Did Little Nell Die?

by Channel D

Author's Note: The great English author, Charles Dickens, sometimes had his novels published as serials; one chapter at a time, in magazines. Oftentimes, chapters would end on cliffhangers. (Editors paid more for serials, since readers would keep coming back, desperate to find out what would happen next.) Among these novels was The Old Curiosity Shop, a tragic tale of Little Nell and her grandfather, who lived in a shop of curiosities but fell into poverty and despair, one misfortune after another. Eager readers would clamor for the new installment, sometimes asking, "Is Little Nell dead?" And so in honor of Dickens' 195th (plus a few months and days) birthday, we bring you this story is of a different Little Nell, in a different time. Every chapter a cliffhanger!

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Disclaimer: I own nothing of NCIS.

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U.S. Navy Lieutenant Dawn Peskarev drove up to the gate at the Washington Naval Station at Anacostia, already in a mood. It was stinking hot (only in the 80s but humid as hell), her car's air-conditioning had bitten the big one last week, and she had no time to get the thing fixed. There was never enough time to get everything done; never. Window already down—all her windows were down—she handed her Department of Defense ID to the clean-faced E-1 at the post, this person new to her. It's after 8; I'm late, and of course this is a different shift… Lord, they look younger every year. Has this one even started shaving yet?!

"Good morning, Lieutenant." He studied her ID, and was about to hand it back when something seemed to click in his mind. With a frown, he turned to his computer and called up a program.

"Is there a problem, sailor?" Peskarev wanted just to get to work. There was so much she had to do today. Between her job and Nell…

"Uh, Lieutenant, uh, yes, there is. Today is October 1, ma'am."

She glared at him; a glare that demanded an explanation. Right now.

"Uh, ma'am, new directive NAVADMIN 103/07 requires that all officers submit a full-length color photo for their official file by September 30. Your name's flagged, ma'am, as not having done that."

Of all the idiotic… She scratched her wrist; it was always itching; there was something wrong there, but the doctors never took her complaints seriously. "Sailor, I have been doing the work of three people all summer. I haven't had time to think about something as inconsequential as a full-length photo! Why, Nell alone—"

In the car behind hers, NCIS special agent Tim McGee was also impatient to get onto the base. He had work of his own to do today back at NCIS, and that was after he visited the Anacostia station and after he went to Annapolis. The trouble with being really good with computers was that it gave one a rep, and commanders thought you could be summoned with a snap of the fingers to fix their messes. Sometimes the Director gave in and sent Tim to them; sometimes she instead told them off. This was one of his unlucky days.

He wouldn't lay on his horn; he had been brought up to be patient and polite, and likely the poor sailor at the post was only doing his job. Nonetheless, the urge to honk the horn was there. Almost as great as the urge to get out of his car and just look impatient. He settled for leaning out for a better look.

Tim's much-loved car—a present to himself from the money from his first book—a handsome arctic silver metallic Porsche Boxter, was a joy to drive. He had the convertible's top down for the short drive across the river from the Navy Yard; it had been pleasant that way. It would continue to be, if he didn't have to sit in the sun, unmoving, for too long.

"Seaman—" Peskarev peered at his tag. "—Ingalls, look, I'll clear this up later, but right now, I really need to get onto the base. I have an appointment in five minutes—"

He was on the phone, and only acknowledged her with his eyes. Hanging up the phone, he said, "Lieutenant, the CO requests that you park here—" He indicated the small duty-parking area just inside the gate. "—and he'll be out directly to speak with you."

Oh, and wouldn't I have a few choice words for Old Horse Neck, Peskarev thought. She pulled in as the gate raised, and parked. It being too hot to sit in the car, she got out and leaned against it, tapping her foot, and scratching her other, itching wrist. If Nell saw me like this—!

Tim pulled up to the gate, relieved; his ID in hand. At this point there was now a backlog of six cars behind him waiting to get in. The E-1, however, was back on the phone; only catching Tim's eye, and gesturing just-one-minute-please.

After a few minutes, the commanding officer strode up, and Tim couldn't help overhearing him. "Dawn! I sent you three emails on this last month, and those were in addition to the official messages that have been coming out since April!"

"Commander, I know, I know, and I'm sorry. You know how busy I've been, doing my work and Colchester's and Eisen's. since they left. Little Nell couldn't believe the work I've had, either!"

Her CO looked puzzled, but shrugged it off. "Whether we like it or not, Dawn, orders have to be followed. You are one of the last two holdouts on this base. Come on with me, we'll get your picture taken now, and in ten minutes, you'll be off to your duties and I'll only have Lorenzo to find and fry."

"Good morning, sir. Welcome to the Anacostia Naval Station. ID, please?"

Tim's attention was diverted from the two officers. "Oh, sorry. Here you go." At least his NCIS ID would get him on base with no questions asked. He didn't want to have to explain that he was here because that commander had done the unspeakable to his computer. Again.

Peskarev scratched her neck. "All right, Commander. I'll just—"

"Thank you, sir. Have a pleasant day." The sailor triggered the gate opener, and Tim started to pull through, noticing the sailor's admiring glance at his car. Yes, she is a beauty, Tim thought, proudly.

The commander saw him, or perhaps noticed the car first, and waved. Tim waved back.

A scream made his whip his head and hit the brakes, and look. Peskarev, shaking, her mouth open. The commander moved to take her by the shoulders. "Dawn!"

Another scream, enough to set on fire all of one's nerves. Tim pulled his car over, and jumped out.

"NELL!!" A final, anguished wail. Blood seeped out seemingly all over the lieutenant's body, and with a final shudder she fell into the commanders' arms, and he carefully set her on the ground.

Tim and the commander crouched beside her. No vital signs. Come on come on come on, breathe!!! They performed CPR on her; stopping only when the paramedics arrived, and they thought there was hope. But the base doctor drove up then, and, after a few minutes, delivered bad news. Such a horrid thing to happen on an otherwise gentle morning. The commander removed his hat, and Tim saw him blink back tears. He, too, felt bad for this woman he'd never met, who was probably not more than a few years older than he was. Death was never welcome, he felt.

Wanting to do something helpful, he started to straighten the body as the commander turned away and got on his phone. Tim's hands came away with not just blood, but also small clumps of things that appeared to be…transistors; wires and components, tiny, hard to make out. What the hell...?!

Something was obviously very hinky. Stuffing the material in his pocket, he called NCIS. This was not a natural death.

- - - - -

"And she fell? Just like that?" Gibbs asked the commander. He'd already taken statements from Tim and the sailor.

"Just like that, Gibbs. But I don't see why this is an NCIS matter. There's no crime. The poor thing just—died."

"Under bizzare circumstances, Commander," said Ducky, getting to his feet. "She was young. Sudden death, like this, is always a cause for suspicion at her age. And the nature of the death—well, certainly anyone would call for an autopsy with a body looking like this." Blood had run like a river over the body, transforming the neat khaki uniform to a hellish mockery of military dress.

"Yes, I suppose so. Damn shame. She was a good officer, and a fine addition to my staff."

Tim stood by idly, having taken all the needed pictures of the scene. Something panged him, and he felt a little guilty, but he couldn't identify it. He handed the camera back to Tony, who, with Ziva, was bagging evidence. On a thought, Tim said, "Commander, who is this 'Nell' that the lieutenant spoke about? I, uh, overheard your conversation; sorry."

"No harm, no foul, McGee. I don't have any idea who Nell is. I'd never heard Dawn mention a 'Nell'."

Gibbs checked his notes. The sailor, who was now back at his post, had also mentioned that Peskarev had mentioned a 'Nell', more than once, and out of the blue. He had no idea who Nell was either; he was new at the position and had not met the lieutenant previously.

Ducky, aided by Palmer, was continuing his preliminary investigation. "She was standing, we're told, right here, against her car, when she started screaming and fell, is that right, Commander?"

"That's right, Doctor."

"And did she fall like this, or did you try to catch her?"

He was still trying to wipe the blood off his uniform. "I caught her, yes. I wish there was more I could have done..."

"And you two did CPR until the paramedics arrived. Hmmm..." He walked around the body slowly, studying it; sometimes crouching to look more closely at it. With the help of Palmer, he turned it on one side, then looked at it with a magnifying glass. "This body's been disturbed!" he said with conviction. "Something touched the blood, here, and here. Commander—"

Tim reddened. Now he knew where that dollop of guilt came from. "Uh, Ducky, that was me. I, uh, wanted to..." What was it that I wanted to do? I'm not sure now.

Ducky marched up to him and stared him down. Though Tim was several inches taller, he felt like a boy called on the carpet by a stern teacher. "Timothy! How dare you disturb evidence! There is no call for such behavior, and I expect a special agent to be aware of that. Why on earth did you do it?!"

Words refused to make the trip from Tim's brain to his mouth. They were probably as much afraid of Ducky as the rest of Tim was. He shook his head, his face even redder.

Then he remembered his pockets, and words at last came out, prepared to take their lashes. "Uh, you should know that I, uh, also found this on her. I forgot I had it. Until just now." He held out the strange transistors and such, which now no longer felt jelly-like, as before, but rather, more solid.

"What on earth are these?"

"I don't know. I, uh, moved her arms, where they were bare, and when I pulled my hands away, they, uh, came off her, or something. I don't know."

"You moved a body before I got here! You touched it—without gloves, I'm assuming?! You held back evidence!! Timothy, you may have compromised this investigation! With whatever these things are!! How COULD you?!!"

"I'm—I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."

Gibbs was suddenly in his face; a menacing figure. "You got a medical degree, McGee?!" he roared. "You'd better show it to me really fast, because I want to know why you decided you could interfere with a possible crime scene!!"

Totally flustered, Tim quaked and said nothing. He'd screwed up, big time, he knew; and he'd have to atone.

"You're here to fix a computer," Gibbs said, his voice dripping venom. "Go do it." He pointed in the direction of the commander, who politely had his back turned; seemingly on his phone again.

Tim didn't look back; didn't want to meet Tony's and Ziva's eyes. Deep down, he knew that everyone screwed up now and then, but that knowledge didn't make his turn any easier. He scrambled to meet the commander, who seemed equally glad to get away from there.

- - - - -

Abby was patrolling the squad room when Gibbs, Ziva and Tony returned. She wore a black t-shirt featuring a skull adorned with a party hat and blowing a party horn. "Happy Fiscal New Year!" she cried, throwing little confetti Happy New Year phrases on everyone's desk. "Here's to a great federal government new year, and may the 'continuing resolution' come to an end soon, and get us a real budget, because I so need new lab equipment! Well, I do!" she said, to Tony's and Ziva's amused looks. She left, after giving Tim's desk an extra helping of confetti, and a lingering, wistful look.

With Gibbs gone, Ziva and Tony met eyes. "What was it that McGee had in his pocket?" Ziva asked. "Did you see it?"

"Not well. It looked like something electronic."

"And the lieutenant had it on her?"

"I guess. Hinky."

"Very hinky."

- - - - -

It was after 10 when Tim left Anacostia. That put him an hour behind schedule. I'll have to stay at work until at least nine tonight to get everything done, he thought in misery. If Gibbs doesn't throw me in the deep fat fryer first.

It's really getting hot. He raised the convertible's roof so he could put on the air-conditioning. Hair whipping in the breeze was a nice feeling; sticky, sweaty clothing was not.

Tim pulled out of the base parking lot, and got on the Anacostia Freeway for the 40-minute drive to Annapolis, letting the Boxter open up. Only a car this well-made gave one such a feeling of ...élan, why not. Its light, icy blue color seemed just right for this hot, early fall (really typical D.C. extended summer) day.

A car ahead slowed, and he changed to the far left lane. When the car before him showed its brake lights as one before it changed lanes, Tim touched his brakes, and found them soft. Odd...they worked fine this morning...He gently touched them again; letting up on the gas; only to have to speed up again as the semi-trailer that had been riding his tail angrily sounded its air horn at his deceleration.

Got to pull over...this thing isn't safe to drive with the brakes like this... The traffic was indifferent to his needs, however, and he wasn't able to merge right. Right was the safer place to be; traffic moved slower, and there was a nice, wide shoulder where he could pull off. Here in the far left lane, the shoulder was minimal, and the median, a roughly 50-foot-wide expanse of grass between the highway's two directions, dropped about seven feet.

He eased off the gas, hoping the trucker would pass him on the right. Somehow the trucker found a merge opening that Tim hadn't, and did so, making a rude gesture to Tim as he drove by.

Still slowing, still slowing, come on...there'll be an opening... Down from 80 mph to 75, to 70, to 65...Cars honked one after another, and swerved around him dangerously, like maddened hornets. He could almost hear their rage as they flew by.

A sign ahead, on his side. Joy! It announced a left exit, 1 3/4 miles ahead. I can get off on that!

But then someone cut too close in front of him, and he jerked the wheel hard to the left to avoid the cretin. No brakes!! I have no brakes at all now!! he realized in panic as he tried to straighten out of the turn. Cars were a cacophony of accusations now all around him.

His beautiful Boxter hit the road sign at 63 mph, snapping the post and hurling the heavy sign at his windshield as the car bounced on the meager left shoulder. Tim ducked his head as far as he could and held onto the steering wheel with an iron grip and a prayer as the windshield shattered; the sign itself fortunately bouncing off and flying away rather than joining him in the car. The Boxter plummeted down the median, rolling over and over. A fleeting, ridiculous thought whipped through Tim's mind: Oh, do I hate Mondays!!

And that was the last thought he had, as darkness took him.