Friday, August 1, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Senior

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

Chapter 358: Senior

To call or not to call.


Gibbs stares at his computer. Telling it to go find him run-of-the-mill family vacation homes on the water had been more difficult than he'd wanted. But, still, a whole lot of options popped up, he found some he liked, and he didn't have to talk to a Realtor.

But he's not just looking for a home now, he's looking for an estate. And judging by what he's coming up with… This isn't going to work.

He can find properties, top of the line, in spiffy shape, all shiny and pretty and in move in condition. And it's not like that's a bad thing, but… either they're smaller than he wants, or they're further away from the water. He wants land, space, and water access. Granite counter tops, Jacuzzi tubs, and stainless steel appliances don't matter all that much to him.

And beat up places… He's not seeing them at all.

Which he supposes makes a certain amount of sense. If you've got a place that big, you're probably keeping it up.

He feels like there's some sort of rich person club. They've got people to do stuff like this for them, but he's not hooked into the club.

So, keep scouring the internet hoping to just trip into something, or call Senior (who is hooked into the club) and see if he knows someone?

It's not like he loathes Senior or anything. It's just… he knows a fuck-up when he sees one, and Senior's a fuck-up. Granted, he's a fuck-up who's getting to be less of one, but it shouldn't take a man seventy-five years to decide to be a better person. Let alone an additional seven years to go from fuck-up to okay. (At the rate he's going, Senior's going to have to make it to ninety before he gets to Gibbs' idea of a stand up guy.)

And, it's probably a lot of his own background coming into play, because on the cosmic scale of fuck-ups Gibbs has seen vastly worse. And, hell when it comes to marriages, he may even be a worse fuck-up. To hear Tony tell it Senior gets all caught up in the romance and ends up with a new wife every few years because he's just in the moment, not using them as human anti-depressants… But…

But if Kelly had lived… He doesn't know what he would have done. Active-duty Marine isn't a good match for a man who's the sole support for a child. Maybe moved back up north and helped his dad with the store. That would have been a good, stable life, for both of them. He does know boarding school and pretending she didn't exist would have been nowhere on the plan. He would have been there for her every single day.

But Senior didn't do that for Tony. He fucked-up. He raised a decent boy into a fuck-up and left Gibbs with twelve years of trying to get that decent man out from under the fuck-up.

Gibbs feels a dull sadness with that. He assumes that it's a combination of the traditional sadness he always feels when he tries to imagine any sort of life with Kelly, mixed with the sorrow that hits him when he thinks of the chance Senior wasted.

He starts to do his usual pushing it away, moving onto the next challenge, (calling Senior) but it won't fade into the background, so he lets himself feel it, lets himself figure out what this is.

It takes a minute, spent thinking about family patterns, before it hits him. His father was a widower with a teen. Senior, a widower with a child. Himself, lost both of them.

Something about that pattern jumps up, wanting him to pay attention.

And when he gets it, it feels like a punch. He closes his eyes, exhales, and says, "Oh, Dad."

Senior ran away. Jack stayed. Gibbs was fourteen, and he was angry, and he hated his Dad and everyone else, and he didn't know what to do with that angry, so he pissed Jack off every day, every way he could.

And Jack stayed. And he took it. And he kept him close and looked out for him and protected him, and he was just as lost as Senior was, probably just as lost as Jethro, but he stayed. And more nights passed with Jack halfway in the bottle than Gibbs could count, but every morning he got back up, ran the store, took Leroy's shit (He was still Leroy then. Didn't start introducing himself as Jethro for another two years, because his dad called him Leroy, so he needed to be different. And his mom called him Leroy, and he couldn't take that constant reminder of the family he didn't have anymore.) and muddled on through, keeping them together because that was his job.

Jack was a dad, and it was his job to raise his son, not palm him off on strangers because it was convenient. Not banish the living reminder of the home he no longer had away from his sight so he could pretend it never happened.

Sorry Dad
"You'll understand when you're older." How many times did Jack say that to him? More than he could count. He looks up, wishing he could give his dad a call and say, 'I'm sorry. I get it now.' But he can't. Ten months too late for that.

He says it out-loud anyway. "I'm sorry, Dad." And it helps, a little. Unlike Mike, he's never really felt the presence of Jack, and he doesn't, not now. "I miss you." That helps a bit, too, but it doesn't bring him back.

He sighs, pets Mona, who's staring at him, trying to figure out why he's talking, and goes back to googling, not really feeling like talking to Senior right now.

In the end though, he just doesn't know. He's not finding what he wants because he's not hooked into the people who do this sort of thing, and he can either hire a stranger or give Senior a call.

So he calls.


"Hey, you got some time?"

For a second Senior doesn't breathe, then he says, "Whatever it is, you can tell me right now, I can take it." Senior's voice is quavering, and Gibbs can feel the wave of fear coming from him. He probably should have expected that. The only reason he would call, normally, would be to say something very bad had happened to Tony or Ziva.

"Nothing bad. They're both fine. I wanted to talk real estate."

A palpable wave of relief washes over the phone lines. Senior swallows hard, and says, "Okay. That I can do. What do you want to know?"

"I need help finding a place. Feel like getting some coffee with me?"

"Sure, Jethro."

It's just… coincidence, really, that he set their meeting at Java Jane's. The cookies and coffee were, good, really, that's it.

She's probably still working, hard. Because that's how cases, even easy cases, tend to go. They're almost never done in one day.

But, he really wouldn't mind if she ran into him.

He checks his phone. Been less than twenty-four hours since the last text. That's not the end of the world. Just… feels like a long time when you're not running around like crazy between texts.

Senior comes in, waves, and sits in front of Gibbs, pulling his mind away from Borin.

"Little out of your way?" Senior asks as he sits down.

"Coffee's good." Gibbs pushes a cup of coffee toward him, and Senior nods, accepting it, taking a sip.

"It is. So, what can I help with? You looking to scale down?"

Gibbs shakes his head. "Not looking for me. This is… It's a surprise, for the kids, so they can't hear about this from you."

Senior looks shocked that Gibbs might take him into his confidence, and then very proud. Gibbs isn't exactly laying odds on Senior keeping quiet about this, but it's also not the end of the world if he tells Tony and Ziva, he's sure they'll keep quiet about it if Senior leaks.

"Ducky and Penny are looking to get a place for us. Mallard Manor or something like that. Family estate. We're not all at the Navy Yard all the time, so they want to make a home for us."

Senior's eyes light up. "Big place, on the water. It's got to have room for your boat, and room for all the kids and…"

Gibbs nods, kind of surprised at how rapidly Senior's getting this. Of course, for all he knows his family may have had one of these once upon a time. "Exactly. At least seven bedrooms. On the Potomac or Chesapeake. It can't be so far away that getting there on the weekends is an issue. I'm retired, so I'm on finding it duty, and I'm not seeing it."

Senior nods. "What's your price ceiling?"

"Two point seven million. It can be, and probably should be, beat all to hell up. If you can find me ten bedrooms with roof damage and broken windows, that'd be perfect."

Senior thinks about that for a moment. At that price range, you can afford not beat up. "Why beat up?"

"Get more house for the money? Better location for fewer dollars? Kids can put in labor so it doesn't feel entirely like a gift. So it's as much their home as Ducky and Penny's."

Senior pulls out his phone and starts flipping through names. "This isn't the kind of deal I normally work… But…" He flips some more. "Yeah." He's nodding, taps the phone a few times, and then Gibbs' phone beeps. "Just sent you the name of a friend of a friend. She specializes in settling estates. Might not be fast, but when someone dies with a lot of money and land, she comes in and takes care of everything so the kids don't have to. If anyone will have a line on the kind of place you're looking for, Jenny will."

"Thank you."

He taps his phone a few more times, and Gibbs phone beeps again. "Name of a lawyer who's good at structuring wills and trusts. Buying property with a woman you're not married to is a pain in the ass for everyone down stream of you. Among other things, at your price range, you're looking to get hit hard by the inheritance taxes, so you want this protected so you don't have to sell it in five years to pay the taxes on it. Bob's good at what he does. Knows his way around a will inside and out, never met an estate he couldn't tame."

Gibbs nods at that, then smiles.

Senior sees that smile and his eyes narrow. "Or is Ducky not buying property with a woman he's not married to?"

"Surprise wedding at Jimmy and Breena's yesterday. Off honeymooning now. Not even sure where they are."

"Good for him! You love a woman, you should marry her, none of this just living together fooling around."

Gibbs raises an eyebrow.

Senior shrugs. "Just because I'm not good at the follow through doesn't mean I don't get the basic idea."

Gibbs shrugs at that, too. "How's wedding planning going?"

"Great. Delphine's having a blast. She's only done this once before, and last time her mom was in charge. So she's really enjoying getting to plan the wedding that she wants. Nothing makes a woman happy the way planning a wedding does, and… I love that. Love how excited they get. Love how the details make them happy. Love that I can say, make it the way you want it, however you want it, and then they go do it."

"Thought you eloped six times."

Senior thinks about that. "Four. Junior never quite remembers how many times I've been married. And he boycotted two of the weddings when he was a teen/early twenties."

"How many times have you been married?"

"Lucky nine is coming up."


"Hope so. Maybe this time I've learned enough to make one work."

"Here's hoping." They both drink their coffees. "How's looking for a place for Tony and Ziva going?"

Senior shrugs. "Haven't found anything I love yet, and if I'm not loving it, I'm not passing it on to them."

Gibbs squints at that.

"Not, love in the sense of 'this is a perfect neighborhood' or 'ohhh granite counter tops' none of the deals have been good enough yet. Too beat up, for the price. I'm not touching anything we'd have to bulldoze and build anew from the ground up. Some of the one's I'm watching haven't been on the market long enough. We're not touching anything that hasn't been on the market for a year, and eighteen months is even better. And if it's had a bid placed on it in the last six months, we're not going for it. I'm going to lowball the first offer, hard, at least thirty percent under the list price. They're going to come back with a higher number, but if they've been trying to sell for a long time, that higher number will be lower than the list price. I'll give them 10% below that price, but offer to settle fast. Cash in hand in two weeks or so. They'll bite. But that deal doesn't work with the wrong place or the wrong buyer. Do this right, you'll get more house, and a better location, for a better price, than you can from a foreclosure sale."

That makes a certain amount of sense to Jethro, though it's not the way he'd ever look at buying a house.

Senior stares at his cup for a moment, serious. "Take a piece of advice from me, Jethro? Something I have learned. Pass it on to Ducky and Penny."

Gibbs inclines his head, somewhat curious as to what sort of advice Senior has to offer.

"I know you don't think of me as a font of good advice, but I've been down this block, a lot. The kids are adults, so they'll be fine. They're all set as themselves and a big gift like this isn't going to change that, but keep an eye out for the little ones. Tony's the only one of our kids, my family's kids, that's worth a damn. He's also the only one we cut off. The only one we made sink or swim. Lots of money is not a blessing, especially for children. You've got some very sweet girls, and, just… keep an eye on it.

"I was talking to Ed… I know he hopes his girls do better than he did, that they hit real wealth, but…" Senior shakes his head. "Ed's as rich as you can be and still safely raise kids. Much past that, and… it's just too easy to buy everything. You work hard, you save up, you invest well, and then you want to play when you're not working. You buy the toys you always wanted, the toys you worked hard for. And your kids see you do that, and they don't get the work that went into it, because they're not seeing you working, or don't understand it if they did, they just see the toys. To them it looks like you get to have whatever you want whenever you want it.

"They end up with expensive taste, because they're being raised in an expensive home, but they're kids and the paper route isn't ever going to buy them one of the Ferraris you just got yourself. It makes them envious if you try to stick with the you've got to work for your money line, makes them feel like work is useless because there's nothing they can do to get the kind of toys they want to play with. It makes them resent you, because you've got the toys, and they don't, and they don't have any context for why you do and they don't. It makes you feel like an ass, so you buy the toys for them. Why not? You've got the money. What's the point of money if you can't make people happy with it?

"But money doesn't make people happy. You end up breeding monsters and constantly feeding them. You can have money, have piles of it, but if you use it for all the things, they end up unhappy, wasted adults." Senior shakes his head. "Make it a home, fill it with people and memories, use that money to buy time together, but besides big and well-located, keep it simple."

Gibbs nods at that. "That's the plan."

"Good. It's good plan."

They both drink again. Senior's here. And Gibbs doesn't know. Tony's mentioned that it happened, and Gibbs filled in his own blanks, teasing him about it, poking him around Kate, but…

But he doesn't actually know why Tony got cut off. And Senior's here, and has mentioned it…

"Why'd you cut Tony off?"

Senior sighs. "He hated books, didn't like to study, didn't want to be a doctor or lawyer or anything like that, which wasn't a problem. I'm not a lawyer, neither was his granddad, we all made our money without a college degree. Except he also didn't like to work, either. He wasn't interested in making deals. He didn't want to build things. He just wanted to play sports. And he was good at them, but not pro-good. He was seventeen, best center at his school, best of any of the schools they played, but his boarding school wasn't exactly swarming with college scouts, let alone NBA scouts. So I said, no. We'd pay for school if he wanted to learn something. Phys-ed major wasn't going to cut it. If he wanted to work one of the crews, learn a trade, that was fine, we'd support him through that. If he wanted to start shadowing me, learning how to find deals and work them, he was welcome to join in.

"He wanted to shoot hoops. I told him we wouldn't support him through that.

"He got the basketball scholarship to Ohio State. Which was great, but it wasn't a first rung school. He did well, but being the league scorer in a second rate league in a second rate school didn't get the NBA calling. And by the time he was ready to graduate he'd decided on being a cop, and was too damn proud to ask to come back.

"By that point I'd noticed he was the only one doing anything useful with his life. His cousins are professional dilettantes, useless, and trust me, I know useless. His cousins are the kind of guys I charm into paying for me when money's scarce. People who are so lonely they're willing to pay for entertaining company." Senior waves dismissively. "When Junior graduated, I didn't offer to start bankrolling him again. Might be the only good decision I ever made for him."

Gibbs nods at that. Agreeing.

They sit there quietly, not having a whole lot else to say to each other, and Gibbs isn't exactly the poster boy for meaningless chit-chat. It's not precisely awkward, but not comfortable either.

Finally he finishes his coffee and says, "Thanks."

Senior nods. "Glad to be of help."

Gibbs is gathering up his stuff, getting ready to go when Senior says, "Just about had a heart attack when I saw your name come up on my caller ID. I do a pretty good job of not thinking about how dangerous Junior's job is, but every now and again I can't ignore it."

Gibbs nods. "Didn't think about that until you picked up." He shakes his head. "If… If a call like that ever needs to be made, it'll be in person. As long as you're anywhere even close to nearby, one of us will come in person. We don't drop that kind of news over the phone."

"Okay." Senior nods. "That's… comforting. I guess. Just, don't ever show up at my door without calling first. Don't want to feel that again."

Gibbs smiles. "Not a problem."

"Thanks." He finishes off his coffee as well. "Okay, got to get moving."

Gibbs nods again. "Enjoy!"

"Thanks. Got an angle on a drug company that I want some more information about."

One last nod from Gibbs, and Senior heads off.

Gibbs lingers, sitting at his table. He calls Jenny, getting her machine and leaves a message, explaining who had referred her and what he was looking for. After twenty more minutes, he gets up and leaves. Borin wandering in was a long shot, anyway.


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