AN: Someone once grumbled (gently) at me, for using two very similar girl's names. In that case it had been deliberate… If I'd realised when I wrote 'Raggy' that I'd be doing a Kath story that also included Kate Todd, I'd have called her something else. Winifred, maybe. Kate, Kath… apologies.
Look, I Was THERE…
The young agent wasn't stupid; he wouldn't sit so close to the back of the Navy bus that he was over the rear axle, because he needed to work and not get bounced around and car-sick. He didn't mind using the bus; a newly fledged agent, fresh from FLETC and assigned to NCIS Technical Services Detachment, was at the bottom of the pay pile, and the ride was free. Besides, the vehicle was less than half full today for the hundred-and-twenty-odd mile trip up to DC, he could spread out in his seat and be undisturbed as he rattled away on his lap-top, trying to organise the information he'd been sent by Cyber-crimes at NCIS headquarters.
That was, he would have been undisturbed if Special Agent Marchetti and two friends hadn't decided to sit across the back seat. Dave Marchetti and Ozzie Greenberg were field agents, and the young agent envied them. Their other companion, Cal Rust, was a Metro detective, who'd worked on a case down here with Marchetti that had caused a minor stir, even amongst agents who'd seen everything. They were returning to DC after tying up some loose ends, and they weren't talking offensively loudly, as if they wanted the whole world to hear… but the young agent hunched over his computer couldn't help listening. Actually, wild horses wouldn't have stopped him.
Ozzie wasn't believing the things he'd heard. "Kath Wigg? Is that really a name?"
"Hey," Cal said earnestly, "If you'd met her you wouldn't be taking her name in vain. Which was Wigg, incidentally, and she keeps it as a matter of pride, I think. She was Kaminski next, and then Robey, but I don't think either husband made enough impression on her for her to make the effort to change. Mr. Wigg number three was a good guy, Sergeant Bill Ryder, and he died on duty from a heart attack. Kath wavered about being Ms. Ryder, but in the end, Wigg it always had been, and Wigg it is."
Marchetti took up the description. "She's five feet eleven, says she's thirty-eight if asked, she's actually forty-two, but who'd ask a lady her age anyway? She's er… she's quite a big lady… wears jeans most of the time, and sort of… fills them… and DiNozzo says he saw her knock a guy out cold with one punch."
Ozzie snorted. "Can you believe DiNozzo?"
"Oh, yeah," Marchetti said matter-of-factly, and the young, eavesdropping agent frowned, not even listening to the reasons why you could indeed believe him. There was that name again, that he kept hearing whenever someone told a hair-raising tale. DiNozzo… the guy had more lives than a cat, and more tricks than Penn and Teller, if you were to believe the things people said.
"She likes DiNozzo… they flirt all the time… but I think she has more of a thing with Gibbs," Cal remarked.
"She's a big girl, who punches guys, and Gibbs likes her?" Ozzie was incredulous. The young agent two rows in front frowned again; there was the other name he kept on hearing. The terrifying name of Gibbs…
"Well, DiNozzo didn't actually say so… although he did say that Gibbs smiled at her more in a day than he'd smiled at him in all the time he'd worked for him… but all the guys like Kath. She just has a way with her… Listen… two years ago, she was shot in the back during a raid. I know the doctor told her she wouldn't walk again, I was on guard duty outside her room. I remember precisely what she told the doctor, I never knew ladies knew words like that… but nine months later she was back on duty. Hey, now I'm on her team, and I sure like her."
Marchetti held up an admonishing finger. "You should never judge a book by its cover, Special Agent Greenberg," he said sententiously.
"What's that? One of Gibbs' rules?" Ozzie asked sourly. "OK…" he went on slowly… "So I'll believe she's a helluva gal… but riding on the roof of a semi?"
Marchetti laughed. "Two miles. With DiNozzo. Like we said."
"You're going to have to tell me the whole story, then."
"Fine," Dave Marchetti said. "Be not cynical, young Ozzie, but hearken…"
The eavesdropper's fingers froze over his keypad. In the end he saved what he'd done so far, which wasn't much, angled his head to collect the maximum amount of sound over the rumble of the bus engine, and settled down to listen. Field Agents got all the fun…
By the time Marchetti was a few minutes into the tale, the junior was sighing to himself. How could any of them be so dim? If they'd asked him, he could have told them in three minutes, or less, how the scam they were describing had been carried out. It was an old story, not the first time it had ever happened, and certainly it wouldn't be the last, but military equipment was going missing, and nobody could figure how. All the freight lists for every shipment that left the depot by lorry was exactly accounted for, all the manifests correct; in the end the Master Chief in charge of lading had taken the job on himself, checking each item as it was loaded… and still things were vanishing.
The young agent smiled. He knew he'd hear in a moment that they'd finally discovered that the MCPO had no idea the computer he used as he checked every load wasn't actually connected to anything at all, and as he earnestly entered 'fifty propane cooking stoves', someone else who was connected to the system, was typing in 'twenty five propane cooking stoves'. He lost interest in the explanations of how this was all discovered, as he meditated on the injustice of being sent to chase money trails in the basement at Sicard Street, when he could be out there solving real crimes… he suppressed a sigh, as he certainly didn't want his eavesdropping to be discovered.
"The trouble was," Cal was saying, "that although we knew… in the end… how the stuff was getting out, we'd no idea where it was going. It was ending up in Army surplus stores all over the country, at rock festivals, motor rallies, all over the place." The earwigging junior sighed… did they never think the reverse process was taking place at the other end? As fifty cookers were checked in, only twenty-five were going onto the records… the other twenty-five were going onto a pick-up truck. Any handy computer geek could do it.
"Metro were the first to discover the extent of it when we – Sergeant Wigg's team, that is, arrested a guy who was trying to sell grenade launchers out of the boot of his car. He didn't know how near he was to blowing himself to hell. We tried following the trucks, but nothing ever happened when we did… we weren't able to be subtle –"
Marchetti threw his head back and laughed. "You guys at Metro don't do subtle!"
"Sure we do –"
"You telling me Kath does subtle?"
"Well, no… I guess… So, they either spotted us, or got tipped off. So we joined forces with NCIS, and suddenly, life for us humble plods became infinitely more terrible. We not only had Kath breathing fire, but now we had the male equivalent to contend with, infinitely more terrible, cuz Kath's actually human underneath…"
"Leroy Jethro Gibbs," the two NCIS agents chorused, and the young eavesdropper winced.
"Yeah… the man himself. He and Kath took to each other on sight… hell, they could be soulmates! And with him, not only a smart mouthed ex Secret Service chick, but a full of himself ex cop – I mean, never mind that his boss only communicated in grunts, he set out to compensate – who knew every procedure we mentioned inside out, could out-think us without shutting up to do it, and whose flirting with Kath was so near the knuckle it made us blush…"
"But we still couldn't figure out where the stuff was going," Marchetti took up the story again, and the listener sighed. Like he said…
"Gibbs and Kath put their heads together… almost literally. They stood by the coffee machine; they must have been discussing what to do next, but they looked more like friends talking about the weather."
"I remember that," Cal nodded. "They were kinda… soft with each other, while they were giving the rest of us a hard time. Did you see DiNozzo go looking for them?" As Marchetti shook his head, Cal continued. "He came round the corner, saw them, slammed the brakes on, and back-tracked, grinning all over his face. So just because he didn't say so, doesn't mean he didn't know…"
"I'm not going there…." Marchetti said hastily. "So… picture us all, if you dare: me and Pete Hambro borrowed from Hudson's team to man the surveillance truck; Kath, Cal and Gibbs' team actually staking out the place, when a semi was being loaded. It was the type where the trailer's just a steel frame, with a canvas roof and roll-down sides, you know? The MCPO was pretending he didn't know his keyboard was a fake, Gibbs and Cal were lurking in a tired old Pontiac – with a three litre engine – ready to follow the truck. Kate, the Secret Service girl, she was in the loading bay with MCPO Hawkins, dressed in fatigues and pretending to be a bored squaddie, and Kath and DiNozzo were on the floor above –"
"On the floor?" Ozzie asked, wide eyed.
"Aah… you know what I mean. Up on the second storey, watching the activity in general, and the driver and his two mates in particular. Considering the cargo wasn't ordnance, just useful stuff like tents, and boots, they thought it was overkill to have three guys, all armed with assault rifles."
"How d'you know?"
"How do I know they had rifles?"
"No, how d'you know what DiNozzo and Sergeant Wigg were thinking?"
"Because… as I think I mentioned," Marchetti was very patient, "I was in the truck. We were all wearing throat mikes. We could all hear each other. Which was how we heard DiNozzo moaning about the loading bay canopy blocking their view."
"Aw, damn, this is ridiculous. We'll have to find a better angle."
"Sure, DiNozzo," Kath's voice had purred, "What angle do you suggest?"
"Another window, Kath… in another room. We need to see what's going on under there… don't start!"
"I wasn't going to say a word," Kath's voice had come innocently over the phones in the surveillance truck. So had an irritated growl from Gibbs. Marchetti kept to himself the irrational thought that Gibbs didn't like what he was hearing.
"I can see what's going on," Kate Todd joined in. "They've finished loading. The guy's left the back open and gone to speak to his mate in the cab… how about if I were to –"
"No!" The roar had come from Gibbs and DiNozzo simultaneously.
"Why not? You can follow me, Gibbs… there's a space behind the crates I can hide in. We can find out where they go –"
"Yeah, Kate?" DiNozzo was alarmed as well as exasperated. "Where's your M16? Just in case you hadn't noticed, it'd be your teensy Sig against three of them."
"Special Agent Todd, get back in the loading bay, before he comes back."
"But I can –"
"Kate, will you drop the 'anything men can do I can do better', and get out of there?"
"Too late, Tony."
"Well, I was nearly deafened," Marchetti said cheerfully. "Gibbs was yelling at Todd to get back, and DiNozzo was yelling that she was already shut in the semi trailer, then I heard Gibbs yelling again asking DiNozzo what the hell he thought he was doing…"
"It was kind of a rhetorical question," Cal said cheerfully. "We could both see what he was doing. He'd jumped out of the window, and he was running along the top of the canopy, towards the truck. Which was dodgy enough, but Kath was behind him… I wouldn't have bet on it holding Tony's weight by himself, the guy's six-two and solid… but Kath as well? The whole contraption was bouncing and creaking as they ran, and the semi was starting to move. Well, DiNozzo jumped, and the gap wasn't too big – he got across, and lay on top of the rig, and stuck his hand through one of the canvas loops along the top. The canvas sagged a little under his weight, and I heard him yelling at Todd not to start shooting through the roof at him."
"Guy thinks he's Tarzan," Marchetti added snarkily. He'd had DiNozzo's rebel yell resounding in his phones as the SFA jumped.
"So then what?" Ozzie still looked, and sounded, as if he didn't know whether or not to believe a word.
"Look, I was there," Cal Rust said, seeing the look. "And I can say this, cuz she's my boss, but I'll punch anyone else who's rude enough to mention it, because she's a nice lady… Kath's not as young, or as light as DiNozzo, and the semi was further away, but hell, she had to do the same… I tell you, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, she was hanging off the top of the back frame, legs thrashing, yelling at DiNozzo for keeping her hanging around."
The detective closed his eyes momentarily, picturing it. He didn't realise that two rows further forward, the newbie was doing the same. "So DiNozzo changes direction, because he landed facing forwards, and he's wriggling back towards Kath, at least we guess he is, because by now we can't see the top of the trailer, only Kath hanging off the back, but we can hear what they're saying. Gibbs is trying to keep the car where the rig driver's mirrors can't see it, but not too close, because if Kath falls he'll run her down. He's watching Kath swinging around, and he's gone deathly quiet. Oh, and the truck's picking up speed."
"Dammit, DiNozzo, will you hurry up? Help a lady in trouble, why don'tcha?"
"I'm coming… I'm coming, sergeant boss lady sir… there's nothing to hang on to at the back… "
"DiNozzo, what the hell are you doing?" Kate Todd joined in from somewhere below.
"Using my knife, Kate… I had to make a handhold somehow. Now stay out of it!"
"I could see DiNozzo's head looking over the back rail, and he reached down to grab Kath to pull her up," Cal said, with a grin.
"DiNozzo, get your hand off my ass!"
"Kath, if I take my hand off your ass I give you five seconds before your ass is bouncing off the ass-phalt. I've done it. It hurts. Now come on, work with me here… that's it… good…get your leg up…up, not over…I do the double-entendres round here… now, come on, wriggle towards me… see the loop here? Get your hand through… there, hang on. Kate Todd, I'm going to kill you… Kate? Kate… you still OK down there?"
"You told me to stay out of it!"
"What are you holding on to, DiNozzo?" Kath again.
"Me? Oh… er… oh, yeah, better find another loop… or cut another hole… what the hell…!"
"The hell, DiNozzo, is they've realised something's up. I should hang on tight if I were you."
"Oh. Sure, Boss. Hey, it's getting kind of lively up here…"
"They'd been spotted alright," Detective Rust went on gleefully. "I don't know if they realised someone was on the roof, or if they'd seen us, and they were just snaking to stop us from getting past, but the results must have been the same for the two on the top. They were being thrown about, and they only had those loops to hold on with."
"What happened to my knife?"
"It's still stuck through the canvas, near the back, where you left it."
"Oh, thanks, Kate… whoa… I withdraw the death threat… ya-a-a-ay… Kath… can you reach it?"
"Whatcha gonna do?"
"Cut a hole. Drop you through it. Inside good… on top baaad…"
"Animal Farm? Movies? Now? Oh my Go-o-o-o-d…"
"Just get the knife, Kath."
The young agent shook his head in wonder. He'd thought that the Italian agent's reputed fondness for movies was a wind-up. How did anybody work with a guy like that?
"Well, a lot of huffing and grunting followed," Cal went on. "But even before Kath said 'shit', we'd seen a flash of silver fly down from the roof and bounce off the road. Marchetti said in my earpiece, 'Road block's set up. With chopper. We can't worry about where they're going, we've got to stop this.' Gibbs grunted, which I took to mean agreement, we had to have travelled more than a mile by now, and the trailer was snaking about so badly I thought maybe the driver was deliberately trying to overturn it to block the road."
"Not sure if he could have done it without turning his unit over too," Marchetti said, "but he seemed to be panicking. We hadn't forgotten the rifles either. I'd asked for a helo with cannon. Next thing was, I heard Kath scream. Our reception was getting a bit dodgy on the short range equipment, so I called Cal's cell. He told me the rig was snaking so hard one set of wheels had left the ground at one point, and the overturning threat seemed even more real. And Kath's legs were hanging over the side…"
"Gibbs wasn't the only one who'd gone quiet… there wasn't a peep out of DiNozzo, just the odd gasp or grunt. Kath told me afterwards her hand-hold had torn away, and the only thing stopping her from going over was DiNozzo's one handed grip on the waistband of her jeans. She understood the hard way the consequences of serious injury – which was what she'd have got if she'd hit the road at that speed."
Cal grimaced. "I could see her trying to swing a leg back up… she'd managed it once before, but the semi had been going slowly then, and in a straight line. I could see DiNozzo's hand hanging onto her, and I wondered how the heck he was holding on, with his weight and hers. She just couldn't get back up, and we'd snaked another half mile… I was praying to every principle and power in the universe… and then I saw the helo… it was the meanest, weirdest looking thing I'd ever seen. I looked it up later – it was a Mangusta, all narrow and spiky, and the best thing was, it had two struts sticking out with the biggest, scariest guns underneath. And it was hovering just above and behind a road block of three MP vehicles."
"They won't take that on with M16s," Gibbs had murmured.
"I said something like they'd better not, they'd take out our people as well, and Gibbs simply didn't answer. There wasn't really anything to say."
"I was yelling in his ear to find out what was going on. Pete had started the truck up and we were lumbering after them, and he was yelling at me to tell him what was up. We realised we were back in range when Gibbs suddenly yelled in both our ears to shut the hell up."
"Awful lot of yelling going on," Ozzie observed.
"Well, yeah… the only quiet one was DiNozzo, like I said. Until Gibbs yelled, then everyone was very quiet," Cal agreed.
"So what happened?"
"What didn't? First off, the driver spotted the chopper… and probably had an accident in his pants, judging by the way he hit the brakes. The rig jack-knifed, as you might have expected, the screeching and the smoking tyres were something out of an action movie… you could see the MPs abandoning their vehicles and running for cover. The pilot lifted his aircraft a little higher into the air, but he pointed its nose down so those big bad guns were still aimed right. One good thing was that the rapid decrease in speed pushed Kath up against the side, and took the strain off her arms a bit. I heard DiNozzo swear, and groan with what sure sounded like relief. The rig came to a stop about six feet from the nearest MP Humvee, and I saw Kath finally get a leg back on top of the roof."
"OK, I've got you… come on…"
"Agent Todd! How…"
"Tony gave me the idea. I climbed up on the crates… fell off twice… used my knife to cut a hole and climbed through. It's fine now, Tony… you can let go… DiNozzo… Tony?"
"Turned out he'd locked one hand round the front rail, the other round Kath's pants, and hung on… his shoulder had subluxed as the rig jack-knifed… after a while, he'd passed out from the pain, although he denied it afterwards – with his hands still locked. Todd had to massage his wrists hard to get his fingers to relax again. He wasn't going to let go for anything…"
"Stubborn doesn't cover it," Marchetti agreed. "He takes after Gibbs. It's a wonder the two of them haven't killed each other."
The eavesdropping junior agent frowned to himself in agreement. It sounded like the combination from hell.
"So, is that it?" Ozzie sounded disappointed.
"Not quite," Dave Marchetti said. "The guys piled out of the cab with their hands in the air… the chopper went home. Todd took DiNozzo to the base infirmary to have his shoulder put back, Gibbs and Sergeant Wigg started on the clear-up. Arrests of sneaky store clerks, same at the other end in DC. Lots of tidying up… When Todd and DiNozzo got back from the hospital, they found Kath had fixed for us all to stay in the local motel; it was late and there'd be more to do in the morning. DiNozzo started to argue the point, and then I caught a look between him and his boss, and I expected him to be put in his place, but I swear he smiled. I couldn't figure it…"
"Couldn't you? You obviously weren't out on the second storey landing an hour later."
"My room was up there," Cal said easily. "So was DiNozzo's. He was standing outside his room in a shadowed spot, looking down to ground level. I was going to go inside, but I turned to see what he was looking at. He didn't know I saw… still doesn't. Gibbs was walking with Kath towards her room; he said goodnight as she opened her door, and turned to go. DiNozzo shook his head and looked exasperated, until Kath's hand snaked out and grabbed Gibbs' arm. I swear, as he disappeared into Kath's room, he flashed a grin up at DiNozzo… I know DiNozzo was wearing that smile of his again as he went into his room."
Marchetti nodded thoughtfully. "So, DiNozzo flirted deliberately to cover for Gibbs?"
"Oh, I don't think it was any hardship… for him or Kath… I don't think even Todd realised."
"Still… that's above and beyond, that is. Only a real friend would do … I reckon I can see why they haven't killed each other."
The young agent a few rows in front shook his head and sighed. He'd never understand the convoluted workings of group dynamics. He'd feel so lost in such a situation. He'd hate working on a team like that.
A few pensive minutes later he shook his head sharply. What was he thinking? Just because he was a beginner didn't make him a wimp. Hadn't he joined up with the ambition of becoming a field agent? Didn't they get all the fun? Hadn't what he'd just heard proved it?
Gibbs would growl, DiNozzo would haze, Todd would gently patronize from a 'women are superior' point of view, but so what. He'd do what he did best, and they'd see he had his uses. Tim McGee knew… no chance… but he'd love to work on that team.
AN: Happy New Year everyone!