Wow, I am so sorry for the delay.
Disclaimer: not mine. No money. Ever.
Thanks: girleffect, Amilyn.
. . . .
The treads of Ziva's wet sneaker squeaked Em-ma, Em-ma all the way to the fourth floor. Beautiful, ma'am, she thought, sliding her keycard. The pins clunked. Beautiful.
Tony jumped, clutched his bath towel. He wore only boxer-briefs and a stunned expression. "What?"
She toed off her shoes. "What-what?"
"What the hell happened to you? You're a mess."
She shrugged, sniffed, wiped her face. She'd gouged open the heels of both hands and dirtied the knees of her running tights. "I went for a jog."
She wet a washcloth in the bathroom. "There's a homeless encampment in the park."
He took it from her and cleaned her hands. "And you dropped in like Dorothy Gale minus the farmhouse?"
Ziva knew that reference. "The only man I saw did not know our Jane Doe. I need to shower, Tony."
He held up her forearm so that she could see it in the mirror. Mud streaked wrist-to-elbow. "I hope you leave enough hot water for the other guests."
Her arm looked strange and limp in his grasp. Her skin rippled. "I am fine."
"You have goosebumps."
She looked nothing like a goose. "Then let me take a shower, Tony."
He backed out of the bathroom. She cranked open the taps and peeled off her dirty clothes. The water pounded Em-ma, Em-ma on her back and shoulders, but it ran cold before she could shave her legs. Not that it mattered; she'd only brought jeans.
Her clothes had been laid out—said jeans, a sweater, wool socks. Sturdy hiking shoes waited by the door. She pulled everything on quickly and forwent her usual moisturizer. "Thank you."
Tony was hunched over the laptop. "Sure. Autopsy report's in."
Ziva tied her shoes, ran a comb over her wet hair and tied it back; the rain would ruin anything else she did with it. "Ready."
They walked side-by-side down to their boring rental car, slammed the doors. He started the engine. It chugged Em-ma, Em-ma, Em-ma. "I spoke to a man named Patrick."
Tony pulled up to a coffee drive-thru. "Where?"
"The park, initially. He asked me for money."
"And you gave it to him."
"Yes, and then I followed him."
He handed her coffee in a tall paper cup. She caught a fleeting expression as he pulled away from the window—disapproval, that same sliver of concern. "Yeah?"
"He got his fix behind the hotel. I asked him about our Jane Doe and he did not know her. But..." Her throat closed. She took a sip of coffee to open it. "But he said that she's not the first dead sex worker he has heard of."
Tony nodded. "High-risk population, Zee-vah."
She tried in vain to warm her hands around her cup. "He asked me to find his friend. She is missing."
He pulled into the parking lot at VicPD. "Did he file a report?"
She paused, not wanting to get out of the car in the rain again. "He said the police did not want to 'speak to them.' I do not know if that means they would not take a report."
"Hard to take a report for transients. They move, they go into hiding, they bounce in and out of rehab and shelters."
She nodded. She was growing numb to the chill now. "Patrick also said that most of them visit a shelter called Sandy's."
He popped the latch on his door. "Maybe we can stop by for the dinner rush."
She followed him into the new glass-and-steel building. It smelled like paint and industrial cleansers. It smelled like the bullpen.
She wanted to go home.
. . . .
Medical Examiner Matt Brown was short and boyish in a plaid shirt and trendy glasses, his shoulders narrow, his demeanor gentle. "I couldn't get an ID," he said, looking genuinely rueful, and she wants to hug him. "But I have submitted her dental records. It will take a few days—we don't have the same technology as the Lower Mainland."
She nodded. "We understand. What can you tell us about COD?"
Matt walks them into cold storage and pulls out Jane Doe's tray. There was an obvious garrote mark across her throat. "Strangulation. But there are indications of torture as per the Istanbul Protocol. Symmetrical injuries around the joints, thermal scarring, corrosive injuries, increased muscle tone just prior to death, and soft tissue injuries to the pelvic girdle."
Ziva exhaled, vision narrowing to pinpricks. The floor was cold through the thick soles of her Vibrams, but her heart thumped along like always. "How recent are these injuries?"
"Three to five days prior to death is my best guess."
She swallowed. Her mouth tasted bitter. Had she remembered to brush her teeth? "Is this your first victim with these injuries?"
"That we've been able to determine, yes."
She glared at him. He cowered. "What?"
He cleared his throat. "Wildlife often gets rid of our evidence."
She exhaled again. "But you have found other women—other sex workers—who had been killed?"
"We've found them, yes, but every circumstance is different. Some OD'ed, some died of other natural causes, some were undeterminable."
"Undeterminable? Did you not do an autopsy?"
He shifted. "It's not always in the best interest of the victim."
Her stomach soured. Stupid coffee. "You mean it is not always in the best interest of your taxpayer dollars."
Matt bobbed his head. "Um, would you like to speak to my supervisor?"
Back off. "No, but I would like to see all reports from the last twelve months involving women in the sex trade."
He gaped. "All of them?"
She looked at Jane Doe's sunken cheeks and eyes, the line around her neck. The rest was hidden with a sheet. "Yes."
He closed the drawer. "I can take you up to Records. Jim or Dan will give you a hand."
Jim or Dan. She nodded. "Thank you."
Tony tugged her hand when she jabbed the button for the elevator. Records was on the fifth floor. "Ya ok?"
She pulled away, crossed her arms. Damn it was cold. "This is bigger than we thought."
"How long has Mertes been in Canada?"
"But he's been home from Iraq for more than a year."
The elevator bing'd. "That ferry ride's a short one."
"I will call his father when we go back to the hotel."
Jim or Dan was waiting for them behind a counter. "Matt phoned up, told me what you needed. Give me a minute to pull them."
Files. Records. They had nothing digitized. Ziva only nodded and huffed when he disappeared between the metal shelves full of evidence boxes.
"Patience, Grasshopper," Tony muttered.
"I am not a grasshopper, nor a goose, Tony."
He blinked, frowned. "What?"
He laughed a little. "Your English has slipped, Sweet Cheeks. Goosebumps—you were cold. You ever see Kung Fu? David Carradine a student at the Shaolin Temple? Young, brash, impatient..."
She scowled at him, embarrassed. "No. Shut up."
And thankfully he did in time for Jim or Dan to come staggering back under the weight of two evidence boxes. "Here ya go. Can I help with anything else?"
Ziva pushed the boxes at Tony. He oofed. "A Missing Persons report—a woman named Emma."
Jim or Dan harrumphed and gave her a skinny file from his desk. "Ain't much there."
She swallowed a snarl. "Thank you."
He nodded. "Might want to get a warmer jacket. Summer doesn't hit here until July."
She turned and left, trusting Tony to follow. She stayed two steps ahead all the way to the car and pinched the car keys from his pocket. "I will drive."
"The hell you will. All we need is to end up like Mertes over your speeding habit."
She got in the driver's side and slammed the door. He put the boxes in the trunk and came to her window. "Out."
"Ziva, you're a danger. Out."
She moved the seat forward and put the key in the ignition. "Get in or I am leaving you here."
He flapped his arms. Rain wet his precious hair. "You're a menace."
She put the car in gear. He walked deliberately around the front and slumped in the passenger seat. "Where are we going?"
"You are going back to the hotel. I am going to Rock Bay to do some investigating."
"Patrick said it was the local stroll."
"And you're taking him at his word." She said nothing. He slapped his hands on his knees when she slowed down to turn down the hotel's parking ramp. "No."
He gave her a steady look. "No, you don't get to run off like this. No going rogue, Zee-vah. I'm going with you."
"You look like a cop."
"And what do you look like?"
She studied her tidy fingernails and newish jacket. "A woman."
He let a silence lapse, but not for long. "I saw your face when Matt started rambling about torture. You're not one of them, Ziva."
She stared straight ahead. The doorman pushed a brass cart full of luggage up to the trunk of a BMW.
"You have me," Tony whispered.
She put her cold hand on his much warmer one. "I know."
He sat back. "So then let's go. Rock Bay. Rock the Casbah."
. . . .
The neighborhood looked like Anacostia and smelled like low tide. Brick buildings sagged under rain and moss—an auto body shop, a soup kitchen, and more that were boarded and tagged with eviction notices. There was the rattle of a jackhammer in the distance and the pounding of sledges in the harbor.
"You lost?" a woman called. She was rail-thin, with hollow cheeks and needy eyes. Her hair was bleach-white and strawlike. She wore no jacket despite the cold and rain. "Or need company? Two at once, or we can take turns."
Ziva ignored her. "What's your name?"
"Nicola, do you know this woman?"
"Depends on who's asking."
She flashed twenty dollars. "Someone who can pay."
Nicola took the photo, studied it, nodded. "Her name was Donna. Met her up at Sandy's."
"Year ago. Said she was from Calgary, but I didn't believe it. Girls from the prairie don't work like her."
"What does that mean?"
"Rich guys work the oil rigs up there, but she pulled dates like she been working the docks. Sometimes ten a night."
"Was she using?"
Nicola laughed. "Honey, we're all using."
Ziva didn't flinch. "Any bad dates lately?"
She slid the twenty from Ziva's fingers. "Yeah."
Ziva flashed another. "Who?"
"White guy in a pickup took Mona out to Port Renfrew and tied her up, but she said he paid more for a lay than she ever made before."
"Have you seen him lately?"
Nicola nodded. "Coupla nights ago. Told Stephie and Katie to stay the hell away from him, but Katie wanted the money to buy her kid a birthday present."
Ziva gave her the second bill. "Can I talk to her?"
"Ain't seen her. Probably went to see the baby. She's with her parents up in Nanaimo."
"Do you know a woman named Emma?"
"You been talkin' to Patrick?"
"Then yeah, I knew her, but she disappeared after talkin' to the cops and ain't nobody seen her since. I told him she either killed herself or the pigs did it, but she's long gone."
"How do you know?"
"She was in real bad shape. Screamin' and cryin' and stuff. Someone said they called her mom in Toronto, but they probably lied." Nicola checked her money and grinned. "Hey, I find anything else I'll come to ya, ok? You cool?"
"All right. Thanks, lady."
Nicola sauntered away. A black Honda pulled up next to a stop sign. She got in and it disappeared down Government Street, headed for a chain-linked parking lot near the stinking water's edge.
Tony leaned against the car, arms crossed. "Nice work, Crockett, but you're gonna take us for broke like that."
"If you want the answers then you must pay to ask the questions."
Ziva got in the car. He did, too. She drove the wet streets back to their hotel, where American tourists in sweatshirts wandered in and out of souvenir shops. A sidewalk signboard proclaimed high tea at four o'clock in the Empress Hotel.
They trudged up to their room. Tony peeled off his wet jacket and hung it in the bathroom. He reached for hers, too. "Shoulda grabbed something to eat."
She sat cross-legged in the middle of the bed and pulled the first box toward her. "Why don't you go? I will start. You can catch up when you come back."
He retrieved his dripping raincoat. "What do you want?"
She studied a police report for prostitution. "Surprise me."
He put his thumb and forefinger on her chin and tilted her face toward him. She didn't jerk away. "You ok?"
"I am curious about this bad date. If our Jane Doe was strangled then there is a good chance she was tied up, too, like Nicola said."
"I got your back."
The intention was clear in his green eyes. "I know. Can you get some tea with my lunch?"
"Green or black?"
"Black, please. With milk."
He cupped her cheek. His hand was gentle. "Sure. Anything else?"
She gave him a deliberate look. "No, Tony. Thank you."
She watched him check the lock before leaving and returned to the police report. Taken six days ago, two men were arrested for solicitation, the woman cited, and referred to to Sandy's—the shelter Patrick mentioned. Refuses to cooperate, the notes read. No ID. Will not respond to police questioning. Will not consent to search.
She shuffled through call-ins, write-ups, beat reports, contact reports, overnight jail rosters. Arrests, releases. There were few legal names—everyone used street names, nicknames, or inmate numbers. There were pages and pages that contained no useful information. Frustrated, she flipped the box. Papers scattered all over the bed and floor.
"Benzona," she cursed, sighing, and slid off the mattress to clean up her mess. This was no way to behave, even in private.
An official-looking letter on linen paper caught her eye first. The letterhead was a red umbrella and an Esquimault address. These missing sex workers are in danger, it said. They may lead high-risk lifestyles, but they are daughters, sisters, mothers, and aunts and deserve the same attention as any other missing women. Please help us. Signed, the women of PEERS, Victoria and Esquimault. Attached was a list of eighteen names, each followed by the date they'd been last seen.
Tony returned, key card sliding with a shick. Ziva jumped up, crumpling half the box's contents beneath her feet. She gulped air at his puzzled expression. Easy, David, Gibbs would have said. "My suspicion is confirmed, Tony-this is much, much bigger than we knew."
He unpacked sandwiches, a soda for him, tea for her. "Yeah?" She thrust out the letter. He stepped closer and took it. Their arms brushed as he read it, swaying a little. "Huh."
Her empty stomach clenched. "Is that all you can say?"
"For now. Let's eat."
He'd gotten falafel. Schmiel had followed her to the end of the earth. She dabbed on some extra tahini and took a big bite, missing him and missing her home, where it was warm and sunny and vaguely sweet-scented from the cherry blossoms.
"Someone was looking for them," she urged, licking pickled cabbage from her fingers.
Tony put down his sandwich. "Yeah."
"I am going to go through that box again—cross-check the MP reports with this list. I will call that organization, too, and interview whoever wrote that. Maybe I can get the names of some of the family members of the women on this list. If not, I can take it to Nicola—she is very knowledgeable. I just want to know why this was not a priority to VicPD. Eighteen women, Tony." Her pulse raced. She drank tea and scalded her tongue. "Eighteen. And there is no one named Emma on the list. We may have to go back to Patrick—"
"What about Mertes?"
She looked at the letter, written a year prior. "I do not think he is involved."
"Then how did Jane Doe get in his truck?"
"Sounds like a convenient place to dump a body."
"Sounds too convenient for a wrong-place-wrong-time."
She balled her falafel wrapper, pulled out her laptop, and dialed Gibbs via Skype. "Yeah," he greeted, distracted. He jogged a folder of papers and tossed it on his outbox.
"This is big," Ziva blurted. "And I do not think our Marine is responsible."
He didn't look at her. "You listening to your gut, David?"
"Is that a problem?"
He did look at her, then. "Gotta corroborate your statements."
"There is a history of missing sex workers going back seven years according to a letter I found in some old reports from VicPD. A woman I spoke to this morning said she knows of a bad date and of two women who are missing, one was seen with him."
"I..." she fumbled. "I do not know."
"You toss the truck?"
"No." He raised an eyebrow. "But we will do it now."
"Easy, all right?"
He wiped his face on his sleeve. "Yeah, Boss?"
"Get her a warmer jacket," he commanded, and hung up.
. . . .
Ziva peeled back another layer of filthy canvas and gagged; Mertes' truck stunk like dead fish and rotting trash. "I cannot imagine," she gasped. "Why he would bring his work home with him."
Tony leaned out of the cab and spat on the VicPD impound floor. "Damn, this stinks."
She jumped out of the truck bed, having found nothing but rain-rotted tarps and a few crushed beer cans. "Anything?"
He used his flashlight to sweep the wheel wells and under the hood. VicPD's analysts had already searched it and found nothing. "Nope."
She slid beneath and examined the frame, but there was nothing—no blood, no weapon, no evidence of any crime other than slovenliness. "Nothing here, either."
"He's a pig, but not a killer."
Her skin prickled. She peeled off her latex exam gloves and tossed them in a trashcan. "Nicola said something about a pig having possibly killed Emma."
Tony tossed his gloves, too. "Ziva, pig is a slang term for a cop."
Eight years in the States and still she had so much to learn. "Why would she think the police killed Emma?"
"She's a prostitute, Zee-vah. Their relationship is probably antagonistic at best. Haven't you ever seen Taxi Driver?"
"You were a cop!"
"Yeah, I was. Was. Now I'm your partner."
She studied the dirty garage floor. "You found nothing?"
He slammed the pickup door. "Not even a joint. We need to tell VicPD to let him go."
"I want to call his father."
"Let him do that."
She hemmed. "I told him I would do it."
"When we thought he killed that pro."
He rolled his eyes. "I think he's off the hook for this."
"And we will find who is on it." He nodded. Her heart pumped Em-ma, Em-ma. "Someone has to know who Jane Doe was, Tony. Someone had to have been looking for her."
He ran a hand over his hair. "And they could be anywhere."
"Locally, I mean. These women aren't invisible."
He looked again over the body of the truck and shook his head. "Yeah, but it's late. Let's get a good night's sleep and try again in the morning."
She brushed dirt from the sleeves of her jacket. "We can go back to Rock Bay. There are probably more working women now that it's dark."
"No, we should call Gibbs and tell him Mertes is clean and that he can go. Then we'll go to bed and start fresh in the morning."
"Sex workers and drug dealers do not keep banker's hours, Tony."
"You don't get bonus points for running yourself ragged, Ziva."
Her temper flared. "This dead woman was someone's family and you are going to tell me that we should not take every opportunity to bring her killer to justice? To bring them some kind of closure?"
The night watchman stuck his head around the corner at the sound of her shouting. Tony waved and his turned around. "Tell me," he ordered quietly.
She stomped toward their rental. "Tell you what?"
"Don't make me assume, Ziva."
She got in the driver's seat. "Assuming anything is a fool's errand."
"Somalia, Zee-vah. I was there. I saw the look on your face when Saleem pulled that sack off your head."
She ached from her head to her feet. "You are wrong."
"No, I'm not. You had no idea we were coming for you."
She stopped at a red light and looked at him, electrified with anger. "Someone is looking for her, Tony. Someone has lost their child, or their mother, or their sister, and they are looking."
"Tell me, Ziva."
Traffic was slow in the driving rain. "No."
"Tell me you get it."
"I do not know what you are talking about."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I do not. Drop it."
She pulled alongside the curb on Bay Street. Tony grabbed her hand before she could kill the ignition. "Don't do this," he begged softly. "Don't shut me out. We're past that."
Ziva blew out a long, shuddery breath. Rain drummed on the roof. It took many minutes of listening to it before she could speak. "I have not thought about that in many years."
She clutched his hand like a lifeline. "Yes."
"I never, ever abandoned you. I never wrote you off."
"But you could have. You should have."
"But that would kill me. I couldn't..."
"Please support me in this."
"I am," he vowed. "I'm here. I'm with you."
"Convince Gibbs to let me go undercover."
She can read the hell no all over his stunned face. "Ziva I—"
"You said yourself that I understand these women, Tony. That I can identify with having been marginalized, with having to act out of desperation. Let me do this, and get Gibbs to let me do it. It is the only way to catch whomever is responsible for this."
"We don't even know that it's one person. It could be ten. Or a hundred."
"One is a start, Tony."
"Not one worth your life."
She held his hand tighter. "You know I can take care of myself."
"I don't have to like it."
A woman in a pink, sparkly dress knocked on his window. "Hey, honey."
He held up his and Ziva's linked hands. She disappeared into the shadows. "Tony," she started.
"Ok," he huffed. "Ok. You still want to talk to them?"
She let go of his hand and unbuckled her seat belt. "I will find Nicola. We need to tell her."
He didn't move. "You sure about this?"
"I am sure that they are worth it."
She watched him watch a dealer make a swap and duck into a waiting car. He nodded. "Then let's find Nicola and have that conversation."
They got out. She looked at him over the roof of the car. "Thank you."
His eyes were dark beneath the streetlight. "Don't make me regret this."
They walked side-by-side to Nicola's corner. A light in the harbor flashed Em-ma, Em-ma. "I won't," she promised softly, and meant it.