There were exactly four coffee shops between NCIS headquarters and Gibbs' house. Well… it did require a bit of creative routing to make all four, but Tony knew Gibbs wouldn't actually consider it a detour. Odd, for a man who didn't lock his front door, but Tony was pretty sure that Gibbs never took the direct route home.
Whatever. Tony was not about to spend time trying to unravel the Mystery that was Gibbs when he should be plotting and scheming and conniving and…
Hey, what did that remind him of?
A certain redhead.
Oh shit, he was going to hell.
Riiiing Riiiing Rii-
Gibbs groaned. Out loud.
Usually, he would take this type of blow stoically, with only a mysteriously abrupt mood swing to show his displeasure. He blamed nearly a full day of coffee deprivation. Whatever cosmic joke this was – whatever.
He would meet with his third ex-wife and then head home to his boat and – forget coffee – a nice long drink of bourbon.
Tony watched discretely from his desk as Gibbs answered a very carefully orchestrated phone call from his third ex-wife. He deliberately did not think about what it had taken to get the ex-Mrs. Gibbs to play along with his ruse – he felt dirty.
But he was pretty sure it would be enough of a hassle to get Gibbs to skip the C word for the evening. Nah, being this frustrated after a long day – yes, Tony knew he was supposed to keep Gibbs from being stressed, but something had to give a little – his boss would go straight for the three B's.
Basement, boat, and bourbon.
Wait a minute…
Tony reached again for his phone in a somewhat panicked scramble.
Ducky frowned unhappily at his phone.
He knew it wasn't fair, but he couldn't help feeling very peeved at a certain young man. Yes, Tony had been remarkably adept at performing a seemingly impossible task – all day. However, that did not make Ducky any happier to be assigned the night watch.
Yes, Tony's argument had been very compelling.
Ducky, as the only one 'officially' in the 'know', was the only person that could express legitimate concerns about Jethro's health. There was also the additional incentive of the Inexplicable Water Outage at Gibbs' house. So, really, according to Anthony, most of the work had already been done.
Ducky would even have time to go home and hide all of his alcohol before demanding Jethro spend the night with him.
Still, if anything in the world deserved the phrase "easier said than done", getting Leroy Jethro Gibbs to come peacefully into a gilt prison definitely did.
Thoroughly exhausted, Tony rested his head on his desk.
Gibbs had uncharacteristically sent Ziva and McGee home early, then left himself. Both agents had been happy to go, and Abby had been just as happy to hide in her lab once Gibbs' truly spectacular bad mood had made itself known.
That had left Tony – and Ducky, to a lesser extent – with all day Gibbs watching duty.
There had been only two more 'coffee attempts' after the Fire Spider incident in Abby's lab, but a well meaning intern had brought a box of doughnuts in after lunch. Between pastry patrol – which Tony had ended effectively by consuming most of the doughnuts himself – and the preventative measures that needed to be in place before Gibbs went home for the night, Tony had gotten very little actual work done.
Which, usually, would not have been a big deal. However, McGee and Ziva had gotten very little work done, either, between being unfamiliar with the cold case and unused to the Fire-breathing version of Gibbs.
Knowing it was up to him to pick up the slack before tomorrow morning, the agent sat up and blinked blankly at the Weatherly file. He needed to think.
Closing his eyes, he quickly rehashed what he knew.
Almost four years ago eight year old Sarah Attkison had gone missing from eighteen-twenty-four Hacksel Lane. Sarah's disappearance had been investigated by the local LEO's and, later, the FBI, but never resolved. Circumstantial evidence had led to a handful of interviews of Stern and Son Silver Mine employees, but no connection had been proven. Radiation found at the house had been easily explained away – Vicksburg was a very small town and nearly half the working class men drove the thirty minutes to the mine for work.
Rachael Connely, age seven, had gone missing seven months later. Due to a better home situation, the case had been immediately brought to the FBI as a kidnapping case, rather than first being considered a possible run-away. Rachael and her parents had lived in Jackson, slightly larger town that was nearly an hour drive to the mine, due to traffic. Radiation had been found at the Connely's house, as well, but had been dismissed as evidence due to the fact that a neighbor and close family friend was a supervisor at Stern's. A witness came forward four days later and claimed to have seen the girl being dragged into a black van with no plates.
Three weeks after Rachael's disappearance, the same witness, a man named Thomas Grant, was found stabbed to death in Sevville, Virgina.
Three days later, six year old Merry Weatherly was abducted from a park in Sevville. Merry had been the granddaughter of a Navy Captain. NCIS hadn't really had jurisdiction, but had been called in through politics that Tony didn't even pretend to care about.
He had only cared about the missing girl.
Tony tried to review only the facts of the case, but he couldn't push away the very real memories of the hours and hours he and Gibbs had spent looking for that little girl. It had been Tony that, through as series of gut feelings, instincts, and very circumstantial evidence had linked the three cases and the silver mine.
Tony's hunches had led to nothing more than the recovery of Merry's irradiated shoe on a trail in the Appalachians. He recalled, vividly, finding the small, pink shoe on a wild, overgrown unmarked trail smack in the middle of the Appalachians. It had been a tennis shoe with clumsily knotted strings.
Tony remembered wondering if Merry had tied it herself – something she would have only recently learned to do. He wondered if her parents had taught her with a rhyme, like the fox chasing a rabbit, or a butterfly circling a flower.
Merry's case had drawn more public attention than the last two – which had sparked an investigation into the mine's 'radiation problem'. The mine had been deemed unsafe and shut down only two months after Merry's disappearance, and two days before Tony's Eureka Moment. The investigation into the mine's health and safety measures had attracted alphabet soup galore – NCIS requested employee records, but had been told to wait in line like a good little agency.
And the case had been shuffled to the back burner, slowly going cold.
Feeling the old desperation well up in him, Tony opened his eyes, focusing on the abandoned bullpen. It was late and most of his co-workers had long since gone home.
Tony toyed with the idea of calling Ducky – but decided against it. Gibbs, were he witness to the call, would become even more suspicious than he had been.
Damn, but it hadn't even been twenty-four hours since that terrifying phone call and Tony was ready to collapse. He'd called Gibbs' ex for heaven's sake! He was already desperate.
He needed a solid lead – he needed to get Gibbs out to the Appalachians pronto! It wouldn't be better – Gibbs would be very, very cranky – but it would be easier.
Closing his eyes again, Tony returned to the case.
Thomas Grant's death had been investigated by the FBI agents who had work Rachael's case. The body had lent very few clues, but a few of them Tony had found useful. Even more useful, now, since he had inadvertently picked up some of Ducky's mad profiling skills.
Grant had been attacked from the front and had sported several defensive wounds. The FBI had decided that Rachael's abductor had learned somehow of Grant's statement – and had killed the only 'witness' against him.
Tony, however, was beginning to wonder. Hindsight prompted him to ask why Grant had been in Sevville – no family, friends, or business known. Why had Grant waited four days to come to the police with his statement?
And where had Grant been exposed to Stern and Son type radiation?
New working theory – Grant was an accomplice. There had been some sort of discontent between Grant and the other kidnapper. Grant had used his 'statement' to prove a point, maybe. The other kidnapper didn't respond so well.
If this was true, it definitely linked Rachael and Merry's disappearances.
Tony would bet money that the kidnapper had been employed at that damn mine – the one that, health regulation violations or not – Tony had wished had stayed open just a few months longer.
It was a weak theory, barely there, but it was enough for Tony to build a plan of action from. He began a list.
Ducky should build a profile for this guy, assuming that the same man had taken both Rachael and Merry, and then consider the likelihood that Sarah was another victim.
If Tony was right, and they were dealing with a serial offender, Ducky's profiles of both the offender and the victims could be used by Ziva and McGee. Ziva would search through reports for any similar disappearances of young girls, in case – god forbid – the monster Tony hadn't caught was still active, still in the area. McGee would be able to get a hold of employee records from the mine. Tony hadn't been able to, years ago, but McGee – well, Tony wasn't too big to admit that Tim was just a tiny bit smarter than he.
When it came to computers.
Just a tiny bit.
Ooookay, really, trying to keep my feelings of inadequacy from myself? I need to sleep.
Tony finished his list, doing his best to come up with several things to keep all of them, including Abby, busy for the next few days.
McGee and Ziva could handle being on their own for that long. Surely.
That let Tony push the camping trip ahead of schedule.
Estimated time of departure? Tomorrow morning.
Tony grinned in satisfaction. Ha! Take that Boss. No coffee, burgers, or bourbon in the mountains!
Just as quickly, though, his grin faded. He had a crapload of things to do before they could go camping.
Would they be needing sunscreen?
Morning had Gibbs cursing at the world in general and Ducky in particular.
Tea and rabbit food was not his idea of breakfast.
Ducky had taken the time to point out that mangos, pineapples, and tangerines were not really rabbit food. Perhaps some type of Macaw or other tropical bird…
Gibbs had tuned him out for once, rather than interrupting. He glumly ate the bird food, glared at his cup of untouched tea, and thought about strangling DiNozzo.
Despite Ducky's assurance that DiNozzo did not know about Gibbs' recent…health issue, Gibbs couldn't really explain his recent run of bad luck any other way. In his experience, when his luck turned this way – when anyone's luck turned this bad – DiNozzo was somehow involved.
Gibbs didn't know how, or why, but Tony had something to do with his very irritating, coffeeless, sugarless, meatless, alcohol-less state.
And Gibbs could probably blame the flood in his garage on the agent, too, somehow.
He definitely knew that DiNozzo's terrible timing with the Weatherly case was not accidental. Why Tony thought it was a good idea….
The whole thing smacked of DiNozzo logic.
Gibbs hated it. It could be useful, at times, but mostly it was just painful – especially for the person on the receiving end. The more he thought about it, the more Gibbs suspected that person was him.
Well, the upcoming camping trip would give him the time he needed to confront his wayward agent. Gibbs was almost looking forward to getting away from the office – it was as close to taking leave, as per the doctor's orders, as he was willing to come. DiNozzo could be irritating, but he mostly behaved when it was just him and the Boss. If he behaved too well, Gibbs might get bored – but he would never admit that aloud. To anyone.
As soon as he was out of Ducky's sight, he would caffeinate himself – and maybe grab a doughnut or a bagel – and inform DiNozzo that they would be shipping out early. Today.
Gibbs didn't even need to go pack, he kept an extra bag and survival gear in the charger – all of his team did, so DiNozzo wouldn't have to pack either.
A convenience store or gas station would have all the canned foodstuffs and bottled water that they would need. And ground coffee – yes, coffee…
Feeling better now that he had a definite plan to escape Ducky's stifling care, Gibbs finished off his breakfast with more gusto than it deserved.
"Goooooood morning, Zeee-vah," Tony crowed from his desk. It wasn't, but she didn't need to know that.
He had gotten to work early, ready to dash back out in case Ducky 'lost' Gibbs on his way to work. The ME hadn't called, though, so Tony had spent the time pondering how he was going to get Gibbs to leave for the mountains earlier than planned.
He had also briefed the Director on progress, both with the official case and operation Gibbs-Must-Not-Have-Coffee.
His bags were packed and the rental pick-up that Tony had wrangled Director Shepard into expensing was loaded with Ducky approved foodstuffs, hiking gear, tents, sleeping bags and the like.
Coffee, too, of course.
He even made Gibbs a thermos of his favorite brew – decaf – as incentive.
Tony knew that Gibbs would figure out his game very, very soon. Trick was to get him far enough out that turning back would be unacceptable. That was one good thing about the Weatherly case – the very personal chord it struck with both agents would lend a certain urgency and determination to the investigation that any other cold case might not have garnered.
Ziva arched her eyebrow. Tony quickly checked his smile, in case his less-than-happy trail of thought had shown on his face.
Nope, still there.
"You are very…" she paused, squinting at him "cheery this morning. You have not found a way out of this son and father camping trip, by any chance?"
Ziva posed the question slyly, insinuating that she was on to his game. He frowned at the slight emphasis on 'son and father'. Ziva was testing him – both she and McGee had developed a certain appreciation for his ability to hide anxiety. A certain appreciation, though, was not necessarily a true appreciation.
"Father and Son," Tony corrected gamely. "And, no, I have not found a 'way out' of the camping trip. I think it might be fun. Just two men roughing it. Tracking the bad guys through nature like-" Tony paused, overwhelmed with the sheer number of movie references that would fit here - how cool was that? – and completely missed his window of opportunity.
"Like today, DiNozzo," Gibbs barked. He stormed by, as usual. He was sans coffee cup, Tony was very pleased to note. Also, he had just solved Tony's morning conundrum on his own.
"Guess that means you're ready to go, then, Boss?" Tony grinned widely, doing his best to sound truly excited.
Ziva snorted at his foolishness.
"Better question: Are you ready, DiNozzo?" Gibbs glared, clearly expecting a negative.
Ha, Tony thought, we'll get halfway out, and he'll wonder why this was so easy…
"Absolutely, Boss. This was my idea, so I got the Director to rent us a truck. It's packed and ready to go. Got everything we're gonna need. Tents, sleeping bags, food – awesome camping food – maps, portable DVD player, harmonica –"
"This isn't a pleasure trip, DiNozzo!"
"Oh, of course not, Boss!" So, maybe he had come on a little strong. But when didn't he? And that little blip about the food – totally a lie. "But, that doesn't mean that we can't have any fun."
Gibbs' glare was his only response.
Tony turned back to Ziva, relief slowly filtering through his system. The one touchy subject he didn't want –
"Don't worry about the coffee, Boss," Tony said, doing his level best to sound natural and convincing. Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "Hey! Like I would be crazy enough to forget the coffee. I know how you get –"
"How I get?"
"Not that there's anything wrong with the way you get. I mean, a little caffeine dependence isn't a bad thing. It's – just –" Tony spluttered, knowing that nervousness of the boss was always believable.
Mostly because it tended to be genuine.
To prove himself, Tony thrust the thermos of decaf at his boss. He held his breath as the agent snatched it from his grip, hoping beyond hope that Gibbs' thirty-four hours of coffee deprivation had weakened his ability to detect decaf.
Only after Gibbs had wordlessly taken a second swallow did Tony breathe again. Gibbs' must have been truly desperate to not notice Tony's trick.
Not bothering to say thank you Gibbs ambled off toward the elevator, most likely going to inform Jenny or Ducky or both of their new departure date.
Hopefully his peace offering would make Gibbs somewhat more malleable. Tony stared at the silver doors of the elevator after they closed.
Yeah… that would happen.
A/N: Yes, I know it's been a very long time since my last update. Suuuper sorry. I hope this chapter was worth the wait. Thanks for reading and please review!