Tony was tired. It made him so tired, to watch that kid through the mirror that surveyed the "office" that was actually an interview room, refusing to talk. How old was that kid? Twelve. He was twelve.
It was late Friday afternoon. They'd put a call in to CPS, but they were already closed for the weekend, and Ziva hadn't been able to get ahold of anyone. That investigation would have to wait until Monday. And Tony wasn't sure they had that long, not with the injuries on this kid.
Gibbs had gently cajoled the boy to talk for the last two hours with absolutely no success. And Gibbs could always get kids to talk. But not this one. Except to confirm his name, age, and some other basic facts, he'd kept his lips zipped.
Gibbs entered the room where his agents watched. In the dim light, Tony could see bags forming on his eyes. "He didn't say a damn word," Gibbs muttered. He sounded defeated.
"He is frightened," Ziva said.
"No kidding," Gibbs said. "His father beat him to the point of unconsciousness, and obviously not for the first time. And now he's absolutely convinced that we can't protect him and he'll have to go back to that. And according to his hospital records, it's not an unfounded fear. Wouldn't you be frightened?"
"My father would never strike me," Ziva said in her usual brisk way. "But yes, I see your point."
"And the worst part," Gibbs said, "is that because he won't talk, we can't prove that his father is lying."
"The pictures don't prove it? Injuries like that don't come from skateboard accidents," Tony said darkly. "I don't care if the old man has a video of the supposed 'accident'; that is not how he got hurt." He pressed the bridge of his nose with his index finger and his thumb. A headache was growing stronger with each silent minute.
"The pictures cast more-than-reasonable suspicion. But since there is no caseworker here to investigate, we're out of luck until CPS opens again Monday morning." Gibbs looked sick at the thought.
"Unfortunately, Nathan is right," McGee said, his voice somber. "If he doesn't talk, he fulfills his own prophecy of our inability to protect him. His father's lawyers will be able to get him back."
"And he'll probably beat that kid again. Worse," Tony said. His voice was uncharacteristically dark.
Gibbs' cell phone went off. "Yeah, Gibbs," he answered. His lips pressed into a thin line as he listened to the other end. "Uh huh. Now? You've got to be kidding me!"
It was more than exasperation; it was closer to despair.
"Yes, Director, I am arguing. The point? The point is that we're supposed to protect that kid...The hell there isn't! Something caused those injuries, and it wasn't a damn skateboard accident!"
Gibbs cursed and flipped his phone closed. Tony and the rest of the team stared up at him expectantly.
"Nathan's father is upstairs. He's come to get his son, and apparently, the judge has signed off," Gibbs said.
"We can't hand him over, Boss! That guy gave his kid a concussion!" Tony hissed.
"Not according to the judge," Gibbs said grimly. "Who happens to be Lieutenant Anderson's third cousin. Any guesses on how he got ahold of him this late on a Friday?" The sarcasm was unnecessary.
"You're not really going to send Nathan back?" McGee said, aghast.
"The director told me Judge Johnson is perfectly willing to have us all arrested for contempt if \we don't," Gibbs said. "And while we sit in a jail cell, the father will still have the kid."
"There is nothing we can do for this boy?" Ziva asked.
"I'm not giving up," Gibbs said. "But for now, we've got to send him back with his father."
"Boss!" Tony cried.
"There's nothing I can do, DiNozzo!" Gibbs' voice was harsh.
"You told that kid we could protect him!" Tony said, matching his tone. "You said that he'd be safe with us, that you wouldn't let his father hurt him again! You're gonna let some judge make a liar of you?"
Gibbs turned on his heel and walked out. In seconds, they were watching him through the mirror. "Nathan, this is your last chance. Your father is here. Are you sure that you don't want to tell us how you got hurt?" Gibbs' voice had gentled. "We want to help you, but we can't if you don't give us anything to help you with."
Nathan didn't say anything, but even through the mirror, Tony could see the anguish in his eyes. The boy licked his lips, and Tony felt a flicker of hope in his chest, but when he opened his mouth, all he said was, "I'm fine, sir."
Gibbs' eyes closed for a long second. Then he looked back at the child in front of him with intense eyes.
"Don't give up on us, Nathan. We're not going to let this continue forever."
"Yes, sir," Nathan said, but it was merely an acknowledgement of Gibbs' speech; Tony could tell. There was no hope in his voice. He slowly lifted his coat off the back of the chair and slipped his arms into it. Tony could see the pain that movement caused him and felt his gut twist.
Gibbs sighed. "Come on," he said. He gestured to the door.
As Tony watched the kid walk out, he could see the fear rising up the boy's back, and he made a decision.
There had to be something he could do, and he was going to find it. He jumped up from his haphazard seat and shoved his way out the door. Abby would help him. And she'd do it fast and dirty if she had to.
"Abby, Gibbs is bringing him to his father as we speak," Tony finished.
The pain in his voice wasn't covered well enough by the raging anger. Abby wrapped her arms around him.
"We'll find a way, Tony. If there's a will, there's a way," she comforted.
"We've got to do it now," Tony said. "If we let that man get that kid home, we might be picking up his body later tonight." Tony's voice was grim.
She looked up at Tony. There was absolutely nothing in his countenance that suggesting he was exaggerating. She released him and took a step backwards, taking a deep breath to center herself.
"It doesn't have to be the greatest solution, Abs. It's just got to buy us more time. And it's gotta be one we can use now," Tony said.
"Now," Abby said. She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking hard. She could feel Tony watching her. Something was radiating off of him. Not impatience, although that would have been her first thought. No, he was confident in her. And so was she.
It came to her as she'd known it would. "I have an idea," she said.
He left the evidence locker, patting his pocket to make sure the evidence was still there. He slipped off the rubber gloves and threw them into a nearby garbage can, then grabbed his phone and typed out a quick text to Abby.
[Got it. No more scrambled eggs.]
He hit send. Abby would know now that it was safe to unscramble the security cameras.
He then erased his sent messages.
Abby got his message. With a quickly typed code, she set the cameras back to right, and then set into motion a file overwriting her computer's IP and other important codes; by the time anyone realized that the cameras had been tampered with, her computer's IP wouldn't resemble the IP of the computer that had made the cameras go all hinky.
That underway, Abby turned back to her phone, and erased her messages.
Then she put some samples into Major Mass Spectrometer and leaned against her desk, waiting for the tell-tale beep. After all, for this to go off, everything needed to be normal. Or as close to normal as things ever got down here.
Tony burst into the bullpen. Had he moved fast enough?
The kid was standing behind Gibbs, staring at the floor. Gibbs was engaged in a heated conversation with the Lieutenant. Tony walked closer.
"That kid has one more bruise on him when we see him again, you are going to pay, Lieutenant," Gibbs said in a low, cold voice.
"You won't see him again," the man said, pulling on a pair of winter gloves, and Tony felt a cold rush of fear in his gut. He had to do this, or his prediction would be right.
He grabbed a stack of files off Tim's desk, put his head down and took off at a fast clip, aiming for the Lieutenant.
Gibbs watched Tony barrel into Lieutenant Anderson with unbelieving eyes. That looked like a football tackle! What the hell was DiNozzo doing? "DiNozzo!" he barked as he watched the Lieutenant and his senior field agent both hit the ground, paper file folders fluttering around them.
It was too late though. DiNozzo jumped up quick as a flash. "Sir, I am so sorry! I didn't see you there," DiNozzo said. He sounded shaken, and Gibbs wondered for just a second. Had he really not noticed? No; DiNozzo noticed nearly everything. But he was making a good show. "I am so sorry, sir. " He held out his hand to assist the other man to his feet; Gibbs saw blood. "Really sorry. Please, is there anything I can—"
"What the hell is wrong with you?" the Lieutenant spit, pushing himself to his feet. "You've got two eyes, don't you? Damn civilian organization!" He shoved past DiNozzo and into Gibbs' face. "Give me my kid. I'm leaving."
"Wait a second, sir," DiNozzo said. He was using that voice that Gibbs had secretly dubbed the, "Jimmy Palmer". It was an awkward but groveling tone. "This is kind of awkward. I...I didn't mean to run into you, sir, but um...can you empty your pockets? I think something in your pocket cut me, and that makes me nervous. See, I have, um, this blood disease, and well, you wouldn't—I mean—it's contagious, by blood or other bodily fluids—not that you have any other bodily fluids—but I, um—" DiNozzo held up his bleeding hand. It didn't look like much of a cut, and Gibbs wondered. Tony didn't have a blood disease...what was this man up to?
"Idiots!" Lieutenant Anderson hissed, throwing his hands up violently. Out of the corner of his eye, Gibbs saw Nathan flinch, and he wished that there was something he could do for him.
"Let me get you some gloves," Ziva said. She grabbed a handful from the box under her desk. With an angry sigh, the man struggled to force the too-small gloves on his hands before reaching into his pockets and yanked a small handful of stuff out, dumping it on Gibbs' desk.
Gibbs' eyes went wide. There was a set of keys, a toothpick, a few coins...and a small baggie filled with white powder. "Ziva," he said curtly.
Immediately, she put on another pair of gloves and turned her attention to bagging and tagging the evidence.
The Lieutenant seemed to see it at the same moment as Gibbs did. Gibbs pulled his handcuffs without thought, and began to recite the Miranda. "Lieutenant Maxwell Anderson, you are under arrest for the possession of an illicit substance. Anything you say--"
"No! This is preposterous! I've never—that man, your agent, he planted it! You can't arrest me!" Lieutenant Anderson was livid. "You'll pay for this! I'll have all of your jobs!"
Gibbs continued to read the Lieutenant his rights, but he turned most of his attention to DiNozzo. "Go get cleaned up, DiNozzo. No use spreading Hepatitis to the entire bullpen." He fixed the younger man with a look that let him know that he was well aware the senior agent had set this up, and that they'd be talking about it.
DiNozzo nodded. "Yes, boss," he said, and he turned and left the bullpen.
Gibbs finished off the rights, and handed the handcuffed Lieutenant off to Ziva. "See that he gets there without undue harm," he told her.
"Undue?" Ziva asked a little too eagerly.
"No injuries, Ziva. Go."
He watched her roughly wrest him out of the bullpen and into the elevator. He took a deep breath and looked over at Tim and the kid; both seemed a bit shell-shocked. "Go get a coffee," he told McGee. "Take Nathan. Get him a soda or whatever."
"Yes sir," Tim said. "I mean, yes, Boss. Plain black?"
"That's how I like it, but this coffee's for you, Tim," Gibbs said. "I've got to talk to DiNozzo."
"Uh, right Boss. Um...we'll be back within fifteen minutes."
"Take a half an hour, at least," Gibbs said. "It's gonna be a long talk.
In the men's room, Tony pressed a paper towel against his bleeding hand. He'd have to return that scalpel to autopsy before Ducky, or more likely, Palmer, realized it was missing. Although they had a lot of them. He'd just taken the blade out of a box of them, still wrapped in plastic.
But it had gone off exactly as Abby had hoped. She'd be able to lift prints from the keys and transfer them to the baggie, and the Lieutenant would have a mess on his hands. Yeah, he'd probably be able to get it thrown out, or buy it off, but that would take time. And that would be time they could use to protect that poor kid and get him to open up and talk. Pictures were worth a thousand words, and Ducky had taken a plethora of photos of the marks covering his skinny pre-teen body, but if that kid swore it was from a skateboard accident, there wasn't much they could do for him.
The door crashed open, and Tony turned to see Gibbs enter. He looked pissed.
"Don't. Empty your pockets, DiNozzo." Gibbs turned the lock on the bathroom door and then faced off with the younger man, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Uh, Boss?" Tony did his best to sound quizzical.
"Did I stutter? Empty 'em." He tapped the counter. "Here. Now."
He knew he should have just flushed the damn thing. "Boss..."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. Tony sighed. He pulled the paper towel from his hand. It had stopped bleeding. He dropped the bloody towel into the trash .
"Don't you think you should be more careful about that highly contagious blood disease?" Gibbs asked archly. Tony smirked.
He reached into his pockets, pulling out their contents and dropping it onto the counter. Some spare change, a ball of lint, and his cell phone didn't cover the small, bloody blade.
Tony tried; he really did. But he couldn't read Gibbs' face.
"Huh. How'd that get there? Guess that's how I must have cut myself," Tony said, trying for levity.
Gibbs growled. "Dammit, DiNozzo! What exactly were you thinking?"
Tony dropped the act. "I was thinking that we needed more time, Boss. We couldn't just send him home. We would have been picking up his body tonight, likely as not! What would you have had me do?"
"You risked your whole career over this! It's gonna be obvious that it was a plant, DiNozzo. Your prints will be all over it, and the Lieutenant's won't!" Gibbs was hissing; his voice was quiet but intense.
"No, it won't!" DiNozzo growled back. "I wore gloves. And anyway, Abby can fix it—"
"You want to get Abby involved with this too? That's just throwing another career away!" Gibbs ranted. Then he stopped. "Does Abby know?" he asked, his voice dark.
"No sir," Tony lied automatically. "But she'll do it, if you ask her to."
"You're 'sir'ing me, DiNozzo," Gibbs noted dangerously.
Tony didn't say anything; he was holding his breath.
The door handle jiggled. "What the hell's goin' on in there?" The voice wasn't familiar to Tony.
"Go away!" Gibbs barked. Both men stood listening as the man on the other side of the door grumbled under his breath and his footsteps receded.
Then it was just them again, and Gibbs' expression had Tony's heart drumming against his sternum.
"We're gonna go talk to Abby," he said.
"Boss, I don't think that's necessary—" Tony made a last ditch attempt to keep Abby out of it. She wouldn't have gotten involved if he hadn't pulled her into it.
When Gibbs grabbed his arm, Tony couldn't help but jump. "I think I'll decide what's necessary, DiNozzo," he said in a voice that booked no argument. "Go. Now."
Would he lose his job? Would Abby lose hers? Or something worse? What could be worse than losing the job he loved? Sick with worry, Tony barely noticed that Gibbs marched him down to Abby's lab like a naughty child, never releasing his arm.