Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 195

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 195: Interviews

Having your team be on the shelf also means you’ve got time to do some interviews. Get to know some prospective new team members.

So, for week two of Tony and Ziva’s honeymoon, between paperwork, and running down leads for other teams, Tim and Gibbs started interviewing possible replacements.

Technically, they’re replacements for Gibbs, since Tim is trying to keep his moving to Cybercrime on the quiet, though they don’t actually know which one of them will go first.

Tim’s handling most of the preliminaries. The get to know NCIS speech, tour the building, explain a little of what they do. He figures it’ll be good practice for when he’s in charge of Cybercrime. In spare minutes he’s been thinking more and more about how he’s going to whip it into shape. It’s one thing to tell Vance he’s going to turn it into the premier cybercrime division, and a whole other thing to actually do it. Best he’s got so far, without really getting to see what they’re up to, team building and better hiring are going to be his two main strategies.

Karen Howard was the first of the interviews. She’s younger than Tim thought it was possible for a person to be (which he figures is a good sign of his having become middle-aged) but somehow she’d managed to get her Masters in Forensic Computing from CalTech by twenty-two. No military background, but according to Carter, she’s the best hacker FLETC’s seen in, well, ever.

They’re both a little nervous. It’s the first interview he’s given, and he’s got the sense it might be the first one she’s ever had, either.

He tries to remember the last time he had an interview, he thinks it was for MIT. NCIS recruited him out of MIT, more than four agencies got into a bidding war over him, so the nervous, proving he was good enough thing didn’t happen.

Query letters for Deep Six was probably the closest he’s ever come to the traditional apply for a job/interview thing, and that was done entirely by mail. He didn’t have any face time with his agent until after he’d gotten his manuscript accepted.

So, it’s not like this is something he’s familiar with, or has done a lot, but he does know what it’s like to be on the wrong foot, feeling overwhelmed and a bit out of place. And Howard looks out of place, overwhelmed, and like she really wants to make everyone like her.

So, that’s not something he had a hard time empathizing with. Plus he read her thesis over the weekend, and got talking to her about it, which got them both into a pretty comfortable place, and for a fairly pleasant half hour they chatted about smarter search algorithms. And once she seemed settled, or at least started to smile some, he led her to his desk, handed her a thumb drive and said, “It’s a closed case, but here’s all the raw data we had. Have at it. Show me what you can do with it.”

She stared at it. “Here?”

“Yep. These are the tools you’ll have, unless you bring your own.”

“Okay. What am I looking for?”

“It’s a murder. This is everything we found about the vic. The killer’s buried in the data. Go find him.”

She nods. “That’s really vague.”

“Yep. But I picked this case intentionally. It’s one where we caught the guy from the data. Nothing about the scene or how he died was useful. It’s all in there. Find me a killer.”

“Okay. Any parameters for the search?”

“Nope. Do whatever you like with the data, just find the guy.”

Tim’s rapidly coming to the conclusion that Carter is right. He’s used to being, well, not the best and brightest, but he is the guy who can follow what the best and brightest are doing, figure out why they’re doing it, and what they’re going to do next.

He plays damn good computer defense.

He can tell she’s nervous because he’s hovering, watching her, but even with that, her code is simple, elegant, cutting away the chaff in long, clean strokes.

She’s faster than he is. Not as well-trained, no instincts, yet. She’s skimmed over the trouble spot twice now without seeing it, but for pure technical skill, she’s phenomenal.

The question is, can instinct be learned?

He flashes Gibbs a text. Did I have any instincts when you hired me?

Gibbs very slowly texts back: Knew not to piss me off.

He looks up and glares at Gibbs. Seriously. She’s killing the code. I’ve never seen skills like this. But she’s missed the problem three times now. Can’t seem to see it. Trying to remember if you learn instincts or not.

Both. You start with some, and then learn how to use them. Which case is she hunting through?


Weekly meeting with the killer, being blackmailed, ran out of cash, and got killed for it?

Yeah. It’s in his calendar, financials, and email.

And she can’t see it?

If she does, she hasn’t put it together yet.

Then what’s she doing?

Right now, analyzing cell phone data.

That was a dead end, right?

Best I remember.

How long you going to let her work?

I got it in an hour. Gonna give her four.

Okay. Go get a coffee. Stop hovering over her. You’ve seen how she’s working, now let her work.

It took Howard three hours to find it, but find it she did. He was sitting at Tony’s desk, filling out paperwork when she jumped up, sprang, kitten-like over the twelve feet to where he was and said, “Got it! It’s Some sort of blackmail thing that went wrong, right?”

Tim nods, smiling.

“Yep. What do you do next?”

“Track down jakeb.”

“Good. So, you like doing it?”

“Yeah! That’s so cool.”

“Glad you liked it.”

“Any questions?” Tim asks Gibbs as Howard stares at them, looking, for the first time, fairly pleased with herself and confident.

Gibbs gets up, stands behind her, blocking her view of Tim’s cubicle and says, “Tell me about McGee’s wife.”

All the blood drained out of Howard’s face. “Excuse me?”

“You sat in his cubicle for three hours. Tell me about her.”

“Uhhhh…” They could both see blind panic in Howard’s eyes as she desperately tried to think up anything about the mysterious Mrs. McGee. “I’m sorry. I didn’t notice. Unless you’re married to your computer…” She smiled, hoping that would go over.

“Okay, Howard. Thanks,” Tim said. That was actually a pretty good question. Because it’s not just computer skills they need. The ability to see what’s around you is vital for this job.

“I just totally bombed this whole thing, didn’t I?”

Tim smiled gently at her. “Not the whole thing. You’re great with a computer, any of the Federal Agencies would be glad to have you on their cybercrime teams. You want to apply for our Cybercrime team, I’ll put in a good word with Jenner for you, but you do need to pay attention to the world around you in this job.” And as he said that he made a mental note to keep her contact information. If she didn’t apply for it on her own, he’d look her up when he was in charge.

Wednesday, Alex Draga came to visit.

Twenty-nine years old, once a Navy flyboy, honorable discharge when an accident left him with a need for glasses. His vision was more than good enough to be a cop. Not good enough to fly a fighter jet three times the speed of sound.

Tall, relaxed, seemed to see everything, asked lots of questions, took to Gibbs fast, didn’t really pay much attention to Tim.

His computer skills were passable. Tim’s are better. Howard’s were much better. But he knows what he’s doing, and he’s got the pattern pulled out in two hours. Tim was pretty impressed. This one might be a good match for their team. He could see Ziva liking him.

And like with Howard, Gibbs asked Draga, “What can you tell me about McGee’s wife?” when they got to the end of the practical skills test.

“Black hair, tattoos, tall for a woman but not as tall as McGee, pregnant, congratulations by the way, first baby, right?”

Tim nods, impressed.

“She’s his daughter,” he nods at Gibbs, “and it’s your first baby but not his first grandchild, right?”

“Close enough,” Gibbs said, smile tugging at his lips.

“How close?” Draga looked interested in the answer to this.

“None of us are blood, but you’ve got the basic relationships right. How are you figuring first baby?” Tim asks.

“Ultrasound pics, no baby pics, means she’s pregnant but baby isn’t on the outside yet. Little curly haired girl on…” he turns to Gibbs, “That’s your dad, right?” Gibbs nods. “Obviously family, she’s on your wall, but not his, so not his baby. So, she’s one of your grandkids, but not from his wife.”

Draga turns to look at Gibbs’ desk and the cubicle behind it, quickly finding the snap of Gibbs giving Ziva away. (Jimmy had taken it, and Breena made him give Gibbs a copy the day they got back to work.) “She your other daughter’s child?”

“Nope.” Gibbs looks over his cubicle. “Don’t have pics of her parents up. Probably should get some.” He scanned Tim’s cubicle and found Jimmy and Breena in one of the wedding shots. “She belongs to those two.”


“So, do you have any questions for us?” Tim asked.

Draga thought about it. “Agent Gibbs is retiring, but he’s not the tech guy on this team, you are. So, why are you looking at me for the job?”

Tim and Gibbs smiled at that. “Baby’s due in July. I’ll be in and out for a few weeks, maybe longer.”

“You don’t need me for just a few weeks.”

“Nope. But it’s a good place to start. I’m the only one with tech skills. Back in ’02, when I started, that wasn’t a big deal. These days, those skills have to be redundant. Put plainly, I’m tired of being irreplaceable. I went on vacation, and it took Ziva ten hours to do a job I do in twenty minutes because she was looking by hand.”

Draga looks horrified by that. “By hand?”

“Yeah, sorting phone records by hand.”


“Yeah. And from what Carter’s sent me, you can shoot, which is a skill for both of us, pick locks, he’s better at that than I am, you speak Navy, which we lose when he goes, and we’re gonna guess that with a background in aviation, you can probably handle a car well.”

“That’s true. Used to drag race as a kid.”

“You and Ziva are going to get along so well,” Tim says.


“His other daughter. She and Tony are on their honeymoon right now.”

“So, wait. I join this team and it’s you, and your brother and sister-in-law?”

“Sort of. It’s me and my partners. We’ve been working together for more than a decade now. They’ve been married ten days.”

“New man in after that much time together’ll be tricky.”

“Yeah, it will,” Gibbs says. “The question is, are you the guy to do it?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. But if you think this went well, I’d like to meet Agents… DiNozzo and DiNozzo?”

“He’s Tony and she’s Ziva, but yes, the Agents DiNozzo,” Tim answered. He noticed Gibbs looking around, realized neither of them had said Tony or Ziva’s last name, then saw the name plate on Tony’s desk and nodded again. Yeah, Draga was winning lots of points on this interview.

Friday they saw Shaun Aubrey. The twenty-seven year old former Marine, did one tour, used the GI Bill to go to college, got his degree in forensic accounting then hit FLETC. Carter had said he’d been looking at the FBI and IRS, but seemed intrigued with the idea of NCIS when he mentioned it.

He looks significantly more the traditional geek than Howard or Draga. Not so much clothing, he’s in the more or less required male uniform for an interview, navy suit, white button down, conservative tie, but there’s a sort of fussy air to him.

Tim has a hard time imaging how he survived in Afghanistan in the dirt and grime. He looks like the kind of guy who carries hand sanitizer. If anything he’s a few steps beyond Tim on the everything needs to be properly organized front.

He’s the first one to look at Tim’s set up after being offered the thumb drive and actually ask, “May I rearrange it? I’m not left-handed.”

“Sure, do whatever you like to make yourself comfortable. Just put it back when you’re done.”

Ten minutes later, Tim’s workstation was more or less completely rearranged, and Aubrey had subbed out Tim’s mouse and keyboard for his own, which he had brought along with him.

Tim hovered behind, watching him work. Forensic Computing, Tim’s specialty, and Forensic Accounting, Aubrey’s, are not actually the same thing, though there is a large overlap. Tim’s having no problem following what Aubrey’s doing.

When Tim works a case, he starts with phone/email records, then moves onto financials. Usually something in the first two give the others some leads to hunt down, and while they do that he sifts through bank accounts, looking for more info to connect the dots.

Aubrey starts with the financials, finds the payments, highlights them, then hits email and has the case solved in twenty minutes.

Which, if he had started with the financials and not the cell records, is only slightly faster than Tim would have done it.

Then he took five minutes and put everything back, exactly the way Tim had had it.

He, Aubrey, and Gibbs confer at Ziva’s desk, and Gibbs asks his question: “What can you tell me about McGee’s wife?”

Aubrey shakes his head, looking at Tim. “I noticed you had some wedding pictures up, but beyond that, I didn’t really look. She was in white and red? You were in gray. I think her hair is black… Sorry.”

“It’s okay, you weren’t there very long.”

“I can, however, tell Agent Gibbs the specs for all the equipment on your desk, including the stapler. After all, that was a question to see how well I pay attention, right?”

“Yes. What you see of the things you aren’t focused on. You never know where the clue that tells the real story will be. The body may get all the attention, but sometimes it’s the pictures on the mantle that let you know who the killer is,” Tim replies.

Gibbs keeps staring at Aubrey. ‘You really want to be a field agent?”

“Do I not look like a field agent to you?”

Gibbs shrugs. He’s seen all sorts make it at this.

“I wouldn’t be here if the idea didn’t hold some appeal. I prefer a combination of desk work and getting out in the real world. The Marines was too much field. School was too much desk work. I think NCIS may provide a balance where I’d thrive.”

“Just might,” Gibbs agrees, especially given that Aubrey would most certainly be taking Tim’s place on the team. Even with a Marine background, Gibbs can see this isn’t the kind of guy that’ll automatically command respect from other military men.

“You have any questions for us?” Tim asks.

“What is the field/deskwork balance?”

Tim smiled at that. “With your skills, it’d be about seventy percent desk work, thirty percent field. We all process the crime scene. You’d head back to run the data,” because Tim’s sure that if they end up with him and Aubrey on the team, he’ll be out in the field while Aubrey runs the data, until they could get someone with more of Gibbs skills/Aubrey picked up more field skills to round out the team. “While you run data, we round up leads, deal with the evidence. Few hours later we get together again with the preliminary data, and work up a plan from there. But, until you’d been in the field more, you’d mostly be on crime scenes. Over your probie year, you’ll get out in the field more, start learning interrogation, talking to people, eventually dealing with perps. But at least at first, you better like orange, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it.”

Aubrey smiles at that. “But, eventually, I’ll get out there?”

“Soon as we catch a case, you’ll be out there. Everyone does crime scenes.”

“Good. There’s something more… satisfying about going after killers than tax evaders.”

That got a smile out of Gibbs.

“Yeah, there is,” Tim says. “I turned the IRS down for exactly that reason.”

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