Author's note: Gibb's hasn't bought an electric sander and I'm still updating. I appreciate your patience. This is the chapter that confirms who was in trouble in the first one, though I don't think I made it too tough for you all to figure out. Chapter 5 – Witness or Worse?
It was 8:30 in the morning and to Kate felt like she'd already put in a full day's work. Somehow, it still offended her to see Tony still had a spring in his step after the obscenely long hours they'd just put in. The bullpen was already humming with activity. From the number of the coffee cups that were accumulating on many of the desks, she wasn't the only agent to realize that NCIS was far from the typical eight to five kind of job.
Gibbs wastebasket overflowed with empty coffee cups. With the cleaning crew working overnight, it was a certainty the boss had been in the office since he'd left them at the crime scene. Kate blew a lock of hair from her eyes, certain she looked as beat as she felt. She marveled at the senior agent's ability to look as sharp as he would from a full night's sleep. Assuming he slept. With his acute hearing and ability to work around the dock, Kate made a note to check to see if Gibbs had reflection the next time they passed a mirror.
Without looking up from the memo he was scanning, Gibbs queried testily, ''Where have you two been?"
Kate's mouth opened but for the life of her, she could not put together the syllables needed for coherent speech.
Tony's amiable reply filled the void. ''I got a good cast of the tire tracks but I wanted some pictures of the scene in daylight.''
''It's 0832. Sun up was at 0623 today. You two should have been back thirty minutes ago."
Tony looked like he was going to try some of his typical shucking & jiving to defuse Gibb's annoyance. It would have been to her advantage to let him be the focus of the bosses ire, but in fairness she felt she should take part of the responsibility.
"We stopped for Egg McMuffins... and coffee." Kate's statement more efficiently distracted Gibbs than if she'd pulled her shirt off and whipped it around her head. Tony's longer experience with the senior agent paid off in this case.
Playing to the older agents disgusted look, Tony added with an exaggerated look of dismay, ''Yeah Boss, can you believe it? People actually buy coffee at McDonalds?
Gibb's closed is eyes in what seemed an attempt to see if he could put the entire conversation on rewind and shook his head.
''Anyway Boss," Tony added quickly, "I took footprint casts too and just from eyeballing them, I could swear that Warner had walked around in the area where he said the killer's car was parked." The younger agent sensed the others piqued interest. "I take it he did not mention doing a little exploring?"
Gibbs favored him with a sour look.
Reading Gibb's annoyance accurately, Tony rushed to fill the void. ''Abby's got a lot to process so I thought I'd run the casts down to the lab and ink and print 'em. Once I scan them, Abby can run a computer model to check for comparison. Might be worth interviewing Warner to see if he left any other tidbits out of his statement." Tony looked for an affirmative from Gibbs. He should have known better.
''Are you waiting for a gilded invitation, DiNozzo?"
Tony had already turned and headed for the elevator.
Abby greeted Tony with a cheerful wave that she managed without ever raising her head from the scope she was using.
"Hey Abs, can I use your scanner?"
Without looking again, Abby queried, "You're not going to copy you're butt again are you?"
Tony favored the little brunette with a sly grin as she snuck a peak over the scope. "Did Valentine's Day come a second time this year?"
With equal parts of amusement and awe, Abby remarked, "You did not mail butt pictures to your Valentines?"
"Email. With a distro list the size of mine, snail mail is not efficient."
Abby couldn't accurate get a read on the level of bull Tony might be hefting her way as his 500,000 watt smile tended to throw off her internal lie detectors.
"Oh yeah Tony. You have reached a whole new level of gross…" Tipping her head and leveling an impish grin his way she added "and oddly cool, too."
"Yeah, lead with your assets, is what I always say."
Kate breezed into the lab. "I thought your motto was Think with your…"
With slight exasperation, Tony groused, "Nice Kate, you kiss your mother with that mouth?" He set the plaster cast of the shoe print on the scanner and watched as the image was digitally reproduced on a screen nearby.
Tony turned to Abby. "Can you compare the cast print with the any footprints we can find on Kate's crime scene photos"
"Need you even ask?" Abby grinned with a well-earned level of confidence. "Watch and be astounded."
With a flip of her pigtails, Abby's grin was confident as agile fingers flew over her computer keyboard. Soon, the black on white scan of the cast was on the left side of the screen. The right side of the screen flashed various digital pictures. When a photo including a shoe print flashed on the screen Abby at once started flipping it around to match the size and aspect ratio of the cast print on the left. Soon she had three pictures with positive matches lined up vertically on the right side of the screen matching the scan.
Tony had already taken out his sketch of the crime scene and was comparing the locations of Kate's three pictures. With the sketch in one hand he pointed to the top two photos. "These make sense," as he pointed to pictures of the areas where the police had interviewed Warner and where the tow truck had been parked. Pointing at the final picture, Tony continued, "But this is where Warner said the perp's vehicle was parked."
"Maybe Warner's curiosity got the better of him while he was waiting for the locals," Kate surmised as she peered more closely at the photo of the third location.
Dinozzo wasn't sure what he felt about Abby's results but he was more than familiar with the unsettling feeling in his gut that told him the evidence meant something. He knew Gibbs well enough to know that there was something about the witness that did not sit well with him either.
"I'm gonna go over this with Gibbs and head to Warner's house to re-interview him. His wanderings could compromise the scene or worse… I wouldn't put if past him to palm a piece of evidence just to watch us spin our wheels."
It was 10 am and even without any sleep, he could feel the fission of nervous energy making him antsy to so something, really anything. Seeking a release, he bypassed the elevator and bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Gibbs was peering at the computer screen rather myopically when Tony caught sight of the senior agent at his desk. Gibbs had unbent enough to put on reading glasses occasionally, but he was not overly fond of wearing them.
"Hey Boss! I've got Warner's footprints in the vicinity of where he stated the perp's car was parked."
Gibb's eyes narrowed in speculation and unveiled annoyance.
Waving the photos in his hand, Tony added, "Anyway I'm thinking he might have messed around at the scene more than he admitted. Could be holding back on something he saw or even picked up and carried away some evidence."
A slow grin lit the older agent's face and Tony surmised that Gibbs would not have minded charging that particular witness with impeding a federal investigation.
Gibb's copied Warner's address from his notebook handed the sheet to Tony. "Haul him in if you aren't satisfied with his answers. Clear?"
"Crystal." Tony could tell from the faint smile still lingering on the bosses face that the thought of having the old sailor in the interrogation room was not unappealing.
Almost as an afterthought, Gibbs added. "Want to take Kate with you?"
Normally jumping at the chance to have Kate alone with him for a session of unimpeded teasing, Tony was almost as surprised at his answer as Gibbs was.
For a moment all Tony could see was the predatory gleam in Warner's eye when he turned his attention from Gibbs to the younger agents as he and Kate had approached the witness at the crime scene earlier. Protectiveness for his annoying and sometimes distractively attractive partner replaced any interest in entertaining himself at Kate's expense.
"Naw, boss. Kate's chasing down some leads on the vic's identity. I can handle one old swabbie."
Gibb's right eyebrow arched up in a way that clearly said 'I'd like to see you try.'
Tony swallowed nervously. "Right… I'm outta here."
It seemed to Tony that the mass transit systems of most major cities seemed to be part of a plot to mask the more sordid areas of major metro areas to prevent shock to the sensibilities of sanitized suburbanites and tourists. You could live in Rockville, catch the cities underground subway called the "Metro" and reemerge into the Federal Triangle without any sense of the real city that existed beyond the Capitol. The district had places just as rough as any he'd seen as a cop in Baltimore. Tony found himself in one such neighborhood. Given that Warner drove a wrecker, he was not surprised that the address brought him to junkyard. What did surprise him was that anyone would actually live in a place like this.
As he gingerly wove the SUV through the vehicular cemetery toward the back of the property, Tony saw a structure that was not much more than a Quonset hut. Sheet metal was haphazardly welded in patches on the building and roof. He knew it to be Warner's residence when he spotted two rusted poles with laundry strung out between like hollow scarecrows in the chill wind.
There was no sign of Warner's tow truck, but that suited Tony just fine. He just assume snoop around a bit and get a sense of this character. Tony walked over to the door and rapped sharply on the frame of a screen that had seen better days. Opening the screen he knocked on the door.
"Mr. Warner. It's Agent Dinozzo with NCIS." Tony cocked his head, listing for any sounds, voices, TV or the like. Dead silence. A slow smile lit the agent's face. He could do a Marlowe around the place uninterrupted. First, he'd check out the grounds and then decide whether a little B and E was warranted. He walked around the building toward the clothesline and toward the back of the house.
Peering through one of the windows that looked like it had not been cleaned since originally installed, Tony confirmed that there was nobody in that room and moved further toward the back of the house.
Turning the corner to the back, Tony pulled up so hard that gravel shot from under his feet, grimacing at the noise it made.
What brought him up short was an '85 baby blue Ford Crown Victoria with a peeling navy blue vinyl top - just as Warner had described the perp to be driving. Tony didn't take the time to ponder why this car was parked behind Warner's house. Freeing his sidearm with barely a whisper of metal on leather, Tony held his automatic pointed heavenward as he peered around the corner of the house and then made his way cautiously to the passenger side of the vehicle. Empty. Relaxing his guard, he gave himself a moment to contemplate the unexpected appearance of the car. Warner was playing them. That was certain. But it would take more time and investigation to decide how deep his game was. Yanking their chain was a possibility. Warner seemed to take an instant dislike to Gibbs. But maybe Warner was more deeply involved in this murder. The most important thing now was that they had grounds for a search warrant. Still holding the automatic, Tony palmed his cell phone and hit "1" to speed dial Gibbs.
The "Yeah" he received implied that Gibbs had figured out the caller ID on his cell or he'd had McGee program his latest phone for him. Tony's vote was for the latter.
"Boss, you'll never guess what I'm looking at right now."
Gibbs growled, "Do you really want to make me guess, Dinozzo?"
"No Boss. Actually I was thinking you might want to get a warrant."
"Dinozzo, this still feels like guessing…" added Gibbs in a clipped tone that was all the warning Tony needed.
"Yeah right. Well I'm standing next to a baby Blue Crown Vic."
"Where the hell are you?" Tony could almost see Gibbs body tense to alertness. He could feel the intensity in waves across the cell connection.
"I'm at Warner's. No answer, but I thought I'd wander around and take in the landscaping. That's when I saw the Crown Vic." As he was talking, Tony made his way around to the truck of the car. A rust colored smudge trailed from just below the keyhole. "…and I think I've got blood here. I really think that we need to see what's in this trunk."
"Back off Tony and wait for us. Keep an eye on the place from a safe distance. You got me?"
Tony had every intention of answering. He'd bent down to examine what he was sure was a blood stain, when the right side of his head exploded with pain and he was swung around feeling his back connect with the trunk of the car. The gun and phone fell from nerveless fingers. As the image of someone standing over him swam in his dimming eyesight, Tony's last conscious thought was that this was the last time he would underestimate an old swabbie.
Warner stood over the crumpled form of the young NCIS agent and kicked the cell phone closed, cutting off the transmission. He eyed the blood on the opposite end of the broom handle.
"You want me to ditch that thing?" A pair of younger men came up to stand next to Warner. The one talking sported a scar that ran from just under his right eye to just below his ear, with thinning mousy brown hair. His companion was smaller, but not by much, easily weighing over 200 lbs. His most notable features were his proportionally small head and the pronounced limp that caused him to drag his right leg with every step.
Warner looked at both men with thinly hidden contempt. Eyeing the impromptu club, he tossed it on the ground next to the car.
"No. Lets leave them with this little weapon of opportunity. It should keep Agent Gibbs and his team busy. Leave the car, too." Motioning to the unconscious agent, Warner addressed the two, "Him we take. Toss him in the back of the van."TBC…