“Well, if what dumb and dumber back there say is true, our Probie's a popular guy,” Tony pointed out with a nod to the back seat where their prisoners sat, hands still restrained behind them. For all their bulk, the two large men were pushed as close together as they could get in Paul's attempt to avoid contact with Ziva, who shared the backseat with them. Ziva sat against the back door on the driver's side with almost a foot of space between her and the two men. Leslie, the one on the far side, was pressed up against his door, almost sitting on his hip to get more comfortable.
Other than answering the questions the agents threw at them while Gibbs drove, neither man had spoken during the drive. And now, sitting in the parking lot of a diner while the agents ate a quick dinner, Paul continued to shoot occasional wary glances at Ziva, but she'd yet to do anything but give them smug looks as they answered more questions promptly. The two thugs had obviously come to the realization that resisting would get them nowhere. Gibbs had refused to tell he and Ziva what had happened in that motel room when the two agents had gone to get burgers for them all, leaving him alone with the two men, but Tony knew it had been the turning point in the thugs' cooperation. Now, the next morning, hours restrained in the back of the car seemed to have driven all opposition out of the men.
“Seems that way,” Gibbs agreed with Tony's assessment.
Tony gave a small nod, then looked back at Gibbs. It struck him for the first time how tired his boss looked, and Tony suddenly realized that Gibbs had probably rested very little since he'd begun hunting McGee. In his opinion, they'd joined the Boss just in time. Someone had to keep an eye on him, after all, and that was a job Tony had taken seriously for years.
“This is all very crazy,” Ziva concurred from the back, and Tony smirked at Paul, who's started at Ziva's voice. Paul was genuinely afraid of her. Not that Tony could blame him, of course, but really.......couldn't the man at least put on a brave face? Paul was as cowardly as his partner was dumb, so far as Tony could tell. He'd shown no real fear of the men, nervousness and caution yes, but Ziva had put the fear of God in him. Maybe when they got back on the road, they should consider putting Paul in the car Ziva was driving? Well, maybe not, Tony decided inwardly. That might be the end of Paul's nerves. Or the end of Paul.
“Yeah,” Tony agreed. “What are the odds that one group of degenerates goes after Tim? Never mind two. Let me tell you, fellas,” Tony turned in his seat and addressed the men in the back, “I'm fond of Probie, and he has his moments, but he's not worth fighting over.” As per usual, Tony tried to cover his worry with jokes. It was such a natural thing for him that he no longer thought about it.
“You're tellin' me,” Leslie mumbled. “He's annoying as hell.”
Tony shot a glare at the blond man, but before he could speak, Ziva's hand had reached around behind Paul's hunched form and connected with the back of Leslie's head in slap almost worthy of Gibbs.
“Shit!” Leslie cursed.
“We can say things like that,” Ziva growled at the man. “You cannot.”
Tony caught Gibbs' small smile from the corner of his eye that Gibbs tried to cover up with a big bite of his sausage biscuit.
“You're a cop! You're not allowed to hit me!” Leslie cried indignantly. He cursed again when the flat of Ziva's hand connected to the back of his head a second time.
“I am not a 'cop',” she said simply.
Ziva seemed to be having entirely too much fun, but Tony was enjoying the show. Gibbs, however, apparently decided to take the road of propriety.
“Ziva,” Gibbs said quietly from the driver's seat, but it was enough. Ziva pulled away and sat back, but she didn't hide her smile.
Tony noticed that Gibbs hadn't lost his, either.
McGee was suddenly popular, Tony mused to himself, but with the all the wrong people. They'd known part of what was going on, for a couple days anyway, because the man that had been watching the team- the potential hit man- had talked soon after Tony and Ziva had found him hanging around NCIS, arrested him, and interrogated him. Tony had the Navy yard security to thank for that- they'd been informed of the potential threat and had remembered seeing an unfamiliar face hanging around a little too much. It had been nothing for them to scan the security video, then detain him when they saw him again, just hours later. Tony had been a bit disappointed that the man had caved so easily in interrogation. He'd been expecting a challenge. Had looked forward to having the man resist a little so Tony could take some his frustration out on him.
He'd given up his boss, for one thing. A Mr. Jonathon Allen. Once Tony had the name and probable location, he hadn't been hard to get, either. They'd simply gone to his address and arrested him. He had been a little harder to crack, but he hadn't been formidable.
And all of it centered around some top secret coded information that had somehow gotten into the greedy hands of two different people. Two people who had no idea how to decode the information. Which led them, each independently, to one Timothy McGee.
Allen was a small time crook that wanted to be big time. A small fish in the large pond of organized crime. He had a few followers that assisted him in his ambitious but petty crimes, and when a contact of his- a Navy man at sea- passed along some delicate information, Allen had seen his chance to climb the ladder in the crime world. But first he had to have the information decoded so he would know what it was and it's potential value. And his contact had included a name with the information he'd passed along, a name that had been heard more than once of late, in a few discreet circles, according to Allen. A man that could help him with the coded information. A man named Tim McGee.
Unfortunately for Allen, Tony thought to himself, McGee's on the right side of the law.
Enter Sara McGee. And the threat to the lives of McGee's teammates, his friends. Allen had to have leverage over McGee to make him do what he needed. He just should have made sure his hit man was a bit more stoic, because he'd folded like a cheap suit in interrogation.
I just wish McGee had come to us instead of trying to protect us,Tony groused silently. But then again, I might even have done the same thing. Tony couldn't really blame McGee's actions too much. He'd been between a rock and a hard place, and he'd had Sara's safety to think about, too, and that was something Tony couldn't really relate to, being an only child with no real ties to family. But the team had become family, and Tony would do the same for any of them.
Then a new person had entered the scene, this they'd learned in the motel-room interrogation with McGee's hulks.
The new person was a bigger fish than Allen in the same pond- and he'd had the same idea. James Capricio, a crime boss that was reckoned with in his circles. His people were more than just semi-loyal followers; they were employees paid well enough for the things they were expected to do, and Capricio and his people were into more than petty crimes.
It wasn't known yet how Capricio had come to posses the same classified and coded information that Allen had, or how he'd come to have heard of Tim McGee; Dumb and Dumber in the back seat hadn't been privy to that information, themselves. When they'd finally cracked and told their boss' name, though, all three agents had recognized it. Capricio was a prominent and well known name around DC, heard often in the news and in the bull pens of every law enforcement agency, particularly those that made use of the alphabet- FBI, CIA and NCIS being just a few. Capricio had his hands in quite a few pots, but nothing had ever been pinned on him and lasted.
Tony couldn't help but wonder how McGee's name had come to be bandied about in the crime circles, and whether it was something they should worry about; surely there were other people that could do the same things as McGee, but without the same boy scout ideals, or the same risks to the bad guys. McGee was a federal agent, for Pete's sake! There were plenty of non-law official's out there that had similar computer skills; Tony had arrested a few of them himself.
Somehow, Capricio had learned that Allen had kidnapped Sara and was going to use her to gain McGee's cooperation, and he certainly couldn't have that. He'd intended to requisition McGee's assistance himself, and Allen had interfered with his plan. So Capricio had dispatched a few of his people to converge on the place McGee was supposed to meet Allen- the objective was to gain custody of Sara themselves, to insure McGee's cooperation, and maybe even toss a few warnings and injuries in there to Allen and his people to remind them that they were lower on the food chain.
But Allen and his people had managed to stay a step ahead of Capricio, having found out about his interest in their activities, and that had resulted in the hasty abandonment of the meeting place that McGee had found soon after.
After that, according to Allen, his people had been running scared with Sara still in their custody, especially since Allen had recently been arrested and no longer reachable to give orders; hence, McGee's cross country pursuit.
And according to Paul and Leslie, they had been dispatched by their boss, Capricio, to keep on Tim's trail, grab him, and bring him to their boss at the soonest possibility. He'd get McGee's cooperation without Sara, if need be. It was just their bad luck that McGee's desperation to find his sister had given him whatever grit he'd needed to either evade Capricio's two henchman or fight them off each time they'd closed in on him.
Tony shook his head, trying to clear it. They'd gained a boat load of information just in the last few hours that had given them all the missing pieces about what was going on, and it was making his head hurt.
And he really wanted to know what those two crime bosses had possessed that was worth all that. They'd gotten it from Allen, but had yet to learn what it was; Abby was unable to crack the code.
Gibbs had mentioned his worry about the state of mind of Sara's collective captors; their boss had rolled over on them, and they were running scared without direction. Abby had learned, however, that Allen had a secluded hunting cabin in Harlan, Kentucky, so their direction made sense, and it was probably their final destination. They'd likely planned on hunkering down until receiving further orders from Allen, which they wouldn't get now. They could be feeling desperate or cornered, and that was never a good thing. It wouldn't be good for Sara, and it wouldn't be good for McGee, who was obviously intent on going up against them.
They had to find Probie soon, before he did something stupid that could get him, and his sister, killed.
In the meantime, Tony decided with a glance at Gibbs' profile, maybe I can get the Boss to get a little rest now that he has help.
“Alright, lunch is over,” Gibbs declared, interrupting Tony's wandering thoughts. “We've wasted enough time. Gotta get back on McGee's trail. Ziva,” he addressed the Mossad officer as she exited the backseat to return to the car she was driving, “Stay close, but leave us a little room this time.”
She scowled at Gibbs' order but nodded her head, and Tony smirked. Ziva had tail-gated them even beyond Gibbs' nerves before they'd pulled over for lunch. Her impatience had been palpable in the way she drove; it was obvious she'd been itching to pass Gibbs and drive in her usual reckless manner, but she'd held back admirably and followed their boss' lead as expected. Tony admired her restraint, but he was just glad Ziva had been the one ordered to drive their car while he rode with Gibbs. He wanted to keep an eye on the Boss.
Just as Gibbs fired the ignition his phone rang.
“Hey, Abs,” Gibbs answered after a glance at the caller ID.
Tony couldn't guess at the topic of conversation from Gibbs' usual non-committal 'uh-huhs' and grunts, but the older man's face hardened at one point, taking on a determined set. When he terminated the call with a 'good work, Abs', he turned to Tony.
“Boss?” Tony questioned. “Abby give you a good lead?” It would be nice to have an actual trail to follow Probie's progress other than just the vague idea of where they thought he was going. Knowing the town that was his destination did help, though.
“Better,” Gibbs answered. “Abby was able to retrieve the pre-paid phone number that Sara's phone had been texting and that it called right before the signal disappeared. Abby found McGee's current phone number.”
Tony's mouth widened in a grin. That was great! A real break through.
Gibbs looked back at Tony a bit grimly, then dialed the number Abby must have given him over the phone. The fact that he'd remembered it without writing it down didn't impact Tony; his boss had an impeccable memory.
Tony waited expectantly as he listened hard and barely heard the tinny first ring on the other end of Gibbs' phone.
Now Probie could just tell them where he was and this little vacation would be over.
Tim motored down the highway in his 'borrowed' truck faster than the posted speed limits. But he no longer cared about things like that. He couldn't really afford the time- or the risk- of being pulled over, but some things took precedence over worrying about small issues like that, and his sister, his current mission, was one of those things. Tim wasn't worried because he felt capable of handling anything that came up. If he got pulled over, he'd deal with it in the most efficient way he could and get back on the road.
The truck was an old one, probably more for farm work than anything else. Tim didn't care, so long as it kept moving. He'd filled it up with gas, using the only method left to him for lack of money, but stealing the gas bothered only a small part of him the last few times it had been necessary. The old truck was a guzzler, and Tim had become inured to the guilt of that small offense; Sarah was more important that the cost of a few gallons of gas.
The windows were down because the air conditioning didn't work and the rush of wind filled Tim's ears and ruffled his hair, and he was continually jolted and rattled by the truck's less than stellar performance. It had nothing on his previous stolen car with the sweet engine.
Tim pushed the old truck to it's limit, not satisfied at it's limited speed but otherwise strangely blank, focusing only on his forward motion down the highway and his destination. Harlan, Kentucky.
Tim became aware of the beeping, almost inaudible under the rushing wind in the cab of the truck, but Tim had conditioned himself to listen for that sound. Sara was the only one with the number to this throw-away phone.
Tim's heart thudded in excitement and anxiety; he'd worried about Sara. He hated knowing she was taking such an obvious risk when she texted him, yet he knew that each new text meant she was still alive. And the clues didn't hurt, either.
Tim fumbled for the phone in his pocket, his fingers feeling thick and uncoordinated in his fatigue and recent lack of nourishment. Those were details he'd learned to push aside, though. Nothing mattered but his mission to save Sarah.
Tim pulled the phone out and glanced at it long enough to see that it wasn't an incoming text. It was an incoming call, one the phone recognized only as 'unknown' on the caller ID. His heart thudded harder; she was either taking a larger risk than usual or.......could she be free? Escaped, maybe?
Tim pushed the 'talk' button and held the phone to his ear.
“Sara,” he greeted, his voice choked. Could it be over?
The voice that answered his greeting was not Sara.
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