In Abby's lab, as in Ducky's, there is a bright plastic frame. Its digital images change every 20 seconds or so. Gibbs has learned to not look at the frame, but he can't help noticing that in just the few weeks since the frame's arrived, the images have already been updated. The images have all the flaws of the amateur and over-fond photographer. But they show an attractive family just the same. Most of the pictures are of father and daughter: on the beach, washing a car, watching TV in matching football gear. Since Abby isn't in her lab this morning, he has an easier time of not looking than usual. When the slideshow has run through twice, he gives up waiting on Abby.

He has a conference scheduled in MTAC at 10, but when he steps in he realizes that the director's weekly meeting with assorted SAICs is still in progress. He stays back in the shadows where he can see without being seen.

This sort of administrative chore is why he's glad he's never held a real management post. Having to listen, day after day, to the SAIC Naples complain about funding is more than he could bear. Somehow the improved technology makes it worse. Once upon a time it would be grainy footage, just one screen. Now it's tight and bright and alongside the giant noggin of Bob Williams, SAIC Brussels, are the smaller noggins of the other Europe SAICs.

And then the screen changes, Bob gets tucked back into the corner, and DiNozzo, SAIC Rota, is now eight times life size in better-than-live color and definition. Just over his shoulder is a picture frame that distractingly changes images every few seconds, and occasionally gives off a tiny squawk. Beyond that is blue sky and Quonset huts.

"…the usual stuff, but our biggest ongoing problem is still the attacks on our personnel by locals. Nothing real serious yet, but they seem to be escalating in frequency and severity. We had two carjackings last week."

"Organized? Are you catching the bad guys?"

"Doesn't seem organized at this point. We've caught a few, but it doesn't matter. We're basically running a catch and release program here."

"How are things with the LEOs?"

"Friendly enough, but LEOs don't decide who gets prosecuted, and there are some real resource problems. Also, the city's really dependent on the base, which makes things very touchy."

"I don't suppose you've done anything to make anyone any more touchy."

"I may have misused a bullfighting metaphor the other day."

"Stick to English. You have enough trouble with that."

"Roger. Any chance you can help me out on the manpower issue, sir? I've had one open slot for nine months."

"You let him go, DiNozzo."

"And I'd still do it even if I knew you'd never let me fill the slot. So will you let me fill the slot? Especially since I've got two other people on detail in the agent afloat program."

"You said yourself you're dealing with mostly routine stuff."

"But I have the remainder of the Fifth coming in next week—all the ships that have been over in Turkey cleaning up after the earthquake. They're 12 weeks overdue, so they and their tenders will be in Rota for a while. And everyone's going to be very happy to be ashore. I'll have my hands full. There's only so many cantinas and so many senoritas in Rota."

"Sounds like you need MPs more than agents."

"I don't have many MPs either, director."

"I'll see if I can round up a few for you."

"I appreciate that, but if they can't speak Spanish, don't bother. I can play ugly American flatfoot without any help."

"I'm sure you can." The other SAICs disappear, and for a moment only DiNozzo is left. "You'll be getting some new directives shortly. Let me know if you've got any questions."

"I can't wait."

The director gives the cut sign to the conference operator, and just before DiNozzo disappears, he looks at someone off screen and says, "Do you ever knock?"

Gibbs comes down the steps, and Vance turns to him. "What can I do for you, Jethro?"

"I've got a conference with State."

Vance smiles. "I'm always happy to keep State waiting. The room's all yours."

It takes the conference tech a moment to bring up the Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for Upper Nowheresville. His eyes are deceiving him, but when he looks at the blank screen he thinks he can see an afterimage of DiNozzo, the big smiling head, the bland government background. They have not spoken for six years.