Blair Sandburg bounced on his toes. The Cascade International Airport baggage claim area was crowded. He wasn't extremely short, but he was shorter than his partner, Jim Ellison, and he couldn't see over the crowd easily. They were here to pick up the federal agent who had been requested to act as liaison between the Cascade PD and the Navy. He was coming in from DC and his plane had landed a good ten minutes ago.
"Is he here?" Blair asked Jim.
"His flight just hit the baggage claim area. No one who looks Navy."
Search for the smell of gun oil." Jim Ellison, in addition to being a good detective, was a Sentinel. Sentinels are men and women with all five senses enhanced. Jim could hear a heartbeat, see microscopic evidence, and smell coffee across a shopping mall. Blair, as his Guide, was there to ground him and to help him use his senses to protect their city.
"Got two possibilities. They're near each other."
"Piggy-back your hearing and then sight." Piggy-backing three senses was something they were still working on and Blair was alert to the possibility of a zone. Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder to ground himself with touch.
Jim centered on the smell. He heard the cell-phone ring. "Call me," man one said.
"Will do," said man two. Man two answered the phone. "Boss, I just got in. I don't even have my bag yet." Jim didn't bother trying to hear the other side of the call. "Yeah. Yeah. I was renewing my mile high club membership with an air marshal. I always reach out to other agencies. That's why I'm here, remember? Except the FBI. I'll leave them to you. I'll call you as soon as I get to the P.D. Right, Boss. Why don't you take it out on Probie?" The man was quiet. "Right, Boss. No dating without a full background check." He hung up. "And everyone says I'm the mother hen," he muttered.
By the time man two made it to the baggage claim, Jim had described him to Blair and was moving to meet him. The black suit was high-quality, though rumpled from the flight. Jim could smell hair gel, sex and a gentle mint flavored toothpaste. The keen blue-green eyes locked onto him, wary but friendly. He was tall and in shape, but he didn't seem to be military.
"Detective Ellison. Detective Sandburg. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS." He offered his ID and hand to each of them. "I had your department send me your pictures," he said as Jim shook his hand. His handshake was firm, but businesslike rather than challenging. He turned and grabbed a bag off of the belt.
"Nice to meet you," Blair said with a smile. DiNozzo's smile widened as he greeted the curly-haired former-anthropologist turned cop. He hitched his backpack higher on his shoulder and picked up his suitcase and equipment case. The equipment case was emblazoned with NCIS.
"So let me go pick up a rental and I'll follow you to the office. Then you can tell me what's going on."
"You weren't filled in?" Jim asked as they led the way toward the rental counter.
"I have the file in my bag, but I've been up for thirty hours right now and to be perfectly honest, the file looks like Hebrew." He frowned. "It might be. I think Ziva handed it to me. She might have done the overview in Hebrew to mess with my head."
"How about this, you ride with us to headquarters, then we take you to a hotel for a few hours of sleep,"Jim said veering away from the rental counter.
"What? Because I'm a little tired? I can drive on no sleep for three days. I've got practice."
"Humor me. We're supposed to be getting snow tomorrow."
"Snow? It's March!" Tony scowled. He pulled out his phone and hit a speed dial number. "Snow, Boss! Snow! You owe me!" He hung up. He smiled again. "There. That'll rile him up. He'll take it out on the director."
"You think your boss will go to the head of your agency?"
"Well Vance isn't Jenny, but that's never stopped him. We report directly to the director," Tony explained as Jim steered him to the SUV he and Blair were driving.
"Bags in the car," the Cascade detective ordered. Tony complied. He shivered in the cold air. He dug in his suitcase for a windbreaker that he pulled on over his suit. It said NCIS on the back. He settled in the back-seat without further protest. Jim headed for the station, letting Blair give the agent the overview.
"We have a Lt. Harold Kim in our morgue. The ME said to tell you that 'Ducky' okayed his autopsy."
"Wow. He must really like your ME. Ducky's particular about things like that."
"Your ME's really named 'Ducky'?" Blair asked. He blinked. He'd thought it was a code or something.
"Donald Mallard is Ducky to his friends. And he's a very friendly guy." Tony paused. "Lt. Kim. Let me guess, he had my card in his wallet?"
"What? No, why?"
"That's funny. I thought Gibbs said I was being drafted because it was one of my on-ship kids." Tony dug in his backpack for his folder. "So, what did the ME say?"
"Cause of death was hemorrhaging on the brain."
"That's what it looks like." Blair grimaced.
"Harold Kim?" Tony asked. The folder made a soft swish as it cleared the backpack. The NCIS agent grimace. "Yeah, this is Harry alright. Crap. What can you tell me about where he was found?"
"Downtown. It's the tourist area. Got a mix of nightclubs and restaurants. A couple of theaters."
"Mugging?" Tony's voice was hopeful. Blair closed his eyes. He took a deep breath.
"We think it was a gay-bashing."
Tony was quiet for a long moment. "God, I hope not. It was a mugging," he said firmly. Blair met the blue-green eyes. He was surprised by their intensity.
"You'd cover up his sexual orientation?"
"I don't want his family to have to fight for his benefits."
Jim's jaw clenched and the muscle pulsed a little bit. "It was a mugging," the former Army Ranger stated.
"Now that we've got that cleared up. Is there any sign of Tommy Lynn?"
"I haven't heard that name," Ellison told him.
"Lynn's his partner-in-crime and best friend in the world. If one was here, so was the other." Tony pulled out his phone. He stared at it. Then, he put it away. "I'll need a place to set up my computer when we get to the office. I have to get some searches started."
"Kim was on ship?"
"So was Lynn. I hated that damned ship. They were good though. Everyone knew they were friends. They'd known each other forever. Lynn signed up straight out of school, but Kim went to the Academy. It was just dumb luck that they ended up on the same ship. Well, dumb luck and maybe a sympathetic duty master somewhere." Tony was quiet. "We have to find him before he does something stupid."
"You think he's going to hurt himself or someone else?"
"Yes." The NCIS agent was quiet. There was a shuffling of papers. DiNozzo inhaled sharply. "Jesus." He'd gotten to the autopsy photos obviously. He let out his breath in an angry hiss. "I do not understand people who do this crap. I just don't." He flipped a few more pages, dropping into silence. He followed them into the station. He gave the front clerk a bright smile and clipped his visitor's badge on without a comment. He gave the Major Crimes secretary a blinding smile. Then, he dropped his things by Blair's desk. He looked around the room. "Take me to your leader."
Jim snorted. He knocked on the captain's door. "Enter," Simon snapped. The black man looked up, his wire-rims glinting in the light from his window, coffee mug in his left hand and a file in his right.
"Simon Banks, this is Tony DiNozzo. He's from NCIS."
Simon stood to shake the agent's hand. "I wish we were meeting under better circumstances." Tony nodded toward the coffee pot. "Blue Hawaiian? Any way I can bribe you for some?"
Banks raised his brows. He gave DiNozzo a half-smile. "Close the case and I'll let you have a travel mug full for the flight home."
"Now see, that's just mean. You have that wonderful smell permeating the entire office and keep it for yourself." DiNozzo paused. He shook his head. "Anyway. My team lead, at least two of your men as native guides. You get credit because no journalist ever seems to be able to spell NCIS unless there's a scandal. I get to go home, write reports and terrify the sons-of-bitches who did this by threatening to ship them to Iraq to act as practice dummies for the Marines. Deal?"
Simon chuckled. "Jim and Blair are already working the case. They called you. They get to keep you happy. You start throwing your weight around, then we'll have an issue."
"Let me guess, you usually have Feebs showing up around here."
"Fish and Game. FBI. DEA. ATF. And all the other three letters. You're the first NCIS we've had."
"Hopefully, I'll be the last because we won't loose any more of our kids here. I'll need a place to set up for video conferencing and computer searches."
"We have a spare desk. It's yours for the duration."
Tony grinned. "Thanks." He offered his hand. "I'll leave you to your coffee."
His phone rang. He answered it with "I just met with the captain, Boss, he shares your taste in coffee. Go home and go to bed. And let McGee and Ziva go home too." He left the captain's office and headed for his equipment. He tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder. "No, boss, I haven't threatened anyone. No, boss, I haven't made a date with anyone either." He unpacked his laptop and plugged it into the wall. "No, you are going home." He pulled his file out of the backpack and dropped it on the desk. "I'll talk to Abby and Ducky and start running some searches. And tomorrow, after you've had some sleep, I'll call and check in like a good little agent." He hung up. He tossed his phone onto the desk. "I'll need to get a coat. Will you point me in the direction of the mall?"
"We'll drive you until you get some sleep."
Tony frowned. "You don't really have to babysit me, you know. I can find my way to the Best Western. Just point me to a mall so I can get some winter clothes for the nasty white crap that I kept moving south to get away from."
Jim smiled at him. "You don't have a car."
"You do have taxis in this place. I saw them." The NCIS agent shook his head. "I need to make some calls." He maneuvered through the cryptography screens and set up the video conferencing. Jim's brows rose as he watched the man organize his the case-file with one hand while he typed and clicked with the other.
"Speak up, Tony-boy! Gibbs is as grumpy as a bear with a thorn in his paw and I blame you. You so owe me."
"Yes, my sweet mistress of the dark. I take complete responsibility for the man being over-protective. I will bring you appropriate tributes when I return. You wanted six pounds of coffee and the kitchiest key-chain I can find right?"
"That will do." Jim stepped behind the desk to get a better look at the woman. Blair took the opposite side of the desk. The fact that they were flanking the visiting detective wasn't lost on any of them. "Ooo, cuties. Bring pictures for the lab too."
"Yes, ma'am. I need you to do something for me."
"Introduce me first." The woman on the screen was a full-out Goth. Blair and Jim shared a glance. Her dark hair was up in cheerleader-style ponytails. Her lips and eyes were dark. Her nails were painted neatly in purple. And she wore a collar to match them.
"Abigail Scuito, call her 'Abby', M.A. three times over, ABD in forensic science, and more beautiful than an Italian cinema scream queen, may I present Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison, my babysitters and the LEO's I get to badger in Gibbs' honor."
Abby's eyes narrowed. She spoke before the Cascade detectives could. "Blair Sandburg. In Cascade, Washington. You're in trouble mister. You will provide your data sets for analysis or else."
"Data sets?" Blair asked.
"Duh. On the heightened senses."
"Oh, he's the one who wrote that thesis?" Tony's eyes widened. "I'll get the data for you and Ducky. Promise. Now, my sweet, wonderful, dark-haired princess."
"What did you forget?" She put her hands on her hips.
"I might possibly have forgotten to bring winter clothes."
She snorted. "I'll go to your apartment and pick out anything that looks like it came from Chicago. Even if it's hideously preppy and boring." She smiled. "I'll send your blues."
"No thanks. Just my turtlenecks and my wool pants. I'll pick up a coat tomorrow. Beyond that. I'll need a personnel file for Tommy Lynn. He's stationed on the Reagan. Ducky passed the ME's report."
"Wow. That guy must be good."
"That's what I said. I need you to send me Tommy's picture ASAP. And tell me if he's got family or a history around here. I don't know where he went to college."
"Sure. Tommy Lynn. One of your kids?"
"Yeah." Tony mimed locking his lips. Her face transformed into a knowing mask.
"I see. I'll make sure he's not AWOL for you. Is he missing?"
"I'm not sure yet. I'm going to run the traces for him. I just want a head start. Make sure the boss gets some sleep. Did he send Tim and Ziva home yet?"
"Yep. Sent them home just after you called in safe. You keep in contact. And you do not lose your phone this time." She wagged her finger at him. "And don't come home without my data."
"Yes, ma'am. Call me on my cell when you're done."
"Will do. Bye-bye! Stay safe and call me every two hours."
"So not happening. Gibbs doesn't have me on a choke collar."
"He really should. Bye! Nice meeting you! Take care of my Tony or no one will ever find your bodies." She turned off her camera at that.
Tony grinned. "She's learning. Never give your opponent an opportunity to one up the threat. I think that's rule 29."
"That's your partner?" Blair was guessing that they at one time had been partners, even if now she was doing forensics.
Tony shook his head. "No, our Abby girl doesn't go into the field. Your thesis nearly got her killed though, so I won't tell my boss I'm working with you."
"Yeah. We were trying to find supports for the science of heightened senses. The perp didn't trust his lawyer to discredit the idea and hired someone to kill her."
"What sort of senses?" Blair's interest was piqued. He saw Jim's brows raise.
"Smell. The money had the killer's scent all over it." Tony scowled. "Sniffer wouldn't pick up on it, so it came down to proving that a human nose could smell that well. We really need to get ourselves a dog. The jury would have lapped that up. Show the evidence to the dog and have it track down the perp."
"What sort of scent?" Jim asked.
Tony crossed his arms. "We'll talk about that after I get something heavier than a wind-breaker. Abby'll send me the files shortly. I can look at them at the hotel."
"Or we could talk over dinner?" Blair grinned. "And you can pay for it."
"Right. Bribery for the stats?"
"Do you take your caffeine in soda or coffee form? It's the only way you could be that bouncy at this time of the day."
Tony looked over at Jim. "And you?"
Tony shook his head. "Well then, we'll have to find someplace with good coffee." He unhooked his equipment and packed it. "Lay on, McDuff."
"So, Shakespeare buff?"
"Nope. Ducky made me go."
Jim snorted. "Lost a bet?"
"Something like that." Tony grimaced. He tucked his hands into his windbreaker pockets.
The mall was chaotic. Jim tried to hide his wince as they passed the children's play area. Tony didn't bother to hide his. Blair's eyes narrowed. "So, you have boots?"
"Yeah. I've got boots in my luggage." Tony scanned down the list of stores. His shoulders tensed as the piercing wail of a hurt child echoed off of the walls. "Off to Lord and Taylor and maybe Joseph A. Bank. Depends on what I can find. Is the tailor any good here? No Nordstrom's?"
"No Nordstrom. So, just the coat?"
"Abby said she'd send my stuff, remember? I won't need anything else. She'll express it to me."
"So, Abby, ex-girlfriend?"
"Are you kidding me? I like my balls where they are, thank you. Gibbs made it quite clear that if I dated Abby he'd kill me." The NCIS agent frowned. "He didn't give McGee the speech though. Whatever. No, best girl-friend and fellow horror-movie enthusiast. She keeps me up to date on Japanese horror. I drag her out for Italian. Lots of ice cream, pizza, and quizzes on forensics."
"So, she's ABD. How about you?"
"Got my MA. That's as far as I'm going. I only got that because I wanted to make detective." Tony shrugged.
"Forensics. Ballistics is my specialty. Not that I do much with it. Abby and Ducky have this thought in their head that I should go back to school. So far Gibbs has kept them at bay." Tony frowned. "I should remember to get him something for that. I don't want to go back to school, but if Ducky starts on me, I'll probably have agreed before I realize it."
They headed through the mall. Tony had left his windbreaker in the car. He carried on a cheerful monologue about the movie he'd watched on the way over and how it was wrong to force everyone to watch long, depressing movies on airplanes. "I swear, if I hadn't had the company of the air marshal, I'd have been ready to slit my wrists. Honestly, who thinks it's a good idea to lock people up on a tin can and force them to watch anything other than comedies or romances. Make everyone watch Casablancaif it has to be a drama or Arsenic and Old Lace. They're classics for a reason and a lot cheaper to get the rights to show." Tony paused and scanned the people in the food court.
"What is it?"
"Not sure." He shrugged. "Just my gut twinging a little bit."
Blair looked at his partner who was also scanning the crowd, a small frown line between his brows. "It's like a powder keg in here."
"On the left?"
"No, they're regulars."
"Let's get out of here. Not our look-out today."
Blair laughed at that optimism. "Right, Tony."
"Oh, God, he's one of those isn't he? Fine. Find the trouble and we'll go throw ourselves between it and the civilians. Or we could call for uniforms?" Tony's smile was bright. "I used to live for this sort of thing when I was in blues."
Jim shook his head."Right side, snake tattoo." Blair hid his smile as Tony squinted slightly to find the man in question.
"Got him. Do people really still color their spikes out here? I thought this was a grunge town, not a punk town."
"Live and let live, man," Blair informed him.
"I should let mine hair grow out again. Spike it up in red and see if I can freak out my boss again."
"Again?" The three men walked casually toward the center of their attention.
"He called me in late for a case and I'd been out clubbing. Still had blue gel in my hair and eyeliner on. Luckily, Abby softened him up for me." Tony seemed smugly pleased with himself. It made him look something like a cat that had finally caught the mouse he'd been stalking. He stepped right into the path of the man with the snake tattoo. "Oh, sorry." He smiled. "Great spikes. I used to use egg whites. But yours look more manageable. What do you use?"
Snake-tattoo blinked. His shoulders relaxed slightly. "Bed-head."
"They sell that here? See, I've got this plan to freak out my boss. Blue spikes. Something other than another damned black suit that makes me look like I wandered in from some cheap knock-off mafia movie."
"Try upstairs. At Friz." Snake-tattoo wasn't smiling. He very gently nudged Tony out of his way, like a sheepdog might. His eyes narrowed. "Word of advice, this isn't your kind of territory."
"That's the thing. It kinda is. At least tonight. I'm just trying to find myself a winter coat, but it looks like things are going to be disturbed around here and I won't have a chance to spend some money before it breaks out. So, you put a hold on it. Find a mediator." Jim moved to block Snake-tattoos back-up. Blair noted four opposing gang members fading back from the conflict. He took a closer look at the crowd. He hadn't known that the Skins had claimed the food court. "Not deal with it in a place with a bunch of little kids where I'm going to have to get involved. It's an honor thing."
Snake snorted. An amused smile was curling up on his cheeks now. "You forgot to put 'capice' at the end of that sentence."
"That's so overdone. Still, if you want, we can try it. I'm tired. I'm pissed my boss sent me out here. And if you get into a fight in the middle of the mall, I'm going to shoot you. Capice?"
"Much more threatening. Enzio."
"Huh. You watch yourself." He nodded toward Jim. "Keeping bad company."
Tony winked. "Everyone has a purpose."
"I suppose they do. Not FBI?"
"Enzio. Don't insult me. Now, one of my people ended up dead in this town and these two gentlemen are helping me find out what happened. Which stylist at Friz?"
"Ask for Annie."
"Thanks, Enzio." Jim eyed the gang members. Blair touched his foot with his own, to ground him as he recorded the details of each man's tattoos. Tony shook hands with Enzio and turned to gather Jim and Blair. "Now, gentlemen, we were discussing where to find a coat to deal with the sort of snow that doesn't sell well. Upstairs?"
"You don't have any problem with the fact that you just pretended to be a member of the mafia?" Jim settled back as his partner started interrogating their visiting fed. He was fine with Tony's acting. There was a priority in place. First, find out if there was an AWOL sailor. Then, figure out who had killed the first one. Deal with the living, then the dead. Anything that came between the fed and his goal would be dealt with harshly.
"Jim, I'm Italian. Most of my co-workers think I'm from a 'family'." Tony rolled his eyes. "Besides, he probably thinks I'm ATF or DEA. Not a Feeb, but someone possibly running an undercover op." He sipped his Chai with a soft sigh. He had a formal coat and a camping coat sitting in a bag next to him. Blair was studying him with a strange intensity.
"How good's your eyesight?"
"20/10." Tony shrugged. "My boss has ears like a bat. Used to have sniper eyes, but he's getting old."
"But Abby was using my research for smell?"
"I can identify about two hundred perfumes by smell, innumerable vineyards and pretty much any spice combination that she can come up with. Caught me when I was recovering and couldn't run away. The wench."
"You should try having one as a roommate." Jim looked meaningfully at his partner.
"Learned my lesson freshman year. No scientists within my living space. I develop this strange urge to dangle them out of windows."
"So, you've been training your nose?"
Tony blinked. "Yeah?"
"Have you ever gotten so focused that you forget everything else?"
"Nope. Boss'd smack me hard enough to set my ears ringing." Tony's phone rang. He answered it with, "No, Boss, I'm not at the hotel and I'm not at the P.D. and you are supposed to be asleep."
Jim listened in shamelessly. "DiNozzo, I'm not the only one who's been up for two days. Get to the goddamned hotel or I'll call the captain there and have you escorted."
"Love you too, Boss. I'll sleep after I get my files from Abby. And do not sleep under the boat."
Tony's boss snorted. "Go to sleep, Tony. That's an order."
"Yes, Boss." Tony hung up. "Okay, so I've just been ordered to go to bed. And he'll have Abby hack my GPS and make sure I'm at the hotel, so let's move this little get together to the Best Western."
Blair nodded. "Sure. Which data sets was Abby interested in again?"
Blair shook his head as Jim prowled around the hotel room. It looked as if his sentinel had just adopted another person into his tribe. Tony for his part was sitting on the bed like a little kid, letting Blair and Jim have the two chairs. He had Abby on the laptop and they'd moved from a discussion of which data exactly she wanted to the relative merits of just kidnapping Blair and bringing him back to DC. "I don't know, Abs. I don't think he'd like the coffin. Though you never can tell with anthro students. The one I knew had me take him to clubs so he could culture-watch for his thesis."
"Well, we could put him in the bossman's spare bedroom."
"Yeah, not so much."
"You are not still storing your stuff there."
"He charges less in rent than the storage place and I don't have to worry about flooding. Anyway, it's been there since, Hell, since before Kate died." He shrugged. "I could shove some boxes around and uncover the bed for him, I guess, but if we take one, we have to take the other. And I don't think he'd like living at Gibbs'. He's Army."
"Oooh. Yeah. That's a good point."
There was a moment of silence. "Don't hack my GPS while I'm out here unless I disappear okay? He has to learn to let go."
"But you are not safely in the hands of the Navy this time."
"On an Aircraft Carrier. Where I had to deal with idiots. And politely tell the captain that if he ever so much as hinted that he was going to drum out a female member who'd turned him down claiming a DADT offense that I would throw him overboard with the help of the girls I knew were lesbians."
"Seriously? But that was Stan's old posting."
"I know. It took three weeks before the captain stopped calling me Burley."
Abby giggled. "Okay. Tommy Lynn is on leave. I sent his file. I didn't notice anything about being from the area."
"Oh, he's not. He's from Annapolis."
"So, you have your files. Blair has my list. You will now go to sleep." She waggled her brows. "Eventually. I want pictures."
"Caio, Abby." He shut the top of the computer. He yawned. "Sorry. So, tomorrow you'll take me to where Harry was found and we'll talk to the locals to find out who hurt my kid. And you'll take me to pick up a rental."
"We'll pick you up at 830?" Jim expected resistance to that.
"How about eight?" Tony looked at the clock next to the bed. "I'll need to grab some breakfast and snacks on the way. Got a good gas station?"
Blair shuddered. "We'll take you to a good market. See you tomorrow, Tony."
Jim held the door open for his partner. "Watch out for the radiator. It sounds like it's dying."
"Good to know. Night, guys."
Jim blinked once, then twice. Their NCIS agent was sitting in the main lobby of the hotel with a cup of take-out coffee in one hand and a file in the other. He looked closer and saw there were circles under his eyes. His lips were pulled down in a frown that didn't look natural on him. He looked up when Blair bounced over to him. "That sort of energy should be illegal," he stated. "Okay, so food, then you'll take me to the crime scene and we'll decide if it's worth trying to talk to the locals?"
Blair nodded. Tony pushed himself to his feet. He picked up his bag and kit. He was wearing his new formal coat. "Trying to make a good impression?" Jim drawled.
Tony looked at him for a long moment. "Why, Darling, I didn't think you'd notice." He batted his lashes. His lips curled up into a proper smile. "Camp coats don't cover your ass. And we're not going to be taking up evidence, so I don't have to worry about the tails. Smelled like snow when I went in search of coffee."
"It does." Jim nodded. "I'd guess it'll hit around ten. We should have time to get to the crime scene before then."
"Excellent. Why the Hell would someone come out here during this season? Is there something special I don't know about? Some festival or something?"
"We have some good street festivals for Easter, but none of them are this early." Blair herded Tony toward the car. "He could have been coming to look at the university. They do tours. There was an art showing last week. And there's a new exhibit of armor at the museum."
"All eras. It's an historical comparison of arms and armor from around the world from around 500 to 1800."
"That's it. We'll need to hit the museum to see if Harry was there." Tony pulled out his phone. "Abs, turn it down! Did those phone records come up with anything?"
Jim raised a brow at Blair. His partner rolled his eyes. Food before they tackled getting the NCIS agent to actually let them investigate. The diner was crowded with familiar people. Blair waved to them, while Jim stopped to chat with the former cop who ran the place. The air smelled of frying eggs, maple syrup, and coffee. Tony looked around with wide-eyed pleasure. He took over a booth in the back corner and the waitress in her pink and black uniform greeted him with a smile. Jim listened to him flirt with one ear while he finished up getting the morning report from Bill. "Our usual," he confirmed with Minnie as he sat down across from Tony. The NCIS agent was smiling brightly.
"This place is like something out of a movie."
"Story of my life."
"I've got a villain of the week situation myself." He nodded in Bill's direction. "Cop or military?"
"Figures. Blair's a popular boy isn't he? Think he'll share numbers?"
"Doubt it. Half of those are former students."
"They'll date up. It's okay. They see the clothes and next thing you know we're on a skiing weekend."
Jim snorted. "Bullshit."
"Okay. Not so much recently. Things have been too busy." Tony rested his cheek on his hand. "Thanks, Minnie," he purred when she poured his coffee for him. "Are you sure I can't tempt you to leave this weather and come back East with me?"
Minnie chuckled. "Maybe if I weren't a great-grandmother."
"Age is just a number. Though if it's a matter of a husband, I think I can take care of that." Tony's smirk held a hint of bad-boy that made Minnie blush.
"Oh, hush you." She received Blair's hug as her due and then continued on with the coffee carafe.
Jim studied the man as he sipped his highly adulterated coffee. "You're going to let us work this investigation."
Tony blinked. "What do you mean? I haven't tried to throw you off of it."
"Then let us do the work. Not someone who's in another state."
He looked so confused that Blair reached out to put a hand on his arm. "Tony," Blair said, "You don't need to call Abby to go through phone records. We can do that."
"No. No. No. You are so wrong about that. Abs has these computer programs that she and McGee put together that do most of the work. She just feeds stuff in and then goes onto the other problem. And if I let her sit idle, she'll start pestering Gibbs to help her redecorate my apartment."
"What did she do to it?"
Their food arrived as Tony started with, "Black silk sheets. Black curtains, Thanks, Minnie. Red velvet coverlet and shams. It was like a bad vampire movie coughed up all over my bedroom. I'm as willing to wear black as the next guy." Tony paused, studying Blair. "Well, maybe not you," he amended. "It took me three weeks to figure out how to get the canopy down from over my bed. And she knows my feelings on those."
"What did she put it up with?"
"Construction adhesive. And Gibbs put it up. Because she turned on the puppy dog eyes. She has him wrapped around her pinkie."
Jim snorted. "To get back to the real discussion, you will not be doing the investigation alone. That means, share your files."
"Fine. Fine. Whatever. You want to do the legwork, great. I'll just top my high score on Tetris. You're going to take me to get my own car from the airport too. I do know how to drive in the snow. I don't like it, but I can do it." Tony filled his mouth with breakfast. Bliss filled his face. "The weather sucks, but you've got great food. Everything balances, I suppose."
"You know how to drive in the snow, but there's no reason you need to. We've got the department car. And we've been sacrificed to take care of you."
"I don't want to impact your schedule that much. I'll just ask you when I get into things that need a local's eyes. Don't worry so much about me, okay? I can get On-Star in the car, or I can use the GPS on my phone." He shrugged. "I'm used to working alone. Helps me concentrate."
Jim sighed. "Tony, we're not going to back down from this. Simon won't like it if we let you wander around alone."
The NCIS agent scowled. "Christ. Seriously? Fine. You can hit the museum up for the tapes on their display to see if my boys were there. I'll need a list of the local hospitals. And I'll need to find out if there were any bar fights the night the incident went down. We need to find his hotel and I want to find which bar or nightclub they were at exactly to see if there was anything happening there that might have followed them. I put out a BOLO last night for Tommy Lynn as a possible witness. We'll need to hit whichever snitch can find me the weapons dealer that Tommy might have gotten to. And I need to call Harry's mother and sister and see if he said anything that indicates that this was a falling out or related to drugs or something else. I doubt it. He was a straight arrow."
"So you knew him pretty well?"
Tony frowned. "There are things that you learn as an agent. And there's a certain leeway that NCIS has on certain areas. I was stuck on that ship. I gave certain open secrets a safe haven by playing deaf and dumb."
Blair's mouth opened, but Jim stopped him with a touch on his shoulder.
"And we're not going to ask anything more." Jim looked at his partner.
"Explain this too me, Jim."
Jim considered his words. "Since we're civilians, and what I'm going to say is hearsay..."
"Actually, I need to hit the head." Tony glanced at his watch. "And maybe call into the office and talk to my boss to give his voicemail an update."
Jim nodded. "Shouldn't take too long. Your food will still be hot."
"Get me another tea if she comes to visit, please?"
Blair was vibrating by the time Tony was far enough away to claim that he didn't hear anything. "Jim?"
"Harry and Tommy were breaking regs. Tony didn't turn them in and refused to pursue Don't Ask Don't Tell cases. Which he can only do if he pretends not to hear the allegations. Because he protected them, they did him the courtesy of never doing anything in his presence to confirm any allegations that might be brought against them."
"So, he knew they were gay, but didn't do anything to out them."
"He may have actively been working to protect them. And he can't admit to that or he'll be found in breach of regulations himself. He's got an agreement of some sort with the rest of his team that they won't discuss it."
Blair nodded slowly. "That's messed up. The whole culture is messed up."
Jim's lips quirked up. He listened for Tony's voice. "Tony's updating his boss right now. That means we've got a few minutes. Process this, chief. And don't push him on the topic anymore. Cascade's a little more open than most departments, but that doesn't mean that they'd handle this well either. So let him pretend that this is just a case of finding and stopping a childhood friend from doing something stupid. That's the story we're going to stick to."
The younger man's lips pursed. "Right. And I'll write to Congress and tell them they're assholes for not repealing DADT. Got it. Naomi will be glad to support me on that at least."
"So, who's Naomi? Date?" Tony asked as he dropped into his side of the booth. He shoved a few more bites into his mouth.
"She is a very attractive woman."
Blair shivered like a cat squirted with water. "Will you stop saying that? She's my mom!"
"Captain Banks, really, I need to slip my leash. Blair's a sweetheart and Jim makes me nostalgic for my first few weeks with my boss, but they don't need to be carting me from place to place. It's a waste of your resources." Tony's voice was calm. "I promise, I'm not trying to cut them out of the investigation, but I saw your board out there. You need them working on other cases. I'm just going to hit up a few clubs and talk to a museum rep."
Simon snorted. "Blair knows everyone at the museum. He'll ease your way. And if you're hitting up the clubs where your man might have been, then if this isn't an isolated incident, you'll need back-up. I'm not going to let a fed get killed on my patch."
Tony made a frustrated sound. "I'm not going to get killed. I've been doing this for years. Really, Captain. Just tell your men to let me have my own car."
"If Jim's decided you need protecting, he'll just follow you even if you do drive. Just roll with it, son."
"Oh, God. He's one of them isn't he? A total mother-hen mush under the crunchy I-can-break-you-with-my-pinkie exterior?"
"Yep. Here, have a cup."
"Well, that's okay then." Jim could hear the smile in Tony's voice. "You are such a tease, Banks. I can see why Gibbs swears by this stuff. Organic?"
Tony made a happy noise. "So, I have a mother-hen and the earth-brother to escort me around until I shoot them?"
Simon opened the door to his office and shooed Tony out into the bullpen. "Try to keep it holstered, Agent."
"No promises. For coffee this good, you just need to give me a list." Tony's eyes roamed around the office. His eyes caught on Rafe. "Thanks for the caffeine. I'll need it. You sure Blair doesn't have this in his blood?"
"If only it were that simple." Simon shook his head. His smile was fond though. Tony had charmed him. That would make things a little easier. Tony crossed the room.
"I need the name of you tailor and where you found the suit."
"You can't steal him," Rafe stated. "He's the only good one I've found in Cascade."
"Scout's honor. I need to get my coat tailored with an extra pull holster."
Rafe nodded. He pulled out a business card. "Tell him Rafe sent you. He'll give you a good deal."
"Brilliant." Tony settled on the corner of Jim's desk. "So, tell me which museum we're going to."
Blair's smile was bright. "I called Dr. Hannigan and she's going to ease our way with security. They should have the tapes ready by the time we get there. Do you know your men by sight well enough to sort through the tapes."
"Well, I could do that. On fast-forward even. Or I could call my team and ask my favorite geek if he can run them through his photo ID system."
Blair's smile dimmed.
Tony's eyes narrowed and Jim bit his lip. "You want to study me, don't you."
"Well, maybe. A little bit."
"Once a scientist, always a scientist, huh? Fine. We'll do it your way, but if there's no results within say, two hours, I'm shipping it back to DC."
"I am so going to regret this."
Jim clapped Tony on the back. "It only hurts for the first thirty minutes or so. Then, the endorphins kick in."
"And the Stockholm Syndrome? How long does that last?"
"Ask me in a few years."
The security control room of the museum was dark, dusty, and manned by one person. He was watching the monitors and listening to the radio chatter. Tony had claimed the second best chair and a terminal. He was watching the security feed on// fast-forward. His chin was propped on his hand and he had a packet of chips open in front of him. He popped in a slice of fried potato and crunched it gleefully.
Blair winced. "Those really aren't good for you, you know."
"Phys Ed major," he said. He straightened and his shoulders angled forward. His entire attention was suddenly focused on the monitor in front of him. If he'd been a dog, his ears would have been pricked forward. Blair rolled closer. The film slowed.
He recognized their victim when he looked up at the camera and waved. Tony's smile was sad. "Hey, Harry," he said softly. "He's always done that. Any place with a camera he can see. Said that he felt badly for the security guard who's stuck watching hours of boring footage." He tapped on the screen. "That is Tommy Lynn."
The two men studied the arms carefully. Occasionally one would wave the other over to see something interesting. There was nothing in their body language that said anything other than friends to Blair. He frowned. That made a certain amount of sense, but he didn't know how they could stand not touching each other.
"So, they were here. Helps narrow down the time. Let's find out when they left." Tony sped the video up again. He switched to the next room and the next, following their meandering path through the museum. "Left at closing time and went looking for dinner," he murmured. "So, where did they go?" He pulled up the parking lot films.
Jim watched from across the room where he was talking basketball with the guard on duty. "Sorry to cut this off, but it looks like we found something."
"Duty calls. Jags are never going to take the title," he added as Jim walked away.
"Believe what you need to," Jim replied. He leaned over Tony's shoulder, one hand falling onto his shoulder. The NCIS agent twitched under the friendly touch and Blair frowned. That said something not-good, but he didn't feel comfortable pursuing the thought right now.
"There." Tony zoomed in and squinted. "Jim? What have you got on the license plate?"
"Great. We can put out a BOLO on the car. I wonder if McGee's in the office. He should be able to access the CCTV cameras wherever they are."
Blair blinked. "You can do that?"
"Yeah?" Tony frowned at them. "Oh, yeah. It's a Feds thing." He smirked. "There have to be some special perks right?"
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