The NCIS van pulled up to the vacant lot in the somewhat industrial neighborhood of the Washington suburb. The team got out, gazing around with curiosity at the environs and the yellow crime scene tape strung on the chain link fence that blocked the lot off from the street. A uniformed D.C. cop stood guard at the broken gate, although the deserted street offered no passerbys to deflect. Gibbs walked up to the officer and introduced himself.
"Agent Gibbs, NCIS," he said as he flashed his badge. "What've we got? Mugging gone wrong?"
"Ah, no, definitely not a mugging." Gibbs raised his eyebrows when the cop failed to elaborate, and the man explained. "You'll have to see for yourself, I don't even want to describe it."
"How'd you identify the victim?"
"Killer did it for us, left the poor sod's military ID lying on his back. As soon as we saw it, we secured the scene and called you guys. It's all yours now." With a wave of his hand, the cop invited them in to see.
Tony, McGee, and Ziva grabbed their gear and followed Gibbs into the lot, ducking under the yellow tape and hurrying in his wake. They stopped short as soon as they saw the scene. They'd seen bodies hacked to pieces or burnt to a crisp. Even unidentified limbs lacked the ability to shock them, but this scene stopped them cold. The evidence of the killer's rage was written clearly in the condition of the corpse and the indignities that had been perpetrated upon it.
"Looks like someone has an anger management problem," Tony said, biting back a chuckle when Gibbs turned to glare at him. "I know, boss, inappropriate." Then he smacked himself on the back of the head. "See, all taken care of, no need for you to even raise a hand."
Gibbs tried, mostly successfully, to keep a smile from quirking the corners of his mouth as he gave his senior agent a punishing glare. Tony's remark had been inappropriate, but it had had the desired effect, lightening the mood enough to break the sick spell cast by the corpse, and Gibbs knew that was entirely deliberate. "Enough gawking, let's get to work. McGee, Ziva - bag and tag. Tony you -"
"- Shoot the scene," Tony said, holding up his camera. "On it, boss."
While his team was occupied, Gibbs stepped over to the body and bent down to examine it. Other than a few superficial cuts, there wasn't a lot of blood, but the body had been beaten so badly that there was no way to tell which blow might actually have killed the man. In fact, broken limbs and swelling from the beating made the corpse barely identifiable as human. The victim lay on his face, stark naked, with his hands bound together but his legs separated. On his back, lying in a puddle of some sticky white substance, was the military ID that identified him as Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Sewell, U.. Protruding from his anus was a short length of what looked like a broken broom handle.
Gibbs stood back up and gazed around speculatively. "What were you doing here?" he asked, not expecting a reply.
"I might be able to answer that, or at least tell you where he was before his killer brought him here," Ziva said, holding up a wallet she had just located among the weeds that grew with abandon in the derelict lot. "There is a register receipt dated last night. From someplace called ... 'Unzipped'"
"Some sort of nightclub?" wondered McGee.
"More likely a sex club, given its name," Gibbs said.
"And it's right around the corner from here," Tony added.
McGee paused in his search of the weeds and looked at Tony. "Please tell me you don't know that because you've been there."
"So what if I have," Tony replied. Gibbs and Ziva raised their eyebrows as McGee continued to gape at him in horror. Tony gave a snort of disgust. "For God's sake, McGullible, we passed it on the way here."
Moments later, McGee crowed in triumph. "Found 'em!"
"Found what?" Gibbs asked. "The murder weapon?"
"No, the victim's clothes," he said as he bent over to look more closely at his discovery. "It seems to be some sort of uniform."
"Navy?" Gibbs asked.
"No, it's not Navy," McGee said uncertainly
"For God's sake, McGee, tell me what it is, not what it isn't."
"It is a sexy uniform," said Ziva, who had joined McGee and was now prodding the discarded pile of clothes with a gloved finger.
Gibbs brow wrinkled in confusion but he let her comment pass. There would be plenty of time later to inspect the outfit, right now he wanted to get the body back to the morgue and find out what Ducky had to say about its condition.
A few hours later, bags of evidence from the lot had been deposited in Abby's lab, where they would keep her occupied for the foreseeable future, and Gibbs was down in the morgue, getting Ducky's preliminary report on the corpse.
"So Duck, do you know what killed him?"
"Well, any one of these blows could have done the job, but if you look at his eyes, you will see many broken capillaries, giving them a bloodshot appearance-"
"Petechiae. So he was strangled?"
"Very good, Jethro, and, yes, I believe that he was strangled with some sort of ligature, perhaps a rope," said Ducky as he indicated the mottled bruising on the body's neck.
"What about the rest of the injuries? Did they happen before or after he was killed?"
"Judging from the amount of swelling, I would say that they happened during the hour prior to his death."
"What about the broomstick?"
"It caused little to no bleeding so I would have to say that that was inserted post mortem."
"Were there any other signs of sexual assault? What about that stuff on his back, was it -"
"Semen? No, I sent a sample down to Abby but I am almost certain it was methyl cellulose. A very versatile compound, it is the main ingredient in many laxatives and it can also be used as a lubricant and a thickener. It is odorless and tasteless and can be found in everything from paint to pudding." Ducky glanced over, saw Gibbs' look of impatience, and quickly moved on to the more pertinent facts. "It is also a favorite of the porn industry when they need to simulate semen, and I believe that was our killer's intention."
"So we're dealing with some sort of psycho sex killer here. One that has a problem with both gays and the Navy."
"Not necessarily. While there are certainly sado-sexual elements in the way the body was posed, the rage that the severe beating implies makes me think that the murderer was actually someone with unresolved homosexual tendencies who was trying to kill his own urges, by proxy as it were."
"And the way he displayed the victim's ID? Does he have a problem with the Navy as well?" Gibbs asked.
"Possibly, or it could be the military in general, or even just authority figures. It could even be Sewell in particular. We won't know until we catch the killer."
"Yeah," agreed Gibbs, "that's the problem with profiles, they don't help much until you catch the guy, and then you don't need them anymore."
Gibbs didn't get the chance to complain any further because his phone rang. He looked at it with annoyance, but when he saw who was calling he answered without hesitation. "Gibbs here ... yes, Director, we're working on it ... nothing yet, but we've only just started going through the evidence ... Director, you don't normally bother with day to day cases, why are you so interested in this one? ... Uh huh ... I'll be up in a moment." Gibbs hung up the phone and looked back at Ducky. "There's still one thing I don't get. This guy was a high ranking officer, older, yes, but still in his prime. How did the killer get around his defenses so easily?"
"That, Jethro, is easy to answer. Our high ranking officer was drunk as a sailor's whore."
"No, just whiskey. Had he lived, he would have needed a cab to get home, since he most assuredly was not legal to drive."
"Thanks, Duck. Keep me informed of anything new you find out." And with that, Gibbs left the morgue.
"So, are we sure Sewell was at that club?" Vance asked, afraid that he already knew the answer.
"Tony showed his picture to the manager, who confirmed that Sewell was there last night," Gibbs answered.
"Thanks to the sensitive nature of this case, we need to wrap this up as soon as possible," said Vance as he skewered Gibbs with his gaze.
"You implying I'd do less than my best?"
"No, no. I'm just thinking about the press. Sooner or later the shit is going to hit the fan no matter how hard we try to keep this under wraps. We've got a high ranking Naval officer killed after leaving a kinky, gay, sex club, not to mention posed in a suggestive way. That would be bad enough by itself but with the current debate over DADT, it's media dynamite. If we can solve it before the story leaks, I think we can minimize the fallout. I just want you to know you're authorized to do whatever is necessary to get results."
"Now those are my kind of instructions," said Gibbs with a feral grin.
"Gibbs," warned Vance, "let's try to stay within the law."
Gibbs smiled again as he headed for the door. "I always do."
"I mean US laws, Gibbs," said Vance in vain as the door swung shut behind his most talented team leader. "US laws, not your own damned rules." Vance sighed. While he trusted Gibbs to get results quickly, he wasn't sure he trusted him not to create a scene while doing so.
In truth, Gibbs was nowhere near as confident about the case as he had led Vance to believe. So far, they had only been able to ascertain that Captain Jonathan Sewell had been seen at Unzipped, a club that catered to gay men with a penchant for role playing and other fetishes, sometime during the evening before he was found dead in. Despite the fact that local police had confirmed that at least two other patrons of the club had been murdered in less than two years, so far their investigation had turned up few leads. The vacant lot had yielded plenty of forensic evidence but since it was a favorite trysting spot for both club goers and the local teens it was doubtful that any of it would be useful. His team had spent the day interviewing the club owner and trying to track down other patrons. Gibbs could only hope that their efforts had turned up something they could use.