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 dangerous – and she has exceedingly unusual ears. Chapter 3 is 7,000 words, rating 15.
The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Three: Major Disaster
“So what was all that about?” Gibbs growled. After the opening exchange the voice at the other end of the line had said something about a ‘secret decoder ring’ and, from then on, Cierre had spoken in some language utterly incomprehensible to him. O’Neill’s replies had been in English but too short and guarded to give much away.
“I am sorry, Special Agent, but I cannot speak it,” Cierre said. “Classified. I think they let me tell you soon but I have to say nothing now.”
“What’s ‘Foothold’? That’s a code-word, if I ever heard one, and it doesn’t sound like it stands for anything good,” Gibbs pressed.
“Is very not good,” Cierre confirmed, “but I cannot tell you more. I ask-ed premonition… no, that is wrong word…”
“Permission?” Gibbs suggested.
Cierre nodded. “Yes. Bel’la dos. I ask-ed permission to tell you. I think you are a good man. You remind me of General Jack but you are not as fun.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not exactly seeing me at my best,” Gibbs said, “when I’m dealing with a murder case.” No doubt DiNozzo, had he still been in the observation gallery, would have made some smart-alec remark about Gibbs having no life outside murder cases. Maybe it was even true.
Cierre reached out her hand toward his. Gibbs’ natural impulse was to pull his hand back out of her reach but he restrained himself and allowed her to complete the gesture. Her hand grasped the back of his and, instead of clamping down with bone-crushing force, delivered a gentle squeeze.
“You are a good man and do important job,” she said. “I will speak firm that I can tell you all the things you need to know. One thing I tell you now. Your agents look for person who kill Mike? Tell them she is more danger than me. If she put hand out of sight shoot her in head, double-tap, like Maxwell’s silver hammer make sure that she is dead. Or else she will kill them.”
“Well, McGee, what was she saying?” Gibbs demanded.
“I, uh, have no idea,” Tim admitted. “She wasn’t speaking the Drow language. I didn’t recognize a single word.”
Gibbs clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “And I didn’t recognize it either, which probably means we’re stuck. Ziva speaks a couple of languages I don’t, but I know what those sound like, and this wasn’t any of them. It might be some tribal language from the DRC, maybe, but it didn’t sound Bantu. Ten to one it’s another of those made-up fantasy languages and if you don’t know it I don’t know who will. Except maybe for Abbs.”
“It’s not Klingon,” McGee mused, “and not Quenya, or Sindarin. It didn’t sound… snarly enough to be the Heroes’ Tongue. It could be Verdurian, just possibly. I’ll transcribe some of the words and see if they fit in with Verdurian phonology.”
“You do that,” Gibbs said. “Although how General O’Neill could understand some language cooked up by geeks beats the hell out of me.” He shook his head. “I don’t really see LuaLua as the killer any longer. Hell, I can’t help liking her. But there’s something hinky going on and she’s the key. And now she’s called the General we’ll be getting visitors. I’ll try to get Director Shephard to hold them off but I can’t see her being able to buy us all that much time. You might as well start nosing around Project Blue Book before we get told to lay off. You can start off by looking for other Marines assigned to the project. I can’t see Gunny Sherman being the only one.” He frowned. “And check casualty records. If someone who’s supposed to be a translator gets covered in blood on a regular basis it’s a given that sometimes people in the project end up dead.”
“On it, Boss,” McGee said, and he left the room at a brisk walk.
Gibbs turned to Dr Mallard. “Well, Ducky, what did you make of her?” he asked.
Dr Mallard pursed his lips. “She presents a rather contradictory picture,” he said. “I would read her as being an extremely direct and straight-forward type. That doesn’t correspond with her apparent adoption of an, ah, Elvish persona. Perhaps it is something of a coping mechanism. One does hear so many stories of tragic events in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“Do you see her as a killer?”
“Oh, certainly,” Ducky said, “in the right circumstances, that is. I find it hard to believe, however, that she could spend a pleasant evening drinking and dining with Gunnery Sergeant Sherman only to conclude the assignation by brutally stabbing him to death in an alley. In my estimation, which admittedly is based on a limited period of observation, I would say that such an action would be completely out of character.”
“That’s pretty much my opinion,” Gibbs said. “Unless he admitted to cheating on her and she lost her temper.”
Ducky shook his head. “The killing was far too coolly executed for that,” he said. “His ability to defend himself was neutralized, swiftly and efficiently, and then a single murderous blow was delivered. It was not a crime of passion.”
“And it wasn’t a robbery,” Gibbs said, “which makes it a targeted hit.” He narrowed his eyes. “Or… what if LuaLua was the target? The other girl, Doyle, followed her out of the bar. Sherman came out next, saw her following LuaLua, and challenged her. She acted immediately to eliminate him, before he could warn her target, but by the time she’d dumped the body LuaLua was in a taxi and on her way.”
“It sounds like a logical scenario to me, Jethro,” Ducky agreed, “but deduction is not my forte, as you know. I leave that to you.”
“It’s as good a working theory as any other,” Gibbs said, “and it brings us right back to this mysterious Project Blue Book. Or some old enemy from the DRC, maybe, although I don’t really see that as all that likely. It would help if LuaLua was more talkative.”
“If it helps, Jethro, I get the impression that she respects you,” Ducky said. “That could be important. I would say that she is a person who responds well to authority figures she can respect.”
“What about those she doesn’t respect?”
“She’ll walk all over them,” Ducky said, “or else dig in her heels and be mulishly uncooperative. I must stress, Jethro, that a relatively short session of observation as you carry out an interrogation is not a sufficient basis for a full psychological analysis. I could be completely in error. She could be a consummate actress who is indeed capable of cold-bloodedly stabbing a young man to death as the finale to a romantic evening.”
“I don’t buy that,” Gibbs said, “and neither do you.”
“True,” Ducky said, “but I don’t want you to place excessive weight on my opinion.”
“The forensic evidence backs it up,” Gibbs said, “so I’d say I’m placing just enough weight on it. LuaLua isn’t the killer. And that means DiNozzo and Ziva aren’t tracking down a witness but the prime suspect. I’d better give them a heads up before they find her.”
“Boss, we got a lucky break,” DiNozzo reported. “A couple of guys who were in the bar last night came in for lunch today. One of them took a picture of his buddy and that chick Cheyenne Doyle shows up in the background. It’s a mite small but her face shows up pretty clear.”
“We were due a break,” Gibbs said. “Get him to let you have his camera for a while… or, is it on one of those memory card doohickeys?”
“Better than that, Boss,” DiNozzo said, “he used his phone. I’ll get him to e-mail the pic to Abby; she can crop the guys out of it, clean up the pic of the girl, and send it back to me.”
Gibbs took his phone from his ear and glared at it suspiciously. Yes, McGee had said something about it being able to take pictures but he hadn’t paid any attention; NCIS issued the agents with perfectly good cameras so why use a phone? He had to confess that the rapid march of civilian technology, with gadgets that not long ago were the sole province of spooks and the military now on sale to just about anyone, sometimes caught him off balance. In fact, now he thought about it, some Japanese electronics firm was probably ready to release a version of MTAC for the home market any time soon. And the South Koreans would bring out a cheaper version a month later. He returned the phone to his ear.
“Yeah, do that,” Gibbs said. “DiNozzo – if you find this woman, be careful. LuaLua just doesn’t come over as a killer and that makes Doyle the prime suspect.”
“Unless there was someone hiding in the dumpster to jump out and take Sherman by surprise,” DiNozzo said, “but I don’t buy that. My money’s still on LuaLua but I’ll watch out.”
“LuaLua’s probably in the clear,” Gibbs said. “The forensics don’t fit. But she knows something, that’s for sure, and she said you should shoot Doyle in the head if she puts her hands out of sight even for a second. Of course you can’t really do that or it’ll turn out she’s the fashion editor of the Washington Post and you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail. But that might be better than getting a knife in the gut.”
“Or not, considering that I’m a cop,” DiNozzo said, “but I’ll be careful anyway, Boss. Getting stabbed to death isn’t on my list of fun things to do on a Saturday afternoon.”
“I’ve got something, Boss,” McGee reported. “A list of Marines seconded to Project Blue Book. One hundred and fifty-six, starting back in 1999, and still going on.” He put up a list of names on the overhead plasma screen. “It must be a pretty dangerous assignment, Boss. Thirty-four of them are dead. Thirty-five if you count Sherman.”
“Over twenty per cent fatalities. Deep Space Radar Telemetry my ass,” Gibbs growled.
“It’s the second time the Air Force has run an operation called Blue Book,” McGee went on. “The first one ran from 1952 to 1969. It was an investigation into UFOs.”
Gibbs groaned. If DiNozzo found out about that he’d be spouting endless quotes from movies about aliens all day. Or even claiming that LuaLua was an alien. “Concentrate on the current one,” he said.
“It seems to be getting less dangerous,” McGee commented. “Almost all the deaths are in the first five years. In the past three years there have only been five not counting Gunny Sherman.”
“That’s good to hear,” Gibbs said, “but it’s not getting us anywhere. There’s no theater of operations listed. The deaths could have taken place anywhere. Iraq, Afghanistan, or some place in Africa where we’re not supposed to be. The DRC is as good a guess as any.”
“I’ve been doing searches for ‘Cheyenne Doyle’, too,” McGee said. “So far I’ve found eighty-four people in the USA with that name but none of them seem to fit. Of course ‘Cheyenne’ could be a nickname, or a middle name; maybe she’s really something dorky like, uh, Maude Cheyenne Doyle. If so I’m never going to find her.”
“It’s not so important now we’ve got a picture,” Gibbs said. “If DiNozzo and Ziva don’t track her down soon we’ll put out a BOLO on her.” He would have gone on to say more but heard footsteps behind him, turned, and saw Director Jenny Shephard descending the steps from her office.
“Congratulations, Gibbs,” she said, as she approached. “You’re going to get some answers. There’s an Air Force Major on his way here to read you into the project. You, and McGee, DiNozzo, Dr Mallard, and Miss Sciuto too. And me, of course. But not Officer David.”
Gibbs bristled. “Why not Ziva?”
“It’s a multi-national project,” Jenny said, “and Israel isn’t part of it. It’s not negotiable. Either you keep David out of it or none of you get read in.”
“That’s going to make things difficult,” Gibbs said.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to manage,” Jenny said. “Of course, if it’s too big a problem, I could take you off the case and bring in another team.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Gibbs growled. “Anyway, LuaLua said she had asked permission to tell me about the project. Me, not some other team leader.”
“I hardly think the prime suspect has any say in the decision,” Jenny said.
“She’s not the prime suspect any longer,” Gibbs admitted. “I wouldn’t say she’s completely in the clear but the forensic evidence makes it pretty unlikely that she’s the killer. The girl DiNozzo and Ziva are tracking down is the number one suspect as far as I’m concerned.”
Jenny raised her eyebrows. “Oh? When did you change your mind?”
“Twenty minutes ago,” Gibbs said, “when Ducky and Abby gave me their reports on LuaLua’s knife and clothes.”
“Is there a reason why we’re still holding her?”
“We could charge her with assault on a Federal agent,” Gibbs said, “although I’d skin Ziva alive if she went through with pressing charges, but it’s an excuse to keep her for the time being. I don’t want her running around interfering with the case. Anyway, she’s not complaining. We’ve left her in the interview room, for now, with a coffee and a book to read.”
“I haven’t seen her yet,” Jenny said. “I think I’ll go take a look.” She started to turn away but then turned back and stared at McGee. “You’re blushing, McGee,” she said. “What book is our witness reading?”
McGee shuffled his feet. “Deep Six,” he confessed.
Jenny raised her eyes heavenward and clicked her tongue. “I should have guessed,” she said, and set off again.
Gibbs didn’t say anything. He just stared at McGee.
“It wasn’t me, Boss, she asked for it specifically,” McGee said, not meeting Gibbs’ eyes. “And of course I had a copy. I guess she’d heard about it and knew it’s about NCIS. Anyway, the only alternative would have been one of Abby’s Southern Vampire books.”
“Okay, I’ll let you off,” Gibbs said. “So, Project Blue Book is multi-national but excludes the Israelis? Who the hell are the other nations? Saudi Arabia and Egypt?”
“The International Oversight Authority for Project Blue Book is made up of the US, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France,” Major Davis related. “The five members of the UN Permanent Security Council. The project employs personnel from other countries but on an individual basis without their governments being in the know.”
“We’re sharing secrets with the Russians?” Gibbs shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“They had vital resources we needed,” Major Davis explained, “and they had their own version of the project but it wasn’t going too well. Combining the two efforts works much better. The other countries… it’s a long story and there’s no point in going into it here. Anyway, it’s the Russians who are dead against Israel having any involvement. They’re absolutely vital and we can’t go against them on this. So Officer David,” he pronounced her name correctly, scoring a point in his favor with Gibbs, “is out. It’s not negotiable. If you don’t all agree to keep it from her then none of you will be read in. You’ll have to get by without the information and we won’t get the benefit of your expertise, which I am informed is formidable, in hunting for the killer of Gunnery Sergeant Sherman.”
Gibbs looked hard at Major Davis, studying and assessing him, and then directed his gaze at the four Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents who accompanied him. Davis appeared to be a stereotypical officer; clean-cut, moderately tall, everything neat and tidy as per regulations. The AFOSI agents were, as he would have expected, a quartet with a mix of age and experience that resembled the make-up of his own team; although the gender balance was different, the Air Force team having two of each.
The AFOSI team leader, Special Agent Amos Burleigh, met Gibbs’ eyes. “We’re not trying to take your case off of you, Agent Gibbs,” Burleigh said. He was an African-American of around five foot nine, with hair that was graying slightly and a mustache that curled down around the corners of his mouth, and his build matched his name; the archetypical ‘burly detective’. “If you agree to the conditions for being read in then we’ll stay out of it. General O’Neill’s primary orders to us were to make sure that nothing happens to Cierre LuaLua. But if you won’t go along with it then we’ll have to investigate as well, duplicating your work and getting in your way, because otherwise you might miss something because you don’t know the background.”
“I’ve worked on cases before when I wasn’t cleared to know all the details of the classified operation in question,” Gibbs said. “I can do it again.”
“Sure,” Burleigh said, “but it’ll be one hell of a lot easier if you do know the background and you don’t have us under your feet.”
“I can’t work the case with the team down an agent,” Gibbs said, “and if I pull someone in from another team it’ll throw us off our game. That could get someone killed.”
“So could not knowing the full situation,” said Major Davis, “but you don’t have to suspend Officer David from the team. She can work with you, she just won’t get told the whole story. And she’ll have to come to her own conclusions if she sees anything… weird.”
Gibbs pursed his lips. He had a feeling that Davis wouldn’t be all that upset if Ziva worked out things on her own, and passed her conclusions on to Mossad, as long as the US could deny to the Russians that they’d told her anything and be telling the truth. “Okay, it’s a deal,” he said. “I’ll make sure the others understand.”
“Then, if you gather them together, I’ll brief them,” Davis said.
“DiNozzo’s following up a lead,” Gibbs said, “with Ziva David. I can’t pull him in and leave her out there by herself. And if I bring him in, and tell Ziva to take a break, she’ll know something’s up.”
“He can be briefed later,” Jenny Shephard said. “Let’s not waste any more time. Everybody, my office, five minutes.”
“And bring Cierre LuaLua too,” Major Davis said. “She’s an essential part of this.”
“She’s not really under suspicion any longer,” Gibbs conceded, “so I guess there’s no reason why not. Tell me, what’s she done that she merits an AFOSI team as bodyguards?”
“Well, she’s saved my life, for a start,” Davis said, “but I’ll leave the rest for the briefing.” He gave one of those little ‘I know something you don’t’ smiles. “I think you’ll be… somewhat surprised.”
“Major Koaj!” Cierre exclaimed, greeting Major Davis with a big beaming smile. “I should not be surprise-ed. This time you are here because me, siyo?”
“That’s right,” Davis said. “You seem to have a gift for finding trouble.”
“And one more time I bring someone death,” Cierre said, her smile vanishing. “I should have gone snowboarding.”
“If the Ashrak was already in Washington it’s a good thing you did come here early,” Davis said. “I doubt if the locals would have spotted her. She seems to be pretty good at blending in.”
“It not worth a good man’s life,” Cierre said. She folded her arms and stood silent.
Davis turned to the gathering as a whole. “Does everyone understand the conditions of this briefing? None of what I say here is to be divulged to anyone outside this room except for Agent DiNozzo, and to him only if he agrees to the same conditions.”
“I don’t like keeping a secret from Ziva,” Abby said, “but if that’s how it has to be then I’ll agree.” She directed a cold stare at Cierre, who ignored her.
“I regard Ziva as completely trustworthy,” Ducky said, “but I can see that having to keep a secret from her own government would put her in an impossible position. I will agree to your terms. I must confess to be somewhat agog to find out what all the mystery is about.”
Davis turned to McGee and raised an eyebrow.
“Olath Koaj is ‘the Dark Disaster’,” McGee muttered, “so ‘Major Koaj is… Major Disaster?”
“Ah,” said Davis. “I wondered what her name for me meant. Yes, I gather that they call me Major ‘Disaster’ Davis at the SGC.”
“The ‘SGC’?” said Gibbs.
“Not until everyone’s agreed and signed,” Davis said.
“Sure, I’ll sign,” McGee assented.
“If you’d all take a seat,” Davis prompted. There wasn’t enough room for everyone around the table in the Director’s Office; Gibbs, McGee, Abby, and Ducky sat at the table, Jenny sat at her own desk, the four AFOSI agents lounged against the desk that ran along the window, and Cierre squatted on her heels against a wall. Davis remained standing and handed out non-disclosure forms to the NCIS personnel.
“Doesn’t she have to sign one?” Abby asked, directing a hostile glare at Cierre.
Davis shook his head. “Hardly,” he said. “Cierre is one of the most trusted operatives of Project Blue Book. In fact… no, not until you sign.”
“I sorry I hurt your friend,” Cierre told Abby. “I only mean to defend myself. I grip hard because she is very good fighter, not want to risk her getting hand free.”
Abby made no reply, other than a loud sniff, but accepted the agreement sheet from Major Davis and read it through before signing.
Once everyone had signed Davis gathered up the forms and put them away in his briefcase. “This would work best with some sort of visual presentation,” he said, “but that’s not possible here.” He handed the case to Special Agent Burleigh, fiddled with his tie for a moment, and then moved around the room until he found a position where everyone could see him without having to twist too far around in their chairs.
“It goes back to 1928,” Davis began, “in Giza, Egypt. An archaeological dig found an artifact that wasn’t made by humans…”
Gibbs listened, with mounting incredulity, as Davis related a tale of aliens and of USAF personnel traveling through ‘wormholes’ to other planets. Eventually, as Davis told how an Air Force team had discovered a world that closely resembled the fantasy world portrayed in the game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, Gibbs snapped.
“This is bullshit!” he growled. “How do you expect us to believe this?”
“I don’t blame you for being skeptical,” Davis said. “I was, the first time I heard about it. But do you really think we’d waste your time, and interfere with a murder investigation, as some kind of practical joke? It’s real. I’ve been on a starship, and on other planets, and the USAF has two starships operational right now and two more nearing completion – although one of those is earmarked for the Russians. And I’ve met aliens several times – and now you’ve met one too.”
Everyone looked at Cierre. She nodded her head. “Is true,” she said. “I am not from Democratic Republic of Congo. I am from Menzoberranzan, in Faerûn, on Toril.”
“You’re seriously deluded,” Abby said. “Those places are fictional and the Drow don’t really exist.”
“Unlikely as it may seem, Abigail,” Ducky said, “it would explain how you couldn’t type her blood. Perhaps a physical examination would settle this.”
Major Davis narrowed his eyes. “Any samples of Cierre’s blood must be destroyed,” he said. “That’s part of our agreement with her. And absolutely no analysis of her DNA. There are people around who would want to experiment on her. That is not going to happen.”
“You are being not nice,” Cierre said, glowering at Abby. “I do not like being called liar.”
“It would seem that the cover story, of you being someone who dresses up as a Drow, has been a little too successful,” Major Davis said. “I suggest that Dr Mallard, as the medical expert, takes a good look at Cierre’s ears. If that’s alright with you, Cierre. I know you don’t like being poked and prodded.”
“Is okay for doctor to do it,” Cierre said. She rose to her feet, went over to Dr Mallard, and knelt down. He, rather gingerly, pushed her hair back out of the way and then examined her ear.
“It’s fake,” Abby declared. “I can see the join from here.”
“Oh my word!” Ducky exclaimed. “This really is quite remarkable. The ear is real. The apparent join is the fake. It’s a thin strip of overlay attached to her skin and the ear continues all the way up. And it certainly feels completely natural. Would it be alright with you, young lady, if I took the temperature of the surface at the tip?”
“Yes, is okay,” Cierre said. “I laugh that you call me ‘young lady’. I am one hundred and forty-three years old.”
“Which is why her DNA is off limits,” said Major Davis. “There is no way her life-span could be transferred to humans but some people would try. And they’d happily dissect Cierre in the process, or try to, but she’d have something to say about that and a lot of people would end up dead. One possibility is that the woman who killed Gunnery Sergeant Sherman was working for someone like that. We don’t think so, though, as the exceptional strength points in another direction. An Ashrak. That’s a Goa’uld assassin; highly trained and motivated, far stronger than any human, and very hard to kill. If there’s one loose in Washington… well, we’ve sent the President off to an undisclosed location.”
“Why would someone who was after the President be following Miss… I guess her name isn’t really LuaLua?” McGee asked.
“It is now,” Cierre said. “Name change is done legal. I was borned Cierre of House Faen Tlabbar, then was Cierre of Luruar, people at SGC find name I would easy remember.”
“I can’t see the assassin’s target really being the President,” Davis said. “Cierre’s made enough enemies off-world to be targeted in her own right. And on Tuesday the whole of SG-1 are going to be at the Pentagon for a meeting with General O’Neill. There will be a representative of… an allied power there, too. If the assassin got in there it would be bad for Earth.”
“So cancel the meeting,” Gibbs said.
“We might have to,” Davis said, “or postpone it, or relocate it to inside Cheyenne Mountain, but either option will make us look bad. It was specifically requested that the representative gets to see our nation’s capital. If we have to admit that we can’t guarantee their safety… how does that look? We’re beefing up security but there’s a limit to what we can do without attracting far too much attention. The best solution would be for you to catch the assassin before anything else happens.”
“Ya think?” Gibbs said.
Cierre laughed out loud. “I sorry,” she said, as everyone stared at her, “but you say same thing General Jack say often.”
“Cierre, it might be an idea for you to put on a translation amulet,” Davis said, “so you can express yourself clearly. I’ve brought one with me.” He opened his briefcase once more and took out a necklace, of gold wire with a large pink gemstone as a pendant, and handed it to Cierre. “You’ll have to remember to take it off when Officer David returns otherwise she’ll hear you speaking in Hebrew and start asking questions.”
Cierre put the necklace around her neck. “Yeah, it would kind of give her a clue,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll remember.”
“Translation… amulet?” Gibbs stared at Cierre. Her accent remained unchanged but the rhythm of her voice, previously slightly hesitant as if she had had to keep pausing to think of the right word, had altered significantly.
“It’s something we picked up on my planet,” Cierre said. “Whatever you say I hear as if you’d said it in Ilythiiri, and I can speak in Ilythiiri and you hear it as English. It works for any language. It’s going to make it a lot easier for me to read that ‘Deep Six’ book; I was struggling a little before, as I’m even less fluent at reading English than speaking it, but what I did manage to read seemed pretty damn good – Agent L. J. Tibbs.”
Gibbs snorted. “I was tempted to shoot McGee when he wrote that thing,” he said.
“Those amulets are among the most valuable things the project has brought back from space,” Davis said. “Unfortunately we could only get hold of thirty-two of them and there won’t be any more; the species that made them is extinct.”
“And a good thing too,” said Cierre. “The Sarrukh were probably even worse than the Goa’uld.”
“If you still question the veracity of what I’ve told you about the project,” Davis said, “here’s a chance to test it. Say something to Cierre in any language you like and she’ll understand. Even if one of you speaks Sumerian or Serbo-Croat.”
Gibbs sought for something suitable to say in Russian. Before he had come up with anything Abby pre-empted him.
“Try this,” she said, and moved her hands in the symbols of ASL. Gibbs had learned the sign language, although not as fluently as Abby who was the child of deaf parents, and he could understand her. “I don’t believe you,” Abby signed, and then finished with a sign Gibbs saw only very infrequently, “asshole.”
Cierre laughed and her hands moved in gestures that, although they were not the same as ASL, Gibbs could still understand. “Tough shit, bitch,” she signed. “It’s true.” Then Cierre spoke aloud. “My people use sign language too,” she said. “The Silent Tongue.”
“Abby, drop it,” Gibbs said. “I get that you’re pissed that Cierre hurt Ziva but you carrying a grudge isn’t going to get us anywhere. She’s apologized. Let it drop.”
“I second that, Miss Sciuto,” Jenny said. “Treat Ms LuaLua – I take it we’re to keep on calling her by that name? – in a civil fashion.”
At that moment Gibbs’ phone rang. He grimaced, and for a moment was tempted to smash it, but it was almost certain to be DiNozzo checking in. Hopefully he and Ziva had made progress; maybe they’d even made an arrest. He pressed the ‘answer’ button and put the phone to his ear, growled “Yeah, Gibbs,” and waited for the response.
“Are you experiencing déjà vu too?” Tony asked.
“We are going to a suspect’s hotel room to ask her some questions,” Ziva said. “This is something we do quite often. It is unusual only in that we rarely do it twice in the same day. The surroundings are quite different.”
“Yeah, the St. Regis is quite a place,” Tony said. “Whoever this ‘Cheyenne Doyle’ is she has to have money coming out of her ears.”
“I am relieved to hear you say that,” Ziva said. “For a moment I thought you were going to say that the money came out of… a different part of her body.”
Tony almost choked. “Uh, right,” he said, as the elevator doors opened and they stepped out onto the fifth floor. “This is the sort of place my Dad stays… but even he would have to think twice before he went for one of the suites. Especially alone. It’s total overkill. What’s the point in staying in a suite by yourself? Unless you’re going to invite the Pussycat Dolls to come over.”
“I do not think that this woman would invite the Pussycat Dolls to her room,” Ziva said. “Perhaps Chip and Dale.”
“They’re cartoon chipmunks, Ziva,” Tony pointed out. “I think you mean the Chippendales.”
Ziva shrugged. “It does not matter. My point stands.” The door of the suspect’s suite came into sight and she slipped her right hand inside her windcheater and took hold of the butt of her gun. “If this turns into a fight again,” she said, “I will assume from the start that she is stronger than me. I will fight her as if she were Vladimir Klitchko.”
“Who?” Tony asked, as he too put a hand on his gun.
“The holder of two World Heavyweight titles,” Ziva said. She took her hand off her gun and drew a point in the air before taking hold of her gun again. “They call him Doctor Steelhammer.”
“It was better when there was just one Heavyweight champ,” Tony said, “and Rocky will always be the champ to me.”
“Hah!” said Ziva. “He is as fictional as the cartoon chipmunks.”
“I might have meant Rocky Marciano,” Tony said, “although, yeah, he’s been dead nearly forty years. But he was one of the all-time greats. Or so my Dad always said.” He fell silent as they reached the room door.
The two agents took up positions at the sides of the door, just as they had done before their confrontation with Cierre, and just as on that occasion they could hear music coming from inside the room. This time, however, it wasn’t subtle soft rock; the unmistakable sound of Guns ‘n Roses performing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ penetrated the heavy paneled door and was plainly audible in the corridor.
Tony hammered on the door, to be sure that he was heard above the music, and yelled out “Federal Agents! We need to speak to you. Open up!”
“Just a moment, I’m not dressed,” a sultry female voice called in reply. The music volume diminished slightly. Thirty seconds later the door opened wide to reveal a slim six-foot blonde wearing a voluminous St Regis Hotel bathrobe. “The FBI? This is so, like, totally exciting,” she said. She opened her dark brown eyes very wide and batted her lashes at Tony. “I don’t know what I could have done to interest Federal agents. I certainly haven’t, like, kidnapped anyone lately or anything.”
“We are NCIS, not FBI, Ms Doyle,” Ziva said, holding up her ID wallet. “I am Officer David, this is Special Agent DiNozzo. You were at a bar in Dupont Circle last night, that is right? We need to ask about something you may have seen there. And it would be better if we came into the room and, perhaps, if you turned down the music.”
“Hey, I totally love this song,” the blonde said, pouting, but she turned and walked back into the suite. Tony and Ziva followed her through the suite’s foyer and into a living room that was larger than those in most family homes. The décor was all in coordinated shades of light blue and dove grey, including the sofa and two armchairs, and a flat-screen TV that could have doubled as the flight deck of a Second World War era aircraft carrier stood against one wall. Most of the opposite wall was taken up by two floor-to-ceiling windows. The bedroom, in matching shades, could be seen through an open door. Cheyenne Doyle went to an iPod dock that stood on a desk, turned it down to about half the original volume, and then lay herself across the sofa in a posture that managed somehow to be an elegant sprawl.
Tony held back the appreciative whistle that tried to come from his lips. Part of it would have been directed at the room and part at the blonde; she was certainly extremely decorative. Ziva didn’t share his appreciation. Something about the woman set her teeth on edge and made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She kept her right hand on her gun.
“NCIS? Is that, like, Crime Scene Investigation?” Doyle asked.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” Tony explained. “We deal with crimes involving the Navy and the Marines.”
“Oh? Hey, I saw a guy last night who had that kind of military haircut, you know, with the sides pretty much shaved and the top not all that much longer. Was he a Marine?”
“He was,” Tony confirmed, “and he…”
Ziva cut him off. “You saw him? And you saw the woman who was with him?”
“Oh, yeah, the Dhaerow,” Doyle said. “Cierre of the Silver Marches. She’s pretty recognizable.”
“Huh? You know her?” Tony’s brow furrowed.
“Well, duh,” Doyle said. She moved to sit upright. “I was shadowing her, and then she left by herself and he didn’t follow, and I thought I might as well kill her while I had the opportunity. Only she wasn’t hanging around waiting for him, like I thought she would, and she was in a taxi before I could catch her, and then the guy came out and noticed me cursing. And he saw the knife… so I used it on him.”
Ziva brought her gun out from under her windcheater. “Are you… confessing?”
“We’d better read her her rights,” DiNozzo said. He also began to draw his gun.
“That would be pointless,” Doyle said, “seeing as how you’re both going to be dead in the next thirty seconds.” She exploded into motion, coming to her feet in a fraction of a second, and kicked the coffee table at Tony’s legs hard enough to knock his legs from under him. Suddenly she had a whip in her right hand, from out of nowhere, and it shot out and wrapped around Ziva’s wrist. Ziva pulled the trigger but her arm had been tugged aside and the bullet missed Doyle. It hit the window, shattering a central pane, and then Ziva lost her grip on the gun and it went flying across the room.
Tony managed to control his fall and landed on his backside. He brought up his gun and fired twice. A hole appeared in Doyle’s bathrobe, high on her right breast, and the second shot hit her on the cheek. It didn’t penetrate. The bullet, flattened out as if it had hit solid steel, fell to the floor leaving only a slight red mark on her skin. Then Doyle released the whip, grabbed Tony’s arm, and heaved him to his feet. Her left hand dipped into the capacious pocket of the bathrobe and came out holding a dagger. He fired again, narrowly missing her head and putting another hole in the window, and then the woman thrust with the knife.
Ziva hurled herself at Doyle, slamming an elbow into her side, and kicking her behind the right knee with all the force she could muster. Doyle’s leg buckled, she went down on one knee, and her death-thrust went awry. It didn’t strike high enough to reach the heart; instead it pierced deep into Tony’s belly and then ripped sideways. Tony cried out, dropped his gun, and sagged in Doyle’s grip. She rose to her feet, ignoring another kick and an elbow strike from Ziva, and let Tony fall.
Doyle drove back with her elbow, forcing Ziva to dodge, and then spun around. She grabbed for Ziva’s arm and drew back the knife for a thrust. Ziva caught Doyle’s reaching arm, bent back her fingers, and forced the arm round and up. Ziva felt the strength opposing her, and realized that Doyle was at least as strong as Cierre and possibly stronger, but all the leverage was on Ziva’s side and Doyle was unable to resist. Instead she flipped herself into the air, spun completely over, and landed on her feet with her fingers no longer bent back. At once Doyle thrust with the knife at Ziva’s throat.
Ziva ducked under the strike, went all the way under Doyle’s arm, and threw her. The instant Doyle hit the ground Ziva stamped on her throat. It was a killer blow but Doyle barely winced. Instead she lashed out with the knife again, slicing through Ziva’s pants at the calf and drawing blood, and then brought her right arm around and swept Ziva’s legs from under her. Ziva turned her fall into a rolling dive toward Tony’s gun; Doyle rolled in the same direction, bringing the knife around and over, and Ziva only managed to avoid being stabbed in the back by hurling herself past the gun and away.
Doyle rose to her feet. The bathrobe had come undone, and was saturated with Tony’s blood, and now it slipped down over her arms and caught on the knife. She spent a second ripping the garment off and casting it aside. Ziva took the opportunity to make a dive for her own gun; Doyle leapt after her, rammed into her with enormous force, and sent Ziva flying forward.
Ziva struck the window with an impact that shattered the remaining glass, already weakened by two bullet holes, and went sailing out into the air five floors above the ground.
“Oops!” Doyle exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to do that. Oh, well, the shots would probably have raised an alarm anyway.” She glanced at Tony, who was writhing on the ground clutching his belly, and then strode, stark naked, into the bathroom to rinse off the blood. From there she rushed into the bedroom, dressed in extreme haste, and then came back into the living room clad in tight beige leggings and a matching crocodile-skin jacket. She scooped up both the guns from the floor.
“SIG-228s,” she noted. “I used to have one of these. I took it from a California cop just before I killed him.” She tucked them away, extracted the spare mags from under Tony’s jacket – taking pains to avoid getting blood on her clothes – and then picked up Ziva’s fallen ID wallet and NCIS cap. “These might come in useful,” she said, and then lashed a vicious kick into the side of Tony’s head. His groans shut off and he went limp. Doyle shut off the iPod, disengaged it from the dock, and dropped it into a pocket. She took out a cellphone and dialed.
“Hey, it’s me, Bodhi,” she said into the phone, as she walked out of the room into the corridor. “I’m going to need a new ID. We’ll have to burn this one – I think that’s the right idiom, yeah? I’ve just killed two Federal agents.”