Barring mention of George Bush, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Avigdor Lieberman, and Ronald Reagan, all characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any further resemblance to real events and actual individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Names, events, and opinions expressed are either property of Belisarius Productions, CBS-Paramount, and Universal Pictures, or are products of the writer's imagination; neither are to be construed as real. The views and actions contained herein should not be interpreted as representative of the policies (official or otherwise), activities (official or otherwise), or personnel of any department or agency of any governmental body based in the US, UK, Israel, China, or any other country.
Between Hammer and Anvil
Two years ago.
The crack of a pistol shot made him spin around. His shoes were leather-soled, not built for this terrain, and a misstep caused his ankle to turn painfully. Swearing through gritted teeth, he recovered his balance and limped along a path hiked by countless thousands. Not far from here was Ben Gurion's tomb. If he'd had an eye for such things, he would've noticed how, at this time of day, the pale sandy rock of this canyon system contrasted perfectly with the cornflower sky above. But all he noticed was the increasing cold, and lengthening shadows: it was getting late.
He struggled up a steep section of the path and frowned, realizing that he'd taken the wrong fork. He turned carefully, halfway up. He ended up slipping anyway but at least he didn't fall. Back on the path he took the correct fork that led into a small dry canyon, one not as often visited as the one with the deep pool and the waterfall. He'd read about that. The smaller canyons weren't mentioned as often in online guides to the area. Earlier he'd been surprised to turn a corner and find himself walking into something of a wall of cold, and silence. During late autumn and winter the sun didn't reach all the way into these canyons, and some of the smaller ones were like refrigerators.
He wasn't dressed for the cold. So much for this being a desert. He shivered and tried to walk a little faster to warm up, but slowed when his ankle objected.
The same corner, the same wall of deeper cold, but the silence was broken by groans and gasps. The injured man was not visible, not yet. The near-vertical walls here acted as amplifiers, channeling sound with the help of a slight breeze.
The rock path softened into gravel and sand, and he had to be even more careful of his ankle. Stubbornness pushed him to keep walking. He wanted to see, and all the while he was trying to work out how a firearm had been involved at all. The person who'd used it wasn't an Israeli citizen, and even they had trouble getting permits to own and carry handguns. But there were ways and means. The universal rule of 'Anything for a price' applied even here.
He didn't get close, in the end, mostly because he was downwind, and the injured man had soiled himself. He was writhing in the soft sand, clutching his belly.
"Gut-shot... Jesus," he muttered.
He had few scruples, and little upset him, but the bile that threatened to rise now had nothing to do with the smell.
He turned to walk away, but paused and looked around the little canyon, looked over his shoulder at the way they'd all entered earlier, which was the same path he'd used to come back here. The person who'd shot the man now dying slowly, was gone, but they hadn't left this place the same way they'd come in.
He considered the time, the deepening shadows, and the possibility of getting lost in this maze of rock, and he narrowed his eyes.
"First time in Israel, my ass," he said to himself.
He didn't try to find the other way out of the canyon. Turning his back on the dying man, he retraced his steps, muttering a stream of curses at his swelling ankle.
Ziva couldn't say which she loathed more: her cane or her office.
The cane was more for balance than support. She had to use her injured leg as much as possible, but without straining it, which was another kind of balancing act, one that drove her nuts. She couldn't walk too fast, or too slow, and she had to try her best not to limp because that involved favoring the damaged muscles in her thigh, which would cause them to remain weak. "Swing the leg!" her physiotherapist would say, and Ziva would want to take a swing at him with that cane. It was an antique, one liberated from the umbrella stand near Jen's front door, and shortened to Ziva's exact requirements. The slim but sturdy hardwood shaft was topped with a heavy brass pommel, marking it as a dress or swagger cane, and it wasn't the least bit comfortable to lean on. Her physiotherapist called that perfect. Ziva just termed it a perfect nuisance. If she wasn't careful where she rested it, the damn thing ended up on the floor, and as yet bending over to pick things up was not allowed.
The worst part about her office was its size. It was big enough to house a couch, three comfortable visitors' chairs, a coffee table, and a large desk with a return. The desk was currently loaded with neat stacks of redacted and declassified files, and the return supported two wide-screen monitors. There was also room for a whiteboard. According to Ziva this room's only saving grace was that Jen's office was bigger, though not by much.
She got up, wincing through gritted teeth at pain in her thigh, and snatched up her cane before plunking over to the whiteboard. Before she could wipe out old links between elements on a simple hierarchical organizational chart, there was a knock at the door.
FBI Director Robert Grace entered and pushed the door closed. Ziva glanced at her tall, lanky boss, and got on with erasing eight red links. She replaced each of them with two parallel lines, one blue and one green.
"How's it going?" Grace asked.
Ziva took a marker cap from between her teeth, and once capped, she used the marker as a pointer.
"Channels are now open between these elements. Mediation can begin as soon as next week."
"You don't play around..."
Ziva had spent three years finding ways to smooth various wrinkles between the Mossad, NCIS, and Naval Intel. Grace hadn't argued when she said that if she'd 'formulated models' she hadn't been aware of it. Words like 'formulated' belonged more often to people who were less hands-on than Ziva David. However, she'd definitely applied trial-and-error, and the results were now going to benefit the somewhat beleaguered FBI-Mossad relationship.
"James Marden's probably gonna make good on his threat and get you to do the same for the CIA."
"Probably," Ziva said wryly. "It might shock you to know that I call the Director of the CIA Jimmy, and his wife and Jen and I swap recipes."
"Oh, I'm just scandalized," Grace said with a chuckle.
He'd worked with several Israelis over the last twenty-eight years, and he'd quickly gotten used to Ziva. He was secretly amused by the fact that just about everyone else was far from used to her. She was respectful but she called him by his first name, and outside of this office or his, that regularly caused chins to drop. She was smart about that, though. If the 'audience' included various high-ups, she gave him his title of Director. But she would not call him 'sir,' unless she was being sarcastic or playful. She was rarely the latter.
"Would you consider doing the same for the CIA?"
"You are the boss, Robert," Ziva said, with that distinct note of respect that actually turned 'Robert' into 'Sir.' "That is your call to make."
"I disagree. You're the one who's on their nasty little list of 'loan operatives,'" he pointed out, referring to the CIA's habit of 'borrowing' foreign operatives, specifically those with lethal skillsets. The CIA avoided doing its own dirty work, if it could. "Were I you, I'd want to clean up any CIA-Mossad misunderstandings, before I found myself working a co-op for the Company."
"You have a point. So it makes sense to do the same for them. But what I hope is that this system can begin to run without a babysitter. The CIA has another liaison officer... such as he is."
"Can you put in a word that'll get him replaced?" Grace asked.
"I will have to investigate various stated issues first. And I am going to remind you again—"
"To forget that Eli David is your father. Right. Sorry," Grace muttered.
"Mmm. I fight my own battles," Ziva muttered and gingerly sat on the corner of the coffee table. "I make sure to act as independently of Eli'ezer as I can. He is pleased with progress so far, but when he talks about this project, he refers to me by my rank and last name. That is unusual. People at Glilot have taken note... It is time for another painkiller, goddammit."
"Can I get that for you?"
"He learns fast, this one," Ziva chuckled. "Please."
Grace had once—only once said, I'll get that for you, and he'd received a lecture in response, one about it being rude to presume that just because someone was injured or even disabled, that they automatically needed help. So now he asked if Ziva needed help, instead of sidelining her further.
Behind her desk Grace rolled his eyes at the label on a bottle: Tylenol, and she was probably taking two of those every six to eight hours, instead of four to six. Anyone else with Ziva's level of pain would be on something like Vicodin. Not only did she have to deal with the pain of the gunshot wound itself, but also that associated with the muscle graft donor site, in the same thigh. Just three weeks ago she'd still been 'confined to quarters'– stuck at home on various doctors' orders. By now the fractured ribs had healed, but the damage to her thigh was still healing, and it couldn't be rushed.
Ziva took the tablets and a glass of water with a nod of thanks.
"Next week I am bringing a treadmill. It can go in the corner there."
"I take it that move's been approved by your med crew?"
"That is the sort of question to ask Jen," Ziva drawled. "She will probably have a report to offer that will amuse you... Actually, I think I must go home. I walked too fast to the elevator this morning."
Grace wisely said nothing in response. Not to Ziva, anyway. He picked up the phone and spoke to Todd Willis instead. Ziva's sandy-haired and bespectacled PA duly appeared and asked what paperwork he should pack into a briefcase.
"You must come with me. We can go through a few more personnel and ops files," Ziva said.
"Okay," Todd said. He was used to this. Ziva was meant to be here mornings-only. It was now around two p.m. "So we need the files. Should I take anything else except my laptop?"
Ziva shook her head. She firmly took her briefcase away from Grace, who shrugged innocently.
"Todd, you must draft a memo to Director Grace," Ziva drawled. "His title is 'Director,' not 'Dad.'"
"How many of those memos have you gotten, sir?" Todd asked.
"Get outa here," Grace said, laughing.
When Ziva and Todd had left, Grace took another look at the whiteboard. Only three weeks ago Ziva had said, If you want to polish a floor, sweep it first, then mop it. You must take away the dirt before polishing. A week later Ziva had presented her plan in writing. What she hadn't told Grace was that while she'd been stuck at home she'd been making calls, often from her bed. Before she'd mentioned anything about 'polishing,' Ziva had already been aware of the major issues, some of them more than twenty years old. Those older issues turned out to be the easiest to smooth over, because the original complainants were no longer active within the Mossad or the FBI. What remained amounted to several instances of miscommunication, and the stickier instances of perceived or deliberately created breach-of-trust.
Simply, not talking about these problems had made them worse.
Ziva's plan involved mediation, and discussion. In letters to all heads of department on both sides, she had stated flatly that she didn't expect everything to be fixed overnight. Her aim was to reopen various channels of communication, which in turn might just foster cooperative working relationships.
On the whiteboard, next to each of several elements, was a thickly penned black X. The various links between those elements and others remained red. Ziva would still do her best with those elements, but a black X signified that she didn't hold much hope of fixing whichever issues were involved. What that meant for those FBI agents and Mossad officers, was yet to be decided. However, Ziva had already made it plain that if she and her team of US and Israeli mediators agreed that an agent or officer was acting in an unprofessional manner, they would advise a transfer or dismissal. It would be up to Robert Grace and Eli David to follow through.
Grace didn't know about Eli, but he was tired of dealing with what amounted to spite. He was tired of offering a shrug in acknowledgment to antagonism with roots going back more than twenty years. If it was found that his agents were acting unprofessionally, they could pack their bags.
~ ~ ~
Ziva had just gotten home, had only just sat on a couch when her phone rang. She glanced at the display: Tony D.
"And why should I talk to you?" Ziva said by way of greeting.
"Because ya love me?" Tony said, a grin clear in his voice.
"Sometimes," Ziva chuckled.
It was a whole lot easier to get along with Tony now that she worked for another agency. The fact that she and Jen were open about their relationship also helped. Tony's 'are they/aren't they' question had been answered, and Ziva had been pleasantly surprised to find him genuinely supportive. She'd expected at least a little ragging from him, but there'd been none at all. Not on that score. She was, however, ragged about being an 'invalid,' and she fell for it repeatedly: Tony picked up even more colorful Hebrew (interlaced with Arabic) every single time.
She asked the reason for his phone call.
"Your replacement tendered notice," Tony announced cheerfully.
"What did you do to her? No, wait. Hold on a bit..." Ziva switched the phone to her other ear and snapped her fingers at Todd. "I thought you could read Hebrew. Why is a Tevel communications analyst mixed in with the Nevi'ot command echelon?"
"I can read Hebrew," Todd protested. "Tamar Ben Tov transferred."
"Okay, sorry. And I think she got transferred, which is not the same thing. Put that file on the 'More Questions' pile. And just to be safe, any in-house transfers that tie in to our list of incident dates, either FBI or Mossad, put them on that pile, too."
"Tony?" Ziva said into her phone. "So you chased away my replacement?"
"Not me. McGee."
"What?" Ziva chuckled.
"Bridget went on a little tear about how she's not you and shouldn't be compared, and McGee lost it," Tony said, his tone amused; it might also have borne a slight note of pride. "Cos the truth is, we haven't been comparing her to you. I've been a really good boy this time. I compared you to Kate for months, but I haven't compared Bridget to you. She's been doing that all by herself, and I mean verbally. If you ever compared yourself to Kate, you didn't actually say as much."
"Comparing was pointless," Ziva said. "But if I had compared myself to Kate, no, I would not have said anything about it. That is a good way to suggest that other people should start comparing, too."
"Yeah, no kidding," Tony said. "So basically, Bridget lasted nearly two months but only because Gibbs was being really, really nice. And patient. New agent will be here in a week. I hope she's not gonna compare herself to you. There's only one of you, after all."
"And for that the world should be grateful," Ziva drawled.
"You said it, not me," Tony chortled. "You at home?"
"Yeah. Please go tell Jen that she must get juice and milk on the way home."
"Milk...and...juice—What kinda juice?"
"All the ones I like. No beer until I stop needing painkillers."
"Right," Tony said. He added: "Ouch."
"Mmm," Ziva agreed, and allowed herself to be petulant: "I cannot wait for this leg to be fixed."
"Savlanut," Tony teased. Patience.
"Lech te'chapes et ha'chaverim shelcha," Ziva shot back. Go seek your friends / Get lost.
"Isn't there supposed to be a 'ya ben zonah' on the end of that?" Tony chortled.
"I am being nice. At least, today I do not think that you are a son of a whore," Ziva said, amused. "So, so typical: you still cannot ask for a drink in Hebrew—"
"Bull! Beer is bira," Tony said, chortling.
"Shut up about beer," Ziva grumbled, but she was laughing. "Go do some work."
Ziva hung up and placed her cell phone on an end table. Her leg was propped on an ottoman, and Todd had moved the coffee table so that it was close to the couch. He sat on another ottoman on the opposite side of the table.
Every Mossad file on the coffee table here and in her office was heavily redacted with the idea in mind that people other than Ziva and Todd might end up reading it. But both Ziva and Todd had access to electronic information that not even Robert Grace was cleared to see.
Todd Willis had submitted to a polygraph test, and had filled out the same eighteen-page 'questionnaire' issued by Shin Bet to any Israeli in need of a level one defense-specific security clearance. That, and he'd been grilled for three hours by two rather scary individuals, one Shin Bet and the other Mossad (afterwards Ziva had asked him if he still wanted the job; he'd said yes; she'd said that she couldn't decide if he brave, crazy, or both). He'd been granted a provisional clearance, and had also been briefed on Ziva's operational jacket, where 'briefed' meant that he knew the basics. He'd very honestly said that those were scary enough.
The FBI side of things was another world, but with a few similarities.
The files they'd brought from the office had gone through the same redaction process applied to documents requested via the Freedom of Information Act, that enabled any US citizen to ask for and end up owning copies of documents that, in their original form, remained classified.
Complete original FBI files remained off-limits, to both Todd and Ziva. According to US security clearance protocols, if one of them had more information than the other that would constitute a conflict of interest, and not to mention, open the door to accidental breaches of security. Ziva was more accepting of this situation than was Todd. He called her lack of any US security clearance rather disrespectful on the parts of various US high-ups who expected her to fix things. He maintained that Ziva's being barred access to information was like expecting her to put together a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded. He wasn't far wrong, but so far Ziva had managed a fair bit of fixing while 'blindfolded.' This didn't really help her. Those high-ups liked her results to date and didn't see any reason to give her a security clearance. While Todd complained about that, Ziva just plowed on, making do as best she could.
Ziva gestured to the 'More Questions' pile of folders on the coffee table, and asked for the Ben Tov file. Todd handed it over, and she read through a brief summary report.
"Tamar was definitely a problem where she was," Ziva said. "Yossi Gershom transferred Tamar himself. At the time he was head of Nevi'ot."
"The Intel Collections boss shunted someone out of Liaison?" Todd said. "Not his turf, but he shunted her to his turf—"
"To keep an eye on her. I have met Tamar Ben Tov, which is why I thought you had put her jacket on the wrong pile... She is older than me, and a really good analyst, but I suspect she let something personal interfere. I will have to ask how bad it was."
"And it had to have been bad," Todd muttered.
"Yes, but not bad enough for a demotion," Ziva noted. "The opposite: her transfer was also a promotion. Interesting... The clearance level on this issue is higher than yours. You will forgive me if, after I have asked Yossi some questions, I do not relay the details."
"I think it has to suck to be you, on a regular basis," Todd said. "It's the only good thing about the way the Bureau decides what we both see: I don't know any more than you do."
"I have been doing this for three years already, Todd," Ziva said, and not for the first time. "It stopped being difficult and... worrisome the very first time I managed to fix something. All I have to do is remember who I am talking to, and I know what to say, and also what not to say."
"Hey, I believe you. But generally, how much distrust do you deal with?"
"Twice-monthly polygraph tests fix a bit of that," Ziva said with a shrug.
"I didn't know about those," he mumbled.
"Just part of the job. I believe in earning trust. The polygraphs are a shortcut to earning trust. I like them."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're strange?" Todd drawled.
"Many people," Ziva chuckled. "So I have to call Yossi, and after that I am probably going to be tired. You want to take the rest of the afternoon off?"
"Yeah, thanks. What files am I leaving here?"
Todd moved the coffee table back to its spot, and rapidly packed his briefcase. He walked out with that and his laptop. Ziva guessed that his haste had to do with the possibility of rustling up a racquetball game at his gym.
She liked Todd. That he didn't hold his post-interview three-hour Israeli bad cop/badder cop grilling against her spoke volumes as to his character. That alone made it easy for her to forgive the fact that he was sometimes annoyingly naïve. In general he was smart and eager, well-versed in Middle Eastern politics, and someone who'd decided that being a career analyst was not a bad thing. During the last few weeks Todd had easily adapted to a job that amounted to 'analytical dog's body.' He didn't mind his new title of Personal Assistant, didn't consider being a PA as some sort of demotion. He was learning a lot, but he was also expected to contribute. Ziva had picked him over five other analysts because he'd begun contributing in his interview with her. She'd presented an idea that was deliberately incomplete, and the other five hadn't picked up on that. Todd had spotted the gaps and had suggested ways to fix them. Ziva wasn't interested in working with someone who'd constantly nod their head at her every suggestion. Todd contributed, and he also argued intelligently. He'd helped her to round out her mediation plan. They were a team, and that was important to her.
Ziva carried Tamar Ben Tov's personnel jacket into the study, where she picked up a handset and selected a secure line. She dialed Yossi Gershom's number. Yossi had taken a technical demotion that actually amounted to promotion, in terms of honor: he was now the Anaf Metzada supervising officer for selection and training of Kidon operatives.
"How's the desert tonight?" Ziva asked in Hebrew.
"This time of year... It starts to get cold even before sunset. Damn cold right now. How's your leg?"
"So-so," Ziva said. "This is a business call, Yossi. Tell me about Tamar Ben Tov."
"First you tell me about a sonuvabitch called McReedy," Yossi said.
"His name has come up several times," Ziva said, frowning. "I don't like that. You know how I am about coincidences: I'm looking at him. The trouble is that McReedy's ATF. He transferred out of the Bureau about eleven years ago."
"So you need to find out more about him," Yossi said. "I want you to do that before you ask me about Tamar again."
"Okay," Ziva said easily. She'd known Yossi for most of her life. He'd gone from being something of an uncle to being a professional mentor and colleague, and she trusted his judgment without question. "I'll find out more. Any suggestions?"
"Go back to the first time he was assigned to work with us. Look at his colleagues then. Look at where they are now; speak to the ones who quit. He keeps crossing the line. I could spell it out, but you need evidence."
"I now also need an investigation team," Ziva drawled. "I was hoping that I wouldn't have to put that together for a few weeks."
"Trying to play nice?" Yossi chuckled knowingly.
"All sweet and innocent," Ziva muttered. "It works. These gullible Americans buy it... But if suddenly I'm advising a team from Internal Affairs—"
"You don't want those rats. What you want is some weasels, people that even the rats have to worry about. Talk to Fornell. He knows about running sneak jobs behind his own lines."
Ziva thanked Yossi and hung up. She got up from her seat immediately because if she leaned back even for a moment she'd find getting up really difficult.
As she'd guessed earlier, she was rather drained now. Extra pain today had sapped her. Ziva carefully made her way to the stairs, muttering to herself about being an idiot that morning. She needn't have rushed to catch the elevator. She could've waited for the next one. She should have waited. She was sure that she hadn't done any major damage, just put a little extra strain on the injured thigh, but she couldn't afford even that. She had to be more careful, no matter how much all this not-too-slow-but-be-careful stuff pissed her off.
Upstairs she assessed her energy levels and decided that she could undress and change into sweats, but she wouldn't manage a shower. Not alone, anyway. She suddenly found herself to be grinning. A shared shower was a much better idea. She'd wait for Jen.
~ ~ ~
Jen arrived home and carried two rather heavy canvas shopping bags into the kitchen. She deposited several bottles of fruit juice in the fridge, along with a gallon of milk.
A call from Todd (aka, the Chief Informant) had caused Jen to put a rush on her workday's end. Ordinarily she was rarely home before six p.m, and more often she walked in at around seven. This evening the kitchen clock was still ticking towards five-thirty.
Upstairs Jen managed not to wake Ziva while she changed her clothes and cleaned her face of makeup. She even managed to sneak onto the bed, where she propped herself on an elbow and smiled at the Worst Patient in the World, who slept on undisturbed.
Ziva had really earned that title. Jen groaned silently at memories of reminding, You're only allowed to be up for four hours, and it's going on four-and-a-half, which comments were usually followed by near tantrum-level outbursts. Those were in turn followed by stretches of silence from Ziva. They were a mixture of shame at the aforementioned outbursts, and seething anger at Schering, the man responsible for that bullet wound. Ziva's shrink had called all of that normal. When someone who's exceedingly physically capable abruptly finds themselves to be damn near disabled, a lack of reaction would be abnormal, something to worry about.
So Jen had had to put up with a grouchy, often furious Ziva. There'd been perks, however. Jen had taken the first two weeks off from work, which Tony had promptly dubbed 'The Honeymoon.' He hadn't been far off. The second of those two weeks had been something of a honeymoon, and with that week included, this new side to their relationship spanned, today, exactly six weeks.
Jen blushed at an urge to wake Ziva and say, "Happy six weeks!" She'd be saying no such thing, not least because she'd never given in to silly urges like that before. Definitely silly. Not-at-all mature. She was fifty, for God's sake, not fifteen.
"You look pissed off," Ziva mumbled and yawned.
"You've reduced my brain to that of a teenager," Jen said, and laughed at herself.
"Six weeks today?" Ziva said, the guess accompanied by a grin.
"Y'see? It's all your fault," Jen chortled.
"You will forgive me, easily," Ziva said lightly.
"Mmm, because of other things that are all my fault."
"If that includes daydreaming and having to tell myself twenty times a day to focus-on-work-goddammit, then no, you're not forgiven," Jen drawled.
"I was thinking more about all the action this bed has seen in six weeks."
"It must be a really surprised bed. How many times did we share it in three years? And all we did was sleep and talk."
"It bears repeating," Ziva said seriously. "While I agree with the reasons why you chose not to tell me how you felt, I would never, ever have refused you."
"I couldn't know that," Jen said. "And it was too big a risk to just ask."
Ziva nodded against the pillow and she tugged Jen close, hugging her shoulders tightly. Ziva hadn't done much self-analysis in the last six weeks, but she knew that in Jen's place, she wouldn't have asked either. Because:
"When you were ready, I was not," Ziva said quietly. "I would not have refused you, but I would probably have been trying to play catch-up, emotionally. To be frank, sex would have interfered with that."
"I wouldn't have rushed you."
"I would not have needed to be rushed," Ziva muttered. "Just you wait until this leg heals up."
"Is that a threat?" Jen chortled.
"A promise," Ziva said, grinning, but the grin didn't last. "I do not want to, but I have to talk about work."
"That's hardly a disaster. What's up?"
"Did you ever work with Walter McReedy?"
"Not at length," Jen said. "My only dealings with McReedy were a couple of operational disagreements."
"Operational disagreements: elaborate, please," Ziva requested.
"The first one, when I was Embassy Chief of Security in Israel, Ninety-one to Ninety-three. He was still FBI then. Sometime in May of Ninety-two, he just arrived unannounced," Jen said and shifted to sit up, crossing her legs like a tailor. "As ECS, my job at the time involved baseline security at the embassy, and I also had to coordinate all security details for US diplomats at their homes, during travel, et cetera. If we requested or were sent law enforcement people for whatever kind of investigation, I had to mediate between our people, Israeli law enforcement, and sometimes Shin Bet. In other words, I had a lot to do, and McReedy just arriving without the usual twelve- or twenty-four-hour notice period, really screwed with my schedules. So I let him have it, verbally, and confined him to the embassy premises until I could organize meetings between him and various other people. He didn't like that but he couldn't argue."
"His reason for being there?" Ziva asked.
"Legit. A case had taken a sharp turn, but seeing as it's a twelve-plus-hour flight from Chicago to Tel Aviv, he could've made a phone call before he got on the plane. At the time he was a Senior Special Agent, so his being able to just put in a request and get plane tickets was well within his rank's expenses allowance."
"And that issue was resolved?"
"Except for him telling someone that I was an uptight bitch who needed to learn her place?" Jen muttered.
"I cannot think about that," Ziva said in her clipped on-the-job tone.
"Right. So yes, it was resolved."
"And the second incident?"
"My second stint in Argentina, four years later."
"He had transferred to the ATF by then?"
"Yeah," Jen said. "And I'd really like to know how he waltzed into the ATF as an SAC."
"I need to find out more about this guy..."
Ziva levered herself up on her elbows, and used her hands to aid scooting back. She jammed pillows behind her back and thanked Jen for a pillow eased under her knee.
Unless a federal employee aims for a desk job as high as assistant director, all they can hope for is to retain their existing rank when they transfer between agencies. Often not even that is guaranteed. It's common for a transferring field agent to retain their existing pay grade (based on duration of service) while taking a demotion to a rank one degree lower. Sometimes that's temporary and the agent's previous rank is restored after a short probation period. Sometimes a promotion comes along only in two or three years, or not at all.
That McReedy had managed to transfer from the FBI to the ATF, and acquire a promotion to Special Agent in Charge in the process, was highly unusual.
"He did go from one investigative unit to another," Jen said, puzzling it out. "Both rather similar units, too: FBI Organized Crime on-the-ground task force coordinator, to heading the ATF Violent Crime Impact Team in New York."
"That is a really thin coat of paint, and if I look hard, I think I will be able to see what is underneath," Ziva said. "Within the ATF, which is a rather small agency, promotion to SAC is not a chickenshit deal."
"No. It's a tougher ask than it is in the FBI. It usually takes a lot of hard work, over as many as fifteen years. I'd imagine that a few people resented McReedy arriving with that promotion already in his back pocket."
"And maybe I can use that, when I get some people to ask questions. So tell me about the second time you and McReedy clashed."
"Typical alpha male bullshit," Jen muttered. "But this time he announced his arrival well in advance. When I was in Argentina the first time round, I headed up an FBI foreign satellite office, operating from within the embassy in Buenos Aires. Second stint, Embassy Chief of Security again. McReedy rolled in and tried to throw his weight at the embassy, but I put a stop to that and he got on with his investigation. But less than three weeks later, he ended up compromising the plainclothes security detail we'd loaned to the Israeli ambassador—"
"You are kidding," Ziva muttered.
"No," Jen said. "There'd been an upset of some type– I behaved at my diplomatic best and didn't ask. End result: the Israeli embassy's security staff were barred from leaving the embassy premises, except under Argentinian escort to an airport. I got a memo from the State Department and made two teams available to your ambassador. McReedy went behind my back and involved Buenos Aires police, and blew the cover of one team at a restaurant."
"What was the excuse?"
"He said that he'd seen that one of my guys had a gun, so he called the cops. He said that he didn't know that guy was one of mine. He said that he was concerned for the Israeli ambassador, whom he recognized."
"So he got away with it?" Ziva said.
"Sort of," Jen muttered. "He got a light rap on the knuckles, over the phone, from the ATF director. From me... Well, I not-so-politely reminded him of just how much power an ECS has, by kicking him out of the embassy and having him escorted to the airport. I haven't heard from him or seen him since."
"But you called him an 'alpha male.' That is not the correct term," Ziva said. "Or if it is, then he tempers the usual tendencies of his type with a lot of intelligence and discipline. A regular alpha male would have at least tried to mess with you, even a couple of years later. Instead he backed off. What that says to me is that Walter McReedy thinks and makes choices, based on what will benefit him in the long run. He is not interested in forcing people to recognize his dominance. That is not leader-of-the-pack behavior."
"No," Jen agreed. "It's lone wolf behavior."
Over the last ten days, Ziva had perused Walter McReedy's personnel jacket so often that she could practically recite every word of it. It seemed to paint an outstanding career, but with few words of criticism, and that just wasn't right.
McReedy had worked for the FBI and the ATF as a field agent for a total of twenty-one years. Field agents always end up with negative citations. Their smallest mistakes are documented; there are comments made on any negative behavior towards colleagues and authority figures. And for a total of twenty-one years in Federal law enforcement, McReedy's Conduct Record was just too thin.
Fornell had formed an initial team of three people to ask questions about McReedy. Fornell trusted those people with his life, and as he'd said to Ziva, it was a good thing that he'd opted to involve people like that.
Fornell had agreed with Yossi's idea of going back to McReedy's days with the Bureau, and tracking his former colleagues. Specifically, they were interested in the ones who'd since left the FBI. Some had resigned in what now looked to be haste. Fornell's team had to grow by two after just three days of asking questions, and Robert Grace had authorized the use of funds to purchase plane tickets to places as far away as Oregon, Hawaii, and even Vancouver, Canada and the UK. Fornell was convinced that McReedy was dirty, but not in the usual way. He and his team found out really fast that people just did not complain about McReedy through the usual channels.
No-one had dared to call him a bully, but unofficially they said that he was one. No-one had dared to call him racist, but off-the-record they provided evidence that he definitely was. No-one had ever called him a misogynist, but even the men who were questioned said that it was plain as day that he was one of those, too. And no-one had dared to accuse him of deliberately antagonizing the Mossad, but two people stated that he'd done exactly that.
That was information gathered only from people who'd left the Bureau. Fornell and his team had yet to start talking to ATF people who'd worked with McReedy, and then resigned.
And McReedy still had friends in the Bureau. He had contacts and regularly and unashamedly made use of them, whenever one of his ATF cases overlapped with a Bureau case. He called it expediency. Other people called his actions backdoor tactics. He was smart enough to get away with it, and worse, he produced the kind of investigative results that prompted praise instead of remonstrances for interfering with whichever FBI investigation. But in the background, the Bureau people he'd used usually took a fair amount of flak. Some of them had been demoted; at least one had been flat-out fired. And yet McReedy's old contacts continued to help him. Ziva, Fornell, and Grace had a hunch that the 'help' came as a result of coercion.
"But we can't ask them a damn thing, because sure as nuts, it'll get back to McReedy," Fornell muttered. "And my guess is that those folks are scared, for real good reason."
"The people who left law enforcement are scared of McReedy, too," Jen said. "Have any of them said why?"
"That's why I'm here on a Sunday."
Fornell thanked Jen for a cup of coffee. He'd gotten off a plane just forty minutes ago. He hadn't thought that he'd be personally required to do any traveling, but a call from one of the people on his team had resulted in him grabbing shaving gear, clean underwear, and a clean shirt, and boarding a flight to the UK.
The plunking of Ziva's cane announced her approach to the kitchen. She gave Fornell a nod and concentrated on taking a seat at the breakfast nook without hurting herself. The fixed table and bench seats made that rather tricky: the table edge was almost at the same height as the wound area on her thigh. Knowing how stubborn Officer David could be, Fornell made no mention at all of how a borrowed dining room chair would make her life easier. Also, seeing as he'd woken her from a nap, he decided it was better to just keep his mouth shut.
Ziva accepted a cup of tea from Jen, and after that her prompt to Fornell was an eyebrow raised in expectation.
"Joe Marsh had a lot to say about McReedy," Fornell said. "But he demanded to have a guarantee from, quote, 'someone with clout' that he'd never be called on to sign his name to anything. Grace gave a provisional guarantee, with the offer of extended protection if it proves necessary that we need Marsh to come back here. Only half good enough for Marsh. He demanded to talk to me in person."
Across the table Ziva had perked up considerably.
"So I go to England. It's three in the morning, and Marsh shows me a scar in his side that's nightmare material. No proof that McReedy did it himself. Marsh didn't see his attacker, and he'd been in the UK for nearly a year. Asshole didn't steal anything. Didn't ask anything. Just bashed Marsh over the head, kicked the hell out of him, then yanked up his shirt and cut him from the bottom of his shoulder blade down to his hip. Slowly. Jagged, nasty wound made by a hook-like blade, the doctors said; maybe something like the gut-hook on a skinning blade."
"We didn't think Marsh would have a lot to say," Ziva said, frowning, confused. "We didn't think his minor tie to McReedy would give us anything. So what does McReedy have against Marsh?"
"Marsh worked undercover on the Mason Rogers case."
"Goddammit," Ziva growled, abruptly furious. "How can I do this fucking job when things like that are kept from me? I accept without question certain aspects of general security, but there was no reason to keep that detail from me: the case was closed."
"We're gonna have to wrangle clearance for you, somehow," Fornell agreed. "Meantime, Grace and I are gonna lay our own jobs on the line and pass stuff on. Technically, I shouldn't have told you about the Rogers connection."
"Thank you," Ziva said simply.
"Can I ask about the Rogers case?" Jen said.
"About five years ago the ATF decided that Rogers' roundabout link to a gunrunning case of theirs wasn't enough to get him convicted," Fornell said. "They knew he'd been somehow involved in a murder, though, and seeing as it wasn't directly related to their gun case, they passed him on to us. Less than a fortnight into the investigation, Rogers was found dead, and our people did the natural thing: the investigation switched to finding out who killed Rogers. That led down a blind alley. The Russian mob was involved, and whoever they pay to kill people usually ends up taking a temporary vacation, or a permanent one. Seeing as the word was that the killer wasn't a mob man, it's likely he's buried somewhere, probably in solid concrete."
"And other than the original case being the ATF's baby, what was McReedy's connection?" Jen asked.
"He made a big fuss when the Rogers case was passed to the FBI," Ziva said. "I call that out-of-character—"
"Way out," Fornell agreed. "This is a guy who just does not lose control. He does not, and yet..."
"So he knew Rogers," Jen said.
"It looks that way, and now it seems to me that McReedy was definitely involved in Rogers' death," Ziva said. "So what did Marsh say? Why did he think that McReedy was behind his attack?"
"A few months after Marsh resigned from the Bureau, he got a visit from McReedy. He wanted Marsh to do something for him– never said what, but he did remind Marsh about the fact that he'd been screwing a hooker while on duty, the night Rogers got killed. As Marsh said, the only way McReedy could've known about that was if he'd paid that prostitute to proposition Marsh. To make sure of the job, she dropped something in his drink. Marsh was real worried about that showing up in a routine drug screen, but it didn't."
"Ever seen what happens about twenty minutes after someone shoots back a double bourbon laced with a single five-hundred milligram paracetamol tablet?" Ziva said. "Spirits like bourbon have a strong enough flavor to conceal many different kinds of drugs. What was Marsh drinking?"
"He can't remember. So anyhow, Rogers decided that England was far enough away from McReedy. A year later, he got attacked. He would've moved again but he couldn't afford it."
"If McReedy was being careful, it would've taken him about a year to track down Marsh," Jen said.
"Or, he got the location soon, and waited to remove suspicion from himself," Ziva said.
"In either case, Marsh is sure McReedy's responsible for that scar in his side," Fornell said. "Marsh was a damn good agent. He made one major mistake with that prostitute, still blames himself for Rogers' death. He might have owned up to it, but there wasn't much point. He would've gotten a slap on the wrist. Instead he punished himself by walking away from a job he loved. Guy had no enemies, then McReedy tried to coerce him into something, and in the process pretty much gave it up: McReedy was involved in Rogers' death. So who else could've been responsible for that attack?"
"But seeing as Marsh is still alive..." Ziva sipped at her tea and set down the cup before saying, "Does Marsh have protection?"
"Round-the-clock. German Polizei. We moved him," Fornell said. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Probably. Marsh is still alive because McReedy might need him for something," Ziva said. "But that could and will change if McReedy finds out that Marsh has talked to us."
"You've got enough to arrest McReedy on suspicion," Jen said.
"We could do that, but then what about his reasons for screwing up various FBI-Mossad investigations?" Ziva said. "Having more ammunition—Marsh, for example—is a good thing, but my job is to clean things up. If we knock McReedy out too soon, we will not find out why he seems so intent on messing with the FBI-Mossad relationship."
"Also, what we've got on Marsh probably isn't enough to make it stick in court," Fornell said. "We gotta get solid evidence."
"Mmm," Ziva agreed. "McReedy is dirty, but he keeps his hands clean. He gets other people to do the really dirty work."
"So if we wanna grab McReedy and lock him up," Fornell said. "We've gotta prove his involvement in whichever bit of dirty work, without doubt. Ordinarily I'd try looking for the bastard who cut up Marsh, but the Brits still have that case open. I looked at the file. Three inches thick, every possible lead followed. I didn't tell 'em about McReedy's involvement, and not because it has to be kept quiet. I just don't see the point: they've hunted hard for that sonuvabitch with a knife, and have turned up zippola. He's gone."
"Yes, but I think we should maybe keep the man with the knife in mind. It is possible that McReedy has used him before Marsh's attack, and since," Ziva said.
"How was Rogers killed?" Jen asked.
"Paracord garotte. It was left around his neck," Ziva said. "What is interesting about it is the Spetsnaz knot pattern, one that is not easy to find on the internet. That was what pointed to Russian mob involvement. They did not kill Rogers themselves, but they told his killer how to kill him, and they provided the murder weapon."
"Sounds just like the Bratva," Jen drawled. —Brotherhood. "And I agree that the garotte guy is probably dead. The person who carved up Marsh is not someone who'll be dictated to."
"Sadists like doing things their own way, yeah," Fornell agreed.
"What do you think about getting people to look into all McReedy's cases to find a really sadistic murder or assault suspect?" Ziva asked Fornell.
"If McReedy gets wind of that, it'll hurt our current investigation. Gotta keep our heads low."
"Achlah," Ziva muttered sarcastically. Great. "Half the world has teamed up with this stupid leg just to frustrate me."
"Maybe you should go back to that nap," Fornell ragged.
"I still have one good leg to kick you with," Ziva shot back.
"You two play nice," Jen said, amused. "Staying for dinner, Tobias?"
"Thanks, but no. I'm gonna grab something on the way home and then crash," Fornell got up and waved Jen back to her seat. "I know my way out. See ya tomorrow, Ziva."
"Actually, no," Ziva said. "From now on we talk only over the phone, or we meet away from the office."
"Okay," Fornell said with a nod.
~ ~ ~
On Monday afternoon Todd drove Ziva to Richmond, Virginia to speak with the person she hoped would give her reason enough to call Yossi Gershom back. As it turned out, Hannah Klein only gave Ziva more reasons to delay that call.
Klein was now in her late fifties and her current profession was positively sedate compared to her previous career with the FBI. She owned eight large greenhouses on a sprawling plot of land, and was proud of the fact that she provided cut flowers, including orchids, to local florists year-round. Her full name was also her company brand: Flowers by Hannah R. Klein. Ziva noted that it wouldn't be hard for McReedy to find her.
"Walter can't touch me," Klein said and snorted derisively. "But in any case, if the bastard comes anywhere near my place, I'm likely to shoot him, and he'd know that. I have a PR person to deal with customers, for good reason: my employees get used to this cannon on my hip; customers stare and start making excuses to be elsewhere. If you're wondering, I carry a gun because one of the toads I put away got out of prison and threatened to come after me. Then he disappeared. He might be dead, but maybe he isn't."
"Better safe than sorry. You have good taste in hardware," Ziva noted. She'd recognized the pistol's grip as that belonging to a SIG. "P228?"
"Yep. Can't say much for the Bureau's choice in weaponry these days," Klein muttered.
"When I get away from my damn desk, I am not going to carry a stupid Glock," Ziva said.
She sat carefully in the seat Klein offered her. Klein filled a mug with coffee and set it on her desk, close to Ziva; she carried a second mug around the desk and took a seat.
"Can I ask why your partner isn't in here, too?"
"Technically, Todd is not my partner, and he is probably working on a long report while he waits in the car. He is an analyst and my assistant."
"Assistant?" Klein said, frowning. "So you're not an agent either?"
"Been out of it so long you have forgotten to ask the right questions, huh?" Ziva said, her tone playful.
"There's the accent, but these days an accent doesn't mean much. My brother's still with the Bureau and his field partner emigrated from Italy when he was twenty, but by his accent you'd swear he got off the plane yesterday. And you asked about Walter McReedy... I just assumed you were Internal Affairs, but no-one in IA has assistants unless they own a desk permanently, and those people don't ask other people questions. So?"
"I am the Bureau's Mossad Liaison Officer, and I am currently trying to clean up the relationship between the FBI and the Mossad. That involves talking, mostly, but also the occasional what-went-wrong investigation."
"If you're looking at Walter, what-went-wrong started when he was conceived," Klein muttered.
"I am beginning to agree," Ziva chuckled. "But from what you have said so far, I take it that you did not resign because of McReedy?"
"No. I left because at the time the FBI was such a goddamn boys club. I got sick and fucking tired of being treated like a second-class agent even by rookie male agents. As far as I'm concerned, Walter was still a rookie by the time I left. That was fifteen years ago, when he was only in his sixth year with the Bureau."
"But you worked with McReedy, and that somehow tied in with your decision to resign?"
"Did he inform that decision? Absolutely," Klein said and sipped from her mug. "He's a racist, misogynistic asshole, and he's also a Jew-hater of the shameless, outspoken variety. So there I am, both female and Jewish? Walter gave me verbal whenever he could. When I was an agent, he was just one of several openly anti-Semitic agents in the Chicago field office. Five years after I left, Rob Grace took over as assistant director there and clamped down on them, and the racists. I was tempted to go back. Grace is a class act and it didn't surprise me one bit when he was appointed Director."
"I work closely with Robert. He remembers you and says that you must call him. He does not say things like that unless he means them."
"I'll call him," Klein said with a smile. "But I won't keep him long. Does he remember Walter?"
"What he remembers is that just after he was made assistant director, McReedy transferred to the ATF. Robert never worked with him."
"On his appointment, Grace made a speech. Several of my old pals told me about it. He said that he aimed to clean up, that he would clean up, and that anyone who didn't like that idea should quit or transfer out before he kicked them out. As you just mentioned, Grace means what he says. He had that reputation even then. So you might wanna look at who else transferred out around that time. I bet some of them were McReedy's pals."
"Good point," Ziva said, scribbling on a notepad. "Okay... Walter McReedy has a definite dislike for the Mossad. Naturally, this is of concern to me: it is my job to facilitate better relations between HaMossad and the FBI. Even though McReedy transferred to the ATF, he still has influence over some people with the Bureau. The deeper I dig, the more I find that McReedy is just plain crooked. He is tied to a sadistic assault, for example. And there is also evidence of several instances of coercion. Two people have told my team that McReedy deliberately derailed a joint investigation with the Mossad. But he went about that so cleverly that the Mossad agents involved felt that the breakdown was their fault. One resigned; the other asked to be assigned a desk for the remainder of his career. I do not think that a regular... dose of anti-Semitism is behind McReedy's dislike of the Mossad. What do you think?"
"I have to agree," Klein said. "He's openly anti-Semitic, but it's common-or-garden variety Jew-hate, nothing that would drive him to incite a pogrom. His Mossad beef might be tied to the fact that he hates Jews, but yeah, there's gotta be more to it... Is Harrison Gardner still with the Chicago office?"
"I will have to ask. Why is Gardner important?"
"He and Walter were buddies, and I mean, close. Then one day they had a rather public falling out. It nearly came to blows: both men were restrained by their colleagues. I wasn't there and didn't ask anyone about what was said. Harrison got a transfer out of Organized Crime about a month later, which was three, maybe four months before I quit. It's possible those two eventually smoothed out their differences, but if they didn't then Harrison might be able to tell you a lot about Walter... Or maybe not you, personally. Harrison was just as openly anti-Semitic as Walter."
"Usually I say 'Too bad,'" Ziva drawled. "But this kind of case demands that I use my head instead of demonstrating the thickness of my skin."
"I bet that bites... What happened to your leg?" Klein asked.
"A Three-fifty-seven SIG round," Ziva muttered. "The thing that was all over the papers a couple of months ago. I was the one who took a knife to a gunfight."
"How did a Mossad Liaison Officer end up working SWAT?"
"The press did not interview me directly, and on my side, no-one said that I was SWAT," Ziva said, her tone oh-so-innocent. "What is that saying about presumption?"
"It's the lowest form of common knowledge," Klein chuckled. "And I think Walter McReedy inadvertently bought himself a shitload of trouble."
~ ~ ~
Fornell ended up getting on a plane again. Not that he minded. He flew out of rainy, miserable D.C. down to sunny Miami, and his return ticket was open-ended; he had the whole day off. It was just after nine a.m now, and D.C. would not see him again before ten p.m. He'd call Ziva directly with whatever he found out, and after that, just for once, he was going to goof off.
Harrison Gardner was now a resident consultant for the Miami Police Department. Fornell had asked to meet with him away from his office at MPD headquarters, and Gardner had offered to pick him up from the airport.
They were about the same age, but whereas Fornell had attended the FBI Academy straight out of college, Gardner had been a civilian law enforcement intake, someone who'd served as a detective for a few years before attending the Academy's partner officer program on-invitation. He'd chosen to join the FBI after that, which meant that he'd had to start again at the Academy from scratch.
"You had it tough," Fornell noted in the car.
"Same as the detective exams, but I worked hard," Gardner said. "Studied my ass off and made the grade. Kept working hard. After ten years with the Bureau, I interviewed for this consultancy job, and brought along the same work ethic... We gonna cut the chitchat?"
"Sure," Fornell said. "I got told that after some big argument, you quit talking to Walter McReedy. Four years later you came back here, still without saying a word to ol' Walter. That surprised a lotta people, Harrison, cos you and Walter were buddies."
"Past tense," Gardner almost growled, white-knuckling the steering wheel, eyes suddenly hard on the road ahead. "McReedy is no friend of mine."
"This was fifteen years back, and you're still mad?" Fornell said, shifting in his seat, the better to look at Gardner. "So?"
"You ever ditched any of the prejudices you were raised with?"
"Several," Fornell said.
"I was raised to hate anyone who wasn't as much of a WASP as my dad," Gardner said. "He died last year. Hadn't spoken to me in nearly fifteen years, for the same reason that McReedy and some of the other guys cut me off... Real dumb. My whole family cut me out, but my future in-laws didn't even blink when Demeku introduced me to them. They're Ethiopian."
"Oh boy..." Fornell mumbled.
"Yeah," Gardner said with a wry grin. "Demeku's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Her whole family's beautiful. And look at me: face that only a mother could love, supposedly. Somehow my facial genes skipped out. Our three kids look like her."
"So you met your future wife, started rethinking stuff, and McReedy didn't like that?"
"Basically," Gardner said with a nod.
Fornell thought it over for a while, and decided to cut to the chase.
"Got any idea what McReedy's beef is with the Mossad?"
"I know about that, know that he's really got it in for them, but I dunno the details," Gardner said. "He mentioned a name once, but it won't help. Real common Israeli name: Ariel. All I know is that this Ariel is a woman. Now you piece that together."
"Female Mossad officer?"
"Like I said, I dunno the details, but any way you look at it, yeah," Gardner said. "Something went down with McReedy and a female Mossad officer named Ariel."
~ ~ ~
"Not 'Aerial,'" Ziva muttered. "Ah-ri-el. And yes, the name is really common, for both men and women, but seeing as the Mossad is not so big, it will not be a problem to get all the records of even retired and deceased women officers named Ariel. How far back should we go?"
"Starting before McReedy joined the Bureau," Fornell said. "Because for all we know, this thing with Ariel went down while he was in college. Call it twenty-five years."
"Okay. When will you be back?"
"Late," Fornell stated emphatically.
"Good. Enjoy your day off," Ziva said sincerely.
"I intend to. Bye-bye."
The connection was cut and Ziva snorted a laugh before dropping the handset on its cradle. She was finding small things funny almost in self-defense. Later today she'd be visiting her physiotherapist, aka, the Lord High Torturer. Range-of-movement tests, followed by the first repetitions of new exercises, were all going to be murder. The ultrasound massage that followed would be the only nice part of that session.
Ziva deliberately put the Lord High Torturer from her mind and focused on drafting an email to her father. She looked at a clock and grumbled about time differences: Eli was probably at home already. She sent the email and backed it up with a phone call. Ziva had spoken with her father more often in the last few weeks than she had in the last three years. Dialing any of his numbers no longer resulted in a tension spike, something that used to make her angry, because she'd regarded that as a weakness. It wasn't perfect, and it probably never would be, but at least nowadays she could expect civility from Eli instead of hostility; not so long ago that expectation had been reversed.
"Ariel?" Eli grumbled. "In my time alone, there have been maybe twenty women called Ariel."
"I thought so," Ziva said. "And we have to hope that Ariel was her real name."
"You said it."
"You want me to get someone onto this now?" Eli asked.
"It can wait until tomorrow," Ziva said. "I have three meetings to attend and Todd is up to his ears in paperwork."
"So maybe this job's going to give you an appreciation of my job?" Eli chuckled.
"No, it is going to make me even more determined to never, ever have a permanent desk job," Ziva said.
When Eli called the next morning, Ziva and Todd were stuck in traffic, a frustratingly short distance from the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Ziva looked at the display on her phone which showed both Eli's name and the time: eight-forty-seven. They should've been at work by eight.
"I am going to get grille lights installed in this car," Ziva muttered.
"It's a Mini Cooper. Who's gonna take that seriously?" Todd chortled.
Ziva gave him a side-eye glare and pressed the pick up button on her phone.
"Boker," she said. Morning.
"Tzohorayim," Eli insisted. Afternoon.
"Almost the same here. We are stuck in traffic, in my car, exactly three blocks from the office."
"Well, I've got news that will cheer you up... sort of."
"Eli'ezer, when you say 'sort of,' I worry," Ziva drawled. "So start with the complicated bit."
"Eyes Only for that. I've cleared Todd, Robert, and Tobias for it, too. Encrypted email. The not-complicated bit is that we know exactly which Ariel had contact with Walter," Eli said, carefully avoiding mention of last names over a cell connection. "And we now know part of the reason why he hates us. She stole Walter's girlfriend."
"S'licha?" Ziva mumbled. Excuse me?
"Ma she'at shoma'at," Eli said. Just what you heard. "I don't have to repeat it. You've been there and done that... four times, if I remember right."
"Seduction and a couple of nights is not 'stealing,'" Ziva said. And to Todd she said, "Traffic is moving. Close your mouth and look in front of the car."
"How many times a day do you shock him?" Eli asked, amused.
"A few," Ziva said. "So define 'stole.'"
"As in, ended up living with the woman as access cover for more than two years."
"Not even you would be stupid enough to give me an assignment like that," Ziva drawled.
"I choose to take that as a compliment," Eli said, a grin in his voice.
"Do not make me wish for the days when we fought all the time."
"Not even I am stupid enough to believe that you enjoyed that," Eli chuckled. "If you want more information than I've sent, call me."
Ziva slipped her phone into the inner breast pocket of her suit jacket. She looked out of her window, up between buildings, at heavy grey clouds that threatened lightning and rain at any minute. That was also a good description of what her relationship with Eli used to be. It had changed. They still fought, and quite viciously, but not all the time, and definitely not over small things. In many ways Jen was responsible for the change. Eli genuinely respected and liked Jen very much, and in Ziva's book that meant that Eli was far from all bad, but not even a year ago she'd felt differently.
No matter her level of professionalism, Ziva still took certain things personally. Her father was her boss, and that was definitely a personal matter. Ari... She'd been the best operative to deal with Ari, but the fact remained that Eli had ordered his own son killed, by his daughter's hand. Before and after that there'd been other things taken personally, and Eli had given Ziva no reason to feel that he cared about what she thought, how she felt. To date he'd never asked about Ari, but now Ziva viewed that in a different light, one not the least bit professional: in Eli's place, how would she feel about Ari?
Ziva shut her eyes briefly and drew in a deep breath, but carefully. She liked Todd but she didn't want him to ask if she was okay right now.
One day she'd forgive herself for killing Ari. It was necessary; it had been the right thing to do, the only thing to do. But Ziva knew without doubt that Eli would never forgive himself for issuing the order. Eli's only comfort was also Ziva's: Ari was stopped from killing Gibbs. It would've been so much worse if Ziva had had to resort to capture and a bullet in the head, which was the content of the original order.
"No wonder we were stuck," Todd said abruptly, pointing through the windshield.
Ziva leaned slightly forward and rolled her eyes at a massive load of steel pipe on a trailer that was no longer attached to its tractor. That sort of accident happening right outside a Federal building was bound to cause a traffic jam. Ziva guessed that the ten or so FBI windcheaters in evidence belonged to only a fifth the number of agents that had originally swarmed all over the area, to say nothing of the number of D.C. Metro police officers that had responded as well.
"There'll be extra security in a minute," Todd said.
He made sure that his ID card was hanging around his neck and freed it from behind the seatbelt. Ziva did the same.
"They are going to hold me," she said, matter-of-fact.
"If they do, I'll have something to say," Todd muttered. "I'm gonna park this car in a space marked with a sign that says 'Officer Z. David, MLO,' and you have an exec-level office with the same sign on the door. The suspicious object treatment is getting both old and over-the-top."
"Policy is policy," Ziva said and shrugged.
"I don't get it," Todd said. "Surely Grace is tired of having to say, 'She's okay. That's why we gave her an office.' And you worked for NCIS for three years."
"And out of nearly seven-thousand people working in this ugly building, how many even know what NCIS is?" Ziva said irritably. "There are reasons, really good reasons for many of the security policies applied to this and every other Federal building. Please remember where you work and who you work for, and drop the naïvety. It does not suit you, Todd: you are smarter than that."
"Yes, ma'am," he mumbled.
He steered the car into a short queue. Swiping a card lowered tire slashers and raised a metal gate, giving them initial access to the Hoover Building's basement parking lot. Next came a boom that had to be raised by one of three security staff. Due to the accident outside, they were joined today by another three agents. IDs would be taken and checked twice, separately, and the boom would be raised only when the two three-person teams agreed that those IDs checked out.
Todd drove Ziva's Mini up to the boom and killed the engine as ordered. Ziva might have just gotten out of the car in advance but she waited for the inevitable instead. At least the agent who ordered her to exit the vehicle looked apologetic about it. For the ninth time in five weeks, she was escorted into the security booth where she took a seat and waited silently while calls were made. Not once had any of this bothered her; to be bothered by SOP was to be in the wrong line of work.
"Officer David is cleared," an agent announced formally. He set a phone on its cradle and signed and initialed an incident report. "Sign there, please. Initial here and here."
Ziva did as she was told. She got up without another word and saw herself out to the car, which Todd had parked to one side of the boom. She'd just opened the door when someone called her name. She looked over her shoulder and gave CIA Director James Marden a smile.
"You got held?" Marden asked through a town car window.
"Standard Operating Procedure," Ziva said with a shrug.
"You mean Stupid Operating Procedure," Marden muttered. "I'll see about fixing this. There's a little extra work I think you might be well-suited for, but to get that job you need an SCI clearance."
"Jimmy, how the hell are you going to manage that?" Ziva said with a laugh of disbelief.
"By making a logical argument," Marden said and gave her a wink.
His electric window sailed up before Ziva had a chance to retort. She got into the car.
"Sensitive Compartmented Information?" Todd mumbled and started the car. "An SCI is the toughest clearance to get, but never mind the test protocols. I think you're automatically disqualified."
"Under certain circumstances, temporary, limited-access SCI clearances are issued to foreign diplomats," Ziva said.
"Marden meant something more permanent, and while you can be surprisingly diplomatic, you're a foreign spy, not a diplomat," Todd said, amused.
"I am not much of a spy right now," Ziva muttered.
Her leg was aching by the time she got to her office, but it was the good kind of ache, the kind that would ease with a bit of rest. The 'bit' was rather short. Ziva remained sitting but her entire body tensed as she read through Eli's email.
Ariel Hazan was someone Ziva had never met, but she knew a lot about her. That she'd spent more than two years embedded in the States was not common knowledge, however.
People in the intelligence community don't ask each other questions like 'Where were you for two years?' Instead they take note of absences and try not to worry, and when the absentee eventually returns, that's all that counts. Until the next time, Ziva thought. There were people that she'd known for as long as ten years, but if she thought about it she'd add the years up differently—six years absent; four present—and she'd say instead that she'd known those people for only four years. She suspected that there were those who'd known Ariel Hazan for her entire career, but who would say instead that they'd known her for only a few years.
And Hazan was still active. A two-digit code in Eli's email told Ziva that Hazan was embedded and out-of-contact. But that didn't matter.
Gardner's guess had been correct. McReedy had still been a college student when Hazan had first befriended his girlfriend Natasha Tierney. Tierney's father was a Wall Street broker that both the CIA and the Mossad knew was shady. Despite being tipped off by a friend of Tierney's, who'd seen him in the company of a known arms dealer, the CIA had no hard evidence that would enable them to hand Tierney over to Federal law enforcement. To make matters worse, the tip-off had come out during the haggling preceding a cooperation deal: Tierney's friend had been involved in insider trading. Surveillance operations were mounted but yielded nothing, probably because Tierney had been advised by that arms dealer to tread more carefully.
Hazan was a loan embed. The CIA may not mount operations against US citizens on US soil. The solution to that bind lies with foreign intel agencies friendly to the US. Hazan's operation epitomized a practice going back to the Fifties when the CIA 'borrowed' several MI6 operatives to spy on a retired US diplomat thought to be a Soviet double agent. No conclusive evidence was found in that case, but the 'borrowed operatives' operation had worked out so well that it became the CIA's first choice backyard espionage tactic.
"You're saying the CIA uses people like you to spy on us?" Todd said.
"Not often," Ziva said. "And it is more like allowing another agency to do most or even all of the work. Sometimes the foreign agency refuses, especially if all that work will not benefit their own country. In most cases, it is a practice of desperation. The case cannot be prosecuted, for example, because some or maybe all the evidence of wrongdoing lies with people in a country that is unfriendly to the US."
"Okay," Todd said, frowning. "So what you mean is that we can't ask that country for the evidence, and we also can't expect them to prosecute the bad guy."
"Why would they prosecute someone helping them?" Ziva said. "Spies are hard to catch, and harder to prosecute, especially when your chief counterespionage agency is not permitted to operate on home soil. So what do you do?"
"Ask foreign spies to do the hunting," Todd said. "And when they've caught the bad guy?"
"Accidents happen all the time," Ziva said. "Or else the foreign operatives also manage to find evidence that allows local law enforcement to act. That is the preferred endgame, but it is not common that it works out that way. There is a reason why so few people have been tried for espionage in this country: the other spies that were caught were terminated."
"And that's what happened to Andrew Tierney?" Todd said.
"Actually, no. He committed suicide, but I think that he may have been talked into it," Ziva said. "This email from Eli contains a couple of admin codes. This one says that the information regarding the Tierney case is all anecdotal. There was no formal report, only several verbal debriefs from which an op summary was created."
"So Hazan just said, 'He committed suicide,' and no-one asked how he'd ended up doing that?"
"Why ask? Ma ha'ta'am?" Ziva muttered. What's the point? "So she talked him into hanging himself. Better that than pulling a trigger, believe me."
"Y'know, it's bullshit that the Mossad has cleared me to know that much about you, but you sometimes get held by our security," Todd said irritably.
"Kacha ha'chayim," Ziva said, with a half-shrug. That's the way life goes.
"If you say so. Can I ask why Hazan talked Tierney into offing himself?"
"We knew that he was siphoning money off of legitimate accounts into an offshore account, but we could not trace the legitimate accounts—"
"Near impossible to find out where money comes from, or goes to, after it lands in an offshore account," Todd noted.
"Right. And Tierney was paying below-wholesale prices for explosives, particularly industrial-grade C-4. He was then reselling his stock at a profit– any kind of explosives have a steep markup on the black market. He made use of a middleman who did all the buying and selling, and we back-tracked Tierney, through the middleman, to four big deals. Tierney did not care who that man sold explosives to. We caught the middleman. Seeing as we were involved, you can guess where the explosives were going, but some were also sold to a small Christian extremist group here—"
"Wouldn't that be the ATF's stomping ground?"
"This was more than twenty years ago," Ziva said. "And at the time the ATF did not have an international footprint. Nowadays that footprint is still limited to partner agencies in other countries, which number fewer than one third of those on the FBI's list of partner agencies. But even today, the CIA would not hand over a case like Tierney's to either the FBI or the ATF. You said it yourself: it is impossible to trace money after it ends up in an offshore account. To prosecute Tierney... It came down to the money and being able to follow it."
"The middleman couldn't ID Tierney?" Todd asked.
"Comes down to the money again: he had the same bank account setup as Tierney. We could prove that they called each other regularly. We could prove that the middleman bought and sold explosives to some very bad people. It could not be proven, however, that Tierney had any knowledge of those deals."
"Aww shit..." Todd groaned.
"Bed'yuk," Ziva muttered. Exactly. "So here is Ariel, and Ariel's job was to watch Tierney, follow him, even socialize with him and his family. Her friendship—" She crooked her fingers in scare quotes. "—with his daughter was her way into Andrew Tierney's life. After opening that door, it was just a matter of time. She was instrumental in identifying the middleman."
"Okay. So the question here is, how did McReedy find out that Hazan was Mossad?"
"That is one of Eli'ezer's questions, too. Ariel is... unavailable right now. According to the OPSEC assessment for that operation, this issue is not important enough to rate a break in comms silence."
"Ya know you're playing a whole 'nother ballgame when someone mentions operational security assessments," Todd drawled. "Please tell me I won't be adding 'Spy' to my resume."
"Not yet. But give it another few months..." Ziva teased. "Anyway, my guess is that Natasha found out about Ariel and ended up telling McReedy. If you think about that scene... Tell me."
"Hazan is gone. Natasha's lonely, probably pissed at Hazan. She goes back to McReedy and at first he says no. So she lays it all on Hazan: she was Mossad, and what chance did someone like Natasha have?"
"Just like that," Ziva agreed. "So the real question is, how did Natasha find out?"
"Should I call Fornell?" Todd asked.
"Yes, but tell him just to find Natasha, and find out if she has any contact with McReedy. If she does not, then I will talk to her."
~ ~ ~
Fornell hadn't needed much time to find out a fair bit about Natasha Tierney. She had a steady job as an editor at a large New York-based publishing house. Her financial situation was stable. She'd been divorced twice in the last fifteen years, had no children, and she was currently single.
"But I got no way of telling whether she's still in contact with McReedy," Fornell said.
"So we have to resort to what worked last time," Ziva muttered, and adjusted the volume on a Blue Tooth earpiece. "You need someone else on your team?"
"Call in a favor from the Company?" Fornell suggested.
"No problem. Ariel did them a favor, so they can do us a favor."
Ziva hung up on Fornell and called James Marden's office at Langley. His secretary Allison Fisher put her straight through.
"Problem?" Marden asked.
"No. But I need a good-looking, charming male case officer for an off-the-books job that might end up being a fuck-and-run."
"Sadly, there will be no shortage of volunteers," Marden grumbled. "The Age of Chivalry is dead."
"You are really in the wrong line of work," Ziva said, amused. "And I will remind you that the Age of Chivalry was also the Age of Corsets and Chastity Belts: I am glad it is dead. May it stay that way."
A couple of days later, Ziva received word that Natasha Tierney had not needed much persuasion to meet that case officer for a drink. Now all they had to do was wait.
It was cold enough for a fire. James Marden took his ease in a comfortable chair near the hearth and watched the flames dance over split birch logs, leaving Ziva in peace to read through several documents.
"Jimmy, you are crazy," Ziva stated eventually.
"Is that any way to talk to a dinner guest?" Marden chuckled.
Ziva's retort was a glare. She returned her attention to several documents that had nothing to do with her current job and everything to do with what seemed to be a new terrorist organization.
"I have said it many times before: the best place to build a new group is somewhere almost inaccessible to Western operatives. China fits that description."
Marden didn't say anything else. He was just waiting to be proved right and he knew that that was going to happen. It was as inevitable as dinner tasting as good as it smelled. The only downside to this visit was the fact that Jen couldn't be present at this meeting (in her own study). While she had the right clearance levels to look at the contents of the presentation-level file in Ziva's lap, what Jen was not yet permitted to know was the end result of this meeting. If she was here, she wouldn't have any trouble guessing: the file bore the seal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"I must ask, why does the JCS have this focus?" Ziva said eventually.
"Everything you're looking at is the product of four years of work done exclusively by Military Intel and a few of the Company's trusted freelancers," Marden said. "MI reports directly to the JCS. The JCS then decides to report to other people, usually starting with the National Security Council, but sometimes—as with this business—they bring in outside advice first."
"Okay... How much time have I got?"
"A week, from tomorrow," Marden said. "Your first-sight reading?"
"We need to worry about these people," Ziva said. "And not only because, even after four years, we have so little intel on them. These camps are decentralized, placed so remotely as to make strikes against major home cities almost impossible."
"Wait, wait," Marden said, leaning forward in his chair. "You don't think that this group is going to target its own country?"
"No. China shares borders with what, fourteen other countries?"
"And the two to worry about are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Activity of this new group: several small training camps, that are relocated quite often, but remain close to the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jimmy, if this group is intent on domestic terrorism, it would be based in cities—many cities, where it could organize protest rallies and labor strikes, and they would resort to violence only if protests and strikes failed. But these isolated camps on the western edges of the Takla Makan Desert..." Ziva paused and looked again at a satellite image. "And if I am forced to broaden my view, I must then say that I do not think that everyone in these camps is Chinese."
Marden slumped back in his chair and rubbed at his chin. Ziva had opened a new can and instead of worms it contained a seething mass of vipers.
"Can I cut your week down to three days?" he said.
"No," Ziva said firmly. "I need one week, and discussion with other analysts, preferably those who've had access to this material. You also need to find Bergen. Freddy Bergen. I do not care where he is or what you have to do to get into contact, but I need to speak with him."
"It'll have to be via satellite phone," Marden mumbled. "How do you even know that Bergen is involved?"
"I recognized his handwriting," Ziva said, holding up a laminated copy of a hand-drawn map.
"Should I ask how you know him?" Marden said.
"I would rather not discuss it, and even if I do, place and time and reasons will be excluded."
Marden nodded and reminded himself yet again that he wasn't really suited to this job. Most of the time he liked to be honest and straightforward, and here he was involved in work that was ninety percent deception, and ten percent lying about how the truth had been obtained.
"I'll get hold of Bergen. You may have to drop whatever you're doing to talk to him. Making appointments is not his strong suit."
"Wake me up, or pull me out of my office– I do not care, but I must speak with him," Ziva said.
"What isn't he telling us?" Marden asked.
"Only what you have not asked. Bergen is a freelancer, and you should know better than to just expect full disclosure from him. He holds in reserve whatever will line his bank account, in preparation for his retirement. He is nearly fifty, but when I last saw him he looked almost sixty. Make sure that I can agree to his price, huh?"
"That's not a problem. Agree to whatever he asks."
"I will add ten percent, because from me he will not ask the true value of that intel."
"You're making me awfully curious," Marden chuckled.
"I was sent to kill him," Ziva said. "With a proviso that it may not be necessary. The decision was mine. I cannot talk about the details, but I can tell you that Freddy Bergen is a very good person."
"You tested him, and he passed."
"Yes, and someone else died instead."
Marden managed to suppress a shudder. The kind of test Bergen had faced would've been one that involved a life-or-death choice. Ziva had ended up killing someone other than Bergen, someone who (without doubt) deserved to die, but she would have made Bergen believe that that person was innocent as a newborn lamb. Bergen had probably said, 'No, kill me,' and Marden knew that, because Ziva would've said exactly that if she'd been in Bergen's place. She, too, was a good person.
~ ~ ~
On her way inside, Ziva collected the mail from the box in the front door. Todd followed her into the kitchen, where he put down his briefcase. He carried a small bag of groceries to the fridge. He turned around when he heard Ziva muttering in Hebrew.
"I am going to kill someone," Ziva stated flatly.
"Should I ask?" Todd said warily.
Ziva waved a document at him and he took it. He read: US CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES and just stopped reading. He could guess what the rest of it said.
"Do they know who you work for?"
"I am sure that a few people know who I work for, but I think that machines were responsible for printing, folding, gluing, and mailing that stupid notice. Another machine was responsible for entering my details into the ICE database, and if I do not respond to that notice within thirty days, I will be paid a visit by some of those Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers."
"Bet they'll be real surprised when they get told to go look for you at the Hoover Building," Todd said dryly.
Ziva glared at him and snatched back the notice. She added a reminder to her phone's calendar and placed the offending document in her briefcase.
"If you remember before my phone shouts at me, please call and make an appointment for me with Tracy in HR."
"Better to talk to Grace," Todd said. "Time to get that business sorted out so machines don't deal with your Green Card status... Which is?"
"EB4," Ziva muttered. "'Special Immigrant,' even though I am not an immigrant and never will be one."
Todd got back to packing away a few things, except for a loaf of bread and some finely sliced smoked chicken. He took out a bread knife, turned back to the fridge for the mayonnaise, and proceeded to construct sandwiches. He knew better than to say anything more about the USCIS notice.
Todd had been stupid once, and had suggested that Ziva should 'just' apply for permanent residence. There was nothing 'just' about that.
The fact that her Green Card practically accorded her residence (and the accompanying 'privilege' of paying taxes), was beside the point. The necessary Green Card and its attached documentation, and terms like 'resident' and 'immigrant,' were things that Ziva bore with little grace and a whole lot of resentment. Most of that resentment was directed towards Israeli Misrad HaPnim (Ministry of the Interior) officials who disregarded her employment by the Mossad, and focused on the fact that she'd spent less than one-hundred-and-twenty days in Israel annually, for three years in a row. That meant that she was officially regarded as a non-resident Israeli, or more bluntly put, an emigrant, and even more bluntly, as one of the yordim: those who have left Israel in the permanent sense.
Todd had done some research since being lectured by Ziva. In some circles in Israel, yordim weren't too badly regarded. They'd left for reasons that varied from work and study, to just heading off to live and raise kids in a place less fraught with conflict. But there were still those in Israel who despised yordim, and Ziva was one of them. Maybe 'despised' was too strong a word in Ziva's case, but she definitely did not think in a positive way about people who left the country that she would die for.
Ziva thanked Todd for her sandwich. In response he grunted around a mouthful. Ziva took a bite, chewed, and swallowed before saying:
"You think I should talk to Grace instead of HR. Why?"
"For once, just take a leg-up," Todd said, no-nonsense.
"Leg-up? Like a lift up to a horse's back?" Ziva said.
"Uh-huh. Grace has got the clout to get your issues with USCIS sorted out. He'll at least make sure that your case number is given human attention, permanently. That's not special treatment. It's job-appropriate treatment."
"That makes sense," Ziva said.
Todd blinked at her a few times. He leaned sideways to look up through a window at the sky.
"What?" Ziva muttered.
"The sky isn't falling," Todd drawled.
Ziva clucked her tongue in annoyance, and rolled her eyes when he grinned at her.
"But I still think it might be funny to just let those ICE agents come find you at work."
"They might not think it is funny," Ziva pointed out. "No-one I know enjoys that egg-on-face feeling."
"True... Did Marden say when that call was gonna come through?"
"He just said that I should be at home from noon onwards. We will get back to drafting that progress report as soon as we finish eating."
Ordinarily they worked in the living room, but today it made sense to work in Jen's study, close to the secure line. When that phone eventually rang, Todd got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.
On picking up, Ziva had to go through a tedious but necessary process of identifying herself, by answering a prearranged set of questions. When next he called, Bergen would call direct, instead using someone at Langley as a middleman. Even to the person at Langley, she never once mentioned her name, and she knew better than to greet Bergen by name. Instead:
"Long time, my friend."
"Real good to hear you," he said warmly. He added, joking: "Whadya want?"
"Half of the world on a silver platter," Ziva chuckled.
"Only half? Hey, I can manage that... Got your assessment."
"How much are they gonna pay me?" Bergen asked.
"Name the price."
"Yeah? Okay. For you—"
"Not for me," Ziva insisted. "Name the going rate."
"Okay... Two-hundred-kay sound fair?" Bergen asked.
"If you insist," Bergen chuckled. "So. That assessment's on-the-money."
"There is another hundred-kay if you can tell me one reason why the country in question should take those people seriously."
"Sweet. Done. These toads have got an inside line that enables them to both position camps and move to new ones, without ending up spotted by airborne border patrols."
"You are awesome," Ziva said.
"Yeah, I know," Bergen said, a grin evident in his tone. After a pause: "How's that injury coming along?"
"Getting better every day."
"That bastard? I shoulda gone with my instincts twelve years ago, and iced him."
"Like me, you would not have liked to think, for the rest of your life, 'Maybe I was wrong,'" Ziva noted.
"True. So often it sucks to be a nice guy," Bergen drawled.
"Yeah. When you get back here, come pay us a visit?"
"Maybe. No promises. You know how I hate to break 'em."
"I do. Look after yourself, huh?" Ziva said.
"Best I can," Bergen said, and hung up.
~ ~ ~
Besides her office, Ziva detested something else about her job: the dress code. She'd owned exactly three suits before she'd started with the FBI, and now she owned eight. Today she needed an extra edge of seriousness, which meant that her lighter colored suits were out.
"The navy or the charcoal?"
"Neither," Jen said. "The dark chocolate."
"The saleswoman said it is 'burnt umber,'" Ziva said, liberating the suit from her closet.
"The really dark brown one," Jen chuckled. "If you want a serious, severe look: the burgundy shirt. If you want a more friendly look—"
"No," Ziva said at once. "No-one there is going to be friendly. They might end up that way, but even then, it will only be a few people. I hate going to the Pentagon... Should I lighten this up with an antique gold tie?"
"Rather leave the shirt neck open," Jen said. "Does that tie have a matching handkerchief?"
"Jacket breast pocket. There's your brightener."
"You like dressing me up," Ziva noted.
"I much prefer undressing you."
"So when I get home today, I must not change my clothes?"
"I like undoing buttons so much better than hauling a sweatshirt over your head," Jen said with a smirk.
"I will not change my clothes," Ziva said with a smug grin.
A hint of that grin still played at the corners of her mouth when Todd picked her up later, but it faded completely after less than an hour at work.
Fornell wasn't supposed to meet with her in person, so when he arrived in her office Ziva knew that there was a problem.
"Our Company pal says 'No dice,'" Fornell muttered and parked on the edge of Ziva's desk. "Tierney is a closed book. Our guy says he wants permission to do a search. I think it's all we got left. Just going out on a limb and talking to her—"
"That is a bad idea," Ziva agreed. "I do not doubt that she will be threatened or even harmed if she contacts McReedy to tell him that we made her talk to us."
"Bastard with the knife is still out there," Fornell said, nodding.
"But a search is too risky. Does she have a home computer?"
"Yeah. This is a favor I can call in," Fornell said. "I'll get something for our boy to feed to her PC."
"Okay. Is that all?"
"No. One of my guys stumbled over something new, and real sinister. McReedy took unpaid leave about six years ago, for three full months. His passport shows that he flew into Edmonton International Airport, Alberta, Canada. Thing is, he just disappeared after arriving. I checked his bank records: didn't rent a vehicle; not a single cent paid to a hotel or motel; not a single purchase made during that period. He returned to the US way the hell East of Edmonton: crossed on foot at Niagara, and took a train to Penn Station, and from there to Chicago."
"So he paid for everything, for three months, with cash."
"And didn't use his real name when registering at hotels. And maybe he didn't stay in Canada."
"We need to find out what he did for those three months," Ziva said.
"With no paper trail? Shit. Where do we even start?" Fornell muttered. "Believe me, I wanna know what he got up to, but to find out anything about those three months, we'd need to get his face plastered all over Canadian TV."
"Dammit," Ziva said bitterly. After a pause she said, "Well, when we have enough on him, in other areas, maybe he will not squeak by with just being fired."
"I wanna put this guy away," Fornell said. "Wanna put him in a cage with the rest of the scum of the earth."
"You will be really disappointed if we do not find enough to ensure that."
Fornell nodded and made a mental note to pull back from this investigation, to a more professional distance. That was not going to be easy. He'd worked Internal Affairs for a year, and what had made him sign out there had been an inability to withdraw enough. The best IA agents were those who focused not on the people they were investigating, but on what was best for the Bureau. According to Fornell, each Federal agency was the people, its employees, and the bad apples needed to be punished.
~ ~ ~
Marden wasn't the only person she knew at this meeting. Ziva had met and spoken with the CJCS (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) several times. She also knew the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marines, and like the Chairman, both of them seemed pleased to see her. The rest of the Chiefs eyed her somewhat suspiciously. Ziva ignored that and got on with her presentation, with the help of two other analysts. That required the lights to be dimmed.
When the lights came back on, the men who'd been looking at her skew were now regarding her more like something they'd saved up for and were finally able to buy. And Marden didn't bother to hide his amusement. Ziva pointedly ignored him.
"Gentlemen, as my colleagues and I have explained, this focus needs to be expanded from this room. Something that will help: an operative on the ground told me that these people have the right connections to ensure that they avoid detection by Chinese border patrol units. Airborne border patrol units."
"I have a call to make," the Chairman said, getting up in a hurry.
"Hey," Ziva said. "I have another job. You need me to stay?"
"Can your colleagues deal with any questions?"
"If they cannot, they can call me."
"Thank you, Officer David. James, that permanent clearance request will have my signature on it."
"Now who's crazy?" Marden said to Ziva.
"You. All of you," Ziva stated flatly. "I can imagine all the fighting that is going to happen now. Good luck. And good day."
Ziva was greeted in turn, and watched on her way out of the room. As soon as the door closed:
"Takes one to talk with one," Marden said. "The only reason we got that intel is because she knows the right questions to ask."
"So the operative in China is a freelancer?"
"Couldn't be anything else, sir," one of Ziva's colleagues said.
"Yeah, China..." said the Commandant of the Marines. "An experienced freelancer would construct the kind of paper trail that would make him look like a tourist. We can always fake that kinda paper trail, but at the end of the day, that's a risk that often bombs out."
"And in China," Marden said. "That means that your man faces a firing squad within twenty-four hours, and you get told about it after-the-fact."
"Freelancers are expensive," noted the Chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"What price on a life?" Marden muttered. "Even though it's doubtful that anyone can tie that man to any US agency, if he's caught there's still a chance that he'll face a firing squad. He's getting paid for it, but he still volunteered to take that risk. In my book, whatever we're paying him isn't enough."
"Food for thought," the Chief of Naval Operations muttered.
~ ~ ~
Ziva's office door was open. Grace still knocked on his way in. Today was one of the first where Ziva was putting in a full eight hours. For now that was limited to three days per week.
"Any word yet?" Grace asked.
"No. I predicted a lot of fighting, and all of it must come before they tell me yes or no," Ziva said and handed him a file. "My colleagues and I recommend that this woman gets the boot."
"Not a transfer?" Grace said, flipping through the file.
"No. As per usual, we looked at her for one thing, and uncovered a lot of other things. She is deliberately disruptive, wherever she is. I know why: she has been sidelined for promotion on several occasions where she actually deserved that promotion. However, that does not excuse her. Hers is unprofessional behavior of the type that can result in serious repercussions, especially when she has to work with foreign operatives."
"I agree," Grace muttered. "I'll sort this out later... Gotta say, I'd like to be a fly on the wall in Marden's office right now."
"Jimmy is my friend, but he has the ability to put that one side, and regard me only as a useful tool. I do not think that you could do the same, Robert. Some of what is being said in that office would make you angry."
"You sound sure of that."
"I am," Ziva said, smiling kindly at her boss, whose nickname was 'the Family Man.' He could be tough, and he was a consummate professional, but he genuinely cared about his people. Ziva explained: "There are people who will argue that I can only ever be regarded with suspicion, and that I should not hold my current position, based on my operational history. They will say that my job is to mislead this government, while passing on valuable truths to my own. If I am regarded only as a spy, all of that is true."
"More reason for me to be there, to say that you're not just a spy," Grace said.
"Robert, could you do so without sounding defensive?"
"Probably not," Grace said wryly. "Let me know what the outcome of that meeting is?"
"I think you will be informed before I am."
"Not if Marden has any say."
"You do not know him well at all," Ziva said, returning her attention to a pile of paperwork.
Grace frowned and decided not to ask what Ziva meant. But at least he wasn't too surprised when Marden called him an hour later.
"We need an extra chip on the pile. You're it, Rob. Before you come over here, ask yourself if you want to stake your career on this business."
"That can't be a serious question," Grace mumbled.
"It is," Marden said. "That's the deal. I've been told that nothing less will do. We've got to vouch for her personally."
"You're at Langley?"
"Still at the Pentagon. Conference 4B848. Bring Ziva along, and don't tell her why."
"If she hears that deal, she'll protest—"
"Exactly," Marden said and hung up.
Grace muttered cusses while jotting down the conference room number. He grabbed his suit jacket and told his PA that he'd be gone for the rest of the day. It was just after four p.m.
Ziva didn't argue when he told her that she had to go along with him. She also didn't ask questions. Instead, while in the car, she asked his opinion on a few ideas she had for protocols necessary for cultivating and maintaining good relationships during future joint investigations and operations. Grace managed to put aside his annoyance and focus on her ideas, to the point where they were still discussing one of them while they rode an elevator up to the fourth floor of the Pentagon. Once out of the elevator, Grace turned left.
"Where are we going?" Ziva asked at last.
"But this is the D Ring, and if you keep going that way, you will find that the room numbers get smaller before suddenly getting very big."
"How many times have you been here?" Grace asked.
"This is the fourth time, but once memorized, I never forget a schematic. Unfortunately. You know how complicated the schematic is for this monstrosity of a building?"
"Headache-inducing. How'd I mix up D and B?"
"By forgetting that the A Ring is on the inside of the building, and the E Ring is outside," Ziva said. She turned right onto Corridor Eight. "Remember: A for Atrium; E for Exterior."
"I'll try," Grace drawled. "Sorry about the longer walk."
"I can actually walk without this stupid stick now," Ziva said, waving her cane instead of leaning on it. "But every now and then I get tired, which affects my balance, and then the cane is necessary... dammit."
Grace was still grinning about that predictable 'dammit' when they arrived at the conference room. He straightened his face upon recognizing such people as the Senior Aide to the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of Defense himself. All seven members of the JCS were here, too. Besides Ziva, the only other woman in the room was the stenographer, and she was sitting about twenty feet away from her machine, looking both put out and perplexed.
Ziva nodded thanks to Grace for pulling out a seat. They were a heavy type, hard to manage with one hand.
"When did the swearing start, Staff Sergeant?" Ziva asked.
"I've been sitting over here for more than an hour, ma'am," the stenographer drawled.
"Please go back to your machine and record our arrival," Grace said.
"Yes, sir. Ma'am: your second initial?"
"No second initial." To Marden Ziva said, "Well?"
"To get that clearance for you, Rob and I have been told to put our careers on the line," Marden stated.
"Your careers would be quite safe," Ziva said evenly, schooling her expression to hide both shock and anger. "But I refuse the clearance."
"What did she say?"
"I don't get it."
"You would, if you had any honor," Ziva said, looking the SECDEF in the eye.
In the corner, the stenographer rapidly typed that out before anyone could stop her. After that muted clicking, there was silence. Even Marden stared, shocked, at Ziva.
"My sense of honor forbids me from accepting a clearance granted on the price of their honor. They would demean themselves by... acquiescing to your ridiculous demands. If you cannot take the word of two excellent servants of this country, then it is plain that you have no honor. But you are a politician. Why am I surprised?"
Ziva stood and nodded to Marden, and patted Grace's shoulder, before turning her back and walking away from the table.
"Just a minute," said the SECDEF.
"No," Ziva said. She turned carefully. "This sort of thing is not for you to decide. You have no expertise here, and no say whatsoever. Who called him into it, Jimmy?"
Marden jabbed a thumb across the table at Colin Mitchell, the Director of Homeland Security.
"Oh. Him," Ziva drawled. "I should have guessed. He can stay. The politicians must go."
"You can't just—" the SECDEF complained.
"I can recite various articles stating the criteria for granting whichever kind of clearance. Those articles also detail the complement of the examining body. Your title is not on that list, sir."
"Is that so?" the SECDEF asked Marden.
"It'll take you about four hours to read the entire book on this subject, and nowhere will you find your title."
"Well, then..." the SECDEF chuckled and stood. "So my ass won't be on the line. Nice try, Colin. Officer David, my apologies."
"How much are they worth?" Ziva asked.
"Not a whole lot," he threw over his shoulder.
"Your honesty is much appreciated," Ziva said sarcastically.
The Senior Aide to the National Security Advisor decided to leave as well. That left Colin Mitchell without any backup. He sat fuming in silence, and didn't make eye-contact with anyone.
"Your vote counts now, Rob," Marden said. "Aye or nay?"
"Aye," Grace said.
"That's yours and mine, add seven from the JCS, and one little no from Mitchell. The ayes have it, and Ziva, you have your clearance."
"Hmph," said Ziva. "If I had not objected, would you have agreed to that outrageous deal?"
"No," Marden said, amused. "Because getting lectured by you is no fun."
Ziva rolled her eyes and walked out of the room.
~ ~ ~
"When I told off the SECDEF, I was thinking about you."
"Really?" Jen said, taking her time with another button. "Why?"
"He made you very angry last year... I think..."
"Year-before-last. And if you're still able to think, then I'm not doing a good job here..."
"Ma?" Ziva mumbled. What?
"Never mind," Jen chortled.
New York City.
Natasha Tierney's home computer had been fed a harmless program that searched simply for all instances of 'Walter,' 'Arthur,' and 'McReedy,' and any combination of the three. It came up empty and was remotely deleted.
That opened the door for Ms. Tierney to receive a visit from Ziva and Fornell. They'd been told that she was a homebody during the day at weekends. They dropped by her apartment late on Saturday morning.
"FBI? What've I done now?" Tierney said, but she was smiling, joking in a way only someone completely innocent can. "I paid my last parking ticket, I promise."
"You're in the clear, ma'am, but we think you can help us with something," Fornell said.
"All right. Come in."
They were told not to mind the cat. Their Company man had said nothing about that.
"That's not a cat," Fornell said and gulped. "It's huge."
"He's a Mokave," Tierney said.
"Just a big cat. Hey, chatuli," Ziva said. —kitty.
Standing around sixteen inches at the shoulder, the 'kitty' purred and accepted a head-scratch.
"That was Hebrew," Tierney said, clearly uncomfortable.
"Yes, and I know why that makes you nervous. That is part of the reason why we are here."
"We're investigating Walter McReedy. I'll just be in the living room, when you two are done..." Fornell said, trying to dissuade the cat from wrapping around his legs. "Oh. Great. It's following me..."
"I think he likes you, Tobias," Ziva chortled.
"Stripes has a habit of liking anyone who doesn't like him," Tierney said of her cat.
"When I first saw Mokave cats online, I made sure to click the Back button, before my partner saw them," Ziva drawled. "We put out food for the strays, and I like that. It might have to stop if we get a cat of our own."
"It's a good policy, unfortunately. If there's a dominant feral in the group, he or she might chase your cat..."
Ziva let Tierney talk about her experiences with a small group of volunteers and a veterinarian who were trying to catch and neuter as many stray cats as they could. While Tierney talked and fiddled with a fancy coffee machine, Ziva leaned against a counter, blending into the background, making herself less physically present. The aim was to get Tierney to relax, and at the same time Ziva was analyzing.
Tierney was in her mid forties, and her long tawny hair, while fashionably layered, was naturally streaked with bright silver. She wasn't wearing makeup, and Ziva had an idea that she was one of those women who might only wear makeup at night, if she was going out. Her face was somewhat weathered, laugh lines crowding the corners of kind brown eyes. Ziva imagined that her close friends might be fond of those lines, but twenty-odd years ago Ariel Hazan would have found fewer of them. The woman Ziva was listening to now was not the young woman that Hazan had deliberately set out to seduce.
"Should I take a cup to the other agent?" Tierney said, gesturing at the coffee machine.
"Lo achshav. Rak regah," Ziva said. Not now. Just a moment.
"Be'seder," Tierney said. Okay. And she laughed quietly. "More than twenty years ago, but God, it comes back like yesterday..."
"And that tells me so much. For what it is worth, I am sorry."
"It took me a few years to remember the good stuff," Tierney said wryly. "Can we, uhh, get on with this?"
"Yes. So I know about Ariel. What I need to know is how you found out about Ariel."
"She told me, just before she left. And we fought. As I said, I eventually saw through that; took me about four years to realize that she goaded me into that fight. She really did love me, and fighting made it easier for her to leave."
"That is a very small comfort," Ziva said quietly.
"Small but precious," Tierney said, looking at the floor. She wiped tears from her eyes, and clarified: "At least it wasn't all a lie."
"True." Ziva gave Tierney a moment, before asking, "And you told McReedy about Ariel?"
"I was really angry before I came to the realization I mentioned. So angry... And yes, I told Walter. I don't know what he did with the information. I do know that telling him didn't fix anything between him and me. I didn't see him again. That was the end of term, and he transferred from Columbia. I don't know which school he went to after that."
"Duke University... I have to ask if Ariel gave you a reason for her being embedded here."
"She said that I wouldn't want to know, and everything in me just shrank back from asking. I can still... feel that. It's a weird, cold kind of fear."
"I am not going to fill in that blank," Ziva said. "When did she leave?"
"I can't remember the exact date. It was a few months before my father committed suicide in January of Eighty-four."
"Okay," Ziva said, thinking for about the hundredth time that most people suck at associative reasoning. She also had to give Hazan full marks for breaking up with Tierney before she talked Andrew Tierney into hanging himself. "You have already told me what we need to know about McReedy."
"What's that stupid lunk gone and done?" Tierney asked.
"He has a really big hate-on for the Mossad."
"Odd," Tierney said, shaking her head. "Very, very strange man is Walter. I hadn't seen him for about a month before I first met Ariel. After the first six months or so, he sort of expected me to be around whenever he was in the mood to see me, and I took that to mean that his feelings toward me weren't serious. But when I told him that I'd met someone else... I was grateful for Ariel's suggestion: I broke up with him at a bar. He didn't make a scene but he was obviously enraged. I can't swear to it, but I'm mostly sure that he followed me around, on and off, for about a month after that. I never got a proper look at him, but several of my friends did, and they swore up and down that it was Walter."
"He is that type, so I am inclined to believe them. We have asked his former colleagues about things like hobbies and reading preferences and favorite sports, and they all say—"
"That they have no idea. Yes. I found him really hard to read, and I think that was deliberate."
"It is," Ziva said. "And by now he has honed it to a fine art, so much so that quite a few people will be very surprised when we slap cuffs on his wrists."
"I won't be surprised, and not just because you've given me warning. I'll never forget the look in his eyes, when I broke up with him. Scared the hell out of me, frankly."
"And his reaction when you told him that Ariel was a Mossad officer?"
"Nothing. He just looked at me for a while, said goodbye, and walked away," Tierney said.
~ ~ ~
When Ziva got home she greeted Jen briefly and went straight into the study. It was time to call Yossi back. She checked the clock and did a quick calculation: just after ten p.m in Israel. That wasn't too late.
After a little preliminary chatter, Ziva asked Yossi about Tamar Ben Tov again.
"She was a little bit too friendly with a guy called Oliver. Stewart Oliver, CIA," Yossi said. "McReedy found out about it, tried to use it to get a hook into her."
"You're saying he tried to blackmail her?" Ziva asked.
"Not exactly. He's too clever for that. He just dropped a hint that he knew about Oliver, and he was probably going to say more later, and try—perhaps—to turn her. But he didn't reckon on Tamar deciding to be honest with us. She went straight to Lior Benz, told him about her relationship with Oliver, and said that McReedy found out about it. Lior called me. You know the rest."
"I know enough not to ask any more questions about Tamar. But if she wants to go back to Tevel..."
"She was better at the liaison job, so she'd like that, but while McReedy is still active it's not a good play."
"I will fix that," Ziva said, switching to English. "But what happens after I find out enough to sink McReedy... That is not up to me."
Nearly six-thousand miles away, Yossi lit a cigarette and exhaled smoke through his nose.
"Tni li rak sibah achat," Yossi said. Give me just one reason.
"Od achat?" Ziva said sarcastically. Another one?
"Rak od achat," Yossi stated. Just one more.
He hung up and left Ziva blinking at the pen in her hand. She placed the phone on its cradle eventually.
Yossi was a man who had a great sense of humor, except when he was on-the-job. She'd grown up with him. She'd seen the switch a hundred times or more. It was scary, how his smile would suddenly fix and flatten, and his grey eyes would turn to flint. His voice changed then, too. She'd heard it now, for the hundredth time or more. He meant business.
Walter McReedy was on a Metzada hit list.
Ziva snatched up the phone again, and this time she called her father. Eli picked up on the fourth ring.
"I cannot believe that you kept this from me," Ziva snarled. "Whatever plans you have for McReedy, put them on hold."
"Nice to hear from you," Eli muttered. "I have a guest. You're aware of the time here?"
"Fuck the time. Eli'ezer, I just spoke to Yossi."
"You should have this discussion with him, too. I'm off-the-clock here, hello?"
"Do not treat me like your daughter right now," Ziva growled. "Tell whoever she is to go home. Do it now."
There was a pause, and Ziva could almost hear Eli grinding his teeth.
"Give me five minutes and call back."
"Shalosh," Ziva insisted. Three.
She hung up and looked at the clock. Those three minutes were going to drag. She'd pace if she could, but she'd probably overdo it and hurt her leg. Thinking about that caused her to swear bitterly. The seconds ticked down at last. She dialed her father's number again. Ten rings this time.
"Sorry," he said sincerely. "She talks too much."
"It will not last long, then," Ziva drawled knowingly. Eli had divorced her mother, who talked too much. "McReedy."
"Short version: only you can stop that. Longer version: we will not be happy with anything less than full dismissal from service. He has to be stripped of the power he has now."
"I agree," Ziva said, thinking of McReedy's rank. As SAC he had the power to decide how information was ranked in importance. In other words, he could sweep vital information under the rug, instead of suggesting to his superiors that the Mossad be informed. Ziva muttered cusses under her breath before saying, "Send me everything you have, okay?"
"I'll call Yossi and tell him you're cleared—"
"Cleared? Since when do I have to be cleared to be read into my own unit's ops?" Ziva snapped. "First you send me whatever I want regarding Ariel Hazan, and now suddenly I have to be cleared? What the fuck is going on?"
"It was taken out of my hands," Eli said. "You've been put on administrative probation, and as you well know, that's something that no-one is informed of unless they ask. You just asked... There was a meeting, and it was decided that there's a conflict of interest—"
"You are saying that my own people do not trust me anymore?" Ziva said. "Just because of my relationship with Jen?"
"Not people. Just one person. Our new Chief Security Officer," Eli said through gritted teeth. He didn't have to tell Ziva how he felt about the CSO. She couldn't stand him either, for many of the same reasons, but also a few less. "On Thursday, I tried to say that you and Jen have been close friends for years. I tried to say that Milavetz's reasons are asinine. Yossi said the same. Moshe Aretz, Yuval Daron, others... Ziva, I can name twenty-something people who definitely trust you, and by Friday some of them had said so in writing. Yitzchak Milavetz does not trust you, however, and as CSO he can make executive decisions regarding personnel that supersede my authority."
"That Lithuanian hawk should never have been promoted CSO," Ziva muttered.
"Sara retired, and he was a good deputy. If I had it all my way... I don't. You know that. But I'm looking, actively, for an excuse... I tell you what," Eli said, his tone becoming conspiratorial. He could probably get anyone to help him out here, because Milavetz had few friends. But Ziva would do it with a certain style, and moreover, the scorpion would sting twice: she was his daughter. "You work out this McReedy mess in a way that gets everyone what they want, and I will use Milavetz's distrust against him. Well, not me. Yossi, Moshe, and others will do the talking. You know what I mean."
"Okay. So you have more on McReedy?" Ziva muttered, rubbing at her abruptly tense neck.
"I didn't know about it until yesterday, and you know how it is: I had to wait for you to call... I think maybe you can put him in prison. Maybe. And as we both know, very bad things sometimes happen in prison."
"Tomorrow. Tell Yossi to send me everything tomorrow. And I mean everything. Okay?"
"Ha'kol," Eli agreed firmly. Everything.
Ziva sat quietly for a while, pushing anger aside and letting hurt in. She had to acknowledge it sometime, and now was as good a time as any.
"The worst is that by not trusting me, he is questioning Jen's—"
"Don't. Don't go there," Eli said. "In the last two days, I've been there often enough for her."
"That you care about her means a lot to me," Ziva said quietly.
"I must warn you that your mother doesn't feel the same way."
"I cannot think about that now. Lailah tov, Aba," Ziva said. Goodnight, Dad.
Eli hung up without returning the greeting. Ziva dropped the phone on its cradle and sat back in Jen's chair. Our chair, she wryly corrected herself. As yet she didn't have a home office. She was planning on not needing one, planning on being transferred out of her office at work to a desk in a squad area, hopefully within another three months or so. She hated her office and what it stood for: a desk job. That was fine while she was unfit for field duty, but as soon as she was able, she had to get out of that office.
The trouble there was the fact that she was really good at this job, and she was actively proving, almost on a daily basis, that everyone's idea of the word 'good' needed to be recalibrated to fit her properly. In the next three months she was probably going to make several people think seriously about keeping her in that office for as long as possible.
And she really had to pull out all the stops now. She had two issues to fix: McReedy, and Milavetz and his damned administrative probation period.
"Great. Just fucking great..." Ziva muttered to herself.
She got up and left the study, and found Jen on the back porch. It was a cool fall day, one bordering on cold, but the clear weather almost demanded that time be spent outdoors. Ziva stood a while and admired the changing leaves on maples and oaks. She turned eventually and leaned her butt against the porch rail. Jen had set aside her book but hadn't removed her reading glasses, which were perched on the end of her nose. Ziva smiled briefly before allowing her features to settle back into a mixture of hurt and anger.
"I told you that Milavetz was appointed CSO in Sara's place?"
"Yes," Jen said.
"He has put me on admin probation, as of Thursday. Ironic, huh? On Thursday, the JCS granted me an SCI clearance, and my own people say, 'No, we cannot trust her anymore.'"
"And I have something to do with that," Jen said, and when Ziva nodded, she asked, "Does Milavetz know how high up I'm cleared at Glilot?"
"I doubt it," Ziva said with a small smile.
That smile was also very brief. Ziva was well-aware of the personal sacrifices Jen made to keep that trust. She didn't object to being watched; didn't object, even, to being photographed through the windows of this house. Jen called it a fair price. Ziva thought otherwise but had not to date said as much, and she knew better than to bring the subject up now, when it seemed that the price Jen paid had also paid off.
"Earlier I did not think about your clearance," Ziva said.
"If Eli didn't say anything about it..." Jen's smile was nothing short of wicked.
"He said nothing, so Milavetz is being kept in the dark about that. Anyway, if I think now about how highly trusted you are... Yeah. Eli'ezer is maybe more angry than I am about this admin probation mess," Ziva muttered. "Now there is a hell of a lot at stake, on the McReedy investigation. If I can meet... certain requirements, then maybe Milavetz will get fixed."
"And McReedy will get fixed, too" Jen said knowingly.
"Maybe he will just have an accident in prison. Otherwise..."
"So he's already on a list."
"Yes, but I do not know when or why that happened. I will find out tomorrow... Good thing that in Israel Sunday is like Monday here..." Ziva sat on the porch swing next to Jen. "I should have anticipated Milavetz."
"And if you had?" Jen asked.
"I would have played Jimmy against him. Milavetz is a sucker for flattery, and Jimmy is really good at playing mind games with assholes." Ziva lit a cigarette and angrily exhaled smoke. "Now it is too late for that."
"Why was he appointed anyway?"
"Expediency. A paper vote based on facts and figures: he was Sara's deputy for three years and as deputy he was a good little man who did an outstanding job. But the deputy has not a fifth the amount of power that the Chief Security Officer has, even when he or she is Acting Chief. That means that a paper vote is a stupid idea."
"So maybe he'll hang himself with his own rope," Jen said.
"But perhaps that will not be soon, and in the meantime... This job just got about five or six times harder. Someone else might quit."
Jen gave Ziva a pointed look, brows arched high.
"I am not 'someone else,'" Ziva said and snorted smoke.
"No, and I think Milavetz made a mistake that'll cost him more than his current job. Israel is a very small country."
"He can go look for a job in Lithuania," Ziva snarled. "He is like Lieberman and those other Russian and Eastern European fools: so proud of it. He only speaks Hebrew when he has to. Why the fuck did he come to Israel when he constantly talks about his 'old home'? Dafuk ba'rosh." Fucked in the head.
"If Milavetz is even a little like Avigdor Lieberman, the last place he should be working is HaMossad," Jen said. "And I still can't believe that that racist, separatist SOB Lieberman was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs."
"He needs to go get another thrashing from Hillary," Ziva muttered. "Maybe she will inspire him to be stupid enough to say something that will get him permanently kicked out of the Knesset."
"This is the guy who suggested that Israel should bomb the hell out of Ramallah, back in Twenty-oh-two," Jen drawled. "That wasn't enough?"
"Some of our politicians are such a fucking embarrassment..." Ziva groaned.
"There-there. We had Reagan, Bush Senior, Bush Junior, and all their ilk."
"Kith and kin. The same breed, family name, and/or origin."
"Ilk. I will remember that one," Ziva said. After a pause, she said, "Good thing I fell in love with you. Someone else probably would not want to talk about work. I would not blame them: it is a mess."
"To me it's just... work," Jen said and shrugged. "If I had to sit here and list all the stumbling blocks shoved in my way, we'd be out here till something-past-midnight. There'll be bigger problems than this one. You know it."
"Better yet, I expect it," Ziva said. "While all of this bullshit makes me angry, and it hurts a bit, it is not unexpected. I expect two things, always: change and trouble."
"So very Israeli..." Jen chuckled.
"You like me that way," Ziva said, smirking. "How many Israeli girls got lucky when you worked there?"
"None, sadly," Jen said with a wry laugh. "I can safely say that those were the busiest three years of my career. I didn't even have time for wishful thinking."
"You did not get vacation time?"
"Oh, sure. Two weeks every year, during which I flew all the way to L.A. to spend time with Mom, and while I was there I never quit worrying about the mess I'd have to clean up when I got back."
"Desk jobs suck," Ziva grumbled.
~ ~ ~
McReedy had been put on a Metzada hit list because he'd crossed one too many lines once too often. He was officially viewed as an enemy, a dangerous one because of his position in US Federal law enforcement. McReedy was able to make trouble on a level that was equal to that of someone heading a terrorist organization. He wouldn't order someone to build and detonate a bomb, but he could withhold intelligence related to people in that position, and he probably would do exactly that, if it would result in the Mossad looking bad.
Todd didn't mind working on a Sunday, especially not with this development. Ziva had her clearance, both ways, and he'd been given extra privileges regarding Mossad files... or rather documents: Ziva had spent a while watching a printer spit out everything the Mossad had on McReedy.
Todd looked over McReedy's Israeli arrivals-and-departures record, and something pinged his memory.
"This date... This... Wait. I know where there's a match-up..." he said, standing and going through a pile of folders on the dining room table. "It's a crossover file: FBI/ATF. It's one of the investigations that McReedy and his ATF team ended up hijacking a couple years ago."
"Those files are all redacted," Ziva pointed out. "I have to directly request access to complete files."
"I think you'll wanna do that..." Todd muttered, confused by something.
He hunted through the xeroxed documents in the folder, checking the various initials marking redacted elements. No-one had initialed the redacted paragraph detailing McReedy's trip to Israel. He tried to read it into the document, by context, and found that impossible.
"I don't like this," Todd said, pointing out the blanked-out paragraph to Ziva. "It could be that the analyst who redacted that text just forgot to initial it, but seeing as that can be cited, something that'll earn you a hard rap on the knuckles..."
"Take it straight to Grace, at his home," Ziva said, hastily filling out a form. "And tell Grace to try and keep the request under wraps. McReedy ordered someone not to initial that paragraph. In other words, he already knows that we are looking at this case... Here is the record request form, but Grace should not file it immediately."
Todd's answer was a nod. He took the form, snatched up his Blackberry, and was talking to a cab company even before he left the dining room.
Ziva got up and went to find Jen, but found a note instead: Going to work. Details when I get back.
"Damn," Ziva grumbled.
She went to the study to call her father, but he was also otherwise engaged. She didn't particularly feel like being unoccupied while waiting on Todd's return, and ended up calling McGee, just to chat about this and that. For more than an hour. Ziva snorted a laugh when she hung up and looked at the time.
"In here, Todd," Ziva called.
She listened to the uneven clip of his heels, and frowned. By now Todd knew this house like his own. An uneven stride suggested caution, hesitation.
"How bad?" she asked before he could say anything.
"That's something you have to decide," he said. He handed a file across the desk. "The paragraph was redacted to hide a name, date, and a meeting place. Read the rest yourself."
Ziva flipped to the right page. Todd closely observed her expression. He didn't know her all that well yet, but he was learning to read her. He didn't miss the slight lift of her eyebrows; nor did he miss the blank expression she forced immediately after. That date was the same as that of a murder.
"Use back channels. Book us both flights to Israel, same plane but put a lot of space between us. Do not tell your girlfriend, or your parents, or your brother, and certainly not your sister-in-law."
"I won't ask how you know to say that about Patty," Todd drawled. "But you are totally right."
~ ~ ~
Jen had passed a packed suitcase in the hall, and made up her mind not to ask about it. She hoped that Ziva had been smart and had asked Todd to hang around while she packed, and to carry it downstairs for her. Jen caught up with reality, and sighed: no, she probably hadn't asked Todd any such thing.
Upstairs she found Ziva on their bed, asleep. Jen changed her clothes quietly, switching a sports coat, blouse, and formal pants for sweats. Only then did she go and sit on the bed. Ziva stirred, woke, and offered Jen a sleepy smile.
"Hey," Jen said softly.
"Hi. Ma ha'sha'a?" What's the hour?
"Just before eight. I had a medium-level threat to monitor."
"Eifo?" Ziva asked. Where?
"Northern Ireland. Again."
"Why do you have people there still? Brannan was eliminated."
"And his brothers aren't happy about that," Jen drawled.
"Oh. Well, maybe they are stupid and they will do something to prove it."
"That's what we were hoping for. Didn't pan out. Not today, anyway... Packed bag. Whither bound, my love?"
"Yisra'el," Ziva said. "The flight leaves at two-forty a.m. My cab will be here at one... I wish you were going with me."
"End of this year," Jen said. "Not long to wait... How long will you be gone?"
"Only three days, I hope... Ve'zeh netzach," Ziva clowned. And that's forever. "I do not want to leave you even for one day."
"Sap," Jen said fondly. "May I kiss it better?"
"After dinner," Ziva said and laughed. "What time did we eat last night?"
"Rather late," Jen admitted, blushing.
"Nearly two a.m is very late," Ziva chortled. "And tonight I must have more than cheese sandwiches."
"Right. Am I helping you downstairs?"
"Mmm, please. As always, I am stiff after sleeping," Ziva said. "I will be okay later."
"Your increased mobility makes my life so much easier," Jen drawled.
Ziva descended the stairs with an arm around Jen's shoulders, and at the bottom, Jen left her and went ahead to the kitchen. By the time Ziva arrived, various items were arranged around a cutting board on the breakfast nook table. Ziva took a seat and accepted a freshly-honed chef's knife.
"So you're going to Israel. It has to be bad... How bad?" Jen asked, while seasoning lamb chops.
"Two years ago, McReedy met with a Mossad officer, in Israel. He tried to cover that up. The paragraph detailing the meeting was redacted, and the person who redacted it did not initial—"
"I hope Rob Grace or the ATF's Pete Hills fires them," Jen muttered angrily. "I don't care if McReedy has a figurative gun against their head. Deliberately failing to initial a redaction contradicts the terms of their clearance level—whichever clearance level. And if it's higher than Top Secret I think that actually qualifies as a full SF Three Twelve violation."
"It does," Ziva drawled. She'd recently committed the important bits of Security Form 312 to memory. "So whoever is responsible is looking at ten years in jail."
"Ten years minimum. And what did they hide?"
"A name, and a place. Remember the horrible murder I told you about a couple of years ago, where the victim was shot in the stomach and left to die? McReedy met with that Mossad officer at the murder scene, on the same day of the murder. And there was someone else there. The killer is not either of those two men. I cannot say more than that."
"That's okay," Jen said. She placed the lamb chops in a heavy cast iron skillet and they began to sizzle immediately. "Have you told Eli about this yet?"
"Not the details," Ziva said. "Those are better saved for a face-to-face meeting. I sent him an email because he was busy. An hour or so later, he replied that we will talk about it later. And that was when I said that he must expect me and Todd."
"And he said?"
"Very short reply. One word, four letters."
"Bet-samech-daled-reish?" Jen guessed, amused.
"Uh-huh. 'Be'seder,'" Ziva chuckled. Okay. "That was all it said. And maybe he said that instead of swearing at me. He is seeing someone. He will not be seeing her tomorrow night."
"Damn," Jen said, trying not to smile and failing horribly.
"I thought you liked him," Ziva chuckled. "You are not happy that he is seeing someone?"
"While I'm very glad that you were the result, once, I don't think much of your father's taste in women."
"She still has not replied to any of my emails," Ziva muttered, regarding her mother.
Jen kept her peace now. She took the vegetables Ziva had sliced julienne, and scraped them into the skillet that had taken care of the chops. She added soy sauce and whatever herbs and spices suggested themselves to her, and stirred, thinking all the while that Ziva's mother was probably going to do a lot of stirring of a different variety. Jen had no direct evidence to go on, but her gut was seldom wrong in these matters. She deliberately changed the subject.
"And how freaked out is Todd?" she asked, not bothering to keep her face straight.
"He is okay about going to Israel. But the rest? He knows a bit more than you do, but you can guess: we might have to, uhh, speak to a certain operative—"
"A very well-trained operative?" Jen queried innocently.
"Yeah. So on the one-to-ten McGee scale of oh-my-God, Todd is hitting about a fourteen," Ziva chortled.
"Poor boy," Jen said, laughing.
The vegetables didn't take long to cook. Jen shared them and the chops between two plates, and placed fresh bread rolls in a basket. Ziva had cleared the table by now, and she fetched the butter dish, carrying it on two piled side plates. She sat down and grumpily jammed her cane between the edge of the table and the padded bench seat, so that it couldn't slip.
"I am trying to be patient, but I really cannot wait for when I do not need this thing anymore."
"At least you don't need it in bed," Jen just had to say.
"Or in the bathtub. Join me after dinner?" Ziva suggested.
"Oh, no. No-no," Jen said, laughing. "Your history of early baths is passing out straight after them. I've got an interesting couple of hours planned for you, before you take a bath, go to sleep, and then get on a plane."
"Okay. I like your plan better," Ziva said, grinning.
"I somehow thought you would," Jen chortled.
Much later, while waiting for the cab, they kissed, and Ziva was sure that Jen was trying as hard as she was not to cry. It was silly. Three days was not forever, but it felt like it. Ziva cast her mind back just a few months to her last trip to Israel. She hadn't wanted to leave then either.
"Took me a while to get this clue, and now that I have got it..."
"Only three days, ahuvati," Jen said. —my love. But she added: "I'll try to count days instead of hours, minutes, and seconds."
Ziva snorted a laugh and hugged Jen tight as headlights flashed through the stained glass panels at one side of the front door. Jen kissed her briefly before opening the door and wheeling out Ziva's small suitcase.
There were no goodbyes, as was their habit. Jen watched the cab back out the drive and pull away. She shivered under stars that flashed like fragments of ice, and was grateful that, for a few days at least, Ziva was heading to a warmer land than this one.
They landed at around ten p.m, after a twelve-hour flight. Ziva had slept in fits and starts on the plane. She'd had to take painkillers two hours before they'd landed; those were barely helping. To keep her leg from seizing up completely, she'd walked the length of the plane several times, but it hadn't helped much. However, all the walking had ensured that by the time she finally disembarked at Ben Gurion Airport, she knew the names, addresses, and family histories of nearly every other Israeli on said plane.
Todd and Ziva were waved straight through customs. They got their passports stamped, and Todd's visitor's visa was endorsed at the same time.
"Welcome to Israel," the clerk told him.
"Todah," Todd said. Thanks. To Ziva: "Gotta say the welcome's a lot nicer when you wave the magic credentials... Whatcha smiling about?"
"That goddamn flight. I got about eighteen invitations to dinner," she said.
"First time I was here, I was a student," Todd said. "I got lost in Jerusalem. I asked a guy for directions and instead I got lunch, got taken to a soccer game, got real drunk, and ended up sleeping on his couch. Only in Israel... Ziva, that guy's walking right towards us. What now?"
"You keep quiet and let the magic credentials do all the talking," Ziva said.
She flipped open the wallet before the plainclothes Shin Bet officer could open his mouth. He'd probably seen them waved through customs earlier. Double-checking that that had been the right thing to do, was just his job. One look at the 'magic credentials' was enough.
"Be'seder," he said simply.
"And that one would be the literal 'be'seder': 'it's in order,'" Todd said, watching the man walk away. "Nice."
"Hmph. The day I say 'nice' about anything remotely to do with Shabak, is the day I must be committed to an insane asylum. Let's go get a taxi."
"You didn't tell me to book a hotel, so where's the taxi taking us?"
"Ramat Gan. Eli'ezer's place."
"We're gonna meet your dad now?" Todd squawked. "Shit. I should've shaved..."
"Stop being so American," Ziva muttered.
"Stop being so Israeli," Todd shot back.
"Point," Ziva chuckled.
~ ~ ~
When Ziva woke up it was everything she could do not to roll over and go back to sleep. What she needed to do was move and try to get her leg to feel less like it was attempting to kill her. At least one of the injured muscles was in spasm. If it didn't release by late afternoon, she'd have to call on one of the Mossad doctors.
Gritting her teeth, she got up, got dressed, and after a trip to the bathroom (where she downed two Tylenol), she made her way through the apartment, doing her best to keep her cane's plunking to a minimum. She glanced into the living room: Todd was still passed out on a sofa bed. She had yet to lay eyes on her father. One of the security men downstairs had given her a note last night: Beds are ready for you. Don't wake me up. She found Eli in the kitchen.
"Boker. Ma shlomcha?" Ziva grumbled. Morning. How are you?
"Be'seder. Ve'at?" Eli said. Okay. And you?
"Do I look as fucked-up as I feel?" Ziva muttered, accepting a mug of coffee.
"Not that bad," Eli said, not a little surprised that she was admitting a weakness to him. The last time was when she was about twelve. "You came all the way here. Why not use a phone?"
"McReedy met with Udi Chadad two years ago. If I say Ein Avdat, you say?"
"I want proof," Eli said at once.
"My bag is open. The file is right on top."
On his way out of his tiny kitchen, Eli was careful not to bump into Ziva. She meanwhile made her way over to his desk near the apartment door. She sat down gingerly in his chair. When he joined her, he parked on the edge of the desk.
"This is the original ops file, and nothing in here is redacted," Eli noted, and firmly closed the file.
"Desperate times..." Ziva said, hunching a shoulder. "But for the record: you never saw that file."
"But you were cleared to bring it here?"
"Four separate signatures, all present in three different documents. Welcome to my world of hoops, and a lot of asking 'Please' before I am permitted to jump through them. That is so even with my new fancy clearance."
"Open it to the right place," Eli said, handing over the file.
Ziva flipped through to the Informants section, fourth page. She passed the file back.
"Halfway down the page."
She watched Eli's face while he read. The expected color arrived there soon enough. Eli eventually closed the file and put it on the desk.
"So Udi himself sold out Bernstein. To McReedy?"
"Maybe, and either Udi or McReedy then sold Bernstein out to his killer," Ziva said. "Maybe this was a back-scratch deal: both McReedy and Udi got what they wanted. And that other person got what they wanted, too."
"Three-way back-scratch deals..." Eli shook his head. "They often go wrong."
"But when they work it is because everyone knows everyone else," Ziva said pointedly. "And usually, a three-way involves finality."
"Yes. Everyone gets what they want, and they call it quits: all debts paid. So we need to find a common link, between Udi and McReedy."
"Bernstein could be key here," Ziva said. "If he is, then we have to find someone linked to Bernstein, Udi, and McReedy, and that is the person who beat up Jacob Bernstein, then shot him in the stomach and left him to die."
~ ~ ~
A commonly held fallacy is that autopsy is absolutely forbidden by Halacha (Jewish Law). Halacha requires that a rabbi, or Halacha-observant physician attends and/or performs the autopsy, guaranteeing that physical damage to the body is kept to a minimum, and that all parts of the body are eventually surrendered for burial. At the same time, according to Halacha it's within the rights of family members to deny a pathologist access to their loved one's body. However, Jacob Bernstein's family had insisted on autopsy.
"Learn something new every day," Todd said, taking an autopsy report from Ziva. "There's gonna be technical terms in here that I don't know."
"It's in English," Eli said.
"Bernstein was a British immigrant," Ziva said. "That is a copy of the report prepared for his family. The only thing left out is the pathologist's guess that Bernstein took approximately three hours to die."
"Maybe longer," Eli muttered, his expression disgusted.
Todd read through a list of injuries, most of which were punch-, kick-, or stomp-related. The details of the gunshot wound caused him to frown.
"He cross-cut a soft lead twenty-two round?"
"Whoever it was, they meant to inflict a lot of damage," Ziva said. "But by using a small caliber round, they also made sure that Bernstein would not die quickly."
"So it was personal, and every bit of it was planned," Eli said. "And don't jump to conclusions, Todd. You said 'he,' but look again at that list of injuries. Look at the photos of the body, before autopsy. Look for one that says 'Stomp Six.'"
Todd found the photograph and immediately got Eli's point. Next to the bruised outline of the outer edge of a right shoe- or boot-sole, was a right-angle comparison ruler.
"What is that? Like a women's size seven?"
"Seven US, five UK, thirty-seven-point-five European," Ziva said. "Police here matched that sole pattern to three different models of Salomon hiking boots. The brand is popular here, but it is also popular elsewhere."
"Both pairs of hiking boots in my closet are Salomon," Todd said in agreement. "Just a note: my neighbor's a former horse race jockey who complains about finding men's shoes to fit him. He buys women's hiking and hunting boots. Got no other option."
"Besides small feet, what else is remarkable about him?" Eli asked.
"He's real short, like five foot even, or a little less."
Eli picked up dossiers on Udi Chadad and McReedy and handed them to Todd.
"You won't find mention of a very short man in either of those."
"Shit," Todd muttered. Then: "Wait. Bernstein was originally British, and the person with the knife, who beat up and cut Marsh, did that in England—"
"Boker tov, Eliyahu," Ziva drawled. Good morning, slowpoke.
"You're in a lovely mood, I see," Todd said grumpily.
"And it will probably get worse if you complain about it," Ziva stated honestly. To Eli she said, "I said earlier that we have to find a link common to Bernstein, Udi, and McReedy, but I have changed my mind. We do not have time for investigating at length. Instead I want face-to-face time with Udi."
"We'll have to be careful," Eli said. "He's supposed to be leaving in two days, for an op. If I take his name off the roll-out list—"
"Mmm. He will run," Ziva said. "If someone like Udi runs, no-one will find him."
"Or if they do, they'd better kill him before he can kill them," Eli said.
"Isn't that like the best reason not to train people that way?" Todd asked, his tone of voice a little higher than usual.
"Does he know how well you're trained?" Eli asked Ziva.
"He forgets, because I still need this stupid stick," Ziva said, glaring briefly at her cane. "How good are the people downstairs, Eli'ezer?"
"Former Shaldag and Egoz, all of them."
"Ex spec ops doing closed location security? They must be bored out of their minds," Ziva drawled. "Okay. Go tell them what is going to happen, and I want one other guy in this apartment; I'd prefer an Egoz man. General orders: all exits secured. Then get Udi to come here. And find me a gun."
"In the safe in my room," Eli said, on his way to the door. "I haven't changed the combination."
"Tell me that gun is not a Jericho totach," Ziva called after him. —cannon.
"Combat Tupperware..." Ziva muttered.
Sometime later, Todd wiped sweaty palms on his pants legs yet again. The man who'd calmly heard Ziva out, and had then gone into her bedroom, didn't look like anything special. Todd had the same impression of the other security personnel downstairs. They were former sayeret operators? He expected people like that to somehow look the part. Surely spec ops guys exuded massive amounts of confidence, so much that it could be seen, or at least guessed at. The man in Ziva's bedroom was nearing forty, balding, and he stooped a little. He had a habit of standing with his hands in his pockets, and if Todd was honest, that man also tended to look half-asleep.
"Will you stop looking like a terrified puppy?" Ziva said, and poked Todd with her cane.
So it was good for something after all. She poked him again and he smacked the end of the cane away from his leg.
"Quit," Todd muttered. "This might be all... run-of-the-mill for you, but I'm just an analyst, remember?"
"I remember. But this is not regular business," Ziva said. "The last time we had a problem like Udi was eight years ago. This time I think it is not so bad. Not bad enough to have him killed. Maybe. Hopefully not that bad."
"If it's 'not that bad,'" Todd said, shifting uncomfortably. "What'll you do with him?"
"Hand him over to the police and he can have his day in court. The other one... No trial necessary," Ziva said quietly.
"So it was worse than murder or conspiracy-to-commit," Todd said. After a pause: "What's worse than that?"
"Such an American..." Ziva said unkindly. Sometimes Todd's almost willful naïvety really grated on her. She ignored his slightly hurt look and said, "Treachery that threatens the security of an entire nation, is much worse than murder."
"I guess. Locking him up wasn't good enough?"
"Locking him up would have enabled his new friends to use him as propaganda for their own ends. Vipers are dangerous enough. Provide them with a means to stock up on more poison? Anachnu lo frai'erim." We aren't suckers.
"Last thing I'd call any Israeli is a 'sucker.'"
"Yeah, you have a nice face," Ziva chuckled.
"Wouldn't want it to get rearranged," Todd said with a wry grin.
~ ~ ~
He'd come here without thinking, because he'd been here before several times, all without thinking first. Now he was calling himself a fool. Udi Chadad had no choice but to submit to being slammed chest-first into a wall. He knew better than to do so much as swear at a man like Yariv, who didn't look like much, but moved like a Negev leopard and had a mind as sharp as a razor.
The gun he'd been permitted to keep earlier was now taken away, and he was stripped of his expensive leather jacket. A hand confidently pressed hard between his shoulder blades, pushing him flat against the wall. A foot hooked around his ankle from the inside, pulling his leg back, pulling him off balance, so that he had no choice but to lean against the wall. Yariv planted his foot firmly on Chadad's instep, and a little twist resulted in his knee pressing into the back of Chadad's: just that slight pressure was already painful, but one wrong move and his knee would be dislocated. The hand between Chadad's shoulder blades was taken away, and his hands were cuffed. He didn't struggle, hoping that Yariv wouldn't lock the cuffs. That hope was soon dashed.
"Na'ul?" Ziva asked. Locked?
Yariv produced a key and locked the cuffs. He turned Chadad around.
"You," Chadad hissed, taken by surprise yet again. "Good thing I speak this stupid fucking language you like so much."
"Suit yourself," Ziva said.
She made her way back to a couch, silently cursing the cane and the need for it. Chadad had to be taking note, had to know that she was almost useless, physically. It hurt her pride more than anything else. Chadad was the most disadvantaged person in this apartment. Ziva had to remember that.
She sat down and deliberately cut back on self-awareness, putting herself in the background. She focused on Chadad's every move as he was maneuvered into a chair. He winced when his cuffed hands were pressured: the handcuffs were a notch too tight. Good, Ziva thought. Physical distractions always worked to the benefit of the interrogator.
"Ein Avdat canyon," Ziva said. Across from her, Chadad's expression registered shock before he could control it. She pressed him at once: "Jacob Bernstein, and you, and Walter McReedy met there in the middle of the week, two years ago. Who else was there?"
"Her name is Laura. I don't know her last name, but I can work with a sketch artist," Chadad said without hesitation.
"We'll do that just now," Eli said. "Irit is waiting, online."
"Hey, if you know that I didn't kill Bernstein," Chadad said. "Why am I wearing these cuffs?"
"Allowing someone else to kill, is as good as doing it yourself," Eli said.
"You've got no problem with ordering me to kill people," Chadad said pointedly. "That's also as good as doing it yourself."
"Yes, I know."
The gravity of Eli's tone surprised Ziva. She didn't mind if Chadad noticed, but as it turned out he was too busy: just as surprised as Ziva was.
"Someone woke up, and realized that the bad dream is his reality," Chadad muttered.
"Something like that," Eli said. "Ziva?"
"Why did you let this Laura no-last-name kill Bernstein?"
"McReedy brought her to the meeting," Chadad said. "Bernstein was unharmed when McReedy told me to go. I didn't know that she was going to kill him."
"You could have guessed," Eli said angrily. "It's your trade, taking people to quiet places. You could have guessed."
Ziva agreed with Eli, but he was missing an angle, and Chadad was not going to spell it out for him. She'd taken note of that expensive leather jacket, and the luxury timepiece on his wrist: pay Udi Chadad enough, and he'd look the other way and lie seamlessly about it later. He'd known exactly what was going to happen to Bernstein, and Ziva's guess was that he'd also suggested Ein Avdat as the meeting place.
"So why were you there?" Ziva asked. "Why were you involved?"
"Someone sold me out," Chadad muttered. "I think maybe McReedy has a connection somewhere in Shabak, or maybe one in our own ranks. He found out about me being involved in the Russian drug lab op. And I mean that he has details, like where I stayed in Moscow—"
"That's on our side," Eli said. "Shabak doesn't have those details. They gave us the case, and asked no more questions. So we have to look at that, and we will. McReedy bought you?"
"If you call my life a good price, yes," Chadad sneered. "I got nothing, except the privilege of breathing. He kept me like that for almost one year, wondering when some fucking Russian was going to knock on my door. I couldn't talk to anyone on our side, because I didn't know who gave those details to McReedy."
"Fair enough," Ziva said, but she didn't mean it.
Chadad was seven years her senior, highly experienced, superbly trained. Someone like McReedy stood no chance against him; those Russians (if there were any) would've ended up dead if they'd tried to come near Chadad. And by mentioning the drug lab operation, he'd made a mistake. All of that went through her mind, but she didn't let on.
"So a year goes by. And then?"
"McReedy called me and told me he wanted me to meet with Bernstein, wanted me to scare him. McReedy didn't have anything on Bernstein, so he used me, because he—McReedy—knows things. How did he know that we made a deal with Bernstein? How did he know that I worked that Ghana op? So anyway, I went to Bernstein's bookshop in Jerusalem. I told him the old deal was on the line again: if he didn't cooperate with us and the ATF, we'd tell the right people about the gun parts he smuggled to Ghana. Bernstein called McReedy then and there, said he'd give him anything he wanted."
"I take it that was money?" Eli asked.
"That's what Bernstein thought McReedy wanted. It's what I thought. But at the Ein Avdat meeting, all that Bernstein gave him was a name: Shane North."
"What was Laura's reaction?" Ziva asked.
"Nothing that I could see."
"And what happened after that?"
"McReedy took me one side and said that we were even, and like I said just now, I left... How did you find out about Ein Avdat?"
"McReedy used your name," Ziva said. "He listed you as an informant in a case. He described the meeting in the usual way– date, time, place, but he cleverly misnamed the place: Avdat National Park. He said that you two talked about a suspect—I forget his name, but it does not matter. That suspect was dropped from the case list. He used a legitimate suspect in a legitimate case, as reason to come to Israel and speak to someone with HaMossad."
"No-one checked up on that?" Chadad said.
"There would only have been reason to check if the man had remained a suspect and the case went to trial. McReedy knew that that man was not guilty."
"It's so easy to be a bad cop," Eli muttered, glaring at Chadad. After a pause he said, "We'll do the sketch now."
Eli fetched a laptop, placed it on a stool, and moved it so that Chadad could see the screen clearly. He made sure that the sketch artist could hear Chadad, before standing back to watch the sketch take shape as Chadad described Laura's features. When that process was complete, Eli saved the image and killed the connection. He passed the laptop to Ziva.
"No-one that I know. Willis?"
Todd nearly asked why Ziva had referred to him by his last name: that was really off; not like Ziva at all. He glanced at the laptop screen and got the message. He knew exactly who 'Laura' was, only the woman in the sketch was no killer.
"Nope. Don't know her," Todd said.
Across the room, the barest of smiles touched only Chadad's eyes. The rest of his expression maintained the mixture of anger and worry he'd been wearing since Yariv had turned him away from the wall.
Ziva considered her options, and in the end she let her bad mood dictate. Chadad was sitting in one of Eli's high-backed ultra modern dining suite chairs, and Ziva had found something else in the safe, something she'd put there before leaving the last time. She put her hand up as if to rub her neck or upper back, but she really reached inside her loose-fitting T-shirt. The harness hadn't slipped: good.
Her arm whipped forward, and to anyone looking on, not least Chadad, it seemed like she just pointed at him. He corrected that mistake in a split second, thanks to the thud of a matte grey blade striking and piercing the wood of the chair-back not an inch from the left side of his neck. His heart beat hard, almost painfully, and a rush of adrenalin caused him to pant before he could control it.
"I have another two of those," Ziva whispered. She wanted to keep Chadad's attention, and whispering was the easiest way. "Eli'ezer, get Irit back. Udi is going to be a very good boy this time."
"I won't say anything about my chair," Eli muttered, while typing. "Who was the woman in the first sketch?"
"Jimmy Marden's wife Angela, when she was about twenty-five," Ziva said. To Chadad: "I know her as a friend. Good for you that I take none of this personally. But if you fuck around again, Udi, the next blade will go into your right shoulder, and I will tell Yariv to twist it."
"That's against that noble code of yours," Chadad snarled. "You don't use pain during interrogations."
"Oh, I have. I will again. If it is necessary," Ziva stated. "You have told only thirty to forty percent of the truth, and the rest has been a lie. Professional liars like you? Pain brings out the truth fast. Be kind to yourself, Udi, because I will not be kind if you lie to Irit again."
Chadad weighed his options, and thought about what would happen after this meeting: they'd either hand him over to the police, or he'd be killed. He'd certainly done enough, in the past few years, to warrant the latter option. He had an idea that Ziva didn't know about that, but for someone like her, a solid guess or hunch was enough. They'd had the same teacher, someone who'd said over and over, Always trust your instincts. If Chadad was in her place, he wouldn't have warned the person sitting in this chair. The first knife would have skewered his heart. But she adhered to that noble code, and she preferred having precise orders as to manner of execution. However, standing just a little behind Chadad's chair was Yariv, who wouldn't ever question an order, not from someone like Ziva.
And now, live or die, Chadad's level of discomfort was something up to him alone. He didn't fancy a knife in his shoulder, but he also didn't want to be handed over to the cops.
"I don't want to go to jail. That's the deal," Chadad said, looking Ziva in the eye. She'd know what he meant. So would Yariv. "I can give you Bernstein's killer. I can give you her full name."
"Now who is noble, huh?" Ziva sneered. "Your life is in my hands. I make the decisions, not you. Tell me that name!"
"Jessica Leanne Green. UK resident. Dorset."
Ziva jerked her chin at Yariv and, catching that movement out the corner of his eye, Todd glanced her way. More movement: across the room, Yariv stepped up behind the chair. Todd looked that way in time to see Chadad's head shoved forward, and held there. Yariv's left wrist and forearm masked most of what happened next, but Todd could guess, because he heard it. Something sharp, possibly even a screwdriver, had been punched into the base of Chadad's skull. Chadad's body stiffened before going unnaturally limp. Yariv grabbed the dead man's shirt collar to keep the body from slipping off the chair. A little propping, that looked decidedly expert to Todd, resulted in the body remaining where it was without help.
"In my living room. Lovely," Eli muttered, his face pale, almost waxy.
"This is what you signed on for," Ziva said while standing. She didn't bother to hide a wince: her whole thigh seemed to be in spasm. "And this is what I do: judge, jury, and—most of the time—executioner. Thank the God you still pray to that I was not all three this time. You never want to see that. Yariv, yode'ah ma tzarich la'asot?" —you know what must be done?
"Ken. Yiyeh be'seder." Yes. It'll be okay.
Ziva slowly shook her head. Yiyeh be'seder. The messes made by terrorist attacks, crazy politicians, and the summary termination of a man in the living room? There was one very typical Israeli response to apply to them all– yiyeh be'seder: it'll be okay.
"Rak beYisra'el," Ziva drawled. Only in Israel.
She left the three men in the living room and went into her room, where she shut the door and leaned against it. She felt bad for leaving Todd out there, but right at this minute she needed space. That had nothing to do with Chadad.
She was going to have to see a doctor about the knotted-up muscles in her thigh. It was rare that she felt pain badly enough that it caused her to cry, but she was fast approaching that place. She needed a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory, both preferably injected. Ziva called Glilot and went through a lengthy, irritating process of identifying herself before she was put through to the doctor she wanted to speak to. He was up-to-date on the history of her injury. Ziva spoke with him for less than five minutes, and less than forty minutes later she shut her eyes and dug short nails into her palms while he poked needles into her.
Ziva thanked him for the 'torture,' and asked him to send Todd into her room.
By the time he arrived, Ziva was sitting up, propped against pillows, checking email on her phone. Todd handed over a mug of coffee, and parked cross-legged on the foot of the bed. There was nowhere else to sit, except the floor, and he guessed that Ziva might glare at him if he sat there.
"If there had been time, I would have sent you out of the room."
Over on the end of the bed, Todd squirmed a little. He hadn't thrown up, but he still felt green.
"Why did you feel there wasn't time for that?" he asked.
"Clean-up," Ziva said, matter-of-fact. "It was already long past three p.m by the time Yariv killed Udi. All of the people who live in this building are Mossad or Shin Bet employees, but they have wives and husbands and children who are not. They will be coming home soon, and that would have made moving the body difficult."
"I didn't think about that," Todd said, frowning. He thought first before saying, "I thought he had more to tell us."
"Not regarding McReedy, and we'll look into the name he mentioned—"
"Him," Ziva said. She added with a frown, "Or her."
"Right. Shane can be a name for women, too. But you don't think there's anyone called Shane North?"
"There probably are lots of Shane Norths," Ziva drawled. "But I think that whatever Bernstein told McReedy was not overheard by Udi."
Ziva could have easily told Todd to just accept that Chadad had been dirty; she could also have pointed out that Chadad had as good as said, Kill me. She felt bad about his pale, sweaty face, so she made the case for him:
"Everything else Udi would have had to say today would have been about his own crooked career. He spoke about the Russian drug lab? The lab was taking money from some Syrians. They were paying the cookers to add kill cocktails to Ecstasy tabs destined for the Tel Aviv and Haifa party scenes. That operation was almost a total write-off, because Udi forgot to make copies of a delivery timetable, and we missed the opportunity to switch certain chemicals with harmless sucrose. People died because of that, but Udi got off by pulling a few strings. I can name another four ops where things went wrong, and there was one name common to them all: Udi Chadad. Udi is—was brilliant on-the-ground, in-the-moment, in a strategic sense. Everything else, like long-term work? I do not think it was hard for McReedy to find out that Udi was a fuck-up artist. McReedy is a whole lot smarter than Udi ever was."
"And if I work backwards from what you said about Syrians paying for kill cocktails," Todd said. "We've got Udi talking about that op, like McReedy knew more about it than Udi did. If that's true, then maybe McReedy's money is coming from the Syrians involved in that deal?"
"We never got all of them, so yeah."
"Was Udi responsible for that?"
"No, that was a separate op. We did not gather enough intelligence to track all the backers before they bailed out of their lab investment. Out of nine, we got five, and we only know that there were nine because we made someone talk."
"So it's safe to say McReedy's taking money from some or all of the remaining four Syrians. They'd be happy to pay him to mess with the Mossad any way he can... But wait– if Udi tied up with McReedy, doesn't that make him a sell-out?"
"No," Ziva said, certain. "Udi was a screw-up, mostly. He was dirty in the sense that he used intimidation to put a bit of extra money into his pockets—that Rolex on his wrist was real. But intimidating people like Jacob Bernstein is not the same as taking money from this country's enemies. Someone like Udi... He was a lot of things, but no, not a sell-out."
"Okay," Todd said. After a pause: "You're making me think he wasn't so bad, so why not just hand him over to the cops?"
"He was all bad, Todd," Ziva stated. "I do not doubt that he murdered a few people, and my certainty there rests in the fact that he chose death. That is what he meant when he said that he did not want to go to jail."
She saw Todd's throat work, and his expression suggested to her that he was trying but failing utterly to comprehend this world that she'd practically dragged him into. Ziva tried another tack.
"And we also have to think like this: how many dirty cops did Udi know? The track records of people like him go like this: money... more money... that is not enough money... how do I get more? And that is when people like Udi sell out."
"Oh fuck..." Todd mumbled.
"Right," Ziva said wryly. She cleared her throat and her tone became more businesslike: "Udi was only the hammer. The anvil is Jessica Green."
"I know this one," Todd said. "We wanna stick McReedy bein ha'patish la'sadan." —between the hammer and anvil.
"More ah to your A sounds, but yes," Ziva said. "Bein ha'patish la'sadan."
~ ~ ~
If Jessica Green was currently in the UK it made sense to fly directly to London, rather than going back to the States first. However, the sensible trip was also going to involve several complications.
"Why don't we just grab her?" Eli suggested. "She can go the same way as Udi."
"Considering what we know she did, and also what we suspect her of doing—cutting Marsh like that," Ziva said. "I will not argue with you. But the trouble lies in what will come next: we have to go by-the-book with McReedy. We never needed Udi for that. Jessica Green is a different story."
"Yeah," Todd agreed. "We need to tie McReedy to what she did, on his say-so."
"Okay, so grabbing her is out," Eli said.
"But I want to interrogate her myself," Ziva muttered. "And the Brits might not like that. Do you have anyone on a string?"
"A few people," Eli said. "But I would suggest that the first strings I pull are those belonging to people in our world. Better if we get intelligence operatives to find her and watch her, before we call in law enforcement. I think McReedy has longer arms than we know."
"He might know some dirty British cops," Ziva said, nodding. She was thinking about Chadad, thinking about how easy it was for bad apples to network.
"So should I call the airline and see if I can rearrange the flights?" Todd asked.
"Not yet," Ziva said. "Let's find her first. Fornell is looking for her, too, add our people... It will not take long. So relax. Go out to dinner, and maybe go see a movie, huh? There's a spare key on the rack. The one with the red tag."
"Uhh... Sure," Todd said.
He got up from a couch and rummaged in his bag for his passport and wallet. Israeli fall wasn't anything near as chill as fall in D.C., but he took along a light jacket anyway.
"And Todd?" Ziva said, as he reached for the spare key.
"Yeah, I know. No booze. See ya later."
"Thanks," she said with a small smile.
"Be less American next time," he joked. "Just tell me straight to get lost for a while."
Ziva clucked her tongue and flapped a hand at him dismissively, but she was grinning. Todd made sure to drop the Yale latch before closing the door.
Ziva turned on the couch and laid her leg out in the space Todd had left.
"You are studiously saying nothing."
"I want to say that I like him," Eli said, a smile ghosting around his mouth. "But that sort of comment from a father might be taken the wrong way."
"I am far too in love with Jen," Ziva said and laughed. "Until you said that about 'a father' I was wondering why you were hesitant. But I like Todd, too, and too bad that one day I will no longer work with him... I hate that goddamn office."
"What did the doctor say?"
"That tension does not only cause back, shoulder, and neck muscles to go into spasm. He told me to relax."
Eli snorted a laugh at Ziva's dry tones, and suggested that she think of something to order in for dinner. She in turn talked him into taking a five-minute drive to get shawarma, with the works, from Shemesh. She was not going anywhere until she'd had one of those, Tel Aviv style with french fries in the pita. Ziva grumbled to herself when she looked at the time and figured that Eli would probably have to stand in a queue for a while (directions to Shemesh usually included the following: "Drive along Jabotinsky Street until you see long queues."). Then again, he could be very Israeli and just ignore the queue... Ziva thought about that for two seconds and shook her head, remembering that Eli had killed time this morning by polishing two pairs of shoes. When Israelis start polishing their shoes, they also stop barging queues. She'd have to wait for her dinner. Calling Jen was a good way to while away the time.
"Shepard," Jen mumbled into the phone.
"You are busy," Ziva stated.
"Not anymore. I can take a break. I need to take a break, frankly. You're on your cell?"
"Yes, so I will not be saying... certain things. I can say that Eli went out to get shawarma—"
"Ohhh," Jen said and laughed. "So you're calling me to help you forget about all that waiting?"
"Yes," Ziva chortled. "He is going to Shemesh, so I need help."
"I don't know how you survive here. D.C. doesn't have any decent shawarma or falafel places. Nor does it have any good kosher delis."
"I can and do make almost everything myself. You know that."
"Yes, but when you want something for lunch?"
"I suffer until dinner time," Ziva grumbled. She added: "And sometimes I suffer for months, until I come back here... And then I end up missing you."
"Me, or my cooking?" Jen chirped.
"I will not dignify that with an answer," Ziva muttered, but she was amused, and it probably sounded that way. She paused before saying, "This call is also to say that Todd and I have to maybe go to the UK tomorrow, instead of flying back to the States."
Jen's only response was a groan, and a mumble that might have been 'Fucking criminals.'
"Tobias and some of my people will tell us which flight to take, hopefully before midnight here. If you have some people who have little to do..."
"I'll call Tobias as soon as we hang up here," Jen said. "You're thinking that, uhh... Walter is less likely to recognize the names and faces of your people and my agents?"
"Yes. If we can make use of people like that, we will not have to be careful."
"You'll know where you're going—and so will I—before midnight your time," Jen stated, and hung up.
Ziva snorted a laugh, but stopped and frowned darkly: she still had to wait for her dinner.
Said meal arrived eventually, and after brief thanks, Ziva said nothing until there was nothing left to eat.
"That tells me that one day you'll bring Jen to live here," Eli said loudly while Ziva was washing her hands. "Does she know it?"
"Yes. It will probably happen when she retires," Ziva said on her way out of the bathroom. "Unfortunately, Ellen cannot live forever."
"Very unfortunate," Eli agreed. During a brief three-day visit just after Ziva was released from hospital, he'd met Jen's mom. He'd liked her on-sight. "Jen doesn't have any other reason to stay in the States?"
"She is fifty and she knows that in fifteen years or so that she will have to get into politics to feel useful."
"As a consultant, she will always be useful here," Eli said lightly. "I can cook up a title for her even now: US Liaison-in-residence. Nice ring to it, huh?"
Ziva's response was a smirk. She sat on a couch and that smirk didn't subside.
"I don't think I've ever seen you so happy," Eli said, amused.
"I have never been so happy," Ziva said with a shrug. "Of course, I will settle. She and I will both settle. That is life. But meantime I catch myself feeling like a teenager. It is really funny when I see Jen telling herself, No! and she quickly comes up with a more adult response to something."
"I didn't expect you to talk like this," Eli admitted.
"We have to make our peace sometime, you and me," Ziva said seriously.
Eli nodded, but kept what he wanted to say to himself: it wasn't all fixed, and perhaps it never would be.
It wasn't easy to admit to himself that he was afraid of his daughter, and he knew that she knew it. That fear would probably never go away, even when he left the Mossad. Right now it had to do with knowing that if ever he did anything stupid enough to justify it, one of the first people he'd face would be Ziva. He was fortunate enough in his position to warrant an elaborate public investigation, and an even more elaborate, probably televised trial. If he wasn't acquitted, he'd go to prison. He didn't plan on doing anything stupid enough to deserve all that, and in general he was as locked into right-and-wrong, as decided by necessity, as Ziva was, but knowing that he could easily earn her everlasting scorn by doing a lot less, terrified him.
Eli wondered if he should say that he rarely put pen to paper without thinking first, Would Ziva agree with this? It didn't take much thought to come up with the answer: she'd tell him to grow up and live with both himself and his decisions.
He'd tried. For nearly two years he'd been the Mossad's Director-General, and since accepting the promotion he'd tried to be man alone in that office. But Ziva was always there, like a ghost, looking over his shoulder. It had been that way since she'd received orders regarding Ari, and had stared at Eli in silence for a full minute. He hadn't been able to look away, even though he'd wanted to. In the end, she'd mentioned necessity, and had walked out. She'd also walked away. They'd not had a pleasant relationship before that, but after, it had become toxic, and some of that toxicity was still there.
In years to come he might have to order her to kill others. He doubted it would be a family member, but there might be an old friend somewhere on that list. People are always unpredictable. Just as Eli was surprised by Ziva's openness tonight, he'd end up being surprised by someone else's treachery at another date. Suspect everyone. He even had to suspect Ziva, and she had to suspect him. That was the nature of their world. Someone neither of them would ever suspect of anything except being herself, was Jen.
Eli smiled at the thought: now it all made sense.
"She's good for you. She's good for you and me, too."
"Ata tzodek," Ziva said. You're right.
~ ~ ~
It was just after eleven when Eli's home phone rang. He answered and ended up passing the cordless handset to Ziva.
"Hiya," Tony said. "My line's secure. Yours?"
"Tight," Ziva confirmed.
"We found the creepy British chick. Seeing as Jenny's smiling, I think you'll be pleased, too."
"She is in the States?" Ziva asked.
"Yeah, Gibbs and McGee are on their way to Chicago, to spell the Feebs watching her place of work right now. Interesting: her apartment's in the same building as McReedy's."
"Interesting, and also complicated," Ziva muttered. "When we take her in for questioning, we do not want McReedy to know about it."
"Your boss has an idea about that," Tony said. "Grace is talking to Director Hills."
"Aah. Send McReedy away somewhere?"
"Something like that," Tony said, a grin clear in his voice. "So you're coming back tomorrow?"
"Yes. Thanks, Tony. Lehitra'ot machar." See you tomorrow.
"Lailah tov," he replied. Goodnight.
Ziva pressed the hang-up button and placed the phone on the coffee table, but snatched it up again and called Todd.
"No need to change the flights," she said as soon as he picked up.
"Okay. On my way back right now. Where is she?"
"Holy shit... Walter can't be that stupid," Todd mumbled.
"Now that you say that..." Ziva said, frowning. "They live in the same apartment building, Todd."
"Udi screwed us, maybe?"
"We will know tomorrow," Ziva said and hung up.
She got up and went to her room, and Eli knew better than to ask about the look on her face.
Ziva had been worried about her leg seizing up completely, but the muscle relaxant shot yesterday had done its job. She had to deal with some stiffness, but once again she was at that level of recovery where she could walk slowly without the cane, if necessary. She knew better than to push it, though, and used the cane for balance while making her way through Dulles with Todd. They had another flight to catch in just under ninety minutes.
After a shuttle ride to another terminal, they made their way to a coffee shop. Ziva was both surprised and pleased to find that Jen had decided to come here herself. She wasn't alone. Tony gave Ziva a wave. Jen gave Ziva a hug.
"What do I get?" Todd joked.
"Your bag," Tony said, nudging it with his foot. "Your girlfriend's not happy with you. You didn't tell her that Ziva's involved with Jen? Wasn't my place to say it, so I didn't."
"Todd..." Jen muttered and rolled her eyes.
"Excuse me, Miz Oh-so-pro," Todd complained. "Y'know who my girlfriend is? Dianne Lindsay."
Ziva kept quiet, trying not to laugh at Jen's expression. Todd's point was that Jen could have told Lt. Lindsay herself, seeing as they met at least three times a month: she worked in the SECNAV's office.
"Well, now you'll have to do the honors," Jen said eventually. "Dianne doesn't deserve to crawl under her desk with embarrassment if I point out that she was silly."
"I guess," Todd mumbled.
"And this proves that considerably less than half of Washington knows about us," Jen said to Ziva.
"Y'know what's funny?" Tony said. "There's some people still talking about you two like you're carrying on a secret affair."
"We never did the secret affair thing," Ziva grumbled.
"Yeah, I know, but I don't think you're gonna convince those people of that," Tony said. "You could try, though. You could take out a half-page ad in the Washington Post."
"I could also throw this coffee in your lap," Ziva said with a sweet smile.
"I was just trying to be helpful," Tony chortled. "So how was Israel?"
"I was in pain. Someone died. I had very good shawarma," Ziva summarized.
"She's not joking," Todd said. "I really dunno how Eli can stay in that apartment. I had nightmares."
"I am sorry," Ziva said sincerely. "I do not think that Eli'ezer has a problem with ghosts. If he does, he can move."
"I, umm, take it that someone else took care of business?" Jen said.
"Ex Egoz," Ziva said, nodding.
"Blade," Tony said knowingly. He also made a small show of deliberately putting down the menu he'd been looking at. "I know way too much about Israeli special forces units. It's all your fault."
"I did not tell you to study."
"I gotta study so I know what you're talking about."
"I am not the one who feels stupid just for asking a question."
"And I'm not the one who gets all impatient when she has to explain stuff."
"No. You just roll your eyes and make it into a huge big deal, ya malkat drama," Ziva muttered.
"What?" Tony mumbled.
"She just called you a drama queen," Jen said, amused.
"Funny-har-har," Tony grumbled.
"Tinok," Ziva muttered. Baby.
"Brat," Tony shot back.
"They sound like teenaged siblings," Todd said to Jen.
"I know," Jen said in a long-suffering tone.
~ ~ ~
The moment Ziva laid eyes on Jessica Green, she knew that Udi Chadad had not been lying. There was that about the woman's walk and the set of her shoulders that caused the hairs at Ziva's nape to prickle. Green had had military training, or at the very least had been trained by someone who adhered to the idea that drilling was essential.
"You're thinking what I thought, when I first saw her," Gibbs said.
They watched Green cross the street, watched her wait at a bus stop, watched her get onto that bus. She was on her way home from work. Gibbs eased their vehicle away from the curb and tailed the bus.
"Do you know what she does at that hospital?" Ziva asked.
"General Maintenance, but she's a qualified, licensed electrician, both in the UK and here. Her Green Card checks out. No complaints from anyone at work. She's held this job for just under two years." Gibbs checked his mirrors and indicated a left turn. "Back in England she had a similar job at a factory, for going on three years. No complaints there either."
"But we can't find anything on her for about six years after she left high school," McGee said from the backseat. "Then suddenly she's back in the UK at a trade school."
"Tell me about finances," Ziva said.
"I'll tell you what you expect," McGee said. "Never had a credit card; often pays for things with cash, and that doesn't line up with a withdrawal from a cashier or an ATM. Example: she paid cash for just over a hundred dollars of groceries yesterday evening, and she hasn't so much as asked an ATM for a statement in the last three months. She gets paid via electronic transfer, so we can rule out getting part or all of her pay in cash. She makes regular online transfers from a checking account to a savings account, and from that account to a Swiss account."
"The Swiss account is a dead end type," Gibbs chipped in. "We can't ask for a history, not even with a court order."
"And I hope you found that out through general research," Ziva said.
"Yeah," McGee said. "That bank in particular has a history of telling their clients about anyone who asks questions."
"Most Swiss banks operate on that policy. What else?"
"She had dinner with McReedy around nine last night," Gibbs said. "Me and McGee nearly flipped out. We were off duty, eating at a diner a couple blocks from their apartment building, and they walked in, sat down a few tables away."
"They didn't pay us any attention, so I called Fornell," McGee said. "He was right outside with one of his guys. They were both just about having a cow."
Ziva snorted a laugh. She'd been in Gibbs, McGee, and Fornell's situation a couple of times. It was only easy to laugh about it after-the-fact.
"Director Hills is on board," Ziva said. "McReedy is going to get a call at about eight p.m, with orders to pack and be ready to get on a plane that leaves for Fort Worth, Texas, at eleven p.m. He will be out of his apartment by no later than nine-thirty, and he will be watched for every minute that he is away... When we move in on Green, I want full cover: all exits, including the roof and the base of her fire escape."
"Better get people on adjacent rooftops, too," McGee said. "Gap between buildings here is only ten feet."
"Can be jumped," Ziva agreed. "She used a gun in Israel, but anyone can use a gun at point blank range. I have no idea how she will be armed. I do know that she will inflict harm if she can."
"She likes knives," Gibbs muttered. "And I bet she knows how to get past even full-cover ballistics."
"There are chinks in every body armor system," Ziva said, the locations of those chinks arriving as a list in her mind. She'd learned about them for the right reasons: self-defense. Green had learned about them for the wrong reasons: self-preservation and the interests of inflicting pain. "So we have to fix Green... Have you ever worn one of those anti-shark chainmail suits?"
"Few times, yeah," Gibbs said with a broad grin. "We got time enough to get a few of those couriered from Naval Support Activity down in Florida."
"Make the call," Ziva said.
"On it," McGee said.
~ ~ ~
The grab team was a ragtag bunch of trusted operators from NCIS, the FBI, and ICE: all people who'd passed a polygraph where the most important question was, Do you personally know Walter McReedy?
Ziva absolutely hated not being part of that team. She sat in a large van and watched as shoulder-mount cameras were tested. The people wearing those cameras were only wearing ballistic vests over fine titanium mail body suits, and over all of that they were wearing street clothes. Ziva smiled at jokes about a Middle Ages-flavored take-down op, but she knew that, like herself, every person on the team was grateful for sure-fire blade protection. The right kind of knife can pierce even Kevlar body armor. Ziva owned four such knives, and she'd bought each of them at various sporting goods stores. They were freely available to the public, and Ziva had no doubt that Green owned at least one knife like that.
The rooftop and ground-level exit operators were the first to get into position. On the roof of the building across the street, four spotters took up position. Another spotter positioned himself on a rooftop one block away, to watch the front of Green's building. Her apartment was on the third floor, back side, and Ziva had an idea that that was deliberate, because apartments on the alley-side of the building had direct access to fire escape systems that led up as well as down.
"Control, this is Spotter Two," a rooftop man said. "Windy City's living up to its name. We got gusts up here of fifty-miles-per, and over. Subject tries to jump between buildings, she'll fall."
"Copy," Ziva said. "All units, Control. Be advised: if Subject gains the roof, she must not be permitted to run. Acknowledge."
"Copy," came thirteen responses.
Ziva looked at a GPS positioning screen, and ran through a visual check of operators' positions, using their cameras.
"All units, Control. Green light. You are go."
On the third floor, Gibbs and Fornell entered a stairwell. They had originally been slated to backup McGee, but given the situation with the wind, it was better for them to head up to the roof.
McGee took a breath before approaching Green's door. He knocked and waited.
"Who is it?" came dimly through the door.
"Police," McGee said, holding his badge up to the peephole.
Silence. Ziva waited, but not for long.
"Yeah, going up, going up!"
"This is Control," Ziva said calmly. "Subject is egressing to the roof."
In the stairwell, Gibbs and Fornell had already made it partway to the roof. They both put on speed and burst out the door in time to see an operator take a kick to the midriff. Something flashed and the shoulder of his jacket was laid open. Green swore and ran.
Gibbs sprinted to cut her off and took her down in a tackle. She wriggled out of his grasp like an eel, and as he got up she swung her knife at him. He blocked the swing with his arm, and the blade cut through his sleeve, straight down to the titanium mail, which blinked dully under the low rooftop lighting.
"Fucking hell!" Green snapped.
"Got your number," Gibbs growled.
No time for chivalric notions. Gibbs got a grip on the back of her sweater, and an arm, and his swing saw to it that Green was slammed into the side of the stairwell superstructure. The knife flew out of her hand and she slid down the cladding, conscious but stunned. Gibbs had Fornell's help to remove her backpack, and cuff her. They held her while the rooftop operator frisked her. He found nothing of interest on her person, but there was another knife, a .38 snubnose revolver, and a fifty-round box of ammunition in Green's backpack.
"Control, Subject is secured," Gibbs said.
"Spotters, general activity?" Ziva asked.
"Yeah, we didn't disturb the neighbors."
"Bravo One and Two, standby for transport."
"Copy that," Fornell said.
A helicopter was circling at altitude. The pilot positioned his aircraft over Green's building and reduced his altitude. The noise of the chopper would eventually disturb those neighbors, but a pinpoint pickup is a drop-in-and-get-up-fast operation that takes little time. Within two minutes of Ziva issuing the order, Green, Gibbs, and Fornell were in the chopper and it climbed straight up.
"All units, Control," Ziva said. "Stand down. Repeat: stand down. Good job, people."
Ziva removed her headset and gave Todd a quizzical look in response to his surprised expression.
"Just like that?" he mumbled.
"Not always. We just planned this one right. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work on the plan, shit happens."
"Bad shit," one of the comms techs said. "Real glad we didn't have to call in med support."
"Danny, Ralph– thanks," Ziva said to the techs.
"Yeah. Go grill her."
~ ~ ~
They didn't know how long McReedy's arms were, and couldn't risk interrogating Green at any official facility. They took her to an ICE safehouse usually reserved for the protection of asylum-seeking immigrants who'd been tracked down by the people they'd sought asylum from. A few of the ICE agents had horror stories to tell, and Ziva had warned Todd that he probably wouldn't want to hear them. He didn't argue with her.
In the kitchen he watched as she donned gloves and carefully unpacked Green's backpack, which had been just as carefully packed. It contained a waterproof hiking shell jacket, one fine-knit wool sweater, a pair of jeans, four T-shirts (one long-sleeved), two watch caps (one thermal), two pairs of gloves (one thermal), four pairs of socks (two thermal), one set of long thermal underwear, and four pairs each of bras and panties. There was a pack of tampons, a small toiletry kit, and a small but thorough med kit that contained a hemostat and suture packs as well as injectable antibiotics. Ziva passed a GPS unit to McGee, although she was sure that its trip records had been erased. She also handed over a satellite phone, but it was in a Ziploc bag, along with its activation documentation, meaning that it was probably a virgin, unused unit. And there was a solar battery charger. They might be able to use serial numbers to trace the purchases of the tech gear.
"And the expected energy bars and electrolyte sachets in the side pockets..." Ziva said. She frowned and tugged at the 'bottom' of one of those pockets. Velcro ripped and she smirked, lifting out a thick roll of cash. "All hundreds, I bet."
"That thick? It's twenty-grand, easy," McGee said, bagging the roll. "Someone else can count it."
"She didn't pack that bag tonight," Todd said.
"No. This is an any-season jump bag, the mark of an expert, someone very well trained. Prepacked probably months ago, but regularly checked on. She would have changed out the drugs, the energy bars, electrically recharged the charging unit... Except for the cash, this bag is no different, really, to mine or McGee's."
"I check on mine once a week," McGee said. "Got the expiry dates of stuff written down, reminders on my phone, but it still pays to check and know that everything's good-to-go. Other people have security blankets—"
"We have jump bags," Ziva said with a small grin. To McGee: "Did you notice how she's dressed?"
"Also good-to-go. She probably sleeps in jeans and a T-shirt. Just yanks on a sweater, zips on those tactical hiker boots, and grabs her bag: gone."
"Seeing as you guys grabbed her tonight," Todd said. "Guess I can't call her paranoid."
"Right," Ziva said.
She walked out of the kitchen and made her way through to a bedroom that had been converted to an interrogation room, but it was called a 'conference room' by the ICE agents, who didn't mention the shackles on the underside of the table. One of Green's hands was cuffed to one of those shackles.
Gibbs was sitting quietly in a chair in a corner; Fornell was standing in another corner. Ziva stood opposite Green for a while, staring at her. She didn't look like much: about five-foot-five, slim, rather pretty with short strawberry blonde hair. Her eyes were brown, and so were her eyebrows.
"That is an expensive dye-job: it nearly fooled me."
"I'll give you the name of my stylist," Green sneered. "You lot can't keep me here."
Ziva chuckled and took a seat.
"You were in possession of a firearm, which is a serious violation of your residence terms. Deportation is the least of your worries. We can imprison you here for five years before we deport you... And when we do that, people from New Scotland Yard will be waiting to hand you over to Israeli authorities, for the murder of Jacob Bernstein. You and Walter made a really stupid mistake by involving Udi Chadad."
Green's relaxed expression froze into something else. Her lean neck gave away her speeding pulse.
"It would be better for you to go to jail here, Jessica," Ziva said softly. "There? In Israel? Not even solitary will keep you alive, and perhaps you will die just as slowly as Jacob did. That was all over the newspapers: it outraged my entire country."
"You'll lock me up here?" Green asked.
"But for a lot longer than five years," Fornell said. "Fifteen minimum. Hopefully by then you'll have either killed yourself or gotten too old and unfit to hurt anyone else. Or maybe someone will just shiv ya. Least ways, sweetheart, you won't get fed ground glass. That might be in your very first meal in an Israeli jail."
"She will get it within the first week, anyway," Ziva said.
"I'll take fifteen here," Green said. "I'll even plead without trial."
"That is only half the deal," Ziva said. "You do not get any guarantee without first giving me McReedy."
"He told me to kill Bernstein, but that's just me saying he said so."
"Why did he want Bernstein killed?"
"Bernstein knew something. Walter said something about... Lafayette. And a date, just a year: Nineteen-ninety-nine. Bernstein was British, but he lived here in the Nineties before going back to the UK, and then to Israel."
"McReedy went undercover in Louisiana in Ninety-nine," Fornell said. "But the case fell apart. They didn't even get it to the desk-work level. The guy the case hinged on, a gunsmith, was found dead. Every lead they had was tied up with him, and when he died, so did the whole goddamn undercover operation. My guess, now, is that McReedy offed that gunsmith, and Bernstein—who trained as a gunsmith here—knew about it, maybe tried to blackmail McReedy."
"We've got enough to put cuffs on McReedy," Gibbs said. "But can you give us more, Green?"
"His fingerprints on the last lot of cash he paid me?" Green said. "Still in the old sock he rolled it into. It's in the air vent above my bed. He pays me five-grand every month."
"And in turn you do what?" Ziva asked.
"Just stick around, in case he needs me. He paid me fifty-grand to do Bernstein, but that was a transfer from his account to mine."
"Besides Bernstein and Marsh, what else has he paid you to do?" Ziva asked.
"This and that. Scare people, like some of his former FBI colleagues... Amazing how well-behaved people become after arriving home to find their pets in pieces. Strange, how they don't replace those pets... Better that their pets get hurt than their kids, don't you think?"
Ziva took her hand from below the table and turned it to show Green a Dictaphone. She pressed Rewind and replayed what Green had just said.
"You will be going to prison for twenty years, at least. But I have a feeling that you will not last even ten years. The majority of people in maximum security facilities are not psychopaths, and they react badly to people like you." Ziva stood and gave the recorder to Fornell. "Not that you deserve it, Jessica, but I hope that your end is quick."
Ziva walked to the door.
"You're just like Udi described you," Green said. "Officer David, right?"
Ziva turned and looked Green in the eye, but didn't say anything.
"He says you're a killer, with scruples. Can't trust people with that kind of clash, cos they never feel bad about killing, so long as they follow their own rules. I just don't feel bad, but I am perfectly trustworthy, Officer David. I never lie. Never trick people. At the end of the day, this psychopath is a much better person than a killer with scruples."
"Yes," Ziva agreed without hesitation. "I am flawed, and human, and capable of kindness, and love. I much prefer that to perfection."
Ziva walked out, leaving Jessica Green to stare, puzzled, at the door.
~ ~ ~
Fort Worth, Texas.
They didn't wait. Their flight to Meachum International Airport left at five a.m. McReedy was due to meet with the Fort Worth ATF assistant director at ten a.m, and Ziva planned on interrupting that meeting.
Take-off was delayed due to bad weather, but Ziva slept through that. In all, she got nearly three hours sleep before they landed, and exiting the airport was enough to walk off the stiffness in her leg. While keeping to a slow pace Ziva was swinging her cane like a stylish accessory rather than a mobility aid.
"She's back," Fornell told Todd, out the side of his mouth. "I'd say she's got enough juice to swing a mean punch."
"She'll just use that cane, if she has to," Todd said through a grin.
"If you two do not stop talking about me..." Ziva threatened, no-nonsense.
"Sorry," the men mumbled.
A thirty-five-minute cab ride resulted in them arriving outside the ATF field office ahead of schedule. They decided to wait at a small restaurant across the street. The meeting McReedy had to attend was not something cooked up. He was here in the stead of the Chicago assistant director. No-one at that meeting had any idea what was going to happen: perfect.
"We need to do it fast," Ziva said to Fornell. Todd was paying attention, too, but later he'd be no more than an audience member. "We interrupt the meeting, I tell him he is under arrest, you display the warrant."
"Wave it with my left hand, because my right will be on my weapon," Fornell said, nodding. "When he's not in the field, he uses a shoulder holster. Gotta wonder if he considers today's meeting as 'fieldwork.'"
"I doubt it. The last text message I got said that he is wearing a very nice suit: black with a fine grey pinstripe."
"Huh. Pistol on his hip would pull his pretty suit jacket skew."
"Yes," Ziva agreed. "So he is using the shoulder holster, which makes for a slow, hindered draw. The advantage will be yours... But try not to kill him, okay?"
"I wanna lock him up, not think about him for the rest of my life," Fornell stated.
At ten-fifteen Ziva called for the check and paid for their breakfasts. She and Fornell took out flat badges and hung them around their necks; Todd only had his analyst's ID, but that had 'HEADQUARTERS' stamped across the top, which would be impressive enough, he hoped. Maybe it was Fornell and Ziva's badges that did the trick, and not his ID, but at any rate, no questions were asked of him on the sixth floor.
Ziva had been given directions to the right conference room. A PA or aide sat at a desk outside.
"Do not even get up," Ziva told the young woman.
"Warrant," Fornell said, brandishing the document.
"No contest, sir," she said.
Todd opened the double doors and stood aside, and Ziva and Fornell entered the room. All conversation ceased. An older man at the head of the table got to his feet.
"My apologies for the interruption," Ziva said. "Walter Arthur McReedy, you are under arrest for conspiracy in the murder of Jacob Bernstein, late citizen of the State of Israel."
"On your feet, McReedy," Fornell said, hand on his pistol.
"This won't stick," McReedy said and he didn't budge.
"Udi Chadad. Jessica Green," Ziva said. "What they told me? It will stick."
McReedy got up fast, his chair spinning away to crash into a wall. He tried to draw the gun from that shoulder holster, but Ziva threw her cane first, even before Fornell could react. It spun end-over-end and the solid brass pommel grip hit McReedy on the jaw with a sickening crack. Two senior ATF agents pretty much dog-piled McReedy as he fell.
"My cane, please, someone?" Ziva said lightly.
A female agent retrieved it, and Ziva thanked her.
Ziva watched dispassionately as McReedy was hauled to his feet and cuffed. She had to admit that photographs didn't do him justice. Handsome, tall, well-built; and he was intelligent– the kind of man who could probably have had whatever he wanted. He'd wasted so much time and energy in the last twenty-four years, on a grudge.
"All this just because someone else did her job?" Ziva said. "I admit, it was deception. I can see that you might have been hurt by it. But twenty-four years?"
"Stupid bitch," McReedy slurred. His jaw was fractured, at least; the left side of his face was swelling grotesquely. "I'd have heard from him by now, so you killed Chadad, huh? He could've told you who pays me."
"He told me enough," Ziva said. "He mentioned that Russian drug lab: they had Syrian backers... The Syrians pay nicely, yes, but they paid a pathetic man holding an equally pathetic grudge."
Ziva turned her back on him and walked out.
"Nice job with McReedy," Grace told Ziva. "Enjoy the paperwork."
"For once I really will," Ziva chuckled.
"Before I forget," Grace said, handing over a memo sheet. "You can wipe these four names right off that board of yours. Word got around real fast. They've tendered their resignations."
"I think maybe the 'I quit!' list will get longer," Ziva said innocently.
"I agree, though I can't possibly think why," Grace deadpanned and walked out.
Ziva allowed herself a brief smug smile before buckling down to that paperwork.
At around three p.m, just after a meeting with Fornell and his 'weasels,' Ziva got a call from her father.
"Your admin probation period has been rescinded. Milavetz is out," Eli announced without preamble. He didn't bother to keep a distinct note of satisfaction from his voice. "No confidence vote, eleven to three."
"The three?" Ziva had to ask.
"His cronies, but you know how it goes with people like them."
"Next time, they will side with the popular vote," Ziva muttered. "Watch them."
"Oh yes," Eli said. "But listen, please. You have enough to do, and it's more important than this office politicking. Leave that to me now, okay?"
"Todah, Aba," Ziva said. Thanks, Dad.
"Al lo davar," Eli said. It's nothing.
His efforts had been far from 'nothing,' but Ziva hung up instead of arguing. She closed her eyes a moment and thought back to other calls, where he'd yelled that she was wasting her career, and she'd yelled back that he'd never bothered to try to know her. Eli was trying now, and while others might have called it an effort begun late, Ziva was simply grateful that he was trying.
~ ~ ~
When Ziva finally got home she was close to exhausted, but on opening the front door she perked up considerably. Her nose twitched and took in scents that caused her to think she was six-thousand miles away.
"You are making falafel?" Ziva called.
"To that HaAretz recipe that you like," Jen said, in the kitchen. "There's also hummus, to your paternal grandmother's recipe– thank God for food processors. I've just finished with the fried eggplant. And there's fresh pita from Stern's Bakery, and I got some of Sandy's Mediterranean cucumbers, and those tomatoes you swear taste exactly like the ones from home."
Jen leaned away from the cooking range to kiss Ziva, but she kept it brief: the deep-frying falafel demanded her attention.
"I hope the tehina is okay: Al Wadi was all I could find."
"All? Al Wadi is... It is very good," Ziva said, surveying food items that all spelled H-O-M-E.
"Great," Jen said, with a small smile. Ziva's expression was priceless. "There's more."
"Od?" Ziva mumbled. More?
"Mmm. Stern's also had Druze-style taboon, and there's labneh, but I think you'll want to save that for breakfast tomorrow. And... I have all the ingredients for green schug. We'll make that tomorrow?"
And that just about rendered Ziva speechless, all she could do was nod. She slipped her arms around Jen's waist and hugged her tightly from behind, kissing her neck.
"Ani ohevet otach, neshamah sheli," Ziva said softly. I love you, my soul.
"I love you, too," Jen chuckled. "You'd better eat before you fall asleep."
"Yes," Ziva muttered. "Tired..."
She tore a pita in half, tore a piece off of that, and dipped it straight into the bowl of hummus. The proof was in the eating. While removing the last of the falafel from hot oil, Jen waited patiently on the result, and didn't bother to hide a smirk: Ziva's expression was nothing except appreciative.
"That good, huh?"
"I will not be going to sleep before I thank you properly," Ziva stated.
"So much for my quiet evening with a good book," Jen teased.
Ziva looked from Jen to the food, and back again... The food could and did wait while the cheeky chef got her just desserts.