Deck The Hall

Chapter 1

The sound of a sixteen piece band warming up is unique, however, it can't be called pleasant. To Gillian Cooper, moving slowly down the corridor outside the green room, the closed door would have made it bearable, but for the crashes of a five piece heavy rock band also warming up in the room opposite. The two sounds blended inharmoniously with the lilting notes of an operatic soprano down the other end of the corridor, a velvety crooner next to her, and from a distance there was the heavy vibration of frenetic recorded music as the dancers rehearsed the show's opening number.

Gill carried the tray of full mugs carefully; just because she was one of the three organisers of the coming gala didn't mean she was too proud to do the menial jobs. If there wasn't room for a coffee machine in the tiny office they'd been lent, and there wasn't, she'd go down to the tiny kitchen and make the drinks there. She eased herself into the room where her two colleagues sat; the "Dread Triumvirate", people called the three of them. They weren't particularly fierce, or dread, but you sometimes had to be a bit sharp, even with people who were giving up their time and effort for free, if you were total amateurs trying to put on an event of mega proportions.

She set a mug down by Nadia's elbow; Nadia Forrest, nee Lupescu, the most formidable woman she knew, her neighbour and best friend. "Mersi," Nadia muttered, scarcely moving her eyes from her computer. She was liaising with the lawyers over the TV rights to the show. Gill gave another mug to Selina Hawksworth, who gave her back a grateful smile, her perfect teeth bright against warm chocolaty skin. "Aw, thanks, darlin'," she said in a soft Texan drawl. Gill was just handing two more mugs to Petra and Cheri, the two regular box-office workers from the concert hall, who'd both given up a lot of free time, and whom no-one ever had to be sharp with, when a head came round the door. Ah – someone they all liked, but who seemed to come in for a lot of sharpness anyway.

"Hey!" Tony DiNozzo said brightly, "I've sorted the problem out with the front of house girls…. They're all eating out of my hand now!"

"Good," Nadia said, trying to be severe. "Acum, if you just make sure that road manager does not call them little bunny bums again, we shall be fine!" She smiled fondly at him. "Ach, DiNozzo," she thought, "you better be glad I love my Will, or I eat you alive!"

The first time Nadia had encountered Tony was in the unhappiest of circumstances; she had rushed to Gill's side when her husband was killed by a terrorist's bomb. The Special Agent had brought her friend's son Josh home, and seemed to have developed a rapport with the young man; she could tell that he was a good person, and she also had to admit that he was very tasty, as her American friends would say.

Tony knew exactly what she was thinking, and flashed her a wide grin. He knew her history, and, if she did but know it, he admired her greatly. As a twenty year old, after the fall of Ceaucescu, she had set out to backpack across Europe with a few friends. When they ran out of money they found work in Croatia, and were trapped when the war of independence began. For four years they did whatever they could, working mostly on farms, and Nadia took under her wing four Croatian orphans that she found abandoned and simply couldn't turn her back on, marshalling her friends to help provide for them. In 1995, hungry, battered and thirsty, they were picked up by a US marine patrol led by Lance Corporal Will Forrest, from a drifting cabin cruiser, which Nadia had unhesitatingly stolen to try to get her orphans across the Adriatic to Italy. They were taken on board the USS Kearsarge, their story captured many hearts, and now, fourteen years and many adventures later, here she was, married to Master Sergeant Will. They were adoptive parents to the four, and had another son together.

Nothing fazed Nadia; so when Selina Hawksworth had had the idea of putting on a Christmas charity concert for the benefit of Navy and Marine families in need, the first person she'd asked was Nadia. The tiny, redoubtable blonde immediately recruited her friend Gillian, knowing that she deeply mourned her husband, and needed, whether she liked it or not, something big to get her teeth into. With three unstoppable ladies, big it was.

"Why think small, when you can have the DAR Hall?" Tony had asked, when Josh emailed him about it. The Daughters of the American Revolution agreed in principle at once, and with such a venue, why not think seriously big? Like huge?

"I know June Moon!" Abby had shrieked when Tony had told her how things were shaping up. He'd offered Gill whatever help he could give; partly to keep an eye on her as he'd promised Josh, and partly because he knew that his young friend would be coming down from Princeton for Christmas, possibly with his girlfriend Anne-Marie, and he was looking forward to seeing them… made him feel young again… he sighed a little inside himself.

"Er… June Moon?" he asked warily.

"Yes…June Moon! You know… keyboards player with the Randy Landy Band!"

Now it was McGee's turn.

"Er… Randy Landy?"

"What is it with you guys? The Randy Landy band! I play them all the time! You've heard them!"

DiNozzo and McGee were bobbing their heads like nodding dog bookends; neither of them had remembered to close his mouth.

"There's Randy Landy, well, his surname's Land really, the only one whose name really rhymes is Zeke McPeake."

"That's a real name?" Tim asked unwisely.

"Sure! Why shouldn't someone be called Ezekiel? Daddy was a pastor! He's the one who started the rhyming thing anyway, June's real surname is Harper. And Morton Horton, well his first name is really Howard, and Pete Street is really Peter LaRue, and it's all fun and the fans love it and they're fantastic, and they've even cut a disc ready for Christmas… and if I ask June I'm sure they'll want to be involved…" she stopped with a huge smile, they could almost imagine her tail wagging.

"No harm in asking them, Abbs. Let us know what they say?" The two turned to leave the lab, and Tim paused.

Almost afraid, he asked, "What's the title of this Christmas record, then?"

Abby beamed. "Get Your Reindeer Off My Roof", she said proudly.


The Randy Landy Band came on board after a short argument with their agent, and after that things snowballed; so that now, after three months of intensely hard work from a lot of willing people, a Magnificent Feast of Christmas Entertainment, as the billboards had screamed, was fully subscribed, and had TV companies from all over the world signed up to broadcast. People who did this sort of thing for a living had signed up to help, so the snowball now glittered with confidence. The show was also due to be beamed to Armed Forces on overseas duties, with messages from their families overlaid. There was cause for pride for all involved.

The trouble was, as might be expected to some extent, the closer the day came, the more fraught things were. As the A listers from the USA and Europe assembled for the last two days of rehearsal, the helpers had their work cut out. Hence Tony's run-in with the front of house staff. They were regular employees of the concert hall, and knew what they were doing, and didn't need a large, unkempt bassist telling them to move their cute little asses out of his way. Some of the dancers overheard and thought that the remark was aimed at them, and since some of those dancers were male, and some of them were gay, nobody was pleased.

"Tony," Gill had said, "You can talk the hind leg off a donkey. Go and do your stuff." And Tony, his team on a four day stand-down after a series of difficult cases, when he was supposed to be getting some rest, had sighed, and gone and done just that.

Ziva was making use of her languages talking to the press from many different countries. Tim, coerced by his enfant terrible friend and an ecstatic, happy goth, when he'd much rather have been writing, nevertheless thought he had the best job on the show. Assigned to look after the great Marieke van Hoorn, since he remarked how much he liked her work, he'd been petrified at the mere thought of meeting her. Gibbs, who approved of what his team were doing with their scarce and precious spare time, but considered himself too little of a diplomat to get involved, nevertheless admitted that one of the only four tunes he listened to was the Dutch Diva singing "Porgi amor".

When McGee met her at the airport and drove her to her hotel, he was both captivated and put at ease. The beautiful Dutchwoman, whose bio unbelievably said she was forty-one, had tumbling chestnut hair, pale, translucent, flawless skin with a light smattering of freckles, clear grey eyes and an earthy laugh. (Call me Mik, please!) She was so unlike what he expected a Diva to be, that he told Tony that evening that he thought he'd fallen in love.

"I'm only half joking, Tony. You wait 'til you meet her tomorrow. You'll love her too." And Tony did. And so did everyone else she met.

The band leader, Captain Russell Burns, was not so popular. The unfortunate dancers were all condemned as fairies; he wasn't prepared for his band of naval personnel to share the green room with anyone else, especially those 'scruffy junkie banshees', which meant that one of the rooms the volunteers had been using had to be cleared for Randy and his band to use. The tall, good natured guitarist, out of his gear and into jeans and sweater looked nothing like scruffy or a junkie, and the truth was, he was neither; but it was the 'banshee' bit that had hurt him. He and his band were all excellent musicians; as good at their thing as Burns was at his, and once again it took all of Tony's diplomacy to smooth things over. He found himself wishing, unkindly, for a nice murder.

Eddie Salvatore, he of the renowned velvet voice, hyper-smooth style and come-to-bed eyes, didn't help much either. When he saw Russell Burns in the foyer, he said loudly, "What the buggeration is he doing here?" and stalked away.

"Good heavens," a rich, plummy voice said from the doorway. "What a disagreeable display of temperament."

"Gah," Burns muttered. "Just what we need. Ham." He too marched away, disdain in every step.

"Well, dears," the mellow tone continued, "We really can't please everybody all the time, can we." Quinton Fairchild, Shakespearian, character actor, raconteur and shameless jambon swept in.

Josh stepped forward to welcome him; Anne-Marie whispered to Tony, "I'm sure even the ham is an act, you know," as she went to join him. The famous actor, who was to give readings from well known Christmas stories, professed himself delighted to be escorted by two such lovely young people. His exit with Josh and Anne-Marie was as splendid as his entrance.

Pete Street watched him go and muttered unkindly something about windbags.

Mik van Hoorn was relaxed about it all. "It's always like this," she said, her English faultless and without accent. "We musicians thrive on temperament. Don't worry. It will be a wonderful show. Is there anywhere we can get coffee?"

"I'll bring you some in your dressing room," Tim said promptly.

"No need, Tim. Let's just get some from the machine and sit here and people-watch."

Tony surprised Tim by offering to go to the machine; when he got back, he found that Tim and the Diva had been joined by Randy. The heavy metal man and the Diva seemed completely at ease, and so did McGee. "The Probie's growing up," Tony thought. "Even a year ago he'd have been hyperventilating."

They talked about the planned fund-raising, and any other subject that came up, until Tim looked at his watch. "The first full run-through begins in half an hour" he said. "Mik, is there anything you need before –"

A scream cut him off, as one of the dancers came running into the foyer. She was shouting and crying, in her native Spanish, and Tony jumped up to see what was wrong. She kept pointing towards backstage, and Tim could only make out two words. 'Matar' and 'asesinato', as far as he was concerned, both meant murder. Tony calmed the girl as best he could, and lifted her hands to examine them. They were red with blood.

They all followed the dancer, who sobbed out that her name was Pilar, down to the bay where the costumes were stored. "I go for costumes for me, for Therese," she said, and gestured to a rack. "I put my hands in to gather many costumes, and I feel wet… something… I look…." She began to cry again.

Tony stepped around the rack, and said, "McGee, keep everyone back, and call Ziva. And Gibbs."

Slumped on his face, two drumsticks sticking out of his neck, one on each side like handlebars, lay Captain Russell Burns.

AN: I decided, having got the bug, to have a go at a case fic without angst. I'll even try for a bit of humour!