McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 306: Working Out The Details
"Good morning." He sets Rachel's coffee on her desk, and then sits on the sofa across from her.
She takes the coffee and arches an eyebrow at him. "You're in a surprisingly chipper mood. What's changed since Thursday? You and Tim come up with yet another plan to keep you on for another year?"
"No. I…" his voice trails off. In the rush of having a plan and in the mindset of you-can-tell-her-everything, the shut-the-hell-up instinct hit him a few seconds too late.
"You…" she leads looking very intrigued.
He bites his lip. "Stuff I tell you is confidential, right?"
"Mostly. Unlike, say a lawyer or a priest, the things you tell me can be subpoenaed. And should such a subpoena show up, I would have to turn my notes over. However, a thorough investigation of my notes will never reveal any illegal activities on the parts of any of my clients. I'm more interested in helping you than providing Internal Affairs with fodder for an investigation. If you're doing something that's against my own rules, I'll boot you as a client, but I won't write it down."
He finds that reassuring. "Okay."
She smiles at him, lifting her coffee, inhaling the bitter/sweet scent. He's added cream and pumpkin spice to it for her, a nice fall touch. "So, what has you in such a good mood this morning?"
"I think I found the next thing."
"Really?" She sounds intrigued by that. His email had seemed so helpless and adrift, the idea that less than a week later he had something planned out and ready to go seems incredible.
"And are you going to tell me what the next thing is?"
He squints at her, fairly sure she'd be fine with it, but… Not like they've ever actually had a chat about US immigration policy. And some people really are law and order types. (But she's not. She just said she doesn't write stuff down.) Of course, some people actually agree with the idea that everyone who comes here has to go through the proper channels and that if they don't they have to leave.
And some people just don't give a shit.
And some people don't want to see anyone who's any darker than they are coming to this country.
But he's sure she's not one of them.
"How much have I told you about Mike Franks?"
Rachel looks at him, curious about what appears to be a digression. She's not following how Franks might work into any of this. She knows he's dead, so it's not like he could be doing much to help Gibbs. "He worked Shannon and Kelly's case. He got you into NCIS. He took care of you and gave you what you needed to know to go after the man who killed them."
As she says that, it hits him, she already knows he's murdered a man. Adding human trafficking to the list really isn't going to be terribly shocking compared to that. Probably. He's talking about pre-meditated, going at it cold, straight out breaking the law. This wouldn't be a crime of passion or revenge or a broken heart looking for an instant of peace.
"What do you think about that?" He sips his coffee, watching her carefully, seeing if her face matches her words.
"About which part?"
"Him giving me everything I needed to kill Hernandez."
"It's not about what I think."
The looks like standard boilerplate, but he's not sensing any condemnation. "I'm not asking for your approval. Just, trying to figure out how specific to be with the next bit."
"You want a sympathetic audience for your grand plan?"
She nods. And she knows that it's much easier to tell people what it is you intend to do if you think they'll approve. Granted, she doesn't think her approval will influence Gibbs' actions one way or another, but it will affect how free he is in the telling of what he's thinking. "You remember, the first time we met, you took me to your basement, showed me where to stand, and asked if I could feel that spot was where… that…" he senses that she doesn't have a word foul enough to describe Ari, "died?"
"Did I look like I had any moral qualms about that?"
"No. But it was a clean kill. He had a gun on me and was going to shoot. Ziva had every right to pull that trigger. Hernandez… I was almost a mile away. One second he was driving, the next second he wasn't. He wasn't a threat to anyone in that second. And… I had to kill him for me. If I was going to live with myself, I had to do it. But I didn't have to kill him to save or protect anyone else. And honestly, I could have shot the tires out, then shot his knees out, and brought him in. I could have made sure he stood trial. I didn't. I killed him." It feels very… freeing… to actually say it. Everyone he loves knows he did it, but this is the first time he's actually said it, said all of it, owned the fact that it was a choice, something he had to do for himself, not for honor or justice or anything like that.
"Were you right? Did he kill your girls?"
"Did anyone have any doubts about that?"
"No. Only reason he didn't stand trial was because he'd run across the border. Only reason he wasn't extradited was because he owned the local government there. Short of invading Mexico, we couldn't legally get him. Grabbing him to take back for trial to the US would have been illegal, too."
"Then no. I have no problem with that. What have you found? Your email sounded very lost, and you look more excited right now than I've ever seen you. Are you planning on killing someone?" It's a serious question on her part, and he can see how he walked right into that.
"No. Not killing anyone. Mike… Mike always played fast and loose with anyone else's rules. Hell, he played fast and loose with his own, too. He knew he was dying well before it happened, and started to give me his 'insurance policies…'"
"Everything you ever wanted to know about everyone at NCIS?"
"Pretty much. But there was some other stuff he gave me, too."
"What kind of other stuff?"
"Blackmail stuff. Very… specific blackmail stuff. Getting onto ten years ago now, Mike found out about his son, and his son's fiancee, Leyla, and his granddaughter, and… we smuggled her into the US when Liam, his son, died.
"Mike got it straightened out, eventually, she and Amira are legal, now…" Though it occurs to Gibbs that he doesn't actually know that for a fact. She works for Homeland, so whatever she has passed the background check. "Maybe… I'm sure her papers look really good.
"Anyway… I think… I think he kept doing it. All of the blackmail stuff, it was aimed at the kind of people you'd want to make look the other way if you were, say, smuggling people into the US. Or, some of it was the kind of stuff you'd use if you wanted someone to give you a visa."
"You think he was smuggling people into the US?"
"Girls. You don't have to do too many tours in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, before you don't even want to look at the men there. You see a guy with a fifteen-year-old wife, and he's already got a kid or two with her, and… and the nicest thing you can say is you don't want to look at him. He's probably not a 'bad' guy. He's some farmer from the middle of nowhere just trying to keep himself and his family fed. He's not violent. He's not a terrorist. He treats her as well as any guy treats a woman back there. It's his culture, but his culture's rotten. He's got no problem fucking a little girl. No problem giving his own little girls to some other asshole. And he's one of the good guys.
"One of the cases we did was a series of bombings to destroy a school for girls. Girls reading was too horrifying for those bastards, so the school had to go. They killed the teachers. They tortured some of the girls, too. Other cases, ones we didn't work, where they barred the doors and burned the girls alive. You… You see stuff like that and all that you can feel is rage. You stop seeing the men there as individual people. Some good, some bad, some indifferent. And you start seeing predators, start seeing evil." Gibbs shakes his head. "Not supposed to do that. Makes for sloppy work. But… Can't say I don't feel it. Can say I try not to work too close with the locals in situations like that."
"And you think that Mike was the kind of guy who'd have no problem helping girls like that get to the US?"
"I know it. We smuggled Leyla in. Liam died before they could get married. It wasn't legal, at all. Her family eventually reconciled with her, but… She can tell you stories that'd make you want to bomb Iraq back into the dark ages. Just make you want to kill everyone who had a hand in it or ever turned a blind eye to it. And if she got talking to Mike, and she would have, he'd have done something about it."
"And now you're thinking of doing something about it?"
"He gave me all of his leverage. There's only one reason to do that."
She smiles gently. "I'm fine with the assumption that Mike wants you to do it. That's not what I'm asking. Are you going to do something about it?"
"I'm tempted." Gibbs shakes his head. "More than tempted. I want to do it. Once we put it together, it was like a light going on. I'd be good at it. Probably couldn't do a lot. But an old guy with a boat and a 'friend.' Hell, I don't care if they think I'm a pervert buying sex as long as I can get 'em on the boat and out of there."
"Afghanistan is a landlocked country."
He flashes her his don't bother me with stupid details look. "Doesn't have to be Afghanistan. Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia they've all got ports."
"And they're lousy places to be a girl."
He nods. "Pakistan's not a picnic, either. India's got a lot of honor killings. Not like it'd be hard to find a place. Probably wouldn't be hard to find them on this side of the world, either."
"So, how do you find the girls? I'm assuming you're not planning on just sailing over and kidnapping some."
"I don't know. You're right, you don't just run up and grab a few. Gotta find the ones who want out. And Mike didn't leave me anything on how he found the girls. Or if he did, I haven't figured it out yet."
Rachel pulls him a bit closer to reality. "If he found girls. You don't actually know that's what he was doing."
"And it makes you happy, gives you a sense of purpose." She's giving him that knowing look, filling in the is this what he was doing or is this what you want him to have been doing with her expression.
"Say you dig into this and find that Mike was doing something else. Then what?"
"I don't know. I like the idea of this. Even if I could only get one out a year…"
"If you can't do this… If you can't find someone to hook you up with girls in need of transport, then what?"
"The same problem I had before. I might find something else, but I won't be as good at it as I was at being a cop. Say I signed up to be an EMT, yes, it's useful, it'll save lives, but it's not what I'm best at. Any other EMT will do as good of a job as I could, if not better. And what I'm best at, looking at people figuring them out, solving puzzles, I won't be doing anymore."
"Leon's offered. I'll probably take him up on them. I'll be ripping my hair out because they won't let me in the field for more than ten days a year. It'll be my job to go through the paperwork on dead cases, see if there's anything that still can be found, then tell someone else to go find it.
"If something else is people, they might let me do interrogations. Don't need fast reflexes for that, just a good brain. Or not, there're plenty of Probies who'll need practice, and it's not like there's any rush on a cold case."
"Private detective? Your friend Fornell, he'll be hitting the mandatory retirement age soon, too, right? You two could partner up."
"FBI lets team leaders stick around until 62. Tobias still has another year and if they bump him up one more level, another four because you get to hang on to 65 if you hit management. Emily'll be going to college soon. I know they've got plans for traveling and stuff like that once she's out of the nest."
"What was your original plan?"
"Have Shannon finished by now. Wake up, deal with the hangover from the retirement party, then out to sea. Float around until I got it out of my system. Come home four, six, eight months, however long, later. Maybe not come back at all."
"So, it's safe to say that plan's well out of date."
"Can't miss eight months of my girls. Eight months from now Kelly'll be unrecognizable, and Molly'll be two and a half… Anna's due in December, miss eight months with her she'll go from a bright pink peanut to… like Kelly, unrecognizable." He shakes his head. "Not heading off for more than a few weeks…" He thinks of how long it'd take to get to the middle east and back by Shannon. "Three months, tops, now."
"Which means you need to solve the problem, not run away from it."
"Yeah. And this… This solves the problem. I can pick up new languages fast. And if I could find someone to get the girls to the Black Sea… I already speak Russian, and Leon's offering me a shot to go spend some time in the Crimea, keep an eye on things."
"That sounds dangerous. Mixing those jobs."
He nods. "Be good cover though. Depends on the girl. If she's a child… Grandpa and his girl doing some touristy things. Give her some time to work on her English before hitting the States. If you start somewhere where no one else speaks English, no one will notice if hers is bad."
"What happens to her after she gets to the States? Are you planning on adopting a collection of girls?"
"No. Mike had to do something with them."
"If that's what he was doing."
"If… And if he wasn't… I could do it. I'd be good at it. I've got good connections. I don't know about either of the ends, but I can handle the middle part. I've got the boat, just have to finish it. I'm old and white and speak perfect English and I'm a retired cop and Marine, Coast Guard isn't going to look twice at me. Shannon's small enough… And… I was talking with the kids a bit about maybe finding a place on the Chesapeake, maybe the Potomac, if it had its own pier… Wouldn't have to deal with customs or docking fees or any of the rest of it. Just an old guy, maybe with a dog, on a boat. Look like I'm out for a day or two with my girl."
Rachel smiles at him. "It's a nice fantasy."
"What would you do about making it real?"
"Finish the damn boat. There's step one. Talk to Leyla, that'd be step two. Can't do anything if I can't find the girls."
"You think maybe she was involved?"
"I don't know. Knowing Mike, probably not. He would have wanted to keep her as out of it as he could. But she might still have a clue as to who to talk to."
"And by then, you'll have the boat finished?"
"Yeah. I don't want to be messing around with blackmailing ICE agents or the TSA guys at the airport, trying to get them to look away. I'd go old school. Boat, quiet bit of beach, blend in, just another sailor on vacation. The east coast is really big, there's got to be some bits of it no one's watching too closely."
"Or like you said, Grandad out with his girl, assuming the girl's young enough, doesn't matter if anyone is watching. You just stroll on out like it's the most normal thing ever."
"Go out enough with my own girls, get a reputation for being the old guy with the pile of kids on his boat all the time anyway. They might just assume I was out with the kids and some of their friends."
"I have a feeling that won't work for a few years at least."
"Probably not. But in a decade… Fifteen years…"
"Would you want to involve your whole family in this? Mike didn't tell you about this while he was alive for a reason, right?"
"Yeah. If he was doing it… Yeah. If he told me, it'd have put me in a bad situation."
"And if you tell your kids…"
She looks at him knowingly. "It does seem like this has given you a lot to think about."
"I also take it that you couldn't care less about the whole illegal thing?"
"How about channeling your energy in a more… socially acceptable direction?"
"Getting involved politically. Trying to get our immigration laws changed? Trying to make it easier for girls like the ones you're talking about to get asylum?"
He shakes his head. "Rather do good than talk about good." He thinks about that for another second. "Wouldn't be good at it. No patience for bullshit. Jen was good at it. Leon's good at it. Me, I'd sit there for five minutes, until my blood pressure shot so high I could feel my pulse in my eyes, and then I'd storm out and go shoot things to blow off steam. Not my thing."
"It could be your thing."
He shakes his head. "Even if it was, we're not talking about girls who can just head over to the consulate and sign up for a visa. Someone still needs to get them out safe."
"And clandestine missions, you and a boat and the open sea, swooping in and saving the day, doing the impossible job, that's your thing?"
He nods vehemently. "That's my thing!"
"And it's very important to you to be not just good, but excellent at what you do?"
The thinks about that for a moment. "Yeah, it is."
"How are you with learning new things?"
"Usually pick things up pretty quick."
That isn't what she's trying to get him to think about so she shifts the question a little. "How are you with someone teaching you something new? Someone you don't know or respect?"
That gets a shrug. He didn't bite Tim's head off when he was setting up the computer, and he did call about the gchat thing, but it's also true that now that it's up and running he'd rather take six hours looking for help online than ask a stranger for help.
"This girl rescue idea, this doesn't require you to learn something new from someone. Not as a student. You'd have to investigate, track down leads, then find the girls, then infiltrate, sail, land somewhere, smuggle them in. You might need to spend a lot of time with Rosetta Stone picking up Farsi or Arabic, but letting someone else see that you don't know what you're doing wouldn't be part of it, right?"
He nods in concession of that.
"But, say, signing up to be an EMT, that would require you to learn someone else's system, be the low man on the totem pole, deal with another person's rules, take orders from someone else. Realistically, as an EMT, you'd be saving lives every week. Good at it or not, you'd still be there getting people to the hospital when they needed to go."
He nods at that, too.
She looks at him, sipping her coffee, not saying anything.
He sips his too, also not saying anything. She's got a very good point, but not one he wants to comment on, not right now.
She sees that, nods, allowing him time to think about it, and says, "How are things going with Tony?"
He tells her about Jimmy's fake it 'til you feel it' plan, and how he'd put it into action the night before.
"I have a feeling I'd like Jimmy."
"You haven't met him?"
She shakes her head. "Saw him in passing for a few seconds. But we've never sat down and had a conversation. So, how did faking it feel?"
"Uncomfortable. Once we got into the work, it was better. Once I figured it out, and the light flicked on, and Tony wasn't so much the… Tim's got a word for it… harbinger?" Rachel nods, that word will do. "The image of things ending, it was a lot easier. I think we were in good shape as I packed everything up and we all agreed to pretend we had no idea what Franks was up to."
"But you haven't gotten back to work, yet."
"No I'm—" he's about to say heading straight there from here when his phone buzzes. He takes it out, glances at the screen, texts back to Tony, and sighs.
"What, something wrong?"
"Not… wrong. Did I tell you about the last case?"
"Just a little."
He fills her in on how Tim handed the case over to Fornell, and how Tony just got a call from Fornell, requesting Tim and the NCIS conference room, so that he, Diane, who is an IRS investigator, and Fornell could go through everything together, cutting the case into pieces, and how Tony had just, gleefully, sent him orders to accompany Tim. "Not that there's much I can add. I was here while Tim and Draga were up there handling the last bit, but I think Tony's looking at having me handle them as a sort of payback."
"Excellent," she says with a smile. "So… is Diane seeing anyone? Thinking about finding yourself a quiet bit of parking lot?"
He glares at her, but there's no anger in it. "I think I said something about being drunk, flirty, and at a wedding for that to happen."
Her expression says that she considered those aspects negotiable.
He shakes his head. "No. We'll snipe at each other, and…" He shakes his head again.
"I'm not saying you need to fall in love with her. But, enjoy it… Without feeling guilty about it. Take the time to see the woman who's really there, and enjoy her. Doesn't have to be romantic or sexual."
"Is this today's homework assignment?"
"Yep. You don't need my help on figuring out the mechanics of what happens next. And it sounds like you won't move in that direction for a while, yet." He nods, besides working on Shannon, getting her done, adding some less than common modifications to her interior design, he won't move on that until he's officially retired. "Meanwhile, you've got a chance to experiment with something here, namely letting yourself genuinely feel an emotional response to a woman you like. Just go with it. See where you end up. It's supposed to be fun, so let yourself have some fun."