Authors Note: Sorry guys -real life intruded as it often does. Now for any one who's still interested....Chapter 2Later that evening – Gibbs basement
He lifted the glass in his hand and took another measured sip of his whisky never taking his eyes off the paperwork spread across his lap while he did so. An abbreviated version of the life and times of one Joyce Anne Summers looped its way across the documents, everything he had been able to get hold of without raising any flags with his team or asking for anyone’s help but Abbey who always kept any requests he made to her like this close to her chest. Thankfully he had been able to reverse trace the phone message back to Santa Monica without too much difficulty and there was only one Joyce Summers registered in the city.
There wasn’t much in the file, although more than Ms Summers might have liked to know was so immediately available to any vaguely qualified investigator. A California driving licence complete with photo, her college transcripts, a note on her company from the Corporate Register for the state of California – she ran a thriving chain of antiques shops he noted - some miscellaneous info that Abbey had been able to dig up on her trawl through the net….a copy of her wedding announcement in the Santa Monica Mirror from back in 1996, a court statement that noted her divorce decree from one Hank LaFayette in early 2002.
Gibbs looked it all over with an eye that was used to coming up with a complete picture from very little information. Essentially Joyce Summers was a 40 year old divorced and still single businesswoman, who had no criminal record, drove a green Volvo, made a decent income from her chain of stores, seemed to be a good employer (as evidenced by her nomination in the local Employers Forum), paid her taxes and was a registered democrat.
And there was absolutely no explanation in any of the information he had about why she had called him, how she had even found his number or how he knew that he had met her before. It was driving him nuts.
He picked up the printout of her driving licence and stared at the woman on the coloured scan accusingly, as though the colour printout could answer his questions. The laser print image of a slim blond woman with wavy hair stared back mutely, not inclined to answer.
She was pretty, he noted almost absently. Pretty enough that if he had been out on his own and he had met her at a bar he would have been tempted to buy her a drink. And tall for a woman too. Five eight. He liked tall women. Shannon had been tall….. He shook off that train of thought angrily before he allowed himself to sink into melancholy. There was no point in dwelling on the past when he had a potential problem in the present to deal with. And the only way to get to the bottom of this particular mystery was to bite the bullet and call her back. 21.00. That meant it was 6pm on the West Coast. She might be home by now.
Grabbing the house phone handset he punched in the numbers she had provided, waiting impatiently as the phone rang on the other end. 2 rings, 3, 4, 5…and then just as he was about to give up the line crackled open as it was answered and a rushed and slightly out of breath female voice answered.
“Hello – I was wondering if I could speak to Joyce Summers.”
The voice on the other end sighed a little impatiently. “This is she. Look – if you’re selling anything I’m really not interested.”
Despite himself Gibbs smiled a bit. It wasn’t everyday he was accused of being a telemarketer.
“I’m not selling anything Ms Summers. My name is Gibbs. Jethro Gibbs. You left me a message on my home phone earlier today asking me to call.”
There was a brief intake of breath on the other end of the line before she answered. “I’m sorry, just before I continue are you Leroy Jethro Gibbs?”
He winced. “That’s what my parents named me. But I have to admit I tend not to use the Leroy.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line and then a quiet musical chuckle. She had a nice laugh, he noted absently, adding that to the file of things he knew about this mysterious Joyce Summers that he was compiling in his head.
“I am sorry, Mr Gibbs. I had no intention of making you uncomfortable by using that name.”
“It’s fine – I’m used to it. And please, call me Gibbs. Everyone else does. I hear Mr Gibbs and I look around for my father.”
She laughed again and he smiled on the other end. She really did have a nice laugh. He blinked at himself as he replayed that thought. Was he flirting with this total stranger over the phone? If he was it was definitely about time he found another convenient red head. He shouldn’t let himself get that desperate.
“Well then. Gibbs. As delightful as it is to talk to you I don’t doubt that you are wondering why I called.”
“I have to admit that that’s the case, Ms Summers. And I’m even more curious about how you got my home number. It’s not exactly in general circulation.”
“Please call me Joyce. And as to how I got your number – well I engaged a Private investigator I know to track you down.”
She had had him investigated? Who the hell was this woman and what did she want? Admittedly he had just done the same this afternoon, but at least he had had a justifiable reason. He frowned on the other end of the phone and was about to respond somewhat coolly when she started to speak, rushing over the top of any comment that he might have made.
“I apologise for the invasion of your privacy, Mr….I mean Gibbs. But a recent change in my circumstances made it imperative that I contacted you as soon as possible. And although I have been trying to track you down on a sporadic basis for a while I realised I needed to make a genuine effort. So I hired a professional.”
He broke in before she could go any further. “Ms Summers – Joyce – I have to admit I am confused. Why is it so important that you track me down? What on earth could be so important that you would invade my privacy in this manner? And I have to warn you – I am federal officer and any unwarranted and illegal intrusion into my life could have severe consequences for you.”
He heard a surprised intake of breath at the other end of the line. Whatever she had found out about him she obviously hadn’t dug too deep if she didn’t even know what his job was. That was reassuring. It was a lot less likely that this was all a set up if she didn’t even have the basic idea of what his job entailed.
“You’re a Federal Agent? Which branch?”
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service. NCIS. But I fail to see why that has any bearing on our conversation. So, please tell me – why I should continue this call with you right now?” By now a little of his “command voice” was creeping into his tone and he was impressed when her response was calm and to the point, rather than the faintly intimidated reply he would have expected.
“Well – to get to the point. I have recently been diagnosed with stage 4 terminal brain cancer. My doctors assure me that I have approximately 6 months to live. And it’s inoperable.” Her voice was very calm, matter of fact and devoid of self pity and his respect for her immediately went up several notches. There weren’t many civilians that he knew that could admit their own death sentence so calmly.
“I’m sorry to hear that. You have my sympathy. But I still don’t really see the connection.” His tone was gentler but he was still determined to work out what was going on.
“Of course you don’t – I haven’t been exactly forthcoming so far. You see, as I mentioned in my earlier message - you and I have met before.”
He knew that she was right, he had been sure of it ever since he had seen the licence photo. But he was damned if he could place her.
“I’m sorry, Joyce. I’m sure that you’re right, your voice does seem familiar…”
“And I bet you’ve already done some preliminary investigation into the weird woman who left a message on your home phone…” her voice was dryly amused and despite himself Gibbs chuckled.
“I may have done. I have your California driving licence photo here and I do vaguely recognise you but I’m not putting the pieces together.”
She chuckled again. “I’m not surprised. We were both a little drunk. To cut a long story short, I was in Las Vegas in June 2002 for an Antiques trade fair. I was staying at the Las Vegas Hilton. We met at the bar…..I have to admit I was a little tipsy, I’d not long finalised my divorce, you said that you were in a similar position and that a friend had convinced you to stay on in Vegas for an extra night once your meeting was finished. We had a few drinks….one thing led to another….well. We’re both adults,“ her tone was slightly embarrassed now. “I’m sure you can figure it out.”
He frowned on the other end of the phone, mind frantically putting the pieces together. Now she had reminded him it was vaguely coming back. He had been in Vegas with his FBI colleague Tobias Fornell and the old NCIS Director, Morrow, for the annual meeting of the American Criminal Justice Organisation. Morrow had ordered him to attend and once the meeting was over Fornell, who was a friend as well as a colleague, had pointed out that he needed to let off some steam before he killed one of his team and that Vegas was a great place to do it.
He had had too many drinks at dinner and then had rapidly bored of the tables, leaving Tobias to fly solo while he went to get himself a drink before intending to head to bed. He hadn’t been interested in any of the many co-eds who were eyeing him up; he didn’t fool around with kids. But then at the bar had been a tall, slim, older blond who seemed to be just as determined to drink herself quietly into oblivion as he was. Intrigued, he had offered to buy her another drink and that was the last thing he remembered before waking up in her bed the next morning at which point he had been desperate to avoid awkward morning after conversations and had booked it out of there as quickly as possible.
He mentally squirmed a bit. It hadn’t been the most gallant of his romantic encounters. He liked to think that he normally treated women a heck of a lot better than that, but he had been raw still from his third divorce and the last thing he had wanted were any more complications.
“I think I remember. Ah – you were wearing a blue dress…and I think I left a little prematurely in the morning.” He let his embarrassment colour his tone now. She deserved that much from him at the very least.
She chuckled ruefully again. “Yes. I was. And you did. But I have to admit if it wasn’t for the fact that I needed to get in touch with you I think I would have pushed our little encounter as far back into the recesses of my memory as you obviously did. So don’t worry, Gibbs. You’re off the hook as far as I’m concerned.”
They shared a brief chuckle. “Well thank you for reminding me, Joyce. I don’t meet so many beautiful women in bars that I can afford to forget one. But you still haven’t clarified why you wanted to meet me.”
There was a pause before she replied, obviously choosing her words carefully. “You left something behind when you snuck out and in the spirit of cleaning up all my loose ends before I…leave…I was hoping that I could give it back to you.”
He was puzzled, but still willing to go with it. “Sure. I can give you my address and you can post it. What was it? My sunglasses maybe? I know I lost a pair on that trip.”
She hesitated again before she replied. “No – it’s not your sunglasses. And I was actually wondering if I could give it to you in person? I will be in Washington D.C next week for business – would you be willing to meet me for coffee?”
He hesitated. It seemed a bit much to have the hassle of a social obligation just to get back some random item that he hadn’t missed over the years and that she could just as easily post. She seemed to sense his hesitation and went on before he could refuse.
“I would really appreciate it if we could meet. I know it seems a little bit unnecessary, but I am trying to put my house in order before I go downhill and this thing you left behind? Well – it’s been irritating me that I never got in touch with you again for years….”
He softened. The woman was dying; she was just trying to tie up loose ends before she went. And she remained nice enough, not crazy although a little bit OCD if she was so determined to return a piece of property to its owner after all this time. But if it made her feel better….he mentally shrugged.
“Sure. If you really want to meet I would be happy to grab a coffee when you are in town. When are you available?”
They arranged to meet at 5pm on the following Tuesday at a coffee shop he knew of in Georgetown – Café Milano, she was in town from Monday, but had meetings, and then with a few further pleasantries finished the call.
Gibbs didn’t think anything more about their upcoming appointment as the murder of a naval petty officer in a bar fight swallowed up the rest of his week and it wasn’t until he got a call from Washington D.C police the following Monday that he remembered. Joyce Summers had been hit by a car that had run a red light outside the Smithsonian. She was at Georgetown University Hospital, not expected to last more than a few more hours and she was asking for him.