Chapter 6: Down to the Wire
“Who’s that?” Gibbs asked, peering up at the black and white security footage on the squad room LCD. He was watching a young kid with a baseball hat leaning against the wall next to the bathroom, drinking water he’d taken from the water cooler.
“Name’s Jarvis Trent,” Tony replied, standing on Gibbs right. “Been coming here every night for the last three months.”
Gibbs frowned more. He watched as the kid studied everyone in the room, clearly listening to conversations as he drank the water. After a while, he threw the cup away and walked once around the room before leaving. He’d hadn’t stayed for more than five minutes. Gibbs shook his head.
“I don’t know him.”
“You wouldn’t, Boss. He doesn’t work here.”
Gibbs turned to look at Tony, his eyebrows lifted, waiting for an explanation. It was Ziva who supplied it.
“He is let in past the guard every evening at 5:00 pm,” she explained, “because he is a courier. He drops off and picks up packages. Guard knows him as ‘JT’. Assumed he was just another kid with an after school job.”
Gibbs turned to face her now. “What’s he doing up here? Couriers are supposed to go to the mail room and leave. Why is he in the squad room?”
“Exactly, Boss,” Tony agreed. “He has no reason to be up here. But you know the squad room isn’t off limits to the public. After he was inside the building, he just came upstairs. Hung around for a bit, got some water, then left. Every day, for three months. He’s good—we never even noticed him up here.”
“This is from two weeks ago,” Ziva said. “We used it because whoever was on guard duty that night focused on him long enough to get shot of his face, despite the hat. The other nights, he was more ghostlike. But…” She stopped the tape, popped it out, and put in another. “This is from Friday.”
Gibbs’ eyes zeroed in immediately on the kid as he hung out near the water cooler in the back again. The boy was watching McGee, who was laughing and joking with Tony and Ziva. They’d broken the case earlier that day, and were just doing paperwork now. Hence the lack of decorum. Tony and Ziva fidgeted slightly, but Gibbs didn’t care, not right now.
Especially when the kid put a phone to his ear.
“We can’t see what he is saying,” Ziva pointed out, “but we can—“
“Get him in here. Now.”
They needed no further prompting.
Finding Jarvis was easy. Getting Jarvis to talk was even easier. He was a punk, the kind Gibbs ate for breakfast. The courier job was his real job—he’d been approached after making one of his daily delivery and pick-ups at NCIS a few months before, and had taken the “side job” of watching McGee for extra cash. He didn’t know why McGee had been important. He’d just been asked to watch him and keep track of when he was working weekends and any vacations he might be considering. He also was asked to give his impressions of the team as a whole. He hadn’t know the reason for that either. Gibbs did.
The only difficulty had come when the name Jarvis gave them for his contact turned out to be false. The man who’d hired the kid had called himself Mr. Gray—a pretty obvious pseudonym. All Jarvis could really tell them was that Mr. Gray had no accent—that he sounded American to Jarvis—was white and big--maybe 6’3--and had gray hair.
Gibbs stared at the list of names on his computer again, and his mind clicked over the possibilities. He was no longer looking just at the lists of named terrorists, but at the criminals. Plain, ugly, vengeful criminals.
A lot of them—men he’d put away when he was still pretty young—would have gray hair now. And prison tended to make a man seem larger than life when he came out.
Tony was downstairs showing Jarvis pictures now, flipping through several books of men Gibbs had put away or had ID’d as dangerous.
Meanwhile, Abby had finally managed to isolate the virus on the laptop after working on it solidly for almost 10 hours. In a few more, she believed she would have enough information to warn the various agencies of what to look for, so they could locate the trojan and purge it before the worm and virus programs were launched. She was working with Homeland Security and someone from the Cyber Security Division of the FBI on that.
Ziva had confirmed that there had been someone inside the personnel and case file databases of all four white hats at different times in the last six months. She also discovered that the hacker had left a signature, a calling card of sorts—an executable program that was triggered when someone tried to delete it. Once opened, it hijacked your desktop, turning it bright pink and covering it with pictures of naked women. (The sneer with which Ziva had delivered this information was almost comical; Gibbs was actually grateful Tony had been with Jarvis when she reported). The hijack program had been easy to get rid of, but the various agency security experts Ziva had talked to remembered it because…well, the naked women had had the faces of female cabinet secretaries pasted on them.
The security experts had dismissed it, since nothing important had been taken, and since it was obviously something a kid would do, to show off. Hacks like that happened more often than not, and resources were such that they couldn’t go after every black hat unless it was more serious. As such, it didn’t provide much useful information to Ziva in and of itself.
Ziva was currently trying to track down other places where this “calling card” had shown up. Abby had helped by supplying the names of well known hackers around the country. Turned out, they had organized themselves and had cons—just like Star Trek.
The world was a strange place.
Gibbs rubbed at his forehead and looked up at the clock. Almost 6:00 pm. He didn’t know when everything was supposed to happen for these people who had McGee, but a good guess would be tomorrow morning, as soon as everyone booted up for the day.
He didn’t put much stock in any of the four white hats being kept alive much longer than that.
His phone rang, and Gibbs picked it up.
“What is it, Tony?”
“Gotta name, Boss.” He didn’t sound happy.
“What is it?”
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “He’s dead.” Gibbs had killed Viktor almost seven years ago.
“I know. But Jarvis says this Gray guy looks a lot like him, though a lot older.”
Gibbs frowned. Quickly, he scrolled down his list of names on his computer, found Reams, and called him up.
Viktor Reams. Older brother of Aleksey Reams. Eldest son of Andrei Reams.
Viktor looked a lot like his father.
They were all former Russian Mafia (Reams was an Ellis Island concoction). If Andrei, looking for a way to get back at Gibbs, wanted to make connections with terrorist cells from out Russia’s way to finance his plan, it wouldn’t be hard.
“I’ll be right there.”
Hanging up, he printed out pictures of Andrei and Aleksey, and headed off to Interrogation.
Ziva saw him leave, but she was still talking on the phone regarding the hacker. She had been given the name of someone named Duncan Matthews, and she was trying to locate the boy….
Reams had stepped out the room after getting a call from someone he called Lensky, answering in rapid Russian. It was the first time Tim had heard that name. Each time the phone had rung in the past two days, the person on the other side was named Onegin. Either way—Russian names, if his memory of reading Pushkin in college was worth anything.
Of course, it might not be Russian that Reams was speaking. If Tim admitted it to himself, it could just as likely be Czech or Polish or Romanian or Chechen. All her really knew was that it was definitely Slavic.
Ziva would have known.
Just another reminder that, had any of his other teammates been in this situation, they likely wouldn’t still be in this situation.
He breathed heavily and refocused his attention on his computer.
The knife slicing open his upper left arm was, thus, a shock.
He gasped, immediately jumping out of his chair, his hand covering the bleeding wound. Duncan was grinning at him, eyes gleaming with madness, waving the now blood-stained knife.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Tim demanded, backing away even further when Duncan moved towards him, the boy giggling. “I wasn’t doing anything!”
Duncan just shook his head in warning, still giggling. “Sit back down, McGee.”
“Help him sit down, Ed.”
The man Tim had called the “first goon” in his head for most of yesterday grabbed him tightly around both arms and shoved him forward. He was shoved hard into the metal chair, then abruptly let go, so that he almost fell out of it again.
Letting out a pained breath, Tim looked at his left upper arm. The knife slice was bleeding quickly, staining his shirt sleeve, but it didn’t look deep; it’d stop bleeding if he could get a bandage on it. He wrapped his right hand around it again, trying to lessen the dull throbbing. He looked up at Duncan, still hovering over him.
“Why did you do that?” he asked hoarsely.
“I could say,” Duncan began, wiping the knife off on Tim’s left shoulder, ignoring the way Tim flinched, “that I was trying to motivate you to work faster.” He leaned closer, letting the light from the monitor reflect off the wicked edge of the knife. “But that’d be a lie.” He shrugged. “I was bored. None of you have done anything in a while. You, for example…” Duncan got closer, indicating the screen with the blade. “You haven’t gotten past this firewall, despite the fact that you’ve been trying for the last six hours.”
Tim tried to ignore the way Duncan shook, his jaw tense. “I know,” he said. “The NSA is—“
“Hard. I know. I couldn’t hack it either.” Duncan leaned away from him. “But that doesn’t mean much.” He eyed Tim with a hateful stare. “I’m not you.” He looked at the other three in the room, who were all staring at him. “I’m not any of you. Though, you—“ He pointed the knife at Nick. “I might be better than you. You’ve done almost nothing since you’ve been here. So much for being the famous White House hacker.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“’Course,” Duncan shrugged, “you were a lot younger when you did it, right? Computers were a lot easier to hack ten years ago, before you got recruited to start hacking for the government that tried to put you away.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed more, and he looked away, back to his monitor.
Duncan snorted, and returned his attention to Tim. He placed the knife against Tim’s upper right arm.
“Should I slice this arm, too? Give you a matching scar.”
Tim had no doubt that the kid would do it if he didn’t think of something quickly. “It…it’ll make it harder for me to type,” he tried.
“So…” Tim looked at his monitor. “You said yourself, I haven’t gotten very far with the NSA. And…” He looked at the clock hanging to one side in the room. “Reams only gave me ‘til eight to hack it. That only leaves me an hour.”
Duncan laughed. “Don’t matter if you hack the NSA, McGee. He don’t care if you do or not.”
Tim frowned. Huh?
“Why not?” Tara asked timidly. “Why wouldn’t he care?”
“You people already hacked the two agencies he really wanted. The rest is frosting.” Duncan grinned.
Tim glanced at the blade still resting on his arm out of the corner of his eye. He was afraid to speak. Luckily, Tara wasn’t.
“Then why are we doing this?” she asked, still timid. Good for her—Fornell was going to get a good agent in her. If they got out of this, they’d need to give as much information to Gibbs and the others as possible. Plus, Tim had been wondering about that even before Duncan admitted to only two agencies being important—because, no matter how good Duncan’s malware was, it wasn’t going to keep any of the agencies off line for long. A day, two tops. Less if Abby got his message. What were they really trying to gain?
Duncan pressed the blade deeper into Tim’s arm, but didn’t break the fabric of his shirt, and Tim hissed, all questions leaving his mind.
Tara’s eyes softened in worry, and she turned pleading eyes to Duncan. “Please don’t,” she whispered.
Duncan let up with the knife, to Tim’s surprise. But he didn’t back away. Tim could smell him standing behind him, still too close for comfort.
Duncan stared at her, then laughed again. “You’re all such wusses!” he chortled. “It’s just a little cut! He’s tough.” He tapped the back of Tim’s head. “Ain’t ya, McGee?”
Tim breathed out heavily. “Whatever you say, Duncan.”
“There,” Duncan said happily. “See?”
Tara shook her head. “I don’t understand you. I don’t understand any of—“
Duncan sliced open Tim’s other arm before she could finish, causing him to yelp in pain. He had both hands on his arms now, blood seeping through his fingers, his head bowed against the pain.
“Stop it!” Tara demanded. “You didn’t have to do that! Why are you doing this?"
Duncan wiped the knife on the back of his shirt, and walked over to Tara.
“I do whatever I want,” he sneered, waving the blade in front of her. “And how are you doing?” He pressed the blade to her arm. “You need any motivation, girl?”
Tara’s eyes narrowed angrily despite the tears in them. She shook her head. “I’m…I’m doing fine,” she answered quickly. “I’m almost inside the New Jersey State Police, like Reams wanted. See for yourself.” She waved a hand at the screen.
“Duncan!” Reams boomed, walking back into the room. He stared hard at McGee, taking in the bleeding cuts, then back at the blond kid. Duncan straightened up from his lean over Tara, and smiled wanly.
“Something wrong, Chief?” Duncan asked, as if he weren’t holding a still blood smeared blade close to Tara’s head.
Reams’ eyes narrowed, then he pointed at McGee. “Check his computer! Now!”
Duncan blinked, he hadn’t expected that. Neither had McGee. For a half second, Tim had actually thought Reams was mad at Duncan for the knife cuts.
The goon—Ed—pulled Tim out of his chair roughly and pulled him to the side, as Duncan came around and started going through Tim’s open windows. Then the kid was delving deeper—checking Tim’s network connections.
Tim closed his eyes. Please…please let him not find anything. Tim knew he was good, but no one was perfect.
“What am I looking for, Chief?” Duncan asked, still searching the hard drive.
“Something. He tipped his people off somehow.”
Tim smiled slightly; he couldn’t help it. Abby had received his message! Gibbs was looking for him!
“How do you know?” Duncan asked, looking over his shoulder at Reams. The gray haired man was boring his eyes into Tim, as if he could see right through McGee’s eyes into his mind.
“Lensky called. NCIS picked Jarvis up a few hours ago. By now, the kid’s likely spilled his guts about us.” Reams stepped closer to McGee. “How did they know, McGee?”
He gave a headshake. “I don’t—“
The backhanded slap was vicious, and it took a while for Tim to get his sight back. He only stayed standing because the goon was still holding onto him by his arms.
“Try again, Agent McGee!” Reams barked.
He shook his head. “I really don’t—“
This time, it was a punch to the gut, which was still sore from yesterday. Tim hacked, his stomach feeling like it was on fire. He couldn’t catch his breath.
“One more time, McGee. Lie to me one more time.”
Tim sucked in a heady breath, and looked up. He was partially bent over, so Reams literally loomed over him, his face in shadow—like a demon. Tim shook his head; there was no way he could answer and come out on the top. What was the point in even trying?
“What’s the point?” he asked out loud, his voice coarse from lack of air. “If I say I don’t know, you’ll kill me. If I say I do know, you’ll kill me. But, if you know so much about me, you know I have friends, a team. They must have noticed I was gone. And they’re more than good enough to find you without my help.”
The other man’s eyes narrowed. “That your final answer?” Reams asked.
Tim stared at him, then gave a single nod. Reams bellowed in anger and slapped him hard across the face, enough that Tim actually blacked out for a second. When he came to, he was still being held up by the goon, and Reams was still standing over him. The older man’s eyes, though, were on Duncan.
“Anything?” Reams asked.
Duncan was frowning, his fingers flying over the keys as he searched for hidden files and subdirectories.
“Damn it, Duncan!” Reams snapped. “Find me something!”
“There ain’t nothing obvious, Chief.”
“Of course it’s not obvious. But it’s there. Find it! I want to know how much they know!”
Duncan just shook his head. “I’m lookin’! Give me a minute.”
Reams curled his hands into fists, returning his gaze to McGee. His eyes narrowed at seeing the bleeding cuts. He looked over McGee’s head at the goon.
“Bandage those. I don’t want him bleeding to death or dying of infection before I kill him. He's sick enough as it is.”
Ed reacted by letting him go, and Tim fell to his hands and knees. Apparently, his legs had decided they didn’t want to work anymore—they must have been connected to his stomach, which was radiating an enormous amount of pain through him. He still couldn’t pull in a whole breath. He pressed a shaking hand to his chest, which was beginning to burn as well. Roughly, he was pulled back to a sitting position on his haunches, and Ed was grabbing his right arm, roughly wrapping cloth around the cut.
Tim blinked drowsily, barely registering anything now beyond how much his stomach hurt.
“Duncan!” Reams barked.
“There’s nothing here!” Duncan shouted back. “He’s on his network, but there’s no messages, no nothing. No evidence at all that he’s contacted anyone. It’s all…” The kid leaned back from the computer. “Normal. If he did something, he must’ve erased it.”
Reams stared at Tim’s monitor for a moment, and then looked over at Tara. When she ducked her head (she’d been watching the whole thing as if frozen, as had Nick and Angela), the gray haired man pointed at her. “Check her computer.”
Tara’s eyes widened, and she typed something.
Tim’s eyes closed. He didn’t know exactly what she’d just typed—but she’d just given them away.
The second goon was already pulling her from the chair, and Duncan was at her computer. It didn’t take him long to find it.
“She took a screen shot,” he said, “of the New Jersey State Police website.”
“Why?” Reams demanded.
Duncan shook his head, and started typing again.
Tara bit her lip, looking across at Tim. In the background, Tim could see that Angela was only haphazardly typing. Nick watched them both, his brow furrowed.
Ed had pulled McGee back to his feet by now, and was basically holding him up. Reams sneered at him, and then walked across to Duncan. The blond man was frowning.
“That’s weird,” Duncan muttered. A moment later, he leaned back in his chair, looking very puzzled.
“What’s weird?” Reams asked.
“She’s got a link here to McGee’s network at NCIS.” Duncan frowned more, before turning to look up at Tara. “Why are you linked to McGee’s network?”
Tara started to visibly shake, her eyes shifting from Duncan’s to Reams’ and back again. She had no answer. Tim’s heart beat faster.
“Answer me!” Duncan snapped, and Tara pressed back into the second goon’s hold. He squeezed her arms and she gasped in pain.
“Stop!” Tim called out. “Don’t! It was me,” he threw out. “I did it. I gave her access.”
Reams turned his cold gaze on Tim, while Duncan just looked at him in interest.
“Why?” Duncan asked.
“I…she…she was having trouble hacking the…the NYPD,” Tim said, breathing more and more shallowly. “I’ve done it before, had a backdoor program hidden on my computer. I gave her access.”
“How did you know she was having trouble?” Reams asked then, taking a step towards McGee. “When did you talk to her?”
Oh crap. “Uh…we….” Think! Think! “We…there’s a flaw…” He glanced at Nick and Angela, but they just answered him with helpless gazes. He turned back to Reams, shaking his head. “There’s a flaw in the wall between our cells. We…we were able to talk last night. She told me then.”
“She told you last night,” Reams repeated, his eyes narrowing, “that she was having trouble hacking the NYPD?”
Tim’s heart sank. Too late, he remembered that…
“She didn’t start trying to hack the NYPD until this morning,” Reams said coolly. “Want to try that again, Agent McGee?”
“I…I was…She…she just anticipated having problems. I don’t mean…. I didn’t mean—”
“You are a bad liar, Agent McGee,” Reams said, shaking his head. “Why did you give her access to your network? What was she going to do with that screen shot?”
Tim swallowed, his mind working furiously to come up with something.
“We hoped,” he said finally, speaking softly, “that we’d be able to email the screenshots to someone before tomorrow morning. Warn them.”
Reams gave a nod. “Through your network?”
“Why yours. Why not Stokes?”
Tim closed his eyes, and then opened them again to stare at the floor. “Because it was my idea. I…I told Tara through the wall last night. She agreed to help.” He looked up at Reams. “It’s all me.”
“Tim,” Tara whispered sadly.
Reams shook his head softly. Duncan stood up and walked away from Tara’s computer towards McGee. As he did so, the second goon deposited Tara back onto her chair, though he still held onto her shoulders.
Duncan stopped a couple feet from Tim. “How were you going to send it?” he asked.
“At the last second,” Tim said. “A last gasp, so to speak.”
“I would have seen it,” Duncan said. “Did you really think I wouldn’t?”
Tim didn’t answer; he didn’t even look up.
“So,” Reams said, “you used her. Even knowing what would happen, you got her to help you. Involved her in this plan of yours. Made her your stooge.”
“I’m no one’s stooge,” Tara said, her voice shaking despite the bravado.
Reams ignored her. “You know you must be punished, don’t you, Agent McGee?”
Tim finally looked up at that. Reams was staring at him, his expression dark. Without another word, Reams pulled his gun from his waist and held it up, pointing it at Tim’s skull. Ed let Tim go, backing up to get out of range. Duncan moved back a couple of steps as well, a crooked smile on the kid’s face.
Tim drew in as deep a breath as he could manage and held his ground. He straightened, meeting Reams’ stare with one of his own.
“No one to blame but yourself,” Reams said quietly, releasing the safety on the gun with a loud click. “You did this.”
Tara tried to stand, but the goon held her down. “No!” she cried, raising a hand to Reams’ back. “Please! Don’t kill him!”
Reams snorted a laugh, his eyes still on McGee’s. “I wasn’t planning to,” he said.
He turned around and shot her through the side of her head.