Disclaimer: NCIS and all related properties are copyright Belisarius Productions. No infringement is intended. I make no money from this project, and I do not own or control anything there, not even Abby or Ziva; darn it!
This is the first story in my NCIS Mystery series.
In addition to full length Mysteries, there are also numerous One-Shots and some AU stories, all listed in my Profile.
Rating: M or NCis-17
Warnings: Murder (of course), Adult Situations and Language.
The Superheroine Affair
Tamara Baird stopped her housekeeping cart in front of the next room on her assigned floor: 818, single, non-smoking, and used her key card in the locking mechanism. While a guest's card could open only one door, Staff had no such restriction.
It was nine sixteen a.m. and she doubted she would meet any late departing guests. The Hotel was given over this Memorial Day Weekend to a Convention that had attracted a reputed record number of guests. In its third day, everyone would be downstairs attending the Sunday morning revelry.
Tamara pushed the door open, turned on the light, and as she brought the cart in with her to hold the door open – no hotel maid ever worked behind closed doors – she turned and froze, shocked.
The woman was stretched out upon the bed, arms and legs spread and tightly tied by tight ropes which held her limbs secure to all four corners. Her red hair was splayed across the pillows and she stared at the ceiling with sightless eyes. Tamara didn't need more than a second to see that the bound woman was not breathing. She was dead.
This was not the first deceased guest Tamara Baird had encountered in her ten years at this hotel. It was, in fact, the second. That other, a middle aged man with a heart condition, had been unknown to her, as indeed were all the guests she had ever encountered.
This one was different. Tied as she was, she had not gone peaceably in her sleep as that other had. Tamara didn't know this woman's name, but she recognized her instantly.
This was 'Batgirl'.
The Death of Batgirl
Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of the Headquarters Division of NCIS in Washington D.C., did not enjoy early Sunday calls from the Metro Police Department, particularly since his Team was not on Weekend Rotation. Such a direct call, aside from being inappropriate, was never good news and this time was no exception.
When he'd tried to redirect the request - right, request - to Dispatch at the Navy Yard, Mulvanie had told him that Higgins' team was already handling a case which had come in yesterday so would they please look into it?
There are few words appropriate to this situation and he didn't say any of them.
The body of a young woman had been found in a hotel, and when the Police determined that she was a U.S. Navy Sailor, their 'course' was clear. Stretched entirely too thin in their own resources over the Memorial Day weekend, they didn't hesitate long in turning this case over to someone else. They couldn't claim jurisdiction; though this had happened in a hotel, not on a Naval base, 'the law was the law'.
The call to NCIS Headquarters, along with all available details, had been relayed to Gibb's cell phone, and he in turn contacted his three Field Agents, as well as the Agency's Medical Examiner, giving them such particulars as he had.
Doctor Donald Mallard, known affectionately and unambiguously as 'Ducky', lived roughly midway between Gibbs' home and the hotel, so the Chief Agent offered to pick his friend up. He also knew that, with his own driving style, it would get the man to the scene far more quickly than if Ducky were to drive on his own.
Ducky would have preferred the latter, as Gibbs' style was a cross between the Indianapolis 500 and a bullet train, but his friend was not known for his patience and the offer was quite insistent. He accepted, counting on his carefully packed Field Examination equipment to survive the harrowing trip.
The Hotel Meritz was crowded. When Gibbs and Mallard entered through the revolving door, it seemed that half the city was queued up in the lobby, enduring an orderly line to an escalator that would snake the crowd, eventually, to the second floor.
The Meritz boasted the largest number of ballrooms in the city, twelve in all on the 2nd through 4th double high floors. From a perusal of the directory prominently displayed in the lobby, it was clear all were being utilized to their capacity.
Ignoring the crowd, the pair made their way to the Registration Desk. A woman wearing a white blouse and maroon jacket, upon which was pinned a badge bearing the name 'Tina Ambrosino; Manager', smiled at them in greeting. "May I help you?"
Gibbs pulled out and opened his leather folder containing his shield and ID card and identified both himself and Mallard. "We're here investigating the death of Midshipman Leslie Greene." The woman's smile vanished.
"Yes. Would you come with me please?" Signaling to another woman to take her place, she led them around the desk and toward the back of the hotel. "This is a more direct route to the room. Some of the Police are still here, but your Agent is up there and has taken charge."
This was a surprise to Gibbs, who hadn't wasted any time in arriving, and had reasonably expected to have to wait for his staff. "Which one?"
"An Agent MacNee."
"Yes, that's it. Sorry. This whole incident has gotten us a little shaken."
"Have you been in the room?" Ducky asked, concerned about integrity of the scene.
"I had no choice, but I didn't stay long." She glanced at Gibbs, the unspoken message clear. The woman had stayed inside for as brief a time as possible. "I didn't touch anything."
They reached an elevator, and Ambrosino pulled a ring of keys out of her pocket, selected one and inserted it into a panel by the door. The elevator opened. "Private staff car," she explained.
The '8th floor', ignoring the high lobby and three levels of double high ballrooms accessible by two escalators a piece, was on the 16th level of the huge hotel. There were another 9 floors above this. During the trip Ambrosino was silent, lost in her own thoughts, and Gibbs did not press her, instead calling McGee to let him know he and Ducky would join him in seconds. Since the Manager was not a principal witness, he preferred to get his facts directly.
When the elevator deposited them on '8', they saw the man standing in the hall about 60 feet away, wearing a pair of blue pants and a shirt of a lighter shade. He turned at the sound of the elevator opening, and waited for his associates rather than leaving the closed door behind him.
"What have you got, McGee?" Gibbs asked as they reached him.
"No joy, boss. I was very close when you called, so I was able to get here within a few minutes. The police have gone – the patrolmen got another call – so I secured the scene for Doctor Mallard." He paused, greeting Ambrosino, whom he had spoken to earlier.
'Ducky' Mallard noted that the agent, as was usual for him, did not refer to him by his more colloquial nickname while on duty in public. He really must cure him of that, he thought. Later.
"The details you gave me are as much as we know. The Patrolmen's report will be in asap." Already wearing latex gloves, he turned the knob of the door behind him, stepping aside to allow the men to enter.
Room 818 looked like every hotel room any of the men had ever been in. There was a single bed between two bureaus; on the right one sat a clock radio. Opposite the foot of the bed was a large dresser upon which sat a television that seemed big enough to crush the wood beneath. In the far right corner near the window was a round table with two chairs, though it could easily have accommodated four. To the left, immediately inside the door, was a small bathroom.
The bed was rumpled, the upper comforter on the floor at the right side, one of the two blankets on the left and the three pillows disarrayed, two of them on the floor, one on either side of the bed.
There was a variety of women's clothing scattered about the room; on chairs, on top of luggage, including a blouse draped over the bathroom door.
"My word," Mallard said when he saw the body.
The woman lay spread-eagled on the bed, her arms and legs tied to the four corners. Her shoulder length, flame red hair was spread like a halo across the pillow and her unseeing eyes stared upward at the ceiling. The three men stared at the body for several seconds.
"You've got to be kidding," Gibbs declared.
"Not a bit of it, Jethro," Ducky assured him, impressed.
"When I first saw it, I thought it was a costume," McGee admitted.
"Nothing like any costume that was going to make it in 1960's American television; my boy. Or Scottish, for that matter, I'm sorry to say."
The woman was indeed wearing the familiar purple costume of the fictional character 'Batgirl', complete with purple gloves and boots, cape and a bat emblem spread across her breasts. That was on the first look.
The second, as they drew closer, revealed the truth. The yellow cape under her body was the only large material thing upon her. It was adhered along her bare shoulders to make it hang properly when she stood, though the top was affixed at her throat. The three triangular projections from the outer sides of each purple 'glove' were material, adhered to her arms, and the footwear was high heeled slippers cleverly camouflaged to resemble high purple boots.
That was absolutely all the woman wore.
"Theatrical make-up, gentlemen," Ducky proclaimed. "An excellent job, even attaining the look and sheen of the original material as I recall, though nothing but paint and illusion. Outstanding detail."
From the black makeup that constituted the mask with its swept back eyes to where the straps of her slippers blended into the purple makeup covering her feet and calves, Leslie Greene was quite naked.
Naked, that is, except for a white handkerchief that had been spread open and laid across the woman's hips, the lower half of the diamond draping down between her thighs to the bed. "That's mine," McGee answered Ducky's questioning glance, earning a sharp glare from Gibbs, who thought that the man had known far better about introducing elements into a crime scene. "I didn't know how many people were going to be in and out, and I felt..."
"Quite right, my boy," Ducky interjected, sparing his friend any need for an explanation, as well as preventing a reprimand from Gibbs. "I applaud your courtesy and discretion. It will, of course, have to be sent to Abby's lab for exclusion." The cloth would be examined so that any cotton particles on her body could be identified and discounted in the evidence phase.
Gibbs might well have said what was on his mind, but refrained since, under the circumstances, he might have done the same.
"Wow," a voice exclaimed from the door.
"'Wow' indeed, Agent DiNozzo," Ducky concurred, not looking back to the door from his close examination of the body. Senior Field Investigator Anthony DiNozzo took in the body on the bed from his position in the open doorway. He was wearing jeans and a Steelers 'Super Bowl XL' t-shirt, both of which were considerably dusty. McGee, on the other hand, in slacks and a blue short sleeved shirt, was by far the more presentable of the two.
"Uh, I'm not sure, boss." McGee replied, standing at the foot of the bed.
"Come on, Probie. I told you this was your week to watch her."
"It has been a long time since someone has had to watch me, Tony." Ziva said from behind his left ear. He spun about, startled. The woman, several inches shorter than he, grinned up at him. On her day off she indulged in an uncharacteristic pale green blouse and short matching skirt, her jet black hair hanging loose about her shoulders.
She was frequently described by DiNozzo as 'exotic', when he was not expressing his opinion of her in more earthy ways. DiNozzo frowned at her, irritated at having been so thoroughly startled by her – again.
"I've asked you to stop appearing out of thin air like that. God, it's like dealing with someone out of 'Star Trek'!"
"Oh, I know that one!" she exclaimed. Born and raised in Israel, and very recently arrived in America, she often did not get many of DiNozzo's strictly colloquial references, so she was pleased when once in a while she did. "It is the one with Ambassador Spock."
"Oh? I thought he made Ambassador in –."
"Enough." Gibbs said sharply to cut off this barrage of inane drivel while he was trying to get his three Agents up to speed on their new case.
"This is midshipman Leslie Greene, aged 19, assigned to the USS Mercado on patrol off Cuba." He'd pulled that from Fred Higgins on the way over. "She was found by the cleaning staff at 0930 hours this morning. When Metro ID' her, they contacted us."
By now Ducky has placed and consulted a liver probe, compared the body's and the room temperature and can tell them that "Estimated time of death is between 2000 and 2400 hours last night."
The two newly arrived Agents joined their fellows near the foot of the bed.
"At first glance, I thought it was a costume," Tony says.
"I knew I could count on you to give her more than one glance," Ziva quipped, impressed at the make-up.
She and DiNozzo maintained a friendly adversarial relationship that had started with their first meeting and had not changed appreciatively since. She considered him a barely mature example of American youth, a thirteen year old trapped in a thirty year old body, too easily obsessed with sex and gratification, with a primarily gender based view of the world. These things hampered his undeniable abilities as an Investigator.
He considered her an annoying tease and the exotic owner of the hottest pants he'd ever tried to talk his way into.
That he had utterly failed to do so during the one occasion they had shared a hotel room together as undercover 'husband' and 'wife' had not helped their relationship.
"Gentlemen, if you don't need me anymore, I do have a busy hotel to run," Ambrosino reminded them from her position near the door. This was as close to the body of the dead woman as she cared to get.
"Oh, yes, thank you," Gibbs replied, trying to cover the fact that, in light of the surprising discovery and having then to deal with his own people, he had forgotten the silent woman. He would see her later for more information. For now, if she isn't a primary witness, he'll focus upon information he can glean from the cleaning staff
Working her way past DiNozzo, Ambrosino made a quick departure. When Gibbs turned back, he found that McGee had moved closer to the body, on the other side from where Mallard worked, and was bending quite low over it.
Tim McGee, already wearing a pair of latex examination gloves, leaned in quite closely over the woman, examining the detail of the yellow belt with its various utility pouches painted onto her nude body, completely oblivious to everything else, including how intrusive his head was into Ducky's examination. The Doctor had pulled back slightly, a mixture of annoyance and curiosity on his face at McGee's uncharacteristic behavior. The others stared at him until Gibbs leaned over and rapped his hand against the back of the younger man's head, making him stand suddenly. "Sorry, boss; but that's excellent work. Excellent."
"I'm glad you approve," Gibbs said bitingly. But the Agent was no longer looking at his superior; he had already bent back down again and was now staring intently at the woman's breasts. "McGee."
"Just a minute, Boss." McGee studied the woman's breasts very closely indeed. Mallard turned to Gibbs in mounting surprise, wondering even so if he should have his friend remove the younger man from his space. McGee did not glance away from his minute inspection of her rather impressive breasts, which were high, firm and needed little in the way of support – or the Agent's close scrutiny. The other investigators looked at each other, all of them at a loss to understand the man's behavior.
"I would tell you to 'get a room', McGee," Ziva quipped, uncomfortable with the intensity of his examination, "if we were not already in one." It was true she did not think much at all of DiNozzo's manner, but until this moment she had had far more respect for Tim.
"Just a second, Boss." He moved up the body, carefully avoiding stepping on either the blanket or pillow dislodged onto the floor to look very closely at the woman's 'masked' face. He was completely oblivious to Gibbs' outrage. No one told the Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge 'just a second'.
At one point McGee was virtually nose-to-nose with Greene. Then he took and tugged at a lock of her red hair, then moved higher on her head, moving strands of hair about to see her scalp.
Tim McGee was well known to his fellows for his ability to concentrate so totally that he actually shut out the entire planet, his brain's full attention focused purely on the resolution or attainment of a single goal. Usually this was a good thing – it allowed him to find obscure solutions to a case with almost superhuman speed and accuracy. Right now, however, it was just too outrageous to endure.
"McGee, if you don't tell me something very good, I'm going to–"
"I think she's a natural redhead, Boss," McGee said suddenly, surprising Gibbs with his abruptness. "I can't be certain since she was completely smooth down there."
"Thank you for that picture," Ziva remarked. McGee remained oblivious of her tone.
"In fact, I'm pretty sure that–"
He straightened quickly. "Her cowl's missing," he said as suddenly, equally mysteriously, looking about the room. Sometimes trying to follow the agent's thought processes was an adventure in itself; one his associates normally didn't mind riding along on, but this time he was leading them to too obscure a destination. "I don't see it anywhere."
"McGee," Gibbs grated, having had all that he could stand, "talk to me before I drop kick you out –."
"Boss, this is masterly work, exquisite detail. The utility belt, the bat emblem, the mask – everything is utterly precise. Meticulous craftsmanship. A lot of work went into this. This was no schlock job. It must have taken hours to get the precision work right.
"But 'Batgirl' was 'Barbara Gordon', a brunette who wore a red wig, the ends of which could just be seen out of the purple cowl, or stylized hood, that she wore. It was this purple cover that fitted over her head, had raised 'bat' ears–."
The man continued as though barely having been cut off. "But if this woman was going for body paint rather than a costume, she would have had to paint her hair," they had to admit that this was highly unlikely, "unless she did go for a purple cowl to cover her head. She would have had to use something. I can't believe she'd go for such meticulous detail as she did, and then leave such a glaring omission."
Leroy Jethro Gibbs stared at the man, impressed. He did not ask if this detail was important. In a murder investigation, everything was important, particularly a divergence from the precision the woman had so obviously striven for.
He was left, therefore, with a hundred questions, not the least of which were: why was she painted to look like 'Batgirl', why was she naked, and most importantly; why was she dead?
Right now, he wanted the first – the oddest – question answered first.
"This is the 'Greater East Coast Comic Art Convention' this weekend. You must have seen it downstairs," McGee said.
Gibbs had, in fact, seen something of it in the huge crowd queuing up in the lobby, but his focus had been on getting himself and Ducky to the murder site. He vowed never to let himself become so focused as to miss something so significant. It was a Probie's mistake, something he would have chewed anyone else into tiny pieces for, and he had fallen into it like a pre-appointment Applicant.
"They booked the hotel for the four day weekend," DiNozzo took up the report. "I picked up some of their literature on a table in the lobby before coming up here. Their poop sheet bills them as the biggest collection of geeks, freaks and meeps in the country."
"I seriously doubt that," Gibbs retorted.
"No," he admitted. "Actually, they say they have almost every famous artist – if you can call them that – in the Industry; more than anyone has ever assembled since the Comics Code Hearings in the Senate."
"I didn't know ancient history was your specialty, Tony," McGee retorted from across the room. He focused on Gibbs, determined to take up the explanation with more fairness, or at least more accuracy. "Their Celebrity List includes some of the most high-powered names in the Industry. There are artists here from all over the country, with careers spanning decades, from new and upcoming through long retired. Additionally, there are people from television and movies; actors and actresses, directors, producers, art people; everyone," he finished expansively.
"Like I said, boss, Geek Central."
"It also has some other things," Gibbs countered.
"It had Leslie Greene; now it has you, McGee and Ziva. Spread out; find that missing mask – and everything else. Then get down there and find out everything. Interview Superman if you have to, but I want to know why she was there, who she was with, why she was a naked 'Batgirl' and why she died."