Disclaimer: Donald Bellisario created NCIS, and I am not, nor have I ever been, Donald Bellisario. This is pure creative indulgence.
My thanks to beta readers Bobbi D, whom I've known since I was 5, and who tells me the truth; Elizabeth (Lisa!) W, who painstakingly checked my grammar and punctuation, and James (Jamie) B, who gave my rescue and medical scenes the go-ahead. Thank you all! Any remaining errors belong to me!
The cloud of dust grew steadily larger as it approached the rural farm that seemed a world away from the relentless pace of the city. Apples hung heavy on the sagging branches, neglected for another season. The evening felt cold, even for fall, as if nature itself could sense that something was amiss. The fine dirt settled after a final billowing burst as the white BMW coupe pulled into the driveway and parked.
A man emerged from the passenger side of the vehicle. His posture remained very stiff, tense, his jaw set, his face clouded. He removed his sunglasses and took in the panoramic view of the old farm where he had spent many summers in his youth. For a moment he traveled back in time, playing with his sister in the underground tunnels that ran below the barn to the old bomb shelter. They had been so paranoid, his grandparents, but he and his sister had enjoyed the summer trips greatly—the perfect place for cloak and dagger adventures. But the fantasies of childhood had died along with the laughter many years ago. He snapped back to the present as the driver's door opened and a woman stepped out of the car.
She turned slowly in a circle, taking in the scenery, her skirt and long sandy hair both shifting in the fall breeze. "Lots of memories here; lots of summers," she reminisced. "Why now, David? Why come back here now? What's the point?"
"It's been empty for two years, Dani. Probate won't last forever. This could be our last chance to take a look around. God, this is such a waste."
The young woman laughed. "There are lots of bigger wastes in the world. Oh, yeah, happy birthday, late, by the way."
The man's face darkened. "Let's go in the house. What's left of it, anyway."
"Remind me of exactly when we stopped being friends, Dave. Long time ago, right? When we stopped having anything in common. So why now? Is this about the money? What's it matter to you, Dave? You have your Marine Corps. You didn't exactly join it to get rich, right? You joined to get away from me. From Mom and Dad. That's been your life since we turned eighteen. It's not like you've ever been nostalgic about all this crap. You never wrote, never called. Why now? Marine Corps not quite how the recruiter painted it? That's not exactly my problem. I have enough of my own—not that you ever cared about that."
"Let's go in the house," he spat angrily. "You don't know anything."
"I don't know anything?" she yelled back. "I don't know anything? You think you've had it rough? Try living my life!"
"Shut up!" he yelled.
"But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you? Manly man Marine. Daddy's big boy. The Marines gave you all the brothers you'll ever need."
"SHUT UP!" he yelled again.
"What about ME? Money doesn't change me the way it changes you! Money can't give me what I lost! I never should have come here with you. You're crazy! Find your own way back. Call one of your Marine 'brothers.' Oh yeah, no cell service out here. Well too bad, I'm leaving!"
The man grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her toward the house, grateful for the privacy of the country road. The lock box on the front door had been smashed and hung loosely by a piece of twisted metal.
"Let me go, you bastard!" she screamed as he pulled her over the threshold and into the old house. The door slammed shut, and the deadbolt clicked into place.
The man spoke slowly, his rage growing with each word, his breath heavy and thick in her ear. "I know, okay? I finally know what to do."
The woman's voice faltered. "You're scaring me. You . . . you know what?"
"Everything!" the man yelled. "The trust, the money, the lies, all of it! It's sickening!"
In the yard, a crow flew to the apple tree and set to work pecking at an apple.
A shot rang out, followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor. The crow flew away quickly, calling out the danger with a raucous cry.
Two more shots, then nothing. Even the crows remained quiet. A scraping sound finally punctuated the silence, followed by the sound of something heavy being dragged. Several drawers and cupboards could be heard opening and shutting, followed by the screech and slam of a door.
Several hours later, a slightly disheveled sandy-haired woman stood at the window, partially cloaked by the old and yellowed lace curtains. When a puff of dust on the horizon signaled the approach of a car, the woman stepped back and let the curtains fall. The front door creaked open, the hinges protesting from lack of use. The woman stepped out carrying a white garbage bag and closed the door behind her. The screen door banged shut, its springs still working despite the rust. She walked slowly to the car, her face impassive as she waved to the lone car that passed by in the nearly dark cool evening. Her skirt fluttered in the light wind, and she grabbed at it self-consciously patting it back down with her one free hand. She placed the half-full trash bag in the trunk, slipped into the car, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and pulled out onto the country road back to town.
Chapter 1: Missing Marine
The day began well enough at the office. The elevator doors opened to reveal Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo holding a fresh cup of coffee in one hand and a small white paper bag in the other, a broad smile on his face.
McGee caught a whiff of the coffee, and his head shot up above the half walls of his workspace. "You're in early, I mean, for you."
"Ah, McGee, good morning to you too. This is the start of a great day." He sat in his chair and inhaled his coffee deeply, closing his eyes. He took a long slow sip and sighed heavily. "Mmm. Nothing beats a hazelnut latte on beautiful fall morning." He leaned forward and peered into the white bag.
Ziva stopped typing and watched him with growing interest. "Is that from the new bakery? Where the dry cleaners used to be?"
"Indeed it is, Miss Da-veed," he smiled. "Almond bliss."
Ziva narrowed her eyes and appraised him carefully. "You are in a good mood. Did someone get lucky last night?" she asked brazenly.
"Lucky, yes, but not what you're thinking. It just so happens that my dad called, to chat. He's not planning a visit to this area, he's not in trouble with the law, he didn't remarry yet, and he didn't try to rope me into some investment plan. I feel like I won the lottery."
Tony carefully removed the almond-topped frosted pastry from the bag and lifted it to his mouth. "I'm going to enjoy every bite."
"Gear up!" Gibbs called out sharply, as he suddenly entered the bullpen. All the office banter stopped. "We've got a missing Marine!"
Tony dropped his pastry back in the bag and stood up quickly, grabbing his backpack as his team mates did the same. "Missing, Boss?"
Ziva picked up where Tony dropped off. "Missing, as in late for work… AWOL, or kidnapped? Missing, as in—"
Gibbs downed the final dregs of his tall black coffee and tossed the cup into the trash can. "Missing, as in nobody has seen or heard from him in three days. Local LEOs may have just located his car in southeast Anacostia, stripped. No plates. No body, but our Marine is a highly trained EOD tech, so he's ours."
Tony grimaced. "Ugh. Missing EOD techs are not my favorite, and missing without your car, well, that's the worst kind of missing. . . ." He fell into step behind Gibbs. "Ever see the movie, Missing? 1982, Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Watched it again just last week."
McGee glanced up as the elevator doors dinged and began to open. "Let's see, Tony, 1982. I would have been five years old. That movie is ancient."
Tony made a face of feigned disbelief, "You've never seen 'Missing,' McGee?" He smiled at his own play on words, "I don't mean 'Missing McGee,' because, you know, that would imply that someone actually cares…."
Ziva nodded as they entered the elevator. "I have seen it! Good movie, and based on a true story. Your State Department was in some hot waiter over that one, yes?"
"Ha! See?" Tony turned to Ziva. "But that's 'hot water,' not 'hot waiter.' Big difference. You've seen 'Missing,' haven't you, Boss?"
"Yep. The first week it came out."
"What, on DVD?" Tim asked innocently.
"'Hot water,' yes, that is what I meant," Ziva agreed. "Hot water. That does make much more sense."
"In theaters, McGee. Way back in 1982."
"Tony couldn't let the opportunity pass. "You see, McGeek, DVDs hadn't been invented yet. How old were you saying that movie is? I believe you used the word, 'ancient'?"
Tim's face turned red as he stammered, "I, uh . . . that's not what I meant . . . ."
"Can it, McGee," Gibbs growled, almost smirking at McGee's awkwardness.
Tony beamed. What a great day.
Ziva, still looking confused, added, "I am sure I have heard Abby refer to some hot waiter. . . ."
Gibbs spoke with the local law enforcement detective at the scene. Between the arm waving and the downcast head shakes, it was evident from quite a distance that he was not happy NCIS had been called in.
"Let me spell it out for you," Gibbs began. "NCIS investigates the disappearance of any active duty service member when foul play is suspected or suspicious circumstances are present. Are you aware that the person this car belongs to is missing? And that he can assemble, disassemble, and detonate many types of bombs? In my experience, the car could possibly provide evidence on his disappearance and whereabouts. Or do you specialize in making snap judgments without getting distracted by evidence?"
The cop's expression softened slightly, his defensive posture deflated.
"Now if you'd like to make yourself useful, you could go canvass the area and interview people who occupy these buildings. See if anyone saw anything. I know they're apt to be tight-lipped around here, but you still have to give it a try." Gibbs turned away from the officer. "You check the VIN on that frame, McGee?"
"Yeah, Boss. It's a match. Looks like we have blood here, too, smeared inside the driver's door."
"Get a sample for Abby."
"On it, Boss!" McGee yelled back.
Tony shot pictures of the car from multiple angles, along with every possible view from the car's vantage point outward, just to be thorough.
Ziva took measurements and notes as Tony shot reference points.
"We've got a lot of prints to run, Gibbs," McGee called out.
"Then what's keeping you?" Gibbs barked back.
"Guess I should have gotten Gibbs a coffee, too," Tony whispered to Ziva, who smiled in return.
"You got something to say, DiNozzo?"
"Talk to me!" Gibbs announced as he lightly tossed another empty coffee cup into the trash by Tony's desk. Tony took the cue and leaped up, pointing the remote toward the plasma screen.
"Sergeant David Turner, age twenty-five, single. First enlisted at age seventeen, getting his parents' permission for delayed entry. Left for boot camp right out of high school, re-upped four years later. His first MOS was Aviation Ordnance, but he put in for a lateral move to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician as soon as he hit twenty-one, which is the minimum age for EOD."
"He passed the screen, and then, to start the actual training, he had to become eligible for access to CNWDI," McGee offered. "That's Critical Nuclear Weapons Design Information." His face reddened when he again remembered that Gibbs had been a Marine. "Which . . . of course . . . you already knew, Boss."
Tony smiled at McGee's discomfort. He might be gaining confidence overall, but one look from Gibbs had him babbling as much as it ever had. Tony took back the control. "As an EOD technician, he would have been trained to perform various duties, including locating, accessing, identifying, rendering safe, neutralizing, and disposing of hazards from just about any kind of explosive—foreign or domestic—ranging from conventional to high yield explosives."
Gibbs nodded, so Tony continued. "Specifically, he's had advanced electronics, tactics, specialized demolition, post-blast investigation, IEDs, WMDs, and McGee's favorite, robotics."
McGee took a deep breath, seeing the opening Tony had carved for him. "He seems to be a solid Marine. Good at his job, squeaky clean background. He was a high school football player, went to state in track every year in high school, decent grades. More recently, his performance ratings have all been strong, tends to score in the top 10 percent in his classes, and generally liked by all."
Gibbs looked squarely at McGee. "Generally?"
McGee nodded. "He apparently has a sister from whom he's a bit estranged."
"Reason?" Gibbs probed.
"Turner's friends aren't sure, but they said it had something to do with money. She had it and he didn't."
"We know why?" Gibbs asked.
McGee rushed to his computer. "Not yet, but I'll find out."
"Ziva?" Gibbs turned to her. "Got something for me?"
She took the remote from Tony's hand and stepped forward. "Sergeant Turner grew up in rural Virginia, in a town called Berryville, which is not far from Leesburg. Both parents were both killed in a car crash just over four years ago." She clicked the remote and brought up a newspaper article regarding the crash.
"According to Turner's best friend in his unit, a Sergeant Aaron Findley, Turner and his twin sister, Danielle, were close as children, but became estranged, even before the parents' death. He seemed to think she had always been favored, spoiled, and that he had been expected to change his plans to accommodate hers. Friends say that is why he enlisted early, and his parents supported it. He left for boot camp one week after graduation." She brought up a picture of the sister on the plasma screen.
"Parents died four years ago? That's when he switched to EOD," Gibbs noted.
"One month after their deaths, actually. Sergeant Turner's friends say his attitude toward her changed recently, sounded more hostile, but they said he would not talk about it."
"Got anything more on the sister?"
"Danielle is unmarried, has no criminal record, just the occasional speeding ticket. She currently resides in the family's Berryville home. She is not answering her cell phone, and her voice mail box is full. She has no land line. She is a freelance photographer for food magazines, including, most recently, DC Foodie and Washington Foodie Magazine, where she goes by Danielle Elias, the latter being her middle name. The only other family in the DC area was their grandparents, who are now deceased. The grandmother died eight years ago and the grandfather died two years ago. They owned a home and a working farm, outside Berryville, which is currently unoccupied. As children, Sergeant Turner and Danielle spent summers with the grandparents when the parents went on trips."
"Farm in Berryville. Sounds like a game on Facebook," Tony chuckled until Gibbs' open hand made firm contact with the back of Tony's head. "Thank you, Boss. Shutting up."
Ziva continued, "They had accumulated a lot of debt, and the house and property are still tied up in probate."
Gibbs nodded. "McGee, get warrants to look at both Turners' financials. That sister probably didn't get rich as a freelancer. We're not seeing the whole story here.
"On it, Boss," McGee headed to the elevator.
"DiNozzo, track down this Danielle. Could be she's missing too."
Tony nodded and scooped up his backpack.
"Watch yourself!" Gibbs called after him. "We don't need a repeat of our last missing EOD tech."
Tony shuddered, remembering that case all too well. "Watching my six, Boss. Got it."
"Ziva, I want you to pull phone records for both of them. I want to know the last time either of them talked to anyone. See who David's been talking to. I'm going to go check with Abby."
"Give me some good news, Abby!" Gibbs yelled over the top of her loud music, his hands firmly over his ears.
She turned it down quickly. "I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first, the good news, right? Well, it's good for us, but maybe not so good for the Sergeant, but if it helps us find him, then it is good for—"
"Just tell me, Abby," Gibbs said gently. "The good, then the bad."
"Soften the blow, right? Okay, well," she gestured toward her computer screen, "the blood in the car was definitely Sergeant Turner's. We have a blood type match and a DNA match. Several of the fingerprints from the scene also belong to Turner, which is no surprise because it's his car. I was able to identify three others, however."
She brought up three sets of fingerprints on her screen and ran her fingers lightly over the keyboard. "One set belongs to a Sergeant Aaron Findley, who serves in his unit, and the other two belong to criminals in the juvenile database: Christopher "Spider" Bolt, and Deric "DC" Cummings."
"What's the bad news, Abby?"
"They're minors. Spider is sixteen, and DC is only fifteen. These guys are purely small-time, Gibbs."
Gibbs nodded. "Well, maybe they saw something, Abbs. We'll have them brought in for questioning. That's good work." He kissed her gently on the cheek and headed for the elevator.
Abby smiled broadly as she twirled her way back to her stereo and cranked her music back to its ear-splitting level.
Gibbs returned to the bullpen with a fresh coffee, ready for the next round. "We got two hits on fingerprints. Two small-time juveniles. Local LEOs are bringing them in for questioning. We also have confirmation that that was Turner's blood in the car. You get anything yet?"
"Actually, yes, Boss," McGee piped up. "Nothing of note in David Turner's bank records. Guy pretty much shows the same deposits and withdrawals and checks each month, but some very unusual transactions in Danielle's. Check this out." He brought showed the images from his monitor on the big plasma screen. "The day after the twins' last birthday, Danielle deposited $1.2 million into her savings account."
"1.2 million?" Gibbs repeated.
"And then, five days later, she started withdrawing amounts ranging from $100,000 to $200,000 every few days."
"Where'd it come from? And what's the timing of those withdrawals in relation to David's disappearance?"
McGee typed a few more lines then looked up at Gibbs. "The withdrawals started two weeks prior to David's disappearance."
"I guess that rules out ransom."
"Boss, we'll need to get a closer look to find out more about that deposit. These bank statements won't tell us anything about it except the amount."
"And where the hell is the sister? Anybody heard from DiNozzo yet?"
Ziva hung up the phone. "According to the supervisor I spoke to at the phone company, who reluctantly agreed to cooperate, given that I told them that the phone owners might be in danger, I can tell you that David stopped using his phone the day of his disappearance. The last call dialed on his phone was to his sister the day he disappeared. Danielle has not used her phone for two weeks. Danielle's last known phone call was made from her home address. The phone company supervisor said she would email me the most recent call records. Here is the file now. Opening it… now…. okay. Transferring it to the plasma. See? The last phone call she received was from her brother, two weeks before his attempt to call her on the day he disappeared. But look at all these phone calls on Danielle's records." Ziva highlighted a number that appeared eleven times during the two week period surrounding her birthday.
"Checking that number, Boss," McGee offered, typing quickly on his keyboard. "Here we go. That number belongs to a William Goldman, an Estate Lawyer in Leesburg, Virginia."
"Bet he knows something about that money. Get that warrant, too, McGee."
Gibbs' phone rang. "Gibbs," he answered. "About time you checked in, DiNozzo. Nothing? Okay. You contact those magazines she's freelanced for?" Gibbs shook his head to Ziva and McGee. "We're getting warrants and putting a BOLO out on her Danielle's car. Listen, DiNozzo, Danielle put over a million dollars in the bank a few weeks ago, and has been making large withdrawals as recently as yesterday, but her phone has been shut off for two weeks. See if you can take a look at video footage of Danielle at the bank both making the deposit and making those withdrawals. I want to know if she was coming in alone, what car she drove, who was watching her, anything. See what else you can find out, and we'll meet you there in Leesburg at the First American Bank on. . . ," he looked at Ziva and snapped his fingers.
"Fifth and Vine," she filled in. "Bank manager's name is Stella Burke."
"Fifth and Vine. Ask for Stella Burke. Something's not right, and it all seems to be there in Leesburg. Right. Couple hours."
"Gibbs, without the paperwork, the bank does not have to show Tony any of the bank video."
Gibbs flashed his lopsided grin. "The manager is a woman. And it's DiNozzo. Need I say more?"
McGee rolled his eyes.
Gibbs had just returned his cell phone to his pocket when his desk phone rang. "Gibbs . . .," he answered. He nodded. "Okay. Send them up." He hung up the phone and headed for the elevator. "I'll be talking with our young delinquents, but my gut is telling me this has nothing to do with them. But maybe they saw something. You never know. I'll be in interrogation."