DISCLAIMER: NCIS and its characters are the property of CBS, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: UnSEALed, Dead Man Talking
Three Blind Mice
Lieutenant Carl Beckham opened the front door of his condo, staring out at the white mail truck as it pulled away from the curb. The past few days, he'd brought the mail up to the door for him; he'd read about the injury in the paper and wanted to help out a little. But the day before, Beckham had asked him to leave it in the mail box for him. He took a deep breath and stepped onto the porch, easing his left leg up next to his right.
The wound still ached and it still hurt to put a lot of pressure on it. But he was standing. He felt ridiculous, a short walk down the driveway becoming a point of pride. In the day, he could have jogged the perimeter of the drive without breaking a sweat. He blew out his breath and moved slowly, stiffly down the long cement drive.
When he rested his hand on top of the brick column, he smiled in victory and pulled down the hinged door. Three letters, a flyer and a manila envelope. He withdrew them all, wadding up the flyer with barely a glance as he sorted through the rest. A couple of get-well cards. He looked at the envelope, looking for a return address and finding none.
He tucked the cards under his arm and opened the envelope, peering inside. There was a slip of paper and nothing else. He turned the envelope over and tapped the edge against his palm. A pile of white powder collected over his fingers.
He dropped the envelope and stepped back, aggravating his wound. He cried out and fell, hitting his ass on the curb and feeling the pain travel up through his spine like an earthquake tremor. From his position, he could see the paper sticking halfway out of the envelope. The message was simple: "The Leg Was Only the Beginning, Lieutenant."
Jethro Gibbs pushed aside the curtain with the back of his hand, looking out into the back yard. "That your boat out there?" he asked, turning back to the lieutenant.
"Yes, sir," Beckham reported. "Built her myself."
"Good for you," Gibbs said. He flipped open his notebook and glanced at Ducky. "You're positive we're fine?"
"Positive, Jethro," Ducky said, gathering his things. "I'll send the sample to Abby for definitive proof, but I am relatively certain that the white powder sent to Lieutenant Beckham was baking soda. Anthrax is much coarser than the sample we have here... gritty to the touch. Baking soda is very smooth, like..."
"What's left of a white-powdered doughnut when you're done with it," Gibbs said.
Ducky smirked and chuckled. "Yes, quite. Other than a sore coccyx, our man will be fine."
"Thank you, Doctor," Beckham said.
Ducky nodded and made his way to the front door. Gibbs stepped forward. "The anthrax may have been faked, but the letter was real enough. Anyone you know might want to scare you like that? Any enemies?"
"You've been at this a long time, am I right, Agent Gibbs?"
"I've seen my share of administrations come and go."
"Have you made any enemies?"
Gibbs smirked. "One or two."
Outside, Tony and Kate were by the mailbox collecting the spilled sample of "anthrax." They were wearing white paper blouses, Kate's hair tied back in a tight ponytail and both of their faces covered by paper masks. Kate looked up as Ducky exited the house. "How's the lieutenant doing?" she asked.
"A little worse for wear, but anything less than anthrax infection is a cause for celebration. I'll see you back home!"
They waved good-bye to him and turned back to their assignment. Kate brushed a small pile from the curb into an evidence baggy, tapping the edge of the bag to make the sample lay down right. She leaned back, brushing her sleeve across her forehead and sighing. She looked down the street. Other than a kid out riding his bike, the neighborhood was deserted. "Is it really necessary to wear all of this crap?"
"We have to be careful," Tony said. "What if the terrorist mixed the anthrax with the baking powder? Got us to let our guard down and then, boom, we get hit with the bug. Can't have that, can we, Kate?"
She sighed and returned to brushing the powder into bags. "This is hell."
"You think this is bad, wait until Abby finds out we're making her test a half dozen bags of baking soda."
Kate grinned. The kid stopped his bike next to their truck, balancing himself on one leg as he watched what they were doing. "Hey. You folks NCIS?"
Tony stood, brushing his hands together. "Yes, we are, son. You might want to step back; this is a hazardous material location and we--"
The kid scoffed. "Dude said that was just bakin' powder." He reached into his windbreaker.
"Who told you it was just baking powder?" Kate asked, standing.
"Which of y'all is the senior field agent?"
Kate and Tony exchanged glanced. "Um, that would be me," Tony said, stepping forward. "Who told you to ask me that?"
The kid tossed a cell phone at him. Tony jumped, fumbling with the phone slightly before he got a grip on it. The kid pedaled off, flashing the peace sign over his head. "See y'all later, G-man!"
"What the hell was that about?" Kate asked.
Tony shook his head, flipping the phone open. The screen saver was a shot of a dark and empty room, a single light burning high in one corner. Tony closed the phone and headed for the house, meeting Gibbs halfway. "Boss. Kid just rode by on his bike, asked for the NCIS senior field agent." He held up the phone. "He handed me this."
Gibbs took the phone, flipping it open and looking at the screen.
Lieutenant Beckham, who had exited the house with Gibbs, looked as well. "What is that supposed to be?"
"I do not have a clue," Gibbs admitted. By now, Kate had joined them. Her mask was down around her chin, freeing her mouth. Gibbs fiddled with the buttons and tossed it back to Tony. "Get it to McGee. Have him take it apart and see--"
The phone rang.
Tony looked at it and then at Gibbs. "What should I do, boss?"
"Did you just ask me what to do with a ringing phone, DiNozzo?"
Tony sheepishly flipped the phone open and looked at the screen. "Blocked caller." He hit the answer button and brought the phone to his ear. "Special Agent DiNozzo, who is this, please?"
"I speak to woman."
The voice was electronically altered or else created entirely on a computer. "Uh, no, I'm... not female."
Kate laughed and pressed her hand against her mouth.
"Give phone to female."
"He wants me to give the phone to Kate."
Gibbs took the phone and said, "This is Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. I'm in charge. Who is this?"
"You are not female."
"No, friend, I'm not. Care to identi--"
"I will speak only to female."
Gibbs sighed and took the phone from his ear, hitting speaker. He held it up in front of Kate's face. She glanced at him and stepped forward. "This is Special Agent Todd."
She frowned. "Excuse me?"
"Separate. You leave men. You live. You stay with men, you die."
"You expect me to leave my team and--"
"You die. They die. You leave, they live. You live."
"Where do you expect me to go?"
"South. Three blocks. East. Five blocks. Inside red building. Third floor."
Kate looked at Gibbs. "What will I find there?"
"Evidence. Who I am. Why."
Gibbs put the phone back to his own ear. "Why should I send my agent off alone? Why should I trust you?"
"You have no choice."
Gibbs looked at the phone read-out and said, "He hung up."
"Too bad Abby wasn't here, huh, boss?"
Gibbs opened the phone, messing with the controls. When he found where he needed to be, he hit another button and turned the phone up to Tony. "You are not female," the voice said again. The next voice was Gibbs: "No, friend, I'm not." He released the button and closed the phone.
"Voice record," Tony said. "Nice catch, boss. Has McGee been teaching you how to use the phone? Not... that you'd need McGee, boss, it's just that..."
He brushed past Tony, heading for the truck. "Kate." She hurried, catching up with him halfway down the lawn. "Do as the guy says."
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"No," Gibbs admitted. "But for now, all we have is what he says. DiNozzo, you stay with the lieutenant in case this is just to get us away from here." He snapped his fingers to Kate, who handed him the baggies of baking powder. "I'll get this to Abby." When DiNozzo was back at the porch, Gibbs stepped closer to Kate. "Don't let this guy get the better of you. You're a good agent. Let him know that."
She nodded and said, "You've got it, Gibbs."
He nodded once and climbed into the truck. "Stay in contact as much as possible."
"You've got it."
She stepped away from the curb as he drove off. She glanced back at DiNozzo and exhaled in resignation. "South three blocks, east five. Red building." She pulled her mask off, tugging at the string holding her paper blouse up. She wadded the protective blouse up and stuffed it into the pocket of her windbreaker. She didn't have her ball cap, but she undid the ponytail and let her long, dark hair free. She turned at the appropriate corner and repeated, "East five blocks..."
Abby looked at Gibbs through her bangs. "Five bags. And Ducky already proved they're full of anthrax."
"No, Ducky believes they're anthrax."
Abby aimed a finger at him. "Rule two, don't believe everything you're told. Double-check."
"That's rule three. Rule two is al--"
"Always wear gloves at a crime scene," Abby cut him off.
He smiled and slid two more bags across the table, one holding the unfolded sheet of typing paper and the other holding the manila envelope it had come in. "Fingerprints."
"I'll check the ink, too, see if that leads anywhere."
"Good. Let me know what you find out, Abs."
She sighed and held one bag of powder up to the light. "Tons of fun..."
Kate withdrew her weapon as she stepped over the curb and into the parking lot of the red building. She scanned the weed-filled parking lot for signs that she was being watched. She didn't like being out in the open like this, didn't like not having back-up. The whole thing smelled, to borrow Abby's phrase, hinky.
There was a loading dock, backed by a tall metal door that was shut tight. She went up the concrete steps, keeping alert for any movement on the street. She found a regular-sized door and tried the knob, finding it unsurprisingly unlocked. She pushed the door open and scanned inside, wishing for her flashlight. "NCIS! Is anyone in here?"
She sighed and said, "Yes, Miss Federal Agent, I'm in here waiting to ambush me. Curse your wise decision to ask." She stepped inside, keeping her shoulder against the door frame as she scanned first to the left and then to the right. The inside was dark, but the ceiling was marked with enough holes and cracks to let in light.
The massive inner room was deserted, but a row of offices with broken windows along the back wall provided ample opportunity for an ambush. She cautiously stepped to her left, moving along the wall. "Federal agent!"
She moved quickly, eager to get to the third floor and get this ridiculous wild goose chase over with. She was worried about Gibbs and DiNozzo, afraid the freak would go through with his threat. She found the stairs and pushed the door open, leaning into the doorway and led with her gun.
Halfway up the stairs, she felt something give underneath her boot. She looked down, shifting her foot and seeing the wood splinter. "Oh, shi--"
The stairs collapsed and Kate disappeared in a cloud of dust.
DiNozzo pulled the DVD off the shelf, marking its place among the others with his finger. "Rio Bravo Collector's Edition," he said, whistling quietly as he turned it over to read the special features. "They don't make enough quality westerns anymore. Or westerns period." He shook his head sadly. "Not since the Duke."
"Agent DiNozzo, do you think this is all just a game?"
"How do you mean, Lieutenant?" Tony asked, putting the DVD back and taking the next one in line.
Beckham shrugged. "I don't know... it just doesn't feel right. I mean, I've been sitting here killing myself, trying to think of someone that might have it out for me. I'm coming up empty."
"So you don't date much?" Tony asked.
Beckham grinned. "Well..."
"Never underestimate a woman scorned. This one woman, I broke up with her? Next day I had some very choice words keyed into the side of my car. Was not pretty."
"You call the cops on her?"
"Cops tend to side with other cops," Tony said. "Matrix Trilogy... what did you think of the last two movies? I think--" He stopped and was instantly alert, like a lazing dog suddenly perking up his ears. "Do you have any pets, Lieutenant?"
Beckham frowned. "Pets? No. Why...?"
Tony drew his weapon and moved towards the back of the house. "Stay here." A hallway led from the living room to the back of the house. He'd already done a quick walk-through, making sure there were no hidden surprises, so he knew the guest bedroom was to his left. The bathroom was directly ahead and the master bedroom was around the corner.
He eased around the corner, seeing no one lurking in the shadows. As he neared the bedroom door, he triggered a motion sensor and the hall light clicked on. The shadow on the wall gave him just enough time to turn and get hit in the face instead of the back. He hit the ground, his gun knocked from his grip by a heavy boot. His first thought as his attacker collapsed on top of him was, "Gibbs is going to kill me."
Abby jumped as the evidence began to vibrate. She put down the sample of baking powder she was working on and rolled over to the other table, picking up the suddenly lively bag. The cell phone from the crime scene. She jumped up, running to the elevator and hoping the "Blocked Caller ID" would hang on long enough for her to get to Gibbs.
The elevator doors opened and, as if by command, Jethro Gibbs stepped out. "Gibbs! The cell phone!"
Gibbs tore it from her hand, ripping the bag open and using the remnants to hold the phone to avoid leaving prints. "Special Agent Gibbs."
"Why so long?" Electronic Voice asked.
"You called for a reason, I assume?"
"Your team is dead."
The phone disconnected and Gibbs stormed past Abby into the lab. "Do you have DiNozzo and Kate's cell phone numbers?" he asked, tossing the phone onto the table as he passed.
Abby trailed behind him, trying to keep up. "Um, yeah, of course. Why? What did he say?"
Gibbs looked at her computer screens, getting a general idea of where she was in processing the evidence. He grabbed the envelope and the note, shoving it against her chest. "Ignore the damn baking powder. It's not anthrax. Focus on the letters."
"Ducky told me the, the biohazard was more--"
"I do not care what Ducky said. The rules just changed." He headed back to the elevator and called over his shoulder, "Call Kate and DiNozzo, make sure they're all right."
Abby looked at the table, seeing that the cell phone was now missing.
Kate's dream was interrupted by a popping, mechanical beat. She swam towards consciousness, realized her soft and warm bed wasn't so soft or warm and felt her mind beginning to retreat. The music, though, just got louder and louder until finally she forced herself to the surface just long enough to turn off that damned alarm clock.
Just before she opened her eyes, she remembered. The pain returned, the memory of the last few minutes of consciousness flooding back into her mind. She grimaced and tried to shift, tried to get away from that spike digging into her kidney. The pain was constant now, emanating from the center of her back and expanding in waves to the outer reaches of her body.
Somehow, she managed to get her phone out of her pocket and dropped it on the ground next to her. She found the small button on the side and pressed it, activating the speaker phone. "Help," she rasped.
"Abby," she sighed, closing her eyes. "Abby, what... w-where are you?"
"I'm at the lab. What happened, Kate? Where are you?"
"Red building," Kate breathed, dropping her head back. It just hurt too much to stay awake... like there was a... vice around her head.
Abby's voice cut through her pain. "Kate!"
"Abby," she breathed.
"Kate, I need you to talk to me. What happened? Are you hurt?"
Kate closed her eyes and concentrated. "Through... the stairs."
"I need to call Gibbs and tell him..."
"No, Abby," Kate gasped. "No... don't hang up. I'll go to sleep and... I don't think that would be smart right now. Just... stay here with me."
Kate nodded and sagged against whatever she was laying on, feeling warm liquid pooling in the back of her windbreaker.
Gibbs' car nearly took out the chest-high brick mailbox that had brought them to the house. He was out of the car, leaving the door open and the engine running as he charged to the front door. By the time he burst into the living room, he had his gun drawn. His adrenaline was racing, taking in everything at once before he catalogued it.
A broken lamp by the window.
The back door, standing open and letting the sunlight in.
Lieutenant Beckham, sprawled on the couch, hopefully just unconscious.
"DiNozzo!" he called. He scanned the hallway and moved to the couch, checking Beckham's pulse. The man was alive, just badly hurt. Gibbs got off the couch and headed to the back door, searching the back yard for signs of the intruder. Nothing. Back in the house, the lamp was the only sign of a struggle. Gibbs went to the hallway, finding DiNozzo's Sig Sauer resting against the wood trim.
He cursed and withdrew his cell phone from the pocket of his windbreaker. DiNozzo's phone went to voice mail after three rings. He disconnected without leaving a message and dialed Kate's phone. Busy, leave a message. He cursed and was about to dial Abby's phone in the lab when the second phone in his pocket began ringing.
He answered without bothering to look at the screen. "What the hell did you do with my team?"
"They are out of the picture. Just you. To Orange Grove Street. Tall green building. Twenty minutes."
The call disconnected. Gibbs checked his watch and ran for the door. He called Ducky on his own phone, telling him to come back to Beckham's house to check on the lieutenant.
The small underground room wasn't terribly bad or overly cluttered. There were some old desks, a few dozen chairs haphazardly stacked on top of themselves all around the perimeter. There were rolls of carpet, all of which Kate wished she'd had the good fortune to land on. Instead, she had hit one of the discarded desks hard enough to crater the surface, the splinters of wood digging into her flesh if she moved wrong. One of the drawers was pressed against her back, stabbing her.
Abby's voice was still coming loud and strong through the tinny speaker. "Gibbs is probably on his way, Kate. All you have to do is wait."
"It hurts so bad," Kate groaned. "I think I broke something..."
"You're strong, Kate. Macho mama."
Kate laughed, immediately regretting it. "Ow... Abby..."
"It's not your fault... keep talking to me. I just need to hear your voice, know I'm... not alone. What are you doing right now?"
"I'm running a fingerprint analysis on that letter sent to Lieutenant Beckham. So far, not coming up with much. There was a hair in the bottom of the envelope. I'm running that, seeing if I can find a match on that if the fingerprints crap out. So... lots of hurry-up-and-wait around here right now. You know what that's like."
There was a long silence and Abby said, "Kate? Are you with me, babe...?
Gibbs drove like a bat out of hell, cell phone to his ear, cursing as he got DiNozzo and Kate's voice mail messages again. Normally, he would be furious that they were just being irresponsible. He would be mentally reciting the few, choice words he would have for them when he did get hold of them. But now, in this situation, he was far more worried that the lack of contact had a more sinister meaning.
He slammed on his brakes outside of the tall green building on Orange Grove, pulling his Sig and examining the street before he got out of the car. No one suspicious, no unusual cars idling at the corner. He stepped out of the car, alert for the sound of running feet or engines racing.
When he made it to the door with no confrontations, he turned his attention tri-fold in front of him. His ears were finely tuned to each side, his eyes panning the changing horizon in front of him. He pushed the door open with his foot, keeping the wall at his back as he side-stepped inside. No sounds to the left or right, no motion in front of him.
The room was the skeleton of a lobby, marble floors and bright yellow walls. Plastic hung over the wall to his right, indicating that someone was planning to paint soon. He couldn't smell fumes, so this must be some kind of holiday. Ahead and to the right, there was a staircase leading up. He glanced to either side, confirming what his ears had already told him, and moved forward.
"NCIS Special Agent! If there is somebody in the building, come out with your--"
"Quiet!" a voice came from upstairs, echoing through the empty building. "Put your gun on the ground and come upstairs slowly. I promise, I won't kill you until I explain why."
Gibbs worked his jaw, considering his options.
"Do it quickly or you will lose two agents today, Gibbs!"
He crouched and put the gun on the ground, subtly tracking his hand over his pants pocket to feel the pocketknife there. Rule Nine: Never go anywhere without your knife. "All right," he said, moving towards the stairs at the far side of the room, his hands out to his sides. "I'm coming up."
He moved slowly, listening for footsteps above. So far, he could only confirm one person moving around. He took the steps one at a time, careful not to give away his position any more than necessary. When he finally reached the second floor, he turned to his right and saw a man aiming a gun at his face. "Hello, Special Agent Gibbs. How does it feel to be all alone?"
"Seventy-six bottles of rum on the wall, seventy-six bottles of rum, take one down, pass it around... Hey! Why is all the rum gone?"
Kate stifled a laugh, not sure her sides could take it anymore. "Okay, Abby, I think I've had all the Pirates of the Caribbean references I can take."
"I'm just glad you're awake again. You really worried me, Kate."
"I know, Abby," Kate said. There was a beep that sounded extraordinarily loud in the silence of the room. She turned her head weakly, trying to see the phone. "Abby, I think... my battery might be dying."
"Kate! You are not dying!"
"The battery, Abs," Kate reassured her. "It's... the damn battery."
Abby exhaled into the speaker. "Well, what'll happen when--"
"I'll be alone," Kate said, panic starting to grow again. "Listen, Abby... in case I don't... I mean, in case..."
"Don't talk like that, Kate." There was a slap over the phone and said, "See what you made me say? You're turning me into a cliché, Kate Todd!"
"Never," Kate said softly. "Abby, what I want to say is..."
"Don't say something you'll regret when you survive this. Okay?"
"Okay," Kate whispered.
After a moment, Kate closed her eyes and whispered, "Abby?"
Silence. Kate lifted one arm, a nearly-impossible task, and brushed her rubber glove against her cheek.
The man was crouched on the floor, aiming the gun so it was level with Gibbs head as soon as he reached the second level. DiNozzo was on the ground behind the man, wrists and ankles tied behind his back. He was gagged, a small pool of blood on the ground under his head. But he was moving, writhing to escape his bonds. So if Tony was still alive... Kate.
"Keep your hands up," the man said as he stepped back, allowing Gibbs to come the rest of the way up the stairs. "Don't try anything cute."
Gibbs kept his hands in the air, studying the kidnapper's face. "Do I know you?"
"Look familiar, do I?" the guy said. He glanced back at DiNozzo and said, "Nah. We've never met."
"Friend of yours from Baltimore, DiNozzo?"
"P'ff-ee," DiNozzo said around his gag, struggling to get free.
"Poppy?" Gibbs asked.
"Pacci," the kidnapper corrected. "As in Michael Pacci. As in Christopher Pacci. His name ring any bells for you, Special Agent Gibbs?"
Gibbs felt a twist in his gut. He saw the body of his agent, his friend, in an elevator with his guts pouring out all over the floor. He said, "Chris Pacci. I remember."
"Chris asked for your help on a case. You ignored him. You were too busy on your own damn case to even lend him an ear. Now... you're alone. One agent dead, one agent trussed like an animal... no one to back you up. Alone, with a homicidal person aiming a weapon at your head. Do you think you can conjure up what it might have felt like for Christopher?"
"Your brother," Gibbs said.
"Yeah. My kid brother. I had to explain to our mother what had happened. Shot in the neck. Gutted. Left to die in a shithole elevator."
Gibbs nodded slowly. "I understand your pain. Believe me, I tortured myself when--"
"You solved the damn case in three days!"
"I put a bullet in the head of the person who killed your brother."
"Too little," Michael Pacci said, cocking the gun in his hand, "too late. Don't try calling anyone for help, Agent Gibbs."
DiNozzo was on his knees and launched himself forward just before Pacci shot. He slammed into the man's back, knocking his aim off. Gibbs, who'd been watching Tony's progress in his periphery, hit his knees and lunged for the gun, grabbing it from Pacci's hands. "No!" the man cried, his face pressed into the dusty floor.
"I am very sorry about your brother," Gibbs said. He pressed Michael's face into the floor and reached up, yanking the gag from DiNozzo's mouth. "He told me another agent..."
"He told me Kate is dead," Tony said, licking his lips to get the taste of the gag off.
Gibbs reached back, getting his cuffs out to secure Pacci before he freed DiNozzo. "I sincerely hope you're bluffing," he said to the man beneath him. "Because no one has to know what really happened in this building today." He moved off Pacci, untying DiNozzo. "Down in my car, get the cell phone, call everybody. Find her."
"Got it, boss," DiNozzo said, rushing from the room. Gibbs picked up the gun Pacci had been holding and sat down on a box, resting his elbows on his knees and hanging his head. He hoped to God that Pacci was lying.
Kate opened her eyes, smiling at the friendly face hovering over hers. "Ducky. Am I in trouble?"
"Now whatever would make you think that, Caitlin?"
"No offense... but when someone is hurt... the last person they want to see is the medical examiner."
Ducky chuckled and said, "Yes, well, perfectly understandable." He touched her shoulder and assured her, "You will be fine, Caitlin. A little banged up, a little worse for wear, but time shall heal all wounds."
He loaded her gurney into the ambulance, where she received her second surprise. "Abby. You're out of the lab."
"No way would I miss this," she said, squeezing Kate's shoulder. "You're going to be okay. Ducky told me so. And Ducky knows better than to lie to me."
Kate smiled. "I'm really glad you're here, Abby."
Abby squeezed Kate's hand.
A fire escape outside proved more reliable than the stairwell inside. Gibbs traveled up alone after Ducky had left with Kate, curious to see what was on the third floor. He crawled in through a window that had been propped open, his blood going cold at what he found.
A shotgun set in a truss, aimed at the door topping the stairs. There was an elaborate pulley system attaching the knob to the trigger. Had Kate made it upstairs...
As sick as it made him to look at this trap, he knew he couldn't simply take it apart. He tugged the camera strap off his shoulder. Setting his kit down as he brought the lens up and snapped the first photograph. With any luck, this would help send Michael Pacci away for a long time.
Somehow, Gibbs failed to find the justice in it all.
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