Summary: The NCIS Major Case Response Team investigate the brutal murder of a Marine and the trail leads them to a Congolese immigrant named Cierre LuaLua. She’s exotic, mysterious, and very dangerous – and she has exceedingly unusual ears. Chapter 2 is 6,500 words, rating 15.
The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Two: Private Investigations
“Is she wearing… Spock ears?” Tony commented. “I thought I noticed something when she was fighting Ziva but I was a little preoccupied at the time.”
Tim moved closer to the one-way glass window and peered into the Interrogation Room. “Not Spock ears, Tony,” he said, “she’s made up as an Elf. Maybe a Night Elf from World of Warcraft but their ears are longer than that and they don’t have white hair. I’d say she’s meant to be a Drow. A Dark Elf from Dungeons and Dragons.”
“Yes, she’s definitely a Drow,” Abby confirmed. She’d emerged from her lab to commiserate with Ziva over her defeat and had hung around to take a look at the suspect. “It’s strange; I’m pretty sure there aren’t any fandom conventions around here before March.”
“Why would she dress up as an Elf?” Ziva wondered.
“It’s called Cosplay,” Tim explained. “Fans dress up as characters from comics, or movies, or video games. Usually they do it to attend conventions, like the big ComicCon in San Diego, or when they meet up with friends to role-play. You wouldn’t often find someone dressed up in character in their hotel room on a Saturday morning.”
“The Drow are Evil,” Abby said. “Maybe she’s in character because she was planning to do something hinky.”
“She has a pass to the Pentagon,” Gibbs said. “If she had something hinky planned I want to know about it. McGee, how’d you like to do the initial interrogation?”
“See anyone else named McGee around here? You seem to know something about this Cosplay thing and I don’t. Maybe you can use it to get her talking. I can always take over later if you don’t get anywhere.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” Tim said. “Thanks.”
“How did you get on with the CCTV footage, Abbs?” Gibbs asked.
“All done, Gibbs,” the forensic scientist reported. “I can confirm that the suspect left about five minutes before Sherman. There was another tall girl, maybe even taller than me, went out in between the two. But she didn’t look anything like the evil Drow who hurt Ziva.” She glared through the window at Cierre, who was sitting motionless and impassive, and then enveloped Ziva in a hug.
“The suspect left first, then another girl, and then Sherman? The other girl must have seen something,” Gibbs said, “even if was only LuaLua hanging around waiting for Sherman. She could be our most important witness. Get me some stills of her, Abbs. I’ll send someone back to the bar later, when the evening staff are in, and we’ll see if we can get an ID.”
“Will do, Gibbs,” Abby said, releasing Ziva. “I’m running a test on the Drow’s knife right now. There are definitely traces of blood on it and I should have confirmation soon that it matches Sherman’s. And I’m running her fingerprints too.”
Tim took another look into the interrogation room. “Is it necessary for her still to be handcuffed?” he said. “We don’t usually keep suspects cuffed when we’re questioning them.”
“Most suspects can’t beat Ziva in a fight,” Tony said. “She’d eat you alive, Probie. I wouldn’t go in there alone unless she was chained up like Hannibal Lecter.”
“Leave them on for the moment, McGee,” Gibbs said. “See how it goes and maybe you can let her out of them if she acts reasonable.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” Tim said. He stretched his arms out in front of him and cracked his knuckles. “Okay, I’m going in.”
Abby drew herself up to her full five feet ten, plus the extra inches from her platform-soled boots, and looked him straight in the eye. “Make that Drow confess, Elf-Lord.”
Tim sat down in front of Cierre and rested his arms on the table. “Uh, hello,” he said. “I’m Special Agent Tim McGee and I want to ask you some questions.”
“I am Cierre of – I am called Cierre LuaLua,” Cierre replied, “and I too have questions.”
“Well, maybe we can help each other out,” Tim said. “You answer my questions and I’ll see what I can do about answering yours.”
“No,” she said, the word coming out sounding more like ‘nau’, “you answer mine first, riv – Special Agent, then I will answer yours.”
Tim raised his right hand to his face and scratched his ear. “Did you just nearly call me rivvil?”
“I did,” Cierre admitted. “You speak Ilythiiri?”
“A little,” Tim said. “Just the common phrases, like rivvil and jaluk and vith’os. Mainly the ones that crop up in Viconia’s dialogue in the Baldur’s Gate games.” He was being economical with the truth; in fact his knowledge of the Drow language went a lot further than that, at least in written form, although he would be confident of his pronunciation only of the phrases that occurred in the games.
Cierre nodded. “That is more than most. Tell me, Special Agent, what happen to Mike? Other agents ask me about him before the rivvil jalil attack me and the jaluk threaten me with SIG-228.”
“What do you mean, attack you? You attacked Ziva,” Tim said. He made a mental note that Cierre was obviously extremely familiar with firearms.
“That is false,” Cierre said. “They lie. I defend myself only. But tell me of Mike. I wait for him for more than hour in hotel… front part, by door… and he not come.”
“You waited for him? Huh? If he was supposed to meet you at your hotel why didn’t you just go there together?”
“Air Force Instruction 36 dash 2909 dash 3 dot 2, professional and unprofessional relationships for civilian employees,” Cierre said. “Even though he is away from unit now we thought it best to be circumcise about our rendezvous. We have new Jabbuk and I know not what he think of such things.” She fixed him with a steely gaze and a tone of command entered her voice. “Now tell me what happen to Mike. I grow fearful.”
Tim hesitated. He was somewhat thrown by her use of ‘circumcise’ – probably she meant ‘circumspect’, he guessed – and it took him a moment to readjust to her changed tone. It was standard procedure not to tell a suspect more than the minimum necessary about a case. However it would be obvious, as soon as he started asking probing questions, that Sherman had been killed. As she would know already, of course, if she was the one who had killed him.
“He was murdered in the alley out back of the club,” Tim revealed.
Cierre’s face contorted in a snarl. She rose to her feet, her shoulders writhed, and the handcuffs came apart. A section of one cuff shot off across the room and clattered on the floor. “Uk zhahus vith'ez elggus?” she growled. “Usstan orn glit’r doeb l’uitfly d’l’uss vel’uss elggen ukta!” Tim recoiled as she snapped the handcuffs, expecting that she would launch herself at him, but relaxed when she made no offensive moves.
Cierre stood motionless for a moment, took a deep breath, and then sat down again. She rested her hands on the table and looked Tim in the eye. “I feared that something had happened to him but I think accident,” she said. “Ask your questions, Special Agent, that you might the sooner catch the iblith who slew my friend.”
In the observation gallery Gibbs had drawn his gun when he saw Cierre break free from her cuffs. He holstered it again and frowned. “Now that wasn’t what I was expecting,” he said. “Just how strong is that woman? And how come she didn’t mangle her wrists?”
“Ah, Gibbs,” Ziva said, “I think that she did.” A red stain was spreading across the left-hand cuff of Cierre’s white sweat-shirt.
“Maybe we’d better get her medical attention, Boss,” Tony suggested.
“Not yet,” Gibbs said. “I think McGee’s getting somewhere and she’s not complaining. Let’s leave him to it for the moment.” He turned to Ziva. “She says you attacked her.”
Ziva lowered her eyes. “I did make the first move, Gibbs,” she admitted. “I saw the knife and went to disarm her. She had not yet taken any offensive action.”
“I guess you couldn’t afford to take any chances,” Gibbs said, “but there might have been a better way to handle it. Think about it.”
“Gibbs,” Abby said, “what she said, when she broke the cuffs, it was in Drow. Surely she’d have spoken in her native language, French or whatever they speak in the Congo, if she was really angry or upset. Not in an invented language that she can’t have learned until she came to the States.”
“Good point, Abbs,” Gibbs said. “Weren’t you supposed to be getting me stills of the other woman?”
“Oh, can I stay, please, Gibbs, please?” Abby begged.
Gibbs pursed his lips. “I suppose you did have something to contribute there,” he conceded. “Okay, you can stay, but the second McGee finishes you get straight back to your lab.”
Abby bounced up and down and clapped her hands together. “Thanks, Gibbs,” she said. “I’ll get on it the second Tim’s finished, I promise.” She went back to watching the interrogation as McGee resumed his questioning.
“So, you say you didn’t kill Michael Sherman?” Tim said.
Cierre opened her eyes very wide. “Why would I kill Mike?” she said. “I was angry when he not… did not… come to hotel, but I would only have punched him. If he not want to fuck me, that is okay. I only was annoyed because I waited for hour… an hour.”
“And you didn’t have an argument in the bar?”
“If we had argumented then I would not have wanted to fuck him,” Cierre said. She looked down at her wrists. “Vith’ol!” she snapped out. “I have blood on new sweatshirt.” She raised her left hand in front of her face and examined her watch. “Good, it is not scratched,” she said. “I did not think before I act.”
“I’ll get someone to see to your wrist,” Tim said. “It looks in a bad way.”
Cierre shrugged. “The anger swells in my guts and I won’t feel these slices and cuts,” she said, rhythmically, almost as if she was chanting. “I will heal. The sweatshirt will not. How do I get the blood out? At base I just put in laundry.”
“Do you often get blood on your clothes at the… base?” Tim asked.
“Yes,” Cierre said, “but on BDUs. Not my own clothes.”
“Your documents say you’re a translator,” Tim pointed out. “How come you get blood on your clothes?”
“Goa- Terrorists not care what job I do, try to kill me anyway,” Cierre said.
Tim made a mental note that Cierre had started to say something that wasn’t ‘terrorists’. He let it slide for the moment. “So, Michael Sherman was alive when you last saw him,” he said, “and you were expecting him to join you at your hotel.”
“That is right,” Cierre said. “I change out of leather clothes, put on clothes more easy to take off, and go down to wait for him. I call him when he not come, wait more then call again, then give up and go to bed.”
Tim bit on his lower lip. Her account would explain the two missed calls on Sherman’s phone. Confirming that the calls had come from Cierre’s phone would be simple. The hotel night staff should be able to confirm Cierre’s account, too, if she really had been hanging around the lobby for an hour. It wasn’t an alibi but it was behavior consistent with her story. And she wasn’t behaving like a murderer being interrogated; if she’d been faking her flare of anger when he revealed that Sherman had been murdered then she was worthy of an Oscar – or at least a Golden Globe. He switched to another line of questioning.
“Why did you open the door to the other agents with a knife in your hand?” he asked.
“Because I could not bring my gun on the…” she made a swooping motion with her right hand, “airplane. Only knife, checked in suitcase in baggage hold.”
“Uh, that’s not what I meant,” Tim said. “Why did you have a weapon in your hand?”
“In case they not really were police,” Cierre said. She looked at her wrist again. “I think blood stop now.” She pulled her sweat-shirt over her head; it seemed to stick for a moment, and she muttered something that was too muffled for Tim to make out, and then she was free and disengaging her left arm from the sleeve. She struggled with the right sleeve, which caught on the remains of the handcuffs, and Tim moved forward to assist her.
“I might as well take that off,” he said, producing a handcuff key. “It’s not exactly serving any useful purpose now.”
“Bel’la dos,” Cierre said. Tim removed the cuff and Cierre slipped her arm out of the sweat-shirt. Under it she was wearing a white tee-shirt printed with the silhouette of a snow-boarder and the legend ‘BORN TO SNOWBOARD, FORCED TO WORK’.
With the sweat-shirt gone Tim was able to take a good look at Cierre’s musculature. He’d expected her to display massively bulging arm-muscles but in fact Cierre’s arms were relatively slim. Tautly muscled, definitely those of an athlete, but not excessively so; more Maria Sharapova than Venus or Serena Williams.
Which raised the question of how the Hell she’d managed to rip the tempered steel handcuffs apart? Beating Ziva in a fight might have been achieved with superior skill – although that would have been remarkable in itself, considering the Mossad-trained agent’s mastery of Krav Maga – but the handcuffs had been a matter of sheer brute strength.
Tim’s attention was so concentrated on Cierre’s arms that it was several seconds before he noticed something that Tony, watching from the observation gallery, had spotted right away. Or some things, rather; two raised circles, easily visible through the tee-shirt’s tight material, that made it quite obvious that Cierre wasn’t wearing a bra. Of course once Tim did notice his gaze focused on them quite outside of his conscious control.
Tim swallowed hard, his cheeks went pink, and he managed to avert his eyes. “Are you sure you don’t need medical attention?” he asked.
“No need, blood has stopped,” Cierre said. “See? But I would like wash… to wash… my hands.”
“I’ll get someone to escort you to a washroom,” Tim said. “Uh, if it was Ziva, that’s the agent you fought in your hotel room, would you have a problem with that?”
Cierre shook her head. “I won,” she said. “Why I have problem? If she want second round she can have one, if she okay then is okay with me. She was very good. Move she use on my wrist I did not know.”
“Well, Ziva?” Gibbs asked, turning away from the observation window. “Are you going to have a problem?”
“I will do my job and I will not start anything,” Ziva assured him. “Gibbs, have you noticed her accent? If that is from the Democratic Republic of Congo then I am a monkey’s aunt.”
“That’s ‘monkey’s uncle’, Ziva,” DiNozzo corrected her.
“I am a girl, Tony, I could not be an uncle,” Ziva said.
“That’s kind of the point,” Tony said.
Gibbs raised his hand, as if he was going to smack Tony across the back of the head, but didn’t complete the motion. “Sure I’ve noticed the accent,” he said. “I talked to enough people from Burundi a month ago to pick up what the accent sounds like, and Burundi has a border with the DRC. Ms LuaLua sounds more like a… Russian.”
“That was my thought, Gibbs,” Ziva confirmed.
“She sounds like Grey DeLisle doing Viconia to me,” Abby put in, “only with worse grammar.”
Gibbs had no idea what Abby was talking about and so ignored her comment. “McGee’s doing a pretty good job so far,” he said. “He’s managed to get her to open up quite a bit.”
Tony sniggered. This time Gibbs did deliver the head-slap.
“What are you, five, DiNozzo?” he grumbled. “Ziva, get out there and escort LuaLua to the bathroom.”
Ziva nodded and left the room.
“Abbs, I want to know a lot more about LuaLua,” Gibbs went on. “When she came to the States, where she was before that, anything about her life in Colorado that doesn’t involved pushing at the door marked ‘Project Blue Book: Classified’. I’d give the job to McGee but I want him to keep doing what he’s doing.”
Abby pouted but acquiesced. “Sure thing, Gibbs, I can do that,” she said.
“And while she’s out of the room pick up a sample of her blood,” Gibbs said. “She’s not acting like she’s on Angel Dust, or something like that, but there has to be some explanation for how she could snap the cuffs and just ignore it when they cut into her. Test it for everything you can think of – and then test it some more.”
“Ah, Jethro,” said Dr Mallard. “I… am afraid I have some… misgivings.”
“Misgivings? About what, Ducky?” Gibbs paused with his coffee cup half-way to his mouth. “I was expecting you to give me confirmation that we had the murder weapon. Are you saying that we don’t?”
“You anticipate me,” Ducky said. “Indeed I cannot, in all conscience, say that it was the knife used in the killing.”
“It fits the description you gave,” Gibbs said. “Doesn’t it?”
“Actually, no,” Ducky said. He removed his glasses and waved them in the air, in the manner of an orchestra conductor’s baton, as he spoke. “It’s… too large. It is perfectly possible for a knife to make a wound larger than the dimensions of the blade, especially when the wound is in an area of soft tissue, and I factored that into my original estimate. Eight inches, I said, and indeed a blade smaller than that could have been responsible for the wound if sufficient force was used. But for a nine-inch knife to inflict the injury to Gunnery Sergeant Sherman would be… highly unlikely. Not absolutely impossible but extremely improbable.” He donned his glasses once more and peered over the rims at Gibbs.
“If it was used by the young lady in custody upstairs,” Ducky continued, “who performed the extraordinary feat of strength of breaking out of a pair of handcuffs, then she must have pulled her blow at the last moment. And, as there are distinct marks on the victim’s skin made by the cross-guard of the knife, that scenario does not seem to fit the observed facts.”
“So either she had a second knife, and dumped it somewhere,” Gibbs said, “or there’s a second super-strong Xena clone on the loose. I know which one is the more probable.” He sipped at his coffee and moved forward to look down upon the corpse of the late Gunnery Sergeant Michael Sherman.
“I will not disagree with you there, Jethro,” said Ducky. “This case is proving to be rather more complex and interesting than it first appeared.”
“Enough to make up for you missing out on your golf this weekend?”
“Really, Jethro, have you forgotten that it is December? The weather might be quite mild at the moment but snow could fall at any time. It’s hardly a suitable time of year for golf.”
Gibbs swapped his coffee cup over to his left hand and, with his right, slapped the back of his own head. “I wasn’t thinking. The Christmas decorations in the department stores should have been a tip-off.”
“Quite so, although these days it seems almost as if they start appearing as soon as Easter eggs disappear from the shelves,” Ducky said.
“And the Easter Bunny hitches a ride on Santa’s sleigh,” Gibbs agreed. “Everyone’s in too big a hurry these days. Not that I can criticise, seeing as how I’d like this case solved yesterday. Have you learned anything else from Sherman’s body?”
“Nothing relevant, Jethro,” Ducky said. “He was in excellent health. There are a few scars from old wounds, including a roughly circular patch of extensive scarring which I would attribute to a burn, but nothing unusual for a Marine who has been on active service. His blood alcohol level would have been slightly over the legal limit for driving but his abilities would not have been significantly impaired. Everything is consistent with him having dined at perhaps nine p.m. or a little later, consuming a few beers over the course of the evening, and dying at approximately 2 a.m. exactly as I estimated at the scene of the crime.”
“And confirmed by the security camera footage and the bar staff’s testimony,” Gibbs said. “It has to be LuaLua. I don’t see how it could be anyone else.” He shook his head. “And yet… my gut says there’s more to it. She’s not like any killer I’ve ever met. Scratch that – she’s not like any person I’ve ever met. Maybe you could help me get a handle on her.”
“Of course, Jethro, I would be more than willing to contribute anything I can,” Ducky said. “I take it you would like me to observe the next interrogation session?”
Gibbs nodded. “We’re taking a break at the moment, and then I’ll let McGee have another run at her, and then I’ll take over. You watch and see what you make of her.”
“Certainly,” Ducky said. “This should be fascinating. I’ve written my report up already and I’m quite finished here apart from the clearing up. Mr Palmer, can I leave that to you?”
“Of course, Dr Mallard,” Ducky’s young assistant said at once. “Would it be alright if I came and watched the interrogations, too, once I’ve finished?”
Gibbs shrugged. “Hell, why not?” he said. “Maybe I should sell tickets.”
“So, what have you got for me, Abbs?” Gibbs asked. His right hand was out of sight behind his back.
“Quite a bit,” Abby replied, “but not much of it good. What have you got for me? A Caff-Pow?” She craned her neck, and leaned over, trying to see behind Gibbs.
“Maybe,” Gibbs said. “It all depends on whether or not you’ve worked any miracles.”
Abby’s face fell. “No miracles yet, Gibbs, they take time. And I have to confess a failure. The blood on the knife doesn’t match with Sherman. He’s Type O negative and what’s on the knife is Type B. Positive and negative, so from two different people, but not him. And it’s pretty old blood, too; it had decomposed quite a bit. Several months old, at a guess.”
“Type B?” Ducky, who had followed Gibbs into the lab, remarked. “Rather uncommon in people of European ancestry and far more prevalent in Central Asia and Northern India. Afghanistan, perhaps?”
Gibbs nodded. “That would fit with her being in some super-secret Black Ops outfit,” he said. “Don’t sweat it, Abbs, Ducky has just told me that he doesn’t think that knife was the murder weapon after all.”
“Now you tell me,” Abby said. “Next, to continue my humiliating tale of miserable failure, the Drow’s blood. I can’t type it.”
“My word!” Ducky exclaimed. “That is remarkable. I cannot imagine that you could fail to follow the proper procedures, Abigail, as you are, after all, an accomplished… typist. There must be something quite extraordinary about her blood.”
“Like maybe that it’s full of steroids, or EPO, or PCP?” Gibbs suggested.
“I haven’t found anything like that so far, Gibbs,” Abby admitted. “I’ll keep on looking. And I’ve got more bad news. I tested the leather jacket she was wearing last night and there are no traces of blood on it at all. Not even a speck.”
“No murder weapon, no blood traces, our physical evidence is shrinking down to the marks on Ziva’s arm,” Gibbs groaned. “We’re going to have to keep Ziva in cold storage in the autopsy room so that they don’t fade. What about LuaLua’s phone?”
“She did make the missed calls to Sherman’s phone,” Abby said, “just like she said she did. And she’d called him twice earlier, Thursday evening and Friday at eighteen thirty. Other than that… she’s got General O’Neill on speed-dial, plus a Lieutenant-Colonel Carter USAF, two numbers at the Cheyenne Mountain base, three private numbers, and a Domino’s Pizza in Colorado Springs.”
“Nothing of interest,” Abby reported. “The only ones she ever sends just say ‘0K’, and the incoming ones are all innocuous. Things like ‘M0v1e + p122a n1te @ my p1ace 1900’. Mainly from the Lieutenant-Colonel’s phone. They might be super-secret code messages but they might just be invitations to watch movies and eat pizza.”
Gibbs brought his hand out from behind his back. “It’s not what I was hoping for,” he said, “but at least you’ve tried. Here. Maybe a Caff-Pow will give you the boost you need to get some positive results.”
“Gee, thanks, Gibbs,” Abby said, seizing the large container of caffeine-loaded energy drink and immediately sucking hard on the straw. She broke into a beaming smile. “I feel real bad about letting you down, but it’s not all bad news. I have managed to find out a little about her background, at least. It wasn’t easy, because ‘cierre’ means ‘shutting’ in Spanish so there were thousands of false hits, and when I searched for ‘LuaLua’ almost all of the hits were for two brothers who play pro soccer, but I got somewhere in the end. She’s won three regional snowboarding events in Colorado. There was an article about her in Colorado Snowboarding magazine, just a couple of paragraphs, but it says she came to the States in ’04, straight from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and fell in love with snowboarding right away. She won’t turn pro because she’s too committed to her work for the US Air Force.”
“I’m still drawing a blank on that,” Abby said. “You told me not to try pushing at Project Blue Book and everything I’ve found just leads to that.”
“I’ll have to start pushing eventually,” Gibbs said, “but I have a feeling that, as soon as I do, there’ll be spook types swarming all over us, waving folders marked ‘Classified’, and trying to take away my prisoner. I want to put that off as long as possible. Anything else?”
“This,” Abby said. She brought a blurred picture, a drawing of a black-skinned and white-haired woman waving a sword and an axe, up onto her monitor. “Cierre of Luruar, Drow Ranger. A very obscure character from Dungeons and Dragons. She only appears in one of the books, and there isn’t much detail about her, but what there is… she’s five foot nine and a worshipper of the goddess of snow and ice. Cierre of Luruar… Cierre LuaLua. If that’s coincidence you can bite me.”
“Boss,” Tony DiNozzo greeted Gibbs, as the Supervisory Special Agent entered the observation gallery. “I’ve got something.”
“If this is more news about evidence evaporating I’ll explode,” Gibbs said. Behind him Dr Mallard and Jimmy Palmer came in and closed the door.
“No, it’s progress,” Tony said. “I have a name and description for the woman who left the bar just before Sherman. The waitresses say they heard some of the guys in the bar calling her ‘Cheyenne’.”
“Cheyenne? That was a man’s name, in my day,” Dr Mallard reminisced. “I remember an old TV western, ‘Cheyenne’, starring Clint Walker as Cheyenne Bodie. Rather good, for its time, as I recall.”
Tony took no notice of Ducky’s rambling. “And they also heard her called ‘Miss Doyle’,” he went on.
“Good lord, that’s a remarkable coincidence,” said Ducky. “Bodie and Doyle. The two main characters of ‘The Professionals’, a British TV show about an organisation which bore some resemblance to ours, except that they rarely bothered about details like Chain of Evidence and engaged in a disproportionate number of car chases.”
“You think it’s a false name, Ducky?” Gibbs asked.
“Oh, no, that’s hardly likely,” Ducky said. “Merely a coincidence, I’m sure. To construct a false name based on those tenuous links would imply someone of… well, perhaps a little younger than me, but certainly of mature years, and probably British. She wasn’t, was she?”
“Early twenties, they say, and American,” Tony said. “Very tall – six feet or near enough – and looked like a super-model. She had most of the single men in the place hanging around her like bees around a honey-pot.”
“And she blew them all off and left the bar a couple of minutes after LuaLua?” Gibbs queried.
“That’s right, Boss,” Tony confirmed. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“That it’s as suspicious as hell? Damn right,” said Gibbs. “If it wasn’t for the bruises on Ziva’s arm, and the snapping the handcuffs trick, I’d say that LuaLua had dropped out of the prime suspect slot. But there couldn’t be two women that strong. Could there?”
“Not unless we’ve somehow blundered into a ‘Terminator’ movie,” Tony said.
Gibbs looked down into the interrogation room, where Cierre LuaLua was munching her way through a pizza obtained for her by McGee, and shook his head. “As I recall it Terminators can’t eat,” he said, “and I must be going crazy even to start going along with your whacky ideas. But she’s certainly strange.”
“I spoke to her in French when I took her to the washroom,” Ziva said, “and she speaks it a little better than she speaks English – but not by much. And her accent in French is just as strange.”
“That’s about what I expected,” said Gibbs. “I think it’s time I took a run at her. McGee’s done a good job but I’ll push harder.” He turned to Tony and Ziva. “New assignment for you two,” he said. “Find this ‘Cheyenne Doyle’. Go back to the bar, speak to them face to face, and get every detail about her. None of the security camera shots show her face worth a damn. And while you’re there you can double-check the dumpster for a second knife. Including the gap between it and the wall. And check out any other trash bins in the area, too.”
“This is what I get for working on the Sabbath,” Ziva muttered under her breath.
“Then get onto the taxis and hotels, same as you did for LuaLua,” Gibbs continued. “Track her down. She’s either our most important witness or else she’s the killer. And, right now, I’d say it’s even money as to which one.”
Gibbs settled himself down in the chair opposite Cierre. “Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs,” he introduced himself.
“Cierre LuaLua at your service,” Cierre replied, “as you of course know.”
“Or Cierre of Luruar?”
Cierre smiled. “Real name is Dorcas LuaLua,” she said, “but when I came to America they tell me that ‘Dork’ mean something bad. Friend I met telled – told – me about Cierre of Luruar, I change my name. Like Shania Twain, real name Eileen Edwards. Or Elton John.”
“Reginald Dwight. I know.” Gibbs shook his head slightly. It was a perfectly sensible explanation. Something about it still didn’t seem right but he couldn’t see any way it could be connected to the case. “Who is this friend?”
“Rodney,” Cierre said. “I think I not tell you his other name. He work for… classified project, same like me. Might be okay to tell you name but I am not sure so better I not… do not.”
“You’ve modelled your whole appearance on a character from a fantasy role-playing game just because this friend told you that your names were similar?” Gibbs stared into her eyes. “Don’t you think that’s a little… weird?”
Cierre shrugged. “Not have good life, before I come to America,” she said. “I make fresh start. Try to forget old home. Playing at being Drow is good way to do that.”
“And learning a made-up language when your English isn’t exactly perfect? Don’t you think that was a waste of time?”
Cierre shrugged again. “My time,” she said. “I enjoy it. And it help me learn to use Internet.”
Gibbs decided not to bother following that line of questioning any further. “What exactly do you do in this classified project?”
“I am not allowed to tell,” Cierre said. “That is what ‘classified’ means. I get into big trouble if I tell you.”
“You’re already in trouble,” Gibbs said.
“Good reason not to get in more trouble,” Cierre said. “You waste your time. I will not tell you anything about what I do for Air Force.”
“I can respect that,” said Gibbs, “but I have a job to do. You say you didn’t kill Gunnery Sergeant Sherman. I have to find out who did. He worked for the same project as you do. There might be a connection.”
Cierre shrugged again. “Might. Still cannot tell you unless General say is okay.”
“Don’t you want the killer to be caught?”
Cierre’s lips curled back in a snarl. “Want to find killer and make die slow. Still not tell you about job.”
“So tell me about other things,” said Gibbs. “Ever hear the name ‘Cheyenne’? Or ‘Doyle’?”
“Of course I hear Cheyenne,” Cierre answered. “I work at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Also Cheyenne is state capital of Wyoming, and is name of Native American tribe. Doyle… I do not know.”
“Did you recognize anyone in the bar last night?” Gibbs asked.
“If I had, we would go to other bar,” Cierre said. “I not want us to be seen together.”
“Why did you leave separately?”
“So if anyone asks ‘did you take him back to your hotel?’ I could say ‘no’ and not be telling lie,” Cierre said. “I do not like telling lies. I do not like not being truth… truthful.”
“So why do all this sneaking around setting up a secret date?”
“Maybe it okay to fuck Mike, when he away training and not in unit,” Cierre said, “but I was not sure and if I ask, and they say no, then get in much more trouble if we do it. So I think best we hide what we do.” She sighed. “Rules are hard. I am not allowed to fuck men from base but with other men I have to keep secrets, makes it hard to date, so I do not bother. And I have not get any since my boyfriend was killed last year.”
“Your boyfriend was killed?” Gibbs sat up straight. There could be a connection. “How?”
“On active service,” Cierre said. “He was… in allied force, not USA. I cannot say more.”
“Don’t tell me, it’s classified,” said Gibbs.
Cierre’s forehead creased. “Why should I not tell you it is classified when it is classified?”
“Forget it,” Gibbs said. He raised a hand and scratched his head. The interrogation was turning out to be hard work but not because Cierre was being obstructive. She was seriously strange, yes, but gave the impression that she was cooperating to the best of her ability within the limitations of her classified orders. His original intention had been to push hard but, once they’d started talking, he’d changed his mind. She seemed to respond quite well to straight-forward questioning but he had a feeling that any attempt to intimidate her would backfire. And he was becoming steadily less convinced that she was the killer.
“How come you’re so strong?” he asked, switching tracks again.
“I work out,” Cierre said.
Gibbs raised his eyes heavenwards. If she’d been a man, six feet six and two hundred and eighty pounds, he might have been prepared to accept that explanation. Considering that Cierre carried no more muscle than a pro tennis player – and less than some – it just wasn’t possible. Could ‘Project Blue Book’ be some secret Air Force – or, more likely, CIA – plan to produce operatives with super-human strength by some dubious means? It was possible but did a Congolese immigrant – and an extremely eccentric one, at that – fit the profile of the likely subject of such an operation? Maybe, in line with Ducky’s original suggestion that they were looking for Tarzan, she’d been brought up in the jungle by apes. And he must be going crazy to entertain such an idea even for a moment.
“Why you think that it was me who kill Mike?” Cierre asked.
Gibbs debated with himself before answering. Should he reveal the details? If she was the killer she’d be put on her guard. If she wasn’t… maybe it would prompt her to explain some of the puzzling aspects of the case and about herself. And, with her handcuff escape on film, she could hardly deny her exceptional strength later.
“Apart from you being on the scene, you mean?” he said. “The killer was extremely strong and, from the marks left on Gunnery Sergeant Sherman’s arm, probably a woman or a man with slim hands. You fit the profile.”
Cierre tensed. “As strong as me, you think? How was he killed?”
Again Gibbs thought before deciding to answer. “He was stabbed in the abdomen, angling up to reach the heart,” he said, indicating the site by putting fingers to his own body.
“Was there any wound in neck? Any marks of teeth?”
Gibbs frowned and shook his head. “No. If you’re thinking vampires, they aren’t real. You’ve been playing too many fantasy games.”
“Ashrak,” Cierre hissed. “Special Agent Gibbs, I must make phone call.”
“Okay,” Gibbs agreed.
“I do not know number,” Cierre said. “It is in my phone.”
“I’ll get it for you,” Gibbs said. Maybe this would produce a lead; on the other hand it might bring the Air Force brass, or the spook brigade, running to the Navy Yard demanding Cierre’s release. However, if it did, he could retaliate by demanding answers. As long as Abby hadn’t taken Cierre’s phone apart in the course of trying to retrieve her call records…
She hadn’t. Gibbs returned with the phone and handed it over. Cierre began dialling at once, without asking for privacy, and so Gibbs sat down and listened. He might not be able to hear much of the other side of the call, of course, but maybe Abby could isolate and amplify it from the recording that was being made.
“General O’Neill,” a gruff voice answered. Gibbs could, just about, make it out.
“General Jack, this is Cierre,” Cierre said.
“Hey, Cierre,” O’Neill said, his tone lightening. “Couldn’t this have waited ‘til Tuesday? I had a bite.”
“This is urgent, General Jack,” Cierre said. “Foothold. I say again, Foothold.”
• rivvil = human
• jaluk = male
• vith’os = fuck you
• rivvil jalil = human woman
• iblith = offal, excrement
• Jabbuk = male commander
• Vith’ol! = fuck it!
• Uk zhahus vith'ez elggus? = He was fucking murdered?
• Usstan orn glit’r doeb l’uitfly d’l’uss vel’uss elggen ukta = I will rip out the spine of the one who killed him
• Bel’la dos = thank you