AN: 81 reviews for 5 chapters is the highest number I've ever had. I'm thrilled, chuffed, and grateful!
Tony jumped back, out of range of the long-bladed hunting knife in Rennie's right hand. Damn… he should have remembered those slash wounds… He drew his own knife; not the belt-buckle one, but the other one sheathed down his right thigh, inside the pocket of the scruffy cargos. Raggy had had a knife; it hadn't saved him… Positive thoughts, DiNozzo!
He crouched, mimicking Rennie's position, more from instinct than anything. He'd never trained as a street brawler with a blade… he knew how to throw one, but that was it. His opponent circled him warily, glaring and breathing hard, and lunged. Tony jumped, and the tip of Rennie's blade ripped his shirt and drew a thin red line across his ribs.
"Shit!" he said angrily, "I liked this shirt."
Rennie snarled, and slashed again and again, as Tony simply danced about trying to stay out of range while he worked out what to do. He bet Rennie hadn't been awake for 50 straight hours… He could feel the weight of the Glock against his calf, but it might as well have been back at home for all the chance he had of reaching it.
The Sergeant's arms were shorter than Tony's, but his knife, all ten wicked inches of it, put him at an advantage – that and the fact that he knew what he was doing. By the time a feint and a dodge to the side had allowed Tony to inflict a deep wound on the cop's left forearm, the agent was already bleeding from several slashes to both of his. He wasn't feeling the wounds, what a wonderful thing adrenalin was… but blood dripped onto the cheerful green rug, and just as Tony was thinking he couldn't spare much more of it, Rennie laughed, and lunged again.
The SFA deflected his first strike with the brace on his left wrist, and Rennie grunted as the blade jarred against the hidden metal splint. "Bastard Fed!"
Just Tony's luck that it hurt him too; between that and weariness he didn't move quickly enough to avoid a hard blow that started in the centre of his sternum, and dug its way diagonally up to his right shoulder. That one he sure did feel, and he knew he had to do something… and then it was his turn to laugh. As he'd told Ziva, all those weeks at Summer camp as a kid had to count for something. What had he just thought? What did he know how to do with a knife? Why had it taken this long to work it out?
His opponent looked puzzled; how could the fed be laughing, when he'd just sliced his chest open? Tony jumped back, aware as he did so of a cold draught of early morning air behind him. Tired or not, he hadn't forgotten that the killer blow to both men had been from behind. First things first – he tossed his knife to change grip, then threw it hard and fast. Rennie howled in a very satisfying agony as it went straight through his foot, and his shoe, into the floor.
The air was still moving behind Tony, with a whiff of perfume on it, and he leaped sideways. As the Balenciaga pants suit stumbled past him, carried by the momentum of Patricia's failed strike, he helped her on her way with a boot to the seat of the elegant trousers. She landed on her backside beside the stove, her knife skittering away under a sofa, and Tony took out her still yelling boyfriend with a round-house punch to the jaw, which would have knocked him off his feet if he hadn't been stuck to the floor. He folded untidily, taking an armchair with him, and the adrenalin deserted Tony immediately. He bent carefully to reach his back-up gun, but before his damaged body could complete the move, a new voice said "Forget the gun, Feebie!"
The SFA stood up, staggering slightly as he did so. "Feebie? Feebie! What is it with you guys? What do we have to do to get recognition?" The new threats, there were two of them, were wearing Metro uniform, but that clearly didn't put them on the side of the angels. The speaker raised his gun higher, and Tony stood still, bracing his unsteady legs. Could he stall them until Gibbs arrived? Patricia knew the combination, he had to stop her and her cronies from going in there and harming witnesses. He'd promised Rod that he'd keep Seren safe… The woman stood up, brushing herself down, and regarding him with a stare that honestly made him want to hide behind the wardrobe, clutching henbane and garlic.
Her eyes devoured the sight of him, covered in blood, shirt cut to ribbons, long slashes showing through every hole in the destroyed fabric, and he tried not to believe what he was seeing. She was enjoying what she was looking at… it turned her on… why did he always get the crazy ones? She took one last long look at his heaving chest, and turned to the cop with the drawn gun. "Shoot him," she ordered, and the tip of her tongue ran over her lips.
The Uniform saw it and hesitated; and another woman's voice said, "No." Tony looked slowly towards the inner door, which had eased silently open, and through it all the refuge women were pouring into the room.
"You can't…" Tony managed to say, but the young woman who'd spoken, Rita, the mother of the helpful little boy from last evening, dragged her glance away from the state he was in, met his horrified glare, and said, "Yes, we can. You helped us… They can't shoot us all." She looked at the cop. "We're tired of being pushed round, and used… You hurt him, or one of us and the rest of us'll rip you apart."
The murmur from the rest of the women was chilling. Patricia snarled, "I said shoot him!"
There was a click. "If he does, Patricia," Seren Humphries said, "I'll shoot you before I shoot him." She stood where she'd stolen in behind the other women, looking over the counter, with Tony's Sig covering both Uniforms. The cop sighed in resignation, gave up and holstered his weapon; he and his partner began to head for the front door. It was like reversing a film, Tony thought, the way they suddenly backed up… as another Sig and a Police Special came in through the front door, followed by McGee and Oliver Lasz.
Tim looked across at his SFA with that bleak, 'DiNozzo's done it again' sort of expression, muttered, "Tony…" reproachfully as the Italian smiled apologetically back without a grain of real remorse, and looked round. "Someone help him, then…" he barked, in a tone that made the slowly collapsing senior agent think Gibbs… and took charge.
Quite what to make of it all, neighbours getting up to go to work must have struggled to work out.
Three police patrol cars, lights flashing. Several large muscle cars that screamed Police Unmarked Vehicle. A black Dodge Charger that screamed even louder, Fed! Two ambulances. A sapphire blue late reg Yukon Denali. An old yellow taxi – archetypal Crown Vic. An armoured vehicle from a security firm. And a forty foot metro bus, fleet number 0414. All cluttering up the small parking lot opposite the refuge, and overflowing into the road outside.
Inside, chaos was resolving into some sort of order.
First to arrive had been Roy Fordham; he and Kath had returned to MPD to co-ordinate the operation, and the detective had taken on the urgent and unpleasant task of finding out just who they could trust. He'd taken Jeanette's list of the officers who'd tried to track Karen Hartson down, and compared them with the names that had shown up on Dr. Humphries' log of patrols but not in the official police records. He'd found all three names on the first list there on the second as well, and had got himself the beginnings of a shiner while having the pleasure of arresting one of them right there in the Precinct, before he'd got the urgent call from Kath to go to Chillum.
Most of the women had gone back behind the secure door, to where Cherie and two other mothers were guarding the children behind their makeshift barricade. Many of the children had been frightened, which was hardly surprising, and they were being soothed and calmed; those youngsters who'd regarded it as a massive adventure were helping to dismantle the barrier, and mattresses and bedframes were being put back to their proper uses.
Oliver had two uniformed officers in cuffs, as well as a sullen, scary looking woman who Fordham realised must be Mickey Gerrard's wife. McGee was talking rapidly into his cell; he'd had no trouble calling up a security firm to take charge of the rings, but now his patient tone was slipping towards dangerous with a despatcher who couldn't seem to grasp that he could count, and when he requested two ambulances, that was what he meant.
"Y'only need one," a grouchy voice slurred from the sofa. "Cuz I'm not going." Fordham recognised DiNozzo's distinctive tones, but couldn't see past Dr. Humphries and a couple of other women.
McGee was unmoved. "Shut up, DiNozzo." He looked up at the detective's arrival. "Fordham! Glad to see you. There are more cops on the way – I need you to tell me if they can be trusted."
"Already done, McGee. I hear the girls have picked up the bus driver…"
"And the guy he was going to pass Ms Braithwaite on to… nobody had thought to warn him."
"Shame." Fordham touched his cheek and eyebrow gingerly. "I arrested one before Kath sent me out here. With the two you sent us, the two the ladies are bringing in, and these two lovelies;" he looked at the two cuffed patrolmen, "Hi, Lacey, Petrovsky… we'll soon have enough information to pick up the rest of them."
"Don't forget those two," Oliver said, jerking his thumb at the mad-eyed woman, and the man who lay out cold on his back, his foot still pinned to the floor.
"Rennie…" Fordham said wonderingly. "Did he…"
"Kill Sergeant Frandsen? And Hartson?" McGee's voice was like ice. "No… she did. He kept them occupied, hurt them… she stabbed them from behind. They tried to do the same thing to DiNozzo."
Fordham's face creased in alarm. He hadn't forgotten it was the Senior Field Agent's advice that had turned his relationship with his formidable boss round in less than forty-eight hours. "DiNozzo! Is he –"
"No, he's not, and he's not going to hospital, either," the irritated mumble came again from the sofa. Fordham stepped over the prone form of Sergeant Rennie, and Seren Humphries moved out of the way with an exasperated sigh. "That's what he thinks," she huffed. "You try telling him."
Fordham looked down at the man sitting slumped against the end of the sofa. The ladies had removed what was left of the olive-green shirt, and had ripped up a couple of pillow shams to wipe the blood away and make bandages, but hadn't been able to apply any of the dressings yet; the patient wasn't co-operating. His torso looked like a road map, the deep gouge across the right side of his chest was still oozing sluggishly, but his jaw and green eyes were mulish. "Tony… you should –"
"Not yet." DiNozzo's tone was flat. Tim looked across and blinked. A moment or two ago it had been 'not at all'. "There are still things to do. Where's Gibbs?"
A car screeched to a halt outside, but it wasn't a yellow cab. Seren glanced out at the big blue Denali, and said, "Rod." Tony tried to stand up, but she pushed him back down. "Sssh. It's pretty obvious that you kept me safe."
"I kept you…?" Tony closed his mouth with an audible snap.
Any remonstrating Rod might have wanted to do never had a chance, as the next person to sweep in was Kath, only moments later. "Well, I see you have it all under control, Renato…" she said, pursing her lips as she took in his condition. Tony said exactly what he thought of that, praying that Kath didn't understand Italian. He was pretty sure she got the gist, though. After picking up explanations of the situation from different people, she opened her phone and began talking to Gibbs.
The tiny element of farce that had started to creep in suddenly got bigger, as three patrol cars arrived at once, from three different directions, and found themselves having to manoeuvre round a Metro bus that wanted to take up the whole road outside. Ziva and Jeanette shoved a very subdued Mickey Gerrard into the room ahead of them. They were both grinning broadly.
"It seemed like a good idea to come here," Ziva said cheerfully, but her voice tailed off as she saw her partner. She turned to the newly arrived patrol officers, and shoved Gerrard towards them. "Make him move the bus," she hissed. "We need the space for the ambulance." Gerrard went more than willingly; he couldn't wait to get out of the same room as his wife.
Tim went over to Tony, who was lying back against the sofa by now, eyes half closed, letting Seren and the other women do as they wished without protest. "I know…" he began slowly, "There's still Corporal Borlovsky, and the other non-police perps to trace. I know they're looking for the missing women and children all over the country… I know we want to find out exactly why Hartson died… but you didn't mean any of those things, did you?" Tony opened his eyes wider, and just looked at the younger agent speculatively. "Ah…" Tim said. "Karen. We still haven't found Karen."
"No… where's Gibbs?"
He came five minutes later, on the heels of the Paramedics, who set about unsticking Matthew Rennie's foot from the floor. He stood where Fordham, then Kath, then Tim had stood, looking down at his Senior Field Agent.
"Enough, already," Tony grumbled. "I'm not a sideshow freak. Stop gawping…"
Kath moved to order the patrolmen to take the prisoners, but Tony called, "No, wait, Kath… just keep her a minute." He looked at Gibbs. "Frandsen never killed anyone, Boss. Tell them, Patricia."
The woman heard the steel, and the threat in his tone, and looked at him wide eyed. She'd already worked out that he wasn't who she'd thought, but what had replaced the shy, embarrassed Renato was frightening. "Tell them..w-what?"
"Why did Hartson die?"
Her face twisted in derision. "He was a fool. He drove his wife away with violence, and then spent his time bleating that he wanted her back. He hung round the shelter, although I told him she'd never damn been here and to stop drawing attention to the place. He was a liability. But he'd still be alive if he hadn't fought Matt about it. Frandsen never touched him."
Tony looked at his Boss until the other man felt the intensity of his gaze and looked back at him. He raised an eyebrow. 'OK, then?' 'Yeah… yeah, I reckon.'
"So why did Frandsen die?"
She shrugged. "Matt was giving a carrier instructions. I found him listening. Until then I thought he was just Raggy." They all regarded her speechlessly. Tony was aware of Rita, at his side, standing frozen in disgust. Rod reached for Seren's hand and squeezed it.
"And the carrier?" Gibbs asked. "The latest young woman to disappear? Her child?" Patricia shrugged in absolute indifference. Kath nodded to the patrolman, who took her away.
Silence hung in the air for a while, only broken by the sound of a bus engine starting up; Metro had sent a relief driver to collect 0414, and she trundled cheerfully away.
Gibbs looked at the two EMTs who were waiting patiently to get their hands on Tony. "Borlovsky's being interviewed via MTAC by the Director himself as we speak," he said. "So… Karen?"
"Karen's safe, Boss."
"And you know this how, DiNozzo?"
Tony looked at Rita, and knew he was right. "You took a risk coming here, gal."
Karen was unfazed."Not really. If I thought there was the slightest risk to my children, I wouldn't have come. How'd you know?"
"No recent bruises… The way you looked every time Raggy's name was mentioned… Richie mentioned he had a sister. He called her Bitty, sort of nickname a five year old might come up with if he couldn't quite manage Birgita. He said she was asleep, although she was older than him, he liked to stay up later. He said he liked the house he'd been living in better than here… didn't know why you'd come. And you didn't, until after Raggy died."
"Rita," Tim said softly. "Ritte."
Karen nodded; she managed a watery smile and wiped tears away. "We left Richard," she said softly. "It wasn't the occasional punch – I was good at dodging, and I always stood up to him anyway… living with him was just strangling the life and soul out of me. I covered our tracks, he never found us. We were out in Idaho, I supported us through writing… then Nils Ragnar came back. Millie knew where we were – I'm sorry, I made her swear not to tell anyone, and when we thought Raggy could be suspected of murder, that was even more important. I knew he hadn't killed Richard."
"Did you ever see your brother?" Tony asked gently.
"Once. I told him I knew it wasn't him. He told me he'd found this place after my letter, and he was gathering evidence. He said it sometimes got him into trouble, but he knew how to fight… I'm so glad I saw him. I didn't know that'd be the last time…" She stifled a sob. "When Millie told me he'd been killed, I knew it was time to come here myself." She looked at Seren. "I'm sorry… I knew you didn't have anything to do with it… I should have been honest with you…"
Seren managed a wan smile. "This place was being used," she said quietly. "All the good we've been trying to do was being corrupted, now it's safe again." She looked round. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you all." Her gaze stayed longest on Tony and his makeshift bandages. "Thank you, Tony," she almost whispered.
His weary eyes still danced at her. "Prego, bellissima," he said blithely.
Gibbs growled. "Stop milking it, DiNozzo." He took pity on the hovering EMTs, rose to his feet, and jerked his head in their direction. "Andiamo!"
AN: As seen in all good spaghetti westerns – 'let's go!'
Hope you've enjoyed it, I'll be writing again just as soon as I can sit at a computer. (They won't let me take a laptop into hospital – sob!)