Disclaimer - If they were mine, season 4 would have ended rather differently.
Inside Alexi Romanov's mansion, with its manicured lawns, well tended flower beds and neatly trimmed hedges, the party was in full swing, as glamorous guests in black tie danced to the live band on the patio, small groups talked in self important huddles in the library, while others grazed the food and admired the ice sculpture in the adjoining dining room. Outside, monitoring proceedings from the car, Gibbs watched as McGee caught another of the guests in his concealed camera and waited as MTAC fed the image through its facial recognition software.
Moving through the crowd, McGee locked on another target, a tall, willowy, blonde, in animated conversation with DiNozzo, who had immersed himself in his undercover persona with his usual dedication. Anton DeMarco, international security consultant wore his hair slightly spiked, with a small diamond stud in his left ear. His jacket was open and his collar rakishly askew, just enough to show the small, black, tattoo, inked at the base of his neck and a hint of the shoulder holster, housing his sidearm. As the woman spoke, he laughed, his white teeth gleaming in the night as his eyes sparkled with amusement. Through his earpiece Gibbs wasn't entirely surprised to hear the Director's slightly reproving tone.
"DiNozzo certainly looks as if he's enjoying himself. That had better be ginger beer in his glass."
"Positive Identification," The MTAC technician cut in. "Elizabeth Feliciano, wife of the Chicago arms dealer."
"DiNozzo's a professional, Jen. He knows what he's doing. He'll probably sweet talk her into giving him a good deal on a consignment of Sig Saurs."
As McGee continued to sweep the room, Gibbs watched with half an eye as Tony deftly moved on from Elizabeth, pressing the flesh and playing the crowd with the kind of deft and skilful touch he could only have learned at his father's innumerable business functions. He smiled when he heard his senior field Agent murmur in his ear.
"I got us a lead on an F15, if you're interested. I hear they're on special this week."
"I'll bring it up at our next budget meeting," Gibbs deadpanned. "Anything else?"
"If the guests know anything about a terrorist plot to blow up a Navy ship, they're not talking," Tony sounded like he was frowning. "Why does it always have to be a ship?"
"Because they make good targets."
"There is that," DiNozzo agreed. "Did you know the daughter's here?"
Gibbs sat up a little straighter.
"Are you sure it's her?" Shepherd cut in. "She hasn't shown up on the surveillance. Wasn't she supposed to be in Aspen this week?"
"It's her," Tony retorted, sotto voice. "Right now, she's busy having sex with one of the security guards in the pool house. He told her he was ex-special forces. She fell for it. I helped her carry over a crate of champagne and two of the lobster. I think it's her idea of payback. She's mad as hell that step-sugar-daddy made her change her plans."
"Step-sugar-daddy?" Gibbs queried.
"He's married to her Mother, a good couple of decades older than her and she's sleeping with him, what would you call him?"
"He say why she had to change her plans?"
"She doesn't know, but she thinks it has something to do with his business partner arriving in town unexpectedly." Tony said meaningfully.
"Business partner?" Nothing in their investigation so far had suggested that Alexi Romanov was anything other than a self-made man. If the importer had a business partner then he was very silent indeed and quite possibly very deadly. "Has she seen this guy?"
"You wouldn't expect anything we do to be that easy would you? Besides, it's all about the thrill of the chase," DiNozzo paused, reflecting. "That and saving countless lives."
Gibbs shook his head slightly as he smiled. DiNozzo might play up the glamorous side of undercover operations, the tuxedoes, the cars, the women. But they both knew that what really drove him was the thrill of fitting another piece in the puzzle. And he'd dress up like a hobo if that's what it took to close a case. He was just about to send him to try his charms on Mrs Romanov, when he realised McGee, in his waiter's outfit and carrying a silver tray, had paused at Tony's elbow.
Never one to refuse free food, DiNozzo dug in, scooping up three of the little crackers, making a blissful face as he chewed with obvious relish.
"This is a pretty fancy place for a food importer." The junior agent observed softly.
"You forget the nice little sideline in AK-47s," Tony murmured, without looking at him. "Besides, this isn't just food, its top grade Russian caviar, food of the gods."
I thought that was Ambrosia?"
Ziva dressed in the black pants and white shirt that allowed her to pass as a member of the catering crew, came up behind them, causing DiNozzo to raise a brow.
"You'd never heard of Chuck E Cheese, but you know what Ambrosia is?"
"It's called culture."
"Officer David," Gibbs intervened, before Shepherd could reprimand his team. "Did you find anything?"
"There was nothing in the study," Ziva sounded frustrated. "Even the safe was empty."
"The Library was clear too," McGee agreed. "Maybe the Intel was bad."
After almost a week without so much as a sniff of a lead, Gibbs had begun to wonder the same thing, they had already come up empty handed at the company's warehouses at the docks, but the information that the company was being used as a front for a bomb plot had come from a reliable source, and it wasn't the type of threat they could easily ignore. He needed to be absolutely certain before they pulled the plug.
"You want to be the one to tell Sec Nav we don't think there's plot. McGee?"
"Ziva, did you say the safe was empty?" Tony asked. "There wasn't anything in it?"
"Because we've been looking in the wrong places, that's why."
Already he was moving, slipping through the party crowd with as much haste as he could muster without attracting attention, as Ziva and McGee stood, exchanging confused looks.
"Go with him." Gibbs ordered sharply.
McGee took up a position at the foot of the stairs, as Ziva hurried to catch up with Tony. He was making his way down the hallway, checking each bedroom as he passed, until he came to what was obviously the pink and purple domain of the daughter. Pulling a drawer from the dresser he revealed skimpy tops and even skimpier underwear.
"Tony, what are you doing?" They all heard Ziva hiss. "Gibbs is going to kill you."
"Where's the last place in this house, anyone would look for super secret documents?" Tony asked, even as he searched. "Didn't you father even hide his Mossard stuff under your bed, when you were a child?"
"No." Ziva frowned. "Never."
There was a pause and Gibbs could imagine Tony sitting back on his haunches as he made eye contact with her.
"Then maybe he loves you more than you think,"
There was a moment of silence and then DiNozzo was all business again. "Check the bureau. Look for a hidden panel or something."
For a few minutes all Gibbs could hear was movement, as they searched in and around the bedroom, pulling up the rug to check the floorboards, moving furniture and belongings. Just when he was beginning to give up hope, Ziva's voice came through.
"I have something."
"Open it." Tony ordered.
"It has an alarm. I'd need to cut off the main power supply in order to de-activate it."
"We don't have time for that," Shepherd decreed. "Just open it."
Ziva made short work of the lock on the hidden panel, although cracking the safe behind took a little longer. As she pulled out money, jewellery and correspondence, and began cataloguing each letter orally for Gibbs and Shepherd's benefit, Tony grabbed a small stack of manila folders and began reading aloud, both hoping against hope that they would find what they needed before their time ran out.
"Hey, that is a private area it's off limits to guests."
The shouted warning, attracted Gibbs attention to the scene at the foot of the stairs, where two men in dark suits were trying to get past McGee without causing too much of a commotion.
"Stall 'em, McGee!"
"Got it!" Tony's voice was triumphant. "The target is a destroyer in the Atlantic fleet. No name but its scheduled to deploy .."
His words by abruptly cut off as the door opened, there was a muffled sound and then the unmistakable impact of an inert body hitting the floor. Gibbs was already moving out of the car and across the lawn, when the second body hit the ground. Shepherd's anxious queries barely registered over the pounding of the blood in his ears and the dreadful tightness in his chest. Dispensing with finesse, he barged into the house, weapon drawn, speeding past McGee who was being restrained by one of the goons, as he made made a beeline for the open doorway.
He wasn't prepared for what he saw.
Ziva was lying on her side, the slow rise and fall of her chest, confirming that she was merely unconscious. Stepping warily into the room, Gibbs checked that it was clear, before moving over and locating the small, feathered, tranquiliser dart in her neck. The jewels, money, and piles of correspondence, lay where they had fallen. But the small stack of manila folders had vanished.
Along with DiNozzo.
"McGee, call an Ambulance, get some back up, and secure the building."
"Um, Boss, I can't exactly ..."
"McGee, Ziva is unconscious and Tony is missing. Tell then you're a Federal Agent and if they give you any trouble, shoot 'em."
Knowing they hadn't had time to take him through the house, Gibbs was already checking the open window, but there were no footprints or other disturbance in the soft, damp, earth below. Moving quickly, slipped through the communicating door to the adjacent room. Glancing up at the panel in the ceiling he hopped onto the chaise lounge immediately beneath it, saying a silent prayer of thanks as the access panel gave easily under his hands. Once up in the crawl space it was easy to see the fresh marks in the dust. With luck, having to manoeuvre Tony's inert body would ensure that they hadn't gotten too far ahead of him.
He need not have worried.
As he rounded the first corner, he heard a soft sound and felt a sudden sting in his neck, just before everything went completely black.