Prompt: Tobias Fornell walks into a bar and meets Humbert Humbert
Pairings: Gibbs/Fornell, Fornell/OFC, Humbert Humbert/Dolores Haze
Fandoms: NCIS/Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
Word count: 3645
Rating/Warnings: Rating-PG13. Contains multiple mentions of pedophilia, including pedophile POV. Please read at your own risk. Also implied Female/Male Teacher/Student relationship.
Notes: Written for A Ficathon Walks Into A Bar. Sorry I'm late guys! Unbeta'd. Open to comments and concrit including typo notes.
Summary: Fornell can never say no to Gibbs, but this time he really wants to.
“Tobias, they crossed the state line.”
Fornell cursed silently, but at length, adding a few particularly pungent Sicilian phrases acquired from his Nana. He aimed the most vulgar profanity at the long line of idiots who’d managed to screw things up long before Gibbs showed up at his door using the “very serious” voice.
The list started with the school nurse who’d had the first suspicion that something was wrong and moved on to a particularly moronic CPS worker, who with all of six months on the job had taken it upon herself to contact the girl’s mother…with a message left on the home answering machine.
Added invective went to the local police on the scene after the neighbors reported hearing gunshots and the Keystone MPs who answered the 911 call once the hit and run victim had been identified as an off-duty marine. Even the NCIS team (not Gibbs’ people) had taken far too long to put the pieces together.
As a result of this epic chain of stupidity, the current situation was that the girl’s mother was in the hospital, and either unable or unwilling to say who had shot her. The marine was unconscious and therefore couldn’t identify who’d been driving the car. The girl, Annette, was missing along with her step-father, Raymond J. Paulson.
Annette was 15, and variously described as “hot,” “foxy,” “babe-tastic.” No one had actually used the word “nubile,” but Fornell had seen the pictures. Paulson seemed to be an alias used by a man in his mid-forties who had shown up less than six months earlier claiming to be fresh from a reporting assignment in Algeria and swept a young army widow off her feet.
Everybody involved assumed they knew what was going on, but no one had actually spoken to the girl, except for the hapless school nurse and her notes were less than helpful.
Fornell had been aware of the case since the marine had been found and had already heard Gibbs rant about it at length, but he’d been able to avoid personal involvement since it wasn’t technically an FBI matter. Until now.
Now they’d crossed the state line and Gibbs was on his doorstep, using the serious voice and calling him Tobias.
“No,” he said, knowing it was futile. He never said no to Gibbs, not for long anyway.
“They were spotted at a 7-11 in Reston.”
“Fine. Put out a BOLO and an APB. Call in the Navy, the Marines and the French Foreign Legion if you have to. Just leave me out of it.”
“What if they’ve switched cars?”
“They won’t,” he replied confidently. "This isn’t a Bonnie and Clyde. They didn’t hold up the 7-11, did they? He probably bought her a Slurpee and some kind of trinket."
Gibbs was smiling and Fornell started his obscene mentally litany again, this time including Gibbs, for a hearty “Vaffanculo.”
“White Cherry Slurpee, Hostess Twinkies and a “Virginia is for Lovers” refrigerator magnet. Cops still think it’s a B&C. They think the girl shot the mother and that the two of them are going to steal a car and go on a joy-ride. That’s why we need you on this. I need you, Tobias.”
Two could play at that game, even if the final score was a foregone conclusion.
“Damn it, Jethro! I worked on Ted Bundy for three years. After he was arrested, I looked at that bastard’s smiling face every day for a month and never lost a night’s sleep. I was with him for two, three hours tops and I had nightmares for weeks. And who really knows if it was really him anyway. Maybe it was some old fart stuck in a small town who liked the attention?”
“You know, Tobias.”
He knew all right.
It was 1975, and Tobias Fornell was still at Hunter College, trying to decide between following two generations into the NYPD or applying to Columbia Law School. Either way, Professor Paula Benedict’s Abnormal Psychology sounded like a good idea and an easy A. It didn’t hurt that Professor Benedict was a statuesque brunette who tended to wear skirts and sweaters that accentuated her assets.
He coasted through various manias, phobias and psychosis until a March day close enough after St. Patrick’s Day that half the students were still hung over and protested with moans and groans as Professor Benedict slapped the heavy pamphlets down on individual desks.
“This is the standard text on pedophilia,” she announced. “And you are all going to get to know it very well, starting right now.”
Tobias looked at the cover. Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male
“Wait a minute,” he blurted out, simultaneously with several other students.
“I know, I know,” the professor replied, holding up her hands in a placating gesture. “Why are we reading a work of fiction in a class devoted to science? If you look carefully, you will see that we are studying the original manuscript composed in prison by the man calling himself Humbert Humbert. These writings were the basis for the novel, which led to the movies and our image of the syndrome in popular culture. By studying these writings, devoid of Nabokov’s more ornate language, we can look the beast directly in the eye. We can know the mind of a pedophile.”
Tobias couldn’t help wondering if that was necessarily a good thing, but he dutifully took notes as Professor Benedict lectured about the known history of pederasty and pedophilia with side trips to ancient Rome and Greece, as well as a mention of Mohammed’s nine year old wife.
He opened the pamphlet on the 7 train back to Queens to start the reading assignment and nearly missed his stop. Even though the assignment was only the first twenty pages, he ending up reading the whole thing in one night.
On Friday, he showed up for class ready to completely contradict Professor Benedict’s assertion that the document offered a true insight into pedophile psychology, but merely demonstrated how easily the sickest among us could blend into normal society. If the “confession” was to be believed, Humbert was never in actual danger of detection by the forces of decency. It was only his own paranoia and the existence of an even more depraved creature that led to his downfall.
Professor Benedict smiled indulgently as Tobias unburdened himself.
“Thank you, Mr. Fornell. I’m glad you’ve done the reading assignment and apparently a bit more. I promise we will deal with these issues in due course. Now please sit down.”
There were chuckles, but Tobias managed to ignore the embarrassment and focus on Professor Benedict, as she put a transparency showing a sad-eyed, caged gorilla and opened her lecture with the provocative question, “Who is the amoral brute in this picture?”
The lectures were illuminating, but hardly satisfactory. At the end of the section, Tobias felt he had more questions than answers. His “Lolita” paper recapitulated his concerns about what the manuscript did and didn’t tell them about the existence of pedophilia in a civilized society, as well as the ramifications for law enforcement.
The paper got an A.
Tobias got a meeting in Professor Benedict’s office to discuss the paper.
“You still have questions about the material.”
“Yeah,” he replied, knowing he was coming across as arrogant, insolent or a combination of both. Blame it on Queens, he thought.
“Why is this important to you?”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, Mr. Fornell. I am very serious. You’re not taking this course as part of pre-med.”
“No. I’m leaning toward law school. If I get in…and get a scholarship.”
“But your family background is law enforcement?”
“It’s two sides of coin. Either as a cop or a lawyer, I could find myself dealing with a situation like this. I need to know what drives a man with those impulses, so I’ll be able to stop him.”
Professor Benedict nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer and appeared to be considering something else before speaking again.
“How would you like to meet him?”
The question confused Tobias. There was only one him under discussion and he was long dead. He tried to make sense of the question.
Professor Benedict shook her head.
“Sorry, no trips to Montrieux this week. Not Nabokov. How would you like to meet Humbert Humbert? Sit down and talk to him. Maybe have a drink?”
“How would that even be possible?”
“Let’s just say it is. You have questions that I can’t answer. The only way to get any closer to the material is to ask him for yourself. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the answers.”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not?”
“Good. I’ll make the arrangements.”
She picked him up on Sunday morning in a gray Dodge Dart for what turned out to be a long, drizzly drive to upstate New York. Professor Benedict was dressed in jeans and a black sweater with her hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“You might as well call me Paula.”
“I still don’t understand. He says at the end that he doesn’t want the manuscript published while he or Lolita are still alive.”
Tobias could sense more than see Paula rolling her eyes.
“There were lawyers involved and money to be made. The manuscript had been floating around psychiatric and legal circles for years before a literary agent showed it to Nabokov. He was hardly in a position to claim royalties.”
“Is he in jail?”
“No. Although he’d say differently. He’s still a classic narcissist with a persecution complex.”
“But even aside from what he did to the girl, he’s still a murderer. He killed that playwright, didn’t he?”
She shrugged and squinted out into the gloom.
“As you may have gleaned from the description, Humbert wasn’t a terribly good shot. The playwright recovered from his wounds, so there was no basis for a murder charge, and he then died in a drunken driving accident less than a year later so the assault charges sort of fell by the wayside.”
“So what was his punishment?”
“Exile. Keep your eye out for the New Paltz exit. I always miss it.”
They finally arrived in a dreary looking town just south of Rochester, which had the nerve to have a Welcome to Spencerport sign.
“I’ve never even heard of this place,” Tobias said, trying to stretch his back and legs after the lengthy car trip.
“No one has.”
They’d pulled into the parking lot of a squat grayish building with a barely visible, equally grayish sign. Something along the lines of “Kaiser Wilhelm Beer Garden.”
“He’s in there?”
“Are you ready?”
It was Tobias’ turn to nod.
The interior smelled of beer and cigarettes and just plain age. Aside from Paula, there were no women and a quick glance didn’t show anyone younger than 50 on the premises. There was an arched doorway leading to a room from which Tobias could hear the sounds of a pool game.
“In there,” Paula said. “He’ll be sitting in the corner reading or writing or maybe just brooding. Black suit. Blue eyes. Good luck.”
He nodded and walked into the room, spotting the man immediately. He was sitting in a wing-backed chair, reading. When he looked up and spotted Tobias, he smiled and stood. The standing clearly took effort and those blue eyes were looking at him from the wreck of what had once been a handsome face. Now there were the wrinkles and jowls of age with the condition of his teeth making the smile somewhat horrifying.
“Come to gawk at the beast in his lair, have you?”
“Um, yeah. NO! I mean. Paula…Professor Benedict…she…”
“Paula, is it?” he said in an insinuating tone, perfectly complimented by his upper class British accent. “You’re not all that special, you know? Every year or so she turns up with one of her more “promising” students to put me on display, and right on schedule, here you are.”
Tobias was surprised to find out how quickly the old man could put him on the defensive.
“I have questions. About you. What you did.”
“What’s your name, young man?”
A hand was held out for shaking. Tobias hesitated for a second, provoking a look of hurt, anger and contempt.
“Come now, Tobias. I’m not contagious. You can’t catch what I’ve got. You must be born with it, and you won’t know for a few more years. Right now you can walk into any schoolyard in the world and stroll among the girls with impunity.” He sighed deeply, lowering himself back into his chair and indicating that Tobias should sit in the chair facing him. “You could look at them. Devour them with your eyes, touch their hair. The true nymphets among them might actually press against you and invite you to prostrate themselves before their beauty. How I envy you, Tobias.”
Tobias started to protest, but Humbert couldn’t be stopped.
“It’s the curse of those who crave the kisses of soft young mouths and the touch of unblemished skin. Just as our nature solidifies and begins to truly assert itself, the forces of nature turn our beloveds against us.“
Humbert stopped for breath before changing tack.
“Or did you fear my touch for another reason? I assure you, Tobias, that while society deems me a pervert, I am not an invert. While you may be a comely lad and I assume the less than virtuous Professor Benedict has lewd designs on your person, I most certainly do no.”
Again Tobias tried not to be overwhelmed by the torrent of words being aimed at him.
“Is everything you wrote true?
“True enough. Truer than the overwrought twaddle and word games that grave-robbing plagiarist chose to smother the meat of my life with.
“Do not speak his name in my presence.”
Consider the frailty of the figure before him, it was impressive just how chilling those words could be. Tobias looked for a more neutral line of inquiry.
“What should I call you?”
“I chose my mask and I can hardly complain now that’s become permanently affixed.”
“Right. OK. So…how did you end up here?”
“You mean this frightful little burgh? After I was released from prison, the authorities had quite the dilemma on their hands. Various solicitors, counties and principalities spent years wrangling over my citizenship status and danger to society until it was decided that I should live out my days within this five kilometer outpost of hell where no new children have been born in over a decade and I’m constantly surrounded by the incoherent rumblings of an odd breed known as Bills fans.”
Tobias tried not to smirk and failed. He caught Humbert smiling back at him and figured he had gained the upper hand. Humbert was bored and lonely. He wanted someone to talk to so much that he was actually trying to amuse Tobias in order to keep him here and listening.
“Are under surveillance?”
“Not that I am aware of. No one’s been around to check up on me in, oh years and years. I don’t even know if the district attorney and the judge who made the decision are alive anymore.”
“So why are you still here? You could just take off.”
“I’m not a criminal.”
Tobias couldn’t help be smile, but this time he knew Humbert hadn’t meant to be amusing.
“I repeat,” he said, raising his voice, “I am not a criminal. I am a victim. The law deems that I should live where there is no hope of love or youth or beauty and so I shall stay here in accommodations paid for by the state of New York where the finest medical care in the world, keeps my pathetic specimen of a heart ticking neatly, instead of letting it kill me as should have happened years ago.”
“You’re a victim?”
“A victim of my nature, a victim of cruel chance, and most of all, that beautiful demonic nymphet.”
For all his talk about guilt and apotheosis, he still believed in his own righteousness. That was the key. You can never stop a pedophile based on his feelings of guilt. Only his passion for the object of desire.
“Do you mind if I take notes.”
Humbert shrugged in the elegantly dismissive way his grandmother sometimes did.
“Yes, write it all down, Tobias. This will be my final testimony. You may not be like me, in which case, feel free to thank any deity you choose to believe in, but mark my words; there are more like me than like you. And once the Nymphet is in our sights, we will do anything to achieve the merest contact. We can’t help ourselves.”
“What about the girls…or boys?”
Another look of disgust flitted over Humbert’s face. Apparently he couldn’t believe there was such a thing as a boy nymphet.
“A true nymphet is the puppet master of her admirer’s destruction.”
“They want your love?”
Humbert nodded morosely.
Tobias immediately saw the contradiction which was inherent in the manuscript as well, but that was the point wasn’t it? Humbert was convinced that Lolita hand loved him, manipulated and betrayed and him and that he was her ardent lover, while at the same time acknowledging that once he’d become obsessed with her, he'd been willing to do anything to achieve whatever cheap thrills were possible, whether the girl was a willing participant or not.
He let Humbert ramble on while he took notes. The man clearly liked the sound of his own voice and looked on approvingly as Tobias documented everything from the methods used to try and appear inconspicuous while looking at schoolgirls on their way home and the exact details of how a nymphet loses her beauty and therefore her interest to anyone of a pedophiliac nature.
The “interview” only ceased when Humbert insisted that he was too tired to talk anymore.
“I’m sorry to tell you that despite the best efforts our town’s resident quack, I don’t have the energy I once did. But I have quite enjoyed this. Please convey my thanks to the estimable Professor Benedict. Feel free to return.”
He left Humbert in his chair, eyes closed, no doubt dreaming of nymphets.
Tobias staggered back into the main room of the bar where he found Paula sitting at a table, grading papers. She greeted him with a sympathetic smile.
“You need a drink, don’t you.”
“I need several. And I need to forget I ever met that man.”
“I’m sorry Tobias. I don’t think you ever will.”
The notes he took that day became the basis of his early successes in the FBI, once he'd been recruited out of Columbia law school. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for tracking down pedophiles who’d violated the Mann act and were therefore the Bureau’s business. He never told anyone how he managed to figure out exactly where they were heading or what their pattern of behavior would be. Some wags in his department accused him of knowing a little too much about perverts.
Luckily he was able to use his percentage of closed cases to move up through the ranks so that he could work on the syndicated crime that was near and dear to his heart, rather than wallow in the filth of sex crimes against children.
He only told one person in all those year: Gibbs.
Being Gibbs, he was more than willing to take advantage of it.
“Come, on Tobias. There’s a mom lying in the hospital right now, and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her daughter again. Not to mention a marine hooked up to life support, waiting for justice. Just tell me where you think they’re heading next. And if the girl’s in any danger.
He went to the locked desk where he kept the notebook. The pages were frayed and faded and he’d never bothered to retype them, simply because he didn’t need to. He’d committed the whole thing to memory. He used it more of a talisman to channel his inner Humbert, much as he hated knowing any such thing existed. Touching the paper brought back a visceral reminder of that afternoon, including the too many drinks he had and the slightly more than inappropriate comfort that Paula offered him, before returning to her Professor Benedict status by the next class day.
“Where are the grandparents?”
“Pennsylvania and Montana.”
Fornell imagined a map in his head and a desperate, lovelorn pedophile who’d finally achieved his dreams and wanted to keep them from falling apart as long as possible. Any real relative of the girl was a hindrance.
“Canada. He’s going to try and get her into Canada.”
Gibbs looked suitable impressed. Fornell was tempted to remind Gibbs that it was just a guess, but neither of them honestly believed it.
“He’ll be shocked when you actually find him.”
“No doubt. Thanks, Tobias. Hey, I always wanted to ask…did you ever see him again?”
Fornell shot his own look at Gibbs, letting him know he was crossing a line, and apparently it was one that even Gibbs didn’t want to push.
“Right. See you later.”
Fornell watched him go. He suddenly felt all the disgust of that day rising in him again. He made a mental note to check his medicine chest for something strong enough to fend off dreams when he went to sleep that night. He doubted it would help. Anything strong enough to do the job was going to require a prescription.
Three years after meeting Humbert Humbert at a bar in upstate New York, Tobias Fornell got a call from Paula Benedict telling him that Humbert had died of a heart attack. He’d left a request in his papers that Tobias attend his funeral.
Tobias declined the invitation.