Gibbs glanced around the interior of the glass-and-steel building. It was impressive. These LA firms sure were flashy. He leaned casually against the secretary's desk.
"I'm here to see Holland Manners?"
The secretary smiled up at him, reminding him nothing so much as honey-covered steel trap.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"2:00. Special Agent Gibbs."
The secretary typed a few words, peering at her computer screen.
"Ah yes. Please take a seat, Agent Gibbs. Mr. Manners will be with you shortly."
Gibbs slipped into one of the chairs, shifting uncomfortably. He wasn't sure if this was a good idea, but Allison Hart had seemed so sure that this would fix his problem, and he did need help.
He was in a sticky place, that was for sure. He didn't regret killing that drug dealing scum. That wasn't it. That scum had killed Shannon and Kelly. He deserved to die. What Gibbs did regret was jeopardizing the career he loved and had worked so hard to build up. His team was like his family, and he hated to let them down. Allison was offering him a way out, a way to make it all go away, and all he had to do was come see Holland Manners, Wolfram and Hart, LA branch.
The secretary's sweet voice cut through Gibbs' thoughts.
"Agent Gibbs? You can go in now."
Gibbs surged to his feet, following where she indicated down a tastefully decorated hallway, and through a set of wide office doors.
The office was huge, one wall entirely made of windows looking out on a spectacular LA landscape. At the far end was a massive oak desk, with tidy stacks of papers on its surface. Behind it sat a balding man in an expensive suit who looked up when the door opened.
"Agent Gibbs is it?" he asked with a wide smile, standing to shake Gibbs' hand. "Come in, come in."
"Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Manners," said Gibbs politely.
"When one of the Senior Partners asks us to jump, we ask how high," Manners said mildly. "You have friends in high places, Agent Gibbs. Higher than you know." His voice was still pleasant, but his eyes had a haunted quality.
Gibbs was suddenly very uncomfortable.
"I was told you could help me," he said, desperate to break the moment.
Holland Manners snapped back to the task at hand.
"Of course. We can help anyone. I've reviewed your file and I believe that Wolfram and Hart can take care of your little problem."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"Of course," continued Manners, with a glint in his eye, "Everything comes with a price."
"I have some money saved," Gibbs assured Manners. He had expected this. High end law firms came with high end prices. "Quite a lot of money, actually."
Manners shook his head.
"We're not interested in your money, Agent Gibbs. We at Wolfram and Hart deal in more … abstract… things."
Gibbs frowned. Why did it feel like he was being played?
"What are you getting at?" He growled. "Be straight with me."
Manners gave Gibbs his most unassuming smile.
"Alright, Agent Gibbs, as you wish. What you're asking us to do is make a murder charge go away. A murder that you are most certainly guilty of. While that is well within our power to do, Wolfram and Hart being a full-service law firm, there is something we're much more interested in than your money. Tell me, Agent Gibbs, what is this charge work to you? What are you willing to give to make it go away?"
Manners' eyes glittered menacingly in his unassuming face. Gibbs was now very uncomfortable indeed.
"I won't do anything illegal," he said. "I'm an officer of the law."
"And yet you killed a man," commented Manners pointedly.
Gibbs scowled darkly.
"He killed my wife and child," he growled.
Manners held up his hand.
"I'm not here to judge you, Agent Gibbs, and I'm not there to antagonize you. But the fact remains that you can't get something for nothing."
"What do you want, if not my money?"
Manners' smile became very large.
"Let's just say, we scratch your back and some day you scratch ours? Wolfram and Hart likes to have friends in every branch of the government, including the Navy. Our last representative met an unfortunate end, and we're looking for a replacement. We were most sorry to hear about Ms. Lee's death."
Gibbs became very still.
"She was a lovely girl," said Manners sadly. "And she loved her daughter very much."
"I won't do anything illegal," repeated Gibbs. "I won't betray anybody."
"What do you value more, Agent Gibbs," asked Manners. "Your integrity or your reputation?"
"You're asking me to sell my soul," he whispered.
"In a manner of speaking," agreed Manners with a touch of humour. "That's exactly what we're asking you to do."
Gibbs closed his eyes, trying to quiet his swirling thoughts. The murder he had committed so long ago was threatening to ruin his life, everything he had worked so hard for. And Wolfram and Hart was offering to make it go away, like it had never happened. But at what price? Had Allison known that he would be offered such a choice?
"Agent Gibbs?" broke in Manners' mild voice. "Would you like a moment to think about it?"
Did he want a moment to think about it? Was he actually considering selling his soul to get out of this murder charge? What would this agreement with Wolfram and Hart force him to do?
Michelle Lee's face flashed through his mind, her eyes wide with fear and betrayal. She had made a deal with the devil, and paid the price for it. Would the same happen for him?
Gibbs opened his eyes.
"No, Mr. Manners, I don't think I need time to think about it."
Manners smiled beatifically. He picked up a pen, and signed a document with a flourish, and pushed it towards Gibbs.
"Sign here please, Agent Gibbs. I think this is the start of a wonderful partnership."
Gibbs stared down at the paper in front of him, the words blurred together on the page. Then, he smiled, shaking his head.
"It was nice meeting you, Mr. Manners," he said.
Then, he got up and walked out of the office.
Manners stared at the door as it closed. He shook his head with a rueful smile, and then picked up the phone and dialed.
"Good afternoon. This is Holland Manners."
"Did he come?"
"Yes, he came." Manners chuckled. "You were right. He's a stubborn man. But he wanted it straight, so I gave it to him straight."
"And was I right?"
"Yes, you were right. He refused the offer. I tried my best, but his integrity won out in the end. He asked if I was asking him to sell his soul." Manners chuckled.
"I said no immortal-soul contracts!" hissed the voice on the other end of the line.
Manners stopped laughing abruptly.
"I didn't actually have an immortal-soul contract, Ma'am. You asked me not to."
"That's right, Mr. Manners, and I expect my orders to be obeyed to the letter. Agent Gibbs is a special case."
"Yes, Ma'am," Manners swallowed convulsively.
The voice at the other end of the line sighed.
"Please send the paperwork back to me."
"I'll send it over right away, Ms. Hart."
A sly quality crept into Allison's voice.
"Mr. Manners, would you be so kind as to inform my father of your failure to recruit Agent Gibbs?"
"Me, Ms. Hart?"
HHHis face drained of all colour. Allison Hart was indeed a force to be reckoned with.
"I'm sure you're able to do so," she said sweetly.
"Of course, Ms. Hart," whispered Manners, "I'll inform the Senior Partners."