Nell and Eric had paid little attention to the interrogations which had held the focus of both Callen and Deeks in Ops. They analysed, scrutinised, and liaised with esteemed colleagues and peers at other agencies to finally confirm the audio of Callen's voice at the scene of DuValle's murder had been doctored. The words were spliced together from covert recordings taken without Callen's knowledge using extremely sophisticated technology. The pair visibly relaxed as they told the senior agent the good news however the response was not reciprocated. It had been over an hour later when the news filtered through that the Medical Examiner and forensic team confirmed the knife used to slit DuValle's throat was not the same as the knife he owned. He knew that, as did everyone else on the team but they all knew the i's had to be dotted and the t's had to be crossed. There could be no margin for error and no element of doubt.
Finally, Hetty and Nate, and Kensi and Sam finished their first round of interrogations and both Callen and Deeks beathed a sigh of relief. The concentration required to pay attention to two simultaneous interviews was unsurprisingly, quite a challenge. Callen leaned forward in his chair and placed his head in his hands. He was tired. No, scratch that. He was exhausted and hadn't slept in at least the past twenty-four hours. He knew the moment he stood up, that he would pull on his bruised body and aching muscles. He eased out of his chair and let out a groan which garnered worried looks from Deeks, Nell and Eric.
'You good?' Deeks asked, quickly rising to his feet in concern.
'Yeah, I'm good,' Callen responded. 'Sam, Deeks and I'll be at the boatshed in 10.'
'Copy that,' Sam replied through his earpiece.
Callen turned to Deeks. 'We need to finish this. The blame is shifting to DuValle when the others are just as culpable. And Raider's role in this and his true status is still not clear.'
'Agreed partner. I was thinking Raider might have exaggerated his black ops or agency connections.'
'I never got any undercover agent vibes from him. Which means he's either extremely good at cementing his alias and hiding in plain sight, and not so good at actually finding out anything useful. Or he's not really an agent at all.'
'I told you he was hinky, but I can't see him as our killer or being responsible for switching out the grenades for real bombs.'
'Maybe, maybe not. We don't know anything about him really.' Callen admitted.
'Well,' Nell drew out the vowels and swivelled to face the pair. 'We do actually. I've been able to confirm that everything Thomason Hawker found out about Raider is true. His real name is Mark Stapleford, he has worked in special ops, in black ops and with connections to the CIA – through those missions. It seems that someone has worked up a hybrid alias for him, one that is rooted in truth…'
Callen and Deeks shared a look and smiled, neither voicing their initial thoughts that Hetty had created their aliases in much the same manner.
'C'mon brother,' Deeks clapped his hand on Callen's shoulder, deliberately ignoring the slight wince which crossed Callen's face. 'Let's go where the action's really at.'
Ten minutes later, the pair arrived at the boatshed. Hetty had cleared their arrival and both Lyneham and Ariel remained imprisoned in their respective interrogation rooms. Sam looked up as they entered and barely managed to stifle a laugh.
'Man, you look rough,' he said to Callen. 'You sure you don't need to be checked out by the medics again?'
'You don't look well, Mr Callen.' Hetty agreed. 'Best you sit down before you fall down. We need to wrap up this case so you, Mr Callen, can go home and sleep.'
Callen looked around. The faces staring back all showed concern and he was slightly taken aback. He'd been through worse, much worse. He had barely looked in the mirror when he had used the restroom earlier, and now he took stock of his reflection in the inactive TV screen. The distorted image revealed scruffy, dirty hair and longer than usual stubble. The bags under his eyes were more pronounced due to his pallor. And that was just what he could make out from his face. He was still moving a little gingerly from the battering he took during the explosion and tumble down the stairwell, and he was thankful the ringing in his ears had died down during his ride back to the ranch. The medics confirmed he had badly bruised but no cracked ribs - initially sustained in the fall, made worse by Stone's punch, and exacerbated when he was brutally brought to the ground by the Taser. Instead of heeding Hetty's advice, he placed his hands on the back of the chair and made eye contact with each of his team.
'I'm fine Hetty, although sleep would be good,' Callen admitted with a rue smile. 'So, do you have a masterplan? If so, can we just get on with it?'
'I have no masterplan. As it stands, the evidence you and Mr Deeks provide will be crucial in convicting Joshua Lyneham and Ariel Du Bouchard although I fear they have very aptly laid the blame at the door of a dead man.'
'I hate to say it Hetty, but DuValle was evil.' Deeks said. He glanced sideways at Callen before continuing. 'And there was most definitely gonna be a move to make a louder bang, using more powerful means in the next few months. These talks happened when DuValle was out of the picture.'
'They were looking to step up their campaign. They put it around that DuValle's absence was because he'd been sent to the East coast for another weapons haul. There was nothing I heard that suggested they would start injuring or killing people.' Callen confirmed.
'True,' Deeks admitted. 'But then you need to ask yourself why they were involving the militia.'
'You said the militia only stayed a few days.' Kensi spoke up. 'Why was that?'
'I don't know.' Callen slowly shook his head as he spoke. He glanced up suddenly and said, 'You need to let me talk to Lyneham.'
'What?' Sam exclaimed.
'That's not a good idea.' Nate interjected.
'Are you talking about burning your cover, Mr Callen?' Hetty asked, curious as to her lead agent's train of thought.
'I'm not sure burning my alias will encourage Josh to be forthcoming.' Callen replied with a smirk.
'He's been round the block Callen,' Deeks said. 'If you're handcuffed and placed in the same room as him, he'll know you've been turned and clam up.'
'Either that or he'll quickly work out you're the undercover agent and you'll be burned anyway.' Kensi added.
'So, what are you thinking?' Sam needed to knock some sense into Callen. He still thought Lyneham had been playing Callen and in his mind, Callen was still too fixated on the bond he had formed with the criminal. In fact, he was pretty sure that Callen wasn't thinking at all.
Callen stared at the faces around him. If he were honest, he had no plan and he had no idea what he would say to Josh if he were to enter the interrogation room right at this moment. He would just wing it and improvise. He blinked heavily and looked up at the ceiling, before exhaling loudly. Before he could speak, Deeks started.
'Look, it's been a long day – and night. Maybe we need time to analyse everything Lyneham and Ariel have told us, and we need unredacted information about Raider. Howabouts we sleep on it and start afresh tomorrow?'
'Damn,' Sam sounded impressed. 'Three months with Callen has made you realise you're the sensible one out of the pair of you. Damn!'
'Mr Deeks is right,' Hetty agreed. 'We'll get these two to returned to lock-up and I want all of you to go home and rest. And that includes you Mr Callen. Go home. Do not sleep here or in Ops. Go - home.'
Callen weighed up Hetty's warning about not sleeping in the boatshed or ops. The boatshed would have been more comfortable and private but with a higher risk of him being around at the wrong moment - when Lyneham or Ariel arrived back after their night in the detention cells. Or even worse, Hetty might actually catch him there. Instead, he decided the safer option and the location which would incur less of Hetty's wrath when she found him (as he knew she would), would be the couch in the bull pen. She wouldn't punish him, just offer a light reprimand, well aware that after a long undercover operation, he just needed somewhere familiar to decompress. Not that Callen would ever admit, but the knowledge that Hetty had fashioned the ops centre in her own unique way, made it the safe and comfortable option, against which his house could not compete. Sheer exhaustion meant Callen fell into a deep sleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes, not waking again until four in the morning. A quick tour of the office confirmed all was safe and he soon fell back into a light sleep that became fraught with vivid dreams which saw him tossing and turning so much he became tangled in his blanket, fighting against it until he actually fell off the couch and landed on the floor with a thud. Jolted awake in a such an undignified manner, Callen sat up, back against the couch and tried to calm his breathing. His heart was racing, but he could not recall his dream - or nightmare. He glanced at his watch, it was now five thirty and he had half an hour before the office would officially open for the day and he would bet the shirt off his back that Hetty would be in on the dot, with Nell and Eric following shortly after. He scrubbed his hands over his face before standing to fold the blanket, replacing it neatly on the couch, and headed to the gym where he could freshen up before his day started in earnest.
Ten minutes later Callen returned to the bull pen and sat at his desk. He had not shaved in case he was required to maintain his alias at any point but at least he felt fully awake. He opened his laptop and scanned his inbox before closing the lid again. Emails could wait, a coffee couldn't and besides which, he was actually looking forward to returning to a semblance of normality, of banter with his team and then pulling together an airtight case. The previous few days had been extremely stressful, especially with him and Deeks only being able to observe the interrogations. The accusations from Josh and Ariel at various points had even caused him to privately challenge his life choices and question whether he had lost his edge in undercover work. Slowly, the team drifted into the office in the order Callen predicted, and he raised his coffee cup in greeting. Smiles were shared all round. By the time the clock had ticked round to quarter past the hour, the team were all in ops and facing the big screen. Hetty commanded their attention and the room fell silent as she approached the centre.
'Firstly, there is good news. Mr Callen, SECNAV has conferred with Homeland Security and you have been fully cleared of any suspicion in the murder of DuValle. You are however, required to meet with DHS in Washington and to also undertake a full psychological assessment at NCIS headquarters, whilst you're in town.'
'What? Why? So, I'm cleared of murder, but someone is questioning my role in all this? Does this mean I'm no longer operational? And Nate is top in his field so why use someone else?'
'Good questions, Mr Callen, and amongst your paranoia I believe I heard you singing Mr Getz' praises. And he is even here to witness this once in a lifetime event.'
Callen glanced at Nate, who was trying not to grin. He shook his head with a rue smile as he looked away, returning his attention to Hetty.
'Hetty,' Callen half-heartedly protested. He couldn't help the way he naturally reacted to anyone who wanted to probe around inside his mind.
'It is not up for discussion. As you well know there are bureaucratic hoops we all must jump through from time to time.'
'And you never know, I might just be in Washington at the same time as you…' Nate left the sentence hanging.
'I'll let you decide if that would be in your favour. Now.' Hetty shut the door firmly on that aspect of the briefing. 'Joshua Lyneham and Ariel Du Bouchard have led us a merry dance, leading us down the garden path with suggestions of Callen's alias being guilty, to blaming a dead man, to throwing Raider, AKA Mark Stapleford, under a bus. At this point, the only thing we can be sure of, is that Callen is innocent. It seems they do not seriously consider Callen's alias to be guilty either, which could be because they've realised their plans have failed. This we need to probe them on further. And then there's Raider. So, what else do we know about him?'
Callen sat in the interrogation room. His hands were cuffed in front of him and laying on his lap rather than on the table. He gently jigged his legs up and down as he waited impatiently for someone – anyone - to enter. He'd been sitting there for the best past of an hour and he was bored. Bored and sore, as the wooden chair was not comfortable, particularly with the injuries he was currently nursing. His fingers moved to the bobby pin with which he could so easily free himself from the handcuffs, yet he resisted the temptation. Instead, he rested his head on the table and closed his eyes. He thought of Deeks and wondered why Hetty had never paired them up before. Sure, they were chalk and cheese, polar opposites, but then so were he and Sam. Callen thought he could read people, however Deeks was too much of a joker for Callen to really have seen him. Of course he knew about Deeks' childhood, yet the way he behaved suggested that he was not affected at all. Deeks grew up in an abusive family. Callen grew up in multiple abusive families. Deeks was in a serious relationship with Kensi, Callen was in a relationship with Anna, albeit one that was full of trust issues, mostly from his side. He had seen plenty of times before, how some were able to arrive an accommodation with their past, enabling them move on and look to a future that was within their reach. Deeks was like that. Sure the man still had his issues; the class clown, hiding the pain, a string of relationships before he and Kensi finally stopped skirting around each other. His innate desire to always help vulnerable women. Callen thought about himself. He was a closed book, whose pages blew open every now and again during a storm and left him feeling extremely vulnerable. His needed to stay in his past to find who he was, his name, his father, his origins - understanding his very essence. His upbringing made him wary of others, forced him to hide his feelings, pretending to be someone else, to take beatings for the greater good. He –
'Wake up, Mr Gladstone.' The door to the interrogation room abruptly swung open and Callen lifted his head to see Hetty and Nate enter, with Josh Lyneham in between them. He placed his cuffed hands on top of the table and narrowed his eyes as he met Josh's stare.
'I don't believe there is any call for introductions,' Nate said, gently pushing Lyneham into the chair opposite Callen's. Nate sat down next to him while Hetty remained standing just inside the door she had gently closed.
The two men remained silent. Callen could almost see the cogs turn in Lyneham's head, just as he projected the same thought process. If Rob Gladstone was already in the room, then Lyneham was there as a plant and had sold his former friend out to the feds.
'You know we could just leave them,' Nate commented. 'After all, it looks like they have so much to say to each other.'
'Well that's one idea,' Hetty replied. 'How about it boys?'
Callen and Lyneham continued to stare at each other in silence, sizing each other up and trying to decide their next move.
'Or,' Nate shifted his chair to the end of the table and opened a hefty file. 'We could just talk about the evidence we've accumulated so far.'
Nate regurgitated everything the team had discovered the previous day, the past lives of Ariel's, DuValle, Lyneham and Callen's alias. The weapons, attacks, the hacking skills of Thomason. The areas that really required further probing were still the same as before. Who switched the weapons, who killed DuValle, and added to that, what role did the militia play, and who the hell was Raider. The two men remained silent when questions were fired in their direction, neither wanting to be seen to be either helping themselves or NCIS. Occasionally Nate would place his figure by his ear, listening to someone talking into his ear piece, prompting his to change direction and attempt to throw his audience. One time in particular he looked particularly agitated and stared pointedly at Hetty, who shook her head.
Callen knew most of this was an act to unnerve Lyneham, although he could not be sure if fresh information and evidence had been uncovered by the team. It had been agreed by all that to furnish him with any form of comms or tracking device would be foolish. Expect the unexpected. If he and Lyneham escaped, they may both need to rebuild their trust. Temporarily lost in his thoughts, Callen was startled as Nate abruptly pushed his chair back and stood up.
'We've got er, a situation.' He looked at both suspects. 'Lyneham, I need to cuff you.'
Lyneham dutifully placed his hands in front of him and Nate placed the handcuffs around his wrists, securing them tightly.
'We will be two minutes at the most,' Hetty told the men sternly. 'I want you both sitting in exactly the same position when we return.'
Without another word, Hetty and Nate left the room, leaving Callen and Lyneham with their cuffed hands on the table, facing each other.