It was hanging right where he’d left it the last time he’d been under for a case of this nature; the black trash bag tucked behind a couple of worn, long-sleeved flannel shirts on the right-hand side of his bedroom closet. He’d warned Kensi about it even before she had started spending several nights a week at his place and she’d learned to give that particular piece of his wardrobe a wide berth. His warnings had been reinforced when she’d inadvertently opened it late one night when she’d mistaken it for the black garment bag that held his LAPD dress uniform. The resulting pungent emanations had sent even Monty sprinting for the relative fresh air of the living-room. From that day forward, Kensi new exactly what that bag held and left it for her boyfriend to deal with.
As Deeks tugged his undercover bag from its place of honor, he caught his reflection in the full length mirror that hung on the back of the closet door. The initial briefing for the mission had been only a week ago and now that the preliminary work had been completed by Eric and Nell who supplied all of the pertinent data, the next step was to get boots on the ground and that’s why the detective found himself putting the final touches on his alias’ clothing. Since the meeting up in Ops where it was decided that he’d be the tip of the spear, he’d stopped his occasional trimming of his beard, letting it fill in a little more, giving him an even scruffier appearance. Sam had taken several opportunities to teasingly point that out to him while Kensi had merely complained about how it tickled her when he kissed her neck, her stomach… or the insides of her thighs.
Another aspect of his ‘method prep’ had been to spend the last forty-five minutes rolling around with Monty out at the edge of his apartment building’s parking lot where the crumbling pavement gave way to California dirt. Since he’d been wearing only a small pair of shorts, he was covered almost head to toe in dark smudges and smears that only added to the effect. After ensuring that he’d ground the dirt into his skin, he’d tugged on a weathered pair of ratty blue jeans and a battered t-shirt, then repeated the exercise. No one could ever claim that he ever took any shortcuts with his disguises and pulling off this particular one was almost second nature. If any of the inhabitants of the camp he was planning to infiltrate that evening were to give him a thorough inspection, they’d find him to be the perfect example of a person that indwelled the dark recesses of the streets belonging to the City of Angels.
Deeks slung the bag holding his ‘experienced’ army jacket that had seen better days over his shoulder when the bedroom door slipped open, revealing an anxious Kensi Blye standing just outside in the hallway. After giving him the once over, she let her head drop to the floor at her feet before she spoke.
“You about ready, partner?”
Even through the grime and sweat covering his face, his crooked smirk was obvious. “Almost… I was just about to pull out old faithful here…”
It appeared that he was about to actually open the bag when Kensi’s loud gasp pulled him up short.
“Don’t you dare open that in here!” He couldn’t hide his smile and her horrified expression morphed into one of her more infamous glares. “Ugh… I hate you almost as much as I hate that jacket.” Kensi spun, her words thrown back at him over her shoulder as she moved down the hallway.
“Oh come on, Fern!” Deeks called out as he ambled his way after her. “You love this jacket… it’s a classic.”
“Yeah, if classic means something old and dead that should have been put out of its misery years ago.” She’d stopped by his kitchen counter, resting her hip against the edge of the marble top.
The scruffy blonde stopped a few feet away, well aware of the odor his clothing and body were putting off into the air around him. “You stick with what works and it’s been working pretty well for me over the past few years.”
“Yeah… working if you want to attract every fly within a five mile radius.” Kensi cackled at her little joke, even as she gave him the look that told him that it was killing her not to be wrapped up in his arms in the moments before he had to leave.
“Cute… real cute.” He trailed off as he crept closer to her, forcing her to slide along the edge of the countertop to escape from him and the smell that struck her nose like a fist.
“Ugh… no, stay away… you smell.”
Deeks stopped so he could pout, his hand covering his heart in mock pain. “You weren’t saying that last night…” He waggled his eyebrows in that way that would either turn her on or annoy her, at the moment she wasn’t sure which it was. “…or this morning.”
Kensi continued to ease her way toward the front door, pinching her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “That was before you played Wrestle Mania with Monty in the dirt… eeek! Don’t you dare!” She squealed out loud when her boyfriend made a move to cut off her escape route but he pulled up short at the girlish sound that she’d made.
Deeks almost had her at the last moment but deferred to allow her to escape rather than suffer the fallout if he actually did make contact and ‘share’ his disguise with the woman he loved. He smiled warmly at her as she moved away from him, her back coming to rest against the front door, their eyes locking for a second or two… and they took a moment to enjoy it for what it was.
Kensi tucked a strand of stray hair behind her ear, and Deeks felt his pulse quicken as the heat from their earlier bedroom activities returned. She caught his change in expression and cleared her throat to keep him from leading them down a path that would require large amounts of soap and water along with some serious scrubbing on his part. “Do you have everything you need?”
The look in Deeks eyes held nothing back and she felt a familiar heat rise from her chest and creep across her neck as he started to close with her.
“Yeah, well… almost.” His look shifted and she felt the heat drop to her loins.
When she glanced back up at him, he was already upon her, his hand coming out toward her waist. Just before his fingers could wrap around her, she dropped her head as she turned the doorknob, giving her the chance to quickly duck away from him and out onto the terrace in front of his door. “Come on, Slow Poke… Callen and Sam are waiting for us.”
Deeks stepped through his door, locking it behind him as he called playfully after her. “Does that mean I don’t get a good-bye kiss?”
“I’d rather kiss Monty at this point!”
Shaking his head as he followed her down the steps, Deeks just couldn’t let it go. “I can arrange that, Princess!”
Early the next morning, underneath the Dickenson Street overpass…
As the clouds of his deep sleep slowly cleared from his brain, the first sensation that clicked in his brain was that something rough and wet was lapping at his left cheek. He batted it away, his eyes remaining closed against the early morning light as he rolled further over onto his side. The wet whatever-it-was came back, this time leaving a trail of sticky moisture on the right side of his face. When he swatted in the nuisance’s general direction, his fingers drifted through a patch of thick fur, stopping on a pointed ear, indicating that his sleeping partner was awake before he was.
Clearing his throat, the sleeping man roused himself, his eyes blinking open at the world coming into focus. A black nose swam in front of his face, nuzzling into his forehead as a thick, pink tongue flopped around just inches from his face.
“Short Round… how many times do I have to tell you… ” The man’s voice was rough from slumber, but there was tenderness in his tone. “… no licking the face, you’ve got cooties.”
The brown haired shepherd-retriever mix cocked his head to the side, like he was trying to decipher the sounds that his master was making with his mouth. His ears were up and his tail flipped back and forth behind him, causing the dog’s back hips to roll from side to side, indicating that in his dog brain… all was right in the world. When his tongue snaked out and headed for the man’s face once more, there was a playful look in the animal’s brown eyes and for a moment, his owner was positive the dog was doing it on purpose.
Turning his head at the last moment, the man everyone knew as “Gunny”, ducked away from his friend but that only seemed to encourage the animal even more. Suddenly, one of the dog’s front legs hooked itself over his master’s shoulder as if he was trying to wrestle the man back to the ground.
“Awwww… come on boy! Let daddy up!” Gunny shoved lightly on the animal’s side, spinning him away so that the man could finally pull himself from the pad of cardboard boxes that had been his bed. When he had enough room, Short Round spun around twice on the spot Gunny had just vacated before plopping down on his stomach, his legs splayed out in four different directions.
“Un uh… you woke me up… that means you have to get up too!” He ruffled the fur between the dog’s ears, eliciting a soft bark. “Come on boy… no time for lazing about… need to see if we can find some breakfast this morning.”
Gunny stood to his full height, his back and shoulders popping as he stretched, thankful that the night’s rest seemed to have done him good, the usual nightmares leaving him alone for at least one more evening. When he cast his gaze around him, the small homeless community that he and Short Round occupied was coming to life. Several members were already trudging their way from under the overpass, heading out to do whatever it was that they did. A few would head toward some of the busy street intersections, holding up signs asking for food or work… or anything that would give them hope for just one more day. Others would head toward some of the business districts where they would hang out on the corners, their hands cupped in the universal gesture of Please… give me something. Sometimes the people that they met would give, but more often than not, the homeless and the panhandlers were simply ignored… like they were just part of the scenery, the background, like they weren’t there at all.
He’d been on the streets long enough to know that it wasn’t personal, that the good citizens of the City of Angels held no real ill-will toward the people who wandered through their great city with no possessions other than what they wore on their backs or pushed along in an ‘acquired’ shopping cart. It was just that when there was an issue that you had no idea how to handle or address, you had two choices: you could come up with a plan to deal with the problem, or you could simply ignore it. Well, most of the people that he and his compatriots encountered fell into the latter of those options.
In some philosophical circles, the homeless and destitute were labeled “The Invisible Ones”, and for the most part, that title fit them. But Gunny saw that a more descriptive moniker would have been “The Ignored Ones” and that irked him more than the former. Calling them invisible meant that they couldn’t be seen, that the people that they met on the streets had no idea that another human being was right in front of them and needed their help. Referring to themselves as the ignored fit their reality better. People would look them square in the face… them simply turn away, like they hadn’t seen anything at all worth their time or effort.
That’s probably what hurt Gunny the most. Being treated like you didn’t matter by another person always grated on him and sometimes put him into one of those moods that even a playful Short Round couldn’t pull him out of. That’s where he had been yesterday and luckily, a good night’s sleep had erased most of his bad memories from the day before. Today was a new day and he intended to keep his spirits high, lest he descend into the darkness that seemed to hover just under the surface of his usual calm persona.
As his dog sprung to his feet, Gunny pushed aside the cardboard sheeting that had made up the roof of his makeshift sleeping quarters for the night. It had been a little unseasonably cool for LA, and the extra layers of protection had allowed the two of them to get several hours of uninterrupted rest. As he flipped the brown material over toward the edge of the concrete barrier that served as the lower support column that held up a section of the bridge over their heads, he caught sight of two huddled masses just outside his box. There was one long one and a smaller one wrapped up together in an old wool blanket against the cool morning air.
Short Round rocked back on his haunches, his tail still wagging and his ears pointed up in curiosity. Since the dog was calm and relaxed, Gunny knew that there was nothing in their guests’ scent that indicated any type of immediate danger. As he let the cardboard sheet land softly on the ground, the larger bump began to move.
As the person rocked up to a sitting position, a tangled mess of blonde hair fell over the collar of his dirty green jacket. As the man reached up to wipe the sleep from his eyes, the tattered blanket moved and a mangy short-haired dog poked his head out to sniff the morning air and inspect the man and fellow canine waiting just a few feet away. As Gunny watched, the blonde man’s head snapped up to his, blues locking with his.
“Hey… sorry… didn’t know this was your spot… we’ll move on.” Deeks shuffled to his feet, catching the short piece of frayed rope attached to the leather collar around the dog’s neck.
Raising his hands in what he hoped was a calming gesture, Gunny cleared his throat. “No man… it’s cool.” When his words didn’t have the desired effect, he decided that maybe a little small talk would help. “You guys are new around here, aren’t ya?”
The stranger seemed to relax slightly, the hand tugging on the rope slowly dropping to his side. “Uh… yeah… wandered in last night.”
“When was the last time you ate, son?” Gunny hoped it didn’t sound condescending; it was just how he spoke to hopefully build a connection with the stranger.
Luckily, the other man’s stomach growled at that particular moment, even the scruffy dog seemed to grumble along with his owner. There was an awkward pause and then the two men shared a soft laugh that finally broke the tension between them.
“Sounds like you… the both of you… could use some breakfast.” Gunny patted his thigh and Short Round trotted over to heel by his right leg. The stranger’s eyes followed the disciplined movement, catching the tight bond between the big man and the dog. He nodded slightly toward where the animal had stopped.
“Maybe you can teach me that trick?”
Gunny just grinned. “No trick… just a well-trained and obedient friend.” His hand dropped to rub the spot between the dog’s ears with his knuckles. “Come on… let’s go hunt down some chow.” He didn’t wait for a response before he turned and headed out toward the more open lot that sat on the edge of what had once been some type of warehouse. There were a few others still hanging around, either still under the effects of whatever was coursing through their systems or just too afraid to leave any of their belongings unsupervised. Since Gunny and Short Round had nothing to speak of, they had nothing to lose.
As he reached the edge of where the dirt turned into sparse grass, Gunny smiled when he sensed the two new additions falling into step with him. The two dogs paused for a moment, to do the usual ‘you sniff mine and I’ll sniff yours’ routine as the two men took a moment to make some sort of introduction themselves.
To Gunny’s surprise, the stranger went first. “I’m Stretch… thanks for letting us crash near your spot.” To the homeless, their ‘spot’ was a major deal, eliciting strong emotions and protectiveness that sometimes resulted in scuffles and swinging fists. Meeting someone who was willing to not only allow an incursion into what was deemed private property but something akin to showing the newbie the location of food… it was all building a connection after only a few minutes.
“No problem, Stretch… you can call me Gunny.” Habits were hard for the older man to break and his hand was coming up to offer the bond of a handshake, a gesture the blonde seemed happy to return.
As their hands fell away, Deeks inclined his head toward his dog. “This is Monty.”
Gunny bent slightly at the hips, his right hand coming up slowly, palm down so that the animal could decide if he wanted to come any closer to the stranger. Monty paused only for a second before sniffing the offered hand, and then he surprised them both by licking across the back of the man’s knuckles. Both men chuckled at that, Stretch patting the animal gently across his back. “Well, that settles it… if he likes you… you must be alright.”
The older man ran his fingers across the dog’s snout, rubbing the little divot between the animal’s eyes. Monty seemed to like the attention, his tail wagging quickly back and forth through the air. “Good to know I passed the test.” When he straightened up, he cocked his head to the side toward the larger dog. “This is Short Round… best friend in the world.”
Deeks mimicked Gunny’s earlier movement, allowing the larger and more ferocious looking of the two animals to smell him as well. He apparently passed as well, the dog nuzzling into his hand as he scratched behind his ears. “Nice to meet you both.”
Gunny was pleased that his new companions had passed the inspection that not many others had. “Come on you two… let’s see what we can find this lovely morning.”
The four companions fell into step together, Monty ambling along on Deeks’ left side while Short Round walked in perfect step with Gunny. The precision with which the two of them moved didn’t go unnoticed by the younger man. “Wow, you weren’t kidding about his training.”
Gunny bumped the dog’s side with his knee as they walked, the animal pushing playfully back. “Like I said… best in the world.”
Smiling at the two companions, Deeks shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his worn jacket. “So, they call you Gunny… military?” There was a slight stutter in the other man’s steps and it appeared as if the initial good connection was in trouble. “Sorry, sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain.”
Gunny’s hand came up quickly to cut him off. “No… it’s okay… just not used to people asking me questions. Short Round’s the only person I get to have conversations with most of the time and they tend to be a little one-sided, if you know what I mean.” After receiving a nod in agreement, he continued. “Yeah… Marines… 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2nd FSSG.”
“FSSG?” Deeks couldn’t have looked any more confused it he had tried.
Gunny chuckled softly to himself. “Sorry, military jargon… FSSG is a Fleet Service Support Group… made up of engineers, ammo techs, logistical support, motor transportation, communication… basically everything that the Grunts on the ground need in order to be able to stomp the crap out of anybody in their way.”
“Learn something new every day.” Deeks inclined his head toward his companion. “Thank you for your service.”
That brought Gunny up short, halting in his steps and Short Round stopping right beside him.
“Gunny? You okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just that…” The older man ran a hand up over the top of his head, slipping through the mess that was his long hair. “…it’s been a long time since anyone thanked me for anything.”
The emotions tangled up in the man’s words were enough to stop the shaggy blonde as well. “Well, let me be the first then… thank you.”
For a moment, there was a glistening in the veteran’s eyes, but he blinked several times until it was gone, the intense look of appreciation remaining. “You’re welcome.”
A breath later and they had resumed their trek to whatever destination Gunny was leading them toward, the moment behind them. Then Deeks started talking again. “Desert Storm? Panama?”
“You sure ask a lot of questions.”
Deeks seemed to hesitate for a moment. “Sorry, just trying to get to know you better… you are taking me out to eat… first date and all.”
That caused Gunny to break out in a hearty laugh, strong and loud, and then he said something that made the other man laugh along with him. “Touché.” Catching the strange look that passed over the younger man’s face, Gunny had to ask. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just nice to know someone who knows how to use that word in the correct manner.”
As they left the dusty lot for the concrete of the sidewalk, Gunny leading them off toward the south, he made a quick comment.
“You’re a strange one, Stretch… I’ll give you that.”
To be continued…
Find out more about how you can help those in need (and win an autographed photo of Eric Christian Olsen) by visiting our Pets of the Homeless page.
Marty Deeks and the other wonderful characters of NCIS:LA are the property of Shane Brennan and CBS. Neither CBS, NCIS:LA, nor Eric Christian Olsen are involved in wikiDeeks’ Pets of the Homeless campaign.
Randy (Jericho Steele) is a contributor for wikiDeeks.
You can also find more of his great stories on FanFiction.net.
Thanks to Lindy AKA Sweet Lu for the wonderful feature image.