Sunday, December 15, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 266

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

Chapter 266: And That Was Tuesday

Tuesday began with crying. Tim’s gotten pretty good at sleeping through the non-four-AM-feed-me cries. But it’s his day, so the not very quiet waa waa feed me waa got him up and moving.

Get up, toss on a pair of boxers, head over to Kelly’s room, pick up Kelly.

“Morning baby.” He’s still three quarters asleep, but this is getting more and more routine. (Though he’s looking forward to this particular routine ending.)


“Yeah, I know. Food’s up soon.”

He put her on her back on the changing table and got her cleaned up. Then he took her, and her bottle to the bathroom. He’s got her snug against his chest, holding her with the one hand, while he fills the bottle with water (the powdered formula was already in there) then tightens the lid and shakes it up.

Normally, he’d head back to her room, get her situated in his arms, and then feed her while he dozes. Sometimes, when he’s feeling really energetic, he’ll hum a little to her, but for the most part he tries to keep it so both of them stay as far away from awake as possible.

But since he’s not going back to bed, he takes them to his office, (Kelly fusses at this. She knows the routine, and this isn’t it. Plus she can smell the formula, knows it’s close, but it’s not in her mouth, and this is not making her morning.) turns on his computer, and then gets her settled, bottle in mouth,  (About time, Dad! I’m starving!) and gets to work.

He reads over what his search parameters have been returning. “There has to be something here. Three guys do not cut a hole in a ship and then vanish and have nothing to do with each other.”

Kelly’s staring at him.

Tim shakes his head. “Nothing. Big pile of nothing. No calls. No emails. No money…”

Gentle slurping and a confused look accompany Tim talking to himself/Kelly about this.

“They’re on the ship together, so okay, they talk to each other, in person. Great. No records of that. But they got off the ship. So they had to have a plan to do something once they got off… What do you think? You hop off a ship. Why do you do it?”

Slurp, slurp. Dad, I don’t know what a ship is.

“I know. Okay. So you hop off. Why? You’ve got something that’ll go missing so fast that you can’t wait the twenty-four hours it’ll take to get to Norfolk.” He thinks about that a bit. Feels right. “But nothing’s missing. At least nothing they’ll tell us about…”

He goes through the records again, looking to see if there’s any links between his missing sailors and any of the higher ups on the ship. Nothing’s jumping out, but of course, he’s got nothing of the higher ups to compare anything to.

“Blackmail? They take something that’d make the Captain look bad? Hop off? He keeps quiet and then pays up. Back in port he gets it back…”

He starts to go upstairs to grab his phone, but Kelly squawks again, not appreciating this eat and go style of feed. “Okay, I’ll let you finish before I give Pop a call.”

He starts typing one-handed, requesting permission to search through the financials of the… XO… What was his name? Snader. That was the guy Tony was saying was acting hinky about this whole thing. See if he’s made any recent payments to anyone interesting. See if he had the money to be worth being a target.

That really wasn’t working. Yes, he can type one handed. Yes, he can feed Kelly one handed. No he can’t do both at once at 4:17 in the morning without ending up with formula in Kelly’s hair or every third letter wrong. So he pushes the chair back from the desk, gets a two-handed hold on his daughter, and feeds her while working different ideas.

By a bit before five, when Kelly was fed, burped, and settled back down, (Mental note: don’t take her downstairs, it wakes her all the way up, and then he had to spend even longer getting her to sleep again. In seven hours, when he’ll tell Jimmy about it, he’ll just laugh at him.) he was really liking the blackmail angle.

That gave them a reason for why the XO was acting hinky. It’d answer why they couldn’t find anything missing. It’d explain why they had to get off the ship. (Can’t get information off a ship if the guy in charge of the ship doesn’t want you to. Radio silence may not be the correct term anymore, but it gets the idea across. If the XO doesn’t want anything getting off, he can make sure nothing gets off.)

And, by a bit before five, he’d gotten the clearance to do some hunting in the XO’s private life, and found that not only did he have a pretty hefty sum of money in the bank, but he was also in the middle of a divorce.

So, playing hardball, the wife hires these guys to get some dirt…


He picked up his phone.

“Tim?” Gibbs doesn’t sound particularly sleepy, but best he knows he’s usually up and about this time of day.

“Yeah, just found—“

“DiNozzo’s team leader, now. Call him.”

“Oh. Yeah. Right.”

He hung up, and hit Tony’s contact info. Six rings before he heard, “McGee. It’s five in the morning.”

“I know.”

“Not all of us are on baby time. We just got to bed two hours ago.”


“Can it wait until eight?”

“Yeah. Probably even more to build on then.”

“Great. Tuesday is your day for snacks now.”

“Fine. What’s Draga eat?”

He heard the long low null of the dial tone and hung up.

Okay, so, nothing on the phone records. They aren’t talking to anyone particularly interesting. Nothing in their emails. Nothing on the financials. He likes the idea of the blackmail but… He can’t connect them to anyone. He can’t even connect them to each other.

There’s got to be more to this than that.

But he’s done everything he can from home. He needs to get onto their own machines.

It occurs to him that he doesn’t know if they even had Simmers, Ender, or Blake’s computers or phones.

This time he texted Gibbs. Did we find phones and laptops?


Okay. Gonna grab some food, and I’m heading in. What does Draga like?

Wheatgrass/banana smoothie, two shots of protein, B5 vitamin shot, RedBull chaser.

Wow. That was both an insane jolt and vastly healthier than anything anyone on their team was accustomed to.


When you heading in? He flashes to Gibbs.

Be there round seven. What’d Tony say to your idea?

‘Tell me later.’ He just got to sleep. Late night? He could feel Gibbs giving him the don’t ask stupid questions look. See you soon, Tim texted and then headed to his room to put some more clothing on.

The coffee/snack cart outside of NCIS usually has a collection of agents around it, fueling up for… whatever it is they’re going to do that day.

Jerry’s known all of them awfully well for a good long time. He pretty much always has a pot on just for Gibbs, and he’s got the rest of their orders pretty well down, too. So it doesn’t take much effort for Tim to get everyone’s drinks/morning snacks taken care of.

“You in early or staying late?” Jerry asks.

“Early. Have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot more early and a lot less late these days.”

Jerry nods, remembering. “Come on, picture time.”

So Tim shows him baby pics, and collects up the cups and pastries, and heads on it.

Draga's still at his desk, still in scrubs, head on his desk, dead asleep.



“Got a smoothie and Red Bull.”

One eye opens and their newest teammate looks at him. “Time?”

Tim hands over the smoothie and Red Bull, and then checks his watch. “Six oh three. Wake up enough to move, and then home, shower, change. You can work at your desk like that, but if we’re in the field, you need to look up for it.”

Draga nods, very slowly, pops the Red Bull, chugs it in one long swallow, tosses it, and then startes in on the smoothie.

“You ever hear of Caf-Pow?” Tim asks.

“Yeah. Too much sugar, not enough caffeine.”

Yikes. “All right. Home. Back by eight.”

Draga waves a bit while heading off, sucking on the smoothie.

Tim unpacks Gibbs’ coffee, Ziva’s mango smoothie and blueberry muffin, Tony’s coffee and bearclaw, and his own coffee. Okay, time to get into the evidence.

Technically there’s supposed to be someone on staff 24/7 in the evidence lock up. But, budget cuts and all, so instead of a live person they upped to level of surveillance, and added weekly audits to the evidence logs.

So, he’s in the basement, on his own, looking through the boxes, finally locating the one he needs. Two cell phones, three lap tops, okay, looks pretty good so far. Why only two phones…

He signs out the box and heads to the lab.

It’s empty. Of course it’s empty, it’s six fifteen in the morning. Still, he’s got the feeling that if he’s here, Abby’s supposed to be here. That’s just how it is, right?

Except right now, it’s not. And won’t be. Until September.

He shakes his head. Work to do.

Normally he and Abby would set everything up, rig the cords he’d need, hook the computers up to work in tandem, and then go to town on them. But, she’s not here, and the computers are… Working. On something. Something not his case.

And the workbench has stuff on it.

The workbench is supposed to be clean and clear. It should be a long expanse of gleaming metal, ready to work, not… What the hell is this? Evidence of some sort but… Looks like some sort of experiment on electroplating. Long metal wires extending over a plastic tank filled with some sort of liquid, things that could be coin blanks danged from the wires, submersed in the liquid.

He heads into her office, looking to hook into her private computer, but someone’s got stuff all over there, too. Someone has been using Abby’s computer, and for a second he feels a desire to go find said person and explain to them in extreme hard-ass detail that no one messes with Abby’s computer, let alone…

Her desk! The chair’s wrong. It’s got a cushion on it. And… there’s… pictures, but not of them. And… he looks around some more, Burt’s missing! Burt should not be missing. Burt should be on top of the filing cabinet ready and willing to leap into action as a comforter for anyone who may be down here in need of a snuggle and laugh.

“Can I help you?”

Tim rounds on his heel ready to chew out whomever has the nerve to interlope down here, only to realize that, damn it, that’s Zelaz, and he works down here, now.

“Where’s Burt?”

“Burt?” Zelaz is looking at him like he’s insane. No one named Burt is supposed to be in the lab.

“The hippo?”

“Oh.” Finding out who Burt is is not alleviating the you’re insane in his look. “We moved him to the expanded area.”

“Why?” Moved Burt? No. No. No!

“Corwin kept playing with him, driving us crazy. Most of Abby’s stuff is in there. So, can I help you… Agent McGee, right?”

Tim sighs, glaring a little. Zelaz looks pretty disturbed at that. Then he shakes his head and waves it away. “Yes. McGee, we met a few times before Abby had the baby. I’ve got computers and phones to go through. Usually I come down here, hook in, and do it on the table, but you’ve got… stuff, on there.”

“Ah. Yes. For the counterfeiting case. How is Abby and your daughter?”

“Just fine. Sleeping when I headed in here. So… got phones and computers I need to crack. No place to do it.”  Tim’s looking long and hard at the stuff for the counterfeiting. Isn’t that something the Secret Service usually handles? Sure we got that one case… And what sort of moron counterfeits coins? Never mind. Not important.

“You have to remember, your team isn’t the only one. We do process evidence for everyone here.”

“Of course.” Okay, this is just flat out wrong. Everyone else takes a back seat to their evidence. Things his team need done get done right this second. Someone needs to have a chat with these guys about this.

“But, if you want, there’s two extra computers, and an extra table in the newer space.”

“Thanks.” He heads through the new door next to Major Mass Spec, quickly patting it, at least something still looks the same, and realizes that yes, this is pretty close to the set-up he’s used to, though whoever did it wasn’t paying too much attention to the lay out, both the table and the computers are facing the windows, so the sun is rising in his eyes.

Not gonna work.

He pokes his head out. “Zelaz, get in here.”


He’s not usually the guy who tries to trade in on close relationships to people in power, but if I’m married to your boss can make this easier, he’ll whip it out. “We’re moving this. Anyone trying any real work here in the morning’s going to go blind. Let’s get everything unplugged and rearranged.”

“McGee, I’ve got evidence to run and an experiment to monitor.”

Zelaz does not appear to be understanding the unspoken context here. Tim tries again, putting a little more stress on the words, acting like he expects immediate compliance. Always works for Gibbs. “I’m sure you do. Give me a hand.”

Zelaz is still staring at him, boggled at this. Apparently furniture moving isn’t part of his job description. “Isn’t this why we’ve got maintenance and physical plant guys?”

Tim takes three steps to the doorway, and grabs Zelaz by the hand, pulling him to the desk. “No. We wait for them it’ll be three weeks before they get to it. We do it, and it’ll take twenty minutes. Now give me a hand.”


“Are you running the evidence for Vance?”


“Is it a murder?”


“Dead body and three missing sailors trumps whatever else it is you’re working on.” Tim points to the cords. “Get unplugging. Sooner they’re moved, sooner you get back to trace.”

He’s used to quiet for work like this. Once they’d get set up, usually he’ll do the legwork, while Abby does something else. Sometimes they talk, gossip a little, (okay, a lot sometimes) but usually they both get into the zone and do their own thing.

Still, feels weird to be down here, by himself, breaking into these computers, and not hear her music, and the clomp of her boots on the floor as she moves from one job to the next.

Feels, just, bizarre, to not smell Caf-Pow.

And, honestly, it’s kind of lonely to not occasionally feel a hand brush his neck, or to give her a quick kiss when he hits a lull of his own.

Burt’s on top of the filing cabinet. “She’ll be back in a few months.”

Burt doesn’t say anything.  Tim gets up and takes a quick shot of him and Burt and sends it to Abby along with: Missing you.

A minute later, as he’s breaking the password protection on the Simmers’ computer, he gets one back. Miss you, too. Home for dinner?

I hope so. No idea yet.

How’s it going?

Slow, this part always is. What are you listening to?

Right now, Kelly nursing. That gets a smile. The picture she sent him of Kelly looking awfully happy as she chowed down on breakfast number two gets a bigger one. Just put on Animal Collective.

Tim nods at that, and queues them up on his phone. Not his favorite, but it’ll do. It’s the kind of music he’s got associated with ‘working.’

Got ‘em on. See you tonight.

Love you.


By eight thirty, when he was fairly sure everyone else was in, Tim headed upstairs. By this point he’d dissected the computers and phones and found, once again, not much of anything interesting. No file marked “Secret Plan, DO NOT OPEN” or anything like that.

“Coffee’s cold.” Was the first thing Tony said when he saw Tim.

Great. Really late night. Tony’s never much fun on four hours of sleep.

“Was nice and warm when I brought it in.”

That got a glare. “So, since you’ve finally decided to join us, campfire time. Gather round.”

So, gather round they did. The report in part looked a whole lot like when Gibbs was running the show, aside from everyone sitting down in their chairs in the middle of the bull pen.

The sum up led to this:

A: The USS Reagan had a five by two foot hole in the side of it.

B: That hole was located behind a stack of boxes in a deep storage area.

C: It can only be seen from the outside, (or right in front of it on the inside) so they had not more than two days of time where it’d be undiscovered. (Maybe less if someone had to circle around for a better landing approach, Draga added.)

D: The equipment needed to make that hole had been on board. It did not appear to be on board any longer. And cutting said hole would have taken close to fifteen hours. Letting the hole cool off so you could go through it safely would have been another three days.

E: They were no closer to having any idea if anything, besides the cutting tools, were missing.

F: The only things Simmers, Blake, and Ender seemed to have in common was an interest in computers games, a lack of friends, and a socially awkward personalities.  (“Kind of like you, McNerd.” “Stuff it, Tony.”) All three were good, but not excellent, at their jobs. Besides one drunk and disorderly for Simmers, none of them had anything on their records.

G: The XO, Carl Snader, was definitely hiding something, but none of them knew what. (Tim’s blackmail idea struck all of them as plausible.)

H: Next up, going to visit their homes, talk to next of kin, try to get more of an idea of what was going on.

They’re getting ready to leave, but Draga’s still staring at the pictures of the crates. “Something’s just wrong about these.”

Gibbs drifted over, looking at the shots on his screen, squinting. “Put ‘em on the plasma.”

Draga does, flashing them up. On that screen, they’re practically life size. Gibbs looks them over more carefully. Then he point to the area on two of them where the cross planks are flush with the side walls. “Pry marks. These have been opened.”

“Opened?” Tony says. “That’s not good. There’s not supposed to be anything in those anyone’s ever needed to get into. Ziva, Gibbs, we’re heading back to Norfolk to go over Simmers’ place anyway. We’ll swing by the ship and see what’s up with that. McGee, Draga, you’re off to check out Blake’s place.”

“On it.” Tim said to Tony as Ziva and Gibbs grabbed their bags.   

“So, let me guess,” Draga says a few seconds after they pounded on the door, announcing themselves. “They never actually leave the master plan laying out?”

No answer, so Tim’s picking the lock. “You know how to do this?”

Draga shakes his head. “Passed the class, but I’m bad at it.”

“Have Ziva or Gibbs work with you on it.”

“Not you?”

“You want to try to learn how to pick a lock from a lefty?” Learning how to do it from his right-handed instructors at FLETC hadn’t been much fun. He’d gotten to the point of being mediocre at it. Give him enough time and eventually he’d get through the lock. Then one day, when Ziva was watching him grind away at it, she gave him a tip, do it with his eyes closed, don’t worry about where your hands are, just feel it, don’t try to see. That helped, a lot. But he’s got the sense that he does it pretty much upside down and backwards from how right handed people do it, and they would have a hell of a time following his technique.

“Good point.”

“And yes, sometimes they have left the master plan out, and we walk into it, but, in thirteen years, I’d say it’s happened four times.” He feels the last tumbler slide into place. “And we’re in.”

Draga’s about to step in, but Tim stops him. “Tell me what you’re seeing.”


“Before we go tromping in there, tell me what you see. What sticks out. What it makes you think.”

“Okay…” Draga stares in. “Small house, one, maybe two people live here, tops.” Makes sense. They’re in a neighborhood of small, post-World War II bungalows. “Air feels stale. Hot. Air conditioning is off. No lights on. Shades are down. No mail.” There was a mail slot in the door, but no pile of mail on the floor. “Whatever, wherever Blake is, it’s not here.” Tim nods in agreement. Of course, the foot tall grass, the lack of car in the driveway, and the fact that none of the neighbors had seen him in months also suggested that.

Draga looks around further, from where they are, they can see a small living room, part of a kitchen, and another doorway that probably leads to the bed/bathroom are. “No clock. No TV. Sofa, no chairs. One lamp, next to the sofa. No pictures on the mantle. No art on the walls. I’ve lived in DC for five weeks and have more stuff than this up. How long has he had this place?”

“It’s been his listed residence since 2011.”

“Great. Doesn’t look like he entertains.”

“Nope. Anything else?”

“He likes beige?” Beige carpet, lighter beige walls, darker beige sofa.

“Why not.” Tim shrugs. “Let’s see what else is in there. Keep telling me what you see and what you’re thinking.”   

“Okay. Really hot in here.” And it was. Only in the mid-80s outside today, but closed up house, no AC, full sun beating down on it, and it was sweltering in there. Draga looks around further. “Not getting anything else off the living room.”

“Kitchen next.”

They head in, look around. “Doesn’t cook much.”

“Maybe. He’s been on a float for ten months. Might not see any need to keep any food in here that long.”

“Not just bare pantry.” Though the pantry is bare. No staples. “No microwave. No pots or pans.”

“Could be in the cupboards.”

“Not feeling it.” Draga opens the cupboard, there are plates, bowls, glasses, and two pots. “This guy eats takeout, makes himself ramen now and again, and probably has a recipe for girlfriend spaghetti, and that’s it.”

“Girlfriend spaghetti?”

Draga smiles at him. “You’ve been married so long you don’t remember that? It’s that one recipe every guy has that he can whip out to feed the girlfriend that one lone home-cooked meal to prove that he’s not completely and utterly helpless.”

“Tony calls it camouflaged takeout.”  

Draga smirks. “Of course he does.”

“You thinking there’s ever been a girlfriend back here?” Tim asks. He’s thinking awkward personality may be code for has never been on a date.

Draga’s reserving judgment. “Let’s see the bedroom.”

As they’re leaving, Draga looks at Tim, “What was yours?”


“Your one meal?”

Tim shakes his head a little. He never had a version of girlfriend spaghetti (though he has, on occasion, engaged in camouflaged takeout). “I’m not now, or ever was, a great cook, but as my mom said, ‘You’re not a prince, and you’re not a pet, so you’ve got to be able to feed yourself, now get in there and make dinner.’ So, I can make an okay version of a whole lot of things.”

“Your mom and my mom would have gotten along.”

Tim shrugs at that, not wanting to get into it. “Yours?”

“My parents run a bakery back home. I make a mean quiche/soup/salad combo.”

“That explains the cake.”

“Yeah, I’m good with desserts, too. Worked every night, morning, and weekend in their bakery growing up.”

“Where’s home?”


“Maine or Oregon?”


Tim nods at that and opens the door to his left. Bathroom.

Draga winces. “That’s just nasty. I’m voting no on any woman ever coming back here.”

Like the rest of the house it’s empty. Unlike the rest of the house tidy in here doesn’t mean clean. Both the shower door and the toilet look like they’ve never been scrubbed, and Tim’s devoutly hoping those rusty-brown stains all over the shower wall and the toilet bowl are, indeed, rust stains from hard water, and not something more… organic.

They do however find the first sign that at some point an actual person lived here. There is toilet paper on the spindle. One toothbrush, old tube of toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, razor and shaving cream appear to live in the medicine cabinet.

“Insight?” Tim asks.

“Guy’s tidy. Puts everything in its place. Doesn’t like to see clutter.” Tim nods at that, sounds good. “Bedroom?” Draga asks.


Like the bathroom there are at least some signs of life in here. Clothing in the closet, more clothing, towels, and linens in the dresser. Alarm clock and lamp on the one night stand next to the full size bed. The mattress was bare, pillows with no cases on top.

Tim and Draga home in on the desk in the corner, but besides being set up for a computer that wasn’t there, it’s empty.

“So, no landline, no tv, no desktop computer. Either this guy is a luddite or his whole life is on his phone and laptop.”

“We’ve got both at in evidence.” Tim shows him a thumb drive he had in his pocket. “And I brought their contents along.”

“Interesting. What’s left?” Draga asks.

“There was a garage,” Tim replies.

“Let’s see what’s in there.”

It’s a detached garage. Probably added after the house was built. Probably added recently. The siding is vinyl and the door is some sort of composite, both of which Draga points out while Tim lets him take his time going after the lock.

There aren’t any windows, but there does seem to be some sort of ventilation system.

“Think he’s a wood worker?” Tim asks. Only place he’s seen an exhaust system like that is Gibbs basement, and Gibbs only fires that up for when he’s working with his band saw to rip larger pieces of wood into smaller ones or when he’s doing any sort of spray finishing.


“Keep talking…”

“Upholstered sofa. Cheap metal kitchen table and chairs. Ikea bed, night stand, and dresser. Particle board desk. Whatever he’s doing in here, it’s not wood working.”

Eventually Draga got the lock open, and Tim eases open the door. They both stare into the shed, and Tim feels his mouth go dry. Draga’s staring in the shed, and back to Tim, and back to the shed.

“Not good?”

Tim shakes his head. “Not good.” He’s got his phone to his ear before he’s finished shaking his head.

“McGee?” Tony asks.

“Draga and I are at Blake’s. We’re staring at a shed filled with bleach bottles, gasoline canisters, empty Vaseline jars, and bags of what I bet used to hold potassium chloride.”

He hears Tony groan. “How much?”

“There’s,” he counts quickly, “twenty one gallon-sized bleach bottles, and about the same amount of the other stuff.”


“You get to Simmers’ yet?”

South of Richmond
“No. We’re just south of Richmond. Any fertilizer?”

“Not that I’m seeing.”

“Anything else interesting?”

“House was empty. Barely looked like anyone had ever lived there. I’ll send the pics when I get off the phone. Be careful when you get to Simmers’.’”

“You, too, Tim.”

Tim started to shoot pictures of the interior of Blake’s shed. Draga was about to step in, but he grabbed his arm, and kept him out. “Those are the ingredients for homemade C-4. We don’t go in there. Once I’ve got pictures of everything, we call Vance, he sends the explosive experts, they take everything apart.”

“You wait for the bomb squad?” Draga didn’t believe that, maybe he’s been hearing too many stories of their past exploits.

I wait for the bomb squad, and you do when you’re with me. When you’ve got your own team… But you don’t, so we sit here and wait.”

Tony' calling
An hour later, they’re sitting in the car, having roped off the place, and waiting for the bomb techs when Tim felt his phone buzz.

He checked; it was Tony.

“You finally get to Simmers’?”

“Finally. Wanna guess what we found?”

Tim sighs, of course this case has to get messy. “Nothing good.”

“That’s putting it mildly. Everything you need for homemade det cord. No homemade det cord.”


“It gets better.”

Tim rolls his eyes. “Really, how does this get better?”

“We’ve got twenty blank books filled with incoherent ranting, and biographies of every whack-job, school-shooter from the last hundred years.”

Tim winces. “You’re right, that’s better. You contact the Reagan?”

“Yeah. We’re starting to get an idea of why they might not have wanted to stay on the ship. They’re getting everyone off, calling in the bomb squad, and getting off shore, more or less all at once.”

“Once we get the bomb squad here, we’ll head for Ender's.”

“Okay. Keep us in the loop,” Tony says.

“Will do.”   

It occurs to Tony, as they sit, on the dock, nice and dry, not in the middle of what is probably the biggest bomb they’ve ever seen, watching the feed of the bomb squad checking things out, that once upon a time, Gibbs would have decided they needed to be on the ship in the middle of this investigation.

Say, this time ten years ago, hell, five years ago, he probably wouldn’t have been satisfied with the idea that just letting the guys who do this for a living clear the thing out, and then go in. No if they were going to be in danger, he’d want to be in danger, too.

Tony catches Ziva’s eyes as the three of them watch the feed. She nods slightly, understanding his unspoken thought. He notices that her hand is on Gibbs’ shoulder. Just a brief touch, but it seems (to Tony at least) to say, I’m glad you’ve hit the point where you value your life.

Gibbs squeezed her hand back, and then all three of them focused on the techs, who were opening the boxes where the body was found.

Tony felt his blood go cold when he saw it. They’d all been standing there. Right next to what looked like a good twenty pounds of c-4.

Ziva was already looking at the specs of the ship.

Below the storage area were the tanks that held the jet fuel.

The techs opened (carefully) the boxes above and to the sides of the bomb. They were filled with sandbags and concrete.

It was a shape charge, designed to force the explosion down.

By the time the dogs and the bomb techs were done, they’d found charges set across the whole ship. Twenty seven of them in total, set so the one would set the next off, and so on down the line, and it was only blind, dumb, excellent luck that the stupid idiot who set the damn thing up didn’t double check to make sure his battery had enough life count all the way down to 18:10.

Unlike Blake or Simmers, Ender lived in an apartment. Which means, unlike Blake or Simmers, just looking at the place doesn’t give a sense of how long it’s been since someone’s been around. Of course there are cars in the lot, other people live in the building.

On the upside, there is a landlord, who was able to tell them that he hadn’t seen anyone go in or out, and that while the lease on the place was good until September, a month earlier he had gotten a letter from Ender saying he wasn’t going to renew.

“He say anything about grabbing his stuff?” Tim asks.

“Nope.” The landlord shakes his head. “Just that he wasn’t going to renew the lease, and that everything was tidy if I wanted to show people the place.”

“Okay. Mind if we look around?” Draga asks.

“No.” It took a moment but the landlord came back with a set of keys.

It’s unlikely anyone is there, but after what they found in the other two places, they’re not taking any chances.

“Standard room clearing for this one. Go in, check everything first, then we search,” Tim says.

“Sounds good. You in first or I?”

“I’m in first, you stay behind, cover me. Then you hit the next door way to your right, and I cover you, and on and on until we’ve gotten all the rooms.”

“Lead on, McDuff.” Tim turns to Draga, giving him a long steady look. Draga looks embarrassed. “It’s a quote… From Macbeth…”

“Uh huh." Like Tony didn't hit him with that one at least once a year. "‘Lay on, Macduff.’ Don’t do it again.”

Draga looks a little sheepish. “Okay.”

Tim hammers on the door, “NCIS, we’re coming in,” and leads on.

Once cleared, they found a residential apartment in the middle of an apartment building with nothing out of the ordinary about the place. There were pictures on the wall, enough furniture to indicate an expectation of other people being in this home at some point. Nothing to indicate a girlfriend or boyfriend, but family shots, and some pictures that certainly looked like buddies goofing around were visible.

It’s just… normal. Really normal.

“Does this make any sense to you?” Draga asks.

“Not really.”

“There should be stockpiled weapons or something here, right?”

Tim shrugs, looking around at a perfectly normal apartment. “I’d assume so. But nothing ever just fits into tidy little boxes like that. Maybe… Maybe he’s a red herring? Maybe he’s missing and it’s unrelated.”

“What do you mean by red herring?”

“They grabbed him to make us think it’s all one big thing and distract our attention from the real thing... I don’t know. This is where we head back, talk it out, and try to make sense of it.”

“We still don’t know who John Doe is,” Draga says, closing the door to Ender’s apartment.

“Good point. Let’s get back.”

By five thirty they were back, and camp-firing again.

There was a schematic for the Reagan up on the big screen, along with the location of all of the charges the dogs had found.

Tony also had the detonator for the first charge on his desk. Tim had glanced at it, looked pretty standard. Nothing about it jumped out at him, beyond that ice down the spine feeling of knowing he’d been right next to it.

Tony sees him staring at it. “It was set to blow at 18:10.”

“So, it was supposed to blow the ship sky high ten minutes after someone noticed they went missing?” Draga asks.

“Great.” Tim’s shaking his head. “It’s a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than three million gallons of jet fuel on it, and they gave themselves an hour to get away.”

“Fair to say, they didn’t intend to swim,” Gibbs adds.

“Yeah, I’d say no to that one. Something really fast picked them up,” Tony says.

“Sea plane?” Draga asks. “Nothing on the water moves fast enough to get you far away enough from something like that. But, if you’re in the air…”

Tim’s eyes light up at that. “And if it flew low… might not hit the radar.”

“Or might just look like a blip,” Draga finishes.

“McGee…” Tony doesn’t have to finish that sentence. Tim knows what needs to happen next.

“Already checking all the radar feeds from every ship in the area, as well as any flight plans that had been set. Draga, I want you checking every company that rents seaplanes, maybe, if we can get lucky twice, they rented a plane.”

“How’ll we know it was them?” Draga asks Tim.

“We won’t, not to start, but let’s get some leads.”

“On it.”

Tim was getting access to every radar feed he could find. He was sort of aware of the fact that Ziva and Gibbs had headed down to see what Jimmy and Ducky had found.

While he waits for the data he wants, he continues to go through the phones. He figureds Blake’s would be a very good place to start. And, as a start, he’s sitting back and reading through all of the texts.

Minecraft. Great. Minecraft’s fun and all, but Blake’s a hardcore Minecraft player. Tim’s learning way, way, way more than he ever wanted to about the game. (And yes, he does play, a little, every now and again. He’s more a first person shooter/spellcaster gamer than sim games.) Blake keeps texting with MDeed about it, what they’re building, where they’re mining, when they’re taking down the Ender Dragon.

He makes a note to hunt down MDeed, and keeps scanning the texts.

Two months back he sees a collection of texts from Blake to Simmers and back again. Apparently they were in leave in Cairo and were having a hard time meeting up. Then MDeed got into the text, he was also looking for them. Then it ended with one last text with them all meeting up at a Hookah bar.

He highlighted all of those texts and got them ready to go on the big screen. Might be useful, and figuring out who MDeed is went to the top of the list.



“How’s the rental hunt going?”

Draga stares at him with dead eyes for a second and then says, “Do you have any idea how many companies rent seaplanes on the eastern seaboard.”

Tim grins, happy that for once this isn’t his job. “Nope, and I don’t want to. But, focus down to Virginia and Maryland, that’s home base for these guys. Anyway, while you’re on hold, I want you to run this number: 555-124-9834.”

“Okay.” Draga holds up a finger. “Hello, yes, I’m Eric Draga with NCIS, I was wondering if I could speak with the manager of this shop. Yes, I’ll wait. Thanks.” He looks back to Tim. “Why am I running this number?”

“One of Blake’s Minecraft buddies.”

“Really?” Draga doesn’t look very impressed by this, but he also doesn’t ask what Minecraft is so, that’s something.

“It’s worth a shot. Blake, MDeed—“


“The buddy, all I’ve got is a number and a handle, and Simmers met up in Cairo two months back. Might be something.”

Eric nods. “Hello? Is this the manager of Sea and Sun Air Tours? Great. I’m Eric Draga with NCIS… We investigate crimes involving the Navy… Yes, I’m a cop…”

Tim tunes Draga out and goes back to the texts. He stares at the ones where they were trying to hook up in Cairo, and then decides to check the personnel logs from the Reagan.

Blake and Simmers had leave, and hooked up with each other, and MDeed. Ender was supposed to have leave, but he covered a shift for another sailor… Maybe Ender was supposed to have been at the hookah bar, too…

He keeps hunting further back. It was a ten month float. Lots of time all in the same place.

Tim was buried in the texts when Ziva and Gibbs came back up.

There’s a sensation, it gets him right in the back of the neck, a sort of cold prickle, that goes with pissed-off Gibbs. It’s just… Pissed-off Gibbs somehow projects pissed-off, and does it hard enough that the people around him can feel it without him having to say a word.

And Gibbs is pissed.

Tim thinks he felt that wave of pissed hit as soon as the elevator doors opened.

Gibbs stalks back to his desk, and Ziva says, “We have a complication.”

“Complication?” Tony asks.

“Yes. Jimmy and Ducky checked both the DNA and the dental records to make sure. Our John Doe is James Ender.”

That got everyone staring at her.

“Been dead for at least seven days, too,” Gibbs adds.

“He’s only been missing for three,” Draga says.

“Yep,” Gibbs says slowly, nodding, PISSED!

Tony rubs his eyes. “Okay. We have three missing sailors, one of which died four days before he went missing? He showed up for his shifts, right? I mean, how does someone go missing on a ship for four days and no one notices?”

Tim’s already got the personnel reports up, so he double checks. “He’s listed as serving all of his shifts until he went officially went missing…” Then he laughs a little. “All of his shifts under Snader.”

“That’s why the XO was acting hinky? He was covering for Ender. Why? Ziva, Gibbs back to Norfolk, drag him up here, stick him in interrogation until he’s ready to crack and then don’t be gentle on him. Draga, how are you coming on those planes?”

“Seventeen rental places down. Fifty-six more to go.”

“Keep going.”

Ziva and Gibbs are once again gearing up. “Hold up,” Tony barks. They pause, looking at him. “Ducky have a cause of death?”

Gibbs shakes his head. Ziva fills in the details. “Nothing conclusive. The maggots did too much damage to the soft tissue for Ducky to see what it might have been. The tox screen came back negative for all common poisons. Ducky’s best guess is suffocation because there are no signs of trauma to the body, but the usual sign of that is petechial hemorrhaging and…” She looks to Tim, not sure he needs the details on exactly why they don’t know if Ender had petechial hemorrhaging. 

Tim finishs her thought anyway, cold creeping up his spine and settling in his joints as he says it, “But they couldn’t tell that because he didn’t have eyes anymore, right?”


Draga swallows hard.

“If he was stabbed or shot it was in the soft tissue. No spatter where we found him, but that doesn’t rule out a gut wound,” Gibbs adds.

Tony nods at that, and Ziva and Gibbs head off.

A minute later, Draga says, “I got that number for McGee.”

Tim looks up from the texts. (The intricacies of obsidian creation.) “Good, what is it?”

“Pay as you go phone. Last transmission was at 18:00 on Saturday.”

“Supposed to set the charge off?” Tony asks.

“Maybe. What’s the number on that thing?” Draga asks, looking at the detonator.

Tony rattles off the digits.

“Nope,” Draga answers, and before Tony could ask, he says, “And I’m finding out who that call went to.”

“Can you find where it was sold, McGee?” Tony asks.

“I can try,” Tim replies, meaning that, because it looks like this phone got used over and over for at least a year it was probably charged again and again, and if he could get the search warrant, and if he could get Verizon to play ball, and if it didn’t get paid for in cash, he could get a credit card number to go with it. He starts writing the request for the warrant.

“What do you have on the radar?” Tony asks Tim.

“I’ve got the FAA asking me for a warrant. I’ve sent the note to Vance requesting he have a chat with them about letting me see what they’ve got. I’ve got the radar from the Reagan, with nothing on it. Nothing at all. It looks like they shut the damn thing off. And I’ve got the Navy being less than perfectly forthcoming about what was in the area and letting me see what they saw. Supposedly Vance is going to have a chat with Jarvis about that as soon as he gets done with the FAA. Normally, one of their ships almost blows up, we’ve got no problems, but they’re being stubborn today. While I’m waiting for that, I’m going through texts.”

“Okay, good.”

“You got anything interesting?”

Tony’s reading through Simmers’ journals.

He looks up from the composition book in front of him to Tim and Draga. “Mostly I’ve got an intense desire to wash my brain out with bleach. This guy was ninety-five levels of crazy.”

“How’d he pass the psych evals?” Draga asks.

“Good question.” Tony reads a few more lines. “That’s a really good question.” He grabs the journals. “I’m going to visit Ducky. Keep hunting, campfire in an hour.”

“Hi Abby.”

Tim got a few minutes free from combing through texts and radar read outs and was using them to bolt down some food and call Abby. The FAA finally gave him the flight plans of everyone who registered one in that area for that day. Only 187 of them. Most he can glance at and toss out of the pile. For example, there’s no way that 747 touched down. But there are a lot of little puddle-jumper type planes out for fun. And there are a lot of smallish private let’s-go-on vacation planes taking people to the islands. And he’s got to check each and every single one of those planes to see if any of them are capable of a water landing.

“Hey, baby.”

“I don’t think I’m getting home tonight.”


“No.” He fills her in on what they’d found and he can feel that she gets this, completely understands, but still, it’s his second day back, not coming home is disappointing.

“I’ve got to get back to it. Still got seventy planes to check out. And something’s wrong with the Navy, Jarvis is stonewalling Vance about something. Or Vance is stonewalling us. Either way, they want answers fast, without telling us what’s really going on.”

“Wonderful. I’ll see you when I can.”

“Love you,” he says.

“You, too,” she answers.

He’s sitting in front of Tony and Draga, all three of them reporting in.

“FAA is a dead end. Lots of planes, none of them could have landed on the water.”

“No one rented a plane to anyone who looks like our three sailors.” Draga adds.

“Okay, so they cut a hole…” Tony’s tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair. “The found one hundred and twenty three pounds of the homemade C-4 on the ship. What if they weren’t getting off, but getting it on…”

“That works,” Tim says. 

“Makes sense, you get one duffle of stuff you can bring on. And it’s not like they check it, but even spread between three duffles that doesn’t leave much room for your own kit. Plus you’ve got to store it, and, well, at least with the guys in my unit, you better not bring anything you didn’t want them to know about onboard, because they were going to get into it.”

“No privacy.” Tony says.

Draga shakes his head. “Nope. I mean, sailors and soldiers have a reputation for stealing anything not nailed down, and they didn’t get that reputation by accident. Though in my unit we called it ‘borrowing,’ because stuff usually found its way back sooner or later.”

“So, they cut the hole, and then lower a ladder or something, bring the C-4 up. Simmers and Blake then stuff it all over the ship. Ender’s dead. But he’s still doing his job according to the XO. How does Ender tie into this?” Tony asks.

Tim and Draga shake their heads. “I got nothing,” Tim says. “I can find texts going back between Simmers and Blake during every leave for the last two years. But Ender’s the one I also don’t have a cell for.”

“Did he have one?” Tony asks Tim.

“According to his financials he was paying for one. I’ve got a number. I just don’t have it popping up anywhere on Simmers and Blake’s phones.”

The three of them were sitting there, thinking, trying to put the pieces together. Something is missing. Something big. And without it…

“Splendid! I was hoping to find the three of you confabbing,” Ducky says as he grabs Gibbs’ chair and joins the circle. “The journals you gave me were fascinating, Anthony.”

Tony just looks tired at that. “I’m glad you enjoyed them.”

Ducky grins. “Oh, indeed. Those were the work of a very focused mind.”

Tony stares at Ducky like he spent too long reading the journals and the crazy rubbed off. “Focused?”

“Oh, yes, Anthony. The author of those journals went to great lengths to manufacture the picture of a disturbed mind, but I am fairly certain he is not, in fact, a disturbed mind, at least, not in that direction.”

“Keep talking, Duck-man.”

Ducky does not appear to be thrilled at being called Duck-man, but he does, as Tony requested, keep talking. “The journals paint a portrait of a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, with a hefty dose of megalomania to go with it. They are letter perfect in their madness. The problem is, they’re too perfect, too text book. In fact, a man so eaten by madness would be unable to function in any larger society. His conspiracy fantasies are so complete, so perfect, that if he had actually believed them, he would have been incapable of preforming his daily duties.

“According to Mr. Simmers’ personnel reports and psych evals he was functional, as recently as the day before he went missing. So, the question is, why is he going so far out of his way to provide us with an image of madness?”

“Good question…” Tony trails off as they watch Vance head down the steps, over to the elevator, greet Jarvis, Vance nods at him, so Tony joins them and they head upstairs.

“The plot thickens,” Ducky says.

“Oh, yeah,” Draga replies.

“There was one other thing I found interesting in his journals. He repeatedly mentions a place, his ‘safety nest’ where ‘no one will be able to ever touch me again’ I believe this place is real. He mentions enough clues to get a fairly good idea of where it is. However, I’m also sure that he wants you to go there, and that it is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, a trap.”

Tim sighs. “Give me the clues. I’ll hunt it down.”

Not allowed to say.
An hour later, Tony comes down. Tim and Draga stare at him expectantly. He shakes his head. “Not allowed to say.”

“That big?” Tim asks.

“Bigger. What do you have on the MDeed guy?”

“The cell was bought in Schenectady, NY. It’s been refilled with 1000 extra minute every month. Those minutes have always been bought in the US, but pick a random Podunk city, and that’ll be where it happened. Never the same city twice. All paid for with cash. With the exception of that last number called, it’s only been used to call Blake. And something like 99% of the texts from it have been about Minecraft.”

“Minecraft?” Tony doesn’t know what that is.

“It’s a computer game.” Tim fills in. “You mine stuff, then you craft things out of the stuff you’ve mined.”

“Lego set of the Gods,” Draga adds.

Tim nods, that’s a good way of describing it.

Tony’s weary. “I’ve got a bomb maker with no motive to blow up his ship talking to another guy we can’t track down, about Legos?”


Tony’s head hits the top of his desk. “Shoot me now.” After a minute, he pulls his head back up. “Tell me about the new number?”

Tim shakes his head, he wishes he had better news on that. “Also a burner phone. No calls to or from besides that one. If I had to guess, I’d say the ship was supposed to blow up, and when it didn’t these guys stopped talking to each other.”



12:06 Ziva and Gibbs got back.

“What took so long?” Tony asks.

Gibbs growls.

“The Bay Tunnel Bridge,” Ziva says it like it’s the filthiest swear word ever. “We hit rush hour traffic on the way down, and it took two hours to go seven miles. Then on the way back, there was an accident. Four hours, just sitting there, under the Chesapeake, breathing in the exhaust of hundreds of other cars. And then, we finally get free, I finally get the car up to ninety, and we get pulled over by some…” Ziva pauses, not saying whatever it is she wants to say. “LEO for ‘driving erratically.’ And the badge wasn’t enough, he decided he needed to actually check in with Vance to make sure we were legit.”

“Snader in interrogation?” Tony asks.

“Yeah,” Gibbs replies.

“Good. Leave him there. Let me get you two up to date.” And Tony did.


Tim jerks when he hears that. It’d been twenty hours since he slept. He wasn’t actually asleep, just close. Tony was going over stuff he already knew, anyway.


“You locate the ‘safety nest?’”

“Yeah. Probably. It’s either in Hampton Roads or Nebraska.”

“No financials to back that up?” Tony asks, sharp, tired.

Tim glares at him, he’s awfully tired, too. “If I had financials to back it up, I wouldn’t tell you probably. Someone, probably MDeed, has a pile of cash, and they are doing this off the record. But, if you want a forensic accountant…”

“We’re good.” Tony rubs his eyes. “Okay, go home. Back at eight.”

“Snader?” Ziva asks.

“I’m going in there.” Tony grabs a manila folder at random off of her desk. “And I’m going to stare at him for a few minutes, look like I’m reading this, and then leave. We’re going home in ten minutes, and he can spend the rest of the night in that room.”

When Tim got home, Abby was up with Kelly, doing the 1:00 AM feed. He kissed both of them, walked, slowly, so tired, up to his room, stripped out of his clothing, and crashed into sleep.

And that was Tuesday.


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