“Could I have a word, Mr. Callen?”
Callen glanced up from checking e-mail on his computer. It was early and the rest of the team had yet to arrive. Not surprisingly, Hetty had silently popped up before him like the petite ninja she was.
“Sure thing.” He got up and followed her, dropping into one of the less-than-comfortable chairs in front of her mahogany desk. The desk was small, but sturdy. Rather like the woman herself.
“Beginning tomorrow, I will be away for several weeks. You will be in charge in my absence.”
Callen was surprised by this sudden announcement. “Away, as in a vacation? A Tibetan retreat perhaps?” he asked. “Or is it some specialized training with Granger?”
Hetty poured a steaming cup of tea and offered Callen one. He shook his head.
“Hah! I’ve forgotten more about how this place operates than Owen Granger could ever hope to know. No, Mr. Callen, I’m afraid it’s something much less exotic. My doctor insists that it is time for a knee replacement.”
“Knee replacement? Wow, didn’t see that one coming.” For a moment, Callen was speechless. How would things function without the indomitable Hetty?
“Knowing you, I’m sure you resisted as long as you could.”
“Indeed I did. But Dr. Tomassi finally wore me down when he explained how the pros outweighed the cons.” Without thinking, Hetty reached under the desk and massaged her right knee. “For years I have evaded assassin’s bullets, knives, poisonous darts and even the machinations of highly-esteemed, but ultimately devious bureaucrats. But even I cannot escape the ravages of time and age.”
“Guess I’ll have the climbing wall all to myself.”
Hetty gave him a look. “Best use this time to improve your technique.”
He smirked. “Duly noted. But I will look forward to taking on the new and improved Hetty.”
“Duly noted,” she returned. “In the meantime, you will need to be available to handle any issues that crop up with Assistant Director Granger or Director Vance.”
“Of course. Maybe even to ‘pull the wool’ over their eyes, if necessary?” asked Callen, his eyebrows raised.
Hetty’s lips twitched, barely suppressing a smile, as she fixed him with her inscrutable gaze. “I think we understand each other perfectly, Mr. Callen.”
Picking up a folder from her desk, Hetty continued. “Now there is one piece of business to attend to in the immediate future - the annual NCIS/FBI joint training exercise. As you recall, the FBI kicked our butt last year. I think it’s high time we returned the favor.”
Callen took the folder and perused it. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Ten minutes later, the rest of the team, including Eric and Nell, assembled in the bullpen. Hetty informed them of her upcoming surgery and what to expect in the coming weeks.
“I may need a shoulder replacement if Kensi doesn’t stop hitting me,” said Deeks. He rubbed one shoulder, then the other. He had yet to suffer a hit this morning, but the day was still young.
“When they come up with a brain replacement, that will be a monumental day for you, Deeks,” said Kensi. Giggles erupted from the group.
“You’re really going to trust G with your tea service?” asked Sam. More giggles.
“Not to worry, Mr. Hanna. I know precisely how many teacups I have and should anything happen to them, well . . .” The remainder of the threat was left hanging.
After a few more instructions, the meeting broke up. Callen and Hetty returned to her desk; Sam went to shoot some hoops in the gym; and Deeks and Kensi went to the gun range. Nell and Eric were walking back up to Ops when Nell paused on the landing.
“AT-Choo. At-choo, at-choo, at-choo.”
“Bless you,” said Eric. “Are you okay?”
“Not really. I didn’t sleep well last night. I think I’m coming down with something.”