Thanks: girleffect, Amilyn.
Disclaimer: not mine. No profit, nor prophet.
Canada. Casefile. T/Z.
. . . .
Ziva would never get used to spring in DC. She'd never get used to the stickiness, the rising odor of diesel exhaust, the tourists and school buses that brought traffic to an absolute crawl. She'd never get used to the cherry blossoms, either, or the thrum of the marching bands during the annual festival, or the clean smell of green earth after a rainstorm.
She was used to the bullpen, though. The orange walls, the Monday-morning sun on the carpet, the inky smell of the copier. She tossed her bag under her desk and sat down to log in. Maybe she'd buy a bicycle and ride in. Reduce her carbon footprint. There were showers in the locker room. Perhaps she could even cut down on her time in the gym. She could cook more at home, then. Or read more. Or maybe even buy a television and find a program to watch. An escape.
She was halfway into an email about travel reimbursements when a file landed on her desk. "Pack a bag, David."
She sat up, a little intrigued, a little irritated—she wanted to hike the Northwest Branch Trails that evening. Days were longer. She'd have enough light. "Where am I going?"
He sat at his desk, tossed the empty coffee cup. "Canada."
She'd flown through Montreal a few times. "Why?"
"Because you got a case, Ziver. You're meeting DiNozzo at Dulles at ten-hundred."
Dulles. They were flying commercial. She gathered her bag, glanced once, longingly, out the window. She'd miss the end of the cherry blossoms.
"Better get," Gibbs prodded. "Less than three hours."
She picked up the file. It was only a few pages long. "Parsons is still...eyeing around."
His tone sharpened. "Think I can't handle the team without you, David? Don't forget your passport."
She pushed the elevator button. Her passport. Her American passport. She'd lost count of how many stamps were in it. "I will not," she retorted, feeling a little churlish, and caught his tiny smirk as the doors closed.
. . . .
"Zee-vah!" Tony cried, looking fresh and clean in a chambray button-down and jeans. Rugged. Healthy. And happy to see her. "Big adventure, huh?"
She felt like a wet rag having hauled through security and the canned-air terminal to get to the international gates. "It is a case, Tony, not a vacation."
She took a squelchy vinyl seat. He slapped a Lonely Planet guidebook on her knee. British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies. There were craggy, snowy peaks and an alpine lake on the cover. She thought of Heidi and The Sound of Music. And yet they weren't leaving the continent. "Wanna read up?"
She did, actually, but didn't touch it. "Once we're in the air."
He rose, stretched. She breathed in his musky, male scent. "I'm gonna grab a coffee. You want?"
"No, thank you." Her stomach was churning. It couldn't be nerves, could it?
He shrugged and sauntered away, returning as she thumbed to the section about Victoria. She frowned; it looked so British in the photos. She had imagined lumberjacks and pickup trucks, not high tea. When Winter Olympics host Vancouver hogged the spotlight in 2010, many people thought they were seeing British Columbia's capital city.
"We're taking at least one ferry," he said.
Ziva blinked. A ferry. A legitimate ferry. She flipped the page and read aloud. "BC Ferries arrive from mainland Tsawwassen at Swartz Bay, twenty-seven kilometers north of Victoria on Highway Seventeen."
Tony licked chocolate donut off his fingers. "Yeah, it'll be a few hours once we land in Vancouver before we're at the hotel."
"Sounds like we are going to the end of the earth."
"In a way." He handed her a pastry bag. Inside were a single croissant and a pat of butter. He knew her too well.
She smiled. "Thank you."
"There's a meal, but it might not be kosher, so..."
"I do not keep kosher, Tony."
He grinned and bumped their shoulders together. "But you have very high standards."
She stifled a giggle. They'd been looser around each other since her father's passing. "Not so high," she retorted, and gave him a sly look.
The gate agent called for business class and he stood,grinning, and pulled her up with him. "Touché. C'mon. We're boarding."
She was astounded but didn't show it—she'd never flown anything but coach with NCIS, but they were shown to the forecabin and offered drinks. Tony got a Coke. She asked for a sparkling water and picked out the lime when it arrived.
"Guess Vance figured we needed a break," Tony said, eyes roving.
A flight attendant closed the curtain with a jerk. Ziva sipped her water. "I suppose."
"Been through a lot lately."
Ziva would not open up here, now. "It has been a difficult year."
They taxied to the runway. The flight attendants went through the safety procedures like pretty robots. She waited for Tony to make some film reference, but he was quiet and looking at her with a small, questioning smile on his handsome face.
His concern was endearing and a little irritating. "What?"
"Why are you staring at me like that?"
His smile didn't fade. "Haven't had much chance to connect since you came back from your father's funeral."
She studied the seatback in front of her. She'd gone to the Cherry Blossom Festival alone, walked the promenade alone, eaten take-out alone, gone to the Museum of Natural History alone. She'd thought to call him once, tossed her mobile on her dresser, and left it there until that very morning. "I needed some space," she said carefully.
They lifted off. Her ears popped from the pressure. Tony opened a sports magazine and turned to a page about professional football. Ziva could never understand the appeal, but swallowed her chiding and opened the guidebook again. Victoria, like many Vancouver Island communities, continues to have a sizable First Nations presence, composed of peoples from all over Vancouver Island and beyond.
She looked at Tony. "I have not been to the American Indian museum yet. Would you like to go next weekend?"
He put down his magazine. The page he'd been reading had a very large, very sweaty basketball player on it. "Can I buy brunch first?"
Her face warmed. Was she blushing? "Yes. Saturday?"
He tweaked her chin, smiled, and returned to his magazine. Ziva went back to the guidebook. Next, head up to the First Peoples exhibit with its fascinating masks gallery—look for a ferret-faced white man.
Schmiel would dislike that. Neo-colonialism, my Ziva, he would warn. It was not so long ago that Jews were put on display like animals in cages, forced to sing or dance, forced to assimilate, forced into the ovens.
"Never mind," she said abruptly.
Tony had been dozing. "No? Ok, well, another time, then."
"No!" she blurted. "I mean I would rather go someplace else."
"Van Gogh exhibit?"
Paintings were safe. "Yes, that. Same time?"
He grinned a sleepy grin. "Sure."
Mon Petit Pois. She tucked the guidebook into the seatback pocket and drew her legs up. The cabin was cold now that they were at cruising altitude.
A passing attendant clucked and handed her a blanket. "Here, sweetheart."
Sweetheart. Ziva took it and smiled her thanks, tucked it around her. The clouds broke apart, and she blinked lazily at the patchwork of farmland below her window. If Tony were awake he might scoff something about flyover states, but she thought about farmhouse window seats, family meals, linking hands around a rough-hewn table. Prairie grasses shimmering in the wind.
. . . .
Ziva woke with a start when the wheels touched down. The guidebook slid from her lap and landed with a clunk. Tony smiled. "Bienvenue á Canada, Sleepyhead."
She worked her sticky mouth. "Toda."
The plane pulled up to the jetway. The other passengers rose, stretched, gathered their belongings. Tony pulled her half-empty backpack out of the overhead bin and handed it to her. "Next stop: car rental."
She shouldered her bag and shook her groggy head. It would be too easy to pretend they were just travelers. Honeymooners. A married couple taking their last getaway before children. She watched the backs of his shoes as they made their way to the car rental counter, then out to the covered parking lot. The air was wet and cool. She regretted not packing a winter coat. In May, she thought, and scoffed. Fine. A little discomfort would build character.
Their rental was a rental—small sedan, nondescript, not particularly comfortable. Tony got in the driver's seat and navigated onto the wet highway. "Straight shot to the ferry terminal."
She frowned. Traffic slowed. "How do you know where you're going?"
He pulled ahead of a battered, rusting pickup. "Studied the map while you were sawin' logs. Speaking of—you ever see a doctor about that?"
"I was faking," she sniffed.
The highway took them between wet subdivisions, over wet fields. "I am glad I packed a raincoat."
Ton squinted and adjusted the wiper speed. "Yeah, pretty damp."
Damp. Ziva almost laughed; while it wasn't pouring, the air was heavy with moisture and standing water rippled on the roadside. The clouds seemed to rest on the treetops.
Traffic thinned once they exited for the terminal and the ocean spanned both sides of the roadway. The water was cloudy grey-green. Fishermen in slickers angled in the shallows. The guidebook had said something about a spring salmon run. "Quaint."
"Canadian," Tony agreed. "Just waiting for the RCMP to pull up on mooseback."
"They are domesticated?" He laughed. She rolled her eyes—she'd walked right into yet another dumb foreigner joke. "You are a stranger here, too, Tony."
"Canada is America's hat."
"They are not universally hated."
"The Canadian Dream just doesn't sound right."
There were only a few cars waiting for the ferry. The clock blinked 5:31. Twenty-nine minutes until the next boat. She popped the lock on the door. "I am going to the restroom."
"Not in the car."
He smiled. "Be careful out there, Sweet Cheeks."
Ziva slammed the door and hustled across the lot to the low steel-and-glass terminal building. Walk-on passengers lounged near the windows, watching seabirds bob on the waves. Heavier, greyer clouds lingered in the north. They'd see a storm before they'd see Vancouver Island.
The bathrooms were clean and private. She washed her hands, rubbed her cheeks with a paper towel, pinched some color back into her face. It was wet all around, but she was dehydrated from the flight and still a little fuzzy from sleeping midday. She looked again in the mirror—better, but not much—and swung out the door.
. . . .
"C'mere," Tony chided from the deck. He was smiling. His hair blew every-which-way.
Ziva stood at the glass door between them, arms crossed. "No."
"C'mon—you need to see this. It's beautiful." A gust of wind flattened his jacket against his body.
"C'mon, Zee-vah. It's really amazing."
She didn't doubt it—the captain was threading the needle, angling the vessel through a narrow channel between two rocky islands, skirting another ferryboat. Homes clung to the cliffs far above the water's white-capped surface. It would be a photo worthy of a frame. She would have put it on the radiator cover in her living room.
But she was freezing. Freezing-freezing, even warm and safe, protected from the cold, wet wind. Like the rest of the Salish Sea, the climate of the Strait of Georgia is disputed, with the Köppen system classifying it as Mediterranean, but most regional climatologists preferring Oceanic.
"Come on," Tony teased. "It's like, almost sixty degrees.
But felt more like forty-five. Mediterranean climate—shtiut. "I can see from right here," she promised, but he just threw up his hands and turned to the railing. Rain slashed his broad back.
Ziva wandered across the vessel to a dining room with high-backed booths and a steam table full of comfort foods—chicken in gravy, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables. Her stomach growled. Her only meal had been that croissant.
Tony came up and tugged her hand. "We have another hour before we land in Swartz Bay. Let's eat."
They sat in an unoccupied window booth. She spread a cloth napkin on her lap. "We should discuss the case."
He pushed a plate in front of her. "Not while we eat."
She couldn't disagree. The food was good—heavy, a little bland, but good—and she finished quickly. A busser took her plate and she slid out for seconds, choosing parsley potatoes, dark meat, pickled cauliflower in yellow brine. She thought of Schmiel's Eastern European fare—kishke and kasha, pickled vegetables, mayonnaise-y salads—and smiled. She would call him once they wrapped the case.
"No salad?" Tony teased.
"I'm cold," she said simply, and ate half her chicken thigh in three big bites.
He looked at her with that sliver of concern. She could see him debating—get in her space, or hold back? "You bring your long johns?"
"I do not own any."
He took a long swallow of orange soda. "There's gotta be a place in Victoria where we can get you some warmer clothes."
"It is May and the case takes precedence."
He pushed his plate away and opened that skinny file. "Ready?"
She did the same. "Yes."
"IRR Marine named Nathan Mertes caught in downtown Victoria with a dead woman in the back of his truck. Swears he has no idea how she got there."
She flipped to the second page. "Who was the woman?"
"VicPD thinks she was a pro."
Her eyes flitted up to his and back down. "Prostitutes have names, Tony. Autopsy?"
"Not done yet."
She turned the page to the woman's photo—bluish flesh, hollow eyes. She could have been a prop from one of Tony's films. "Preliminaries?"
"Signs of torture. Signs of long-term drug use. No cash, no ID, no dental hygiene."
"So she was poor. That does not necessarily mean she was a prostitute."
His eyes went hard above the folder. "You've been around long enough to know the patterns, Zee-vah."
"I know that not all women in poverty resort to sex work, Tony."
"Not all women in poverty stick needles in their arms or crack pipes in their mouths, either. She had a habit, and I bet she was hookin' to support it."
"Sex work, Tony. It's called sex work, not hooking."
He slapped the folder shut. "What matters is that this woman ended up dead in the back of a pickup truck driven by a US Marine and we have to figure out how. Then we'll wrap it, get you some mittens, and do a little hiking."
Was it that easy? Not likely. She was not settled—not reconciled, as Schmiel would say. They'd dealt with cases like this before, but she was on shpilkes this time. Was it the dramatic scenery? The bone-deep chill? The lingering mist? The blue-black water below their window? "Why is Mertes in Canada?"
"Greasy, grimy fishy guts—he dumps halibut into a hopper at the Campbell River Cannery. Seasonal work."
Access, a reasonable place to dump a body. A victim with no name, no face, no paper trail. She got up, palms itching.
Tony raised his eyebrows. "What's up?"
Nothing. Everything. There was a map of the island on the wall opposite them. She went to it, traced the route from Campbell River to Victoria with her finger. A fleecy, earnest-looking man brushed past. She grabbed his sleeve. "Excuse me—how long does it take to make this drive?"
She outlined it for him again. He cocked his head, nodded. "Oh three, three-and-a-half hours. You doing some sightseeing?"
"Yes," she answered absently. More than three hours with a dead woman in his truck. Was he going to dump her along the way and simply forgot? Her stomach turned. She swallowed; she would not throw up her big, tasteless meal.
"Might want to get a warmer jacket," he urged, and disappeared down the stairs that would take him to the car decks.
Ziva walked with short, quick steps back to the table. Tony was sprawled there, brow furrowed. "Why you prickly, David?"
He knew she wouldn't answer him.
The ferry engines slowed. Tony got up and nodded at the stairs. "We'll be docking soon."
She lead the way back to the car, taking comfort in the engine noise. The rain picked up as soon as Tony pulled off the ship. A line of cars was all they could see of Highway Seventeen. Flashing brake lights, rumble strips. Ziva squinted through the storm and tried to find the water between the trees. The Patricia Bay Highway is four lanes between the Swartz Bay Ferry Landing and Victoria.
"We'll go to VicPD first," Tony said. He had a dreamy, vacant look on his face. Was he speaking to her? "I want to talk to Mertes ASAP."
. . . .
Mertes was defensive, of course. Scruffy, a little grungy, he gestured with work-rough hands though his voice was soft, even tender. "Ma'am, I know you won't believe me, but I did not kill that woman."
Tony slapped the folder down, slid the coroner's photo at him. "She was in your truck. Dead. How did that happen?"
"I don't know," Mertes whined.
He was younger than Ziva—six full years younger—though there were lines around his eyes and mouth. "You've seen combat."
He nodded. Tony offered a bottle of water, but he shook his head. "Two tours in Iraq. Got sent home when my team got blown up. Last guy standing. Literally—everyone else lost legs."
Ziva pressed her lips together. "Why are you in Canada, Nathan?"
"I'm from Port Angeles," he said slowly, opening one hand. "It's across the Strait on the Olympic Peninsula. I got sent home and I was just...there. I needed to get out, get to work. My dad gave me a couple hundred bucks and I got on the ferry. Campbell River was the first place that hired me. It's rough, but I get paid cash and no one asks my business."
She crossed her arms. "Except for the woman in the back of your pickup."
"I don't know her!" he shrilled, voice climbing. "I came down here to take a few days off. I got a motel room on Dallas and went out to grab a burger and a beer—one beer. I came back out and there she was. I called the cops right away, and they stuck me in a cell without even asking who I was."
Ziva's stomach tightened. "You have not been questioned?"
"Did they check your identification?"
"My wallet, tags, and phone are in a box somewhere. I got a phone call, but no one answered at my dad's house."
She exhaled. "Write down his number. We will make contact for you."
A tiny light burned in Mertes' tired eyes. "You'd do that?"
"Yes. Just write it down. I will call him and tell him what happened."
He took the pen Tony held out and wrote in small, precise digits. She took it. George Mertes. Area code 360. "Thank you."
"Thank you," he replied, and folded his hands. "At least he knew where I was when we were dodging bullets."
She felt a little sick. "I will call your father as soon as I can. Thank you."
VicPD officers took Mertes back to his holding cell. Tony grabbed her elbow as soon as they were out of the building. "You can't do that."
She played dumb. "Do what?"
"Call a suspect's family. That has to be a conflict of interest."
She stopped, turned on her heel. Rain slid down her sleeves, in her eyes, down her collar. "His father does not know where he is."
"You're jeopardizing the investigation, Zee-vah."
"We sent him off to war. We owe his family a telephone call."
He shut up. They got in the car. It was past seven and Victoria was dark. Not even the rugged Canadians wanted to be out in this weather. "We should go to our hotel," she said quietly. "We will get started again early tomorrow morning."
. . . .
Ziva tucked her keycard into the waistband of her running tights and glanced once more at Tony, asleep in the room's single bed. Oh-four-ten. He wouldn't turn over for another hour.
She snicked the door shut, took the stairs. Outside was cool and damp, but the rain was gone. She started with a brisk walk to warm up. Down the block to the inner harbor, around the wharf, past the shipping-containers-turned-restaurants. A fishing trawler slid out of its slip. Something surfaced and disappeared, surfaced and disappeared at the end of the pier.
She turned toward the park. Benches lined a walking trail along the seawall, but she veered off the paved path up a hiking trail. She was breathing hard by the time she reached the top, where a grassy bluff overlooked the water. The sun was still behind the Olympic Mountains. They presided over the Strait, blue-grey and silent.
Ziva paused to catch her breath while the sky turned from grey, to red, to orange. She checked her watch—oh-four-fifty. Sunrise came early this far north. She turned back down the path, picking up her pace on the downhill. But it was darker under the trees and something snagged her sneaker, sending her face-first into the bushes.
She was up again in a heartbeat, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Just beyond where she'd fallen was a half-circle of tents, some rusted lawn furniture, rain-wet knapsacks, food wrappers. The earth had been trampled bare of grass. This was not a school project; people were living there and she had tumbled gracelessly into their neighborhood.
A man emerged from the tent farthest from her and tugged on his boots, seeming not to care that they were soaked from the overnight rain. He sloshed toward her, limbs hanging loose, one arm wrapped around his middle. She backed away without taking her eyes off him.
"Morning," he said. His unwashed smell wafted on the breeze that hinted of more rain.
"Good morning," she ventured.
"Spare a few toonies? I need something to eat."
She fished five Canadian dollars out of her hidden pocket, but this man wasn't hungry; he was drug-sick. "Here."
His eyes lit up—he'd get a fix. "Thanks," he said. There was real gratitude in his voice.
He sauntered off down the trail. Ziva waited, ignoring the scrapes on her palm and the thorns in her knees, until he was far enough away that she could tail him unnoticed.
He walked her path back to the hotel, circled the building to an alley behind. A van pulled up, rolled laundry carts into a doorway. She slipped between two delivery trucks and watched the man make a quick deal before sliding into a doorway to use.
She trotted through the laundry room to the staff stairway, sprinted to their room, and snagged the file. Tony lifted his head as she caught the door before it could close. "Whadd'ya doin'?"
Ziva hushed him and left, checking her watch—less than a minute. Hopefully she'd catch him before he went off on a nod.
She did, but barely. He was crouched behind a dumpster, knees drawn up to his chest, head hanging. His belt was still around his bicep. "Wake up," she demanded.
He looked up, head bobbing. "Hey, thanks for the meal."
She jabbed the photo at him. "You know her?"
He gave a grunt. "Another dead girl, eh?"
The pins-and-needles feeling returned. "There are more?"
"They've been disappearing down here for years. We called the cops, but they don't want to hear from us. Ask anyone. They all know about it."
She showed him Mertes' mug shot. "You know him?"
"Nah. Looks too clean to be hanging out down here."
Too clean. Mertes was scruffy, but showered. "Thanks," she murmured.
"Hey, you got five more bucks so I can get lunch?" She handed him five more. He grinned. "Thanks. I'm set for the day."
She doubted that. "Where are your friends? I want to talk to them."
He got squirrely, as Tony would say. "Oh, uh. I don't know, lady. They're around."
She flashed twenty bucks. "I will make it worthwhile."
His eyes glinted. She guessed it was enough to keep him high all day. "Uh, some of my lady friends go to Sandy's House on Burdett."
"Who is Sandy?"
"No, it's a place—meals, showers."
"Yeah, but only for women. Everyone's gotta be out by nine."
"Where do they go at nine?"
He was floating away from her, eyes vacant, lids heavy. "They work down around Rock Bay. Girls. Eh?"
Girls, eh? "Thanks. What's your name?"
"Thank you, Patrick."
"You're welcome. Hey, can you do me a favor?"
Another favor. Junkies could be so needy. "What do you want?"
She expected him to ask for more money, but he didn't put his hands out. "My friend Emma disappeared, too. Can you find her?"
"I can try. Can you give me a description? Or would you like to work with a sketch artist?"
Patrick's eyes grew wet. "You'll know her when you see her. She's beautiful, ma'am. Beautiful."
. . . .