"McGee, this is the twenty-sixth house and not oneperson has seen anyonefitting this description," Tony DiNozzo groused to his partner Timothy McGee as he picked up the twenty-sixth knocker on as many doors and dropped it twice. They had received a tip this morning that Susanna Carson, the housekeeper of the infamous Salvatore Iniguez who was thought to have ordered the hit on Naval Officer Tom Jackson three weeks ago, was seen in the area. NCIS had rushed to Montgomery County, Maryland to follow up on the anonymous tip, and since early this morning had been subjected to general rudeness from the homeowners who did not appreciate being woken at the ungodly hour.
"Yeah, Tony and it would probably be many more if the shopkeeper hadn't seen her turn this way," Timothy McGee responded as he thumbed his iPhone and the deed to the house appeared on the tiny screen. This particular lot had been empty for at least six months, though there was no sign of a realtor's lock box or other signs that the house was up for sale.
"What is with the civilians anyway?" Tony continued, as he pressed his ear to the door and twisted the knob. Locked. He dusted his hand off and headed across the lawn for the next house. "They offer as much detail as they remember but half of it turns out to be wrong. Why volunteer information if you're not sure it's correct?"
"It's a psychological effect stemming from the witness's desire to please the—" McGee began, glad to impart some of the information he was forced to learn in his college psychology class.
"I don't care, McFreud," Tony snapped. "Their helpfultips just added an additional three hours of work for us. This is the last house on the block and no sign of Carson. Zero, zilch, nada—"
McGee's phone rang at that exact moment, truncating any further translations of "zero".
"It's Ziva again," he announced after checking the Caller ID. Tony leaned casually against the mailbox and pretended not to eavesdrop on the conversation. "You find anything?"
"Nothing, McGee. It is a dead doormat over here."
"It's dead as a doornail, Zee-vah," Tony couldn't help correcting, raising his voice so he could be heard over the line.
"I think she meant dead end, Tony. Right, Ziva?" McGee offered.
Ziva responded with a phrase in Hebrew that required no translation on McGee's part to understand its meaning.
"No leads over here either," McGee added hastily, before he found out whether it was possible for the assassin to kill him over the phone. "We're on the last house."
"Do you realize what this is McGee?" Tony breathed in realization while he waited for his partner. "It's the Last House on the Left."
"Sorry, Ziva, I can't hear you," McGee said, shooting a pointed glare in Tony's direction.
"Not really my kind of movie. Kind of got tricked into watching it…" Tony shrugged, motioning with his head toward the phone as Ziva began speaking again, slowly and more clearly than before.
"We are on the last house as well. Gibbs says to meet back at the sedan when you're finished," the Israeli repeated.
"Anything interesting?" Tony asked, knocking on the final door.
"You heard her," McGee retorted, pushing past his partner and knocking twice more.
Suddenly, the door flew open and Tony and McGee were surprised to see none other than Susanna Carson standing in front of them, wearing a dust apron and holding a cordless iron in one hand. "Who is it?"
At the sight of the agents, the woman's eyes widened and she threw the first thing in her immediate reach at the agents: her iron.
Tony and McGee dove for cover as the red-hot iron whooshed between them with only a few inches of air as a cushion. The woman's hands flew over her mouth before she turned and dashed into the house, leaving the front door wide open.
"You okay, McGee?" Tony asked but, without waiting for an answer, he hauled himself to his feet and chased after Carson.
The elderly woman was moving very slowly and he easily passed her, grabbing her arm, twisting her around, and cuffing her in one smooth motion.
McGee trailed not far behind, stopped arm's length away and trained his gun on the woman.
"Looks like the civilian got it right." Tony bit back the for oncethat seemed to fall so naturally at the end of his phrase.
Gibbs slammed the door to Director Vance's office much to Cynthia's dismay.
Three months ago, Naval Officer Tom Jackson had been killed after interrupting two men unloading boxes from an unidentified ship late at night. One passerby, James Keenan, a preschool teacher with no criminal ties, had witnessed the entire event and immediately called the police. When Jackson interrupted the men, one pulled a .45 and shot him twice in the heart. Jackson had managed to get off one shot as he collapsed and had injured the other man, but not fatally. The two had dropped the boxes they were carrying and had "taken off" as Keenan described it. Keenan had then rushed over to stabilize Jackson, but the Ensign was already dead.
NCIS was given the case and Abby was able to determine that the substance in the boxes was high grade heroin. Keenan's description of one of the assailants had been run through Facial Recognition and had returned a match, one Nathaniel Sheldon, a known associate of crime lord Salvatore Iniguez who had been arrested multiple times on charges that ranged from attempted murder, illegal possession, and indecent exposure, but had not been officially charged. He also dabbled in everything from acquiring illegal prescription drugs to underground poker to drug-running. Keenan gave his statement and had been placed in protective custody pending a trial.
No prints, no security footage and no witnesses led them to a dead end. Gibbs' team was unable to find any other information that connected Iniquez, or Sheldon for that matter, to Jackson's murder. Within hours of NCIS' arrival at the scene, Iniquez and his employees, and even his housekeeper Susanna Carson, had dropped off the grid and hadn't been heard from since.
Until today when a woman matching Carson's description had been spotted exiting a grocery store in Montgomery County, Maryland. A concerned store clerk, who had secret aspirations of joining the FBI one day, had called in the tip after seeing Carson's face plastered over the news.
Carson was currently refusing to talk without protection for her information. Vance had managed to offer temporary protection from NCIS if Carson could divulge something pertinent immediately and would use that information to work with the Marshalls and the Attorney General to nail down something more permanent.
"DiNozzo. McGee," the Lead Agent called from the mezzanine. "Gear up. You're on protection detail."
Tony groaned loudly and rolled his eyes. "C'mon boss. Can't McGee and Ziva handle this one? She's like eighty and is going to sit around all day watching Jeopardy!reruns. Besides, I was on the last protection duty with Perry: he annoyed the hell out of me and ended up puking on my new Dolce & Gabanna shoes while Ziva was doing her Annie Oakley impression in the front room. I…"
He stopped as Gibbs fixed him with a deadly stare. "…will be glad to assist Special Agent Timothy McGee is protecting Susanna Carson until the wonderful US Marshalls arrive. When do we leave?"
"After you get a statement from Carson that will convince us that she is worth the protection detail."
Gibbs paused in front of Tony's desk, giving his agent a questioning look. Tony didn't usually undermine his authority so openly. If he was still acting so strangely when the two agents returned, Gibbs would make a point to ask the man about it.
"Let's go Probalicious," Tony sighed. "We've got a grandmother to protect from Salvatore Iniguez, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and possibly an Alec Trebek obsession."
Tony paused with his backpack halfway to his shoulder as an unpleasant thought occurred to him.
"I refuse to buy her Fixodent or help her remove her dentures though…That's Probie work," he continued with an evil grin, shrugging on his pack and holstering his gun.
McGee shot a concerned look in Gibbs' direction and received only a shrug in response.
"Oh, boss. You're not serious?" McGee asked incredulously, his voice cracking slightly at the end of his question.
"With luck, the Marshalls will relieve you before 1800," Gibbs responded.
"You want some cheese with that wine, McGrumble?" Tony called from the elevators where he was leaning against the doors to keep them open. "Hurry up or you're walking to the safe house. It's supposed to snow, so I'd bring a jacket if you're choosing the latter."
"I'm coming Tony," McGee huffed as he grabbed his gear and followed Tony's lead.
"How bad can it be?" Tony asked, clapping McGee on the back as the elevator closed. "It'll be just like the movie Bullitt. Of course, I'm Steve McQueen. That makes you either Carl Reindel or Don Gordon. Your pick."
At 1400, Tony and McGee were about ready to kill each other. Or, more aptly, their witness.
Carson was essentially driving each of them insane. As Tony had predicted, she insisted on watching the latest Jeopardy!rerun, followed immediately by the next Wheel of Fortune, even though both were reruns from at least five years back when Trebek did not needed a toupee. Not five seconds after first walking into the room, she had examined every square inch of the place and deemed it unfit for human habitation. She proceeded to pull cleaning supplies out of the bathroom, in the process dislodging a rather large dust bunny that only exasperated the situation. Tony and McGee managed to stop her before she pulled a Melvin Udall from As Good As It Getsand threw the yapping neighborhood dog into the street with hopes that it would never come back.
It was so terrible, that McGee, who was usually the calm and collected one, snuck out of the house to buy dinner without consulting Tony. In his absence, Carson located the remote Tony had hidden under the couch and turned on the Price is Right, cranked up the volume so the show could be heard clearly from any room. Somewhere in between the Bonus Round and the countless other trivial guessing segments, McGee reappeared with the food.
"Nice one, Probie," Tony remarked glibly. "Pick that up sneaking off to late-night computer classes?"
McGee scowled at Tony and chucked the Chinese take-out container at him. "It was that or you'd be another candidate for Witness Protection since you'd've witnessed another murder—hers!"
"I'm kinda proud of you." The younger agent looked up in surprise at Tony's words. "No, really. You've grown up a lot in the last few years, let your true colors shine through. Eight years ago, you wouldn't have even left for the head without asking mom, dad, and scary Aunt Ziva who sits in the corner, reading the latest copy of Assassin's Monthlyif it was okay.And look at you now: making your own decisions, not giving a damn about how anyone else thinks…"
"That's awfully nice of you, Tony," McGee replied hesitantly, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Well, I'd like to think my unorthodox methods had something…well, a lot of somethings…to do with it," Tony said with a self-congratulatory smile.
Yup, that was more like it,McGee thought. "Figures," he muttered under his breath. "Tony..."
"Fine, McSnippy. You can have part of the credit. I guess you managed that jetpack case all by your lonesome…"
"What, McGee?" Tony glared at his partner with mild irritation at being interrupted in the middle of his speech.
"Where'd Carson go?"
Tony didn't even blink at McGee's question.
"She went into the head—" he paused to check his watch, "—eight minutes ago. Somewhere between your overly dramatic entrance and the time you began to hand out food."
"That's an awfully long time to be in there," McGee ventured.
"She's like eighty years old, man. Cut her some—" Tony trailed off as he heard the sound of glass shattering. He spared a quick second for a glance in McGee's direction before drawing his weapon and heading toward the bathroom. McGee reached the door first and cautiously twisted the door handle. It was locked.
"Miss Carson?" Tony demanded. His query was met with silence.
"Susanna?" McGee questioned in a raised voice, just in case the elderly lady hadn't heard Tony's call. He viciously rattled the door knob, willing it to fall open.
All of the sudden, an ear piercing scream pierced the room, a sound Tony and McGee never wanted to hear again. It was such a deep, soulful cry that the NCIS Agents instantly knew their witness was in serious trouble, and they were on the wrong side of the door.
"Miss Carson!" McGee shouted, banging loudly on the door, grasping the doorknob so tightly his knuckles were white.
"Move, McGee!" Tony ordered as he took a step backwards and kicked down the door.
McGee burst through the doorway, gun drawn and the safety off…and walked directly into a cloud of pepper spray.
"Get away from me, you bastard! I'm not going down without a fight!" Carson screamed, continuing to empty her small can directly into McGee's face. She dropped the can in shock, her hands flying to her face when she recognized who had entered.
"Oh my! I'm so…" But the rest of her words were lost as McGee pushed past the woman and began splashing water onto his face, trying to relieve the extreme burning.
Tony saw the cloud billow from the room and turned his head into his shoulder, reaching blindly into the room for the bathroom fan switch, trying to dilute the spray before both NCIS agents were out for the count.
Carson was clearly in shock and shoved Tony out of the way while she headed for the nearest bedroom. She threw her hands over her quickly reddening face in what Tony understood to be an utterly embarrassed gesture, slamming the door closed behind her.
"You okay, McGee?" Tony asked, keeping one eye trained on Carson's bedroom door. He glanced into the bathroom and saw the large skylight had fallen in. It was a freak accident that had probably scared Carson, assuming the women wasn't as tough as she wanted others to think she was. But why hadn't she answered? They had clearly identified themselves as NCIS, so she should have had no reason to fear them…
"I'll just got pepper-sprayed in the face," McGee stated, turning so Tony could see the tears streaming down his tomato-red countenance. "What do you think?"
"Just answer the question Probie. Can you still see?"
"I'll be fine, Tony," McGee responded, turning back to the sink and vigorously splashing water onto his burning face.
"You're sure?" Tony clarified.
"Just go watch Carson. Gibbs will kill us if anything happens to her while you're busy coddling me."
"I'm not coddling!" Tony exclaimed, raising both hands in surrender. "I'm just watching out for my partner. You know Gibbs would kick my ass into next week if I let something happen to you."
Sensing McGee would rather be left alone while his eyes stopped tearing, Tony knocked cautiously on Carson's door.
"Miss Carson?" he asked gently. He pressed his ear to the door and heard loud sobbing coming from the other side. He hated crying women.
Tony was a pretty good judge of character, and he had seen that Carson had been truly embarrassed and afraid when she had run from the bathroom, not cackling in self-induced glee at McGee's injury. If he had this figured correctly, Carson clearly wasn't the hard-case they had originally thought. She had put up a tough front, not wanting to be thought of as easy or defenseless and had done everything in her power to defend herself, though Tony did notwant to know where she had been hiding that small canister.
But her tears said otherwise. They screamed "upset and confused" not "homicidal and deadly"…he hoped.
"May I come in?"
"Go away." The muffled voice floated through the door and the choking sobs began to settle.
Tony turned the knob, and finding the door open, entered cautiously. "You don't have any more pepper spray, do you?" he joked.
Susanna turned her face away from him and the smile dropped from his face. "It's going to be okay, Miss Carson. Agent McGee is going to be fine. Nothing like a little pepper spray to jump start your day," he tried again to lighten the mood, but Susanna was in no mood for laughing apparently.
He sighed heavily and sat down beside her. "Miss Carson, we're okay. All of us. Agent McGee will be walking in here any minute to see how you are doing."
"I'm…I'm so sorry," she wailed, turning suddenly, burying her head into Tony's shoulder and began sobbing again. "I heard the cracking, then the glass shattering. I thought I was done for. My heart was racing, I couldn't hear anything, and I thought over and over, I'm gonna die. This is it. When I saw the door rattling, I just reacted. Thought they were coming to finish off the job—I was just protecting myself, honest. I have a life to live, you know — children, grandchildren and my first great-grandchild on the way — one away from the clutches of Señor Iniguez and his men. I agreed to come with you since I thought it would be best to put him away so my family would be safe. But I guess it won't matter since I'll never be able to see them now…"
Tony let out the breath he had been holding. He had been right. Beneath that tough exterior, Susanna Carson was just a lonely old woman putting on a brave front for the two young men guarding her. But he also knew that leopards did not change their spots so quickly, so he and McGee were going to have to be extra careful for the next few hours until the Marshalls arrived.
"Don't worry about that, Miss Carson. You just worry about putting Iniquez away for good, then we'll see what we can do about your protection detail."
Susanna sniffled loudly and pulled away from Tony and fingering the wet spot on his shirt. "I'm really sorry about that. I'm not normally like this, letting people see how I truly feel. I just snapped when I saw the door rattling. I thought I was done for good."
"While you're here, you won't have to worry about that," Tony reassured her, gently removing her hands from his shirt and clasping them in his. "We've got your six."
McGee had been ready to storm into the room, absolutely furious and about to give Miss Carson a piece of his mind, but stopped when he saw the elderly lady weeping openly into Tony's very expensive Armani shirt. Quickly coming to the same conclusions as Tony, he took a moment to calm himself behind the doorjamb before entering.
Susanna pushed herself off the bed and ran over to him.
"I'm so sorry, Very Special Agent McGee. I was scared…are you all right?"
"I'm fine Miss Carson but I need to know if you any other weapons we need to know about."
She took a moment to think. "No, that was it. I'm really—"
"Let's just forget about it, okay?" McGee offered, being a fairly decent judge of character himself. "It wasn't really a big deal. At least we know you can take care of yourself in an extreme circumstance."
"You won't have to worry about me," she confirmed, standing up a bit straighter. "But, do you think we could keep this from the Marshalls? I don't want them to think I'm an easy target, especially since I cried and all…"
"I'm sure we could figure something out," McGee nodded with a questioning look toward Tony who was still sitting on the bed, staring dejectedly at the wet spot on his shirt.
The Kodak moment was interrupted by someone pounding loudly on the door, causing Carson to tighten her grip on McGee and slid behind him in fear.
"U.S. Marshalls!" came the muffled call.
Tony drew his weapon and sprinted back towards the door before McGee could extricate himself from Carson's firm grasp. "I got the door, you take Carson in back," he ordered.
"Why do I have to take—"
"One, you ran out on me earlier. Two, she's clearly not leaving your side anytime soon," he said, waving his hand at Carson who was clutching McGee's shirt tightly with one hand and holding his other hand even more tightly. "Three, I am the Senior Field Agent—I'm pulling rank."
McGee glared at Tony before helping Carson to her feet and escorting her toward the back bathroom which still reeked heavily of pepper spray.
Tony pressed himself against the door, gun raised. He peeked through the peephole, carefully examining the proffered badges.
He checked over his shoulder to ensure that McGee and Carson were no longer in sight before unlocking the door and throwing it open.
"Good to meet you, Sheffield. Davies. You should be careful with this one, she could bring out the homicidal tendencies in Mother Theresa," he announced, not finding a problem with feeding the Marshalls a half-truth. Carson had made the first half of their detail a living hell. The Marshalls didn't tend to play nicely with NCIS in any capacity, so it couldn't hurt to live up to their reputation on occasion.
"We'll take that into consideration," the Marshall called Sheffield replied. Tony shuffled out of the doorway to let the Marshalls into the room, taking a quick glance outside to ensure they hadn't been compromised. Satisfied with the situation outdoors, he closed the door and began to lock it when he heard the sound of a gun being cocked. He spun around, but his reflexes were not faster than a speeding bullet.
An incredibly intense pain radiated through his body as the hot lead tore through his side and lodged itself in the door. Tony flew backwards against the door and slid to the ground, his mind working frantically in an attempt to comprehend the situation. He could feel his body shutting down: his vision was blurring and he could feel himself losing his grasp on reality.
As the world closed down around him, he saw Sheffield standing flush with the wall, out of the sight.
He had set a trap for whomever came around the corner and McGee was going to walk right into it!