AUTHOR: Ashleigh Anpilova
PAIRING: Leroy Jethro Gibbs/Donald 'Ducky' Mallard
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
SUMMARY: The team is called out to a particularly brutal and gruesome murder. Before they can begin to solve the case, Gibbs gets a lead.
WORD COUNT: 3,910
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for birggitt: V - Varnish (34/41)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
The sound of his cell phone ringing woke Gibbs instantly. In a smooth move he sat up, grabbed the phone, switched the bedside lamp on and swung his legs out of bed. By his side Ducky sat up; he switched his own bedside lamp on, grabbed his glasses and looked at Gibbs.
"Gibbs, yeah? . . . On our way." Gibbs thumbed his phone off, tossed it back onto the nightstand, stood up and glanced at Ducky. "Got a body of a Marine just outside Quantico," he said, heading for the bathroom.
While Ducky relieved himself and brushed his teeth, Gibbs took a high speed shower, before he and Ducky switched places. Twenty minutes after the phone call had awoken them, they were in Gibbs's car heading for Quantico. It was a procedure they'd carried out countless times over the years, firstly in separate homes, but for the last twelve months in the same home and they had it honed down to perfection.
They didn't speak much on the journey; both were simply content to simply be in one another's company.
When they arrived at the crime scene, Gibbs wasn't surprised to see that McGee, Ziva and DiNozzo were already there. Since he had moved into Ducky's Reston home, he tended to get to most crime scenes after the kids, as the journey was somewhat longer. What did surprise him, however, was that rather than be on the side of the yellow tape where the body was, they were standing on the other side, their backs towards where he presumed the body to be.
He pulled on his NCIS jacket and cap and with Ducky by his side and the coffee he'd paused to grab en route in his hand, he headed towards the kids. "Hey," he said, "what's up?"
It was Ziva who answered him. "Being men it that appears Tony and Tim are both a little disturbed by the body." Despite the somewhat scathing tone in her voice as she spoke, Gibbs saw that Ziva was clearly also a little disturbed.
He glanced at Ducky and raised an eyebrow. Ducky shrugged, shifted his bag from one hand to the other and headed towards the tape. At that moment Palmer arrived.
"I am so sorry, Agent Gibbs, Dr. Mallard," he cried, as he stumbled out of the Autopsy van. "I hadn't realize I'd gotten lost, well I hadn't, it was the - but you don't want to know that." He started to hurry towards Gibbs and Ducky.
"Wait here for a moment, Mr. Palmer," Ducky said.
Palmer stopped and stared at Ducky. "Doctor?"
"You stay here with the others. Jethro and I will let you know when we want you."
"You done, Duck?" Gibbs asked, holding up the tape for Ducky to slip under.
"Why, yes, thank you, Jethro." Ducky beamed up at him.
Side by side they made their way to the body. "Oh, my," Ducky said softly, staring the body for a moment before looking up at Gibbs.
Gibbs prided himself on having seen just about every atrocity that man could do to man and believed that nothing, short of crimes involving children, affected him at all. However, it seemed even he was human - and male. Staring down that the fully castrated man, whose genitals had been stuffed into his mouth and who had clearly bled to death, even he had to swallow hard and felt more than a twitch of sympathy. He could even see why the kids had opted not to stay with the body.
For a moment neither Ducky nor he moved, nor did they speak. Finally, it was Ducky who put his bag down and squatted down by the side of the body and began his normal procedure of determining time of death. Gibbs noticed that his normally unflappable ME, who had quite possibly seen even more atrocities than Gibbs himself, kept his gaze firmly away from the man's mouth and crotch.
Once Ducky had determined the man had been dead for about two hours, Gibbs swiftly took several photos of the man and the scene. As he turned his attention from the body and began to take pictures of the surrounding area, Ducky said quietly, "May I cover him up, Jethro?"
Gibbs paused for no more than a second. "Course, Duck," he said and paused long enough in his photo taking to offer Ducky a hand to help him to his feet.
Ducky murmured his thanks and moved towards the tape where the kids all stood together. "Mr. Palmer, please fetch me a sheet," he said.
"Yes, Doctor," Palmer said. "Er, shall I get a body bag as well?" Palmer's gaze kept flickering from Ducky to the body.
"Do you want us to do anything?"
Gibbs paused, told himself he was getting soft and said, "Wait until Ducky's got the body covered up, then yes, DiNozzo you can do something." Ducky turned around and smiled approvingly at him. Ah, what the hell did it matter if he was getting soft?
Ducky carefully covered the man with the sheet and then called Palmer over to help him get the body into the body bag. More than a little reluctantly DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva also made their way to join Gibbs and Ducky.
Gibbs handed the camera to DiNozzo and turned to McGee and Ziva. "Look around the scene, see if you can find anything unusual, anything that's out of place."
Ziva nodded and began to walk off towards the left. McGee turned to go in the opposite direction, stopped and sniffed and sniffed again. "Boss?"
"Did little Timmy forget his handkerchief?"
"Shut up, DiNozzo."
"Shutting up now, boss."
McGee sniffed again and then said, "Ducky, can you wait a moment?"
Ducky had been about to zip the body bag up, but paused and looked up. McGee sniffed again, swallowed hard and then slowly took a step and then another towards the body. He paused sniffed again, swallowed again and then dropped to his heels by the body, swallowed once more and bent a little closer and sniffed. "Boss," he said, "can you smell that."
"It's called - shutting up, boss." DiNozzo had already stopped taking photographs and now stood with Ziva who had retraced her steps when McGee had begun to sniff.
Gibbs joined McGee next to the body and took a deep sniff, frowned and then another. "Well I'll be - Duck."
"Yes, Jethro?" Ducky turned his attention from McGee to look at Gibbs.
"Can you smell that?"
Ducky frowned. "Jethro, you know that firstly I have a slight cold and secondly my sense of smell has become somewhat lessened due to all the years I have spent inhaling formaldehyde."
"Sorry, Duck. Forgot."
Palmer bent closer to the body and said slowly, "I think I can smell something, Agent Gibbs. It's . . . It's varnish, isn't it?"
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah, Palmer. It is. I'd have missed it; I'm so used to the smell. Good catch, McGee."
McGee beamed and flushed just a little. "Thank you, boss."
Gibbs nodded. "But I need to be sure. Duck," he looked at Ducky.
Ducky held his gaze and sighed softly, before he slowly and with great care pulled back the sheet he'd so vigilantly arranged over the body.
Gibbs noticed out of the corner of his eye that although McGee remained where he was, he did avert his gaze and stared off into the distance. He also saw Palmer swallow hard and heard him gasp slightly, but didn't look away.
Gibbs bent just a little nearer and sniffed again. "Yeah," he said, "that's definitely varnish and a heck of a lot of it. We'll get his clothes tested, Duck. Maybe Abby can find something useful."
"May I cover the poor man up again, Jethro?"
"Yeah, Duck. Go ahead and then you and Palmer can take him home."
"Thank you, Jethro. Mr. Palmer, if you'd be so kind."
Gibbs and McGee stood up, leaving Ducky and Palmer to get the man into the body bag, onto the gurney and into the van, and they joined DiNozzo and Ziva where they all separated and began to examine the area.
Gibbs stopped, turned around and frowned. "Yeah, Dorneget, you need something?"
Dorneget stared at him for a moment. "Well, it's just that -"
"Come on, Dorneget, I haven't got all day."
"There's a woman here to see you, sir."
"Don't call me sir." Gibbs said the words automatically. "This woman have a name?"
Gibbs thought. "Nope, don't know here. What does she want?"
"Um, well, Agent Gibbs, she's come to report her friend as missing."
"Dorneget, we're not the police, tell her to go and -"
"I know that, Agent Gibbs. But her friend is a naval officer."
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Why didn't you say so, Dorneget?"
"Er, I just . . ." Dorneget trailed off.
"Did she ask for me specifically?"
Dorneget nodded. "Yes, Agent Gibbs."
"You can drop the 'Agent', Dorneget," Gibbs said - just as he'd finally cured Palmer of calling him Agent Gibbs or even Special Agent Gibbs here was Dorneget doing the same.
"Yes, Ag- si- Gibbs. She said another friend of hers a," he glanced quickly at his notepad, "Melissa Cunningham told her to ask for you. Apparently you solved the case of her murdered fiancé last year."
Gibbs paused for a moment. "Find out exactly what Ms. Maskell wants, Dorneget, then come and see me and -"
"Er, excuse me, boss?"
Gibbs turned to see McGee hovering by his side. "McGee?"
"It's just that I think you should see Ms. Maskell yourself, boss."
Gibbs gave McGee one of his withering glares. "Do you now?"
McGee's cheeks turned slightly pink, but he stood his ground and nodded. "Yes, boss. You see I've now got an ID on the man we found earlier."
Gibbs turned to McGee and gave him his full attention. "And he is?"
McGee swallowed. "Lieutenant Simon Maskell, boss. He lists his next of kin as his sister -"
"Sarah Maskell," Gibbs said in a flat tone.
"Yes, boss. Sorry, boss." Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "For not doing a finger scan at the scene, boss."
Gibbs squeezed McGee's shoulder. "Reckon you can be excused this once, Tim," he said.
"Thank you, boss." He turned to go.
"Wait up, McGee. You're with me. You too, Dorneget."
Dorneget's eyes widened. "Me?" He sounded stunned and as if Gibbs had just given him a birthday present.
Gibbs nodded; he might live to regret this, but Dorneget was the first person Sarah Maskell had had contact with and given the news Gibbs would have to tell her, a friendly, slightly familiar face might be of use.
"Where did you put her?"
"In the conference room, Gibbs."
Gibbs nodded then called, "DiNozzo!"
DiNozzo hurried over to them. "Yeah, boss?"
"You and Ziva start a background trace on Lieutenant Maskell - the dead guy," he added when DiNozzo frowned. "And get Abby to do some tests on his clothing; see if there's anything unusual about the varnish."
"Me, boss?" DiNozzo sounded almost as surprised as Dorneget had done.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. "Yeah, DiNozzo. You - I've got someone to interview. Don't make me regret it."
"No, boss. On it, boss." And after punching the air, DiNozzo raced back across the squad room calling out to Ziva to stop whatever she was doing and listen to him.
"I need coffee."
"Would you like me to fetch you one, Ag- Gibbs?" Dorneget said quickly.
Gibbs stared at him. "Is there any coffee in the conference room?"
Dorneget nodded. "Yes, I got some for Ms. Maskell."
"Well, that'll do for now. Come on you two."
"Ms. Maskell?" Gibbs said striding towards the woman who had stood up when they'd gone into the room. She was petite, he'd say no more than five foot tall, she had long blonde hair, blue eyes and porcelain skin. She looked more than a little fragile, but there was something in the way she looked at him and in her handshake that told Gibbs 'fragile' was the last thing she was. "I'm Agent Jethro Gibbs; Agent Dorneget told me you asked for me specifically."
She nodded. "Yes, Agent Gibbs. You helped a close friend of mine last year; she said you're a good man and you never stop until you've solved the case."
"Like to think that's true, ma'am," he said. "This is Agent Timothy McGee."
"Ms. Maskell." McGee nodded to her.
"Agent McGee." She gave him a faint smile.
"Do sit back down, Ms. Maskell," Gibbs said. "Would you like some more coffee?"
"Yes, please, if it's not too much trouble, and, please, Agent Gibbs, call me Sarah."
"No trouble at all, ma'am," Dorneget said, hurrying over to the coffee pot.
Once all four of them had coffee, Gibbs took out his notepad and looked at Sarah Maskell. "Agent Dorneget told me you'd come to report a friend of yours as missing?"
She nodded. "Yes. Alice Nelson, Lieutenant Alice Nelson," she added quickly.
Gibbs wrote the name down in his notepad and looked at her. "And she's been missing for how long?"
Sarah sighed. "We were due to have lunch yesterday and she never showed up. And I know what you're going to say, Agent Gibbs, I know it isn't that long. But Alice is . . . Alice would never just stand me up; Alice is never even half a minute late, Agent Gibbs, she's more than a little compulsive about things like that. If she couldn't make it, she would have called."
Gibbs nodded. "Did you call her?"
Sarah nodded. "Well I tried to, but she didn't answer and that's another thing, she never turns her cell phone off. Her grandfather is seriously ill, he and her grandmother raised her, he has a week or two, maybe less, left to live; she would never turn her cell phone off."
Gibbs leaned back in his chair and sipped what laughingly passed for coffee as he stared at Sarah. She was being honest and open, that much was clear, but she was also keeping something from him. "You want to tell me what you think has happened to her?" he asked, keeping his voice low and his tone neutral.
She closed her eyes for a moment and lowered her head, letting her hair fall around her face and shroud it. "I made a promise to her, Agent Gibbs," she whispered. "I promised her I wouldn't tell anyone."
"Ms. Maskell," he said, deliberately using her surname, "you came here to see me; to tell me about Alice's disappearance. You must have intended to tell me what you suspect."
She looked at him and gave a rueful smile. "You really are just as Melissa described you," she sighed. "Very well. You see Alice and my brother, Simon, he's also a Lieutenant, were . . ." She paused and swallowed very hard. "They were having an affair - no that's not correct. They were in love, Agent Gibbs, deeply in love. They were, oh, this will sound foolish, but they were soul mates. They wanted to get married, but . . ."
"One or both of them was already married?"
Sarah nodded. "Alice is married, and her husband refused time and time again to give her a divorce. He's Catholic, not that he ever goes to Church, he's not a practicing Catholic and hasn't been for many years. They didn't even get married in a Catholic church. It was just a convenient excuse to keep Alice by his side, to stop her from finding happiness. And . . . And he's a violent man."
"He hit his wife?" McGee asked.
Sarah glanced at him and shrugged. "Once or twice, nothing Alice said she couldn't handle and believe me, Alice could take care of herself, at least she could if she had a chance to do so. But it was the threats he made."
"What kind of threats, Sarah?" Gibbs asked gently.
"To disfigure her in such a way that no other man would ever want her; would even want to look at her." She began to tremble a little.
Gibbs touched her hand and said softly, "Did he know who her lover was?"
Sarah nodded once and her cheeks became a little flushed. "Yes. I don't know how he found out about Simon; Alice would never have told him and they were very discreet. I was the only person they told. And yes, I helped cover for them. I love my brother; I love him very much. And Alice is my best friend; I love her. So of course I helped them. They were so much in love - they belonged together and - I'm sorry Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs gave a half nod. "Did he make any threats concerning Lieutenant Maskell?"
Sarah nodded again. "Yes, he said he'd kill him and -" She broke off, swallowed hard and her cheeks became even more flushed.
Gibbs sighed softly and glanced at McGee. He noticed Dorneget was sitting quite still, following the conversation as he made the odd note or two. His concentration seemed absolute but as Gibbs looked at McGee, Dorneget turned his attention to Sarah.
Gibbs sighed softly again. It never got any easier. "Ms. Maskell, Sarah," he said softly. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, ma'am."
She stared at him, her eyes opened wide and filled with tears. "It's about Simon, isn't it?" she said, her voice little more than a whisper.
Gibbs nodded. "Yes. I am sorry to have to tell you that -"
"He did it? He . . . He . . . He carried out his threat? Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, Simon, Simon." The tears fell from her eyes and she began to tremble violently.
Before Gibbs could move, Dorneget was on his feet and had put his arm around Sarah's shoulders and was handing her a handkerchief as he spoke softly and soothingly to her.
Gibbs leaned towards McGee. "Go and see if Ducky's finished with Lieutenant Maskell and even if he hasn't tell him to make him decent. Tell him his sister is here."
McGee nodded. "Yes, boss," he said standing up and quietly leaving the room.
Gibbs let Sarah cry for a little longer, let Dorneget comfort her, before he cleared his throat and said, "Sarah, I know you're upset and I am sorry for your loss; it's not easy losing someone you care about."
"He was my only family," she said, "well apart from Alice, she's like a sister to me." Then she looked up. "You have to find Alice, Agent Gibbs. You have to; I cannot lose her as well."
"We'll do our best, Sarah, but we need your help."
"Have you any idea where Nelson might be holding his wife?" Okay, he was assuming, but it all fitted and given he didn't believe in coincidences . . . Besides his gut was telling him he was correct.
She frowned and thought. "I know he has some kind of studio, he's a carpenter, well that's too simplistic a term, actually. He's more than that, he makes all kinds of things in wood and he's actually very good, you'd never think he could make such - I'm sorry."
"That's all right," Gibbs kept his tone low. "Where is this studio?"
"In the woods, just outside Quantico. It's a cabin that he's turned into a studio; he likes peace and quiet, he says it helps him create."
Gibbs looked at Dorneget. "Go and tell DiNozzo and Ziva to get their gear, Ned. Tell them I'll meet them outside in ten."
"Yes, Agent Gibbs," Dorneget said, standing up. He looked down at Sarah and said formally but with clear honesty, "I am truly sorry for your loss, Ms. Maxwell."
She gave him a weak smile. "Thank you, Agent Dorneget."
"Agent Gibbs will get him, ma'am. And he'll save your friend. That's a promise." And before Gibbs could object, Dorneget turned and hurried out of the room.
Gibbs opened his mouth but Sarah beat him to it. "It's all right, Agent Gibbs," she said her tone low, "I know it isn't a promise you will necessarily be able to keep."
"I'll do whatever I can to keep it, ma'am," Gibbs said. "You have my word we will do our best. Now, just one more question, does Nelson finish his pieces? Does he use a lot of varnish?"
Sarah nodded. "Oh, yes, Agent Gibbs. I think must varnish himself as well; the smell is always on him, Alice said no matter how long he spends in the shower, no matter how long there is between visits to the studio he still smells of varnish all the time. And when he touches her - well, she says she can always smell if on her as well."
"Thank you." The door opened and McGee came back in. "I'm going to leave you with Agent McGee, Sarah. He'll take you down to Autopsy to - I'm sorry, but -"
"You need me to formally identify Simon." Gibbs nodded. "He won't . . . I won't have to . . . He . . ."
"His face was untouched, ma'am," McGee said gently. "And that's all you will have to see. And I promise you he's in good hands, Dr. Mallard, our ME, will look after him."
Sarah swallowed and tears swum in her eyes again, but this time they didn't fall over her lashes. "Thank you, Agent McGee," she said and stood up. She picked up her coat and purse and turned towards the door. Then she stopped and looked back at Gibbs and her eyes blazed with fury, pain and hatred. "Get the bastard, Agent Gibbs. Get him. Even if you're . . . Even if you're too late to save Alice, prom - just get him."
Gibbs stared at her. "We will, ma'am," he said.
She held his stare for a moment or two before whispering, "Thank you." She let McGee take her arm and guide her out of the room.
"I am so glad you managed to save Lieutenant Nelson, my dear," Ducky said as he rested his head on Gibbs's shoulder.
"Yeah, Duck, so am I. And at least she's now free from that bastard."
"It's just such a shame . . ."
"Yeah, I know, Duck. I know. He was a sadistic bastard."
"How badly had he cut the Lieutenant?"
"Not that badly according to the doc at the hospital. He reckons with some plastic surgery and good make-up, you won't be able to tell."
"Good. I am so glad and at least she and Ms. Maskell have one another."
Gibbs nodded. "Yeah, having a good friend is important."
Ducky lifted his head and looked at Gibbs. "It really is, my dear," he said softly.
Gibbs adjusted Ducky slightly so that he was able to put his mouth on Ducky's and kiss him. "Glad I've got you, Duck," he said softly, his lips on Ducky's ear.
Ducky sighed happily. "And I, my dearest Jethro, am so very glad that I have you. And now, as we had an interrupted night's sleep, I do believe an early, well earlish, night is in order, do you not?"
Gibbs grinned. "You know what, Duck? I do."