"There are far too many red earrings in this case" Ziva complains as she and McGee walk into the bullpen and sit at their desks.
"Red earrings DiNozzo. Promising clues that seem to point to suspects but lead nowhere. I have never understood that phrase. Is it to do with an old Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes story? Or a real world crime? Some famous female crime suspect who always wore red earrings?"
"The expression is red herrings Ziva. Red herrings."
"I thought a herring was some type of fish."
"Oh, that makes perfect sense then." She responds sarcastically.
"Where's Gibbs?" MGee jumps in before their bickering can escalate.
"Checking in with Vance." DiNozzo looks at his watch. "Wow that must be some kind of record for the shortest interview ever. What did you guys do to captain Jackson? Did Ziva get out the thumbscrews?"
"Actually I left them at home today."
The other two share a look and decide it is best not to comment on that remark.
"Why are you back this soon then?"
"The captain was very helpful. She answered all our questions and even provided an alibi."
"Guess she liked the look of that baby face of yours McInnocent. You know women of a certain age can't resist you. What's the alibi?"
"She claims she was watching movies at the apartment of a colleague. They had been drinking and she did the responsible thing of not driving but instead stayed the night." Ziva's tone indicates she has some doubts about this. "I think she was lying."
"Well I guess we need to check out the colleague and anything which may contradict the story. Phone records that sort of thing. Probie you..."
McGee turns from his computer. "Already doing it Tony."
"Good. Good. So who was this colleague anyway?"
"Your favorite Metro PD cop Andrea Sparr." Ziva replies.
"Re-ah-lly. Then I'll just have to go and talk to her. It's time we got some things sorted out. I know Abby sent my test results to Vance and Jackson. She didn't say but I'm guessing she sent them to Andrea too."
"Probably." Ziva nods unsure where he is going with this.
"I should speak to her as well. That would be the gentlemanly thing to do right? I can casually ask about the alibi too."
"I am not sure that's a good idea Tony. Why don't you wait and see what Gibbs thinks."
DiNozzo begins to gather his things together. "Nope. I'm a federal agent Ziva and I can take care of myself. It's time I got to do something in this investigation not just sit on the sidelines feeling sick and sorry for myself. I'm simply going to talk to a colleague. What's the harm in that?" He walks out leaving two slightly stunned friends staring after him.
"Hey Abby." His greeting causes Abby to spin around in her chair away from the monitor she was watching intently as he walked in. She places a bowl of popcorn on the table.
"What can I do for you Mr Palmer?"
"Actually since autopsy is kinda dead at the moment" He smiles at his own joke as she rolls her eyes. "Dr Mallard suggested I come and see if you needed any help."
"Great. Pull up a chair. Four eyes are always better than two. I'm checking out all the security camera footage I could get my hands on of those who went to McC's drinks do and of Tony and Sparr leaving the bar. I thought maybe someone followed them out to see if the drug was working. Not had any luck yet." She picks up her Caf-Pow and takes a long slurp.
"What drug? And what's that got to do with Tony and detective Sparr?"
"Uh, hello the drug that Tony was given, probably at the drinks do, leading him to be accused of raping Sparr. You know the situation that was stressing us out yesterday and this morning? Where have you been? Oh, of course. I told the team after I told IA but I forgot to tell you and Ducky. Sorry Jimmy this has all happened rather fast."
"Abby I'm sorry but I still don't know what you're talking about. I took yesterday and this morning off to catch up on some study. When I got in Dr Mallard sent me straight up here. Said you are working an important case and needed all the help you could get. Tony's been accused of rape? What's going on?"
"It's okay Jimmy." She reaches out and pats him on the arm. "I was able to prove that Tony had been drugged and was not responsible for his actions. He's not in any trouble. Well except for the fact that someone's obviously trying to frame him but we'll work out who that was and make them very, very sorry." She grins.
"So you're going through the footage to see if anyone came out and was watching them and to make a list of those who were there to see if any of them might have had a grudge against DiNozzo?"
"Yep. Wanna help?"
"I'm in." As he grabs a chair and sits down Abby notices he is still frowning as if upset or puzzled by something.
"What is is Jimmy?"
"That is not a nothing face. That is a something face. You really helped the case with that shoe info. Tell me what you're thinking."
"Well, Tony was drugged right?"
"And presumably that affected his memory making it hard for him to defend himself."
"Ah hah." She nods encouragingly.
"It would have affected his actions too, the manner in which he was behaving?"
"In that case why didn't detective Sparr know he'd been drugged?"
"I wondered that too. Before I found out what the drug was. Have you heard of the love bug?"
"Oh." Jimmy nods his head in understanding.
"I got a copy of the statement she gave to her captain through a source we have at Metro. Sparr just thought he was drunk and she was being a good Samaritan in helping him home. She said he was all over her but that she never suspected he'd try anything, not in that condition."
"Wait, what? Sparr said that DiNozzo was all over her as she tried to take him home? That's not true."
"How do you know that?"
"This happened Sunday night right?"
"I was waiting for Tony to come home." He jumps up and begins to pace the room. "I didn't know about the drinks do. I thought Tony was just running late although he usually calls. I was just about to leave when they arrived. Abby she lied. Tony was not all over her. She was all over him. I saw them. He could barely stand and she was kissing him and...I thought it looked a bit strange but I didn't think..."
"Why were you at Tony's that late?"
"Our weekly trip to the gym. I like it when it's not too crowded and you know he likes to work late so often it's nearly midnight before we get there. Abby what's happening?"
"Are you sure about what you saw?"
"Yes" he replies indignantly.
"Then something hinky is going on and I'm guessing she's in the middle of it. We need to tell Gibbs." She grabs his hand and they rush from the room.
He steps from the trees out onto the path with his gun already drawn causing her to stop a short distance away pulling hers from her ankle holster to point at him.
"Thought you'd be back at work but they told me you'd taken an extra day. Nice sneakers. New? As good as ladybirds?"
She does not respond.
"Tell me how you knew Andrea."
"How I knew what?" Neither her gaze or the gun in her hand wavers.
"That petty officer Jones was shot in the back. You said, at the bar, what an ignominious end it was for him to be shot in the back. Such a sad way to die. How did you know?" A small part of him is still hoping he's got this totally wrong.
"Autopsy report. Someone at the crime scene. I'm sure I can think of some way to explain it."
"Oh, Andrea. Do not lie to me please. Aren't we past all that? I know you've not seen the report and I know, I remember what you said. I'm tired of these games aren't you?"
"When did you work it out?"
He shrugs not wanting to admit just how slow he'd been in putting the pieces together. Or had he? Maybe deep down in his gut he'd known all along but not wanted to acknowledge the truth of the matter. "Little while ago."
The thoughts had been swirling in his mind the whole drive over to her place eventually coalescing and being reinforced by another flashback just after he'd pulled in a few blocks away. Realizing that he didn't have his phone he'd stepped into the coffee shop facing her building and commandeered theirs. He'd called Ducky for confirmation and received it at the same time he'd seen her walk out. He'd rushed back to his car and then tailed her as she'd driven to Rock Creek Park and used an old fire trail to come out in front of her on what he'd remembered her telling him was one of her favorite jogging routes.
"Now there's just one more thing I want to know."
"If I was ever really interested in you or if it was all simply misdirection?" She asks with a hint of sarcasm in her tone. Then deciding she owes him this she continues. "I do like you Tony. Thought we might even have a future together. The flirting was genuine. You're a good guy."
"But I let down my guard. Said too much. I knew it was only a matter of time before you remembered."
"So you drugged me. Accused me of rape and..."
"I did felt terrible about that. Guilty. Unclean. I had no choice."
He ignores that. "Tried to distract me and the team for what?"
"Time to get rid of the evidence. I still had a few things at my place. Stuff I'd yet to sell and the sneakers too. With McCadden and Jones dead there's nothing left to tie me to the missing items. Is that what you wanted to know very special agent DiNozzo?"
"No and don't be so sure of yourself. We'll find something and anyway I've got it all on tape." He takes out a small recorder from his pocket and shows it to her keeping his gun steady the whole time.
"It'll never stand up in court. You've got a gun on me, didn't read me my rights and what about my alibi?"
"Ah the alibi. That's why I came looking for you. You and your captain drinking and watching rom-coms. Why don't I buy that?"
She chuckles. "You're quite right. My dear captain has a secret she's quite anxious doesn't get out. She had a bit of a pill popping problem after being injured on the job a couple of years ago. Friday night she was at an NA meeting. She was so desperate to keep it quiet she didn't think about the fact that she'd be alibiing me too. So what was it you wanted to know?"
"Why? Why did you do it Andrea? You're a good cop. Made Lieutenant and you're on your way up. Why risk it?"
"The fun. The excitement." Incredibly she smiles at him. "It was all about the money. The GFC hit everyone hard Tony and I'm a cop. What do you think I have in the way of savings? Something for my retirement? All these years, scumbags and dead bodies. Remove one and another takes its place. Risking my life every other day and what have I got? A shabby office. Colleagues who want my job just waiting for me to screw up. A public more ready to sue us for abusing their rights than to report a crime. Why should I care if a gun gets back on the streets? Or a petty crim treats his girlfriend to some stolen bling. If they didn't get it from me they would elsewhere. Why shouldn't I make some money from it?"
"Money. Phil and Jones are dead and it was about money?"
"You do have lousy taste in women Tony." She gives him a sad little smile.
"I'm not so sure about that. You've done some bad things but that is not all you are."
"Forgive me Tony." She meets his eyes as she prepares to pull the trigger.
Does she hesitate a moment? Decide not to shoot? He'll never know as suddenly shots ring out whizzing through the air past him and hitting Sparr exactly where aimed at, her heart. She falls backwards dropping the gun uselessly at her side. There is no need to rush forward and provide aid as she is dead almost before hitting the ground.
DiNozzo spins around and is not surprised to see the woman standing a short way behind him.
"Kerrriiiist Ziva what do ya think ya doing? You could have killed me!"
She merely smiles. "No way. I am a very good shot."
"Why didn't you give me a chance to talk her down or take the shot?"
"Would you have taken it? I saw the look in her eyes Tony. She was about to kill you. I do not know why. Even if she tried to run we would have found her."
"What are you doing here anyway?" he asks a little more calmly.
"Apart from saving your life?"
"Yeah, apart from that."
"Palmer gave us some information that seemed to indicate Sparr had been lying. He brought it to Gibbs not long after you left."
"The autopsy gremlin helped save my life? Maybe I'll have to think of a new nickname."
Ziva rolls her eyes. "We tried to call and tell you to wait for backup but for some reason McGee could not get through on your cell..."
"Left it at home when I rushed out for my meeting with IA."
"So I had to come after you. I saw you pulling out to follow Sparr so I followed you."
She flips open her phone.
"Who you calling?"
"Someone needs to come and process this scene and deal with the body."
"Not sure who Vance will get to take this case but call Hubbard, you know the city ME to take the body."
"It's been a rough few days for all of us and we could use a break. Hubbard owes us. I'm sure Ducky can arrange it."
"Okay." She begins to thumb through her phone's address book then a thought occurs to her. "Sparr was right about one thing." She glances at the body.
"You do know how to pick them DiNozzo." She grins and walks away to start making her calls.
"I certainly do." He mutters and then laughs a laugh tinged with a touch of hysteria.
NCIS Squad Room. A Few Days Later. Mid-morning.
"What are you working on?'
"Just finishing the case paperwork to get it ready for filing. After all you guys did for me I thought it was the least I could do." He grins at her.
"Well do not let it make you be late for the big event." She grins back.
"Ah. Dunno if I feel up for it Ziva. Maybe I'll just go for a run or watch some movies or something. Take a little me time."
"Tony! You can not back out now. Abby's put so much effort into organizing this. She got director Vance to agree to giving us all an afternoon off to make up for working the holiday weekend, phoned her friend so we could have the whole bowling alley to ourselves and is down in the lab frantically calling everyone to invite them."
"Everyone? I thought this was just going to be a team Gibbs celebrate Tony's not going to jail kinda thing?"
"Abby said she wanted to make it a proper party. Of course we're all coming and she's also called Breena, Emma, Barton, Lecar and Hamilton."
"I get the first three but Lecar and Hamilton? Why?"
"She said it will show special agent Lecar that there are no hard feelings and be a way to welcome him to the family."
"And Hamilton? She really went for me. How can Abby think that I'd want her there?"
"Actually she had very good reasons for acting as she did."
Tony looks puzzled.
"She was trying to make you angry enough to break through the fog of your memories. She was trying to get you to remember something useful. She was actually trying to help."
"She's never really trusted Sparr but had no proof of wrong doing. She quite liked Phil too although not as much as she likes Richard 'call me Dick' Barton." Ziva smiles.
"Hamilton was his source at Metro?"
"Yes. They've only been dating a few weeks but she was happy to help."
"And all that antagonism was also a way to keep her cover? Acting like she didn't believe me was a perfect way to disguise the fact she was helping us. Any calls made here could be explained away as part of the investigation. Clever."
"Then I guess I don't mind her coming. Is there anyone else Abby's invited? Vance perhaps?"
"She tried but he had a meeting with Sec Nav he couldn't change. She said to tell you there's one other special guest besides yourself so you simply must come."
"Sister Rosita. Abby said she's most upset that she's not seen you in ages."
"Well then I'll have to come but there's one thing I need to do first. I'll see you there."
"Yeah and thanks for having my six Ziva."
"It is what partners do." She smiles at him then turns and walks away pleased he will never know about the doubts she'd had. She's been very clear with McGee what will happen if he ever tells him.
Choices. We make them every day. Big choices and small choices. Some that have no meaning and others that have consequences we might not have imagined. Should I have stayed at Norfolk? Should I have ignored the rumors of a dirty cop at Metro? Taken Dick into my confidence? Not gone alone into the alley? Not told Sparr where I was going in case I didn't come back? For a cop it's standard operating procedure, habit to trust those on your team and tell them when meeting a confidential informant. I didn't give it a second thought. I suspected Jackson not her.
Sure I could have made different choices. Could have walked away. Kept my head down and done my job but that's not the type of guy I am or I guess I should say was. I became a cop to stop the bad guys from hurting others and the fact that in this case the bad guy turned out to be one of us; one of the thin blue line is just the way these things go sometimes. I do not regret the choices I made even though making them brought me here to this wooden box unable to hear the words of the man standing above me.
He stands at the foot of a freshly covered grave. The funeral had been held that very morning, a private family service. With the case now closed the time has arrived to mourn the death of a colleague, detective Phillip McCadden, one of the good guys.
"We got her McC. We did it for you. For petty officer Jones too but mostly for you." Standing staring at the temporary marker at the head of the grave it seems important to verbalize these thoughts or at least her name. "It was Sparr Phil, Andrea Sparr. Can you believe that? Though now I think about it you were there so you might already know if you saw her."
Suddenly realizing that speaking to a grave marker will look rather odd to anyone passing by he continues the conversation in his mind. It was all about the money. Just a little something extra to make life more comfortable. She didn't care if the guns ended up killing innocent bystanders or the drugs caused an overdose. She didn't care who got hurt as long as she got what she wanted.
She even tried drugging me to distract me from the case. Went with a false allegation of rape. Kinda like in Disclosure. Did you ever see that McC? Nineteen ninety-four. Barry Levinson directing Demi Moore, Michael Douglas and Donald Sutherland. What a movie. We worked it out though. Team Gibbs did it again with a little help. The boss, Ducky, Palmer, Abby, Ziva and Tim had your six and mine. I'm sorry we didn't have it when you were here.
He sighs and stares at the marker a moment longer before walking away as a light drizzle begins to fall after all he has a bowling party to get to and with Abby and Sister Rosita waiting it would be a very bad idea to be late.