The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 7: Punishment

Angela’s screaming and Nick’s shouting echoed inside Tim’s ears, drowning his hearing. Reams was yelling at him, and at someone next to him, but he couldn’t hear it. It all just became a dull roar as his ability to comprehend seemed to short circuit. Roughly, he was grabbed from behind and shoved forward. Reams grabbed him by his forearm and threw him down on the floor next to where Tara was lying on her side, a pool of blood spreading out from the underside of her head.

He pulled himself closer to her, touching her still warm arm, hoping it wasn’t true even though there was no doubt. Her long black hair was loose, spread around like Ophelia’s in the river; the only thing that marred it was the bullet sized hole about an inch behind her right temple. Her eyes were open and unseeing, pupils fixed.

Oh God. What had he done?

Reams grabbed him by his hair and viciously pulled his head up. “I said, pick her up!” Reams shouted, close enough that it finally broke through the cotton in his ears. Tim blinked back tears as he was let go, and he turned to look up at Reams.

“Pick her up, now, McGee! Over your shoulder!”

“Why?” Tim asked, confused. Why pick her up? Why do this? What was the point of all of this? But he couldn’t seem to manage to ask the questions out loud.

“Pick her up,” Reams snarled, raising his gun and pointing it off to the side, “or so help me, Zelnitz is next!”

Tim nodded submissively, too terrified by that threat to even think, and gently took hold of Tara’s still warm hands. As he pulled her upper body up off the concrete, her head released with a liquidy squelch, and Tim dropped her, his body heaving. It was a good thing there was no food in his stomach.

Reams punched him in the back, bringing him back to his senses, and Tim once more tried to pick Tara up. This time, he was ready for the sound, and managed to get her up and over his shoulder without actually looking at the left side of her head or at the mess on the floor where it had been.

Someone helped him get his feet under him, and he lifted his gaze to meet that of the second goon. Doug? For the first time, there was something akin to an emotion on the gorilla’s face—it almost looked like sympathy. It was erased quickly, however, as Doug backed off allowing Reams to take his place in front of Tim.

“We’re heading back to the cells now, McGee. Hold on tight to her—wouldn’t want her to fall in the mud.” He was back to cool and calm now, which matched the room. Nick wasn’t shouting anymore, and Angela’s screaming had dissolved into sobbing. Reams shoved Tim forward, and he had to adjust his step so Tara wouldn’t slide off his shoulder.

“Where are you taking them?” Nick asked, breaking the moment.

Tim stuttered to a stop, keeping his eyes on the floor as Reams answered.

“I’m taking them back to McGee’s cell. Our reckless NCIS agent is going to spend the night chatting with Agent Stokes, with a little help from Duncan’s favorite pharmaceutical aid.”

“Which is?”

“Ecstasy,” Duncan answered, giggling maniacally. “What else does a growing boy need?”

Tim closed his eyes in resignation.

“Ecstasy?” Angela repeated. “But…in Tim’s current state, that could…” She trailed off, not finishing the sentence. Not needing to. “You don’t care,” she whispered.

“Quite true, Agent Zelnitz. But I promise he won’t die, not tonight. Not until I’m finished with him.”

“What about us?” Nick demanded. “What are you going to do to us?”

“You still have work to do. Including theirs, now.”

“But, we—“

He was interrupted by the sound of Reams’ gun cocking. Angela emitted a soft whimper.

“Any more questions, Agent Cheevers?” Reams asked coldly.


“Good. Get back to work. Duncan, Ed, you watch them. Doug, you’re with me. Get me the rope from the truck. As for you…” Tim was shoved forward, forcing him to open his eyes again. “Move.”

“Andrei Reams,” Ziva said, leaning against the edge of Tony’s desk, “was paroled last year and promptly disappeared off the radar.” She clicked the remote to flash Reams’ face up on the plasma. “It is assumed he made contact with some of his former mafia friends, and they put him in contact with this man.” She clicked the remote again, and a blond, 18 year old kid appeared on the screen. “Duncan Matthews, black hat hacker and junkie, according to the people who knew him. He was arrested last year for running a Meth lab in his basement in Baltimore, but he skipped town before the hearing. Baltimore PD is certain he had help.” She tilted her head. “Homeland Security and the FBI are working together to try and connect them to some of the Russian and former Eastern European terrorist cells.”
“Any leads on where he might be hiding?” Gibbs asked.

“No, Boss,” Tony replied, sitting at his desk and typing something into his computer. “Neither we, nor any of our agency helpers on this case, have any current addresses for Reams or Matthews. Fornell says he has every available agent tracking down known associates and family members, but, so far, nothing.”

“What about Aleksey?” Gibbs said, turning to look at Ziva. “The other son?”

She shook her head. “He has had no contact from either,” she said.

“Well,” Gibbs said, stepping forward to look more closely at Reams, “they’re here somewhere. There must be something, some mistake he made.” He looked at Tony. “Anything from Abby?”

“She says no point of origin for IPS yet, Boss. It’s still bouncing.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed slightly, and he crossed his arms. Ziva sighed softly and put the remote down.

“Abby did say that, from what she’s been told, the other agencies are having success locating and purging the trojan she isolated for them,” she said. “Whatever Reams planned, it will not come to pass tomorrow.”

Gibbs just nodded. “Was there any evidence that other information was taken from any of them?”


“Yeah, I don’t get that, Boss,” Tony said, bouncing up from his chair. “They got into all those agencies and PDs, and they didn’t mine for information?”

Gibbs didn’t answer.

“I mean,” Tony shook his head, “why didn’t they root around for things? Names, places, passwords—things they could sell. It doesn’t make sense that this was all about just causing a day or two of chaos.”

Gibbs frowned. “That’s because it wasn’t,” he replied, turning away to walk back to his desk. “This was about me and Reams and his son.”

“Viktor,” Ziva stated, looking up at the screen again. “The one you killed.”

“No.” Gibbs shook his head. “Aleksey.”

It was still bucketing down with rain as Tim was pushed down the muddy hill to the barn; it was a miracle he didn’t fall. He certainly slipped enough, his legs shaking from the exertion of staying upright and not losing hold of Tara.

Reams pushed him inside, and continued to push Tim all the way down the corridor to the centrally located cells. When they finally got there, Reams shoved him inside. Tim staggered under Tara’s weight, blinking through the water streaming down his face. Reams sidled around him, grabbing the metal fold up chair and slamming it down in place at the end of the cot, facing it.

“Put her down.”

Tim couldn’t help but feel grateful, trying to be as gentle as he could as he lowered her into the seat. She slumped forward. At the same time, Doug appeared with the rope Reams wanted.

“Tie her to the chair,” Reams ordered the goon. “I want her to be looking at him.”

Tim didn’t wholly understand, watching as Tara was pushed upright and her body bound to the chair. Doug had a little trouble with her head, but he eventually got it balanced, tilted slightly to the side, so that she was staring at the head of the cot. Blood matted the entire left side of her head, and Tim almost heaved again.

“Take this,” Reams ordered, opened his hand up and presenting a pill to Tim. It was a dark pink color, with a stamp on the face. He stared at it, but didn’t take it. Reams sighed, and called for Doug.

Next thing Tim knew, Doug had bound his hands and forced him down on his knees. Reams forced the pill into his mouth, then closed his mouth. The tablet immediately started to dissolve—Tim didn’t even need to swallow it.

The rush was almost instantaneous, throwing his entire world out of whack. The cold and wet went away, replaced by an almost surreal sense of euphoria, and he started to shake. He could make out Reams laughing at him, and Doug pulling him back to his feet, practically carrying him over to the cot.

The rush started to fade as he was forced to sit at the head of the cot—his body just couldn’t sustain it with all it had been through. But he was still shaking as Reams took over from Doug, tying Tim’s bound wrists to the metal bar—it meant he couldn’t lie down, and he couldn’t turn away. And with the Ecstasy coursing through his system, he’d never get to sleep. He’d have to look at Tara’s staring, dead eyes every time he looked up.

Some semblance of his mind came back to him, then. If he was going to die, he wanted to know the reason, he needed to understand….

“Why are you doing this?” he whispered.

“To punish you,” Reams replied, pulling the rope tight, so that it burned into Tim’s skin. Tim flinched a little; he couldn’t help it.

“No,” he hissed, breathing through the pain. “I mean, why are you doing this? The whole thing. Why are you hacking these agencies?”

“I’m being paid,” Reams replied.

“But it won’t last,” Tim replied, his voice trembling. “At most, they’ll be down for a day or two, and all of these agencies have back up servers—redundant systems designed to power up in the event something exactly like this happens. You must know that.”

Reams didn’t answer, pulling again on the ropes. Tim didn’t flinch this time.

“They’re separate from the main servers,” Tim pressed. “Off-line until they’re brought online in the event of a crash. You know we can’t hack them as well. So this, what you’re doing, it’s only going to affect them for a very short time.”

Reams finally finished and backed off, still looking at Tim’s wrists, admiring his work. Tim looked up at him, trying to fight back the tears in his eyes.

“If you’d really been looking for information, like you said you were, you could have had a ton by now. But you haven’t asked. I’ve been watching—not once have you mined the sites I hacked for information. Why? What are you really after?”

Reams lifted his gaze from Tim’s wrists to his eyes. And he smiled.

“You really want to know?”

Tim just nodded.

Reams moved closer, sitting on the edge of Tim’s cot. “Get out of here, Doug.” The goon nodded and disappeared out of the open door. Reams smiled even wider as he looked back at Tim, showing those horrible teeth.

“The people who hired me,” Reams began, “only wanted me to hack one department. The DOE. Take down their servers for a couple days, that’s enough to get my employers access to a half dozen locations where uranium is stored. It was my idea to hack the others at the same time. By bringing down all the agencies and local police departments at the same time, not only do I distract them all, giving my clients the best chance of getting away with their theft, but my clients get the satisfaction of watching this country’s intelligence agencies being brought to their knees by their own technology, even if only for a moment.”

Tim’s brow furrowed. After a moment, he shook his head. “Then why tell us you were also looking for information?”

Reams’ smile grew downright ugly, and he leaned closer to McGee, close enough for Tim to smell his aftershave. “Because I do want information, Timothy. For me.”

Tim swallowed, trying to back away, his shoulders hitting the cement wall behind him. “For you,” he repeated. “What information?”

“Information about where my son is.”

Tim frowned.

“Information,” Reams continued, “that is hidden somewhere inside NCIS.”

Tim’s eyes widened. “NCIS has your son?”

“No,” Reams said, his voice low and dangerous. “NCIS hid my son. After he betrayed his own family, betrayed his own brother. Your boss, Special Agent Gibbs, used information my youngest son Aleksey gave him to track down and kill my eldest boy. Nearly killed me as well, but I got lucky—I just got sent to jail.” He smiled again. “So when this is all done, Agent McGee, you’re going to help me find where they hid Aleksey. Then we’re going to teach your Gibbs and my Aleksey a lesson.”

Tim blinked rapidly, wishing his jaw wasn’t trembling, but he couldn’t stop it. “What kind of lesson?”

“Simple, really. First, we find Anthony DiNozzo and we kill him. Figure that’ll make me even with Gibbs. Then we find Aleksey, and you and I are going to introduce my boy to the neat concept of a murder-suicide pact. Two betrayers—one of his family, one of his country and his team—unable to live with their guilt, take their own lives.”

Tim felt sick, really, honestly sick. He looked away from Reams, unable to meet the other man’s gaze any longer, his mouth filling with saliva. He swallowed thickly, trying to force the bile to stay down.

Reams stood up, still smiling at Tim. Turning, he walked over to where Tara’s body was sitting and lifted her head slightly. Rigor mortis had started to set in, so it was easier to make it seem like Tara was looking directly down at McGee. Chuckling now, Reams patted her shoulder.

“Keep him company, my lovely. He betrayed you as well. Show him what that betrayal begets.”

Turning, he walked casually over to the door. Once there, he grabbed the handle and looked back one more time at Tim.

“Goodbye, Agent McGee. It’s a full moon tonight. I’m sure you and Agent Stokes will have a lot to talk about.” And then he winked.

As soon as the door shut, and the lights went off, Tim turned and threw up over the side of the cot.

Abby stared at the screenshots Tim and Tara had sent. All those agencies had been warned, along with a bunch of others, and the trojan’s signature was being searched for. She just hoped the malware could be purged in time.

But why hadn’t they sent more? There were so many other agencies that could have been hacked, but he’d sent nothing since this afternoon. It was near midnight now.

A tear slid down her cheek, and she wiped it away.

No. No! She wasn’t going to think that way. There had to be another reason. There had to be!

Closing the window down with the trojan’s coding on the laptop, she slid to the left, back to her own computer, and checked on the progress of the trace. It was still bouncing around the map—how many places did this thing route through? Ziva was right—it looked like she was encasing the world into a spider-web of red lines.

But, as she promised Gibbs, it would stop eventually. Just not in time, apparently.

For a minute, she just watched as it hit a server in Berlin, then Madrid, then Lisbon, then flew back across the ocean. It aimed for DC, but she guessed it wouldn’t land. It never did.

Sure enough, it hit a server in DC, then Maryland, and then West Virginia before bouncing away, heading up to Montreal again.


Hang on, why did she just think, “again?”

She blinked once, then backed up away from the computer.

“Abby?” Ziva poked her head into the room. “Gibbs sent me down to see how you were doing.”

Abby barely acknowledged her, walking around to the far side of the table in order to move even farther away from the computer monitor—just like Ziva had been doing all day. She felt the Israeli move to stand alongside her, and could feel her puzzlement.

“Abby?” Ziva asked, stopping Abby from backing into her mass spectrometer with a touch to her arm. “Are you okay?”

“Ziva,” Abby said, pointing at her computer monitor, “What does that look like to you?”

Ziva stared at it for a moment, “it looks exactly the same as when you showed it to me this morning. I told you—it looks like a spider-web.”

“And by spider-web, you mean…?”

“A recurring pattern.”

“Oh God! Why didn’t you say that? No, no, more to the point,” Abby was already headed back to her computer, “why didn’t I see it!”

Ziva just blinked. “I’m sorry? I don’t under--”

“It is a recurring pattern! Every time it hits the server it started from, it starts again. I am such an idiot! McGee is never going to let me live this down.” She whipped around, pointing at Ziva. “You can’t tell him!”

Ziva just lifted her hands up. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about, Abby.”

“I’ve been looking at the server from which McGee’s file originated this whole time, but, because the trace didn’t stop there, it bounced away, I didn’t see it.” She was typing away furiously now. “Now, since we can assume that he’s still in the country, and since it’s doubtful he’s that far from DC, then it’s got to be one of these…” She brought up five locations in the DC area. “And one of them…” she typed faster, and the map she was looking at zoomed in even more, “will have a bounce…” the map zoomed in on West Virginia, “that lasts just a little longer than the rest....” the map zeroed in on Doherty, West Virginia.

Ziva had walked around the table by now, and was peering at Abby’s screen.

“He’s there?” she asked softly.

“Yes,” Abby whispered. She was afraid stating it loudly would jinx the discovery.

“Where is that?”

“West of Spruce Knob State Park,” Abby replied, not even blinking. Her eyes started to sting. “West Virginia.”

Ziva straightened, her entire body turning rigid. “Do you know where exactly he is in that area?”

“No,” Abby said, finally blinking and moving to the other computer. She quickly pulled up the towns’ stats. “Doherty is a muni. Its internet connectivity is routed through one central server in the town—but I know he’s within its town limits somewhere—but it’s a big town land-wise, covers a large area.”

Ziva nodded, and pulled out her cell phone. “Keep trying to narrow it down. I’ll tell Gibbs.” She pulled out her phone and smiled at Abby. “Good job, Abby.”

Abby just nodded absently in return as Ziva called upstairs, already seeking some sort of way to narrow down the source even more.

“I want a search on all recent land purchases in that area,” Gibbs ordered Tony as Ziva came out of the elevator and bee-lined for her desk. “And any new leases or licenses on record. Check for all of Reams’ known aliases.”

“Leases and licenses aren’t likely to be on record unless they’re long term,” Tony noted, searching for the emergency contact for the county clerk online. “Not to mention it’s almost 1:00 in the morning, Boss. No one’s going to be awake out there.”

“Then wake them up, Tony,” Gibbs snapped. He turned and zeroed in on Ziva. “Abby said it was a muni?”

Ziva nodded.

“Then,” Gibbs said, “call them, find out who’s been using more power than normal in their area. Four high powered computers working round the clock is going to be a drain in a place that’s made up mostly of campgrounds and farms.”

Ziva nodded, quickly searching for the number of the town’s municipal light department.

“Four high powered computers would need a specialized building,” Tony said thoughtfully. Gibbs nodded at him.

“So?” he challenged, his heart beating faster.

“So, maybe we should be searching for recent building permits,” Tony said, his phone on his ear and his hands looking up the town clerk’s information. “I’m on it.”

“No,” Gibbs said suddenly. “You’re not. Call Homeland Security. They want to help? Then they get this information for us. Ziva, you too.”

Tony frowned, hanging up the phone. “But—“

“No buts,” Gibbs snapped. “Grab your gear. We’ll call from the car. We’re heading out to Doherty, now.”

Tim was shaking violently, partly from the cold, partly from being ill, partly from his battered body…and partly from coming down off the drug high. He'd seen it often enough in college—kids in the hallways, bawling with tears as the acid wore off, in pain from thinking they were immortal while on 'shrooms, catatonic and confused from the effects of ecstasy. They were common college uppers. Problem was the horrors you saw when coming down. He'd never tried it, and, if it felt anything like this, he was glad he hadn't.
The moon streaked in through the high window, casting strange shifting shadows around the room. It was bright enough that he could see Tara clearly, the white of her eyes glittering in the half light where she stared at him. Blaming him. Hating him. Accusing him.

It was his fault she was dead. He’d failed her. He’d failed everyone.

The last few hours, he’d drifted between a dazed awareness and an almost fugue state. He knew he hadn’t slept, could feel it by how much his eyes burned with exhaustion, but he couldn’t really remember much of what he’d seen or felt in that time. The way his face burned, he knew he’d been crying. His throat felt sore as well, probably from talking or screaming. He just didn’t know.

It was all so wrong. Had gone so horribly, horribly wrong.

He should have known this was personal. The way Reams had kept coming back to him over the last two days, torturing him, coming up with this “punishment.”

Tomorrow…today?...was Monday. In a few hours, the virus would launch and the agencies, the local and state LEOs would all go down. Some sick bastards would steal the materials to make dirty bombs in the melee, and it was all his fault! He’d let it happen, and Tara was dead for his failure. He'd killed her.

He started rocking on the cot, his legs bent and pressed against his chest, his head pressed against his knees.

He couldn’t help Reams find his son. He wouldn’t. Reams would kill him, of course. Probably kill Nick and Angela first, but then he’d kill Tim. But Tim couldn’t let him succeed. And after Angela and Nick were dead—Tim wouldn’t want to live anyway.

He just wished he could find a way to warn Tony. If he didn't, then Tony's death was on him too. Tony was already dead. He'd killed Tony.

He wished…

He should 've…

He should've gone out with Tony more. And Zive. His sister. Told them how much he…how much they all meant to him.

He looked up at Tara. She just stared back. Still blaming him. Still hating him. Still accusing him.

His fault.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to her. “I’m so, so sorry.”

It should have been me.

“Yes,” she agreed from behind her lifeless eyes. “It should have been you.”

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