This is it, he thought as he led Joanne down the stairs into his basement, this is my personal Rubicon, my point of no return. He remembered what Vance had said during that meeting with detective McCadden.
"Go ahead Gibbs, cross it ... try me."
He knew Vance meant those words only for effect, but they were prophetic. The whole meeting had been a set up, Vance's way of protecting his own back in case Gibbs' plan did not work. McCadden had bought it hook, line and sinker. Gibbs' mouth quirked up in a small smile as he remembered the detective thinking that Vance was rebuking Gibbs. He had even gone so far as to offer them privacy.
"Do you want me to step out?"
Oh no, they definitely did not. They wanted him there to hear it all. That way when Vance agreed to let Joanne go he would think it was legitimate. And later, if this whole scheme came back to bite them on the ass, he would make a perfect witness to the fact that Vance had specifically told Gibbs not to do this. The director was a smart man and an expert at covering his tracks. Gibbs didn't blame him, he had some protecting of his own to do.
Joanne was guilty, there was no doubt of that. Even without the evidence found by Ducky and Abby, Gibbs had known in his gut that she had killed Norton and framed Shankton. In the back of his mind he felt a small sense of grudging admiration for the way she had accomplished it but mainly he felt pity. He pitied her for having learned the same lesson that he had learned all those years ago. Revenge, whether served hot or cold, is not a satisfying dish. It does nothing to fill that hollow place inside you, but you crave it nonetheless.
Although she was guilty, he could not see her in the same light as another murderer, or even in the same light as the drug dealing Shankton. He knew that this reprieve they planned on granting her might not last. Even if charging Shankton with Norton's murder gave them the leverage they needed to bring down the Renosa cartel, there was a good chance that Shankton would escape prosecution and then the spotlight would be back on Joanne. He was not opposed to her being punished, but he wanted the punishment to fit the crime, or at least to fit the crime as he saw it. An illegal confession and arrest, staged if front of Ms. Hart, would give her something to bargain with if she became a suspect again. It was the least he could do for Joanne if he was going to make her an unwitting accomplice to his plans.
When they reached the bottom of the steps, he pulled out a bench for her to sit on and poured them both some bourbon. Then he glanced up at the basement door, cracked open a few inches, and saw a shadow move against the upstairs light. The curious Ms. Hart was right where he expected her to be, listening and watching the scene from above. Everything was ready, it was time to move forward.
He steeled himself to take the next step and found his mind wandering back to Stillwater, back to long, hot afternoons spent in Latin class, reciting from various histories of Rome. This, he imagined, was how Caesar must have felt as he stood on the banks of the Rubicon knowing that if he crossed that insignificant stream he would embark on a path that he must see through to the end, no matter the cost. It had all seemed so simple then, so heroic. It did not matter if the laws condemned your actions as long as you followed your sense of justice, as long as you stuck to your rules.
What have I turned out to be, thought Gibbs, the tragic hero or the vengeful vigilante. If this goes bad, what will be the consequences? I could lose my career, that much is certain. If my revenge on Shannon's and Kelly's killer comes to light, I could lose my freedom. When the Renosa drug cartel learns of our investigation, I might lose my life. All of these things I can accept.
There was one thing that almost made Gibbs rethink his plan: Tony, ever faithful Tony. What would he make of Gibbs' actions? Gibbs was determined to keep him out of the loop. He knew his senior agent would defend and follow him anywhere, but there was no way that Gibbs would let him risk his future in this shady venture. This was not his fight and Gibbs already had enough to answer for without adding the endangerment of his most loyal agent to the list. Would Tony understand that after the events surrounding Domino? Would Tony ever forgive Gibbs for deceiving him yet again? Gibbs resigned himself to the idea that their friendship might be a necessary casualty in the war against his family's killers. It couldn't be helped and it was too late to turn back now. Perhaps it had always been too late.
"Is this your personal torture chamber?" asked Joanne.
"Only person who ever gets tortured here is me," he replied.
That was true. This was where he came to be with his memories, to visit his ghosts and wrestle with his demons. Torture chamber, sanctuary, prison and refuge, this one room had been all those things for him. It was a fitting place to begin the game that might bring about his salvation, or spell his doom.
Alea iacta est - the die is cast.The words from that long ago Latin class were the last thing to cross Gibbs' mind before he finally turned to face his mother-in-law and spoke the words that would put his plan in motion.
"I know everything, Joanne..."