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Six: Custodial Arrangements

December 2, 2008 - 11:40 am - continued

The Honorable Rosen Dawes was a man in his mid-sixties. He was a distinctive character, of average height, but in good healthy shape. His close-cut hair, and tidy goatee made him look younger than his years, but the silver and white gave his true age away.

Dawes was well known in the Family Court circuit, a veteran of cases where children were endangered. He’d been on the bench for nearly a decade now, and had a well-established reputation of being controversial to traditional findings. With a long career spent advocating children’s rights and protections, Dawes had worked with the CAS for most of his career, and believed just because it was traditional to award custody of a child to the mother, didn’t make it the right decision. The safety and wellness of children should have always been the first concern. If that meant the father was clearly the better physical and emotional provider, then that was that. Conversely, if the parents sucked, but the grandparents or an Aunt or Uncle was a better guardian, Judge Dawes had never hesitated to assign custody to the best guardian possible.

And Judge Dawes ALWAYS followed up on the cases that went through his court.

Patty had gotten ahead of Tony, possibly as she had no children in the car, she had cut some corners off her route, and drove maybe a titch over the speed limit. Tony had no intention on calling her on that. He had been far too busy mentally goggling at what he was doing.

A text message had told him what floor to go to, and which Judge they’d be seeing. Patty was at her most efficient when it was something she wanted, had moved heaven and earth, it seemed. Judge Rosen Dawes didn’t see every case now, and rarely did he do work in Chambers.

“Special Agent DiNozzo.” His Honor said, rising to his feet as Tony entered the chambers, a few steps behind Patty who had darted out to grab him upon his arrival. The judge moved around his desk to pull a chair further back, seeing Tony’s arms encumbered with the sleeping boy, the dried tears on his face still visible. “I gather that this little man has had a rough morning.”

“Your Honor.” Tony dipped his head. He would have offered a hand, but with his hands rather full, he had to leave it with just gestures. Carefully, he lowered himself and Christopher into the chair, mindful of the wooden arms, and Chris’ cast. “I’m afraid so. I just hope we can make the rest of his day better.”

"As I was saying when I called," Patty began, "Christopher was found outside one of the YMCAs. He was wearing worn out pyjamas, two sizes too small, no socks or shoes, no coat, was covered in bruising, a few cracked ribs, and an untreated broken arm."

"He was conscious, very cold, and in a lot of pain. He believed his name was Boy or You." Tony added.

Dawes frowned, pulled a steno pad from a drawer, and began making notes.

Patty smiled encouragement, reaching over to pat Tony’s shoulder, before picking up the story again. "As it was late on the day before Thanksgiving, I was short both time and resources. I was flying out to Seattle at 6am. On my authorization, Christopher was placed in the care of Special Agent DiNozzo until Monday morning. I’ve worked with Special Agent DiNozzo on multiple occasions, and know him to be of good moral character. On Monday afternoon, as agreed, Special Agent DiNozzo surrendered Christopher to me, and I formally placed Christopher with Sally and Gord Hooper, who are well reputed, long term Foster Parents in our system. Christopher wasn't initially happy about the change; he’s grown quite fond of Special Agent DiNozzo. Sally and him had a quiet, but good afternoon. He met the other children under their care, and while hadn’t warmed up to them, hadn’t avoided them either. I gather everything was fine until Gord returned home from work at 8pm. He was introduced to Christopher, who became immediately hysterical. They called me at 2am, unable to calm Christopher down. I authorized the use of medication, dimenhydrinate to help him sleep. I arrived at their home at 6 am. Christopher woke at 7am, and became hysterical again. We tried calming Christopher down. I took him outside, and sat with him, I spoke to an on-staff pediatrician -- nothing was working, he was absolutely beside himself. Finally, the situation became so bad that after calling 911, I called Special Agent DiNozzo to ask if he had any ideas. Honestly, I was about to have Christopher hospitalized when Special Agent DiNozzo arrived and was able to calm him down.

“I see.” The judge turned to where Tony was sitting, studying with keen interest as to how Tony handled the child, before scrutinizing the child. “Any theories on what caused the reaction or why you were successful when Ms. Smythe wasn’t?”

“Well, not as to what set him off.” Tony sighed. He looked at Patty, who shrugged. “Speaking as an investigator, we don’t have enough information. I know where he was found -- I found him -- I know his physical condition at that time -- honestly, someone needs to go to jail for a very long time given what he’s endured -- but, I don’t know WHO had him. We don't know if he has biological relatives alive…”

"Actually, we have a hit on his mother. Elizabeth Butti." Patty interrupted. "Ran away at 14, found dead two days ago in an alley in DC, approximately eight blocks from where Christopher was found. Suspected drug overdose, though autopsy is pending and initial police reports do not believe that the site was where she died. Sadly, her parents predeceased her."

"Right." Tony processed that quickly. "Despite that, for all we know, she was not the individual who hurt and abandoned him. But, she could very well be. Given some of what he's told me, limited in point of view, I’m pretty sure his mother was neglectful. She didn't report his birth, or name him, assuming she had custody of him.” Tony looked down at the cherubic sleeping child. His face was still too thin, but the bruises on cheeks were nearly gone. The bruises on his neck would take longer. “Either way, something about Mrs. Hooper’s home, or about Mr. Hooper, terrified him. It could be the colors she painted with, the curtains on the windows, the carpeting on the floor. The smell of the candles in the house. It could be all on Mr. Hooper -- his facial hair, or the style of clothes he wore, or the sound of his voice, his shoes... I have no idea what the trigger was, but there was a trigger. The only reason I can think he calmed down for me is that he trusts me to protect him and keep him safe.”

“So, it could be something innocuous or controversially, something profound. But, his terror doesn't allow him to be rational and his communication skills are still developing.” Judge Dawes shook his head. “Going ahead, Patty tells me she wanted, based on Christopher’s comfort level with you, to assign you as his foster parent. Let's work on that assumption. What would your next steps be?”

Tony understood what the Judge was looking for. Assurance that it wasn’t the investigator looking at the child’s case, but a man invested in the child’s well-being. “Well, as I’ve already set up a room for him, and he has a few clothes, shopping isn’t the first priority, but it’s on my list. The first concern I have is that we’re pretty sure he’s not had any of the shots infants receive in their first year of life. It’s fortunate he hasn’t been exposed to too much, because a viral infection at this point could be life threatening. I’d also like to get him to a nutritionist too, and see what we can do to dietary help improve his weight and growth development. Before I can do that, though, I need to secure some legal documentation for him -- I reiterate, there is no registration of live birth on file for him. He’s an anomaly in the system, and as such, can’t be taken to a doctor unless paying out of pocket, he can’t be registered for schools, day-cares, or even YMCA programs like the learn-to-swim. That needs fixed, but I’d have to research how. So, my next action, assuming I leave here as his foster father, and can grovel to Patty for help in getting paperwork, is to ask a coworker of mine, Dr. Donald Mallard, to check with his network for a good pediatrician that he can recommend. I’ll springboard a nutritionist off of the doctor’s recommendations. The second thing I’ll be doing is arranging for a very good psychiatrist that I know personally and is a good friend to work with him. I’d love to know what caused his terror, but I’m more interested in his working past it and healing. Third -- as strange as this sound - paint, new bedroom furniture for kids, and then more clothes.”

Dawes nodded, “Very reasonable.’ He wrote down a few notes on a legal notepad. “And, as you are a Federal Agent working full-time, how do you provide care for him while working?”

“I already spoke to my Director, and he’s agreed to work with HR on this matter. The day-care facility arrangements do not specifically preclude foster children, but they also don’t include them. He’s going to have HR waive Christopher’s status, so that he can be included. I'd prefer my office daycare simply due to the fact the site is secure. I'm also going to see about getting him covered under my medical care plan, which is quite extensive.” Tony made mental note to bring that one up -- truthfully, it was a long shot. He'd probably need to put Christopher on a private plan.

The Judge nodded. “I know of the facility, it’s located on the Navy Yard, is it not?”

“Yessir.”

“Good.” He squinted. “And you are open to home inspections?”

“Yessir.” Tony wasn’t keen on strangers in his place, but he was in no way ashamed of his apartment. He’d renovated it and decorated it to be comfortable to him. Most of his friends said it showed his wealthy upbringing. Maybe so. But he liked the high ceilings with crown moulding, good quality furniture that was designed to look good and last a long time. He liked the light fixtures he’d chosen, the paint colours he’d used, and the trim around the doors and arches in the place. It made it feel like a home, not a rented apartment. And his place was always clean. He had a cleaning lady for that.

Patty leaned forward. “I was in Special Agent DiNozzo’s home on Monday morning, I can attest it’s well lit, very clean, and, for a two bedroom apartment, the living space is exceedingly generous.” She smiled slyly, “I daresay, once Christopher loses his cast, he will find himself learning to play that beautiful baby grand in Special Agent DiNozzo’s living room.”

Hawes laughed lightly, his pen dancing on his notepad.

From her ever-present tote, Patty pulled out a file, and then a single piece of paper, and slid that across to the Dawes. “On the evening Christopher was recovered, we were in the hospital discussing his release. It was nearly eleven pm, and most retail was closed for the statutory holiday by that time. Walmart is known to close at eleven. Out of his own pocket, and of his own initiative, Special Agent DiNozzo began a quick list of things Christopher absolutely needed. This is that list, and you can see the two changes I made. I called in the order, it was charged to Special Agent DiNozzo’s credit card, and he was able to pick all these items up at Walmart. As this demonstrates from the very beginning Special Agent DiNozzo has put Christopher’s needs first.”

Dawes nodded, taking the note into his hands and reading it in detail. He looked up, “You had Christopher in you care over the weekend -- tell me what you two did during that time.”

“Well, as I mentioned, one of Chris’ physical needs is better nutrition. He’s underweight. I have a Phys Ed degree, and know basic nutrition for sports. It’s high calorie, if you’re interested in a Sports program. In the short-term he would benefit from that simply because his stomach can’t accommodate volume. More importantly, though, and counter to high calorie, he needs simple foods, and clean eating for a stomach that has not experienced much. Breakfast for his first morning Chez DiNozzo was home-made steel cut oatmeal, with fresh berries mashed in, and chocolate almond milk -- homemade almond milk. I don’t like what’s sold in most stores. Too many preservatives. Christopher ate most of his serving which was two cups, but couldn’t finish. After that, I was most pleased to introduce Christopher to a stuffed Winnie the Pooh. I believe it was the first stuffed animal he’s ever had. Presently, they are best friends, your Honor.” Tony smiled, thinking back to the past weekend, and the way Christopher had lit up seeing the stuffed animal.

“Winnie came in a package of three stuffed animals, and a movie. As I said, we had breakfast, and then we watched the movie together. I can say with certainty it was the first children’s movie that he has ever seen. During his second viewing, I was able to make some calls. My apartment was never set up with a guest room, I had turned the second room into an office. And truthfully, after years at a military school, then college dorms, and sharing apartments during police training… when I moved to DC, I had been engaged, and never thought to buy a second bed for what was supposed to be a temporary home.” He didn’t like talking about his personal Iife. Despite the apparent outgoing character he portrayed to most, in reality he was a very private person. “To put a long story short -- my frat-brother Steve and his girlfriend needed to get rid of a bed in their place when they moved in together. I emptied out my office, and with their help, set a bed up in there -- with bed-rails -- for Chris.” Tony shifted in the chair.

“Mid-morning snack on Thursday was cheese and apples. We had lunch, which was sliced turkey on whole wheat, carrot sticks, a banana and homemade almond milk.” He frowned slightly, as he thought. “Chris ate all of his sandwich, most of his carrot sticks, a quarter of a banana and the almond milk lasted an hour or more. I've had him drink water between meals, too. And might I add -- my greatest relief came when he asked to use the head. I showed him his temporary room, and discussed what was happening with his future. He wasn’t really happy about it, but we moved past soon enough. We stayed in Thursday, watched Toy Story, and except for a brief walk outside in the afternoon, didn’t really go anywhere. Dinner was spaghetti squash and meatballs with salad. He had a sliced apple with peanut butter for dessert. Friday and Saturday, we had modified omelets for breakfast, and by Saturday, Christopher had cleaned me out of chocolate almond milk. He helped me make more. Between ten and noon, he watched Cars in the morning, while I cleaned up.” Tony shifted Chris slightly in his lap, and lifted a hip to reach behind himself, pulling out his wallet.

Given that he had to periodically do expense reports for the team when travel came up, Tony was long in the habit of keeping receipts. He did it now without thinking. “I don’t know how he can sleep through all this.” He muttered as the boy was jostled a bit.

The Judge laughed. “I have grandchildren, Agent DiNozzo, and there has been often times I’ve marvelled at the same thing. My youngest grandchild lets the family dog sleep in his bed. And he’s often pushed out… but continues sleeping with head nearly on the floor, and legs trapped by the dog’s weight. It’s the damndest thing.”

Tony snorted. ‘Note to self, no dogs.’ Finding the receipts he wanted, Tony placed them on the desk in front of him. “Saturday afternoon we went to the grocery store for more fruit, almonds and ice cream. We also hit the bookstore. Dinner was parmesan tilapia, green beans and sauteed spinach. And we started on Horton had a Who. Bed was at 8pm. He slept through, or seemed to. On Sunday morning, after breakfast, we went to the Smithsonian’s Discovery Theatre. En route home, after getting a late lunch at the Smithsonian where he had chicken nuggets, carrots and celery sticks, we hit Toys R Us. Honestly, I think that I was the bigger child there. My curiosity was a bit out of control after seeing his duplo set, so I needed to see what other sets there were. He is the proud owner of two kits now.” Tony slanted a smile. Every sales person at the Toys R Us had commented how well behaved his son was. Tony was certain they wanted to suggest the ‘father’ should behave so well.

The receipts he passed over showed one adult and one child admittance to the Smithsonian, and Discovery Theatre. The other, at Toys R Us had a Cars backpack, the duplo sets, and three new storybooks from the various movies they had watched together. There were also a few Disney DVDs picked up.

The Judge made a few more notes.

“Sunday late afternoon, we left for dinner at a friend’s house. Originally, I had been invited to Thanksgiving there, but they were hosting a lot of our college friends -- I thought it best not to expose Christopher to that kind of chaos, so instead we got together after the holiday and had a quieter Thanksgiving leftovers dinner. Christopher had turkey with gravy, tried some squash, a small spoonful of corn, a bigger serving of steamed carrots and green beans, and ate a few bites of mashed potatoes. It’s not a meal i would have typical for his diet, but as his breakfast and lunch had three healthy servings of vegetables, I was willing to let it slide. One thing I have to say, while we were at my buddy’s, Christopher was so well behaved -- he charmed my buddy and his girlfriend in no time. Honestly, he is a really sweet kid. We had no hysterical fits at all, nothing upset him, and I actually had expected him to get a bit upset given that a lot was thrown at him. Sydney, Steve’s girlfriend, has two nieces and one nephew. She raided her sister’s place and brought over several toys, including a train set meant for toddlers. He was hesitate to touch any of the toys, until we encouraged him. After that, Christopher spent most of the night working on building the train track, with help, and then he was conductor for the train.”

The Judge smiled, and jotted down a note.

“Yesterday morning was rough, he knew he was leaving. I had packed up all his toys, save for his bear, and made sure his new clothes were clean and packed before he woke up. But, he’s smart enough to figure out what that meant. I can’t say he was keen on leaving with Patty. There were tears, but I just associated that with him getting a bit too attached, too quickly.” Tony couldn’t fault Christopher for that. Hell, the two weeks he’d spent in England with his Uncle Clive, he’d grown incredibly attached to the man -- because he wasn’t his father, and it wasn’t the life he knew back home. How could Chris, who was years younger than Tony had been be any different?

Judge Hawes gave a slight smile. "I'm certain you understate how teary yesterday morning was." He put a hard line on his pad. "So," he glanced at Patty. " You've named him Christopher Butti?"

"Christopher... Ah. I'd rather not saddle him with a name that may have caused him pain. He has no living maternal relations." Patty was making her own notes. She licked her lips. “Assuming his mother was his primary abuser, I doubt he’d want to retain the name later in life.”

Tony snorted softly. “I speak from experience here. If someone had told me, at eleven when I was disowned that I could change my name without losing access to my academic trust, I would have. If I could do it now, without losing a lot of contacts I’ve built through my name, I would.” There was no love lost between him and his father. There never would be. Part of him yearned for a parent who loved him. Most of his heart and mind knew it would never happen.

Judge Hawes arched an eyebrow, "I'm appalled your parents would disown a child, especially one that became a fine upstanding young man like yourself, Agent DiNozzo. I can only see one reason to disown a child, and that is only if the child is not yours and raised unknowingly of that fact. Even then, had a man raised a child to age eleven and found out it was not his, then to disown such child indicates only that something is wrong with the parent. Children are a gift to us, there to love, not to revile. As unusual as your request is Ms. Smythe, there is truly no one alive to contest gifting a surname outside of Butti...what did you have in mind?"

Patty glanced at Tony, her expression asking for suggestions. “Honestly, your Honor, this matter has happened so fast, I’ve not put a great deal of thought to it. I instinctively oppose to Butti.. but.” Her lips thinned, as pressed them together, thinking fast and hard..

Mentally, Tony ran through a gamut of possibilities. Funny, the kid didn’t look Italian in the least. Of course, he himself wasn’t poster-child for stereotypical Italian, either. With his light brown hair, fair skin, and (where they not slightly yellow with bruises) rosy cheeks, he’d be mistaken for an English born child. Tony smiled, thinking of his mother. The pictures he’d seen of his mother as a baby shared those same cheeks. He blinked.

“Paddington.” He said, suddenly tuning back into the conversation going on between the Judge and Patty.

“What?” Patty frowned. “Tony, we can’t keep naming Christopher after fictional bears!”

He shook his head. “No, no… although that’s a good association, there Patty, but that’s not where I’m coming from… look, Paddington is my mother’s maiden name. She was English. Um. other than me, she had no other relatives in the US, and since she’s long gone, the name couldn’t be associated with her. And it sounds good together, solid. Christopher Paddington. Distinctive. Would look great on a few diplomas.” Tony smiled suddenly, “And, if I’m his guardian, then I get to cheat a little. Legally, my full name is Anthony Dante Paddington-DiNozzo. Though, I’m more commonly called Anthony D. DiNozzo Jr.; my father was Anthony Dante DiNozzo.”

“Your father was all about his ego, wasn’t he?” Hawes noted dryly.

“He still is.” Tony flashed a wry grin, but if faded immediately. “So, I’m looking at it this way, if Chris and I share part of a surname, when I register him for school, or for kids activities, like, oh… soccer, or swimming lessons, or little Einsteins, I might be able to avoid having to show papers every damn time to prove I have the legal right to sign him up.”

“Planning ahead, are we?” Dawes laughed. “The name has a good sound. Strong. May I suggest in keeping with the child's love of Winnie the Pooh, though, instead of Robin, go with Robert for a middle name. Christopher Robert Paddington. It makes it HIS name, not a storybook character’s name.”

Smiles went around the room as a general consensus was made.

“Right, Christopher Robert Paddington it is. Next.” Judge Hawes tapped his pen. “Patty, are there any financial remains of the Butti estate that need to be considered? Did they have a will that may give some guidance?”

“I’ll have to look into that. To my knowledge, at the time of Mariann Butti’s death, she didn't believe her daughter was dead. The estate went into a lockdown for a period of time.” Patty pulled out her mobile phone and began to check the email she had on the matter. “I’ll have to secure a death certificate, and a copy of live birth, and then notify the lawfirm handling the estate.”

Tony shrugged. “Even if the estate has been liquidated and disbursed, Christopher will be okay. I’ll vest an education trust for him, seeding it with $50,000 to start.”

Hawes blinked. “Just how much are we paying Federal Agents nowaday?” He asked in surprise. Then waved a hand, “No, no. Don’t answer that.”

Tony smirked. “Private investments, sir. Old family money from my mother. I don’t wear Brioni because I’m poor. I wear it because I can.”

Judge Hawes snorted, setting down his pen and folding hands together. “Well. Let’s cut to the chase, because I want lunch. I could continue this dialogue, examining other avenues and questioning Agent DiNozzo for hours. But, does that serve any purpose. Not when the best outcome to this matter is so very clear to me. I feel it necessary to preamble with this: It’s a damnable thing, a nightmare in truth, to think a child can be born in this modern day and age, and society not know about it. All the protections, all the systems, and all the efforts we have gone to as a society, a government, a nation to protect our citizens and children seem to have failed this young man tremendously.” Hawes shook his head, his disappointment that the system to protect a child had failed.

“Ms. Smythe,” He continued, “Has presented a good case on behalf of the CAS regarding the need for an alternative arrangement in custody for this child, and I am satisfied with her findings. I’ll review in the order of importance in my eyes, beginning with his name; No child should ever think that his name is merely “Boy”. That he believed such saddens me. That who he saw as mother called him this disgusts me.” The judge paused, shaking his head. “As such: this unregistered and un-named child is hereby named Christopher Robert Paddington, as of now. This new legal name, to be registered with the State Department of Vital Statistics.” He slanted a look with an arched brow at Patty. “I’m assuming you can come up with a reasonable birth-date for the lad?”

“My office will handle the registration, your Honor.” Patty agreed. “And I think his date of finding would do well.”

The Judge again made a few notes. “Excellent. I know Ms. Smythe had originally wanted to assign you, Agent DiNozzo, the child as Foster Parent, but given that some of the vetting procedures for Foster Parents have not been conducted as of yet, was hoping for Guardian pro tem while they vetted you. Typically, until all procedures are met, no child is placed in the prospective Foster Parent’s care regardless of the emergency nature. However, in this situation for young Christopher, the regulations are a hurdle. I am in no ways disagreeing with the regulations, they are protections put in place by CAS for the children. But in terms of what this young child has experienced, and the need for stability and security, plus your own stellar reputation as a citizen and Federal Agent, I find myself wishing to make an exception.” He pinned Tony with a steely gaze. “If, in the process of healing, young Christopher displays temper tantrums of a destructive or disruptive nature, would you surrender him back to CAS?”

“No sir.” Tony said firmly. “I’ve been there, albeit I was older. But, what I experienced taught me that having a determined tolerant mentor, one who offers and freely gives trust, will make the difference in a child’s life. It’s having the road remain stable when your car is running rough, it’s what that helps a person move past their grievances. And it’s hard on all parties, but it doesn’t last forever…” He looked away, thinking back to Remington Military Academy. He had been seventeen before he’d found stable ground for his feet. “Having someone you can trust, who had my back, who would support me even as they disciplined me, who still cared about me even when I was been an utter terror, was the one thing I lacked for the longest time. When it finally came, yes, I acted out. Yes, I skipped classes, I was a total smart-ass, and I ignored rules. But that person -- stood up, held me accountable, and had my back, wore me down, reshaped me, guided me, and put me on a better path. I’d be a poorer man today if I didn’t pay it forward.”

Hawes face lightened, and Patty reached over to give Tony’s arm a squeeze.

“Then,” The Judge began, “In terms of custody and care for the child in this most unusual matter, it’s clear to me what would be best for the child’s immediate needs. Would I prefer Christopher in a foster home with two parents attending to his needs? Yes. Even more, I’d prefer an adoption with two parents. But wishes… well. We can wish in one hand, and piss in the other, pardon the vulgarity -- but you know which one will be wet.”

Tony stifled a laugh, he’d heard that expression more than once, and in many differing variations.

“The fact remains,” Rosen continued, “Christopher has a lot of healing to experience, and not all of it is physical. And, as you rightly pointed out, he needs to TRUST his caregiver to protect him, just as we as society need to trust his caregiver to protect his interests and his physical being. I’m quite pleased with your commitment to this child’s well-being. His needs are the paramount concern, and include things more than shelter, food and water… something you have recognized from the outset. This is a tremendous change to your life, Agent DiNozzo, but I believe as much chaos as it creates for you, as much as a struggle as it may be from time to time, I think it would be the most rewarding experience in your life. As far as I can see, you are the best choice of guardian we can assign for Christopher.”

The judge smiled suddenly, “Therefore, in the matter of the minor child now known as Christopher Robert Paddington, custodial guardianship is assigned to Special Agent DiNozzo. Contingent upon regular inspection by CAS, on a schedule the Children’s Aid Society will set up with you.”

WIth that, he signed off on the order, making three copies which he gave to Patty for filing.

---

December 2nd - 12:10 pm

Vance rapped on the door to Conference Room 3, waiting until he heard a barked “Come” from Gibbs.

The Senior Agent was holding court over his minions, it seemed, reading out a strong riot act left and right. Surprisingly, Dr. Mallard, and Abigail Scuito were in attendance, both at one end of the table, while McGee and David in the middle, and Gibbs pacing the room like a lion about to pounce.

For Gibbs sake, Vance sincerely hoped this exercise wasn’t a waste of time, but his gut said that no matter what Gibbs hoped to achieve, Dinozzo would leave the MCRT. It was sad really, the statistics he’d been reviewing for the past hour spanned fifteen years. Fourteen of those years demonstrated the effect of Agent DiNozzo’s partnership with Gibbs. It went beyond closure rates. The stats included the number of procedural violations on case findings that were thrown out of court, demonstrated a decrease of complaints against Agent Gibbs, and clearly, a decrease of complaints against Officer David (the before and after seen while Agent DiNozzo was Agent Afloat).

Suffice it to say, Vance strongly suspected the departure of Agent DiNozzo from the MCRT would have repercussions for the Agency as a whole. SecNav only wanted DiNozzo to stay with NCIS, Davenport had no idea of the impact he made to the team. ‘I should call him.’ Leon thought passingly, and then realized that no. It did DiNozzo no favors to force him to remain where he was. In fact, it might cause the man to leave NCIS altogether.

“Agent Gibbs -- Special Agent DiNozzo was called away on a family emergency. He will be out of the office for the next seven days.”

Gibbs blinked. He paused. And then he opened his mouth. “WHAT?” He bellowed.

“You heard me.” Vance folded his arms over his chest, unimpressed by Gibbs response. His gaze set sternly upon the Senior Agent of the MCRT. “I was there when Special Agent DiNozzo received the call. I can verify it was a legitimate emergency. He asked for, and I gave, a week of leave to handle the situation.”

Gibbs shook his head, “Leon - you can’t do this… Christ on a crutch -- how am I supposed to get him to stay on the team, if he’s already gone?”

Vance smiled slantingly, “Then you’ll be happy to know that our meeting hadn’t concluded before he left. He hasn’t taken a new position as of yet, and is still, at least on paper, on your team. He and I will resume our discussion after his return to the office.”

If Gibbs read between the lines, he’d understand, he’d just gotten a reprieve. Time to get his cards in order before he had to set the deck in front of DiNozzo. He watched Gibbs process, and the light in tired blue eyes told him the moment Gibbs got it.

“Fine.” Gibbs barked. “He gonna be in town?”

Vance shrugged. “I assume so. I really don’t know.” He glanced over the room, taking the barometer of the individuals. He wasn’t keen on what he was seeing, the disinterest of David, and the nosiness of Scuito were playing up. McGee looked worried, and truthfully, from what Vance knew about Gibb’s temper when DiNozzo wasn’t there to curb it -- he should be worried.

“As you may be aware, Special Agent DiNozzo has asked for transfer.” He said widely to all. “I’m inclined, based on his exceptional performance alone, but in light of your negative attitudes towards Agent DiNozzo I wish to add, I’m not surprised he finally asked for it.” He paused. “Please be aware, Senior Agent in Charge Gibbs sincerely doesn’t wish for that outcome.”

Giving a genial nod to Mallard, then Gibbs, he turned as if to leave, and then changed his mind. “Gibbs -- would you mind if I sat in? Based on our discussion this morning, I’m interested in this discussion.”

Gibbs shrugged indifference. He probably didn’t want an audience, but couldn’t truthfully say no to his boss. Vance composed his face so not to smile, and took a chair at the end of the table. Folding his hands, he leaned back, and gave Gibbs who watched him a raised eyebrow.

“Just like that?” Gibbs said.

“Just so.” Vance agreed.

“Fine.” He repeated. Gibbs took a breath, and turned back towards McGee. “You got any idea how many degrees DiNozzo holds?”

Tim blinked, “Ah…yeah. He’s got a BA in Phys. Ed from Ohio State.”

“And?”

Tim shook his head. “I don’t follow, Boss. Tony’s only got that one degree.”

“So how he’d get to be SFA when it’s a required to have a Masters?” Gibbs barked, hands on desk. “Didja look at the goddamn requirements at all when you were temporarily made SFA?” He growled.

McGee leaned back in his chair, trying to avoid the growling bear in front of him. “Ah. No… we were… it was a busy time, Boss. I missed that. I guess, well, then I think that Tony must have his Masters in Phys. Ed.” He speculated.

Vance managed not to look away, but he wasn’t sure he hid the disbelief on his face.

“He’s got a Masters in Criminology.” Gibbs bit out. “Outta Pennsylvania… did that WHILE working, dumbass. He had it before he ever got his gold shield. He’s a half year from a second Masters, this one in Psychology at Georgetown. Still think he’s too dumb to be on my team? Focussing on his SAT scores, which he deliberately bombed -- though I’m damned if I know how he did that. How about the fact he’s multilingual, fluent in four languages, and can speak two others, but doesn’t count them towards is language proficiency cause he can’t write them yet?” He snorted at their startled expressions. “Yeah, by the way Ziver… he’s learning Israeli. He understands most of yer conversations on the phone, but can’t quite read it yet. Give him six more months and you’ll have to be a bit more select in what info you’re giving Mossad.”

Vance growled. “There had best be no information being leaked.”

Ziva paled.

Gibbs arched an eyebrow, and smirked at the Director, but resumed pacing. “You both assumed too much, and DiNozzo’s damn need to hide his intelligence behind his frat-boy jock routine tripped you up but good. And you call yourself investigators, but you can’t even see thru your own teammate. Explain to me how a man too stupid to do much more than dribble a ball up a court could concurrently earn his BA in Phys Ed and Criminology without dropping that aforementioned ball? Huh? Or, find the time to earn a degree from the University of Pennsylvania while working full-time on a beat in Peoria, and bringing down the Narcotics division of the PD for corruption simultaneously? You’ve heard him, McGee -- work smarter, not harder -- that’s how he did it. And that’s how he’s always done it, even as a fucking green as grass cop!”

McGee looked over to Ziva, and then back at his Boss, his resemblance to deer in the face of headlights was startling. “I… okay, we missed that, Boss. But, you know, Tony only ever talks about Ohio State and his frat…”

“Like you only talk about MIT and John Hopkins.” Gibbs retorted. “Does that make you all you are?” His gaze slid to Ziva. “I suppose you have input about DiNozzo’s academic worth.”

“He is foolish, Gibbs. He plays around, and takes nothing seriously.” She raised her chin. “You claim it is an act, but I am not so undiscerning. It is not an act. And, I do not understand why you would defend him or not see him for what he really is. He is a child. He was raised with a fancy spoon, yes? If he has these other degrees, they were bought, not earned. Old family money can do that.”

Vance snorted contemptuously.

“DiNozzo doesn’t hide this, he just doesn’t advertise it. Its public record. DiNozzo was disowned at eleven, so where’s that old money yer talking about?” He sneered at her. “Might have been the best thing ta happen to him -- seeing as it caused his inheritance from his mother to no longer be under his father’s control. Senior managed to bankrupt himself in five years after his wife died. He’d have run through the academic trust fund left to Tony if he could.” Gibbs glared at her. “How’d you think he paid for private schools, huh? Daddy DiNozzo had no interest in helping his son when his son needed the help most. DiNozzo paid for his entire education on his own since he was eleven years old!”

He resumed his pacing. “You wanna know why he talks about Ohio State and his frat all the time? Because, he worked damn hard to find a way out of the life his father had laid at his feet. He earned a full-ride sports scholarship to Ohio State. Took it. He had to do the Phys Ed degree to maintain that scholarship, but he was able to swing a double major, the other being in criminology. He studied his ass of, played hard, and earned his Bachelors with Honors. So don’t tell me they were bought. They weren’t. His time at Ohio State was the first time he ever got to choose his own destiny. That’s why he loves it. His frat brothers were the first friends he had without a fucking agenda. That’s why he talks about ‘em. And when he went for his Masters, he used the higher education program supported by the Peoria Police Department to afford it. He may come from old money, David -- but he had a limited amount of it, and is careful with how he invests and spends it.” Gibbs spun around to lean forward on the table, eyes narrowed and glaring at Ziva, “Oh, and if you think that any police department would refund his tuition if he wasn’t pulling good marks in, think again!”

She stilled. “I did not know this.” She admitted.

“Right.” Gibbs said. “But, you made assumptions based on bullshit, he distracted you from looking with a goofy grin, a movie quote, or the dimensions of some figmentary girl. Real sharp there, David. It’s not me misreading him, it’s all on you. And, instead of asking ‘what does my team leader know that makes DiNozzo an asset to the team, you looked for what you could see as a reason he shouldn’t be on the team.”

Gibbs bared teeth, almost. “Here’s some facts fer ya to choke on. He was gone seven months on the USS Reagan and Seahawk. You returned after three months, McGee and four and change, David. Let’s look at that last month he was gone. Our closing rate dropped. It had dropped while I was running with a team of idiots, but with three out of four original members it should have risen. It didn’t. And while the case management ratio did improve… by 6%, we were still 17% short the closure ratio from where we were before the team was split up.”

He took a seat, dropping into it with a thud. “I looked further back, thinking it was disruption to to the team that did it. Wasn’t.” He glared at McGee. “My Mexican hiatus was a busy time was it? Funny, you managed to do a press circuit for your damn book at that time. And,” he turned to Ziva. “I would have fired your ass six times over if I had been here. You clocked in eighty percent of the the time at ten hundred hours. You clocked out ninety-two percent of the time at sixteen thirty hours. What the FUCK?”

“I was no different than Tony. He was in and out, scarcely ever here.” She defended.

“He was running cases AND a fucking undercover op. He was clocking twenty-two hours a day. If he wasn’t here when you were it was because he was out there doing his damn job -- which you weren’t. He filed 35 more case reports than you both, nearly 12 more than you a month. He worked to the bone, and you barely worked. I'm ashamed I never looked at this before now. Overbearing? Pretentious? Those were the words you described him with when he was team lead. How would you know? You were barely here!"

Vance's amused gaze had vanished, as did his relaxed posture. "Gibbs, were any infractions written up?"

Gibbs nodded. "Yeah. I found electronic copies, Shepard never signed off. They ain’t in their files, but Balboa told me that DiNozzo did submit them" He admitted. "DiNozzo was fighting a losing battle on three fronts. Damn lucky that he’s so damn good an investigator that the closure rate held."

The Director’s eyes went hard as he stared at McGee and Ziva. "I see. I wonder if there was collusion between you two and Director Sheppard to push DiNozzo to taking that damn Grenoullie op."

Dr. Mallard took a sudden sharp breath. "I have long wondered the same, but feared asking. Anthony would need to be quite worn down to have agreed..." his voice trailed off, as he gazed darkly at Ziva and Timothy. “Tell me, did Director Shepard encourage your wayward actions? We’re you encouraged to deliberately discourage and dishearten Anthony?”

“No!” Tim vehemently protested. “No… we… well, Director Shepard spoke to me a few times, mostly to see how we were doing, if we were coping with Gibbs leaving… but… she never encouraged me to…”

“To ignore your team lead, barely do your job, use company time and resources to promote your own side project.” Vance filled in.

“And bad-mouth DiNozzo.” Gibbs finished.

“I…” Tim looked down. “Yeah.” He admitted after a long moment of introspection. “But… I… was so angry.” He admitted. “I wasn’t mad at Tony, but…”

Gibbs nodded. “You were pissed at me for leaving, and took that out on DiNozzo.”

Tim looked away, shame written all over his face, and clear in his voice. “I guess so.”

“Can’t happen again.” Gibbs growled. “Won’t happen again. DiNozzo’s set to leave. You gonna be pissed at him for that and take it out on me?”

Wide hazel eyes seemed terrified. “No! Boss, but…he’s not you. Besides, there’s gotta be a way to make this right. You’re right. We can’t do the job without Tony. I can search the internet and hack computers all day long, but it doesn’t always give us an insight as to what happened… Tony can make connections to pieces, something I’m not great at unless he’s pushing at me. He gets people, knows how to read them, how to make them think.”

Gibbs nodded. “Yeah. He does. Makes that whole psychology degree make sense, don’t it?” His jaw set and he turned to Ziva. “Your turn. I’m serious Ziva. I’ll kick you off the team fer good, no second chances, if you go at DiNozzo like you did today. You got one more shot to stay with the MCRT, and that’s it. That profile you built for Haswari, I hope you get it ain’t so perfect, now!”

Ziva David was her father’s daughter through and through, stubborn to a ridiculous degree. Blinded by her own ambition and beliefs. “Perhaps there are a few details missing, but I stand by my findings. Tony is not the asset you think he is. The numbers you have stated must be wrong, I am certain. There must be other reasons for the change. New policies. New rules. There is nothing that can validate Tony as being an asset. You have seen him Gibbs. You checked his actions with a head-slap often enough, that I know this. Seen how he fools around on his phone, he is lazy. Unmotivated. And those endless movie quotes…”

Vance shook his head, it was amazing that the traits he admired in Eli were traits that painted Ziva’s character poorly. “I have some additional statistics to add, Officer David.” He leaned forward, hands folded on the table. “The USS Reagan has on average eight cases a month. There is, on average, an 80% close ratio for those cases. Mostly, it’s petty theft, a few fights, and a bit of misbehavior on shore leave. The same holds true for most carriers. Under Agent DiNozzo the closure rates for the ship were 100%, and he had twelve cases. In one month alone, he had the typical petty thefts, and UAs. But, above and beyond the eight, he had two gambling ring cases, one sexual assault, that were it not for DiNozzo, the victim would have never come forward. And, he handled a case of autoerotic asphyxia gone wrong and kept it far more professional than I could have ever expected of any agent.”

He stared at Ziva hard. “What I’m stating here was that none of those cases were easy. And he handled them efficiently, expertly, and without any resources of a team. That tells me his ability as an investigator is second to none. Do the fallen metrics for the MCRT demonstrate DINozzo’s impact? Beyond a doubt, yes.” His eyes narrowed. “And that is the opinion of myself and SecNav.”

Okay, he was lying. SecNav had no idea, nor would he know. He’d certainly back that DiNozzo was a greater asset than David. After all, a Federal Agent holding two Masters degrees that were focused on his job was more of an asset than a Israeli MOSSAD officer who was trained primarily for assassinations.

The reason Ziva was an asset was that as liaison to NCIS, she made it possible for Leon to gain intel from MOSSAD. Intel which helped raise the visibility of the agency within the network of ABCs. Did that make her more valuable than DiNozzo? No.

DiNozzo’s personal network was a marvel, one he hadn’t realized until SecNav had pounded it into him. He’d built that jock frat-boy reputation in boarding schools, meeting future movers and shakers of the financial world. His reach, as a result, was astonishing. His ability to get the attention of Interpol or MI6 was impressive. Did he replace MOSSAD’s intel? No. Though, he could have, if Morrow and Shepard had groomed him properly,

Likely, it was unknown just how far DiNozzo’s reach could go, and would remain so until it was too late. The man kept cards close to his chest.

“Bottom line,” Gibbs was saying, “Things are getting fixed NOW. I’m assigning new tasks to each of you, you’ll have the list tomorrow. Things DiNozzo has been doing for too long, but clearly he had good reason for not trusting to the pair of you. McGee -- requisitions and truck loading. Yours. David -- evidence logging and recording - yours, Also, effective immediately -- DiNozzo will review your reports, mark the corrections he’s wants, and hand ‘em back. He ain’t cleaning them up for you anymore.”

“He doesn’t…” Tim puffed up.

Gibbs slammed both hands on the table and fair near crawled over it to bellow in McGee’s face. “He DOES!” He roared. Color drained of McGee, and he fair near fainted.

“That man,” Gibbs snarled. “Routinely comes in two or three times a week after 2200 hours, and stays until 0200 cleaning up your reports. He shouldn’t have to… but it’s clear to him that you won’t edit what he hands back for editing unless I ram it down your throat. So, consider all your fucking case reports rammed until further notice! Now choke on it!”

All in all, Leon though, this was unlike any other team meeting he’d ever sat on before. And, absently he also made note that the annual sensitivity training he sent all his field teams on clearly wasn’t working.
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