Tony was underneath his new baby, the classic Mustang that he had bought from the Trulane brothers. Although the skies were clear, not a cloud in sight, it was bitterly cold. He knew he would need a garage, with heat, if he wanted to continue working on the car through the winter.

He was interested in the space behind the travel agency next door, but it would cut off parking for the three people working there. Another option, if he could find the owner, was the land behind his house. There was no structure on it, although some people appeared to have used it as a dumping ground for used tires and scrap wood. Due to an alley running behind all the buildings on Main Street, there was no way to connect the garage to his house, but it was a short enough walk, even in the rain and snow.

Currently the Mustang was parked in the small area behind his house designated for his personal vehicle. For the time being, he kept that car in the parking lot next to the police station just a block away. When he wasn't working on the Mustang, he would cover the engine, his current project, with a tarp, tying it in place. Luckily, the car's body was in remarkably good shape. The interior, however, was another matter entirely. Both the upholstery and carpet would need replacement.

His cell phone trilled. Rolling out from under the car, Tony dug into his pocket. "DiNozzo."

"Where are you?" Jackson Gibbs asked.

"Behind the house. Give me a minute and I'll come let you in." Tony hung up, climbing stiffly to his feet, moving slowly through the back door. He removed his boots in the small mudroom, padding to the front door in his heavy wool socks.

Unlocking the deadlock, he opened the door to see Jackson at the pots of poinsettias on the front porch.

"Pretty nice looking."

"A gift from Effie Mae. Said I needed some color for the front until I can decorate for Christmas."

"Decorate? It's a little early for that. We haven't had Thanksgiving yet," Jackson replied, shedding his coat into Tony's waiting hands.

"That's what I said. Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to decorating my first home, but not until Thanksgiving has passed." Tony led the way to the kitchen, knowing that the elder Gibbs enjoyed sitting at the small dining table while Tony made coffee or prepared whatever meal he was making when they met for dinner. "Always ticks me off that Thanksgiving is overwhelmed by Christmas sales and decorations. Now it's Halloween that has to compete with Christmas."

Jack nodded. "Won't be long before the Christmas displays stay up year-round."

"I hope not. That would take all the joy and magic out of Christmas." Tony held up a mug. "Coffee? Won't take a minute to fix. Should warm us both up."

"Sounds good." Sitting at the table, Jack pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "Leroy said you might want to buy that lot behind you, but couldn't get in touch with the owner."

"I did some general searching on the internet, but despite the taxes being paid timely, I haven't had any luck finding the owner. County sends the bills to a post office box."

"The owner is 96 years old. Name is Octavius Miller. Best I can find out, he's in a nursing home in North Carolina, near where his son lives with his family. I have his son's name and phone number here."

Amazed, Tony took the paper, reading Jack's chicken scratch writing. "How did you find this?"

"Well, I remember when Octavius used to visit his lots. He has more up and down this alleyway. He hoped it would be an investment for his kids and grandkids, but this part of town never took off. Too many restrictions due to the proximately of the schools. Met his son the last time Octavius visited. Probably fifteen years ago. I know I cashed a check for the son, so I just went back through my files. Luckily the son hadn't moved since then."

"Thanks, Jack. I really appreciate this." Tony filled two mugs with coffee. He brought out a plate of homemade lemon poppy seed cookies to the table as well.

"You still looking for another deputy?" Jack asked as Tony doctored his coffee.

"One, hopefully two. You know someone who might be interested?"

Jack laughed. "Not a chance. Just wondering how the search was going."

"A buddy in L.A. thinks he knows someone who might be interested."

"When will you know?" Jack asked as he dunked a cookie in his coffee.

Tony shrugged. "A couple of days or so. We're trying to arrange something other than just a phone or Skype call. I prefer to meet in person, so that either means I go there or they come here. Right now, with Tanisha's impending wedding, I'd prefer to stay in town."

"She isn't getting married until Christmas, right?"

"Yeah, but with the amount of stuff to be done before hand, she might need extra time off. I want to be here to cover for Tanisha when she needs it."

"You're a good man, Tony."

A slight blush on his face, Tony demurred. "It's just what you do."

"No, it's just what you do. Think of your people, what they need to be happy in their job."


Three days later, a couple walked into the Stillwater Sheriff's Department. The man was tall, obviously muscular even in his winter coat, a wary smile on his dark tan face. The woman with him was quickly assessing the area even while speaking with Effie Mae, her long blonde hair twisted into a loose chignon.

Tony watched relatively unobserved as the couple managed to talk their way past the Keeper of the Gate. He had expected to only talk to Malcolm Stamper, a homicide detective from Long Beach, California, but if he was right, the woman was also a police officer.

"Detective Stamper, welcome to Stillwater." Tony stepped out of his office, offering his hand in greeting.

"Sheriff DiNozzo, thank you. This is my wife, Ashlee."

"Mrs. Stamper, are you uniform or detective?" Tony asked as he shook her hand as well.

Ashlee Stamper threw her head back and laughed. "Uniform. I'm a patrol sergeant in Santa Monica. Well spotted, Sheriff."

"Please have a seat. Water? Coffee? I even have tea, if you're inclined."

"Tea would be lovely," Ashlee responded.

"Coffee, sir." Malcolm gingerly sat in the visitor's chair.

After setting the tea to steep and pouring a cup of coffee for Malcolm, Tony sat behind his desk. "So, I know that you are interested in coming to work here as deputy sheriff, Detective Stamper, but what about you, Sergeant?"

Ashlee blinked. "We weren't aware that you were looking for more than one person."

"My goal is to have two new deputies, if possible. Let's talk, then if we both like what we hear, we go from there. Tell me about yourselves. I've got the official resume stuff, I want to hear why you both want to make such a huge change."

Ashlee and Malcolm exchanged a long, intense look before Malcolm began speaking. "There's a couple of reasons. The first is cost. Even with both our salaries, it is expensive to live comfortably in California. We have a small house in Long Beach that we rent. Makes a long distance for Ash to drive to her job. We have two children. Jennilynn, who is 6 years old. And Marc, 14 and convinced he is an adult. With my long hours and Ashlee's, we don't have as much time to give to them as we should."

"To be honest, Marc has friends that, well, if they aren't gang members, they are pretty damn close!" Ashlee exclaimed. "Sorry, sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for. At least you are involved enough with your son to be worried about this. We're all cops, we've all seen parents who just can't be bothered. Or are too busy to notice." Tony got up to pour the tea into two china cups, bringing one to Ashlee. "Honey or sugar? I also have lemon slices and cream in the fridge, if you're interested."

"Honey and cream, if it isn't too much trouble?"

"Since I'll be getting it for myself, no trouble at all. Be right back." Tony walked to the meeting/break room where he had installed a newer refrigerator to keep lunch and drinks for the deputies and staff. He knew that Ashlee needed a moment to recover.

Once Tony returned, he got down to business. Now that he knew why they wanted to move, he could turn his focus on their expectations and what he could offer, both jobwise and personally.

A little over an hour later, he was ushering them out of his office, pleased to have his two last hires. If they agreed. Directing them to the diner at the other end of the parking lot, Tony decided to call for help from Fiona Ridgely and Ava Alvarez. The women would know what the parents would need to know in regards to their children. Plus, Manny's wife was a realtor who could show them the houses available in the area suitable for a family.

Effie Mae walked to Tony's office once the couple were allowed out the parking lot entrance. "Well?"

Tony grinned. "If they accept, and I think they will, we now have our full-time staff!" Impulsively he leaned forward and gave Effie Mae a smacking kiss on the cheek.

She frowned, but her eyes were twinkling. "Go off with you. Honestly."

Tony laughed, then quickly got on the phone to Fiona and Ava. His new team was complete. Even considering the amount of time involved in moving across the country, as well as the two weeks or so to work out their notice, he would have everyone in place long before Tanisha would leave on her honeymoon.

The End

Author's Notes: Thank you for sticking through the long gaps as I've written this story. There will be another installment in the series, but not for a while, so be patient. I'm still working on other Tony-centric NCIS stories, never fear!

April 2017