Chegwidden observed how seamlessly the ZNN studio camera crew worked and was reminded of the crew on the deck of a Navy aircraft carrier.
"Ready on camera 2," said one of the producers.
"For now, the coach is on paid leave while the university investigates the allegations," the lead anchor said. "Next topic: does the VA still have a problem with PTSD? Here with some insights is Jethro Chegwidden, U. S. Navy Vice Admiral, retired, the longest serving Judge Advocate General, and I hear he was a Navy SEAL during Vietnam."
"Coming home from Vietnam is a different experience from coming home from Iraq," Chegwidden said.
One of the assistants whispered into the producer's ear: "Stuart looks like he's got something to say."
"That guy's always got something to say," the producer replied. "Camera 3, go medium long, prep to zoom in on Stuart," the producer said into his mouthpiece.
"He had his leg blown off, but he remained one of my best prosecutors," Chegwidden reminisced. "I'm not telling you these success stories to distract you from the problems, which still exist. There are horror stories, like what happened with Corporal Michael Woosterâ€“"
"That's a tragedy that has personally affected me," said Stuart Dunston, a former embedded reporter and now the lead anchor of another ZNN show. "I saved his life in Iraq, so it's very sad for me to see him die like this."
"Wait, what?" Chegwidden was surprised.
One of the bartenders at the Tar Heel Tavern was also surprised. "Liar!" he yelled at the screen.
"Hey man, put the game back on," one of the patrons complained.
On the screen, it was Elizabeth Hasler's turn to talk, and she was shrill as usual. "You can't just keep throwing money at a problem and then be surprised that nothing gets fixed."
"Excuse me," Chegwidden said, "I want to hear more about how Dunston saved Wooster's life."
"Sorry, we're out of time," the lead anchor said. "Join us tomorrow for an exclusive look inside the U. S. Geological Survey."
The Tar Heel bartender fell to the floor flat on his face before he could change the channel.
NCIS theme music followed by some inane banter at NCIS headquarters. "Grab your gear, we're going to North Carolina," Gibbs said.
Ducky examined the bartender's body. "The poor staff sergeant was also killed by an obvious poison," Ducky told Gibbs. "Yet another third-rate assassin led astray by bad information on Wikipedia. Makes my job rather dull. I have half a mind to go on Wikipedia and correct all the misinformation about the detectability or lack thereof of various poisons."
"Now we both know that wouldn't go over very well with the Wikipediots," Gibbs said.
"Yes, I know."
Ellie had some bit of background information on Staff Sergeant John Mills. "He got a general discharge from the Marine Corps in 2010," Ellie said. "For some reason he never bothered to get the honorable upgrade."
"Some veterans are under the misapprehension that the upgrade is automatic six months after discharge, when in fact it requires going through a review board," Gibbs explained.
"Something tells me that misapprehension is on Wikipedia as well," Ducky said.
McGee picked up the military ID by Ellie's laptop to look at it. "I thought servicemen are supposed to surrender their military identification upon discharge," McGee said.
"Supposed to being the key word there," Tony said. "Look what I found," Tony said, handing McGee a business card.
"James Mercer. Hero, assassin, weapons expert, Wikipedia editor," McGee read.
"Is there an address on that card?" Gibbs asked.
"There's an URL," McGee said.
"Uniform resource locator," Tony said.
"I know what an ULR is," Gibbs said impatiently.
"URL," Ellie whispered.
"I want a real address with a door we can knock on," Gibbs said.
"I got a Baltimore address, I don't know if it's current, though," Ellie said.
When they arrived at the Baltimore address, a young man was helping an elderly couple get their luggage into the house. "Federal agents," Gibbs said, barging into the house.
"What's this about?" the wife asked, slowly making her way to the living room couch with her walker. Her husband was already sitting down.
Gibbs sat down. "Are you James Mercer?" Gibbs asked.
"No, that would probably be my son," the husband said. "I'm Michael Mercer and this is my wife, Janine."
"I told him that real estate deal was too fishy, but he wouldn't listen!" Janine said.
"We're not here about real estate fraud," Gibbs said. "We're here about murder. Please understand that I have to rule you out as suspects. Where were you on Tuesday night?"
"Probably somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean," Michael said.
"We went to Paris to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary," Janine said happily.
"Congratulations," Gibbs said dourly. "John Mills died at the Tar Heel Tavern on Tuesday night. The killer left this business card," Gibbs said handing Michael the card.
"Wait a minute, this says James T. Mercer," Michael pointed out.
"He never liked going by Junior," Janine said.
"James Jr. is a good kid," Michael said. "It's just that he plays this multiplayer games online and he gets these ideas that he's some kind of hero in real life."
"And where might your grandson be right now?" Gibbs asked.
"He has an apartment in Ellicott City, we paid the first month's rent for him last year," Michael said.
The trail grew cold. Gibbs and his team went to check out the apartment, which looked like it hadn't been lived in recently. "What do we do now?" Tony asked.
"You're going to put out a hit on me," Gibbs said.
"But, my love!" Tony said.
"Don't worry, I won't be in any more danger than usual," Gibbs said.
"I'm setting up a meeting on the Dark Net," McGee said.
Soon Tony was on a Skype call with the hero slash assassin slash weapons expert slash Wikipedia editor. "I want Jethro Gibbs dead," Tony said. "He's arrogant, always bragging about having been a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps!"
"Yes, I hate that too," James said.
"And he never lets me top him," Tony said.
"What?" James asked confused.
"I said he never stops talking about it," Tony said.
"I'll take care of him, as soon as the money is in my Swiss bank account," James said and ended the call.
"Did the trace work?" Gibbs asked.
"Yup," Ellie said. "And I think I know who else is on his hit list: Prof. Neal Stone in Trenton."
"Neal Joseph Albert Stone?" Gibbs asked, shocked.
"Yes that's the one," Ellie said.
"Go, go, go!"
The heroic assassin and Wikipedia editor was no match for Neal Stone. When Gibbs and his team arrived at Stone's house, an ambulance was also there. The paramedics rushed into the house, put James Mercer on a stretcher and took him out. "Arrest him!" James commanded Gibbs. "Old em effer shot me in the knee!"
"Gibbs, so good to see you!" Stone greeted. "I wish this could have been under happier circumstances."
"You two know each other?" Ellie asked.
"Brilliant powers of deduction," McGee said.
"We've only met once before," Stone said.
"This man here runs Stone's Online Dictionary of Military Slang, the Internet's most authoritative resource on English language military slang," Gibbs explained.
"And I keep it that way in part by vetting all my contributors, like Gibbs here," Stone said. "Gibbs has contributed one entry to the dictionary."
"Just one?" Tony asked.
"Just one, the best one," Stone said. "Quality, not quantity! He turned it in typewritten, and I had to type it in the computer, but I did not mind."
"So how do you know James T. Mercer?" McGee asked. "Is he a contributor to your dictionary?"
"He wishes!" Stone scoffed. "I vetted him last year but he did not pass. You could say I don't care about your military rank, whether you were a boatswain's mate or a four-star general."
"As long as you had a rank," Gibbs said.
"That's right," Stone agreed. "Mercer is a military poseur. First he told me he was U. S. Marine recon, but that story fell apart like a house of cards hit by a gentle breeze. Then he tried to tell me that he was in the Australian army but his missions were top secret classified. Well, I've got a guy who vets my Australian contributors, so I got him on the phone with Mercer and you can guess what happened next."
"Mercer focused his efforts on Wikipedia, which has a much lower standard for contributors," Tony said.
"The crowd-sourced encyclopedia," McGee scoffed.
"Well, it's a myth that Wikipedia is crowd-sourced," Stone said. "Wikipediocracy.com has an excellent blog post about that, you should read it some time."
"Hold on, do you mind if I turn that TV off?" McGee asked.
"Actually, can you hold off on that for a minute?" Stone grabbed the remote control and raised the volume.
"Stuart Dunston will be off the air for a month while ZNN reviews accusations that Dunston has exaggerated tales of his heroism as an embedded reporter. In other news, a study reveals that drinking coffee may be bad for you after all. The study, sponsored byâ€“"
"I was watching the news when Mercer barged in." Stone turned the TV off. "NBC, Fox News, they got liars like that Stuart Dunston, too," Stone said.
But what Gibbs found in the Trenton apartment of the heroic assassin and Wikipedia editor vindicated Stuart Dunston. It was a video of a conversation between James Mercer and a friend.
"If you are to successfully plant that idea in his head, you must rehearse the phone call," the friend says on the video. "Ring! Stuart Dunston speaking."
"This is Michael Wooster," James Mercer says on the video. "I don't know if you remember me, but you saved my life that night in Iraq. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't have made it out of there alive."
"How did I save your life?" the friend asks on the video.
"He's not gonna say that!" James says on the video. "He's gonna be like, oh yeah, thank you for reminding me. How are you?"
A couple of weeks later, Stuart Dunston was back on the air on ZNN, and James Mercer was in pre-trial confinement, waiting to be tried for the deaths of John Mills, Michael Wooster and others. Stone declined to press charges for breaking and entering.
In the eyes of the public, Stuart Dunston was exonerated. But you wouldn't know it from reading Wikipedia. Even from jail, James Mercer is somehow able to maintain an iron grip on the Stuart Dunston Wikipedia page, painting the Pulitzer- and Emmy-winning reporter as the most dishonest of all reporters, worse than the liars from NBC and Fox combined. Anyone who tries to tries to bring a more balanced perspective will be declared a sockpuppet of Bard Enumerator.
Author's Chapter Notes:
The team pursues a Wikipedia editor who's killing war heroes in a diabolical plan to discredit ZNN reporter Stuart Dunston.