AN: In the Spring of 2011 I was walking with the family in the oddly named Wet Sleddale, (pronounced 'sleddle' locally) near where they live in Cumbria. It must be an extraordinarily wet place to have it mentioned in the name, since the whole of Cumbria qualifies!
There's a dam there, not a huge one, but substantial enough, and if you've ever seen the odd, cult British film 'Withnail and I', yes, it's that dam. Imogen asked what would happen if the dam broke, and her dad said that it was a good job that Shap, the small town/large village nearby was on higher ground, because it was only a little dam but there was enough water in it to flatten the place. And from that was born an idea that's dogged me ever since.
Trouble is, do I know anything about dams? Nope. Hydrodynamics? Uh-uh. Is that going to stop me? When's ignorance ever stopped me before? I promise to do the best research I can... but hey, I want to write my story. Takes place after 'Family'. Title chosen by Di.
Cowboy Tony Rides Again
In the end, he'd quietly bought Doris, although he hadn't told the team, and he hadn't moved her closer to DC.
"You don't have to buy her, Tony," Sally had protested, "she's yours anyway," but he did. It was unfair to expect the Frames to keep one of their best saddle horses for his exclusive use when he'd been getting down to see her, and them, so infrequently. So he'd bought her, and when he wasn't around, which was far too much, she worked with the NARH which met regularly at the equestrian centre, patiently and carefully looking after young disabled riders. "She's brilliant," Sally said, "But she's never happier than when you're here, Tony."
"And if I'd known how this year was going to go," he told the big brown mare ruefully, "I'd just have stayed up here in the hills with you anyway."
She waggled an ear at him reassuringly, and went on cropping the lush summer grass, as he leaned against a comfortable tree. Twilight had given way to clear moonlight, and he'd called Sally to let her and Amos know he'd be staying up here all night. She'd sighed, and shaken her head.
"He's got something on his mind again," she told Amos. "Why he can't just sit here by the range and talk to us I don't know."
"He did last time, Sass." "In the end! After he'd fallen down a hole, dragged his boss half way up a mountain for what I was sure was a fight, and Lord knows what else!"
"In the end! After he'd fallen down a hole, dragged his boss half way up a mountain for what I was sure was a fight, and Lord knows what else!"
"I thought you didn't mind being a coping mechanism, love."
"Did I say that? Huh... yes, I did. I don't... but he's... he doesn't look angry, or stressed the way he's not stopped looking since we first knew him... he looks... he looks heartbroken, Mos..."
He rose from his seat at the kitchen table, and draped his arm round her shoulders. "He'll tell us soon enough, hon. And if he doesn't, we'll ask him." He ran a finger down the bookings ledger. "Two parties tomorrow, a four and a seven. I'll go and check saddles." He kissed her and went out into the yard. Sally looked up at the moon through the kitchen window, and sighed again.
Tony banged his head back against the tree. It wasn't his favourite oak at Belinda's Secret; he wasn't spoiling that place by taking the way he felt right now out there. "See, this time... this time it's all my own damn fault. Which this time am I talking about? The lying to my team or the breaking a girl's heart? Aren't I the lucky one to have a few to choose from?"
He pulled a blade of grass and chewed thoughtfully on the end; Doris would have told him that wasn't the right way to eat it, but her mouth was full.
"OK, I can see you're really interested... see I was in love once before; and she left me the day before the wedding. I never did know why, although she said it wasn't anything I'd done... who knows? That was then... this time it was all down to me. Oh, yeah. I told her I loved her, different her, OK? - and I do, Doris, that's the truth, but she'd found out everything else was a lie, so why should she have believed that? I can't believe her father did that to her either... he knew who I was, freak knows how long ago Kort blew my cover... but he never told Jeanne... I don't know if he's even told her now that he already knew – I bet not... he played his own daughter like a fish, I have no idea why... but he's not the one she's mad at. Course not, he's Dad. Papa. I'm just the lying Fed who pretended to be someone else... I went to the hospital to try to talk to her; she'd gone, no-one had seen her... Nurse Carly was crying and wanting to know if I'd done something to hurt her, what could I say..."
He hunched himself up in a ball, and ran his fingers through his hair. He wished... he should have said no... his instincts had screamed that this wasn't for God and Country, that it wasn't actually anything like what the Director said it was, or why would she have ordered him not to tell Gibbs when he returned? Her absolute lack of concern for his feelings as she debriefed him in her office had told him all his misgivings were right; and it hadn't been long before another SFA had filled him in on her attitude in the bull pen after Ducky had given his good news.
"I tell you, it honestly chilled my blood, Tony," Joe Patterson had said. "Everyone was listening all around the room; when Ducky said the body wasn't you, we'd have all got up and cheered if the Director hadn't been there. All she said was that this could lead us to the Frog... Gibbs said 'and DiNozzo', and she was so goddam' off-hand...'oh well of course DiNozzo is our first priority' – she might as well have just shut up as made it so clear she didn't give a shit. I tell you, Tony, none of us ever want to work for her!"
"You hang on to that thought, Joe... it could save your life one day."
"Sure... Hey... you all right, DiNozzo? Anything we can do? Take you out, get you drunk?"
Tony had laughed sadly. "I'd say that's a really kind idea, but I'm deep enough in Gibbs' bad books as it is... but hey, thanks..."
"Gibbs bad books... just Gibbs? Tell you what, gal, let's start with Abby..." Doris gave him her usual patient look.
Tim had said something to her about Tony and lies, so Abby was mad at him for upsetting McGeek, and told him he should apologise. He settled for the old superglue trick and starting a war, which of course gave Tim the chance to let off steam by asking just about the most insensitive question he could come up with, to get a snarky answer back, which upped the stakes so he 'forgot' to tell him about the sprinklers...
Ziva offered her advice. Whether he wanted it or not. Which he thought he'd made it pretty clear he didn't. 'You did not think this through'. Ziva, I've spent the last six months thinking of nothing else! So he'd snapped, and ended up having to apologise to her! For the sake of peace in the team, he'd done it perfectly; 'I know you were trying to help', hoping the wording would make her leave it – and then she wanted it with chocolate sauce on. 'And did I?'
If he hadn't been plotting the next move in the superglue war he'd probably have screamed; but he was the best undercover operative in the whole of NCIS, and his face never cracked.
"She corners me in the gents, lists all the things I've done wrong, and then she wants me to tell her it helped." He sighed, and Doris lifted her head and huffed back. "So, I've got both the girls, three if you count the Director, on my case, and there's nothing I can do, because it's all my own fault in the first place. McGee... now that's odd, because in the middle of the glue war, he sees I'm having a seriously hard time phoning Heidi's previous victims, and he asks Gibbs to let me stop. He thinks I can't hear him, bless... but my ears are nearly as good as yours, even if I can't flick them."
Doris took a few supportive paces closer to him, before returning to her moonlight feast.
"Gibbs didn't bother to keep his voice down... he just gave that thin – OK, mean – smile he does... the same one he gave McGee when he left the top on the acetone... and told him I could do a few more. The Pr – Tim had pointed out that we already had enough information..." He sighed from his boots. "I thought after his trek up here that the Boss and I understood each other... he should know he doesn't need to punish me for this... but truth is, I think I have to just accept that deep down underneath he cares, but he ain't going to change the top layers... how he does things... for anyone. I mean, I thought he was supporting me, being there in Jenny's office... looking back, I think it was more re-establishing just who owns me to her..."
He stood up so suddenly that Doris took an edgy step back and he had to pat her neck and reassure her.
"Sorry, gal... sshh... see, in the end, the only thing that matters is that I've no right to be complaining. Which is why you're the only one I complain to! I brought it on myself... I could have said no, or let Gibbs know what was going on... or told Jeanne... but they don't see that that's the real crunch, Doris. I broke a wonderful girl's heart, and I love her and I've lost her, and what they think of me's nothing to what she must be thinking. And the guilt's drowning me."
Once again, it had been Tim who'd helped. Gibbs and Ziva seemed to imply that right, the letter had been burned, now they could all get back to normal. The Boss had called an early finish; McGee had hung back in the parking garage.
"Too soon to say come for a drink, isn't it."
"Yeah, just a bit... but, um... thanks."
"Well... you know where I live." His voice had tailed off, then suddenly became very positive. "But right now, I think you ought to go and see Doris... hey, you can get there easily before dark... I'll make some excuse for you in the morning."
Tony had found the grubby concrete floor suddenly interesting. He finally looked up. "Appreciate that, McGee..." He'd fled to his car as his voice packed in on him, and not even bothered to go home for a change of clothes.
Now he shook out a couple of blankets from his saddle roll; they were full sized Navajo woven ones, not the pair of narrower serapes he'd been expecting. Sally... always looking out for him. He put one over Doris's back, and shrugged the other one round his shoulders. "Gonna see if I can catch some zees, darlin'," he told her. "Doubt it somehow, but hey... you could try it yourself... unless you want to see how much of the vegetation you can demolish before dawn."
She butted him gently, and he fished out the hoped for treat. She took the apple delicately, and Tony left her crunching as he sat down again and wrapped the blanket round him. Cowboy Tony and his faithful steed, sleeping out under the stars... He glanced at his watch – half-past one. He'd been talking to Doris for longer than he'd thought. He leaned against the tree, watched the stars, and tried, with no success at all, to empty his mind.
Of course he was assaulted by pictures he didn't want to see... the fireball of his car – and no-one had spared so much as a thought for the man he knew only as Henri – the man incinerated instead of him and Jeanne... he had, but what good did it do? He silently apologised to the big bodyguard's shade. That at least couldn't be laid at his door, but he was still sorry.
Jeanne's beautiful, confused, angry face... 'Who are you? Who?' The anxious Rene pacing in the background, afraid of being so out in the open and exposed...The relief on the team's faces, that instantly morphed into accusation... guess he'd better hang on to the relief bit...
He wondered, as the night wore on, and for lack of anything better to wonder about, why he'd used that word 'drowning', and decided it must be because of where he was. There was a dam nearby, a small construction, that held in the waters of one of four interlinked reservoirs. According to Amos, they'd been built a long time ago, and Tony had planned to take a look once the daylight returned, and he could read his map. In any case, moonlight or not, he'd no intention of taking himself or Doris blundering into a cold lake in the middle of the night. He wondered about getting up from where he was and taking a walk to see if he could find it, but even the thought of a full moon on still water wasn't enough to make him want to stir his leaden, miserable limbs... Get a grip, DiNozzo, it's your own fault. Suck it up...
There was moisture on his cheeks and he swiped it away furiously. He didn't do the whole crying thing. DiNozzos didn't... DiNozzos didn't rush headlong, open eyed into certain disaster. The telepathic Doris moved closer again, and he rubbed her brown, Morgan nose. She snuffled sympathetically – or at least he thought so – and then, suddenly, her head reared up, and she gave that unmistakeable snort of warning he was familiar with. It was so fierce it made him reach for his gun as he leapt to his feet; but then he didn't draw the weapon, as his own ears picked up the sound that had spooked her. A truck engine... being gunned in low gear as it climbed a steep hill.
Tony shook his head angrily; his first two thoughts were equally illogical. Gibbs... what did he want now? No, DiNozzo, not everything's about you.
Amos had some urgent need of him. No to that too... it wasn't Amos's truck, and anyway, thanks to an eyesore of a communications tower only five miles away, cell reception was fine. He still checked.
OK, he was curious. Nobody knew he was up here, and that was how he wanted it to stay, but if someone else was, he wanted to know who, where and why. He unhitched Doris's reins from her neck and dropped them on the ground; her signal to stay where she was. Either he had a good imagination, or she looked put out. Tony patted her apologetically. "Be right back." He pulled his hat down low to shade his face, not wanting a sudden pale flash of skin in the moonlight to give his presence away, and set off carefully through the trees. Cowboy Tony stalks the outlaws...
The truck engine died, quite close by, and there was the sound of doors slamming. Three. What were three people doing up here? If they were poachers, he'd get the number of the truck then make himself scarce; it'd be kind of ignominious to get himself peppered with buckshot. There were voices, making no attempt at quietness; he couldn't make out the words, but his original estimate had been right – three different males. He turned his bandana round and pulled it up over his nose, even more determined to remain unseen as he crept closer.
At the edge of the trees he stopped; the lake lay before him under the moon, and even in the mood he was in, the view still brought him up short, but then his attention turned to the dam, about a hundred yards away. The truck he'd heard was stopped at the near end of the dam head, and out along the top of it, he could see three flashlights bobbing. They seemed to be pointing down the dam wall.
Since none of them were pointing in his direction, and since the figures wielding them were almost invisible to him, so he must be to them, he decided it was safe to get a bit closer. Safe? Why had he decided these guys were up to no good? He dodged from one low bush to another, until he was crouched not twenty feet from the dark GMC, and he memorised the licence plate, as he strained his ears to hear what the men were saying.
"...Wasting time... strongest... target the lower..."
"Crazy... other way... weakness..."
The third voice was clearer, as the men came back towards their vehicle. "Whatever... we're not going to rush this. We know the outcome we need; now what we want's a foolproof way of getting it.
"And not getting caught," the second voice said.
"Don't worry about that," the first voice he'd heard said impatiently. "The whole system's old and weak, Lesniak's right... we just got to make sure no-one listens to her, until it's too late, then she can be as right as she likes."
The second voice wasn't placated. "That's getting harder, now Townley's taking an interest. You said don't rush, Brew, but the tide'll turn against us. We should move soon."
Tony drew a silent but sharp breath. Townley... come on, it wasn't such an unusual name... but how many Townleys did he know in this area? Had Simon and his son decided to settle round here? He'd known they were thinking about it, but their half- formed friendship had been yet another casualty of working twenty-four seven ever since Jenny had said 'There's a girl I want you to meet...'
As he leaned forwards, intently trying to hear more, he put his hand on a nettle, and drew it back with a sharp hiss. The bush he was concealed behind moved slightly.
"What the hell was that?" It was voice number two, the nervous one.
Tony's first instinct was to draw his Sig, but he was nothing if not good at thinking on his feet... or in this case his belly. He rolled silently away, and as he came up behind another bush, further off, he hissed again and moved that a little too.
"Aah... just a fox." Voice one again, the one called 'Brew'. "Jumpy tonight, aren't you? C'me on, let's go." Tony lay still in a pool of shadow while the truck started up, reversed, and set off back down the hill, then he got up slowly, and walked out along the dam, rubbing his stinging hand.
The moon was behind him, and the face of the dam, a drop of maybe sixty or eighty feet sank away into shadow below him. It was impossible to tell what the men had been looking for, but the words 'waste of time' hung in Tony's mind. It didn't seem as if they'd actually done anything, but if their intention was good, he was the Lone Ranger. At which point he felt ridiculous, and pulled his bandana mask back down as he walked back to Doris. Never assume... he'd wait until morning and take another look.
He'd also find out if Townley was Simon – or confirm it, because somehow he already knew. There was something going on here... and who the hell was Lesniak?
AN: WIP again... it's the only way this bone-idle tale-teller can get herself moving.