"Still think DiNozzo went off on his own?" said Gibbs to Detective Hardman as he shared the tape with him.
"I never thought he'd gone off," protested Hardman, "But it would have been crazy not to think it was a possibility."
"Yeah, yeah," said Gibbs.
"Er, Boss," said Tim, "We know that Tony's been taken but … why?"
"McGee?" asked Gibbs.
"If the kidnappers wanted something, wouldn't they have made a demand by now?"
"And if they wanted Tony dead … wouldn't they just have killed him in the cabin? Or we would have found the body by now?" asked Ellie as she faced an unpleasant possibility.
"Doesn't make sense, does it?" said Hardman. "From what you're saying, Tony's father couldn't afford a ransom?"
"No," said Gibbs.
"Although he puts on a good show," said McGee. "Someone on the outside might have thought he'd have the money."
"Anyone else who might pay a ransom?" asked Hardman. "Tony said something about family in the UK …"
Gibbs and Tim, who were in the know, snorted in laughter, "Not likely," said Gibbs.
"They'd have the money," said Tim, "But he's not close with them. Like Gibbs said, it's not likely they'd pay."
"And don't kidnappers do research before they snatch someone?" asked Ellie doubtfully.
"Does DiNozzo have any cases where he might be under pressure to stop investigating? Or anything with sensitive information?" asked Gibbs.
"Not that I know of," said Hardman, "Like I said before, all his current cases were closed before he handed over to me. And a lot of work is the community work, nothing sensitive there. And the cases we work with other agencies, the other agencies usually take the lead on prosecutions: we're just there to oil the wheels. Could it be a NCIS case?"
"Could be," said Gibbs, "But he's been gone from NCIS for more than three years. Can't think anyone wants him for information …"
"So revenge after all?" said Ellie sadly.
"But revenge that nobody knows about?" said McGee.
"What's next, Agent Gibbs?" asked Hardman.
"McGee, get the tape to Abby. Ask her to run every sort of analysis she can to try and identify who these people are."
"On it, Boss."
"And then hit the rack. Nothing more we can do tonight. We'll start afresh tomorrow."
Gibbs didn't sleep well that night and got up early the next morning to take a walk down to Tony's cabin. He thought the fresh air might stimulate his tired brain cells into some sudden insight and he found it useful to return to the scene of the incident. As he approached he saw that he was not the only early bird …
"Daddy!" squealed Tali excitedly, "You made my shoes wet!"
"You made my shirt wet," replied Tony. "And I'm coming to get you …" and he ran towards Tali with a dripping wet sponge. Tali shrieked again and ran away. Ruskin barked excitedly and managed to get in everyone's way.
"Sutherland?" said Gibbs breaking into John's reverie.
"What?" Sutherland jumped at Gibbs' words. "Sorry, I didn't hear you coming."
"Yeah, I got that," said Gibbs.
"I was thinking … remembering," said Sutherland.
"Yeah, I know what that's like too," said Gibbs.
"Tony and Tali love this ATV," said John as he continued to look at the all-terrain vehicle. "Always make sure to clean it after they've used it. Tony says you have to make sure you get rid of the sand. But cleaning it usually ends up with a water fight!"
"I can imagine," said Gibbs. "And DiNozzo loves his cars … so I guess he loves his ATVs as well. You on your way to Millie's?" John ate a lot of his meals at Millie's and in particular never missed one of her breakfasts. Gibbs waited expectantly but John continued to gaze at the ATV. "Sutherland?"
"That's strange," said John, "I didn't think of it before."
"The ATV is dirty."
"Tony and Tali cleaned it the day before Tony disappeared … so why's it dirty now?" He pointed to the sand which covered the small vehicle.
"You sure?" asked Gibbs.
"Yes. That's what I was thinking about when you came up. I was remembering when they last cleaned the ATV. Tali and Ruskin got very excited … and very wet. What do you think it means?"
"Not sure. Perhaps they used it to take Tony somewhere."
"And then brought it back?" said John sceptically.
"They thought we wouldn't notice," said Gibbs.
"Why would that matter?"
"If they had time to bring it back … maybe that means they didn't go far. The shorter the distance they drove the less chance of being spotted," said Gibbs.
"He's somewhere close by?" John looked around almost as if he expected to see Tony behind a bush.
"Could be," said Gibbs, deciding not to give voice to the thought that the ATV had been used to dump a body. "I'll get the forensics team to go over it. Whoever took it might have left some evidence behind." He took his phone out to summon McGee but then saw him walking up with Bishop.
"Hey, Boss," he said, "Abby just called."
Hope blossomed in Gibbs' heart, "Yeah?"
"She's been over the tape, but nothing jumped out at her apart from thinking she could hear the sound of two engines outside. She's trying to figure it out."
"Tony's ATV," said Gibbs, "Looks as if it was borrowed and then brought back."
"I'll tell her," said McGee, "She's going to carry on checking the tape anyway."
"Get her to check if the tape picks up the ATV coming back," ordered Gibbs. "We might get a time frame on how far they travelled."
"On it, Boss," said McGee.
"And take a look at the ATV. And then get it to Abby," said Gibbs, "Tell her to look at it."
"Looking for anything in particular?" asked Ellie even as she took evidence gloves out of her pocket.
"Hell, I don't know. A seed from a rare plant only found in a three-hundred-yard patch of ground. DNA from someone with a genetic mutation or saliva from a guy who's picked up an unusual tropical disease. You know, the sort of thing Abby usually finds."
"Uh, Gibbs," said Ellie, "You do know that sort of thing is really unusual? Most of the time Abby doesn't find anything like that. She'd have to be real lucky to spot something like that."
"And Tony doesn't usually have that sort of luck," said McGee gloomily.
"We won't know if we don't try," said Gibbs as he strode off.
"Is that another rule?" asked Bishop of McGee.
"Who knows? I don't think they're fixed."
Gibbs called Abby as he walked back to the café with John. "Abs …"
"Gibbs, Gibbs …" she replied.
"Something wrong, Abs?" he asked.
"No. I mean apart from Tony being missing. Why?"
"You only said Gibbs, Gibbs. It's usually three Gibbs."
"Well, I was trying to save time," she said earnestly, "I've worked out that it probably takes me half a second to say Gibbs and I probably say it at least 20 times a day so I'd save 10 seconds a day. And that amounts to 1.01388889 hours a year assuming I say it every day of the year. And I know I might not say it every day of the year because even you take a vacation sometimes but I figure that when I see you when you come back from vacation I'm so excited that I say it even more often so it balances out."
"I know," she said forlornly, "I've probably just used up ten seconds of the 1.01388889 hours I could have saved."
"No, not that," he said tolerantly, "Have you heard from Mr DiNozzo Senior?"
"No," she said sadly, "And I've been trying to find him but he seems to have gone to ground. You know that when Tony moved to Raleigh I kinda took over the Tuesday lunches … when I'm free which isn't always because I often have to work through my lunch break …"
"I know, Abs."
"I know you know, Gibbs but it never hurts to remind people that I work really, really hard. Where was I?"
"Talking about Tony's Dad."
"Oh yes. Well, I often … sometimes … have lunch with him and I was due last week but he rang me up and said he'd have to cancel."
"He say why?"
"No. He was a bit evasive but I didn't worry too much."
"You didn't?" This was a surprise as, in Gibbs' experience, Abby could and did worry about pretty much anything.
"No. Tony said Senior is always going off the grid. He gets some project in mind or something or someone shows up and he goes off. And when I saw him the last time he was worried."
"He didn't say but he did mention that he'd been to a new swimming pool and didn't like the chlorine."
"And that worried him?"
"Gibbs, the wrong level of chlorine can be dangerous. It can lead to asthma or irritation of the eye," said Abby in a worried voice.
"Did Mr DiNozzo show any symptoms of those things?"
"Well, no," said Abby.
"We need to find him, Abs," said Gibbs. "I think that tape confirms that Tony went off with someone. It's time to tell Senior."
"You don't think the same person who's got Tony has got Senior too, do you?"
"They might have taken Tony to make it easier to cope with Senior," said Gibbs drily.
"Not nice, Gibbs, not nice," said Abby reprovingly. After a pause she added, "But you could be right."
"Get on it, will you?" said Gibbs.
"Your wish is my command," said Abby and she ended the call.
"Do you think it matters?" asked John, "That the ATV was borrowed?"
"Not so much that it was borrowed," said Gibbs, "But that it was returned."
"Makes me think that something happened close by. If they were using to get to a rendezvous, then why not just dump it? Bringing it back suggests that they're trying to throw us off the trail."
"And that that trail ends somewhere near?" said John.
"Maybe," shrugged Gibbs.
"But Detective Hardman's team has been searching," said John.
"Then they need to search again," said Gibbs sternly.
Hardman had got into the habit of coming to the café for breakfast as a way of meeting up with Gibbs and discussing plans for the day. When Gibbs got there, he was already halfway through one of Millie's breakfasts. Millie favoured Gibbs with a firm look and put a well-laden plate in front of him,
"You might as well eat, Agent Gibbs," she said. "You probably won't eat the rest of the day and a few minutes to refuel will be well spent."
"No arguments here," said Gibbs.
Between bites he brought Hardman up-to-date with the findings about the ATV.
"Doesn't get us any further though, does it?" said the detective.
"If you knew Tony like I do, you'd know he's tough to get rid of," said Gibbs.
"I guess," said Hardman, "But his work is different now."
"Well, the liaison work with Feds may be what gets your attention but most of his time is spent with the Community part of the job."
"You think he's gone soft?"
Hardman shrugged, "It's still a hard job but the skillset is different."
"Seems to me that he acted pretty quick to try and leave us clues," said Gibbs swallowing back irritation, "Left the licence plate number and set the recorder. Quick reactions – like he always had." He gulped at his coffee and said, "I want us to start searching again. Draw up a list of isolated buildings where he may be stashed."
"Bishop!" bellowed Gibbs.
Ellie came hurrying in from the room which Millie had set aside for NCIS, "Gibbs?"
"Find out the range of Tony's ATV. See if we can work out how far it could have travelled."
Gibbs' phone rang at that moment and he scowled as he saw the caller ID, "Leon, I'm busy."
"I'm glad to hear it," said the Director drily. "Any news?"
"Nothing concrete. Like I told you last night, indications that DiNozzo was taken against his will. And possibly not taken far," said Gibbs managing to keep his temper.
"Hmm … listen …"
"Leon, we need to try and find Tony's father. We might need a warrant to do some digging. Can you get Legal on to it?"
"I'll get on to it. But I need you to take a call."
"I don't know. He wouldn't give me any details."
"Leon, I don't have time for this. Tell him I'll get back to him."
"Gibbs," said Vance firmly, "You'll take this call. And that's an order."