There was some pretty impressive state-of-the-art equipment in this van, computers, monitors tied into surveillance cameras on the street, the near-by ATMs, and in the bar itself, screens showing heat signatures, satellite pictures of the neighborhood. All the surveillance his own team should be doing, a few blocks away. An attractive woman with short blonde hair manned one stool, also in tactical BDU’s, her graceful hands flying over the keyboards and controls in front of her. A huge mountain of a man with coal-black skin and a do-rag on his head and over his forehead sat looking over her shoulder with a placid expression, and a small round man in glasses sat with his back to the woman, operating the sound equipment.
The woman glanced over at Jack and his guest and shook her head.
“I have a positive ID on your NCIS agent, Sir,” she reported. “Second in command of the NCIS MCRT, Special Agent Anthony D. DiNozzo Jr.”
“That’s Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, thank you very much. And who are you people, exactly? Because you just walked into a federal investigation into a possible serial killer.”
“Yeah, we know,” Jack drawled. “It’s the same guy we’ve been looking for.”
Tony blinked. “Marseille? Manila?”
“And… a few other… places. General Jack O’Neill, two ‘L’s, Homeland Security. Colonel Samantha Carter, Murray Smith, and Dr. Bill Lee. I’m assuming you have back-up around here somewhere?”
“Yeah, I was kind of assuming that too, but I haven’t heard from them in a while. Our van is north of the bar.”
Col. Carter glanced at him and pointed out one of her monitors. The NCIS van was there, with two heat signatures inside… and one of the hacked surveillance cameras was inside their own van, showing McGee poking at some kind of game on the ipad he held in his lap, and Ziva reading a book. And all the monitors were dark. They hadn’t even turned anything on. Not the cameras, not the patches into Joe’s security system, not the sound recording equipment. They obviously had not even attempted to get the backgrounds he had requested, on any of the possible unsubs, or the other potential vic. Worse yet… They had no way of realizing that Tony was no longer in the bar.
General Jack didn’t seem impressed. Murray Smith lifted one eloquent eyebrow.
“Is this considered adequate back-up in a serial murder investigation?” the big man asked.
“No,” Tony gritted out. “It isn’t. I take it the guy in the gold-rim glasses is one of yours?”
“Yes,” agreed Col. Carter. “Dr. Daniel Jackson. He was the closest to the victim profile we had. And he’s a linguist. He speaks the… necessary languages we might need.”
“A linguist. I hope he has field training? FLETC at the least?”
“Not so much,” Jack confessed. “But he does have On-the-Job. Lots and lots of OTJ. Danny can handle this. And we probably do need the language skills.”
Tony nodded thoughtfully. “I had pictured our guy as an American abroad, very likely military or maybe diplomatic service, on foreign rotation or off some naval post or ship, but it would make sense he might be a foreign national, considering.”
Jack was studying him. “What took you to that particular bar?”
“He’s working Alexandria, close to the docks, close to the business sections, likes the more obscure and less crowded venues. Coyne was taken Monday night from three blocks over, left in a dumpster two blocks over Wednesday morning… in Marseille and Manila, the guy had a fixed trajectory, a straight line from the first target location to the last body drop. I drew a line on a map, and Joe’s seemed to fit the parameters the best. Isn’t that how you got here?”
Carter glanced at Jack and shrugged.
“No, actually,” Jack confessed. “We got a call. Someone told us to come here.”
“An anonymous caller? Or a CI?”
“CI?” Carter asked.
It was, oddly enough, the stiff and not-quite-local-sounding Murray Smith who supplied, “Confidential Informant in law enforcement parlance, Colonel Carter.” Although, to Tony’s ear, he ran Carter’s rank and name together as if they were one.
“So what’s your interest in the case?” Tony pressed, since they were obviously very reluctant to supply him with their sources. He had already made an educated guess that they knew Coyne. And if they used to be in Coyne’s chain of command, that made them special ops themselves, if not black ops. ‘Murray Smith’ certainly had a spookish feel to him, and O’Neill certainly struck him as a competent operative. Getting them to tell him more than they wanted to, or thought best, was going to take some finesse on his part. “The other vics were all foreign civilians, until Coyne. And as he was a marine, we got the call. It’s clearly NCIS jurisdiction, so tell me why I should let you muscle in on it?”
Another pregnant glance passed between Carter and O’Neill. Yeah, those two had served together a long time. Jack answered, “Coyne was one of mine. He served on a team under me, once upon a time. He’s since been deployed on other missions… in the south of France and the Philippines, as a matter of interest. There’s reason to think he might not have been entirely kosher the past few years, maybe even passing classified intel… not that he’s the murderer himself, or aiding and abetting… But whatever he got himself into, he didn’t deserve what happened to him, and I have a certain responsibility here. We didn’t realize anyone else would catch the connection between cases.”
“So you set up your own little undercover sting, sent in your linguist as bait… and when I arrived, you figured I was also a potential vic, and you moved to tie me up so I wouldn’t become a target. Thanks for that, Jack. Nicest thing anyone’s done for me in a while.”
“Yeah, and then you rumbled my cover and forced the issue to get me outside so we could have this little talk. And I presume you were keeping an eye on Daniel yourself, in case he got approached by our guy. Thanks back atcha, Tony.”
Tony and Jack shared grins. Jack shook his head. “So all that ranting about incompetent employees… you talking about the two yahoos who are supposed to be keeping you from getting jumped by a serial killer?”
That killed Tony’s mood. “Maybe you better let me deal with my team, hunh, Jack?”
And what, exactly, was he supposed to do with them? He had tried texting and calling over the past hour, and they had ignored all his attempts at communication. Ten minutes ago they were due to check in with MTAC, and if they hadn’t, Gibbs would have had their guts for garters, so what did they report? If he took a time out to go over to the NCIS van and rattle their cage, he stood a good chance of being stranded when O’Neill drove off and left him. That wouldn’t make his day at all.
Well, he had warned them, repeatedly, and given them a chance to prove they’d actually learned their lesson. Which they had promptly blown in every way possible.
He put in a direct call to MTAC, not even bothering to hide it from O’Neill and his team. It was Major Jersey on duty tonight. Gibbs was probably there too, directing whatever op Vance had him on, but this wasn’t for Gibbs, yet. He’d had as many chances to straighten out the team as Tony was willing to give, too. This one was going to have to play out by the book.
“Major Jersey? Special Agent DiNozzo reporting. There’s been several… complications with my op. Another agency was also running an undercover out here in the Coyne case. Homeland is claiming an interest. Please have Director Vance contact Assistant Director Morrow. Let them argue out jurisdiction. In the mean-time, I’m offering my services and all information we have to General O’Neill’s team so we can catch this guy. I’ll take full responsibility for this decision, but I think O’Neill has resources we need to prevent another murder, and… I think they need an experienced investigator on their team. So I’m making this a joint operation as of now. Oh, and you need to be advised that I’ve been unable to reach my back-up for the past hour and forty seven minutes. They don’t reply on my com, or to my texts or answer my cell calls. I have no reason to believe they are in any danger, but I have no way of knowing for sure, and can’t take the time right now to check on them, as I am still in play on the mission. Please send in a team to intercept the NCIS surveillance van. As of now I’m going off com, and I’ll be with O’Neill’s team. You can reach me on this cell.”
Jersey was an NCIS veteran of many years, and knew totally and completely FUBAR when he heard it. “Acknowledged, Agent DiNozzo. Take care out there, Tony.”
“You know it, Frank.”
Jack regarded him with some admiration. “Your back-up is going to get quite a shock when their ‘rescue’ arrives,” he commented. “Carter, make sure you get it all on tape, right?”
“Definitely, Sir,” Carter agreed crisply, sending a sympathetic glance at Tony.
Meanwhile, Jack had taken a cell of his own out. “Hey, Tom, sorry to call so late. Look, that murder in Alexandria. NCIS has jurisdiction, right?... Well, Coyne was one of mine, and this case may have… some overlap with my department. I’m out here looking into it, and I’ve got a Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo with me… Yeah, that’s the guy. We were running duelling undercovers, and he made me. He’s offering his investigative expertise… Yeah, I kind of had that figured. Tell Vance when he calls that I’m going to do my level best to steal him for us... Hey, kidnapping is a perfectly valid hiring technique among some of our allies. You want to talk to him?...” Jack handed over the cell.
“Director Morrow?” Tony assumed, to get a chuckle on the other end.
“I just told Jack you’re the best there is, Tony. He and his team are good, really good, but they’re not investigators.”
“Yeah, I noticed. That’s why I suggested a partnership in the first place. But you know how Gibbs is going to take it, not to mention Director Vance.”
“You let me worry about Gibbs and Vance. They have a bit of a wake-up call coming to them both. You just do your job, and everything else will fall into place. Good luck fending off O’Neill. He’s very… persistent, when he wants something.”
“No kidnapping NCIS Very Special Agents. Gotcha.”
“Good luck, Tony. To you and O’Neill. Be careful out there.”
“Will do, Director Morrow.” Tony had always liked and respected the former director of NCIS… and apparently, the feeling had been mutual. Which made a refreshing change from Tony’s usual bosses of late. He passed Jack’s cell back to him and waited…
He did a silent count-down to his own burner cell ringing. He could almost hear the anger behind the drilling buzz.
“DiNozzo!” barked the familiar dulcet tones of his Boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. “What the hell is going on out there?”
Murray leaned over to touch his elbow and point to the monitor on the NCIS van. Tony could only grimace as he watched armed agents converge and rip open the back doors of the van. Jesus. He could only hope their unsub was already inside the bar, and didn’t have any way of knowing what was going on in the streets barely out of sight.
“I gave my report to Major Jersey, Boss. Homeland wants a piece of the Coyne case, and I’m going to give it to them, since they’re currently my *only* back-up, and they seem to be in a far better position to catch our guy right now. I haven’t been able to contact McGee or Ziva for almost two hours. I had Jersey send in a rescue team, because I have no idea why they don’t reply, on coms, text or cell. Rule one and three, Boss. Among other violations. You can slap my head if you want to when I get back, but rule thirty eight applies. My case, my lead.”
There was a beat or two of silence, and then a grimly resigned, “Your case, Tony. Keep in touch.”
“Will do, Boss,” Tony replied briskly. He hung up, gave a heavy sigh as he could only guess how this would all play out tomorrow. But the fact was, he didn’t much care at this point. As long as he could prevent another murder and catch the bad guy, he was going to let the rest of the cards fall as they would.
So he turned to O’Neill and his team with an artificially bright smile, and began to brief them on the facts of the case, giving Carter direction to find the links she needed to assemble the same information Tony already had.
He barely registered that the rescue team had invaded the NCIS van, and, after a few minutes of scuffle when Ziva, predictably, put up a fight with agents she worked beside nearly every day, his two team-mates finally settled down, sat in the back of the van, and let one of the rescue agents drive them back to the Navy Yard.
“Okay, your Dr. Jackson may be a kick-ass linguist, but he needs a bit of coaching in undercover. As that happens to be one of my specialties, mind if I give him a tip or two?”
Carter immediately touched a toggle and said, “Daniel? We’ve got an NCIS agent with us helping out. Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo. He was undercover at the bar when the general engaged with him, hunting the same guy we are.”
From the camera view, Tony could tell the guy was having a hard time remembering not to speak into thin air. “Hey, Daniel. Tony here. Look, take out your cell phone, and pretend to be texting someone you don’t like very much, or who is annoying the hell out of you. Like Jack maybe? I bet he’s a dream to work for, but the crew cut alone must drive you up the wall.”
With a heavy sigh, Daniel pulled a cell out of his pocket and scowled convincingly, even as he tried to suppress a smirk.
“Good. If you need to say something to us now, no one is going to notice or think it odd. Now, you’ve hit most of the high points this guy is looking for, nice Tom Ford, by the way, but he’s after an angry drinker, someone frustrated and stressed. You’ve just been quietly sipping your way through your scotch and soda, not bothering anyone. It won’t do to change character too suddenly, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’re scowling on your phone, texting away, and not getting anything back. This aggravates you. So in a minute you’re going to try and call, and not get an answer. This is going to trip you over into complaining loudly to your friendly neighborhood barman about the unfairness of it all. Think about the one thing that really and truly frustrates you about your job, and rant away. Remember, none of these people know you, and you’ll never be back here again, so this is the safest venting you’ll ever get. That’s why you came here in the first place, a safe place to really get it out.
“Our guy is here tonight, I’d stake my job on it. He’s been watching both of us all evening, to see if one of us suits his needs. I think he would have taken a crack at me, until Jack intervened. But now he needs to see something he wants in you, or he’s going to walk, and we’ll lose him. Now I ID’d four possible suspects, mature white men who are strangers in Joe’s, and they’re all still there, and all four were paying a lot of attention to both of us all evening. So go ahead, and work your way up to a full-on rant, and we’ll see if we can’t catch ourselves a bad guy. And don’t worry, we’ve got your six.”
Carter blinked at Tony, then glanced at Jack. “I’m with you, sir. I think we should take him home with us. He’s wasted at NCIS.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Jack agreed. “We certainly could have used him back when Bocce was causing us so much grief.”
Tony grinned and puffed a little, but his attention was all on the monitors watching the bar.
Daniel had taken his instructions to heart, and was working that phone like a pro. Then he built from a grumble to a full-blown rant to the accommodating barman, who refilled his tumbler.
Tony sighed. “He’s really drinking those scotches? He hasn’t got a way to fake it?” When Jack grimaced and Carter shook her head no, Tony sighed again. “Then… can he hold his liquor?”
“Not so’s you’d notice,” Jack admitted glumly. “A second beer is usually enough to give him a solid buzz.”
Tony frowned at the monitors. “Then he’s not faking the drunken list, either? Swell.”
Carter and Lee ran down what they could on the four men Tony pointed out, but with only facial recognition to go on, it was going to take time. If his own team had been doing their fucking jobs, Tony reflected, they’d have all this info by now.
Jack grinned at his linguist, now waving his hands in passion, ranting about budgets and bureaucrats and fucking pencil-counters making him cut staff and still demanding more results faster. And how the fuck was he supposed to do that, hunh? Could they not do the fucking math themselves? Fine accountants they were. And then there was the damned macho posturing alpha male military he had to work with… who wouldn’t know a gerund from a dangling participle…
Jack asked, “Which one of the four do you think is the best bet, very special agent Tony?”
“I’m gonna go with bachelor number two, under the TV by the pool table.”
“For what reason?” Murray asked.
“The two guys at the bar have been edging away from the loud angry voice, the guy in the corner booth has been drinking too heavily… He’s going to need a taxi out of here. And number two has been faking with the last two drinks served him, one went into the plant holder and the second disappeared after he went to the men’s room. He’s been carefully *not* looking at Daniel the past half hour.”
“Seriously, very special agent Tony, I really need to recruit you for my team. You got half decent clearance, I assume?” Jack pressed.
Grinning, Tony shrugged, and pointed to the monitors Jack and Carter had turned from. “In case you didn’t notice, there’s someone making a move on your linguist. And, oh look, it’s bachelor number two, the guy who was sitting right under the corner TV.”
Carter referenced another laptop screen of information. “Facial recognition just came up. He’s ‘John Smith’ from Oklahoma City,” she said. “Oklahoma driver’s license.”
“Relative of yours?” Tony asked the big black dude.
Dr. Lee said, “It’s a fake ID. He’s not in any US government database. There’s a US passport for him according to customs scans at various airports, but he’s not in our system. Or any system.”
“That’s our guy,” Tony nodded. “And, oh look. The old hand over the glass trick. He’s just dosed your linguist’s drink with a date-rape drug.”
Jack tapped his ear-bud. “Daniel? Don’t drink anything. He’s poisoned your scotch…”
“Oops, too late,” Tony warned. “Get your guys to the back door. He took Coyne out the back. He has to have some kind of transportation waiting there. We weren’t able to get a firm ID on what he’s driving from any of the cams around the first crime scene. But he takes them to a secure and private secondary location, where he takes his time with each victim before he brings them back and dumps them, a block from where they were taken.”
Carter checked her satellite monitors and groaned. “No vehicles out back. He may have… alternate transport, Sir.”
Tony frowned. “If he doesn’t have a vehicle in the ally… he wouldn’t be fool enough to take his vic out on the street, would he? We didn’t see any sign of that with the first crime scene.”
Jack looked grim as he said, “Carter, Bill, look for any sign of that alternate transport. Tony, Teal’c, you’re with me.”
Jack jumped out the back to join his military team, and Tony quickly followed, drawing his secondary piece from its ankle holster, with Murray at their backs. Or was it Teal’c? Yeah, he hadn’t thought Murray Smith sounded like this guy’s likely name.
With a few quick motions of his hands, Jack silently sent his squad separating into different directions, giving only a quick glance to Tony to make sure he understood. Tony, trained exhaustively by ex-marine Gunny Gibbs, gave a sharp nod and followed, fire-arm held cautiously in both hands, but aimed down as he kept his awareness on his surroundings.
They crept quietly to hidden vantage points in the foul-smelling alley behind the bar, stacked with crates of empty bottles and strewn with refuse, a couple of crammed-full dumpsters (Tony made a mental note to check if garbage day had anything to do with which nights their unsub went hunting).
The bar’s back door shrieked at being pushed open, and there came bachelor number two, with an arm around Jackson as the barely-conscious man moaned and complained in some unintelligible tongue. Some self-protective instinct momentarily wakened and Daniel cried out, “Wait a minute, who are you? Where are we going?”
“Just going to the car, give you a ride home. You’re too drunk to drive.”
“Wait a minute. Where’s Jack? Why isn’t he here?” Daniel’s voice was getting more slurred and indistinct all the time, as he hung heavier in the unsub’s hold. And Daniel was no light-weight, Tony had noted that there was a solid frame and muscles on the guy under the elegant lines of the charcoal grey Tom Ford suit. Bachelor Number Two was already staggering under all that dead-weight, so Tony wondered how the hell he was going to get his vic out of the area.
While clutching desperately on to Daniel with one arm, he reached into a pocket for something… in the errant shadows and dim lighting of the alley, Tony thought it was probably a cell phone, maybe calling for a partner. Nothing in the crimes so far indicated a second unsub, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one.
But beside him, Jack cursed out, “Oh hell no. Carter! He’s signaling!”
That was all Tony needed to hear. They had probable cause for an arrest on abduction right now, and that would give them time to hold their suspect so they could get the evidence they needed for the murders. And that was all Tony cared about.
So he leapt out of hiding, his gun up and aimed, and announced, “Hold it right there! NCIS! Federal agent! You’re under arrest. Drop the man and put your hands on your head.”
The guy looked shocked as he stared uncomprehending at Tony. Then behind him at the rest of the party. He clicked something on the object in his hand, and Tony dived forward in his best Ohio Buckeyes tackle.
A sheen of blinding white light seemed to flood all around him… the strangest tingling sensation… his sight graying out for a second as he struggled to focus… and then he was in a gold-lined room, with the unsub under him and Daniel sprawled under that.
And before he could even get to his knees, there was a weird hissing, wheezing noise behind him, a crackle as if from static electricity, and then Tony felt himself vibrating as if he had stuck his wet finger in a live electrical socket… and everything went black.
Meanwhile, in an alley in Alexandria, one frustrated, resigned voice said, “Well, crap.”