A cool ocean breeze blew through the Newport streets, passing by the few people who were out walking in the middle of the business day. Leafs crinkled under the feet of the said pedestrians, which included a frail elderly couple enjoying a peaceful walk; a few high school boys ditching school, who judging by their careless demeanor, would probably do something stupid and get caught before the day was over; a middle-aged man in a dark gray suit, off to make a deal that would be the cause for celebration at his home in the late evening; and a young, fair-looking woman in standard Service Dress Blue.
Janet Riddowski had promise laid out before her. Her life was set in the direction she wanted it, and she was eager to get moving in that direction. She was in Newport for the purpose of seeing a veteran NCIS operative, a Lieutenant Commander named Ted Compton. She would be conducting her first case under his command. But first, she had to know what her case was.
Janet had been to Naval Station Newport before. Janet had grown up in the Windy City. She was born there, raised there, and had even gone through college just a three short blocks from her home. It had been rather lucky that the U. S. Navy's boot camp was in Illinois; in fact, it too was in Chicago. She had then gone to Naval Station Newport to attend the Naval Justice School, marking the first time she had left her home city for an extended time. Now she was back, after visiting her family back in the Windy City, and the familiar feelings of nervousness and anxiety returned, feelings that were added too with the fact that she was being given a chance to show her potential in the field of Naval Justice.
As she walked through the doors of the Naval Justice School again after just a few weeks, she eyed several recruits marching with a purpose towards their next class. They looked at her with strange expressions, and it took her a bit to figure it out: they thought she was a full-fledged NCIS operative. Well, as far as they could tell, she was. She had to be, because she was here and she obviously wasn't a student. The young recruits were looking at her and seeing their future, their goals, their whole reason for being here in Newport that day and many others. Sorry, kids, you're a bit off, she thought to herself as they turned away and continued the search for their next class. I'm just a bit above you right now, on my way to my own next class.
Janet found this "next class" just a short walk down the hall from the doors. She turned into the office and knocked on the doors, hearing a surprisingly not-commanding voice from within answering, "Come on it." She did so and came face to face with Ted Compton.
The Lieutenant Commander was full of surprises, just on meeting him. For a rank like his he seemed on the young side. There was no doubt he was older than Janet, but he was nowhere near the old, worn-out man she had pictured in her mind.
"Hello, Ensign Riddowski. I trust everything here is as you remember it?"
"Not exactly. I'm a bit different," she replied easily.
Compton laughed softly at her response. "You'll find that a lot of things are no longer the same, Ensign. Things change with just a little bit of time." He handed her a slip of paper, labeled "NCIS Case 4417039, Petty Officer 3, Hayden A. Wesson, MIA." "This is the case. It appears a pilot by the name of Hayden A. Wesson, stationed on the battleship USS Solomon, disappeared during a test run with his plane, a Hornet fighter jet. Unfortunately for the Navy, he vanished with the Hornet."
Janet glanced up from the file she had been half-reading when Compton spoke those last words. "A fighter is missing?"
"Yes, and double unfortunately, the pilot Wesson was one of the Solomon's top pilots. It's not known how he vanished, but reports say he was ignoring calls to return to the ship. Which means that this MIA case may be AWOL, and he's got a functional jet that the Navy would prefer to have back."
"Well those sound like rather serious allegations, Lieutenant Commander."
"Indeed. But if they are true, we've got a much bigger problem then just a lost pilot, even one as skilled as Wesson."
"Where is his family? If he's really gone AWOL, his most likely course of action will be to contact them and try to find a safe place to stay."
"True. Lucky for us, his family is in the area, at Tiverton. If you want to get there, you have the go-ahead." Janet turned to leave, but before she got out, Compton said, "One more thing, Ensign." She turned, and he said, "You seem like a bright young woman. I have confidence in you. This case can make or break a career. Do well."
"Yes, sir," she answered, then turned around quickly and left before the smile spread across her face.
Tiverton was a lot like Newport, at least as far as climate was concerned. It had a small-town vibe about it. The fire station was only one story high, and on enough land to have a small, grassy yard. Houses were built small and somewhat far apart; at least, far enough that homeowners could grow gardens and their children could play catch. The roads were oddly smooth and unworn, which was probably because not a lot of cars were driving down them. It was nothing like Chicago.
Even the apartment complexes were spacious. Janet was used to apartments as large, plain, efficient buildings. They did what they were designed to do extremely well, and that was to house people. Apartments as Janet remembered them were collections of rooms from which a person was supposed to make an entire house. They provided a lot of living space for a lot of people at the expense of homeliness for those people. She remembered when her family was forced to live in an apartment; it could never be home.
But in Tiverton, even these buildings – these vile, cold, unwelcoming living spaces – took on a new light. There was a large, collective porch attached to the front of the building, where an elderly woman sat in a rocking chair sipping coffee from a shiny black mug. The woman, despite her age, showed signs of beauty in her crisp blue eyes and just barely blonde hair. In many ways she reminded her of her own grandmother, who had died when Janet was only eight years old. Also standing on the porch was a middle-aged man in a business suit smoking a pipe. She hadn't seen anyone smoke pipes in a long time. The porch itself was whitewashed, and the building it led into was white as well. To Janet, it looked like a giant, friendly house for a lot of people, not the nasty memory she had of apartments.
As she approached the door to the complex, the old woman turned her head and gave Janet a friendly hello. Janet nodded back and smiled. The man smoking a pipe didn't say anything to anybody as she walked through the door, a small bell announcing that the door had been opened and chiming again when she closed it. She walked up the steps to the second floor and room 13. As she stepped in front of it, she heard a deep, loud voice command, "Come in," before she had the chance to knock.
One look inside this small room undid everything the rest of the house had done to correct her assumption of apartments. The small couch leaning against a wall was torn in several places, its soft, cottony interior leaking out. The outdated television was sitting on the floor, not on a cabinet or nightstand as was usually the case. From the looks of it, the floors hadn't gotten a cleaning in months, and the curtains were drawn, cutting off most of the room's supply of light. Sitting on the ratty couch was a young man in equally ratty jeans and an oddly clean white sweatshirt. His hair was strewn about his head in a completely random, chaotic mess; and yet it looked somehow planned, as if he had sat down and designed it himself. He glanced up at her and said, "I heard your footprints stop outside my door. What do you need?"
"Are you Dane Wesson?" she asked him, a little unnerved by his appearance and demeanor. He nodded, and she decided to go along with her planned interview. "Do you know anything about your brother Hayden?"
"I know he's a big-shot smart-ass who thinks he's better than me cause he mad it as a Navy pilot. I know he likes cats and wants to buy one but can't have them on base. Other than that, I know he isn't gonna make it for Christmas this year and that's it."
"I'm afraid your brother went missing about four days ago. We don't know what happened, but we're trying to figure that out now."
Dane just looked up at her. "Missing? Well that sucks. Where was he when he went missing?"
"Over the ocean. He was flying a fighter jet and flew off."
"Off into the sunset, eh? Dramatic. But he's not the kind of person who would try and escape with a Navy plane. He's not dumb enough."
As Janet looked at the kid, something seemed strange about him. He was saying these words as if he was trying to convince himself. Denial. He was in denial about this. About something she was telling him? She found herself leaning in towards him and asking, "Do you know anything about this?"
He looked up and held her gaze for a few moments. His breathing was rhythmic and slow as his eyes matched hers and never looked away. Finally he spoke, without so much as a trace of emotion, "Yes."
Now we're getting somewhere, Janet thought to herself. "What do you know?"
"I know you're not going to find him."
"Well how can you possibly know that?" She silently added to herself, he's here.
"Because you're looking here. You're investigating the wrong man."
"And who should I be investigating?"
"You're the NCIS. You have to know, because I don't."
She handed him a card with her contact information and told him to tell her if he found anything, then left. She made it down the steps and halfway through the porch before she realized she had never told him she was NCIS. She turned around and her eyes fell to the old woman, sitting in her rocking chair. The woman looked back and shook her head slowly, as if it would fall off if she wasn't careful. "Don't bother going back, darling. It won't help any more."