AN: Work in progress… risky to begin when I've not quite worked everything out… but the eternal procrastinator thought it would be better to start, then my conscience would make me finish.
Will involve many of my OCs from other stories… just to see if I can do it!
Prime Real Estate
"Can't believe we got out while the sun's still shining," Tim said cheerfully, looking round for a table outside the coffee bar.
"Well, either Gibbs has got a hot date, or he agrees that we've all worked hard enough," Tony replied just as cheerfully. "Cuz we have."
"It's no fun living out of your overnight bag," the younger agent went on with feeling. "But I really feel in need of a shot of caffeine before I try to drive home."
"And the Gremlin's wedding may be months away, but we ought to start thinking now."
"Oh yeah… but it depends what you're thinking about, Tony," Tim said warily. "He –"
"Don't worry, McConscience... I'm getting too old for fratty pranks." He sighed. "After this week I feel too old. Way too old. Anyway, Jimmy's a friend." Tim gave him a look that said 'When's that ever stopped you?', and he grinned easily back. He spotted a table and started towards it, but Tim called him back.
"Tony… wait a minute…" There was something urgent in the other man's tone, and he turned back to him. Tim's eyes were on a figure hunched at the table furthest into the corner. "Look, d'you mind if Jimmy's plans wait for another day?"
"No… course not, but what…" He looked more closely at the man at the end table. "Oh – Ollie Lasz, isn't it? He doesn't look too good."
"No… I don't think he is." Tim started towards him. Something in his tone worried Tony.
"Jinny? Are things worse?"
Tim winced at the question, feeling a bit guilty. He'd got on well with the young police officer from Kath Wigg's team when they'd worked together on the Frandsen case, and had kept in touch with him in an understated way since the incident that had caused such pain in his life, knowing that he'd need all the support he could get.
"I don't know… I've not spoken to him in a week… we've been so busy…"
He recalled the day, six months ago, that Ollie had told him Jeanette Cadogan had left the team.
"But you need a computer expert, Ol…every team does these days!"
Ollie had grinned. "Sure… and we won't lose her services, we just have to share her with Craig Hyams' team now. The important thing is she won't be coming into the field with us any more."
"But why –" The light-bulb snapped on above his head. "You and Jeanette…"
"That's right." Ollie laughed. "We'd been sneaking around… soon as we realised this was serious, we told Kath. It wouldn't have been fair not to. We all sat down and figured out what to do for the team's sake, and it worked out fine. I er… I asked her to marry me yesterday. She said yes."
Tim had been delighted for his friend, and promised to attend the wedding. It was only three weeks later that he'd heard the dreadful news. Ollie had been raging down the phone.
"I should have been with her. I should have protected her… I should never have let her leave the team…"
Jeanette's car had been rammed during a chase, and sandwiched between a wall and the big four-by-four that had taken her out. She was alive but critical, her legs shattered and perhaps beyond repair; even if they saved them, the doctor told him, she' be in for a world of pain… maybe best to – Ollie had almost screamed his refusal at them.
"That's a decision for her. You damn well fight for her, and don't write her off, you don't know her…"
So, she'd kept her mangled legs, and told Ollie he was right as soon as she was conscious enough to speak, but the doctor had been right too. Her fiancé had stayed beside her through nights of agony, smothering down his own pain at seeing hers, suffering every inch of the way with her, while Kath and Roy Fordham had carried on without them, implacably, until they got the men responsible..
"You won't want me now I'm like this."
That had come from left field, in the middle of one long vigil, and taken his breath away. Tim remembered how close to tears the other man had been when he told him.
"I'll prove you're wrong on that, Hon."
The result had been that the two cops had married in the hospital chapel, as soon as Jeanette was well enough to sit in a wheelchair, just so that Ollie could show her how wrong she was.
"We'll have a big church blessing, with all our friends and relations, as soon as you're ready to walk down the aisle," he'd told her, "and you will be."
Tim had been happy when he'd heard that Jinny was out of hospital, and making good progress, but was regretting now that he'd given the couple space. Ollie looked as if he could use a friend.
He looked up as the two agents approached. "Tim… DiNozzo, hi."
The SFA went for humour as best he could. "Tony," he said, "I sure as hell don't want to go round calling you Lash." It was the way he'd heard the Polish surname pronounced, and suspected it was the best approximation to be had, much like DiNoezo.
The corners of the detective's mouth turned up, but it was an effort. "Tony," he said agreeably, waving a hand, inviting them to sit. "So… what brings you guys down here in the middle of the afternoon?"
"Time off for good behaviour," Tim told him. "We've worked six days non-stop." He hesitated, then added tentatively, "You?"
Ollie Lasz sighed. "Killing time," he said. "I took Jinny for her physio… she doesn't like me to stay. She doesn't like me to watch while they hurt her."
The two agents nodded their understanding, and simply waited, watching seriously. It was all it took.
"She is getting better," Ollie said intensely. "She just doesn't think she is. I say things to her like, 'But remember this time last week, you couldn't even bend your knees without crying. It's not hurting you quite so much,' and she just counters it with 'How the hell do you know? They're not your knees.' The physios want her to wear callipers and try standing up, and she won't have any of it. I don't blame her… if she doesn't feel ready… she may not believe me but I'm ready to give it all the time it takes and never push, but she just says that she'll never walk again, that she'll never be out of the chair, and that's not true. Or… it doesn't have to be."
"Is that you or the doctors talking?" Tim asked as gently as he could. Oliver bristled for a moment, but realised the question wasn't sarcastic. He slapped himself inside… McGee wouldn't be like that.
"The doctors, actually," he said, calming down, and waited until the waitress had taken the two agents' orders. Tony dealt with that so that Tim could watch his friend, ordering the cop another latte since the one he had looked cold, played with and unpalatable. When she'd gone, Ollie went on. "The original guy was wrong… well, he was right about the pain, but about how to repair it… he didn't know enough. If it had been left to him…" he shuddered. "Kath went marching to the Chief himself, and demanded that he brought in the best there was, and he didn't hesitate."
"That's the Kath we know and love," Tony murmured approvingly.
Ollie grinned briefly. "Sure is. This guy from New York came down, looked at everything, told Jinny exactly what he was going to do, and said that at the end of it, she'd have two working legs, strong enough to walk on. She had two surgeries on her left leg, and three on the right, which was the worst hurt. The pieces of bone were screwed to a steel bar on the outside of her leg, and the screws were adjusted regularly to keep the bone healing in a straight line. I don't know how the poor kid bore it. It was hideous just to look at!"
The two agents sat holding their breath. Nothing would have persuaded them to interrupt.
"Ten days ago, the screws were removed, and I know that was one of the best days I can ever remember. You could see the pain levels coming down… even Jinny was looking on the bright side. But… it didn't go away completely… I mean, we couldn't expect that it would – and then the physiotherapy started, and that was a new kind of hell. It's all just knocked her confidence sideways…"
The waitress came back with their order, and would have flirted with two of her favourite regulars, but she could see that this time, it wasn't a good idea. She smiled sympathetically, and hurried away.
Ollie poured sugar into his latte and fiddled with the spoon. "You know what's worst?"
They shook their heads. "Tell us," Tim encouraged him.
The young cop put his elbows on the table and clenched his hands together. "It's not the fact that she yells at me all the time, then cries because she's treating me badly. I told her I'm here for life and she can do whatever she needs to get better. But it's taken the lovely girl I knew and ripped her apart… The IT practical joker, the girl who could pick out the one salient fact from a six foot high pile of technological bum-fodder… the girl who was brave enough to go undercover at the drop of a flak vest… who laughed and giggled and was never at a loss for the right thing to do or say… she was the whole team's go-to girl if we had problems… she was warm, and sunny, and vital… I still love her, I always will, and I can wait as long as it takes – but will I ever get my real Jinny back?"
He sat up with a jerk, and his coffee went flying. Tony and Tim grabbed hastily for napkins, and mopped away until the waitress came over to do it properly. Ollie sat watching helplessly, unable to stir himself to help, apologising vaguely until it was all cleared. There was an awkward silence, until the two agents both spoke at once.
"There must be –" from Tony.
"Is there anything we can do?" from Tim.
The waitress brought another latte, and walked away with a wink before anyone could put a hand in a pocket. It covered up Ollie's hesitation.
"Well… actually… there is."
Which was how Tim found himself a passenger in Oliver Lasz's car the next morning, heading out towards Harper's Ferry, while Tony stood uncertainly outside Ollie's small house in Alexandria, watching them disappear.
"So, tell me more about this place we're heading to," Tim said curiously.
"Well, it's like I said, I think Jeanette would feel a bit better if she had something to do. This is just the latest in a long line of ideas I've had, all of which she's resisted. Which is why she wouldn't come. The company we're heading for makes one-off, made-to measure furniture for disabled people. Jinny says that I'm labelling her as disabled by buying her a wheelchair-friendly desk, and I can't argue back that she's the one who thinks she'll never get out of the contraption."
"Ouch," Tim said. "I don't suppose you can. Must hurt though."
"I'll be her target any time if it'll help," Ollie told him. "I'll get through to her in the end, Tim." He spoke with such conviction his friend couldn't help but believe him, and admire him.
"So… you need me to sit at the desk…"
"You know your way round computers; you know what Jinny's got cuz I've told you… I want you to sit in this old wheelchair they've got there, and visualise the stuff set out on this desk I've ordered, to see if it's going to work – cuz you can bet your cordless mouse that she'll try to find things wrong with it." He sighed. "It's just the way she is right now…"
"Mmm… I can think of a few more tempting bits of kit she might like in her home office… I can imagine them in place too if you like… I could get them, set the whole thing up for her…"
"Aah… you're a pal, Mr. McGee."
They were still talking round the situation when their destination came in sight. Tim thought it was a curious sight; a building that had clearly begun as one small structure, and had another bit added, and another, and yet another, and not one of them related to the others in size or design. Visually, it was a mess, and just to highlight its incongruity, it stood on a low hill, easily visible above the completely flat land all around it. The road to it was raised on an embankment across the flat land, and Tim couldn't see the reason for that until he realised that the hill had once been an island. He recalled passing what looked like a pumping station a few miles back, and concluded that they were on a causeway that had once crossed a marsh.
Ollie smiled. Tim really did have this 'Eureka!' expression ; it came, he supposed, of having an open, honest face. Well, cops encountered too many closed, furtive or deceitful faces, he thought, so appreciate it.
"Figured it out, then?" he asked. Tim nodded, and they got out of the car. They stood looking round as he went on, "Yep, this used to be a swamp… the land was drained as part of a scheme to carry ground water away from the industrial area a couple of miles north… turns out they then found they had prime real estate type land. Or would have, but for this little wart right in the middle."
There was something about Ollie's tone that raised Tim's eyebrows, and he shot a look at his friend. "I'll tell you later," the cop said, "If Caroline doesn't tell you first." They went inside.
The small reception area had one desk, with a young woman working there. Her badge said her name was Emma. She looked up.
"Hello, Mr. Lasz," she said, and rose to meet them. "Caroline's expecting you." A middle-aged man came out of a side door at that moment, carrying a tray full of folders, and Emma called to him. "Sandy, will you take Mr. Lasz to Caroline please? She's in the break room."
The man stopped and looked at them, flashed a shy smile then averted his eyes and twisted his head away. "Kay…" he said in a soft mumble, and Ollie followed him without hesitation. They came to another door, and Sandy pointed at it. Twisting his head away again he said "There…", and went on his way.
Ollie said softly, with his hand on the doorknob, "Out of the staff of thirty, half are disabled in some way, and Caroline protects them like a tigress." He pushed the door open.
Caroline Yorke stood at the coffee machine. "Hello, Ollie," she said, and gestured with the glass jug in her hand "My third this morning… d'you think I'm an addict? Would you like some? And your friend? You must be Tim…"
She was around fifty, of below average height, and wore four inch high black patent pumps to compensate. Her platinum blonde hair was swept up into a neat chignon on her crown, and her trim figure spoke of very good luck or iron self-control. A grey Bluesuits two-piece and a crisp white blouse completed the ensemble; she was the epitome of power-dressed business woman – which was her intention. She shook hands with both men, poured their coffee, and gestured, this time with her mug, at a tv monitor hanging from the ceiling in the corner. The view was of the causeway.
"It's a good job I recognised you, Ollie," she said, wryly. "Did you know bloody Ackerman drives a Tahoe too? Grey… black… I'm not sure… but like yours. I was about ready to fetch the shotgun."
"He's been back has he?"
"Not this week… I figured I was about due to be honoured by his presence again. After a digger over near the ferry 'accidentally' severed our power cable… we were ready for it – we ran on the generators until they repaired it."
By now Tim could see there was a story to tell, and was bursting with curiosity. Caroline looked at him. "Ollie's not told you about us, then? Come, first things first. Let's show you this desk, then if you're interested we'll tell you the whole tale."
Back in Alexandria, Tony had watched the rear end of the car growing smaller, with great trepidation. He shook himself; he'd volunteered to do this after all. "The front door's not locked," Ollie had told him, and he took a deep breath and pushed it open.
He called out Jinny's name to let her know he was here, and heard her call back, "In here." He followed the voice into the living room, and found her sitting in a tall wing chair, the sort favoured by people with bad backs who found them easier to get up from, by the window.
He tried not to seem as if he were looking her over, but good as he knew he was at dissembling, he doubted he was concealing things too well right now. Jeanette Lasz's skin was drawn tightly over her cheekbones, her eyes sunken into her head. She was as thin as a coat rail, and the lines of pain were deeply set into her face. Her hands were folded primly in her lap, and she endured his attempts not to stare with stoicism.
"You took your sweet time plucking up the courage to come in," she said bluntly. "Er… I mean, hello, DiNozzo… so you're my babysitter then?"
AN: Not much action yet, but it'll come…