The soft breeze blows through the Charger's open windows, rustling the magazine in Tim McGee's lap. Even though he tries to keep his eyes fixed on the world outside, they can't help but wander back to last month's HiTech. After hours of being trapped in the car, he hates to admit that he is going stir crazy. He thought he might have a chance to do something exciting on today's stakeout. Like conduct the interviews or go for a walk around the neighborhood.
Or hell, even go undercover. That would've been thrilling, amazing, and maybe even give him a refresher so he can finally write the next passage in his latest novel.
What the hell was I thinking? I always get stuck in the car.
Worst yet, he and Ziva David are monitoring Tony DiNozzo's interviews of every single one of the neighbors in the whole freaking development. Sure, they're looking for a terrorist and it's part of the job, but Tony has one of those voices that turns that little nagging ache in the side of your head into a full blown migraine. Especially, when he just doesn't shut up.
"…never believe that woman who just answered her door in a bikini. A total MILF in a bikini just invited me to go skinny dipping in a heated pool with her. And here, I thought the suburbs would be boring. You know what, this is why Gibbs picked me to go undercover, McGee. You never would've been able to handle that."
Making a face, Tim presses on his earwig. "I think I would've been fine."
"Yeah right, Probie." Tony laughs right in Tim's ear. "Alright, onto the next house."
Rolling his eyes, Tim picks up the binoculars to check on his partner's location. Since they're on the far side of the Royal Woods development, Tony is nothing more than a tan speck bounding along the residential street. He disappears behind a few fledgling trees and Tim fights the urge to move the car forward to keep his partner in his line of sight.
In the passenger seat, Ziva reads her book while trying to actively ignore Tony's ramblings. She appears to be relaxed, but the way she grips her novels with white knuckles tells Tim that she isn't.
"There's a car in the driveway. So, someone's got to be home. Do you think I'll meet another MILF, guys?" There's a short pause. "How many has that been today?"
"Three," Tim says.
"Did you count that one on Rosewood? The one in the brick house?"
Tim eyes his magazine. "You said she was too old because she was watching her grandkids. Remember?"
Tony chuckles. "Well, she's the mom of a MILF. I saw the homeowner's picture. So, I guess she should count as two, right? Since she's a GILF and all."
In the passenger seat, Ziva's face pinches with irritation. "What is this GILF and MILF? Is it something to do with the house?"
Tony cracks up again. "Not a chance, Zee-vah. It's a Grandma I'd like to – "
"Find time to spend with," Tim interrupts. "Right, Tony?"
"Yeah, sure. Whatever. Alright guys, it's showtime!" Over the earwig, Tim hears Tony knocking on the door. Then he starts into his spiel: "Hi there, my name's Tony DeNiro. My wife, Ziva –" this makes her nearly fold her book in half "—and I just bought the house around the corner. She sent me out to meet the neighbors while she's at…"
At that moment, Ziva reaches towards the console to cut off the two-way mic. Tim listens to Tony ask how good the schools are while the system records everything.
Ziva smacks her book against the side of the door. Tim jumps.
"How are we supposed to listen to this all day, McGee?" she asks.
"It's no different than usual," Tim says, shrugging. "He talks like this all time at work." Then he half-smiles. "At least, we don't have to look at him. Or listen to him talk about movies we haven't seen."
"But he is inside of my head." She presses her fingers against her temples and frowns. "I can still hear him talking. Talking about nothing."
"The mic's still on, Ziva. Of course, we still hear him." Tim laughs awkwardly. "That's what he's supposed to do. Talk enough for us to get a voice signature of all the residents."
"But he is the one doing all of the talking."
All Tim has to offer is a half-shrug because that's their assignment. Listen to Tony talk about anything and everything that pops into his head provided they get enough voice data for Abby Scuito to analyze. Fortunately, they don't need much audio from the residents themselves. But unfortunately, it takes Tony a long time to get the key phrases they need.
Tim surveys Tony's location with the binoculars. Through the leaves, he makes out an older middle-aged man with a beer belly and comb-over.
"How can you think Roger Moore is the best James Bond? That's…"
By the time the team is done arresting their suburban terrorists, Tim will probably need to spend a few weeks in an isolation tank just to get Tony's voice out of his head. Maybe he'll finally put in for a few days' vacation like he always plans, but never gets around to. He promised his sister that he'd head up to Boston to visit her at grad school. And G-d knows he could use a break from the work, from the caseload—he cautiously eyes Ziva—from everyone on the team.
Listening to Tony is reminds me that I need to fill out that request form as soon as we get back.
Huffing, Ziva turns back to her book. Her dark eyes stare unseeing at the pages.
Shaking his head, Tim picks up the camera with the telescopic lens to take a few photos. Through the foliage, he manages to get a few shots of the middle-aged man. Even though the man looks completely innocuous like a plain and boring accountant, he could very be the person that the team searches for.
"I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, Cal. I still think Sean Connery will always be the best Bond."
That earns Tony a door slamming in his face. Tim captures the moment on film, then takes a few of Tony slinking down the porch steps.
"That was a bust, guys. And can you believe that guy liked Roger Moore?" Tony pauses before he says: "Do you think the terrorists are even here? Or are we just on a wild goose chase?"
Ziva releases an agitated exhale. "It is a wild duck race. Why does he never get that one right?"
Tim knows better than to correct her now.
The good mood they shared earlier in the morning has evaporated as the day dragged on. While hours ago they discussed their weekend plans and office gossip and the books they are busy reading, they quickly ran out of conversation material. After the hours drudged past, Ziva grew more restless, pent-up like a wild animal in a cage, driven crazy by the very sound of Tony's voice. If the senior field agent ever discovered his power over her, he would likely use it to send her into a blind rage that would lead to them all being murdered in the bullpen.
"Why hello there!"
Tim checks on Tony's location, further up the street. In front of another brick house, Tony is gesticulating wildly to a petite brunette while he talks about landscaping.
"Perhaps we should take a few minutes for peace, yes?" Raising her eyebrows, Ziva tilts her head towards the recording equipment. "It would still record if we turned down the volume."
Tim looks over like she's lost her mind. "Why would you even suggest that, Ziva?"
"To save our sanity? I do not know how much longer I can take." She picks up her herbal tea from the cup holder and takes a sip. "It is so degrading."
"Grating, Ziva. His voice is grating." He closes his eyes, listens to Tony flirt with MILF #4. "I get it, but this is what Gibbs told us to do. Remember?"
She rolls her eyes. "Fine. Have it the way you choose."
They sit in a tense silence for a long time before a familiar urge niggles at Tim. Instantly, he regrets that extra-large coffee that he brought—and finished a few hours ago. He didn't expect it to take so long.
"Damn," he whispers.
Ziva glances over, clearly interested. "You have to use the bathroom, yes?"
Wrinkling his nose, Tim looks out the window.
"Here," she says, fishing his empty coffee cup out of the holder. "Use this. I promise I will not look."
Tim blankly stares at her.
How the hell is he supposed to just whip it out to his business in front of her? Even if she won't peek, how can he pee with her mere inches away? His parents raised him to respect women and he doubts that taking a whiz with her right there counts.
And then, there's Tony still chattering in his ear to MILF #4 about schools. Or pools. Or mules. Tim has no freaking clue right now, because all he can focus on is how bad he has to go.
Taking the cup from Ziva, he puts it back in the holder. "Thanks, but I'm going to find a real bathroom. Will you be okay to monitor Tony without me for a few minutes?"
She hesitates for a moment, eyeing the recording controls. Then she replies: "Yes, I will."
After a clipped nod, Tim hustles out of the car. His magazine flutters to the ground like a discarded butterfly, but he is too preoccupied to notice.
The air is cool and crisp, a perfect fall day with a bright blue sky and wispy white clouds that look spun like cotton candy. He zips up his jacket to ward off the breeze as he heads towards the center of the development. If the plans that he pulled earlier are correct, there should be a bathroom in the bottom of the pool house. And given the time of year, he doubts anyone would even see him. He should be in and out, back to the car in a few minutes.
"…beautiful children, Rosalee. My wife and I are undecided if we're going…"
Since Tony is still there, still yakking away in his ear, Tim thinks everything is going to be just fine.
It doesn't take Tim long to come up on an in-ground pool covered with a tarp and a white building that is identical to all of the cookie cutter McMansions. He finds the bathroom just like he expected in the bottom of the pool house. And thankfully, he is the only person there.
"I never saw Finding Nemo but I'm sure your son has excellent taste in…"
As he slips into the restroom, Tim flicks on the lights. It's bigger and brighter than he expects with lines of blue stalls and a wall of sinks with lighted mirrors. Instead of looking like an institutional restroom, the pristine white porcelain and soft lighting give it a palatial feel. It figures even the bathroom in the clubhouse would be swanky.
He does his business in one of the stalls, and then washes his hands in the sink.
All the while Tony keeps him company by talking and talking and talking.
"…going to have get together – "
When Tony suddenly goes silent mid-sentence, Tim drops the paper towel to press his earwig.
"Tony? Can you hear me?" Then he tries something different. "Ziva? Are you there?"
Oh shit, Ziva must've cut the mic.
Dread bubbles up inside him as he reaches for his cell phone. He doesn't know who he should call. Tony to warn him that they aren't listening. Ziva to ask what the hell she's doing. Gibbs to tell him that the very team is being ripped apart by this assignment. It doesn't matter anyway because Tim doesn't get cell reception all the way down here.
He spins on his heel, ready to bolt.
But he catches himself as the sight of the milquetoast man in the doorway. With his short dark hair and kind eyes, the man makes Tim feel instantly at ease. The man gives Tim a questioning glance. After he takes a moment to appraise Tim, he tilts his head and moves closer.
"I haven't seen you around here before," the man says.
Tim manages a friendly—albeit, slightly panicked—smile. He doesn't have time for this, but it's part of being undercover. Playing a part while your mind is moving a mile a minute, trying to come up with scenarios that might be going on around you. Here, he needs to assume Tony's cover of the even-keeled, married man who just bought the house on Rosewood Dr. Not the neurotic, single agent whose one partner just left the other without back-up.
"I'm Tim Mc…Manus," he says, deciding to just go with it. "I'm considering buying one of the houses around the corner. I thought I'd get out to see the neighborhood and I had to, well…" he eyes the bathroom "…you know."
"Yeah, I can see that." The man chuckles, eases into a relaxed and warm grin. "The name's Art Haskell. I guess I should welcome you to the development, maybe-neighbor."
Tim matches the grin. "Yeah, it would be nice to be move here. Everyone's been wonderful so far."
Haskell laughs. "Glad to hear it."
When Haskell stretches his hand out, Tim goes to shake it. As soon as Haskell's hand closes around Tim's, the agent realizes his mistake: not assuming everyone here is a terrorist until proven otherwise.
He doesn't get a chance to react as Haskell jerks him forward. Tim stumbles towards the wall, his hands scrabbling to catch himself.
His head cracks against a sink and the world cascades into darkness.