By Lizabeth S. Tucker
Abby Sciuto had been home for only two hours when her phone rang, startling her from her half-doze on the couch. She reached for the coffin-shaped receiver with a sigh. Calls at 3 a.m. rarely boded well. "Hello?"
"Abby? Abby, you have to help me!"
"Cousin Amy, is that you?"
"Please, Abby, I'm in so much trouble."
"Call the police."
"No! I can't trust them."
"Amy, you're not making sense. We've known Sheriff Cosgrove our whole lives. He's a wonderful man."
"I'm not in Louisiana, Abby, I'm in Baltimore. I really need you to come over here."
"Please, it's important."
"Fine, tell me where you are." Abby knew the small hotel, a mom-and-pop operation struggling to survive against the mega-chains located near the interstate.
After splashing cold water on her face, Abby grabbed her purse and her car keys, heading to the cherry red hotrod parked outside her apartment. When the key was turned in the ignition, there was no vroom of the engine, only a clicking sound. She let her head drop against the steering wheel.
A search of her purse brought out her cell phone, as well as a very empty wallet. That quickly eliminated the possibility of calling a taxi. That left only one option. Abby called her emergency backup.
A mere twenty minutes later, a dark blue car pulled up beside an impatiently waiting Abby. She quickly got inside, giving the driver the address. As they left the parking lot, she openly studied him. "You're wearing the same clothes."
"You never went home!"
"I did." Tony DiNozzo shrugged. "Well, I started to, but I thought of something to research on the Mendez case, so I turned around and went back."
"So you still do your best work at night?"
The NCIS special agent just grinned. "So why are we going to this address?"
"It's my cousin Amy Bourgeois, on my Uncle Gaston's side of the family. She's in some sort of trouble and called for me to come."
"Did she say what type of trouble?"
"No, just that she didn't trust the police."
"With Amy it's hard to tell. She's always been a bit of a drama queen, so it might be nothing, but she really sounded frantic. I just don't want to take any chances."
The hotel's parking lot was relatively empty, even at that ungodly hour of the morning. Tony parked next to the only car with Louisiana plates, his upraised hand keeping Abby inside. "Let me check the area first."
Abby knew better than to disobey her friend when he spoke in what she referred to as his Serious!Tony voice. She peered out the passenger side window, her nose smashed against the glass. Her breath kept fogging it up, so she had to rub her fingers through it in order to see.
Tony returned to the car, opening the door to let Abby out. "Stay behind me at the motel door, just in case."
"Tony," Abby began to protest.
"Your cousin claims to be in trouble and isn't willing to trust the local cops. That implies some serious trouble. Since we don't know for sure, I'm erring on the side of caution."
His fingers tapped on the door, Abby looking around his muscular body. When there was no answer, Tony pounded again with his fist while Abby called out her cousin's name. The door swung slowly open.
Abby blinked. Without her seeing it, Tony was holding his Sig Sauer in his hand. Never taking his attention off the room entrance, he ordered her to stay exactly where she was, flat against the wall. Then he slipped through the doorway, his green eyes quickly scanning back and forth, checking for danger.
"It's all clear."
Abby stood frozen in the doorway, not entirely certain what she would find. A survey of the room revealed an open suitcase sitting on a luggage rack, a colorful jumble of clothing inside. The double bed was messily unmade. She walked across the room, peering into the bathroom where she saw various cosmetics spread across the counter.
There was a small sound coming from the bottom chest of drawers. Abby noticed it was open just an inch. "Tony? I think something is in there."
"Where?" He followed where her finger pointed. He smoothly dropped into a crouch, slowly and carefully pulling the drawer open after having checked for a possible booby-trap. "I'll be damned."
Putting his weapon back into its shoulder holster, Tony revealed a baby dressed in a sunshine yellow one-piece. He gingerly picked up the infant under the arms, planning to hand it over to Abby. Before he could do so, the door slammed open, startling all three occupants.
Tony instinctively cradled the baby into one arm while pulling his gun out with his other hand, half turning to shield the child. He soon relaxed when Abby and the female intruder both screamed, throwing themselves into each other's arms.
After securing his weapon, Tony shifted the baby back into both arms. Having seen his boss handling children of all ages over the years, he knew the basics, mostly supporting the head as well as the rest of the body. Looking down at the innocent face, Tony was surprised to find the child's light brown eyes fixed on his own green ones.
Always uncomfortable around children, Tony thought it would be best to give the infant to one of the two women, but they were both jabbering at each other a mile a minute. He moved over to the bed, leaning down to place the baby squarely in the middle, far from any dangerous edge.
When the sweet face began to scrunch up and the rosebud mouth opened in preparation to cry, Tony quickly picked the baby back up. "Hush, now. Don't cry."
"Tony! Isn't that sweet?" Abby bounced over to look at the baby. "This is Cousin Amy's daughter Belle. And that's Amy over there."
Tony considered Amy Bourgeois where she hovered near the only exit. "Abby, why don't you introduce me?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Amy, this is Tony DiNozzo. He's a Special Agent at NCIS."
"A cop, Abby? A cop!"
"Tony's one of the good guys. I trust him with my life. I trust him with your life, as well as Belle's."
"Ms. Bourgeois, Amy, why don't we all sit down and talk about why you called Abby for help?"
"Um, okay." Amy flipped her long brown hair back behind her, sitting at the small table near the window to the hallway. The thin gauze part of the curtains was pulled shut, allowing light but no clear view of the room's occupants.
Abby moved to sit in the opposite chair, reaching out to grip her cousin's hand in comfort.
"Would you like your daughter back?" Tony took one step toward the child's mother only to be stunned by her response.
"Not really. This is the first time she's been quiet since I left Louisiana."
Tony sent a frantic glance toward Abby, but she simply shook her head, a smug smile on her face. Not fair, he mouthed. She just raised an impertinent eyebrow in response.
"Tell me what happened, Amy."
"I don't understand what you mean?"
"Amy," Abby took over questioning. "You called me asking for help. You told me that you didn't trust the local police. And you said you were in trouble. I want to help, but I need to know what's wrong."
Amy fiddled with her hair, revealing just how young she was. "It's just…"
"Amy, I'll do what I can to help you, but to do that I need to know what's going on," Tony said as he perched on the edge of the bed.
She looked at Abby, receiving an encouraging nod. "I kinda…I had a fight with Larry."
"That's my boyfriend, Belle's daddy. I got mad so I…I took off."
"Amy, didn't you tell anyone where you were going?" Abby asked.
"I just wanted to get away," the young mother wailed. "But Larry always took care of Belle, or my mother did. I didn't know she'd be such a crybaby."
"Amy, she is a baby," Abby admonished her.
Shrugging, Amy dismissed that. "'s no excuse."
"That's it? You ran away from your baby daddy?"
"Where were you when we arrived?" Tony asked, ignoring Abby's warning to back down.
"When we first got here, you weren't in the room and the door was open. The baby, Belle, was tucked into a drawer. So where were you?"
Amy slumped down in the chair, a mulish look on her face She pulled her hand from her cousin's grip. "Out."
"Amy," Abby leaned forward, trying to look into the other woman's eyes. "Belle could've been taken."
"That's why I put her in the drawer."
"What about the police? You told Abby you couldn't trust the local cops. Why not?"
"I've got some tickets. Lost my license."
"You're driving that precious baby around with no valid driver's license? Amy, what are you thinking?" Abby couldn't believe anyone could be so careless with the life of a child.
"Abby, why don't you call Amy's mother. Let her know where her daughter and granddaughter are."
She nodded, pulling out her cell.
Tony looked down at the baby, watching her mouth make sucking noises. "Amy, where's her bottle?"
When the girl didn't answer, his voice got sharper. "Amy, Belle's bottle! Where is it?"
"In the bathroom."
Tony walked into the bathroom, smiling down at his young child. "Hang on, baby. We'll get you something to drink soon." Holding her in one arm, he rummaged through the bag sitting under the bathroom counter. He found the bottle as well as a can of formula in the bag. Reading the instructions on the back of the can, he quickly made up some for Belle.
He remembered to check that the liquid wasn't too hot and, taking a deep breath that he wasn't messing anything up, began feeding the baby. The smile on his face was one rarely seen as he watched her sucking at the bottle's nipple. "What a sweet girl you are, Belle. You have the same name as Beauty from Disney's Beauty and the Beast movie. She's a good role model, smart and beautiful and feisty. Feisty is always good."
"Tony, Aunt Lorene is taking the next plane. I agreed to stay with Amy until she gets here." Abby walked over to lean against Tony's side, watching the baby.
"Do you want me to stick around?" Tony offered, not certain if he wanted her to say yes or no.
"No, we'll be fine. Amy isn't going anywhere and neither is Belle."
"Okay." He looked back down at the infant before reluctantly handing her to Abby's waiting arms. "Guess I'd better leave. I need to get to work before Gibbs starts yelling." He leaned down and kissed Belle's forehead, gently stroking the soft fuzzy hair. "Call me if you need anything, no matter what."
"I promise, Tony."
His feet dragging, Tony left the hotel room, glaring at Amy Bourgeois as he passed her by. He would never understand how a parent could be so careless about a child they brought into the world, even if he had experienced it firsthand. But in Belle's case, there were other family members ready, willing and able to take up the slack. The little girl was wanted and loved. It was all anyone could hope for.