The Mile High City Affair
ATF crossover with "NCIS"
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"You're telling me that Lawrence made that phone call," Gibbs said sharply, his impatience beginning to show.
"She didn't, but she did," Abby replied excitedly, a huge grin on her face.
Abby looked slightly annoyed, but she finally explained, "That's Lawrence's voice on the line. She didn't make that phone call. She probably has no idea what's going on."
"Is it your idea to DEPRESS ME?!" Gibbs growled.
"That phone call was cobbled together. Put together, phrase by phrase," JD added, grinning widely. "The only continuous voice segment is when she says 'Michael Garcia is a Marine'."
"How many different segments are there?" Buck asked.
"Seventeen. 'FBI' counts for three. That was the sample that JD was listening to when he figured this out," Abby replied, nodding at JD.
"Someone bugged her phone?" Tony asked.
"Or her house, her car, her classroom," Abby suggested. "Plus, it doesn't sound pure."
"See," McGee began, "when sound is digitized, it--"
"McGee," Gibbs said warningly.
"The call was routed through some kind of machine that made it...like a mp3 type file," JD explained. "The sound wasn't the sharp stereo you hear, it feels like...it was compressed. And smoothed out. That helped hide the different background noise behind her. Whoever did the cobbling did a bang up job. We totally missed it the first time. That's not Lawrence on the line."
"That's not her calling directly, but she still could have set up the call from her computer," McGee amended.
"Oh, and her alibi?" Abby grinned. "The phone call left on Crowell's voice mail had a return number which is Lawrence's HOME phone number at 2043 local. She said she was out until almost 2130, and the neighbor said she wasn't home."
"She could just not have answered her door."
"Well, yeah," Abby replied. "A little difficult when you're 45 minutes away." She called up another screen. "When you turn on your cell phone, it makes access with the nearest tower for service, whether or not you make a phone call. After McGee and JD mentioned that, we tracked her cell phone records." She pointed up at the screen. "She turned on her cell phone at 9 pm, and when it accessed the network, it picked up the tower about a mile from the diner. There's no way she could have driven from that diner to her home in fifteen minutes."
"Maybe someone took her cell phone," McGee replied.
"Probie, she supposedly made a really incriminating phone call last night and she admits she probably doesn't have someone to confirm her alibi for the time the call was made," Tony retorted. "If she had really done it, making the call and killing Garcia, don't you think she'd set up the phone call for some time when she DID have an alibi?"
"Just get this straight for me," Gibbs said shortly. "That phone call--it's still her voice, isn't it?"
"Oh yeah, that's Lawrence's voice." Abby's eyes danced at their accomplishment. "But it's not Lawrence speaking."
"Have you found anything?" Nathan asked, coming out of Lawrence's study with a frustrated look on his face.
"Nope," Vin replied, looking just as frustrated.
"I hit the jackpot," came Tony's muffled voice from the bedroom. When they went in, he was grinning widely, all the bureau drawers yanked out and the NCIS agent straightening up from his bent posture.
"You were supposed to look for bugs, not look at her clothes," Nathan pointed out.
"Eh, definitely not my kind of girl. But I find something better." Tony, grinning, held up a small bug. "It must have dropped down into her bureau from the top. It was buried in the back. I wouldn't have seen it except I heard something dropping inside when I moved the bureau."
"One?" Vin asked in a slightly disappointed tone. "We've only got one."
"They only found one," Gibbs reported back to the bullpen, whose hopeful looks fell. "Stuffed into the back of her dresser. That's not enough to make that phone call."
There was a pause, and then Josiah leaned forward. "What if...there were a lot of listening devices everywhere--and they were removed? What if whoever set the bugs knew we were on to them?"
"How? We just found this last night," JD contradicted him.
"Or they figured something was up when Lawrence was arrested," Josiah replied.
"One of us?" Buck asked in complete disbelief.
"Sir, there's a conference call for you," the control room officer looked down at the balding agent.
Tobias Fornell frowned. "Who?"
"All he'll say is that he's the closest thing to a friend you've got," the officer replied, trying to suppress a smile. When Fornell narrowed his eyes slightly, the officer fidgeted. "He's coming on in five minutes."
Fornell nodded and got up from his desk, heading into the dark control room. He looked at the senior control officer, who replied, "NCIS Special Agent Gibbs, sir," and gave him a sympathetic look. At the name, Fornell rolled his eyes, but without the requisite punch behind it. "Go ahead, put him on. Gibbs. You're going to have to find someone else to chat over tea."
Gibbs just smirked on screen. "I figure you owe me one."
"How do you figure that?"
"I helped you on the Napolitano case!" Gibbs protested.
"That was you making up your setting my career back twenty years when you shot Ari in the shoulder!" Fornell heard a sharp sound on the other end, and he saw Gibbs narrow his eyes at someone off camera.
"You wouldn't have had a career without me," Gibbs pointed out, and then Fornell conceded. "I need a favor. How high's your clearance? High enough to gain access to the records of a Colorado governor?"
"You talking the Hopewell case?"
Gibbs sat up in his chair. "You know it?"
"Well, it's high-profile because of who he is, but the FBI doesn't see it as a big enough problem to give it a really high clearance," Fornell replied.
"Tell 'not a big enough problem' to the ATF."
The FBI agent paused a moment, then he chuckled as he understood the reason he was now on conference call instead of trying to scare Gibbs out of his office. "You're in Denver."
"Hey," Fornell grinned, basking safely in the long distance between Denver and Washington. "Chris GLarabee over there? Talk about hell on earth--Gibbs and Larabee in the same city. Couldn't you two just glare Hopewell to death?"
The control room officers snickered, and the same laughter could be heard coming from those off camera.
The infamous Chris Larabee appeared on the camera, sitting down next to Gibbs with a slight scowl on his face, which just made the FBI agent grin more widely. Gibbs, barely suppressing a smile, introduced, "Agent Larabee, Agent T.C. Fornell, FBI. Fornell, Larabee."
Fornell nodded in acknowledgment. "So, what is it?"
"We need access to the personnel files of some of the Denver agents," Gibbs replied. "Without their knowing."
"No can do, Gi--"
"A widow with a young son is going to lose her life if we don't," Gibbs shot back, the amusement in his voice gone. "We're not just talking careers, here, Tobias."
Fornell paused a moment. "Which names? I can't guarantee anything."
"They're coming over on the machine," Gibbs replied just as the humming stopped and the control room officer held up a freshly printed sheet.
Taking the sheet, Fornell looked it over, then raised an eyebrow at one name. "Tim Bickerstaff, huh. He came out of DC. I wrote him up once for unprofessional behavior. Bit of a firebrand and loner, but not in a good way."
"Him, especially," Gibbs nodded. "Team boss is Tom Verucchi."
"I'll see what I can do," Fornell replied, signaling to the control officer that the call was about to end. "In the mean time, don't scare Denver too much."
"We've already interviewed everyone who knew Garcia," Kate pointed out.
"We got set up real good," Buck muttered.
"You mean Beckie got set up real good," JD snorted. "And we got dragged along."
"What are we going to do about Rebekah?" Josiah asked. "We arrested her."
"We had reason to," Gibbs replied shortly. "And she's under house arrest, not in jail."
"Yeah, maybe, but we still made a mistake," JD insisted.
There was a silence at the table, and then Chris slowly dropped his pencil onto his notepad. All eyes flickered to him. "We haven't interviewed everyone tied to Rebekah Lawrence."
Buck shrugged. "Chris, she didn't do it. You and Kate and I saw that interview, and Gibbs and Tony did it. She obviously had no idea or she's up for an Oscar for that performance."
"She's the perfect fall guy," JD replied. "I mean, she's met Hopewell personally a few times, she got a rich house on awful pay, she was Garcia's closest friend left in Denver, and she knows how to handle a rifle and a small handgun. It's like they picked Garcia and Lawrence together to screw over."
"And thus, I'm afraid we still have to maintain a form of house arrest for Miss Lawrence," Ezra suddenly spoke. He leaned forward. "Gentlemen--and lady," he added, nodding graciously at Kate with an amused smile on his face, "think." He turned serious. "Whoever did this has planned this well. He--or she--made it seem as though Gunnery Sergeant Garcia had turned rogue. Garcia's murder was made to look as if he had committed suicide."
"Then they set up Rebekah Lawrence to take the fall in case it was figured out Garcia was murdered," Kate murmured, catching on.
Ezra nodded. "As Mr. Dunne has said, the perfect fall...woman," he amended.
"So we're assuming now she has nothing to do with it," Chris replied darkly.
"I am merely explaining a theory, Mr. Larabee."
"Let's take the worse case scenario," Gibbs interrupted. "She's been elaborately set up. Which means we're back to no suspects unless Fornell finds us something."
After a long silence, "Well," Ezra cut in, "there is one unsavory way of drawing out Hopewell's hit men, but the question is whether or not it is worth it to try." He looked at them carefully, his head titled slightly in the direction of Mary's workspace in the conference room.
The phone rang on Josiah's desk, and he picked it up. "Sanchez. ... Yeah." He hung up. "That was Abby and the boys. They think they have something else."
+ + + + + + +
"First," Abby started, "the bug we got back. More expensive than what we use, but still pretty standard, government issue. You could get it anywhere. There's some sound on it, but then at some point it got shoved somewhere into Lawrence's dresser, so the sound just entirely cuts off."
"And second?" Gibbs prodded.
"We got a hit on Garcia's email address." She typed in a command to bring up the screen. "We just found this. Apparently Garcia had a free web email account no one knew about. He didn't set it up on his computer, probably because he guessed about the trojan horse application. He could have used a public library computer or something; that's why we didn't know about it."
"How did you find it?" Chris asked.
"Fluke. The box got hit by spam really hard, and it overflowed on webspace," McGee cut in. "So they sent an email to his primary account, which we do have. We then went to the site and tried entering the user ID in, and because--"
"McGee," Gibbs barked.
"--we found that he had set up an e-reminder to himself," McGee continued.
McGee explained, "You have a little online calendar, and you can time it to send out an email on a certain date. Most people use it to remind themselves to buy a present for someone's birthday, watch a TV show, that kind of thing."
"You can do that online?" Gibbs asked.
"Sure. I can show you," McGee offered. Gibbs raised an eyebrow, which made Tony and Abby secretively exchange amused looks. "Or not. Anyway, he set up a reminder to himself for two days ago. This reminder was primed to send to his own email account...and to Lawrence's."
"Two days ago. We talked to her just yesterday, and she didn't say anything," Nathan cut in.
"When his box overflowed, they froze the account," JD replied, his grin widening. "Nothing going in or out until he deletes something." He nodded to Abby, who brought the email up on the screen. "He's pretty sure he'll be offed. Look at the opening. He was planning to cancel the reminder if he was still alive by the date of the reminder."
"He tells her a lot for being undercover," Buck muttered. "He's tellin' her he was undercover and that he thinks someone in the operation is selling him and the job out. Even talks about Hopewell. Mentions his female accomplice, too--says her name is Jolene Garrett."
"Yeah, it's an alias," JD cut in. "We looked everywhere for her. She doesn't exist."
"The letter we found in the room said he would tell her more later," Nathan murmured, voicing what all the others were thinking. "The reminder was what he was going to tell her."
"He was betrayed by the very person in whom he had placed all his trust, his FBI contact," the ATF undercover agent finally spoke, his words dripping with severe disgust. "He cannot be sure of anyone's loyalty."
Tony watched as the entire ATF team fell silent and turned to their undercover agent. "So why Lawrence, Ezra?" Chris asked, unusually kindly. "He trusts her? He expects her to clear his name?"
Standish shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. It matters little." He turned to Chris, an inscrutable expression on his face as he said quietly, "He does not want her to think he has gone to the other side, even if others do." He paused a moment, then finished, "Rebekah is the one person whose opinion still matters to him. It would kill him if those he trusted did not believe him."
+ + + + + + +
Mary sat in front of them, her face pale but otherwise showing no other emotion. "So we have no suspect right now?" she asked in clarification. "What exactly is going on?"
"Here's where everything is right now," Buck began. "Garcia went UA from his base in Hawaii. We know he was paid to come to Denver by Hopewell--as a sniper--to kill you and most likely a few others. He was undercover for the FBI at the time; they were hoping to bring Hopewell down."
"Okay, and now skipping the comments about the FBI not coordinating with the ATF," Mary prodded. "Garcia was murdered a couple days ago in his hotel room."
Buck nodded. "But it was made to look like a suicide, most likely to cover the killer's tracks. From a note that Garcia had written, it seems he had discovered that someone was going to blow his cover, sell out him and the operation. He figured he wasn't going to make it out alive, and tried to write a last letter to Rebekah Lawrence."
"Okay. And Lawrence?"
"Her house was most likely bugged, and from the voice recordings someone made it seem like she was working for Hopewell, with Garcia, and made that phone call to Brian Crowell."
At her colleague's name, Mary narrowed her eyes slightly. "And now?"
"We cleared Garcia--like it matters, because he's dead--and Lawrence. Neither of them are involved--at least, not in a criminal manner. So" Buck heaved a huge sigh "the long in the short of it is that we have no suspects. Case stalled."
Mary sat back with a frown. "So now what? Who do we go after?"
Buck fell silent, his eyes flickering briefly to his old friend before saying quietly, "We can drop it now."
Mary sat up, her eyes flashing. "Do we have to?"
"I am not going to let you go out there," Chris replied. "That's a professional killer."
"Chris, I don't want to go through this one more time," Mary exclaimed, her tone taking on a bit of pleading. "Every single time, it's more hiding, more bodyguards, looking over my shoulder. Is there a way we can end this now?"
Gibbs leaned forward. "If you're willing to do it, we'll try to force Hopewell's hand against you. He tried to get you at a public event last time. If you have another one coming up, that would be best; we'll make him come after you and trap him."
Mary paused as she flipped open the next page in her planner. "In three days I have to attend the opening of some art exhibit in downtown Denver. In the art museum."
"Three days?" Gibbs paused. "Don't you have anything earlier? Something...outside?"
Mary shook her head. "I don't have another public assignment until a month from now. I'm supposed to cover a rally then." She paused a moment. "I have to attend a banquet for the art museum unveiling the night before the art opening. That's the only other event in the next few days."
Abby, JD, and McGee were already crowded at their makeshift computer center. Suddenly JD announced, "We got a blueprint here. We can look at this while I get a real blueprint for the museum." He nodded to Abby, who beamed it up to the plasma screen in the room.
Vin made his way around to the front, Buck on the other side of the table, examining the print. The ATF sniper looked up at Kate and drawled, "So, Secr't Service, what do ya think?"
Kate looked up at the clear blue eys twinkling at her and smiled. "You're the sniper."
"I'd say here, here, and here," Vin said, pointing at two places and acknowledging the third one Buck pointed out. "If Garcia's accomplice is going to step in as his new sniper, those would be the places in the museum I'd be worried about."
"What's this?" Kate asked, pointing at a particularly confusing part of the blueprint.
"That part of the museum has a small balcony. The entire balcony serves as the stand for one of the largest displays of ancient masonry from Rome," Ezra replied.
"I'd say that's a prime place to hide, then," Kate murmured. "No one would suspect you're up there."
"It looks straight inta the lobby," Vin replied darkly. "That's where yer cer'mony's gonna be, right, Mary?" He got a nod.
"What if the killer doesn't go long?" Buck suddenly spoke. "Stutz dropped his rifle to go short-range."
"We have a bigger problem than that," Gibbs finally spoke. "How are we going to force his hand?"
"He's not going to do anything unless he thinks we're really close to catching him," Buck replied, shaking his head. "I mean, he didn't shoot Stutz until we surrounded him."
"That's 'cause shootin' Stutz was shootin' millions of his own money," Vin muttered disgustedly.
"So how are we going to make Hopewell think we've got enough to arrest him?" McGee asked, and the room fell silent.
"Put an advert in Mary's paper," Josiah commented, half-kidding.
Gibbs sat thinking a minute, then looked up slowly at his ATF counterpart to see the same conspiratorial grin on his face.
CLARION NEWSPAPER OFFICE
"ATF. Where's Crowell?" Larabee didn't mince words as they entered the Clarion office building.
"He's in there, but he's in a meeting," the secretary began. When Gibbs and Larabee brushed past him and went into the office, he protested, "You can't go in there! I don't think you heard me!"
"Federal agents, free ticket to the Love Shack," Tony replied, flashing his badge as they headed in the open door, barely missing a skittery and frightened typist scurrying out of Crowell's office.
"You dirtbag," Gibbs growled. "You screwed up our entire operation by printing that headline, blowing Garcia's cover. You're going to fix it for us now."
"You screwed up the operation when you let the Marine get killed!" Crowell snapped.
"We're giving you information that no one else has," Buck pointed out impatiently. "You're the first reporter to get it, and you're going to get first crack to print it! What else do you want?"
Larabee tossed a folded copy of the newspaper onto the desk and leaned over so he was eye to eye with the reporter. "Front page, Crowell. Tomorrow."
"Or what?" Crowell sneered, and only got a slow, feral grin from the blond in reply as the latter left. The reporter started muttering obscenities at the agents under his breath when, "OW!" he shouted, holding the back of his head where he'd just been smacked. "What the h-ll was that for!" he exclaimed, glaring at Gibbs.
"Stupidity," Gibbs retorted. "You don't badmouth and definitely don't hit my people." He started to head out. The other agents parted to let him go, Buck, JD, Tony, and McGee muttering as they dug into their pockets for money. Gibbs stopped to look at the exchange of bills and raised an eyebrow.
"Ez and Kate bet that you'd get to Crowell before Chris did," Buck muttered as he slapped the cash into their hands.
"That's kind of touching, boss, avenging the wrongs done me by--OW!" Tony winced at the smack. "What was that for?"
"Stupidity," Gibbs retorted. "You bet AGAINST me?"
"And a poor decision it was," Standish replied, chuckling as he folded his bills into the pocket in his jacket. "For your wallet and your employment."
"Yeah," JD exclaimed, loud in his disappointed annoyance. "Way Chris was spitting fire on the way over here, and he doesn't do nothing! He's getting mellow in his old age! Even Gibbs beat him to the punch!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Gibbs turned to JD, his eyes slightly narrowed in question as Chris' voice roared from outside, "I'm getting WHAT, JD?"
The blond returned, some of the newspaper's files in hand, and glared at JD before holding out a hand to Standish. The undercover agent looked from the hand to his boss and back down. "Mr. Larabee, you cannot be serious." After a pause and Chris' renewed glare, Standish exclaimed, "I certainly cannot be expected to sit idly by and allow such opportunities rife with potential pass me by!"
"Ezra, I don't want to have to shoot you."
The undercover agent huffed and pulled out a pad of bills, which he put in his boss' hand. "What an utterly disgusting display of greed. ... But...your mercenary instincts do impress me, Mr. Larabee."
"All of it, Ezra."
Ezra made a face and pulled out the rest of the bills, which he handed to his boss. Chris pocketed them and he and Gibbs started heading out when Kate held out a hand. Groans were heard as the other men slapped bills into her palm. "Kate bet that Chris or Gibbs could glare you into obeying them today," Nathan explained unhappily to the open-mouthed undercover agent.
A smiling Kate counted the money as the others headed out, then held up half to Standish. "Nice doing business with you, Mr. Standish."
"No, no, not at all; the pleasure was entirely mine," Ezra chuckled and then waved an arm for her to go first. "After you."
NEXT MORNING, 6 AM
"How's Lawrence doing?"
"Surprisingly well, but I'm not sure she knew what she agreed to when she said we could use her in that article," Tony replied, taking another sip of his coffee.
"Team 3 is covering her protection detail, coordinating with Kelly," Vin offered.
"It came in!" JD shouted in announcement as he came running in, waving the Clarion. He read out loud, "'Undercover Sniper's Posthumous Revelation Makes Cold Case Hot Again', 'Friend takes email to baffled authorities, jumpstarts dragging case.'" He frowned.
"''Baffled authorities'?!" Tony exclaimed.
"Our case was going quite well, thank you," Ezra muttered, the early morning hour and the headline souring his mood even more.
"Can we bring Crowell in for insulting federal agents?" JD asked.
"Two days," Buck grumbled. "Then we'll show up his weasly butt by giving the exclusive to somebody else."