Gibbs stared at Tony's back, unable to discern just how his intention to assist his agent had morphed into a full-blown argument.
"Jethro," Ducky said, his tone pregnant with disappointment.
"Not now, Dr. Mallard," Gibbs demanded, conveying his agitation by running his fingers through his hair. As if it wasn't enough that Tony and McGee had just been injured on a protection detail, now he and his Senior Field Agent had just gotten into the argument of the century that had ended in both of them saying things they hadn't meant.
When Gibbs had been appointed Lead Agent, he wanted to train his men (or women) to anticipate, to predict, to think for themselves: he never imagined his team would absorb so much more from him, including his disregard for his own personal health, his tendency to go off by himself when he was worried about the safety of his team and his rather demanding attitude.
When the words had slipped out, he had meant that he didn't want Tony following those particular traits, since his team was the most important thing to him. He would have rather Tony had called him to come deal with Keenan, if only so Gibbs knew Tony would be safe under Sacks' protection.
As if on cue, a dark-colored Crown Victoria pulled up and said FBI agent jumped out. He saw Tony storming off towards a borrowed Impala and ran after him. Though the words lost in the fierce wind, even Gibbs, who was not known for his impeccable eyesight, could see that Sacks was very unhappy with his charge.
Tony continued to ignore the FBI agent who was shouting and gesticulating wildly as he fumbled with his keys. This continued for at least a minute until Sacks had finally had enough. The incensed man reached over and grabbed Tony's shoulder, turning him around so they could converse face-to-face. Without hesitation, Tony completed the turn, grabbed Sacks' arm and flipped him in a judo throw rather similar to the one Gibbs had taught him in one of their many sessions in the NCIS gym.
Gibbs watched Sacks yell something from the ground and Tony drop the keys onto Sacks' stomach with short spoken instructions about the condition of the car. With a final glare toward the FBI agent, Tony reluctantly climbed into the back of the FBI sedan with Sacks' partner.
Sacks reached a hand in the air for help up, but Metro was too busy processing the scene and no one from NCIS was interested in helping the man who was failing at protecting their partner. He clasped the side mirror and pulled himself gently to his feet, almost falling again as the mirror slipped out of its socket. With a scowl in Gibbs' direction, the FBI agent carefully arranged himself in the Chevy and sped away.
Gibbs and DiNozzo had a serious chat coming, but the Gunny knew that wouldn't be a reality until whoever was after his team was caught and charged without any chance of parole.
"McGee," Gibbs shouted as he watched the FBI caravan leave.
"Yes, boss?" McGee replied, coming up to stand next to the Lead Agent.
"What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay at NCIS!"
"I will not sit at NCIS while my partner is in trouble," McGee responded, looking straight into Gibbs' eyes as he spoke.
The two remained there, glaring at each other for what felt like hours to the younger agent, but neither looked away. Palms sweating and eyes burning, Tim continued to lock stares with his boss until the older man finally nodded once.
"You do not leave Ziva's side. If you so much step around a corner without her say so, you'll be looking for a new job so fast your head will spin."
"On it, boss," McGee said with a small smile.
"Photograph the scene! Yes, Gibbs," she agreed, heading off toward the empty building with McGee in tow.
"Jethro," Ducky came up behind his longtime friend.
"Not the time, Duck."
But the elderly ME was undeterred. "I do advise you deal with this situation post haste. The longer a spat goes without being treated, the more the feelings fester between the two parties."
"I owe him one hell of an apology, don't I?" Gibbs asked, not really wanting a response.
"Maybe, but knowing Anthony, he won't accept it. Sign of weakness and all," Ducky added with a smirk.
Before Gibbs could respond, a burly Metro detective approached him.
The grey-haired man nodded.
"We've got something."
"Your boy gave us a statement while he was getting stitched up. He says the shot didn't come through either of the windows, but judging from his account, the bullet would have come through here," the detective said, pointing to a solid pane of wall.
Gibbs stood very close to the wall, raking his gaze over every inch of the concrete, looking for a hole, a dent, or a divet, anything that would suggest a gun had been fired from this position.
"My agent doesn't lie."
"I figured you would say that," the detective motioned to the CSU team standing at the doorway. "That's why I brought the ALS."
Since it was night, there was no need to dim the room. The lead tech turned on the ultraviolet light and focused it on the small pile of boxes on the left of the Dumpster. A few small specs brightened and the assistant tech quickly swabbed and labeled them.
The right of the Dumpster revealed two small half-moons separated by an almost circular patch of concrete.
Gibbs leaned closer and sniffed the untouched patch. "Bleach."
"This used to be a clothing store, Gibbs. I'm sure they used bleach from time to time."
Gibbs shook his head as the tech swabbed the two brightly lit patches with a phenolphthalein indicator and sprayed it with ethanol. "Too recent."
"That's blood," the tech announced as the swab turned a pinkish color.
"Human?" the Metro detective questioned.
The tech pulled a hemastix from her pouch and swiped it on the floor. "Yup."
"The quantity's too small for any sort of gunshot wound."
"Not if they covered the rest in bleach," Gibbs responded with a pointed glance towards the puddle.
"There's also these," the lead tech produced a small baggie with blue shards in it. "They were found to the left of the Dumpster, and before you ask, we had someone photograph the scene before we bagged the evidence.
"We suspect them to be shards of the Dumpster that may or may not be related to this case. The building's empty, kids come in here all the time for their parties and such. Lord only knows what goes on in a place like this any given day of the week."
Gibbs shook his head. It was too much of a coincidence for the shards to be unrelated to the case at hand. That meant something had been strong enough to split the metal.
"Ya find a cause?"
"No," the assistant tech began, "but we've found this." She pulled the Dumpster away from the wall to reveal a deep scratch in the concrete.
Gibbs leaned forward to better examine the hole. "Could be a bullet hole."
"But no bullet."
"My agent doesn't lie," Gibbs repeated fiercely.
The detective waved his hands in a motion that was meant to ask Gibbs to calm down. "Let's assume for a second that your boy was telling the truth and someone did shoot at Keenan. Do you mean to say that in the time your boy ran outside to call the cops, someone came in here, moved the body and dug out the bullet?"
Gibbs shrugged. "It's all we've got to go on for now."
"That's quite a stretch Gibbs…"
"NCIS' taking lead on this case," the agent stated, ignoring the Metro detective and snatching the samples from the tech, as he raised himself to his feet.
He never doubted Tony for a moment, but the scene raised some very important questions.
Who would shoot at his agent?
How did they manage to shoot through the concrete wall?
And, last but not least, where the hell was Keenan?
"Left, Mr. Palmer! Left!" Ducky cried from the passenger's seat where he sat with the large district map splayed over the dashboard.
"You said right onto the Parkway, Doctor!" Jimmy cried in frustration as he slammed on the accelerator and moved two lanes to the left, leaving a multitude of screeching cars and honking horns in his wake.
"I said no such thing, Mr. Palmer," Ducky responded, pulling the map out of his face in order to glare at his assistant. Maybe Gibbs was right: it was never too late to start head-slapping the lad…
"Yes you did. I asked you if we should turn left onto the parkway and you said right."
"Right as in correct, Mr. Palmer, not right as in the opposite of left," Ducky groaned, lowering his head into his hands.
"Oh," Palmer breathed. "Sorry Doctor."
"Worry not, my friend. We are on the right track now," the elderly ME grinned at his pun.
They travelled about another mile on the GW Parkway before Palmer spoke up.
"There isn't anything…wrong…with Tony, is there?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've just never seen so many bad things happen to someone all at once, Doctor: first Miss Carson, then the Keenan incident…"
"Well my dear boy, luck is a tricky thing. It tends to wane and wax when we least expect it and are unable to do anything about it. Our Anthony is experiencing a bit of bad luck right now which should resolve itself in due time."
"I can't believe his life is unraveling so completely. If I didn't know him better, I would have thought he was completely crazy for saying someone had been shot when there was no body."
"Someone has an unusual plan for both Anthony and Timothy. Though I can't imagine what it is, I know that the case could not be in more capable hands."
"I concur, Doctor," Palmer took his eyes off the road for a second to smile warmly at his boss.
"Brake James! Brake!" Ducky shouted as the car in front of them slowed to a complete stop.
Palmer slammed his foot down on the brake and switched into the next lane in order to avoid a collision.
"That is it, Mr. Palmer. Pull over."
"No buts, Mr. Palmer. That was the final straw!"
Jimmy protested as he pulled into the emergency lane and brought the van to a complete stop.
Ducky made his way around the van and opened Palmer's door. "You are distracted my dear boy. It will be better for both of us if you navigate."
"Yes Doctor," Jimmy agreed sourly as he vacated his seat.
"You don't have to worry Mr. Palmer. I can guarantee Jethro will find out who has done this unspeakable deed."
"Yes Doctor," Jimmy repeated as he slipped into the passenger's seat and flipped open the map. "Take a left at Seward, Dr. Mallard."
"We are searching the alley yet again for a bullet," Ziva said as she walked up and down the alley for the fourth time with a small metal detector, looking for any brass that may be hidden amongst the trash that littered the back alley. This search was in addition to her previous three searches where she had bagged every possible shred of evidence from cigarette butts to candy wrappers with partial footprints on them that could be related to their case.
"I can't believe he said that," McGee repeated for the umpteenth time, unaware Ziva had spoken, while he stood nose to nose with the wall, moving very slowly vertically, then taking one step over and repeating the process. While Ziva had insisted on searching the ground, claiming it would be less painful for his headache, he had combed every inch of the back wall at least twice, and had just begun his third sweep.
"You would think after all these years, they would have invented a machine that would scan the alleyways for us!"
"That's out of line, even for Gibbs."
"Why don't you invent something, McGee?" Ziva asked, looking up from a particularly nasty spot of unidentifiable chemical to realize her partner wasn't responding.
"And Tony, he shouldn't have said that either. What the hell is wrong with them?"
"What, Ziva?" The computer geek asked, looking away from the wall irritably.
"There is nothing we could have done. Tony and Gibbs will resolve it on their own schedule. Right now, we have been instructed to prove Tony's innocence."
"And we've found nothing," McGee stated, straightening up to examine yet another patch of concrete.
"We have searched this alley for hours," Ziva agreed.
"I'm not giving up, Ziva. When I shot that cop," McGee swallowed hard as the bile rose in the back of his throat, "you and Tony didn't give up until you found the bullet. If Tony said someone shot at him, someone shot at him and injured Keenan. And until I find how it was done, I'm not leaving!"
"I didn't say that, McGee. What I meant to say was there is nothing on this wall."
"You mean nothing we've found yet."
"No, I mean nothing."
"So what are you saying?" McGee asked, whirling around and throwing his hands dramatically into the air. "We just give up? Go home? I don't think so!"
"What is that idiom you Americans use? If you fail to achieve, keep trying…Is that it?"
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," McGee muttered with a deep eye-roll as he returned his gaze to the wall.
"Exactly. We need to broaden our search. It was dark, what if Tony mistook the angle of the muzzle flash?"
"We'd be looking in the wrong wall," McGee realized, mentally Gibbs-slapping himself for not thinking of that himself. He turned around and was about to give Ziva a quick hug when the Israeli put up her hands in a defensive posture. McGee pulled back. "Ziva, you're a genius!"
"Why thank you, McGee. Now, if this were my assignment, I would have shot from here," she pointed to the far corner where the shooter would not be visible by those walking toward the Metro Station. "Less visibility and a better angle."
They walked toward the darkened area of the alley, all the while continuing to search for any bullet casings or other signs of stakeout.
After about a half an hour, Ziva stood dead still and raised her hand.
"What is it?" McGee asked, coming over to join her.
"Listen," she stomped on the ground directly beneath her and the ground to her left. There was a distinct difference between the two noises, the first having a slight resonating sound.
"It is hollow," McGee breathed.
Ziva nodded, continuing to follow the hollow sounds across the alley. She knelt down by a patch of ground and brushed aside the dirt.
"If this is a root cellar, the assailant could have snuck into the building. That would explain why there was no bullet hole in the wall."
"But that also means Tony was wrong about where the shooter was coming from, and maybe even who the shooter was aiming at."
"I'm sure Tony has greater things on his mind now, McGee, then worrying about whether he had the shooter's position correct or not."
Ziva carefully inspected the outer edges of the door for signs of an explosive device before pulling trap door open, releasing horribly rancid air directly into their faces.
"Flashlight," she instructed, reaching out to McGee who placed one in her palm like a nurse handing the surgeon a scalpel before grabbing one for himself.
"Look McGee," Ziva said, playing the light over the wood stairs. There were fresh footprints in the thick layer of dust.
McGee pulled out his temporary phone and dialed his boss. "We've found how our shooter got in the building."
Tony slammed the door closed as he reentered his house. Sacks brushed past him and immediately proceeded to clear every room of the small apartment while Tony stood in the entryway, gun pointed at his main room. He noted with satisfaction that the FBI agent was walking with a limp, even though he was trying hard to hide it.
"I have orders to keep you in my sight until the case is solved," Sacks repeated as if that would make the situation all right.
"I know where everything is," Tony sneered, sliding his weapon into the small of his back as he headed into the kitchen. He filled another glass of water from the sink, firmly swearing off the hard stuff since he did not want a repeat of today's incident. When Ducky had told him to stay hydrated, Tony had discarded the sentiment as "doctor's orders", but the ME hadn't been kidding: Tony had been practically dying of thirst since his…disagreement…with Gibbs.
He had spoken in anger and said things he knew he should not have, yet he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry, especially after what Gibbs had said in return. He knew he should be angry now, upset with his boss, apologetic even, but all he felt was empty, some form of shock Ducky would probably diagnose if he were around.
He threw back the water like it was a shot of whisky and refilled the glass.
"You break it, you buy it," he added as he stormed past the FBI agent who had plopped down on his sofa and was examining the items on the end table.
"He didn't mean it, you know," Sacks commented as he flipped through Tony's many cable channels.
"Who didn't mean what?" Tony sneered, halfway into his bedroom.
"Gibbs." Sacks set down the remote, having settled on a rerun of Quantum Leap.
"He sure had a funny way of showing it."
"I mean it, DiNozzo," Sacks raised his voice to be heard. "That man would go to hell and back for you."
"Thanks for your input, Walt Disney, but not everything can have a fairy tale ending," Tony snapped as he marched into his bedroom and placed his weapon in his side drawer and his water glass on the nightstand before throwing himself onto the bed, wincing as the movement tugged on his new stitches.
What the hell was wrong with him this week? Was it written in his genetic code that he was physically unable to protect a witness? What else would explain his inability to do anything correctly this week?
His thoughts travelled once again to his and Gibbs'…conversation. Did his boss really believe he was just some big-city homicide detective who had fooled everyone into believing he was an NCIS agent? Tony didn't want to believe it, couldn't believe it: cos it wasn't true, it couldn't be true. After everything the man had taught him, he was upset that he had chosen Tony for his team…that didn't make sense.
If Vance would have been there, he would have agreed with Gibbs and probably sent the man an Edible Arrangement basket afterward for voicing the opinions about DiNozzo he had been feeling since day one. Tony had always known that Vance had never liked him and really that was fine. Their mutual hatred for each other had never really been an issue after the whole Seahawk incident. Ignoring that stint in Mexico with the "observe and report" about Alejandro Rivera, he'd always reported straight to Gibbs who butted heads with Vance on a daily basis. But now that his boss, the man who he had looked up to for all these years and subconsciously modeled himself after had essentially called him a poser, there was really no reason for him to stick around any longer. After Iniguez' trial, Gibbs never had to worry about where he was going to stay when his boiler broke again, what he was up to on his weekends, or whether he was really home sick or just taking a mental health day.
A shrill ringing interrupted his reverie and Tony glanced at his nightstand to see his cellular phone vibrating fiercely.
He picked up the device and glanced at the caller ID. Gibbs.
Rage not dissimilar to the anger he had felt earlier flooded through his veins, bringing with it the hurtful words Gibbs had spoken earlier. Before Tony could even stop to think, he had thrown the phone across the room, sending it slamming into the far wall and shattering into at least six pieces.
He heard uneven footsteps approaching from front room and a loud banging on his door.
"DiNozzo, what the hell is going on in there?"
Staring in shock at what was left of his phone, the manifestation of his inability to control his temper, Tony made his way to the bedroom door and popped it open, catching Sacks with his foot raised, ready to kick down the door.
"Dropped a glass. Sorry," he mumbled before gently closing the door in the agent's shocked face.
He walked into the bathroom and grabbed a towel in which to place the small piece of his phone. Bending down, he began picking up the largest pieces before he forgot about them and stepped on one later that evening. He was having a hard time concentrating on the small pieces in front of him, accidently reaching too far for one piece of circuitry and slicing open his index finger.
He dropped the screen pieces he had gathered and immediately stuck it in his mouth to slow the bleeding. Damn. As if the events of this morning just weren't enough, now he was physically incapable of picking up pieces of glass without hurting himself? He made a mental note to purchase a rabbit's foot, a four-leaf clover and a horseshoe before heading…wherever he would be heading.
He heard shuffling footsteps behind him, but didn't look up, knowing it was probably Sacks, who had been threatened by Gibbs to keep an eye on him at all times.
He pulled his finger from his mouth and, pleased to see the bleeding had slowed, pinched it tightly against his thumb. "This is the definition of a red light offense," he informed the intruder. "I'm not in the mood to file a complaint with the DOD, Sacks."
"Who's Sacks?" a feminine voice asked.
Tony dropped the glass pieces he had been collecting and spun around at the sound of the voice.