- Discussion - Domestic Violence
- Discussion - Murder
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Canon Divergence
- Crime Drama
22 June 2009
A couple of days after leaving Eureka, Tony found himself in New York City. He’d made a quick stop to visit his mom’s grave before heading to his next interview.
He was currently sitting in a small conference room waiting for his interview to begin. So far his job hunt had taken him to some unexpected places. Eureka had been incredibly weird but a lot of fun. Though, nothing quite compared to knowing aliens existed. One thing Tony could safely say was that none of the job offers he’d had so far would be boring. He’d been surprised with just how many offers he’d received. His mind was swimming with all the possibilities—and they were all so different.
Tony’s next interview had been unexpected. He’d gotten an offer to become the head of security for a private company called IFT Inc. He had no interest in running security for a software company, but the offer had come with theatre tickets and a free hotel room. Tony’d decided he had nothing to lose, and he could admit his curiosity was piqued. He wasn’t even sure how the company had gotten his name or who exactly he was meeting with.
Tony stood up as a small man with glasses walked into the conference room followed by a tall man whose bearing screamed special ops. Dark and handsome frowned at Tony and then took his place against one wall, watching Tony carefully. Tony had no doubt that if the other man considered him a threat, he’d be in for a hell of a fight.
The man in the suit walked over to the table with a noticeable limp and stiff gait. He set his briefcase on the table. “Good Morning, Agent DiNozzo, thank you for meeting me today.” He gave Tony a small smile. “I’m Mr. Wren, head of human resources, and I’ll be conducting your interview today.”
They shook hands. “It’s good to meet you,” Tony replied.
“Please sit down,” Mr. Wren invited. Once they were both seated, he pulled a folder out of his briefcase.
“I’m very pleased you decided to meet with me, Agent DiNozzo. I know there are several organizations interested in procuring your services. I confess I wasn’t certain IFT would draw your notice.”
“Please call me Tony. I admit your offer piqued my curiosity. The salary is quite generous.”
Wren nodded. “Call me Harold, please. First things first, I have a Non-Disclosure Agreement for you to sign. It’s company policy, you understand, IFT handles sensitive information.”
Tony took the offered stack of papers. The pile was much shorter than the other NDAs he’d had to sign so far. Once he signed them, Wren gave him an approving nod.
“Good. Now then, let’s get started. I think you are more than qualified for the position we have in mind.”
Tony leaned back in his chair debating whether he should just let Harold continue with his little act. Tony’s gut was screaming at him that something was way off with all this. He could play along for a while and see where it went, but he decided he wasn’t in the mood to have his time wasted. So…
He shrugged. “Like I said I was curious. I admit I was surprised to hear from you. Can I ask how you even knew I was looking for a job? I’m certain I didn’t send you my resume.”
Harold smiled benignly. “IFT has several lucrative government contracts, and we’re always looking to hire the best people. You were recommended by a headhunter who brought your resume to my attention. I believe you’d be an excellent fit for us.”
Interesting. What kind of headhunter would have access to Tony’s resume? It was possible someone who knew he was leaving NCIS had put the word out to IFT, but that didn’t sound right to him.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “I’ll be honest, I’m not interested in private security.”
Mr. Wren cleared his throat. “The job we have in mind for you isn’t a traditional security job. The company is looking for someone to work on a special project.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “What kind of special project?”
Harold leaned back in his chair. “Tell me, Agent DiNozzo, why did you become a police officer, and later a Federal Agent?”
Tony shrugged. “At first it was because I wanted to help people. Then it turned out I enjoyed the work and I was good at it.”
This time Harold raised an eyebrow. “I think ‘good’ is a massive understatement. You’re smart and loyal, and a creative, critical thinker. I admire your abilities a great deal. I am sure you would find working with me worthwhile.”
Harold was interesting, but Tony was really tired of the enigmatic act he was putting on. Tony stifled a sigh, sat forward and met Harold’s gaze. “Look, let’s put our cards on the table. I know that there’s something strange going on here. Your request to meet with me was weird enough that I wanted answers.
“IFT looks normal on paper, but I couldn’t help but notice that the building seems a little empty. The company hasn’t released new software in over two years, and yet you posted millions in revenue last year. Be clear with me or I’m walking out.”
Harold nodded looking weirdly satisfied. “You’re just as observant as I hoped. Yes, I think you could be just what we need.” Harold stood, and that seemed to be some sort of signal because the bodyguard pushed away from the wall. He and Harold exchanged a long glance, then he nodded to Tony and quietly left the room.
Tony stood and Harold motioned him toward the door. “My associate has work to do. He’ll meet us later. Let’s go for a walk, Tony, and I’ll explain everything.”
He followed Harold out. They left the IFT building and walked slowly down the street. Tony followed Harold, matching his stride to the other man’s. They walked in silence until they reached an old abandoned building. Tony looked at Harold askance.
“Trust me,” he said as he led the way inside. Tony followed Harold through a side door and up a flight of stairs and into a large room. Tony looked around. There were books everywhere.
“Did this used to be a library?” he asked. The next thing he noticed was the computers. It was a nice setup.
“Yes. The city closed half their libraries a few years ago, and now they stand abandoned, a monument to the decay of modern American society.”
Tony snorted. “Not the entirety of Western civilization?” he asked with a grin, and Harold laughed.
“Indeed. Please have a seat.” Harold gestured toward one of the chairs by the computer screens. Tony sat down. A dog came running up to them and sniffed at Harold happily. Harold petted him gently. “This is Bear. He’s a Western Malinois. We rescued him, and now he watches over me.”
“He’s gorgeous. May I?” he asked.
Harold nodded, and Tony leaned down and petted the dog. Bear wriggled happily and leaned forward to lick Tony’s face.
Harold left the room and came back with two cups of coffee. Tony took a sip. The coffee was just the way he liked it.
Harold gave a command in German and Bear moved away to lie on his bed. He took a long sip of his drink before beginning.
“I was living here in 2001. The events of September 11th changed the whole world. I was horrified by the events that day just like everyone else. But unlike most people, I knew there was something I could do to help. I knew I could build something that would protect our country.”
That was quite the statement. “What did you build?”
“I created a system, a machine to track potential terrorist activities in real time. The machine is everywhere, it watches everything we do. And when it detects a possible terrorist threat, it notifies the proper authorities.”
Tony blinked for a few seconds taking that in. First aliens, and now this. He had so many questions. “That’s impressive,” he finally said. “I can see how useful a system like that would be. How does the system gather its information?”
“My machine is everywhere. The A.I. that runs the machine has access to every camera and computer in the United States. The machine knows everything about everyone.”
Tony blew out a breath. A real-life A.I. Sure, he’d seen Sarah and Andy in Eureka, not to mention the damn cats, but this was different. An A.I. was watching them right now. The idea was mind-blowing. “I don’t know what to say. The idea that the United States has its very own Hal working behind the scenes is horrifying.”
Harold chuckled. “I actually agree that would be terrifying, but never fear. I assure you I have taken steps to ensure that such a situation will never happen. The machine’s A.I. is quite limited.”
“Still the lack of privacy seems too big a price to pay for national security.”
Harold sighed. “That is the question, isn’t it? I never thought so while I was building the machine, I thought what I was doing was important. I thought stopping terrorist attacks was worth any sacrifice. I admit I am not so certain now. Still, what’s done is done. I sold the system to the U.S. government for a dollar, and I no longer have control over it.”
Tony nodded, taking a sip of his now tepid coffee while he thought. He could understand the patriotism and good intentions that had driven the decision. Unable to sit still, he stood and paced around the room looking at the old books on the shelves. Harold watched him quietly giving him time.
Finally, Tony turned to look at him. “This is all genuinely fascinating. It seems too futuristic to be real, but my perspective on what’s possible has changed a lot recently. I believe you, but the question is why are you telling me? You said you want to hire me, but I don’t see how I can help you. You don’t control the machine. I’m sure if anyone ever realizes I know about your machine I’d disappear into a deep dark hole.”
Harold nodded. “Yes, I can’t deny that. In truth, it is not in my nature to be so open with you, but everything I’ve learned about you says I need to give you all the facts if I want you to consider my offer. I trust the top-secret nature of the information will encourage you to keep what I’m about to tell you to yourself, whatever your ultimate decision. I know you keep many secrets.”
Tony wondered just how much Harold knew. He’d keep quiet. Tony had no desire to hinder the country’s national security, but he knew he’d never look at a security camera the same way again. He supposed he’d needed to find out what exactly Harold wanted with him. He could admit a part of him was quite intrigued. “Tell me your offer. I promise to keep an open mind.”
Harold smiled. “That’s all I can ask.” He stood and led Tony into a back room. The first thing Tony noticed was a large cork board with several photos on it.”
He gazed at Harold who nodded. “Please, be my guest.” They both walked over, and Tony took a good look.
“This is the case we’re currently working on.” Harold pointed toward the picture in the center of the board. “This is Lesley Nolan, a nineteen-year-old college student, and sometime very soon she will be the victim of a crime.”
Tony looked at the girl. She was pretty, long black hair and blue eyes, a beautiful smile lit up her face.
“How do you know that?” he asked.
Harold sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. “When I was building the machine, I had to teach it about human behavior. I had to teach it the difference between happiness and sadness, kindness and violence. I showed it thousands of scenarios. It took a long time, but the machine did learn what it needed to know.”
Tony nodded not wanting to interrupt. That was amazing. Harold had created something incredible. He wondered if there was some way he could get a look at the machine’s code, maybe compare it to Sarah’s. He was sure he could convince Fargo to share it.
“The problem was there was no way to get the machine to focus solely on the big threats, such as mass shootings and other terrorist threats. The machine sees everything, and can often predict when every day average citizens are in danger or are about to commit a crime.”
Tony looked at the picture of Lesley. “So, the machine told you this person is in danger. The government lets you have access to the information?” Tony suspected he knew the answer.
Harold shook his head. “God, no. I am not supposed to have access at all.”
“You put in a back door just in case, didn’t you?” Tony couldn’t blame him. If he’d sold an A.I. to the government, he’d have done the same.
“Very good. Yes. I had to make it something almost undetectable. All we get is a social security number. That’s it. It’s up to us to figure out the rest.”
“That can’t be easy,” Tony said thoughtfully as he looked over the rest of the board.
“No, it’s not. We never know if the person is a victim or the perpetrator of the crime. We have to figure it out before it’s too late.”
The implication of what Harold was telling him was a lot to take in. This man was a vigilante of a sort. He had taken it upon himself to protect people as best he could. It was noble, but the law enforcement officer in him couldn’t approve.
Tony’s tapped the photo of Lesley with one finger. “You have to know I believe in the justice system. I believe in working within the confines of the law.”
“I understand. I won’t deny some of our activity is illegal but imagine being able to prevent crimes before they happen. Prevent violent acts altogether. Isn’t that preferable to trying to pick up the pieces afterword?” Harold’s eyes were pleading.
“It is very tempting. It’s every law enforcement officer’s dream. I can understand why you feel you have to act on your machine’s information,” Tony acknowledged with a nod. “Were you able to help her?” he asked.
“My partner is working on it now. We believe the perpetrator is her boyfriend. He is a twenty-three-year-old graduate student by the name of Paul Anderson. He has a history of domestic violence, and Ms. Nolan recently broke up with him. Threats were made, but so far, he hasn’t assaulted her. However, the fact that the machine has brought her to our attention means things are likely to escalate.”
“Did she report him to the police?” Tony asked. He hoped so. He’d like to take down the abusive bastard himself, but he still believed the police should be involved.
“Yes, and he was picked up, but he has since been released. Ms. Nolan got a restraining order, and so far, Mr. Anderson seems to be following it. I think we both know that if he wants to act, the restraining order won’t be much of a deterrent.”
Tony grimaced. That was unfortunately true. Restraining orders did little to protect victims. Unless her boyfriend assaulted her, and Lesley pressed charges, there wasn’t much the police could do. A part of Tony was glad to know this girl would be protected, even if he disapproved of Harold’s methods.
Harold shifted, and Tony noticed him wince as he moved.
“Why don’t we sit, and you can tell me what my job with you would entail. I think I can guess at some of it, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Actually, I think it would be better to show you.” Harold picked up his cell tapped the screen and put it to his ear. “We’re ready for you, Mr. Reese. Please join us.”
A few minutes later Tony heard the downstairs door close and footsteps on the steps. The bodyguard stepped into the room.
Harold turned and motioned toward him. The man came forward. “This is John Reese. He’s been working with me for two years now. If you take the job, you’ll be primarily working with him.”
Reese nodded at him but didn’t smile. “Hi, Agent DiNozzo. It’s good to finally meet you,” he said quietly, and they shook hands.
“It’s nice to meet you Mr. Reese, but please call me Tony.”
“Tony, call me John then. I hear we’re going to be spending some time together today. We should get going. I have a friend watching our girl for the moment, but the boyfriend disappeared this afternoon, and no one has seen him. I want to be there to protect Lesley myself. I had a little talk with the asshole, but unfortunately, I don’t think I scared him away.”
Tony grinned at him. “Clearly he’s an idiot then. Anyone with brains would be afraid of you.”
John returned the smile. “You would think. This guy isn’t the brightest bulb.”
Harold cleared his throat, and they both turned to look at him. He frowned at them. “As charming as your banter is, I believe we have work to do.”
John smiled. “On our way, Finch.”
He turned back to Tony. “You armed?” he asked
Tony nodded and lifted up his jacket to reveal his shoulder holster. “Always.”
John nodded. “Let’s go. Finch gets snippy when he thinks I’m not properly focused on the job at hand.”
Harold snorted, but he replied evenly. “I’ll let our friend know you’re on the way to relieve him.”
John led Tony to a grey Toyota Corolla parked at the curb. The car looked to be about twenty years old.
Once they were on the way, Tony decided to ask questions, particularly since John didn’t seem inclined to volunteer information.
“So how did you end up working for Harold? I can tell you used to be military, I’m thinking special ops.”
John gave him a quick surprised look. “What makes you say that?” he asked neutrally.
“I worked for NCIS for ten years. I can spot a military man from a mile away. I’m guessing that’s not all. CIA?” he guessed.
John shrugged. “For a few years,” he agreed. “Until I got burned.”
Tony winced. “I’m sorry, man.”
John shrugged again. “It’s okay. I was pissed for a long time, but Finch saved my life. Gave me a purpose. He’s a good man, and we do good work. You should think about his offer.”
“What makes you think I’d be a good fit?” Tony asked genuinely curious. “I’ve been working in law enforcement most of my adult life. I’m not into vigilantism.”
John took his eye off the road to grin at him. “Believe me, I understand. I walked the straight and narrow my whole life. I was all about the rules, but there’s something to be said for working in the shadows. My methods may not always be legal, but Finch and I save a lot of lives. Our results speak for themselves.”
Tony frowned. “The ends justify the means?”
“Something like that. We do a lot of good. I hope you’ll join us, because frankly, I could use the help.”
“Why me?” Tony asked as John pulled over and parked across the street from a small brick apartment building. They were in a residential neighborhood near Chinatown.
John pointed to the building. “She lives on the fourth floor in the front apartment.”
They got out of the car. “Are we meeting your friend?” Tony asked.
“I saw him as I pulled up, but he’s already left. I’d rather you not meet our associates unless you take the job. This is my full-time gig, but we have help from some people with regular jobs and families.”
Some of those associates were in law enforcement, Tony guessed. Still, he appreciated that John wanted to protect his people. “Fair enough,” he said. “Are we going inside?”
John nodded. “The apartment is empty. I have another associate staying with Lesley in a safe location. All we have to do is wait for the asshole to show up.”
“If he does show up, what are you going to do?”
“Depends. I’m hoping he’ll leave Lesley alone this time. I won’t hurt him unless I have to, and if we get really lucky, maybe he’ll have an unregistered firearm or drugs on his person so we can call the police and have him arrested. We do follow the law whenever we can.”
Tony nodded feeling relieved. He’d stop John from killing this guy if he had too, but he was glad John would show restraint. He really hoped the asshole had the sense to stay away.
They took the elevator to the fourth floor, and John let them into the apartment. It was a small one bedroom. The kitchen and living room where all one room and the bedroom and bathroom were down a small hallway. It was cozy.
“Make yourself comfortable,” John said. “I’ll make us some coffee.”
Tony did as he was told sitting on the couch. Though his senses were still on alert for any strange sounds. Soon the scent of freshly brewed coffee filtered from the kitchen. John brought him a cup. Again, it was prepared just how he liked it. John turned on the TV and found a Giants game. They watched the game in companionable silence for a while.
“Can I ask you something?” Tony asked.
“Sure. I can’t promise I’ll answer.”
Tony nodded. “That’s okay. Is John Reese your real name?”
John looked at him for a long moment. “It’s the one I prefer.”
“Hmm. I see. I assume Harold provides you with fake identities so you can do your work.” Harold hadn’t mentioned it, but Tony could read between the lines.
“Yeah. He pays me under several aliases too.”
Tony turned on the sofa so that he was facing John. He wanted to be able to see his face. “It doesn’t bother you? Living under aliases, always being in the shadows? I’ve spent months undercover, and I’m not sure I could live like that all the time.”
John’s eyes met his. “I understand why you feel that way. I couldn’t live like that either. It really isn’t like that though. I may have several aliases, but I’m still me. I don’t have to pretend to be someone something I’m not. I don’t have to try to pretend to be normal. I’m just me. It’s freeing, in a way. I don’t have to worry what anyone else thinks.”
“Except Harold,” Tony pointed out.
John smiled, softening his expression. “Except him. Believe it or not, he has very specific expectations, and he isn’t shy about expressing his disappointment when you don’t meet them. You know where you stand with him. I appreciate that.”
Tony filed that away for later; another piece of the puzzle that were John Reese and Harold Finch.
“I can—” Tony stopped talking when John held up a hand.
“Someone’s in the bedroom,” he whispered, and Tony nodded. Tony pulled out his weapon mirroring John as they both stood.
Tony heard the floorboards creak. Then a voice whispering loudly, “I don’t think she’s here, man. Let’s just go. This is a bad idea.”
“No,” another voice growled. “The bitch is here somewhere, and if she’s not, then we’ll wait. She’s going to listen to me. She has to know she can’t just dump me and get away with it.”
John motioned Tony toward one side of the doorway that led to the hall, and he took the other side. Tony nodded his understanding and got into place. Tony listened as the footsteps got closer. Someone stepped into the living room. He waited until he saw a man standing in the doorway. He stepped out to face the man gun at the ready, and came face to face with Anderson. He recognized the man from his photo in the library.
John had his gun pointed at the second man who looked terrified. “Please don’t hurt me, man,” he pleaded.
“Stop right there, Anderson,” Tony ordered. “Lesley isn’t here.”
Anderson grunted in surprise, and he swiped a knife toward Tony.
Tony rolled his eyes. A knife, really? Against two armed men. This guy really wasn’t all that smart. Tony shoved his gun in the guy’s face and twisted Anderson’s wrist with his other hand until Anderson let go of the knife.
“Hey, let go,” he grunted. “You’re hurting me.”
John already had Anderson’s friend cuffed, and he was going through the guys pockets. He made a triumphant sound and held up a little baggie full of white powder. “Look what we have here.” He threw another pair of cuffs at Tony.
Anderson struggled, but Tony was able to subdue him, cuffed, and quickly patted him down. He found a small handgun in the waistband of his jeans, and snorted a laugh. “You had a gun, and you tried to use your knife on me. I assume you have a permit for this.”
Anderson’s face was red with fury. “Fuck off.”
“Hey, watch your mouth,” Tony told him.
His friend’s face had gone sickly white. “Dude, you had a gun. What the fuck?” he said to Anderson. The guy’s pupils were blown, he was high as a kite.
He turned to John with wide, scared eyes. “I didn’t know he had a gun I swear. I thought we were going to just scare Lesley a little, you know? Get back at her for breaking up with Paul.”
John sighed. “Right, because that makes this okay.”
“Some men are trash,” Tony said.
“No kidding,” John agreed. “I don’t know why women put up with us when idiots like these give us a bad name.”
He and John grinned at each other.
Anderson was glaring. “You two think you’re so funny. I’m going to kill you,” he told Tony. “Then I’m going to kill that bitch Lesley too. Are you fucking her? I bet you both are.”
Wow, this guy was just dripping with class. “Threats, excellent. That’s going to help your case,” Tony grinned wider.
“Fuck you, ass wipe.” Anderson said.
John sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Shut up both of you. You’re giving me a headache. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to call the police. You both are going to go to jail for possession of narcotics and illegal firearms. I’ve got you threatening your girlfriend on tape. If anything happens to her, you’ll be the first person the police look at.”
He leaned close to Anderson’s face. “More importantly, if you ever come near her again – if you touch a hair on her head, I will hunt you down, and I will kill you. There won’t be anywhere you can hide.”
Both men’s eyes widened in fear, and Tony felt a shiver run down his own spine. That was no idle threat.
The smell of urine filled the air, and John wrinkled his nose. “Great. Answer me, do we understand each other?”
“Yes!” Anderson and his friend both said quickly.
“Good,” John smirked.
He got on the phone and called someone, keeping his voice low.
Once he was done, he turned to Tony. “The police are on their way.”
John sent Tony back to the car to wait for him. Tony watched as a pretty African-American cop arrived in an unmarked car and then went inside. A few minutes later John came out and got in the car.
“We’re all set. My friend will take care of everything. Lesley is on her way home, safe and sound.”
“Good. I think this time you got through to the asshole. Hopefully, he’ll know better than to darken her doorstep again.”
John smiled with grim satisfaction. “He will.”
As they drove, Tony was quiet as he thought about what he’d learned today. A part of him wanted to forget that an A.I. watched his every move, but he knew he never would.
“Is it always like that?” he finally asked.
John shrugged not taking his eyes off the road. “That was an easy one. I won’t lie, a lot of the time they’re more complicated. This can be a dangerous and violent job.”
Tony sighed. He didn’t need to be told that. Lonely too, he thought. “Is it worth it?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” John said firmly.
Tony nodded. “I get it.”
“I hope you take the job. I’ve read your file. We spend too much time trying to figure out whether we have a victim or a perpetrator. It’s led to mistakes, and put my people’s lives in danger more than once. You think outside the box. I think you’d be able to figure out what we’re dealing with a lot faster. Plus, we work well together. I don’t say that about many people. It would be nice to have regular back up again.”
Tony knew that hadn’t been easy for John to say. “Thanks, I enjoyed working with you, too.” He had a feeling he could trust John and Harold, despite all the lies they told.
* * *
When they arrived at the library, Harold and Bear were waiting for them. Bear barked and came loping up to John. He put his hands-on John’s shoulders and licked his face. John ordered him to get down, and he did, but he stayed on their heels as they walked over to Harold.
“Good job, both of you,” Harold told him with a smile. “You made a good team.”
“We did,” Tony agreed.
Harold gave him an intent look. “So, what’s the verdict?” he asked. “Will you take us up on the offer of employment?”
Tony blew out a breath. “I’m not sure. I’m more tempted to say yes than I thought I would be. I do have issues with your methods, issues I’m not sure I can get past.”
“I understand,” Harold said. His shoulders drooped a little.
“I’m not saying no. I’ve had several interesting offers and I have several more interviews to get to. I don’t want to make a decision until I explore all my options.”
Harold nodded. “I understand. I’m glad we’re still in the running. There’s a car waiting for you outside IFT. The driver will take you wherever you want to go.”
“Thank you,” Tony said. “It’s been an interesting experience.”
He shook both men’s hands and petted Bear one last time. Then, with a final look around the library, Tony walked away.