Chapter 17 – Angel of Small Death
April 2nd, 2023, 23:58 – East Sterling Train Yard, Anacostia, Washington DC
McGee took out the pair of white latex gloves he always kept in his coat pocket and slid them on quickly. His heart was beating fast in his chest, too fast– he had to calm down. He couldn't let his fear get the best of him. But the scream he'd heard... he was sure it was a woman screaming.
He pressed a gloved hand to Brickley's neck. He wasn't expecting to find a pulse, and he wasn't disappointed. There were no signs of life. His body was ice cold. He attempted to move the dead man's arm, but found it difficult.
"Rigor mortis has already set in," McGee muttered. "He's been dead for three hours at least. Probably more."
Tony kneeled down next to McGee, shining his flashlight on Brickley's abdomen. "I'd bet money his wounds match the other victims."
"Yeah," McGee agreed. "Look at his neck."
Tony aimed his light higher. "Pink ribbon." The NCIS director narrowed his eyes. "Tim, look at his mouth. He's got something pinned between his teeth."
McGee pried open Brickley's jaw, trying to get a better glimpse of what he held in his mouth. The taint of death hit him hard, and bile rose in his throat. He leaned in closer, trying to ignore the smell. He pulled hard; out came the object that had been in Brickley's mouth. McGee held it up in the hazy beam of light from Tony's flashlight.
"A black rook," he observed. "But why? Why change the pieces? Why use Brickley like this?"
"Questions for your profiler," Tony said. "Come on, McGee. He's still here, and that screaming sure as hell didn't come from Brickley. We've got to find him before he has a chance to get away."
"Or finish the job," McGee agreed in a low voice. He placed the rook on the ground and stood. They would call the CSIU once they'd searched the yard for Machiavelli.
Flashlight in one hand and SIG in the other, McGee pressed out of the boxcar, Tony close behind. They'd just stepped out into the chilly night air when Tony's phone buzzed in his pocket. He quickly answered.
"What's rule eight?" he asked softly. There was a pause, then Tony's expression turned to one of angry determination. "Where is he?"
Footsteps; the crunch of dead grass under the rapid feet of someone running.
Ziva whirled, SIG out of her holster in a split second and aimed in front of her. There– a dark silhouette darting along the west end of the train yard, away from the tankers over by the parking lot where Tony and McGee were.
She didn't know who it was, but she could take a guess. Without hesitation, she began chasing after the figure, who was about ten meters ahead of her currently. He was fast. In the moonlight, she could see that he was tall, but of slim build. She committed his outline to memory.
She slid her cell phone out of her pocket, hitting Tony's speed dial number, which she'd assigned earlier in the day. He picked up after one thing. "What's rule eight?"
"Never take anything for granted," she answered hurriedly, barely remembering their agreement to use codes when calling each other. "He's here. In the yard. I am chasing him."
"Where is he?"
"Coming from the west, heading towards the south."
"We're coming to you now."
"No, there is no point, he has too much of a lead. Search the yard for Scottie. I will hunt down Machiavelli."
Before Tony had a chance to respond, she ended the call and shoved her phone back in her pocket, picking up her pace so that she was sprinting after the dark figure.
He was fast.
But she was faster.
She gained on him quickly as they reached the fence. The man ripped off the jacket he was wearing and tossed it over the barbed wire. Using that to keep him from sustaining many injuries, he hauled himself up and over the fence, dragging his coat down with him on the other side. She heard the sound of tearing fabric, and he was off, heading towards what looked to be a water treatment plant that ran alongside the abandoned train yard.
She threw her own coat on the barbed wire and mimicked the killer's actions. She thumped down with little grace on the other side before dashing towards the emergency exit that she'd just seen Machiavelli slip through. She didn't bother to get her coat, even though the wind of the early spring night held a bitter chill.
Ziva made her way through the emergency door. In the distance, she heard echoing footsteps. He had a good lead on her, but with luck, it wouldn't last for long. Leveling her SIG in front of her, she plunged into the darkness of the water treatment plant.
With a fumbling hand on the wall beside the door, she found a switch. With a flick, a string of overhead fluorescent lights buzzed to life. A long corridor stretched in front of her, and there was the dull thrum of activity all around her. Pipes lined the walls, and electrical wires weaved through them. The floor underneath her feet was a steel grate– she wouldn't have a problem keeping track of Machiavelli in here, with how loud each footfall was.
She raced down the corridor. A treatment plant like this would most likely have some kind of access to Anacostia's sewers. If Machiavelli had any sense, which he unfortunately did, he would be heading down, not up.
When she reached the end of the corridor, she was presented with two choices. To her left, a hallway that led deeper into the facility, into what seemed to be a reception area. On her right, a stairwell that led to what a sign informed her was subbasement A.
Not even taking a moment to catch her breath, she was down the stairs. She tried the light switch on the wall, but it was inoperative. That was a good sign. She wouldn't put it past Machiavelli to cut the wires to enshroud himself in darkness to give himself an edge in his escape.
She pulled out her flashlight and shined the pale beam in front of her. Down she went.
Once Ziva reached the bottom of the steps, she began to navigate the sublevel's maze of winding passages. There were no overhead lights down here, but red warning lights glowed over gauges and control panels, bathing her way with crimson.
She decided not to think much on that comparison.
Ziva skirted along another corner. A thick bundle of wires snaked around a drainage pipe and led to a breaker box on her immediate left. Twelve of the fourteen switches had been flipped off. Oh, yes. She was going the right way. She quickly flipped them back on, and all of the lights in the sublevel came back on.
Over the roar of water being filtered, she heard footsteps. She tilted her head. Ten meters forward, slightly to the left. She continued swiftly down the corridor, taking a sharp left when she heard sounds of activity from farther ahead... a groaning sound – metallic – and then something being slammed shut.
A door? Time to find out.
When Ziva sprinted down another corridor, she found that at the end, there was a hatch the size of a manhole cover in the floor. She grabbed the handle and lifted the top. Dropped it. The sound was identical to what she'd heard a few moments before.
He was going into the sewers, then.
She knew there would be no light down there, so she pinned her thin flashlight between her teeth and lifted the hatch up completely this time. She looked down. It was about a three meter drop down to the murky waters of the sewer. She didn't want to risk breaking something and subsequently incapacitating herself, so she fit her boots into the top rung of the rusty ladder and scrambled down the first few steps before jumping into the flowing current below.
It went to her mid-thigh. Ahead, she saw the silhouette of the killer, barely illuminated by the dim beam of her flash light. She pursued him, though the rushing current of the sewage slowed her significantly. Thankfully, it seemed to do the same to Machiavelli.
"Stop! Federal agent!" Ziva shouted after the killer, her words reverberating on the metal walls and transforming into a coarse, hollow sound. It felt strange to yell that after so long without being able to do so.
Predictably, Machiavelli didn't stop.
Ziva rushed after him as fast as she could, fighting tooth and nail against the rapid current.
"It was further down this way. Come on."
Tony walked forward at a brisk pace, flashlight in one hand and SIG Sauer in the other. Mirroring his actions, McGee fell into step behind him. It was best to let Tony take point. McGee found that in spite of himself, his hands were shaking. That scream was ringing in his ears.
McGee didn't know if he believed in a God, per se. He believed that there was something, some kind of governing force, but he didn't know if it was some sentient overlord of the universe. Still, he wasn't so arrogant as to claim that he personally knew exactly what was out there. But the fact was, he had seen a lot of bad. Bad that made up the worst of the nightmares that still plagued him.
You see enough bad, you start to wonder, how? How could someone be up there watching and do nothing, do nothing and just let the world suffer?
Sometimes McGee thought that if there was a God, He was either unendingly cruel or horribly capricious. But, doubts and resentment aside, in that moment, he found himself repeating a mantra in his mind: Help her, help her, help her, help her, help her!
Tony paused in front of the last boxcar on the left row. He rapped his knuckles on the metal. It should have echoed, but instead, it seemed as though the sound was cut off abruptly.
"Sound proofing," Tony surmised quickly. He pointed his flashlight at the door. "New padlocks." Wordlessly, Tony stepped to the side and gave McGee stiff nod.
Without hesitation, McGee shot the lock off with his SIG. He only had two bullets left. Why the hell hadn't he thought to bring more ammo with him?
Tony grabbed one of the doors, McGee grabbed the other. They pulled, and their flashlight beams joined as they both turned them to the interior of the boxcar. There was someone in the very back of the boxcar, a slim feminine figure, pale against the darkness around her.
He was halfway to the figure when he saw the scarlet pool of blood. The woman's hands were bound behind her. Her left hand was missing the ring figure. It appeared to have been cauterized since. He saw long brunette hair done up with a pink ribbon. No.
He fell to his knees. His pants were quickly drenched in blood. He turned over the figure. The stomach of the white dress was red. He realized with a swooping in his stomach that it wasn't the normal dress that Machiavelli typically put his victims in.
It was a wedding dress.
"Scottie," he whispered. Her eyes were closed, not blank and staring like Brickley's had been. There was duct tape over her mouth. Two simple words were written on it in black, neatly scripted lower case letters.
He felt his heart beating out of sync in his chest. Drawing breath became increasingly difficult. Desperate, he put his hand to his fiancée's neck. There had to be something, anything. She couldn't be dead, he couldn't lose her now. She was the one who pulled him out of his own head, pulled him out of his own personal brand of darkness after he'd left DC...
She was everything.
You can't take her away from me!
For a moment, there was nothing. All he could hear was he and Tony's unsteady breathing. All he could smell was blood. All he could feel was ice.
Then, there was a thready beat under his fingers. So faint that for a moment he was sure he imagined it– but then there it was again!
"Tony, call an ambulance." He ripped the duct tape off of Scottie's mouth. She was going to need CPR. "She's still alive!"
The sound of splashing feet echoed off the walls of the tunnel. The scent of mold, decay, and waste hung in the air like a fog.
She was gaining on him.
She'd been running for about sixty meters when she reached an intersection. Splashing to her right, nothing but roaring water to her left. She hung right, and she saw the faintest hint of light at the end of the tunnel. It had been a clear night out, bright enough that it stood out against the oppressive darkness of the tunnel.
You knew about this place, didn't you? You knew it would be your escape route if we found you.
This tunnel would inevitably lead to either a drainage ditch or the Anacostia River. She hoped it wasn't the latter. It was just above freezing outside, and submerging her body in frigid water would only serve to slow her down further. She already felt chilled down to her bones by the cold sewage she was wading through.
The killer reached the light. He was only about five meters ahead of her now. She realized that there was a gate at the end of the tunnel. Machiavelli opened it and slipped through, slamming it shut behind him. She was almost upon him. To her surprise, he stopped in front of the gate. He was fumbling with something, and she heard the clink-clink of metal on metal.
What was he doing?
Just as she reached the gate, she heard him laugh – a low chuckle – and then he turned his back and ran. The tunnel opened up to a drainage ditch. Her hands wrapped around the bars of the gate, and she jerked on it, but when she looked down, she saw that it had been chained shut.
Ziva threw her shoulder into the gate. It rattled, but didn't budge. Shining her flashlight out into the drainage ditch, she saw the killer scrambling up the side of it. She wouldn't be able to break through the gate fast enough to get to him. Only one option, then.
She took out her SIG and trained her eyes down the sight. She had only an approximately three second window where she would still be able to hit the killer.
There was a shout of agony, and the killer clutched his thigh just as he reached the crest of the embankment. She'd been intending to hit his femoral artery, but it was breezy out, and she hadn't had enough time to account for the wind. Judging by the amount of blood spurting from his leg, she'd missed, but only by a hair.
To her dismay, the killer pressed himself on, stumbling forward just enough that he was out of her line of sight.
"Damn it!" she shouted, ramming the gate again. It barely budged.
From above her and to the right, she heard the laugh again, the chuckle, though it was more pained this time.
"Check," the killer said, and Ziva felt her veins flood with ice.
I know that voice!