McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 363: Dr. Palmer
So far, a week into testing the new paperwork software, it's going, very, very well. Yes, they do have to do all the standard paperwork, on the off chance something in the software doesn't work properly, but for right now it does appear that all of the paperwork that was printing, all filled out, from their computers was coming out perfectly fine.
Or so Ducky thought.
He's looking at his case notes, filling in the form, when he notices a discrepancy. According to his notes there are fractures at both the C1 and C2 vertebrae, along with a complete severing of the spinal cord at C3 (the cause of death.)
According to the form the computer spit out there were fractures at C1 and C2, complete severing of the spinal cord at C3, and hairline fractures of the occipital crest.
"Dratted computer." Now he has to double check. Though, as he thinks about it, that seems to be a very unlikely sort of mistake for the computer to just pull out of thin air. He's suspicious as to how that information got into the computer.
Ducky sorts through the x-rays, finds the correct ones, and puts them up on the light board. He stares at them intensely for a moment, wipes off his glasses, stares longer, takes a step closer, and… "Buggeration. Mr. Palmer!"
"Excuse me, Dr. Mallard?" They are at work and working, so the formality that marks this as a space apart from home continues between him and Jimmy.
"Mr. Palmer, do you, perhaps recall what I have said to you in regards to maintaining correct and complete notes on all of our cases?"
"It's entirely likely, Dr. Mallard, but in that you've said many things, and I do not know why you're scowling at that x-ray, I'm at a loss for coming up with what specific thing you are looking for."
Ducky points to the x-ray. "That is a collection of hairline fractures along the occipital ridge."
Jimmy heads over, and looks, and knows exactly what is going on. "Yes, Dr. Mallard is it."
"And did I not tell you that if you see something and I do not, that you are to inform me of it?"
"Yes, Dr. Mallard, you did."
"I see you noted that collection of fractures in the case notes, so your lack of verbal explanation would be…"
Jimmy smiles, sad. He's caught and there's no getting out of this. "It's the third time in a month, and for the last year you've been saying that if you miss three in a month it's time to go."
Ducky sees the smile, knows what Jimmy's been doing, and nods, "Indeed it is, Dr. Palmer, indeed it is." Then he squeezes Jimmy's hand. "All things end, Jimmy, even good ones. We enjoy them while we have them, and then we lay them to rest and search for new good things."
Jimmy blinks a few times, and says, "Okay, Ducky."
Actually, it was the seventh thing. They're all little misses. Nothing big. Nothing that would affect cause of death or change their understanding of a case. (Example: broken wrist. Dr. Mallard would catch three of four fractured carpals. It doesn't change how anyone understands what happened, and even in an emergency room that sort of miss would be common.) And Jimmy does catch them, and he makes sure the notes are complete, but with doing them on the computer and by hand, he hasn't been able to hide them, as well.
The few ones that have been big, or big enough to matter, he had told Ducky about, and the look on his face after... It feels like he's stabbing his grandfather.
He knows it's time. By Ducky's three misses a month line it's been time for four months now, but…
The brain is active and strong and willing and knows more about everything than any brain has any right to know, but the eyes won't do the job anymore. Jimmy knows it isn't a matter of better glasses, Ducky would already have them if they could solve the problem. It's just a matter of old eyes.
He watches Ducky settle in at his computer and begin to write up his letter of resignation.
It's not a matter of Jimmy not feeling ready. He looks around Autopsy. This is his job, and he's ready to do it. He's spent almost fifteen years with a man who's taught him every trick from every book. He can, and will, do this.
But this space, this job, is also so Dr. Mallard's (and he's very much Dr. Mallard while he's doing this job.) This is his home and his life, and Jimmy feels almost like an imposter trying to take it over.
A mere mortal trying to stand in the
place of a giant.
But, Ducky's a mortal, too. They all are. And he's hit the print key, waiting for the letter to print out, intending to take it directly to Leon.
As of 10:38 on March 3rd 2016, Dr. Jimmy Palmer is now the Medical Examiner at NCIS.
They didn't celebrate Tony becoming Team Leader. Mostly because celebrating him moving up meant celebrating Gibbs moving out. The same is true for Jimmy moving up.
There's also the fact that Jimmy doesn't want to celebrate. Not this. He thinks that was true for Tony, too.
He knows it's time. He knows he's ready. He'll admit that being the guy in charge is a kick. And once he finally noticed that Ducky was doing it (probably the third time it happened) he appreciated and was deeply touched by the "Dr. Palmer" bit.
But it still feels like cheering for a funeral.
And so, at eighty-one years old, thirty-six years after joining NCIS, Dr. Donald Mallard handed in his resignation. Effective immediately he is no longer the Medical Examiner at NCIS. He also gave a month's notice, figuring that staying on for a month as Jimmy's Assistant (he's not precisely sure how that will work, but if Jimmy's the one catching the mistakes, he's the one doing the job, and all Ducky's doing is assisting) would allow enough time to transition smoothly to a new Assistant Medical Examiner.
Thus, April 4th, a month hence, would be his last day at NCIS.
Which means Jimmy's first job (beyond his usual daily work) as a Medical Examiner is hiring a new Assistant Medical Examiner.
And for this first job, Jimmy is happy to have the aid of an extremely talented Assistant.
Human Resources put the job up on the web. They narrowed down the applicants and sent him a stack of resumes. Jimmy had felt confident weeding that stack down to the three he wanted to interview.
The help he wants is in seeing who those three applicants really are.
Ducky and Gibbs might be able to read a man just by looking at him. Jimmy can't, and he knows he can't. Unlike the rest of the team, he hasn't spent the last decade honing any sort of 'gut' that's good at reading people. (Live ones anyway. He's got a great 'gut' for dead ones, and he can read a crime scene like nobody's business, now.) So he proposes one last job for Ducky… as they sit around the autopsy table looking at resumes.
"What I'd like to do is something of a ruse. I'd like them to interview with you, see how they respond to you, and see how they respond to me, thinking that I'm another applicant. I want to see how they'll treat me if they don't think I've got any say in them getting hired, and what they'll say about you behind your back."
Jimmy shakes his head. "Just be you. I want to see if they can tell you aren't a fool or if they'll be lulled by the accent and tendency to chatter."
"Tendency to chatter?"
Jimmy smirks at him. "You aren't my boss anymore, so I feel like I can say this. I worked with you for almost fifteen years and in that time you never shut up. It's honestly unnerving to work with a man who can talk for ten straight hours, day after day after day, and never go over the same thing. Don't get me wrong, the sheer amount of stuff you know is staggering, and I feel like I got three or four PhDs worth of education listening to you, but, hour after hour, sometimes you just have to tune it out."
Ducky smirks back at him. "When do we meet the first one, Dr. Palmer?"
"Tomorrow at ten."
Dr. Samuel Allan, MD from University of Chicago, specialty in infectious diseases, is Jimmy's first choice. He's curious about how a man goes from what is mostly lab work, studying pathogens and bacteria in petri dishes, to wanting to be an Assistant Medical Examiner.
Beyond that curious fact, it's a good resume. Top marks. Worked for the University of Chicago for two years, worked for CDC for another year, and now he's applying here.
Reference are good. Apparently Dr. Allan is quiet, conscientious, and everyone he's worked for would hire him again. In that Jimmy got this job while he was still in medical school, Dr. Allan is also vastly over qualified for this job.
Jimmy's waiting outside of Autopsy, in a nice suit (He'd wear it for an interview if he had one.) calmly reading on his phone, when the elevator opens and Dr. Allan (he presumes) heads in.
Allan stares around, sees him waiting, (not like he's hard to miss) and asks, "Dr. Mallard?"
"Nope. Jimmy Palmer. You interviewing with him today, too?"
"Good luck then."
"Uh…" Allan turns red, disconcerted by this other, older, significantly calmer person here. "Thanks." He then shuts up. He's young. Twenty-six maybe. He's short, with kind of floppy blond hair, (Puts Jimmy in mind a bit of the pretty-boy character from House, whose name he doesn't remember. Breena'd know.) no wedding ring, his suit is conservative charcoal gray, but the tie is flashy, cobalt blue with some sort of pink thing on it. After another second he visibly jerks, blushes again, and says in a rush, "Good luck to you, too. Sorry, I'm a little bit nervous."
"Trust me, I understand." Jimmy smiles at him, tucking his phone into his pocket, offering his hand. Allan shakes, and yes, his palm is a bit sweaty, but the grip is good and he's making proper eye contact. "You fresh out of med school?"
"Not quite. Fresh out of the CDC."
"Cool! What were you doing there?"
"Tracing pandemics, working on figuring out where they'll hit next." Jimmy looks properly impressed. "How about you?"
"Assistant ME for Baltimore. Wife's family is down here. Decided we'd like to live somewhere a bit safer."
"Bit of a smaller job here, too, but it'd be nice to see my kids every day."
Allan nods at that, too.
"So, why leave the CDC, this isn't… you know…"
"Even remotely the same field?"
"A friend was murdered last year, I was there for the trial, and the ME cracked it. Found the cause of death, found what they needed to put the…" He's clearly editing himself.
"We called 'em assholes in Baltimore."
Allan inclines his head, but doesn't repeat the word. "To put him away. It was so real. And it made a difference. Made a difference to real people in a way those models I was building never would."
Jimmy nods, very pleased with that answer. "It does. It really does." His hands are in his pocket, along with his cell phone. He taps the button that lets Ducky know it's time to appear.
"Ah, gentlemen!" Ducky says as the elevator doors open. "So sorry we had to reschedule Mr. Palmer. Dr. Allan, I did not intend to run concurrent interviews, however, we had a lively day yesterday, and as I am on my own, I could not juggle fieldwork with interviewing. Please, come in. Let's start with a tour!"
Ducky shows them around, nattering away about the history of Medical Examination, periodically asking them questions about their own backgrounds. Thus they learned that Dr. Allan hadn't been near an actual human patient of any variety since his residency.
Jimmy can see that Allan's a bit flustered to have Jimmy here, which he supposes makes sense. He wants to look good, and like he can do the job, but there's this other guy who has been doing this for "ten years" answering the questions and looking really at ease and competent next to him.
"Mr. Palmer, Dr. Allan, time for the practical exam. There is a written section on my desk, Mr. Palmer, have at it. Dr. Allan, come with me to the light board, let us go over some x-rays."
Jimmy's "practical exam" is filling out more paperwork. They did have a lively day yesterday, and he's wrapping up his hand-written copy of the work. (One more week, and if no one manages to break the damn paperwork software, he'll be able to stop doing everything twice. Tim's not really hopeful about the not breaking thing. But so far, it's doing the job. Of course, so far the only people using it is Cybercrime and Autopsy. He's fairly certain that as soon as he takes it office wide it'll be crashing every nine seconds.)
Of course, in that he's done this ninety million times, Jimmy doesn't need to pay much attention to what he's doing, so he gets to listen to Drs. Allan and Mallard discussing the X-rays on the light board.
Allan has good skills. His anatomy is on point. He's catching the breaks and nicks and issues on the x-rays.
Acid test comes next.
"Mr. Palmer, have you finished the written exam?"
"Yes, Dr. Mallard." He flips his pages over, leaving the actual written exam, for Allan, on top.
"Ah, splendid, come around." Ducky motions to Allan as well, drawing them near, opening the second drawer. "Here we have Lt. James Kenneworth." Ducky gestures to the body and then looks to the table. "You've transferred bodies before, correct, Mr. Palmer?"
Jimmy smiles. "About four times a day. Usually not when I'm in my good interview suit, though."
"Ah. Quite, right. Could you walk us through the procedure then?"
"Of course, Dr. Mallard. Usually we begin with paperwork, note who is being removed and why, then over to the nearest gurney," Jimmy heads to the nearest gurney, "flip the breaks up on the wheels," he nudges the latches up on each wheel with his toes, "roll the gurney to the body." He does that as well, narrating each move as he does it. "Put the breaks down. I usually end up getting the feet." Jimmy heads to Lt. Kennworth's feet, but does not touch him. (Feet is the harder half of the lifting, because you have to lift from next to the body, instead of from in front of it.) "Someone else grabs the shoulders, count of three move body to the table." He pantomimes the grip and motion used to lift a body off the slab. "Slide the drawer back, lock it up. Unlock the wheels on the gurney, and move the body to the table, repeat locking everything down, repeat moving the body, unlock the wheels, put the gurney back, flip on the lights, and off we go."
"Very precise, Mr. Palmer."
The whole time Jimmy's been reciting, Allan's been staring at the Lt. "What happened to him, Dr. Mallard?"
Lt. Kennworth is covered by a drape, so the large gunshot wound to his chest is currently not visible. Ducky folds back the drape. "Would you care to venture a guess, Mr. Palmer?"
Jimmy looks the body over, of course he's seen this before. "Without flipping him over, I'd guess it's a gunshot wound, but without flipping him over, I couldn't be sure."
Allan swallows, hard, staring at the destroyed chest.
"A bullet does that?"
"Large caliber ones do. Mr. Palmer, is correct, this is the mark of a .45 from a short range. Can you glean any extra information from this body Dr. Allan?"
Allan blinks a few times. Jimmy can see him making himself be clinical. "Anterior discoloration and swelling means he fell forward."
"Indeed. Other observations?"
"No signs of decomposition, wherever he was lying was cool or he wasn't there long."
Allan looks even closer. "No signs of anything chewing on the Lt. Once again he either wasn't down long or he was inside or wrapped up or protected somehow."
Allan looks up. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"Yes. This made for a lively day, but only one lively day. Our guest had something of an untenable gambling habit, and cheated, and got caught cheating, at the wrong game."
"Aces over eights, Dr. Mallard?"
Ducky smiles at that, as Allan stares at them blankly. "The Dead Man's Hand, Dr. Allan, supposedly held by notorious gunman Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot in the back at a poker game."
"Ah," says Allan.
"Come, Mr. Palmer, time for the X-ray. Dr. Allan, to the written exam."
He and Ducky confer quietly at the X-rays while Allan fills out a series of basic anatomy, physiology, and pathology questions. He should smoke the exam. If Jimmy could pull it off as a first year in medical school, this should be no problem for Allan.
"How's he doing?" Jimmy quietly asks Ducky as they 'confer' on the X-ray.
"I am pleased so far. He certainly has the skills for the job, though I'm less sure about him having the constitution for it."
Jimmy nods at that. "Want someone hard enough to do this, but not so jaded they stop seeing them as people."
Ducky nods along. "Precisely. Did you find out why he's hoping to do this job?"
"Yeah. Friend was killed. He was at the trial. One where the ME cracked it."
"Justice served. A powerful motivator."
They glance over and see Allan staring at his exam, looking awfully finished.
Ducky shakes Jimmy's hand. "Thank you for coming in, Mr. Palmer."
"Thank you, Dr. Mallard. I hope to hear from you soon."
Ducky nods at that, and Jimmy heads off to Abby's lab. In that it's below Autopsy, there's no shot of Allan accidentally wandering into him on the way out. Plus he can tell Abby about how the first interview went.
"All done, Dr. Allan?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Any questions about the job?"
Ducky looks at him expectantly.
"How many don't get solved?"
Ducky likes that question.
"Not many, Dr. Allan. In thirty-one years, I've sent all but twenty-six of them to rest. We don't always get the conviction. And we don't always find who did whatever it was. That's just part of this job. We do what we can with what we have, and what we have is a collection of great minds who almost always figure out what happened."
Ducky smiles gently. "Anything else?"
"What happened to your last assistant? Anything I can take away from that?"
"He has moved onto bigger and better things. And yes, over the years to come, I hope you do learn from my experiences with him."
Allan nods at that, thinking it's a bit cryptic, but possibly a sign that he's done well on the interview. "Thank you for the interview."
"You're welcome. Do you know the way out?"
"I can find my way."
"Good. I hope you have a pleasant rest of your day."
"Thank you. You, too, Dr. Mallard."
The second candidate crashed and burned before he even got in the door. Amos Potter actually was the Assistant ME for the city of Baltimore. (Where Jimmy got the idea.)
Lots of experience. Neutral references (which worried Jimmy). No MD, but technically an MD isn't necessary for this job.
Like with Dr. Allan, Jimmy was waiting in the hallway when Mr. Potter came in.
He saw Jimmy, did a double take, and then checked his phone. "One of us is in the wrong place, and it's not me."
Jimmy tucks his phone into his pocket. "Hello to you, too. Neither of us is in the wrong place. My interview got moved to today. Apparently someone was killed yesterday, so Dr. Mallard was out of the building."
"Great." Potter says sarcastically, looking like he wants to sulk.
Jimmy hits his contact for Ducky; he wants to get this one done fast.
Ducky heads in a moment later, using the same spiel he did yesterday. As he's heading into Autopsy Potter says quietly to him, "God, he's a million years old. They told me he was old, but… Ancient. Upside, won't be waiting long to advance, old dude can't have more than a year left in him."
"We're done, Dr. Mallard," Jimmy says.
"All ready?" Even Ducky thought that was frighteningly fast.
Potter looks confused by this.
Jimmy turns to him. "Mr. Potter, politeness is a virtue. And when you spend hour after hour day after day working intimately with someone in a small space it is a good plan to at least try to not get on their nerves. You may go."
Potter's still staring at him, flummoxed. "Who are you telling me that I 'may go?'"
"I'm the guy who might have hired you if you had actually said hello to me and treated me like a human being."
"But…" he stares at Ducky.
"Goodbye, Mr. Potter," Jimmy says again. And Amos Potter left, in a very bad mood.
Candidate number three was the least qualified of the lot.
Bachelors of Arts from Penn State. One year of Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania, (three years ago), and two years as a Veterinary Assistant. Good references, though her previous employer (the Vet) had chuckled a bit about Sarah saying she was, 'One of a kind.'
Since that was a fairly close match to Jimmy's history prior to getting to NCIS (though he was in Medical School as opposed to dropped out) he's interested in giving her a go. It certainly worked out well for him and Ducky.
Like the previous two times, Jimmy is waiting in the hallway.
The doors open and this time he does the double take.
What Jimmy knows about Goth could be summed up in one tiny word: Abby. He knows he likes the aesthetic, even if it's not personally for him.
The woman standing before him is in head to toe black. Okay, not a problem. Black jeans, black and silver studded belt, black t-shirt, black trench coat, black lace gloves. (The concept of professional does not appear to have occurred to her. Though he does snap a discrete picture of her and one-handedly sends it to Abby with Would you go to an interview like this?) Three lip piercings, black lipstick under them, those spacer looking things in her ears, lots and lots of black eye makeup. He finds himself idly wondering about how you put lipstick on with pierced lips. Like, is a brush involved or do you just pull the rings out of the way, and how does that little lip rub thing Breena does after she puts on lipstick work?
She doesn't smile, but she does say, "Hey. You waiting to interview, too?" That pulls his focus away from the mystery of the black lipstick.
"Cool. Really looking forward to this."
"Me too. I understand this is a great Morgue."
"Yeah. Couldn't get much info on Autopsy, but a friend of a friend of a friend works in Cybercrime here, and he says it's great."
Jimmy wonders who the friend of a friend of a friend is, but makes a note to let Tim know that. "Jimmy Palmer."
"Hey. Sarah Bast. So… aren't you kind of old for this?"
Jimmy snorts at that. It's the kind of thing that might have come out of his mouth, but she doesn't look embarrassed or chagrined.
"I was with the Baltimore ME for ten years. Moving south to be closer to my wife's family."
"Oh, cool. New to town, too. Girlfriend and I are getting hitched in two months, and it's legal here so we decided to settle here."
"Good reason to move. Does she have a job already?"
"Oh yeah. She's a tattoo artist down on Lexington." Sarah quickly pulls off her coat, and pulls the neck of her t-shirt wide showing off her shoulder. "That's her work."
Jimmy nods. It appears to be some sort of demon-looking thing chewing on a goat. "That's very… intricate."
"Yeah. Still got to add the color in. Covers my whole back."
"Ah." He whacks the button to let Ducky know to come in. "So, um… what is that? Design for an album cover or something?"
"Oh no. Personal demon."
His eyebrows shoot up.
"You have a personal demon?"
"Yeah. Some people have guardian angles, I have a personal demon. Or he has me. Whichever."
Jimmy's very rapidly trying to remember everything he read in the handbook about religious discrimination. He doesn't think he can not hire her just because she appears to be some form of Satanist, but he's also feeling distinctly uncomfortable about this.
"Good for you," he says with a very fake smile hoping Ducky gets here soon. "So, what makes you want to work down here?" He's staring at her shoulder.
"Always liked death. Just, you know, really feel at home with it."
"Tend to think of this job as being more about the living. Finding closure for the people left behind. Every person on one of those tables represents a string of lives, and it's our job to do what we can for them."
She thinks about that. "That's a good way to think about it."
The elevator doors open and Ducky sweeps in, "Mr. Palmer, Ms. Bast, so good to see you." He does a brief double take upon seeing Sarah as well, but his is not nearly as noticeable as Jimmy's was. "Let us begin out interviews…
While Jimmy's working on the 'written exam' he checks his phone and finds a note from Abby. No. For interviews I used to don my best career girl Barbie suit. Now, since I've got more than fifteen years in charge of my own lab and people headhunt me, I'd go edgier, but I'd still wear a suit. Just because you're Goth doesn't mean you aren't professional.
Thanks. She tells me she has her own personal demon.
I'll get the sage.
You're gonna have some bad juju in the morgue until it gets cleaned out.
Okay… What do you do with the sage?
Burn it. Few other bits and pieces, too.
I don't actually want to know, do I?
Probably better off that way.
Jimmy would have to admit to feeling relieved that Bast muffed the written exam. Why she only made it through one year of med school was readily apparent going through her answers. And while it is true that there were several classes that Jimmy made it through by the skin of his teeth he was also working a full time job while he did full time med school. (And one he had to take twice, but look, it's not like Psychological Pharmacology was anything that he was going to need for his job, which by that point he was sure was going to be with NCIS. Yes, he can prescribe meds because he is a doctor, but if anyone he runs into is looking for psych help of a chemical nature, he's getting them to a real psychiatrist, fast. He knows he's not the guy for that job, and if he's got to look a drug up when it pops up in Abby's tests, then he'll look the damn drug up.)
Plus the stuff he had a tricky time with was not basic anatomy. He helped put the damn meat puzzle together, including the toe that was attached to a hand, so anatomy was something he had down, pat.
But anatomy was not something Ms. Bast had down pat, which meant he had a good reason, as opposed to a bad one, for not calling her back. (Abby took one step into Autopsy, cringed, and started talking about how bad this was and setting fire to stuff and chanting. He's still got no idea what was up with that, and really doesn't want to. He's just relieved he can put something other than 'personal demon' down for why Ms. Bast didn't make the call back list.)
As soon as Jimmy got done going over Bast's test, he grabbed his phone and punched ten digits in.
A second later he heard. "Hello?"
"Is this Dr. Allan?"
"Yes." There's a brief pause while Allan thinks for a second. "Is this Jimmy Palmer?"
"Yes. You've got a good memory for voices."
"Uh. Thanks." Another pause. "Why are you calling me?"
"I'd like to offer you a job."
"What, in Baltimore?"
Jimmy laughs. Good memory for details, too. "At NCIS, as my assistant."
More quiet. Finally, "Uh… Did you get offered a job as the Medical Examiner?"
"Yes, a few weeks ago. I actually am the NCIS Medical Examiner. Hiring an Assistant was my first job as the guy in charge. I'd like that to be you if you're still interested."
"Yes! Quite interested. Just… Who is Dr. Mallard?"
"Dr. Mallard was the Medical Examiner. I was his Assistant ME for more than a decade. He's on staff until April 4th, and I was hoping you'd be coming into work on April 5th."
"Yes, Mr. Palmer. I'd like that."
"Dr. Palmer. Off hours and out of the office, I'm Jimmy, but in Autopsy we go formal."
"Okay. Um… Not that I've got a problem with it, but, why?"
Jimmy doesn't actually know the answer to that. He has ideas. He certainly has a way he understands it, but by flat out being asked he realizes he doesn't know what Ducky thought he was doing with that.
So he answers for himself, and for why he intends to keep that formality in place, and for why he and Ducky kept it up well past the point of using each other's first names whenever there wasn't a body in the morgue. "It's a hard job, Dr. Allan. Our guests are going to tell us things we must hear. And we will listen because someone has to. We speak for those who cannot speak any longer. It's a good job, and it's an important one, but it is not easy, and a wall that separates us from what happens inside autopsy from what happens outside of it is necessary if we are to have functional lives. We cannot live this job 24/7, and that formality helps keep the different spheres of our lives separate."
"Yes, Dr. Palmer."
"Good, then I'll see you on the 5th?"
"Eight AM, right?"