“There is precious little dignity in death, but this...are you done with your photographs Timothy?”
“All finished Ducky.”
“Then Mr Palmer and I will take our young sailor home.”
Tim stepped back and let Jimmy wheel the gurney in place, he was always impressed with the efficient yet sympathetic way in which the ME and his assistant prepared their victims for transportation, even one who had been left naked and bloody in a dirty back-alley. From the look of the three bloody puncture holes in his chest it wouldn’t take long to figure out how Petty Officer Steven Hunt died, but Ducky was never one to assume and they all knew he wouldn’t give a definitive answer until after the autopsy.
“Duck?” Gibbs had appeared as if from nowhere.
“He’s been dead approximately five to six hours, I’ll be more precise...”
“I know, when you’re done. Let me know if you find anything unexpected.” Gibbs took out his phone. “DiNozzo, McGee, get looking for a murder weapon, and the Petty Officer’s clothes. I’ll call Abby, tell her to expect some evidence, then I’m going to visit with his commanding officer.”
“Boss, we already checked the alley, there’s nothing.”
“I see that DiNozzo, I also see two dumpsters, and before this storm arrives I want you to search them.”
“Seriously?” Tony caught the look and couldn’t believe he’d said that aloud. “I mean, of course you’re serious, but...Boss, this is grunt work, can’t we get some newbies down here?”
“You see any other agents around Tony, ‘cos I don’t. What I do see are some pretty angry storm clouds heading our way and before the rain washes away our evidence I want you to go through the garbage, you have a problem with that?”
“No Boss, we’re on it.” There was resignation rather that enthusiasm in his response, if there was one thing Tony hated it was searching through the detritus left behind by all and sundry, you never knew what you were going to find, but past experience led him to have a pretty good guess. Gibbs turned on his heel leaving his two subordinates staring mournfully at the two rusted dumpsters.
Tim started the slow walk to the truck. “I’ll break out the coveralls, and Tony, double-glove, there’ll be all kinds of...”
“I know Tim, believe me, I know.”
They put on protective clothing, Tony initially refused to wear the face mask, but as they got closer to the dumpsters and the stench hit him, he took it from his pocket and covered his mouth and nose. “Let’s get this over with; it’s going to be bad enough without the rain turning all the mushy crap even mushier.”
Tim nodded and they each climbed into one of the dumpsters. Their searches were as thorough as Gibbs could have wished, and although they each had to come up for air several times they returned to their tasks determined to find something that would tell them more about the death of P.O. Hunt. Tony sighed as he moved aside a used condom, this wasn’t his first time at this particular rodeo, but every time he had to do it he felt sick to his stomach, not that he’d ever tell anyone, didn’t do for the super-cool Special Agent to admit his stomach did cartwheels when he had to sift through vomit, rotting meat, discarded syringes, dirty diapers...”You okay over there McQueezy?” He’d spotted Tim leaning against the alley wall, his face mask off, taking in deep breaths.
“Just taking a time-out. Man, people are...”
“Disgusting, filthy, putrid, scummy.”
“That about covers it. You find anything useful?”
“Nope, but I’m only half done, who knows what super, special goodies await.” Tony looked up at the sky. “Looks like we should keep our oxygen breaks down to a minimum, the rains almost here.”
They worked on in silence until Tony let out a cry. “Got them! The clothes are here, hallelujah!” He was almost done; very soon he could climb out of this stinking mess one last time, get the evidence back to NCIS and take a long, hot shower. A few minutes later, just as he was finishing up he heard a triumphant shout from Tim.
“Got it! Tony, it’s the murder weapon, has to be.” Very carefully Tim put the screwdriver in an evidence tube, it was sticky with blood, human flesh and maggots; there were always maggots. He had to make sure they were captured too, in case they’d eaten any evidence; his stomach did a few flips as he sealed the tubes and put them in secure bags. At last he was finished, and with a feeling of untrammelled relief he climbed out of the dumpster. “Thank God, felt like I was going to get eaten alive in there.”
“Maggots huh?” Tony wasn’t laughing, he’d had a tough enough time searching through the garbage and maggots didn’t bother him, he quickly checked his friend’s coverall. “You’re good Tim, nothing there that shouldn’t be.”
As they were walking back to the van the first drops of rain started to fall, and they weren’t gentle pitter-patter raindrops, they were big fat drops, a precursor to the full-blown storm to come. Quickly, but carefully they stowed the evidence, ripped off their gloves and coveralls, threw them in a dump-bin and jumped into their seats. Tim opened the window, rain or not he needed fresh air. “You okay with this Tony?”
“You kidding me?” Tony was smiling as he opened the driver’s window wide. “This stink is going to hang around, I just know it, shower or not it’s going to be there ‘til I can get home and have a long soak in the tub.”
The evidence had been safely handed over to Abby, and she’d done a very good job of not turning up her nose at the smell emanating from two of her favourite people. Tony and Tim hit the showers, changed into fresh clothes, but they could still smell...
“DiNozzo, stop sniffing; you’re not a bloodhound.”
“Sorry Boss, be honest with me can you sme...? Doesn’t matter, I’ll get right back to work.” Tony was working through a list of bookies who’d taken bets from their recently deceased Petty Officer, Tim was searching the financials and phone records, Gibbs was getting more and more impatient, a typical work day for the MCRT. If only the day was over and he could go home...”Oh hi...is that Joseph Hayward?” Tony launched into his well honed patter, and soon discovered ‘Call me Joe’ Hayward hadn’t taken any money from Hunt, he’d heard PO Hunt was already in a mess of trouble, and he’d pissed off the wrong people, when pressed he pleaded the fifth and refused to name names. “Even if I was sure, the kind of people he was dealing with...they break limbs for fun Agent DiNozzo, no way I’m talking about them, I like living way too much.”
Hayward wasn’t the only one stonewalling; whoever they called the story was the same; if they were going to find out who held the Petty Officer’s markers they’d have to do it some other way. By the time Gibbs called it a day Tim had the names of two men who might be able to cast some light on Hunt’s off-duty activities.
“He served with Koscielny and Sterling on the Harry S. Truman; since they’ve been Stateside he’s called one or other, sometimes both every day, more than once too. If anyone knows who he’s seeing it should be them.”
“Abby won’t have the DNA results until tomorrow. If one of them was involved in his death we’ll have proof then, should make the interviews pretty interesting. Go home, I’m guessing you’re both ready for another change of clothes.”
Refreshed after a good night’s sleep and feeling much fresher after bathing and putting on clean clothes, Tony and Tim approached the new day with real purpose and enthusiasm. Their interviews with Hunt’s crewmates had proved fruitful; Gibbs gave both men his trademark stare and with the phone records tying him ultra-tight to his crew-mate, Sterling opened up and offered three names.
“Steve was an addict Agent Gibbs, we tried to get him to stop but he couldn’t. In the end we refused to lend him any more money, told him he had to stop. Did...do you think he died because he couldn’t pay; if we’d helped him...”
“Sounds like he was beyond help, he’d never have had enough money, not the way he was betting. With these names we have a way of getting to whoever killed him, they’ll pay for what they did.”
By the time they got back to NCIS Abby had a name to go with their DNA from the murder weapon; Jerome Rodgers. They weren’t surprised; he’d been named as one of the loan sharks Steven Hunt had turned to in his desperate need to fund his gambling habit.
Within two hours Rodgers was sitting in the interrogation room, staring at the two-way mirror, his face a mask of studied indifference.
“You think he’ll be so calm when Gibbs shows him the evidence?” Tim was standing beside Tony in the observation room, waiting impatiently to see how their prisoner reacted when Gibbs laid out the evidence.
“Not always easy to tell with guys like him; he’s been questioned and arrested plenty of times, never been charged.”
“There’s always a first time; this has to be…”
“Don’t sweat it, he’s not getting out of this.” The interrogation room door opened and Gibbs strode in. “Here we go Tim; show time.”
As the guard left the room Gibbs walked to the table, pulled out the chair and sat opposite the man he knew had murdered a US Navy Sailor. Hunt’s gambling habit may have got him mixed up with the wrong people, but he didn’t deserve to die, no one should die for being stupid. Gibbs opened up a folder and put one of Ducky’s autopsy photographs of the Petty Officer on the table. Rodgers didn’t look down, he continued to stare at the mirror.
Gibbs kept his tone quiet and controlled. “Look at him Rodgers; how much did he owe you?”
“Do I look like I’m some kind of charity? Why would I go around lending money?”
“I said look at him.” Gibbs pushed the picture across the table, Rodgers looked down and shrugged. “What do you want me to say, shame he’s dead, sure it’s sad but it’s nothing to do with me, even if I was in the money lending business, lending money to someone on Petty Officer grade, I’d be on a hiding to nothing.”
“Answer my question, how much did he owe? One thousand dollars, five…what’s you limit before you kill a man?”
“Now you just hold it! I didn’t kill anyone, and I don’t know him!”
Gibbs slammed two more pictures on the table. “Don’t lie to me! How did you know he was a Petty Officer?” He leaned forward, his face close to Rodgers.
“He…you told me…”
“Nope, never did; but you knew alright and you killed him. Want me to tell you how it went down?”
“This is the best part Tim, when the bad guy still thinks he has a chance.”
“Yeah, and Gibbs is about to deliver the hammer blow.”
“You got him in the alley, don’t know how, I’m guessing you told him you were prepared to talk terms, maybe you even promised to shave something off his debt…”
“Is that all you’ve got, a guess? Quit wasting my time Gibbs and let me out of here.” Rodgers made a move to stand, Gibbs was out of his seat and round the other side of the table in an instant.
“I look like a guessing man to you?” He pushed Rodgers back down; Gibbs could almost feel the heat coming off his prisoner, oh yeah, he was sweating now. “Doesn’t matter how you got Hunt in the alley, he was there and so were you.”
Rodgers wasn’t looking indifferent any longer, he was starting to look nervous, he stared down at his feet and tried to get his breathing under control. They couldn’t know, he’d chosen that alley because there were no security cameras, the screwdriver was buried deep in the dumpster, they’d never find it.
“Why’d you take his clothes, couldn’t you leave the guy some dignity?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I told you, I…”
“Do not lie to me again. You have one last chance to tell me the truth.”
“How about I stop talking and you get my lawyer.”
“He’s already on the way; he’s not going to be able to help you, not when he sees this.” Gibbs held up another folder. “Forensic report on the bloody clothes and the screwdriver we found in the dumpsters.”
Rodgers’ heart was beating so hard he felt like it would burst out of his chest; this guy must be bluffing, no way they’d have found…
“You thought you’d buried them deep didn’t you? You were wrong; take a look.” He laid out more pictures. “The jacket didn’t have any DNA, he must have taken it off, it was a warm night; the shirt…look at you, you sweat Rodgers, a lot. Stabbing a man to death is hot work right?”
“I...maybe I roughed him up a little...tried to get him to pay up, but stab...I never...”
“Stop lying to me! You had your last chance, I’m done with you!” Gibbs leaned across the table and slammed the folder into Rodgers’ chest. “It’s all in here, did you think because you wiped the prints off the screwdriver you’d get away with murder? You left your DNA on it, along with the blood of a man who’d served his country, put his life on the line to protect scum like you. Best you can hope for now is your lawyer can keep the death penalty off the table.”
“Death...no, wait...” Rodgers couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think; this wasn’t supposed to happen. He slumped back in his chair and with eyes full of fear he looked up at Gibbs. “I thought...if I threw it away...in the garbage...if I took his ID, left him...figured the cops had enough on their plate; another body in some back alley...they wouldn’t look too close.”
“You figured wrong; they looked close enough to know he was a sailor. It is our privilege to serve those who serve their country; if we had to put every scrap of garbage in those dumpsters under a microscope we’d have done it. My people, they took an oath; they live by it every day, Petty Officer Hunt deserved justice and they gave it to him.” He looked toward the mirror knowing his two agents would be watching, and he gave them that rarest of gifts, a warm smile that told them all their hard work was fully appreciated.
Tony clapped his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Never thought I’d be proud I waded through garbage, but when Gibbs looks at you that way...”
“Makes you feel special.”
“Because that’s what we are Tim, Very Special Agents DiNozzo and McGee!”