The Best of Us
by Amy L. Hull
THANK you to JSQ and JMHaughey, for reading over my first NCIS story for me!
Tony leaned against the interrogation room's wall, arms and legs crossed, the toe of an Italian leather shoe resting on the ground. He was the picture of casual indifference, like the detectives in his gumboot movies.
Ziva could see his tells. She always could. His jaw was clenched too tightly, and his pulse pounded there.
His eyes and voice, though, they were convincing. It was what made him a good interrogator: he would convince the suspect they shared a bond. He would gain the suspect's trust.
"You know how it is," the man, Joe Johnson, was saying. "You have to deal with them all the time. Taking over the Navy, even the Marines, along with the rest of the country. Hell, I saw one of them's your director here."
"My partner, too," Tony drawled.
Ziva ignored her stomach dropping. It was his part. Get them to identify with him.
"The pretty one?"
Tony's mouth curved in a half smile.
"Thought she had an accent. Too bad." Johnson shook his head. "That must be hard for you real Americans, the ones who should be doing this job."
Tony perched on the edge of the table, his back to Ziva. "It must've been hard for you, too. Your job, there are an awful lot of...well, folks different than us."
Tony flipped open the folder and tossed the photos out. Three young women, strangled with their own hijab.
Ziva stood up straighter and clenched her jaw. She had spoken to the mothers and the fathers of these girls, had held the hand of the younger sister of one. It was that sister whose clue had led them to this Johnson.
"Some would say who ever killed them was doing the work of a true patriot," Tony was saying lightly. His laugh was as false as his movie-star pose, and as convincing. "Might even thank him."
Johnson nodded. "Folks have already thanked me."
Tony leaned toward him. "Gotcha."
Johnson's forehead crinkled in confusion. Then his eyes widened and Ziva smiled as the man's face contorted into a mask of fury. "They need to know!" he shouted. "They need to know that when they kill Americans, we'll fight back! All of them, they're all terrorists, and they advertise it with their clothes and their prayers after they come here and try to take our jobs so they can infiltrate us and deliver the Sunday punch from the inside just like on 9-11! I'm just sorry I only took out three of them!"
Ziva was glad Johnson was cuffed to the table as he jerked at the chains. She wished she'd been the one to put him in the room so she could have tightened the bracelets right into his skin.
Tony stood. There was still tension rippling under the back of his shirt. She frowned. Usually this was the part where he was relaxed, almost gloating. But he stepped behind the chair where Johnson sat. "You can stop now. We've got plenty of evidence for your murder trial."
"Any jury of real Americans will acquit me! Real patriots will let me keep trying to save our country from these intruders and terrorists!"
Tony bent down so he was speaking directly into Johnson's fury-red ear. "Real Americans? You mean like people born on our soil, natural citizens like the Constitution says?"
Reaching around Johnson, Tony pointed. "This is Maira. She was born in Maryland-"
"I mean people whose parents were born here! Not these anchor-baby people who come here and have a baby just to take advantage of America!"
Tony nodded. "Maira's grandparents immigrated here in the 1940s. Both grandparents were doctors, and one contributed to developing treatments for childhood leukemia. She was a pre-med student who wanted to be a pediatrician. That's the kind of service you say isn't American. We probably shouldn't have let them come here. Those sick kids might not have been good enough Americans, after all." He tapped the next picture. "This is Nadria. Her mother fled to this country after Nadria's father died when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s. She wanted Nadria to be able to get an education. She risked her life to teach her daughter to read, risked it again to flee the Soviet army. It probably would have been better to let the commies get them both, huh?"
Tony dragged a chair around the table, picked up the third picture, and held it. "This one, though," he laughed. "This one. This is Sofia." He held up the photo. "She's the reason NCIS was involved in this investigation. She was the second woman you killed and dumped on the street like garbage."
"They are gar-"
"You do not get to talk!" Tony shouted.
Ziva blinked, tried to convince herself she had not flinched.
Tony glanced toward her. "Sofia's father is a full-bird colonel in the U.S. Marines. He's done three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sofia was a cadet at Annapolis." He slapped down the family photo with father and daughter in dress uniform. "She was going to be a Marine officer, just like her father, until you murdered her. But I suppose we wouldn't want loyal, natural-born Americans serving our country or putting their training to use. Not if they have a different religion than the state-established...oh, wait...there's that pesky Constitution getting in your way again."
"Two of the members of our team are naturalized U.S. citizens. They worked for that right. They took oaths of loyalty to this country. Did you do that, Joe Johnson? Did you take an oath to the government? Because these young women whose lives you cut short, two didn't have to, because they were born here, like you. One of them did, though. She and her mother studied and took tests to prove they knew and loved this country. They learned English knowing they'd never sound quite as smart or as funny or be known quite as fully as they would have been in their native language." He looked directly at where he knew she was behind the glass. "Just like every person who chooses to come here, or comes here seeking a better life or education or more freedom or self-determination for themselves or their children, they represent the courage and will that is the very best of America."
Ziva found herself blinking again as the room blurred slightly. She swallowed hard.
"That's what you took away. Not just daughters and friends and promise. You took away hope and service and patriotism and courage. I hope you remember that every day you're in prison." With that Tony scooped up the file and left interrogation, slamming the door behind him.
It was nearly ten minutes before Ziva returned to the bullpen and her desk. She flashed a small smile his way. His lips twitched in return before they resumed work.