"What've we got?"
Gibbs ducked beneath the yellow crime scene tape to where the rest of his team had already begun to process the scene.
"Dead guy boss!" came one answer.
"Really, Dinozzo?" Gibbs remarked, not bothering to look at his senior field agent, who was photographing the torched remains of a car that had collided head-on into a tree. As expected, the Italian began to sputter.
"Well, we don't know anything else yet. Ducky only gives his reports to you, and you were late—" At this, Gibbs pivoted swiftly, pinning Tony with an intense glare. "Not late, boss, you're never late. Always on time. We were just early," he backtracked.
Satisfied at having successfully cowed the younger man, Gibbs returned his attention to the corpse in question. Ducky was already investigating the body, crouching beside the body as he took liver temperature. The body was badly burned on the right side, and Gibbs couldn't see any post-mortem lividity. Off to the side, Ziva was already taking photographs of the body and the immediate area surrounding it.
Ziva. Ever since that night above his father's store, now three months ago, the Israeli had been on Gibbs mind more and more. He had been more concerned for her, that first month after witnessing her nightmare. Though she had not exhibited any signs of distress while on the job, he was still worried that she wasn't sleeping as well as she should be. But about after the case in Stillwater, Ziva had finally taken him up on his offer. She had shown up in his basement one night, her eyes as haunted as they had been in Stillwater. But she had not revealed anything about her nightmare, and he hadn't asked for details. He had merely passed her a stiff drink, which she had accepted with a small, but grateful, smile. That night they had said very little at all to each other, but when the Israeli began stopping by more often, the situation changed.
Sometimes sharing meals, they would talk about cases, theories, sometimes even about the past. It had gotten to the point where, if asked, Gibbs believed he could honestly call Ziva his friend. He had always trusted her since Ari's death, and they had shared a special bond, but it had never been friendship, not until their basement rendezvous became more common an event. That in its self surprised Gibbs, but what surprised him even more was when he caught himself staring.
Sometimes in the bullpen, sometimes in the shadows of his basement, sometimes even at crime scenes, Gibbs would be distracted by something about her. The way the sunlight shone through her hair as she made routine phone calls, the dance of her slender fingers as she typed up a report, even the gentle curve of her back when she photographed a scene. Which she was doing now.
"No ID found on the body, Gibbs," she reported between snapshots, her accented voice lilting slightly. "But the left hand is intact, so we should be able to run his prints through the system."
"If they don't know who he is," Dinozzo called from his location by the car, "why did they call us?"
"Marine Corps ring found on his finger," Gibbs responded, gazing at the object in question. It was relatively small for a male ring, silver with the eagle globe and anchor set on top of a red stone.
"Yeah, but, what if it isn't even the guy's ring? The ring could have been given to him. People do that all the time."
"If this guy is special enough for a Marine to have given him that ring," Gibbs informed him, "then he's special enough to have NCIS investigating his death."
"Not simply his death, Jethro," Ducky interjected. "There is a quite obvious stab wound between the third and fourth ribs on his right side. This man was most definitely the victim of foul play."
"So we are now investigating a murder," Ziva remarked dryly. She smirked. "So what else is new?" Gibbs couldn't keep himself from grinning in return.
"I'll be working on my boat later tonight," he offered. At this, McGee, who had thus far remained silent as he sketched out the crime scene, piped up.
"Maybe you'll even spice it up a bit by having bourbon this time," the younger man said. Ziva chuckled, as did Gibbs—apparently, his liquor of choice was common knowledge among his team.
"Oh, and I think Tony even has a date tonight," Ziva added. McGee perked up at this.
"Really?" he asked slyly. "You know, that actually is a new thing." He paused. "In fact, I can't even remember the last time Tony got a girl to go out with him."
"Hey!" tony exclaimed indignantly. "I do not 'get' girls to go out with me. They practically line up to be wooed by the infamous Dinozzo charm." A moment of silence followed as he paused, regarding the skeptical glances being sent his way. "And I'll have you know that even the studliest of men have dry spells," he amended quickly. Ziva let out a bark of laughter.
"Hah! More like a drought," she said, resuming her task of snapping pictures.
"Yeah," McGee agreed. "It was beginning to look like a desert there, Tony."
Gibbs listened as his team teased one another, allowing them a rare chance to let their mischievous natures show in public. Normally he kept them on a tight leash, enforced by swift smacks to the head. But today was different. Perhaps it was the especially good cup of coffee in his hand, or maybe it was the sound of Ziva's laughter as they continued to torment Tony; whichever the reason, he was enjoying the banter.
"There is something odd about this body, Jethro," Ducky commented, ignoring the young people's antics. An expectant look from Gibbs prompted him to continue. "It seems as though most of these burns were sustained post-mortem."
"Well, the stab wound would be the most likely cause of death at this point, but I won't know for sure until I examine him more thoroughly in my lab."
"Was he stabbed before or after the crash, Doc?"
"Well, that's the thing Jethro. I believe he has been dead for over twelve hours."
"The crash was witnessed four hours ago Doc," Gibbs informed him.
"Yes, I realize that, Jethro." The medical examiner's tone had become a mixture of exasperation and perplexion. "Which means that our victim was dead at the wheel when the car collided with that tree."
"Hey Boss!" Tony said, coming to join the two older men. "I found something that looks like an incendiary device in the backseat."
"So the crash didn't cause the fire," Ziva remarked pensively. "It is possible that whoever killed our vic planted a bomb to destroy the body. The plan must have backfired when the body was launched through the windshield by the explosion."
"Should have worn a seatbelt," McGee remarked. Despite the casualty of the younger man's tone, Gibbs knew that all three of his agents had their heads in the case.
"He didn't drive himself into that tree," Gibbs said, as he stood. "I want to know why eyewitnesses didn't see a second driver leave the scene."
"On it boss," Tony said, already beginning to move towards the crowd of bystanders just beyond the crime scene tape, ready to start taking statements.
"I'll see if there are any traffic cameras nearby that may have picked up what happened," McGee declared, closing his sketchbook. Without waiting for a response, he headed towards the road as well. When Ziva remained where she was, Gibbs eyed her with a critical stare. She arched an eyebrow at him in return.
"As soon as Ducky clears the body I will be taking his prints," Ziva said. "I will then track down who he is and find out what he might have been involved with that would warrant someone going to such extremes to disguise his death." She smirked. "Do not worry," she added," we all know what to do."
"Ziva, my dear," Ducky said, causing her to shift her attention to the ME. "You may collect his prints now." The Israeli circled around the body to get to the victim's left hand; his right hand was burned beyond the point of usable prints. When she reached his feet, which were bare, something caught her attention. She froze mid-step, then crouched down to get a better view of the soles of his feet. Seeing her movements, Gibbs crossed to her position, but remained standing. From his position, he could see that there was a degree of burn damage to the dermis of the man's soles.
"I have seen this before," Ziva said, indicating the burns with a wave of her hand. "On many of the bodies returned from Hamas." She looked up at him. "This man has been tortured."
Silence reigned as her discovery sank in. Finally, it was Ducky who decided to break it.
"It seems that this case is not so ordinary after all."