The Mile High City Affair
ATF crossover with "NCIS"
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THE CLARION NEWSPAPER OFFICE
Buck turned into the parking lot. "I never would've thought Beckie and Crowell were in on it."
"We don't know if Crowell's on Hopewell's payroll yet. His info might be from somewhere else," Tony replied from the backseat.
"Whatever source it is," Ezra replied, "it was excellent. He knew Garcia was a Marine, undercover, working for the FBI, and murdered. We only located the body last night. I'd certainly like to know what source told him so early that he had the chance to pen that article."
"It could get ugly," Buck muttered. "And I do hate ugly." He and the others looked out at the lot, with cars everywhere and reporters all trying to talk to Brian Crowell, who was heading toward them and out to his car.
Tony adjusted his holster. "Let me handle this."
"Well," Tony said in a "duh" tone, "he obviously has a problem with the ATF. Maybe he won't with NCIS."
"Riiight," Buck said doubtfully. "You're a fed. What's the difference?"
Tony smirked. "Most people think I'm with a radio station." His smile fell a little. "Or they think I'm a CSI."
"Mr. DiNozzo, the Crowells require finesse and subtlety during dealings."
Tony looked insulted. "I can be subtle." He popped open the door.
Buck and Ezra watched as Tony approached the reporter flashing his big grin and making friendly gestures. "Twenty says he botches it," Buck said.
"Why don't we discuss this in private over there?" Tony smiled, his teeth gritting and grinding behind the smile as Crowell swore--again--at him. "I'm sure we can discuss this like two gentlemen."
"There's only one here," Crowell sneered, starting to put his key into the car door.
Tony made a face. "Look. We think you might know...more than you put in the article, and we'd...greatly appreciate it if you could provide us that information."
"You can take that thought and shove it where the sun doesn't shine," Crowell snarled, taking a swing at Tony and catching him off guard, landing one to the side of his face. The keys still in the reporter's hand sliced the agent's face. Tony barely managed to grab his arm and force it down in time before he swung again.
"Oops, watch the car," Tony offered helpfully as he bonked Crowell's head directly into the SUV's side.
Both ATF agents winced when Crowell's head impacted the car. "That's gotta hurt," Buck mumbled.
"Mr. DiNozzo has all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop." Ezra shook his head.
"Haveta agree with ya there," Buck nodded.
"Pot, kettle, kettle, pot," Ezra muttered under his breath. "They're coming," he suddenly said, indicating DiNozzo, who was steering a now slightly more cooperative Crowell, who was holding his head, over to the car. Ezra frowned, looking a little surprised at Tony's face, and smiled genially at the man as he got out of the car, adjusting his tailored suit. "Mr. Crowell, how kind of you to agree to help us." He pulled out a small bottle of aspirin. "Aspirin?" he offered helpfully.
Crowell let loose with a string of curses, all the while holding a hand to his head.
"Your ma oughta wash your mouth out with soap, boy," Buck muttered.
"Please, Mr. Wilmington, have some sympathy for Mr. Crowell's plight. A headache is nothing to sneeze at."
Crowell glared. "You feds think you can do this to reporters. Look at my head! I'll have a lawsuit against you."
"Look at that," Buck retorted, pointing at Tony's face. "Consider it a bonding experience and we'll leave it at that." He opened the door to the back, and Tony pushed Crowell in, tipping him onto his side.
Ezra rolled his eyes at Tony as he shut the door to a new litany of unprintable words and handed him a pack of tissues. "Quite subtle, Mr. DiNozzo."
REBEKAH LAWRENCE'S HOME
Josiah stepped up to front door, the two NCIS agents behind him. He rang the doorbell and the three waited quietly as there was some shuffling inside before the door opened.
Lawrence stood there, a look of utter surprise on her face, her suit jacket partly on, her blouse still partly untucked from her pants and still shoe-less.
"I thought you said girls aren't slobs," McGee whispered to Kate, who shot him a dark look.
Abby called up the computer animation program. "This was Garcia's room, recreated from the pictures you guys took." She began to run the animation. "The killer gets into the room, takes Garcia's weapon and shoots him."
"He probably put Garcia's hand near his temple to get that splatter we saw, or even put the gun in Garcia's hand and then shot him holding Garcia's hand," Larabee thought aloud.
"That would explain the odd prints and the blood trails," Gibbs agreed.
"Then," Abby continued, "he promptly picks up Garcia and props him up in the chair."
"What about Garcia's pillow? There was no blood on the pillow, the sheets, the mattress."
"It wouldn't take much--slipping a plastic garbage bag under the pillow. If you ask me, he swiped a clean pillow from another room to replace it." Abby turned around. "It was a really good setup."
+ + + + + + +
Orin paced in front of the three agents. "I need not remind you this is inappropriate behavior for federal agents, do I?" Getting no response, he sighed. "What happened?"
"I believe the proper response is he walked into a door," Ezra replied with a straight face. The director shot him a dark look.
"Crowell started it," Buck muttered. "He's out in the lot, hootin' and hollerin' when Tony's just bein' polite. Tries to hit him."
"Agent DiNozzo, did you do something to Crowell?" Travis asked wisely.
Tony tried to look insulted. "Did he tell you that?"
Travis rolled his eyes. In the back, Ducky was looking particularly amused.
"Agent DiNozzo can handle himself, sir," Ezra put in, "but it is really the principle of the matter. We are simply not paid enough to suffer such indignities." Travis hmphed as Ezra continued, "Assault on a federal officer--Agent DiNozzo--is quite serious."
"Assault on a federal officer?" Travis asked in disbelief.
"I swear upon the grave of my sainted mother," Ezra intoned with mock earnestness.
"Your mother's alive," Travis retorted. "I jailed her once, remember?" Tony and Ducky looked surprised.
"Figure of speech."
"Ah, but in the days of the ancient civilizations, swearing was hardly a figure of speech," Ducky announced as he got up from his seat. "Yes, it was actually quite a serious matter. If the oath taken was not completed to the letter, the person to whom it was sworn could claim whatever it was the oath-taker swore upon. That is why the good Lord says not to take an oath on either one's head or on the earth or by the heavens--since one cannot turn one's hair white or give the earth and the heavens."
The three agents barely suppressed smiles. Travis glared at them but said nothing to Ducky.
"Indeed, Tony, swearing as you do upon the life of your mother would have cost her her life if you had ever been wrong," Ducky continued as Ezra looked at DiNozzo in surprise. "But I think it doesn't matter to your late mother, now. Mr. Standish, swearing upon the grave of your mother would allow the person to whom you swore to have your mother's grave...perhaps a boon in these days of high-priced plots."
"He can have Mother BEFORE she goes to the grave," the undercover agent muttered. Buck chuckled.
"Get out, all of you," Travis finally barked as he sat down at his desk, pinching the bridge of his nose.
As the three agents headed out, Ducky looked at his old friend with an amused smile. "Come now, Orin, don't you think you were a little harsh?"
Orin groaned. "I feel a headache bigger than Crowell's coming on. You wouldn't have anything for it, would you?"
Ducky chuckled. "To cure insubordinate agents, no."
+ + + + + + +
Chris grabbed the reporter by the collar, shoving him against the wall. "I'll give you to three! One--"
Behind the mirror, Nathan winced and looked over at Tony and Kate. Chris was his friend, but some days he definitely wished that he could maintain a little more restraint...like Gibbs.
"I can't reveal my sources," Crowell managed to get out, still defiant.
"Two," Chris hissed, his eyes spitting fire.
"Obstructing a federal investigation," Gibbs offered shortly.
Crowell glared, then began speaking as well as he could for Larabee's hands at his throat. "I got an anonymous phone call."
"You based your article on an ANONYMOUS phone call?"
"NO," Crowell retorted as he was let go. "I got the phone call, made a tape copy, and reported it to the FBI. They told me more."
"And you didn't think to come to us," Chris replied. "Since we're the ones with the case."
"The caller said the FBI had hired Garcia," Crowell replied.
There was a pause as the two team leaders stared. "What? How'd they know that?" The vein in Chris' forehead started to throb.
"You have the tape? Hand it over." Gibbs held out a hand.
"I can...go back to my office and get it," Crowell replied.
"I got a better idea," Gibbs replied. "You tell us where the tape is. We'll get it."
+ + + + + + +
"That phone call that Crowell got?" Abby was nearly shouting, her headphones on. "Voice was altered. Not the--" She noticed Gibbs signing to her. "Oh, sorry." She pulled off her headphones and lowered her voice. "I wouldn't say that it was those cheapo deep voice things. Definitely higher tech. I think the normal voice was made lower, into...like a man's voice." She ran the program to restore the call to its original sound. "Recognize it?"
Vin shifted uncomfortably, feeling the eyes of the two team leaders on him. "That's Beckie," he said quietly.
"Yeah, but that's not solid anything unless we can actually do a mix master match," JD pointed out. "We need a recording of her voice. Do you have any? Maybe the church youth center?"
"She's got an interrogation coming up," Gibbs replied as he looked over at Chris.
+ + + + + + +
Buck winced when he saw what Gibbs was doing in the interrogation room. Personally, he had no feelings towards Lawrence--their personalities were polar opposites, plus she was a schoolteacher--the bane of his existence in his youth. But he couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman; she was probably JD's age, maybe just slightly older. She was no match for the experienced interrogator, and he was surprised she had lasted as long as she had.
"Where were you around 6 am on Tuesday morning?"
"In my house, getting ready for the school day, why?"
"And last night at 8:45?" At her hesitation, Gibbs narrowed his eyes at her ever so slightly. "You were supposed to be a teachers' conference. They took roll after the intermission...you and half of the teachers had left."
She sighed. "It was one of those fluff meetings. The half that stayed had to because they pushed some awards ceremony to the end, and some of them were getting awards."
"Where'd you go after you left?" Tony asked.
"I went home."
"Not immediately," Gibbs replied. "Your neighbor came by at 9:15 and said you weren't home."
She paused. "I went out to the Hickman diner for coffee."
"Hickman?" Buck muttered as he quickly wrote a text message on the PDA to Gibbs and Tony. "That's almost 45 minutes from her house and the school." He paused. "And only fifteen from Garcia's motel." He and Kate watched as Gibbs and Tony briefly looked at their message and turn back to the woman.
"Can anyone vouch for that?" Gibbs said sharply. "Receipt? Credit card slip? Witness?"
"I don't know!" she was getting agitated. "There were a lot of people there. And it was a cup of coffee. I paid in cash."
Gibbs leaned in, his eyes narrowing. She frowned and swallowed. "If we find out you've been withholding information...."
"I'm not hiding anything! And I don't understand what this is about."
"You didn't tell us you knew how to shoot," Tony said sharply.
She looked slightly taken aback, then recovered. "It was something I did in high school. I grew out of that phase," she insisted. "I was missing Denver, trying to understand what Mike was doing in the Marines."
"Have you touched a gun since?" Gibbs asked curtly.
She paused, almost defeatedly, and looked down. "Vin insisted I at least be familiar with small arms," she whispered into the tabletop. "He took me to the range a few times."
Kate looked at Buck and Chris questioningly. Buck sighed and explained quietly, "We make lots of enemies. Sometimes people get caught in the crossfire. It's not the best solution, teachin' 'em how to shoot, but. Vin might have overreacted."
"Yeah?" Tony slapped down a piece of paper. "Shooting range Agent Tanner took you to. He must be a good teacher. Six rounds: only one not dead center and two in the same hole." She looked guiltily at the sheet as Gibbs and Tony stared at her. "Tell us how it works."
"I don't keep a gun, though!" Lawrence protested. "I don't have one in my house, and no one tells me to keep one. He just wanted to make sure I could use one if necessary."
"Just USE one?" Gibbs retorted. "That score...that's more than just point and shoot."
Kate cringed inside when she heard her boss's voice through the intercom. Gibbs had laid out the case for her involvement rather harshly, and she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly how Gibbs was going to bait Beckie into providing some kind of evidence she had done it. As far as the ATF and NCIS knew, Lawrence didn't know that her old friend was dead.
"So you take his own gun and you put a bullet into his head," Gibbs hissed.
Her repeated 'no, I didn't!' was suddenly cut short at Gibbs' statement, and her blanched face was visible even from the other side of the one-way mirror. For a moment she sat in stunned silence, her mouth partly open.
Chris swore, throwing his water bottle against the wall. Buck saw the NCIS agent jump visibly, so he discreetly stepped between Kate and Chris. "Chris, what?"
Chris glanced back at the window, and the two other agents' eyes followed him. On the other side, Lawrence's eyes were wide--a mix of fear and shock. She sat stunned for a moment, then dry-gagged, looking as if she were about to hyperventilate or to cry. "She didn't kill Garcia." Without another word, he left, the door slamming behind him.
+ + + + + + +
"What about our voice sample?" Chris asked curtly as he came into the lab. "We just sent down the voice samples from her interrogation."
The program ran through, 'no match' popping up each time. "It looks like it's not a match," Nathan said disappointedly.
"Oh, but it is." Abby turned around. "You see, when you call, Ma Bell cuts off everything above a certain hertz and below another. Makes for faster transmission. So that's why, when you think you sound different on a--"
"NOW, Miss Sciuto."
Abby looked a little shocked at the blond's demand, then turned around to the computer. After typing a few keys, she played back the samples, matching them perfectly. "It's dead on."
Chris turned to Vin, whose lips were pressed into a thin line as he stared at the computer. "Does she use those expressions?" the ATF leader asked the sniper.
Vin continued to look at the screen, where each sound sample blinked a loud 'voice match' back at him. "Yeah."
"So we've got a really good actress upstairs who sold out her mentor or a totally oblivious woman who makes phone calls she has no idea about," Nathan muttered. "Wonderful."
+ + + + + + +
"Voice recognition isn't an exact science," Kate argued. "And with what Abby said about the voice being lowered to a man's voice, we can't be sure that it was her." She ignored the look from Gibbs. She knew well he thought that she was too blindsided by Lawrence to be objective.
"And who the h-ll else would you guess, then?" Larabee snapped. The dark look he got from Gibbs was returned with his own glare.
"Perhaps she did not shoot Garcia but she did make the phone call," Standish suggested. "In the call to Crowell, the caller only said Gunnery Sergeant Garcia was a Marine sniper currently working undercover for the FBI. It did not say he was dead. That information Crowell could have uncovered simply from a call to the manager of that hideous hellhole he calls a motel."
"It's too coincidental that she wouldn't be involved, somehow," Nathan replied. "The question is how--good or bad."
"His cover was blown," McGee retorted. "How good can that be?"
"Beckie wouldn't ever stab Michael Garcia in the back," Vin said quietly but firmly. The comment was met with silence; he looked through slightly narrowed eyes at the other agents. "She wouldn't do that."
"We can't explain the phone call or the other coincidences, Vin," Chris replied in a warning tone, speaking before Gibbs, who obviously felt the same way he did about Lawrence, could respond to Vin the way he himself had snapped at Kate. "How well do any of us know her? How well do you actually know her?"
Vin's sharp blue eyes looked up sharply, meeting his boss's. After a moment, he simply got up and left.
+ + + + + + +
Kate entered the small break room and stopped briefly when she saw the ATF sniper there. Quietly steeling her courage, she went through the motions of pouring herself a cup of coffee just as they heard the door slam. Kate winced.
Vin figured it would come sooner or later--Gibbs and Chris were going to have it out. Over them. Vin held out the small tray of sugar and cream. "Cream and sugar?"
She looked up at him, then smiled gratefully. "Thanks." She took some of the sweetner. "Do you have milk?"
"Right in the fridge," Vin replied.
They were quite for awile, and finally Kate murmured, "I made a mistake once. I trusted someone I thought was a victim, and...she turned out to be a lot less of one than I thought."
Vin looked up at the NCIS agent, who tapped her mug and then finally took a sip. Vin paused at the revelation and then drawled quietly, "Yeah, me too." He could feel Kate's eyes on him. "We were supposed ta be protectin' these families, and she...she was lonely, and...I...done got sucked in. Biggest mistake." He looked up at her, and Kate's smile was warm.
"To the screwups." Kate's eyes danced as she held up her mug; his eyes twinkled as he clinked his mug to hers. "It's, uh. It's good we had this out. We're good, right?"
Vin grinned for the first time since all this had happened. "Yep."
"Think those two will be okay?" Kate tilted her head toward Larabee's office.
There was a pause, and then the two just laughed.
+ + + + + + +
"What the h-ll is goin' on," Chris demanded when his office door shut behind them.
"I don't know. Maybe you should tell me," Gibbs replied, his voice tight and dangerous.
"If anything happens to my agents because yours screwed up, I will personally--"
"MY...agents?" Gibbs drew out, raising an eyebrow. "What about your sniper?"
"Yours is the profiler," Chris shot back, his eyes hardening.
Gibbs clamped his mouth shut and paced slightly, running a hand through his hair. There was a long moment of silence. "Tanner wouldn't be the first man to fall for a pretty face and he won't be the last," he finally offered as a gesture of peace. "It's happened to all of us."
Chris acknowledged the comment with a tilt of his head. "Yeah, but Vin's got good instincts. He's never fallen for a...." he stopped, the familiar burn back in his chest. Even Ella's death in the firefight when they had finally found her still didn't ease the guilt. He hadn't just fallen for any regular killer; of all people, it had to be his family's murderer. He swallowed and finished, "Vin's never made the mistake of falling for a criminal, not even a suspect," he finished tightly.
The flicker across Larabee's face would have gone unnoticed by most, but Gibbs wasn't most people. He looked at Larabee carefully for a moment and then completed Larabee's thought: "This is going to eat at him if it's for real. Not so much losing her but the fact that he got duped."
Chris looked at the NCIS agent, seeing well-worn experience in his eyes. He wasn't the only one who'd made that mistake before, it appeared. "Yeah."
Nathan and Josiah had taken the car around the back of the federal jail, Lawrence in the backseat. The medic and the profiler were quiet; they weren't sure what to do with the woman. They had read her her rights again; she again waived her right to a lawyer. She looked almost comatose.
Either it was for real or she was playing an elaborate game--if the latter, she succeeded, because the teams had decided to ask the judge for some kind of protected house arrest instead of actually jailing her. They just hoped it wouldn't jump up to bite them later.
All three were checked with hand scanners upon entering. Down the hall, the NCIS, the ATF, and the FBI teams were at the main entrance's metal detector.
Nathan scowled. He really didn't want to deal with the FBI now. Who had told them Lawrence was here, anyway?
Chris glared a lagging McGee through the detector first, the two team leaders bringing up at the rear. There were a few puzzled looks between the agents, and an expression on Vin's face that said they were about to witness a terrific joke. Nathan sighed. They didn't need this, not right now.
Gibbs was the last NCIS or ATF agent to go through the detector. The two teams were about four feet away when the alarm went off. The entire lobby turned to see Verucchi standing in the detector, looking shocked--as much as a FBI agent would. Surprise turned into slow realization.
Tony waved cheerily at Verucchi.
As the FBI agent emptied his pockets, he pulled out a brown knife, which the guard popped open to reveal a large blade. A pat-down of Bickerstaff revealed the same. "Your directors will hear about this!" Bickerstaff shouted after them as Verucchi glared darkly. "What do you mean, 'where's my FBI ID'?" he barked at the guard, who just glared back and held out a hand expectantly.
"Let's go, ladies," Chris ordered as he and Gibbs shared a grin.
MARY TRAVIS'S HOME
"...and guess what, Chris? Agent Gibbs' anc'stors were horse traders. I told him a long time ago an old Larabee used to breed horses."
"There's an old Larabee right here," Vin drawled from his seat, earning him snickers and an appropriate glare.
The teams had arrived at the Travises' with takeout, no one wanting much to eat, much less to cook, after that day's events. The perceptive youngster seemed to sense it, and Billy's solution was to turn on his childlike enthusiasm even higher, trying to cheer up the adults with his talk. Against all expectations, he was succeeding--the Lawrence-Garcia problem seemed far away as the weary adults took just the night off, letting themselves get caught up in the small things that amused the boy.
"Trading?" Larabee turned to Gibbs with a look of amused interest.
"Breeding?" Gibbs replied, a grin on his face.
"Good Lord have mercy, they're bonding," Ezra groaned from his seat.
"Twenty bucks one of Larabee's breeders hung one of Gibbs' traders," Buck commented loud enough to Tony, who grinned and shook his head, his mouth still full of food. "Even DiNozzo knows that'd be a a given."
"...and Agent Gibbs is building a wooden boat in his basement, and when he's done, I get to ride in it," Billy continued, his happy smile now even more genuine. He suddenly paused, his food half-way to his mouth, as a new thought occurred to him. "How're you gonna get it out?" he asked curiously.
"Yes, Gibbs, how you are going to get it out?" Kate repeated with an even more amused look. When the silver-haired agent looked up, an eyebrow raised, she shrugged and returned to her food.
"And I showed him the Noah's ark Chris made me," Billy rattled on, looking up at his hero with a childlike pride. "The big boat and all the little animals Chris carved!"
"Oh, you mean Chris' ark onto which the good Lord told Noah to bring twenty pairs of each animal?" Josiah commented as he winked at the little boy, who grinned back amidst the laughter.
"--and do you know how much coffee Agent Gibbs drinks? Agent 'Nozzo secretly registered him in Coffee-holics Anonymous, which is to help people who are addicted to coffee."
Amidst the snickers, Tony's eyes widened, his fork freezing on the way to his mouth.
"Pizza's here," McGee announced as he came into the ATF lab where Abby had set herself up. He looked properly chastised when she shushed him. "What's going on?"
"JD's still going over the Lawrence voice samples," Abby whispered. "I'm still working on the spyware. I keep hitting a wall...right there," she pointed to the computer code. "Thanks, McGee," she grinned as she took a quick sip of the fresh, large soda he set on her table.
McGee went over, lightly tapping JD on the shoulder. He jumped and looked up with an annoyed expression, then it softened. He pulled his headphones off and stopped the program. "Thanks, McGee." He rolled his chair over to Abby desk. "I love Giordani's pizza."
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before JD suddenly asked, "Abby, when you did the sound sample for 'FBI,' did the samples match time-wise?" At the twin puzzled expressions he got, he amended, "I mean, did the phone call 'FBI' sound a little strange?"
"It sounded like she was half-drunk when she said it," Abby conceded, then clarified, "It took her a long time to get it out. She said 'FBI' a lot faster during the interrogation. I had to elongate the interrogation sample just a little to get it to match. Why?"
JD shook his head. "All the other samples sound okay, but that one.... Let's do a full acoustical analysis. Can you switch the background sound and the main sound for me? I want to listen to what's going on in the back."
Abby shrugged in agreement and turned to her computer. She brought the program up and played a little with the sound. "Okay, reversing the stereo mix." She ran the sample, frowned, and ran it again before looking at the two agents.
JD nodded. "It sounds like she was in three different places at each letter, right? And the 'B' is clipped. It sounds cobbled together."
"The other voice samples matched," McGee pointed out.
The other two paused a moment, and then Abby suddenly said, "We cut up the phone call into single-word samples. We tested each word on the tape against her interrogation voice word sample. Of course the single-word phone samples would sound fine!"
"We should listen to the call as a whole, with the backgrounds reversed--see if we get different sounds in the backgrounds from word to word," McGee nodded.
The lab specialist called up the whole sample, reversed the mix, and played the file back. When it was over, Abby turned around to them with a Cheshire cat grin.