AN: I'm not vain enough to think my absence has been universally noticed, but sincere thanks to Gail Cregg and one or two others who've been prodding me back to writing after a family bereavement sucked the life out of us all.
A guest mention of one of my favourite OCs – if you've not read my stories where she appears it's not a problem; Lieutenant Kath Wigg is a large and formidable cop who has an on-off, from time to time, gentle thing going with Gibbs.
And I'm ashamed to admit, I can't remember which of my kind friends mentioned driving a bus. My apologies; the plot aardvark is guilty and grateful too.
Takes place early season 2.
The Wheels on the Bus...
The young man bounced with enthusiasm as he stepped onto the Greyhound bus, looking around eagerly. "Cool, road trip! Don't look so glum, it's going to be fun!" He wore scruffy jeans and a baseball cap back to front, and a silly grin.
"No it's not," his companion snarked. "Just my luck to be travelling with you when you crashed the car... just my luck your dad won't pay for an air ticket home!" He couldn't have been more different; neatly dressed and carrying a laptop cradled in his arms as if he were hugging it.
"Well, you didn't have to come... your dad was happy to pay yours –"
"Until they put their heads together and decided that since you couldn't be let loose on your own I had to baby-sit you all the way back to Detroit!"
"Still time to change your mind! You've got enough cash for a taxi to the airport. I'll be fine on my own. Won't have to listen to you telling me what an idiot I am... won't have the embarrassment of being babysat by my baby cousin! Hey, can I have the window seat?"
"If your dad didn't kill me for abandoning you, mine would. Sure look out the window. And I'm not going to tell you anything, I'm going to work anyway and ignore you!" The last words were shouted.
The scruffy young man huffed and threw himself heavily into his seat, earning a glare from the bus's driver, who came aboard just in time to see it. The kid came out of his sulk instantly, smiled back without a care in the world, and as the bus pulled out he was singing happily in a nasal, put-on, childish voice.
"The... wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round..." while his cousin hissed through his teeth.
Gibbs had stalked back into the bull-pen, coffee in hand; it didn't seem to have helped. He was in just as bad a mood, 'worse,' Tony thought darkly, than when he'd stalked out not ten minutes ago. The Boss took it personally when strong people in authority abused their power, and the former Staff Sergeant Maynard had certainly done just that, but Gibbs seemed oblivious to the fact that the team felt the same way, and acted as if they weren't trying.
"So whaddaya got?"
The tone of voice implied a dangerous mixture of 'I don't expect you'll have found anything because I'm the only one who works around here' – which had Tony sighing inwardly, they weren't the ones who'd gone for coffee, and 'but you better had have done while I've been gone or I'll –' Tony stopped filling in the blanks, and looked round. Time for an intervention; the shiny, new probie had his poor, nervous gaze fixed on his screen, and seemed frozen there, but Kate, in an attempt to appease the growling bear, picked her notepad up and made to stand up.
'No, Kate, don't, leave it to me'... too late.
"Staff Sergeant Leonard Maynard, aged thirty-eight," she recited. "Dishonourably discharged from USMC three years ago as psychologically unsuitable for military service – he enjoyed using cruel and violent methods in training those under him. When told he was to be discharged, he put his CO in the hospital, for which he was sentenced to seven years confinement, which he was serving in the correctional facility at Chesapeake, from which he escaped last night whilst returning from a work party, by causing severe injury to not only a guard, but also another inmate who had befriended him."
She stopped, and there was a short, intense silence, while Tony wondered if she'd said all of that in one breath.
"Fine," the bear snarled. "You want to tell me something I don't already know, Kate? McGee!"
"Er... yes, Boss... er..."
Tim braced himself visibly, and went on just as Tony was thinking he should step in, "Maynard had no known friends or associates in DC or anywhere round here before he went down; the only thing linking him to this area is a possible sighting by Metro getting out of the back of a truck near the Richmond Highway, and clothing and cash stolen from a golf club in the same area. His only known significant other was a rather reluctant girlfriend in Detroit, who disappeared as soon as he was sent to prison. No bank account, no card activity,"
"That it? Ya think to put a BOLO out?"
Enough. Tony got up from his desk and sauntered out into the centre of the pen, to intercept Gibbs before he reached his desk. He took a pointed look at the grip the Marine had on his coffee, gently prised it from his hand and stood it carefully on the bear's desk before it got crushed. Gibbs just blinked and didn't resist.
"There," he said proudly, mission accomplished. "Chill, Boss," he went on cheerfully, ('obliviously,' Tim thought anxiously, 'has he no sense of self-preservation?') "McAnticipation had already put that out before you went for refreshments. No, no hits yet. It was like, less than ten minutes ago?" 'We're not miracle workers, Boss,' sent and received loud and clear. Gibbs glared, and Tony just went on grinning. "I took a look at the reports from the time; Maynard also managed to hurt his own civilian lawyer before he was overpowered; that brought Metro into it –" the grin grew even bigger – "Lieutenant Wigg knows where the girlfriend is and has warned her and the local LEOs; and she also says," his eyelids positively drooped in a suggestive way that had Kate bristling, "anything she can do, just say."
The tension went out of Gibbs suddenly. "Hah," he muttered, and took an absent-minded swig of his coffee. Looking at the other two team members, he said in a much milder voice, "So... anything else?"
"Description of the clothing that was stolen, Boss," Tim said. "Upmarket, very smart casuals. He might – " his desk phone rang. "Hit on the BOLO, Boss. The bus station. Bought a ticket for Detroit; clerk noticed him because his clothes were too la-di-da – her words – to be travelling by bus." By the time he'd finished speaking they'd all grabbed their guns and were heading for the elevator.
The irritating young man had segued into 'How much further, Mr Bus-Driver...' with a little yodel on the 'flow-hoo-own', to the fury of his put-upon cousin, not to mention the driver who kept shooting repressive glances over his shoulder, which had no effect whatsoever. In fact, they simply provoked a soulful rendition of 'No-one talks on buses anymore,' which got quite a laugh from a lot of the other passengers.
Not, however, from the well-dressed man half-way down the bus on the left, where he was hidden from the driver, and more importantly, his on-board camera. He gritted his teeth; he was going to be on this stinking heap, with this stupid young punk, all day; and there was nothing he could do about it without drawing attention to himself. He hoped the little bastard would need the men's room when they got to Detroit – he'd follow him in there and break his idiot nose, then disappear while the kid was still screaming for his mom.
The nuisance sat down again for a while, and appeared to be having a furious argument with his travelling companion, although he couldn't hear what it was. He didn't want to. If he had, he'd have realised that the tone and body language were quite different from the actual words.
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Tony?"
"Oh yeah... Gibbs knows what we're up to – rule twenty-seven? If you're shadowing someone make sure they don't see you – or that they only see you."
"Well, yes, he's certainly seen you," Tim agreed, forcing down a smirk.
Tony patted their guns, lying on the seat between them, under McGee's jacket. "Can't have a shooting match here, got to make him think we're harmless, then catch him off guard."
"I know. No shooting. We're not going to wait until we get to Detroit? Or at least the half-way stop?"
"Not if we don't have to. Bad enough with the other passengers, even worse if we're in an open situation with factors we don't know yet. No, Gibbs wants to take him, so do I."
"'Kay..." McGee said calmly. "If you're happy with that, so'm I. What then?"
"Don't know yet. We've always made it up as we went along before..."
They'd gone the long way round, not wanting anyone at the bus station to see a car that yelled 'fedmobile', and went in by the service garage to the manager's office.
"He's already boarded," the man said anxiously. "He asked if the service would leave on time, and was told yes, in fifteen minutes; it needed to be fuelled and to take on the new driver. He said fine, he'd board anyway. We're five minutes from departure time; we had to tell the new driver what's going on, and he's refusing to go, but other people are boarding – we thought that if we stopped them we'd alert him – we didn't know what to do."
Gibbs nodded. He wished they'd found some way of preventing it, but at least taking the guy down in a confined space would better than in the open air. He was armed with the gun of the guard he'd half killed, so it could be bad, whatever they did. "Need to know where he's sitting, and how many others there are on board."
He saw from their faces they hadn't thought to count, and suppressed a growl of anger. After his very mild telling off by his second in command earlier on, he was doing better at the suppressing thing, he told himself ruefully – and anyway, it wasn't civilians faults if they didn't think like agents – weren't they there to stand between the public and all the nasty things they couldn't cope with?
"Can we see what the onboard camera's seeing?"
"Er... well, it records... but it's not set to broadcast continually..."
"Boss," Tim said helpfully, "it might be possible if I could access the..." At that point the jargon became too much for Gibbs, and he shook his head. "No time right now."
"I can do it," Kate said suddenly. She was still smarting from her earlier inability to find anything to please her impossible Boss, and now she was confident that she could.
A minute later a cross looking bus company employee with a radio in her hand and a clip-board under her arm made a great show of inspecting all the overhead lockers, clearly with no success. She looked round at the passengers. "I don't suppose anyone saw anyone getting off at Alexandria with a La Perla store bag? No?" She gave an irritated sigh and left the bus, not before hearing the giggles as a young boy told his little brother that someone had lost some ladies frilly panties.
"Fourteen people including three children and a couple of students. An elderly couple near the back; Maynard alone half-way down on the left. Someone behind him, no-one in front."
"Good work, Kate." She blinked. "Now, you can't go back on the bus, he's seen you, so stay here and co-ordinate." Kate huffed, but saw the Boss's point. "You two," Gibbs went on, "passengers. Figure your own story. We won't be able to communicate once we're on the bus."
He pointed to the livery jacket Kate had borrowed. "Ya got one in my size? And get me the hat off the driver who's refusing to go."
"Gibbs!" Tony exclaimed with a pout. "Hey, why couldn't I have been the driver? You ever driven a bus, Boss?"
Gibbs shrugged. "I drove Humvees in the Corps," he said blandly. "How difficult can it be?"
Tony flung his arm comfortingly round Tim's shoulders, although the younger agent hadn't reacted. "Yay, Timmie... the Probie's going undercover with the driver from hell... don't worry, I'll protect you... Come on," he added, glancing round for ideas, "I know how we'll play this. You'll be able to call me names..." Two minutes later, with a borrowed laptop and a Tigers baseball cap from the window ledge, where it lay abandoned by no-one knew who, they boarded the bus.
Both agents tensed as someone approached their seat at the front, then relaxed again. It was the young boy who'd enjoyed Tony's performance, and who'd been so knowing about ladies underwear. (Kate had mentioned him, somewhat primly, and Tony had been delighted. The kid'll go far, he'd told her, getting the expected elbow in the ribs back.)
The pre-teen's mom's half-hearted "come back here" followed him down the bus, but the kid was on a mission.
"Hey, dude," he asked Tony conspiratorially, "D'you know 'Hell Bus'? You know, Wesley Willis?"
"Wo, man, do I?" Tony leapt to his feet, deciding to stay in character, and getting a disgruntled groan from his just as in character 'cousin'. "Have to tell you, dude, that guy so cannot sing! Don't suppose he needs to..." He began to howl "Hell bus... hell bus... " and the boy whooped and joined in. Some of the passengers cringed, some shook their heads at the antics of the big child and the smaller one, some laughed – until the driver, clearly feeling the song was aimed at him, cramped his wheel sharply to the left and then straight back, and the two dancing figures both landed on their cans.
For a moment there was only the rumble of the engine under the floor, then there were a few giggles and the little kid laughed. "He did that deliberately," he said breathlessly, and a speculative look came into Tony's eyes.
"He sure did," he said thoughtfully. "Guess he doesn't like us!" His grin was undiminished. He leapt to his feet, and lurched over to the driver, followed closely by the boy. "Hey... that was fun! Wanna do it again?"
Gibbs pitched his voice so the whole bus could hear. "Siddown, punk, or I'll kick you off and you'll have to walk to Detroit." Blue gaze met green; a quick glance at McGee showed that inexperienced or not, the Probie was alert and watching, his hand under his coat. Tony remembered Tim's comment about no shooting, and knew that the young agent wouldn't use his gun unless the situation was extreme, but he also knew he was ready.
"Aw, you're no fun," he said petulantly, and draped an arm round the kid's shoulders. "Come on, dude, fun's over. Back to your Mom."
He propelled the boy up the aisle ahead of him to safety, not looking at Maynard at all as he passed his seat, but as he turned to come back he tensed himself ready. This time the wheel was cramped to the right, and Tony fell, as heavily as he could contrive to, and pointed elbow first, on top of the fugitive.
Maynard was taken completely by surprise – make sure they only see you – and he'd seen just that, an idiot, a geek and a bad tempered driver. Nevertheless, as he fought for breath his instincts kicked in, with a combination of fight and flight. Mouthing obscenities, he began to punch wildly, and being alone in a double seat meant he had the room to do so, although Tony had pinioned his right arm with his weight. "Federal agent, Mr Maynard," Tony ground in his ear, "and you're going back to prison –" he broke off with a grunt as the former Marine's meaty fist pounded the side of his head – and then the man fell still. Tony twisted his head to see that the barrel of McGee's gun was poking Maynard's nostril. "After you've stood trial for the two guys you hurt last night, that is," he finished.
The bus had been brought gently to a halt, as Tony extricated himself without disturbing Tim, "Very nice, McGee!"Tim didn't take his eyes off his prisoner, and waited for a sting that never came, and Gibbs came sauntering up, cell phone in one hand, holding his badge out with the other, although not one of the passengers had actually moved at all.
"Feds!" Tony's young friend breathed delightedly. "Oh, dude, that's so cool!" The agent swept off his borrowed cap and bowed exaggeratedly. Tim rolled his eyes, and Tony just smiled. He expected he'd get a lot of that from McGee in the future.
"You're a Fed..." Maynard spat disgustedly, glaring at Tony.
"Unbelievable, isn't it," the agent told him coldly, all trace of the irritating idiot gone, at least for that day,.
It was all over, as they say, bar the shouting. The LEOs who'd been following at a distance came up with night sticks and ankle shackles – Kate had warned them what the man they were taking was capable of. Tony had given his young friend the Tigers cap. Kate herself arrived with the real driver, and coffee. "It's only bus station coffee, Gibbs, but it's better than none."
"Nice work, Kate."
Tony and Tim looked at each other, outraged.
"We take down a violent criminal..." Tim huffed.
"By excellent teamwork..." Tony agreed, "and we don't even get a –"
There were twin 'eeef's as Gibbs delivered a double head-slap. "There, that what ya wanted?" the Boss asked obligingly, and the younger agents gave up with a shrug. Each.
At the end of the day, in a quiet bull-pen, Tony had made no move to leave when Gibbs had said call it a day, and he sat writing, waiting for...
"McGee," he said cheerfully, "bang on cue. Been waiting for you."
"You've been giving out 'I gotta question' vibes all day, and it wasn't Gibbs you were looking at. Not that you'd get a straight answer from Gibbs of course... not that you'd ask the bear..."
"Will I get one from you?"
"Oh... depends on the question. Come on, sit. So?"
Tim frowned, but he accepted the invitation to perch on the edge of Tony's desk.
"Today," the probie said after a while, "You two knew what you were going to do. Without saying a word."
"Not exactly. Not when we started. I'd have told you, if we did. I wouldn't keep a team member in the dark, neither would the Boss."
"That's not what I mean," Tim said. "I... I mean... I knew when the moment came. I watched, and I knew to be ready because I saw you'd made up your minds. I'd... never have expected that. To know. D'you think I was imagining it? What if I'd made a move and read it wrong? I've never been in that situation before."
"Yes you have, and you weren't even there."
"What? Oh... Grayson. And Sandy's mother... Gibbs said do something."
"And you did." Tony got up and grabbed his coat. "Come on. You need a drink. Doubting yourself when you've done right needs to be talked out of you. Over beer. Or pizza, or both."
Tim followed without too much reluctance; as they headed for the elevator, Tony said without looking over his shoulder as he didn't want McGee to think he'd gone soft, "It was good teamwork, Probie. You did good."
The elevator door closed on Tim's grin.