TITLE: Live For Ten
SEASON: Six (follow-up to Nine Lives)
DISCLAIMER: NCIS, its characters and situations, are copyright Bellisarius Productions and CBS Television. No infringement on, or challenge to, their status is intended. This piece of fiction was written strictly for the entertainment of other fans, and I am gaining no form of compensation for it.
ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual places and locations, is purely coincidental.
"Don't you have anything better to do?"
He ignored both the voice and the question it asked, just as he'd done a dozen times before. It earned him another sigh in response.
"Seriously, Tony. She'll be back next week. Are you planning to sit there and stare at her desk the whole time she's gone?"
"I'm thinking, Probie."
"No, you're obsessing. There's a difference."
Tony DiNozzo steepled his fingers and pressed them against his lips. "Where'd she go?" he asked quietly.
Tim McGee sighed once more and stood, glancing around the squad room as he crossed to Tony's desk. "You know where she went," he said. "She's on vacation in Tel Aviv."
"But why?" He asked the question without looking up. "Of all the places in the world she could go on vacation, why there? Who's she meeting?" His thoughts drifted back to the dark-haired man in the picture he'd found on her desk before she left. "Who is he?"
"Who is who?" Tim settled himself on the corner of Tony's desk and looked down at him. "She went to see her father."
"We don't know that for sure." He leaned back in his chair and glanced at Tim before looking back at Ziva David's empty desk. "Sure, Eli lives in Tel Aviv, but she never said she was going to see him."
"Why else would she go?" Tim shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "And why do you care so much?"
He didn't answer at first, just sat with his fingers on his lips, staring straight ahead. "You believe in gut feelings, McCynic?"
"With Gibbs for a boss? Are you serious? Of course I do."
"You ever get one you can't explain?"
Tim shrugged and nodded. "Yeah, sometimes. Why?"
"Because I'm having one right now," Tony said. He looked up at Tim; the expression on his face was uncharacteristically serious. "And I don't like it."
"What do you mean?" He could hear the confusion in Tim's voice, and he couldn't blame him for it. He didn't really understand it himself. "What kind of feeling?"
He shook his head. "I don't know what it is. I just can't shake it."
"You're overreacting, Tony."
"Something's going on," he said softly. "Ziva's hiding something from us, and take it from me, that never ends well." He shook his head at the memory of his own experience with keeping secrets from his team and how much he'd lost because of it. "Something bad's gonna happen."
Tim huffed in frustration and pushed himself to his feet. "You've been spending too much time with Abby."
"Abby's usually right about the bad stuff."
Tim walked back to his desk and sat down. "Ziva's not hiding anything. She's just trying to have a private life. She's allowed to do that, ya know."
"But what if she's …?"
"Will you just stop?" Tim said. "You've got a report to write. And if you don't get it done soon, Gibbs is gonna be pissed." He turned back to his keyboard, and it was obvious that as far as he was concerned, the conversation was over.
"Maybe you're right, McGee." He conceded the point with a shrug; anything was possible. "But I'm still worried about her."
"You're just bored," Tim said quickly. "You're jumping at ghosts."
Tim's voice had no trace of its usual irritated edge. Its absence was enough to make Tony glance across at him. Tim was looking back with an expression of understanding and concern.
Tony blinked and thought over what he'd said in the past few minutes, and his eyes widened slightly. He'd been talking openly, candidly and carelessly. He'd almost gone too far, come too close to admitting too many things that he'd never have said out loud if he'd been paying more attention. But Tim was offering him an out – a "get out of uncomfortable subject free" card – and he was going to take it.
He straightened in his chair and reached for his own keyboard. "Yeah, you're right." He forced himself to lighten the tone of his voice, to inject some levity back into the tension between them. "I've been stuck with you all day. Who wouldn't be bored?"
"Hey!" Tim objected. "You started this conversation. I just wanted you to write your report."
"You are what, DiNozzo?" a gruff voice behind him asked.
"Writing my report, Boss!"
Tony and Tim exchanged a quick questioning glance. Neither of them knew how long he'd been behind them, or how much he'd heard, so they were going to pretend that they hadn't said anything worth overhearing in the first place.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs rounded the partition to the left of Tony's desk and looked down at the monitor. "Your computer type in invisible ink?"
Tony shook his head rapidly and started typing. "Just gathering my thoughts."
"Good idea," Tim said. "You can't really afford to lose track of the few you have."
Tony shot him a sidelong glare with no real heat behind it, Tim smiled, and Gibbs smirked at them both as he walked to his desk. Tony took a deep breath and forced himself to concentrate on the report he was supposed to be writing. He looked down at the handwritten notes in front of him, flipping through them as he skimmed them one more time.
The case hadn't been an easy one to solve, but that was par for the course around the Navy Yard. For four days, the Major Case Response Team had chased shadows in circles as they tried to figure out who'd tortured and killed Lance Corporal Rob Brewer and PFC Michael Strauss. Every time they turned around, they'd hit another wall. The first had been the fact that their initial suspect was the star witness in a federal murder case against a mobster named Rick Azari. That had brought FBI agent Tobias Fornell, and his incompetent sidekick Bruce Rivers, into the picture.
And that had just been the beginning.
The corners of Tony's mouth curled up in a half smile, and he shook his head when he saw Agent Rivers' name. 'Poor guy,' he thought. 'I know what it's like to lose a witness. I should take him out for a beer.'
The case had been a difficult one to solve, especially since they'd ended up having to work with the FBI on it, but the wrap-up couldn't have been simpler. Abby had managed to link Azari to the Marines' murders forensically, and Jack Kale – the FBI's witness – had killed him for it. The new murder case against Kale had been filed, the FBI had started cleaning up the messes they'd made, and for NCIS, it was all over except the paperwork.
Tony settled into transferring his notes to his computer, but he couldn't shake the feeling of dread and foreboding that had been hanging over him all day. He wanted to believe that Tim was right and he was imagining things, but it felt too real. He didn't even know for sure that it had anything to do with Ziva; he just knew it had started about the same time she'd left.
He felt like someone was standing behind him, staring at his back. The sensation was so strong that it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He shuddered involuntarily, but covered it by pretending to roll his shoulders instead. A quick glance across at his boss's desk told him that Gibbs had seen it, so Tony flashed him a quick smile before looking back down at his keyboard.
He started typing, but he'd only gotten a few words down before he felt the invisible eyes boring into him again. The skin on his back crawled, and the more he tried to ignore the feeling, the stronger it got. He turned his head quickly and looked back over his shoulder, but of course there was nothing behind him but his filing cabinets.
"No," Tony lied. He turned back around and gave Gibbs another quick, insincere smile. "Everything's fine."
Tim coughed, and Tony looked over at him. Tim's eyes were wide, his eyebrows low and his forehead crinkled in concern. He shot a glance of his own at Gibbs, and Tony knew he was being told to come clean. It was just like Tim had said earlier – Gibbs was an expert on gut feelings. No one would understand what was bothering him at that moment better than Gibbs would.
Tony shook his head almost imperceptibly, and Tim's expression changed to one of disbelief and frustration. It wasn't that he didn't want to let Gibbs in on what he was feeling, because he did. He just wanted a clearer idea of exactly what it was before he said anything about it.
"What the hell is going on with you two?"
Tony didn't know why he'd thought that his and Tim's silent conversation had gone unnoticed, because of course it hadn't.
"Nothing, Boss," they answered in unison.
"Then quit making moony eyes at each other and get to work," Gibbs snapped. As they returned their attention to their respective computers, he rolled his eyes and went back to his.
Tony's slow tapping on his keyboard was a sharp contrast to Tim's rapid typing, and a few moments passed with nothing but those sounds in the air. Suddenly, Tony's fingers stopped moving, and he picked up his pile of notes and started rifling through them.
He scanned the pages quickly; he knew exactly what he was looking for, and he knew he wouldn't find it. He'd read the notes a dozen times in the past four days, and he was the one who'd written them in the first place. As he finished reading them over, the feeling of impending doom almost doubled, and he muttered to himself under his breath.
"It's not over."
"What's that, DiNozzo?"
"The case," he said. The feeling of dread that he'd felt before was screaming at him, demanding to be acknowledged, but he pushed past it. "It's not over."
"How's it not over?" Tim asked. "Our suspect's dead."
"I know he is," Tony said. "But being our prime suspect doesn't mean he was the killer, does it?"
Gibbs looked more than slightly surprised. "We had him on forensics. Weren't you paying attention?" he asked. "The rope that Brewer and Strauss were tied up with came from his basement."
"I know that, too. There's no doubt he ordered it." Tony locked eyes with Gibbs from across the squad room. "But when's the last time you heard of a boss who did his own dirty work?"
"Azari's organization isn't the same one he took over from Alonzo Torres twenty-five years ago." Tim looked back and forth between the notes in his hand and the picture of Rick Azari on the plasma screen in front of him. "One of the first things he did, in addition to murdering five of Torres' top officers, was increase the number of soldiers he had. They're not as big as the Gambinos or the Banannos, but they're not small, either."
Immediately after Tony's realization, Gibbs had started them on digging up as much intel as they could find on Rick Azari and his associates. They'd already collected a basic history of Azari's crime family during the Brewer and Strauss investigation, but they needed more than that to go on. While Tim and Tony were working, Gibbs had gone up to Director Vance's office to inform him that they were keeping the case open. It hadn't taken him long, just a few minutes, to get the go-ahead from Vance, and now they were standing next to Gibbs' desk reviewing the information they'd gathered.
"The organizational chart that we got from the FBI gives us the names of four officers and half a dozen capos, any one of whom could have been involved in murdering Brewer and Strauss. They also estimate about two dozen or so soldiers that function just as low-level muscle, but they have very few names."
"After twenty-five years?" Gibbs leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms on his desk. "That's all Tobias has?"
"That's all I could get to," Tim clarified. "Azari was killed with an FBI agent's weapon. Every piece of information they had on him has been locked down. At least one agent has been fired over what happened, and another three were disciplined."
"I know," Gibbs said. "Fornell almost got suspended. What does that have to do with this?"
"They're reviewing the conduct of their own agents; they've tightened security, all but eliminated access to their files on him, and buried everything as deep as they can."
"Then hack it."
"I did, Boss," Tim said with a nervous smile. "I still can't access it. And even if I could, it probably wouldn't be relevant anymore. Things have been changing rapidly within the organization over the past few days, and the FBI is scrambling to catch up. Most of what little information I have been able to find is outdated."
"Azari's death left a power vacuum," Tony said. "People are coming and going like crazy right now, and there's a lot of confusion. His two top lieutenants – both considered potential successors – were found dead late last week, shot in the head."
"Someone's taking over," Gibbs observed. "So who is it?"
"Don't know for sure, but we have a pretty good idea." Tony took the control for the plasma out of Tim's hand and brought up a blurry screencap from a ZNN report. "Stefano DelMar."
The face on the screen was one that Gibbs recognized immediately. "I met him," he said. "Azari's bodyguard."
"Bodyguard and personal secretary," Tony said. "And, at the moment, de facto boss and functional head of the organization."
"ZNN's been reporting on him all weekend," Tim added. "Metro, and some 'underworld sources' quoted by ZNN, believe that he ordered the killings of Azari's lieutenants, if he didn't kill them himself. But they don't have much more than that. It doesn't look like DelMar was even on their radar before now, not Metro or the FBI. No one seems to know anything about him."
"And what do we know about him?" Gibbs asked.
Tony cocked his head and gave a tight smile. "A hell of a lot more than they do."
He clicked the control again, and DelMar's driver's license came up on the screen. "Stefano DelMar, twenty-eight years old. He got his start in organized crime in Baltimore when he was sixteen, as an errand boy. The organization he worked for got busted up two years later, and within a year, he moved on to Azari. He'd always been a minor player, just a soldier." Tony paused to take a deep breath. "But he really liked his job, and he was brutal. Azari made him his bodyguard two years later, and his secretary two years after that. He's smart, knows how to avoid the spotlight. He was Azari's right-hand-man for five years, and the FBI barely has a file on him. He's only been arrested once, and that never made it to trial. He was a minor, so the record is sealed."
"So unseal it," Gibbs ordered.
Tony shook his head. "No need. The charge was First Degree assault."
"That's the equivalent of attempted murder in Maryland," Gibbs said. He leaned back slightly in his chair. "How'd he avoid trial?"
"Copped a plea," Tony answered. He didn't look at either Tim or Gibbs; his eyes were locked on the picture of Stefano DelMar. "They dropped the charges when he promised he'd turn State's Witness and testify against his boss. The second the DA held up his end of the bargain, DelMar ran out on them. He never testified."
Tim lowered his eyebrows in confusion and looked back and forth between the plasma and Tony. "How did you find all of this? I've been digging for hours, and I couldn't find anything."
"I keep telling you, McGee. Smarter, not harder."
Tony could feel Gibbs looking at him, so he turned his head slightly. The knowing look on Gibbs' face, the hard set of his jaw and narrowed eyes, told Tony that he knew exactly where the information was coming from.
"Why didn't they pursue him?" Gibbs asked.
Tony shrugged. "They got the convictions they were after without him. They'd just brought down an entire network of people who'd been murdering with impunity for decades, and in the grand scheme of things …" He sighed as he repeated the same words he'd been told a dozen times. "One punk kid whose worst crime is beating up an undercover cop just isn't worth worrying about."
"They underestimated him, huh?" Gibbs asked. Tony's only answer was a slight shrug. "Lot of that going around with this guy, it seems. So who was the boss?"
Tony couldn't keep looking at Gibbs, couldn't watch the understanding in his eyes turn to anger, so he looked over at Tim. As obvious as it was that Gibbs knew for certain what Tony was about to say, it was equally as obvious that Tim had no idea.
Partial recognition dawned on Tim's face; he knew he'd heard the name before, but he wasn't sure where.
"And the cop?"
Gibbs definitely knew who Stefano DelMar was now. At least, he'd heard about him before. Tony kept eye contact with Tim, not just because he didn't want to face Gibbs but also because he wanted to see how Tim reacted to what he was about to hear.
"The one he tried to kill? The one he beat half to death with a metal pipe? The one he put in the hospital for a week and a half?" Tony swallowed hard as Tim looked up at him in horror. "Who was that?"
Tony nodded and closed his eyes. "Yeah," he said. He lifted his head and gave his boss a smile that he knew looked as fake as it felt. "That would be me."