The Third

It's not the crying that unnerves the grown man in the expensive suit. It's the squealing, a sound reminiscent of a piglet being pushed through a straw. Platitudes do not soothe such a racket, nor is an embrace a sufficient muffling barrier. And while others are actively imagining the strangulation of the noise's source, the federal agent, unarmed and rapidly regretful, is ardently envisioning a singles-only beach where the closest thing to a pampered toddler is a rich woman's poodle.

Maybe that's what the kid needs... a pet.

Because nothing else is working to calm the screeching eighteen month old. Books have been read, highlighted and underlined and every suggestion has been faithfully employed. Here in this line. At this grocery store. At this ungodly hour among the staring, glaring throngs who knew better than to bring a cranky child for what Tony's wife assured him would be a quick trip for a few things. The woman lies potently.

The list had begun as a three-item dash, which had grown to five before the boy had been strapped into the car seat, frighteningly awake and eager for a midnight outing. Tony hadn't minded the mini-entourage, as time alone with his boy is a sparse and precious thing. But a subsequent text message arrived upon parking, morphing five purchases into six. Ziva may not know Columbo, but she's got his 'just one more thing' routine down to a rather deliberate art.

Navigating narrow passageways with a cart shaped like an unruly fire truck had been an interesting reenactment of defensive driving class. Those random displays of sale items that have little to do with the aisle's stated purpose, like bags of Ring Pops in front of the pasta shelves, caused no end of difficulty. Especially when The Third decided he must immediately possess the cavity-vowing, compact sugar jewelry. Right. Now.

The mission has come within one more 'I wan'it' of being aborted.

At present, the fire truck and its vocal occupant take up the full width of line four, which has put candy bars of every variation within chubby-fingered reach. The previously noted squealing, summoned from the depths of a denied child's soul, acquires a glass-shattering pitch based on the softly delivered,


"I wan'it!"

Which is made slightly more garbled by the fact that the boy has wedged an unopened Chunky bar into the perpetually damp cavern of his mouth. Which does silence the squeal momentarily. It's replaced by the kind of gasping growl that cats perform as a mouse tries to escape its clenching jaws.

It would be nice, Tony thinks as he lifts the squirming body out of the truck and knocks several chocolatey rectangles to the ground, if Ziva could bear witness to the exorcism of sound when the candy bar is pried from his son's grip. Even the developing brain knows better than to carry on in her presence. A strand of slobber runs like pizza cheese from pouting lips to the packaging. And the piglet imitation resumes. Criminals of every level have attempted to stare the agent down with no success, but the tired mothers and listless teenagers have met their quota of toddler tantrums for this hour and their eyes now penetrate Tony's skull in that subtle, imposed-upon way that strangers have.

There is a sensation that lives next door to fear that stumbles over the fence to borrow some sugar. Tony chokes down the sensation against the vivid image of a half-dead and wholly annoyed flash mob. Only Ziva possesses the skill to defeat the masses with such limited weaponry; scattered candy bars and a portable slobber factory.

There's a beep in his pocket. A shift of the child to the other hip and he fumbles with the phone to retrieve a message that adds one more vital product to Ziva's list. Which she only just remembers. And will have to go without.

Executive decision of a frustrated man.

On the ride home, the snot-ridden Anthony DiNozzo III falls asleep, face set in angelic configuration with a mutilated Chunky bar dangling from a loose grip. He remains in slumber as he's carried into the apartment and laid into bed. In the kitchen, his mother unpacks the plunder, looking as refreshed as she did three years ago, when she'd promised forever to a man who couldn't swallow the heart soaring into his throat. Her current smile makes the damage to his ear drums worthwhile. Said smile tumbles into a frown as she scans the register tape.

"I did not have candy on the list."

Tony pulls out the Chunky bar, an unopened mess of drool that couldn't maintain its shape, and relocates it to the trash. And then settles a new ring on her finger, a huge affair that dwarfs her engagement stone. For a moment, Ziva sucks on the sugary gem and Tony's beginning to wonder if what The Third really needs is a sibling.

Hope you enjoyed the first installment!