Friday, September 26, 2014

Shards To A Whole: Investigating

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

Chapter 390: Investigating

A good cop, especially a well-trained Gibbs cop, can hit the ground running, on no sleep, in the wrong damn time zone, assess the facts, and get up and solving the crime in a matter of minutes.

At least, that seems to be how the outside world thinks it should work.

Burley is a good cop. But he, and his team, are not, in fact psychic, nor are they robots, so they do, on occasion need to sleep and eat.

So, right now, they're caught between reading up on the stuff that Agent Angua is sending them, as it comes in, or trying to get a nap. According to the pilot they're eight hours away from the Stennis, so he puts himself, Theresa Millin, his right hand and partner, and Amos Olnton, their tech guy, on rest shifts. Everyone gets a five hour nap, and a two and a half hour up stretch. Whoever's up is in charge of staying up-to-date on the case.

Luckily he was up when Gibbs called him. Gibbs always knew when he was napping, and he'd have had a fit if he caught a hint that he was sleeping on Tim's case.

He talks to Gibbs, and Vance, making a few mental notes, watching his napping teammates.

This is going to be a disaster. "Sensitive" cases always are. Sure, he's got Vance behind him, great. Vance will not always be in charge, and if one of Admiral McGee's pets ends up at NCIS this case could be biting him, and his team, in the ass for decades to come.

He rubs his eyes. Start at the beginning. Treat it like any other case. Get to know the victim. He pulls up Tim's service record and medical record.

Stan Burley is not a stranger to violence. He's been a cop since 1994, twenty-two years. He has seen fights. He's waded into fights to try and stop them. He's been in fights for his life and fights to protect others. But that doesn't stop him from feeling nauseous as he reads through the medical records.
Tim's hurting, and he's going to be hurting for a long time.

Then he gets to Tim's personnel file. Director McGee. Oh… He remembers that. Just like everyone else, he got the email, but he didn't pay much attention to it. Olnton handles all of their tech needs. Getting anything done was always such a pain in the ass that instead of hiring another field agent, he actually went with his own tech when Banner (his and Millin's previous third team member) retired. Why Vance is on this makes more sense.

"How dumb do you have to be to attack an NCIS Director?" he mutters as he keeps flipping through McGee's files.

He feels kind of stupid that he doesn't know this stuff already. DiNozzo he remembers well. They worked together. Abby, he's got a very clear memory of her, and a few fuzzy memories of some very good times they had back in the day. (Tim probably doesn't need to know about them, what with the whole they're married now, thing.) Ziva, he met her a few times, and likes her, but he doesn't much remember Tim.

He reads through, realizing that Tim got hired for the same reason Olnton did. They needed a tech if they were going to do the job well, so they got a tech. Unlike Olnton, who is just a tech, he doesn't carry a gun and does not get sent into the field unless he's got to travel to do the tech stuff, McGee actually became a real cop.

And from real cop he's gone to Director of Cybercrime. A very long and very high jump. He's got to be amazing at what he does.

A few moments later he gets copied on why McGee was on the ship. According to Jarvis, he swallows at that, the Secretary of the NAVY is getting involved in this case, they were running a top secret test on the ship's tech systems. His eyes scan over the notes. Apparently there is a Lt. James on the ship, who will get him up to date (which Stan understands to mean, will tell him all the stuff SecNav doesn't want put down in writing.) and provide him with all the paperwork reading him into this test.

While he's reading up on the test, he gets two emails, one from Lt. James, and one from Agent Angua.

He sends them a quick Reading up, eta 7 hours from now, no idea what time that'll be where you are, talk soon email, and then does some more reading.

Angua's preliminary report is that McGee was brought to the brig. He was properly processed. Then he was led to a cell, locked in. Then the MA in charge 'went for a walk on Lt. Mane's orders.' Four sailors, who were not, in fact, prisoners, were in the two cells next to him. They're in the infirmary right now, each with his own MA keeping watch to make sure they aren't talking. According to them, Mane told them McGee had made their ship fire on the Borealis, killing at least two hundred people. They all had family on the Borealis, who according to Mane, had not been accounted for. According to them Mane left after McGee was locked in, as did James, and once Lt. James had left, he returned, unlocked the cells, told them to beat McGee to death, and then get out of there, fast. He'd be back in five minutes to handle the body. Best they could tell, in about two minutes Jarvis was there, yelling at them to stop. If Mane attempted to get back to the brig, he would have seen a huge collection of MAs and Medics and the Captain all in there, so he probably turned around and headed off when he saw that.

Lt. James is in charge of looking for Mane. According to him, they'd searched all of his usual places, and were now starting a deck by deck sweep of the ship. He had three seamen using the security footage to try and figure out where he had gone, but according to them the footage had been compromised, and while they could track Mane, McGee, and himself going into the brig, the footage of when they were supposed to be leaving it shows a blank hall.

Burley shakes his head. "Sensitive" cases suck. Millin touches his shoulder. She's up, which means it's naptime for him. He hands over his phone, easier for her to just read it all off of his machine than send it to her, and then he settles in as well as he can to catch some shut eye.

Burley stretches and rubs his eyes. It's daylight… ish, as they go jolting to a heart stopping landing on the Stennis.

"Hate aircraft carriers," Olnton mutters.

"You and me both," Millin replies.

"Then let's hope we're off the damn thing soon." Burley wraps up.

He's never worked with Agent Angua before. She's waiting for them on deck, tall, strong, light blonde hair back in a severe braid, light gray eyes seeming to catch everything around her. Everything about her gives him the impression of someone who's always watching, and always about to leap into action.

Honestly, if she wasn't on his side, he'd find her intimidating.

"Agents Burley, Millin, and Olnton," he says by way of introduction while shaking her hand.

She nods. "Sarah Angua." She points to the large, well-muscled man next to her, who all but radiates crisp, Navy perfection. "Lt. James."

"Has Mane been found yet?"

James shakes his head. "The full search of the ship has been running for six hours. We've finished the flight deck. Jarvis tells me that search and rescue dogs are being sent in, and will be ready for us when we dock in San Fran."


"Have you had any chance to eat?" Angua asks.

"No," Olnton says.

"Okay, let's get you in, get your gear tossed into a locker somewhere, and we'll debrief as you eat."

"Sounds good."

They're docked in San Fran by the time they get done with the briefing (pretty much what was in the reports with a bit of an update on the hunt for Mane. Still missing.) which meant they basically could have just flown to SF and landed on a real airstrip.

Sigh. All the fun of the job.

Once they dock, James heads off to rejoin Jarvis. Burley puts Angua in charge of hunting down Mane. Which leaves them on interrogation.

"Who are we starting with?" Millin asks.

Burley grabs the files on the four perps. "Manz is still in the infirmary and sedated."

"He's the one whose throat got crushed."

Burley double checks the medical files. "Yeah. Doc says he's not talking for at least another day. Maybe not ever, they're not sure how bad the damage is. That leaves Rodrick Ylyns, Seth Chase, and David Nordstrom."

She scans the notes he's got open on the table. "Nordstrom's the one who peed himself when he realized what had happened?"

"Yes." Burley scans the report, too. Yep, he's the one who when hit with the idea that this was actually the Admiral's son and that he was on the ship on a top secret mission, wet his pants in fear.

"Weak link."

Burley nods.

Nordstrom is hurting. Broken nose, broken orbital, broken hand, tons of bruises, sprains, strains, and a huge bite taken out of his left arm. Yeah, he's hurting. He's on a ton of pain medication, and Burley has required a lawyer stay with him, because even though he said he didn't want one, he's stoned off his ass, and Burley does not want this testimony getting tossed because he didn't have counsel present.

"Start at the beginning and tell me what happened."

Nordstrom stares at the ceiling behind Stan for a moment, collecting his thoughts.

"I had oatmeal for breakfast. Then went to run—"

"Okay, that's a bit too beginning. What started the fight?"

Nordstrom blinks, hazy brown eyes floating languidly over everything in the room. "That guy going to be okay?"

"They don't know, yet."


"Why did you decide to beat—"

The JAG breaks in, "That's supposition."

"We have McGee's blood, skin, saliva, and hair on your client. The Secretary of the Navy, Clayton Jarvis, is one of the men who helped to pull your client off of McGee. Lt. Remy James, his secretary, saw him in the cell next to McGee before the fight began, and took custody of him after Jarvis pulled him off, when the fight was done. We've got absolutely no doubt at all that he was involved, we want to know why."

The JAG nods. "Okay. Go ahead Dave, tell him what happened."

Dave blinks, unsure what he's supposed to be saying.

"Why did you decide to beat McGee?" Burley coaxes.

"Oh. Uh… Earlier… you know, like, after lunch, there was a code-red-all-hands-on-deck. I was already at my station. I work in security. It's my job to keep an eye on the feeds. If it looks like something's going wrong I focus in on it, make sure it's all on tape, stuff like that."

"Okay. So you're at your computer…"

"Watching, and everything's insane. Everyone's running to stations. All the alarms are going. Pilots are running for their planes. I've got nothing to focus in on, because everything is insane. Things slowly start to calm down, and then Mane shows up, talks to Lt. Kett."

"Your commanding officer?"

"Yeah, he runs the security bay."

"Then Mane comes over and asks to talk to me, and I know whatever he's gonna say, it's bad, because he's got that look on his face. He tells me we fired on the Borealis—"

"Someone's told you the Stennis didn't actually fire, right?" Burley asks. He's been at this more than long enough to know abject terror when he sees it, and that's how Nordstrom sounded as he said 'fired on the Borealis.

He nods, slowly. "One of the medics. I asked where the casualties were; he wanted to know what casualties, and… And we didn't fire. Mane told me we fired. Told me over 200 on the Borealis had been killed. That my brother wasn't accounted for, yet. He's on the Borealis. He's new, eighteen-years-old. This is his first run out. All I could think about was having to tell my mom that my ship killed Steve." Nordstrom's crying at that.

Burley pats him gently on the shoulder. Not really wanting to, but between the drugs and the regret, soft-balling him with sympathy is what's going to get everything out of this guy.

"What happened after he told you about your brother?"

"I tried not to start crying. He told me we didn't know for sure about Steve, but he did know who'd done it, and asked if I would help take care of him."

"And you were all over that, weren't you?" Burley adds.

Nordstrom nods, fire and hate in his eyes. "All over it! He asked me to go with him, and I did. We went to his quarters, and he gave me a computer. Told me the guy who did it was hacking our computers and our security feed. I don't know much about computers, but I know our security feed, and there was someone piggybacking on it.

"Mane said he was some sort of terrorist. Pretending to be some sort of Irish Navy Captain or something, but really a member of… Something. It was bad."

"And how were you going to 'take care of it?'"

"He was going to have an accident. My job was to handle the cameras and then help him have his 'accident.' The brig's got cameras on it at all times. Has to have cameras. We go through the feeds every seven days, checking and rechecking, making sure everything works. So, first job, kill the camera that covers the cells. I deleted everything from the last four days, messed with the logs. Looks like it went out way ahead of time."

Burley nods at that. Agent Angua had asked for the security feeds moments after getting on the ship, and they were… a mess isn't right, but clearly doctored.

"What did you do next?"

"Next was hard. I got a lot of footage of the hallway to the brig when it was clear. A minute here, minute there, ten seconds here, my job was to get ten minutes of it all put together. Then I sat, and waited. I watched Mane bring that guy in, along with another guy. Then I queued up the blank footage, and booked into there. Found three other guys waiting, too. The MA stuck us in cells, and a minute later the terrorist and the other guy were in there.

"The other guy left. Mane let us out of our cells and into his, and reminded us we needed to be gone in five minutes."

"What happened in five minutes?" Burley asks.

"Nothing, really, but in six the camera would start recording again, so that gave us time to get out of the hallway without getting caught on tape."

"So there'd be no footage of you going in or out?"

"Yeah, and it'd look like Mane and the MA were in there the whole time. I think they were going to leave for a bit, come back, and find the spy'd 'killed himself,' or something. Not sure what they were going to do. It was our job to take care of him."

"Didn't you think it was… odd… that you were being asked to take care of this yourself?"

Nordstrom blinked. He blinked again. Looking completely dumbstruck by that. He swallows hard. "No. Just… Just thinking about Steve and hoping he was alive, and all I wanted to do was beat the man who may have killed him until he screamed and then keep hitting until he stopped screaming. I wanted to be able to tell my mom that I killed the bastard who killed Steve. While I was getting the cameras ready, Mane kept bringing other guys into his quarters, three of us, and… None of us knew where our family was, or if they were dead, but we were gonna kill the fucker who messed with them."

Burley nods. "I understand."

Millins took point on Ylyns. Very similar story. JAG on the case because the perp is stoned off his ass on pain meds. The overwhelming pile of evidence proving he was involved meant the JAG decided immediate cooperation was the best way to go, followed by a somewhat rambling, disjointed story about how Mane hunted him down, "explained what had happened," and hatched a plan to take care of the Irish Terrorist on board.

Burley took point on Chase, who also had kin on the Borealis, and came up with almost the same story. A slight variation was in play. This one knew that they hadn't actually fired. (He worked on the flight deck, so he could literally see the rockets not going off.) But he knew that something had gone very wrong, and the idea that his wife might have died got him fired up enough that the part of the brain that thinks up questions like, how about we let the legal system handle this? was completely shut off.

They read up on Manz's background, making sure he didn't work on the computer systems, that he, also, hadn't personally seen what had happened with the test. He hadn't.

"So he found people with kin on the Borealis, most of whom worked so far below decks they had no idea what actually happened," Millin says to Angua when she checks back in. "Separated them from the rest of the ship, got them 'planning' on how to take care of the spy, and then set it up."

"And, the 'your nearest and dearest were last seen bobbing in the Pacific' was a good story for getting them to attack first and ask questions second," Angua replies.

"Yeah. Doesn't hurt the oldest one of the bunch is twenty-three. Not exactly an age known for lots of forethought," Millin adds. "What do you have for us?"

"Dogs are on board and looking for Mane. No joy, yet. But they'll find him. I do have a question for you. Why do we have the Admiral confined to quarters?"

"The vic is his son," Burley says.

"Yeah, I know. That's why I'm asking," Angua says. "I mean, doesn't that rule him out?"

Burley winces. "From what I'm hearing, that rules him in."

"Oh, shit!" Angua looks distressed. "So, we're thinking that Mane was… ordered to do this?"

"Yeah." Burley thinks about that. "Or… probably he never said it, but… hinted…"

"Ugh." Angua winces. Cases like this are a pain in the ass to deal with.

Petty Officer Thomas Weis is not thrilled about this whole thing. At all. He does not want to be sitting here, confined to his quarters, waiting for some asshole NCIS agent to rip him a new one.

He's caught, and he knows it.

So, as best as he can hope, immediately spilling everything is the only way he's getting out of prison in time to see his kids graduate high school.

"What do you want to know?" he says as soon Burley and Millin head into his room.

"Everything." Burley says, sitting down on the one free chair. Millin settles herself on Weis' desk, setting up her computer to record everything. "But first, you've been advised of your Article 31 rights?"

"Yes, I have."

"You may have any counsel you like." Burley replies. Usually he's not nearly so… consistent… about reminding everyone of their rights, but this one's got to be above board.

"I'm fine. I want to get this done as fast as possible."

"All right, we like that," Burley says. "So, what happened?"

"Mane shows up in my brig. Been a quiet week, there's only one guy in there, and he's just sleeping off a drunk.

"Mane tells me that he needs my help with something. Asks about the code red, what I knew about that, which was basically nothing. Just that it happened. So he tells me how we were hacked, how our guns were taken over, how we'd almost fired on the Borealis, and that the guy who did it was on board.

"So, I ask what he wants to do to the fucker, and he tells me. Apparently this guy is buddy buddy with the SecNav, so who knows what sort of shit he's getting out, or who he's selling it to. So, we've got to get him pulled away. And yeah, everyone'll wonder what happened, but because of the way the thing with the cameras'll work, no one will ever know."

"And you just go along with this?"

"It's Mane. If he's asking me to do this, it means the Admiral is asking me to do this. No way in hell I'm saying no."

"Did Mane ever say the Admiral wanted this to happen?"

"Of course not!" Weis looks appalled at that idea. "You don't say things like that. And you sure as hell don't ask. But if Mane's asking, it means the Admiral is asking. He's the Admiral's secretary. Everyone knows that."

Burley asks, "Has the Admiral asked you to look the other way often?"

"The Admiral's never spoken to me, period."

"Has Mane asked—" Burley asks and gets cut off before he can finish.

"Oh, no." Weis shakes his head. "No. I run a good brig."

"Until last night," Millin says.

"He hacked our ship, so we almost shot another one of our ships. Who knows how many people would have died if he'd succeeded. He's gotten himself in close with the Secretary of the Navy, some sort of spy… That fucker can die in my jail any day, and I'll call it an honor, and I'll take the shit coming to me because of it. I tried to help take out a spy, and God knows how many lives I've saved, so, if I go to prison for it, I go to prison, my conscience is clear."

Burley sighs. "Timothy McGee, NCIS Director of Cybercrime, son of Admiral John McGee, hacked your ship on the orders of the Secretary of the Navy in order to find flaws that could be fixed, and test your cyber unit's responses, showing them the holes in their security. For all practical purposes you tried to have the Captain who was running the other fleet during a war game killed."

Weis goes white at that. "I didn't… No one…" He looks horribly confused. "If he was Admiral McGee's son… Mane would know that… I mean… Why?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Millin replies.

Millin and Burley are walking back from Weis' quarters to the conference room they're running the investigation out of when they hear a commotion.

Neither of the can make out individual words, but there's a lot of excitement coming from the enlisted mess.

As they get closer they hear, 'Wait, no put the—" followed by a gunshot.

Burley looks at Millin, who's looking back at him. "Guess we've found Mane," she says dryly.

Twenty more steps, shouting "Make a hole" repeatedly, and pushing a crowd of sailors back and out of the way proves her right.

Lt. Mane is on the floor in the enlisted mess, the back of his head gone, service pistol, still warm, on the floor next to him.

Burley rubs his eyes. "Suicide with one hundred witnesses."

Millin is patting Mane down, looking for a note or something, and she finds it in his breast pocket.
She unfolds it, sighs, and folds it back up again.

Burley gives her a Well, what does it say? look, and she shakes her head. Not reading it out loud, not here.

They control the crowd until the Medics get to the mess and take over. Then they return to the conference room.

Millin spreads out the note.

It was all my fault, all my idea. I organized and executed the attack on Timothy McGee. I had to stop his lies. I failed.

"What the hell does that mean?" Olnton asks.

"Means Gibbs is going to go mental," Burley says.

Millin is confused by that.

"We've got no case against the Admiral," Burley replies, rubbing his head.

"I know that. What about the lies?" Olnton asks.

"I have no idea," Millin replies.

"I… shit… I might, but…" Stan shakes his head. "Look, I want to take you into it blind and cold. Just keep a really good watch on the Admiral when we talk. He's still confined to quarters, right?"

"Should be." Agent Angua says, catching that question as she heads into the conference room.

"Okay, we're not telling him Mane is dead. Let's see what we can get out of him."

Burley gives the MAs a few minutes to get Admiral McGee out of his room. He doesn't want to lay eyes on the man, or, more importantly, let him lay eyes on him, until he's ready to interrogate him.

As an Admiral's flagship, the Stennis boasts more "entertaining" capacity than an average Nimitz class aircraft carrier.

And as an Admiral's flagship, there's a significantly nicer suite available for him.

By aircraft carrier standards, it's huge, which boils down to about 200 square feet. It's extremely tidy. Burley has the sense that even dust is afraid to fall out of place here. (Not that a speck of dust would dare to land anywhere in this sacred temple to all things Navy.)

The sleeping quarters are sparse. Large bed (navy and white linens, perfectly made), night table (clean, nothing on top of it. Burley opens the drawer: kindle, tissues, eyeglass case, eye drops, small humidor) light over the bed, photographs on the walls of several ports, Burley knows Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Pearl Harbor, but the other three are a mystery to him.

Like the sleeping quarters, the private bath is immaculate. One thing catches his attention, the shaving kit is a brush, a soap mug, and a straight razor. The man who shaves with one of those at sea is hardcore.

Closet is tidy. Everything perfectly pressed and hanging. He assumes that John has to have some off duty clothing, but he's not seeing it. Probably in the impossibly neat looking chest at the foot of the bed.

He opens the lid, extra blankets, clean towels, a pair of sneaker, sweats, t-shirts, a few off-duty, laying around outfits, underwear, and socks. Apparently, this isn't the kind of guy who just shows up for something in a suit. He's an Admiral, and he wants everyone on earth to know it, always.

Spartan. That's the main thing he's getting from this room. This is a man who pared everything that wasn't essential to his job out of his life. There's no sign of friends or family in here, just a space to rest between shifts.

So, the office has to be more revealing, because that's where he really lives.

And it is. Like the sleeping quarters everything is beyond tidy. The Navy thrives on paperwork, but there's none on the desk. It's plain, functional black plastic and cool gray metal. John's computer is up on it, but off right now. Burley is tempted to snoop, but he's already pushed his without a warrant leeway as far as he can.

Behind the desk is something he'd call a shrine. There are two officer's swords up on the wall, each one with a brass nameplate. "Capt. William McGee 1893-1918" "Adm. Nelson McGee 1919-1988" Below them are two flags in shadow boxes, one is clearly old, the stars are… well, they look wrong to Burley, but in 1918, there were only… 48, he thinks, states. Under the flags is the traditional ribbon salad.

Tons of them. Medals all over the place. Between what must be McGee's father and grandfather, it looks like every single medal a man could win from the Navy had been won.

A little further down is John's sword, along with his formal medals.

Burley shakes his head. 'Respected member of the Navy.' Trust Leon to understate the case. He's a Four Star Admiral, son of a Four Star Admiral, with more decorations than the fucking Christmas Tree in Times Square.

To the right and left of the shrine are book shelves. The left is filled with naval histories and technical manuals for planes, drones, electronics in general. On the right is… Fluffy stuff. Fiction. Odd for a man who owns a Kindle to have two shelves devoted to…

There's a shelf of… Burley doesn't recognize the books. He picks one up. Mysteries. There are five of them, and next to them is a picture of Tim and Abby at what has to be their wedding. It's a candid shot, unplanned from the looks of it. Tim's smiling at Abby as they dance. It's really sweet. The costumes are kind of weird, sort of Victorian or something, and he's not sure what's going on with that, but he makes a mental note to badger Gibbs for more pictures, later, when they aren't in the middle of this case, because he can't wait to see what Gibbs wore to that thing.

There's a grainy black and white ultrasound in a frame next to the shot from the wedding.

The shelf below it has… He picks one of them up, too. Some sort of horror thing. Then it clicks, the name on those books is Sarah McGee. He opens one of the mysteries and sees a picture (old picture) of Tim smiling at the camera.

This side is devoted to his kids.

'Child abuser' Gibbs had said. Stop his lies Mane had written. In his gut, Burley knows those two pieces are related to each other.

He puts the novels back and picks up the picture next to the horror ones. It's a shot of the Admiral. He's got a young woman on his left, his arm around her. On the right is a young man, and he's got an arm around him, too. All three of them are grinning for the camera. Tucked into the corner of the frame is a save the date card. Apparently Sarah McGee and Glenn (must be the guy) Holland are getting married in March.

Estranged son, daughter he's close to… Mane loves his Boss… Child abuse… There's no shot it didn't happen. No way anyone could pull that lie on Gibbs, and… no reason to think Tim would even try it. But… daughter is close to him, that picture can't be more than a year old because it's got 2015 in the corner.

So… If Mane got wind of this… Who knows what about what happened? What did happen?

On the walls are more pictures. More ports (New York, he knows), and then a gallery of shots of drones, some in the air, some on the ground, some John was putting together or taking apart.

One more wall of pictures, this one has shots of John with Important people. There he is with the President. And the previous president, and hell, the one before that. He's rubbing elbows with Hillary and Bill Clinton at Chelsea's wedding. There's a shot of him with two Supreme Court justices. More people Burley doesn't recognize. A group shot of all the current Admirals. There's a picture of a kid, can't be more than six, but he's guessing it's got to be John, sitting on John Kennedy's lap.

He's on buddy-buddy terms with everyone who's ever mattered.

Burley has never called Jarvis before. He doesn't exactly want to call Jarvis, but… he doesn't know who else would know.

So he does call.


"Excuse me, Sir. This is Stan Burley, I'm running the investigation on the assault on Tim McGee"

"How are things going?"

"Well, I hope. I'm getting ready to talk to Admiral McGee. I'm in his office, trying to get a better idea of who he is. I was wondering… his ambitions don't end at Admiral, do they?"

"No, they don't."

"Is he gunning for your job?"

"No. Higher. He's on the short list for the next Secretary of Defense."

"Okay, thank you. Will he get it?"

"Depends on who wins in November, but right now, I'd say the odds are better than even if Hillary wins."

"Thank you, sir."

"You're welcome."

Secretary of Defense… If a story about hurting one of his kids got out… That's worth killing to hide.

Burley checks his watch. It's a bit after noon. According to his phone he's a bit over half an hour away from the hospital where Gibbs and Tim and the rest of them are.

"Millin, keep an eye on the shop. I want to everything there is to know about Mane in your head by the time I get back."

"Already on it. Olnton's helping Angua toss his quarters."


"What are you going to do?"

"Have a chat with a friend about the McGees."

Burley doesn't like hospitals. Not that that's a terribly original statement. Not too many people just go hang out at hospitals because they like the vibe of the place.

But, though he hates to admit it, they creep him out. Probably because every time he's been in one, it's because he's visiting someone who doesn't want to be there.

He sends a text to Gibbs when he hits the lobby, and gets directions to where they are.

"Stan." Gibbs gives him a hug. He's waiting in the hall standing next to Vance, who Stan recognizes, and another guy, tall, thin, round glasses, puts him in mind of an adult version of Harry Potter, Stan thinks he's seen him once or twice, looks like he's ready to start killing people, on the other side.

"This is Jimmy Palmer, our ME."

"Really hope they told you you didn't need to come for this," Stan says while shaking his hand.
Jimmy shakes his head. "Tim and Abby and this guy," he lays a hand on Gibbs, "are family. And I'm a doctor. So, I'm not here in my usual professional capability. Today I'm the guy who goes through all the medical stuff and makes sure it's sound."

"Has it been?"

"Yeah, it has. He's getting good care."

"Great. Can I…?"

Gibbs nods. "Sure, go say hi, and then we'll talk."

Burley eases in quietly. Abby didn't hear him, so she's still sitting beside the bed, head resting against the railing, fingers on Tim's wrist. Tim's eyes are closed, and Burley's hoping he's asleep. "Hi," he says quietly.

Abby jerks a little at that, turning toward him, letting Tim's hand go and standing up to wrap Stan in a hug. "Hi," she also says quietly.

"I'm actually awake, you can talk."

"Hi, Tim."

"Stan, right?" He hasn't opened his eyes to look. "Eyes don't much like opening right now."

Stan's looking at how black and blue and swollen all of Tim's face is. He's coming to the conclusion that opening his eyes probably takes some concerted effort. "Yeah. Wanted to check in before talking to your Dad."

"Check away. So, I do look properly beaten?"

"Uh… Shit… Yeah."

"He'll be happy to hear that," Tim says dryly. "How are the other guys?"

"They're looking pretty bad, too." Abby pulls Stan over to the chair she had been sitting in, and half leans half sits against Tim's bed. "The one you got in the throat, they're not sure if he'll talk again."

Tim sighs. "That's the one who was going to kill me if he got a shot."

"Yeah. I would have in his place, too. He worked below decks, heard the code red, knew something was up, then Mane shows up, tells him that they'd blown the Borealis out of the water, killed over 200 people, and that his newly pregnant wife was missing."

"Shit. I'd have killed me, too." Tim turns his face toward Abby, but his eyes don't open.

"How could he have not known it wasn't real?" Abby asks.

"Machinists mate. Never got anywhere near anyone who'd be working on the part of the ship where you could actually tell. Then Lt. Mane shows up and tells him what's going on. No reason to think the Admiral's secretary would lie to him. If he'd been more with it, he probably would have been asking questions, but he wasn't. He just wanted to get his wife back and kill the son of a bitch who might have hurt her. So he jumped at the chance.

"All the guys in there had some version of that story."

"But Mane knew it was a test, right?" Abby asks.

Tim tries to nod, but that makes him feel dizzy, so he stops. "He was with us when we ran it. You want my statement on what happened?"

"Eventually. When you want to give it. Three of them have already plead guilty to assault. We haven't settled on what we're charging the MA who walked out and let it happen with, and the other guy's been in and out of surgery on his throat since last night.

Abby nods at that.

"I've got… some personal questions to ask. Probably aren't going to like them. But I need to ask before I talk to your dad."

Tim sighs, he'd reach to hold Abby's hand but she's on the wrong side of him. She sees him try and takes his foot into her hands.

"Fire away," Tim says quietly.

"Mane killed himself this afternoon. In the enlisted mess, so at least a hundred people saw him do it. Not like there's any doubt as to what happened. He left a note, too. Said it was all on him, all his idea, that he had to stop you telling lies, and that he failed."

Abby makes a small choking sound at that.

Tim grits his teeth for almost a tenth of a second, and then pain goes shooting through his mouth as he remembers he's got a broken tooth.

"It's not a lie," he says quiet and hot.

"I don't think it is. But… would Mane think it was? Or… would your dad have told him it was?"

"Yeah, sure… Maybe. Shit, I don't know. I didn't… I've never talked to him about it. I talked to my Grandmother and sister and they… I know my grandmother talked to him about it. I don't know what my sister's done."

Abby's watching Stan. "If Mane is dead, you can't actually make a case against John, can you?"

Burley inclines his head, looking sad. "That's why I'm here. Only shot I've got at this is getting John so pissed off he admits to telling Mane to do it, or admits to wanting it done, or… something."

Tim sighs. "You're gonna have a hell of a time with that."

"Hard to piss him off?"

"Not if you're me. The rest of the world, not so easy."

"You are NOT getting back on that ship!" Abby says, very sharp, very afraid.

"Wasn't volunteering for it," Tim sounds tired.

"And I'm not offering to take you there. Just want background. He and your sister are still close?"

"Sort of. They get along. They always have. I was supposed to be brave and bold and… Navy. She is brave and bold and sassy and… He never pulled any shit on her because she never caved. I always caved, so I got piles of shit heaped on me."

"You got piles of shit heaped on you because he's a fucking monster. It wasn't ever about who you are. It was always on him."

Tim gently presses his foot against Abby's palm, sort of the equivalent of squeezing her hand.

"He wanted to make me into someone else. She naturally is more of the kind of person he was aiming for."

Burley asks, "Does she know about you and him?"

"I've told her."

"Does she believe it?"

"I don't know. Maybe? She's never said she didn't, or that I was pissing him off, or it was my fault, or anything."

"But she still spends time with him?"

"Yeah. Not a ton. He's at sea probably eleven months a year. I'm nine years older than she is. My parents got divorced when I was eighteen and for most of when she was old enough to remember, he was away. So most of her memories of him is of this cool guy who'd occasionally show up, play with her, shower her with praise for being such a good girl, and bring her presents. Most of my memories of are of man who was at best silently disappointed in me, and at worst screaming about how he was going to… beat me into Navy shape and make me be a real man."

"Did he actually beat you?"

"No." Burley notes that McGee's sounding distanced from this, like he's remembering something he read. He's seen that before in people remembering things they don't want to deal with. "When he was teaching me how to fight, he hit me a few times, but when it was clear I wasn't coordinated to duck away from the punches or block them, we stopped. So, one afternoon, and he was soft-balling it. Mostly taps. No harder than what Gibbs does with a headslap."

"Enough to sting, let you know you got hit, not enough to even raise a pink spot on the skin."

"Yeah. When Kelly was born, I told Sarah she didn't have to cut either of our parents out of her life. They weren't the same people for her that they were for me. Ten years makes a difference." Tim lets out a yawn.

"I should let you sleep."

"You need anything else?"

"Nah. I'll be back later, when I know more."


Abby stands up. "I'm going to walk Stan out."

"Good. I'll just lay here."

"Go to sleep."


Jimmy and Gibbs and Vance are waiting outside of the room. Abby looks at them, and Vance gets the idea from that look that maybe right now is a good time for him to take a walk, so he heads down the hallway, out of earshot.

She quietly says, "By 'beaten into Navy shape' he means 'threatened with gang rape and having his dick cut off' more than once."

"Oh shit."

Jimmy nods. "First time Tim took me shooting, I wasn't exactly gung ho about shooting anything, even a target. I'm a doctor. I don't love guns. He tells me there's no way I'll be worse than he was when he started, and proceeds to tell me about being seven years old and getting laughed at and chewed out by his dad because he doesn't just automatically know how to shoot, and how by the time he was fifteen the chewing out got so bad that he's standing there with a loaded gun in his hand as his Dad's reaming him, calling him a useless fag and a cunt, thinking about how if he blew the man away they wouldn't put him in jail for more than six years."

Stan shakes his head. "God."

"You want to press his buttons, you want him so mad he'll admit to anything, you hit him with that. He might be nice to his daughter and mom, but hates women and he hates gays, and if you can work that into it, you'll have him in a blind rage," Abby says.

"You sure?" Stan asks. "Have you ever met him?"

"No. But I'm sure. He dreams about it sometimes, talks in his sleep, repeats the shit that man called him. You don't use that sort of language unless there's a lot of hate in there. You don't fixate on your kid, not like that, not unless that's a big issue for you."

Jimmy nods. "Ducky's speculated about that, too. Says it fits the profile. Closeted homosexual, lots of self hate. A lot of the shit Tim took was for not being... 'male' enough or aggressive enough. Anything about him that was less than Rambo level hard and male freaks John out, reminds him of who he is under his facade."

"You and Ducky talked about this?" Abby's curious as to what they came up with.

"We've talked about a lot of things, hours and hours alone working together, we've talked about all of you at one time or another."


Gibbs isn't saying anything. He's just watching Stan. "Case is stuck isn't it?"

"Mane killed himself this afternoon. Left a note. Said he planned the attack to stop Tim spreading his lies."

Gibbs closes his eyes, then opens them slowly. "You've got nothing on McGee."


Gibbs bites his lip. "And he's too damn smart to say anything."

"Hoping to get him pissed."

Gibbs shakes his head. "Not so pissed he'll admit to ordering it."

"I can try."

"You'll fail."

"You think you can do better? I'll give you a shot if you can keep it under control enough to not hit him."

Gibbs shakes his head. He knows he can't. "No. You get to Admiral, you've got control. You know when to talk and when not to. And he'll shut the fuck up and there'll be nothing…" Jimmy notices that Gibbs is biting his lip so hard, it's bleeding.

"Jethro." He lightly touches Gibbs' hand. "Stop it."

Gibbs relaxes a hair. "I interviewed him once. Nothing. Cold son of a bitch just sat there. Couldn't break him, could barely get him to admit anything."

"What was that case about?" Burley asks.

"Doctor on a ship got killed. You were on the ship. Last case we worked together."

Stan nods. "Didn't even know he was involved with that."

"He barely was. Just on the ship. Knew the Doc. Mostly pulled him in because I'd never seen Tim's dad before, didn't know the shit they had, and was curious. Big mistake."

Abby's glaring at him. "That's why you questioned him? He's been having nightmares since because…"

"I didn't know, and back then you didn't, either."

She closes her eyes, looking sad. "I didn't. I should have."

"So this is a close in secret?" Burley asks.

"Really close," Abby replies.

"Was there any shot Tim was going to go further with this?"

"No!" Jimmy answers, hot. "Look, not even all of us know. Tony doesn't. Ziva doesn't."

"Probably do by now." Abby says. "No way he hasn't asked for more details. We all knew they didn't get on, but Tim doesn't like talking about it, so he's told the absolute minimum number of people he can."

"Penny talked to John, yelled at him, if Mane heard that… She can be very passionate and loud and… And she would have done it in person, and…" Gibbs shakes his head. "If there's a woman I don't want yelling at me, it's Penny."

Jimmy's got his phone out. "What's your number?"

Stan answers.

"Just texted you her number. You'll probably want to talk to her. See what happened with her and John and if Mane was part of that."

Burley nods. "I'll let you know what I find." Then he heads off.

He decides to hold off on calling Penny until he knows more about Mane. So, once he's back on the ship it's Millin's turn to talk.

"You ever watch the Simpsons?" she starts off with as Angua, Olnton, and Burley sit around the conference table, looking at pictures of him.

Three heads nod.

"Okay, say hello to Lt. Smithers. From everything I can see Mane, literally, lived for his boss. Short of the picture of him in skivvies the heart shaped frame, he's got all the trappings of the desperately in love, hyper-over-achieving underling."

"Was he?" Burley asks. Given what he knows about McGee, this might be an interesting lead.

"Not exactly. Not romantic. At least, not from anything I could tell. Well... It'd make sense, but all the scuttlebutt leaned more toward massive suck up and revenge... Not revenge, but... I don't know."

That's got everyone's attention. "Okay, so John's the hot shot Drone guy, right?" Millin asks.

They all nod.

"Mane's one of three boys, all of them are in the Navy. His middle brother was an aviator, killed in a training run. His wingman's plane had some sort of mechanical issue that took both of them out."
Burley fills in the blank. "So he gets himself working with the guy who will make sure that planes don't have pilots anymore."

Millin nods.

"Even better," Olnton adds, "If he becomes Secretary of Defense, he'll have the power to shift a lot of money and resources into unmanned arms. I was looking through his reports and publications, McGee's not just on the airborne drones kick. He's been pushing for unmanned tanks, unmanned planes, unmanned subs, smart rockets, and mech style warriors for the few guys who'd actually need to be on the ground.

"If he had his way, something like ninety percent of our soldiers would never leave the US or a battleship. They'd all be in computer centers running machines from far away, and never get anywhere near live fire."

Olnton pulls up a report onto the television screen. "This is McGee's latest report that's making the powers-that-be all happy. Pretty much it's a plan for a post-WWII style industrial revolution, where instead of cars coming off the lines in places like Cleveland and Detroit, it'd be drones. A multi-disciplinary way to get weapons producers to start building massive piles of unmanned stuff in depressed areas in an effect to improve local economies, while, at the same time retraining current soldiers and sailors for working in computer hubs. So, big push for lots of brains all working on this stuff at once. Lots of manufacturing jobs. And the next President gets to look strong on defense and offense, without a parade of dead soldiers on the news.

"That report is what's making everyone think he's the golden boy for the next Secretary of Defense."

The four of them look at each other. Mane being hyper-protective of his Boss makes sense. Now they're all staring at Burley, waiting for him to fill in the lies side of the equation.

"McGee was abusing his kid. Verbally beat the shit out of Tim for years. Never used a fist, never left a mark, but… Tim's whole family is convinced of it."

"Are you?" Angua asks.

"The guy who trained me on how to sniff out a lie believes it, and he's the sharpest lie detector I know. And, yeah, it feels real to me. If that got out…"

"Secretary of Defense goes up in smoke," Millin finishes.

"That's worth killing for, right?" Angua adds.

"I think so," Burley says. "Got a few more questions to ask before I take a swing at him. Then… I'm starting to get a plan in place."

Asking people questions they don't want to answer, at horrible times in their lives, when everything hurts and everything is falling apart is one of Burley's least favorite aspects of being a cop.

Doing it over the phone is worse.

But he doesn't have the time to get Penny to California, and he doesn't have the time to go to DC and then come back so…

So he punches in the number that Palmer gave him, and waits a few seconds for the ring.

And one more.

And… "Hello?"

"Hello, is this Penny Langston?"

"Yes." Her voice is rough, and he can tell just by the sound that she's been crying all day.

"This is Agent Stan Burley…" He hears a voice in the background, followed by the sound of the phone being handed over.



"Hey, look, is there any possible way to do this another time, Stan?"

"I wish. You know the drill, DiNozzo."

"Yeah, I do. Just, it's been a bad day here."

"I know. I'll keep it fast."

He hears the phone being passed back again. "I take it you're in charge of my grandson's case."

"Yes, Ma'am. Only a few questions, and they're quick."

"Fire away."

"Did you know Lt. Mane?"

"Not well. I've met him several times, and he usually hovered in the background somewhere when I visited on board."

"Okay. Look, this one's not good, but, I need to know, did you talk to your son about your grandson, and was Mane there for it?"


"About… Did you talk to him about abusing Tim, and did you use the word abuse, and if so, was Mane there?"

"I…" There's a long pause, sound of someone trying to remember all the details of something. "Yes."

"Okay, thanks, that's all I needed."

"Agent Burley, why do you need this?"

"Mane killed himself today. His suicide note claimed full responsibility for the attack on Tim, and according to him he did it to stop Tim from telling lies."

"Oh God." Penny swallows hard. "Yes. Early last summer… We started talking, and then yelling, and then I walked out and we haven't spoken since. Mane was there for at least the first few minutes. I thought he left, but if he was hanging around, he could have heard."



"Sorry, I didn't know. Palmer gave me your number. I'm doing this cold. Doctor Langston, I know it happened. But… how does your son think of it? Does he think he was abusive?"

She snorts a bitter laugh. "He thinks Tim was too soft, and that he needed to be toughened up, and that as long as he didn't hit Tim, anything was in bounds. He thought the fact that Tim was starting to talk about it was just another sign that he was too soft."

"Okay. So if Mane flat out asked, 'Did you abuse your son…'"

"He'd say no, and that was a ridiculous idea. He'd say he never laid a hand on him, and that he did everything he could to be a good father and to make him the kind of man who could stand up for himself and what he believed in. He'd say he failed, and that Tori, his wife, and me, spent too much time coddling Tim, let him grow up stunted and weak."

Burley shake his head. "God. I'm going to go talk to him next."

"Agent Burley, did he order this?"

"I don't know. If it's any comfort, it's likely no one will ever be able to prove he did."

"No, that's not a comfort."

"I'm sorry."

"I am, too. Have you seen Tim?"

"Yeah, little bit, earlier today. He's awake and talking. Bet you guys could give him a call if you wanted to."

"Thank you."

"Goodbye." He hears Penny hang up.

Time to talk to the Admiral.

Everything hinges on a confession, and if this guy's unbreakable, then Burley has to get him comfortable, has to get him wanting to talk. So, if he's walking into the den of a misogynistic, homophobic, ultra-hard ass, then he's going to be a misogynistic, homophobic, ultra-hard ass, too.
Stan takes his wedding ring off, and rubs his hand to make sure the indent goes away. No tan line, thank God. He ruffles up his hair a bit, and pops a stick of gum, chewing it sassily. "So, I look like a pig?"

"Give me a leer."

Burley looks Millin up and down. She giggles at it. "You'll do."

He leers again and winks. "Thanks sweetheart."

"You swat my ass in there and I'll break your hand."

He snaps back into his regular personality. "Wouldn't dream of it."


Millin heads in first. She takes a moment to set up her computer, and starts in on Admiral McGee's Article 31 rights, laying out his right to counsel, right to not incriminate himself, and all the rest of that.

Burley is watching through the computer feed she's got set up.

McGee is annoyed. He can't really tell how much of this is annoyed at not doing his job (he was complaining about being stuck in his quarters) versus annoyed that Millin is a woman (he can see the way John's looking at her, the look of a guy who knows how he's got to behave to make everyone happy, but that behavior doesn't go more than skin deep).

Just as Millin's wrapping up the Article 31s, Stan breezes in.

"Come on, Amelia, you know he knows 'em. No need to waste the man's time." He turns to McGee, offering his hand, and then gives McGee a good, firm, knuckle cracking show of dominance handshake. "Agent Stan Burley. We'll get this done and you moving again as fast as we can."

McGee nods minutely.

"How about you head off and let us talk."

Millin nods, looking annoyed at him.

He winks at her. "Thanks, love." He looks back at John as she heads out. "My tech bunny. I love her. Anything I need, she can do. First off, let me get you up to date on Tim. He's in the hospital, and they say he's going to be fine. Probably. They aren't sure about his right hand, but he's a lefty… Not like he'll be a cripple."

John nods very slightly. "That's a relief."

"Yeah, for me, too. I've worked with him a few times, always liked him. He's… he's a good guy."

"Thank you."

"Always kind of surprised to see him there, but he's a good guy."

"Why does Tim being an NCIS Agent surprise you?" John sounds interested in that.

"Hey, you know, takes all kinds right? But… he's… you know… He's not Dirty Harry. But you know that, right? And he's great with a computer, just a really… nice guy, maybe a little sensitive, but tech guys can be that way. Not like you've ever got to stare down a computer when it's aiming a gun at you, right?"


"Kind of surprised to see he married Abby. I mean, I didn't see that coming. She was wild back in the day, but… Shit… I'm telling tales. Tell me about Lt. Mane."

"Why were you surprised about him and Abby?" John seems mildly intrigued by this.

"Hey, not my place to say, but, look, girls want a certain sort of guy when they want excitement, and… Okay, let's just say, back in the day, Abby and I got into some exciting situations," Burley says with a smile and a knowing smirk. "And then want another type of guy to settle down and raise babies with, and apparently he's a baby kind of guy."

The Admiral smirks at that. "His sister tells me he's very good with babies."

"And he would be. He's a very kind, very gentle sort of guy, you know? If I ever have kids, I'd let him look after them in a heartbeat. Like I said, he's a good guy. I like him. I'm really sorry any of this shit happened to him."

The Admiral nods, and Burley notes that he can't even muster an 'I'm sorry about that, too' sort of comment.

"So, it's my job to investigate the shit, and unfortunately that means holding you up for a bit."

John nods, weary. "I understand that everything that can be done, must be done, to bring the man who assaulted my son to justice. Do you have him in custody?"

"Yeah. Right now we're working on the how and why."

John nods. Theoretically, if things went the way they were supposed to. As soon as SecNav found out about the attack, John was escorted to his room, and kept there, without contact with the outside world, since.

Burley looks at his notes, a stalling technique, he wants to see how patient John is, if he'll try to rush him, but he doesn't, just sitting there, waiting.

"Now, you didn't know Tim was coming onboard, right?"

John nods.

Burley rolls his eyes a bit. "Kind of a dick move. I get the upper levels like to do stuff like that, but…"

John doesn't respond to that.

"Yeah, I know, can't say anything about it, whatever the guy in charge wants to do is fine, right?"

Very small nod, tiny, tight smile.

"So, you go into the conference room with Mane, and there's SecNav, Lt. James, and Tim?"


"And then everything on the ship went bonkers."

"There was a full red-alert situation," John says precisely. Stan gets the sense he doesn't like the idea of anything he's involved with being 'bonkers.'

"Of course. And what did you do then?"

"I spent most of the afternoon on deck, keeping an eye on the effort to track down the hacker."

"Did you guys track down the hacker?"

"That's why I'm here, isn't it? We tracked down the hacker, and something unfortunate happened to him?"

Burley nods. "That's what we're going to talk about. What can you tell me about Lt. Mane?"

He sees a little guard go up in McGee's posture. "What sorts of things do you want to know?"

"Is he good at his job?" Burley asks.

"He wouldn't have his job if he wasn't."

"Your fitness evals for him show that he's an exemplary secretary."

John nods. "He is. I've had many assistants over the years, and he's the finest one so far."

"Would you say he's devoted to you?"

"Certainly. He takes better care of me than my wife did."

Interesting choice of comparisons. "Uh huh. And is he anything other than your secretary?"

"What do you mean by that?" The Admiral is spitting mad from that accusation. He's got it under a cold shell, but Stan can feel it.

Stan holds his hands up. "Hey, not trying to rub you wrong. People like what they like, and I'm always live and let live about that, you know, as long as I don't have to see it. Just… Look, like I said, Tim's a great guy, but there's always been rumors. He's… you know…" John nods very slightly, looks almost like an involuntary motion. "He's married to Abby so he's got to go at least both ways, so let's say he's flexible and sometimes that runs in families. Just got to find out how close you and Mane are, okay?"

"Why do you need to know how close I am to Lt. Mane?" John bites out, grudgingly.

Stan just looks at the Admiral.

"Is he a suspect? All the MA would tell me was that Tim had been attacked and I was to remain in my quarters until the NCIS Agent talked to me."

"Can't say. So, once again, how close are you?"

"Ask him."

"Trust me, I have, and he's not talking. So I'm talking to you. What kind of relationship do you and Mane have?"

"He's my secretary."

"And that's it?"

John's eyes are narrowed and he's mad. "That's it."

"Huh… Really?"

"Really." His voice is icy cold. "We work together all day, every day, three hundred days a year. We are close. I am fond of him. He is an extremely talented young man."

"Good to know. Tell me about Tim."

"What about Tim. I've seen him twice in the last decade. We do not speak. I barely recognized him when I saw him."

"Then let me be more specific, tell me about the lies Tim's telling. The lies that have Mane's panties in a twist."

John looks alarmed. Stan waits. They're both silent for a full two minutes.

"What lies are worth killing a man for, John?"

John still doesn't say anything. Another full minute of silence stretches by.

"See, one thing Mane is saying is that Tim needed to be shut up. That he was telling lies about you. And those lies were so bad that killing Tim looked like an appropriate option to get him to shut up. So, you and Mane, you fucking him or something?"

John slams his hands onto the top of the table. "You shut your mouth about that. There is nothing, at all, along those lines… How would you even… Not another word."

"Fine, you're not. Which means you're screwed, because if you were fucking him," Stan flips over the picture of Tim, beaten to a pulp, arm in traction, whole body bruised, "doing this to a guy who might damage your reputation makes some sense, 'cause if you were fucking him, I could see how he might take the stories Tim's starting to tell as a personal insult. But if he's just your secretary, I have to think you put him up to it."

John doesn't say anything, he doesn't respond to any of Stan's words. He just stares at the shot, and then quietly says, "I always told him if he didn't learn how to fight, someone would hurt him."

"Didn't…" Burley wants to spit. Instead he calmly gets the photos of the sailors. "This is Seaman Kevin Manz, fighting Tim's probably cost him his voice. This is Seaman Ylyns: broken nose, broken orbital, broken jaw, two broken fingers, two lost teeth, more sprains then they could count. This is Seaman Nordstrom: cracked wrist, broken toes, broken nose, broken ankle, two sprained wrists, and a dislocated elbow. Here's Seaman Chase, broken hand, dislocated fingers, broken knee, and two knocked out teeth. All four of these men are at least ten years younger than your son and have at least twenty pounds on him, and went after him at once! The only reason Tim's alive right now is because he's a fucking ninja.

"Didn't…" Burley shakes his head. He places the shot of Tim's face back to the top of the pile. "Tell me Admiral, you work with Lt. Mane every single day, you claim you're not fucking him, so tell me why he thought this would be desirable to you?"

"I don't know."

"Bullshit. There's no possible way a guy like Mane does this to your son without your approval, so what did you do, suggest that it'd be nice if he stopped talking? You let loose on Mane when it turned out Tim was behind the test on this ship? You rip him a new one for not doing his job, and you tell him he had a new job, and he already knew what you wanted? Or did you just flat out tell him you wanted Tim dead?"

John's still staring at the photos, looking at the other soldiers now. "Tim did this?"

"No, the Easter Bunny did. Yes, Tim did that. One on four, and sure, he lost because that's what happens when the odds are that out of your favor, but he held on long enough they weren't able to kill him. Now tell me, why did you order Mane to do this?"

John takes a quick breath and looks up at Burley. "At no point did I ever order, suggest, hint, imply, or in any way shape or form suggest on any possible level that I wanted this" he taps the photo, calm and in control again, "to happen. This interview is over. If you wish to speak to me again, you'll have to make an appointment for a time when I have counsel present."

Burley stands up. "As you wish."

"What'd'ya got Stan?" Gibbs asks as Stan walks towards him and Vance. It's been a hell of a long day. Almost dinner time. They moved a cot into the room for Abby, and she's sacked out on it. Jimmy's napping on the sofa.

Supposedly he and Vance are getting dinner, then Vance is taking the jet back to DC. In the morning, he'll let Tony, Ziva, and Ducky know what the plan is.

"Let me sit down first, okay?" Vance leads them into a waiting room and finds a cup of coffee, handing it to Burley. "Thanks." He drinks deep and sighs. He's been on for nineteen hours and he's tired. "I've got a brick wall. Everything comes to an end with Mane."

"The secretary?" Vance asks.

"Yeah. And at this point, I honestly don't know if McGee ordered it or if Mane knows his Boss so well he did it without orders. Either way it stinks. I know McGee approves of it, but I can't prove he ordered it. Technically I can't prove anything, not for McGee."

Stan slumps back in his seat. "I've got no physical evidence. I've got no heresay. The only guy who could have fingered McGee is dead, and did it himself, in front of a hundred witnesses. I've got absolutely nothing to even suggest McGee knew or was in on it."

"Mane wouldn't do it without his approval," Gibbs says.

"I shot my bolt on that, and missed. Not only can I not prove that, but… Mane apparently heard about the stuff involving Tim and his dad. John's a hot shot drone guy, possibly the next Secretary of Defense, which would give him a lot of power for making those drone dreams real." Gibbs and Vance are following along. "Mane's lost a brother. Aviator, killed in a training mission. To say he was gung ho about drone pilots was an understatement. If he thought Tim was an obstacle to John's career, even without approval, he might have moved on it. As long as John gets to where he's supposed to go, Mane would have seen it as some sort of 'greater good.'

"He had it planned out so, if Jarvis hadn't shown up at the right time, one minute Tim would have been alive in prison, the next he would have had an accident, alone, in a locked cell, that no one would have seen."

"Everyone would have known it was a mess, but nothing could be proven," Vance says.

"Yeah. I don't know if he was supposed to just go missing, or if they were planning on finding him hanging by his belt. Hell, for all I know, he was going to 'flip out' and throw himself against the bars until he killed himself. No one below Mane was thinking properly about this. And no one above him can be tied to it."

"Nothing?" Leon says.

"The absolute best I can do is make the case that Weis and the rest of them were sure they'd get away with it because the Admiral wanted it done. It was his secretary doing the asking."

"So you're saying you've come up with mitigating factors for the defense lawyers to put into play, but nothing even a second year law school student couldn't shred on the stand as evidence," Leon replies.

"Exactly. Hell, you don't even need two years of law school to kill this case. Watch a year of Law and Order and you're qualified to kill this case."

Gibbs is sitting there, fuming, holding his cup so hard it looks about to break.

"I can't do it, Gibbs, and…" Burley shakes his head, "even for you, I'm not fabricating evidence."

Gibbs looks up at him and shakes his head. "Not asking you to, Stan. Give me the transcripts, the videos, let me see everything, and I'll find a way to hang him."

Stan glances at Vance and Vance nods. "You've got email, right?"

Gibbs nods dryly.

"You brought a computer with you?"

He blinks. He didn't. "Jimmy did. He'll let me use his."

"Okay. I'll head back to the ship, send it all over to you, and get some sleep. Maybe with some rest and your fresh eyes, we'll find something." But Burley doesn't sound like he believes that.

Once he leaves, Leon says to Gibbs. "He's good at his job. If there was something, he'd have found it."

Gibbs shakes his head. "I know. But if I ever want to sleep again…"

"I know. Take your time, look over everything. But, if you two can't come up with something between now and this time tomorrow, I've got to let him loose."

Gibbs nods.

"Jethro," Gibbs knows by the look on Vance's face that he's talking about what's going to happen with that rifle now that they have no case. "It can't happen tomorrow. Or the day after. Can't be soon."

"I know. Won't be. This'll be barely a memory."

"I'll give you all the cover I can, but you can't do it sloppy."

Gibbs nods one last time and then gets up to go to Tim's room, and grab Jimmy's computer.


No comments:

Post a Comment