The Charming Gardener – 4/5 – SASundance

Title: The Charming Gardener, Chapters 18-23
Author: SASundance
Fandom: NCIS
Genre: Crime/Drama, Episode Related, Romance
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Jeanne Benoit; Jenny Shepard/ Ziva David
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Discussion – Child Abuse, Character Bashing, Discussion – Murder, Genocide, Infidelity, Violence Canon Level, Explicit Sex, Voyeurism, Permanent Injury, Mental Illness, Delusions, Adult Language.
Author Notes: This is a fix-it for the seasons 4-5 La Grenouille Jenny Shepard revenge arc. The warning about genocide relates to a canon character who is an illegal arms dealer. The primary relationship is between Tony and Jeanne and is a romantic one. The secondary one between Jenny and Ziva is not – more one of convenience. Translations can be found in the Summary Sheet.
Beta: Grammarly
Word Count: ~134,300
Summary: Gibbs resigns from NCIS and heads down to Mexico. Jenny sees the perfect opportunity to realise her plan to make her father’s killer pay dearly and DiNozzo is key to her dangerous undercover mission.   The only problem is, she has no idea that Tony is already good friends with Jeanne Benoit, the daughter of her nemesis.
Artist: Penumbria


 

 


Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen

Jenny swallowed down some more Advil, wishing she could take something stronger – or that Ziva could work her magic and leave her unconscious for eight hours. She’d been dubious about the younger Israeli woman spruiking the miracle of orgasmic pain relief for her debilitating headaches at first, but Jenn had to hand it to Ziva – it really did work.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for it now – which was why she was taking a mild OTC remedy instead, which wasn’t nearly as effective. The multiple orgasms needed to give her eight hours of blissfully uninterrupted sleep would have to wait until after she had killed La Grenouille.

She was so close to achieving her goal – she couldn’t falter now. Hence her chucking down Advil like it was candy.

Shepard had decided that La Grenouille had to die after her last conversation with McGee. He’d casually informed her that Benoit had acquired a 2IC called Trent Kort, an Englishman aged 37 – at least, according to the information Goliath had given them. Her own subsequent and highly discreet inquiries about Kort had confirmed that he was indeed Benoit’s protégé.

The Black Rose had also confirmed it was rumoured he was being groomed to take over the business when and if Benoit retired. Jenny had reasoned that with Kort there to step up, the Iranians wouldn’t care if Benoit had died. As long as they could buy Ares they wouldn’t care if it was Kort or La Grenouille who they paid.

The facts were that Jenny had been trying to take him down for a decade and failing miserably. Knowing the rendezvous site was Aéroport de Sherbrooke, (which was only 30 miles north of New Hampshire) was too much of a temptation for her to resist.

The NCIS Director part of Jenny’s brain told herself that the Iranians would never suspect anyone in their right mind would kill Benoit if Ares was a trap. That would be utter madness. Add that to the fact that Kort would jump at the opportunity to take over (because hello, he was working for an arms dealer) and she was one hundred percent confident that the Iranians would still purchase Ares.

The truth was that at some level, the little girl who had seen her beloved father destroyed by a scum sucking international criminal didn’t give a fuck if the Central Intelligence Agency’s months, if not years of planning and execution was wasted. The little girl who missed her daddy every single day for the last decade felt that the CIA and the NSA should have known that her father was a patriot who would never betray his country.

That little girl thought it would serve the CIA right if Ares was a bust – that it was simply Karma coming back to bite them on the bum. Of course, there was a tiny voice whispering in her ear that Jasper Shepard would never countenance endangering the security of the US for personal vengeance. But Jenny ruthlessly suppressed that voice of reason.

After Jenny had made the decision to kill La Grenouille at the rendezvous point for the exchange of Ares for the diamonds, she’d opted to take Ziva with her. She told Gibbs that Mossad had requested that their liaison officer accompany Goliath back to Tel Aviv as a way to explain her absence. Ziva had been totally on board with the assassination of La Grenouille too, who, according to her, Eli David was planning on acquiring Grace O’Malley as a Mossad asset. Eli apparently thought that Benoit was too powerful and had a monopoly on trade.

With his death, it would create a power vacuum – giving O’ Malley a chance to compete against Kort and gain a foothold with La Grenouille’s customers. Jenny was thrilled that by taking Benoit out, she would finally get to avenge her father and at the same time score brownie points with Eli David, Mossad and Israel. So, win-win!

Which explained why they were driving towards the Canadian border. Ziva had wanted to do the driving but Jenny had vetoed that idea, telling her that they wanted to slip over the border without attracting undue attention. Both females were using their fake passports and Jenny wanted their entry into Quebec to be completely unremarkable. Although Jenny had toned down her flaming red locks by wearing a blonde wig, Ziva tended to stick out like a sore thumb in people’s memory with her penchant for threatening to kill you for calling her ‘Mam and her over the top driving style.

As the car Shepard had rented under one of her false identities glided smoothly over the miles, bringing her inexorably closer to her quarry with each mile taken, Jenn thought back to her conversation with McGee earlier on. The truth was she’d been in a foul mood and wanting to let off steam because the CIA had thwarted her plan to take down La Grenouille at the exchange Harrow had organised with her nemesis.

In addition, she was pissed off that Ziva or McGee, despite their extravagant assurances to her that they could get a foot into the Benoit camp had produced a big fat zilch when it came to results. Neither one had managed to dip even a big-toe into Benoit’s camp, let alone a foot. The whole undercover operation had been a spectacular failure. And really, how hard could it have been?

It wasn’t as if she should be suspicious about people trying to befriend her socially. The mark was completely clueless about her father’s vocation as far as Jenn could tell…well without interrogating her. Plus, the woman had broken off a very serious relationship with great acrimony and she’d lost her best friend (as well as her fiancé) so she should have been extremely vulnerable. In fact, she’d have been desperate for a good friend as well as reassurance that she was still sexy and desirable, that her fiancé and best friend’s betrayal wasn’t her fault.

The mark should have welcomed Ziva as a friend with open arms and surely McGee should have been able to seduce her into bed since he saw her every day for the last three weeks. Okay, yes, it was true that Jenn had doubts that Jeanne would be attracted to him – her fiancé was a detective with Metro PD, a masculine guy but from all reports, not an intellectual type. Her first choice of candidate to seduce Jeanne Benoit had been DiNozzo and not only because he was their best undercover agent – a chameleon, able to change his appearance and his personas to fit whatever environment he entered. She’d particularly wanted him because he had the advantage of being able to work without a handler since this undercover mission was unsanctioned. Unlike the other pair, she wouldn’t have had to hold his hand every five minutes.

Irrespective of his skills and experience, DiNozzo was also a close fit for Jeanne’s ex-fiancé, tall, well-built but not muscle bound. And like John Carson, Tony was an alpha male, a confident guy who wasn’t exactly Mensa material, but he assuredly knew how to please a woman, particularly sexually. After her breakup, she doubted that Benoit was looking for a stimulating intellectual conversationalist. Jenny sniggered crudely. She’d be looking for a guy to fuck her into the mattress.

So, Tony DiNozzo would have been a perfect candidate to seduce the young doctor. Jenn was certain that he would have been successful in gaining her friendship and trust – something that neither Ziva or McGee had managed to do.

In her rage, the director had conveniently forgotten that initially, her expectation had been that McGee should befriend Jeanne, not seduce her, because really, she couldn’t imagine that they would be compatible sexually. Intellectually perhaps but between the sheet? Now all that doubt was forgotten as Shepard felt fury that he hadn’t been able to make inroads with her, aside from having a platonic cup of coffee.

So, Jenny had called him into her office, ostensibly so he could brief her on all the details uncovered about La Grenouille during the case. That was when he’d dropped the interesting titbit about Trent Kort (and hadn’t that been a tasty little morsel of Intel.; a real game changer) but at the time, she had been too focused on her need to punish someone. McGee had talked up his undercover abilities and his capacity to seduce Dr Benoit.

The fact he’d failed to produce on his promises meant he was always going to be her go-to guy when she needed someone to blame. to release some of her anger and disappointment onto. He was the perfect patsy to make her feel better.

Demanding to know about what progress he’d made in getting her into bed, she’d brushed aside his pathetic litany of achievements. Which basically consisted of a fat lot of nothing!

“Well, we had a cup of coffee together.”

“Once, McGee! Or were there more occasions which I’m not aware of?” she taunted him sarcastically.

“Um…ah… no, Jenny. But I invited her to a poetry reading.”

Jenny said, “And?”

McGee stared at his shoes. “She said she was busy.”

“Why’d you invite her to a poetry reading? Does Jeanne like poetry?”

McGee looked abashed. “I don’t know, but this guy is amazing – he’s a genius.”

“You like poetry?” She stated flatly. “Okay, I get that you appreciate him, but why did you assume she does? Isn’t that one of Gibbs’ rules, Tim.”

He looked discomforted, “Well she’s smart and French so I figured she must be into poetry. She’s really into Film Noir.”

“Don’t assume, McGee. Investigate!” She paused a beat and then asked,

“Anything else.”

“Well, I baked her brownies and gave them to her.” He told her proudly, his slightly pudgy boyish features breaking into a grin that Jenny always felt was way too self-satisfied. Jethro could pull off the same smug arrogance and it was sexy as all get out on him (well it was when he wasn’t defying her or thwarting her plans) but McGee didn’t do sexy alpha male convincingly.

Jenn did a mental eye roll. “Jeanne likes brownies, does she?”

Frowning he answered, “Well maybe. Who doesn’t like brownies?”

“Did you think that maybe being French she might prefer éclairs, macarons, madeleines or even some petite fours instead of brownies, Tim?” Shepard mocked him savagely, feeling a small fraction of her frustrations bleed off her as she ripped into him.

She noted with satisfaction he looked crestfallen, like a puppy who’d been smacked over the nose with a rolled-up newspaper after piddling on the area rug. So, this was why Gibbs mocked, sneered and derided his team on a regular basis – it was cathartic!

“Bbbut I only know how to bbbake bbbrownies.” He stammered pathetically, still not looking her in the eyes.

Paradoxically, his submission only served to make her want to inflict more ridicule upon him, not switch off her aggression. Huh, curious!

Rolling her eyes, she said sharply, “And you never thought to buy some at a French patisserie, Einstein?”

McGee’s head shot up involuntarily, revealing his shock and moral outrage. “That would be dishonest, Jenny,” he retorted. “I couldn’t say I baked them.”

Jenny’s jaw dropped. “You do realise that you are already lying to Dr Benoit…and everyone else at Munroe University Hospital, don’t you Special Agent McGee? You aren’t Tim McGregor and you aren’t a computer fix-it technician. You’re undercover, lying to everyone, so what’s the big deal about a white lie about some French pastries?”

“Because I’ve tried asking her out to dinner every day and so far, she’s said no. SO I just thought if I was honest and authentic with her then she would realise I’m not just trying to get her to sleep with me.” He explained before adding. “And Redbook magazine says if you want to have happy healthy relationships that you need to be your authentic self.”

Jenny couldn’t believe it, she banged her head on the table, forgetting that she had been subject to increasingly brutal headaches which made her actions ill-advised.

“But you ARE trying to fuck her, you fucking moron,” she yelled at him, deliberately using the F-bomb because cussing made him uncomfortable. “Remember, your sole reason for going undercover was to make friends with her and seduce her. To fuck her brains out so she would introduce you to La Grenouille who is a vicious psychopath who needs to pay for all the deaths he’s caused.

“I know, Jenny. Like your father.” He blurted out before a panicked expression that could be interpreted as ‘oh shit no, I’ve done it now,’ flashed across his face.

Jenny stopped dead, a frisson of dread pierced her red-hot anger and she directed a glare at McGee that would have done Gibbs proud. Not just Gibbs on a normal tear-you-a-new-one day, but Jethro when he felt when a child had been brutally murdered, and he was about to rip-the-killer’s-a- new-one glare.

Obviously, it was scary enough to make Tim want to crap his pants because he gave a little “Meep’ sound of fear and immediately started sweating. And not just the palms of his hands and his forehead but wet patches started appearing under his pits too.

In a voice that was so quiet that McGee had to strain to hear her, she said, “What about my father?”

McGee swallowed several times, licked his lips then answered nervously, his voice several tones higher than his normal speaking voice. “Um…ah…well he was one of La Grenouille’s victims. That’s why you want to…um bring him down.”

She stared at him impassively – her lack of affect somehow seeming even more menacing. “Where would you get an idea like that? Certainly, I never told you that.”

McGee took his handkerchief (a white one with the blue monogram of the letters TMG) and mopped his brow since the beads of sweat were running down and getting into his eyes. He involuntarily scratched at his nose and looked down to the left, before nervously answering, “I think it might have been Ziva who mentioned it to me.”

Jenny didn’t say anything to refute his accusation, merely stared at him, her gaze unwavering. The silence proving to be far more effective than anything she could have said, since the NCIS director was certain that Ziva would never tell the junior agent something so personal and professionally dangerous about her. Ziva David was a trained spy and an assassin – she would never be so indiscreet.

Finally, unable to cope with the tension, he started babbling to fill the silence. “Yeah, I’m certain it was Ziva who told me when she was briefing me about the profile she’d prepared on Jeanne.”

Picking up her cell phone and hitting her speed dial, she heard Ziva pick up. “Yes, Jenny? What can I do for you?”

“McGee says you told him about La Grenouille and my father, Ziva?”

A string of coarse Hebraic invectives could be heard over the line, even by McGee.

“He said you told him when you were briefing him about Jeanne Benoit,” she replied, watching the junior agent sweat ever more profusely. He was looking quite green and Jenny wondered if he was about to lose his lunch.

Ziva continued her ranting in Hebrew before Jenny thanked her and hung up. Looking at McGee sneeringly, she said, “I guess you caught that? Ziva denies telling you any such information. She denies it categorically, so would you like to try again, Agent McGee?”

Continuing to wipe the sweat off his clammy temple with his handkerchief, Jenny wondered if it was still capable of sopping up any moisture or if it needed to be wrung out. Not that she would be offering up her trashcan for the task. Finally, he seemed to realise that he didn’t have any choice but to capitulate.

“Fine, I may have found it when I was investigating La Grenouille before I went undercover and when I saw that Colonel Shepard was believed to be one of his associates ten years ago, I was curious. So, I ran a background check on him and realised he was your father. And then I hacked into the investigation of his death and how you’d accused La Grenouille of killing your father.”

Jenny was pissed off, beyond pissed. “You hacked into the Pentagon to get the dirt on my father, McGee? What were you thinking?”

She moved close into his personal space, threateningly, having noted that he was uncomfortable when Ziva and Gibbs did it. “If you ever mention what you’ve found out to anyone, McGee, I’ll have Ziva cut out your tongue and force feed it to you. You get the picture?”

Watching him put his hand over his mouth and run out of the office while heaving, Jenny decided he was suitably motivated not to mention her personal connection to Rene Benoit to anyone. It never occurred to her that Tim had already spilled the bean to DiNozzo because why would it?

When he returned to her office ten minutes later, because she hadn’t dismissed him, he had the air of a beaten puppy. His normal passive aggressive bravado had vanished, he was totally submissive, and Shepard felt the rush of adrenaline that she assumed Jethro experienced when someone cowered pitifully in his presence right after he’d broken them. It was euphoric, and she realised just how easy it would be to become addicted to it.

After McGee’s earlier hasty departure (she assumed to worship the porcelain god) she’d decided that although he seemed to be striking out with the beautiful Dr Benoit, it was still imperative that he achieved the objective and sleep with her. At this point, she didn’t care how he did it, but La Grenouille needed to be enticed into coming to the US.

Deciding to use one of Gibbs techniques of playing one his agents off against the others, Jenn sneered at the junior agent.

“How pathetic are you, McGee? You assured me you were extremely competent in getting women to date you. The mark had her heart broken by a cheating fiancé.” She shook her head in disdain.

“It should have been child’s play to get her to go out with you and have sex with her. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent a boy to do a man’s job.” She gave him the once over that clearly said she found him lacking.

“Clearly, you don’t have the balls to bed a woman like Jeanne Benoit.”

He opened his mouth, obviously intent on defending himself, before evidently deciding that wouldn’t be a smart move and slumping in his seat defeatedly. Still she could see the anger in his tightened lips.

Smirking, she found she quite liked playing him off against his teammate. “I think it’s high time to ask Very Special Agent DiNozzo to finish what you started but couldn’t finish. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble completing the task,” she concluded. After all, he’s funny and smart and cultured. I’m sure he could bed her on the first date – if there’s any truth to what I’ve heard around the water cooler.”

McGee, who was still looking a little green, had turned pale as a ghost and begged her not to remove him from the undercover Op., promising he’d get her to sleep with him, no matter what. After dismissing him, Jenny hoped her ploy would work because it had been nothing but a bluff. There was no way that right now, Tony DiNozzo trusted her enough to accept an undercover mission from her. Even if it was one that was right up his alley.

Jenny wished that she’d never pissed him off by appointing McGee as his 2IC when Gibbs had decided to have his Margherita safari. That was a mistake of massive proportions and she still couldn’t fathom just how wide of the mark Ziva’s profiling of DiNozzo had been. FUBAR didn’t even begin to cover it – but unfortunately what’s done was done.

Tony was not interested in pleasing her – he wasn’t all that fussed about pleasing Gibbs anymore either. It was like he’d grown up somewhere along the way, no longer the dutiful son and heir. Of course, in hindsight, not disclosing that his promotion to SSA was actually in an acting capacity because she had placed Gibs on sick leave and not processed his resignation, had also been a pretty big miscalculation on her part too.

She’d sent McGee on his way, disgruntled and desperate to prove he was better at romancing a mark than his senior field agent, who (as she knew) he despised and disparaged on a regular basis. She couldn’t believe how childishly simple it had been to manipulate him into wanting to prove her wrong.

Although to give credit where credit was due, Jethro had really laid the groundwork there. He’d played them off against each other; exploiting all their individual foibles and insecurities like a maestro playing a Stradivarius violin.

Of course, since his return recently, Jethro had been very busy stroking McGee’s already sizeable ego, giving him pats on the back and telling him how great he was as an agent. It had been fuelled by Gibbs own insecurities, wanting to cut the ground out from under DiNozzo, since he felt threatened by him for successfully leading the team during his absence. Jenn permitted herself a moment to bask in a self-congratulatory glow since she had known what she was doing when she told Jethro what a fine job, he’d done leading the MCRT and how their closure rate hadn’t fallen under his tenure.

Having worked under Gibbs she knew that he would see Tony as a threat and defend his job by attacking his loyal Saint Bernard. That served DiNozzo right for messing up her plans use him to bring down La Grenouille although, honestly, it hadn’t been why she’d done it, although it was a welcome bonus. She’d done it intending that Gibbs would be so threatened by Tony that he would focus his attention on regaining his own place and make sure that DiNozzo was too busy getting stabbed in the back to focus on what McGee was doing.

Trying to do, she corrected herself wryly. The man was a menace – poetry, brownies and creepy stalking of the mark was his idea of seduction? And McGee was clueless, totally lacking in insight about himself, to boot. He genuinely believed he was in the same class as DiNozzo – a genius when it came to undercover work, who’d infiltrated the mafia and was also a fine investigator as well.

Once this business was concluded she would write an eval on Tim’s jacket ensuring that the only undercover work Tim ever got a chance to do was as a waiter or a janitor. Maybe as a homeless bum, maybe… but only an extra, never again the lead in an undercover Op.

It was probably less than 30 minutes after Timothy McGee’s departure that she’d experienced a life-changing epiphany. Finally, La Grenouille had made a mistake. Bringing in Trent Kort to be his eventual successor had given her the excuse she’d been looking for. Benoit wasn’t indispensable in the plan to get Ares into the hands of the Iranians. Ziva would help her – after all Eli David wanted him gone almost as much as she did although for him it was purely professional. La Grenouille stood in his way and therefore pragmatically, he had to go.

As Jenny approached the New Hampshire border into Canada, Ziva, who had appeared to have fallen asleep, roused and shot Jenny a sleepy smile. Shepard wasn’t fooled though, Ziva hadn’t been asleep, she’d merely been falling into the mindset of dangerous predator and killer. Jenny had seen her like this when they had worked Black Ops together. From here on in, she would be careful not to startle the Kidon trained assassin. Jenny already had good reason to know just how deadly she was, and not just from reading the reports of her kills either!

Passing through the border crossing without fuss they soon ditched their car in a garage across the border. There they picked up the van that Eli had arranged for them to use, courtesy of an operative who introduced himself as Malachi. He and Ziva seemed acquainted with each other, kissing briefly before he handed over the keys of the van and Jenny gave him the keys to their hire car. Malachi assured them it would be driven back across the border later this evening and returned to the car rental office.

He handed them details of a small private airfield where a Cessna was waiting to fly them back across the border after they’d carried out their mission. He also informed Ziva that the equipment she’d requested was already stored inside the van. Malachi wished them good-luck and drove off, leaving them standing in the frigid night air.

They exchanged glances that spoke volumes about the importance of the mission. Ziva insisted on checking out the equipment they’d requested and breaking down and cleaning the rifle she would use to kill her target, twice before she was satisfied it was all in order. Before they got underway, they changed into the BDUs and tac vests supplied by Mossad, as quickly as they could. The temperature after dark made it too cold to dawdle and Jenn agreed with Ziva that it was best to change that before they arrived at their destination.

Picking up her lucky silver dollar that her dad had given her when she was twelve, Shepard squeezed it tightly in her hand and prayed for the success of their mission. It rankled a bit that Benoit’s end would come swift and clean, thanks to Ziva’s sniper shot. It was not how she wanted La Grenouille to leave this earth, but it was the only way this could go down tonight.

Jenny daren’t wait for a more opportune moment.

~oO0Oo~

Ziva David was lying atop the van that her Mossad colleague, Officer Malachi Ben-Gidon had supplied for this mission. Despite the speed with which this assassination had been pulled together, Mossad and its operatives had risen to the challenge. Which really shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone, she smirked. Had she not always maintained that Mossad and Israel were vastly superior to the Americans in every sense when it came to intelligence, counterintelligence and national security issues?

Glancing at Jenny Shepard, the director of NCIS and instigator of this unsanctioned hit by her own country, the deadly assassin could feel the tension practically pouring off her companion.

She hoped her friend/lover and sometimes partner in Black Ops was up to the task. Tonight, she was going to be Ziva’s spotter, a role she’d filled on several other occasions before they’d been reunited again in DC. In the past, Jenny had fulfilled the task more than adequately, particularly for someone who hadn’t been properly trained like Ziva, but there was a lot at stake for them both, tonight.

She was sympathetic to Jenny’s desire to avenge the man who she believed to be responsible for her father’s death. Honestly, the Israeli would rip the still beating heart out of anyone with her bare hands if they murdered her own father. But according to Aba, there was plenty of room for doubt about if Benoit had killed Colonel Shepard. However, Jenny was determined that Benoit must die, and Mossad wanted him dead too, for a much higher purpose than mere revenge.

While this assassination was pulled together at the eleventh hour, it would allow them to move their plans forward by many months and make Rose O’Leary a Mossad asset. The Israeli speculated that she might be rewarded for getting rid of La Grenouille by being appointed as the Black Rose’s handler.

Frankly, Ziva had thought it would be much more challenging spying on the US federal agency and passing classified data back to her father and found that it wasn’t the case. Plus, she was bored with all the petty rules about individuals’ rights over the greater good. She missed being Ari’s handler.

They had arrived sometime before the CIA, picking a spot that was some distance away from the airport. Yes, it was longer than she would have preferred but it was still it was an entirely doable shot for the Israel assassin. Ziva had earned perfect scores during her sniper training in the Israeli Defence Force, even before she joined Mossad. While it was a cold night, the air was still. She could absolutely make this shot. She just wished that Jenny would give the order.

Ziva could tell that Jenny was conflicted, she wanted La Grenouille dead but the part of her which was a federal agent and director of NCIS seemed to be at odds with the part of Jenny who demanded revenge for her father. She had a list of conditions that must be met before Ziva could take the kill shot. Jenny wanted Rene Benoit taken out cleanly without endangering the mission to get Ares into the hands of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. She also insisted that the kill shot could not compromise the lives of the civilians, particularly Harrow and Kort or even the CIA agents.

Ziva understood her rationale but honestly, she wasn’t sure if it was achievable. She’d pointed out that when the CIA realised that Benoit had been shot, they were going to start firing back. They were also going to zero in on their position on top of the van quickly and hunt them down. Jenny had replied that after the shot, they needed to get the Hell out of Dodge. Ziva understood that to be a colourful American colloquialism to indicate they needed to leave their sniper’s location immediately, although Ziva wanted to know if that meant they should not bother cleaning up after themselves. Jenny had answered that yes, if humanly possible they should police their brass.

Ziva silently agreed that leaving a casing behind, unless it was intentional to send a message to the enemy, was sloppy work practice. Still, if she wasn’t permitted to return fire against the CIA or Benoit’s own people, then cleaning up the scene could be problematic.

She wished that it was Mossad calling the shots on this kill. Her father almost always took the long view – that the greater good was more important that the death of a few minor personnel. Even if they were your compatriots and working towards a common goal. After all, one could not make an omelette without breaking a few legs and it was the same in matters of national security.

Except to be fair, for Jenny, killing La Grenouille was about personal retribution and nothing to do with national or international security. It was merely that Jenn’s and Mossad’s interests happened to intersect in this matter.

Sighing inwardly so her breath didn’t give away their location, Ziva waited. They both kept their breathing low and slow, and she was grateful that Jenny was lying prostrate beside her on the roof of the black van. Their bodies were pressed up against each other in the chilled night air, sharing body heat. So Ziva could tell that Jenny was growing tenser with each passing minute and she supposed it was to be expected.

As she watched the scene unfolding at the airport via her scope, she saw Harrow pulling up in a black limousine and Benoit, who had been waiting inside his private plane emerging and coming down the stairs. Her finger itched slightly on the trigger, but Jenn’s decree forbade her taking her shot until after the exchange of funds and Ares between Harrow and Benoit.

La Grenouille’s mistress, Regine emerged a few seconds after he did, carrying an attaché case because after all, the boss did not carry around the cash. He had lackeys to do the heavy lifting. They trio disappeared into Harrow’s generously proportioned vehicle and for the next ten minutes nothing much happened until Benoit’s 2IC, Trent Kort emerged from the Lear jet with a bottle of Cognac and two balloon glasses.

Evidently, they were about to celebrate the deal being struck. Ziva pictured the scene unfolding in Harrow’s heated limousine, knowing that the exchange was ending soon. She readied herself to take the shot after Benoit got out of the limousine. The Kidon trained assassin began checking the conditions one final time, knowing that in the next few minutes she must be ready to take her shot without hesitation and depart cleanly and efficiently.

Ziva could feel Shepard breath quicken beside her. Obviously, Jenny was getting aroused at the anticipation of seeing her enemy die soon. Ziva could understand that. Killing always made her libido rise or as the Americans would say, she always got horny. She shrugged – once they were safely back in DC, they could get each other off, but not yet.

Ziva smiled her Cheshire cat grin at the thought of the marathon bout of sex which awaited them back in the US. At first, Jenny had been a bit uptight about the whole friends with benefits arrangement – considering herself to be completely straight but in Ziva’s skilled hands she had definitely had a change of heart about having sex with another woman.

Although part of Ziva was planning what she would do to the NCIS director later, she was on alert for the slightest sign that Benoit was about to emerge from the vehicle. Her sensitive hearing detected the rear passenger door being opened and the willowy brunette that had been La Grenouille’s former 2IC (as well as his mistress, according to Aba’s Intel.) alight from the limousine, sans the cognac bottle but with two glasses in her hands. Kort came next, Ares in his arms as he glanced around as if some sixth sense told him they were being watched.

Finally, La Grenouille emerged, a dapper figure in a bespoke suit and a Panama hat, his bearing arrogant and assured. The trio headed back towards the stairs leading up to the plane, Ziva readying herself to take the kill shot as she had a clear window. As her finger started to squeeze the trigger gently, several things happened almost simultaneously. Jenny gave a muffled cry of pain, Kort heard it and pulled out a semi-automatic weapon. At the same time as Ziva took the shot, Jenny began having a seizure that threw Ziva’s shot off by mere millimetres but that was still enough for the bullet to miss Benoit and wing his mistress, Regine Collier.

In the ensuing chaos, with Kort exchanging fire at the unknown foe, Ziva was forced to forget about looking for the shell casing from the shot she’d fired. While missing the kill shot was a failure, the director of NCIS and the daughter of the deputy director of Mossad being taken into custody in Canada would be catastrophic for both countries. It was vital she get them out of Dodge since Jenny was in a dazed stupor and clearly no help to her now!

She managed to man-handle Jenny down off the roof by the expedient method of rolling her off and letting her fall to the ground. The Mossad officer figured it was better than letting them get caught. Plus, Jenny wasn’t aware of her surrounding so was not likely to tense up when she landed. Leaping down too, Ziva managed to bundle Jenny into the back of their van and drive away at breakneck speed. She could hear when the seizure finally finished and estimated its duration as lasting at approximately five minutes.

As she drove, she wondered what had gone so horribly wrong. Aba would not be amused that she had failed to kill Benoit. It was a simple enough mission and he would punish her for the fiasco. Ziva knew her father’s wrath and guessed he would veto any attempt by her to be appointed Rose O’Leary’s handler.

More than likely giving the job to that little bitch, Liat Tuvia.

~oO0Oo~

In the chaos that ensued, everyone was panicking about the single sniper shot being fired. People had rushed to render aid to the wounded woman. Meanwhile, after learning that Regine only had a flesh wound, Rene Benoit had seized the opportunity to slip away into the dark.

He knew that if he remained, his life expectancy was extremely limited.

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen

Ziva drove to the designated coordinates of the airfield supplied by Officer Malachi Ben-Gidon. Naturally, she was concerned about Jenny having a seizure since to the best of her knowledge, Jenny didn’t have a history of seizures. So yes, she was concerned about her but under the circumstances, it wasn’t feasible for Ziva to seek medical advice for her. She’d quickly decided that the best option was to get her back home, ASAP.

To that end, she was driving at breakneck speed and trying not to think about the fallout from this FUBAR debacle. At least no CIA agents or Charles Harrow had been injured or killed. The only one wounded had been La Grenouille’s mistress, and no one would give two boots for that female dealer in death. Truthfully, she’d never been one to feel all that fussed when odd life or two was lost to achieve a kill. Especially when it was for the greater good, but to needlessly kill bystanders whilst missing the target was simply sloppy work product.

Ziva prided herself on her skills – she was a professional and it irked her to have missed. However, it was hardly her fault if Jenny had (while acting as her spotter) suffered a seizure and affected Ziva’s aim. Unfortunate as this fiasco was, this would be the second time Ziva had saved Shepard’s tokus and she knew that having the director of NCIS beholden to her would go some way towards mitigating Eli’s fury over the botched attempt to take out Rene Benoit. Perhaps it wasn’t a total disaster – although it wasn’t going to earn her any commendations either.

The Mossad liaison pulled off the road briefly, wanting to check on Jenny. The seizure had lasted only five minutes -perhaps six and now she was sleeping off the after effects. Ziva checked her pulse which was strong – if a little fast and checked to see if Shepard had a raging fever which might explain why she’d had a seizure but couldn’t find one. She noted practically that Jenny had wet herself, a common consequence of seizures. The Mossad liaison just counted herself lucky that Shepard hadn’t voided her bowels at the same time, since there was no time to clean her up. They need to make a haste post to the airfield.

As she resumed her seat and continued to drive in her typically aggressive and some would say erratic fashion, she wondered about the fact that Jenny had only voided urine. Presumably, the reason for that was because she had barely been eating lately. She had brushed aside Ziva’s enquiries into her health, impatiently, telling her that with the crushing headaches she’d been having, she had little appetite due to pain and nausea. Ziva knew that sometimes migraine headaches could cause seizures but that was an extremely rare occurrence – and besides, surely the medical evaluations that even the Americans insisted that their agents had annually would have picked up on any migraine medications in her bloodstream.

Ziva felt it was unlikely that Jenny’s seizure had been because of migraines, although clearly the onset of these headaches must somehow be connected. Once she got them both back to DC, she would find out what Jenny was concealing. Being Jenny’s lover had given her certain advantages – and she’d also gained much insight into how to go about getting her to reveal information. Not all her Intel. which the Mossad officer sent back to Aba on a monthly basis was due to her spying on Jenny’s private papers at home and hacking at work. Pillow talk played a part too, especially recently when Jenn was not getting relief from the pain killers she was popping into her mouth at an alarming rate.

As she neared their rendezvous with the plane, Ziva was grateful that they had brought extra clothes with them to change into after the hit. The waft of urine was not pleasant to her senses and she knew that Jenny would be mortified. Hopefully, she would remain deeply asleep until after Ziva had a chance to clean her up.

Nearing the coordinates given, Ziva started to signal the code word ‘Archangel’ with the headlights of the van. The counter code word ‘Raziel’ was sent with a powerful flashlight and Ziva proceeded to make her way to the runway and the Cessna which stood on the weatherworn tarmac, waiting to fly them back to DC. It looked like they were in the clear or would be soon.

Once back at Shepard’s house, they would each be the other’s alibi that they had been at her home all night. If it was required. The Mossad agent was hopeful though that they had covered their tracks enough that it would not be needed.

Everyone knew that she and Jenny had worked together in Europe and the Middle East, it was true. However, while ever she remained in the US as a Mossad liaison on the major case response team, it was better to remain discreet about their friendship and not rub her team members mouths in the fact that she was welcome in Jenny’s home.

~oO0Oo~

“NO! I don’t believe you!! Papa would never do anything so heinous, so monstrous. He is a civilised man, cultured and highly educated. He has a degree in fine arts from the Sorbonne.”

Helen Berkley shot a poisonous look across the room to spear Tony with it. She just knew this was going to happen. Jeanne wouldn’t believe them, and it would end up driving a wedge between their almost perfect mother /daughter bond. It was highly likely it would also destroy her burgeoning relationship with Anthony as well. Why wouldn’t he listen to her?

Ah yes…The Truth. Pah! He was a fool – so very young, idealistic and naïve, she scowled.

Older and wiser, Helen knew that sometimes the truth was better being left buried, where it could do no harm.

Knowing that it was all academic now since she had lost this argument already, Helen tried to focus her energy into mitigating the damage this terrible information would have on her beloved, beautiful daughter. How did anyone recover from learning that the father that you idolised your whole life dealt in death for a living?

Speaking softly, Berkley replied gently. “I know, my darling. When I learnt the truth about your papa, I felt as you do. That it was a lie. How could someone who was so kind to me, so loving, be such an evil man. How could I make love to Rene at night in our bed and not see who he really was?

“I’d always prided myself on my ability to judge people’s characters, I was an educated, respected doctor after all, not some simpering vapid female who was only interested in his money or his charm.”

Seeing that Jeanne was at least listening to her, she took a chance and reached across the sofa and placed her hand on top of her daughter’s. Meeting no initial resistance to her touch she picked it up and held her hand, intertwining their fingers together. It was a gesture that had begun when Jeanne was an older teenager and felt that she was getting too old to be hugged when she was upset. Grateful that she permitted the physical contact between them, Helen continued.

“I’m sorry Darling, but it was true, I saw the evidence that the Israeli Mossad officer, Eli Weinstein had on Rene, about the people he did business with – despots and dictators who used the weapons against innocent people – their own people. I didn’t truly believe it for a long time, I told Eli he was mistaken.

“But once the allegations had been made, as much as I denied them, I found myself watching, and weighing up everything that Rene did and said. There were so many discrepancies between what he’d told me about his business dealings and what I observed, that in the end, I decided that I had to know the truth. I decided I couldn’t live with not knowing for certain.”

Jeanne looked at her mother stonily. “And what did you do?”

“I asked your father if he was an arms dealer and if so, was he selling illegal weapons to criminals and dictators.”

Jeanne looked like her world was crumbling around her. “And what did Papa say?” she whispered.

“He admitted it,” Helen stated calmly, know how much her words were hurting her daughter and deciding to get it over as quickly as possible. “Not at first, at first he tried to deny it but when I told him about the Mossad officer who had come to see me, he abandoned all pretence and confessed that it was all true.”

Seeing her daughter’s wounded expression just about broke Helen’s heart; she finished swiftly. As a doctor used to delivering bad news, she knew that it was better to get it over with as quickly as possible. “I divorced your father, and we moved back to the States as soon as I could organise the paperwork.”

“Did Papa try to stop you?”

“No, he agreed that it was better that way.”

“So, he didn’t try to fight you for custody of me?”

Helen shook her head. “Actually, I think he believed you’d be safer here – far away from him. He seemed worried about Mossad’s interest in him. He was totally supportive of me returning to the US with you. Offered to support us both but I told him I would never again knowingly accept his filthy lucre – gained at the expense of countless lives.”

Jeanne protested, “But I thought Papa paid for my schooling and medical school training.”

Helen shook her head. “I’m afraid I might have permitted you to think that Jeanne, but I couldn’t in good conscience take blood money from your father. I paid for your schooling after the divorce and your grandparents contributed as well.”

“You lied.”

“Well if I’d told you that I paid for your education you’d have wanted to know why your loving papa; your very rich papa didn’t contribute to your education,” Helen explained her actions calmly.

“You lied. I’m not just talking about who paid for my schooling, Maman. I’m talking about not telling me the truth about being the daughter of an illegal arms dealer. Why would you do that to me?”

“Because you were a child, my darling. I was an adult and the truth almost destroyed me; I didn’t want it to ruin your life. I wanted you to have a relationship with your father because you loved him. I didn’t feel like I had the right to deprive you of that relationship. I abhor what he has done, but I can concede that he would never hurt you – he loves you and you love him.”

Jeanne who was quietly sobbing at this juncture shot an incredulous look at her mother. “How can I love someone who sells weapons to evil people -to people who kill innocent people…who hurt and maimed people who live in abject poverty and are defenceless? Tell me that, Maman?”

Looking emotionally destroyed, Dr Berkley shot a malignant look at her daughter’s boyfriend sitting on one of the sofa’s in her hotel suite. He had remained uncharacteristically quiet up until now. He exchanged an agonised looked with her, knowing how much this conversation was hurting Jeanne. And yet he’d forced her to confess to her own flesh and blood.

“Honestly Darling, I don’t know how. It’s why I never wanted you to know.”

Jeanne glared at her mother incredulously. “So why tell me now? You left him twenty years ago? What’s changed?”

Helen looked across at Tony. “It wasn’t my idea to tell you. I was forced to tell you the truth. If I had my way, I would have never had you learn the truth about Rene. There is wisdom in the adage that ignorance is bliss.”

Jeanne stared. “Is it the Mossad officer who is forcing you to tell me the truth?”

Helen gave a start, “Eli? Absolutely not! He agreed that you shouldn’t be told. He was a father of three children himself and he understood how devastating it would be to find out who your father really was. He checks in with me from time to time, always asks after you.”

Jeanne looked at her mother intently and gave a strangled sound that was half wail, half chuckle. “You are sleeping with him, Maman!”

Helen flushed. “Yes, we did become lovers when he was in the States some years ago. His wife had died in tragic circumstances and I was divorced and not involved with anyone. He was a very attractive man; a considerate lover and he knew all about our past. There was no need to lie to him – although I haven’t seen him for six or maybe seven years.”

Jeanne flushed. Helen wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment about her mother’s sex life or something else.

“Putting aside for the moment the fact that you kept the truth from me but had an intimate relationship with someone partially because he knew the truth about my family that you’d deliberately withheld from me for now,” Jeanne stated bluntly. “If your sometimes Mossad lover didn’t coerce you into sharing the truth about Papa with me now, then who was it?”

Okay, so not embarrassed about her sex life, angry about her seeming hypocrisy.

Helen was searching for a way to answer without dropping Anthony into it. She didn’t want it to ruin a promising relationship which Jeanne had already told her made her happy. So, she was caught off guard when Tony finally broke his silence

Looking pained, he replied. “I made your mother tell you, Jeanne. You need to know the truth.”

“You knew too, Tony? How could you lie to me – I thought you loved me.”

Anthony looked as if he was struggling to find the right words. Before he could reply, Jeanne demanded, “How long have you known? Did you get close to me, because of who I am? Did you think I would introduce you to my father? Was I just another one of your undercover missions, Tony?”

Looking sick, he tried to explain. “I didn’t know about your father, Jeanne, I swear. I only found out who he was a few days ago.” He said speaking slowly.

“So, you’re saying that you didn’t befriend me when John and I split up because I was the daughter of an international arms dealer?”

Tony shook his head, rubbing his chest. “I had no idea who you were, other than you were John’s girlfriend who also happened to be a doctor. You helped me when I needed help and I was just returning the favour when that stupid bastard cheated on you. And the more time I spent with you the harder I fell.”

“But you did find out about my Papa? When?”

“Almost three days ago.” He said. “I wanted to tell you straight away, but it would have blown someone’s cover and I didn’t know what the Op was about at first, or that you were involved… well not you, your family, I didn’t believe it at first – I had to verify that your father really was La Grenouille.

Tony flashed a swift glance at her stormy features to check to see if she was even listening to what he was saying before he continued his explanation.

“And I wanted to talk to your mother before I told you what I’d learned because I didn’t think you knew but couldn’t be certain. So, I met her this morning for breakfast at Blu Skye to find out what she knew about La Grenouille and we agreed to tell you tonight and here we are,” he waved his hand around vaguely.

Helen suddenly noticed his breathlessness while he was speaking. She’d missed it before since he hadn’t contributed to the conversation. He’d been sipping on bottled water too, but she had put it down to a nervous affectation.

Now the physician side of her was wondering if there was some other reason for his actions, for example, a dry mouth or trying to suppress a persistent cough. She also was noticing some other signs that she didn’t like. He was quite pale, and she had brushed it off as exhaustion or anxiety, but his pallor made it easier to notice some early signs of cyanosis around his lips. A quick check of his fingernails revealed further tinges of blue indicating he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

Interrupting the conversation, Helen crossed the room and picked up his wrist, establishing that his pulse was racing. Frowning she looked to her daughter. “He’s cyanotic, Jeanne. Is he asthmatic?”

Jeanne grimaced. “Sometimes he has asthma-like symptoms, but his lungs are the real problem, they’re scarred.”

Helen studied him carefully, remembering that he’d rubbed his chest. “Is your chest tight, Anthony?”

“I’m fine.”

Jeanne gave him a look and he sighed in defeat. Wincing he nodded. “Just a bit. But I’m fine, okay.”

Helen gave him her special doctors look – the one that said, cut the crap and tell me the truth this instant. “Did you have the nebuliser treatment before you went into work after breakfast?”

He nodded, and Jeanne shot a look of enquiry at her mother, her anger at her having been placed on the back burner as she swung into doctor mode.

“Nebuliser treatment, why?”

“Dr Mitchell ordered him to have one before work and another one tonight and told him to increase his inhaler doses, not rely on the emergency puffer and get you to check him out tonight. She said if you had any concerns to contact a Doctor Pitt.”

Tony shook his head vigorously, “I’m fine, I just overdid it when I went for a run this morning.” He insisted, starting to cough even as he was asserting that he was okay. “Honestly, I just need a good night’s sleep,” he said stubbornly, if totally unrealistically.

Jeanne watched his eyes as she questioned him. “Did you increase your inhalant meds, Tony?”

He looked away from her. “It was a crazy day, today – I caught an Israeli arms dealer and we flew him to Zaire,” he started chuckling although neither of the women knew what was so funny.

“Then we had to find an encrypted satellite system that was being sold off to the higher bidder. It all got pretty chaotic,” he shrugged, massively understating the shitstorm of almost fucking up the CIA’s undercover mission.

“And I guess I forgot to take them, but Skye was just being a mother hen,” he opined obstinately. His attempt at nonchalance failing miserably as his wheezing increased.

“You’ve had a cold for a couple of days,” Jeanne observed worriedly.

“I did the nebuliser this morning and I can do another one tonight. It’ll be fine.”

The mother and daughter medicos exchanged incredulous looks, before tag teaming him. “Anthony, you’re showing signs of respiratory distress. You won’t be going home, I’m driving you to hospital.”

“Tony, give me your emergency inhaler,” Jeanne commanded, her tone indicated she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Rolling his eyes, he pointed to his leather jacket and she swiftly retrieved it so she could administer a dose to help open up his narrowed airways. Watching him like a hawk, she addressed her mother curtly.

“Maman, my phone is in my handbag. Call Dr Pitt’s personal number – he’s in my contact list. Inform him what’s going on. Tell him we will meet him at Bethesda.”

“But isn’t your ER closer, Jeanne?”

She shook her head. “Tony’s lungs are scarred from the plague,”

He shot her a warning look. “Classified, Jeanne.”

She brushed him aside – I wasn’t going to tell her anything but even so, she’s a doctor, Tony. Anything you say is confidential.”

He rolled his eyes and said, “Fine, but we need to finish first. I need to tell you about how I found out about your father, Jeanne. You’re at risk, both of you.”

Jeanne hushed him. “You can fill me in after we get you to hospital and on oxygen, Tony. Now shut up and stop talking or I’ll make sure Brad uses the extra-large needles on you,” she threatened him callously.

Opening his mouth to argue, she wagged her index finger in front of his face. “Uh, uh, uh, Buckeye,” she scolded him. “Not one more word or I’ll make sure that they’re blunt as well as big.”

Helen noted the wounded look he gave her daughter and the way he obeyed instantly. She was surprised because he didn’t strike her as a wuss, and she was more than a little amused to see him using ASL to sign *Low blow Dr Benoit. *

Somehow, she decided there was a story there and resolved to find out what it was later. Along with discovering how the devil he’d been exposed to the plague.

Getting off the phone she watched as her daughter took charge, hustling Anthony into his jacket and out the door of her room. Opting to drive to the hospital, Helen volunteered her car so her daughter could monitor Anthony. She thought about the doctor she’d briefly spoken with on the phone about Anthony, who’d said he would see them at Bethesda STAT.

As they entered the lift, she asked Jeanne, “Is his doctor really called Brad Pitt?

~ oO0Oo~

Ziva closed the door to Jenny’s bedroom with a sigh. They had made it back to DC a short while ago, landing at a disused airfield in Virginia which had been purchased by Eli some years ago with diamonds he’d acquired years ago on a mission. Naturally, the property hadn’t been purchased in the name of David – he’d set up some false identity and created a company to hide the fact that he was the owner. Along with owning another defunct private airport in Nevada, it gave him the freedom to fly his operatives in and out of the US. They were able to come in from Mexico or Canada under the radar without alerting the authorities to Mossad or his own ‘off the books’ missions in the US.

Ziva had driven back in the vehicle which had been left at the airfield for them to use by one of Eli’s minions, Amit Hadar from the Israeli embassy. Now she needed to drop the vehicle back to the embassy so Officer Hadar could dispose of it. Naturally, it would not be traceable to Mossad or NCIS. Ziva would then pick up her own car and return to Jenny’s before the FBI or CIA called around wanting to ask about the failed shooting of La Grenouille. She thought about their disastrous mission and their return to DC as she exited the car.

Jenny had woken up from her deep coma-like sleep about ten minutes prior to their landing in Virginia, dazed and mentally confused. Still, she was together enough to follow Ziva’s verbal directions and so she did not have to carry her, which made the task of getting her back home to DC much easier. Once home, Jenny’s housekeeper, Noemi Cruz helped get Jenny properly cleaned up, showered and into bed. Jenny had told her previously that Cruz was loyal to her, Noemi’s mother had been her father’s housekeeper for many years.

Ziva hoped Jenny was right about Cruz’ loyalty because if they were under investigation, then Noemi backing up their claims to have been in DC would be crucial. Plus, her housekeeper would need to look out for Jenny because Ziva was going to have to escort Goliath back to Tel Aviv; which was the cover story Jenny had told Gibbs. Although Jenny had led him to believe that Ziva had departed already, the Mossad liaison would simply explain that there was a hold up with Mossad chartering a plane. She would blame it on the incompetent charter service and mention that Israel had a far superior air charter services than the Americans.

It was a pain in the tokus having to take that drek traitor home because it would give Aba a chance to disparage her over the botched attempt to get rid of La Grenouille. She was not a yafeh nefesh by anyone’s measure but a scathing reprimand by Eli David was much more tolerable when it was delivered from another country.

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty

Trent Kort was ropeable. If Benoit was standing in front of him now, he would quite cheerfully throttle him. Even if they’d all decided that it would be better to wait a little bit longer before arranging an unfortunate accident for the international arms-dealer he would kill the froggy cheese muncher. He’d been stringing Kort along regarding some highly valuable Intel. he’d been keeping up his sleeve about competitors and clients. Rumour had it that it also contained lists of all the military and government officials who he’d bribed over the years.

Trent figured it was Benoit’s insurance policy since the company he kept was distinctly nefarious and exceeding dangerous. It made a great deal of sense (at least to Kort) that Rene would have dirt on people who may well pose a threat to his person. He’d subtly let it be known that he had dirt on everyone and that if anyone decided to get rid of him as a way of harm minimisation or even just trying to muscle in on his territory, his files would be forwarded to Interpol, MI5 and the NSA.

The NSA was not likely to share much of the Intel. with the Central Intelligence Agency – for purely jurisdictional i.e. bullshit macho pissing reasons. So, Trent was determined to find out where Benoit had stashed them before he met his maker – with a little help from Kort. So far though, the Englishman had been singularly unsuccessful in locating the files and unfortunately, his CIA handler had indicated that time was running out and felt it was time to remove Benoit. Kort didn’t like to lose – especially to such a smarmy French snail eater known as La Grenouille.

So, the question that Trent and everyone else at the CIA wanted to know, was, who the Dickens had tried to kill Benoit last night at Aéroport de Sherbrooke? Who would be willing to risk killing him and basically, calling his bluff about the dirt he’d collected on everyone?

The CIA spook (masquerading as an arms dealer) decided there were three viable explanations. One it was a law enforcement agency who didn’t care about the dirt files and just wanted him gone or they did care about the information and wanted them to be put in the hands of the authorities regardless of who received it. Which made them naïve fools but still, there were a lot of White Hats running around out there in law enforcement, fucking up the task of people such as himself.

He liked to think of himself as a one of the ‘Grey Hats’ who were prepared to do whatever it took to get the job done. Greys understood that ‘White Hats’ would never get rid of evil because they always insisted on staying within the rules, never wanting to get muck on their lily-white hands. Spare him from these ‘types’ who were ethically rigid moralisers. They made him want to puke his guts up – All. Over. Them!

The second possibility was that someone wanted to kill Rene Benoit for purely personal reasons. Someone like a scorned lover, or someone he’d crossed in his day to day life which had no bearing upon the fact he was also La Grenouille. A coincidence? Perhaps.

Yet it happened to ordinary people every single day, for example, someone who felt cheated on a real estate deal. It could even be a relative or friend, since the majority of murders occurred between people who knew each other or were related by blood or marriage. Which brought up the prospect that his ex-wife or daughter had paid to have him killed, since he didn’t think either female had the skills needed to carry out the attempted sniper shooting in Quebec.

Frankly, it didn’t seem to be likely that they would organise a hit; they were both doctors and Helen Berkley had been divorced from Benoit for twenty odd years. Surely if she was going to do him in, she would have taken out a hit back when she first left him, because, God knows she could afford it. Still, there was that very odd phone call only a couple of days before the assassination attempt.

Then there was his daughter, Jeanne – same deal, same Hippocratic Oath. Okay, so she was quite a wealthy young woman but perhaps she wanted to be even more wealthy. If he died, she stood to inherit a fortune – if the CIA didn’t manage to get hold of it first. Maybe she objected to how he made his money although, as far as he knew, Rene’s daughter had no idea who or what her father really was. All the major stakeholders had agreed when Berkley divorced Benoit, it was better that way.

From what Kort had been told, the powers that be had taken the view that telling her the truth may result in a violent estrangement from her father. If it was acrimonious enough, it wouldn’t give them the option of using her as leverage against Rene if they ever got the chance to bring him down. Apparently, Eli David, although a lowly Mossad Officer at the time, had “persuaded” Helen Berkley not to tell her daughter the truth about her father.

That advice had coincided with TPTB visiting her on her return to the States and intimated it would probably be in their best interests (Berkley and her daughter) NOT to publicise the fact she had married an illegal arms dealer. It had been pointed out to the doctor that should it become common knowledge, it could destroy not only her career and ruin her parents’ reputation but destroy her daughter’s life as well.

So then, ostensibly, neither mother and daughter could be involved and yet the wild card in the pack was NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. He was Jeanne Benoit’s lover, although that was not common knowledge – apparently, they were keeping it quiet. Jeanne had told her father though, not realising that as an ‘Asset’ of the CIA all Rene’s phone calls, emails, faxes and snail mail were being monitored 24/7.

It was possible, if not likely, that DiNozzo had discovered the truth and told Jeanne and she’d hired a hit man to kill Rene. She was a bleeding-heart liberal – intending to use her medical skills helping the poverty stricken in third world countries. To find out that her father supplied guns and weapons to despots and megalomaniacs who’d used the armaments to slaughter their own people and commit genocide could have easily pushed her over the edge, he supposed.

Plus, from a practical point of view, she wouldn’t have even had to hire a hitman, because based upon DiNozzo’s personnel file, he was skilled enough with guns to have carried out the attempted hit. Sure, he didn’t have the skills of that bastard Gibbs or Eli’s own pet assassin, but he was also no slouch with a high-powered rifle. However, although he could do it, would he do it? And if so, why?

Frankly, reading his file, including the classified bits, particularly the ‘extenuating circumstances’ which led to him leaving the Philadelphia Police Department and transferring to Baltimore had sickened Trent. The man was a ‘White Hat’ of such massive proportions that Kort wanted to beat the crap out of him.

DiNozzo’s type made it that much harder for people like him to do his job because they were namby-pamby types, turning squeamish when some pettifogging, asinine regulation got ignored. They didn’t realise that an ‘innocent’ getting hurt or falsely accused was the price that sometimes needed to be paid for people like him to do the dirty work. All so DiNozzo and his lily-livered ilk got to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

Lord knows, DiNozzo was so squeaky clean, he could have auditioned for the Milky Bar Kid commercial and made the kid who won the role look as bent as a nine-bob note. That was despite DiNozzo working with Leroy Jethro Gibbs, who was so dark bloody grey that he was practically a ‘Black Hat’. Nor was he referring to Jethro’s military service as a special forces’ sniper, doing wet work. No, not even the fact that he’d been used to carry out Black Ops for NCIS, along with his little mentor and lover, the current director of NCIS, Jenny Shepard.

All that aside, the reason Gibbs (in Kort’s opinion) wore a metaphoric hat which was very deep charcoal grey, was that he was prepared to cut corners, break rules, even break the law if he had to. Not to mention Gibbs would break bones or societal taboos such as taking the law into his own hands if the ends justified the means. He’d done it before, and he would do it again.

Kort didn’t like him, he was an arrogantly vindictive, nasty bastard who had a memory like an elephant when it came to keeping score. He was someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of, but Trent could work with a guy like Gibbs, even admire him. He was prepared to get his hands dirty and for that, he’d earned Kort’s respect.

So, it was incomprehensible to Trent that DiNozzo could work with Gibbs for six years and not have some of Gibbs’ greyness rub off on him. It was quite sickening! Even that green as grass rookie on Gibbs’ team and aspiring novelist, Timothy McGee had gleefully embraced the dark side, using people or real-life cases he’d worked on as the basis for his ‘novel’ while blissfully ignoring the facts that he’d signed a nondisclosure clause in his contract, not to mention that much of what he’d used was either confidential or even classified.

The fact that he’d changed certain superficial details such as Agent Tommy contracting bubonic plague via a rat sent to the agency in no way mitigated the serious nature of his transgressions. Neither did the fact that he also included flights of fancy such as the scenes where an autopsy assistant was engaging in necrophilia with the corpses in the morgue or Agent Tommy and Mossad Officer Lisa boffing each other senseless in the lift every chance they got.

In a way, using real characters and writing scenes about them which were flights of fantasy (or perhaps a reflection of his own projections) might even endanger those people’s lives or careers if others took it at face value.

Kort couldn’t imagine that Deputy Director David would be pleased to think that his daughter was involved with the likes of Anthony DiNozzo. He had no more truck with ‘White Hat’ types than Trent did. He wouldn’t put it past him if he became convinced that they were really screwing each’s brains out, for Eli to order Amit Hadar – his loyal lackey – to castrate DiNozzo or arrange for him to end up being run over by a bus.

Of course, Timothy McGee’s Deep Six book aside, he’d merrily embraced Gibbs’ rules as laws. He’d plunged gleefully into murky depths of illegally hacking into criminals’ cyber activities. It wasn’t long before he’d taken the next step and hacked into other agencies databanks, stealing Intel. rather than the MCRT doing the hard yards and investigating themselves in order to solve their cases. Kort didn’t have a problem with illegally hacking into criminal’s business, none at all, but he didn’t appreciate McGee and Gibbs trying to steal data he’d obtained by risking his own neck. (He didn’t give a bugger if his own methods of gathering Intel. might be morally reprehensible to some.)

Bottom line – stealing someone else’s work – be it intellectual work product or otherwise was plagiarism and from the chatter around the traps, McGee wasn’t earning himself a lot of fans. Trent had a hacker friend that had come up with a way to teach him an abject lesson though.

The CIA would set him a trap when the opportunity arose (which at this rate might happen sooner than Trent had anticipated) which would have him tracking down a piece of information that was being bounced around the globe using a multitude of servers. While he was trying to keep up, they would hit him with a bot or some such thing. Something for someone of McGee’s abilities that was eminently routable, but it wasn’t the real threat – just a red herring. Trent’s hacker friend had designed a sophisticated program which would sneak in and attack from behind, installing spyware, infiltrating everything on McGee’s computer. Too delicious!

Anyway, the irony was that he didn’t trust DiNozzo because he hadn’t managed to be corrupted by Gibbs, but his nauseating ethics also made him a dubious suspect for assassinating La Grenouille. Not totally implausible – the stupid sap would probably do it if Jeanne asked him to because he loved her. Plus, although he was supposed to have an alibi for the night of the attempted assassination, being in the hospital in Bethesda, his doctor, plus Berkley and Jeanne Benoit could have lied for him and set up an elaborate alibi.

On the list of someone having a solid motive for wanting to kill Rene Benoit for a personal reason, there was always Jenny Shepard. The director hadn’t been nearly as subtle about her desire to make him pay as she believed, because she thought he’d killed her father. She refused to entertain the truth that her father hadn’t been the paragon of virtue he’d pretended to be.

Of course, it would be political and career suicide to accuse the NCIS director of trying to kill La Grenouille without having damning evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, even though they botched the hit, the person or persons responsible for it had done a damned fine job of covering their tracks. They’d disappeared without a trace – the one piece of evidence was a shell casing, so they knew the type of rifle that had been used. However, until or unless they obtained the weapon, the casing on its own wasn’t all that helpful in identifying who had carried it out.

The way in which the sniper had vanished, pointed to someone who was a professional killer for hire or someone with a lot of resources to call upon.

Uppermost in the spook’s mind was the fact that Shepard was Gibbs protégé – or she had been until she decided to dump Gibbs ass out of her bed to further her career. It was possible that he’d have trained her as a sniper for their black ops in Eastern Europe. He also wouldn’t put it past him to help her or even lie for her for old times’ sake, the sentimental bastard… although he hadn’t been her alibi. According to Director Roberts, the NCIS director’s alibi was somewhat shaky. Her housekeeper, Noemi Cruz had stated that Director Shepard had been at home in Georgetown all night. Ziva David had corroborated Cruz’s statement before flying out to Tel Aviv early next morning.

It was possible that Ziva and the housekeeper, Noemi Cruz had provided a false alibi, Kort mused, but as the director of a Federal Agency, they would have to tread carefully. Plus, questioning the word of the daughter of the deputy director of Mossad probably wasn’t the smartest thing they could do, politically.

The CIA director had explained to Trent while he’d want to hold their feet to the fire and watch them squirm, Director Shepard and Ziva David had apparently formed a close friendship after working on a number of joint US/ Israeli classified missions in the Middle East several years ago.

There were numerous rumours going around that Ziva David had saved Special Agent Jenny Shepard, as she was back then, so it wasn’t surprising that they were close. Friends might share a meal, liquor and a sleepover – or they might be more friendly than just friends. Trent contemplated what Eli David would feel about them being in a relationship? He laughed sardonically, knowing Mossad’s deputy director, he probably pushed them together. Lots of blackmail potential there to control the red-headed bitch!

He returned to the scenario that it was possible that Ziva and the housekeeper, Noemi Cruz had lied and provided a false alibi for Shepard. The reality was that as the director of a Federal Agency, they had to tread very carefully. If Shepard had been a mere mortal as opposed to the director of a federal agency, they might have been tempted to try driving a wedge between her and Ziva David.

For example, the fiery Israeli spy cum assassin was normally very antagonistic towards anyone who slept with her father (and there’d been a cast of thousands if rumours were accurate. Eli was a man- slut). Trent was pretty sure that Eli’s daughter had no clue that Jenny had had a sexual liaison with Eli, based on how cordial they seemed to be. Having sleepovers was pretty bloody chummy in his book. He wondered just how cordial Mossad Liaison Officer David would be if she knew the truth?

Still, there was always another way to skin a cat, as his dear old Aunt Betty used to say. And she was right about that (he’d found at least ten different methods before he’d become bored by the project and lost interest) although, Trent suspected that the batshit crazy old woman never expected him to take her literally.

Obviously, when it came to this situation, they would have to look to another option rather than out and out challenging her alibi. There’d been a lot of chatter amongst the various agencies about her reluctance to give up on Rene Benoit, with many people in high places thinking she was out of control.

The Department of Homeland Security had agreed that if Jenny had anything to do with trying to kill Benoit, which had allowed him to go to ground, she must be stopped. The problem was trying to break her alibi – they didn’t have due cause to justify questioning her or the people who supported her account, so they decided to go around her. The Inspector General was getting ready to announce that all agents working for federal agencies would be required to pass a polygraph test, ensuring that they didn’t pose a risk to the national security of the United States.

Of course, the downside of having to go after her this way for the DHS was that a lot of other dodgy agents could potentially get caught up in their trap to catch her out. It couldn’t be helped. Their hands were effectively tied in terms of questioning her alibi and this was all they had.

While they were completing the logistical planning required to carry out such a massive polygraph testing process, they’d sent her off on a wild goose chase to Moscow to talk to one of her father’s contemporaries – Colonel-General Dimitri Borov. It was quite easy to convince her to go off on a wild goose chase as she was already in Paris attending an Interpol Anti-Terrorism conference. Their plan was to keep Shepard feeling off balance and unsettled so she didn’t have time to come up with a way to fudge the polygraph.

Essentially, the CIA… well himself, personally had made Borov (who was dying of lung cancer), an offer he couldn’t refuse to set her up. They’d offered him 100,000 US dollars if he lied to Jenny and told her he’d seen her father one week previously, sowing the seeds of doubt in her mind that Jasper Shepard was dead. To that end, Trent had broken into her study, leaving a bottle of Scotch Whiskey (specifically her father’s favourite brand) and a used tumbler on Jenny’s desk, both of which had the General’s fingerprints on them, to confuse the issue further.

Although the former Russian military man obviously had no use for their generous inducement, he’d wanted to ensure his granddaughter was well taken care of after his death. Trent had no doubt that was why he leapt at their kickback, but he’d had an additional condition. In addition to the bribe money, he’d demanded that in return for lying to Director Shepard about her father being alive, that the CIA operative would give him a lethal overdose of morphine.

Trent couldn’t fault the Russian, he only had a few days to live and didn’t want to prolong his suffering and that of his granddaughter. The ever-cautious CIA agent had been in the adjoining bathroom listening in to the conversation when she’d entered the private hospital room to confront Colonel-General Borov. Shepard hadn’t wasted any time on the social niceties; swiftly demanding Dimitri sign a prepared statement where he took sole responsibility for signing off on the destruction of a cache of Warsaw-pact weapons. The weapons hadn’t been destroyed, acquired instead by La Grenouille, which had tarnished her beloved father’s reputation.

Borov had stolidly refused to absolve Colonel Shepard, saying, “We had to mutually verify. La Grenouille paid him, too.”

A claim Jenny vehemently denied, calling the Russian a liar.

Borov refuted her charge, saying, “A dying man does not lie. Ask your father.”

Jenny glared daggers at him. “My father’s dead.”

Dimitri looked sad. “He beat me to it? When?”

Jenny said, “Twelve years ago.”

The general chuckled and even to Kort’s ears, sounded convincing. “The old fox. One last move in the game!”

Jenny was furious – he could hear it in her voice as she rebutted. “My father has been dead since ’95.”

The dying man rallied, his voice was louder and less querulous than before as he lied to Shepard’s face. “He stood where you’re standing, three weeks ago, smoking a cigar.”

Trent had been extremely impressed with Dimitri’s performance. After the NCIS director had departed, furious at what he’d said, he entered the room to see the general had collapsed into his pillows, his iron-willed determination spent. His eyes closed, the general seemed to have shrunken before Kort’s eyes.

Barely managing a whisper, Borov said, “I held up my side of the bargain, CIA man. Your turn.”

The spook held up his cell phone showing that the $100,000 kickback had been deposited in the Swiss bank account Dimitri had set up specifically for the fee to be paid into. Pulling a syringe filled with clear fluid out of his jacket pocket, the spook and part-time assassin injected the morphine into his IV line.

Watching as the drug slowly worked its way into the Russian’s bloodstream, Kort asked him curiously, “Was that true – did La Grenouille really bribed Colonel Shepard too or was that part of the lie?”

Breathing increasingly shallowly, Dimitri was silent as he contemplated his answer. Finally, he responded weakly. “It was truth, he had expensive tastes, particularly when it came to women.” He seemed about to say more but fell silent.

Kort knew that Borov had said all he intended to say on the subject and so he left him, knowing at best, with the dose he’d administered, the Russian would be dead in minutes and it was time for him to disappear.

Meanwhile, when Shepard arrived Stateside, the whiskey bottle and tumbler would be waiting for her, throwing greater doubt into her mind about her father. That added up to less time to find a way to thwart their plans by using a Leroy Jethro Gibbs play and calling in favours to avoid taking the lie detector test. The polygraph test would determine if she had been lying about her alibi and if so, they would be able to clip Jenny’s wings permanently.

In his humble opinion, she was too much of a loose cannon, and should never have been given the top job anyway. The truth was she’d been brought in specifically to control Gibbs during the whole Ari Haswari situation. Morrow had been offered a job at DHS to make way for her.

Contemplating the third and least obvious explanation, re who had a motive to kill Benoit at the airport last week, Kort entertained the quite real possibility that it had been Rene Benoit himself who’d organised the hit. He could have hired a hitman to make it appear as if someone was trying to kill him but had botched the attempt. (After all, it had bothered everyone that such a seemingly professional assassin could miss a relatively easy sniper shot.)

It made far more sense if Benoit had organised it if it was only ever supposed to look like a serious attempt on La Grenouille’s life. Its true purpose could have been to distract Kort and the other CIA agents in his entourage, while La Grenouille managed to slither away in the dark. It was hard to believe that he just ‘happened’ to take advantage of the situation and had vanished into thin air. After all, Rene was no longer a young man and it seemed far more plausible to think that he’d had help to get away.

Kort couldn’t help wondering if he’d inadvertently tipped the arms dealer off that his life expectancy was very limited, causing him to take an opportunity when it presented itself. Rene had a reputation as being slippery as an eel – had he underestimated the ability of the man to anticipate Trent’s next move?

Had his snooping into his dirt file and the passwords needed to be able to access his vast wealth been the catalyst for Benoit to launch a desperate escape plan? Kort certainly hoped not. Trent also feared that if they didn’t locate him soon, he would find some way to get hold of his insurance policy and make sure that they were permanently out of reach of the CIA. Which unhappily, would not make Kort’s masters happy with him.

Luckily, the CIA spook had two contingency plans up his sleeve:

The first plan was Jenny Shepard, that infuriating bitch was obsessed with destroying Rene. She would not be best pleased that he had gone to ground. Aside from wanting to pin the escape on her if she was responsible (even inadvertently), they’d also decided to give her some rope, hoping that she’d be able to find him where they had failed. She was highly motivated!

Trent’s second secret weapon was Jeanne Benoit. It would be such a tragedy if she were to have a fatal accident, he thought, if – say someone planted a bomb in her car or her lover’s car while they were both in it. With Rene Benoit as her father, an arms dealer with a great many enemies, it would not be all that surprising if those enemies targeted Dr Benoit in his absence. It would also draw out a grieving father to attending her funeral to say one last heartfelt good-bye to the apple of his eye.

Aside from his personal dirt files, reputedly massive, La Grenouille at large posed a threat to the CIA operation. If Trent controlled his files and wealth, he would be able to use his business contacts to choreograph important intelligence and counterintelligence operations and shape foreign policy directions. Alive and free, La Grenouille could blow their shaky house of cards to kingdom come with a word or two in the right ear, telling people that Trent was not an arms dealer – he was CIA.

Even if Kort cared one whit about innocent civilians which was questionable, sacrificing Rene’s stuck-up little princess was a small price to pay for him maintaining his cover and the CIA’s operation.

So, no brainer as those quaint Americans would say.

Notes:
As bent as a nine-bob watch means someone or something really dishonest or corrupt. No nine-shilling (bob) note was ever issued so it would have to be counterfeit.

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-one

Tony was exhausted. He was pissed off. He scared.

Rene Benoit was on the run and according to his source, the Central Intelligence Agency was really REALLY pissed off that he’d managed to slip away and go to ground. The Department of Homeland Security questioned the team the day after Benoit had supposedly ‘purchased Ares’ when someone tried to kill him. The rumour going around NCIS was that Director Shepard and Ziva had been singled out in their questioning of where members of the MCRT had been when the attempted assassination had struck but that wasn’t so.

The truth was that they’d all been targeted, with McGee being the sole exception and they justified their questioning due to the presence of a sniper. Therefore, Gibbs who was a special- forces trained sniper, Ziva, trained by the Israeli IDF were questioned. As was Tony, who didn’t flaunt it (due to having two military trained snipers on the team) but was also competent with a rifle, if not in Ziva or Gibbs’ league. He wasn’t sure if Jenny Shepard could take a long shot, but she was the daughter of a Colonel…so maybe. Plus, she’d worked with Gibbs.

Tony doubted very much that their interest in members of the team had anything to do with being handy with a sniper’s rifle, or if it was (since McGee wasn’t being targeted and he sucked with a rifle), then it wasn’t only their firearms abilities that made them persons of interest. Just that it wasn’t the most important thing that made them suspects.

It was probable that the CIA knew about Jenny Shepard’s connection with La Grenouille. Becoming director of a federal agency, even a pissant little one like NCIS meant that the vetting done on your background would be incredibly invasive. An examination of the type of security scrutiny Ducky subjected his ‘guests’ to on the autopsy table. Going over every inch of them with a magnifying glace looking for anything suspicious. So, the CIA and DSH surely had to know about Jenny and the Colonel because Lord knows, even Probie had managed without too much difficulty to uncover their relationship. Jenny used her father’s name and lived in the house that had been their family home… so, lots of connections there.

Tony wasn’t about to go down the rabbit hole of why SECNAV and even SecDef would have overlooked such a huge red flag when they appointed her – hell even back when they granted her field agent status. Although an outrageous security breach, it was an issue for another time and place. He had more pressing concerns and they all started with Jeanne

So, Tony had concluded that the director had to be a ‘person of interest’ as she blamed Benoit for her father’s death, or according to McLooseLips, Jenny firmly believed that Benoit had set him up to look like he was corrupt, killed him and made it look like a suicide. It was more than probable that the CIA was also aware she was running what was looking like an unsanctioned undercover mission, sending in McGee to try to seduce La Grenouille’s daughter. Hell, if Tony was the investigator on the case, Jenny would be top of the suspect list…no doubt about it!

DiNozzo surmised that they had suspicious re Gibbs and Ziva because both had past histories with Shepard, both working with her when she was a field agent. She was Gibbs’ first Probie and that was a relationship that was special. Last year when Gibbs had been blown up while he was undercover on the Bakir Kamir, landing in the Naval Medical Centre, Portsmouth, Tony and Jenny had been in Gibbs’ room with the unconscious agent. She certainly hadn’t been acting like his protégé or even like his boss. In his opinion, Jenny had been behaving more like a concerned girlfriend, leading him to conclude that she and Gibbs had been lovers.

It was a pretty safe bet. After all, she was a redhead. Hell, Jenny might even be the reason why Gibbs had created Rule 12 – never date a co-worker!

And then there was Ziva and Jenny, who had worked as partners in numerous joint operations between NCIS and Mossad in Cairo and the Middle East. Jenny had even given the Israeli Mossad officer a place on Gibbs’ team after Caitlin Todd had been killed by her half- brother. Shepard was a friend of Eli David and she’s covered up for Ziva after she’d killed a suspect in custody because he wouldn’t stop annoying her. No question… the Mossad liaison should have been sent packing back to Israel, but Shepard had taken Ducky’s equivocal findings that the suspect had an undiagnosed aneurysm and swept the Israeli’s assault of the suspect under the rug.

Looking at the relationship that she had with both individuals, it wasn’t surprising that the CIA suspected Gibbs or Ziva might help her avenge her father’s alleged killer. Both had the skills to take that type of long-range sniper shot – although DiNozzo thought it wasn’t credible in any universe including any alternate ones, that Leroy Jethro Gibbs would miss a comparatively simple kill shot. Tony wasn’t sure about Ziva’s abilities but considering her military background and Mossad training, it didn’t seem all that plausible either.

So, they had suspicions that their relationship with her was significant enough that they would help her kill Benoit and lie for her. So, wow…just WOW!

And Tony was pretty certain that DHS’ (or the CIA) interest in him wasn’t because he was a halfway decent shot with a sniper’s rifle. If Trent Kort was Rene Benoit’s handler and he was an asset for the Central Intelligence Agency (or he had been until he’d done a runner) they already knew about his involvement with Jeanne. Aside from any surveillance they might have done on her, she’d told her father about Tony that night during dinner. Ergo, what she told him would have been listened into by the CIA spooks.

Which was why DHS agents (at the behest of the CIA) had come to Bethesda and tried to break his god-damned alibi of being hooked up to a rebreather oxygen mask, while Brad treated his bronchitis and Jeanne and her mother fussed by his bedside. At the time when the mother and daughter doctors had halted that painful talk about his finding out that his lover was the daughter of an arms dealer, he’d been incredibly frustrated (and he still was).

With the luxury of hindsight, Tony was grateful that they had forced him to go. The fact that all three of them had spent the night in Bethesda hospital – with a platoon of unimpeachable military and civilian personnel, able to testify to that fact, had saved Jeanne and Helen from enduring more than a cursory interrogation.

Tony and Brad had to weather a more robust interview by the DHS though. It seemed Tony’s reputation as an undercover specialist – like a chameleon- had made them sit up and take notice. Their interest in Brad? Well at first, they’d pointed out that he felt guilty about ruining the career of such a gifted basketball player in a football match. Then when that didn’t find traction, they suggested that his career had skyrocket into the medical stratosphere after treating Tony and saving his life, so he was protecting and lying for him because it was in his best interest to do so. Apparently, the ‘agents’ had tried to argue that Tony had a body double stay in his place at Bethesda and came back at a later point to pretend to be sick.

Of course, Brad had checkmated that fanciful scenario by pointing out how much time Tony had spent in Bethesda. Not just when he had the plague but several other times, he’d contracted bronchitis too and when he’d been shot or injured. Most of the hospital staff at least knew him by sight. He had celebrity status at Bethesda and not just because of surviving the plague but Tony was also well known to the staff for his idiosyncratic and often amusing reactions to some medications, particularly analgesia.

Any time Tony was admitted, medical staff and ancillary staff dropped by his room for a visit. Dr Pitt had pointed out, manfully resisting the urge to roll his eyes at them, that IF they’d wanted to set up a false alibi for him so he could go to Quebec and try and kill someone, Brad wouldn’t have admitted him to Bethesda. He’d have admitted him to a civilian hospital where Brad had privileges and the staff didn’t know who their patient was.

After that, they seemed to drop that line of inquiry or if they didn’t, then they were investigating it on the QT. Frankly, Tony would have thought it was a hoot except for how easily the FBI had swallowed Charles Sterling’s attempt to frame him a couple of years prior. That and the fact they were suggesting Jeanne, Helen and Brad were colluding was out of line and that was not okay with him.

Aside from the whole being treated like a suspect situation, work was pissing him off two. This week had been an utter farce from start to finish. It was yet another prime example (if he required one) of why he needed to find a new job ASAP. If ever he got the chance to discuss what had gone down at work with Jeanne over some Thai take out and a movie like they used to when they were just friends, she would probably shake her head and tell him she told him so. In fact, she’d probably tell him that she’d told him so on more than one occasion, probably at least a dozen times.

Damn it – he missed those simple evenings they ‘d shared their shitty work stories with each other. He missed her!

He was supposed to have been running the MCRT this week because Shepard had been attending an anti-terrorism conference in Paris and had left Gibbs sitting in the big chair as the acting director. And really, what was Shepard thinking?

What the hell had Gibbs been thinking if it came down to that? Clearly, he considered the position of director to be one of supreme unimportance, spending the whole time shirking the clerical portion of the job and driving Cynthia Summers (the director’s executive assistant) to distraction. She’d come venting to Tony, wanting a sympathetic ear: also, he suspected, some magical tips on making Gibbs attend to his paperwork. He had earned a reputation as The Gibbs’ Whisperer but hells bells, Tony couldn’t be expected to perform miracles, could he?

According to Summers, instead of reviewing a case file to ensure that it had no procedural errors prior to it going to trial or to court-martial, Gibbs had approved one because he knew and admired the lead agent. Paradoxically he refused to sign off on another case because the agent (who he didn’t recognise) was from the San Diego office, rejecting the case file based purely on the fact that Gibb said he was a Hollywood special agent. Cynthia had objected (and fair enough too) since that wasn’t a valid reason to refuse to sign off on the case.

Honestly, did Gibbs have no respect for the rule of law, even if he spat upon the position as head of NCIS? How god damned arrogant of the prick to agree to (or to be bullied into) doing the job and then effectively shitting all over it? And Jenny? It was more of the same pitiful managerial decision-making on display, like when she disrespected the role played by senior field agents on investigative teams and appointed McGee (a woefully unqualified and inexperienced candidate for the job) even if he was only acting SFA.

If you look at her track record, not to mention the fact that her father had links with Rene Benoit an international arms dealer– who the hell thought it was a good idea to promote someone of such limited experience and questionable managerial background to be the director? She’d never actually ever lead a team. Whoever it was that appointed her, they needed to be taken to task or to be sent to Happy Acres for a rest cure because it was fucking crazy!

Meanwhile, Gibbs decided to involve himself in a case when a cab driver bribed by a mob boss (who was accused of murdering a young Marine) to drive a deceased Yemen national onto the Washington Navy Yard. Scarletti (the mob boss) knew that NCIS would be forced to investigate the death and impound the vehicle. Which it turned out, was the whole point of the exercise.

Once the taxi cab was inside the evidence garage, an accomplice (concealed under one of the seats) was able to gain unauthorised entry into the evidence locker. He’d then switched the murder weapon with an identical gun so that the second forensic examination of the murder weapon which they’d manage to secure through the court – would unsurprisingly – come back as not being a match for the bullet used in the killing.

Even though they’d managed to apprehend the cab driver and Scarletti’s henchman before they were able to escape from the Navy Yard, the perps had still been successful in getting out of NCIS. Of greater concern though was that the chain-of-evidence into the murder weapon had been breached and that would be used to call into question the legitimacy of Abby’s forensic examination which identified the gun as the weapon used to kill PFC Peta Damon.

Frankly, it was a massive breach of security – and it wasn’t the first time they’d been breached either. So, the rest of the week had been tied up with multiple investigations into NCIS’ security procedures. Plus, there was the whole obligatory looking for scapegoats and numerous meetings about how to ensure it didn’t happen next time. Frankly, Tony still didn’t understand how Abby, McGee and Ziva with all their so-called mad skills had managed to overlook the possibility that a dangerous individual had been concealed in the vehicle.

It also made him wonder what else they might have missed during other investigations which they never knew about.

And apart from the fact that Scarletti might just walk on a technicality (which would be a complete travesty for Damon, her shipmates and her family and friends) it was a disaster for justice. Law enforcement had been trying to put that vicious crime boss away for a damned long time and if he walked, well them a helluva lot of cops and feds would be royally pissed. Damn it, Tony was pissed too.

On a personal front, Tony was completely disgusted that Gibbs had usurped control of the team – even though he was supposed to be the acting director. Once again, Tony had been left with his butt hanging out in the breeze, relegated from acting supervisory special agent leading the MCRT to be effectively treated as a junior agent. Gibbs had shown him no respect, the bastard.

Sure, Tony had joked and taken part in the betting pool re how long Gibbs would stick at the job of acting director before he reverted back to investigating a case. Although he’d honestly hoped to be proven wrong and Gibbs would trust him to investigate. Sadly, he wasn’t wrong.

To McGee and Ziva, it was further confirmation (that’s if they needed any, which was doubtful) that he didn’t have the competence to lead an investigation or a team. It demonstrated that irrespective of Tony’s skill and experience, Gibbs didn’t have the confidence in him to let him take point on one investigation, a case which had literally been crying out for the DiNozzo out-of-the-box approach.

Idly, he wondered about how Gibbs’ beloved Marine Corps would view former Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs blatant dereliction of duty? Gibbs had blithely abandoned his duties of an acting director to handle what had, to all intents and purposes been a routine case. He’d also continually ignored one of his own most sacrosanct rules – never be unreachable. If it had been one of his own agents who’d behaved the way Gibbs had done, the Boss would have ripped them a new one; but apparently, he was above the law.

Tony felt like it was time for Gibbs to rewrite his fucking rules. Instead of Gibbs Rule # 1 being – never screw over your partner it should be – do as I say, not as I do because I. Am. God. And as such, can do as I God Damn please!

Tony looked around his apartment forlornly, wishing he could spend some time with Jeanne, but he hadn’t seen her for almost a week. Yes, he’d been busy at work, especially after the fall out from being infiltrated by the mob. In one way, he supposed it was fortunate that it wasn’t terrorists. However, after Haswari had found a way into the morgue in a body bag, and the SWAK letter had made it through their irradiation processes, security had been beefed up accordingly.

So, to have a mafia type get in the building so effortlessly was hugely embarrassing to NCIS. It shouldn’t have been possible and yet it happened.

But it wasn’t the reason why Tony wasn’t spending his evening relaxing with Dr Benoit, discussing their cases, comparing annoying workers stories, helping her study for an exam, snuggled up together watching French movies or making out like a couple of hormone-fuelled teenagers. After learning that someone tried to assassinate Rene during the handover to him of Ares in Quebec, he’d persuaded Jeanne that she simply wasn’t safe staying at her apartment any longer and needed to go to a safe house.

Much as he’d hated taking her up on her offer, he’d called Vivian Blackadder to see if the offer to let Jeanne stay with her was still open. She’d reaffirmed her offer, and Jeanne had been safely ensconced in Viv’s two-bedroom, spacious apartment. Originally, Tony had intended on going with her to protect her in the safe house. Now that the CIA knew about their relationship, Tony decided to stay in plain sight at his apartment and go to work, where he was able to fully utilise his unorthodox information network to try to find out what was happening regarding La Grenouille.

One thing he was convinced about, while Rene Benoit was in the wind, Jeanne was at risk from the CIA or other players in this dangerous game, should they decide to use her as a pawn to draw out her father. It had been a hard sell, persuading Jeanne to go to ground. Tony suspected part of her reluctance was because there was still a tiny part of her that didn’t want to believe that her Papa was a monster – she wanted everyone, including her mother to be dead wrong about Rene. With that desire lying mostly submerged in her subconscious, Jeanne had come up with a whole heap of half-assed reasons why she should remain in her apartment.

Strangely it was Helen who finally persuaded her daughter that it wasn’t safe for her to stay there. Previously, Tony had argued strongly that Jeanne was in danger due to her relationship to La Grenouille and her ignorance of that fact. Helen had strongly disagreed, insisting she that she was safe, and he forced the issue. Yet the attempted assassination of Benoit had brought about a dramatic change of heart in Jeanne’s mother. She finally seemed to realise Tony knew what he was talking about. Helen had even gone so far as to admit to him she’d been deluding herself to think that Jeanne’s ignorance of her roots would keep her out of harm’s way.

Tony was only marginally curious about her sudden 180-degree change of mind. He was grateful, mostly, that it occurred because it totally tipped the balance in his favour. Jeanne had agreed to go into hiding, but she wasn’t happy about it. He suspected that another reason she was reluctant was that her going to ground would make it difficult for her father to be able to make contact. He couldn’t fault her, not really.

There was a part of him that tried to justify his own father’s behaviour, his disowning him and sending him off to RIMA when he was twelve, his trying to gain access to the trust fund Tony’s maternal grandparents had set up for him. As a little kid, he’d come up with dozens of scenarios to rationalise why he’d behaved so appallingly, each one more fanciful than the last. All of them in some way involving a narrative of him having to pretend to be a vainglorious, evil conman, concerned about only himself because he was playing a role, all the while nobly serving his country.

Even now as a harden federal agent, that hurt little kid still secretly hoped that “the Real Anthony DiNozzo’ would someday appear and humbly beg Toy’s forgiveness for being such an inexcusable piece of shit and even worse parent. And have a damned good reason that didn’t involve himself and his own selfish grief. Even though he knew it would never happen, that hurt little boy craved for that validation. And the irony… despite what that hurt little kid wanted…what he needed…Tony the cynical federal agent and seasoned cop knew he wouldn’t trust any long overdue apology. Mainly because it would be too little far too late.

That didn’t mean he couldn’t empathise with Jeanne’s inner child, desperately hoping that her daddy wasn’t the bad man that everyone had claimed because if he was, it meant her whole life had been a lie. At least she didn’t have to live with the fact that La Grenouille’s ill-gotten gains had put her through college and medical school. He guessed it was little consolation right now but down the track, it would be something…maybe?

Tony looked at the time impatiently. It was Jeanne’s turn to call him. They’d worked out a simple method of keeping in contact with each other. Helen had purchased a batch of cheap burn phones so they could all safely stay in touch with each other. They would destroy them and throw them away after using them for 24 hours. Since it was Jeanne’s turn to toss her phone last night, he didn’t have the new number so she would have to ring him tonight. After her call he would ditch his phone (but not before memorising her new number) and then tomorrow night he would call her and then ditch his phone.

As he waited for Jeanne to call him, he fixed himself a sandwich and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He knew he was under surveillance by the CIA, who were probably pretty pissed that they had not only lost La Grenouille but now Jeanne had disappeared right under their noses too. He’d already checked and found his landline was being tapped and discovered numerous bugs placed strategically around his apartment.

He’d removed them and put them in a Tupperware container in the freezer in anticipation of his phone call tonight but would return them back where he’d found them later. It was easier if the CIA believed that he had no idea he was being bugged because if they did, they’d simply put the devices someplace else and he would have to waste more time looking for them. Plus, it wasn’t a bad thing if the people who were watching him believed he wasn’t too bright because when he needed to ditch them at some point, they wouldn’t be expecting it.

Later, when he’d finished talking with Jeanne, he would play the mixtape he’d burned for just such a purpose. All the music on the CD was either from one-hit wonders, or certified earworm numbers that would drive whoever had to listen to it crazy. So bad it was good!

Feeling restless he grabbed a second beer, wondering where the hell Rene Benoit had disappeared to. What was his end game? Helen kept saying that Rene was slippery as a snake.

She suspected he’d long planned an exit strategy if things had turned bad and someone had charged him with illegal arms dealing. She posited that he probably had several new identities set up in countries that didn’t have extradition treaties, but Tony wondered if he might be headed to somewhere like Russia, Iran or North Korea where his contacts and expertise might be welcomed by the powers that be. He didn’t voice those musings though.

Looking at his watch, he noted that there was still another half an hour before Jeanne was scheduled to call him and he discounted the thought of going for a quick run. The two spooks assigned with watching his apartment weren’t in the best of shape and despite Brad’s admonishment that he needed to cut down on his running until he was fully recovered from the bout of bronchitis, he fully intended to go for a run later tonight. Maybe in deference to Brad, he would only do 2 or 3 miles, but it would be through a bunch of alleys, laneways and narrow streets which would make it impossible to follow him in a vehicle.

Call him sadistic but if he couldn’t see Jeanne, touch her and kiss her, then these assholes were going to pay the price for that. Let them suffer too.

Ten minutes into waiting for Jeanne’s nightly call, Helen Berkley called on another burner phone. Heading into the bathroom and turning on the shower just in case he’d missed one of the Company’s bugs, he answered her call.

“Evening Doctor, what can I do for you?” he greeted her, avoiding using identifiers.

“Had a visit tonight from someone who said he was a mutual friend or actually he referred to himself as a frenemy.”

Tony wondered what the FBI was doing poking its nose into the La Grenouille fiasco or was Fornell there at the behest of DHS, who were also fronting for the Company since the CIA wasn’t meant to be operating domestically? Yeah right!

“Oh, and what did this frenemy want?”

“He was asking about anything that my ex might have entrusted to me over the last few years or since I’ve been here in DC. Then he said to warn you that the CIA was interested in you. That they were about to announce mandatory polygraph tests for all federal agents.”

Tony wasn’t about to speculate over the phone. “Interesting,” he replied. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“He did say as he was leaving that perhaps you should have a get together over coffee.”

He grunted noncommittally, wanting to ponder what Tobias was up to when he had more time.

After a few desultory remarks on either end of the phone, they terminated the conversation and Tony glanced at his watch impatiently. Eight more minutes before he could talk to Jeanne. He grinned wryly. He had it badly – it was just over seven days since he’d seen her. He couldn’t believe how much he missed her, how many times a day he thought about her, what she was doing and thinking. Wondering, hoping that she was missing him too.

Tony shook his head in wonder. Wow! Look how much of sap he’d become!

This must be what it felt like to be head over heels for someone, he decided wryly. Even with Wendy, he’d never thought about her constantly when they were apart. Then again, she was never in danger, nor the daughter of an international arms dealer.

Tony looked at the unopened bottle of low alcohol beer. He tried not to think what would happen if this thing between them, this romantic relationship went belly up. He wasn’t sure he’d survive it.

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-two

Jeanne called him but was ten minutes late and in that ten minutes, his imagination had run riot, thinking that the CIA had found her, that she’d been abducted or worse. Helen had gone from ‘don’t tell her – cuz there is no danger’ to the opposite extreme of ‘I’m going to hire a phalanx of the best bodyguards to protect my daughter because money is no object.’

Tony talked her down because some of the bodyguards she’d have hired would likely have worked for the Secret Service at some point in time or been Special Forces and therefore likely to have ties to DHS and the CIA.

Tony knew that Jeanne’s best protection lay in the fact that no one knew where she was, apart from her mother, Tony and Viv. No one would suspect that she would be staying with an FBI agent, particularly one who’d briefly worked with Tony and left in acrimonious circumstances. An agent who hadn’t stay in touch with him. Plus, although the CIA (and now DHS) obviously knew he and Jeanne were together, every man and his dog didn’t so at least the likelihood of anyone accidentally stumbling across her was minimal.

Okay, so Helen’s info from Fornell suggested the news about him, and Jeanne was now common knowledge within the various alphabet communities. However, he still believed she was safer at Viv’s. The more people who know a secret, the greater the chances that someone will slip up… even unintentionally.

Worryingly, tonight Jeanne was insisting that she needed to return to work. One of the other doctors was scheduled to go on maternity in a couple of days and DiNozzo also suspected that Jeanne was going out of her mind sitting around not doing anything for the seven days. He could kind of empathise with her on that score – he always went stir crazy when he was off on sick leave.

Still, he was worried that her going back to the hospital was going to put her in danger since the people at the CIA weren’t exactly touchy-feely nurturing types. But Jeanne was stubborn. Usually, it was one of the things about he loved most about her, but not loving it now.

They’d been close to arguing when Viv had stepped in with a compromise. She’d offered to drive Jeanne to work and Tony could pick her up and make sure she got back to Blackadder’s apartment at the end of her shift. As she pointed out, although they’d probably be tailed when she left the hospital, Tony was a skilled undercover operative who should be more than capable of losing anyone following him.

Tony had argued that she would be a sitting duck at the hospital, but Viv had countered saying that it was unlikely that the CIA would try anything when there were so many people around as witnesses. He’d agreed with her going back to the hospital, albeit reluctantly because he was pretty sure that Jeanne would have done it anyway. At least this way they were able to mitigate some of the risks.

He realised that having McProbie undercover was going to be a blessing in disguise. He knew there was a reason why he hadn’t blown Tim’s cover. Tony would talk to Tim and make sure he kept a weather-eye on Jeanne, or he’d threaten to tell Shepard that McGee had spilled the beans on her little undercover operation. Probie wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. Like a lot of red-heads, she was quite the domineering personality when crossed. Tony was as certain as he could be that McGee would do anything to avoid a scene with their Madame Director. Plus, in addition to McGee, he could co-opt Annie and Carly to keep an eye on Jeanne too.

He was worried about it, but he also knew that it wasn’t practical for her to remain hidden away forever. She was a doctor – she became one to help people. He couldn’t expect her to not come to work – as a federal agent and a former cop he wouldn’t be kept from doing his job either. Still, there was one very big difference – Tony carried a gun and was trained in hand to hand combat.

Deciding to do something to take his mind off his worries, no his totally legitimate concerns about the situation, he put all the listening devices back in their places, imagining the CIA agents’ frustrations when they didn’t pick up anything useful the next day. He changed into his exercise gear, grabbed his wallet and his keys and headed downstairs and out the street for a run. He’d made sure he jogged past the vehicle containing the CIA guys, chuckling internally at their dismayed features.

He watched as one of the spooks exited the car when Tony ran around the corner and ducked into the alleyway, picking a path that made it impossible for a vehicle to follow. He continued to wend his way through shortcuts, managing to run Agent Soft and Flabby ragged. To be fair to him, the guy was wearing a badly tailored business suit and dress shoes although calling them that was probably an oxymoron, since there was nothing dressy or fashionable about them. Serviceable was being charitable, very charitable.

Tony laughed as Agent Soft and Flabby fell further back until he managed to leave him far behind. Laughing cruelly, he stopped his twisty route and ran around the block, changing direction entirely until he arrived at a small bar which he sometimes stopped at on his way home from work. He frequented it because the owner was Italian and had a good selection of red wines from Tuscany. Nodding hello to the raven-haired bartender, Francesca, he ordered a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and two glasses. It was slightly tannic but robust, harmonic and full bodied. Although it was a red wine to drink with rich foods such as game and red meats, aged cheeses and truffles, it could also be drunk alone.

Making his way to the public phone he dropped in a coin supplied by Francesca and called a number he’d memorised before leaving home. When it was answered he dispensed with any preamble, cutting right to the chase.

“I hear you wanted to get together to have a chat?”

“Yeah, DiNotzo, when can we get together? How’s tomorrow night?”

“How about now, Toby? Take it or leave it,” he said, knowing that the guy who’d slept with and stolen Gibbs’ wife Diane (and yet strangely enough was probably still Gibbs’ best friend) would take it. But predictably would have to bitch about it first.

“Now? But I’ve just got home.” Tony knew that it was true since he’d been sniffing around Helen Berkley a couple of hours ago, looking for something and Tony doubted it was because he was horny.

Tony was pretty sure it was something valuable that the alphabets wanted to get their hands on. He’d been thinking about what it was that had brought Fornell to call on Jeanne’s mother since she talked to him earlier. He had put himself in La Grenouille’s shoes and decided that if he was as savvy as Helen insisted, he was, he’d have some sort of exit strategy.

Hell, it’s what Tony would do – in fact, he had several exit strategies in place in case he ever needed to disappear in a hurry. Mike Macaluso had threatened to make him pay for bringing the Don’s empire crashing down around his ears. He’d made contingency plans, particularly if he ever needed to lay low. He’d be a damned fool not to.

In Tony’s case, his exit strategies consisted of false IDs, bank accounts, driver’s licenses plus guns, gun permits, and moderate amounts of cash, secreted away in several safety deposit boxes around DC and Baltimore precincts. But when he’d worked Vice as a cop, he knew a few (albeit more intelligent than usual) pimps and madams who had little black books with client details or even photographic or video evidence recorded. Either as a safeguard or as a retirement plan. It made sense to DiNozzo that La Grenouille would keep records of his clients, who obviously weren’t upstanding citizens, as backup.

If his suspicions were accurate, everyone was chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Which made it more imperative to locate Benoit or at least the dirt he’d collected. And that only made Jeanne’s situation even more vulnerable since she could be used as a pawn. Maybe it was time to go on the attack!

Tony clucked insincerely. “Okay, then… I guess that’s a leave it, Tobes. Never mind, guess I’ll be calling an old buddy of mine, works for the ATF. He’s been at me to have a drink too. See ya round Agent Fornelli.”

“No wait, DiNotzo, don’t hang up,” the FBI agent yelled. “WAIT!”

Tony sighed, “Alright I’m waiting but you only have 30 seconds, Toby. I have a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino about to be delivered to my table and I must go.”

Fornell exclaim covetously, “Nice! Okay, you win, DiNotzo. Now, it is. So, we have the ‘when’ out of the way, how about you tell me where?”

Tony grinned in triumph and told him the address of the bar, before cautioning him. “This is a chat between the two of us. No Agent Slacks and no other fibbies either. I mean it, Toby,” he warned him sternly.

“This is a strictly off the record chat between us. You don’t come alone or if I think you are wired, the deal is off, Got it? Oh, and if you aren’t here in fifteen minutes, I won’t be here.”

He hung up the phone and went to the table he usually sat at, in a dark corner. He liked it because it had a good view of the front entrance and was close to the staff exit in case he needed to depart in a hurry and he sat down, feeling rather pleased with himself. After all, it wasn’t every day he got to piss off fellow agents, from two rival agencies no less, and make them look like jerks. Bonus!

Plus, he was pretty sure Fornell would sell his mother down the river if what Tony believed his agency, the DHS and the CIA were looking for really did exist.

There was no love lost between the Fibbies and the CIA. He would ruthlessly exploit that factor to make sure Jeanne stayed alive. After all, Fornell wasn’t getting any younger and unlike Gibbs, he probably aspired to reaching managerial level. And to be fair, even if Tobes had accused him of killing and dismembering a young female, not to mention biting her leg, Fornell at least knew his head from his ass.

Sadly, there were plenty who didn’t!

~oO0Oo~

Tony was glad he had gotten a heads up about the polygraph testing from Fornell because the whole office was in an uproar. The Department of Homeland Security announced this morning via a press statement (which had largely been ignored by the mainstream media) their intention to ensure that federal agents explicitly did not pose a security risk, with a widespread program of mandatory polygraph testing.

NCIS had been selected to go first because the agency was one of the smaller federal agencies. According to the statement, “it was considered to be suitable to get the logistics of such a program fine-tuned before moving onto the larger agencies.”

Which was total bullshit – NCIS was going first because they were on a fishing expedition and Jenny and Tony (according to Fornell, after Jeanne’s disappearance) were their prime suspects.

Tony was somewhat amused that they’d announced the mandatory polygraphs while Director Shepard was still out of the country, although she was due to fly in to DC later today. The first polygraphs were scheduled to start tomorrow, and Tony wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Jenny was among the first batch of agents tested. His was scheduled to take place two days from now. Not that he was worried about it, seeing he didn’t have anything to hide – he had nothing to do with La Grenouille’s attempted murder or his escape.

Ambling down to the lab, Tony was mildly amused to see that McGee had his panties all in a twist about the test. Abby had MacGyvered up her own home-made polygraph machine and was coaching Probie on answering questions. Mind you… Tony had taken more than a couple of lie detector tests over the years and no one had asked him to do so sans his shirt.

Abby was wicked, or perhaps it was her unique method of putting McGee under increased pressure. If so, it was working. McGee was flunking the baseline question about his name which is supposed to establish truthful responses. OMG, he was in such a shitload of trouble!

Failing a polygraph was grounds for immediate loss of field status and eventual dismissal.

Gibbs looked as if he was about to give his golden boy McGee a god-almighty mother of a head slap when he turned up suddenly and saw him half dressed in front of Ziva and Abbs. Which was funny when you thought about it, since neither female was exactly virginal. The news about the polygraph made the former Marine turn a pale shade of green and made Jethro forget the head slap.

Ziva asked him when his polygraph was scheduled to take place, but he’d done his special ops vanishing in a puff of smoke trick, even before she had finished asking her question. Looked like Gibbs was not happy about the mandatory polygraph testing and if he had to hazard a guess, Tony would take a punt that the Boss had concerns about not being able to pass it. Gibbs wasn’t exactly a play-by-the-rules, kind of guy.

Huh… maybe he had been involved in the attempted assassination of La Grenouille after all.

Tony was sure that there were other times the boss had bent or broken the rules as a federal agent. For Pete’s sake, he’d once told McGee if he was going to kill someone (who’d killed the MIT graduate McGee was sweet on because she was a witness to a murder and not a nice person) to make sure he did it while the dirtbag was running away, not shoot him after he’d detained him. Interesting advice to give a Probationary Field agent… NOT!

Then there was the whole situation with his dead wife and child that had come to light fairly recently. As a special op trained Marine sniper, plus the sort of guy that carried a grudge, Tony was pretty sure that Kelly and Shannon Gibb’s killer was ten foot under. Maybe cut up into tiny little pieces and chucked into the ocean for chum.

He and Ducky had discussed it and they’d both reached the same conclusion, independently. Ducky seemed much more pragmatic about it, which he found disappointing. Tony hoped they were both wrong, because as an officer of the courts, if he learnt that his boss had played judge jury and executioner then he would, in good conscience be forced to arrest him.

Watching Abby and Ziva torture McGee he decided to rescue him so they could have a little chat about watching Jeanne when she was at work. Ziva was offering to teach McGee how to beat a polygraph test, boasting that all Mossad officers had to learn how to pass them while lying. Shaking his head, because even if the pair meant well (and he wasn’t totally convinced about their motives) or whether they were playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse its caught, they weren’t helping. They were ramping up his anxiety to the point where he was a dead cert to flunk the polygraph, before he even got to any of the deceit portion of the test.

~oO0Oo~

Gibbs was furious, what the hell was DHS playing at? Mandatory polygraphs? What the fuck was going on? It was time to call in one of his markers… but first, he had to find out who the target was? Were they after him and if so, why?

He decided before doing anything hasty he’d reach out to Fornell. See if the fibbie had any knowledge about what was going down.

If that didn’t yield any viable Intel. he’d get in touch with Callen, see if he knew what was going down. G. Callen had only recently joined NCIS but before that he’d been at the CIA.

Gibbs had no intention of being the patsy caught up in someone else’s witch-hunt.

Thinking about how oddly Jenn had been acting lately, his gut said it was probably her who had dragged the agency into a pile of dog crap. He smirked slightly, Abbs would no-doubt say that the director was acting hinky, while Tobias would probably say she was acting squirrely.

All he knew was that something didn’t feel right – she was obviously obsessed by The Frog – ribbit, ribbit. Gibbs knew quite a bit about obsessions after all, but she had remained surprisingly closed mouth about it. Usually, he could coax the information out of her but then again, he wasn’t sleeping with her anymore.

He briefly considered if a quick fuck would be worth it to find out what she was up to, because she also got chatty after she climaxed, but he just as quickly dismissed the idea. He reminded himself that she was the genesis of Rule 12 for a damned good reason. Nope – not going there again! A much smarter option was to find an alternative method of discovering what she was up to.

Deciding impatiently that he wouldn’t hang around for Fornell to get back to him. He decided to ambush him since it was Friday afternoon and Jethro knew where he’d be. He’d be at their ex-wife’s house, picking up his and Diane’s daughter, Emily. Gibbs grinned, waylaying him on Diane’s turf was probably a smart move – it would undoubtedly loosen his lips because he was always a gibbering wreck around the red-headed ball-breaker.

Of course, Gibbs would also ask one of the team to run a background check on The Frog. Maybe not Ziva, since she and Jenn seemed a bit too chummy for his liking. He couldn’t quite remember if they had been so close before his sabbatical, although his gut was saying no. Gibbs trusted his gut…so, not Ziva. That left McGee who was conspicuous by his absence (and seemed to be running errands for Jenny) or Abby, his faithful lab rat who worshipped the ground Leroy Jethro Gibbs walked upon.

It didn’t even register that he didn’t include DiNozzo in his mental list of people who could turn to. The truth was that since his return, he’d often experienced feelings of belligerence toward the man he’d left in charge of his team. He’d heard mixed reviews of how DiNozzo had handled himself and the team. McGee and Ziva had been scathing, Abby had been a little more circumspect but wasn’t happy that McGee hadn’t gotten the senior field agent position. Jenny was less than effusive but other supervisory agents had been much more laudatory.

Faced with diametrically opposed reports, Jethro was far more inclined to trust his own team over the opinions of other agents. His own people told him that Tony had become a power-crazed despot, threatened by McGee and had tried to undermine his authority. He’d seen how ambitious he was with his own eyes when he’d come back. Tony had tried usurping his orders on a few occasions, so he’d had no other choice but to stomp down hard on him and put the man in his place.

Evidently, he was one of those pushy ambitious types who wanted Gibbs’ job. Well, apart from the fact he wasn’t ready to retire any time soon, DiNozzo obviously wasn’t nearly the hot shot agent and team leader he liked to think he was, based on what the others said.

Pulling into the quiet suburban cul-de-sac where Diane Fornell lived and parking across the street from her house with his usual method of parking consisting of a squeal of tyres and a liberal application of the brakes, he sighed. Nothing had felt right since his return from his sick leave in Mexico.

Ducky had been pissed off with him for the longest time, unreasonably so. Wasn’t he entitled to take some time off after he’d been blown up?

It seemed petty and immature of the medical examiner to be so huffy – Jethro never asked to be blown up and have his memories stolen away from him. Would it have killed the Scotsman to be supportive instead of being so outraged?

It wasn’t just the issues with Duck acting like a jerk and DiNozzo wanting his job. Jenny was up to something – something big – he could feel it. If she brought down the agency, he’d be mighty pissed.

What the hell was the point in him returning if she’d brought a ton of bricks tumbling down onto their heads? He knew that the polygraph tests were a minefield. He may still have some patchy memories following the bombing on the Bakir Kamir, but he did know if he took the polygraph test and the guy administering it asked the wrong questions, he’d be in a world of hurt.

He briefly wondered just who Jenny had had to fuck to get the directorship after so little time as a field agent. There was a dozen or more candidates who had way more seniority and experience than she did. She seemed to have gone into the job with a secret agenda and if his gut was right, it was about to turn around and bite them all on the ass.

He watched Tobias pull up in Diane’s driveway and get out of his dark blue Ford sedan. Jethro was relieved that his wait was over, he was impatient to get the information and leave before he was forced to engage with his ex-wife. That would not be wise. He remembered that much about the red-headed witch!

Unfortunately, fate had other ideas as Diane emerged from the front door with Emily in tow and like a heat seeking missile, she zeroed in on him across the road and scowled. Diane didn’t even try to hide her displeasure at Gibbs’ temerity to be in her neighbourhood and Tobias evidently feeling her scorching wrath, turned to look at what she was glaring at. He shook his head, probably at Gibbs foolhardiness. He veered off course, crossing the road to talk to him, because (perceptive investigator that he was) he’d assumed Gibbs was there to see him.

“Didn’t expect to see you within ten miles of our ex-wife’s house, Gibbs.” He said. “If I wasn’t picking up Em, I wouldn’t be here either. So, what do you want?”

Gibbs shrugged, fine with Fornell’s abruptness since he wasn’t one to engage in polite chit chat. “Wanna know who ordered the polygraph testing?”

Fornell replied, “Rumour has it that they’re after Jenny Shepard – they think she’s out of control. They think she’s had a hand in the attempted assassination of La Grenouille. They aren’t happy.” He stated the obvious.

Gibbs grunted noncommittally, “She hates ‘The Frog’ certainly enough to kill him. Not sure she would have missed if she’d gone after him, though.”

The tacit – I taught her better than that, drew a nod of acknowledgement, from his FBI colleague.

Tobias seemed to consider something before he confided, “Word is she ditched her protection detail and went off the grid for almost 21 hours when she was in Paris for the conference. The rumour going around is that the CIA want to know where she went.”

~oO0Oo~

Jethro was furious that Jenny’s obsession was responsible for putting him an awkward situation. For the entire time he’d been working for NIS, now renamed NCIS, he’d gone to great lengths to avoid having to take a polygraph test without making it too obvious that was what he was doing. Now Jenny, with her stupid obsession had dropped him right in it.

To get out of it he was probably going to have to call in one of his markers with TPTB. And not just a little one either, but to coin an Abby colloquialism, one of his MOAS markers. He’d probably be forced to call in an ‘I know where you buried the body’ markers with SECNAV to have him declared exempt for taking the polygraph.

Angry that he was going to have to use up one, he decided to go around and make Jenn suffer – demand a drink. She always had the good stuff and he was in the mood for some ultra -smooth bourbon right now. It was the very least she could do, he told himself irritably.

Arriving at her brownstone, Noemi answered the front door and showed him into Jenny’s study where she seemed preoccupied. Never one to waste time he confronted her. “Where were you when you dropped off the radar for 21 hours in Paris, Director?

She glared at him coldly, “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Gibbs. I think you’ve forgotten – I’m the boss now. You work for me.”

Even though Jethro would rather stab himself in the eye with an ice pick than be the NCIS director, he admitted (purely to himself) that it did actually bother him that his probie, who didn’t have near the same level of experience or skills as he did, got to call the shots and tell him what to do. It was a fucking joke!

Well, she might try but good luck with that! Many before her had tried to make him toe the line and failed miserably, including three ex-wives.

“But you’re going to have to answer to the CIA because that’s clearly what’s caught their attention with the polygraphs.”

Ignoring his question, the director offered him a drink but when he reached for the bottle on the desk, she ordered him, with a touch of steel in her voice (and a note of panic, in his opinion) not to touch the bottle.

Intrigued about her odd reaction, Gibbs commented that the bottle was Scotch, but Jenny drank bourbon.

Jenny gave him her patented director glare – not the one she used on everyone else, he noted with some amusement. No, she had a special one reserved just for him, a reworking of the one she’d used when they’d had a lover’s spat back in Paris all those years ago, before she made the same observation about Gibbs’ drinking preferences.

“Hello, Pot, meet Kettle. You drink bourbon too, Jethro so your point would be?”

The only problem with her glare, it hadn’t worked on him back then. When it came to winning arguments, he was a right-fighter and he was still one now. So, unsurprisingly her glare had absolutely no effect on him now, either.

Jethro was so pissed at her when she defected his question, so he asked her again, “What the hell were you doing during those 21 missing hours Jenn?”

Seeing her bullish look, he observed annoyingly, “Can’t have been up to anything good, since you ditched your protection team and that’s a big no-no.”

Folding her arms, she avoided answering his question. Deciding to mess with her because she wouldn’t tell him what was going on, he remarked, “You do know that when you lie your right eye twitches…and always has.”

Watching her try to think up a suitably cutting remark, he took his leave. After all, a right-fighter always has to get the final say when you are arguing.

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-three

Tony made his way to the hospital elevator, wanting to see how Jeanne was doing on her first day back. Viv had dropped her off this afternoon since she was working an all-nighter. It wasn’t common knowledge that she was returning to work today, therefore Tony figured she was reasonably safe today. He intended to hang out and snooze in the doctors’ lounge tonight before escorting her home in the morning but right now, he was going to take her to dinner on her break.

True… it was just a quick bite to eat at the hospital cafeteria but hey, he would take what he could get right now. After a week of not seeing her, mushy overcooked hospital food and sleeping on a lumpy vinyl divan in the doctors’ lounge seemed a small price to pay to be able to finally hold her and kiss her senseless. It was the only part of Jeanne’s plan insisting that she was returning to work which he approved of. He got to see her and take her back to Blackadder’s place every night.

As he got into the elevator, he automatically noted the two other occupants were a couple or they were together, and he immediately picked up that the atmosphere seemed rather tense. The guy’s vibe came off as aggressive and the girl was one hot mess – dishevelled and desperately in need of fixing up her makeup, although he reminded himself that they were in a hospital. Maybe they’d had bad news about a loved one. Reaching over to press the button for the third floor, he stopped, seeing the button was already illuminated.

The girl asked, “Why didn’t you press the button, Mister?”

Tony quickly revised his earlier opinion, noting her dilated pupils and her repeated sniffing pointed to a junkie who needed a fix, not a distraught visitor.

Replying to her politely, he said, “No, it was already lit.”

She giggled childishly. “I’d have pressed it anyway to watch it light up,” and then proved her point by pressing the buttons for every single floor.

Watching her, Tony said to her companion, “Why don’t you get her some help. ER’s on one.”

The guy turned to look at Tony, menacingly and said, “Are you talking to me?”

The opening was too good for Tony to resist, replying in his best imitation of Robert De Niro in the movie Taxi Driver, “Yeah, I’m talking to you, Bobby.”

The girl must have thought that Tony was confused, so she decided to be helpful, informing him that Nick’s name was not Bobby.

Angrily, Nick growled at her, “Shut up, Bernie.”

As he led her out of the elevator on the third floor, coincidentally the same one where Jeanne worked, Nick rebuked her furiously for talking to Tony. “Can’t you see he’s a cop?” he demanded loud enough for Tony to hear him while Bernie looked like a kicked puppy at provoking her companion’s ire.

Ah, young love, he thought with the cynicism that came from starting out as a beat cop. He’d be keeping his eye on that pair.

Following in their wake, he noted that whoever they’d come to visit had Jeanne as their doctor. And the coincidence kept piling up. He listened in as Nick introduced himself as Nick Kerry and Bernie Watkins as the sister of Jeanne’s patient. She informed them that Devon Watkins, had a severe compound fracture of the tibia which required immediate surgery. Bernie looked dismayed at the news, but Kerry was seething and unimpressed by her diagnosis, callously telling Jeanne to slap a splint on it and discharge him now.

Exchanging an expressive look with Tony, Jeanne ignored his suggestion, informing them very firmly that they could visit with Devon for ten minutes, no more. Obviously most unhappy with her refusal to discharge Watkins, Kerry pulled Bernie into Devon’s room and close the door.

Greeting Tony casually, since they’d agreed it was better not to advertise their relationship right now, he saw the love in her eyes that she couldn’t hide. Jeanne would suck at undercover work.

“Hi, Dr Benoit. You about ready to go or do you need more time,” he indicated to Devon’s closed door.

Jeanne smiled at him. “Hi, there Very Special DiNozzo. Glad you could make it.”

Taking his offered arm eagerly, she told Carly, “We’re going off for dinner. Make sure to clock the ten minutes of that pair in Devon’s room.”

Carly nodded. “Will do. Enjoy your break, you two,” she gave them a knowing smile.

Jeanne was impatient to leave the floor, she pressed the elevator button hurriedly then pressed it a second time, barely listening to Tony’s chit-chat. Tony figured she was worried about her patient. When the elevator arrived and the door open, Jeanne hastily pulled him into the car and hit the button with the palm of her hand to close the doors, throwing herself at him. She proceeded to climb him, kissing him hungrily.

When they were forced to come for air, he smiled at her teasingly. “Wow. Hello there, Dr Benoit. I hope you don’t greet everyone one you meet so enthusiastically.”

Grabbing his head with both hands to pull him down so she could reach his mouth more easily, Jeanne kissed his with her typical passion before telling him firmly, “Less talk more kissing, Tony. I only have half an hour.”

Laughing at her ardour, he proceeded to obey orders, backing her up against the wall. He pressed his body up against hers as he captured her mouth, pushing into her mouth to reacquaint himself with it after their week-long separation, kissing her into submission as she moaned happily. When they finally came up for air, he told her, “Never let it be said that I didn’t follow my doctor’s instructions.”

She rolled her eyes at him in amusement – which he didn’t need to be psychic to understand meant, since when? Instead, she gave a lovesick grin, a result of a massive surge of oxytocin which had been released by his superior kissing skills, leaving her feeling blissed out. “I’ve missed you so much, Doudou.”

He could not believe she’d called him doudou in public after they’d agreed that it would be private. My blankie or my cuddly thing which was what doudou translated to was not a nickname for a badass federal agent. He could just hear his teammates sniggering if they knew and he already had enough crap from them as it was.

Still, embarrassingly cutesy-pie terms of endearment aside, Tony couldn’t help feeling absurdly pleased that Jeanne was apparently missing him as much as he was missing her. He couldn’t help being insecure, especially while they were apart, wondering if he was more invested in their relationship than she was.

Which in turn, only made him feel weak and vulnerable. So, it was a relief to see he wasn’t the only one.

Sighing when the elevator door opened and a couple entered (not Nick and Bernie, he noted) they shrugged at each other, resigned that their brief tryst was over, at least for now. They press the button for the 1st floor, heading down to the cafeteria to grab some food. As they sat down, Jeanne asked him, like she did every time they’d talked, since finding out about her father if there’d been any sightings.

Tony sighed. “I’m afraid not, mon cœur.”

Smiling slightly at his endearment – my heart – she nodded as she laid her hand over his. “It’s just hard… not knowing.”

Entwining his fingers into hers and squeezing them comfortingly, Tony told her, “I wish I could do something to fix this for you.”

Jeanne nodded, “I know Tony, it’s just that I’m…” She never got to tell him what she was. A Code Blue was called out over the hospital PA system at the same time as her pager went off. She instantly recognised the room number as her patient Devon Watkins, who she told Tony, she was pretty sure was a drug addict. As she rose from the table, apologetically telling him to stay and finish his food, he ignored her, following her to the stairwell as they disregarded the lift, running up three flights of stairs. As they climbed, he confided his own certainty that her patient’s sister was a junkie. One that was in desperate need of a hit.

Arriving back on the floor, Jeanne found her patient going into shock and the resuscitation team already working desperately to save him. Joining them, it was clear to Tony (and probably the entire team) that they were fighting an uphill battle. Devon’s heart rate was elevated, and his blood pressure just kept dropping despite their best efforts.

Rather than standing by and watching the team fight a losing battle, Tony wanted to do SOMETHING to help them. Surreptitiously he snagged Devon’s backpack under two fingers, noting that Bernie and Nick were standing there, transfixed with what he assumed was horror as the young man continued slipping away.

As he glided silently around the corner into the hallway, he noticed a young girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, with long curly blonde hair wandering along the corridor, before stopping in the doorway to watch the drama unfold. He ignored the child, figuring her parents would soon come looking for her because who would let a kid just wander around anyway?

Knowing it would be too little too late. he searched the backpack quickly, locating a boarding pass that had been issued in Caracas. Returning to Devon’s hospital room he announced to the team in general that the patient had literally just flown in from Caracas and was probably body packing heroin.

Jeanne flicked him a brief worried glance, nodding her acknowledgement of his information (or perhaps her agreement of his assessment of the situation) before redoubling her desperate efforts to save him. Indeed, the whole team seemed to rachet up their intensity as they realised what they were dealing with. Although each of the resuscitation team fought mightily to save him, the Angel of Death had other ideas.

Reluctantly, Jeanne called time of death and then rounded furiously on the pair who’d borne witnessed the team’s heroic but ultimately futile attempt to save Devon. “Why didn’t you tell me Devon was a mule?” she demanded of Kerry, making it plain who she felt was to blame for her losing her patient.

Nick refused to be held responsible. “I don’t have any knowledge of what may or may not be inside Devon, and neither do you,” he told her while Bernie whimpered quietly beside him. Like a whipped puppy, Tony thought sadly.

Although he wasn’t sure if her distress was because of her brother’s death or because she was desperate for another hit of, in all likelihood, heroin, like her brother Her now dead brother! Uncharitably he guessed it was probably because she was withdrawing. Withdrawal brought out the ugly in anyone; junkies couldn’t afford themselves the luxury of caring about anyone else, in Tony’s experience.

Nick was trying to outstare Jeanne, but he had no way of knowing that although she looked petite – she possessed an iron core and she was also incredibly stubborn, particularly when advocating for her patients’ rights. Watkins might be dead, but she was angry because he didn’t need to die. If they’d known he was body packing they might have had a shot at saving his life, so Jeanne was still going to fight for his rights. Even after his death!

Nick finally broke eye contact with her. Using a particularly mocking tone to save face he insisted on knowing where they could pick up Devon’s body.

Tony shook his head at the guy’s stupidity. Could he be any more transparent? Plus, his callousness only inflamed Jeanne’s fury although her tone, when she responded, was ice cold like her amazing sapphire blue eyes. Even though her fury wasn’t directed at him, he shivered at her ability to slice you right to the bone with a look. He marvelled at how less than an hour ago, those amazingly compelling, those hypnotically blue eyes of hers had been alight with love, lust and humour.

Jeanne informed Kerry icily that he could pick up Devon’s body from the Morgue AFTER the autopsy. Predictably Nick Kerry was not happy, denying that there was any need for an autopsy. She was implacable, stating that it was the law. Nick finally realised she wasn’t going to be steamrolled and he left the room, dragging Bernie with him, who was growing more desperate by the minute.

Tony watched his friend, his lover, seeing how much Devon’s death was affecting her. She was just so angry about the waste, about why he didn’t tell them about the drugs. Angry that he was so addicted. Pissed that Watkins thought that using himself as a vessel to smuggle heroin into the country was a way to get his drugs of addiction. And for that sheer idiocy, he’d just paid the ultimate price for his stupidity.

She wanted to do something but Tony and Annie Hayes, one of the old timers on the floor (though she wasn’t too much older than he was) while they sympathised with her, had told her that there was nothing she could do.

“Devon was an addict and addicts make dumb choices, but the problem is complicated, Doctor. There are no simple fixes, sadly.” Annie said, kindly but firmly.

Tony told her as gently as he could that she’d done everything in her power for her patient but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. Now it was time to notify the coroner and the cops and let them deal with it. Annie backed him up, saying that it was time to let Devon Watkins go and focus on people who wanted to be helped.

It wasn’t the advice Jeanne wanted to hear, though. She stormed off, shooting them a look of betrayal. “I became a doctor to save people like Devon from themselves. He was an addict. So, what was the point of all the hours of studying if I couldn’t save his life if I can’t make a difference,” she demanded, furiously.

“They’re all like that the first year,” Annie told Tony philosophically, “at least the good ones. It takes a little while to get calluses.”

Tony nodded, it was like being a cop in some ways, it took time to toughen up and grow a thicker skin, but then there were always exceptions to the rules too. There were always a few cops who were just too thin skinned – like the so-called cottonwool kids, born with a genetic disorder – Epidermolysis bullosa. There was no cure for those poor kids, merely managing the condition.

Shaking his head uncertainly, he told Annie, ” You’re right but I don’t know if Jeanne ever will.”

Ordinarily, he would give her a few minutes to cool off before he went after her. Knowing her as he did, DiNozzo knew just how distraught Jeanne became when she lost someone, and it was better to give her space. But he was torn – he knew that he couldn’t really give her that luxury of privacy or space right now. Not with her safety being threatened by the likes of Trent Kort and his merry band of spooky men.

Just as he made a move to follow her, his cell phone rang. Checking to see who was calling him, Tony was relieved when he saw from the caller ID that it was Fornell. Ziva had been bugging him all afternoon about meeting the team for drinks and he’d finally told her he’d be there later, so she’d leave him the hell alone.

Looking at Annie pathetically and using his pleading puppy look, he asked her. “I have to take this call, it’s important special agent business but Jeanne shouldn’t be on her own. Can you check on her for me please, Annie?”

The nurse rolled her eyes at him good-naturedly. “Take your call, Special Agent Man, I’ll handle your girlfriend,” she told him, giving him a sly wink and miming zipping her lip to indicate she wouldn’t talk. He let it go, knowing that they were fighting a losing battle keeping their relationship quiet around such a bunch of nosy parker nurses. He smiled his thanks and Annie returned his grin.

He bolted away into the stairwell, deciding that it was a semi-private place to have a conversation with Fornell.

~oO0Oo~

Jeanne and Annie had returned to the 3rd floor together, Annie having delivered her ‘tough-love-resident-lecture’ that you can only help people who want to be helped. She’d pointed out calmly that if Devon had been straight with Jeanne when she asked him about taking drugs, then they might have had a chance to save his life, but there were no guarantees. Body packing was an incredibly stupid stunt to pull.

Annie also reminded her that addicts weren’t capable of making good decisions because the drugs had fried their brains. That even if she’d managed to save Devon, it was odds on that sooner or later, he’d OD or die violently while committing a crime to get more heroin. Jeanne agreed, albeit grudgingly.

Then the experienced nurse explained that Jeanne’s job was to look after the living and let the medical examiner and the police to look after Devon Watkins. It was up to them to pursue the people who’d, directly and indirectly, contributed to his death, like Nick Kerry who probably owned the heroin. The cops were trained to deal with him – Jeanne was not. She was a doctor. HER job now was to look after her other patients who were still breathing. Patients who needed her full and undivided attention.

Jeanne reluctantly agreed with the nurse and headed back to work, although it didn’t make her any less furious about losing a patient. When they arrived at the nurses’ station in the middle of the floor, Carly and one of the other nurses, Karen, plus an orderly called Bill were having a conversation about The Angel of Death. Carly claimed to have seen her when her Uncle Luis died, and she maintained that they didn’t look like the archetypal depiction of a gaunt male dressed in black robes and carrying a scythe either. She insisted that she had looked like Miss Puerto Rico.

Annie rolled her eyes expressively at Jeanne. “Why are you talking about the Angel of Death.

Karen answered, “Because Carly swears that during the Code Blue with Watkins, she saw the Angel of Death again.”

Jeanne snorted in mild amusement, she loved Carly. “And it was Miss Puerto Rico?”

Looking hurt, Carly replied, “No, Doctor Benoit, it was a little girl, maybe four or five years old. Ask Tony, he saw her too.”

Jeanne tried to keep the amusement out of her voice. “I’m sure you both saw her, Carly. I just got an alert that a little five-year-old has gone missing.” She held up her phone to show the nurse who was still looking sceptical. “It says that her grandfather is a patient here – he suffered a stroke and her family just flew in from Paris to see him.

“She wandered away from ICU and Security have been searching the hospital for her for over an hour. If you happen to see the Angel of Death again, her name is Sarah. It’s just a lost little girl, Carly.”

Carly still looked unconvinced, “If you say so, Doctor.”

Bill caught Jean’s attention. “Hey, Doc. Got a minute?”

Walking away from the group whose conversation had turned to what they planned to do when their shift ended tomorrow morning, Bill told Jeanne. “That pair that were visiting the body-packer when he crashed?”

She nodded, knowing who he was referring to, “What about them?”

“Caught them trying to get into the morgue to see him. The guy tried to spin some BS about the sister wanting to see him cuz she was so upset. I escorted their butts back up to the lobby and told them to call and arrange a time after the ME had autopsied the body. Just thought you’d want to know.”

“Damn it! I thought they’d give up and go away once I mentioned the autopsy,” Jeanne cursed hotly.

Did Nick think she was stupid or something? He wanted to retrieve the heroin. His callous disregard for Devon when he was still alive proved he’d have no scruples whatsoever about slicing him open to get hold of the drugs. She was certain he’d do so right in front of that poor little junkie, Bernie.

“I’m going down there to check that they’ve really gone,” she informed the orderly brusquely.

Remembering Annie’s admonishment that she wasn’t trained to deal with people like Nick, nor was it her job, she requested Bill call hospital security and meet her down there. She also looked around for Tony but couldn’t see him.

Striding back to the nurses’ station and interrupting their conversation, she asked, “Does anyone know where Tony went?”

Annie nodded. “He said he had a phone call he had to take.”

Jeanne knew that she should probably wait for him but all she could think of was that Bernie might be witnessing Nick mutilating her barely dead brother to retrieve the drugs in his gut or his rectum. She shuddered at the trauma that would cause Devon’s sister. Annie had told her she couldn’t help Devon – he was dead – and Jeanne knew she was right. But Bernie was Devon’s sister and she could help Bernie…maybe. Jeanne knew she had to try, she owed it to her patient.

Striding away towards the elevator, Bill caught up with her. “They said they’ll be there as soon as they can, Doctor. They’re all searching for Carly’s little Angel of Death.” They grinned at the nurse’s fanciful notion before Bill frowned.

“That dude is bad news, Doc. I’m coming with you,” he insisted, entering the elevator alongside her.

Jeanne wasn’t about to argue, Bill was a big guy and orderlies received training in how to deal with aggressive types, especially now with the explosion of a new type of addict on ICE who was extremely dangerous. At least when Tony found out what she’d done, she could point out that Bill had accompanied her.

As they were about to hit the first floor, Bill’s phone went off. Frowning he read off the text message and glanced at her apologetically. “Sorry Doc, an elderly patient fell out of bed. He’s already got a fractured pelvis…and is morbidly obese. Gonna take at least two orderlies to get him up off the floor.”

Jeanne nodded. “You’re right, Bill. Go. I’ll wait by the elevator until security arrives.”

Bill looked uncertain. “Why not come back when your fella can go with you. He’s a fed, isn’t he?”

Jeanne rolled her eyes. So much for keeping their relationship on the down low. Did everyone know about them? Tony had been visiting her at work for weeks…months actually and no one had ever made jokes about them being together. Now that they were in a relationship suddenly everyone knew about it?

“I’m not sure when he’ll be back,” she replied deciding it was a waste of time denying they were together. Maybe it was simpler to tell her workmates that for security reasons, Tony didn’t want people to know they were seeing each other.

Seeing his reluctance to leave her alone, even though there was a patient lying on the floor that needed him, she reassured him. “I promise that I’ll wait right beside the elevator until Hospital Security get there, Bill. I won’t go anywhere near the Morgue and when they get there, I’ll let them go first.” Pushing him bodily out of the elevator, Jeanne hit the button to proceed down to the lower floors.

The Morgue was situated on the upper basement level. Jeanne hoped that Hospital Security wouldn’t keep her waiting too long. Maybe they could check out the Morgue and if Nick and Bernie had given up and left the hospital she could be back on the surgical floor before Tony (or Annie) knew about her little extra-curricular excursion.

As the doors of the elevator opened, Jeanne decided that she’d Jonahed herself. It was highly unlikely that Tony or Annie wouldn’t learn about her impetuous decision to try to save Bernie from her own stupid decisions. Pointing right at her was a gun which was held by Nick and he was looking extremely pissed off with her.

“I heard the security alert, Doctor. Where is Hospital Security?”

“They’ll be here soon,” Jeanne told him. So why don’t you take Bernie and go before the cops get here? It’s your only chance to get away. “

Nick scowled. “Call ‘em off, Doctor. If you don’t, I’ll shoot you!”

Jeanne shook her head, angrily. “It’s too late, they’ll be here any minute, so go ahead and shoot me.”

Nick smirked nastily. Nope! They’re too busy searching for that little brat who went missing. I heard a couple of them talking about it. They won’t be here anytime soon and maybe I won’t shoot you yet, but I will shoot Bernie. She’s starting to seriously piss me off, damned stupid little bitch.

Looking into Nick’s cold grey eyes, devoid of any signs of humanity, Jeanne believed his threat to shoot Bernie. Sighing she took her cell phone out of the pocket of her white doctor’s pocket and started to make the call.

The ding of the elevator arriving in the basement interrupted her call as Nick grabbed her roughly, wrapping one arm around her, the other hand held his gun which he pressed point-blank against her temple. She knew without him saying so that he would shoot her if she struggled. She hoped that she hadn’t sentenced the security guard to death.

Maybe Carly really had seen the Angel of Death tonight!

 



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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

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