AN: It's been a while since I put a disclaimer in; I don't own or profit from NCIS, but I love writing about it.
The city of Garston is a figment of course… I have a great deal of respect for police officers, and I'm certainly not going to pick a real city and write bad things about its police. Garston is actually a district in my own city, where my brother's a cop.
The Woman in Black
It was a sign that he knew what he was asking of them, that Director Vance invited them to sit down in his office.
"I know you've had three weeks of back to back cases. But I can't go myself… neither can Deputy Director Ludwig. Prior commitments, end of story. But Commissioner Halliwell was a good friend to this agency, and it should have a representative at his funeral."
"But four field agents, Director?" Gibbs was politely incredulous.
"Commissioner Halliwell's jurisdiction covered some of the prime area of our coastline for smuggling, trafficking, gun running… many of the cases his department handled involved Naval and Marine personnel, mostly as victims. At least two of your own cases were helped substantially by information supplied by the Commissioner's department. You'd be appropriate representatives."
"Besides," DiNozzo said mordantly, "We all look so good in black."
Vance looked at him sharply, but didn't react further; they all remembered the last time the whole team had attended a funeral together, and the many different heartaches that had led to, DiNozzo was probably entitled to the jab… he was only expressing what everyone else felt.
"It's a three hour flight down to Garston;" the Director went on, unperturbed. "Wednesday, the day after tomorrow; I'll authorise your stay in a decent hotel for tomorrow night so you can be fresh; and arrange to phone you half an hour into the reception to recall you at once, so you can make your escape. After that, you can have the rest of the week as down time, and I'll put someone else on standby over the weekend."
Gibbs nodded thoughtfully, and caught the look that DiNozzo was shooting him.
"Leon," the Supervisory agent said quizzically, "That's a big carrot."
"We could fly out early morning," Tony agreed, as McGee and Ziva shot each other puzzled looks. Why were the two senior agents havering over down time? "Why would it be important to be fresh? No-one would be looking at us."
"I was coming to that," Vance said cheerfully. "All I want you to do, since nobody will be looking at you, is to look at everybody else."
Ziva decided to deal into the conversation. "What would we be looking for at a funeral?"
"I haven't the faintest idea, Miss David."
Which was how, immaculately turned out, the four sat inconspicuously near the back of the great granite Cathedral in Garston as it filled up, occupied by their own thoughts. The Director had been very cagey, and when pressed admitted he couldn't tell them much. Firstly, he'd said, he hadn't much to tell, and secondly, he didn't want to incline them to bias.
"Check in with me when you get back, I'll tell you what I can then. Don't get involved in anything. Just observe."
So they sat and observed. Gibbs resolutely did what he'd been asked to do, and refused to think of Shannon and Kelly's funeral, instead concentrating on the Top Brass as they arrived, thinking how many of them belonged to an old boys club and trying to spot the ones that didn't.
Tim tried, with some success, to spot the academics in the growing congregation; thinking he probably had the architects and engineers identified by their reaction to the building itself as they entered. However hit or miss his methods were, he observed that the intellectuals, for want of a better word, gravitated together, and tended to stay away from the brass.
Ziva looked at the splendid church, and thought of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and wondered if God wanted or needed splendour. She stole glances at the order of service, to find out what to expect, watched the citizens of her adopted country, and thought, not for the first time, of the winding road that had brought her to this point in her life. "Watch them," she told herself, "this is no time for introspection."
Tony tried to pick out families, and other relationships, not only among the great and the good at the front of the Cathedral, but among those who sat further back, with no pretensions to being noticed. The Commissioner had been a popular and well loved man, judging by the ordinary, for want of a better word, (and he'd have been surprised if he'd been reading Tim's thoughts,) people who had come to pay their respects.
It was because he was looking around him that he spotted the woman who entered alone, and then it wasn't simply because she was very beautiful that he couldn't take his eyes off her. The first thing he noticed was that the usher, instead of shaking her hand and giving her a service sheet, put his hand out to detain her, and questioned her, although Tony could not make out the words. She stood very straight, said something that looked fairly sharp, and stalked past him.
She was slim, of average height, or perhaps a little taller, wearing black leather knee-high boots with chunky three inch heels to accentuate her stature. Her hair was very dark brown, cut in layers down to her shoulders and styled with care. Her eyes were very dark, her cheekbones high, and the crimson on her full lips was her only source of colour. Her black, expensive Russian style coat was of high quality suede, with a big collar of long lambswool, and the figured scarf she wore to prevent the wool from irritating her neck, was French silk if Tony knew anything about buying gifts for women. The outfit was completed by a shoulder bag and close fitting gloves of soft black Cape leather. She was maybe thirty years of age, and Tony would have put money on her having Italian blood.
She could have been a model on a photo-shoot, but as he watched her lift her chin and march to a seat near some elderly ladies a row behind him, on the opposite side of the aisle, he knew that was nowhere near the case. That outfit, with not an inch of skin showing other than her face, and that bearing, said, or more like yelled, "Stay away from me. Don't come near. Don't confront me."
She sat down, nodded politely to the two ladies, and Tony had no idea why he did what he did next. He told Gibbs later that his gut told him to, and he was probably right. He got up unhurriedly, went to the back of the church and took another order of service from the usher. He brought it back, gave it to the woman, said politely, "There you are, Ma'am," without even the ghost of the usual grin She looked startled, and thanked him quietly, and Tony went politely back to his own seat before she could react further.
Ziva glared at him as he sat down, but he shook his head at her. "I'm observing, Ziva," he said softly, again without an ounce of humour, and an unspoken warning for her to leave it. There was a situation here or his name wasn't DiNozzo. Money… distress… bravado… and the usher reluctant to admit her…
It wasn't easy watching out of the corner of his eye, but it was a technique he'd had to practise many times over the years. The woman took out a rosary, black again, and held it although she didn't seem to be using it. She seemed to be looking round her slowly, and her gaze stayed on the VIPs at the front from time to time, although it was impossible for Tony to tell if she was looking at anyone in particular.
He was alarmed to see, a few minutes later, her controlled face crumple into pain, and for a moment he didn't know why, until he realised that she was looking now at the organ. As he watched her with concern, he listened to the music; the organist had begun to play a piece he knew well, having put himself through university with any number of jobs including playing the piano in local restaurants and the organ in local churches.
Edvard Grieg's Second Elegiac Melody, Varen; in English, 'Last Spring', came floating sadly down through the church; it was one of the most heartbreaking pieces of music ever written, Tony thought, able to move many people to tears. Although the young woman opposite had her face back under control, her eyes were anguished and far away; there were tears on her cheeks, and he would have put money on them not being for the Commissioner.
Her eyes met his across the aisle momentarily, and all he could do was send her a look of concern. It wasn't rejected, but she looked away again after a moment. He wanted to dive across the aisle again to her side, but it was out of the question; he was relieved to see one of the ladies pat her arm kindly and hand her a delicate white handkerchief. "I bet it even smells of lavender," Tony thought irrelevantly, but he was happy to see that the attempt at comfort from her neighbour was not rejected.
He was unaware that Ziva was looking at him in exasperation, until Gibbs caught her expression. The Senior Agent asked him, in a low sharp voice across the top of his partner's head, if he was done checking out the women, and realised when Tony turned back to face him that he'd said the wrong thing. The SFA's eyes were flat and expressionless. "OK, Boss," he whispered. "You'd better watch her, then."
"Why's that?" Tony didn't answer, as the organ had faded to silence and the presiding priest was asking the congregation to rise for the entry of the cortege.
They continued to watch through the service, but none of them could say that they saw anything of note; the eulogies were glowing and exactly what you would have expected, spoken by exactly who you would have expected to speak them, it was a faultless, flawless occasion. From time to time, Tony glanced at the sad woman in her fine black coat, but her face gave away nothing. She stood with the congregation for the hymns, but didn't sing; her jaw seemed set like marble. Only her eyes spoke; of misery. Tony didn't know why, but he felt very anxious.
The cortege left, and the woman's eyes watched the coffin, as did everyone else's, but then it became difficult to watch her, as the Cathedral began to empty. Tim observed that people divided into clumps, like iron filings round the poles of a magnet; the Big Brass went first, expecting to be deferred to, then well-to-do people in sleek business suits, who McGee characterised as 'The Lawyers'. Quite unfair, he knew, but the group had to have a name.
Next came the younger and less senior police officers, and their peer groups from the other services, who Tim categorised as 'The Hopefuls', bright eyed and eager, to a man, promotion hunting written all over them. "You miserable cynic, McGee," he told himself, but he'd been bored with the soul-less service, and needed to amuse himself.
The academic representatives came next, 'Professi Nervosi', Tim decided; since one or two of them really did look ill at ease. Tim did spot several younger police officers who hung back in a group, and went out with the … "OK, what shall I call the rest of us, then? I'm getting bored with this. Right… they're the 'Splinter Group', and we're the… 'Restofus'. There."
Tony hadn't been able to watch the stylish woman closely, because of the people passing down the aisle between them; but he was pretty certain he'd seen one thing. He didn't recognise police insignia, although he'd remember what the guy wore and identify it later, but the man was high ranking, that was certain. He stopped alongside where the woman stood waiting to leave; Tony couldn't see his face, but knew that he'd said something, by the stiffness of the woman's shoulders and the wide eyed shock of the elderly lady behind her.
He almost moved forward protectively, but the woman simply said, as far as Tony could tell, "You're holding up the procession", and the man moved on. The woman closed her eyes for a moment, as if counting to ten, and the lady behind her put her hand on her arm tentatively. The 'Woman in Black' - (Why was he calling her that? Everyone in the church was wearing black… not with such style, though.) The woman seemed to appreciate her neighbour's concern, as she turned with the ghost of a smile, the first one Tony had seen; and then they were both lost to view as the crowd headed out of the church.
Tony looked over his shoulder at Gibbs. "I need to keep sight of her, Boss," and he didn't have to explain to Gibbs who he meant. "I think you need to come too." They joined the Restofus and began to ease their way out of the Cathedral. On the concourse outside, Tony caught sight of her again. She was talking to the two elderly friends, and by the body language seemed to be reassuring them that she'd be fine. They patted her arm and went on their way, and instantly the smile was gone from her face.
"Oh, no," Tony said in alarm; he could see the same Big Policeman bearing down on the woman from behind.
He started forward with the rest of the team behind him, Gibbs muttering, "Ya will explain, some time today, DiNozzo?"
"Soon as I can, Boss." The policeman grabbed the woman's arm from behind and spun her round to face him. Her heel caught slightly, and her ankle went over; she barely managed to keep her feet, but she drew herself up again. As they got closer they could hear the man's voice. "…..To realise that your interference isn't welcome. There's no conspiracy, how many times do you need to hear it?"
"Let go of my arm, please, Chief Wilson."
"Not until you understand that there's nothing you-"
"Is this woman bothering you, Chief?" One of McGee's Hopefuls was hovering, but before the Chief could reply, Tony stepped forward.
"No, she's not," he said calmly. "We all saw what happened, your boss instigated it, and it could have led to injury for the lady."
The two police officers saw what was very clearly a united front of four witnesses, and didn't even bother with a "who the hell are you", but turned and strode away before they attracted a crowd.
The woman sighed. "Thank you," she said, looking at Tony first. "It's quite possible I could have been arrested there for him assaulting me! I don't know who you are…" she looked at all four of them questioningly, "You're obviously somebody, and I'm truly grateful, but you really should leave me alone now."
It was Gibbs who said in amazement, "Ya think? The minute we turn our backs, they'll be back. I don't know what their beef is with you, but I didn't see you picking that fight." He flashed his badge. "Special Agent Gibbs, NCIS."
As soon as he'd introduced the others, the woman said "Can we walk, Special Agent Gibbs? You and your colleagues really shouldn't take my part, but since I can't persuade you not to, if you could escort me to a taxi, I'd be grateful."
Tony said, "You didn't come in your own car, then?"
"No, Special Agent DiNozzo, I flew in then took a cab. You can get arrested driving your own car. Or, you can have an accident."
Ziva said, "An Accident?"
The other woman looked at her tiredly. "Do you think I'm paranoid, Special Agent David? You don't know the half of it. Please, if you would, just put me in a cab and forget you ever met me."