Chapter 65: Numbers
On first sight Gray's house, the whole neighborhood, reminded Tony of his boarding school days.
The lawns were immaculate and the houses were elegant, gorgeous old clapboards and tasteful weathered brick, soaring trees lining driveways like valets. Gray's place was a rambling white colonial set well back from the street, shielded from view, just like its neighbors, on a big woodsy lot.
They abandoned the car by the curb and drew their guns, running over thick green grass, easing up porch steps to flank the door.
Ziva looked at him, a silent question, and Tony nodded. She eased her thumb over the latch, pressed gently. The heavy oak shifted a hairsbreadth and stopped. Locked.
She had her picks out a moment later, finessing the pins on the deadbolt. Another moment, a delicate shift in the mechanism of the lock, and she eased her hands away, drew her weapon once again.
He tilted his head at the door - she'd been the one to spot movement - and Ziva gestured to the left. She was leaning forward, focused and fierce, like a sprinter at the start.
"McGee," Tony whispered.
Ten seconds . . . fifteen . . . thirty . . . a minute.
"McGee," he tried again.
Minute fifteen . . . minute thirty . . .
Tony adjusted his stance. If Kort and McGee had run into trouble -
Ziva glanced behind them and then to Tony, back to the door and to Tony again, uneasy.
No Gibbs on the comm. No backup. And now silence from McGee. Tony fought down the hinky feeling clawing up his spine.
They held themselves still, straining to hear movement inside. But Tony only heard the faint purr and fade of a car making its way down the street. He looked back, scanned the trees, saw nothing but a calm, sunny spring day.
Another minute and they would have to scout around -
And then it came.
"Position," McGee whispered.
And Tony said, "Go."
McGee and Kort were supposed to walk from one backyard to another. But there were kids playing basketball in the driveway of the house directly behind Gray's. A man trimming hedges in the one next to that. They ditched the car three houses down, cut through to the backyard and then doubled back, jogging along a wild swath of trees and brush that separated the properties.
In summer it would have been good cover. But there weren't any leaves on the trees now, only dead ones that cracked and slipped underfoot, and twigs that dragged against their clothes, snapping and scraping, ridiculously loud. They were running, breath rasping as McGee first glimpsed the house through the branches. It was a classic, pretty colonial from the front. But the back was expanded, modern, and fitted with a wall of glass.
If the hit squad was good, if anyone in that house had the sense to keep watch, they'd already been spotted. And Gibbs said they were good. The hit team, or the death squad, or whatever they were called. Gibbs said that Gray said they were good.
McGee concentrated on not falling, not slowing down. He scanned the back of the house for movement, hyper aware of every tree he passed, every swell in the ground under his feet, every possible cover.
If the squad was really good there wouldn't be any movement. Wouldn't be a chance for cover. There would just be running, and then nothing. Running, and game over - close now -
They broke through the trees and onto grass, totally exposed, moving hard over the lush green carpet. Slowed to cross a stone patio that led up to plate glass windows and a screened sliding door. Pressed themselves, finally, against the wood frame.
They weren't taking fire. They hadn't been spotted.
Or maybe they had been spotted, and the squad was waiting for them inside.
They paused to breathe, not nearly enough to recover, too long if the squad had seen them approach.
Kort peeked around the edge of the door, scanning whatever was visible through the glass. He gave it a nudge and it whispered back on its track. Turned and nodded to McGee.
"In position," McGee whispered.
Tony gave the go.
Kort pushed the door open. Stepped through. It was a big open space and Kort went in straight.
Gibbs never goes straight, McGee thought. Even as he was moving through the door. Not unless there were three of them, all at once—one straight, one left one right -
But he wasn't with his team. No Gibbs, no Tony Ziva Kate -
The sharp feeling clawing at Tim's gut wasn't new. But it was sharper now than it had ever been before, prickling through his body like a cold fire. It took his breath.
He stepped farther into the house, tile under his feet, and went left. Kort on one side, outer wall of the house on the other, sweeping the difference in a zig-zag, shoulder to floor, shoulder to ceiling. Not so fast you'll miss not so slow they'll get you. Tiles and fan and lighting and a gleaming steel fridge, counter – island –
McGee held his breath, adjusted the angle of his weapon, stepped swiftly around - nothing there.
He moved hurriedly on. Kort was faster than Gibbs had ever been.
It was dark in the next room, no light, no windows, and their breathing was loud. McGee held it, held against the ice screaming up his throat. They swept silent through a dining area, flowed around the table –
Gibbs' voice erupted in his ear, an impossible roar, and McGee reached swiftly to his earpiece, muted the volume.
They moved past open doors, no more than a glance - exposed now, should cover their six - but Kort only pushed forward, faster, silent over pile carpet -
And then a crack beneath him. McGee's own weight over a hardwood floor, like thunder.
Kort stilled, listening. Silence.
Then he was moving again, and McGee was following. Four rooms, a hallway, five rooms. Ziva and Tony would be in the next.
Another hall, a sixth room, had to be the next.
McGee jerked to the right. Looked up. Overhead, something muffled -
A voice above them.
Kort halted, held up a hand, and McGee froze. Kort pointed, up and to the right, and then he was stalking right, through a door.
How could he move that fast and clear too, he couldn't -
McGee followed across a hall, ceiling-floor sweep, and Kort was already half-way up a thin staircase. Too thin, single file, fish in a barrel thin–
McGee stopped at the base, swept the hall again, shoulder-floor –
Another voice above them. Two voices. Footsteps on a wood floor.
A thud, something driven into a wall. A cry.
And then again, thud-cry.
Kort was almost to the top, McGee was half-way up, and Kort paused, covered McGee up the stairs, and then they were moving forward again and the hallway was wider here, lighter, sun streaming through skylights. They came to doorways, a glance into open rooms, no movement, bright colors - messy beds - empty -
They moved shoulder to shoulder down the hall. Low voices clearer now, muttering, and the high voice in distress - McGee's fear was a roar, a wave crashing all around.
And then it was gone. Everything was sharp and everything was far away. The ice in his gut turned hot, and they weren't moving fast enough.
The hallway opened out in front of them, a landing. Kort slowed, looked at McGee, and his eyes were pale, unbelievably calm. He tilted his head, left-right, and McGee nodded, and then they were moving again, faster -
Tim stepped to the edge of the wall concealing him, saw two guns.
He fired at the first, stepped past the wall, spotted two more, fired at the second. Moved left, firing, and finally the second fell and the third was shooting, close, McGee was practically on top of him, Kort firing to his right, and beyond that returning fire. Something flew into his face. He was blind, and he ducked down, shook his head, blinked.
Blasts from behind him now, glass shattering next to him, a woman cowering in front of him. He ran forward, pulled her to the left, to the hallway there and Ziva and Tony were running down it, Ziva yelling, and he pushed the woman to the right, against the wall out of the way, but the plaster next to her erupted, shards and dust. He turned and raised his gun and something lifted him up, flung him to the wall. He slammed into the woman, stumbled, fell right on top of her.
She was soft. He had to get off her, he was too heavy. But he couldn't move. He was too heavy.
He was panting and he had to stop, they would hear him. But he couldn't stop. Someone had taken all the air.
Tony was shouting.
"No, a scratch – there isn't – ring a vest? . . . need to . . . you? No!"
Shouting at Kort now.
Good luck with that, McGee thought. Kort was insane. Shouting didn't work on insane people. The woman was gone and McGee missed her. She'd been warm, and now he was cold.
They weren't firing anymore. Tony and Ziva were hovering, arguing like always.
That meant they'd won.
"McGee?" Ziva was touching his face.
"Hey," he said. "We won."
"Yes," Ziva smiled. "We did."
"That lady okay?"
"She is fine."
Something was crushing him, burning him. It was bad.
"Ziva . . . I get hit?"
That didn't make sense.
He tried to tell her, but he couldn't breathe. He needed his inhaler.
He tried to get up, but they held him down.
The house behind them was already pouring smoke. Gibbs spun the car out of the lot and wove around the barricade at the end of the street, signaling to the men there to pack it in.
"South," Gray said. "Left on N."
Gibbs veered south, merging into early evening traffic, putting distance between them and the fire. His phone was buzzing, rattling like an angry hornet around the cupholder where he'd thrown it earlier. He reached down to silence it. "Where am I headed?"
Gray twisted in his seat, scanning the road behind them, checking for a tail. Darren did the same.
"Drop off in Ivy City." Gray sat forward again. "Five miles out. There," he pointed. A familiar black SUV sat idling in the empty end of a bank parking lot, waiting for them to drive by. "Follow him."
Gibbs slowed, gave Tomas time to slip back into traffic, to weave around Gibbs' car.
"Gray. Hey," Gibbs paused, made sure he was listening. "Let them take him to Ducky."
Gray ignored him.
"If you bring the body in to Ducky we can use the ballistics," Gibbs tried again. "The major gang players are in the system. We can track them down."
Gray shook his head. They drove in silence for a minute, making their way south, then west, following the SUV into a golden sunset. Gibbs was about to start in again when Darren shifted and leaned forward. "Got a call from MTAC for you, Gibbs."
"Yeah," Gibbs said, and Darren held up a phone. "Who am I talking to?"
"Agent Gibbs, this is Sarah - "
"Where's my team?"
"McGee was wounded at the house. David and Dinozzo are with him at Washington Central. Kort suggests you meet them there as quickly as possible."
"I'm sorry sir, I don't - wait . . ." Voices in the background. She was on with Kort. "Yes, sir."
Gibbs scanned the road in front of him. Washington Central was east. Getting farther away.
"I'm sorry sir, I don't know. I believe they're still enroute."
"What's the status at the house?"
"Barbi is dead. We have nine bodies total, no IDs yet on the rest."
Gibbs was silent, and Darren pulled the phone away.
"Wait." The phone came back. "Sarah, I want you with Kort at the house. It looks like some faction of MS-13 is hunting the kids, maybe a local cell hired by Barbi. If any of his team is still out there we need them alive. Check the bodies at the house, look for a gang connection. Anything we can use to track down the rest of them."
Darren spoke to Sarah briefly while Gibbs followed Tomas through a quiet warehouse district, and finally into a decrepit parking garage, one with hardly any cars. They blasted up three levels, making their way to a dim corner at the back of a deserted concrete deck. There was a third car already there. Cassie and another boy got out, walking toward them, and Tomas and Andy were climbing out of the SUV. Gray popped his door before Gibbs even stopped the car, already sliding out.
Gibbs turned to Darren. "Watch the perimeter."
"Got it. Hey Gibbs - " He passed his phone forward, the glowing screen a close up of a dead man's face. "Got pictures of most of them."
Gibbs took it and jogged after Gray.
They came together in a circle between the cars, standing silent for a long moment.
Gibbs held out the phone.
Tomas stepped forward, manipulating the images with fingers still tacky with blood. "Saw two of them this morning," he said after a moment. "Thought they were going to jump me. And then they were following me when I got out of class. Never seen the rest before."
He passed the phone to the boy next to him.
"What about everybody else?" Gibbs pressed. "Anybody else have contact?"
"No," Cassie said. "None of the houses are blown. They only found Truck. Only today."
Tomas shook his head. "Went to class and practice, like always. Picked up the kids like always. Same routine, different routes. Only saw those two this morning - "
"They spot you on the street first?" Cassie interrupted.
"So it was not the car. They recognized you," she said, slow. "How did they do that."
"You been at the Navy Yard every day this week," Gray said. Cassie and Tomas looked up. "Diablo knew I was there. Barbi buys someone there - "
"And they follow us out of the Yard?" Tomas said. "Followed me all yesterday, and then this morning to class? No way."
"It's not impossible to follow you," Gray said. "Barb's crew is good."
"Followed us home," Cassie said, "and then waited? Why? Followed him out this morning, but approached on foot, on some random street? Why? Why only him? Why not me? Why back off this morning, and come back in the afternoon?" She shook her head. "No. Plus those guys are not Barb's crew. Thugs, street boys - they didn't get us from the Yard."
Gibbs took a breath. "If we take Bean's body into NCIS we can use ballistics, track their weapons. ID those guys," he gestured to the phone. "Look into the money flow, follow it - "
"Take weeks," Gray said, impatient. "Months."
Another pause, considering.
Cassie tilted her head, thinking aloud. "Barb's pay could be anything anyway. Maybe money. Maybe product, guns - another hit somewhere, anywhere. Could take years to track it, if you ever did."
The others nodded agreement.
"Well what do you suggest?" Gibbs said.
"Figure it out," Cassie replied calmly. "Barbi has a team in town. He contracts with local 13. Two of them spot Truck. He warns them off. They wait, get some friends, chase him down."
"Yeah. But how they know me?" Tomas said. "And then two of his people just get lucky and spot me?"
"Maybe it is not Barbi - "
"It's him." Gray said.
"But how do they know me - "
"Gibbs' team has pictures of us," Gray said. "From before. Surveillance from Colombia. Goes back years."
Silence, like after a bomb.
"My team is secure," Gibbs said steadily.
Silence. And awareness, in Gibbs' mind. Darren standing by the car, eyes on the perimeter. Turned away from them. Every single one of these kids carrying. Guns at their backs, at their ankles -
"But who had them before you?" Cassie said slowly.
"CIA. Colombian Intelligence," Gray spat. "Who cares? If Gibbs could dig it up Diablo could do the same. He sees them, buys them, gets the pictures to Barbi. Barbi sends them out to local 13. They see Tomas."
"Just luck," Andy spoke for the first time. "They just see him?"
"Not luck," Cassie said. Her voice was terrible, faint, and Gibbs frowned at her. "Oh shit. Not luck. It's numbers. How many MS-13 here?" She glanced at Gray, at Gibbs. "Gotta be - "
"You think - all of them?" Tomas stared at her. At Gray.
"Hundreds," Gray said.
"Said he flew into Philly," Cass shook her head. "If he contracted Philly, DC, Baltimore - that is - "
"Thousands," Gray said.
"Barbi runs a squad. He's not that big," the boy next to Cassie broke in. "And Diablo is dead. How's a dead guy pay for that."
They didn't know it was Londono, Gibbs realized. Gray hadn't told them.
What if it's not Barbi. And it never was Diablo, Gibbs thought. What if -
"What if it is not Barbi," Cassie said. "Or Diablo. What if it's Londono."
Another bomb, sucking out all the air.
"Looking for Sean," Tomas said into the quiet. He looked at Gray. "He sends Barb's squad. But he got pictures too. Cartel's been pushing into Mexico, working with 13 to sell into the States. The Calera's got to be 13's best supplier down there."
Making millions, thought Gibbs. Tens of millions, easy -
"Wouldn't even have to pay them," Andy said. "He could have every 13 cell looking for us, just to keep his business. He could hire the East Coast."
And Gray nodded.
"Let us move the kids to safe houses," Gibbs tried.
Cassie dismissed that immediately. "Cells do not know where we are. Londono doesn't either. All they have is our pictures. We need to lay low, not move around. Who could they have?" She turned to Gray, glanced at Gibbs, searching. "They have us all?"
"No," Gray said. "They got me. Cop, Truck, Hook, Jay. Mads, maybe." He looked at Gibbs. "Were there more than what I saw?"
Gibbs shrugged. "You saw everything we have that connected to you. But we didn't pull photos of kids we didn't recognize."
"There could be more," Cassie said.
"Yeah." Gibbs glanced around at the faces in the circle. "But - "
"Truck is the one who looks most the same," Gray said. "The younger ones look different."
"Tomas, Cassie and Gray are the most recognizable," Gibbs agreed.
The faces relaxed, slightly. Some of them.
"He knows Kort is here, we are here. He's got the connection to the CIA and NCIS," Cassie muttered. "Gibbs gets rescued, Gray's mom gets taken, Diablo disappears. And he sends a squad."
"Sends an army," Andy said.
Cassie nodded, looked from Tomas to Gray. "He is moving on us."
Silence. Expectant, now. Waiting. The others' eyes were on Gray, on Cassie and Tomas.
"Yeah," Tomas said. "Agree."
Gibbs crossed his arms against the chill that ran down his spine. "I can get local PD to crack down. Haul in the ringleaders, that'll disorganize them."
"For seventy-two hours?" Tomas scoffed.
"We can hold them longer than that."
"Only the ones with bad lawyers. And how many of them? Local PD, even Feds, they might give you twenty, fifty guys," Cassie said. "Right?"
Gibbs looked back at her, calculating. If they brought in the boy -
"Even with a dead kid in your morgue," she said, "you get a hundred be lucky, and only for a few days. MS-13 probably has a thousand from Philly to Virginia."
"Who do we have?" Gray asked. "Local?"
"To do what?" Gibbs said. "Mow down a thousand gangbangers?"
"AK," Cassie said immediately.
The others shook their heads. "Already in with the cartel," Tomas said. "We made sure of that."
"Gray," Gibbs said, "Look, any of you - you get hauled in for murder and even the CIA won't be able to get you out."
Silence for a moment.
"That 18th Street guy you pounded," Cassie said. "Back over Christmas."
"The one sold the shit stuff to Diego?" The boy next to her, Gibbs still didn't know who that was. Jay? Mads?
"His brother was high up 18th, wasn't he?" Cassie prodded.
"Yeah," Truck said. "Danny or Dizzy, something like that."
Gray frowned. "Doesn't matter. Dizzy went away."
"Got out," Andy said firmly. "And he calls himself Deuce. Saw him last week, down at that same bar he sold at before."
The others looked at her, and she shrugged. "Told you I'd get him."
Tomas and Cassie were looking at Gray now. Waiting.
"Okay," Gray said quietly. Blood in it. "Let's talk to Deuce."
Gibbs closed his eyes. The 18 Street Gang. Not as big in the Mid-Atlantic as MS-13. But close. And hungry. "Gray - "
"We'll try not to get arrested. You should go see your geek, Gibbs," Gray said. He was already walking away, Cassie and Tomas walking with him. "You can tell him I said hi, if he's still alive."
"Gray!" Gibbs called. "Darren goes with you."
Gray paused, looked back, real surprise on his face. "What?"
Gibbs didn't answer and Gray looked past him, to the man standing by the NCIS sedan, watching them both. Gray shrugged, turned away again.
Darren jogged forward, silent, and got into the car behind Gray.
He checked the ER first. They gave him a surgeon's name, pointed him to the elevators. He followed signs to the surgical wing, found Ducky sitting in a deserted lobby, talking to a nurse.
"What's the status?"
"Jethro!" Ducky surged to his feet. Faltered as he looked him over. "Are you alright?"
"Status on McGee?"
Ducky's nurse friend excused herself. He watched her go, and then turned back to Gibbs.
"Critical, I'm afraid. The bullet missed his spine but not much else. Surgeons are working to repair an arterial tear and fractured pelvis. He has bone fragmentation through the abdomen, damage to the intestine, right kidney, stomach, that we know of - "
Gibbs must have looked shocked. Ducky broke off, sympathetic. "But blood loss is the most serious concern at the moment."
"He going to make it?"
Ducky pursed his lips. "We had an update half an hour ago that was promising. But he's been in surgery less than two hours at this point. It's too soon to tell."
Gibbs looked away, at the floor, and the heavy swinging doors separating them from the surgical bay. Ducky watched him, patient.
"How long till we know?"
"If he survives the surgery - the next eight hours or so - his chances improve. Why don't you sit down, Jethro?"
Gibbs' eyes swept the empty chairs. "Where's the team?"
"Ziva took Abby to the cafeteria a few moments ago. Tony - " Ducky pointed to a black wall of windows at the far end of the room. The dark was spotted with yellow streetlights, and beyond, the bright dome of the Capitol. Tony was leaning against a silver handrail, looking out at the traffic. He didn't seem to notice Gibbs' approach.
"Boss." Tony actually turned the other way, looked over his shoulder to scan the lobby. "Where's the kid?"
"What happened, Dinozzo."
Tony looked at him, then. Eyes pleading, dark, all mixed up, like when Jenny died.
Gibbs leaned against the rail next to him.
"Ziva and I went in the front. McGee went in the back, with Kort."
"Big house. We went in quiet. Cleared most of the front rooms on the first floor, heard movement up on the second floor. Heard a woman crying. We had to double back, to get to the stairs . . ." Tony considered the night in front of him, followed the progress of a man walking along the sidewalk below them. "Guess that's how Kort and McGee got there first. They went up the back stairs. But they're not in the back, really. They're in the middle of the house. We heard shots, a lot of fire. Ran - " He frowned.
"Kort and McGee just - went in so fast. Well - " Tony leaned forward against the rail, straightened up again, frustrated. Angry. "Probie, you know - boy scout. And Kort's a lone ranger, so you know how that goes too. Turns out there were five of them up there, questioning this woman. And little Timmy couldn't wait."
"Name's Maya." Tony shrugged, staring hard at the dark, and then at Gibbs' reflection in the glass. "She's a nanny for the kids."
He hadn't heard anything about a nanny. "You sure?"
"Yeah." Tony scrubbed a dirty hand through his hair. It was stiff with old blood. "Kort knows her. She lives there usually. When Diablo showed up and the kids moved into the safe houses Gray gave her time off, said he'd be in touch. She came back to the house to pick up some stuff . . . clothes, she said. Barbi had these five guys watching the house. They followed her in and called him. We followed Barbi to the house . . . "
And Ziva spotted a woman inside. Gibbs sent the team in, but - "But Barbi wasn't in the house when you went in," he said. "Was he?"
"Hey, there it is," Tony mocked. "The voice of experience. Next time you should come along."
"You heard fire," Gibbs said. "And - ?"
Tony turned to stare at him. Gibbs watched him back, expressionless, until Tony turned away again.
"Yeah." He was quiet now. "Turns out McGee's a good shot. Took out two guys before Ziva and I even got there. Kort had the other two. But the third guy - Zee and I, we had no shot. It all went down in this hallway. McGee and the woman, Maya, they were in the crossfire. And Kort was behind them." Tony frowned. "I saw Tim stumble, he had - " Tony gestured toward his own head. "He got nicked, or cut or something. Blood all over his face. But he - I think the head wound . . ." Tony scratched his own head, blood flaking off his hair. "They said that wasn't serious. Couple stitches. The bullet, though, there's bone - "
"He got winged, he flinched," Gibbs said. "What next."
"Yeah, he - looked fine. He got to Maya first and he just picked her up, like the Hulk, pushed her into the wall, out of the way. The third guy - I got him, I think. But then four more guys came in behind him, shooting. It was like - " Another frown. A pause. "They followed Kort and McGee. Only two entrances to that landing."
Gibbs waited for a moment. "And one of them was Barbi?"
"Yeah. One of them was - one of them got McGee, he fell. And I think - then Ziva - we were right there on top of them, in close." Tony glanced at him. "I mean right on top of them. I think - " Tony paused, looked confused. "I think she and Kort took them out hand-to-hand. Happened fast."
"You and Ziva alright?"
"Yeah." Tony scratched absently at his head again, caught Gibbs looking him over. He focused on his own hands then, finally, and seemed surprised. "This is McGee's," Tony said. "I'm fine. Ziva's fine. Kort - seemed fine. I don't know. I wanted to call an ambulance. Kort said no, since we're not on the clock. And I uh -" Tony shrugged. Straightened. "Tim was bleeding like maybe we didn't have time for an ambulance anyway, so I figured - but then Kort wanted to carry him down to the car - "
Tony sputtered to a halt, unable to go on. Like that was the most horrifying part of all.
"Are you fucking ser - ?"
Gibbs smiled a little.
"You are," Tony deflated. "Sorry. I guess neither of you took anatomy over there in super killer spy school, huh?"
Gibbs raised his eyebrows.
"Anyway," Tony sighed. "Kort said there were boards in the garage. And there were, like a wood pile. So we carried him out on one of those. Wedged him into the back of the sedan. McGee was off his head, saying weird things. Kept saying we were wrong, he couldn't have got shot because he was wearing a vest."
"Yeah. Went in - " Tony touched his blood smeared shirt where it was tucked into his pants, " - right under the belt."
"Kort stayed at the house?"
"Yeah. I guess - clean up."
"Yeah," Gibbs said. Nine bodies. "I guess so."
They stood there in silence for a moment, and then Gibbs pulled out his phone, scrolled through his speed dials. "Ducky said it'll be another eight hours before we know anything. Got work to do."
Tony looked at him. Really looked. And stilled. In the blink of an eye he was sharp again, the confusion and the doubt pushed away. "You think Barbi had more with him. More than eight?"
"Yeah. Looks like a few more."
Tony pushed away from the handrail. "What happened with Gray?"
Gibbs looked his second over. "Clean up, Tony. Get Ziva back here and I'll fill you in."
"Yeah, I - okay." He took a step away. Turned back. Sharp as he ever was. "But where's the kid, Boss?"
"Recruiting." Gibbs said, already dialing. "Picking a fight. Starting a war. Now go get your partner and get back here."