Title: Facing Forward
Rating: T (mild language)
Disclaimer: If I owned NCIS, more men would have their shirts off. Thus, I don't.
Summary: I know it's a cliché, but after leaving NCIS, Tony needs the team's help.
Author's Note: Reviews are appreciated. I hope you enjoy.
X X X
Nothing makes a man grow up faster than a teenage girl.
Or so that's what the small town police chief thought as he eyed the strapless dress that hung from the office coat rack. Even encased in thin plastic it looked waaaaayyyy too revealing.
Shaking his head, Chief Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo wondered when the hell he'd become such a fuddy duddy. He'd once carried around a little black book, back in the days before he'd headed north from Washington, D.C., leaving behind his position with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services. Back then, the sight of a pretty girl in a gown would've made him grin. Maybe drool. Now, though, all he could think was that the girl who would be wearing that skimpy piece of silk needed to wear a sweater over it.
"You know, it's beautiful, and it's not goin' to bite," Tammy, his part-time clerk stated, grinning from her desk near the door. When the chief didn't reply, and continued to stare unblinking, she sighed and attacked the problem from a different angle.
"Tommy Hessler's a good boy and you know it, Chief."
Yes, he did know it. That didn't mean he thought Tommy should be seeing that much of his Mary.
It was bad enough that Tony couldn't even find a movie reference for this one without thinking of too-sexy teenage girls of the eighties – thanks to his obsession with John Hughes movies. His brain kept gearing back to the fact she was only fifteen. Under his breath, he muttered, "High school sophomores shouldn't be going to the senior prom."
"And their fathers should give them a break," Tammy retorted. So far, the twenty four year old had been patient with her boss. From her tone, that patience was fast coming to an end.
"She's planning on being out all night," he lamented, and Tammy rolled her eyes.
The Chief had given Mary the thumbs-up on that particular part of the plan, so it wasn't like he had much to complain about. Actually, the couple – Mary and her seventeen year old boyfriend had provided an itinerary broken down into hour segments, showing precisely where they would be and what they'd be doing.
"Think of it this way," Tammy finally said, picking up some files and heading towards the cabinet. "You've got a good girl there, who knows how to throw a punch. If Tommy tries to play grab-the-tit, she'll up and deck him. Then when she's done, she'll haul his ass home to her Pops and let you have a hand at him."
Tony grinned quick in response and suddenly felt immensely better. Those boxing lessons had been a good idea. Not to mention, Tommy was the first boy to pass Tony's inspection. The town might be small, but the Chief had come from a world outside of the small Maine fishing community. In his previous life back in the nation's capital, murder and mayhem ruled more than they ought, and he sometimes had a hard time disconnecting those two very disparate societies.
The worst he dealt with here included drowning, cabin-fever-induced violence (hence why he hated the winter months when the boats sat docked and under repair), and the loss of fishing vessels at sea. Typically, he spent his days making rounds, writing reports, and coaching whatever sport needed coaching at the local school. Not to mention, he spent a hell of a lot of time keeping his second-in-command in line.
Not that he minded when his deputy showed up late, because invariably the young man always did show up. Plus, when the chips were down, Tony could really count on him. In general, the chief tended to cuff him up the back of the head out of principal – a none-too-gentle reminder to the deputy to get his ass in gear.
Speaking of which…
"Heard from Ian this morning?" he asked, and watched Tammy tense a bit. He'd bet anything he'd have seen her wince if she'd been looking in his direction. The clerk could always be counted on to know the happenings around town – she not only ran the gossip vine, she tended it carefully. Which meant that she knew precisely why Ian was late.
Sardonically, he raised a brow and said, "Never mind. I'll check under the pool table at The Washout."
Grabbing his coat off the back of his chair, Tony slipped into it and headed toward the door. The morning sun glowed in through the windows, feeling fantastic, considering the long, hard winter they'd endured. Lord knew the townsmen were more than ready to head out to sea by the time the worst of the winter storms died down. Not many from around here actually liked being land-bound. Some deep sea fishermen had spent winter months shrimping out of desperation for a little bit more cash and to get back out on the waves. He suspected a few relished the time away in the darkest months so they wouldn't have to deal with their wives.
"It's gonna be a beautiful day," Tony announced, grinning at the clear blue skies. Oh yeah, every man and woman in town breathed a sigh of relief when the boats finally left dry dock and headed out into deep blue waters. He just hoped he was imagining the darker edge to the morning horizon.
X X X
Rounds went well enough. After nearly six years, he'd come up with a route that brought him in contact with just about every person in his community at some point in the week. Not that it was hard. The town boasted only 1,136 souls. Actually, 1,137 souls, considering Lily Kohl had come screaming into the world just a day ago.
"I could really use a big, black coffee," he announced with the ding of the bell above the door at Ruthie's Café. Ruth and her husband Frank had moved from the Pacific Northwest just a few years before Tony, taking the old clapboard shop sandwiched between the hardware store and the doctor's office and making it a local favorite.
Not that it was hard. The only café in town had closed down over a decade ago. That anyone wanted to move into the decrepit building on Main Street had thrilled the town council. And the owner of The Washout hadn't minded one bit that he lost a chunk of his business. The bar's owner – Bob – hadn't liked having to cook much, anyway. So why do it when Ruthie's was just across the street? Heck, most wandering tourists ended up in the next big town over, where they could eat in the comfort of family friendly or high-end restaurants.
"Well, Chief, it looks like it's going to be a beautiful day," Ruth said by way of greeting. Hailing him from behind the counter, she filled his travel mug and smiled in his direction. From somewhere in the back, Tony could hear Ruth's husband muttering profanities and raised his brows.
"He's in a mood today," she said with a quick grin. "Lost a fair bit at poker last night."
Chuckling, Tony accepted the coffee and replied, "I'd arrest him for gambling if I didn't know for a fact he lost to me." More loudly, and for the benefit of the man on the other side of the pass-through window, he yelled, "One of these days, I'll get him to bet you Ruth. We'll run off together when I win."
Laughing heartily at Frank's Australian voice booming curses, Tony winked at a chuckling Ruth and headed out the door. It was time to find his missing deputy – and maybe teach him a lesson or two about timeliness.
Unfortunately, that lesson would have to wait. Instead of finding the young man passed out on or under the pool table, Tony walked into The Washout to find the oddest scene. Twenty six year old devil-may-care Ian sat at a table, holding the hand of a young woman who looked like she'd spent the night crying.
Catching Ian's eye and nodding in his direction, he approached the bar to find Bob pouring a couple cups of coffee. After pulling a stool out so he could watch his deputy, Tony finally took a sip of Ruth's brew and said, "That's Esther Cambridge. What happened?"
"Well, Chief, remember how Esther went off to spend a few weeks with her aunt in Portland in February?" Bob quietly asked, making sure his voice didn't carry. "She met a boy and got herself pregnant."
Snorting, Tony replied, "Somehow I don't think she was alone when it happened."
"Naw, but her parents kicked her out," Bob said with a shrug.
As he turned back to the task of cleaning, Tony focused on his deputy and the woman sitting with him at the table. Digging through his mental files, he tried to place her family. Sure, he knew the residents, but some were a bit reclusive. Hell, some outright avoided their police chief and couldn't see the point of having one.
Jacob and Diana Cambridge had both been born and raised here. Their only daughter, the same. From what Tony could recall, the conservative parents tended to be protective, chaperoning their child everywhere. What he remembered of Esther from her high school days was that she'd been an average student. Not a lot of friends. Shy. Never really had a steady boyfriend.
She must be twenty two by now, Tony mused. Then it really struck him – the way Ian's hand had settled softly over Esther's.
When Bob sauntered back over and topped off Tony's coffee, the chief nodded at the couple and watched Bob's bushy gray brows shoot up. Not much took the bar owner by surprise. It made Tony a little giddy when he could throw the older man off kilter.
"Well," Bob all but breathed out.
Grinning, Tony decided not to bother his deputy. It wasn't like much was going on now at any rate. With the town nearly empty and tourist season not yet started, his focus needed to turn to the local school that housed from pre-school all the way up through high school. The older kids would be starting track soon, so his days would become more and more full. And before he knew it, another class would graduate. Some would stick around to continue the fishing tradition and others would head out into the unknown world.
But he nearly laughed aloud as he walked out the door. Who knew his impetuous and sometimes infuriating second-in-command could look gobsmacked. Amused, Tony thought, I love that word. Gobsmacked.
The next little while ought to at least be entertaining. Ian never did anything halfway, whether it be getting in trouble with his boss or charming the townsfolk.
Whistling lightly as he headed off to complete his rounds, Tony wondered how much the comedic factor would rise if he let Tammy know about the latest events. It would certainly be interesting to see how the gossip would fly. But he knew almost as quickly that he couldn't. That would just be cruel.
If romance was in Ian's cards, the kid would figure it out – and he'd do better without the entire community knowing and turning it into a made-for-TV movie of the week.
Unfortunately, thinking of romance made Tony's train of thought take a ninety degree turn right back to the sapphire blue dress hanging in his office.
It seemed like just yesterday she'd been a pre-teen in braces, and he really wished he could turn back time. Then he wouldn't have to worry about the damn prom.
X X X
"I'm home!" Tony yelled as he walked into his house on the edge of town. Tossing his coat over an old chair in the foyer, he strode into the living room to find Mary sitting on one end of the couch, tugging on her shirt, while her boyfriend Tommy crowded himself into the other corner.
And Tony had to close his eyes.
One. Two. Three. Ten. Nope, counting doesn't work, he thought, vainly trying to keep his rising blood pressure from tipping over into a shouting match.
"Where's your sister?" he asked in that low and dangerous we'll-talk-about-this-later tone.
"Doing her homework," Mary stuttered, looking everywhere but at Tony or Tommy. "Upstairs."
Blowing out a breath, the chief backed out of the room and bound up the stairs and down the hall to Em's room, hoping he had at least one sane child still living at home. He should've known better. Nine year old Emily stood on a stack of books piled on a chair, which had been placed on top of the bed, and Tony's heart nearly stopped.
With a quick jolt, he rushed in, grabbed the football jersey-clad girl, and swept her up just as the entire damn network of stuff tumbled down.
"Are you out of your mind?" he shouted, and watched her cringe. Sometimes he forgot she could be so sensitive, this child that dressed in sports gear, played primarily in any substance that left horrific stains, and spent more times in trees than on the ground.
Breathing deep, he prayed for a little calm and more quietly said, "You could've been hurt."
"I know," she replied, making a show rolling her pre-teen eyes. "It's why I put the chair on the soft bed."
How the hell do I argue that kind of logic? Tony wondered, as Emily pulled out some pictures of butterflies she'd carefully cut from magazine. At least he hoped it had been magazines and not the stack of library books on her overflowing, disorganized desk.
Laying them out, she said, "I'm hanging these from the ceiling. In the summer it'll be really cool, because they'll dance when I open the window. Kind of like those butterflies in that movie we watched on National Geographic channel."
Leave it to Tony to end up with a kid that was often glued to all-education, all the time channels. Drove him half bonkers, until he found himself one day stuck on a dramatization about the explosion of the Yellowstone caldera.
"I think it's great that you're creative," Tony eventually said. "However, next time, I'll help you put them up."
He didn't wait for his tomboy youngest to respond. Usually it was smart to speak and back away. Quickly.
Heading back downstairs, he hoped to handle the teenagers with a little more finesse (and calm).
He didn't get to ponder it long, though, because not many steps later he found himself in front of Mary and Tommy – both still scrunched into opposite corners of the couch.
With a gleam in his eye, Tony stepped in front of them, put his hands behind his back, and grinned wide. He knew exactly how to handle the problem; and he knew it would be a success when Mary groaned aloud and Tommy flushed pink with the chief's words: "Let's discuss safe sex and sweaters."