A/N:- As excited as we were to dip our toes into another collaborative effort, we also had reservations about our ability to deliver a quality story. Although we are extremely like-minded, we have vastly different writing styles.
In true collaborative style, we settled on a compromise – a medium length story with lots of descriptive writing and plenty of dialogue. We are pleased to advise that no hair-pulling, pinching or Chinese burns took place during the writing of this story. We hope you enjoy it ~ Lyn and Laine.
The story is set pre-series when the team consisted of just Tony and Gibbs. For the purpose of this story, we have ignored initial canon in Yankee White where Gibbs and Fornell didn't know each other and have chosen to adhere to the amended canon where Gibbs and Fornell shared the same ex-wife and therefore had known each other prior to Yankee White.
Disclaimer: We do not own the characters mentioned herein and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
The smooth strains of Kenny Chesney's latest hit crooned softly from the speakers, the driver, Corporal Jake Adams, humming discordantly along with the tune as the semi rolled through the night. Beside him, Lance Corporal Brad Henley rolled his eyes as he reached, trying for the third time, to spin the dial and select a more upbeat station.
"Hey, stop that!" Adams complained as he swatted the other man's hand. "I told you, if I'm driving, I choose the music."
"C'mon, man! How can you listen to that?" Henley asked in a disgusted tone.
"Well it beats that punk crap that you play back at the base," Adams taunted grinning widely. "Hey, how many punk-rock musicians does it take to change a light bulb?"
Henley smiled wanly, fully expecting his friend's disparaging remark about his taste in music. "Okay, how many?"
"Two, one to screw in the bulb and the other to smash the old one on his forehead."
"Oh, very droll," Henley stated. "You know, man, a few years back I wanted to be a country singer like your Kenny Chesney."
"Yeah?" Adams replied, his voice dripping in scepticism. "What changed your mind?" `
"I failed the entry exam…there wasn't nearly enough misery in my life and I had way too much self-esteem."
The two friends laughed and teased each other good naturedly as the semi continued to roll along the highway toward Jacksonville North Carolina. They'd already completed 5 hours of the trip and with just 40 minutes left until they reached Camp Lejeune, both men were keen to make their delivery and relax with a good meal and a cold beer.
As they rounded a bend, the powerful sweeping lights of the semi picked up two cars, parked at right angles and blocking the road ahead.
"What the..." Adams swore as he hit the brakes, fighting to keep control of the heavy vehicle.
Eighteen wheels screeched in protest as the semi trailer weaved dangerously once or twice then, with a loud hiss of brakes, shuddered to stop a few yards from the cars.
"Is it an accident?" Henley asked, automatically reaching for the M16 resting on the floor.
Adams peered through the windshield at the scene, noting the steam rising from the hood of one car, its doors flung wide as though the driver had gone for help.
"I don't know, man, but I'm not taking any chances." Grabbing the radio microphone, he called the armed escort vehicle behind and was instructed to remain inside the truck cab.
Three armed Marines leapt from the escort vehicle and slowly approached the two cars, turning in a circular motion and scanning the area for possible ambush. One Marine broke away and looked inside the first car, noting the missing driver and what looked like blood on the seat.
Moving quickly to the second vehicle, he found a man - seemingly unconscious - on the front seat and called for assistance as he felt for a pulse.
"Looks legit, man," Henley commented. "I'll go see if I can help out."
The Lance Corporal opened the passenger side door and started to climb down from the vehicle when all hell broke loose.
A deafening roar that caused a sickening inner ear disturbance followed a blinding flash almost instantaneously. The Marines were sent sprawling on the road, their hands half raised and their faces contorted in pain as a stun grenade exploded amongst them.
Confused and disoriented, the incapacitated men could only stare blindly, their mouths working soundlessly as they struggled to regain their equilibrium. Three heavily armed men in camouflage gear rushed onto the road and disarmed them, restraining their arms behind their backs.
In the cab of the semi, Corporal Adams was protected from the effects of the stun grenade and momentarily hidden from the attackers. He hunched below the console and once again, reached for the radio to call for emergency assistance. As he drew the microphone to his lips, the passenger door was dragged open.
Adams swung his weapon toward the opening as three ear-splitting shots reverberated in the enclosed cabin and searing pain exploded in his chest. His eyes widened in alarm and his weapon slipped harmlessly from his fingers. He placed his hand to his chest, unable to hold back the overwhelming panic as his blood gushed from the fatal wounds. His vision quickly faded and his breathing was reduced to shallow puffs of air. Adams' last thoughts were of his family as he tried to draw a final shuddering breath. The fear in his eyes diminished as he focussed on the ballad playing softly in the background and death quickly took him.
Leaving one man to cover the prone Marines, the man in charge rushed toward the semi and grabbed his other accomplice roughly by the shoulder.
"What the hell happened? I said no shooting!"
"He left me no choice," the accomplice replied. "It was him or me and he was about to radio for help."
"Is he dead?"
"If he's not, he soon will be."
"Find out, then bring our truck around back and help us unload. We're already behind schedule."
The four remaining Marines were hauled unceremoniously to their feet and dragged to the rear of the semi to lie face down as the doors were opened and two of the armed men climbed inside.
They quickly searched the rows of pallets, passing the stores of uniforms, complete USMC survival kits and training aids until they came to a stack of long rectangular crates marked as 'field kits' and pushed into a corner behind the other crates.
The leader raised his weapon and brought the butt down hard against the side panel of one of the crates, smashing and splintering the plywood and exposing the contents. Using his hands, he ripped at the wood until he was able to see more clearly. Inside the crate were dozens of M16A4 assault rifles. He moved to the next crate and repeated the process; it was filled with M4 carbine rifles and USMC Sam-R sniper rifles. The second man prised the lid off another crate that held over 200 Beretta M9 9mm pistols, all on their way to outfit the new recruits at Camp Lejeune.
He straightened up and smiled smugly at his partner, "This is what we came for. Go get the truck."
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs pulled some loose change from his pocket to pay for the coffee then, with a barely perceptible nod at the young woman behind the counter, turned and headed back through the Navy Yard toward the NCIS headquarters building. This mornings team leader's meeting with NCIS Director Morrow did nothing but delay his investigation by another two hours and with every minute, his frustration level had raised exponentially.
He'd needed some coffee to clear his head and as he strode down the pavement, brew in hand; he allowed his mind to wander back over the events that had led to this place and time.
In the past three weeks, the transport of military weapons and stores had twice been ambushed as they were being shipped to various installations on the east coast. Each time, the ambush had been carried out by heavily armed men using stun grenades to over power the armed escort and always in a spot along the route, chosen specifically for its isolation.
After the first ambush, the escorting Marines had been left with no more than a few scrapes and bruises, an almighty headache from the stun grenades and injured pride at being overwhelmed in such a manner. However during the second ambush, the stakes had risen considerably when the driver of the semi, Corporal Jake Adams was shot and killed.
The raiders had known exactly what they were looking for – the majority of cargo on the transports being relatively undisturbed - and had no difficulty locating the weapons that had been cleverly concealed amongst general stores bound for the Base Exchange.
They had also chosen the only two transports to be carrying weapons and given the infrequency of the transports, it was too great a coincidence for it to be dumb luck.
Gibbs' gut had practically screamed 'inside job' and after investigating and clearing the escort personnel, they'd turned their attention to the logistics department at Quantico, it being the common denominator in both shipments.
He and his partner, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, had interviewed the officers in charge but had found no reason to suspect their involvement in the ambushes.
The lack of any concrete leads resulted in their request of all financial and service records of every Supply Administration and Operations specialist based in the Logistics Department at Quantico. Gibbs was well aware that the sheer volume of paperwork could seriously bog down their investigation.
As he entered the bullpen, he expected to find his young partner deeply immersed in paperwork. He felt his blood pressure rise as he noted the service records piled high and untouched on the spare desk and his agent leaning casually against the far partition, smiling beguilingly at a pretty blonde from the secretarial pool.
It was the tone of the voice rather than the volume that caused the blonde secretary to scurry back to her own department but Tony's grin and nonchalant "hey, Boss" did nothing to quell Gibbs' rising bad temper.
"You finished reviewing those service records?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"Finished? There's nearly fifty files there, it'd take me days to finish those files."
"How many have you done?"
"How many? Ah…about that, Boss, I was just about to start them when…"
"Just answer the damn question! How many files have you reviewed?" Gibbs asked, struggling to maintain his temper.
"None," Tony replied. "But I…"
Gibbs carded his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. He and DiNozzo had been working as a two-man team for months now and were both feeling the strain of being overworked and undermanned. But with the Pentagon applying pressure for a fast resolution to this case, it was the worst possible time for Tony to lose his focus.
The lead agent rounded Tony's desk and pulled out the chair.
"Sit," he ordered, not bothering to hide the depth of his anger and frustration.
Once Tony was seated, Gibbs walked to the spare desk and picked up a large number of files, placing them in front of the younger man with a resounding thud.
"You don't move, you don't eat, sleep or even think about where you're taking the blonde for dinner until those files are finished…are we clear?"
"Boss, if I…"
"Special Agent DiNozzo, are we clear?"
Gibbs noted the muscles flexing in his partner's jaw as his face took on a rare seriously pissed off expression.
"Crystal," he ground out between tightly clenched teeth and as Gibbs turned toward his own desk his agent spoke again. "Can I say something now?"
Gibbs nodded his head curtly.
"I had a hunch and ran the list of names through the DMV database, looking for any recently purchased vehicles. If I had suddenly come into some spare cash, that's what I'd spend it on. Anyway, I got three hits - two have Defence Force loans but the third guy…ah…PFC Jordan Roberts, has no record of a loan, inheritance or lottery win. He purchased a new SUV just a few days after the first raid on the weapons transport and according to the car dealer I spoke to, he paid cash. No way he pays cash for a car like that on an E-2 pay grade and with a wife and kid to support."
Gibbs released a long audible breath, reminding himself that it was DiNozzo's ability to think outside the box that often proved to be the difference between a solved case and a cold case.
"Call Quantico…get him in here for questioning," Gibbs replied.
"Already did, he's on his way."
Gibbs nodded brusquely and returned to his own desk, silently regretting his hasty reproof. He noted the slump of the younger man's shoulders as he lifted the files and returned them to the empty desk.
"Tony…" Gibbs said. "Good job."
The two partners held each other's gaze as a wordless apology was offered and accepted.
Special Agent Chris Pacci exited the elevator with a young man by his side and headed for the bullpen. Even if the younger man had not been wearing the service uniform, the ramrod straight posture and severe haircut screamed US Marine. His eyes darted nervously around the building as he trailed behind Pacci and stood at parade rest in front of Tony's desk.
"This is…." Pacci's words were silenced as DiNozzo momentarily held a finger in the air in a "just a moment" gesture.
Rolling his eyes impatiently, Pacci continued. "Hey, I went downstairs to sign in your visitor because you told me that you were at a crucial stage and needed a few more minutes."
A short melody sounded from the cell in Tony's hand, signifying the end of the game and he huffed his displeasure before meeting the other agent's gaze.
"I was at a crucial stage…I've never got past level seven on Tetris before," he sighed. "Looks like I'm not going to any time soon. Thanks for signing him in, Chris, I'll take it from here."
Pacci mumbled under his breath as he made his way back to his own desk and Tony casually appraised the young Marine. "Private First Class Jordan Roberts, I presume," he said.
"Yes, Sir, Special Agent Gibbs," the Marine replied briskly.
"Stand easy, Marine, you don't have to "Sir" me and you really don't have to call me Special Agent Gibbs...that's my boss."
The Marine looked confused. "Excuse me, Sir, my orders were to meet with Special Agent Gibbs."
"Gibbs has been called away, he'll be back directly," Tony explained, rounding his desk and indicating for the Marine to walk with him. "Why don't we get a coffee while we wait? I'm Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo…you can call me Tony."
They had been seated in the interrogation room for fifteen minutes as Roberts sipped his preferred water and frowned at the agent seated across the table. The tip of the man's tongue protruded from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on his Tetris game and his animated exclamations grew louder as he neared the elusive level eight. Roberts waited until the muttered curse and melody sounded again, signalling another failed attempt then he shifted restlessly in his seat and cleared his throat.
"Will Agent Gibbs be long? I really need to be getting back to base."
"Chillax, Jordie…can I call you Jordie?" Tony asked, not waiting for a reply. "If there's one thing I've learned about Gibbs it's that he'll be here when you least expect him. In fact, often he's standing right behind me and I don't even know it until 'whack' he slaps me right in the back of the head." His eyes widened and his face took on a fearful expression. "Tell me he's not standing behind me."
Roberts' frown morphed into an irritated scowl. "No, Sir, no-one's standing behind you," he said, clearing his throat nervously again. "I don't really understand why I'm here, I've done nothing wrong! Aren't you even going to ask me any questions?"
"Me?" Tony asked with mock surprise and then laughed. "Oh no, Gibbs asks all the questions, not me. He's gotta real knack for it. Must be from all those years spent as a DI in the Corps. You know the type, right? I've seen him crack the hardest crims and leave 'em crying like babies. In fact, just last week, Gibbs was questioning this real hard-core special ops guy who we suspected of breaking and entering. By the time he'd finished, the guy had confessed to two murders we didn't even know about. Don't suppose you know anything about Tetris, this level is kicking my ass."
"Ah, no, Sir," Roberts replied quietly as he tried to keep pace with the changing topic of conversation. "Scuttlebutt at the base is that NCIS is investigating the whole Quantico Logistics team and will be questioning every Supply admin and operations specialist."
"See…that's why you never listen to scuttlebutt, Roberts, it can be very misleading."
"So, you're not investigating the Logistics team?"
"Oh, we're definitely investigating the Logistics team but we're only questioning a random number of Supply admin and operations personnel," Tony replied, surreptitiously noting that the Marine's anxiety eased a little.
"Oh…so, how many will you be questioning?"
"Hmmm, let me check on that," Tony said. He opened the file on the desk and ran his finger down a list of names before looking back at the nervous Marine. "Let's see…there's forty-five personnel based in the Logistics department at Quantico, seven were on leave…that leaves thirty-eight. Of those thirty-eight we'll be questioning…oh yeah, that's right…just you."
"Just me?" Roberts said, paling noticeably.
"Hey, relax, Jordie, you have nothing to worry about," Tony said, flashing a bright grin. "Like you said, you haven't done anything wrong!"
Gibbs and NCIS Director, Tom Morrow, stood watching from the other side of the glass. Morrow shook his head as he watched DiNozzo at work, knowing that the affable and easy-going demeanour masked an intensely intuitive mind that, in it's own way, rivalled that of his lead agent and made them such a formidable team.
"He's got him rattled, that's my cue," Gibbs said, as he left the observation room and entered interrogation seconds later.
Thanks to DiNozzo's pre-amble, without too much effort, Gibbs convinced PFC Roberts to give up the details of his involvement in the operation, in exchange for a more lenient charge of aiding and abetting.
Plain and simple, Roberts had needed the money. His daughter was suffering from a chronic and partially debilitating illness and his E-2 salary and his medical benefits package barely covered the costs of expensive tests and specialist bills. The subsequent confinement it had forced upon his wife had placed an unbearable strain on his marriage. Roberts had used the cash to purchase a new vehicle, thinking that the increased mobility would alleviate his wife's stress and allow her some independence.
The young Marine had broken down and confessed to being persuaded, by a friend in his off- base basketball team, to provide the information. The friend, Morne' Botha, had asked Roberts if he wanted to earn some extra dollars and, after some initial hesitation and an assurance that no-one would be hurt, Roberts had agreed.
"It was only supposed to be one time," the Marine said with what looked like genuine remorse. "When they asked me to help them again, I said no but they made some veiled threats against my kid. I couldn't let them hurt her. I swear to you, Agent Gibbs, I never would have agreed if I thought someone would get killed."
Morne's father Jacques Botha ran a small trucking company in Maryland called Road Hog Transport and it was highly likely that the company was fronting something much more sinister. It was imperative that NCIS find out who was behind the raids and more importantly, they needed to know, if and to whom, the weapons were being sold.
One look at his agent and Gibbs knew they were on the same wavelength. They needed someone to get inside that trucking company to find out what was going on - Botha's son was the key and judging by the gleam in his young agent's eyes, Tony was volunteering for the job. With Abby's help they could provide Tony with a false ID – but they needed to enlist PFC Roberts' help with an introduction to Morne' Botha.
"Can't just show up at the depot," Gibbs said. "It's too obvious, they'll never go for it."
"What about the gym?" Tony suggested. "Roberts could introduce me as a friend from outta town and invite me to play some ball – I'll take it from there."
Roberts looked dubious. "I don't know, man, it may be a neighbourhood comp but we play fast and fierce with no quarter given. You wanna impress Morne' Botha, you're really gonna have to know your way around the court. Can you play?"
Gibbs rolled his eyes as Tony flashed his mega-watt grin in reply.
"Can I play?" Tony beamed. "Is the bear a Catholic? Does the Pope -"
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs interjected before the other man could finish the question. "Go see Abby about your ID."
The words barely out of his mouth before the young agent was out the door and sprinting for the forensic labs. Gibbs shook his head; nobody enjoyed undercover assignments like Anthony DiNozzo.
"Sloan…Sloan," Tony said, stroking his imaginary beard as he mulled over Abby's suggestion for an alias. "I like it…simple yet strong. What about a first name?"
"How about Michael?" Abby proposed.
Tony screwed up his handsome face. "Michael…I never really thought I looked like a Michael."
"Are you kidding? You totally look like a Michael!" Abby assured him. "You'd be Michael Sloan, an out of work storeman from Baltimore with quite an impressive rap sheet – even if I do say so myself."
"Whadya give me, Abs?"
"Prior arrests for possession of methamphetamines plus a DUI and a B & E thrown in for good measure," Abby said as she printed the fake drivers licence and admired her handiwork. "Just your average down on your luck sleaze-ball…"
"Sounds about right," Gibbs said entering the room and placing a Caf-Pow on Abby's desk. He plucked the licence from Abby's fingers, held it at an arms length and squinted to read the name. "Michael Sloan…he doesn't look like a Michael."
"That's what I said!" Tony agreed.
"Okay, guys…you're gonna have to trust me on this," Abby replied. She reached over to hold Tony's face in one hand, squeezing his cheeks and causing his lips to pucker. "When I see this adorable face, I think…Michael."
"Whatever floats your boat, Abs," Gibbs quipped, as he watched Tony flexing his jaw to restart the circulation in his face. "You get anything on Jacques Botha?"
"Walk this way my silver fox," Abby replied seductively as she playfully sashayed her way into the main room of the lab.
"Better not, Boss," Tony warned. "You walk that way and you're gonna hurt yourself real bad."
The wolfish smile that lit up Tony's features as he leered covetously at Abby was abruptly countered by a swift slap to the back of the head.
"Shoulda seen that coming," he muttered to himself.
Abby read from the screen of her computer. "Jacques Botha, South African-born businessman who, after arriving in the US in 1992, set up a small trucking company. IRS conducted a random audit in 2000 and reported all personal and company taxes were up to date. If he'd been involved in anything illicit, it's well hidden, he hasn't even had a traffic fine since he arrived…unlike his son, Morne' who was arrested for possession of a small amount of cocaine in 1999, fined $2000 and placed on a good behaviour bond."
"That's it?" Tony asked.
"That's it," Abby confirmed with an apologetic shrug. "I'm waiting to hear back from our Europe and Africa Field Office and Interpol."
"Let me know when you get something," Gibbs said, turning his attention back to Tony. "You know that during the game there'll be no wire, no back-up."
"It's a basketball game, Boss, what can go wrong?" Tony replied, uttering the phrase that always sent Gibbs' gut into a painful clench.
"There's a whole hell of a lot that can go wrong, DiNozzo, and you know it," Gibbs growled. "We know next to nothing about these people and if they even suspect you're an agent, they could kill you before anyone can get to you."
Tony and Abby exchanged a smile.
"Aw that's so sweet, Gibbs, you don't want Tony to get hurt!"
"Damn straight I don't want him getting hurt," Gibbs groused. "Every time he breaks a nail, I get stuck with the paperwork."
"Gee, Gibbs, I can't imagine why some people think you lack simpatico," Tony quipped.
"We can't rely on a game of basketball, we need a back-up plan," Gibbs said. "Something to get you 'in tight' with Botha."
"I was thinking about that, Boss," Tony replied. "Roberts said that after the game they all go to O'Connell's Bar for a few drinks. What if…"
"You don't even know what I'm gonna say!"
"You're gonna suggest that we get Pacci and his pals to stage another bar fight like we did in the Kendall case," Gibbs stated.
"That was a good idea and it worked! Kendall totally accepted me as part of his team after that fight and we cracked that case wide open."
"You also cracked your head wide open!" Gibbs reminded his agent. "By the time we got you out, you needed 8 stitches and had a mild concussion."
"Okay…I admit that I zigged instead of zagged and Pacci really nailed me but he's apologised at least a dozen times. Besides, all that blood helped me cement my cover," Tony pleaded his case. "Come on, Gibbs, this could be our only way in…I promise if I see Pacci during the fight, I'll duck."
Thirty seconds that seemed like hours passed before Gibbs replied.
"Set it up with Pacci," he said. "Tell him if he screws the pooch on this one, the next blood spilled will be his."
"Yes!" Tony said, punching the air in anticipation of the undercover assignment - as he ran for the elevator Gibbs' call halted him mid-stride.
"DiNozzo! Watch your six."
"Al-ways," he replied before disappearing from sight.
Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoyed this first chapter!