The Manipulator

The story behind why ‘Hetty + Mechanical Bull + Tequila = Bar Fight’.

Set at the karaoke bar, post S01E12 “Past Lives”.

Dusk fell over Los Angeles as the NCIS team from the Office of Special Projects made themselves at home at the karaoke bar on the edge of Venice.  The bar was becoming busier by the minute, and the waitress had struggled to manoeuvre their tray of drinks through the crowd without spilling too much.

“Gentlemen,” Hetty said, holding her glass of cognac high and proud in front of her.  “And of course, lady…”

Kensi raised her own bottle of beer and tilted her head to one side, acknowledging her boss with a smile and glancing surreptitiously at her male colleagues.

“What are we toasting?” Nate asked with a slight slur.  He knew he hadn’t had any more to drink than the rest of the team, but he had a sneaky suspicion that Callen had been furtively spiking his drinks.

“I propose a toast to the best darn NCIS team we have,” Hetty smiled at her audience of five.  She was extremely proud of the team she had assembled, having hand-picked them over the past three years.  She may have relinquished the running of the team to Lara Macy (may she rest in peace), but patience had indeed been a virtue and she was now reaping the rewards.  On occasion she had made incorrect choices, but her established team could usually mete out those particular individuals.  She was still unsure about Dom, but the mere fact the team had not yet edged him out, made her optimistic that he had potential within the tight knit group.

“Amen to that!” Sam said as he tapped his glass against those of his colleagues.

“Agreed,” Callen added.  “Although it would be better if the whole team was here.”

“Quite true Mr Callen.  Kensi, did you manage to reach Dom?” Hetty asked.

Kensi waved her cell around and replied, “I’ve left another message but no luck yet.”

“Must’ve had a better offer,” Nate said as he picked up his second glass from his line of three.

“What better offer could there possibly be than quality time spent in the company of good friends?” Hetty asked.

“Maybe he’s not a fan of karaoke,” Sam suggested with a broad smile.

“But I thought Dom was the one who booked it?” Callen questioned as he looked between Sam and Hetty.

“He booked it upon my instructions and he certainly seemed keen earlier,” Hetty replied.  “Now who has the song list?  We need to get this party started!”

As if by telepathy, the MC graced the stage and introduced the evening’s event to the burgeoning audience.  A steady throng of people had entered the bar during the past half hour and there was only standing room left.  A ‘Steve’ was announced as the first singer brave enough to entertain the crowd and suddenly the music was cranked up several notches and the big band sound of a classic Sinatra song filled the bar.

“Isn’t this so much better than a Cowboy Bar?” Callen shouted to Hetty over the noise of the karaoke’s first victim.  “The only fight you’ll get in to in here will be over the mic.”

“Oh this is definitely more civilised,” Hetty answered with a knowing smile.  “So long as Tequila is avoided and there is no bull, I believe all will end well.  Although I may have to shoot that measly excuse of a man who is murdering ‘My Way’.  If I had my way-”

“OK, enough is enough!” Kensi placed her beer on the table a little more forcefully than she intended, causing bubbles to explode from the bottle’s top.  “Callen that is three times today you have mentioned a Cowboy Bar and fights involving Hetty.”

“And?” Callen placed his hands on the table and leaned back, smirking at Kensi.

“Aw come on,” Nate spoke.  “You can’t tease us like this.”

“It’s not my story to tell,” he replied, being deliberately evasive now that he had everyone’s full attention.

“But you said you were there.” Kensi persisted.

“Hetty,” Eric asked boldly.  “This sounds like an excellent story, you can’t let Callen leave it like this…”  The alcohol had provided him with Dutch courage and he figured that worst case, Hetty would refuse to divulge her tale.

“Since you asked so politely Mr Beale, I shall consider your request carefully.”  Hetty took a sip of her Bourbon, then carefully placed the glass down and removed her spectacles, allowing them to hang from their cord.

Kensi, Eric and Nate waited patiently for Hetty to start.  Callen raised his eyebrows as if daring Hetty to regale her tale of insobriety, while Sam stood back and smiled broadly.

“Very well then,” Hetty shook her head slightly as she wondered where to begin.

She had almost had to turn the hose on the two of them.  The case itself had been a success but the post operational debrief had proved to be most the challenging aspect for her newest team pairing.  The arguments had started just outside the boathouse and had been about to turn physical; that is, until Hetty had threatened to turn on the hose – at full pressure.  After ordering the agents to opposite sides of the Marina, Hetty entered the boatshed and sat down with a steaming cup of tea.

Sam and Callen had been partners for seven weeks now and Hetty was finally coming round to admitting that she may have made a mistake.  The two were like chalk and cheese, a lone wolf and a pack wolf.  She was a firm believer that opposites attract and would frequently bring out the best in each other, but these two…Hetty shook her head as she pondered how to either force the two to see how they could best complement each other – or to finally admit defeat and send Callen into a deep and long term undercover assignment, where he could lose himself even further.  Callen was going through partners quicker than babies went through diapers.  Sam though, would easily adapt to a new partner, with teamwork forming his core essence.

Hetty removed her cell from her purse and leaned back on the sofa as she dialled the familiar number of another former problem child of the CIA – Owen Granger.

“Granger,” a gravelly voice answered briskly.

“Owen, it’s Hetty Lange,”

“Henrietta, and what favour are you calling in today?” Granger’s voice dripped with cynicism.

“Owen, why do you believe that each time I call, I am after something from you?  Maybe I just miss the wonderful dialogue we once had.”

“Now I know you need help,” was the sarcastic response.

“Indeed I do, Owen and in more ways than one.” Hetty smiled at her own joke.  “I have a problem – well two to be precise, and their names are Special Agents G Callen & Sam Hanna.”

“Callen…yes I’ve heard rumours about him; an excellent operative but a pain to control.  Hanna, yes a former SEAL.  Wait…you partnered them up didn’t you?  I can see why you have problems…”

Hetty sighed as she pictured Granger’s face as he struggled to comprehend her logic.

“Yes I did and I firmly believe that once they learn to trust each other, their partnership will make them a formidable force.  The problem I have is how to erm, encourage them to discover this for themselves.”

“Are you back to your manipulating ways, Henrietta?” Granger asked suspiciously.

“I do not manipulate people Owen, as you so crudely put it.  I simply encourage people to embrace ways of working which they would not realise by themselves.  Now, I have a plan and I require your assistance to bring it to fruition.  It will involve a night out at a bar – maybe a Cowboy bar in Las Vegas  – copious amounts of alcohol and of course a bar fight.”

“Your plan sounds intriguing.  Can I assume you require me to make some calls to ensure certain individuals are present at this bar to start the fight?”

“Indeed Owen, indeed.” Hetty smiled and switched her cell to the other ear.  “I’ll invite Lara Macy along so she knows what she’s letting herself in for when I depart for the Far East Field Office next month.”

“Japan won’t know what’s hit them,” Granger commented dryly.  “OK Hetty, let’s get this fight started on someone else’s doorstep.”

Five hours later Hetty, Callen, Sam and Macy were shouting to make themselves heard at a rowdy bar just off the central strip in Las Vegas.  Hetty observed her surroundings and was pleased with Granger’s choice of venue.  It was the type of spit and sawdust bar that was not frequented by the tourists, unless they happened to stray and enjoyed living dangerously.  But then of course, Hetty thought ironically, Vegas was all about taking a gamble.  The evening could very well be ‘make or break’ for the newly formed Office of Special Projects team in LA.

Hetty had ensured the drinks were flowing and that Sam and Callen were kept on opposite sides of the table.  Their arguments had not been constant, but with the volume of alcohol both men were consuming, Hetty had to make certain they would not pick up where they left off earlier, and start a fight with each other.  Conversation topics had varied from baseball to basketball before taking a controversial turn towards politics, instigated for course, by Hetty herself.  Every now again she would comment, however she was currently content to sit back and observe the men and the newly appointed Special Agent In Charge, Lara Macy.

As a whole, she thought, they would – or should – all work together very well.  Macy was easily a match for either of the men, and Hetty was warming Macy up to the idea of another female agent joining the team within the coming months.  Hetty allowed her concentration to wander, as her eyes swept the bar again.  Granger had assured her that she would not recognise the men he had employed to start the fight.  And he was right, Hetty thought, almost in frustration.  Any one of about three dozen men could have been on Granger’s unofficial payroll that evening.  No one had stood out to her.  She smiled slightly to herself as she observed some of the female patrons.  Yes, she thought, it could even be a woman who started the fight.  Hetty turned her attention back to her team as she realised Callen was quietly observing her.

“Expecting someone?” Callen asked with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“One never knows when or where an old acquaintance may re-appear, Mr Callen.” Hetty replied vaguely.

“Uh-huh,” was the equally non committal but slightly suspicious response.

“Hey y’all, I think it’s time for Tequila shots – everyone in?” Macy had a wicked gleam in her eye as her words challenged the male testosterone which permeated their small group.

The team nodded in agreement and voiced their satisfaction as to how the evening was progressing.

“Hetty?” Sam asked.  “Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer something a little more, erm, refined?  Like whiskey or a brandy?”

“That is very considerate of you, Mr Hanna, however I am partial to a shot or two of Tequila, when out in Cowboy bars…”

“And how many cowboy bars have you been to?”  Sam enquired curiously.

“I couldn’t possibly count them all, however I do recall this one time in Monument Valley with Charles Bronson and Peter Fonda,” Hetty raised her hand to her face and smiled as she recalled the past.  “You could barely call it a bar, but Sergio had arranged for a mechanical bull to be brought in, and when Charles suggested-” Hetty broke off and gave a short laugh.

Sam and Callen exchanged confused looks but it was Macy who was brave enough to ask the question.  “What exactly did Charles Bronson suggest?”

“Oh I couldn’t possibly say,” Hetty refused to divulge any more of her film set secrets.

“Y’know round the side of this place, I’m pretty sure I saw a mechanical bull Hetty..?” Callen spoke seriously and with a straight face.

Sam furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head slightly as he tried to catch Callen’s attention to warn him that this could be worse than the dumb-ass idea he had put into play during their last case.

“Oh goody,” Hetty raised the shot glass.  “However I believe several more of these are in order first,”  gesturing for Sam to order another round.

After a raucous hour involving many more than just several Tequila shots, Macy checked her phone.

“Sorry guys,” Macy stumbled slightly as she moved her chair back to stand.  “I’m outta here.  An old contact is in Vegas and we need to catch up.”

“Very well,” Hetty said.  “We’ll meet tomorrow for breakfast before travelling back together.”

“Would you like me to walk you to your meet?” Sam asked chivalrously, whilst Callen just smirked.

“Really Macy?” Callen said sarcastically.  “You’re catching up with an old contact…And Sam, I think she’s big enough to take care of herself.”

Macy turned to look at each of the agents.  “Sam, I’ll be fine.  Callen, it’s none of your God damn business what I do.  And I could take any man on, any day.  Including you two.”

“Now now children,” Hetty interjected before a fight could start amongst her own team.  It was bad enough that the newly formed partnership between Sam and Callen was struggling.  The last thing she wanted was for Callen to cause Macy grief by undermining her.

“Hetty, gentlemen,” Macy smiled as she made her way to the exit, leaving the problem between Sam and Callen for Hetty to manage.

“And then there were three,” Hetty looked pointedly at the two men, both of whom were swaying slightly in front of her.  Hetty of course, remained in complete control.

“I think…” Callen went to place his elbow on the table and missed.

“What?” Sam interrupted.  “You can think?  When did that start happening?”

Callen slammed his empty shot glass on the table in front of him and glared at Sam.  “I think,” he continued, a little slower this time as if to show he was still in control.  “That it’s time we all had some fun with that mechanical bull outside.  Hetty, I bet you fifty bucks that you can stay on longer than Sam.”

Sam snorted in derision and nearly spat out his drink.  “Done.  And I’ll take another fifty off you when I can stay on longer than both of you put together.”

“What?  You want me and Hetty to go on that bull together?” Callen placed both his hands flat on the table in mock amazement.

“Don’t be cheeky, Mr Callen.”  Hetty answered before Sam could, as she felt the tension start to rise between the two men again.  “I accept both challenges so let’s go.”

The three rose to their feet and weaved in and out of the crowd until they could exit the side door.  The temperature had dropped drastically now the clock was ticking round to midnight and they joined the short queue for the mechanical bull.  Each ride was five dollars and the only rule was that each rider had to wear a cowboy hat.

As they approached the front of the queue, the man in charge stopped and pointed to Hetty.  “Sorry, no dwarves allowed.”

“Poppycock,” Hetty responded, continuing to move towards the bull.

“Poppy…what?” The man said as he laid a hand on Hetty’s shoulder.

“Kindly remove your hand this instance.  I have a bull to ride.” When the man failed to comply, Hetty removed his hand from her person.

“I’d do as she says,” Callen warned the man, who rivalled Sam in height.  “After all anyone who can use the word poppycock is bound to be able to cause some serious damage.”

“I’d do as she says too,” Sam repeated emphasising the point.  He then turned to Callen.  “And you’d better leave the smart remarks out otherwise someone else might be doing you some serious damage.”

“He must mean you,” Callen said to the mechanical bull man and stumbled a step closer to him.  “Y’see his name is Teddy.  I mean how can anyone called Teddy be a threat?  But you, you look tough.”

“G, I’m warning you…”  Sam raised his voice.

“I’m warning both of you…”  The man raised his voice to match Sam’s, causing a number of the outside customer’s to focus on what could prove to be the best entertainment of the night.

A shrill whistled filled the night air and caused all three men to fall silent.  Hetty’s hands fell from her lips and she pointedly placed them on her hips.  She had already moved a small box to use as a step stall and was about to mount the bull.

“Oh no you don’t,” the man shouted as he dashed towards Hetty and proceeded to place two hands round her waist, physically picking her up and carrying her out of the bull’s safety area.

Hetty brushed herself down and, pushing her glasses firmly up the bridge of her nose, she fixed a poisonous stare on the guilty man.

“I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen and give you one more chance.  Now my colleagues and I are going to ride this mechanical bull whether you like it or not.  And if you don’t like it, then I have to warn you now, that I am fully trained in a number of martial arts.”

The man in charge of the bull stood still for a moment, his jaw slackening a little in bewilderment before he raised his hands to his chest and let out a loud roar of laughter.  “Now that, little lady, is the funniest thing I’ve heard in years.  Now I’ve had it with all of you.  You’re all barred!”

“Not before I have ridden that bull, cowboy!”  Hetty walked back to her step box and gestured to Callen to move to the controls.

The man this time grabbed Hetty by the arm and pulled her away from the bull.  By now the crowd had started to jeer and boo, as the tiny lady was manhandled.  Hetty saw out of the corner of her eye that both Sam and Callen were getting angrier by the second.  Callen clenched his right fist and took a step forward just as Hetty decided to take action.  She quickly thought that it was much better for her to start a bar fight than him.  After all, Sam and Callen had to work together for a common cause; to rescue her.

Hetty twisted away from the bull man’s grip and darted to his left where a wrench was propped up against the control box.  Grabbing the wrench she deftly turned to face her assailant who, among the jeers from the rowdy crowd, was laughing at Hetty again.  Hetty took in the scene in a second.  She saw Sam holding Callen’s arm to stop him throwing the first punch, although Sam appeared to be ready for whatever came his way.  Several men in the crowd had started arguing and prodding each other…Yes, thought Hetty, now is the right time.  And with a hidden strength, she wielded the wrench and slammed it against the bull man’s arm, hearing it snap as the connection was made.  Bull man screamed in agony as Hetty immediately swung it again, this time damaging his leg.

Two smart cowboy types pushed their way through the crowd and manoeuvred themselves to either side of Hetty, circling her whilst remaining out of reach of the wrench.

“Now,” one shouted as he dived towards Hetty.

And then all hell broke loose.  Callen instantly shook off Sam’s arm and lunged at the diving cowboy just as Sam turned his attention to the other cowboy, laying him out with a single right hook.  Behind him, he heard the sound of glass shatter as a beer bottle was smashed and turned into a weapon.  He pivoted and danced around the drunken youth who was waving the bottle neck, managing to grab his arm within seconds, twisting it up behind his back and forcing his assailant to drop the weapon.  At that point, the crowd began fighting each other; Sam seemed to be holding the mob off from their small group as Callen still drunkenly wrestled with the man on the ground.  Hetty, meanwhile, had managed to clamber on top of the bull as someone in the crowd switched on the machine.

Hetty slowly moved in time with the mechanical bull and surveyed the scene.  Granger had not advised who would be starting the fight and she had no idea whether this had gone the way he had intended.  Macy had left before the trouble, as instructed, and Callen and Sam were now working together towards the common cause of saving her, without being asked.  She observed Callen now moving to stand besides Sam, both men instinctively sensing the danger and covering each other.  Hetty smiled knowingly and lurched a little as the speed of the bull increased, but still she remained firmly attached.

“It’s the cops!”  Someone shouted as sirens were heard in the distance, followed shortly after with the screeching of tyres.

The crowd scrambled towards the exit, while Sam slammed the emergency stop button and the bull ground to a halt.

“I was enjoying that, Mr Hanna,” Hetty said disappointedly.  She took Sam’s hand as he helped her down.

“Hetty, we have to go now.  Quick,” Callen gestured to Sam and Hetty to follow him to the far corner of the large outside area.

“Where are we going Mr Callen?” Hetty asked.  ”I was about to win the bet as I doubt either of you are in any condition to ride the bull.”

“Hetty, do you really want to explain to the Vegas LP why they’ve arrested three Federal Agents for public disorder offences?”

“I believe you owe me fifty dollars and you’re sounding remarkably sober, Mr Callen.  Were you pretending to be drunk earlier?” Hetty observed as she steadied herself using the nearby fence.

“I don’t owe you fifty dollars, bar fights tend to sober me up and you Hetty, seem to be a little tipsy!”

“That’s very brazen of you, Mr Callen.  But you still owe me fifty dollars.”  Hetty wagged her finger at Callen and took a threatening step forward.

“All bets are off.  The rules state you have to wear a cowboy hat.”  Callen smiled smugly.

“And since when have you ever paid attention to the rules?”

“When you two have finished, we still need to get out of here.”  Sam was beginning to feel like the only mature adult around.

Stepping back from Hetty’s accusing stare, Callen said.  “Back there are two loose fence panels that lead to back alleys.  We’ll be back on the main strip in five minutes and can disappear in to the crowd.”  Callen lifted the first panel to reveal a Hetty sized gap.

“Really?  You been here before?”  Sam asked.

“Never.  I checked out escape routes twenty minutes after we arrived.”

“It took you twenty minutes Mr Callen?  I thought you were better than that.  I found these loose panels after five minutes,” Hetty shook her head in disappointment.  ”Sam, you’d better go first.”

“Now I know you’re drunk,” Sam said.  ”There’s no way I can fit through there.”

“I am not drunk, Mr Hanna,” Hetty said indignantly.  ”I am merely and only ever so slightly inebriated.”

Hetty watched Callen push aside the second panel and Sam quickly squeezed through the gap.  He poked his head through and held out his hand to Hetty.  Hetty accepted and stepped through, tripping slightly on rough edge of the alley.

“Bugger,” she said causing Callen to snigger as he witnessed the trip and Sam catching Hetty.

Hetty now offered her hand to Callen.  ”Chop, chop, we haven’t all night.”  She looked at him expectantly, catching an air of hesitation in his demeanour.  ”Or do you want to get caught?”

The sound of the police shouting warnings grew louder as the local officers moved towards the outside area.

“No, I’m good,” Callen responded, following his accomplices to the alley.

“You were thinking about it?”  Hetty challenged Callen.  She might only ever admit to herself that that Tequila was not really her best drink, but she still had clarity of mind to know when Callen was being bloody-minded.

“No, I prefer to get away with things, although sometimes it’s fun to get caught.  Because you can’t escape unless you get caught.”

Hetty caught Sam’s eye and nodded a touch to convey how they all realised how much Callen enjoyed playing the game.  She hoped Sam understood just how much he was taking on in such a wayward partner.

“You just don’t think the same way as anyone else.  You know I would’ve had to go back and rescue you?”  Sam asked Callen.

“Why?” Callen said as the three moved quickly down the dimly lit alleys.

“Cause SEALs never leave a man behind.”  Sam had grabbed Callen by the arm, stopping him in his tracks so they could face each other.

Callen looked confused.  Hetty meanwhile stood back to observe the interaction between the two agents with a small smile on her face.  She was beginning to think her little ruse would be successful and the new partnership would actually work.  Sam would have to learn to be more patient and Callen would primarily have to learn to trust.  And this was the first step; Sam telling Callen he would be there for him, and Callen starting to realise what a real partnership was all about.

“But I’m not a SEAL.” Callen said, still confused.

Sam raised his hands in frustration.  ”No but you are my partner.”

“For better or for worse,” Hetty murmured with a smile as she led the way down the back alleys.

“Hetty!  HETTY!”  Voices repeatedly shouting her name brought the Operations Manager back to the reality of the Karaoke bar.  Hetty shook her head and blinked, gazing at a circle of faces full of expectation.

“You were off in…away on…”  The team’s resident psychologist struggled to find the words.

“Away with the fairies,” Sam completed with a dimpled smile.

“Mr Hanna.  That euphemism may work for you on a personal level, however I am unsure how appropriate that is in describing your superior.”  Hetty chastised Sam with good humour.

“But Hetty,” Kensi protested.  “You’ve been staring in to space for the last few minutes.  We’re still waiting to hear about mechanical bulls, cowboy bars and fights.”

Hetty surveyed her team again, this time catching Sam and Callen’s eye.  She was sure that Callen at some point during that eventful night, had been aware of Hetty’s true intentions, although they had never actually spoken about it.  She smiled in satisfaction of an underhand – no undercover – operation running smoothly, and reflected on how both she and Lara Macy had reaped the rewards.  She nodded at her senior agent and focused on the song list.

“I think in about thirty minutes I will be ready for the stage,” Hetty took a sip of her cognac and reached for a pen.  “I feel a calling for a crowd pleasing rock ‘n’ roll song.”

“Hetty!” Eric exclaimed in exasperation.  “What happened at the cowboy bar and the bull?”

“Let me just warn you Mr Beale, that I take great offence at being called a dwarf.”

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