Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 302

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

Chapter 302: The Tip of the Iceberg

Abby and Corwin were dusting a collection of evidence for prints when Tim got back from his chat with Gibbs.

"Everything okay?" she asked


She nodded at that. That was enough for right now, and when they get home they can talk for real. He headed over to the new lab annex, where his computer (okay, his keyboard and monitor with the little black hearts on it, the computers were all off in Abby's office now) ended up, and got back to work.

Three hours and two cups of coffee later, Abby was leaning against the doorway. "We're wrapped for the day over here. How about you?"

He looked up from what he'd found. (Possibly) (Hopefully) The break he needed.

"Twenty more minutes?"

"Okay." She squeezed his shoulders gently, and kissed the back of his neck, then headed back to her office to wade through more paperwork. (Requisition forms! Not much fun, but if they don't want to run out of reagents, pipettes, and the like, vital.)

Half an hour (and orders placed for new vials, replacement motor for Major Mass Spec, he'd been slow and techy all week, and sterile growth compound) later, she headed back to him.

"Closer to done?"

"Not exactly." He shook his head, looking at her with a less than enthusiastic half-smile on his face. "I found which company we need to lean on to break this. Herden Titanium Works. Only twenty people work there, so it's not like they can play the no-one-knows-where-the-invoices-come-from game."

"Let me guess, you aren't going to wait until tomorrow to get into this?"

"Got a lot of brownie points I need to earn back. And if I get into a car now, I should be up in Downingtown in…" he quickly googled, "six hours. Be able to start questioning Eva Flanders, their bookkeeper, first thing in the morning, maybe have whoever hired Mason by lunch."

She gave him a long, gentle kiss. "See you tomorrow, then?"

"Yeah." He kissed back, hands clasped on her low back. "Give Kelly an extra-long snuggle for me."


He'd told Draga to meet him in the motor pool, and there he was, standing next to one of the Mercury Sables, go bag slung over his shoulder.

"So, where are we going?" Draga asked as he unlocked the car.

"Downingtown, PA."

"Where's that?"


Draga's answering look was a pretty clear, that was amazingly useful, thank you oh so much.

Tim shrugged back at him. "I did a quick google. It's six hours from here. GPS'll have more details. Let's go."

So in they got, and as Draga backed out, Tim set the GPS for Herden Titanium Works and explained why they were heading there.

They managed to drive for eleven whole minutes before getting to the first traffic jam. I-495 was gridlocked and the GPS was telling them they still had two miles to go before they could get to the exit that would let them find a new route. Estimated time to that exit, forty-five minutes.

"I take it this isn't uncommon?" Draga asked.

"You wish. I've lived here since 2003 and the entire time some part of the 95 interchange has been under construction and mucking up the rest of it."


"Yeah, there's a reason to live inside DC if you can possibly afford it."

"Or don't have kids living with you."

Tim thought about that for a second and made the connection between Draga and his son. "There are some really great private schools."

"Uh huh."

Tim thought back and remembered what Draga was making these days. "Kevin's starting kindergarten next year?"


"Maryland's got great schools, but not right next to DC. Supposed to be some good charters near DC."

"But you get into them by lottery, and the Virginia side has great schools, but I can't afford it." Draga sighed. "His mom's lawyer's harping on the fact that where she is the schools are better."

"Don't they have programs in DC for cops and schoolteachers and nurses and stuff, try to get them into better neighborhoods?"

"They do. I don't qualify because I'm a Fed and make too much money."

"That sucks."


"Ziva and I used to live in Silver Springs. Schools were okay there."

"Okay. Not great. Not terrible. Anywhere in the areas I can afford, I've got to be able to come up with tuition to one of the private schools to get a better education than he can get where he's living now."

"And tuition is too much."

"At the places I've checked. They all say financial aid is available, but I can't apply for him if I don't have custody, and I can't get custody because I can't prove that I can get him adequate schooling. At least, that's where the argument is right now."

"I'm really sorry."

"Me, too. On the upside, her lawyer is offering summers, Christmas, and spring break, so that's him bending to some degree. Before it was just every other weekend, and if I couldn't get down there for him, too bad."

"You gonna take it?"

"Right now, I'm thinking I am. Trying to get my lawyer to make sure there's something in there about revisiting the agreement in three years."

Tim nodded, he got that. In three years, Draga will be up three levels and making enough to afford a better place to live or tuition.

"So, what's going on with you and DiNozzo? Good talk?" Draga asked a few minutes later as they sat in gridlock, staring at cars just sitting still.

Tim shrugged.

"You gonna be working in the lab forever?"

"No. Just, you know, sometimes it's a good plan to make yourself scarce for a bit."

"Yeah, I know that. Gibbs sticking around?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

That surprised Draga.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Tim asked.

"Thought if anyone would know, it'd be you."

"It probably would be. I'll lay odds on him not staying. You ever get caught between what you want and the right thing to do?"

"You mean like not kidnapping my son?"

Tim glanced over and saw that Draga may be playing that for a joke, he wasn't nearly joking as much as he should be. Granted, Tim was feeling a bit edgy on the idea of one, maybe two, nights without seeing Kelly, so the idea of only seeing her summers and at Christmas would drive him insane.

Draga saw Tim get it, and Tim nodded back at him. "Actually, yes, probably a lot like that. It'd be good for you, but probably not for him, not in the long run. Same thing with Gibbs and Tony. Gibbs sticks around another year, that's good for Gibbs, bad for Tony."

"But Tony's Team Leader."

"Yep. As he put it, it's like the difference between driving with whoever taught you how to drive in the seat next to you, and driving on your own."

And for as much as Tim didn't intuitively get that difference, the lights went on for Draga, who apparently had a much less exciting first driving experience than Tim did.

"New team for Tony?" Draga asked.

Tim sort of squinted at Draga, honestly shocked that he'd ask that. "Think they have leaderless teams just hanging around waiting for a new person? You get a team by being around when the old leader leaves. But say there was one, what happens to you and Ziva in a year when Gibbs leaves? Or say you and Ziva go with him, where does Gibbs go? Just like there's no new team hanging out waiting for Tony, there really isn't one for Gibbs. We haven't put any new field teams on the ground since…2008? I don't remember, but they did offer Tony the one they were forming in Rota and he didn't take it."

"So, you're saying it's going to be a damn long time before I hit Senior Agent?"

"He'll age out in ten years. And who knows, if Russia makes a move on Estonia, we might start building up in Europe again, which'll probably involve a few new teams, but… You might be the low guy on the totem pole for a while. It's not a bad thing. You still get raises every year, or few years once you've been in for a bit, you still move up, Vance is good about making sure talent doesn't just sit there-"

"Hence your lateral move?"

"Technically it's lateral and quite a bit up. I got offered Okinawa back in '10. That was the last new Cybercrime team. Field agent still worked better for me than desk jockey back then, so I declined. Asked for Cybercrime and got okayed for it back in... March? So my move's been on the books for a while. But, I'm still here because I can't go there until Jenner heads off, and he's taking his sweet time looking for his perfect next job. The only reason I can shift into head of Cybercrime is because I'm better than the second and third in commands and happen to be the guy the Director calls in for all of his personal hacking. Otherwise, I'd be stuck until they open a new team. It's like anything else, can't move up unless someone moves out, or they expand or reorganize forces. None of that's happening right now."

"So, really, damn long time?"

Tim shrugged. "Technically, I was a Senior Agent for less than four months. Ziva's never been a Senior Agent. Few more months, I'll run my own department. Excellence counts for a lot here. Be better at your job than anyone has any right to expect you to be, and Leon will work with you to make sure you're properly taken care of."

The sun had set and they were well out of DC when Tim felt his phone buzz. Text from Jethro asking, of all things, how gmail worked.

Why not? He shook his head slightly and started talking him through it, idly wondering who Jethro wanted to chat with.

Did you tell Tony you found a lead? Popped up on his phone after he explained where he was and why.

He stared at that text and cursed under his breath. Then he texted what he said. Then he started quickly texting Tony, getting him up to date. He didn't ask permission to go. It's written as an update. Here's what I found, I'm on the lead, taking Draga along, will send more when I know more, sort of thing.

A few seconds later he got one back saying that Tony wanted updates as fast as he had them and that Mason and his lawyer were due in in the morning, and if he had it cracked before they came in, they'd appreciate that.

On it. he typed back to Tony, and then got back to texting Jethro.

Once that was wrapped up, he said to Draga. "Just remembered to let Tony know where we are."

"Isn't there a rule about that?"

"Never be unreachable." He held up his phone. "Obviously, I'm reachable. Abby knew where we were going."

"But Tony didn't." Draga glanced away from the road toward him. It was pretty clear that he had assumed Tim had squared this with the rest of the team before they left.

"Did you tell him?"

"When would I have? During the fifty seconds between 'get a car we're going to Pennsylvania' and getting the car, or the minute between that and you popping up next to the car?"

"Good point. He does now."

"He's really not your Boss, is he?"

"Apparently not."

Zero for two on being a good team player. Wonderful. He used to be good at this. He used to be the most reliable one of the three of them on the not just wandering off and doing his own thing aspect of this job.

When did that change? When he took over the team or when Tony moved up?

Both things happened so close together he couldn't really tell. He'd only been working for Tony two days when Tony got hurt and he took over for two weeks.

Is it that he can't see Tony as his Boss, so he's just on his own, doing his own thing, or did running the whole show shift how he saw his job?

Tim didn't know, didn't care. Either way, this had to change. Okay, fine, Tony wasn't his Boss, (even if, right now, he technically was) but he was the Team Leader, and he needed to know where the whole team was and what they're doing at any time. So he could, you know, lead the damn team.

Or put this way, eventually he'll have a pile of computer techs all working for him, did he want them just going their own way without at least a heads up?

Actually… that was a good question.

He mulled over it. What level of I-know-exactly-what-you're-doing did he want? He wasn't a micro manager. He knew that. He didn't want hourly updates from everyone about precisely what they're doing.

Ultimately… maybe… set the task with daily check ins… Let him know if there was a big break… That sounded decent. Given what he knew about his soon to be employees (not all that much) that might work. Of course, given the current quality of the work they were doing… more frequent check-ins may be necessary.

He'd seen their resumes, so he knew that once upon a time there was talent in Cybercrime, it just seemed to have drained out of the people down there.

But, eventually, he wanted to be able to give them a task, and have them handle it, and report in only when they came up with something he needed to know. Kind of like how Vance handled Gibbs.

Like Vance… That wasn't a bad template… Maybe…

Teams. 'Like Vance' worked better if he had teams. Each problem comes in, assign a team to it, foursomes… web specialist, database specialist, code wizard, hacker… Whoever had the most specialties on whatever it was got the leader position, and he'd check in with Tim. Swap 'em around so everyone got some leadership time…



"What's up? Lots of texting and then you went dead silent."

"Oh… Nothing. Just thinking of how to reorganize Cybercrime."


"Yeah… Kind of a mess down there. And, haven't done a whole lot of running the show. So, gotta figure out how to do that."

"It'd be nice to not be completely clueless on day one."

"Something like that."

They were in Northern Maryland, getting gas and "dinner." Tim was fueling up the car while Draga foraged for sandwiches and drinks from the Wawa.

"So, how does this work. We get one room, two?" Draga asked when he came back, setting a bag with subs and two sodas on top of the car.

"They let us expense up to seventy-five dollars for food and lodging per-diem. So, usually one of us gets the room, and the other gets the food, and that way everything gets covered. But, if you want your own room it's not a problem. I'm good either way."


Tim was googling away while Draga started unwrapping his dinner. "Least expensive thing I can find in ninety a night."

"One star roach motel?"

Tim flipped his phone around and showed Draga the picture.

"Wonderful. I'd prefer not getting bedbugs. What's the least expensive three star place?"

Tim changed his parameters. "One twenty-three."

"How's that work?"

"Form E-458-B, we pool all of the receipts and expenses, and they cut one of us a check, and then we split it."

"Lovely. One good thing about the Navy, your bunk goes with you."

"We can sleep in the car."

"I'm thinking no on that," Draga said, shaking his head.

"Good. I hate sleeping in cars."

It was well after 1:00 when they got to the Fairfield Inn in Exton. (If there were hotels in Downingtown proper, they either cost too much to hit Tim's search, or weren't online. Either way, they were in the next town over.) It was a basic, no frills, hello-business-traveler-on-a-tight-expense-account kind of place.

It was clean. Smelled decent. Not too hot, not too cold. They had a room with two beds. Bathroom was functional. There was a coffee maker. Wi-fi worked. It was good enough, and better than some of the rat traps Gibbs had picked for them over the years.

Way better than Afghanistan, not as nice as the place they were in in Lejeune.

By all rights, Tim should be able to brush his teeth, slip into his pajama pants, and crash, not moving until the alarm kicks him out of bed six hours from now.

But he wasn't having an easy time settling, feeling edgy, and apparently Draga noticed.

"First full night away since she was born?"

"Yeah." Tim nodded, lying down. "Feels weird to not at least touch her every day."

"I know. You thinking we'll be home tomorrow?"

"I really hope so."

"Okay. Gonna get a swim," they had to go past the indoor pool to get to their room, "blow off some of the drive."

"You have swim trunks in your go bag?" Talk about non-standard go bag equipment.

"It's one in the morning. Who's gonna notice I'm in boxers?"

"Good point."

1:53, he was still awake. Usually he was pretty good, especially when tired, at hitting the pillow and going to sleep. But it wasn't his pillow, and Abby wasn't next to him, and he hadn't seen Kelly, and yeah, all of the things that say SLEEP, NOW weren't firing, because they weren't here.

Granted, there was a fairly… easy… solution to this issue, that usually worked awfully well, but he was really not a fan of doing it when he was sharing a room. They've all done it, (Okay, Tony and he have done it. He was honestly not sure about Gibbs, and didn't need or want to know.) at least once, especially when it was day three or four of the case, and they all ignored it, but… still, it wasn't anything he ever got particularly comfortable with.

But Draga was still off swimming.

Not like he was looking to really work himself over, just wanted to blow off enough tension to fall asleep. Wouldn't take more than five minutes.

He sat back up, snagged his phone, and headed for the bathroom. Rule one of jerking off when you're sharing a room: Always use the bathroom. You do not jerk off in bed when you're sharing a room; you just don't. (You really, really, REALLY don't if the other guy is in the room with you.) Even Tony, who was not exactly discrete in his habits, knew this.

The bathroom had those lights that turn the fan on as well, so no shot of whomever else is in the room hearing what was going on in there, which was nice. He locked the door, because… years of boarding school or the Marines meant that neither Tony nor Gibbs would think twice about walking in to use the head or brush their teeth when another guy was already in the bathroom. First time it happened, Tim was in the shower, barely awake, and just about jumped out of his skin when the water went ice cold when Tony flushed the toilet.

Door locked. Fan on. Good pictures of Abby on his phone, he went for the ones of her tied up from their honeymoon… very, very good pictures… set the right mood very quickly. (And reminded him of how long it'd been since he tied her up. Way too damn long!) He sent her a cock shot to perk up her morning. (Along with the caption, Thinking of you.) And yeah, it didn't take more than five minutes, but he was feeling awfully loose and relaxed by the time he hit the bed again.

He was just about asleep when he started to wonder if Draga actually was getting a swim, or if "getting a swim" meant taking advantage of the likely to be completely empty locker room.

He smirked at that, and fell asleep.

Eva Flanders, long term bookkeeper for the Herden Titanium Works, lived in a pleasant, little house on a street lined with other pleasant, little houses and large maple trees, blazing scarlet in the October sunshine. They all looked like they were built around the end of World War II and the effect of the whole thing could be described as "quaint."

Draga knocked. Tim already had his ID out.

If Betty White had a twin sister, she was standing in front of them, looking mildly confused at the two men on her doorstep at 8:00 in the morning.


Tim flipped open his ID, and Draga got out his. "Tim McGee," he nodded to Draga, "Eric Draga, we're with NCIS and we'd like to talk to you."

Mildly confused morphed into boggled. "NC—what?"

"Naval Criminal Investigative Services. May we come in?" Tim asked.

"But… I'm not in the Navy."

"No ma'am, we didn't think you were." Tim glares at Draga for that.

"We investigate crimes involving Naval personnel, their families, and Marines," Tim explained.

"You're a bit late on that fellas, Bob died back in '82."

Tim and Draga glanced at each other, confused by that.

"Ma'am?" Draga asked, as she opened the door and let them in.

"Bob Flanders, my husband. He died back in '82."

"Was he Navy ma'am?" Draga asked.


"Ah… And… was he murdered?"

"Lord, no." She looked appalled by that idea. "Died in his sleep."

"Okay…" Draga was staring at Tim now what? on his face.

"Was there a crime involving your husband ma'am?" Tim asked.


"Ahhh… Okay." He smiled brightly at her, deciding to get to the point. "We were hoping to talk to you about your job with Herden Titanium Work."

"Why on earth would you want to talk about that? They don't work for the Navy."

"Could you just tell us about some invoices?" Tim asked, taking copies of the Herden bank statements from his pocket.

"Maybe." She saw the papers. "Let me get my glasses, back in a jiff."

He nodded at Draga, letting him know to keep an eye on her. Yeah, it wasn't likely that she was about to run off, or call someone at Herden, but this not-all-there-thing might be an act, and he wasn't about to get caught sleeping on this.

So Draga looked like he was checking out the pictures on the wall, keeping her in view, as unobtrusively as a guy who was 6'2" with bright red hair could.

She shuffled back in a few seconds later, glasses on, and sat down next to Tim. "So, what do you want me to look at?"

"We found that your company was paying Ralph Mason six thousand dollars a month for web design, and we wanted to know who hired him."

She squinted at the bank records and saw the transfers to Mason Web Consulting. "Oh, gosh. Tommy does all of that. I just make sure the books balance and the checks get sent out. You'd have to talk to him."

"And who is Tommy, ma'am?" Draga asked.

She stood up and headed over to one of the pictures on the wall. It was some sort of company picnic shot, from the look of it all twentyish people who work for Herden were in it. She pointed to a man with brown hair and eyes, tan skin, happy looking smile. "Tommy. He took over about two years ago when Bill died." She pointed out an older version of Tommy, standing behind Tommy, hand on his shoulder.

"So, Tommy Herden?" Draga asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Do you have any idea where he'd be right about now?" Tim asked.

"He usually gets into work about noon. Stays until eight or nine. He handles second shift."

"Thank you very much Ma'am." Tim said, getting ready to head off.

"So…" Draga said as he got into the car. "We gonna get him at home, or wait for him to head into work."

"We're going to his place. Eva may be cute and sweet, but she may also decide to give Tommy a call, and if she does that, and if we're waiting at work, he may never show up."

"Okay. You want me to text Tony, let him know what's up."

"Yes, good idea." And once again that hadn't occurred to him at all. And yes, it was a good idea.

Another modest house in a neighborhood filled with modest homes.

Draga was staring at them, shaking his head as they cruised on through, looking for Tommy's address. "I'd figure you'd be living higher on the hog if you were going to screw the government."

"Twenty people work there, he was only pulling off about 500K a month. Wasn't making a whole lot of money on their other accounts."

"So, you're saying he was only stealing enough to stay in business."

"Sounds dumb as hell, but yeah. I mean, unless he's got a whole other account or something we haven't found."

Draga shook his head as he pulled into Herden's driveway.

"So, what's the plan?"

Tim scanned the house. Then quickly looked it up on google maps. "There's a backdoor."


"I'm going to the front door. If everything goes well, I'll knock, he'll open the door, I'll tell him why I'm here, and he'll let me take him in nice and easy."

"And if it doesn't, he'll take one look at you and run for the back."

"Where you'll be waiting for him. And then I'll cuff him and we'll take him in."

Draga looked very excited by this prospect. He was grinning as he said, "Let's do this!"

It didn't go according to plan. Tim knocked. He heard footsteps heading down the stairs. He saw the vague outline of a man look through the beveled glass on the door, saw the man stop, see someone he didn't recognize, with a badge, and then he started running for the back.

"Draga!" Tim yelled, opening the, surprisingly enough, unlocked front door.

Two seconds later, he was walking up behind Herden, who was standing in front of Draga, holding very, very still, because Draga was pointing his gun at him.

"Thomas Herden?" Tim asked.

Herden nodded.

"You're under arrest for defrauding the Veteran's Administration."

Draga put his gun away and was going over Herden's rights as Tim stepped closer to put the cuffs on.

Tim was looking down, focused on getting the cuffs on, he had it clicked around Herden's right wrist, and was opening the cuff for his left, standing directly behind Herden. He remembers hearing Draga saying, "If you can't afford—" And then his face exploded.

He kept a hold of the cuff, and didn't let go until he felt Draga tackle the guy. Then he tried to figure out what the hell had happened.

Best guess: he'd been head butted. Probably not a bad idea. Timed right, and on someone greener (like Draga) it probably would have worked. Crack the guy putting the cuffs on in the face, he'd let go, you'd run. As long as you got the hit in when Herden did, after the first cuff was on, before the second one, your hands would still be free, and you'd have no problems getting away.

Except Tim did hang on. And Draga was, from the sound of it, (Tim's eyes were still closed, watering, probably swelling shut, and he was sure the liquid dripping over his mouth and chin was blood, but he wasn't sure if his nose was broken.) was possibly using a tad more force than was strictly necessary to get Herden to stay down. (He thought Draga may have kicked Herden about three times more than he needed to, but Tim wasn't feeling particularly sympathetic to Herden right then.)

But, after a minute or two, Draga did get Herden secured, and into the car, and read his rights, (Though, 'You have the right to have your ass kicked all the way up I-95 and back down it again,' didn't seem to be one of the standard ones, and Tim wasn't entirely sure he didn't just imagine that, because, you know, he was in the house and Draga was putting Herden in the car, which was not, technically, in the house.) and was crouching in front of him, gently checking him out.

"That was a perfect head butt." Draga sounded vastly too entertained by that.


Draga gently poked his forehead, nose, and eye sockets. "Nothing's broken. How are your teeth?"

Tim very gently, very tentatively poked his front teeth with his tongue, none of them moved. "Fine."

"Hold still, head back, pinch the bridge of your nose, I'll be back with something to help with the bleeding and some ice in a minute."

Tim nodded, finally able to get his eyes open again. And a minute after that Draga was back, with an ice pack, a pile of tissues and… "Is this a tampon?"

"Yep. There's at least one woman here often enough to have some in the bathroom. Cut one in half, yank the string off, and you've got something that's perfect for a bloody nose or a bullet wound."

"I'm good with the tissues."


"I think that's what you generally call people who use tampons."

Draga snorted at that, "Good to see you've still got your sense of humor," and gave him a hand up.

After the brief wash of dizziness passed Tim said, "Rule number… hell, I don't care, pick whichever number you want… wait until after the guy is cuffed to put your gun away."

"Noted. Now what?"

"We go see if the local LEOs will let us borrow their interrogation room. I want him broken and confessed before we drag him back to DC."

He got the text from Tony, an update as to what Mason wanted, namely immunity or almost immunity for the guy who was organizing this whole thing.

Don't take it. I'll get it out of Herden in a few minutes. He was letting Herden stew in the Downingtown PD's interrogation room while he got ready to interrogate him.

He put his phone down, took off his jacket and button down, blotted his nose one more time, and then headed in to interrogate Mason.

If there was an upside to two black eyes, a nose still slowly oozing blood, wearing only your blood spattered undershirt, (Because your main shirt looks like you were slaughtering livestock in it, and you were not about to change into yesterday's shirt until you got the chance to wash some of the blood off of you.) jeans, and gun, tattoos and wrist cuff visible, and then sat down, slowly, alone, in front of the guy who did it to you, who was currently sitting, hands cuffed behind him, glared him down while fingering your gun, and explained to him how he was going to jail for at least five years for assaulting an officer, while indicating by body language alone, that five years in prison was going to be immensely preferable to what you were personally going to do to him if he did not immediately start telling you everything he'd ever done, including jaywalking violations, it was that he'll tell you everything you could possibly want about why you tried to grab him in the first place.

At ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds, that was Tim's fastest interrogation. Add in the fact that at least four minutes of that was Herden saying how he really wasn't a bad guy, how he was just trying to keep his business going, and hell, their business paid more than taxes than they were taking anyway… And that was practically a record-breaking interrogation.

When he got done with that, Tim asked the Downingtown PD if they had a locker room he could borrow, got a quick shower, changed back into something a bit less scary looking. While he was doing that, Draga was in charge of getting Herden ready for transport, and securing the warrant they need for the next step up the ladder.

By the time he was done, Draga had Henry Bing's address up on the GPS, Herden handcuffed and in the back of the car, and they were ready to head to Bowie Maryland to get the guy who made all of this possible.

His next text to Tony read: Henry Bing, Bowie Maryland, going to get him.

The problem with traveling with the guy you just arrested in the back seat was that you had to listen to him. And Herden won't shut up. He went on and on about he was totally getting screwed by the government, and how since the ACA went into effect, they can't make enough money on the things they sell to even stay in business, but he can't stop making the screws and nails and other medical devices because if they stop making them people will suffer because there'll start being shortages of those screws and nothing works better than titanium screws for the sorts of fractures they use those screws for… and on and on and on…

Finally Draga had enough and snapped at him, "Do either of us look like a defense attorney to you? Shut up until you're paying someone to listen to you."

Herden glared and shut up.

When they got to Bing's place in Bowie, MD, Tim got out of the car, opened the back door, saw Herden flinch back from him, grabbed his hands, uncuffed the left hand, and then closed the cuff around the post that kept the headrest attached to the seat, then stepped out, closed the door, and locked it behind him.

"Think that'll hold him?"

"Hope so. At the very least, we'll hear it if he tries to run."

"Same routine as last time?"

"I'll take the back door this time."


Bing wasn't home. From the looks of it, Bing left in a hurry. Several computers, all still working, were arrayed on a desk set up in the front room. Cup of coffee, stone cold, was still sitting next to the computer along with a half-eaten sandwich.

"So…" Draga asked.

"Herden still in the car?"

Draga looked out of the window.


Tim turned on the monitor and got to work while Draga kept poking around. Didn't take him too long to find what he was looking for. Bing had a fairly specialized search running, still, on his computers. From what he could tell it checked the booking data of basically every law enforcement agency in the US. And apparently it sent Bing an update as soon as one of his guys got booked.

Mason's name was up and flagged. Time stamp was yesterday afternoon. Bing had twenty hours on them. Herden's name had just popped up less than an hour ago. He was tracking everyone he worked with.
Tim was reaching for his phone, getting ready to call Tony when he noticed exactly how many names Bing's search was working on.

Close to eight hundred.

He took several more minutes to go hunting through his computer. Bing was running… a talent agency for guys who ran scams on the government.



"Take a look at this." He started scrolling through the information, piles and piles of it. Social security fraud. IRS fraud. Medicare and Medicaid fraud. WIC fraud. If it was government agency that had money, Bing had someone in his files who specialized in bilking them.

"Good Lord," Draga said, shaking his head, starting to dig into the data.


"We don't have jurisdiction on this, do we?"

"Nope." Tim lifted his phone, hit Fornell's contact number.

A few seconds later, "McGee? Gibbs in trouble again?"

"No. What if I told you I've got the computer of someone who's got the goods on literally hundreds of guys who are scamming the government?"

"Sounds too good to be true. You handing it over because it's hot?"

"I've even got a search warrant to go with it."

"I'd say thank you."

"You're welcome. I'm at 365 Blowder Dr., Bowie, Maryland. How fast can you get guys here?"

"An hour."

"See you then."

"Who was that?" Draga asked as Tim slipped his phone back into his jacket pocket.

"Our FBI contact."

"Do they have jurisdiction?"

"They've got a hell of a lot more of it than we do. And I don't know anyone at the IRS."

Tim made copies of everything on all the computers. Using up all of his thumb drives and Draga's.

"I see what you mean by you go through them like gum."

"Yep. Get 'em in bulk at Costco, keep em at home."

"How's your face feeling?"

"Not bad." Getting into the case and the data was distracting him, but as he thought about it Tim decided to steal a paper towel and some ice from Bing for another ice pack.

They set a BOLO on Bing's car. Draga checked to see if he had any other modes of transportation registered in his name. Nope. Tim grabbed his laptop and began to get permissions in place for his credit cards and the like. Wouldn't be done by the time the FBI got there, but it'd be a start.

They were sitting in Bing's house, looking around, taking pictures of everything, keeping an eye out for Bing should he decide to come home suddenly.

"You know, this makes me think of Heat," Draga said.

Tim looked up from the stacks of books on Government Aid Programs. "Heat?"

"Yeah, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val—"

"This is probably a conversation for Tony."

"Okay, I won't bore you with the details. Anyway, it's about a heist that starts to go wrong. The thieves all have this, 'don't keep hold of anything you aren't willing to leave in 30 seconds flat' motto. Whatever it is, just walk away."

Tim nodded. The tracking program Bing had running on everyone he was working with, and the fact that he left it up and running certainly indicated that. Coffee on the desk. Car missing.

He saw Mason's name come up and ran.

"God, McGee, you look like shit," Tony said as Tim headed into the bullpen six hours later.

Tim cracked half-a-smile, raised his eyebrow a fraction of an inch. (Which hurt like hell.) "Thanks."

Judging by how people have been looking at him all day, he did look like shit. Fornell went white at the sight of him when he passed the case over. Bob, who runs the metal detector downstairs, muttered, "Good Lord" as he went through. And Seth at the coffee cart gave him a cup filled with ice without him asking for one.
But this case is closed. He's got it in the tank. So, all in all, he's feeling pretty good, well-nigh giddy on the lack of sleep mixed with exactly how easily today's dominoes fell.

Tony half-nodded. "What do you have?"

"I've got a confession. I've got evidence. Draga's got Herden in processing. I've got how they got hooked up with Mason. I've got the name and address of the guy who set the whole thing up. I've got eleven other companies who were also using Mason's services. The one thing I don't have is the guy who set it up. Henry Bing apparently started running as soon as we grabbed Mason. So, he's got twenty hours on us, but they'll find him."

"How does Bing even work into this?" Tony asked. He'd gotten Tim's somewhat cryptic text, but let it be, trusting that he knew what he was doing.

"Talent broker, basically. He hooked up companies with guys like Mason. From what we found at Bing's place, he was doing it for all sorts of companies and all sorts of government agencies. Say you sell something that Medicaid would pay for. Bing's the guy who hooks you up with another guy to handle defrauding Medicaid for you. You pay him ten grand, next thing you know you've got a guy who'll keep the government money flowing in."

Tony looked at Tim's desk, where Tim was not sitting at a computer, hunting away for Bing. "They'll find him?"

"Once I saw how many agencies Bing was working on, I gave him to FBI. It's their turf. They've got the accountants and analysts to take care of him, and we don't."

Tony did not look pleased by that.

"We've got Mason; we've got the companies he was working with; we can get full sentences on all of them because we've got hard evidence; all of that is… kind of… our jurisdiction. But only because that artificial knee was located in a Marine. We've got no standing, at all, for going after a civilian who's ripping off Social Security."

That was true, but didn't touch on how it should have been Tony's decision to call in the FBI.

It took a second before Tim got why Tony was glaring at him, and he sighed, and said quietly, "Zero for three."

Curious gets added to annoyed on Tony's face.

Tim shook his head. "Few more months at most."


"We really don't have the personnel for it."

"Not the point."

"I know." They stared at each other for another minute. "You mind if I head down and say hi to Abby."

"No." Tony looked in the direction of the stairs. "Write it all up for me, and then I'll take care of Mason and his lawyer.

"On it."



"Once it's written up, head home, get some sleep."


Relying on habit was often a sign of sleep deprivation. So, while it was true that Tim bopped pretty happily down to the Lab, it was also true that the part of his mind that was aware that someone other than Abby worked there hadn't reported for duty.

So, in he bopped, saw her eyes go wide and the question start to form on her lips as he pulled her into a very sexy, and enthusiastic hello kiss.

Which was when he heard, from behind him, Zelaz talking to Corwin and then stop dead mid-sentence.

It occurred to him, Abby's husband or not, her co-workers probably did not expect to see her being groped in the lab.

She was shaking her head as he stepped back, amused smile on her face. "Hello to you, too. I take it you'll live?" She looked past his shoulder to Corwin. "I'm taking a ten minute break. Back soon." And then took Tim by the hands and led him to ballistics.

"What happened to you?"

So he told her, and she very gently traced the bruising and swelling across both of his eyes, and the place where the skin on the bridge of his nose split. "He really clobbered you, didn't he?"


"And yet you're amazingly chipper. I take it the rest of today went well?"

He was smiling at her, took her by the hips, lifted her to the counter they load the guns on, and snuggled in close, lips pressed to her throat, holding onto her for a long second before saying, "Yeah, it did."

He told her about it, hands sliding up and down her back, smelling her skin and feeling her pulse thrum against his lips. It had been a while, since the day after Kelly was born, since he'd gone a night without any snuggle time with her. And, at least that night, he was in the same room and able to hold her hand if not be in the bed with her.

He pulled back after a few minutes, and she skirted her fingers, very gently, over the bruises on his face. "How are these?"

"Sore. I think they look a whole lot worse than they are."

"So, you'd be up for something tonight?" Apparently she did receive his naughty selfie.

He grinned, flashed his eyebrow at her (ouch, he had to stop doing that), smiled, "Maybe tonight Lord McGee gets his revenge. Maybe he's in charge." He traced his fingers over her lips. "Maybe he's fought his way out, gotten free, and has now captured Lady Skye. And maybe tonight Lady Skye learns that it's not nice to tease a man that long."

Abby smiled back at that. "And what would she have to do to earn forgiveness?"

"Good question. Gabriel'll be thinking about that. But until he figures it out, all she'll get is fingers."

"No cock?"

"That'll probably be on the menu, too."

"Good." They were both grinning at each other, she kissed him tenderly, and stroked along his cheeks. "You're goofy today. How much caffeine have you had?"

"Significantly less than it would have been this time last year."

"Okay, how much sugar?"

He smiled a little. "You probably don't want to know."

She looked at him curiously, and he shook his head. "No, really, not that much. I can feel it, this is that stupid so tired, everything is funny and good with a pile of everything in the case went just right."

"And let me guess, you're gonna crash in about three hours?"

"Yeah. Gabe and Skye'll actually probably be tomorrow. Gotta write this up for Tony, then I'm going home, giving Kelly a huge hug, and probably sleeping… Do we have Shabbos tonight?"

"No. Didn't know when you'd get home. I invited Gibbs for dinner tonight, anyway." Abby checked the clock, already 3:30. "Go fast you can get a nap."

"I'll be wrecked if I do that."

"Finish up, go home, get some food and rest. Gibbs can hang out with Kelly and I tonight, and get some time with you tomorrow."

He thought about it, and was leaning in to kiss against her, maybe nibble gently on her lips, when Benedict knocked on the door to ballistics.

Abby rolled her eyes and glared at the door. Tim stepped back so she could slip down from the counter. She quickly signed to him, when I get home, I expect to find you in bed, asleep. If you are, I'll wake you up nicely tomorrow morning.

He smiled at that and headed out of ballistics to write up that report.

"Benedict?" Abby asked, sounding annoyed.

"Got the results back from the mass spectrometer." He had a pretty sheepish look on his face, and it was awfully clear that the three of them had just been looking for an excuse to snoop on their new boss and her hubby.

"And…" she said archly.

"And it's exactly what you thought."

"Uh huh." Abby said, holding Benedict by the arm and dragging him into the main room of the lab. "All three of you, front and center: rule number twenty-two, 'Don't bother Abby in ballistics.'"

"Okay, what are rules number one through twenty-two?" Corwin asked.

"Rule number one is don't lie to Abby. Number nine is always have a spare. The rest you'll learn as I make them up. But the next time someone bothers me in ballistics, unless the world is about to end or the lab is on fire, especially if I'm having any sort of private conference in there, very bad things will happen."

"Why isn't 'Don't bother Abby in Ballistics' rule number two?" Zelaz asked.

Abby sighed at them, wanted to glare, but didn't; they didn't know, and she wasn't exactly feeling like explaining. "It's just not. So, world isn't about to end, don't bug me in ballistics. I won't ever be in there for more than half an hour, so, are we good?"

"Can we use ballistics for conferences, too?" Corwin asked.

"I don't see why not. As long as the work gets done."

Three nods followed that pronouncement.

"Oh my god! Tim! Are you… What… Can I get you some ice packs?" Heather was leaping off the sofa to tend to him when he got home.

He held up a hand. "It's part of the job. I'll be fine. Kelly napping?"


"Okay, I'm going to head up and…" Well, watch her sleep for a little bit and maybe rest a hand on her tummy, but saying that felt weird so he didn't.

"Okay. Really, ice packs?"

"Sure, if you want to. I'll be down in a bit."

Getting used to having a nanny in the house has been kind of… weird. First of all there was this extra person in their house twelve hours a day, which was just… yeah, weird. Second of all, while it was true that Heather's there twelve hours a day right now, it was also true that Kelly sleeps for six of them, so, she keeps doing stuff… and who knew, maybe this was normal nanny stuff, but neither he nor Abby had put it on the list of things they expected Heather to do, but it kept happening and it did make things easier, but still, it felt, kind of, just… odd.

Like she did the shopping, which was cool, and a week into it she started asking what they wanted to have for dinner. She didn't cook the dinner. They never know exactly when they would get home, so getting it ready and hot was something of a challenge, but if they tell her what they intend to eat, when they came home all the ingredients would be prepped, whatever it was may be marinating, the table would be set, and all of the things they would use to cook the dinner would be laid out and ready to go.

(And if it was a slow cooker meal, it would be in there, bubbling away.)

And like, she did the laundry. They expected her to do Kelly's laundry, just can't keep a baby in enough clean clothing in you weren't doing laundry at least once a day. But she did their laundry, too. They'd find it sitting on the bed, in nicely-folded, sorted piles. Stuff that goes on hangers would be in the closet, (his shirts and Abby's skirts ironed) but she didn't put anything that goes into drawers back because… he guessed… that going into their drawers was too private.

He knew she cleaned. House was a whole lot tidier than it ever was. For example, he knew he hadn't personally dusted or vacuumed anything since Heather joined them, and he was fairly sure that Abby hasn't, either, but the dust bunnies were not freely roaming about his office, so, obviously, someone was taking care of it, and he was awfully sure it wasn't Kelly.

So, he wasn't saying he didn't like it. Having someone else do that stuff was really convenient. It just felt a little weird to have someone else do it. It was like having someone else carry your bag, yeah, it was nice, but he didn't feel like the kind of guy who had other people do stuff like that for him.

And all of that was a moot point as he eased open the door to Kelly's room, took the three (very quiet) steps to her crib, and stood there, watching her snooze.

Almost four months old. The little brownish blond fuzz she was born with had been falling out, so right now she was almost bald on top, with a little ring of dark blond hair around the back of her head. (Pediatrician said it was normal. Penny said Tim was born with dark brown, almost red hair that all fell out by the time he was four months old, and he didn't have visible hair again until he was almost one.) If her eyes were open, he'd be able to see how they're just starting to edge toward green. And if she didn't have the pacifier in her mouth, he'd be able to see how her lips are the same shape as his. He could see that her face was shaped like Abby's (or will be as she grows).

Her eyes fluttered, and she sucked enthusiastically on the pacifier. Dreaming baby dreams of nursing, probably.

He knelt down, resting his arm on the edge of her crib and his face against his arm, and then placed his finger tips on her chest and stomach, feeling her breathe.

"Hey, baby," he whispered. "I'm home."

Watching Kelly sleep seemed to trigger his 'time to crash' mechanism, so by the time he got downstairs he was dragging (and hurting, his face hadn't bothered him much over the course of the day, but right now it was making up for that with a vengeance) and the ice packs Heather had set for him, along with the sandwich and iced-tea sitting next to them were very welcome.

He sat at the kitchen table, one pack held to his face as he chewed. "Thank you."

"No problem. Looks like you had an exciting day. Bad guys all put away?"

"Bad guys are in jail. NCIS, FBI, and from the looks of it the IRS are all about to have a massive field day."


"Yeah. Good day."

She was staring at his face. "Is this… normal?"

"Not really. Maybe once a year, once every other year, I get pounded by work, but it's usually not this bad."

She was looking at him with very wide eyes, and while he knew she was older than he was when he started at NCIS, he felt like she was very, very young. "Have you ever been shot?"

He shook his head. "Well, not without a vest. I have been blown up, twice, mauled by a dog, exposed to black plague, irradiated, fights like this… the thing in Somalia…" (Which probably qualified as torture, but he doesn't call it that, even in his own head, because he knows what they did to Ziva there.) "and frozen but, I'm the tech guy, so believe it or not, I've got the least dangerous job."

"Yeah, sounds really safe." Kind of nice to see she had some sarcasm in there.

He smiled, tiredly. "Found a guy who ran a ring that's probably defrauded the government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. Put away a guy who was doing it in the ten million range. Got on that case by helping to solve the murder of a Marine. I do stuff that's more important than safe."

"I guess."

"How'd today go with Kelly?"

He listened to her talk about taking Kelly shopping and for a walk, and about how she seemed to like seeing the Jack-o'-lanterns that were starting to pop up all over the neighborhood. She asked if they had any plans for Halloween, and off the top of his head, he doesn't.

The second time she asked something and he just sort of blanked out on it, she looked at him and said, "You should probably go to bed."

And by that point, he just nodded slowly and headed back up to his bed.


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