like so you didn’t talk about it. Same with Shannon and Kelly. I never talked about them, acted like they didn’t exist when you talked about your other marriages. I thought that was why you didn’t ask me anything.”


Gibbs could say something to that. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have asked unless you let me.”


They were quiet for a few moments, then Tony added lowly, “I was so jealous of you.”


Gibbs leaned forward so he could see Tony’s face. “Why?”


“You got to be a dad. You got to see Kelly’s first step, hear her first word, hear her call you daddy. Got to take her trick or treating. Got to take her to see Santa. You stayed up all night one night putting a bicycle together so she could wake up Christmas morning and see it first thing. You got to go to recitals…you had Kelly for eight years. I had Jesse for eight days.”


Gibbs looked back down at the picture. If Tony didn’t know his boss as well as he did, he might have sworn he saw a tear in Gibbs’ eye.


~*~*~*~*~


Squad Room


The squad room was extraordinarily quiet. Both Ziva and McGee had been told about the DVD from Abby, and their amazement grew. What the DVD showed kept replaying in the team’s minds. It was a moment in Tony’s life no one had ever considered possible, one that no one would have thought he’d have experienced. He was sitting on the front porch of his house feeding his son and having a conversation with his wife.


Tony had had a wife and a son, and that DVD made it real for everyone. They weren’t just names, they weren’t still pictures. They had been living, breathing human beings.


And West had tried to diminish their memory by calling them collateral damage?


McGee looked at a still shot Abby had taken from the DVD just as Ziva walked over. She found McGee’s interest in the picture rather puzzling.


“What is it, McGee?”


“All the years I’ve known Tony, he’s always gone out with some of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. Charlotte was pretty –”


“But not a beauty queen,” Ducky finished for him as he stepped into the squad room. “Not surprising, really. Do either of you know where Jethro is?”


“Abby called. Gibbs is still with Tony,” Ziva explained. “Watching the DVD was more difficult than he was expecting, I think.”


“Ducky, what you mean that it’s not surprising?” McGee asked.


Ducky sat down on the edge of Gibbs’ desk and crossed his arms. “My dear Timothy, Tony was in love with Charlotte. A single look at any of these pictures or perhaps even a glance at that home movie will show you that. When he lost her, he felt he lost everything. He never wanted to feel that kind of pain again, so he deliberately but quite unconsciously sought out ways to avoid that. Have you never noticed that he works long hours or that he volunteers to work every holiday so others will be able to spend them with their families? He was very close to a burnout when Jethro and I met him in Baltimore because of overwork. I didn’t understand why at the time. He’s buried himself in very superficial relationships in order to not get close to someone again. I believe that is exactly why his relationship with Doctor Benoit was so difficult for him to deal with, especially when it was over. She was the first person he had allowed himself to feel true feelings for.”


“And Jeanne was not a beauty queen,” Ziva added. “She was very pretty, very kind…”


“And very real,” Ducky finished for her. “There was no superficial artifice to her. Tony cared about her. That’s not something he’s allowed himself to feel in a very long time.”


“Carlisle chose this form of emotional attack on purpose.”


“On that point, I agree wholeheartedly,” Ducky told her. “Carlisle recreated the moment he killed Charlotte and Jesse, from waiting until it was raining to arranging for the radio station to play a particular song. He has sent pictures and now a home movie. I believe he is trying to place Tony in the same emotional state that he was in twelve years ago. If he continues on in this manner, I believe he will attempt to parallel another event of that time. Unfortunately, no one involved in the case is forthcoming with details and Tony was in a coma for five days after his car was run off the road. I’m afraid information is somewhat lacking at the moment.”


McGee glanced at the clock. 10:00 a.m. So much had happened in a very short time. “I wonder what Carlisle plans to do next.”


~*~*~*~*~


West tried to make himself as unobtrusive and invisible as possible. He stood by the stairs and watched Gibbs’ team put more information together. They were an impressive group. His Intel had been correct about that. They had discovered information his team had gone to great lengths to hide. He’d have to tell his superiors about the weaknesses that McGee exploited so it couldn’t happen again.


All the fake files, all the fake information that West had helped “give” to NCIS had no effect on their deductive reasoning. They had tossed out all the information and gone digging on their own. Impressive? Yes. Good? Absolutely.


West’s cell phone rang, and he ducked behind the stairs to answer. “West.”


“It’s Gordon,” the caller answered. “Our objective is on the move.”


“Location?”


“Harris Storage Facility.”


“Isn’t that where DiNozzo has a unit rented?”


“Yeah.”


“We guessed right for once on this op,” West muttered. “I’ll get in position.”


“Roger that. Team will rendezvous there.”


West closed his phone, looked around him and moved quietly toward the elevator.


He had an objective to deal with.


~*~*~*~*~


“Ready to go back?” Gibbs asked.


Tony considered his answer. Not that there was much to consider.


Then…


“Why did he send the DVD now?”


“What?”


“He sent the DVD by special courier. He knows I wasn’t killed when the car went over the edge yesterday morning. So he sent that movie. Why?”


He kept thinking. Carlisle did everything for a reason. Creature of habit. Irony. Symmetry.


He took a very ordinary moment out of Tony’s life, displayed it on the small screen for all to see…


He had Tony relive memories, remember what was gone… yearn for what was gone.


We finally got him in a sting operation and arrested his entire crew at a storage facility where he had put some merchandise.


Irony.


Symmetry.


“Boss, we arrested Carlisle at a storage facility.”


“Yeah, Tony. You’ve mentioned that.”


“I’ve got a storage locker near my apartment. I’ve got all kinds of personal stuff there, including most of what Charlotte and I owned in Peoria. First, he sent pictures. Now he’s sent a movie. He’s got me thinking about them more than ever. What would be the next thing a rational person would do?”


Gibbs thought for a moment. “Go look through personal belongings that used to belong to the people.”


“Since we ended his career in Illinois at a storage locker –”


“He may be setting a trap at yours. Let’s go.”


~*~*~*~*~


Storage Facility


11:00 a.m.


It was quiet. Too quiet.


Tony always wanted to say those words and have them actually be true, but this wasn’t the time for movie references. They moved quietly, guns drawn, checking out each storage unit as they passed by. Nothing seemed amiss – at first.


“I’m at Tony’s unit. There are wires around the door,” Ziva whispered into the radio.


Gibbs walked up beside Tony, neither man showing the least bit of surprise.


“I take it you were expecting that,” Gibbs said.


“Good guess,” Tony told him as the team regrouped in front of his storage unit. The wires Ziva found ran the height of the garage door. “Any idea how big of a bang he’s put in here?”


Ziva carefully examined what she could. She shook her head. “No way to tell from here. What has Carlisle used in the past?”


“Rifles,” Tony answered. “They’re more personal. Bombs were never really his thing.”


McGee looked around, staying on his guard. “Maybe he upgraded to C4 and timers?”


“Not likely,” Tony answered. What would Carlisle do, he wondered. Rifles… Tony took out his binoculars and looked around. Two sides of the facility were visible from the road – no cover there. A thin line of trees surrounded the storage facility on the other two sides, but they didn’t completely block the access roads behind them.


“Think he’s here?” Gibbs whispered.


“If I were a bad guy and was using psychological warfare on someone whose family I murdered, where do you think I’d be after I’d sent him a DVD of him with his family?”


“Waiting and watching, setting up a trap so you’d have a good view of your target through a scope,” Gibbs answered. “But where?”


“Where I wouldn’t think the guy would look,” Tony kept looking. Carlisle was a creature of habit, but as Carlisle, he would behave one way. As Pullman, he behaved differently. Who knows how he behaved when pretending to be an FBI agent – if he really was pretending to be an FBI agent.


“Quick question, class,” Tony quizzed them. “How would an FBI agent behave if he was staking out a location to wait for the owner to show up?”


Gibbs grabbed the binoculars and with military-honed precision, reconned the area. “If he’s in character as an FBI agent, using FBI resources and FBI tactics…” There, through the trees -- the proverbial dark car parked not too far away. “I’d say there.”


Tony looked in the direction Gibbs indicated. “Then he’s been watching us the whole time. Think we ought to pay him a visit?”


“Why not?”


BANG!


A single shot literally blew Tony’s cap off his head. Gibbs tackled him to the ground. “Down! Everybody!” McGee squatted down behind a metal trash can while Ziva took refuge beside one of the units.


Tony rolled, came up on one knee and returned fire. “No good. He’s got cover.”


Another shot hit McGee’s trash can, a third hit close to Ziva. All returned fire… then Tony smelled something like smoke. He looked back at his storage unit, and – “Move! She’s about to blow!”


Immediately, they broke cover and dashed to the other side of the storage section when all hell broke loose! The storage unit exploded, bits of burning debris flew skyward and plummeted to the ground, scattering in all directions.


“This guy is getting on my nerves,” Tony muttered and he and Gibbs both took off at a flat run into the trees, toward the car.


Another shot echoed, but not from the car. This one was off to the side. Both men ran faster, approached the rear of the car, split up to cover both sides. Tony reached the driver’s side door first and yanked it open.


“NCIS! Show me –” he quit shouting.


“DiNozzo?” Gibbs rushed the other side, pulled open the passenger door.


Tony lowered his gun, his eyes never leaving the occupant behind the steering wheel. “It’s Carlisle, Boss. He’s been shot in the head.”


Turning toward the direction the last gunshot came from, they saw various individuals leave their hiding places. All were dressed in suits, even to the point of wearing dress shoes in the woods.


“What do you think, Boss? FBI agents?”


“Wouldn’t doubt it.”


That’s when they saw West emerging from his surveillance point with a sniper rifle. “Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Tony walked toward them, his own gun still drawn but pointed downward. “Your team?”


“Some of them,” West answered. “We were sent here to contain the objective.”


Tony looked back at the car. Ziva and McGee had taken up protective positions around the ‘crime scene.’ “You knew he was here.”


“Yes, but then you were aware of that fact, Agent DiNozzo.”


“No, you knew he was here,” Tony stressed. “This whole operation… all the way from him shooting me off the road to getting that FBI surveillance of me when I was on the undercover operation in Peoria to here -- I was the bait, wasn’t I? You just had to let us do all the brainwork while all of you just sat back and waited for Carlisle to come out of hiding.”


Gibbs walked over to West and yanked the rifle out of his hand. “Sniper rifle. Good choice. You’re ex-military?”


“Navy Seal,” West answered. “Agent Gibbs, this had to happen this way. We had to stop Carlisle, and he was –”


“He was better at this hide-and-seek game than any of you, he had access to your records and your finances so you had to find the one man who could best him at your own game to draw him out,” Gibbs concluded. “You should have just asked for our help and not put DiNozzo through all this,” he whispered.


“The entire operation was classified,” West protested.


“No, it wasn’t,” Tony said as he turned around and headed back to the storage facility. “I knew about Carlisle, and no one ever told me it was classified.”


~*~*~*~*~


A motorcycle seat. It had been on Charlotte’s Harley. It was easy to tell. She’d had an engraved metal plate put underneath. The word CHARLY was still legible. She had loved that motorcycle. That was the only thing she didn’t like about being pregnant – she couldn’t ride her motorcycle when she got close to the ninth month. His Harley was completely destroyed. Two classics, gone. Tony gently placed the seat on the ground and sorted through more of the burned debris that used to represent a time in his life he didn’t think much about. The fire department had arrived rather quickly, so a few items didn’t get burned too badly -- a few pictures, the Pooh bear that had sat in Jesse’s room, even Charlotte’s diploma from Ohio State had survived. She’d been so proud when she graduated. She was the first in her family to go to college. It wasn’t just a piece of paper saying she’d completed her work. It was a well-earned prize.


Tony heard Bob Torson’s voice just outside. “Fire’s out, Jethro. Same guy did this that shot DiNozzo’s car off the road yesterday?”


“Yeah,” Gibbs answered. “The guy wanted revenge because Tony did his job.”


“This is a lot of damage in less than, what, less than 36 hours?”


“Something like that.”


Then there was quiet again. Tony found a metal box with a lock. He’d forgotten that he had put it in the storage unit. He reached into his pocket and brought out his key chain. He looked for the small key, the one he hadn’t used in twelve years, and opened the small box. Inside were copies of his marriage certificate, Jesse’s birth certificate, even their death certificates. The FBI had buried the paperwork so none of these particular items could be found, wiping Charlotte and Jesse’s existence out of existence. He had proof they lived and died. He would make certain that these small, inconsequential bits of paper were put back into their proper place, proving that two of the most important people in his life had lived.


“McGee found a laptop in the car,” Gibbs said as he walked into the burned out storage locker. “Ziva threatened the FBI agents that if they took the computer before McGee got a look at it, she’d show them a few Mossad moves they wouldn’t find very comfortable.”


Tony nodded his head, then held up the papers. “They did live, you know. They existed.” His voice was breaking. “McProbie couldn’t find any evidence of it. It’s right here.”


Gibbs looked at the birth certificate on the top. “Jesse Augustus DiNozzo. Good, strong name.”


“Charlotte wanted a Jess as our firstborn. It didn’t matter if it was Jesse or Jessica. I got to pick the second name. We both loved the mini-series Lonesome Dove, and Robert Duvall played Augustus McCrae on it. We both loved the character, so if it was a boy, his middle name would be Augustus.”


“And if it was a girl?” Gibbs asked.


“Jessica Robin DiNozzo.”


Gibbs thought for a moment. “Robin?”


“Non-gender specific name, works for either male or female…”


“Tony?”


“Robin Masters from Magnum P.I.”


Gibbs smiled and nodded his head. “I figured it was something like that.”


~*~*~*~*~


Tony and Gibbs walked over to the car where McGee and Ziva were waiting. The FBI agents were milling about Carlisle’s car, congratulating themselves on a job well done but staying out of NCIS’ way.


Exactly what had Ziva threatened them with?


“Boss,” McGee turned the laptop around so everyone could see. “I found dozens of files that show how Carlisle took over FBI identities, channeled funds to secret accounts, pretended to be an FBI agent to get FBI contacts to give him information – that might be how he found out Tony was alive. He was plugged into top secret FBI communications. He sold certain agency secrets to foreign governments –”


“In other words,” Gibbs interrupted, “this was a much bigger operation than we were led to believe.”


“In short, yeah,” McGee agreed. “From the files, I’d say he had a lucrative business going on under the radar. Then there’s this big change in July. There’s a record of a correspondence with the Peoria police commissioner. After that, there are records of the department that Carlisle reported to being moved and short-staffed and eventually shut down.”


Tony almost laughed. It was that tired laugh he’d used a lot lately. “Carlisle had dealings with Hastings, and when Hastings had to call the FBI back for whatever reason, that alerted them to what Carlisle was doing. They put a kill order out on Carlisle, he took off with his laptop and access to his accounts and somewhere along the line thought coming after me to settle an old score before disappearing was a good idea. The FBI lost their bad guy. This whole thing has been an ass-saving operation by the FBI.”


“Looks like,” McGee told them. “I also found a diary of sorts in his daily planner. I read part of it. The rest is something you might want to read, Tony.”


McGee brought up the file in question and handed the laptop to Tony.


It wasn’t written in incoherent ramblings. The diary was a precise, daily record of what Carlisle had done since July.


Tony scanned over the sentences that told of what they already knew. He wanted to read about what he didn’t know. Finally, he reached the part that filled in the blanks. He read that part out loud.


“If I had the time, I would have challenged DiNozzo directly… I think I would have enjoyed a true battle of wits with him… his skills as a detective have not rusted during his time at NCIS… I can’t let his betrayal of me go unpunished even though he was merely performing his job as an undercover police detective… Killing his friends and co-workers wouldn’t give me the satisfaction I want… He destroyed my career in Illinois, I’ll destroy his memories… I have to get my revenge before the FBI finds me… I’ve got a kill order out on me… ”


“Battle of wits,” Tony scoffed. “That’s right out of the Princess Bride.”


“Asshole,” Gibbs muttered. “We would have put a bullet right between his eyes.”


“I would have,” Tony told him, all pretense of decorum gone for the moment.


Ziva moved around to get a better look at the laptop screen. “Does he say anything else.”


“Yeah. Down at the bottom, he says… I want him to see all of his belongings in the storage unit destroyed. DiNozzo loves old movies. If I had the chance, before I killed him, I’d say to him so I did not kill you. I've done far worse than kill you, DiNozzo. I've hurt you, and I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me.”


Tony looked up and saw the confused looks on Gibbs and Ziva’s face. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s what Ricardo Montalban said to William Shatner when Khan left Kirk and his crew stranded on a man-made planet.”


Tony scrolled the screen down a little more. “He goes on talking about taking his revenge and finishes up by writing to the last, I will grapple with thee. From Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!And remember, the deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers.”


Gibbs looked over at Tony. “Those lines from movies?”


“A line from Wrath of Khan, and that last little bit? It’s from Pirates of the Caribbean.”


Tony sat down, took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.


“You okay?” Gibbs asked him.


“His swan song. He wanted one last hurrah on the one person who could put him in jail and then was killed by the same people who saved him twelve years ago before he could skip town. The FBI will take the credit for this and there won’t be one mention of NCIS. Ya know, Boss, sometimes this job sucks.”


~*~*~*~*~


Tony’s Apartment


Bourbon? Scotch? Whiskey? Beer?


Tony contemplated the fastest, surest way of getting pathetically drunk so he could get his mind to stop thinking the same thoughts over and over again. Get drunk, forget about Charlotte and Jesse…


He couldn’t forget about Charlotte and Jesse. He could only force himself to not think about them. It hurt too much to think about them.


He wasn’t heartless. He wasn’t shallow. He wasn’t even as much of a playboy as he pretended to be. He just wanted the hurt and the loneliness to go away. If he kept distractions around him, he didn’t think about them. He didn’t think about her laugh or the baby’s big blue eyes. He didn’t think about those late night conversations when he came home from an undercover assignment and wanted to talk about anything ‘ordinary.’ He didn’t think about that first night home from the hospital with Jesse and checking on him every half hour as he slept. He didn’t think about how it felt to hold his newborn son in his arms and know that he and Charlotte had made a miracle. He didn’t think about all the plans they had made…


No, he wasn’t going to allow himself to think about that. He was going to get pathetically drunk and pass out and wake up with a hangover that would keep him from thinking about anything for a while.


Just as he decided on the whiskey, he heard, “That won’t help for long.”


“Hi, Boss,” he muttered as he put the whiskey back down and turned to face Gibbs standing in the doorway, pizza boxes in hand. “Dinner?”


“Figured you’d decide on a liquid diet if I didn’t bring a pizza.” Gibbs walked in and shut the door with his foot.


“I thought Ducky took me off pizza for a while. My blood tests showed I have more tomato sauce in my system than I need.”


Gibbs put the pizza box on the table and said without missing a beat, “I won’t tell him if you won’t. Got coffee?”


Tony just grinned and nodded his head. “Already made some.”


Gibbs said nothing. He pulled out two mugs from the cabinet and poured them each a cup. Gibbs somehow always knew how to get through to Tony when things were going bad. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, Tony knew Gibbs would be there to help him get back on his feet.


Gibbs had brought over pizza and a movie when the disastrous undercover assignment with Rene Benoit had gone to hell in a hand basket. He’d understood. At least, Tony thought that Gibbs had understood why it had hurt him so much. Gibbs hadn’t known about Charlotte then. He didn’t understand why losing Jeanne had almost destroyed him. He just knew that Tony was hurting right down to his marrow.


Without a word, Gibbs turned on the television and surfed the channel until he found a movie he liked – ironically enough, it was Ghostbusters. He handed Tony a cup of coffee then moved one of the pizza boxes to the coffee table as he plopped down on the couch. “Sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese,” he said as if Tony didn’t already know. “Thick crust this time.”


Tony didn’t argue. He sat down as well and before he took the first bite of pizza. “This is what we did on Friday nights,” he told Gibbs.


“What’s that?”


“Money was tight, so going to the movies and out to dinner wasn’t an option. Every Friday, she’d order a pizza from this joint just up the street from us, I’d stop by Blockbuster and rent a movie, and that was our Friday night date.”


“Had to do that with Shannon a few times when we were dating,” Gibbs confided in him.


“I thought you were in the Marines then,” Tony pointed out.


“I was, that doesn’t mean weren’t on a budget.” Gibbs handed Tony a package. “Here.”


Tony ripped into the wrapping and saw three pictures of him, Charlotte and Jesse framed. One was a still shot from the DVD Carlisle sent. Another was from one of the picture albums. The third was a blowup of the picture Tony had showed Gibbs, the one taken just after Jesse was born.


“It’s time they were remembered,” Gibbs told him. “I’ve got copies of these for your desk at work, too.”


Tony felt his eyes water, then felt the tear run down his cheek.


DiNozzos didn’t cry, right? Wasn’t that one of the big rules his father had told him?


“And here.”


Gibbs handed Tony a plane ticket to Ghana with a 24-hour layover in Chicago.


Wait, Ghana?


“Uh, Boss –”


“Jeanne deserves to know the truth. All of it. She may kick you out of the country and probably never want to see you again, but maybe she’ll give you five minutes so you can explain what happened if you ask nicely. And one other thing –” Gibbs slapped Tony on the back of the head.


“Hey! What was that for?”


Gibbs picked up another slice of pizza. “That was for letting Jeanne go in the first place and for telling her none of it was real.”


Tony glanced back down at the ticket. “Why the layover in Chicago?”


Gibbs picked up his coffee cup and took a sip. “There’s someone there you need to tell the truth to as well.”


~*~*~*~*~


Cemetery


Tony hated cemeteries. He didn’t want to visit one, he didn’t like passing by one, he didn’t want to end up in one. They were creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky – okay, enough, DiNozzo. No need to hum The Addams Family theme song.


Tony had a small bouquet of flowers in his hand as he kneeled down by a headstone.


Charlotte J. DiNozzo
Beloved Wife and Mother


“Hi, Charly. I bet you never thought you’d see me here, did you?” Tony looked around. No one was nearby. “I should have come by lots of times. I know. I moved to Philadelphia right after you and Jesse died.” He glanced at the next headstone.


Jesse A. DiNozzo
May Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest


“Hi there, big guy,” he said to his son. “I’m sorry we never got to have more father/son chats. You know, I would have loved to have seen you play baseball or soccer. You’d be twelve now. I guess we’d be having arguments about you keeping your room clean, huh? I’m really sorry I couldn’t stop what happened. I’m sorry you didn’t get to live your life. I’d have traded places with you. I want you to know that.” Then he turned his attention back to his wife’s headstone. “I guess you’ve been watching me every now and then and know what I’ve been doing all these years. Everything that’s happened to me. I thought I saw you once. Remember when I had the pneumonic plague? I think I saw you. I was lying in that bed, the doctor was in there, and I felt myself start to drift. There you were with Jesse in your arms. You were smiling at me. Then I heard Gibbs’ voice and he slapped me on the forehead. You were gone and I was back there in that bed.”


He put the flowers in the metal vase attached to the headstone.


“I know you would be proud of how I’ve done my job even if you’d get angry for how I’ve lived my life. I get that. I can’t say I’m all that proud of myself either. I’ve done a lot of things you wouldn’t like. I’ve done a lot of things I don’t like. You always told me that I was better than that, that I deserved better. When I lost you, I guess I thought I didn’t deserve to be happy because I survived. Maybe I didn’t deserve anything good. I sort of shut off all the good things we had together in my brain. If I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t hurt, you know? I just realized lately that not remembering you and Jesse makes it all hurt worse. I’ve gone all these years trying not to think about how much it hurts… all I did was hurt myself.”


“NCIS has been good to me. I’ve had some good friends and made some enemies. But you know how police work can go. It can get dangerous. During an undercover operation, I met this lady named Jeanne Benoit – but maybe you know about that too. The thing is that I fell in love with her, and I betrayed her. She hates me. I don’t blame her. Even you’d hate me if I’d done the same thing to you.” He took a deep breath, then continued. “The thing is that I lied to her when she came back, and Gibbs is right. She deserves to know the truth, and I owe to myself to tell the truth. She won’t want to see me, but maybe she’ll let me explain and I’ll leave.”


He heard a noise, looked up and saw a few people walking into the cemetery. “Ya know, I feel like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon 4. Did you see that? He was in love with a lady named Lorna and went to explain it to his dead wife Victoria. He just wanted to let her know how he felt. I guess I do too. You see, I never stopped loving you or missing you. I know I never talked about you to anyone. The truth is that it hurt so much every time I thought about you. All our plans, everything, it was just gone when I lost you and Jesse. I think I was gone too. The person that was me just stopped existing. I didn’t see that person again until I met Jeanne.”


“I don’t know if you’d like her, Charly. I hope you do. I know I did. She let me be me for about a year. Sure, I was pretending to be a film professor named DiNardo, but that was the only thing that I pretended during that time. Everything else – I was the man you married. I’d forgotten what he was like, the real me.”


He took a deep breath and wiped away a tear forming in his eye. “Gibbs made me some pictures of us. I’ve got them in my apartment and on my desk at work. I think the idea that I was married still surprises them. Frat Boy Tony wouldn’t get married, I guess. They’re still tiptoeing around me. Every time Abby sees me, she gives me a hug. Not that that’s unusual for Abby. She’s a very huggy person. Ducky keeps telling me he’s there if I want to talk. Gibbs… he gets it, you know? He understands. All during the case, he was polite. Supportive. Not that Gibbs isn’t supportive of us when we’re in trouble or need something, it’s just he’s not nice. Usually. He’s gruff most of the time. I guess he thought I needed him to be the polite Gibbs for a little while. He’s back to his usual self now. He slapped me on the back of the head when he gave me the plane ticket. I think things are getting back to normal.”


He stood up, looked at the gravestones, cursing the fact that they existed. “I’m going to Ghana to talk to Jeanne. Gibbs is right – we need to settle things truthfully or at least I do. Maybe she’ll talk to me, I don’t know but I’m going to try. I can’t live a lie, sweetheart. I never could even though I could work undercover.” He took a few steps away and then turned back. “I’ll come back. I promise. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Carlisle blew up our motorcycles. I haven’t ridden mine in years, but I just want you to know I’m really sorry it happened. I know how much you loved your Harley.” He paused, then, “I don’t know what else to say. At least, not right now. I wish I knew how you felt about all this, but I hope you’re okay with it. I do love you and Jess, Charly. I never forgot you, but I’ll think about you from now on. I promise.”


He kissed his fingertips and placed them on the headstones. With a last look, he turned and went back to the cab waiting for him. As soon as he got in, the cabbie asked, “Where to?”


“Back to the airport. I’ve got a plane to catch.”


“Hey, do you mind if I turn on the radio?”


“No, go ahead. Is there an Oldies station in the area?”


“Sure.” The cabbie turned on the radio and changed stations.


One song was finishing up just as the DJ said, “That was Shambala by Three Dog Night. And now, by special request just phoned in, here’s a classic that will really get your motor running!”


Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way


Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space


Tony looked up toward the sky and smiled.


The End


Big thanks for Tejas and Annie for betaing this story.


    Feedback is greatly appreciated.




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