Disclaimer: the voices in my head say I own nothing but my extraordinary good looks. Who am I to argue?
Many many thanks to my betas, FraidyCat and Alice I. They pick up my mistakes before I fall over them. Any pratfalls that lurk are mine for failing to listen to their wisdom.
"DiNozzo! What've we got?"
"We got a dead body, boss—"
"I can see that, DiNozzo. Tell me something I don't know."
NICS team leader Jethro Gibbs strode into Warehouse 352, taking in everything from the stray dust bunnies that inundated every nook and cranny to the tall wooden crates housed there for convenience. Some of the crates looked fresh and some were covered with several months' worth of falling filth, but all showed signs of wear and tear. Most had dents in one or more sides, and others—foolishly constructed of wood—offered splinters to anyone who dared approach unawares. The crates were stacked three high, suggesting that the roof of the place, located high above the three stacks, was at least thirty feet from the tops of their heads.
DiNozzo consulted his notepad. Not that he needed to; all the pertinent information was already in his brain but it was a habit that he'd picked up from his days on the Baltimore police force, and there hadn't yet been any good reason to give it up. It gave him something to do with his hands. "Seaman Michael McDonough, assigned to port security, boss, and working the night shift last night. He never showed up for shift change this morning. His commander called his home: no answer. They thought that he'd left his post, gotten drunk, and was sleeping it off in somebody's house. That was until his body showed up an hour ago, shoved behind some of these crates." DiNozzo knocked at the nearest one, almost collecting a splinter himself.
Gibbs stared at the body. Seaman McDonough had been a tall but slender man, and Gibbs estimated that he couldn't have been more than twenty-five years old at the outside. McGee would have the personnel details for him, if and when he wanted them. Dirty blond hair that now was matted with blood; Gibbs found himself feeling sorry for the funeral home director who would be asked to put the victim into a coffin for the ceremony. It would take a lot of work to make the seaman presentable for his mother to say good-bye. Gibbs clenched his lips. This shouldn't have happened. The world had better things to offer a young man who hadn't yet had a chance to find himself.
"We know that it's murder?"
"I should say so, Jethro." Dr. 'Ducky' Mallard ambled up from around the crate. "Preliminary cause of death was blunt force trauma to the skull, impacting the occipital region and the brain stem. I'll have to get the poor fellow back to do a proper autopsy, but I suspect that death was immediate and likely occurred sometime close to midnight."
"What makes you think that it's murder, Ducky? He could have slipped and fallen."
"This." Ziva David made her entrance, holding up a long bar of thick processed wood carefully wrapped in plastic to protect any fingerprints that might be present. "I found this several meters away from the area. Someone apparently flung it there; I found no footprints nearby that would say that it had been dropped either deliberately or accidentally."
"The edge of the two by four matches the wound on Seaman McDonough's head, Jethro," Ducky informed him. "The location of the wound strongly suggests an assailant. It would be quite difficult for our seaman to strike himself on the back of the head at quite this angle, let alone with enough force to do the damage that we've found on this poor fellow." He clucked his tongue. "Let me get this young man back, so that he can go home."
"You do that, Ducky." Gibbs deliberately turned away. He couldn't help the kid, not anymore, but he could solve the mystery of who did it—and he would. "Where's McGee? I need some background—DiNozzo?"
DiNozzo was uncomfortable. "Lives at 14 Poinsetta Court, boss, off-base. Has a roommate, another seaman named John Lapini, who's expected to ship out later today on the USS Determination."
"Notify his commanding officer—"
"Yes, boss, already done. Seaman Lapini will be stopped when he tries to board."
Gibbs stared at DiNozzo. "That was fast, DiNozzo. What else have you got for me?"
DiNozzo wouldn't meet Gibbs's stare. "Seaman McDonough has been in the Navy for two years, was expecting to remain in service and make himself a career man. No steady girlfriend. Had a habit of partying every weekend he could. Well-known to friends who apparently liked him and his partying habits. No known enemies—"
"And you know all this how, DiNozzo?" Gibbs interrupted. "That's a hell of a lot of information to get in the five minutes you've been on the scene. Who'd you talk to?"
DiNozzo stared at his expensive leather shoes, wishing those shoes were somewhere else with DiNozzo along with them. "Uh, boss…?"
"Got something to share, DiNozzo?"
"Uh, boss…I knew the victim. Not well," he rushed on to say, "but I, uh, was at, uh, a party that he had last Saturday…" It wasn't only Gibbs, but Ziva fixing him with that cold eye that she did so well. Both were experts at interrogation, and DiNozzo had the most uncomfortable feeling that this was just shy of an interrogation. He found himself seized by the urge to babble uncontrollably and solved the problem by biting his lip.
"And—?" Gibbs prompted.
Silence wasn't going to be good enough. Gibbs wanted more. Gibbs always wanted more. DiNozzo cast around for something more to say. "Uh, this girl invited me. Not dating, boss, just casual, nothing serious—"
"The party, DiNozzo." His subordinate's off-duty relationships were not what Gibbs was after.
"Oh. Right. That." DiNozzo swallowed hard. "Started around nine, Saturday night. Couple of kegs, maybe about twenty people crowded into his backyard. Got a little rowdy, and the cops showed up close to midnight. I did McDonough a favor and talked the cops out of a citation with the promise to quiet things down. Some of the more noisy party-goers took their noise somewhere else. It broke up around two, although some of his closer friends were going to help him make sure that the kegs weighed as little as possible before returning them."
"Anyone acting like a jilted lover?" Ziva asked. "Any drugs?"
DiNozzo shrugged. "There could have been drugs, but whoever was passing them would have known that I was there. I didn't make any secret of it." He stared back at them. "There wasn't anyone at that party, boss, that I would think would be looking to kill McDonough. They were mostly Navy types, and a bunch of college types from the local community college; no GW University sorority sisters there."
"So who killed him, DiNozzo, if it wasn't anyone at that party?" Gibbs asked, "and why?"
DiNozzo swallowed hard. Did Gibbs really expect him to have the answer, just because he'd met the victim briefly last Saturday?
"I may have the answer, boss." McGee stepped up, holding a sheaf of papers in one hand and dragging a short and dumpy excuse for a naval officer with him. "Boss, this is Captain Black, Seaman McDonough's commander and the man in charge of this supply warehouse."
"Captain," Gibbs greeted him.
Black wasted no time. His lips were tight, and he was shaking. "The inventories aren't adding up," he told the NCIS group.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," and the little man needed to take another deep breath, "that the inventories aren't adding up!" He huffed again, as if the repetition would mean anything more than the original statement.
It didn't. Gibbs blinked.
McGee took over in a hurry. "Boss, Captain Black did a quick scan of the various bills of lading, and found a few discrepancies. I showed him how to survey his computer records, and, boss, we're finding what looks to be a systematic raiding of the warehouse over time. There wasn't much being taken each time, but we estimate that as much as three million in goods has been pilfered from Warehouse 352 over the last year."
"This is intolerable!" Captain Black declared. "Agent Gibbs, you must do something about this immediately! The nation cannot afford theft on this scale! Think of the economy! We must do our part!"
Gibbs glared at the small and dumpy officer. "I'm open to suggestions, captain."
Captain Black had one. "Investigate! Find out the answer! Quickly, Agent Gibbs!"
A blow up was imminent. Stupidity on anyone's part wouldn't help, and McGee intervened before Gibbs could become so annoyed with the captain that damage would be done. "I'll have Captain Black get me into their inventory system," he offered quickly, ignoring the fact that he'd already done just that. "I'll see if I can pinpoint where the goods were taken," he said, dragging the hapless commander of the supply warehouse away before Gibbs made it crystal clear how ridiculous the man was.
Ziva too jumped onto the bandwagon. "I will do a background check on Seaman McDonough, his financial statements and his spending habits." She backed away hurriedly.
"I've an autopsy to get to, Jethro," Ducky told him. "Mr. Palmer! Aren't you ready yet?"
"All set, Dr. Mallard."
"Good." Ducky turned to the remaining two. "I shall see you both back at NCIS headquarters. Gentlemen." Dr. Mallard wasn't wearing a hat, but DiNozzo got the impression that an invisible hat had just been doffed in leave-taking.
That left Gibbs glaring at DiNozzo. "Well, DiNozzo?"
Try as he might, DiNozzo couldn't come up with a reasonable task that would a) move them one step closer to solving the case and b) remove him from Gibbs's immediate grasp. "Uh…"
"Known associates, DiNozzo," Gibbs informed him, DiNozzo's brains still rattling. "Known associates besides you. Figure 'em out, and question 'em. Where were they around midnight last night?" He swung around on his agent. "Where were you last night, DiNozzo? Around midnight?"
"Uh, sleeping, boss."
"Got any witnesses?"
"Uh…no, boss." Unaccountably, Tony DiNozzo flushed.
Gibbs raised his eyebrows, a small smile playing over his lips. "That a first, DiNozzo?" He walked off, leaving a flabbergasted DiNozzo behind.
"Jethro," Ducky greeted the NCIS team leader who was walking into the autopsy room. "Welcome to my lair."
"What'cha got, Ducky?" The place always felt cold to Gibbs, and it wasn't just because the temperature was kept to a bare minimum. The corpse of Seaman McDonough was still on the table, the chest split open in the typical 'Y' incision, and an organ that looked suspiciously like a kidney sat in a small basin preparing to be examined more closely. The head looked better, Gibbs thought, with the majority of the blood washed out of the hair. At this angle, Gibbs couldn't see the wound that had done in the man.
Ducky didn't keep him waiting. He directed Gibbs to the x-ray films on the lighted viewing box. "My preliminary verdict still stands, Jethro: blunt force trauma consistent with the length of wood that Officer David found at the scene. I can place the time of death to be at midnight, give or take some forty minutes either way. Death was indeed instantaneous for this poor fellow; he would have felt nothing but the single blow. There was some blood at the scene, but not as much as one would think given the trauma. The heart ceased to beat almost immediately, thereby reducing the impetus for Seaman McDonough to bleed extensively from his wound. However, there is more…"
"Which is—?" Gibbs prompted when it became clear that the medical examiner was waiting for a straight line.
Ducky beamed. "Three things, Jethro. First: I discovered certain fibers in the wound, something that would not normally be found on the wood that is the presumptive murder weapon. I have transferred the custody of those fibers to Ms. Sciutto, where she is no doubt busily engaged in determining both the content and the origin of the content."
Ducky now sighed. "Our seaman was not quite as he seemed, Jethro."
"How so, Ducky?"
"I suspect our hapless seaman would have found himself in sick bay in a short time," Dr. Mallard informed the NCIS team leader.
"He was sick?"
"Quite so, Jethro. His liver was quite enlarged as well as inflamed. Our seaman was quite the alcoholic," Ducky said. "The effects would not have been obvious—as a relatively young man, McDonough would have been able to tolerate quite a bit of abuse to his body—but I suspect that he had also recently contracted an infectious hepatitis. The nodules on the liver, while not diagnostic, are certainly suggestive. I've sent off biopsy samples for a more definitive answer."
Gibbs sighed. A less than attractive picture of the seaman was emerging: a drunken sailor out for a good time meeting his end. DiNozzo, you gotta get better friends. "And the third thing, Ducky?"
"Mr. McDonough engaged in intercourse shortly before his demise," Dr. Mallard told him.
Apparently Seaman McDonough had a very good time, just before the end. Gibbs sighed; he hated the ones with a jealous husband or boyfriend involved. They were always so…messy.
"Gibbs!" As always, Abby Sciutto was glad to see him, and, also as always, she had information for him.
Gibbs set the Caf-Pow, size enormous, down onto a bare patch on her work bench. "What'cha got, Abbs?"
"Who says I've got anything, Gibbs?" she smirked, snatching up the Caf-Pow for a long and loud slurp.
"Abby, you always have something for me," he told her, smiling. "Would I be here if you didn't?"
"Good point." Abby put the Caf-Pow down and turned to her machines, some of which appeared to have delivered information comprehensible only to the gods and forensics scientists. Today was not a bubbly day: the test tubes with multi-colored liquids evaporating under the onslaught of a Bunsen burner were missing. Today's work involved machines with blinking lights and print-outs. Abby pointed to one. "The fibers that were found in Seaman McDonough's wound. They're unique, Gibbs. They weren't from the murder weapon. Not wood. Not in the slightest."
"So what were they?" Gibbs asked, prodding the answer out of her.
"Cloth," Abby announced. "Actually, two types of cloth: one was a cotton-synthetic blend, and the other was…" she stopped for a moment to wave her hands in the air, "ta-da! Cashmere. Not cheap, Gibbs. Expensive. Really expensive. Like, overseas expensive. Like, still has some of the goatskin oils on it from not being washed enough before wearing."
"So our killer was wearing clothing?"
"Not gonna go that far, Gibbs," Abby admitted, "but since our victim wasn't wearing this particular type of fabric when he was found, we're left with two options. One, he was wearing the clothing and somebody took it from him after he was murdered or two, someone else wearing really expensive cashmere was around when he was murdered. Either way, we've got somebody involved who has really expensive taste in sweaters." She beamed at her success.
Gibbs too was pleased. "Good work, Abbs. Anything else?"
"Not yet, Gibbs. Give me another day, and I should be able to narrow the cashmere down to which region of India it came from."
"You do that, Abbs." Gibbs smiled as he took his leave of her. Maybe I should have asked her to find the goat that grew the cashmere…
"The records only go back two years, boss." McGee had data up on the screen for everyone to look at: bar charts and graphs and a side helping of numbers in the millions. Gibbs ignored the pretty pictures. If he couldn't understand it in a single glance, it was worthless to him. He listened to McGee's explanation instead. "It looks as though there's been a steady pilfering of small goods, nickel and dime stuff, for as long as the records tell us. But here," and McGee changed the screen to another set of graphs which meant just as much—or as little—to his viewers as the first set, "there's a sharp increase. Prior to six months ago, it was petty stuff: a crate of knives here, an M-16 there. Some of it could have been errors in the bills of lading, and the rest the usual in-house pseudo-black market stuff that supply sergeants use to get things where they really need to go instead of where the military says that they should. Antibiotics have been another hot item, but again there hasn't been more than a box or two gone missing. Petty stuff."
"And then, McGee?" Gibbs wanted the man to get to the good stuff.
McGee obeyed. "About six months ago, there was a dramatic increase in both the quantity and the quality of the items taken. Some scary stuff, too, boss: a few crates of grenades. A whole crate of ammo. Not just a box or two of antibiotics, but four large crates. On the street, those antibiotics are worth a fortune. I estimate that somewhere in the neighborhood of four point seven million in goods has been taken from this warehouse in the last six months, boss."
"And no one noticed that all this theft was taking place?"
McGee shrugged. "Apparently not, boss. Captain Black was just as upset as anyone, and just as in the dark. He claims that he didn't know."
Gibbs grunted. "Run a—"
"—a background check on Captain Black. Yes, sir. On it." McGee turned back to his computer.
"What else happened around six months ago?" Gibbs wanted to know. "Ziva?"
"Seaman McDonough was clean," she announced. "He enlisted nearly two years ago, and performed well in his position although not outstandingly. He was merely adequate, and his superiors rewarded him by ignoring him as much as possible. He shares an apartment off-base with Seaman John Lapini and is known for occasional bouts of drunkenness. There are no records of any arrests for drunkenness, nor for driving under the influence; Seaman McDonough has been discrete. He has several not so close friends who also enjoy inebriation, and occasionally dates a Ms. Jennifer Rose, a waitress at a local strip club. Yes, Tony?"
"Nothing," DiNozzo hastily muttered. "You got anything else, Officer David?"
"I do," she informed them. "I investigated McDonough's financial status. Gibbs, if McDonough was stealing things, then he hid the results extraordinarily well. He had an overdrawn checking account, and no savings. He did not live well, no high end items of any sort."
"Broken down furniture," DiNozzo murmured, clearly remembering the party last Saturday night.
Ziva spared him a glance. "Quite so, Tony. What little money he has, he appears to spend on beer."
Gibbs turned to the third member of his team. "DiNozzo? You got anything?"
"Yes, boss, I do." DiNozzo threw up a picture of a twenty-something woman onto the screen. "Jennifer Rose, McDonough's on-again, off-again girlfriend. She says that she's currently off-again, and that was before I told her that McDonough was permanently off-again. Getting vibes about her, boss. She was at McDonough's place Saturday night, hanging all over him. Didn't seem like ' off-again' to me."
"Fine. She's yours, DiNozzo. Bring her in for questioning." Gibbs looked around, made another decision. "Ziva, go pick up the roommate, what's his name? Capellini?"
"Lapini," Ziva corrected.
"Right. Lapini. Whatever. Go get him, see what he knows. McGee?"
"Keep at the warehouse end of things. See if you can track where any of the pilfered goods have gone. That's your end." Gibbs glanced up at the staircase that led to the inner sanctum of NCIS. "I'll be making a phone call."