Chapter 345: Mona
January 18th Gibbs woke up at exactly the same time he did every morning. He'd gotten up, eaten breakfast, exercised, gotten two-thirds through the usual shit, shower, shave routine when, reaching for the shaving cream, he realized he didn't have to shave, because he doesn't have to go to work.
Because he's not a cop.
And for all the dreading, for all the not wanting to be here, for talking about it with Rachel, for mentioning it to the kids, standing there, in his shower, water rushing over his back, shaving cream in hand, it still hits like a punch to the gut.
He's not a cop.
He doesn't have to go anywhere today.
He doesn't have anything to do.
The case, the case he was on, the case that the paperwork wasn't done on… Doesn't matter. It's done for him.
Tony and Ziva and Draga are on their own today. No they aren't. NSA Girl is starting today, sitting at his desk, filling out the forms, maybe going on her first case.
Whatever happens, he's not finding out about it until later. Maybe not until Shabbos on Friday.
Because he's not a cop. He doesn't work at NCIS, not any more.
It's a kneejerk move. One that he didn't think through. He just did it.
"Hello, Ruby Lemere?"
"This is Ruby."
"Hi. This is Jethro Gibbs, I don't know if…"
"I remember you Agent Gibbs. I'm sure Dex does, too. What's going on, something with the case?" It's been two years since her husband's case closed, three years since the investigation ended, but things come back up again sometimes.
"No. Nothing like that, at all… In fact… I'm retired now. No more cases for me. I've got time on my hands. I'll be home at a sensible hour every night, and I was wondering if you could tell me about what happens to military dogs once they can't serve any more."
He thinks he feels a smile in her voice as she says, "Sure, Agent Gibbs."
"You can call me Jethro or Gibbs."
"Did you want to talk on the phone, or do you have time to get some coffee?"
"I've got time coming out my ears right now."
He's always liked dogs. His internal mental image of 'home' had a dog in it. But they moved around so much, and there was no guarantee they'd be somewhere hospitable for a dog, so they didn't get one.
It's not a kindness to get something that needs a lot of space to run around and then end up stuffing it in a tiny apartment for six months or a year. That's a recipe for a miserable dog. (Doesn't necessarily make for happy humans, either, but that wasn't something he and Shannon ever really talked about.)
And, of course, his mental image of "dog" is something that did need space to run around. Dogs are large, occasionally slobbery, sometimes smelly, critters that like a lot of exercise and running around. Dogs keep you company when you go on your morning run. Dogs guard your home and can take down an intruder. Chihuahuas, most terriers, Corgis (shudder) and the like are, according to Gibbs, cats. (Strange, temperamental beasts that appeal to women for reasons he does not understand. In case this is not clear, Gibbs is not a cat person. He doesn't much like them, and previous experience tells him the feeling is mutual.)
And, as he was looking for Ruby's contact information, it was hitting him, he's got the house, he's got the space, he's certainly got the time, so why not get the dog to go with all of it?
Same house, though it feels different. The ripping ache of immediate mourning is gone. There are some signs of moving on, though nothing to indicate a new husband or even boyfriend, yet.
Three of those signs bound up to him as he follows Ruby into the living room, and are trying to jump up onto his legs and get petting and attention. Like Dex they're all black labs, unlike Dex, who is hanging back, watching his charges, seeing how they're behaving while keeping an eye on Gibbs, they're puppies.
"Max, Ken, Jake, down," Ruby says, firmly, smiling at Gibbs, but the puppies know they're about to get in trouble. They sit down, all around him, reluctantly, quivering, staring up at him with big brown eyes, hoping for some petting.
Gibbs looks at Ruby and asks, "May I?"
She nods, and he kneels down, making sure her three newest students all get patted. And after a minute, when he's been properly licked, sniffed, and accepted as a member of the group, they fall back from him, and return to Ruby.
"Three at once?"
"Sort of. Max lives here with me and is mine. Ken and Jake are his brothers. All three of them are training as service dogs, though Ken and Jake are learning to be seeing eye dogs. They're here today working on getting used to being in places other than their own territory."
"How old are they?"
"Three months." She gestures to the sofa, and he sits down. Once he does so, Dex ambles over, sniffs him, gives him a hello again, it's been a while sort of look, accepts some petting, and then settles next to Ruby. "Training for these guys starts young, but it also starts pretty easy, getting used to being around people, dogs, new places, and not freaking out about it. Any dog that can't handle somewhere new every day isn't going to make a good Marine."
Gibbs nods at that. "Is Dex enjoying retirement?"
Ruby smiles. "He was a little edgy for a while. Once he was all healed up, he didn't feel like he had enough to do. He's a working dog, so he expected to be working. Just laying around wasn't doing it for him, but once we got another dog to train, and he started helping with that, he began to feel better." Ruby can see he's as much asking for himself as he is for Dex. "How about you, how long have you been retired?"
Gibbs checks his watch. "Officially, three hours and thirty-seven minutes."
"They drug you out kicking and screaming," she says with a smile to soften the fact that's pretty damn close to true.
He nods. "And stuck pictures of me next to the door with a 'Do Not Let This Man On The Premises' sign."
Ruby laughs at that. "And you're interested in sharing your retirement with someone else?"
"Yeah. I've always liked dogs, but didn't have the sort of life that would be good for one before. I've got it now, might as well get the dog to go with it."
"Then why not just head over to the local rescue shelter?"
"Depending on what you've got to say, that's my next stop. But, if there's a chance of providing a good home for a Marine who needs one, I'd like to do it."
She smiles at that, too. "Marines look after their own?"
"That's the idea. So, what does happen to service dogs when they get to…" he shrugs, "my age?"
"Well, it depends on the dog. Most of them are adopted by members of their units who are also heading home. Some are too hurt, they get put down. Some go to breed-oriented rescues. But most of them, the vast majority, go home with someone they already know and trust."
Gibbs figured that was probably about how it worked. "So, I take it you don't know of a four legged Marine in need of a good home."
She shakes her head. "Not right now. Honestly, not in the whole time I've been doing this." She thinks for a few seconds. "Beyond retired Marine, what do you want in a dog?"
Gibbs thinks about that. It was a knee-jerk decision so, beyond looking for something he could help, he didn't have much idea. "Not a puppy. I'm too damn old for a puppy. Plus, I've got three human ones, so I've got enough tiny critters chewing on my stuff, making messes in my house, and drooling on me."
She looks very surprised at that. "You have babies at home?"
"Grandbabies. Youngest is five weeks old, oldest'll be two next month."
She nods, that makes more sense to her than Gibbs with little kids of his own.
"But you're a hands on granddad with three little…"
"All girls right now, got at least one in the works soon, we all hope. Lots of little people in my house. So, whatever it is, it has to be laid back enough to be good with kids. Good with a lot of adults at family gatherings."
"Three kids under two don't have the same parents?"
"Noooo! Molly and Anna, almost two and five weeks belong to one set of parents, Kelly, seven months belongs to another, kid in the works soon hopefully is yet another set of parents."
"Not kidding about a lot of people at family gatherings."
"So, you're looking for… a kindred spirit or sorts. Some gray around the muzzle but not done, yet? Maybe a little gruff but good with people it considers part of its pack?"
"Do you care about what breed?"
"Not a Corgi."
She's taken aback by that. It's really specific and not a breed most people who aren't dog aficionados are familiar with.
"Bad experience with a Corgi?"
He nods. "Maybe they're fine one on one, but the ones I knew were part of a pack of eight Corgis, one senile, old woman, and my friend who did his best to not ever be home."
"That sounds like a recipe for obnoxious dogs, of any kind. Doubt they got enough running around or socialization with anyone who was a human to be good pets."
"That could be the problem. Kind of mean, nervous, yappy creatures that didn't want anyone getting too close to their owner."
She nods. "They're usually pretty sweet dogs, good with kids, but… Anyway, if you want something that's middle aged, it's a good idea to keep in mind that smaller dogs live longer than big ones. Labs, Dobies, German Shepards, they all live ten to twelve years. Little guys like Terriers can get to fifteen. Great Danes, St. Bernards, you're looking at eight to ten."
He's nodding along with that, thinking that if he is looking for something middle-aged, it'd also be nice to know that he's signing up for more than three years.
"Collies, Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Shepards, they're generally okay with kids, though they may try to herd them, with as many as you expect to have, that close in age, that might be a good thing. They live in the twelve plus year range. They're working dogs, so they're alert and focused. They do like attention and a lot of exercise. They'll get fussy if all you want to do is lay around. But they're good family dogs."
"Labs are the quintessential family dog. Laid back, friendly, at the age you're talking about they're a whole lot less bounding around with unending energy."
"Do they like water?"
"Good water dogs. You got a pool?"
"Might do better with a Collie of some sort than a Lab. Not because they don't love the water, but Labs can be… No offense to Dex here, but Labs can be pretty hit or miss on brains. Collies can be dumb as a box of rocks, too, but it's less common. My guess is, if you're on a boat, you want something smart enough to not leap into the water when you want them on board, and able to not be underfoot at the wrong time."
Ruby gets up, grabs a piece of paper, and writes on it. Then she folds it and hands it to him. "Beth Sanders runs a no kill shelter out of Arlington. I know she's usually got a few bigger, older dogs hanging around looking for someone to take them home. And if she doesn't have your dog, she'll know who does."
He stands up, taking the paper. "Thanks."
"Thank you. Would you be a one dog household?"
He shrugs. "Maybe. Don't know."
"If I ever hear of a Marine service dog in need of a home, you'll be my first call."
"Thank you. And if you do, I'll be an as many dog household as I need to be to take care of him."
Gibbs hates not having a plan. Sure, he can head straight over to the rescue. Or he can get some lunch first. Or lunch after. Or… or sit here in his car dithering about what the hell he's going to do with himself, because, really, this couldn't be less about food if he tried.
Food. Easier to make good decisions with a full stomach.
He's not in his usual digs so he just cruises around looking for whatever the local equivalent of his diner is and eventually he finds something like it.
At least, it's a local-looking place with lots of cars in front. Looks like it's a café. Food's food, might as well try it.
It's what he thinks of as a "Jimmy" place. Food on the menu looks tasty, but healthy. Really healthy. Salads, wraps, no burgers, no fries, he's looking more carefully and notices there's no meat, which means this is definitely not a Jimmy place. If he had to do no meat in addition to no carbs, he'd be one malnourished guy.
But the coffee in his hand is good, and three bean soup with fresh cornbread sounds like a decent way to warm up, and everyone around him seems to enjoy the food, so... Why not?
Everything else in life is changing. He can eat at a vegetarian restaurant for one meal.
While eating lunch (Soup's okay, kind of flat, needs some bacon or ham. The cornbread's excellent.) he thinks more about this dog idea.
Getting a pet, something that's going to live with you for the next… five, maybe ten years on a moment of I woke up and I don't really know what I'm doing with myself panic isn't a good plan.
Getting a pet because you're a pet person, because you're lonely, because you're used to noise and something alive around you all the time, that's a good reason.
How would a dog do with his woodworking? He doesn't want something chewing on his tools.
More importantly how would a dog do with someone who will want hours of mostly alone time. Where it's okay if it just wants to hang out in the corner, (He's got a pretty clear mental image of one of those big pillows they sell as dog beds in the corner of his basement with a… something… that parts not clear yet, curled up on it.) but if it wants constant attention and petting, that'll be an issue.
He's also got the image of starting running again. His knee's been clear for a week now, so it's about time to add his morning run back into the workout. Having something to go with him would be good.
Would a dog want to actually run three miles? Like you're gonna run three miles first day out! Try one, maybe half. Knee's not that much better. You and whatever sort of pooch this is'll build up to it together.
Having a dog who likes water, one who's good on a boat would make traveling, and what he plans to do while traveling, easier. Extra set of eyes and ears on-board would be a good thing.
Probably scare the shit out of any girl you'd be likely to take. Lot of Islamic cultures hate dogs. 'Course, at the same time that makes you look more like sea-granddad out for a sail with one of the kids.
If you're going to do that, you'll have stuff in your house you don't want people getting into. A dog, and… hell, a lock on the door'll make a lot of sense.
He ate another bite of soup, noticing he's scraping the last drops out of the bowl, and decides, yes, a dog, assuming the right dog is out there, is a good plan.
And having really made the decision, with something more than just a knee-jerk don't want to be lonely issue, he's ready.
He leaves a twenty on the table, while punching the address Ruby gave him into his phone's GPS.
Time to find the dog!
It's loud. That's the first thing that really hits him as he heads into Sanderson's Rescue. Lots and lots of barking and woofing and yapping.
The next thing to hit is that there are three dogs, laying on the floor, just sort of quietly eyeing him as he heads in. One of them… he's got no idea what it is… It's a dog, very definitely a dog, but it's also the product of probably hundreds of generations of indiscriminate doggy sex. Four legs, medium length tail, medium size, medium length fur, two perky ears, mottled brownish gray color, yep, it's a dog. But beyond mutt, there's no categorization for this dog.
The mutt heads on over to him, gives him a sniff and looks him over.
He kneels down to pet him.
"That's Roscoe," a heavy-set woman with brown eyes and hair says.
"Hello Roscoe," he says to the dog, looking up at her, standing up, offering his hand. She shakes, firmly.
"Hello. I'm Jethro Gibbs. Ruby Lemere told me that you were the person I should see about getting a dog."
Beth smiles wryly at that. "As you can hear, I've got a lot of them."
"Beth Sanders. What kind of dog are you looking for, Jethro?"
He explains about what he's looking for, bigger than smaller, middle-aged, good with kids, good with water, good with other dogs. She's nodding along with that. "I might have a match for you. Come on out and meet Mona."
He follows Beth out of the main office, through a long hall with what looks like (to him) a collection of small holding cells, (about half of them are empty, the other half have dogs in them) though each one has a doggy bed, water bowl and food bowl in it, and most of them have some sort of toys.
"Out" is a large fenced yard where ten more dogs are running around playing with each other.
"Mona!" Beth yells, and another dog… this one he feels like he should know, she's mostly black, with a rust colored belly and chest, soft floppy ears, and a long waggy tail, trots up to them. Her face is pretty square and her coat's somewhere between short and medium length.
He holds out his hand and she sniffs at him. Not jumping up in an effusive wave of doggy love, but not standoffish either. All in all she's pretty cool.
"She's a little younger than you're asking for, four years old. But the family that had her before us had three kids, and she got on fine with them."
Beth smiles. "Mona gets that a lot. Imagine upright ears and a short, upright tail."
"Oh." Once he does that, sure, he knows exactly what she is.
"She's probably, judging by her face and coat length, got some Labrador in there along with the Doberman, but we know for sure her mama was a Doberman, and her shape and coloring suggest daddy was at least half Doberman, too."
All of the Dobermans Gibbs have met have been guard dogs. They weren't exactly cute, little pets. "But she's good with kids?"
"She's good with kids she knows. She's good with her pack. I'm not saying you'd want to take her to a daycare and have fifty kids climbing all over her. I think that'd freak her out. But she's smart as a whip, and once she knows who's in the pack, she's very protective of them.
"I introduced you to her properly, and she's cool with you. But say you're at the park and some stranger starts moving toward your girls, she's going to start growling. No one gets within ten feet of the pack without an introduction."
"History as a guard dog?"
"Not really. She was a pet, had a family that loved her, but they adopted kids as well as dogs and their youngest child turned out very, very allergic to dogs, so she had to go find a new home."
He looks at Mona. She's looking up at him.
"I've got an extra run out back if you two want to get acquainted?"
Gibbs keeps looking at her, and she doesn't exactly nod, but she does turn, walk a few steps towards where he's assuming the run is, and then look over her shoulder at him as if to say, Well, you coming or not?
Gibbs nods and follows her.
He's tossing a ball, and she's tearing after it. She's not playful in the jumpy or overly perky sort of sense, but given the chance to run around and do what she was built for, she leaps at it.
Likewise, as they spend some more time alone, she's not effusively friendly, either, but she seems to be warming up to him.
He's pitching the ball to the far end of the run when his phone rings.
He click the answer button and hears "I want you back."
That feels insanely good.
Mona brings the ball back, sees him talking to the black thing in his hand, figures out he's not talking to her, tries to get him to take the ball and toss it again, and he does, and she brings it back, woofing when it looks like he's paying too much attention to the phone.
Gibbs tosses the ball again and again, still talking to Tony, wishing, God, wishing so much that he could be back there.
He doesn't want to step all over Tony's time, but… triple homicide, that's a bad deal for a team that knows how to work together, for one that's half newbies…
Mona's back, seeming to understand that something's going on, she puts the ball down and nuzzles his hand. "Woof?" You okay?
And with that, Gibbs knows Mona's going home with him.
"Are you getting a dog?" Tony asks him.
"Back to work…" Friday, or whenever they see him next will be soon enough to introduce his new lady-friend.
He finally gets off the phone. "So, what do you think, want to come home with me?"
She tilts her head, giving him the doggy equivalent of You'll do. Then she picks up the ball and gives it back to him, heading for the gate to the run. Let's go! clear in her walk.
Gibbs has not been to a pet store since before the invention of PetSmart and the like. The last time he was in a pet store, Fluffinkins III (fortunately Kelly decided to name him the Third, it's not like they ever had a Fluffinkins I or Fluffinkins II) was in need of more bedding and hamster treats.
That pet store had been small, cramped, filled to the rafters with stuff, and had a very distinct aroma of 'pet.'
But, if a store like that still exists, he doesn't know about it.
So, he is, with Mona, venturing into a PetSmart for the first time ever.
He is rapidly coming to a very firm conclusion as he wanders through the dog aisles (aisles!) namely, people are way, way, way too into their pets.
There's a whole section of nothing but dog clothing. It's probably a good thing Mrs. Mallard didn't live long enough to find this place, she'd have spent the whole fortune on coordinated plaids for her Corgis.
He can kind of understand, like, maybe, if you live in Alaska or Maine or something, or if you've got one of those little yappy things with no fur, that you might want to, when it's cold, stick a jacket or something on a dog, but… There's literally thirty feet of dog outfits in front of him.
And okay, sure, the ground gets cold, so maybe the little bootie things make a certain amount of sense, (once again, in like Maine, or if you get a really hard cold snap) too, but, they're dogs, they're designed to be outside, barefoot, that's why they've got fur and those pads on their feet.
He eventually locates what he's looking for, dog beds, and there's at least thirty options in all different colors for those, too. He grabs two of them, and quietly says to Mona, "These people need kids."
She's looking at the beds as he puts both in the cart. Her head tilts a bit. Two?
"Got three floors. Thought you might like one in the basement as well as upstairs."
Her head straightens out and she looks ready to head on.
"Yeah, thought you'd like that."
She's sitting next to him in his truck, very alert, watching the road, and that feels, really right. He's even driving fairly slow (only slightly over the speed limit) and being careful about stopping and starting, because, obviously, she's not wearing a seat belt.
He pats her head. "You good?"
She looks at him and licks his wrist.
Back the… second… maybe third time they were out of Lejeune, it was after Kelly was born, but before she was walking, they had a neighbor who bred Border Collies. She had mentioned that they were very smart, and all you had to do was show them where your property ended, once, and from then on they knew what and where home was.
Well, she's not a Border Collie, but, she does seem awfully smart, and if it takes more than once, it takes more than once.
So, when he stopped the truck in the driveway (behind Shannon) he got out, attached the leash to Mona's collar, and walked her around the outside. "This is home." His back yard already had a fence around it, so that makes things easier. Front yard's tiny, little strip of grass between the house and sidewalk. But Mona seems to be getting the lay of the land.
Then he heads inside, takes the leash off and says, "Go explore."
He follows her from room to room, saying things like, "Living room, kitchen, spare room, my room," occasionally pointing out things he doesn't want her to mess with.
She trots over to the basement, peering down into it, and he says, "Go on down," while grabbing one of the beds. He plops the bed in the corner while she sniffs everything.
"Okay, see these," he's pointing to his tools and the bed. "No chewing on these."
Exploring takes the rest of the day. Then there's dinner. Gibbs is pleased to see that she's not begging for his food. (Leftover Chinese, not great for him, probably worse for her. But he's thinking that when he's making food that's good for both of them, she'll be able to eat it.)
"I'm usually working after dinner," he says to her.
She follows him down into the basement, continuing to walk around and sniff everything while he works on the bed. He's getting pretty close to done. Veneers are going on tonight. Then assembly, which means pegging, lots and lots of pegging. Then finishing. Probably shouldn't have her down here for finishing. Varnish fumes and breathing in sanding dust probably isn't good for her.
Eventually she does settle down in her bed, head on her paws, watching.
Bedtime. (Two hours later than usual. He wishes he could say he just got so into it he didn't notice time pass, but it's a much more mundane thing, he just wasn't sleepy.) He heads up. She follows. He's heading toward the bedroom when she goes to the kitchen door, and it hits him what she needs. He makes a note to get a doggy door for his kitchen door, so she can let herself out, while opening the door to let her go about her bedtime routine.
A few minutes later he hears paws on the steps up to his door, and a let me in woof.
He goes about his own routine, and when he gets out of the bathroom she's sitting on his bed, watching him.
He thinks about that for a moment. He certainly doesn't mind her sleeping with him. But he's also thinking that it would be nice to have a human woman in this bed at some point, and she might be less than thrilled with sheets that smell like dog, let alone have lots of little black hairs sticking in them.
He looks around his room, and comes up with a compromise.
Back downstairs, he grabs the second dog bed.
"I know it doesn't match up well now," he says, putting the bed on the chest he keeps at the foot of his bed, "but it will. I don't usually have my mattress on the floor. Usually there's a bed here, lifting this up about ten inches. That's what I'm building down there. When it's done," he pats her bed, and she ambles over to it, "This'll be a little bit lower than the rest of the bed, but right next to it."
She turns around a few times, nosing the dog bed, and then settles down, seeming to be satisfied with the compromise.
He pats her, and then gets into bed, feeling like, as first days of retirement went, it was a pretty good one.