Tonight, I learned an inventive new way to smuggle drugs. Thanks, NCIS!
Petty Officer Jake Miller is found dead under a lawnmower at the golf course where he works part time. Palmer estimates his time of death at around 4 a.m., his start time, and McGee finds a bloody rake missing a pair of tines in the nearby bunker.
Blood on the rake matches blood on Miller’s shirt, and none of it matches Miller, which means they’re looking for a murderer with some wounds.
Miller’s manager confirms what in his Naval records show: that Miller’s a terminally shy guy. He also received several calls from a landscaping business nearby, but when Reeves and Bishop show up to question the owner, she brushes it off as part of the deliveries he receives from them. She’s extremely cagey about the whole thing and may as well be wearing a sign that says, “You’ll be coming back to me before the end of the hour!”
When McGee and Torres check out Miller’s apartment, they discover an elaborate ham radio set-up. This delights McGee because he was a total ham radio head as a kid. “When I was a kid, my dad used to sneak me into the cockfights,” Torres offers.
Then they draw their guns on the dog walker entering Miller’s apartment, and one fella, Benji, barks his head off at McGee, which surprises the handler because Bejni’s usually a good boy. Who’s a good boy? Benji’s a good boy!
Back at HQ, McGee reviews the extensive notes Miller made of his hours and hours of ham radio calls. His handle was Jaybird, and when pressed, McGee tells Torres that his old handle was Timinator. When the Timinator contacts Ricochet, the man on the other end of Miller’s final transmission, Ricochet immediately guesses that Miller’s dead because of the dangerous situation Jaybird was reportedly involved in. Then the line goes dead, and McGee can’t get him back.
Palmer has ruled Miller’s cause of death as strangulation followed by a broken neck, and surveillance footage shows one car leaving around the time of death. The owner had reported the vehicle stolen, but thankfully a police officer in a nearby town calls in a sighting.
Bishop, Reeves, and Gibbs make the hourlong drive only to find the car gone. (The officer who called it in received an alert of a stolen shopping cart, left to take care of it, and found the parking spot empty upon his return. Small towns, amirite?) Thankfully, Gibbs the human crime sniffer-outer spots a veterinary clinic in the middle of the dumpy strip mall.
Dr. Cho, the vet, at first denies having treated any humans, but when Bishop digs the bloody rake tines out of the trash, he changes his story. (Also, without a search warrant, trash contents that aren’t beyond the curtilage would need to be in plain sight, no? If it was a closed trash can, could that be fruit of the poisonous tree? Or did Cho open himself up to that by inviting them in? Lawyers, please discuss.)
Cho has a history of operating on people and in fact became the go-to guy if you had cash and a gunshot wound you needed treating, no questions asked. But Cho got caught and cleaned up his act — until the night before, when a bleeding man walked in and demanded treatment. Cho says he saved the guy’s life but didn’t get his name and number. Gibbs sets him up with a sketch artist.
Watching from behind the glass, Jack says the killer is smart enough to steal a car, connected enough to know about the people-friendly vet, and cunning enough to wear gloves in places where fingerprints are likely. What they need now is motive.
Abby offers a possibility: Although Miller had no drugs in his system, his hair, clothes, and shoes were covered in cocaine, as if he’d rolled around in a big pile.
“I’ve never done cocaine before, but I think he was doing it wrong,” Palmer offers. Never change, you beautiful man!
McGee asks Jack to listen to a recording of his brief call with Ricochet, which isn’t helpful, but when she visits Miller’s apartment, she discovers a high school yearbook with only three signatures. She pegs him as a quiet, shy man who worked alone and took anxiety meds; a large birthmark on his face might have made it even harder for him as a child and kept him isolated as an adult.
Isolated except for ham radio, that is. There, he was anonymous and confident. In fact, his outgoing voicemail message is a big booming radio voice with which he identifies his ham radio information.
This sparks a thought in McGee: Maybe Ricochet’s a play on an actual name. One quick search of amateur radio licenses later, and they’ve found Rick O’Shea living a mere four miles from Miller. (Next page: Benji’s the key to cracking the case)