The Cyber Mole's Lair
written as: an NFA Haiti Relief auction fic
rating: K plus
characters: Tim, Keating, others
prompt: The purchaser asked for a Tim-centric team story, involving suspicion laid on Keating. At least, that's where it starts…
spoiler warning: for events in season six
Author's note: For the purpose of this story, I've taken a few liberties and expanded upon the character of Daniel Keating. So no, it doesn't say anywhere on the show what his eating habits, cultural tastes, etc. are. I've made those up...to suit a character I didn't particularly like. Is he bad or good? Read and decide...
disclaimer: I woke up and found that I still owned nothing of NCIS.
"Keating's entering building #22."
"He must be headed for the food court. Stay on him, Tony. This is our best opportunity." Gibbs looked out the van window. It was parked just up the street from the multi-purpose building that was the lunchtime destination of many Navy Yard workers.
"He's rumored to be a vegetarian. I'm not. If I get a cheeseburger, will that scare him off?"
"Don't scare him off," Gibbs growled, and ignored Tim's pained look.
The young agent sat in the unmarked van's driver's seat. He was conflicted: he should have been the one to talk to agent Daniel Keating, as a peer: he knew him best. Tim, however, had expressed his doubts, over and over, about being able to gain Keating's confidence. Not after all the irritation Keating had caused him after the latter's return to the squad room following the reunion of Gibbs' team. Keating wasn't a bad person, most likely. He was simply an annoying one; one who'd gotten on Tim's wrong side by rearranging everything on Tim's desk and in his computer, and then not bothering to try to set any of it back to the way it had been.
No, Keating wasn't a bad person.
But there must be something bad about him…otherwise Vance wouldn't have ordered Gibbs' team to cozy up to him. The sole person left alive of the new "team" that Vance had cobbled together for Gibbs, now almost two years ago, there was something about Keating that raised Vance's suspicions even at this late date. Solidly back in his old place in Cybercrimes, Keating seemed bland enough…but in the last four months, there had started to be irregularities in the data files. Keating's supervisor, Agent Cary Johnstone, had reported his concerns to Vance. Johnstone hadn't known who in his department was at fault…but Vance's gut told him to be wary of Keating.
Now Vance hoped that someone on Gibbs' team could befriend the nerdy loner, and find out what, if anything, he was up to.
So of course, everyone assumed that Tim would be the perfect one for the assignment. But Gibbs had misgivings. "You bristle every time your path crosses his," Gibbs had said to Tim in that conference in Vance's office last week. "Don't you think he's become aware of that? It would take a helluva lot for him to trust you, for any reason, right now."
Tim remembered his embarrassment at that. But it was true. He disliked Keating, plain and simple. And he knew that it would take a much better actor than he was to cover that up and make Keating warm up to him. Ziva might be able to do it, if she could approach it on a romantic end…although such an attraction seemed far-fetched. That left Tony, the chameleon, who could no more speak Geek than Greek, but who could charm a slide rule into becoming a calculator. Tony grinned and was willing. "You don't have to be a genius to mess with the mind of a genius, Probie," he'd said.
Doubtful, Tim only frowned at him. He could see doubt on the faces of Ziva, Gibbs, Vance, and Johnstone, as well. Everyone had expected that he'd be the one to get chummy with Keating.
I refuse to let them make me feel guilty, Tim thought as he sat in the van, trying to assure himself of this. It's better this way. Even if Tony does slip up, it would come about long after I would have. Keating would have 'made' me within five minutes.
"Keating. Hey," Tony's voice came through the van's audio system. He sounded neither welcoming nor hostile; just matter-of-fact.
"Hey, wasn't the Chick-fil-A supposed to open by now? I came over here, looking for a chicken-on-a-pickle sandwich."
"I don't know. I don't eat chicken."
"Ah. What's good here at the court, then?"
"Well, I usually get a wrap or a salad. I'm fond of beans…"
The conversation went on. Tim half tuned it out, and let Ziva monitor the recording. She had become talented at that.
Tim settled back in his seat, feeling useless.
Tony's lunch encounter with Keating was deemed a minor success. There was no information on any wrongdoing yet, but they hadn't expected it this early. Tony had gained Keating's confidence; that was all they'd hoped for today.
"So what is your next move?" asked Ziva, as the team (including Tony) drove off base for the nearest Chick-fil-A restaurant, at Tony's request. "Do you call him; invite him out to lunch again?" she teased.
He growled at her. "I still don't like the weasel. And not just because he's a geek. No offense, McGee."
Vance summoned the team, plus Johnstone, back to his office. Tony gave a rundown of his activities, and ended with, "I haven't typed up my report yet, but…"
"Don't," said Vance. "For all we know, Keating has made plans to protect himself. He may have sniffers planted on the agency computers to notify him if his name comes up anywhere."
"Could you find a program that does…that, McGee?" Gibbs asked.
"Maybe," said Tim. "Maybe not, without a lot of time, if he's hidden it really well, and maybe back-routed it to his home PC. Or elsewhere."
"Keating doesn't have authority to work from home," Johnstone bristled. "He shouldn't have access to our computer system from outside NCIS. No one in CyberCrimes should, other than myself."
"We're just conjecturing," said Vance. "We haven't proven anything yet."
"So…if we cannot type in his name, do we have to write all the reports on paper?" asked Ziva. "How would we ever reference them?"
"We can't use the name 'Keating'," Vance grimaced. "For purposes of this investigation, we'll refer to him as Lloyd Jonathan Welks. Remember that name, but be advised we may change it. And then change it again, as needed."
"Like a password," Tony nodded. "But what if he's suspecting that, and is following the MCRT's case reports?"
"I don't think he'd be that suspicious yet," said Vance, worrying a toothpick. "He still has his own job to do. Getting into your files would noticeably take time away from his work."
"We could encrypt our files," Tim suggested.
"I think that would send up a flag to Keating, since nothing else your team has done has been encrypted beyond the normal," said Johnstone. "I agree with Director Vance that Keating is likely not a frequent reader of the MCRT reports, but that doesn't mean he might not peek at what you're doing, now and then, when he has an off moment. He was part of Agent Gibbs' team for a few months, after all, and has sufficient security clearance that we wouldn't necessarily frown on that."
"Okay," said Gibbs, looking at the note he'd just written to himself. "Business as usual…with Mr. Welks."
Tony "ran into" Keating the following day (having been alerted by Johnstone that Keating was going out for a breath of air on his morning break) and chatted pleasantries. They both liked some of the same movies. Tony carefully kept his tongue in check when he discovered that Keating's main interest was in dour, tragic, artsy foreign films.
"Where does it go from here?" Tony asked his team awhile later, while Ziva transcribed the contents of the wired recording. "I think I'm fast running out of things we might have in common. There's no way I can talk with him about computers…not even to get him to fix mine, if it needed it; he knows that's the only reason I keep McGigabite on the team." He ignored Tim's sour look.
They were in one of the third floor conference rooms—minus Vance and Johnstone, who were busy elsewhere. "I think you're right, Tony," said Gibbs. "Any more attempts, at least right now, and Keating will probably have 'made' you. We need another approach."
Tim felt dread at what seemed to be the inevitable. I can't do it. Keating must know how much I hate him. He'd never trust me.
Slowly, he raised his hand.
They waited three days before making the next move, so Keating wouldn't feel "crowded." Johnstone was their "mole" in CyberCrimes, reporting on Keating's moves…which were all unremarkable. Keating liked to stretch out and put his feet up on a spare chair when he thought no one was watching him. He had a habit of tugging at his necktie…often. He usually worked with his suit jacket off (despite everyone else's claims that the subbasement area was cold enough to set ice cubes). He squinted a lot. He drank Pepsi, and nothing but Pepsi. He had a fascination for blonde women. He tied rubber bands together in long strings.
In the meantime, Tim did a remote scan of Keating's work computer, using one of the IT department's accounts for extra security. Nothing unusual turned up. Still, Tim was sure that there was something to be found, and he was just not looking in the right place.
What was Keating up to? If he was a mole, he was probably selling secrets to someone. Yet there was no noticeable change in his lifestyle in his four years at NCIS. He was driving the same car he'd had for five years, lived at the same address, and dressed the same. Any extra money he might be getting was just sitting around, earning interest in some account that Tim couldn't trace to him. The alternative was that Keating himself was a spy…but that was too hard to believe. Keating, assuming another identity? He was a favored hand at NCIS after-hours poker games because he'd never been able to cultivate a poker face.
It didn't square. But that made it all the more likely, Tim thought, that Keating was at the bottom of something very twisted and unlawful.
Curious beyond all belief now, Tim wished, for the first time, that he really could get close enough to snoop around Keating's life, and try to gain his confidence…but it was not to be. Despite his offer of three days ago (when he was still considering it a sacrifice), Gibbs and Vance had selected Ziva to be the next one to try. Tim was still deemed to be not good enough of an actor, and was likely to let his animosity come through. Ziva, on the other hand, had uncovered the fact that Keating liked the ballet…as she did. That would give her a conversational foot in the door. She would find a way to arrange an encounter over the performance in the Kennedy Center this coming weekend.
Oh, well; they're probably right. I'd be sure to blow a mission like this. But still, he would have liked to have tried it…
Tim was working late that night, alone. Keating had worked at the National Security Agency before coming to NCIS. Tim wasn't about to go hacking there, but the idea of Keating there gave him a lot of thought. He'd been a cryptographer in training, and allegedly had enjoyed the work but didn't find it exciting enough. That was according to his NCIS application (courtesy Vance, who'd given Tim a paper copy). Interesting that someone who wanted more excitement would settle for a desk job instead of trying harder to work in the field, at least now and then. (Gibbs had said that Keating was barely passable as a field agent.) It was as if Keating was biding his time, willing to sit at a desk in a too-cold part of the building, in exchange for…what? For whom?
Still, there was no doubt in Tim's mind that Keating had to be guilty of something.
Tim almost jumped out of his skin. He'd had the squad room, the lights dimmed for evening, all to himself since the night shift team had gone out on a case half an hour ago. "Keating! What are you doing here?"
The other man shrugged, and ran a hand through his sandy hair. "Putting in a little overtime. I need to build up extra hours 'cause I want to take off four weeks this summer and go to New Zealand."
That was probably the most words Tim had ever heard Keating speak at once, at least to him. "That sounds nice," Tim commented.
"But I don't think it's going to happen," Keating said, and he looked worried. "McGee, I think I'm in really big trouble."