I always do the morgue first. I’m not superstitious, mind. You can’t work at a place like this for as long as I have and let dead bodies spook you, especially when you work midnights like I do. No, it’s all the special cleaners they use down there that bother me. Funny, given my line of work, but there you go. So I do the morgue first and, by the time my shift’s over, usually my nose’s stopped tickling.
There’s never much work to do down in the morgue anyway. Old Doc Mallard’s mighty particular about his lab. Heh. That thought always makes me chuckle. “Old” Doc Mallard only has about five years on me. The government’s making me retire after next year, but Mallard will probably outlast everyone else in the building. From what I hear, the apple don’t fall far from the tree, either. I hear tell that his “Mum” is in her 90s and still as feisty as they come. Maybe she’ll be the last one standing.
At least Doc Mallard’s got an assistant to help him. The doc might be spry, but he’s gettin’ on in years and, besides, a gent like him shouldn’t be doin’ grunt work. Not so sure about this Jimmy Palmer, though. Is it just me or are these kids getting younger and younger nowadays? Seems to me like Jimmy ought to be delivering newspapers; not investigating the dead.
Now Gerald Jackson was more what I’d have in mind for helping out Doc Mallard. Gerald was a quiet, mature fella, could make the doc slow down and take care himself. Jimmy’s a good kid, but he can’t take care of himself, let alone an old Englishman. Damn shame what happened to Gerald. Heard he’s getting’ better and that sure was a piece of good news. Don’t know if he’s gonna be back, though, so I guess Jimmy’ll be around for a while. Maybe he’ll be around long enough to grow up some, start shavin’ and all that.
Like I said, there’s never much work for me down in the morgue. The doc might be a magpie with the stories, but he’s neat as a pin with everything else. Most of the autopsy waste is handled special, since it’s medical. They got a separate service to take care of it and that’s fine by me. All I have to do is the floors and it never takes long, unless the doc’s workin’ late. If Mallard’s still here when my shift starts, we might swap a war story or two, share a cup of tea. That’s not the case tonight, though, and I finish up and make for the next stop on my rounds.
Abby’s a night owl, so she’s the one I run into the most often during my shift. I’ll never forget the first time I met her; I didn’t know what a “goth” was. Still not sure, truth be told. All I know is that, first time I laid eyes on her, with her black and her dog collar, I immediately thought that if my daughter had tried to leave the house lookin’ like that, she wouldn’t have sat easy for a week.
It didn’t take me long to learn Abby’s secret, though. Despite wearing skulls on just about everything and having a tattoo where folks can see it, she’s a good girl. One of the best, actually. Her clothes might be black, but Abby’s heart is pure gold. She’s got Gibbs wrapped around those pigtails of hers, that’s for sure. There’s only one other person I’ve ever met who’s had that man wrapped up tighter.
Abby’s no slob, but she’s not as neat as Doc Mallard. When I empty her trash, I find three of those big soda cups of hers and I shake my head. It’s a good thing that caffeine is legal, ‘cause it’s the woman’s drug of choice. Lucky for her, she’s built up a tolerance for the stuff. If I’d drank that much of it, I’d be climbing the walls for days.
Speaking of walls, when I’m in Abby’s lab, I try not to look at them. Heart of gold or not, Abby’s got a strange idea about decoratin’. It was bad enough when I thought the posters she had up were some of that modern art; I’m of the mind that art should be pretty and look like somethin’, not just be lines and blobs that any old monkey could slap down. Then I made the mistake of askin’ her what the pictures are supposed to be.
After that, modern art, it don’t look so bad to me.
From the disarray, it must have been a big case that the team just wrapped up. How do I know it’s been solved? That’s easy. Abby’s not in the lab, the way she is when Gibbs and company are still hot on the trail of something. The place feels empty without Abby in it. That music of hers hurts my ears, but it makes this place throb like it’s alive. My grandson listens to some of the same noise. His parents were worried about that, but I recognized it from Abby and was able to ease them some. Way I figure it, Abby listens to that crap and she’s a fine person. It won’t hurt the boy none and if he turns out to be half as smart and half as caring as Abby, then that’s a good thing.
After the lab, I head up to the bullpen. I don’t know if that’s the official term for the main office or not; just seems to fit to me. As smart as Doc Mallard and Abby are, they’re the support team. The bullpen is where the field agents work.
I stop at the first desk and frown. This is Kate Todd’s desk and always will be, no matter how long Ms. David works here. Nothing against the new gal, but Kate… Miss Kate was special. She was what we would have a called a pistol in the old days. She was a spitfire all right, not afraid of nothin’. Never would have thought a little bitty thing like her could have taken down any bad guys, but from what I heard, she went toe-to-toe with ‘em and held her own.
Except for that last time.
It’s hard to believe that bastard shot her from across the rooftop and Gibbs not having a snowball’s chance of stopping it. You shoot deer like that, from a distance. Cowardly, that’s what that was. Miss Kate deserved better. I know the Good Book says to turn the other cheek, but I’m glad that Gibbs returned the favor. If, when my time comes, Saint Peter chastises me for thinkin’ like that, I’m gonna give him an ear full.
I’m not sure what I think about the David woman. Gibbs seems to have warmed up to her mighty quick and that’s a good sign. That man’s just about the best judge of character I’ve ever met. Abby, though, Abby don’t like her much and that counts too. As for me, I don’t have to trust her in order to empty her trash.
I do just that; emptying Agent David’s trash from Miss Kate’s wastebasket. That chore done, I move on to the next desk, Agent McGee’s. Unlike Agent David, there’s no question about Timothy. He’s a good boy, through and through. I wish my granddaughter would meet a keeper like him, but I think there’s someone else who’s got her eye on him. Abby’s just as sweet as he is, so they’d make a good match. Maybe even make cute kids together. Can’t help but wonder, though, if they make baby clothes in black. Maybe someday we’ll find out.
I worried about Timothy when he first came on board. He’s a good man; maybe too good of a man for this line of work. I’ve been here for decades and seen all types come in and out of this office. Timothy reminds me of Stan Burley, a fella who worked under Gibbs ‘bout five years back. Poor Stan just about had an ulcer before he toughened up. That baby face of Timothy’s fooled me, though. Turns out that the boy has a set and they’re mighty big ones at that. I heard he even faced down some high muckety muck once. Oh, Timothy’s got a ways to go, but already he don’t stutter near as much as he used to. Give the boy another year or two with Gibbs and he’ll be just fine.
Just like Tony.
Having finished with Timothy’s area, I move on to my second favorite spot in the office, Tony DiNozzo’s desk. Somebody told me once that Tony comes from money and had a real swanky upbringin’. You couldn’t tell it from the way he acts. From the way he dresses, mind, with those expensive suits of his, but not from the way he acts. Tony’s just another one of the fellas. I see him here late almost as much as Abby and he’s always as friendly as can be, gives me some of whatever crap he’s snacking on. We’ve had us some good talks over cold pizza or melting ice cream.
When Gibbs found out about my midnight ‘tea parties’ with Tony, he told me that Tony does his best work at night. I got the feelin’ that he meant Tony focuses better when the office is empty and I can see the sense in that. Tony’s the type that laps up attention and acting up for folks gets it for him. When there’s no one around, there’s nobody he thinks he needs to be entertainin’, so he buckles down.
It’s more than that, though.
I know a little something about loneliness. My Martha passed ten years ago, God bless her soul. We’d been married for over thirty-four years and after she was gone, loneliness became my new life partner. I know what I see in Tony’s eyes when I find him here alone at night and, no matter how many jokes he tells, I know it’s something dark and aching. It’s strange, but if he’s dressed like he’s been on a date or if I can smell perfume on him, that’s when he looks the most lonely. Go figure. Anyway, if he’s here when I do my rounds, I take a few minutes and sit myself down. We shoot the breeze for a little while and convince ourselves there’s nothing wrong.
One thing I’ve learned from our conversations is that Tony’s a lot smarter than he acts most of the time. Must be a jock thing. Tony told me he was an athlete in school, maybe that’s where he learned to act dumb. He’s not. Gibbs knows. So do Ducky and Abby. I’m thinkin’ that Timothy suspects and I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll take David to figure it out. I only hope that Tony knows how smart he is. You see, another thing I’ve learned from our conversations is that Tony’s opinion of himself is pretty low, despite all the bluster. I think I got a pretty good idea where that lack of self respect comes from; I’d sure like to have me a sit-down with Tony’s folks. I think I’d have to wait in line, though, at least until Gibbs takes his turn.
People bring kids into the world, then they should love ‘em. Something’s unnatural about parents who don’t.
I’ve been worried about Tony, even more than normal. First he was sick and then… Miss Kate. We all took her death hard, real hard, but it hit Tony more than most. Oh, he’s tryin’ to act normal, but his smile’s just a little too brittle. Luckily, I know I’m not the only one tryin’ to keep an eye on him. Gibbs is worried too. Not many others could tell, but I’ve known Jethro for a long time and, for Gibbs, he’s hovering. Tony don’t have pigtails to wrap Jethro around, but he’s got Gibbs wrapped up all the same. It’s a shame that Jethro don’t know.
Sometimes, I’d just like to knock those two’s heads together. Tony hangs on Gibbs’ every word and Gibbs, as gruff as he tries to come off, is crazy about that boy. I know I’m just the janitor and not a fancy-ass special agent, but I can see what’s right in front of my face. For all that they’re trained observers, they can’t. Or, maybe, they just won’t. Stubborn as mules, both of ‘em, each in their own way. To my mind, that’s part of what makes them so perfect for one another, but just try to tell them that.
With a sigh, I reach for Tony’s trash. Usually, there’s not much in Tony’s, but the trashcan across from him is always full of wadded up paper. In Tony’s case, his throwaways really are thrown. Since I rarely find any that didn’t make it, he must be a pretty good shot. I appreciate that. These old bones don’t stretch as good as they used to and I’m happy not to bend over more’n I have to.
I move on to my station, which happens to be my favorite spot in the office. Gibbs’ desk. Leroy Jethro, the boss man himself. Now some people have a problem with Gibbs, but not me. That awful day that I came home and found my Martha dead on the floor, I didn’t call 911. I knew she was already gone. Instead, I called Gibbs and he beat the ambulance there. He even waited with me until my daughter could come. When I tried to thank him, he just shrugged and said the team looks out for each other. It was just automatic to him that a lowly janitor like me was part of the team, but that’s the kind of man Gibbs is. He won’t look down at you because of the job you do; all that matters to him is how you do it.
Jethro Gibbs might be a meticulous, hardnosed bastard… all right, you got me. There is no ‘might’ about it. He *is* a meticulous, hardnosed bastard and that’s a fact. One thing Gibbs isn’t, though, is a believer in cookie cutters. He expects his people to work their asses off and get the job done. What Marine wouldn’t? But he doesn’t expect them to come out of the same mold. He doesn’t insist on them doing the job the same way or make ‘em dress in a certain way or even think the same.
If you’ve ever been in the military, you know how rare that mindset is. I think that’s why, prickly or not, his people would follow Gibbs into Hell. Well, that and the fact that they know that Gibbs would go toe-to-toe with Beelzebub himself to get them out again, if need be. I don’t know about you, but I know who I’d put my money on to win that fight.
That’s another reason, though, that I think Gibbs’d be a good man for Tony. He won’t try to twist that boy into what he thinks Tony should be. Tony’s had enough of that in his life, I think. Even Miss Kate, God rest her soul, tried to get Tony to act the way she thought he should. Not that she had any success in that, but Lord knows she tried.
The thing about Tony and Gibbs is that Tony’s not the only one in that pair that has sore spots. Gibbs has had his fair share of heartbreak too. A few days after I laid my Martha to rest, Gibbs and I went drinkin’. He confided some things to me. I’m not about to betray that trust, but I will say that I’m mighty glad that I only buried a spouse and not a child. Don’t know how a man recovers from that; not sure that Gibbs ever did.
It’s times like these that I wish my Martha were here and not just because I’m selfish and want her with me instead of the good Lord. She had a way of cuttin’ through the crap and gettin’ the job done. The woman was a born matchmaker. If Martha was still here, neither of those two would be alone. But she’s not and there’s only me, seeing two good men hurtin’ and not able to do anything about it.
Sighing, I dump Jethro’s trash into my bin. Seeing it spill out makes me smile. Don’t know what Gibbs’ house looks like, but on the job, the man’s got so much military precision that even his trash is neat. That’s why he needs Tony. Anthony DiNozzo’s messy with life and Gibbs, he could stand to be mussed up some.
Movement catches the corner of my eye and I turn. Speak of the devil, it’s Tony. He’s coming from the direction of the back office and has got what can only be called a shit eatin’ grin on his face. It’s none of my business, but I can’t help but wonder what put it there. It’s been too long since Tony smiled like he meant it.
“Hey, Tony,” I call out. “Didn’t think you were workin’ late tonight.”
He jumps. Obviously, I’ve startled him, but I can’t tell if the blush on his face is because I caught him by surprise or because of somethin’ else.
“Oh, hi there, Max,” he responds. To my eye, he looks nervous. “You’re still here.”
“No rest for the wicked, Tony,” I drawl, deliberately takin’ my time. I watch him fidget. “You got ants in your pants, son?”
Before Tony can answer, there’s more movement and, all of a sudden, Gibbs is right behind him. Gibbs’ hair is so short that it’s hard to mess up, but someone managed ‘cause parts of it are standing straight up. Now, Gibbs isn’t the fanciest of dressers, but he’s always neat. Not now. His shirt is half out of his pants and, as I look at it closer, I realize that it isn’t buttoned quite right. Not only that, but his collar is folded all funny, showing part of neck.
I’m not so old that I can’t recognize a hickey when I see one. Guess it wasn’t ants that Tony had in his pants, after all.
Gibbs watches my face closely and I can see him relax when he likes what he sees. Not breaking eye contact with me, he wraps an arm around Tony’s waist and pulls him back against him. Tony’s blush deepens. He stiffens a bit in Gibbs’ arms, until Jethro whispers something in his ear. I don’t know what Gibbs said to him, but Tony glances at my shyly and melts back against Gibbs.
Knowing when I’m not needed, I grab my rig and start pushing it towards the elevator. I can’t resist stopping when I’m closest to them and lean over and whisper into Gibbs’ ear.
“About damn time,” I tell him.
Jethro looks happy and sheepish all at the same time.
“Yeah, I know,” he whispers back.
I’m grinnin’ like a fool as I get into the elevator to beat a hasty retreat. I don’t really care.
“Looks like they’re gonna be all right,” I whisper to my long-deceased wife.
Now that they finally have each other, my boys are gonna be all right.
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