1.

Rubbing the sleep, or lack of it, from his bloodshot green eyes, Baltimore Detective Anthony DiNozzo made his way through the onlookers to get to the crime scene. There was nothing like yellow tape and flashing blue lights to bring a crowd out. This particular group of nosy locals included hookers, drug dealers, and gang members, as well as some homeless from the area.

"Sorry about pulling you back out, Tony," the heavyweight uniformed officer said while holding the tape up. "I know you just got off-duty a few hours ago."

Tony ducked under the flimsy barricade. "Don't worry about it, Lou. Guess Tidwell is still in a snit about his car."

They walked together toward the refuse-filled alley. Officer Louis Donovan shook his head. "That wasn't your fault, kid. Why don't you tell the Captain that?"

"I doubt that he would believe me even if I did tell him who was behind the soaping, which I wouldn't. I'm already on his hit list, so why should I bring anyone else along to be at his mercy?"

"You're a better man than me, Tony. Sometimes."

A quick grin was Tony's only answer. He nodded toward the alley. "What've we got?"

"Looks like an attempted rape gone bad for the rapist. The intended victim, one Faith Lindsey, managed to kill her attacker before he could complete the act."

Tony stopped at the edge of the crime scene, grimacing at the number of people milling around the body. He whistled shrilly. "Listen up, people! Just because the alleged perp is dead doesn't mean you can mess up the scene. If you don't have business here, clear out!"

Once the sightseeing police officers were gone from the alley, Tony had a clear view of the dead body. He moved closer, frowning at the sight of the uniform. "Damn, a Marine. Has anyone notified NCIS yet?"

"Yeah, I had dispatch do it," Donovan replied. "Right after I called you. They're sending someone over along with their medical examiner, Tony. Seems Doctor Raj is overloaded with work."

"Techs on the way?"

"Yep." Donovan watched Tony's survey of the scene. "You ever work with them before?"

"Who? NCIS?"

"Yeah."

"Not directly. Knew a few guys in Vice who had, said they were better than most of the Feds. Where's the victim?"

"Paramedics took Ms. Lindsey to Baltimore General." Donovan held up his hand. "And before you ask, I sent Jake with her. He'll get her clothes and any further statements she might make."

"Good. What else can you tell me about what happened?"

Donovan referred to his notes. "I had some trouble getting a straight statement from her. Ms. Lindsey was almost hysterical, poor little thing. She said that the Marine grabbed her as she was taking a shortcut to the bus stop. She managed to get loose and hit her assailant with a board. Unfortunately for him, the board was studded with nails."

Tony walked around the dead body. "You called her a 'poor little thing'. Ms. Lindsey isn't big, she's not muscular?"

"Nah, she's hardly bigger than a minute. Barely five foot."

The detective stared down at the body of the six foot, well-trained military man. "Then how did she overpower him? It doesn't make sense. What's wrong with this picture?"

"Good question."

Tony saw a man with salt and pepper hair staring at him with intense blue eyes. He took the new man's measure, including the almost military haircut and posture. "You from NCIS?"

"Special Agent Gibbs. You in charge?"

"For the moment." Tony held his hand out. He shrugged when Gibbs ignored it, the agent's attention on the dead Marine. "Detective Anthony DiNozzo. You can call me Tony."

"Maybe he was drunk or high on something," Donovan said, referring to Tony's earlier question.

"If he was, it'll show on the blood workup." A raised eyebrow and pointed look from DiNozzo has Gibbs introducing the older man directing the placement of the gurney. "This is Doctor Mallard, our medical examiner."

"Dr. Mallard, I understand NCIS will be handling the autopsy," Tony said, nodding pleasantly.

"Yes, your ME asked if I would be willing. I hope you don't mind," Dr. Mallard said while kneeling next to the body.

"Fine with me. Raj is probably busy dealing with the Thompson Street apartment fire victims. Can you state the cause and time of death for our Marine?"

"Tony, I already told you all that," Donovan protested.

"You know it has to be official, Lou." Tony looked back at Mallard. "Doc?"

"Blunt force trauma to the skull is indicated. Something also appears to have penetrated and been ripped free."

"Consistent with a nail-studded board?" Tony crouched down, barely registering the arrival of Baltimore Police Department crime scene technicians.

Mallard's pale blue eyes considered the shape of the wounds, comparing them with the alleged weapon indicated by DiNozzo. "Possibly. I won't know for certain until I have this young man back in autopsy." He probed the dead Marine's skull with his glove-covered fingers. "I can say that it appears that he was hit with extreme force." He used the liver probe, checking the results. "The time of death would be approximately three hours ago."

"That's fairly consistent with our timeline. Thanks, Dr. Mallard. If you could let me know when the autopsy report is ready, I'll come pick it up." He handed Mallard his contact card.

"Of course."

"You don't believe he's guilty," Gibbs said abruptly.

Tony frowned, considering the statement. "I don't know. I just can't put the pieces together. I need to see this woman." He glanced up at the NCIS field agent. "Feel like a road trip?"

"I'll drive. My car."

Tony shrugged. "Sure. Lou, have one of the uniforms drive the sedan back to the station, willya?" He tossed the keys to Donovan, following Gibbs to his car.

Twenty minutes later, Tony was debating on his next move. "As soon as I manage to pry my fingers off the dashboard, I'm going to shoot you. Or throw up. Or both."

"Stop whining, DiNozzo," Gibbs snapped, glaring at the cop.

Tony slowly pulled himself out of the government-issue Taurus, convinced that his fingers would never straighten out. He fell into step with Gibbs, still grumbling about psychotic drivers and generally ignoring the non-verbal attempts to shut him up.

As they approached the emergency department, Tony finally stopped complaining. "Nurse Kathy! How's my favorite caregiver?"

The white-haired nurse at the Intake desk looked up from her computer. "Tony DiNozzo, what are you doing back here? I thought we had an agreement, no more 'accidents or incidents'."

"I'm not a patient this time, sweet lady. I'm here on business. Popeye Doyle and I need to see Faith Lindsey. Paramedics brought her in a while ago."

Nurse Kathy nodded. "Assault and attempted rape."

"That's the one. Is she legit?"

The older woman pursed her lips.

"Kath?"

"She's definitely been attacked. Her injuries are consistent with an attempted assault."

"But?"

"Something is…off. I'll leave it up to you to figure out what." The nurse provided the examination room number and returned to her work.

"Know her well?" Gibbs asked as they walked down the hall.

"Yeah, Nurse Kathy is usually on duty whenever I have to visit here."

"As a patient?"

"Sometimes."

"Seems like most times based on what she said."

"Captain Tidwell would tell you that I'm a bit disaster-prone."

"Popeye Doyle?"

The grin flashed. "Oh, yeah. The French Connection. Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider. Had this kickass car chase scene. One of the best cop movies ever made."

Any comment Gibbs might've made was held as they came to the exam room. A uniformed officer was standing just outside the door. Tony exchanged softly uttered greetings with the young red-haired man.

"She say anything, Jake?"

"Nothing, Tony. Cried for quite a while, refused the rape kit, and basically hasn't said a word since we got here other than answering the doc's questions. Am I free to leave?"

"Yeah, go ahead. Where are her personal effects?"

"Here. I put everything in a paper bag like you taught us." He pointed to a chair slightly hidden behind him.

"Good job, Jake. And here I thought you were sleeping during my class."

"Are you kidding? Not a chance. I want my own gold shield someday. Knowing what to do and what not will help."

"Just hang in there, kid. Someday you'll get one." Tony clapped the earnest young patrolman on the shoulder. He took charge of the evidence, pulling out a pen to initial and put a time on the bag. Once done, he nodded at Jake. "Go on, get back to work before Lou comes looking for you."

"Thanks, Tony." Officer Jake O'Brian left with a cheery wave.

Tony took a deep breath, his face and posture changing to someone a bit bashful and flustered. He slid hesitantly into the hospital room. "Ms. Lindsey?"

The young woman's features were dainty, her wrists small. As Lou had said, she was just a tiny slip of a thing. "Y-yes?"

"I'm so sorry to bother you. I'm Offi…uh, Detective Anthony DiNozzo, Baltimore PD. This is Special Agent Gibbs from NCIS." When he saw her puzzled glance at Gibbs, Tony clarified. "Naval Criminal Investigative Service."

"Oh." She began fidgeting with the thin off-white blanket covering her body.

"I just have a few questions to ask you."

"I…I don't know what I can…it happened so…"

"I know, Faith. May I call you Faith?" Tony's demeanor was gentle, non-threatening. He kept his distance as well, never moving within reach.

"Yes, I suppose so, Detective DiNozzo."

"You can call me Tony, if you want." The detective's smile was charming and a bit rueful. "I haven't been a detective very long. It kinda freaks me out to be called that."

Faith began to relax, smiling tentatively. "Okay, Tony. I don't really… I don't want to talk about it."

"I know this is painful, but I've gotta write up a report of what happened before it can be closed."

"I…I understand."

Gibbs stood back, watching as DiNozzo gently and carefully led the young woman through the events of her day. She revealed that she had been working an extra shift as waitress at Connor's Diner. The detective commiserated with her over being on her feet for such a long day, related how he handled it as a beat cop, and recommended some remedies for relieving the aches and pains.

Just as the increasingly impatient NCIS special agent was about to take over the questioning, DiNozzo got to the alley where the alleged attack occurred.

"You were heading to the bus stop after work?"

"Yes. I always go through the alley. So do others who work in the area."

"During the day?"

Faith rubbed the back of her trembling hand across her swollen and bruised mouth. "I guess. I've never…I don't usually work at night. I was working an extra shift."

"Was anyone else in the alley when you got there?"

"I didn't see anyone. Tony, can't we just drop this? It's over with, I'm okay. I don't want to talk about it."

Tony bent his head slightly forward. "A man died, Faith. A man you said attacked you. That man was a United States Marine. That's why Special Agent Gibbs is here. I mean, if this guy, a decorated Marine, was so vicious as to attack a defenseless woman, there has to be an investigation. His family will have to be told what kind of man he really was."

Her brows drew together in an agonized expression. "His family? He was married?"

Gibbs stepped forward. "Corporal Ramon Gonzalez was his name." He didn't answer the question about Gonzalez's marital status, mostly because he didn't know as yet.

Faith took a shuddery breath, her eyes darting between Gibbs and Tony.

Tony resumed the questioning. "You saw no one when you first stepped into the alley. What happened then?"

"Someone grabbed me from behind." She gestured unconsciously toward her throat.

Tony pulled a small disposable camera from his jacket pocket. "Do you mind if I record your injuries? Just for the case file."

"I suppose so."

Tony had Faith hold open the neck of her hospital gown, taking photographs of the red marks across her throat. "Thank you, Faith. Go on."

"An arm was choking me. I tried to get free, but he was so strong." Faith could hardly lift her voice above a whisper. "He pushed me onto the pavement and…and began pulling at my dress." Tears slid down her face.

"Faith, can you tell me how you got away?"

"I…I don't know."

"Was Gonzalez drunk? Did he seem to be high?"

"I don't know," she wailed. "I don't know!"

"Okay, okay, Faith." Tony moved closer, gently rubbing the sobbing woman's arm. As the sleeve of the gown was pushed up, he noticed a series of finger-shaped bruises on her arm. He tossed the camera to Gibbs. "Just one more picture and we'll leave." Tony put his own hand next to the marks on her upper arm.

Gibbs quickly snapped the photograph, holding onto the camera as Tony carefully put the gown to rights.

"Faith, is there someone I can call for you? A family member or a friend maybe?" Tony asked softly. "They'll need to bring you clothes to leave the hospital in."

"The nurses called my roommate, Stella. She'll be here soon," Faith replied, a slight tremor in her voice. "Stella's bringing something to wear."

Tony wrote her address down in his notebook, handed Faith his card, and explained that he would be contacting her with more questions in a day or so. He nodded toward the door, following Gibbs out into the hallway.

Gibbs silently handed the camera back to the younger man. He saw a muscle quivering at DiNozzo's jaw.

"Damn it." He ran his fingers through his slightly long hair in frustration. "She's lying."

"Not about the attack."

"No, just about who did it."