Tim's phone chirped, signalling a text message. He pulled the phone from his pocket, squinting at the screen in the low evening light. He had to wait for clues from her, because if he tried texting or calling her, she would be put in danger if she hadn't found a chance for privacy. It was frustrating, to say the least. And he was more dependant now than ever for her texts, now that he no longer had his laptop to track the signal of her cell phone, that she'd miraculously managed to keep. It was probably a blessing in disguise, though, because he knew NCIS had likely been tracking his laptop signal, but he'd used it sparingly.
Diverting his eyes from the darkening road to the small display on the phone, Tim pressed 'Read' and saw the message she'd managed to send.
'Elvira's Diner. W'mens rm under lst sink.'
His next destination. He had no idea how close he was. For all he knew, he might not even be heading in the right direction, since he could no longer follow the signal. He was going to have to begin using the skills he'd been trained for; old fashioned investigation. He'd tried to avoid that to keep a low profile- people remembered someone that took up their time with questions- but it was now unavoidable. All he could do for now was to keep an eye out for Elvira's Diner, or a sign advertising it.
I just hope I make it, Tim thought, glancing at the very low gas guage. The gas was almost gone and the last time he'd checked, he was down to thirty-two cents in his pocket. When he'd last checked the signal three hours ago, which had been just minutes before he'd stopped at the little store where Gibbs had caught up to him, they'd been ahead of him by a hundred and twenty seven miles. He'd started out after them immediately four days ago, but the detours around Gibbs and his run-ins with Mutt and Jeff had made it harder for him to keep up.
Her clues had helped, though, and he hoped she would be able to continue leaving them now that he didn't have the laptop to locate a signal to follow.
But please, please be careful, he prayed on her behalf. She couldn't afford to get caught leaving the clues. For one thing, they would take the phone they didn't know she still had, thereby leaving him utterly clueless and making it very hard for him to stay on their trail. His biggest concern, though, was what they might do to her if they found out.
Twenty minutes later, to Tim's suprise and great relief, he passed Elvira's Diner on the side of the highway.
He was still going in the right direction, thank God.
He pulled a U-ey right on the small, carless highway to get back to the diner, then he pulled into the parking lot.
He pushed the door open and, without a glance at either the diners or the staff, he made his way to the back, where he could see the blue 'restrooms' sign pointing the way into a small alcove. Tim hoped there were no women inside when he pushed open the door to the ladies room, but he'd gone beyond the point of caring. He'd done this many times by now. It seemed her captors gave her at least this bit of privacy when necessary, and she used it to her advantage. He'd had a couple close calls with indignant ladies' room patrons, but he'd learned to ignore their suprised yells, simply apologizing and quickly finding what he was after and departing before they could lodge a compaint with someone official.
This time he was lucky and had no angry witnesses. He reached under the last sink, as she'd informed, and felt around until his fingers brushed the soft texture of paper against the cold porcelain. He pulled it free and stuffed it in his pocket, deciding he'd read it in the car.
Tim rushed back through the diner, idly realizing he was hungry and wishing he had a few dollars to get something to go. He hadn't eaten since early morning, and it was now evening. But he was broke, and he had other things to worry about. Hunger was the least of his problems at the moment.
Stepping out into the dusk of evening, he groaned inwardly when he saw the unmistakable figures of Mutt and Jeff leaning against their car, waiting for him. He wasn't really in the mood to deal with them, but it didn't seem that they were going to give him a choice.
"Hey there, Timmy," Mutt spoke first. Tim didn't know how they knew his name and he didn't know their's; he hadn't asked and they didn't seem inclined to inform him. They just looked like they'd be called Mutt and Jeff.
"I'm not going with you," Tim informed them firmly. He didn't know how these two fit into the whole scheme of things, but they were involved somehow. From the little he'd gathered, he thought they were after the same people he was following, but probably for whole different reasons. But they- or most likely, those they worked for- didn't like Tim being in the way of thier pursuit, and they were determined to remove him from the equation; or use him in it, somehow. They hadn't made any threats of any permanent sort of removal, but it seemed that they had orders to hold him. Tim had no intention of being held, and the ensuing scuffles and evasions had often ended in a bit of violence on both parts, and Tim had discovered two things: One, that they had no compunctions against using harsh force, and two, niether did he, and he'd either been lucky enough or skillfull enough up to this point to evade them or escape them at each encounter. He just hoped his luck would hold.
"What make you think you have a choice?" That came from the muscular Blonde Tim had appointed as 'Jeff'. Jeff's relaxed pose was a deception; Tim could see his readiness to move at a moment's notice, his muscles bunched for action, and his past scuffles with these two had taught Tim to niether trust these two or underestimate them.
"You say that every time," Tim reminded him caustically, "and you don't have me yet." He'd learned not to show feat to these two. They knew how to use it.
"You've been lucky," Mutt said, voicing Tim's own opinion. Mutt was darker than his counterpart, with olive skin and dark hair, but no less bulky. Tim suspected these two were often used for intimidation and back-up muscle by whomever they worked for. They both had the looks of the 'dumb brutes' or 'hired muscle' that would be found in so many of Tony's oft repeated tv shows. Tim wondered off-handly what Magnum PI would do to get rid of these guys for good. Then Tim wondered why he was channeling Tony at such a time.
"Luck?" Tim asked, faking flippantly. "I don't think so. I think it's brains over brawn."
Mutt and Jeff pushed themselves off their car simultaneously and advanced on him slowly. Tim widened his stance, ready to resort to fisticuffs once again.
"DiNozzo," Gibbs said into his cell phone. "I've got McGee's car. I'm having it sent to NCIS."
"Did you get 'im, Boss?"
Gibbs glanced to the service bay, where his two tires were being changed. "No. Not yet. But I'm also sending his little portable computer with the car."
"His portable...? Oh. You mean his laptop."
"Well yeah, DiNozzo. What'd you think I meant? Have Abby look at it. I know McGee didn't mean to leave it behind, so there's probably something useful on it. Maybe it'll tell us something."
"Got it, Boss. If you've got Probie's car, does that mean you've seen him?"
"I saw him."
"How....how'd he look, Boss?"
Gibbs paused. He'd been suprised at what he'd seen, and worried. McGee had had a wild look to his eyes, frantic almost. And he'd looked exhausted and a little gaunt. Run down, for sure.
"Okay, DiNozzo," Gibbs finally said, a little white lie. "McGee looked okay." Gibbs knew the pause on the other end meant Tony didn't really buy it, but he let it go.
Instead, Tony asked, "What's going on with him, Boss? What is he doing?"
Gibbs' voice softened at the worry present in Tony's tone. "I don't know yet, DiNozzo, but I intend to find out. Hopefully, Abby can get something off that computer."
"Why won't you let me and Ziva help you, Boss? Do you know something we don't? You could use us out there."
"I need you more right where you are, DiNozzo," Gibbs answered curtly, making sure his lead agent nixed any plans to try and join him on his manhunt. "I need you to run the investigation from NCIS, and I need you and Ziva to take care of things on that end. We don't really know what's going on. For all we know, McGee might head back on his own when he's finished with this little jaunt."
Neither of them believed that, but Tony just said, "Okay, Boss." The both knew this wouldn't be the last time Tony would bring up the matter of joining Gibbs.
"Call me if anything useful is found in the car or on the computer. They should both be there by tomorrow morning." Gibbs disconnected without waiting for a reply.
What he'd told Tony was partially the truth, but not one hundred percent. Gibbs did need the remainder of his team to handle things from that end, but mostly, he just didn't want them too involved yet. Gibbs didn't know what they were dealing with. Something was obviously going on with McGee, something not so good, and possibly against his will. Gibbs couldn't shake the idea that McGee was in danger somehow, and he didn't want to put the others in danger as well. Not until they knew what was going on. Besides, this little cross-country road trip wasn't exactly sanctioned by the director. Vance wouldn't be happy when he found out two of his agents were effectively AWOL, and he would find out. If Gibbs was going to put his career on the line, it was going to be his career, and not his agents'.
A whislte brought his attention to the service bay. The mechanic that had changed his tires was waving him over. His car was ready.
Good, thought Gibbs. Time to catch up to McGee.
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