- Alternate Universe
- Crime Drama
- Episode Related
- Established Relationship
Toni regretted a number of her life choices the next day. She could have joined her maternal family business, dashing about Europe converting old estates into hotels. Forget working, even, she could have played at being a rich socialite, hobbing the nob with minor royalty and oil barons. She’d be working on her second husband, or cheating on him with her future third and, this time of year, sunning herself in the Mediterranean, just like a couple of her cousins on either side of the family.
Instead, she limped off the elevator at eight thirty, later than usual with a stiff body a swollen and aching face, already tired of the double-takes and looks of shock and horror from colleagues and strangers. She’d discovered how bad an idea it was to carry a bag with bruised ribs, had to take a cab to work because she couldn’t drive her stick shift and, despite being largely ambidextrous, she’d suffered the inconvenience of having one functioning hand poorly.
Cousin Crispin might have been right when he told her she was an idiot. But he thought sheets with less than a 1000-thread count were a myth and he was a boring prick.
On second consideration, she’d have been bored to tears, or maybe murder, by a socialite lifestyle. But she’d bet her various cousins didn’t wake up every few hours from unsettling dreams or pain meds wearing off after going a couple of rounds with a terrorist.
She limped to her desk, set her bag down, carefully and with great relief — pockets only until her ribs were in better shape — and took the temperature of the bullpen. Like the lobby, it was quieter than usual this time of day, people trickling in after a late night sorting the aftermath of a major security breach. Everyone looked a bit edgy, not a surprise considering the circumstances. Agents were just as prone to the ‘someone else’ mentality as anyone, and no one expected a federal agency to be invaded.
Toni removed her coat with more care and less speed than normal and set her gun in her desk drawer. Both her holster and gun were backups, her habitual weapon and ankle piece still in evidence. Not that she could strap a weapon to her ankle currently, and getting into her shoulder holster would take longer than getting it back from the FBI would take.
Finally, she lowered herself into her desk chair and studied her desk.
The various cards, many of them humorous or slightly profane, she transferred to the cabinet behind her chair. The pot of tulips went to the edge of her desk and the three stuffed animals, one of which was weirdly creepy, she dropped into her backpack with the intention of donating them. How someone got the impression she was the kind of grown woman who liked stuffed animals was beyond her. The gift cards for various coffee shops in the area went in her desk drawer. Those would come in handy.
The coffee cup left dead-centre of her desk was from Gibbs’ favourite place. A quick sniff told her that he’d even indulged her taste for fancy espresso drinks with more ingredients than taste or, in his words ‘a waste of good water and bad beans’. Normally Gibbs could barely be brought to acknowledge such drinks existed so Toni made a mental note to thank him appropriately and only tease him half as much as she might otherwise.
Fortified by a sip of sugar, milk and flavouring dosed with coffee, she snagged two pieces of paper from the fax machine and balled them up absently as she studied the plasma screen. Two photos of the autopsy terrorist — one was clearly taken from a video camera, the other a processing photo based on the bruising and bandages — were on the screen on either side of a fast rolling facial recognition search.
She narrowed her eyes at the screen, studying the man’s face. He looked better with two black eyes and a broken nose. Toni stuck her tongue out at his image then lobbed her paper balls, one at a time, across the bullpen and over her colleagues’ desks.
There was a thump from behind Kate Todd’s desk, followed by a curse the woman would normally never say in public. Kate’s head appeared over the edge of her desk, hair mussed and sticking up oddly. She blinked, bleary-eyed.
Brent Langer leapt to his feet, hand slapping against his side where a weapon usually sat, head swivelling like he was scanning for something despite his eyes barely being open. He even managed to vocalize his confusion though “huh?” hardly counted as an actual word.
“There are those famed FBI reflexes, Langer. Nice hair, Katie.”
“Toni?” Kate said on a yawn. “What?”
“You’re shaping up to be a crack investigator, Todd. Slap yourself awake, both of you, and catch me up on our case.”
Langer rubbed his face and managed to drop into his desk chair on the first try. “Should you even be here?”
“Langer,” she said calmly, “read me in.”
The former FBI agent had taken Viv’s spot on the team after a series of unfortunate TAD agents had run afoul of Gibbs’ techniques, demands and personality. He cracked a yawn and studying Toni before shrugging. “Can I get some coffee first?”
“It’s on its way,” she said, having arranged for delivery on her way in. The team deserved better than breakroom coffee after yesterday and Toni had realized carrying two trays of coffee in her state was asking for scalds on top of everything. Gibbs could have brought some in for them but had probably considered sleep to be its own reward.
Kate staggered to her feet and leaned against her desk. “Did you misplace your foundation, Toni?”
“The same place you mislaid your brush, Katie.”
Kate slapped a hand to the back of her head and tried to smooth it down. Failing that, she pulled open a desk drawer and started digging. Awake enough for vanity, she was also coherent enough to snark. “You look like you went ten rounds, DiNozzo. Didn’t bother trying to cover it up?”
She hadn’t, actually, for several reasons that began with she used her left hand to apply mascara and ended with how painful the thought of smoothing or patting anything on her bruised face seemed like a dumb idea. She also knew damned well how bad it looked now that the bruises had darkened and settled. But she would be damned if her junior agent, who might have been on the President’s detail but hadn’t known how to bag evidence ten months ago, would get the last word.
“I’d rather have real bruises than ones that are obvious underneath an attempt to hide them. This way is less conspicuous and isn’t a waste of effort.”
Kate made a face but didn’t respond. She found a brush and started tugging it through her hair at the same time as security arrived, escorting a delivery woman with two trays of coffee.
Security, she knew, wasn’t just heightened after yesterday but taking things personally.
Caffeine delivered — regular for Kate, black with three sugars for Brent, extra light for Toni, and three large cups of jet black set on Gibbs’ empty desk — she let them have their first sips in peace while she studied the plasma screen. “Now. Sitrep.”
“Pacci’s probie agent set up the search,” Langer said, nodding to the screen. “He even managed to explain it without stuttering too badly, which is an improvement.”
“Pacci is a good trainer,” Toni agreed. It was why she’d recommended he take on Timothy McGee from Norfolk. McGee’s skills were wasted in temporary postings and he wanted to be a field agent despite being a nervous wreck around . . . anyone, really. Toni already had a green junior agent and a full team, plus Gibbs was the last person to gently nurture McGee’s confidence; the kid had enough hard-assed navy men in his life according to his personnel file. But Pacci, who’s last probie had graduated on to undercover work, had been free to take on a trainee and it had the benefit of getting him off of cold cases and desk duty since he now had backup in the field.
And it put Tim McGee and his shiny computer skills conveniently close to Toni’s desk. All the better to make use of her resources with and saving her the trip to Cyber. Those basement-dwelling geeks creeped her out.
“It’s running the various wanted lists, all known Hamas operatives and any medical school in Britain with a digital photo archive,” Langer said. “Which is not all of them, unfortunately, but Pacci and McGee are on it. The FBI is running the same search, probably, but it doesn’t hurt to do the same.”
“No.” She looked away from the screen; Langer gave her a knowing look and rose to find the remote and switched the screen over to compiled statements. “What else?”
“We’re running down the ambulance and driver who delivered the ‘body’. A private company who started citing confidentiality and patient’s rights when we came knocking.” Langer rolled his eyes. “A warrant should be ready to go by ten.”
Kate rose to her feet and picked up a file and the remote, swapping screens again. A photo of Qassam’s work visa came on screen. “We’re running down his background and tracing every move he made since entering the country. His brother joined Hamas first and it looks like he was following in those footsteps. Though the elder brother was a suicide bomber and the younger one chose smallpox and a possible outbreak,” Kate mused. “Those are two different profiles — one is shocking and immediate as well as painless. The other is more subtle, more painful for the instigator, and depends less on people knowing who was responsible.”
“Wait,” Toni demanded. “Rewind that. Smallpox?”
Kate blinked. “Yes. He had a contaminated nasal spray that he — you weren’t there when we figured it out,” she realized.
“No, Kate, I was otherwise occupied.” Toni blew a breath. “That is not Hamas’ MO.”
“They’re learning from the examples of other groups,” Langer said. “And despite their reach in Gaza, it’s jihadists like Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Taliban, that are getting all the international focus these days.”
“Why the hell would Hamas target a US base with a bioweapon? If they got ahold of smallpox, why waste it in the US? At least hit a base closer to their home turf,” Toni said.
“Poisoners usually do a test run first,” Kate explained. “A smaller trial to work out their method. And there is an Israeli group at Little Creek doing training manoeuvres.”
Toni blew out a breath and tried to rise — she thought better on her feet — but shifting forward in her seat made her hip throb so she aborted the move. “Qassam was just part of the dispersal mechanism. A weapon as much as the virus, not the mastermind. If it had worked, the next target would be much, much bigger.” Kate and Langer nodded. “Did Qassam already infect himself?”
“CDC says no, there was no sign in his blood or nasal passages.”
“Probably going to do it on the base — damn,” Toni realized something. “He worked in the food court.”
Langer cursed. “He could have been planning to dose the food. A couple of squirts of that spray into a warming tray, or a condiment bottle — you’d infect anyone who ate there.” He snatched his desk phone and started dialling.
Kate pulled her cell phone. “The bottle was still full,” she reminded Langer.
“Which is proof enough it wasn’t about inhaling it — who needs a whole bottle for that?”
Toni let them work, listening absently as Kate reported to Gibbs and Langer spoke to someone at the CDC and then Little Creek. Fortunately, Qassam’s workplace area had already been closed off as a potential crime scene, but it had been checked for bomb residue, not smallpox.
There were entire organizations dedicated to keeping contagions like smallpox out of the hands of rogue governments and fanatical organizations. Where the hell had a twenty-something jihadist gotten enough to dose a military base? Especially if Kate was right, and this was only a trial. Or maybe there wasn’t any more and that was why their autopsy terrorist was so determined to get it back — not to cover their tracks, or not only to do so but because they needed it to continue a plan.
“Sonofa —” She rose, ignoring her ribs and hip and managing, barely, to remember to push herself up with right hand rather than her left. She snagged the remote from Kate and switched the screen, putting their terrorist front and centre. “He’s a doctor or at least trained as one. He’s the goddamned mastermind. He’s the one who got access to it. Hell, with the right training, he might even be able to weaponize it. Langer.”
“Commander, I’ll call you back,” Brent said before he hung up. “Call the CDC?”
“Yes. They’ll already be looking for the strain to identify where it came from — ask them to prioritize that. This asshole might have worked in the lab it came from.” She stopped and considered something. “Get McGee to run all CDC employees through this facial recognition search. Let’s make sure there isn’t a fox in that henhouse.”
“Nice to have you back, Toni,” Langer said and dialled again.
Kate appeared at her elbow. “You really think he works for the CDC?”
“It’s at least a possibility.”
“He let himself be seen,” Kate insisted. “He had to know his face would get out.”
“So maybe he’s already left, Kate, especially if he’s already gotten what he wanted,” Toni snapped. “We need to check. And so what if we have his face — it’s meaningless if we can’t ID him from it. Facial recognition is slow and relies on having something to compare to.”
“His prints would have popped.”
“It hasn’t been twenty-four hours; fingerprints are only that fast on T.V.”
Kate frowned, reluctantly coming around. “And he didn’t intend for us to get his prints.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“How did he intend to get out?” Kate demanded. “Use the hostages?”
“Dressed as HRT,” Toni explained what she’d realized last night. “He changed into black body armour. He would have done something to get HRT to breech and slipped out with them.”
“Yeah.” Toni exhaled and tried to shake off how close a terrorist with access to bioweapons had come to getting away. Time for a little humour. “You know, we can’t keep calling him ‘the autopsy terrorist’. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.”
“Oh, for — really, DiNozzo?” Kate demanded. “If that’s your concern I’m surprised you didn’t ask for an introduction down there. Or flirt with him until he just gave you his name,” she added snidely.
Ah, Kate Todd, Professional Prude was in the building. Kate had no idea, or respect, for how much a little charm could get you from a witness or suspect. The fact that she was so quick to judge Toni and Brent for using that technique was the single worst part about working with Kate Todd. It also the reason Toni went out of her way to show the other woman that just because her worldview was black and white on certain topics did not make her right or right to judge.
“I left the flirting up to him, actually,” she said. “And he was oddly reluctant to scrawl his name and cell number on a napkin for me. Tyler,” Toni decided. “He looks like a Tyler to me. I’ve never met one that wasn’t arrogant and a bit of a tool.”
“Can’t you be serious for one minute, DiNozzo?”
“Sure, but I met my weekly quota yesterday. Me working out a key element of a terrorist plot on American soil just now — that was a bonus round. Keep it up, Kate,” Toni added quietly when the other agent opened her mouth. “You’ll find out just how serious I can be and just how little patience I have right now.”
Kate frowned and stepped back, looking a little shamefaced. Too bad it was because Toni was injured, not because she’d realized Toni didn’t need to fit into her moral standards. It was a damned shame those nuns of hers hadn’t taught her not to judge while they were drilling those upstanding morals into her.
Kate didn’t apologize, either, but Toni didn’t really want one. She just wanted a junior agent who could apply the same compassion to her colleagues as she did to suspects she empathized with.
“Good job,” Gibbs said from the mezzanine where he and the Director had been observing for the last few minutes. Kate startled and Langer turned his desk chair as they both descended the stairs. Gibbs walked up to Kate and raised a brow. “The ambulance driver?”
“Warrants should be ready in an hour, Gibbs.”
Kate blinked. “And — and the request for phone records from the Embassy,” she added quickly. “We submitted for warrants to both the phone company and the Embassy but it has to grind through the State Department and diplomatic channels, Gibbs.”
He narrowed his eyes, then nodded. Kate took the chance to flee back to her desk and Gibbs seized upon one of the cups on his desk. He gulped back a third of the cup then turned to look at Toni. She grinned a little. “DiNozzo.”
“Good work.” His tone implied he wasn’t just talking about a new lead. “Now sit your ass down.”
“I’m — going, boss,” she gave in when he glared. Sometimes you had to give in gracefully and save your strength for other moments.
Toni turned and came face-to-face with Director Morrow. “Sir.”
“Agent DiNozzo. I’d like to second Gibbs. Good job yesterday.”
“Thank you, sir, but I only did my job.”
Morrow studied her face. “No, Agent, I rather think you did more than your job. That looks painful,” he observed.
She managed, barely, to hold back a sigh. At least he hadn’t said ‘ouch’, which Toni had heard from two different agents, the security guards in the lobby, the barista at the coffee shop, another patron of the coffee shop, and her neighbour from down the hall. And she was pretty sure that Mrs McAdams’ dust bunny masquerading as a terrier had said it, too, but fortunately, Toni didn’t speak yapping dog. “Moderately, sir.”
But Morrow had been an agent himself once and he smiled. “Better get used to it, Agent DiNozzo. At least until those bruises fade a bit.”
“Yes, sir, I will. But I don’t have to like it.”
He chuckled. “No, you don’t. Perhaps a sign?”
“That seems like a less permanent solution than the tattoo on my forehead I was considering, sir.”
Morrow shook his head. “Sit down before you give Gibbs an aneurysm, Agent, and pace yourself. I expect you to follow doctor’s orders,” he added sternly, “and take care of yourself. You’ll only delay a return to the field if you overdo it.”
“I hate desk duty,” she sighed. “Yes, sir.” With that order, she returned to her chair and eased herself in, ignoring the various eyes she could feel observing her weakness.
“It won’t kill you, Agent DiNozzo.”
“Just the rest of us,” Langer muttered, having hung up his phone again. “Sir. Gibbs, CDC will keep us appraised. Though I was told the FBI will be notified of anything they find first.”
Gibbs made a face. “As long as they tell us, too. Any contacts at State, Langer?”
“I’ll make a few calls, Jethro,” Morrow said. “I need to contact the directors of the CDC and FBI as well.”
“Do we really think there’s a mole in the Israeli Embassy?” Kate demanded. “Someone working with Hamas?”
“Without the records, we can’t verify whether it came from the Embassy or not,” Langer said. “And people do all kinds of illegal things for all sorts of reasons.”
Toni was watching Gibbs, who shared a look with the director. “Boss?”
Morrow crossed his arms and nodded briefly. Gibbs replied. “Fornell caught a rumour from someone he knows at State. Mossad may have a mole inside Hamas. He’s already getting some pressure from his brass to be quick, quiet and not make waves on this investigation.”
“Fuck,” Langer said. “Sorry, sir.”
Morrow waved it off and turned a stern look on them all. “Rumour is not evidence and it’s fine for someone in the FBI to say this case is incidental or to play politics over it. I assure you, they would have a different view if it was their house that was invaded. I certainly do.” He headed for the stairs, stopping at Toni’s desk. “Agent DiNozzo, I was very serious when I said to follow doctor’s orders. And when I said good job.”
Toni’s heart was pounding. She met the director’s gaze and managed, “Yes, sir.”
“Langer, get me that ambulance and the driver. The minute that warrant is in your hand you shove it down their throats. I want an account of every second, every mile, every stop the driver covered yesterday.” Gibbs snapped the instructions as he stalked across the bullpen to Toni’s desk. He caught her chin in a gentle grip and turned her face side to side. “DiNozzo, you good to go?”
He released her to stare down at her for a moment, then nodded. “Report. And your statement, after action report — you know the drill. Send Fornell what he needs, then call Ducky and check on him. He’s at the hospital with Gerald, seeing as Autopsy is a crime scene right now. Get Pacci to go take his statement too.”
“I can —”
“You can keep your ass in that chair until it’s time to go home.” Toni huffed. “Gather everything — statements, reports, video surveillance, evidence — and call the profilers over at Quantico. Send it to them.”
Toni blinked once. Gibbs’ ability to work with other agencies on a case was limited at the best of times and he was already forced to let Fornell take the lead. The fact that he was seeking out help from the BAU —
“Aw, boss, you do care.”
“Gibbs, I can make a profile —”
Toni was ready to cringe — Kate was a reasonable profile when she worked from paper but any time she had an interaction with a subject it skewed her objectivity. Though there was a small sample size; after the second time she’d made a glaring error due to bias, Gibbs had stopped asking her to do profiles on her own.
“Nope. You tap every former colleague who will answer the phone. I want any scuttlebutt, whether they’ve heard it in the lunch line or in a classified meeting, about Hamas, Mossad or the State Department. Then you, and Langer, since he’ll have the driver in an interrogation room by then,” Gibbs emphasized, “start chasing how and went he,” Gibbs pointed at the plasma, “got into the country. TSA, Port Authority, Immigration — the works. Get records and run them.”
They all moved, Toni slower than her team to reach for her keyboard. Gibbs studied them all and nodded, then headed for the stairwell.
When he was gone, Kate looked up from her phone. “Do you think . . . ?”
“Think what, Katie?” Toni asked tiredly.
“That the Israelis are hiding a leak? Or protecting a source?” Toni said nothing. “Come on, Toni, you were there — was he a terrorist or a mole?”
“Todd, shut up and do your job,” Langer snapped.
“I think,” Toni said, “that he broke it to a federal agency, shot Gerald and tried to get his hands on smallpox. And I think that you should shut up and do your job.”
Kate sat back in her seat abruptly, surprised by Toni’s sharp tone, but she couldn’t be bothered to care. Toni snagged her phone, pushed to her feet faster than was wise, and headed for the elevator.
“Where is she going?”
Gibbs was where she expected him to be, standing in front of Autopsy, staring at the sealed doors.
“Shouldn’t you be upstairs, in your chair, writing a report like I ordered you to do?” Gibbs said, with far less vigour than he was wont to when someone disobeyed him.
“Did Fornell use that term,” Toni demanded. She pulled one of his tricks and hit the stop button, keeping the elevator open and on this level. “Did he say ‘mole’ specifically?”
“DiNozzo . . .”
“Gibbs, I need to know.”
Toni blew out a breath and closed her eyes. “How did he hear? Was this a rumour? Or a ‘rumour’?”
“State is putting some pressure on the FBI. Unofficially, Fornell has been asked to be as discreet and quick as possible, with potential future intel as an incentive. Provided the investigation goes smoothly.”
“So we’re neck deep in politics already.”
“Yup.” He turned his head. “Damn it, Toni, you should be sitting down. Hell, you should be at home.”
She waved that off. “If he’s a mole, why try so hard to recover the smallpox? Why not tip someone off?”
“We don’t know what he is, Toni, and if he turns out to be working for the Israelis —”
“Then I tried to kill an undercover,” Toni finished flatly.
“No,” Gibbs ground out, stalking into the elevator and getting in her face. “No, you damn well didn’t. You protected yourself, an injured civilian and another hostage, working on the only information you had. He presented himself as an immediate threat, demonstrated unknown motives and proved capable of dispassionate violence.”
“You did your job, Toni.”
“We’ve both done long-term undercover, Gibbs,” Toni hissed. “You do things to keep a cover that you’d never do otherwise. I’ve been there, Gibbs. Eighteen months in a mafia family —”
“You ran a bar owned by the Macaluso family.”
“I ran the bar that handled half the illegal gambling in East Philly, Gibbs, and the Don didn’t hand that to me because I was a pretty face!”
“Did you torture someone?” Gibbs demanded. “Deliberately cause as much pain and suffering as possible without purpose? Not to get answers but to show you could?”
“No,” she spat.
“Cause more harm that was absolutely necessary to keep a cover, gather intel, and build a case?”
He leaned right into her face. “Could he have controlled all three of you without shooting Gerald?” She said nothing, thinking. “Yes or no, DiNozzo!”
“How,” he pressed.
“He could have cuffed or bound us — or two of us, keeping one free to talk on the phone,” Toni rattled off, assessing all the options. “Separated us to maintain control; locked someone in Ducky’s office or used the coolers to contain some or all of us.”
“Why did he shoot Gerald?”
He’s the biggest.”
“But you were the biggest threat,” Gibbs countered, moving back a little. “You were the trained agent. Why didn’t he shoot you?”
“Because Gerald was a means of controlling Ducky and me but ultimately disposable,” Toni said, “and if he’d died, he still would have had two valuable hostages.”
“Why didn’t he cuff you? He had the ones he took off of you.”
“He underestimated me?”
“You said he was playing psyop games.”
“So? Was that just another head game?”
“He wanted me to think he underestimated me, to make me angry or to shake my confidence. He wanted me to make a move,” she murmured. “He was ready for it, anticipating it.”
“As part of the challenge.”
“Did he enjoy it? Hurting Gerald, controlling all of you? The head games?” Toni hesitated. Gibbs caught her chin again and stared her down. “Well?”
“Yes —” she trailed off.
“He was excited. Amped up. Maybe . . .” she pictured ‘Tyler’ as he leaned into her, questioning her on whether she’d been the one to shoot Qassam. His eyes had been dilated even though his pulse and breathing had been steady. “Maybe even aroused.”
“Then no matter what, Toni, he’s a bad guy.”
The grilling, forcing her to say her impressions rather than tie herself in knots contemplating possibilities, removed a weight from her chest. Her ribs still ached but her heart no longer felt like it was trying to crawl out her throat. “Okay.”
Gibbs ran his thumb over her chin and released her. “Okay. Why was the word so important?”
She exhaled. “Cop speak. You send one of your own under. A plant is someone you set in place, like bait, to be recruited. A mole? Is someone on the inside you turn or flip.”
“So, he joined whatever group he’s in by choice.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged. “Spooks have their own language. Among other things.”
“Any more questions?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“Get back to work,” Gibbs said. She looked past him towards Autopsy. “You’ve got five minutes to get back to your desk and I’m releasing this elevator in three. Any longer and you can take the stairs — since your bound and determined to overdo it.”
It only took her two minutes to stare into Autopsy, processing her feelings, but she didn’t aspire to Gibbs-levels of angst.
This is the sequel to Nightcap