McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Book Four: The Boss
Chapter 313: The Boss
Tim gets into the office, sees that he's, like usual, in after Gibbs but before Tony and Ziva. He's not sure if Draga's in yet or not. There is a RedBull on his desk, but there's usually a RedBull on his desk. Could be fresh, could be yesterday's. He's not poking around to find out.
He sits down and fires up his computers.
Like always he hits his email first. Checks to see what's new or interesting or updated. As he's scanning through the list of new letters, he finds himself thinking of talking with Jimmy, and then later, over dinner, with Abby, (wasn't the most romantic meal ever, but probably something they needed to talk about. After dinner made up for it.) and hits the compose button.
It's quick, just a few words:
Kelly's christening is on Sunday. There'll be a big family party after. I know it's last minute, but if you and Ben want to come up for it, we'd like you to.
If you're free, dinner's at our place on Saturday, 5:30.
Hope to see you then,
And he hit the send button before he could think about it again.
He's filling out paperwork when his phone rings. That startles him. Yes, he has a phone on his desk, but it's probably been three years since he's given that number to anyone. If you want to get a hold of him, you call his cell phone.
That's even the number on his card now.
But the phone on his desk is ringing, and for a second there's a tinge of dread in his heart. Is his Mom calling him? Does she want to actually, physically talk?
But it's still ringing and the rest of his team is staring at it, so… "McGee."
"Agent McGee…" He identifies the voice of Vance's secretary and feels a wash of relief. "Director Vance would like to see you."
Oh. That sends a spark of flushed happy through him, only one thing Vance is likely to want to have a one on one chat with him in person about. "Okay. I'll be up in a few seconds."
He hangs up and feels all four of his teammates looking at him. He points up, and everyone nods, understanding what's about to happen.
Fifteen seconds later, he's standing in front of Valerie, and she tells him, "Go on in," so he does.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes." Vance looks up from his computer, stepping out from behind his desk. "Twenty minutes ago Jenner gave me his letter of resignation. Sixty days' notice." He offers Tim his hand, and Tim, smile breaking across his face, shakes. "Congratulations McGee, as of January 4, you'll be the newest NCIS Department Head."
There's a smile on Leon's face, too, but Leon's smile has some bite to it. "My understanding is that the techs down in Cybercrime are aware of Jenner's resignation. So, while it is true that you are not taking over for two more months, letting them know that you're their new Boss is entirely on your shoulders."
"Ah." Yes, there is that, and especially sitting down with Manner to have a chat with him about how he's not the guy taking over Cybercrime. "Then I guess I should be making an appointment to have a talk with Jenner soon."
"I'd think that would be an excellent idea."
He knows exactly what is going to happen if he heads right down to the bullpen. He'll have all four of them congratulating them, and in a matter of minutes Abby, Jimmy, and Ducky will be up for a little impromptu party.
Which would be great. Which he's intending to enjoy. But not right this second, because the guys in Cybercrime don't know about it yet, and he doesn't want them finding out via scuttlebutt. He especially does not want Manner finding out by having someone say to him, "Hey, did you know there's that guy up in the MCRT celebrating getting your job?"
So he flashes a quick text to all seven of them: 1/4/16 first day as Head of Cybercrime! Cybercrime doesn't know that yet. Need to talk to Jenner and Manner.
As he's heading down the steps, his phone buzzes, another text from Abby to everyone, along with Breena and Penny: If there's no hot case, we're cutting out early. 5:30. Dinner and drinks on us, at the diner.
Three quarters of the way down the steps, he's hunting through the NCIS employee directory, finding Jenner's number. He sends a quick text. Can we talk?
Once he's back at his desk, supposedly working, watching everyone smiling at him, smiling back at them, not really paying attention to his paperwork, feeling really happy, he gets back. Kind of busy. Does it have to be today?
Be nice if it was, but no, it doesn't.
Two more minutes go by. Got a few minutes at 2:00. That do it?
Probably. See you then.
They stare at each other. He worked with Jenner briefly back when he was down here. He's changed. Jenner hasn't. Still that same tightly wound, pale, nervous personality. The kind of guy who's physical appearance is so bland he blends into the background while you're looking at him, but his mood is so nervous he puts everyone else on edge. "What can I do for you, McGee? We're kind of busy down here, big changes coming soon, and I didn't expect a request for time from the MCRT golden boy. Finally run into a puzzle so big you can't handle it on your own?"
Tim looks at Jenner strangely. There's a lot of bite in those words, and okay, yeah, he'd been spying on his team, and making sure Vance knows how inefficient Jenner's managerial style is, but he also didn't think Jenner knew that. And, also, he's thinking that it should be fairly obvious why he's down there. A senior tech guy shows up at your desk half an hour after you give notice, putting two and two together shouldn't be difficult. But he's not getting any sense that Jenner knows this call is about anything other than a case.
"It's about those changes. Vance tells me your last day is December 31st."
He sees the recognition light on Jenner's face, and felt his mood go from curt and slightly annoyed to absolutely frosty. "And your first day is January 4th."
Tim nods, smiling, trying to... He's not sure… Trying to not piss this guy off just by existing? Screw that. He stops smiling.
"So, why are you down here?" Jenner asks.
"I wanted to talk to you, get up to date on all the cases you're working, let your team know that I'll be taking over, transition stuff."
"Before I leave, I'll have briefs written up for all active investigations. Obviously we won't be working on the same things then as we are now."
"Nope. From now until then, when I'm not actively investigating or in court, I'd like to be down here, getting to see how you work, how your team functions, getting to know the players."
Jenner shrugs. "You can do that, but I don't think it'd be very informative. No one does their best with someone breathing down their necks."
"All right. Then I'll see how they do when they're at less than their best. When do you want to tell them I'll be taking over?"
Never is clear on his face. "Doesn't matter."
"Then today will work fine. I understand you were grooming Stephen Manner to be your replacement?"
He nods, terse, and Tim gets the sense that Jenner genuinely likes Manner and is pissed that he's not getting this job.
"Steve's been my right hand man for six years now."
He gets another layer of this. "And you told him he'd take over for you?"
Jenner nods. "He deserves to run this department. He's put the years in, done the job, and done it well."
Tim has his own opinions about that, but in that Manner is one of the only two techs who passed all of his tests, he deserves at least basic respect.
"Obviously Vance thinks I'll do a better job of it."
"With all due respect, Agent McGee, Vance has no idea what happens down here. He wouldn't know a worm from a phishing attack."
"But I do. And he knows that when he needs the impossible done yesterday, he calls me, not you. And he knows that when NCIS needed to up its Cyber security, you guys built a system. That system got hacked in three weeks. So, he had me build a wall around us that's never been breached. A wall so well-designed that people have had an easier time breaking into the building to use our computers than getting through by hacking. So, do you mind if I pull Manner off of his station for an hour or so and have a private chat with him?"
"Have at it, Agent McGee. I assume you know who Manner is?"
Manner's sitting at his desk, earbuds in, some sort of pop music blasting away, fingers flying over his keyboard. Tim doesn't interrupt. He hates it when someone breaks his flow, so he's not going to do it to someone else. Sooner or later Manner'll notice him standing there.
The correct answer is a hell of a lot later than Tim expected. For ten full minutes he stands there, watching Manner at work. By the end of the third minute, he's thinking Manner may be intentionally ignoring him, but since his eyes haven't flicked off his screen, and this is the guy who coded straight through his font attack, it's entirely possible he's really that into it.
It's a good long time to study the man. Since he's trying to get Manner to notice him without interrupting, he's facing him, so he can't see what he's doing on the computer. That leaves his physical person.
Tim's pale. He always has been, always will be. Can't be Irish back to the dawn of time and not be pale. Manner's ghostly: porcelain skin, white blonde hair, light blue eyes. Tim's debating if he's some sort of albino or whatever that tribe in Northern Europe the girl from Frozen was based on is. Either way, working in a dimly lit basement is not helping at all.
But, eventually, his fingers slow down, and Manner looks up, sees Tim, leaning against the edge of his cubicle, and jerks with surprise.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes. Hi." He holds out his hand. "I'm Tim McGee. I was wondering if you'd be willing to get a cup of coffee with me?"
Manner squints at him, seems to be figuring out who he is, does not shake his hand, and looks annoyed. "I've got work to do. Don't need to be flirting with you."
Tim stands up a bit straighter, tucking his hands into his pockets. "Let's try this again." He smiles, but it's not warm. "Hi. I'm Tim McGee, in two months I'll be your boss. I thought, since Manner kept telling you that in two months you'd be the boss, that it'd be a lot easier to get the news that wasn't going to happen in private, and that we could talk about what happens next without your eleven co-workers all listening in. So, want to get a cup of coffee with me?"
Tim waits, patiently, as what little color he has drains from Manner's face when it hits him that he's not going to be filling the office he'd been designing in his head for however many months now, then he waits through the homicidal rage phase, which lasts a bit longer than he was expecting, and he waits a few more minutes for the what-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-do-now phase to pass into the find-out-more phase.
So, all in all, he stands there for almost twenty minutes before Manner says, "Let me get my jacket."
"It wasn't supposed to be you."
Tim shrugs. It's not raining anymore and warmed up a bit, so they're sitting on one of the benches outside the Navy Yard. For all he's been thinking about this moment, because he's known for months that job one was going to be telling Manner he didn't get the job, he never felt like he'd gotten to a good way to deal with this. If Manner can play with the team, Tim wants him to play. Manner's probably about a good third of the talent NCIS Cybercrime has on staff, and losing him would hurt.
But if he can't play, or won't accept Tim as his boss, Tim's not interested in dealing with that headache.
So, somehow, he's got to get through this, making sure that Manner knows he's the better man for the job, but not alienating him so much that he decides to stick around and be a pain in his ass.
"I disagree, and Vance does, too."
Manner shakes his head. Like Jenner, he doesn't seem to hold much respect for Vance when it comes to what they do. "How did you…"
"I went up there and asked for it. I gave him a plan for where I wanted Cybercrime to go. I gave him a tactical assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. And then I showed Vance why I'd do it better than Jenner is, and honestly, better than you would, too."
Manner isn't buying that. Scorn's radiating off of him as he sips his coffee. "You really think you're good enough at this to be my boss?"
"I know I am."
Another snort. "Yeah, I know your reputation. You're the one everyone calls in when they're stuck. But it's not just hacking down there. You've got to run the team, run the ops, run the paperwork. So you're slick with a computer, fantastic for you, you've got to be a bureaucrat, too."
"I need to do it, you're right. But you don't, and Ngyn doesn't, and Hammon and Brent and Jiff and the rest of them don't. Right now, bureaucracy is the biggest problem you guys have down there. We're cops. What I need to be is a team leader. What you guys need to be is a team. You've been sitting down there thinking you're some sort of hall monitors and keeping all your paperwork tidy. You've got the cleanest record of any government agency on the east coast, lowest cracked case ratio, but your paperwork is perfect because you spend more time dotting I's and crossing Ts than you do catching bad guys. No more. We catch bad guys. We stop them from hurting people. That's our number one priority. We do it with computers instead of guns, but we work together and we do it. Are you in any way surprised that Leon found that to be a compelling vision for NCIS Cybercrime?"
"Are we being honest with each other?"
Tim holds up his hands. "Why not?"
"I don't think Leon cares one way or another what happens down in Cybercrime. I don't think he has a clue as to what we do down there. I think he's got a pet who's handy with a computer who asked for a new assignment. If the rumors I hear about you are true, it's in Leon's best interest to keep you happy, because otherwise you'd be a nightmare of a whistleblower. And, now, instead of running a smoothly functioning operation, I'm stuck with having to manage a cowboy who wouldn't know a rule if it jumped up and bit him in the ass."
Manner looks sincerely taken aback when Tim bursts out laughing at that.
Tim shakes his head. "The rule thing. You have no idea. And if you'd ever seen me near a horse, you'd know why I'm laughing at the cowboy image."
"Rumor has it you've hacked the CIA, FBI, DOD, Justice, Mossad, Coast Guard, MI5 and 6, more private companies than anyone can list, more individuals than anyone can count, couldn't care less about legal or warrants, and you think you're good on rules?"
Tim smiles, still amused, but he can see this is pissing Manner off. "The thing about rumors, most of them aren't true. But the thing I find really interesting here is this, you seem significantly more interested in following the rules than catching the bad guys."
"If we don't follow the rules, we are the bad guys."
"Justice and Law aren't synonyms."
"Said every villain ever."
"I'll remember not to send you in on the wet work missions."
Manner's eyes went wide.
Tim holds up his hands again. "I'm kidding. The real question is, do you want to stick around? I can guarantee you Cybercrime under me will not look like Cybercrime under Jenner. If you don't like that, I won't hold you leaving against you. Jenner'll give you a great review, and I will, too. If you aren't interested in working for a 'villain,' now might be a very good time to spruce up your resume.
"But, you are one of the two techs who passed every test I ran. And while I don't like what you did with that, I don't want half of my best talent running off as soon as I show up."
"Don't like… Tests…?" Manners is looking very confused by this.
"Like I said, I did a tactical assessment for Leon of your strengths and weaknesses. Think it's a coincidence you've been hacked several times since summer? You and Ngyn were the only ones who noticed I was doing it. She actually figured out it was me. Vance had to tell you because you missed my breadcrumb trail. Neither of you thought it was worth pulling your team into action, or letting Jenner know what was up.
"My first goal for this team is that it will be a team. One of you gets hacked, it'll be an all hands on deck until we're secure again. I sat there and watched as all twelve of you had your screens go bonkers, and most of you did nothing. You coded straight through it, and didn't even make a move until after you'd finished your work.
"And if you think that maybe you deserve Cybercrime more than I do, that you'd do a better job of it, that I'm getting this department because I'm being paid off to keep me happy and silent, then you need to ask yourself why you didn't rally your team, fix the breech, and find who caused it? Because I can absolutely guarantee I would have, and Vance knows that."
"I didn't 'rally the team' as you put it, because I knew the attack was coming from the inside. It didn't do anything important, so there was no reason to go full bore on it. Vance said it was a test, so there was no reason to go any further."
"The attack looked like it was coming from the inside. It wasn't."
"Yeah, well no one is suggesting you don't know your way around a computer."
"I'm flat out saying that you're the second best person in Cybercrime and you fell asleep at the switch. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but ever since I built the wall we've got protecting NCIS, all attacks have come from the inside. No one's gotten through from the outside, which also should have been a huge neon sign for who was hacking you. So, if you're staying with us, I want the words, 'coming from the inside' to vanish from your vocabulary. I know for a fact we've had people break in to screw with us, because it's easier to get into the building than it is to get into the computers."
Manner is not looking thrilled with this assessment.
"So, you sticking around?"
He shakes his head. "I don't know."
He heads back into Cybercrime with Manner, who goes straight back to his cubical. From there he stops by Jenner. "You've told them you were resigning, right?"
"Yeah. Told 'em Stephen was their new Boss, too."
Tim mentally winces. "Wonderful." He thinks for another moment. "Was 'busy' code for getting the congratulations party in order?"
"You mind if I get them together to tell them I'm taking over in January?"
"Go for it."
"Thanks." Tim turns away from Jenner and quickly notices there's no good workflow here. He can't just gather them together or call campfire. His eyes flick over the basement, straight rows of cubicles, huge bank of filing cabinets, at the far end there's a counter, a coffee pot, a soda machine, and a snack vending machine.
Closest thing they've got to a meeting place.
He takes a minute to set the text then sent it to all of his team. Meet at the coffee pot. 15:05.
And in five minutes he had twelve techs, all standing, pretty awkwardly, in front of the coffee pot, most of them looking around curiously.
"I'm Tim McGee. I work upstairs with the MCRT." They kind of nod along with that. From the way they're looking at him, they're expecting him to hand them a problem to solve. "Jenner told you today that he's resigning at the end of December. Come the beginning of January, I'll be taking over as Head of Cybercrime." Eleven sets of eyes all turn toward Manner. He rolls his eyes, shrugs a bit, and gives them a life sucks gesture. "Right now, I'm still a field agent, so as often as I need to be in the field, I'll be out there, but when I'm not investigating, I'll be down here, talking to you guys, seeing what you're doing, getting a feel for how you do it. Come January 4th, I want to be able to hit the ground running, up to date on your cases." They all sort of nod at that.
"I guess what you really want to know is what is going to happen when I take over. Is everything going to be change? Yes. It is. Part of what I'll be doing is figuring out what you do and how to do it better. Any ideas you've got, plans you'd like to see put in place, stuff that just bugs the hell out of you, all of it, make notes, talk to me. I haven't worked down here since '08, and I was only here for four months, so I've got no attachment to any ways or traditions. You can't step on my toes by telling me you don't like how things are done. Can't win points by liking how things are either.
"Total blank slate time. We're going to rebuild from the grown up. So, from now until January, keep thinking about how you want this job to be. Think about what tools, what practices you need to be able to do your job as well as you possibly can."
They all stare at him. He hands out a stack of his cards. "Anything you want, need, want to talk about, drop me an email. I'm in court tomorrow and the next day, so I won't be down then, but if a case doesn't go hot, I hope to be down here on Thursday, just getting a sense of how this works."
There's some mumbling along the lines of, "Okay, yeah, we'll think about it," but he knows that they really just want him to head the hell off so they can commiserate with Manner and gossip with each other about him without him listening in.
"Okay. See you Thursday!"
He was in the elevator when he got the text from Tony. Dead body. Meet us at the car. So much for celebrating.
It's well past two in the morning when he gets home. Like anytime they get a dead body call, he heads straight for the washing machine to deposit his clothing, and sitting on top of the washer, where Abby knew he'd be, was one of the tirimisu cupcakes he loves.
Next to it is a piece of paper with a little heart on it.
He smiles, takes a bite, and heads to his office to decompress for a few minutes before going to bed.