III. "We are responsible for the effort not the outcome." – Unknown
"One last round of questions. You can say no."
Deeks leaned over and picked up the yellow pad. "I intend to use this one day. Go."
"Where did you disappear to last summer?"
Deeks looked at her but didn't move to make a mark on the legal pad. "I was working on the Emilio Ortega-Radovan Lazik case, 147 days. You know that. You guys got me out. I always assumed you shot Lazik's bodyguard and your first words to me were shut up. It was as if I never left."
"But you did. You left in the middle of April..."
"Late April actually and the case wrapped up a couple weeks into September. I was back at the Mission in the beginning of October because I had to wrap things up with Internal Affairs and ICE. I also needed to get back here and open the windows, go through 147 days of mail. Get back to being me. That's all I did." He looked at her completely confused by this line of questioning. "Well, I helped you guys out a couple of times in May."
"Yeah, you were able to squeeze us in."
"Yeah." Deeks started racking his memory, trying to figure out where she was going. "You called in May fairly early one morning about a hit and run. You want LAPD out of things so LAPD was out of things. You called about day or two later about a couple of dead guys in an old rec center somewhere and you'd be handling it. There was something else about a warehouse in West Covina. I'm sorry if I don't remember the specifics but I just passed things on to the folks who could handle it."
"Where were you?"
"Sully's apartment probably. I think I was in the car going to see Ortega when the dead guys in the rec center call came in. Kensi, if I blew you off or you wanted to talk, I'm sorry."
"You stopped answering when I called."
"Things picked up. Jess asked Ruben, who was riding a desk because he was about to retire, to start handling the calls. I know Ruben, I'm sure he took care of everything."
"Detective Ramos was fine. You just disappeared."
"Things picked up," he spoke slowly.
"You showed up for Dom's memorial service."
Deeks felt like he was getting whiplash. "Before I started as Sully, I set up all sorts of alerts. Anything that came in with Dom's name, your name, Sam's, Callen's, Hetty's, Eric's, Nate's - anything happened to any of you, I was supposed to be contacted immediately. Hell, I'm still supposed to be contacted if your names show up for any Los Angeles police, fire or medical emergencies. You guys ordered a MedEvac helicopter for Dom so I got the call. It was pretty early in the morning if I remember right."
"How did you know about the service?"
"I know where Eric surfs. Like all good surfers, after a shitty day, he went to where he would feel better. I made sure I wasn't followed, I made sure we ran into each other. He was wrecked."
"We all were."
"I'm sorry. I asked him to tell me about any funeral or memorial service and he text'd me a day or two later with the memorial service info. I am sorry if you thought it was wrong to go, I'm sorry that I couldn't stay. It wasn't a great idea for my case but I knew how everyone felt about Dom and wanted to pay my respects."
"Dom was a good guy."
"That's what I got from the service. Good man, learning to be a good agent. I read your forensic report about the theater. You guys were seriously outmanned and outgunned and you almost saved him."
"Almost," Kensi's voice cracked a little. "How did you see the forensic report?"
"For a lot of May, Ortega was just using me to show up at closings for some properties involved in his drug and trafficking businesses to make sure he wasn't getting screwed. I had plenty of free time and LAPD gave me legal documents to review for them. I asked for anything that included NCIS so I saw Dom's rescue, an explosion at a warehouse where you, Sam and Callen were witnesses. I was trying to keep up with LAPD and NCIS before things picked up. "
"In early June, I mentioned if Ortega set up a corporation, there were breaks he could get in insurance, taxes - well, the taxes he was will to pay - leasing things like cars. I laid it all out for them. Sully's fee, which was $3,500 a closing went up to a $20,000 a week retainer and I was on-call 24/7/365."
"Sully was disbarred."
"No, he had his law license suspended. If he behaved himself, he could get it back. He could show up with money and post bail for Emilio's crew, file papers, negotiate agreements. Sully was a business advisor, not a legal advisor. Even had cards made."
"So you couldn't spare a minute for us?"
"This may come as a surprise to you but a man who worked his way up from teenage gang member to a mini-crime lord was not very understanding when you didn't answer the phone right away when he wanted to talk. $20,000 a week bought him Sully's complete loyalty and attention and when I was a late bailing out Luis Fellano's idiot nephew for one afternoon it was made clear to me that Sully's time was Ortega's time."
"Why were you late?"
"Dentist. I had a bad tooth. It was taken care of because it got knocked loose during the beating I took. Told the dentist I was mugged and just had him pull it. I surfed with my phone in my wetsuit after that."
"Deeks," Kensi's offered an unspoken apology.
"So I'm sorry if I missed some call or if you didn't want to deal with Ruben. He was a good cop, a good handler and I'm sure he did whatever needed to be done for you guys."
"He did. What were you doing when things picked up?"
"Besides posting bail in a timely fashion for idiots going forward, I became the person looking at the properties for all the real estate deals. I was a lot more acceptable to most of the real estate agents than Ortega and his gang neck tattoos."
"And what was Det. Traynor doing?"
"Babysitting me, building a case with the land deals, working with Interpol tracking Lazik."
"In the beginning, nothing was going on and I was bored. I'm not good at bored."
"Shocking, I know. My boss wasn't a fan of this operation. He was the one sending over paperwork of other cases for me to review. He thought this was a waste of time and was punishing me by giving me my old legal bureau stuff to do. I was on the phone with her bitching about it every day."
"So she got to listen to you whine every day, lucky girl."
"I thought about calling you to whine a couple of times but I was sure you were out saving the world while I was reviewing search warrant requests for upcoming trials to make sure there was nothing the defense could target as improper." Deeks frowned.
"But then things picked up."
"When Sully was put on the full time payroll, Ortega wanted me at all his meetings, I sat there and listened to people talk about moving teenage girls using words like 'merchandise,' 'cargo,' and 'shipment.' Sully negotiated a deal with a doctor with a suspended license to keep the 'shipment' minimally healthy once they were set up in the whorehouses. Lazik liked Sully's initiative on that one. Nothing like having a guy who thinks a 15-year old girl and her 14-year old sister are 'cargo' to be transported like tee-shirts or ceramic bowls compliment you for your good business sense. It just was soul crushing every day but Jess would call at night and she was so committed to the cause that it made getting up and getting through another day worthwhile."
"Do you need little pep talks when you're undercover?"
"Pep talks?" Deeks was a bit taken back. "What did you do Labor Day weekend? Have a case where you hot-wired a tank, rappelled down a skyscraper before chasing the bad guy through the subway?"
"No, I was in San Diego. A few friends were back from Afghanistan after a deployment and we had a barbeque. It was fun."
"I went to a barbeque too. Well, on Saturday I did. I'm at the beach, playing catch with Monty and my phone rings. I'm invited to Ortega's family barbeque. I thought it was a joke but no, I show up and he's got his family, the families of all his trusted lieutenants over for barbeque fun."
"Nope. I'm sitting there with Grandma Ortega having these awesome fish tacos, shooting hoops with Fellano's idiot nephew."
"The one who cost you the tooth."
"One and the same. Then the idiot nephew's sister comes up to me. She's an honors student at Marymount High School and wants to be a lawyer. She's sitting there asking me questions about being a lawyer and I'm looking at this pretty 16-year old girl whose parents are spending a fortune getting her educated and if she was in the wrong place and the wrong time in Mexico, she could be on one of those trucks her uncle's boss owns as 'merchandise' or 'cargo.' Made me sick."
Kensi just shook her head in disgust.
"So I finish with this sweet kid and Fellano comes up to me to thank me for being nice to the girl. He then starts making fun of the girl's dad, his half brother. Manny's got a job at the post office, a wife who is a nurse, three teenage kids. Fellano is laughing about how Manny thinks he's better than him but Fellano's paying the tuition for the two girls at Marymount - about $60,000 a year. And the idiot nephew is in Loyola on Fellano's dime when he's not selling drugs. That's where I wound up after stealing the Camero and it costs over fifteen grand. Suddenly, the girl goes from being lucky to be on this side of the border to being someone who is going to lose her free ride at a good school and possibly her brother when we start making arrests. Awesome, huh? But then the fun starts."
"I'm afraid to ask."
"But then you'll never know when I need a pep talk."
"Deeks, that came out wrong before..."
He just ignored her, "Around eight o'clock, the family members start leaving and I figure I can leave, call in and tell Jess I'm trusted enough to spend the day at a barbeque. But no. The party for the men folk isn't over. Out comes the expensive scotch, Cuban cigars, some coke, couple dozen joints, a bowl with Viagra in it."
"Yep. Doorbell rings and a bunch of the strippers from one of Ortega's legit, yet sleazy, businesses. They're the evening's entertainment. There's some stripping, two of the girls put on a show and then it's time for to pick a girl for a fun time. Mandatory fun time. The girls were all paid for, the host wouldn't really tolerate inhospitable behavior."
"What did you do?"
"Found the oldest looking girl, took a few joints, went out on the back deck, smoked a joint with the girl, I think she told me her name was Donna, got a blow job and talked about how she could redo the mortgage on her mother's house. We both had a beer and I offered her a ride home."
"Probably not a good idea for you to be driving."
"No. Especially with three joints left in my shirt pocket and both of us bringing a beer for the road. Got her home OK, gave her all the money I had in my wallet and one of the joints, drove back to Sully's place, sat out on the balcony, finished off a second joint and another beer. I got up that morning to surf and hang with Monty, maybe catch a movie. I never did see "Iron Man 2" that summer."
"Didn't miss much."
"No. Caught it on Netflix. Stunk. Still would have been better than sitting with a group of gang members and drug dealers watching two strippers make out and having the men make crude comments to the girls."
"What happened after that?"
"Dozed off on the balcony. Monty was out there, the two of us sleeping under the stars. Woke up around 7, flushed the remaining joint down the toilet, took a long shower. After I walked Monty, I got into my car, got some take out pancakes, I wasn't that hungry since college." Deeks shook his head. "Showed up at Jess's and just unloaded. The whole night before, just spending day after day with these men who kept surprising me by how horrendous they are. It needed to end. I needed it to end."
"How did she react?"
"She listened. Didn't say anything, just let me go on and on. When I was done, she told me to just get some sleep and we'd talk. I slept for nearly eight hours on her couch. When I woke up, she was watching the end of the US Open Tennis and I was a lot less nuts."
Deeks watched Kensi pick her words carefully. "She talk you down after that?"
"No, we started figuring out how to wrap this up. It was coming to a head. Ortega had all the real estate, I got him some day laborers to rework the houses so there enough bedrooms, bathrooms and high walls in the ones being used as whorehouses. There needed to be enough locks, soundproofing and higher walls around the homes being used as, for the lack of a better word, warehouses for the girls. All we needed was Lazik to start the pipeline. That's when she told me about Christina."
"That story about her cousin was true."
"Yes. She also told me that she wanted to approach Ortega. Make it look like she wanted a bribe and then get him as a witness against Lazik."
"She didn't want him in jail."
"Oh, she wanted him in jail but she wanted Lazik more. Lazik mattered more. Higher profile, bigger bust. Jess had plans."
"After she took down Lazik, she was going to bring Christina's case to Congress, press for legislation, press for FBI task forces, get ICE involved. Big plans."
"Where would that have left you?"
Deeks was surprised by her question. "Where I wound up. Finish the case, file the paperwork, take a few days off to get my life back in order, then report to LAPD and Hetty and go back to work."
"You wouldn't have gone with her to bring the case to Congress, press for legislation."
"No, that was her cause. I'm an undercover cop. I told you I'd be back."
"And you were." Kensi looked at her beer.
"The LAPD was a means to an end for her. It is for some cops who want to join the DA's office, private security, the FBI..."
"NCIS. Some men seek NCIS, others get NCIS thrust upon them."
"You would have left her?"
"There wasn't much to leave. Kensi, she threw me a mercy..." Deeks searched for a kinder term than fuck, "bit of affection. She got me out of a place where women were victims, merchandise, whores or strippers. If you want to know if I slept with her, I did. I liked her, I think she liked me. Lazik had a photo of me leaving her building, probably courtesy of Scarli. So while she kept me sane for the last three weeks of the case, I probably helped get her killed. Frank got pictures of me with Jess, of me with Ortega and of Jess with Ortega. We were all going to die at that point, I just lucked out and was rescued by you."
"You didn't luck out."
"Please don't go with it not being my time. One of the LAPD counselors tried that. I lucked out. I got out of the car when the security gate wouldn't open. Probably because the transmitter for the bomb was screwing with the transmitter for the gate. Ortega and Fellano were blown to bits because they were too damn lazy to get out of their car and I was the paid help. I was plowed under on pain killers from my injuries when Jess was looking for me so we weren't blown up together. You, Eric, Nate, Sam and Callen found that old plant where I was getting the shit knocked out of me before Lazik could execute me."
"It wouldn't have come to..."
"Kens, I was on my knees spitting up blood when Callen walked into the room. Before that, I was only hoping that my body would be found before the rats got to me. I got lucky. Jess didn't, I did."
"She seemed like a good person."
"She was. She wanted to work in television before her cousin was kidnapped. She wanted justice for Christina after that. She was finishing her masters in public administration. She was going to run somebody's human trafficking division in law enforcement in a short time. Probably be on CNN talking about it to Anderson Cooper. God, she loved cable news." Deeks's shook his head sadly.
"And you could have walked away from her?"
"She would have done the walking. I was part of her means to an end. Again, I think she liked me. She certainly tolerated me. But she would have been off to Sacramento, off to Washington and I would have been here. Got a friend in a band who calls his relationships on tour 'road-mances'. That's what I had with Jess - investigation infatuation. We'd have been friends, nothing more."
"Maybe she would have stayed with you."
"No. Jess was a woman with a cause. I respected her, I respected it. We mostly watched Anderson Cooper, Raiders football and played Madden. She always had to be the Raiders, I was always the 49ers. Again, it was nice to be with someone who didn't need to have the fine points of not cutting off an employee's hand because they thought, but could not prove, that the employee was stealing."
"Did you have to talk Ortega out of cutting off a man's hand?"
"Teenager's hand. Ortega had a number of high school students who were dealers for him. One kid was about $5K short and had a new motorcycle. Ortega saw this program on the History Channel about justice in some foreign country and they chopped off the hands of thieves. He wanted to make this kid an example."
"I recommended putting the fear of God into the kid might make the money show up. Fellano agreed. Kid with no hand might not give back the money, kid who is scared, maybe knocked around a little, would find the cash. They beat the kid into a coma and stole the bike. His father came up with the five grand by selling the family car. I didn't consider this one of my successes as a business advisor."
"Oh, Deeks. I was out of line when I said what I did about pep talks."
Deeks shrugged off her apology. "So if I didn't call, if I didn't write, it was because I was honestly busy with a group of people I wouldn't spit on if they were on fire."
Kensi nodded. "No more about Ortega. Are you happy at NCIS?"
Deeks moved to make a check-mark but decided not to. More whiplash questioning. Looking right at Kensi, he answered, "I'm happy working with NCIS. I'm well aware I lack the secret agent training Callen has, the Navy SEAL discipline of Sam and your general bad-assery but I hold my own."
"My general bad-assery?" Kensi smiled.
"I could make a joke about your ass but since you'd likely kick mine, yes, your general bad assery."
"Do you miss the LAPD?"
Deeks finally made a check mark on his legal pad. "Since I still work for them, no."
"You know what I mean."
"No actually, I don't."
"You don't miss your friends? Your co-workers?"
"Last summer, I would have told you Frank Scarli was one of my friends. He was always good to me until, you know, he tried to kill me so no, I don't miss him."
"You don't miss them at all?"
"Kensi, I worked alone. I had a handler, a boss and a person I was pretending to be. I didn't have intelligence officers getting me in time data to keep me alive. There was no Sam and Callen to run a side investigation if any of my cases started falling apart. There was no you providing cover while I'm getting shot at or helping me sell my grief over my best friend's death as a computer genius blows up a truck allowing my witness to survive. NCIS gives me an opportunity to do what I do but do it better."
"Do you miss working alone?"
"Only when you're in one of your control freak phases. I've spent years making things up as I've gone along. I'm good at that."
"Like when you're on your knees hoping the rats don't get you?"
"Another moment I won't consider a career success but there are times I missing doing what I think needs to be done." Deeks saw Kensi try to keep from having a reaction but her eyes said she was hurt. "But then a car needs to be hot-wired and I can't do that. Someone looks suspicious to me because as a cop, everyone in an investigation is a suspect, you see a grieving fiancé."
"Your instincts about people are usually fine."
"Usually but not always. Nice to having someone to bounce ideas off."
"Even if I'm in a control freak phase."
"I told you a while back I am trying to take this all more seriously - though I always took things seriously, just always didn't look like it. I know you're trying to dial it back and I'm grateful for the effort."
"You don't think I'm succeeding."
"You succeed at everything Kens, you'll get it."
"Are you going to go back to the LAPD?" Kensi's words came out in a rush.
"You want a new partner?"
"No. Would you think about applying to NCIS?"
"No." Deeks was surprised by this line of questioning. Shocked actually.
"I'm a cop."
"There are a lot of former police officers with NCIS."
"You could do that. You'd need some training but …."
"But I like being a cop."
"You can do so much more."
"I think I'm doing fine."
"What happens if LAPD or NCIS ends the liaison program?"
"I've been assured by both Hetty and my boss that everyone is happy with my work and the program." Deeks smiled. "Besides, Kensi, I'm not going anywhere. LAPD would have to find cause to fire me and I'm not dirty, I do my job well and my arrest record when I was there full-time was fine. They don't miss me. So the only way LAPD gets rid of the liaison program is if they really want me back or if there is an opening in the Island of Misfit Toys precinct, I'll be at work tomorrow."
Kensi opened her mouth but said nothing. She just wound up nodding.
Deeks took a deep breath and in a serious tone, offered his assurance. "Kensi, I'm not going anywhere."
She pretended it did matter but Deeks knew better. "Island of Misfit Toys? Really?"
"You could join the LAPD? We could go all "Starsky and Hutch" - we got the right hair colors, there's that cool car you'd never let me drive."
"Deeks." Kensi tried to be stern but wound up laughing. She suddenly got serious. "I am sorry about pep talk. That was out of line."
"Be happy you've had short covers." Deeks smiled at her and winked. He picked up the yellow pad. Knowing he let her get away with murder on the count, he decided to cut a deal. "How about we leave this at twenty questions. I get twenty questions free and clear..."
"At a day and time of your choosing. Deal."
Deeks wrote the number twenty on their contract and initialed it. He handed the legal pad to Kensi and she did the same. "You know, with Sam and Callen causing problems today, you and I probably get the next Clandestino assignment. Nothing like gambling with a beautiful woman on my arm." Deeks took back the legal pad.
"You're gambling? Who says you get to be the wealthy guest at the club?"
"I could be happy as a kept man." Deeks wiggled his eyebrows at Kensi. "I'm totally on board for being your boy toy." He tore their contract from the pad, folding it several times. Standing, he pulled out his wallet and tucked it behind his driver's license. "What do I owe you for dinner?"
"You're a kept man, dinner's on me."
"Thanks." He was truly grateful. He never really had anyone who cared enough to listen to him talk about his past. Never told Jess much. Couldn't tell Nicole or the collection of crazy, bitter ex's he had. He told her though, he thought as he plopped back on his chaise. He told her.
"Contractually obligated or not, thanks for being so open."
"I'd have told you some of it eventually." He would have never told her about Labor Day Saturday without her "pep talk" insult. He knew that. "Easier to get it all out tonight."
"You gonna be OK here tonight?"
"Sure. I'm well fed, Ray's safe, so's Jenna and the future Ray Jr., I got twenty questions in my pocket and every intention on using them some day. Christmas in May."
"Well, Jolly St. Deeks, I think I'm going to hit the road." Kensi stood and so did he. "I'll see you in the morning." She smiled at him as they started walking to the door.
God, he thought, he'd love to see her do that more often. "Thanks again Kens. You're a good partner."
"Night." He watched her as she walked to her car. Ray was right. They have a thing.
If you made it this far - bless your heart.
Thank you all for the nice notes and feedback. Read every word with a smile on my face.
While I have no sequel planned for this story, I wouldn't be surprised if the "twenty questions" contract come up again. Much like poor Det. Traynor, I have plans.