A/N: I owe everyone a big apology for the long, long delay in posting. Big thanks to Kylen for her encouragement and willingness to let me bounce ideas off her. Thanks also to husband-beta for his help in tweaking the character voices. Any remaining mistakes are my own.
McGee picked at the noodles on his plate. It was too quiet at the table, McGee decided. They were all focused inward, mulling the case and trying to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room. He risked a glance to his left to look at the senior field agent. To his relief Tony's attention was squarely focused on the meal in front of him. His mind kept rolling over the angry words hurled between father and son this morning and his quiet conversation with Ziva barely an hour ago. His thoughts drifted to his own sister, and he couldn't imagine his life without her. 'Tony's story to tell', Ziva had said. McGee wondered if Tony would ever share the story with him.
Tony paused lifting a forkful of lasagna to his mouth and briefly met McGee's gaze. The corner of Tony's mouth lifted in a familiar expression that left McGee dreading what was going through his fellow agent's mind. Tony dropped his fork, scribbled a quick note and passed it over to McGee.
You keep staring at me like that and Agent Torgeson is going to think you're into me and not her. Tony further emphasized his point by nodding in the blond FBI agent's direction and lifting his eyebrows suggestively. She had been watching them. McGee felt his ears burn. He crumpled up the note and dropped it on the table and cast a dirty look at Tony. The senior field agent merely smirked. And in that instant, all sympathy McGee had been feeling was replaced by irritation. It infuriated him that even silent, Tony was able to get under his skin.
He picked at his noodles for another minute before he decided he'd had enough. He pushed his plate away and tossed his napkin on the table. "I'm going back to the room, check on the money orders," he mumbled as he shoved his chair in.
Gibbs and Ziva looked up from their plates as the chair thunked into the table. Gibbs glanced over to Tony when McGee cast the senior field agent one last exasperated look before striding out of the dining room. Gibbs fixed DiNozzo with a stare, DiNozzo shrugged innocently. Across the table, Agent Torgeson cleared her throat as she dropped her own napkin onto the table, "I have some cross-references to check up on, I'm going to head back with Agent McGee."
Tony leaned back and watched her retreating through the restaurant back into the hotel lobby. Just because he had been off his game lately didn't mean he couldn't admire the view, did it? He focused his attention back on the lasagna when she rounded the corner out of sight. He felt a little tension seep out of his shoulders now that McPity wasn't there to stare at him every couple minutes – and remind him of what a royally crappy week this had been.
He took another couple bites before the exercise started to hurt too much. He leaned back in the chair again and stared at one of the several plasma TVs located throughout the restaurant. Of course, the only one showing the game was the one he couldn't see clearly. He gave up on the TVs after seeing the same crawls he had seen earlier. He glanced at his plate, glanced at the TVs then looked across the table to Ziva and Gibbs. All avenues of distraction were blocked. He couldn't eat, he couldn't lose himself in the game and he couldn't talk. He pushed away from the table, scribbled down a note and dropped it in front of Gibbs before stalking out of the restaurant.
Gibbs held the note at arm's-length, cursing silently the dim light in the restaurant. Out for a walk. Have my cell. Back shortly. At least that's what he thought DiNozzo's scrawl said. He stuffed the note in his pocket.
"What was that about?" Ziva asked quietly.
Gibbs looked towards the lobby before replying cryptically, "He'll let us know when he gets back."
Agent Torgeson typed furiously on her laptop, her brow furrowed in concentration. McGee smiled behind his own laptop. He suspected she was narrowing in on whatever she was searching for; her nose seemed to get closer to the monitor by the minute. The constant stream of clicking paused as she examined the latest result. She tilted her head to the right. And then she fixed McGee with a stare that would have made Abby proud.
"Agent McGee," she stated, "I have something interesting to show you."
McGee sighed as he walked over to stand behind her chair, "I told you that you can call me Tim."
"I know. I just wouldn't want Agent DiNozzo to think I was being unprofessional with you," she said seriously.
The computer specialist looked sharply at the FBI agent. "What?" he asked incredulously, "What does Tony…" He broke off when he saw the smile crack on her face.
"Really, Tim, you need to lighten up," she nudged him gently in the ribs with her elbow. "Look," she pointed at her screen, "these three companies all followed the same pattern in the mid-90s, just when Elliot was making some big money investing in the dot-coms. Several of the companies he invested in went belly up, filed for bankruptcy, some went through recapitalization, some simply folded. Not surprising given the volatility of the industry. These three on the surface appeared to do the same thing, so we didn't look deeper during our initial investigation of Dawson. Looking deeper though, all three shared the exact same investors. Exact same. Things get a bit murky with the recapitalization financing and re-registering of the corporations, but I think these companies were intentionally allowed to fail.
"To what end?" McGee pondered outloud.
"To change the identity of the companies without raising flags. It's going to take some more time to get through all these filings, but I think we may be able to finally find where Elliot Dawson has been hiding all his extra-curricular activities."
McGee nodded in admiration, "Nice work, Agent Torgeson. Let me know if there's anything I can assist with."
The blond agent snorted, "You can start by calling me Karen."
Special Agent Gibbs dropped the file on the table and pulled off his glasses. He glanced at his watch. It had been two hours since he and Ziva had returned to the hotel room. He was starting to wonder where DiNozzo had gotten off to when he heard the keycard slide into the reader.
All heads turned as the senior field agent entered the room, cheeks ruddy from the cold. He looked apologetically over to Gibbs before hanging his parka in the closet.
Ziva looked back down at the file she was examining, "I was starting to wonder if you had been attacked by a cougar."
McGee snickered from behind his laptop. Agent Torgeson looked between the three NCIS agents and furrowed her brow sensing she was missing an inside joke. Tony made a face at Ziva, dismissing the jibe as he strode over to Gibbs. He leaned down and started to whisper in the team lead's ear. Before Gibbs could remind him of doctor's orders, Tony's words brought him to his feet and he followed the younger man out of the room.
"Wonder what that was about," McGee muttered before turning his attention back to his screen.
"What was what about, McGee?" Abby's voice piped in over the speaker.
"Um, Tony just came back. Left with Gibbs."
"Why didn't you stop them?"
"I was supposed to?"
"Yes!" Abby shot back impatiently, "The analytics just stopped processing on the audio files."
"How was I supposed to know?" McGee asked defensively.
"Haven't you learned anything? Gibbs always knows when I find something."
"That's Gibbs, not me, Abby," he tried to reason.
"No excuse! Get Gibbs and Tony back in here. It's important."
McGee's email notification dinged. A message flashed briefly with the sender and subject. "Wait, Abby I just got an email."
"So? You always get email. This is important and I don't want to have to go over it twice."
"Abby just wait for half a minute!" McGee snapped back. "This is from MatrixChek."
McGee rolled his eyes, "The money order company we've been waiting to hear from all day long?"
"Oh, well you should read that, Gibbs will want to know about that too. Maybe you should go get him now…," Abby's words came out in rush.
"Palmer?" McGee called out.
"Uh, yeah? How did you know I was here?" the assistant ME responded apprehensively.
"No more Caf-Pows for Abby for at least three hours."
McGee didn't respond. He opened the email. His expression grew thoughtful as he read the details. After a minute he stood up. "Abby, I'm going to go get Gibbs and Tony."
After the computer specialist left the room, Agent Torgeson looked over to Ziva and asked quietly, "Are they related?"
"I can still hear you, Agent FBI," Abby piped in icily.
Ziva gave the blond agent a knowing smirk but shook her head. Abby was protective of her family and was generally cool towards newcomers. The forensic scientist was particularly suspicious of FBI agents after the time Tony had been framed. Karen looked like she was about to reply and Ziva shook her head and held a finger to her lips. Karen shrugged and went back to reading through her own files.
Tony looked at Gibbs, the frustration evident on his face. He needed Gibbs to make this call. He couldn't do it. It wasn't for lack of trying, his voice just wasn't holding out. If his voice wasn't cracking, he wasn't able to make any sound at all. He had used up what little voice he had tracking down the phone number. He vowed to spend more time with Abby learning ASL, it was a lot faster than this game of writing notes.
And Gibbs was right, now was not the time to be worrying about his father and the complaint. But he couldn't get it out of his head. It wasn't for his own sake, if the complaint had just been filed against him he could have shrugged it off and moved forward. Or at least that's what he kept telling himself. It was because Gibbs' name was attached and about to be dragged through the mud he couldn't let it go. It was undeserved. So he needed his boss to make this phone call for him.
Gibbs took the phone number from him. "Do you have a plan yet?" he asked as he dialed.
Tony shook his head. 'Working on it,' he scribbled.
The small "business center" was really a small room with a computer, printer/copier and phone. It had been designed for a single user so the room felt a little crowded, but it offered a small measure of privacy. The hum of the copier filled the room while Gibbs dialed the number.
"Judge Iverson? No this isn't a prank call…." Gibbs tossed Tony an accusatory look. DiNozzo didn't even try to look innocent.
"This is Special Agent Gibbs with NCIS, sorry to interrupt your evening your Honor. I'm calling on behalf of Anthony DiNozzo…" Gibbs nodded. "Yes, Marc DiNozzo's son…. No, no, Tony's not in trouble… Tony said he needs the file unsealed."
There was a long pause. Gibbs covered the mic on his phone. "He wants to know why."
Tell him to call Southampton PD.
Gibbs listened to the man on the other end of the phone let out a stream of curses after he relayed the message. "I understand… Tony is one of my agents. He tried calling you earlier… Yeah… They'll have the details for you… Appreciate it. Uh-huh… You can reach us at this number…" Gibbs rattled off his cell number and disconnected the call.
"The judge is a colorful man," Gibbs remarked drily. "Now what's so damned important about getting this file now?"
It'll take too long to write. Short version – insurance.
Gibbs looked at his agent suspiciously. He knew about Tony's emancipation papers. He wondered if that was the sealed file that Tony was asking for. It would be unusual for such documentation to be sealed but as the team lead thought it through, he determined there was likely very little that had been standard about that whole process. He was frustrated that Tony couldn't talk to him. He was curious about what Tony meant by "insurance". He didn't think the younger man would deliberately blind-side him but he wasn't sure what was going through DiNozzo's brain at the moment.
The two agents stared at each other for a moment. For a brief moment, Gibbs saw the exhaustion in Tony's eyes, the tension in his shoulders. His senior field agent signed," thank you", his sincerity projected in his eyes. And then as quickly as it had disappeared, the mask was back in place. The two men turned around at the sound of approaching footsteps.
McGee looked between his boss and Tony and hoped to hell he wasn't interrupting something. "Uh, Boss, Abby found something and MatrixCheck just got back to me."
"And?" Gibbs prompted.
McGee looked uncomfortable for a moment, "Abby wouldn't tell me because she didn't want to repeat it."
"Let's not keep her waiting then," Gibbs strode purposefully past his agents and down the hall.
"Is that Grim Alabaster I hear in the background?" Agent Torgeson asked as she looked up from her files.
"What?" Abby replied.
"I asked if that was Grim Alabaster I'm hearing…"
"No, I heard what you said I just can't believe you said it. No one I know knows who Grim Alabaster is, well, except for Dim and Reese but they don't count because they're not from work. Although you're not from work... well I guess technically you're from work… How do you know Grim Alabaster anyway?"
Karen smiled, "I saw them live two weekends ago in Baltimore."
"NO WAY!" Abby exclaimed over the speaker, "I was supposed to go that night but…"
"But what, Abs?" Gibbs broke in.
"Bossman! But Sister Rosita needed me to bowl that night even though it was my night off because Sister Angie broke her thumb…"
"Abby? What did you find?"
"Are Timmy and Tony in the room?" Abby waited a couple seconds for a response. When none came she continued, "Agent FBI is a Raver."
"Abby!" Gibbs warned.
"So my new analytics server – I really have to give it a name, 'analytics server' is so boring – finished processing all of Lt. Dawson's audio files. Most of them were just what they appeared to be. However, several of the files contain snippets of conversation embedded in the music. It's going to take some time to piece all of them together, but it appears the Lieutenant and his cohort have been planning their heist by filesharing MP3s. The snippets are really short – and we probably never would have found them if Dawson the Younger used lyrics in his own music."
"How do you know they were filesharing, Abby?" McGee asked curiously.
"You mean aside from the three file-sharing programs he has on his computer and the log buried with all the uploads and downloads for the past month? And by the way, there was a lot of activity. I'm actually starting to wonder if we're missing a drive…." Abby trailed off.
There was a long pause while everyone waited for Abby to continue. Furious typing was heard in the background. "Abby?" McGee prompted.
"Wait," Abby responded. After a couple more minutes of silence, "Guys, I really think we are missing a drive. I'm not seeing any evidence of these files having ever been on any of the drives we have here. I'm betting that's where we'll find the good stuff."
"What do you mean, 'good stuff', Abs?" Gibbs interjected.
"The files containing the conversation on this computer – they're all from just shy of three years ago. There's nothing more recent though than thirty months ago. We're missing anything recent."
"We searched the Lieutenant's apartment thoroughly," Ziva stated.
"He could be keeping it anywhere," McGee replied, "Those drives could be small enough to fit in a safety deposit box, tucked in any small niche… we should check inside his other electronics. I wouldn't be surprised if he made use of some voids in his mixing equipment."
"Ziva," Gibbs turned to the Mossad liaison, "call…"
"… the Rhode Island office and get a team to the Lieutenant's apartment to search electronic equipment or any other small space that could conceal a portable hard drive," she finished.
"Anything else, Abs?" Gibbs asked.
"No, not until I make some sense of these snippets which will probably be another hour."
"Good work. Palmer – get Abby another Caf-Pow," he ordered the assistant ME.
Faintly from the speaker drifted Palmer's voice, "How do they do that?"
Gibbs turned to the computer specialist, "What have you got?"
"MatrixCheck finally got back about the money orders. They had such a hard time of it because there isn't a record kept of who purchases the money order. It's a cash transaction, so there are no credit or debit cards to trace. We got lucky in that Lt Knoll was a creature of habit and always made his purchases from his bank. Pay day was last Friday and through the logs at the bank and the memory of a very helpful teller, we were able to isolate the batch of money orders Knoll bought. Using that serial number and isolating to the timeframe the Lieutenant conducted his transactions at the bank…"
"McGee," Gibbs warned.
"Right," McGee nodded, "Short version. They were able to track down sixty-three, $500 money orders that were cashed by St. Jerome's Haven out of Boston. St. Jerome's has been receiving and cashing these money orders over the course of the last three years. Lt. Knoll was transferred to the Newport base about a month before he started purchasing them from his bank."
"That's almost $32,000. I guess we know where his money is going," Ziva remarked.
"What's so important about St. Jerome's that the Lt. is forking over nearly a quarter of his income for?" Agent Torgeson mused aloud.
"We should look into it, make sure it's a legitimate institution," Gibbs replied.
McGee sighed as he leaned back in his chair, frustrated at what appeared to be a dead end. It looked like Lt Knoll was just a very charitable person, certainly giving far above and beyond a traditional tithe.
Tony had been watching the exchange thoughtfully, his mind turning over the new facts. Something nagged at him throughout McGee's explanation. All heads turned as he suddenly stood and turned on the TV. Remote in hand, he navigated through the hotel's front screen channel. He looked over to the other agents in the room, eyes settling on his boss. As ZNN popped up Tony drew his attention back to the screen. The anchors were busily chatting about the recent wildfires threatening some pricey Santa Monica homes. Tony waited a moment then pointed at the crawl: "Authorities still searching for missing retreat from St Jerome's Haven. No evidence found yet suggesting their van went off the road. Former residents of the Haven state that Father Andrew Donnelly would never hurt his charges. "
Tony's attention again turned to his boss, his expression meaningful.
Gibbs looked at DiNozzo, then tossed his notepad down on the table as he barked, "Aw, hell!"
McGee immediately began typing into his computer. "I'm looking up contact information for St. Jerome's, looking for the link between Knoll and the Haven… " he muttered as his fingers flew.
"It could be just a coincidence," Agent Torgeson said hopefully.
"I don't believe in coincidences," Gibbs snapped back, "Ziva, contact the local authorities on the case. Agent Torgeson, check if there is FBI involvement yet."
Gibbs looked darkly at the ZNN crawl. He hoped it was a coincidence, that those kids really had just gotten waylaid in the storm. But his gut was telling him otherwise. Suddenly the room was filled with the voices of agents on their phones. He grabbed his coat and huffed as he stalked out the door, "I'm going for coffee."