Qasim Houssam watched the back of the leather armchair, waiting for his boss to speak. The two cops were safely locked in the basement and they had been deprived of any kind of weapon or mean of communication with the world. The girl, as the boss had warned him, had been rather hard to overcome, even enchained, and he could have defended a fortress with all the weapons she had with her.
"Have you been kind to our guests, Quasim?" said the low, womanly voice of the boss. "Gentle?"
Houssam bowed lightly with respect in the dimness of the study, surrounded by tall shelves filled up with books. This new house they had moved to looked a little too creepy for his tastes, superstitious as he was, but he knew what the boss thought of superstitions, so he just kept this to himself.
"I did what you wanted, Madam." He said obsequiously. "I left everything in the room, as you bade."
Facing the window behind the desk, the woman's head nodded.
"How's the girl?"
"She's losing a lot of blood, Madam." Houssam hesitated, as though he wasn't sure that was the right answer. "She fought when I tried to search her, but she's weak."
Nothing happened for long seconds. Houssam watched his boss muse in silence with no eyesight of her expression. Then, just when he less expected it, she resolutely turned around on her armchair and stood on her feet, her tall slender silhouette standing out in the golden light of the sunset. A cold, heartless smirk sprang on her lips.
"I'll take care of her."
"Gotcha!" Abby jumped up in front of her computer, fingering the screen excitedly.
"Tell me that scream means good news, Abbs." Gibbs said, walking in the room carrying a mint and strawberry slushie for her.
Abby managed to snag the juicy prize from him just before he could slip it out of her reach, but her triumphant grin was big enough to prevent him from complaining.
"Tony's cell-phone. I got it. Its signal has been off so far, because of some interferences due to the consistent affluence of ships in the port, I suppose. Their radars are so powerful that create this-"
"In a moment I'll be able to tell you their precise localisation. Well, the localisation of Tony's cell-phone, at least."
Gibbs's face became wistful as his brows furrowed.
"If the radars are no longer interfering, this means…"
"They must be at least one mile away from the shipyard." Abby nodded vehemently, shaking her pigtails.
"It's better than nothing." Meanwhile, Abby's eyes darted up and down the screen eagerly, devouring the information she had just got. It was a moment before she frowned and then jumped up in daze, eyes wide in shock.
"Jethro, you won't believe this!"
He approached her at once, demanding to be updated.
"Test me." he told her hastily. Abby's shimmering look lay upon him with a short emphatic pause.
"Tony's cell." She said with a disbelieving tone. "It's… Coming here."
Before she could add anything, Gibbs blurted out some thanks and blasted out of the lab like a hurricane.
"Be extremely careful, I want Gibbs's guys to come out unharmed. Yes, unharmed, or you'd better start looking for a new job… No… complicated op… she's dangerous… Chameleon has to be… Officer David's life…"
Evelyn's voice was audible through the door of the room Jen had temporarily settled for her, but Gibbs could catch only fragments of her conversation on the phone with an unknown interlocutor. The little he heard, though, was enough to make him suspicious.
He slammed the door open, not even bothering to knock or ascertain nobody else was inside, and Evelyn turned to him from the desk, prompting a nonchalant smile. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her hand slip her cell-phone into her purse.
"Jethro," she greeted brightly. "What can I-?"
"What was that?" he barked. She blinked innocently, only getting to fuel his fury. "That damn Chameleon thing, Evelyn!"
She lingered one moment, then sat back on the desk and folded her arms. She cast him a helpless glance before looking at the ground.
"It's none of NCIS's business, Jethro." She said stiffly. "Least of all yours."
Gibbs walked in front of her and enclosed her in between his arms, hands planted on the desk. He hoped his threatening look was eloquent enough.
"Eve, I want to know what you know. Everything. Right now."
But she didn't seem very touched by his bluntness. Her excessive surreptitiousness, however, spoke volumes.
"It's complicated, Jethro." She sighed. "I'm not allowed to tell-"
He slammed a fist onto the wooden surface, making her wince slightly.
"Tony and Ziva might be dead," he hissed sourly. "I'm not going to just buy these vice-director bubblings of yours. Just tell me what the hell you know."
"I can't." she spelt strictly through her teeth.
"Evelyn, you were one of our own, once." He continued, relenting a bit. "I refuse to believe you've forgotten what it's like to be cut out by superiors." He regarded her the old way, when the two of them had been so much more than colleagues. Or friends. "There's a chance my guys are alive, you can't ask me to wait until you get a stupid permission!"
Evidently shaken by his passionate speech, Evelyn bit her lip and gave up the confrontation.
"She wants revenge."
He noted Evelyn didn't question him about how he know about that woman. She had written on her face that her job was to know everything about anyone any time, and now he new she was truly the top in the field. She nodded her head yes, gravely, as if there was something implicit he didn't know.
"Formerly known as Hasmia Haswari."
And it was then that the world fell. Gibbs couldn't remember the last time he had felt his heart pound in his throat, but it had been very, very long ago. Decades, probably.
"We found out her death was a fake, six months ago. She changed her identity, that is why the op is called Chameleon." Evelyn began pacing back and forth, hands joined behind her back. He could tell she was nervous, even though nobody else would have noticed. "We've been keeping an eye on her since then. I have proofs that she has had Ziva spied for one year, at least."
Gibbs didn't know what to do. It was the first time in ages, and it was rather disorientating. For the second time around in a couple of years, someone was hitting a little too close to home.
"She's had a year to kill her…" he reasoned, more to himself than to her. "Why to wait so long if her intention is to kill her?"
He raised his gaze to her at her silence. He knew its meaning way too well, he's had to unmask it so many times in the past that he'd lost the count.
He was literally begging her. If this wouldn't work – if recognising she was the actual leader wouldn't work – then nothing would. It was the last card he could play.
"According to what we retrieved," she declared weakly. "They were studying her life, her habits, her frequentations, her-"
"Affections." Awareness suddenly shone through his features. Evelyn pivoted like a prioress on a scarifical lamb. He shuddered as she addressed him the most intense gaze he'd ever got from her. It was scary.
"Hasmia wanted to be sure to hit a weak spot."
Gibbs cursed under his breath, clenching his fists.
Evelyn watched him wide-eyed as her brain put two and two together.
"We need to find them." He cut her off brusquely. "Explanations-"
"Do we have a potential location?"
Gibbs's cell-phone rang the moment he and Evelyn crossed the doorway. He grabbed it and flipped it open with a jittery gesture.
McGee's voice spoke from the other side.
"Boss, something very weird has just arrived. You won't believe…"
A brief hesitation.
"It's Tony and Ziva's badges, cell-phones and weapons. And there's an envelope, too. From Ziva, it seems."
No good news. Hasmia had sent them a very eloquent message by sending that stuff. He knew she was smart and capable enough to make sure they wouldn't be able to find any clue about her location. Tony and Ziva's location.
"Did you open it?" Gibbs asked, speeding up his pace through the hallway.
"Then do it, McGee!" he snapped. "I'm getting down there." He flipped the phone closed and turned back to Evelyn, following him closely. "We gotta go. Chameleon's just told us she rules the game."
When Tony finally became conscious again, he found out his surroundings consisted on a uncluttered dark room, probably a basement, that smelled of dust and iron. A small light bulb hanging from the dirty ceiling sent a faint sallow light down on the floor. Ziva lay in a filthy corner, right across from him, just awakening. He tried to reach her, but something kept him. They were both cuffed to solid pipes. He had a memory blackout of how they had ended up there, but judging by the dizzy feeling he had, he reckoned they had been drugged.
"Ziva…" He called. "Hey, Ziva!"
She blinked from her supine position, checking around in mild disorientation. Their weapons and badges were nowhere to be seen.
"It was about time that you'd wake up." Said a voice they didn't know.
It took them a while to note there was a woman sitting on a chair a couple of metres from them.
Ziva could see she was wearing a kaki pants suit and black leather boots whose heels looked sharp enough to kill. Maybe that was exactly their purpose.
The mysterious woman left the chair, and Tony managed to spot a pair of cold ice coloured eyes in the dim light. Eyes he discovered he knew.
He blazed a glance to Ziva, getting an eyeful of her astounded expression. Apparently unable to move a muscle, she stared gaping at the woman standing in front of them, wide-eyed in shock. She knew those eyes, too.
"Shalom, Ziva David." The blond-haired woman spoke in a low rough voice, with a mild Arab accent, taking a step into the cone of light. She looked about in her middle forties, but Tony was sure she was at least five years older. She was slender and very fit for her age, and he couldn't help noticing she was also rather attractive. Nevertheless, it gave him chills to see such intense hatred in her gelid look.
He watched her couch next to a very weak Ziva, rolling her face toward herself with the barrel of her purse-sized Colt. He writhed, the chains clattering loud in the thick silence of the room, but in vain. Despite the effort, he only got the cuffs to dig sharp cuts into his wrists.
"Those handcuffs have been sharpened expressly to discourage you two from trying to escape." The woman said, without even turning to him. "I suggest you not insist, or I'll have to use more convincing methods."
She trailed the gun all along Ziva's face and pinned it under her chin. Ziva's eyes blinked her image into focus for a couple of seconds, and the evil chuckle she saw froze her blood inside her veins. It was way too well-known, even if she couldn't tell why.
"Well well," the woman begun with a creepy smile. "You and I seem to have a couple of men in common, sweetheart, don't we?" She pressed the top of the gun deeper into Ziva's flesh, delighting at her eyes oozing hostility. "You have your father's eyes. Unlike your brother…"
The ringing bell in Ziva's mind exploded like a bomb at that statement, crashing painfully against the walls of her mind. A shiver of terror ran across her spine as she weakly returned the hateful acrimony of her captivator's manners.
"Leave her alone!" spit out Tony, lunging furiously in their direction
The woman tutted with a light shake of the head.
"I lead the game, Special Agent DiNozzo, so stay quiet, or my finger might slip." She threateningly scratched her red lacquered nail on the trigger, causing Tony's pulse to increase crazily, then, with a rapid feline movement, she planted the gun in Ziva's side, hitting on intention the wounded spot. Ziva felt like the air was being forcefully sucked out of her lungs.
Tony's heart shattered as he heard her suffocated scream of pain.
"How rude of me, I haven't even introduced myself." She brought the free hand to her chest in mock desolation. "I don't expect you to remember of me, Ziva. We met only once, when you were three years old." she said with feigned sweetness, then paused emphatically, flashing Tony a blood-freezing smile that did not reach her familiar-looking impenetrable eyes. Ari's eyes. "Hasmia Haswari, currently and officially known as Malikah Ayda. Very nice to meet you both." Her look roamed southward to Ziva. "You in particular."
Ziva told herself she should have known better than to believe an Hamas agent deceased. Hadn't Ari died by her own hand just before her eyes, in fact, she would have never trusted the news of his death.
Now she knew where the stitches on her wound came from. What she couldn't explain was why Hasmia had bothered to suture a potentially fatal injury to the woman she was now threatening to kill. Unless, of course, she wanted her alive for other objectives.
"I take it you're not as dead as you're supposed to be." She hazarded throatily. Hasmia let out a low wicked laugh.
"Right back from the grave, my dear." She sourly confirmed. "It's easier to do your job when everyone thinks you're buried six feet under the ground." A sneer formed on her lips. "No more bills, no more taxes, and nobody comes looking for you when someone dies by suspicious causes." She thrust the gun deeper, and Ziva squeezed her eyes stoically, stifling another pained cry.
"What do you want from her?" Tony bellowed, anger raging through his words.
"Oh, nothing important." Hasmia smiled in the scariest way Tony had ever seen. "I just want to get even with what she took from my son."
Horror painted on Tony's blanched face. Ziva didn't know whether to believe her or not.
"And who's going to get even for all Ari took?" he barked.
"Tony, shut up!"
Temporarily forgetting of Ziva, Hasmia scrutinised him for long seconds, and it was obvious she had no good deed. She stood on her feet and neared him, the Colt pointed to the ground, but perpetually alert. She came to face Tony with an unrecognisable expression.
"What are you supposed to be?" She slammed a booted foot in his stomach, causing him to fall facedown, coughing out saliva mixed with blood. His guts felt completely pulped. "Are you her tomboy? Her new little friend?" Her despising derision echoed within the walls. "This little missy doesn't have a heart, my naïve loverboy." She set her heel in the middle of his back, over the spine line, her head callously bent to one side. Tony's whole body was aching, every fiber of it sending acute pangs to his core.
"Really?" He found it hard to speak, his voice suffocated deep in his chest. "What about your baby boy? He killed my friend, two years ago."
Another violent kick collided with his ribs, breaking a couple of them with a dreadful crack. More blood trickled at the corners of his mouth.
"Dare mention my son again and the next one is for girlie." she warned, referring to Ziva.
She returned to her in silence, moving every step with calibrated slowness. Ziva's mind was racing to try to understand what that woman's real intents were.
Had her intention been to kill her, she would have done it immediately, but she hadn't, so it had to be something else. Perhaps she wanted to torture her, before giving her the final stroke. That explained why she was sill alive, and also why Tony was, too. Hasmia could want to use him to inflict her an appropriate punishment, and, in that case, she really didn't know how to prevent it.
If Hasmia wanted her life she could have it, but involving Tony in a personal issue was not an option. It wasn't at all.
"I wonder what your father would feel like if I killed you." Hasmia mused, pacing around her like a vulture. "His precious last daughter…"
She knelt on one knee and grasped Ziva by her hair, pulling her a few inches up from the floor. Ziva sucked in between her teeth. Hasmia approached her mouth to her ear, gazing at Tony with an evil smirk, and whispered.
"What does it feel like to switch from predator to prey, honey?"