Hide and Seek
Obligatory disclaimer: Mine! Mine! All Mine! (Sigh. I can always dream...)
A/N: many many thanks to Noma, who helped me with certain portions of this work. All errors, of which there are undoubtedly many, are mine.
The figure was almost impossible to see, dipping and weaving in the dim light. Gibbs sighted on the running body, feeling more than seeing Ziva take up the same stance beside him. This was vital; the suspect couldn't be allowed to escape. He exhaled, the gun settling onto the target, squeezing the trigger. Ziva's own shot went off at the same instant—maybe a micro-second sooner or later, neither one would be able to say for certain—and the figure jerked and stumbled, falling to the ground.
No choice. No better options—the new technology couldn't be allowed to fall into foreign hands. National Security depended on it.
Secure the suspect. Ziva dashed ahead, taking advantage of knees that hadn't been through two wars. She kicked the rock away from the suspect's bare hand, squatting to grab hold of the figure, Gibbs behind her with his handgun trained on the suspect. Even in the dim light of dusk they could see the blood leaking out from a gut wound. The other bullet had hit the shoulder.
"Who are you?" Gibbs demanded harshly.
Ziva ripped the mask off of the suspect. Hazel eyes, pain-filled and bewildered, looked up at Gibbs.
The 'suspect' coughed, blood springing to his lips. "If you wanted to fire me, boss, you could have just told me…"
The eyes closed.
Gibbs went cold, but it didn't slow him down. "I need an ambulance over here!"
Two days earlier:
There were times for leaping out of a vehicle, and there were many more times when haste was wasted effort. This was one of the 'wasted effort' times. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS, pulled his car to a sedate halt outside of the crime scene, taking the time to turn off the fan to the vents before exiting the vehicle. He took a deep breath of clean forest air prior to turning his attention to his job. The dead body wasn't going anywhere, and a man needed to take his moments when and where he could squeeze them in. There were few enough of them, and the victim was no longer in a position to have any more.
Gibbs would have to enjoy it for him. Trees were all around, enough to hide the details from the camera bugs outside the yellow crime scene tape, with smaller bushes protecting the gory bits from those who insisted that their readers—most of whom had only limited literacy—had a right to know. The small birds had deserted the area, with only a couple several yards away, trying to tell the mob of humans that they were invading prime nesting area and couldn't the humans please go away? Anything ground bound and larger than a mole had already fled. Even the streams of morning sunlight were having a tough time illuminating the scene through the leafy branches. Gibbs pushed his way through the brush.
Time to get started. Gibbs descended on the first team member he could find. "DiNozzo!" he bellowed. "What've we got?"
"Got a dead body, boss—"
"I can see that, DiNozzo. What I need are details."
"Right." Tony DiNozzo automatically glanced at the note pad in his hand. "Commander Laurence Rickover, 'Ricky' to his friends of whom he had a few, assigned to the Heisenberg Research Facility."
"I assume that the Heisenberg Research Facility is the large factory type building that I see a couple of miles away."
"Yes, boss, it is," DiNozzo agreed. "Commander Rickover—"
"Any relationship to the Rickover, DiNozzo?"
"None that I'm aware of, boss. You want me to check?"
"Don't bother," Gibbs grunted. "If he is, someone'll come looking for me soon enough. What else have you got?"
DiNozzo consulted his pad one more time. "Commander Rickover was found at approximately eight this morning, by his wife, Elaine Rickover, and the rest of the coven."
Gibbs swung around. "Did you say coven, DiNozzo?"
"Yes, boss, I did. Coven. As in: witches and warlocks. Communing with Satan. Having a satanic ritual out here in the woods."
Gibbs looked around. The grove looked entirely too pleasant to be of any interest to Satan or his minions. "His wife found him. I suppose the rest of the 'coven' corroborates this?"
"They do, all six of 'em. They—"
"I thought there was supposed to be thirteen."
"I guess some had the night off from chanting backwards. I've got names, boss, and addresses. None of 'em are trying to do the Witches of Eastwick thing at the moment."
Raise of the eyebrows. "'Witches of Eastwick', DiNozzo?"
Tony grinned. "Yeah. You know: Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer. Susan Sarandon?" he added, at Gibbs' blank look.
"It was much better in English," Ziva announced, coming up to join the pair. "What?" she complained, at Tony's surprised look. "The concepts don't translate quite perfectly into Hebrew. An excellent movie," she pronounced it, and turned to the case at hand. "I have spoken with the wife, Gibbs. She claims that she was with her group all night, and that they were holding their mid-summer festivals. The rest support her claim. They completed their gathering shortly after sunrise—welcoming the sun, I believe is how Mrs. Rickover put it—cleaned up the site, and found Commander Rickover's body as they were leaving the site to go to their vehicles."
"You don't believe her." Gibbs did a good job of reading Ziva's body language.
"I do not. Mrs. Rickover states that her marriage is good, that she is a faithful navy wife who waits patiently for her husband to return from his various tours of duty. She tells me that she has been pleased with his current assignment, that of liaison to the Heisenberg Research group, because it means regular hours and a husband who is home every night. There are no children of this union," Ziva added.
"Ziva, just because two people don't have kids yet, doesn't mean they don't love each other," Tony said.
"She could not meet my eyes," Ziva returned. "Gibbs, she is hiding something." She cast a dark look back at the seven cult members. "They all are. We should bring them in and interrogate them."
Gibbs shrugged. "It's a possibility. What does the crime scene tell us?"
That was McGee's cue. He ambled up, camera in hand, just in time to hear Gibbs' question. "Commander Rickover was found at approximately eight in the morning—"
"Already know that, McGee. Tell me something that I don't know."
McGee accepted the hurry up. "Commander Rickover has three parallel slash wounds to the abdomen. Ducky is with him right now, and says that they'll have the body back to the morgue and ready to autopsy in another hour or two. Preliminary cause of death: unknown."
"Unknown?" That made Gibbs raise his eyebrows. "He's got three slashes to the gut, and Ducky doesn't know what killed the man?"
"That's right, Jethro." Ducky himself entered the discussion, pulling off his gloves as he walked over to the group. "The three wounds to the abdomen are consistent with a large animal attack; a bear, perhaps, or even a tiger. Measurements will have to be taken to attempt to identify the potential culprits."
"Ducky, tigers don't live in the woods of Virginia."
"Quite so, Jethro. However, I am not satisfied with the condition of these wounds. A normal attack by an animal of impressive size would elicit a large quantity of blood, hemorrhaging from the wound or wounds, prior to death. I see none of that here. I surmise that the wounds may have been inflicted post-mortem."
"Really?" McGee was impressed. "You mean, he was dead before he got here?"
"I mean nothing of the sort, Timothy, only that the three slash marks on Commander Rickover's body were likely not the cause of death. I will know more after the autopsy." Ducky slapped his hands together to shake off the dust. "Mr. Palmer and I will get to it immediately."
"Good," Gibbs grunted. "Time of death?"
"Somewhat earlier, Jethro. I should say five in the morning, give or take forty minutes." Dr. Mallard held up his hand to forestall any further questions. "I will have more information for you later this afternoon, Agent Gibbs. Until then, I bid you adieu." He took his leave of them, heading for the victim to supervise the removal of the remains.
Gibbs turned to the rest of his team. "McGee—"
"Right, boss. Look up financial records, insurance policies. See if there was any reason for anyone—such as his wife—to want Commander Rickover dead."
Gibbs didn't even blink. "DiNozzo—"
"On it. Investigate the cult. What was Commander Rickover doing out here? Spying on his wife? Or just taking a stroll through the forest at four AM when he met a bear?" DiNozzo escaped before Gibbs could assign anything else.
Gibbs turned to the last member of his team. "Ziva?
"You are leaving me to research the least likely of suspects, Gibbs: his co-workers," Ziva complained, "which is the research facility, filled with scientists and egg-tails who are doubtless unable to find their own shoes with their shoelaces tied."
Gibbs blinked, trying to decipher the Mossad agent's last statement. He gave up, and inserted his own directive. "Actually, I was going to suggest that you accompany me while I inform his commanding officer of Commander Rickover's untimely demise."
"Oh." Ziva brightened. "Then I don't have to wrench scientists away from their research and listen to them babble and whine and tell me that they know everything about nothing?"
Gibbs shrugged, and smiled. "That, Ziva, comes later."
No time like the present. Tony DiNozzo approached the cult group. There were five women, and two men, all dressed in long flowing robes of white that were currently sprinkled with leaves and dirt from their night in the forest. All had their hair unbound, and two still had some dead foliage entwined within, leftover from whatever fun they had had the night before. Some cleaning up had occurred, but each one would have been intending to make a stop at home for a thorough shower before heading off to a day at the office.
That was assuming that the office was where each one intended to go, and that, DiNozzo decided, was entirely too big an assumption. None looked as though corporate life was a career aspiration. Working in a tea leaf factory would likely come closer. Each one had long hair, even the men. Tony caught sight of the edges of tattoos on several shoulders, most covered by the long robes that they wore. He wondered idly if they wore normal clothes under the robes and decided that they didn't. Not those particular curves, he thought to himself. Not the way those robes are clinging to them…
He coughed, to get their attention. "Special Agent DiNozzo," he introduced himself. The first name could wait; none of these looked as though he wanted their phone numbers in anything but the professional sense, despite the looks that two women—and one of the men!—was giving to him. "I need to ask you all some questions."
"We have already given you all the information that we have," one of the women challenged. "Moonbeam found her husband like that. Can't you leave us alone in our grief?"
Moonbeam? Oh, right. The wife. DiNozzo offered a tight little smile. "I'm sorry, but I can't. The death of a naval officer attached to a military research facility such as the Heisenberg mandates an investigation." He put out the olive branch. "If you'll help me, I'll try to make this as painless as possible."
"It's already painful," the woman told him.
"So let's not poke at it any more than we have to," DiNozzo said, trying to ooze both sympathy and firmness at the same time. "Who found Commander Rickover?"
"I did." It was the woman who had challenged him in the first place.
Somehow, Tony wasn't surprised. "And you are—?"
Oh, gawd. "Your name for legal purposes? The one on your driver's license?"
She was expecting that question, and didn't flinch. "Melanie Terwilliger."
Tony wrote it down. "All right, Ms. Terwilliger—"
"Dawnwind." Quietly. Firmly.
This wasn't an important piece of data. Tony let her have her little victory. "Ms. Dawnwind. You stated earlier that you found him at approximately eight this morning."
"What was your purpose for being out here? You indicated that you and your group have been out here all night."
"That's right. Last night was one of our most important celebrations of the Mother Goddess. We are her devoted disciples, dedicated to showing mankind the way back to happiness—"
"Yes, I understand that," Tony interrupted. "Were you celebrating all night without stopping, or did you or any of your group celebrate by sleeping out here?"
Dawnwind flashed him a look of dislike. "We were giving thanks all night long."
"Any alcohol involved in your celebration?"
Another glare. "We do not drink. That is a perversion of the fruits of the vine."
Not in my book. Nothing like a glass of a mature pinot noir, slowly sipped across the table from a luscious set of bedroom eyes…Tony wrenched his thoughts back to the job. "Did anyone leave the group at any time?"
Tony didn't miss the four sets of eyes that darted sideways. He marked them for future reference; some individual attention, perhaps. "Not even to answer the call of nature?"
'Dawnwind' glared at him.
Tony let it go. "So you were all up all night long. Did you or anyone else hear anything?"
"We heard the call of the wind, the joy—"
"Anything unusual?" Tony interrupted. This was getting tiresome. "Perhaps something large in the woods? See any bears, anything like that?"
This time Dawnwind didn't glare. She merely looked thoughtful, and Tony stifled a sigh of relief.
"I may have seen a bear," she allowed. "I saw a dark shadow, toward the rising of the Sun."
Tony had no idea how she managed to insert the capital 'S' on sun in her voice, but dutifully copied the capital onto his notepad. It seemed appropriate. "And that would be at what time?"
"The rising of the sun," Dawnwind replied scornfully.
Right. Google the time of today's sunrise, estimate an hour before hand. Much easier than fighting with this chick. "Anything else? Anyone else see this bear?"
"I did," one of the men volunteered.
Of course. The one that's making eyes at me. It had to be. "You're corroborating Ms. Dawnwind's story?"
"That's right," he said, then paused. "I thought it was a little small to be a bear."
"Maybe a cub?"
"Maybe." The man sounded doubtful. "Kind of tall for a cub. And skinny."
"Could it have been a man?"
"I suppose. Probably not. This is private property."
"It is?" That surprised DiNozzo. The research facility was less than a mile away. Places like this tended to have substantial acreage between them and the outside world.
"That's right," Dawnwind told him, again offering a challenge. "This is private property. We own it. I own it, on behalf of our circle. You're trespassing."
"Investigating a possible homicide, ma'am, with national security implications," DiNozzo corrected.
Dawnwind went on. "And it was clearly a bear. I saw the outline. It couldn't have been anyone human."
Not worth the effort to canvas the entire group. "Anything else?"
"When are you leaving?" Dawnwind, AKA Melanie Terwilliger, demanded to know. "As a disciple of the Circle of the Wood Sprites, it is my duty to cleanse this area of footprints, to leave the Goddess in her pristine state—"
Tiresome. Clearly tiresome. "I'm sorry, ma'am," Tony lied. He wasn't sorry at all, "but this is a crime scene. This area will be off-limits to all personnel until further notice. You can all leave now, but we will need you to all remain in town."
"But I have a meeting in New York," one man cried. It was the one that had been visually undressing Tony with his eyes. "I'm meeting with a video game developer, who wants to purchase the rights to the video game that I've created."
DiNozzo decided on the spot to give him a waiver for good behavior—and to get him away from Tony's vicinity. The man truly looked flaky enough to be a computer geek stuck in adolescence. "Give your name and the pertinent data to Agent McGee," he directed. There. Serves Probie right. They'll probably bond.
Better him than me.