Here's an early Christmas present for you wonderful reviewers, since I'm probably not going to have Internet access later this week. Unfortunately, it's a short chapter, but since I had such short notice . . .
"What was the TOD, Duck?" Gibbs asked the Scottish medical examiner.
Ducky twisted his upper body around to give the team leader a scathing look. "I've only just started my preliminary examination, Jethro. Have some patience." He turned back to the body—that of a seaman home from touring—ripped open from chest to navel. From the looks of it, a bear had started eating him—something not uncommon in Rock Creek Park. The team, in fact, had had a similar case before.
"Do you think he was here with anyone?" Tony asked, snapping yet another photo of the deceased.
Timothy McGee glanced up from where he was searching the body for ID. "Maybe, considering it looks like he was here camping and Ziva found some women's underwear in the packs inside his tent."
"Or he had a cross-dressing fetish," Jimmy Palmer, Dr. Mallard's assistant, piped up.
Everyone else stopped what they were doing and stared at him.
The rest of the team chose wisely not to respond and continued their various tasks. Ziva was busy taking witness statements from the group that had found the body. When she finished, she joined her teammates. The Israeli Shifter reported, "None of them recalled seeing Seaman—"
"Josh Walker," McGee supplied, having found the deceased's driver's license.
"—Josh Walker," Ziva continued, "but since they're an educational group led by a park ranger . . ." She shrugged. "It doesn't mean much."
"How about the ranger leading the group?" Gibbs asked.
"She didn't remember seeing him, but then, this is a large park, Gibbs. It's impossible to patrol daily." What Ziva neglected to add was that the ranger leading the group was her and Tony's kind—a Shifter. It didn't surprise her: a lot of Shifters worked as park rangers or forest guides, known as sherpas, to keep Statics out of the areas of the park Shifters viewed as theirs.
Gibbs' blue eyes narrowed, clearly guessing there was something she was holding back. The team leader knew about her and Tony being Shifters—and Keane, the dead ATF agent, and he suspected Trent Kort and Meghan Volkov of the CIA were Shifters as well. Ziva didn't want to tell him just how many Shifters existed. She knew there were packs across the country and scattered throughout the world. (Not all Shifters transformed into wolves, but Ziva had never met a non-wolf Shifter. Well, maybe once.)
Thankfully, Gibbs appeared to let the unasked question drop. He turned back to Ducky. "You have a TOD yet?"
Dr. Mallard pulled the liver probe out of said organ, studied it, and said, "He's been here for at least a few days, Jethro."
"Cause of death?"
"Hard to say. We'll know more when the poor fellow is back at Autopsy, won't we, Mr. Palmer?"
"Of course, Doctor," Jimmy agreed, fiddling with the black body bag. He managed to unzip it, and the two medical examiners carefully set what was left of Seaman Josh Walker inside. They zipped up the body bag, then proceeded to store it in the truck for the trip home.
A thought suddenly struck McGee. "Hang on. If Ziva found women's clothing at his camp—"
"What do you mean 'if'?" Ziva scoffed.
"—then where's the woman?"
There was a moment of silence. Tony broke it by saying, "Oh." Then he winced when Gibbs head-slapped him.
"Good thinking, McGee," Gibbs told the probie. "Tony, why didn't you double-check with Ziva?"
"I don't want to hear it."
"Yes, Boss. We can go now if you like."
"Good. Do I have to tell you to take Ziva?"
"Then what are you still doing here?"
Tony opened his mouth, closed it, and went over to Ziva. She said, "Follow me," and led him through the woods. They emerged into a small clearing a half-mile away furnished with a tent, a black Ford pickup, and a campfire reduced to ashes and charred wood.
"I already bagged and tagged what clothing I could," Ziva informed her partner.
"We should still be able to pick up her scent."
"Do you want to do the honors?"
DiNozzo looked swiftly at his mate, only to find she was giving him a teasing smile. He tugged playfully at her ponytail. Her dark brown eyes narrowed and she bared her teeth. She ordered, "Stop playing around, DiNozzo. We have work to do."
"You started it, Officer David."
"Chomp me," she muttered.
"Bite me," he corrected.
How could she resist such an invitation? The she-wolf stretched up on her toes, nuzzled his neck, and nipped lightly where neck met shoulder. Then she relaxed her position and stepped back.
Tony's green-gray eyes had shut when she leaned in close, but they flew open when she nipped him. "Ouch!"
"Sorry, I couldn't resist. And relax, would you? I didn't even bite you that hard."
"I didn't mean it literally!"
"You didn't?" Ziva frowned, but her eyes were laughing.
"There's no need to yell," she chided.
Tony huffed and turned back to the tent. "Let's just start working. Gibbs will probably come looking for us soon."
"Okay." Ziva walked over to the tent, unzipped it, and ducked inside. Tony followed her. He said, "Since it's November, isn't it a little cold to be out camping?"
"Maybe he was out hunting."
"Pheasant. Elk, deer—or is that in the summer?"
"Beats me. I don't hunt."
"What about when you're in wolf form?"
"That's different and you know it. It's for food, to survive."
"And it tastes delicious. I hate hunting birds, though. The feathers get stuck in my teeth."
"Have you ever seen Open Season?"
"No. Do I want to? No. Besides, how is a kid's movie relevant to this case?"
"It's not. I just wanted to see your reaction."
Ziva stuck her tongue out, and Tony had to fight back a laugh. If you want to see something funny, it's a tough, ninja Mossad Shifter assassin sticking her tongue out at her partner.
Then the Israeli was serious. "What can you smell?"
DiNozzo inhaled deeply, nostrils flaring as he scented the air. "Our dead seaman, but under that . . ." He sniffed again. "Yeah, there was definitely a woman here, but the scent's stale—maybe a couple days old."
"That's what I thought," Ziva said.
"At least now we're sure that he doesn't have a cross-dressing fetish."
Ziva cracked a small smile, remembering Palmer's comment. "For all we know, he still might." She Gibbs-slapped him at his incredulous look. "I was joking!"
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled before asking, "Do you think we should follow the scent?"
"Let's tell Gibbs we found a female scent first. Then he can decide."
"Okay. Speaking of Gibbs, we should start heading back. The others will be wondering where we are."
"Got it." Ziva stepped out of the tent, carrying the evidence bags full of clothes. Tony followed. The tents and pickup truck would be picked up taken to the evidence garage later.
The Israeli suddenly froze when the reached the edge of the clearing. "Do you sense that?"
"We're being watched."
Both of them whirled around to check—but there was nothing there.