Chapter One


“I’m fine, boss.”

Gibbs looked doubtfully at his senior field agent. He hadn’t asked about Tony’s health out loud – he never did – but Tony had read his look and responded, rolling his eyes.

Gibbs couldn’t quite put his finger on what was bothering him about Tony’s appearance, but there was something nagging at his famous gut, and he hadn’t gotten to where he was today by ignoring said gut. However, when the object of his thoughts – he refused to think of it as worries – clearly told him that he was fine, he probably ought to take it at face value.

“Did I ask?” Gibbs said instead. “What have you found?”

Tony changed immediately, from smiling goofily to concentrating on his job. Gibbs always enjoyed the transformation, even though it sometimes took a slap to the back of Tony’s head to get to it.

“Abby matched the finger print on the knife in the kitchen to one Annie Reed, thirty-six years old, living on base. Her husband, Jonathan Reed, is away in Iraq,” Tony said. “No criminal record but since her husband has a high level clearance, she was carefully checked out once they were married. No hidden skeletons in her closet, as far as they could find. Married six years last week.”

McGee continued, “Mrs. Reed’s telephone records show that she’s been in touch with the victim; three calls in the last two weeks, all calls placed between three pm and nine pm.”

“The neighbors have reported seeing Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Callahan together; apparently they especially liked to have tea on the porch,” Ziva said. “No one seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary.”

Gibbs wondered what they were missing. No one killed another person without a motive – what had been Mrs. Reed’s motive to kill their murder victim?

“Find out how they met,” Gibbs said to McGee. “Tony, Ziva, you’re with me.”

new scene

The small house where the Reeds lived was a regular navy base house, with a small, green, well-kept front yard and a wide drive-way leading up to the garage sitting next to the house itself. There was a small porch and a comfortable-looking couch.

No one answered when Gibbs knocked on the door, and he signed for Ziva to take the back, whilst he and Tony opened the front door. Tony stood to Gibbs’ side as the latter picked the lock, and he tried not to look too closely at those quick fingers at work. Such thoughts never led to anything good – quite often, it led to a head slap for letting his mind wander, and though those were often well-deserved, he didn’t feel like one at the moment.

There was a kitchen to the left, a living room to the right, and a second floor with two bedrooms, one used as an office. The dishes in the kitchen suggested that Mrs. Reed would only be out for a short period of time. However, as Tony came closer, he saw the flies that were feasting on the leftovers, and it became quite apparent that Mrs. Reed had not been home in several days.

“All clear,” Ziva said, coming into the kitchen. “The wardrobe upstairs might be missing some clothes, but she might just not like shopping.”

“She seems to have been gone for a while,” Tony said, motioning at the dishes.

“Ew,” Ziva said.

“There’s a knife missing,” Tony said, pointing towards the knife racket holding five knives.

“Looks like a set,” Ziva said. “Abby should be able to tell if the knife we found at Callahan’s is the missing one in the set.”

“So she takes a knife from here, goes over to see Callahan, and murders her in cold blood?” Tony asks. “It’s not really the preferred method for women.”

“I prefer poison,” Ziva said with a feral grin. “Or an insulin overdose. Very effective, and it leaves little trace. Of course, I am very skilled with knives and guns as well.”

Tony shook his head. “I know.”

He had seen her skills with knives and guns firsthand on several occasions. She was a killing machine when she wanted to be. As long as she was on his side, he didn’t mind – she could hold her own without him having to worry about her, and she had his back. She had been good for the team, even though it had taken months to build up trust between them. Her loyalties had seemed unclear when she had first started and it had taken him a while to learn to rely on someone who wasn’t Kate.

Gibbs returned to the kitchen from his tour around the house, interrupting Tony’s train of thoughts.

“She hasn’t been here in a while,” Tony said.

“Her cell phone is still in the living room,” Gibbs said.

“Either she doesn’t want it to be traced, or she left unwillingly,” Tony said.

“Or she simply forgot it,” Ziva said.

“A woman without her cell phone?” Tony said, looking doubtful.

“A man without one seems more of a leap,” Ziva said. “You are much needier than us women.”

Tony made a face at her, secretly loving their banter.

He told Gibbs of the knife set and Gibbs said, “Bag it and get it back to Abby so she can identify if the knife missing is the one she already has.”

They left a half hour later, having found little of use. Tony had interviewed the only neighbor who was at home, but she had been unable to tell much, other than that she had not seen Mrs. Reed in a few days, now that she thought of it.

“But she keeps to herself quite a lot,” the neighbor said. “Except that blonde woman – she’s been here many times.”

Tony showed the neighbor a picture of Callahan, and she confirmed that it was the blonde woman she had spoken of. Tony thanked her, and left with Ziva and Gibbs.

new scene

Ducky had his report from the autopsy ready for them when they returned. The autopsy room was chilly as always, and Tony wondered for the hundredth time how anyone could spend their days down here and not go insane. Then again, Ducky was rather—quirky.

“It was as straight forward as we expected,” Ducky said. “Multiple stab wounds – a violent murder, I have to say, and my guess is it was driven by rage. The poor girl didn’t stand a chance; I believe her assailant was stronger and larger than her. There are defensive wounds on her arms and hands, but with the speed and force the knife was brought down upon her, it didn’t help much. The knife nicked the aorta here at this throat wound and she was stabbed twice in her heart. The death was quick.”

“There was a lot of blood where she was found,” Ziva said.

“No doubt,” Ducky said. “Poor dear, she must have been very frightened. I know once, when one of my friends back in England was robbed, and the robber had a—”

“Anything that can point us to the killer?” Gibbs interrupted.

“Well, I can tell you that the knife used is most likely the one up in Abby’s lab,” Ducky said, “and that, like I said, I do believe the murderer was larger and stronger than her, but other than that, no. I’m sorry, Jethro.”

Gibbs nodded, and turned to leave. “Get back to me if you find anything else.”

“Of course.”

Tony and Ziva hurried after him. Once reaching the bullpen once more, Gibbs barked his orders as usual.

“Tony, go through their friends, work and family connections,” Gibbs said. “Ziva, go back to the crime scene. There must be something of use in that house that we’ve missed. McGee—”

“Check Reed’s computer, on it, boss,” McGee said.

Satisfied, Gibbs headed up the stairs towards MTAC, to see if they had been able to get in touch with Mrs. Callahan’s husband and to order them to get a line up to speak to Mrs. Reed’s husband.

new scene

Tony hung up the phone, sighing. Calling friends and family of a murder victim was never fun; even less so when he was forced to question said friends and family for information right after delivering the news. In this case, most of them already knew – it had been snapped up by the media, because the victim had been a beautiful young woman, with a rather successful modeling career in the making.

Not so much now, although they had taken plenty of pictures of her.

None of them had had anything of much use to share with him – the family was still in shock and had only just started grieving, and they had little to tell him other than what a wonderful daughter and sister she had been. The friends agreed; they’d told him she was loyal, beautiful, well-liked, and so on.

Tony rubbed his eyes, feeling rather worn out. He must look it too – Gibbs’ questioning glance at him earlier told him as much. Perhaps it was a cold coming on. He hoped not; ever since his bout with Y. Pestis, colds had taken that much more out of him. Not that he got them often, but Dr. Brad Pitt, with whom Tony had stayed in touch, had told him on repeated occasions that he should be very careful when he did.

He had just picked up the phone to call the next one on the list when McGee exclaimed, “Got it!”

Tony looked at the screen, where McGee would undoubtedly pull up whatever he had found, whilst running wild with the geek-speak.

“In English, please?” Tony asked, interrupting McGee’s tirade on what he had done to find the chat conversation now showing on the screen.

“This is the log of a chat that started three months ago,” McGee said. “It had been deleted off Callahan’s computer, but I managed to restore it.”

“Obviously,” Tony said.

“What’ve we got?” Gibbs asked, somehow knowing exactly when to return to the bullpen.

“A chat conversation, boss,” Tony said. “Looks like it’s between Callahan and Reed. McGeek found it in Callahan’s computer.”

“’BlondeChick85’ is Callahan,” McGee said, “and ‘NavyLover72’ has an email that corresponds to Mrs. Reed. They seem to have been chatting for a while. As far as I can see, they met each other on an online community.”

“Online community?” Gibbs asked.

“Yeah, it’s where you meet and talk online,” McGee said. “There are dating communities, music communities, movie communities, family communities – pretty much anything you can think of.”

“And what were these two talking about?” Gibbs asked.

“Uh, it’s a relationship community – people talk about their relationships and the problems they’ve had, I guess,” McGee said.

Tony wondered who would want to air their relationship troubles online, to complete strangers. He had a hard enough time opening up to people he knew. In fact, no one knew what his heart’s desire was, other than himself, and he preferred it that way. Besides, it had obviously not ended all that well for Mrs. Callahan.

Gibbs echoed his sentiment. “Why?”

“I—uh,” McGee said. “I guess they didn’t have anyone else to talk to?”

“So they met on this site, and they exchanged emails and started chatting,” Tony said. “It still doesn’t seem like grounds for murder.”

“Ah, but that’s where you might be wrong,” McGee said, and scrolled down a good while – the ladies had obviously talked for quite some time, on several occasions. The starting date had been three months earlier. “This is where it gets really interesting.”

“Interesting, Probie?” Tony asked, waggling his eyebrows because he couldn’t resist teasing McGee.

“Not like that,” McGee snapped. “They start talking about guys that have done them wrong – apparently, they’ve both had affairs and a really bad experience with a man each. They both had plans to leave their husbands for the man, but then he conned a great deal of money out of them and disappeared. Only, after they talked for a while, they realized it was the same guy.”

“Reed and Callahan were both screwing around with the same guy and realized it?” Tony asked. “That can’t be good for the guy.”

“The guy is Jason Rosenberg, age thirty-one, working as a computer specialist at InfoTech, who does some work for the navy,” McGee said, sounding rather pleased with himself and his work.


McGee handed Gibbs a note with the address scribbled down.

“Tony, you’re coming with me, we’re going to see what we can find out about this Mr. Rosenberg,” Gibbs said. “McGee, good job.”

Tony almost smiled at the sight of McGee preening from Gibbs’ praise. It had been a good job, although he wished he could have had more to present himself. He hated being a disappointment to Gibbs, and he always felt like one whenever he did not find information first. It happened rather often. McGee had turned into a good agent, and Ziva challenged him as she strived to be the best of the team. He knew they would one day surpass him – if they hadn’t already – and he would be left unwanted and without a job, because Gibbs wouldn’t keep him around then. He feared the day when Gibbs realized that he didn’t need Tony anymore.

Getting into the car with Gibbs, he held back a sigh. His head felt a bit fuzzy, and he shook it to clear it. He needed to be alert.

new scene

Gibbs glanced at Tony, who sat staring out the side window of the car. He did not look ill, but there was something off. He shouldn’t worry - it was unlike him and he suspected it would make Tony worry about him, if he suddenly started inquiring about his health.

“You with me, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked despite himself.

“Fine, boss,” Tony said, head snapping around to look at Gibbs instead.

At least they were not heading into danger this time. Rosenberg was unlikely to be hanging around his own apartment, and Reed, who was either dead or had chosen to disappear off the radar, was equally unlikely to be sitting around in her former lover’s apartment. As such, Tony could come with him for this, before Gibbs ordered him home to rest. He didn’t care about working his team hard – it made them the best – but that was when they were healthy, and Gibbs knew what the consequences could be if Tony got sick again.

Gibbs had seen Tony near death enough times to last a lifetime already.

new scene

“Rosenberg?” asked the manager of the apartment complex where Jason Rosenberg had lived. “Haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks ago. If you find him, tell him I’d really like to talk to him.”

“Talk to him?” Tony asked.

“He owes me rent,” the manager said. “D’ya think these apartments are free?”

Tony smiled slightly. “Do you mind if we take a look around?”

“As long as you don’t mess things up in there,” the manager said.

“Do you have any idea why he’d leave?”

“I just think he wants to get out of paying rent. Or perhaps he’s fleeing from all those girls he keeps bringing here.”

“Girls?” Tony asked.

“Yeah,” the manager said. “I guess a nice-looking guy like him has no problems getting girls, but still – it’s a new one pretty much every week. I’d say some of them even overlap.”

Tony held out two photos; one of Marie Callahan and the other of Annie Reed. “Did you ever see Mr. Rosenberg with either of these two?”

The manager nodded. “That one,” he said and pointed to Callahan, “was hard to miss. Such a pretty little thing, you know?”

“Yeah, well, she’s dead,” Tony said.

“Oh—oh,” said the manager. “I guess you’re not here to just find Rosenberg, then? You think he’s involved?”

Tony shrugged and held the picture of Reed closer to the manager. “Do you recognize her?”

The manager frowned; obviously he had not paid as much attention to the less striking Annie Reed – who was in no way ugly, but not nearly as strikingly beautiful as Callahan had been – but he finally gave a small nod.

“Yeah, I think so,” the manager said. “It might have been one of the ladies he had a few months ago. She dead too?”

“Missing,” Tony said shortly.

He asked the manager to describe Rosenberg, which got him a snort and an account of a rather unpleasant man, who had been late with his rents several times despite seeming well off, hardly ever spoke to his male neighbors, and was generally unfriendly when it came to interacting with other men.

“Obviously, he had no problem with the ladies,” the manager said, “but me, he hardly deigned look at, like I was beneath him or something.”

Tony thanked him, gave him a card with the number to NCIS if he remembered something else that he thought might be important, and went inside to Rosenberg’s apartment, where Gibbs was looking around.

Jason Rosenberg’s apartment was on the fifth floor and looked expensive. The apartment itself was neat and tidy and Tony had to drool just a little over the huge widescreen TV that took up a large part of the wall in the living room, and what he suspected was a top-of-the-line surround system.

“How much did this guy con Callahan and Reed out of?” Tony asked, giving a low whistle as he pressed a button and blinds came down to cover the windows, making the room completely dark. It was like having a cinema of his own.

“According to McGee and Abby, there’s been a withdrawal from Callahan’s account for a hundred thousand,” Gibbs said.

“And Reed?” Tony asked. “It seems kind of unlikely for a navy wife to have a hundred grand just lying around.”

Except for a laptop, the two did not find anything worthwhile in the apartment. Although there was a multitude of fingerprints, they would not help – Callahan and Reed had both obviously been in the apartment on several occasions, and so had numerous other women. They would not be able to tie any of them to a crime even if they could identify the fingerprints.

“Besides, who knows if Rosenberg was even involved in our murder,” Tony said, holding on as Gibbs drove them back to NCIS headquarters. “Maybe he just decided on a change of scene.”

“No such thing as coincidences,” Gibbs said.

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