Word Count: ~3000
Warnings and/or Spoilers: No spoilers so far. Warnings include violence, language, etc.
Author's Notes: Second chapter up! Yay! It would have been up yesterday, but I kept revising and revising and revising, and then it got to be almost 11 PM, and then I was like *brain explodes*. So I saved it for today. Things are beginning to pull together (kind of) and make sense (not really). And I am not responsible for any hair you might pull out in frustration. It's totally not my fault that this chapter only adds to the puzzle and doesn't attempt to solve it in any way. *cough* Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful feedback! It makes me giddy. *g*
Summary: Tony can't help but think that there was more to the rocket launcher debacle, and it's driving him crazy. It doesn't help that Gibbs is being Gibbs.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything except for the lint in my pockets and a bookcase full of psychology and crime books.
They found Petty Officer Clayton Billings in a dark alleyway, lying face down in a murky puddle of rainwater. One leg was drawn up against his body, and one arm was twisted in an impossible angle against his back. Tony started sketching the scene while Ziva and McGee took pictures. Gibbs sipped his coffee moodily as Ducky and Palmer pulled up.
“Ah, Jethro!” Ducky climbed out of the van and walked towards Gibbs. Palmer scrambled to follow suit. “How are you this fine morning?”
Tony glanced up from his sketch pad as Gibbs shrugged. “Same, Duck.” He sipped his coffee again. Tony couldn't help but stare as Gibbs' throat bobbed up and down, and he swallowed. He lightly smacked himself on the head, and Ziva paused to stare at him quizzically. Tony stuck his tongue out at her and resumed sketching.
“Hm, I see our young Marine isn't having such a fine morning.” Ducky knelt down beside the body, gazing at it curiously. Gibbs knelt beside him, and Tony concentrated on his sketches, desperately keeping his eyes off of Gibbs' ass.
“Time of death?”
Ducky shot Gibbs an exasperated glance. “Give me a moment to examine the body, Jethro!”
Gibbs smiled. “Best guess, Ducky.”
Ducky resumed his scrutiny of the body. “Judging by the rigor, I'd say this poor young man expired ten to twelve hours ago.” Ducky peered at the body closer. “Mr. Palmer!”
Palmer jumped in his place next to the body. “Yes, Doctor?”
“What can you tell me about the body?” Ducky raised an eyebrow.
Palmer blinked owlishly behind his round glasses, and then he seemed to snap out of it. “Oh, uh, yes, Doctor. Um...” He peered closer at the body. “He has contusions on his neck, and abrasions on his face.” Palmer's eyes widened. “His throat almost looks crushed.”
“Indeed, Mr. Palmer.” Ducky nodded gravely. “Go on.”
Palmer blinked again, and then turned back to the body. “It seems that he was held in this position while the attacker straddled his back. Maybe some of his ribs were broken from the force?”
“Possibly. Continue.” Ducky offered a smile.
Emboldened, Palmer nodded. “Judging by the position of the contusions on his neck, he was strangled from behind, while the attacker straddled his back.” Palmer paused. “It looks like he used his bare hands.”
Ducky frowned. “Yes, the poor boy.”
“Odd position to be in to strangle someone.” Gibbs' brow furrowed, and his mouth pressed into a hard line.
“Quite, Jethro.” Ducky looked up. “Our assailant would had to have possessed a massive amount of strength to do this.”
“Well yeah – the guy was a Marine.” Gibbs stood up. “And not one of those pencil-pushers, either.”
Ducky chuckled. “Of course, Jethro.” He turned his attention to Palmer and smiled. “Nicely done, lad.”
Palmer grinned widely. Tony watched all of this with assessing eyes. He sometimes hoped that Gibbs would openly praise him like that. He didn't expect any big grins or appreciative slaps on the back, but it would be nice to hear a “Good work, DiNozzo,” or a “Good job, Tony,” or a “Come back to my place, lemme pour you a drink,” or a “C'mon Tony, let's fuck,”–
A sharp slap to the back of the head jarred Tony from his reverie. “DiNozzo! Quit screwing around!”
Tony straighted. “Yes boss!”
Gibbs stared at him, hard blue eyes glinting, and Tony deliberately schooled his features and slapped on a goofy grin. Gibbs' eyes narrowed, and Tony almost faltered. But Gibbs just took another sip from his coffee and strolled away.
Tony relaxed his shoulders, and the grin slowly slipped off his face.
Maybe it's just better if Gibbs continued to be Gibbs.
They finished up at the scene, and after arguing with Ziva on who would drive back (he liked his head firmly situated on his shoulders, and not smashed through the windshield, thank you very much), Tony drove back to NCIS, whistling the theme to Magnum. Ziva sat next to him looking bored, Gibbs just stared out of the window, and McGee was muttering in the back about how he shouldn't have to be stuck with all the equipment anymore.
“Suck it up, Probie.” Tony threw over his shoulder.
McGee continued to mutter darkly, and Tony got the feeling that he was still angry about the pencil incident.
Honestly, he needed to lighten up.
Back at NCIS, all the evidence was safely placed in Abby's capable hands (“It's about time you guys brought me something interesting! Not that, you know, someone dying is any good, but, it's just, uh, I was getting really lonely, and I was starting to build a little cemetery out of popsicle sticks-”), and the body was safely sequestered down in Ducky's sanctum. Gibbs sent Tony and Ziva out to talk with Petty Officer Billings' CO, while McGee did his thing with the computer. Tony sometimes wondered if McGee ever got sucked into the thing, he always looked so engrossed with his work.
Kind of like Freakazoid, Tony thought.
He scowled. “What, Ziva?”
“Would you please pay attention to the road?” Ziva smirked, her eyes glinting. “You should not criticize my driving skills, Tony.”
“I am paying attention. Despite what people think, I can think and drive at the same time.”
Ziva made a disapproving noise in the back of her throat, and Tony pulled a face. He took what he said earlier back – Ziva was all that bad.
Billings' CO had little to tell them. He could not believe that anyone would want to hurt Billings (everyone said that), he said that he was a good Marine (everyone said that too), and that he would have risen in the ranks fast. Here, the CO shifted and his mouth twitched, and Tony got the impression that the man wouldn't have been the least bit bothered about the kid if NCIS hadn't come to talk to him. He then went on to explain that Billings would have done well in combat, and Jesus, enough, the kid is dead, it's not like he can hear your bullshit anymore.
Tony and Ziva walked away from the CO with twin expressions of disgust on their faces. Ziva snorted.
“I cannot believe that this man is in charge of so many people; he did not feel the least bit of remorse about Petty Officer Billings.”
“Billings must be the son of someone important; no one kisses that much ass, even if they're trying to deflect suspicion.” Tony frowned.
“Do you think that he had something to do with the murder?”
“I don't know. It's possible.”
At first glance, there was nothing untoward in Billings' room. There were a couple articles of clothing strewn on the floor, but the room was otherwise tidy. Tony noted the laptop on the desk, and mentally reminded himself to take it back to Abby. He searched through the footlocker at the head of the bed, and discovered a stash of porn magazines. Tony snickered.
“I don't think these are Marine issue, Zee-vah,” he said, waving a magazine around and waggling his eyebrows.
Ziva rolled her eyes. “He was a man, Tony. The fact that he has porn stashed in his trunk does not surprise me in the slightest.”
Tony pulled out a second magazine, and his eyebrows crawled up his forehead. “All kinds of porn, too.” He tried not to grin as he stared at the oil-slicked male physique that graced the cover. Realizing that he may not be effectively hiding his appreciation, Tony dramatically twisted his face into an expression of horror. There, that was better.
“So he was bisexual.”
“What is... bi-curious?”
Tony paused. As much as he'd like to try and goad Ziva, he didn't think that he wanted to go there with her. With his thoughts straying into the Land of Perversion more often than usual, he didn't trust his wayward mouth.
“Nothing you have to worry about, Ziva.” Tony grinned and tossed the magazine back into the footlocker.
“But I am curious, Tony.” Ziva had that look on her face. That look that said that she was going to keep nagging him until he told her what she wanted to hear. Tony stared at her.
“How did you get your car into the shop again, Ziva?” He beamed at her.
Ziva's features darkened. There, that was better.
“I told you, I do not want to talk about it.” She shrugged one shoulder. “Anyway, it was not my fault.
“Ah hah hah! That's what they all say.”
“Really, it was not my fault!” Ziva threw her hands up in the air. “A man in a green sedan plowed into the side of my car, and then drove off. I think he was intoxicated.”
“I think you just don't want to admit that you rammed into a pole.”
“That was that one time, Tony, you can stop reminding me.”
“Shouldn't you be working?” Ziva turned back to her search, her ponytail swinging.
Tony made a face at her back, then turned back to the trunk to close it. He blinked, and narrowed his eyes. He peered into the footlocker again. He pulled back and studied the front. Tony reached a gloved hand inside and felt around, his eyes still glued to the front. A grin slowly spread across his face. “Billings, you sneaky bastard.”
Ziva looked up from the bookcase at the other end of the room. “What did you find?”
Tony gripped the tip of his tongue between his teeth, still grinning widely. He starting running his hands along the front of the footlocker. “You know, it's a funny thing.” He started feeling around the sides of the trunk. “People will do anything to hide something.” He knocked on the side. “Seriously, I've had to go to some pretty scary places to find the shit that people hide.” He pulled the footlocker away from the bed, and started running his hands along the back. “Like a horse's rectum.” He made a face. “But you know, sometimes...” Tony's eyes lit up. “It's cleverly hidden in a good old-fashioned hiding place.” The bottom portion of the front of the footlocker popped open a fraction, and Tony let out a triumphant whoop. He looked up smugly at Ziva.
“Impressive.” Ziva came over and knelt beside Tony.
Tony slid his fingers into the small space and pulled out the hidden drawer with a flourish. Nestled inside was a plain white three-ring binder. Tony huffed.
“I was hoping for something more glamorous, like cocaine or shiny guns.”
Ziva rolled her eyes. “Let us see what is inside first, before you get disappointed, Tony.”
“Yeah yeah,” Tony reached inside and pulled out the binder. He flicked it open, and blinked. “Uh... what the hell is this gibberish?”
Tony rifled through the pages, growing more and more bewildered. The binder was filled with pages and pages of symbols, letters, and numbers, all jumbled together in one huge mess. It was giving Tony a headache.
Ziva looked equally confused. “A code?”
“That's a big fucking code,” Tony whistled. “There's got to be at least two-hundred pages in here.”
“I do not envy Abby.”
“Shyeah, neither do I.”
“This is so cool!”
“Aren't you... you know, overwhelmed?”
“Well duh, but this is a challenge, and when have I ever backed down from a challenge?” Abby narrowed her eyes. “You don't think I can do it.”
“Of course you can do it, Abs!” Tony waved his hands around helplessly. “It's just... a lot of... stuff!”
“Exactly! It's the mother of all weirdness, the code of all codes... two-hundred pages worth of code! Can't you just imagine what's behind it all?!” Abby bounced up and down, her pigtails flying. Tony placed his hands on her shoulders and stilled her.
Abby sucked in a deep breath, and then coughed on the sudden rush air.
“Slowly, Abs, breathe in slowly.”
Abby nodded during her coughing fit. “I'm okay Tony – it's just... wow!”
Tony's mouth twisted into a smile. “I have to say, I can't understand why you're so excited.”
“It's something to do, Tony! You guys disappointed me with the dead guy's clothes! There was nothing on them - no DNA, no fingerprints, no nothing.” Abby moved away from Tony and starting flapping her hands. “It's like someone took a lint-roller to this guy!” She paused, and furrowed her brow. “Who carries around a lint-roller?”
“McGeek.” Tony snickered.
“He does not, Tony.” Abby fell silent, and then grinned. “Okay, maybe he does. But still. It's just weird.” Abby sighed. “This guy's good, Tony.”
“But it's our job to catch him. I've got you Billings' laptop, and a cool top-secret code!” Tony smiled. “Gibbs will have your ass if you don't find something.”
Abby put a hand to her chest in mock hurt. “I have never let you down!” She frowned. “Where is Bossman?”
“On McGee's ass about background checks.” Tony winced. “The boss isn't having a good day. He's had six cups of coffee already.”
Abby quirked her mouth. “I wonder why he's acting more Gibbs-y than usual.” She cocked her head to the side. “Maybe he isn't getting any. I haven't seen a redhead around in a while.”
Tony chose to keep his mouth shut about that. He didn't want to let it slip that he secretly wanted to push all those redheads off a mountain. He cut his eyes to Abby, who was looking at him with a curious expression on her face. Damn.
She smiled enigmatically, and then waved her hands at him. “Go on, shoo – I don't want the Bossman to blast off your kneecaps when he finds you missing for too long. I like your knees.”
Tony fluttered his eyelashes. “Why thank you, Abs.”
Tony got up to the bullpen in time to hear McGee say, “Got it boss!” McGee tapped at a few keys, and a picture of Clayton Billings appeared on the plasma.
“Petty Officer Clayton Billings is the son of businessman Donald Billings.” McGee raised his eyebrows. “He's the guy who marketed the silly putty that doesn't stick to dirt and lint.”
Tony's eyes lit up, and his mouth formed an “o” of surprise. “Really?! That's awesome. When did this happen?”
“DiNozzo.” Gibbs' eyes flashed, and Tony wiped all shreds of glee from his face.
“You were saying, Probie?”
McGee rolled his eyes. “Mother died when Billings was two – car crash. He has no siblings, and both sets of grandparents are dead. However, before Billings' paternal grandfather passed away, he was the head honcho of Billings & Rockling, a prominent law firm in Miami.”
Tony quirked his mouth. “That would explain why Billings' CO was so 'fond' of him.”
McGee nodded his assent. “Before Billings joined the Corps, he got into trouble with the law.” A picture of Billings in orange appeared on the plasma. “Drugs, mostly – possession, intent to sell, the works. The judge gave him the choice of the Corps, or prison.”
“Seems like he took to the Corps well – there were no spots on his service record.” Ziva pointed out. Gibbs drained his coffee and tossed it in the trash, and his ever-present scowl deepened. Tony's eyes started to dart around, hoping that another cup of coffee would magically appear to appease Gibbs.
“He was mainly in cahoots with an older man – a Richard Otto.” A picture of Otto appeared next to Billings. “He's been in the slammer for drugs, assault and battery, and kidnapping.” McGee grimaced. “He's on parole now, so he may be a suspect.”
“Ya think, McGee?” Gibbs stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets, and Tony inched away from him. “Find him.”
McGee nodded. “He seems to be an old friend of Billings' uncle, Peter Billings.” Peter Billings joined his nephew and friend on the plasma.
Tony felt Ziva stiffen next to him, and he glanced at her curiously. “Something get your panties in a bunch, Ziva?”
Ziva's eyes narrowed. “That is the man who ran into me this morning!”
Everyone stilled. Gibbs stared at Ziva, and McGee gaped at her.
“You were hit? You – you sure this is the guy, Ziva?”
Ziva waved her hand impatiently. “Yes yes, I am sure McGee! He was driving a green sedan, and he crashed into the side of my car! He drove off before I could stop him - I assumed that he was intoxicated, he kept swerving off the road.”
“Never assume, David.” Gibbs snapped. He looked furious.
“Wow – you weren't kidding.” Tony blinked repeatedly.
“I would not 'kid' about something like this, Tony.”
“Find him too, people.” Gibbs barked, flinty blue eyes flashing. “This isn't a coincidence."
Tony's gut started squirming again, and he grimaced. What a lovely way to start off the week.