There are two things Special Agent in Charge Caitlin Todd sleeps with under her pillow.
Her NCIS-issued handgun, locked and loaded.
And her smartphone, set on vibrate.
She had her team's techie set her Android smartphone up with a super-strong vibrate feature that only kicked in if the call wasn't answered on the first two buzzes.
It had one single purpose: wake the dead.
Or an NCIS agent who was dead tired.
The fourth ring woke her out of her deep sleep. Whereas most people would take a few moments to gather their senses as it registered that the phone was ringing, years of training and experience taught Kate to answer the phone as soon as it buzzed.
She swore she saw the mattress shake, as she jabbed at the touchscreen to accept the call before it could-
"Dammit," she swore, as she finally accepted the call, still half asleep. "Agent Todd."
"Agent Todd," said Director Vance.
Great. I just cussed out Vance.
"I know you and your team just closed a case six hours ago."
"The Major," she said, dragging herself off her mattress towards the kitchen. Iced coffee's better than no coffee. "When? I couldn't tell you. Time blurs together."
"I'm sorry to do this to you," Vance continued. "We have a dead Admiral in Los Angeles-"
"Los Angeles?" Kate said, opening her refrigerator door to look for her iced coffee. Which she couldn't find. "That's a little out of my team's jurisdiction."
"Normally, yes. Not this time."
"May I ask why, Leon? Why can't the local field office handle it?"
"Kate, San Diego has its hands full with cases in Camp Pendleton and Yuma-"
"It's L.A., Director. You know who I'm referring to."
"OSP has its hands full with a case that's classified," Vance said, as Kate found her iced coffee behind the salad dressing. "For now, Callen and his team are off the board. Not even Hetty, and not Beale or Jones. Before you ask - Renko's off the board, and so is Macy."
"Must be a heck of an op," Kate said, iced coffee in one hand and her phone in the other as she sprinted back to her bedroom to find an outfit. "Not that I don't appreciate the confidence in my team, but why us?"
"Because the Admiral is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I want my best people on the scene to deal with it and the LAPD."
Kate sat down on her bed and drank some of her coffee.
"When and how did this Admiral die?"
"Admiral William Nelson, member of the Joint Chiefs for the last two and a half years, was found dead by a passerby in an alley behind a downtown Los Angeles restaurant an hour ago. I got the news five minutes before I called you from the LAPD's acting chief. Their Priority Homicide division is en route to the scene. I'll warn you; the woman who heads this Priority Homicide division of theirs is likely to claim the case as her own."
"Really," said Kate.
"From what I've hear from our friends at the Bureau, she could cause big problems for us, and for you," Vance said, his tone serious. "I need someone who'll stand up to her if necessary while investigating the case."
"There's more, isn't there," Kate said, seeing her Fourth of July holiday, and her plans to visit the Todd family reunion in Indianapolis, disappear.
"I'll fill you in on the flight," Vance said. "Bring Dr. Rooney, and Ms. Yates, in addition to your agents. I promised SecNav and SecDef we'd have our elite people on the ground. I realize you'll have to fly cross-country, but I want you to take control of the scene and the case before this deputy chief does."
"It's our case; we have priority," Kate said as she found a pair of shoes to wear, and looked for another couple of pairs for her go bag. "Who is this deputy chief and why is she a concern?"
"Brenda Leigh Johnson," Vance said. "Former CIA. Has a contentious history in Atlanta, and most recently in L.A. OSP dealt with her once. Hetty barely got the upper hand, Callen wanted to strangle her, and her actions almost got Agent Blye killed. She's said to be on a very short leash and a lot of people in Los Angeles want her gone; she still has enough loyalty in her division, and in the LAPD itself, that she's hanging on to her job."
"Does this woman have some connection to the Admiral that would make her commandeer the investigation?"
"No," Vance said. "This case is huge, one of the biggest we've ever had. And the woman we're going to have to work with is someone known to want total control and to win; once she gets a case, she's bound and determined to get a confession, and she will do whatever she has to, to get it."
"Sounds like Gibbs," Kate said, a twinge of sadness in her voice.
"In some ways, she is like Gibbs," Vance said. "But he was, at heart, a good man. You know he didn't like to play with others, but he wasn't so adamant about it that he'd put another agency's people in harm's way."
"You're saying she would?"
"Up until we ran into her a few months ago, no," Vance said. "Agent Fornell tells me that she's gone through a slew of personal issues, going back a few years, which have affected her marriage and her job. Recently, it's begun to affect every case her division is working, including this one—"
"Director, if that's the case how does she head a division in one of the country's largest police forces?"
"Kate, I've only heard the Bureau's side of the story – and Hetty's, Callen's and Blye's," Vance replied. "The LAPD regards the issue differently enough that she's still leading their Priority Homicide division for the present."
Kate grabbed her go bag, then rushed back to her bedroom to grab her keys.
"Needless to say, you're working with Deputy Chief Johnson, as long as she's willing to work with us. You have full authority to take complete control should the need arise, and you'll have full support from the other federal agencies."
"I hope it doesn't come to that," Kate said, as she heard horns blaring outside.
She looked, and saw Agent Ned Dorneget's car, and him getting out and hurrying inside her building.
"Why is Dorny here?" she said to herself, outloud.
"Given the importance of the case, I'm putting you on a direct flight from Andrews to LAX, courtesy of the Bureau," Vance said, having heard Kate. "Agent Fornell will meet you and your team there; I sent Dorneget to give you a ride. Fornell will debrief you further, and I'll check in once you're in the air. Don't miss the flight."
Vance hung up.
Andrews. Plane. Case.
She heard a knock on the door, looked through the peephole, saw Ned, and opened it.
"Kate," said her former Probie, now Junior Agent. "Director Vance told me to pick you up and drive-"
"Us to the airport," she said. "Got your go bag?" she asked, as Dorneget nodded. "Good. Sit down on the couch, give me a few minutes to finish getting dressed, and we'll go."