Disclaimer:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
A/N Some months ago, I was asked by a special friend and FFnet member, to look over the concept of a story she was hoping to write. It was to be her first multi-chapter story. As a very busy young mum with five children to care for, it was understandably a slow process as Liz added to her ideas whenever time allowed. Two weeks ago, she contacted me to advise that her adorable five year old son, Ethan, was undergoing surgery for his second brain tumour. Naturally distraught, she thanked me for my time and advised that she would not be proceeding with the story.
Other than keeping this gorgeous little family in my thoughts and prayers, there is very little I can do for them – but with Liz's blessing, I have decided to finish her story. I don't usually write to order so this is a new experience for me. Using Liz's concept and her notes, I'll try to stay as close to her original story line as possible and we'll see what happens! Please forgive any delays, I will try to update as often as possible.
Whether you believe in the power of prayer or positive thinking, please include little Ethan, Liz and their wonderful little family in your thoughts. You can find Liz's profile under her user name of Fivetimesthelove. L
Hiding to Nothing
A silver Ford Explorer travelled slowly along a fire trail in the Bentley State Forest, leaving choking clouds of billing dust in its wake. On both sides of the trail the densely populated pine and spruce trees reached heavenward seeking the warmth of the sun. As the vehicle rounded a sweeping curve the forest opened to a small clearing.
Confirming the co-ordinates on his GPS device, Petty Officer Jason Harvey brought the vehicle to a halt and took stock of the surroundings – they were miles from anywhere. Beside him, Petty Officer Paul Leyton checked his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes before shooting his friend another anxious glance.
"I don't like this," he stated.
"So you've said at least forty times now," Harvey replied releasing an exasperated sigh. "We've been over this again and again and we both agreed to go through with it."
"We should have gone to the authorities and asked for help," Leyton argued.
"And what would we say?" Harvey growled. "That while we were on shore leave in Indonesia we got so wasted that we woke up the next morning in bed with a couple of under-age hookers! That's cause for dishonourable discharge not to mention what would happen if our wives and families found out."
"They drugged us!" Leyton hissed. "We can plead extenuating circumstances!"
"It's too late for that now! Any blood or piss test we took now would show no trace of whatever drug they used on us. It would be our word against theirs and they're holding all the proof."
"They can't touch us here, there's no extradition treaty between the USA and Indonesia."
"They threatened our families and they know where we live. You want to risk your family and your career, then you go ahead," Harvey told him. "I'm going to deliver this flash drive like we were told. That's all we have to do, once they have the flash drive they said they'd hand over the photos and DNA evidence."
"We don't even know what's on the flash drive! It could be a breach of national security for all we know," Leyton countered. "And what if they don't hand over the evidence?"
Harvey pursed his lips in thought and turned to meet his friend's anxious eyes. His hand moved to his jacket pocket and he removed a shiny, black Beretta.
"I brought some insurance of our own," he replied.
Tony DiNozzo wore a smile as bright as the second sun as he guided his classic '66 Mustang northward on the I-95. Taking advantage of the light Saturday afternoon traffic he stepped on the gas pedal, enjoying the surge of the power as the vehicle lurched onward toward DC. From the passenger seat, Jimmy Palmer shook his head and grinned, caught up in the wave of euphoria that washed over the other man.
"Admit it, Palmer," Tony tried for the fifth time. "That was one of the best finishes to a game of basketball ever!"
"Well, I wouldn't say ever, Tony, but it was certainly a very satisfying victory."
"A satisfying victory?" Tony repeated.
He frowned at the younger man before launching into an enthusiastic commentary of the last play of the game.
"We're behind 33-35 to arch rivals the Richmond Rangers. With just 7 seconds left on the clock, I push the ball up court, looking for my shooting guards who are both smothered by their opposites. I can't risk a turnover so I'm wondering…should I take the ball to the basket or get to the top of the key and hope someone else gets clear? With three seconds left on the clock I've got three defenders in my face. I feign to the right but go left and launch the ball for a 26-foot 3-point buzzer-beater that guarantees us a place in next week's play-offs. That's more than a satisfying victory, Palmer, that was freaking fantastic!"
"I'm just kidding you, Tony," Jimmy said with a laugh. "It was a one-in-a-million shot. Thanks again for asking me to play today. I thought, after last time, you'd ask McGee for sure."
"Basketball's not really Probie's game. He's more of a weekend warrior McPaintball kind of guy - even manufactures his own ammo."
"Really. I call it McGoo's Goo - a unique blend of oatmeal, mayo and carpenter's glue mixed to the consistency of...bird poo," Tony said wrinkling his nose. "We gotta find that guy a woman."
"Anyway, I just want to say that I appreciate your show of confidence and the opportunity to play on your team in such an important game."
Palmer felt the heat of embarrassment warm his cheeks as he recalled the last time he "filled-in" on Tony's team. Between working and studying for his finals, he hadn't been exercising and was badly out of shape. He had to remove his glasses and had forgotten his contact lenses. His vision was so badly affected that he couldn't tell his teammates from his opponents. He turned-over possession so many times that Tony accused him of playing extra-man for the opposition before banishing him to the bench.
"Anyone can have an off game, right?" Tony remarked. "Besides, with three of our regular guys unavailable, we were desperate for replacements - it was either you or Ducky and he'd already made plans, so…"
"At least I remembered my contacts today," Jimmy replied brightly, "and I've been more aware of my fitness since I started dating Breena. I was a bit of a couch potato back then."
"A couch potato! I hate to break this to you, man, but I've seen real potatoes play better than you did last time," Tony replied. "But, yeah, you had a good game today, Jimmy."
"You really think so?"
"Sure, you showed some good hustle and, this time, you got more assists for us than for the other team - that's a huge improvement from last time," Tony deadpanned as the younger man straightened his posture and grinned at the backhanded compliment.
Frowning, Tony reached forward and tapped his index finger on the console.
"Damn," he uttered softly.
"Problem?" Jimmy asked.
"Gauge keeps sticking. I've been meaning to get that fixed but haven't had a chance to get her in for a service."
"Are we out of gas?"
"No, but we don't have enough to make it back to Washington. There's an exit up ahead and a gas station about five miles on. We'll fill up there."
Palmer leaned forward looking worriedly at the faulty gauge.
"Relax, Palmer," Tony said. "The sun's shining; the top's down, we won the game and have the rest of the weekend off. Life is good."
Fifteen minutes later they left the interstate in search of gas, Tony's optimism faded slightly when the first gas station they came to was closed for refurbishments. With a nonchalant shrug for Palmer's benefit, they began the twenty-mile journey to the next closest gas station, both hoping that they wouldn't have to get out and push the Mustang anytime soon.
Arriving at the small town of Leafy Grove, Palmer released a huge sigh of relief as a gas station came into view. Cruising the last fifty yards on vapours, the Mustang sputtered and jerked its way to the pumps where its gas-starved engine finally stalled.
"Told you, Palmer," Tony said with a grin. "This is my lucky day!"
He turned in his seat looking for his gym bag and frowned when only Palmer's was visible.
"Where's my bag?"
"Oh, I put yours in the trunk," Palmer replied. "No offence, Tony, but your shoes are a little…er…ripe!"
"They are not!" Tony protested.
Palmer raised an eyebrow in a silent challenge.
"Okay…so maybe they are," Tony conceded. "But my cell and wallet are in my bag so you better hope that Gibbs hasn't been trying to call me – rule number three, Palmer, never be unreachable - even on our weekend off."
As Tony moved to fill the tank, Palmer used the restroom and then noticed a drug store across the street in the small strip mall. Already feeling the ache from muscles that were protesting loudly, the assistant ME headed across the road to buy a large tube of ultra-strength Bengay.
Waiting for the tank to fill, Tony hummed to himself, appreciating the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze. His eyes were quickly drawn to two attractive women wearing skimpy denim shorts and tank tops.
"Afternoon, ladies," he greeted, flashing his trademark smile.
The women returned the smile with appraising looks of their own then continued down the sidewalk, turning back every now and then to see if Tony was still watching. With the tank filled, he popped the trunk and unzipped his gym bag, almost gagging at the overpowering scent of sweaty shorts, jersey and shoes. Quickly locating his wallet and cell, he winced at the number of missed calls and was only slightly relieved to find the caller had been McGee and not Gibbs. He paid the station attendant and pressed McGee's number on his speed dial.
"Talk to me, Probie," he said when the call was answered on the first ring.
"Where the hell have you been?" McGee replied sounding anxious.
"I have been sipping from the metaphoric cup of success, Probalicious, basking in the glow of conquest, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat."
"I've been calling you for almost an hour!"
"Chillax, McGrump and know this…there is nothing you can say that will extinguish the euphoric feeling of victory that is currently surging through my veins."
"We've got two sailors down."
"Nothing except that," Tony replied as his shoulders slumped.
"They were found with a John Doe – one sailor and the John Doe are dead, the other sailor's in critical condition."
"This is supposed to be our weekend off. Where's Hamilton's team?"
"They got called to Quantico and needed the on-call team with them. We're already geared up and heading your way," McGee explained.
"You been tracking my phone, McGadget?" Tony asked.
"No, but I knew you were playing basketball in Richmond this morning," the younger man replied. "I was trying to call you so you could meet us at the crime scene."
"Where is it?"
"Bentley State Forest."
"That's only 15 minutes from here," Tony said.
"The rangers are on site and I'm sending the co-ordinates to your cell."
"So, Gibbs doesn't know…"
"That you broke rule number three? No, he's riding with Ducky. Better give Palmer a head's up - his cell is off and Ducky's not happy. As far as he and Gibbs know, you're on your way to the crime scene and we'll meet you there. You better get moving, we're only 20 minutes behind you."
"On my way; you're a good man, McCharlie Brown," Tony replied before ending the call.
He looked impatiently across the street to the drug store, frowning when he saw no sign of Palmer. Quickly unlocking the strong box in the trunk of the car, he shrugged into his shoulder holster and secured his weapon before clipping his badge to the waistband of his jeans and slipping his ID into his pocket. Closing the trunk, he flipped open his cell and tried Palmer's number, cursing when the recorded voice advised that the cell was switched off. He slipped back into his hoodie, fastening the zipper to conceal his Sig as he loped across the street to the drug store.
"Hey, Palmer!" he called as he walked through the door.
An ear-splitting sound filled the small store and an unseen weight shoved him painfully backwards stealing the air from his lungs. His shoulder erupted in agony as if it had been impaled with a red-hot poker and he stared in confusion as a dark stain rapidly discoloured his hoodie. Suddenly nauseous, the room spun sickeningly and he staggered two steps before his legs gave out. He fell heavily against a display unit, collapsing the shelves as he felt himself falling. His world went black before he hit the ground.
A/N Forgot to mention that many of the town names and the state forest are ficticious. Thanks for reading. L