THE PERFECT CRIME

LAURIJOWEN

The Perfect Crime: An NCIS FanFic Episode
Lauri J Owen
Published: October 9, 2011

This story is free. You may distribute itfreely as long as it is left completely intact, unaltered, and delivered in this PDF file. You may also republish excerpts from this story as long as they are accompanied by an attribution to the author, including a link back to http://laurijowen.com. You may not edit, resell, or claim ownership or authorship of this story.

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A spear of sunlight tangled in the space between
Fish. She liked that term. "Read anything good lately?"

the desktop and the monitor,

and Ziva leaned away. It was either that or fish her sunglasses out of her bag.

Lips pressed tight, Ziva lifted her gaze from the book and flashed a glare at Tony. So what if she was reading beneath her desk? It wasn't like she needed to be doing something else, and besides, each book helped her learn just that much more English, and that helped her do a better job. "Pack it up, Ziva, McGee," Gibbs barked as he came around the corner, coffee in hand, and she nearly lost her place. "We've got a body in Newport News."

"He's my ex-boyfriend, yes, Agent Gibbs, but 1haven't seen him in at least five years," the woman intoned from the hallway. Some tremulous something in her voice drew Tim's view back to the man's body crammed into the tub in front of him. Elias Haas. A Navy officer, apparently. The poor guy. So far, it looked like he'djust had enough, had it with life, and let himself in here, quite a nice little house, actually, while the house owner was out, then electrocuted himself in the tub using the blow dryer. Not a very dignified way to go, but a lot less messy than a gun. He apparently knew her, the houseowner, and probably didn't want her to see him like that. And have to clean it up. Sometimes an NelS officer found himself thankful for the small things. Gibbs said something, but Tim couldn't quite make it out. A question, certainly. "1 ... 1 wouldn't have," the woman answered. "It's, uh, well, don't laugh, but it's against my own personal set of rules. Brooklyn's Rule Number Seven: 'Hands and mind off the exes.' Once they're gone, let 'em go, and don't take them back." Of its own accord, Tim's hand stilled on the brush he'd been using to collect detritus from the floor tile. He stood up, then inched closer to the bathroom door, and
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prayed his soles kept each slinking step silent. He hadn't gotten a very good look at her when he came in. Forties, he remembered. Sort of auburnish hair, long, but nothing else about her had seemed noteworthy. Did she just say she has a code of rules? A redhead with a Gibbs' code? He peeked out, but couldn't see anything but Gibbs' back. Oh, and there was Ziva, leaning into the hallway from the other side of Gibbs and what he thought he remembered as the kitchen. Mossad she might be, and a trained killer, but her eyes were as round and black as the planet mercury. In fact, Ziva looked a little too shocked, but the thought slid away as Gibbs' head turned, and the sallow hall light caught the gleam of Gibbs' teeth as he ducked his head to write something on the pad he held. Gibbs was smiling. At a crime scene. At the redheaded woman with the Code. "And does it work?" That was Gibbs. Gibbs asking a banal question. And then he shifted his weight from one leg to the other, moved just enough, and Tim saw her face. Pretty. She was pretty. Longish hair, like he remembered, and a little browner than red. More on the voluptuous side. Confident, but vulnerable. Sad, shocked, but unafraid. She was smiling, too, just a small smile, a smile you might expect from someone who'djust had a dead man found in her bathroom, but that wasn't it. Something was

there, something else, filling the space between her and Gibbs.
"It works when you follow the rules," she answered softly. The look she raised

with her eyes wasn't the one that meant you wish you had followed your own advice; it was the one that said you wish everyone else would. And then Jimmy Palmer pushed a gurney into the hall and broke the spell.

"What do you mean, 'he smiled at her'?" came Tony's harsh whisper. Abby watched Ziva glance guiltily at the closed door behind her and pretend she hadn't heard Tony, whom she'd apparently deigned unworthy of a firsthand accounting

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of the scoop. That reminded her. Something smelled odd in here, which wasn't odd in itself. Not in her lab. But the smell itself was odd. Not something she'd smelled before. "Y ou should have seen him, Abby," Ziva went on, as excited as Abby had ever seen her. "All teeth." Ziva demonstrated an awkward smile. "Like he liked her. And he hardly said a word!" Ziva shook her head and stared her amazement at some spot over Abby's right shoulder. "Her name is Brooklyn Hill." "Wait, wait," Abby interrupted, and waved her hands in the air to still Ziva's torrent. "Brooklyn Hill? The Brooklyn Hill?" Excitement rose in a silky wave, or strummed like the note of a steel guitar string. "The bestselling author of The Perfect Crime?" She was single, Abby was certain. And smart. And pretty. Ziva's attention snapped back, as intense as a searchlight. "She wrote a book about committing perfect crimes? How to avoid being caught?" "No, no." It was Tony's turn to interrupt. "It'sjiction, Ziva, like the book in your

top left drawer, though Brooklyn's book is a murder-mystery, and therefore slightly less riveting than your pleasantly amusing tome since it isn't about falling in love with your cousin's landlord during a last minute trip to the coast of Maine ... " "Shut up, Tony!" chorused Abby and Ziva, then turned to each other and smiled. "Have you read it? The Perfect Crime?" McGee asked the room -Tony? Abby? as he slid through the door and pushed it closed it behind him. "You need to open this door, Abby. I've never seen it closed before. If you don't, you're going to have Gibbs ask· ... " mg A hand slid through the small space between jam and door edge. "Yes, Abby. Why is the door shut?" Gibbs. The door slid open. If swallows really made noise outside your throat, the room was a cacophony. Well, except that it was silent. "Abby!" Her breath caught. "Gibbs! Well, we were, uh, just talking about, um, Brooklyn's book, and, uh ... "
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He didn't wait for the lie, but the tone of his voice said it was because his patience had almost dried, and not because he'd scoured up a sliver of sympathy for her - their unease. "What have you got about the dead officer?" "Well," McGee broke in, and spoke quickly to try and hem the awkwardness. "Captain Haas had a reason to kill himself. He was just back from a Middle East deployment. When he got back here, Command awarded him top secret clearance and told him he was shipping back out to Iraq to work as an undercover operative. Drugs. To catch smugglers, I mean. That's ... " "Not a good reason to kill himself, probie," Tony interrupted. "I am sure that Captain Haas . . ." Annoyance pinched McGee's face. "I didn't say it was a good reason, Tony. Ijust said he had a reason . . ." "And?" Gibbs' attention shifted to Abby. Abby smiled. "The room was clean, Gibbs." That would certainly make him happy. That Brooklyn hadn't seen it. That she'd told the truth. "No evidence anyone was around when he took that last bath. But Ducky has something. He asked me to tell you to come down." With a nod, he turned and walked out. "Library hour is over. Get back to work!"

"Ah, Jethro." As the door shut, Dr. Mallard lifted from a crouch near the wall and used a hand to straighten his back. Brows up, Gibbs sipped his coffee. "What you got, Duck?" Dr. Mallard flashed a smile, then leaned over the cold silver table, and the dead officer atop it. "Just testing a theory." He stared down into the officer's face. "You weren't all what they said, hmm, were you?" Before Gibbs could ask again, Ducky turned to Gibbs. "The poor boy. Just back from Egypt and now about to head back out into the desert. Undercover again. For years to come. Again. A poor fate for any man, most certainly."
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Gibbs bit. "But ... ?" "Ah, Jethro, you always know when I am about to reveal that something else lies at the heart of the problem. Persepacity is a quality largely lacking in today's youth ... " "Ducky." "Take a look at this, Jethro." With a finger, Dr. Mallard pointed to a small, square mark nearly hidden beneath the cadaver's upper arm. "He was in the bathtub, Duck. Electrocuted. He probably thrashed around when the current hit the water." U sing his thumb, Dr. Mallard inched the body's elbow away from his body. "And look at this lividity. Here. Inside his elbow." Heaving a sigh, Dr. Mallard stood and turned to face Gibbs. "It doesn't match the levity on his back, and legs." Dr. Mallard paused. "No, Jethro. This boy's mark, and the one on his opposite arm, are not from thrashing in the bathtub." Dr. Mallard paused. "I believe these bruises were received several hours pre-mortem, and I am certain he received them while being restrained. I've found what might be clamp-marks on the, uh, more sensitive areas of his anatomy, and I've sent his blood to Abby to check for toxins." Dr. Mallard put a hand on Gibbs' arm. "Jethro, this man was tortured, and then murdered hours before he ever made it to the bathtub. I don't think whoever did this thought anyone would look beneath the surface, but the electrocution was just the means they used to cover it up."

The door creaked when Brooklyn opened it, and before she could catch it, a smile escaped when she saw Gibbs standing outside. What was it about this guy, anyway? He was cute, sure, but there was something else. Something good, something light, but she knew it was buried miles beneath a mountain of dark. And there was a lot of dark in him. But even so, she was sure he was a good man, an honorable man. One who followed a code of his own. That was something very big. Something that righted a lot of wrongs in a person.
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"Ms. Hill. May I come in?" Brooklyn pulled open the door the rest of the way and motioned for Gibbs to come
Ill.

Oh. Gibbs and some other agent, a man, who followed him inside. So this was business. But Gibbs' gaze stayed locked on hers, and a ruddy interest bobbed behind his eyes, a wanting, even though he was trying danmed hard to keep it buried. Her face warmed, and she raised her hand to her cover her mouth, and old nervous habit that rose like Lazarus every single time she found herself attracted to a man, and it took some effort to push it back down to her side. "Ms. Hill, this is Agent DiNozzo. I have some additional questions for you, if you don't mind." "I don't," Brooklyn told him, and she knew he knew she meant it. "Can I get you two some coffee? A pot of Sumatra just finished." She smiled at the startle Gibbs stifled. Did he like Sumatra, too? "I drink coffee while I write," she explained, then motioned for them to sit on the couch while she went to pour them each a cup. "Captain Haas was murdered," Gibbs told her when she sat the two cups on her purple, festive coasters pocking the smooth lines of the chestnut coffeetable. Savannah, her sister, had given them to her last time she'd been by. A week ago? Coasters and some other odds and kitsch she'd picked up during her latest trek to Mexico. She met his eyes, then dropped into the chair she'd pulled up to the far end of the coffeetable. Her breath had caught, and she had to force it back out. "Someone forced him into the bathtub?" she made herself ask. "They did," Gibbs confirmed, though she could tell that he was holding something back. "Did Captain Haas have any enemies? Know anyone who might have a reason to want him dead?" The paneled walls in this living room seemed too dark. From the pictures, she'd thought she'd like them, and she had at first. But pictures can't convey the feel of a room, and this one was too dark. Like Gibbs, the whole house hid its secrets.
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Brooklyn shook her head. "I just don't know, Agent Gibbs. Like I told you, I hadn't seen Elias in five years. I got the occasional birthday card, and every year he shipped me a Christmas present, but that's it. We hadn't talked since, well, since I told him to pack his things. It was just two weeks ago I moved back to Newport News from San Antonio, and I don't even know how Elias knew where I lived." A thought rose, but she pushed it aside. "The truth is that he's never been the kind of guy to make enemies, and I don't know ifhe's made any since we split up. I'm sorry." "If he didn't have any enemies, what did he do to make you kick him out?" A simple question. Had she imagined that he might have more than one reason for asking? Even so, she couldn't tell him. Not all of it. "We're ... we were not compatible. He, uh, lives by a different set of rules than I do. It wasn't a screaming match, Agent Gibbs. We just decided like rational adults that it would be better if we parted." A nod was her answer. With it, she knew that Gibbs knew she was holding back. Like he had. Still, she hoped he didn't think ... "We're staying in town," he told her as he rose. "For a few days." He handed her a business card. "Call me if you think of anything you think I should know." She opened her mouth, but the weight of Agent DiN ozzo' s stare kept her voice inside her throat.

For some reason Tony couldn't get a decent cell signal in his Newport News hotel room, so he'd gone to the 7-11 for a soda, and called Ziva when he saw he got four bars. He was certainly above gossip, but the team would never forgive him for not keeping them up on what was going on. Just the facts. "I purchased her book," Ziva announced instead of saying "hello." "And I have nearly finished reading it. I stayed up all last night." "Ziva, Gibbs told you to ... "

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"Do you know that it's all in there, Tony? The ex-lover, the pretend electrocution. " Something hot shot down his spine. "She wrote about electrocution? And a cover up?" "If you would stop interrupting me I would tell you! Yes, Tony, she did. It's all in here." Her last four words sounded tinny. "Am I on speaker?" "Hi, Tony!" That was Abby. "Yes. You're on speaker now. Captain Haas had drugs in his system, by the way, including a slow-acting but very painful poison. Where's Gibbs? I need to tell him." "At the hotel, I assume, where I am headed back to. I don't get a signal there, and so you need to call the landli ... " "As I was saying," Ziva sounded annoyed. More than normal. "it's all in here. A woman returns to the city where she grew up. She pretends it is because she wants to finally come home, but it is so that she can kill her ex-lover. A Navy officer, Tony. She electrocutes him in a bathtub to cover up that she drugged and tortured him. Do I need to remind you the book is called The Perfect Crime?" Tony's mouth had gone dry. "Why? Why did she kill him?" Abby answered him. "She was a spy, Tony. For a Palestinian terrorist group. And he had top security clearance, and ties in the Middle East, just like Captain Haas. She, the woman in the book, tried to recruit her ex-lover to her cell, but when he said 'no,' she and some 'friends' tortured him for what secrets he had and then killed him." "And Tony," Ziva added, not gently, "she got away with it by seducing the investigator assigned to her case." Tony snapped closed his phone. "It can't be that obvious. Can she?"

The knock seemed more strident this time, and it interrupted Al Martino's "True Love" right at the part she liked best. What were the odds of that? The one song she'd
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been waiting all afternoon to hear, too. With a harrumph, and not bothering to turn off, or even down, the music, Brooklyn stood from her computer chair and strode in bare feet across the close-cut oatmeal carpet to the front door. She flung it open to find Gibbs. Just Gibbs. In jeans, this time, below his jacket and pressed shirt. But that wanting she'd thought she'd glimpsed last time they'd met was now buried underneath something grimmer. "Come in," she invited, because she knew he'd ask anyway, and she didn't want the formality her hesitation would invite to steal what little attraction remained between them. When he was seated, and she'd brought more coffee, she again dropped into the plush mocha chair pushed perpendicular to the couch and stared into his handsome face. "Why didn't you tell me about your book," Gibbs intoned after his first sip of coal black, undoctored Sumatra. He was angry, very angry; she could see it. Was it at her? Brooklyn's gaze dropped to her hands, but she forced it back up. "For all the reasons you imagine, Agent Gibbs. An electrocution is quite a coincidence, don't you think?" Tears threatened, and she looked down again to get hold of raging emotions. "I prayed it was just Elias' way of being ironic," she told the floor, "or that maybe he just .. . didn't know." Gibb's voice seemed even harsher. "And did you know, Ms. Hill, that he didn't die in the bathtub at all, but that, like in your book, he had been tortured and murdered before his final date with your tub?" Her ears roared, and Brooklyn found herself standing, and then stumbling. Hard hands caught her before she fell, Gibbs' hands, and she stared up into his face and tried to catch her breath. "Elias was ... he was tortured? Oh, my God. Oh my God." The look in Gibbs' eyes was hard, and she didn't know what it meant. Tears welled, and fell, and shame and anger turned her face down. She wanted to flee, go to her room, her bed, think this through - was it real? - was someone deliberately trying to ... and she tried to pull free, but Gibbs' hands held her there.
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"Let me go," she told him in a voice far flatter than she would have imagined she was capable. "Look at me, Brooklyn," Gibbs countered, and without thinking, she looked up. "Are you trying to seduce me?" Shock. That's what the electricity wiggling inside her belly must be. All of this was just too much, and now, now he thought ... "Seduce you?" She couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled up, spilled from her lips and mixed with Al Martino's oddly discordant "Spanish Eyes" as it wafted through the room. The CD player was still on repeat. "I wouldn't know how to start seducing you, Agent Gibbs! I've never seduced anyone in my entire life!" Without warning, Gibbs released her, and she stumbled back. "And what do you do when you travel to Egypt, Ms. Hill? Or is that just a coincidence, too?" What was he talking about? She ran a hand through her hair and had to concentrate to keep it from stopping to cover her mouth. And that made her mad. "Egypt? I've never been east of Bucharest or south of Athens, Agent Gibbs." She shook her head. "I have never been to Egypt." He held her eyes for a moment, then turned and picked up one of the purple coasters. "And where did you get this, Ms. Hill? It looks a lot like the crafts street vendors in Egypt make, and you can't buy anything like these here. Or are you going to tell me that Captain Haas sent these to you?" Egypt? No, he was completely ... "No, Agent Gibbs. Those came from Mexico, not Egypt, and not from Elias. My sister, Savannah, gave me those, and some other trinkets, last week when she returned from an extended Mexican vacation." "Show me."

"Agent McGee."

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"Savannah is her sister's name. Find her, McGee. Ms. Hill says her sister just returned from Mexico a week ago bearing what looks remarkably like homegrown Egyptian treasures. Ask her." "Will do, boss."

There was no harm in doing what he asked, and she wanted him to see that she had nothing to hide, so she'd gone room to room and gathered the half-dozen things Savannah had brought. He snapped his phone shut as she turned the corner to the dining room - asking someone to check her story, no doubt - but she ignored that and dumped the collection on the oaken table. A cylindrical pottery something sporting a crescent moon and stars punched out. A dark brown wool blanket. Three beaded necklaces. The four purple coasters, made from some straw-like material, though they were probably not designed to be coasters. With slow hands, Gibbs picked up each piece and examined it. Brooklyn watched him and wondered what he was thinking. His face was so hard to read, especially when he was looking someplace else. And anyway, wondering was insanity. Yes, he was handsome, and probably a really good man, and no, he wasn't an ex, but Rule Two was "Think it through first," and it didn't even take that much thinking to figure out what a bad idea it would be to get involved with an investigator who seemed to consider her a suspect in her ex-boyfriend's murder. Her breath caught again. Murder. Elias had been murdered. And then Gibbs looked up. Something had changed in his eyes, but she just didn't know him well enough to know what it meant. "These are all from Egypt, Ms. Hill," he said, and his voice sounded milder than it probably should, since he was practically accusing her of lying.

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Brooklyn shook her head. "No, Agent Gibbs. You're wrong. Savannah practically lives in Mexico. I am sure she would know the difference between local crafts and things imported from Egypt, unless you think ... " She stopped because she was rambling, and because she had no proof to show him of anything she had claimed. And speculation was worse than useless. He already had a call in. Let his investigator buddies do their job. Two fingers trembled. Brooklyn licked her lips as she looked into Gibbs' face, and tried to keep her hands at her sides. For a moment, she wondered ifhe had this effect on everyone, this ability to unsettle all your thoughts, then let go of the wondering because she knew he did. For a handful of seconds, he held her eyes, then turned and walked to the door. As his hand touched the knob, "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" whispered from the speaker closest to Brooklyn's desk. "Ask me to stay," Gibbs said without turning. What? What did he mean? "I ... I don't understand. I ... " He turned then, a slight smile transforming his face, and softening his words. "If you're going to seduce me, Brooklyn, you don't let me walk out the door." For maybe the first time in her whole life, she felt her eyes open wide. "I'm not .. . I mean ... " The smile grew as Gibbs walked across the carpet. He took one hand and led her away from the space behind the table that hid her. As she watched his face, he slid his free hand into the small of her back. "You waltz?" "No, actually. Ijust like the music." Gibbs lead her into a simple dance, one she had seen but didn't know the name of. "You don't, uh, seem like the waltzing type." His breath warmed her cheek before he he pressed it to his. "I'll teach you." After a moment, he added, "Rule Five: Never waste good."

Beep. Gibbs voicem flat from being recorded. "Leave a message."

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Ziva's voice. "Uh, Gibbs, Savannah White, the sister, says they had a falling out and she has not spoken to Ms. Hill in years. She said that it is Ms. Hill who travels, not her. That Ms. Hill just returned from Mexico seven days ago. She apparently drives down from Texas, then flies to other countries from there, maybe to avoid detection." A pause. "Maybe she wants to be caught, Gibbs. Call me."

Gibbs spoke nary a word on the drive back to D.C. Well, except when he ordered his coffee at that drive through. As they drove, Tony kept hearing something, and after the second hour he realized it was Gibbs, and not the car making that sound. A whistle, just under his breath. He was happy, Tony guessed, though he couldn't be sure. Had he ever seen Gibbs happy?
It had been 3 a.m. when Gibbs had come back in. Not that he'd been spying, but

Ziva had called to check every hour, and not that he, he of all people, begrudged Gibbs the time or the, uh, attention, but what about Gibbs' Rule Number Ten, "never get involved in a case"? For the third hour, Tony debated asking him. But not seriously.

Tim lifted his head. Was that a whistle? The sound just preceded Gibbs as he rounded the corner to the workspace. The question died on his lips as his eyes met Gibbs' and he saw the anger flare. "She didn't do it, McGee. I suggest that you find out who did!"

Ziva's voice. Her lab. "You found it. You tell him." But then Gibbs walked in. "Tell me what, Ziva?"

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Rarely had Abby seen Ziva fumble for anything. Instead, usually, she aggressed. But not this time. This time, she looked at Tim, then her, and then Tony, who looked like he was trying to look like someone you'd overlook, which wasn't like him at all.
It seemed like this case had knocked the whole team slightly off kilter.

"Um, Gibbs, I um ... " A muscle ticked in Gibb's jaw. Not everybody, Abby corrected. Gibbs seemed pretty normal. God bless him. "Spit it out, Ziva." Tony mumbled something but let it die a neglected death when Gibbs cast him a look over his shoulder. Perhaps to save Tony, Ziva rallied. "To-, uh, we found something in the swabs McGee took ... " Gibbs squared on Ziva. "You told me two days ago that there was no evidence that anyone else took part in the incidents that led to Captain Haas' death." Gibbs paused. Dropped his chin. Neither was a good sign. "Are you now telling me that someone else was there?" The breath Ziva exhaled made the only sound in the room. Another second, then five, passed. "Yes, Gibbs," Ziva finally said right into Gibb's face, but her voice was low, her eye contact was spotty, and her jaw was tight. It wasn't fear, though. It might have been that awful feeling you get when you have to tell someone something bad. The muscles bunched in Gibbs' shoulders. "Who was there?" Another pause, courtesy of Ziva, but when Gibbs opened his mouth again, she jumped in and filled the space. "A woman. We don't know who yet." Gibbs shook his head, probably mourning our ineptitude, then turned and strode out, but not before telling us to "Well, find out!"

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A bead of sweat slid down Tim's back and soaked into the spot where the car seat mashed his tee shirt into his spine. Tonight's humidity had to be a record. He looked up at Ziva, standing just outside the car door, in the dark, in the back of this parking lot in Dumfries, Virginia, after hours, nowhere near a street light, stuffing weapons into every spare spot. "Tell me again why we're doing this," Tim hissed. "Shhhh," Ziva hissed back as she pushed a third, or fourth, gun inside her jacket. "They will be here anytime." Tim shook his head. Ziva was taking a real risk meeting with an undercover agent - Mossad, he hoped - and he wondered what Gibbs would do if he found out. "And you want me to just sit here?" Ziva's nose crinkled. "Yes. Do not get out of the car, no matter what happens, McGee. I need you only as a backup, but they will not talk to you, or if you are near." She leaned back and snapped the door closed, then mouthed to the windshield, "So stay in the car." The window inched down as Tim watched Ziva walked to the front of the car, then stand to the left, and not in the light, but where someone looking carefully could see her. He wondered if he dared open the window any farther. If they got close, they'd see it down, and maybe not talk to Ziva, but ifhe didn't, how would he know if she needed help? Backup - he was backup! - which meant he had to do some surveilling. Another inch. It made a noise, but he rolled it another half crank past the creak anyway. A shadow slipped from the darkness on his left, a good choice since most people were right-eye dominant, and slid into an inky spot near Ziva. His fingers squeezed. The Sig felt almost chilly in Tim's hand, and he wondered when he'd drawn it.
It was too dark, and the person was too bundled, to tell if the shape was even male

or female. It said something, and sounded male, but he couldn't tell for sure, and he couldn't make any of the words out either. If that was wool, he was glad he wasn't wearing it.
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Another inch, then four. "She will be flying out of Mexico," he heard Ziva tell the figure. "Back and forth. I do not know which group. Al-Qaeda maybe, but it could be any with free egress into Egypt." Using her left hand, Ziva reached inside her jacket and drew out what Tim knew was a photograph. She'd torn it off the back cover.

Despite the early hour, bright summer sun flowed milky white through the easterly-facing windows. Drowsy warmth filled the room, and Tony yawned and leaned back into his chair. Using folded arms as a pillow, he closed his eyes. He'd been there all night, but no one would be in for a half hour. What was Gibbs up to? He had to be up to something. Never had Gibbs taken a suspect off a list, even when it had been a family member. Never had Gibbs broken his own rules. Never. So it had to be a ruse, right? Because it couldn't be that ... "Your boss has been seduced! His judgment has been compromised!" Feet flew out, eyes flew open, and it took a full two seconds to keep himself from falling backward in the chair. With what he hoped was an unfaltering smile, Tony jumped to his feet and slapped a palm to his chest. "Agent DiNozzo. Um, I'm sorry but I don't think I caught your name, Ms .... " The woman looked back, and wow, was she a looker. Long, loose, dark hair framed giant brown eyes and an almost unbearably pink, ever-so-slight smile. It had to be her who'd spoken, the babe in the pink summer dress, and not the surly agent who'd apparently escorted her over, because the female agent was already storming off. "My name is Savannah White," the woman scolded, as ifhe should know who she was, and it took a half second longer than it should have for the name to register. "Ah," Tony let a smile lift his lips, and his appreciation fill his eyes. "Brooklyn Hill's sister. You spoke with Agent David a few days ago, and now you've come all the
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way here to tell us that you think Agent Gibbs has been," he buried his own musings and let amusement open his smile, "seduced." And the charm he'd spent was not wasted. Unconsciously, he was sure, Ms. White tilted her head to her right and let her shoulders fall back. Using her tongue, she wet her upper lip, then stepped into the distance between them. Of its own accord, his smile widened further. Another step, and she was inside that final thirty inches that kept the world at bay, or at least off his jacket. She lifted an arm, extended her fingers, and reached for his face. "Can I help you?" Gibbs' strong, hard, and decidedly unfriendly voice cut through the six inches of remaining space and stilled her hand. Without ado, the fingers closed, the hand dropped, and she pivoted on one foot. "Gibbs," she accused. Was that always how she talked? Exaggerated patience. "What can I do for you, Ms. White?" So he knew who she was. But how? Savannah White fisted both hands but held them next to her thighs. "I am here because you let Brooklyn go, Agent Gibbs. You're either blind or stupid, and after the other night ... " Ouch! Did she just say that? Out Gibbs? Proclaim to the entire world that Gibbs had spent the night with a suspect? Well, it wasn't the whole night, but nighttime things had probably happened despite the severance ofa handful of hours off the far end. You didn't come in at 3:00 a.m. after just dinner and ballroom dancing. " ... I suppose it's probably a little of both." But either Gibbs didn't care or he was the world's best faker. And who could tell with Gibbs. For him, emotions always seemed optional. Well, except anger. "Why do you care, Ms. White?" She drew a breath. "Because Elias Haas was my friend." Another pause, this time to pat a tear off her cheek. "And because she shouldn't get away with killing him."

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Despite the declaration, Gibbs' voice stayed smooth as butter. "What makes you think your sister killed Captain Haas?" "Because five years ago, after Elias left her," she snorted, "and she calmed down, Brooklyn told me that she was going to write a book about how to get away with killing someone, killing him, and then she was going to do it. And if every man that works here is as easy to bend as Agent DiNozzo here, she's going to."

"Agent David. It is always a pleasure." The phone crackled. IMEI randomization meant that sometimes, more often than not, actually, you got a bad connection. Of course, talking inside a closet probably did not help the connection either. "Nice to hear you as well, Kivi," Ziva whispered. "You have an answer for me?" "Yes, my friend, but it will cost you dinner. At my place." Despite herself, Ziva smiled into the darkness. "Ask me again after you finish your assignment, Kivi." The playful tone fell away from the man's voice. "In the last year, friends in Apodaca - the airport just outside Monterrey, Mexico - have seen an American woman who resembles the photo boarding a plane for Cairo." " 'Resembles the photo?' Is it her, Kivi?" "I put the tape through facial rec, Ziva, and I think it is. She wears a disguise, but eyes and cheekbones cannot be changed." Even though he couldn't see her, Ziva nodded. "Besides al-Qaeda, what groups are active inside Egypt?" "No new players, Ziva." He paused long enough to draw a breath. "My money is on Abu Nidal. They are active inside Mexico as well as the M.E." " 'Your money'? Your English improves, Kivi. And thank you. After I arrest her, dinner is on me."

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"Tell me again why Ms. Hill wanted to kill Captain Haas." Director Vance stared through the one-way glass at the odd pair seated at the interrogation table. Agent Gibbs, face unreadable, dressed in drowsy browns sat across from an animated and clearly agitated Savannah White in her pink polka-dot dress that covered entirely too little, even in summer. Not that any straight man would mind, but Agent Gibbs' eyes never strayed from the woman's face. But Tim watched the director, unobtrusively, he hoped, from the director's right side. A bad choice, in retrospect. He should have chosen the left. Did the director know? Had someone told him what the author's sister had blurted at Tony's desk? They - the team - had all decided without saying out loud to keep Gibbs' secret. It wasn't because they wanted to keep him out of trouble. Not really, or at least that wasn't the heart of it. Not that he could read his teammates' minds, but what seemed more important was the loyalty. The gift of time and space for Gibbs to come to his own senses, and to fix this himself. There wasn't anyone more capable of fixing things, and given time, Gibbs would see the truth and fix this. Gibbs had done the same for each of them. Some more than once. Gibbs did not need the director's attention. The flick of motion when Ms. White tossed her hair over her shoulder drew Tim's eyes back. "As I told you, Agent Gibbs, twice now, Brooklyn was very angry when Elias left her. She told me - no, she swore - that she would have revenge. She swore she would kill him. She told me that she had to research it though. Figure out how to get away with it first because she wasn't going down for 'that bastard.' And I quote." Microemotions passed swiftly over Gibbs' face. Disbelief. Amusement. Perhaps a slice of contempt, but that part wasn't really unusual. "And so she wrote a book about it, and published that book, first? Before killing him?" Elegant shoulders lifted. "I didn't say she was the brightest bulb." Pearly pink lips pursed. "Jealousy makes fools of us all."

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On Gibbs, brows pushed down to wrinkle just above the bridge of his nose. "Jealousy? Why would she be jealous, Ms. White? Was there someone else involved in the breakup?" Savannah White lifted both hands. "No. I misspoke" Shoulders lifted again. "There were lots of those ... " she flapped her hands " ... abandoned lover emotions flowing through my sister after Elias left her, Agent Gibbs. The bottom line is that she was very upset. She wanted to marry him. He wouldn't change his mind. He wouldn't even take her calls afterward, not for a long time. She felt betrayed. She tore her apartment up. Broke everything inside it." A sigh this time. "And after she cleaned it, it looked empty. And sad. That's why I always bring her things when I travel." "What things have you given her recently, Ms. White?" Savannah White looked up and to her left, into the space toward the one-way mirror. Her face seemed very sincere. "I brought her a Talavara flower pot last week. Blue and orange. About a foot high. And a small, painted sunburst heart. Tin, but quite beautiful. I picked up both in Puebla." "What about a blanket? A silver pot? Jewelry?" Lips pursed as Savannah considered. "No. I wouldn't have gotten silver. Unless it's solid, I think it looks cheap. And a blanket would be too heavy to carry in luggage. Jewelry, maybe, but not this last time." The director's jacket made a small sound as he shifted his weight to his other foot, and Tim's eyes slid to his left. The theoretical suddenly transformed into experiential knowledge as he realized he'd lost track of the man standing on his left. Next time, he would stand on the right. "Is Brooklyn involved with any groups, Ms. White?" Why did Gibbs keep calling that author by her first name? Didn't he know the director was watching? That he was watching, and that the rest of the team was watching from a hijacked link in Abby's lab?

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But Ms. White didn't notice. Instead she suddenly looked like she would rather be answering questions about her own sex life than be faced with this one. "What kind of groups, Agent Gibbs?" "Anti-American groups, Ms. White. Terrorist groups, like the killer in her book." Savannah jumped to answer before the last syllable of Gibbs' questions floated into the ether. "No!" She let out a breath. Licked her lips. "No. Brooklyn is misguided, and angry, and she made mistakes that she should not get away with. But she is not a terrorist. " With a sour look, Gibbs leaned forward and put both palms on the desk between them. "I don't believe you, Savannah." For a heartbeat, fear painted a line down Ms. White's face and Director Vance started, but both settled before Tim's heart squeezed a second time. "And I think you have allowed your personal feelings to interfere with your good judgment, Agent Gibbs." Gibbs stood up and walked to the one-way. Did he know that Director Vance stared back? "You said 'jealous,' Ms. White," Gibbs told the director, but then turned and scowled at the woman in pink. "And the one who is jealous is you. You're jealous of your sister. You know Brooklyn would never do this, but you see an opportunity here, don't you?" The chair squealed as Savannah pushed it back from the table. After she rose, she lifted a red face to Gibbs. "No!" she shouted, fists on hips. "No, Agent Gibbs. I am here trying to do the right thing, and all you can think about is your ... " The door burst open, and both Director Vance and Tim jumped. Tony nearly leapt inside, a frighteningly cheerful smile pulling his lips away from his teeth. "Uh, sorry, boss, but I need to speak with you outside." The papers Gibbs had squeezed inside his fist fluttered like one-winged birds to the floor. Without saying a word, Gibbs stalked past Tony, out the door, and kept walking.

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The night bled dank ink and echoed the sound Ziva's knuckles made as they rapped on the white wood door. These were the director's orders, she reminded herself, but refused to think about anything past that. The door opened. "I am sorry, Ms. Hill, but you need to come with us."

"I have been to Egypt once, Director. In 1985, after I graduated from high school. I stayed two weeks. I have been to Turkey. 1997. I stayed ten days and took a tour of Catal Hiiyiik. That still counts at the Middle East, doesn't it?" Perspiration dotted the author's forehead, and Tony wondered whether it was more fear than humidity. Not that that made her guilty. For Gibbs' sake, he hoped she wasn't guilty. Her innocence would make it a lot easier to shrug off than, say, getting involved with the guilty suspect during an investigation. A lot easier. In the darkness behind the one-way glass, Ziva stood behind him, close enough that he could feel her warmth. It should have been annoying. "Can't you just check my passport or something?" Ms. Hill asked tiredly, and lifted her gaze to Vance's. But Tony knew she'd find no sympathy there. He wasn't Gibbs, but he wasn't far behind. With the one tissue Vance had permitted her, Ms. Hill patted her forehead. She was pretty, even without makeup, but she looked wretched, like she was fighting nausea. Even so, a man could drown in those big brown eyes, and find himself doing just about anything to see joy return to them. He didn't blame Gibbs. Not really. Everybody got caught sometimes. "How often do you travel to Mexico, Ms. Hill?" Obviously startled, the woman raised her head again and stared straight into Vance's face. "I have been to Mexico many times, Director Vance. Twice a year for the
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ten years I lived in San Antonio I'd drive to Monterrey to spend a weekend, or a week. My sister has a villa there." She paused. Considered. "Christmas and the first week of June. I taught college, adjunct, and celebrated winter and summer breaks in Mexico. Again, my passport will show it, and I am sure the federal government keeps track of little things like ingress and egress into the United States." Papers rustled as Director Vance leafed through a folder. "Yes," he admitted with a reluctant sigh, "we have records of the two trips per year." He sat up. Leaned forward. "Any other trips, Ms. Hill? Ever take off for a weekend and just head south? Ever spend a weekend in Nuevo Laredo, or Anahuac?" A bitter smile crept across Brooklyn Hill's face. She finally understood. "No, Director." Her back straightened and one hand fisted - the one with the tissue. "I have never spent the night in either of those places. I don't think I've even been to Anahuac. And before you ask, let me tell you something else. I wrote a book, Director. I am an author, not a terrorist. I don't know anything about terrorism other than what little I made up to tell what I hoped was a good story. My book is fiction. That means that it contains facts I never expected to encounter in real life. And I didn't kill Elias. I didn't love him, but I liked him, and I cared about what happened to him. Five years ago we parted on pretty good terms. We remained friends." Her eyes dropped as she let out her breath. "I follow the rules, Director. Without exception, and including not killing people or being a terrorist. Ask my sister, Savannah White. She knows all of this." Director Vance stared at Brooklyn Hill for a full minute. Tony knew he knew they didn't have anything concrete. Yet. The Apodaca Airport photos would be in Abby's lab by dawn, and then there'd be proof. Proof that she lied anyway. Maybe. But suspicions weren't probable cause and dawn was still a handful of hours away. "You may go, Ms. Hill, but I want you to stay in D.C. We may have more questions for you tomorrow."

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"Look, Director. Why don't you let me call my sister? She lives here, well, close, and she can explain, or, uh, corroborate, everything I've told you. She's who I'll call to come get me anyway." Tony flinched. He was definitely staying in here. With a frown, Director Vance stood. "Thank you, Ms. Hill, but I don't need you to do that. Why don't you go get some rest, and we'll talk tomorrow."

Someone was screaming. Female. Absent fingers snapped the holster to Ziva's belt. Using one hand, she bounced over the desk, then sprinted around the corner. Two hallways later, Savannah White, who'd changed from pink to purple, had Abby pinned to the wall, hands raised in surrender. She - Abby - kept trying to talk, but Savannah would not stop shouting. Behind her, and wearing a look of consternation, McGee bounced on his toes, hands up, as if wondering whether to grab the woman or not since she wasn't really hurting Abby. Brooklyn Hill stood behind him, eyes open as wide as her mouth. Ziva caught Savannah's left hand as she raised it and yanked Savannah, who stumbled back once, twice, then lost her balance and fell to her bottom. The fall, however, did nothing to stop the rant, and Ziva forced herself to listen to what she was screaming. "You can't let her go! You can't let her go!" "What?" Ziva tried to talk over her, but Savannah was not listening. After a breath, Ziva leaned in, right in front of Savannah's face, and screamed, "Shut up!" And after she did, Ziva asked her, "Why are you saying this?" "Y ou cannot let Brooklyn go!" came Savannah's breathless answer. A sigh escaped before Ziva could catch it. "Why not?" Water glistened in Savannah's eyes. "Because she's guilty and she's going to run. She asked for my help!"

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Another sigh had to be stifled, but then Ziva turned to ask Brooklyn what this meant. Brooklyn was not there. But Gibbs was.

The world was a blur, a gently running watercolor. How could Savannah have done this? Betrayed her. Her whole life she'd trusted her sister. Implicitly. This just didn't make sense. Running was hard and she had a stitch in her side, so she slowed to a walk. She hadn't run since - well, for a long time. She hoped she'd gotten far enough. She needed time to think this through. Come up with a solution. Suddenly, as if hearing had been miraculously restored, her ears picked up a welcoming sound. It lay down the road and maybe around a corner, but Brooklyn knew if she made it there, she'd be safe.

It started as soon as Savannah caught sight of Gibbs.

"This is your fault!" she screamed. "She bedded you, and fed your ego, and then made you swallow her lies! You defended her!" She pushed herself to her feet and stomped over to Gibbs. "She's a killer and she's free now because of you!"
It - all of this - was horrible, and horrifying, but Abby found herself thankful it

was night, and no one was here. Well, except her. And Tony and Ziva and McGee. Oh - and Director Vance, who just rounded the corner. Abby felt herself grimace. Would the team think less of her if she closed her eyes? Through slitted lids, Abby watched Gibbs stare into Savannah's face. And when he said nothing, she filled the silence.

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"You let her go! I know you did! You were the only one standing back here! It's your fault!" She nearly slumped, panted, then found strength somewhere. Maybe from insanity, because that's what shone in her eyes. One hand found Gibbs' lapel, then fisted around it. "Brooklyn's been bad for a long time!" she screamed into his strangely impassive face. "You must not let yourself love her! She never listens! She does whatever she wants to do! She's kafir, a selfish bitch! She's weak and ... " Nearly too fast to see, Ziva's hand shot out, grabbed Savannah's shoulder, and spun her around. "What did you say?" Like a freshly-caught fish, Savannah opened and closed her mouth, but no sound came out. Ziva leaned in. "What. Did. You. Say?" But just like that, something had stolen Savannah's voice. "You said 'kafir.' Infidel." Ziva accused, one hand still gripping Savannah's shoulder, and turned to look into Gibbs' face. "You knew." Guilt, a lot of guilt, and maybe embarrassment filled the hallway, well, not at Gibbs' end, but no one said anything for a very long time. As she started to relax, just a little, a word slipped out of Abby's mouth. "Why?" Instead of answering her, Gibbs looked at Savannah. "I had to flush her out," he told her matter-of-factly, as if it was obvious, and maybe it was. To Gibbs anyway. Someone, Tony maybe, mumbled, "Sorry, boss," at almost the same moment McGee did, and Abby smiled her relief at both of them. Vance made a face before stalking back to his office, and a ghost of Gibbs' smile followed him out.

The blue-flickering sign read, "Blues Boutique." From the cracked door, jazzy music blared, but not overwhelmed.

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He found her in the back, still wearing night-time clothes and sipping water, and let himself into the other chair pushed up to her table. When she opened her mouth, he lifted the fingers of one hand. "It's over, Brooklyn. Savannah is in custody." A nod came first, and then a spate of tears, but she brushed them away. "Rule one," she muttered, perhaps to herself. "Family comes first." Silky sound washed across the room as Gibbs motioned a server over. "Bourbon." The smallest of smiles followed his first sip. "It isn't your fault." "Arguing won't change either of our minds," she told him. "But I know what you did, and I should have known the rest of it. You see, Savannah had an affair with Elias." Gibbs' brows raised, and he lifted his glass to take another sip. A nod. "Yeah. They thought I didn't know, but I did, and so I broke things off with Elias." She looked up at the ceiling. "We didn't have that spark anyway. Not really. I was angry, but at the bottom I hoped that they would get together. Make things work. But instead Elias asked to be transferred, and he went overseas." Her gaze dropped to Gibbs'. "I had no idea about the ... the rest of this, but I suspect it had a lot to do with Savannah not feeling special enough. Maybe Elias' leaving triggered it. In any case, go easy on her." For the last sip, Gibbs tipped the glass back, then plunked the empty vessel on the table. "She killed your ex-boyfriend, and then tried to blame it on you. And you want me to go easy on her." A shrug. After a while: "Are you staying, Brooklyn?" "No. I'm going back to San Antonio." She drug her eyes from the tabletop. "I'm sorry." Music played, but the notes blended together. A while later: "The perfect crime isn't just getting away with it, Brooklyn." A hand lifted, covered Gibbs', and amusement filled her voice. "Really." "A crime is perfect when someone else is blamed."
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A nod. Another as the brain processed the words. "You're right." A smile. A while later: "Let me drive you home, Brooklyn."

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