Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
A/N 1: Another massive timeskip. Sorry folks. Last chapter was in (story-wise) 2006 (although it may feel like my last chapter was published then too - sorry about that), now we're jumping to late 2009. Although this is AU, it only really becomes AU during and after Ziva's capture in Somalia, which this chapter will cover the first part of.
Specifically, certain CANON events that appear in 'Truth or Consequences' and 'Good Cop, Bad Cop,' will be changed. Sometimes, thing will appear to be similar, but actually happen differently. It doesn't really matter which, just roll with it - I believe it makes a better story. The TV show had to compress things into 40 minutes (or 80), whereas I have some room to expand, as it were.
If you get bored half way through ... well, I'm sorry to hear that. The Author's Note at the end will explain why I included all the detail.
Chapter 5 - Lies, Damned Lies … and Mossad
"Evil doesn't die. It never dies. It just takes on a new face, a new name. Just because we've been touched by it once, it doesn't mean we're immune to ever being hurt again."
Tess Gerritsen, The Surgeon
51°30'25.14" N, 0°01'17.23" W
West India Quay, Docklands, London, UK
12 May 2009
"Flight Lieutenant Potter?"
"It's Squadron Leader now, Special Agent DiNozzo. What can I do for you?" Harry leaned back in his chair, raising his eyes wearily from the screen to focus on the view from his apartment to the south, over Canary Wharf and the Thames.
"I have a question."
"Are you familiar with a man named Michael Rivkin?"
That was pretty out of the blue. "I don't see why you care, but yes I know the name. He's Ziva's boyfriend."
"When did you two break up?"
"When your Director Vance sent her back to Israel last year."
"Why do you care?" Harry countered.
DiNozzo sighed. "Because Rivkin's been implicated in a series of murders here in the US, and Ziva's hiding her relationship with him. She's lying to me; she's never done that before. I'm worried ..."
"You're worried the last four years have all been an elaborate lie and now Mossad's using her to screw with NCIS." Harry completed. "Of course, the second is not actually dependent on the first, you know, and she may not even be aware if the second is going on."
"I know. But Rivkin's bad news."
"One of the only known photos of Rivkin has him talking personally to Eli David."
"Okay …" Harry said slowly. "He is Mossad, that doesn't seem terribly out of the ordinary."
Ziva and Harry had broken up, amicably, after her return to Israel almost exactly a year before. Ziva had been angry, but not at Harry; her father was the one who insisted that, now Ziva was back to working for Mossad full time and in the homeland that her relationship with Harry was now inappropriate, for security reasons.
She had been furious, but Harry had been the one to calm her down. They had both known their respective careers made for both precarious long-term close relationships and shortened life expectancies; eventually, their being lovers had been certain to cause trouble for Ziva with her agency.
Harry had persuaded her that remaining friends on their own terms was preferable to the other choices. If Ziva stayed with Mossad and ignored her father's ultimatum, that order might be escalated to not having any contact with him whatsoever.
The alternative, resigning from Mossad, either now or later was also not attractive to her. Before, she might have been able to wrangle a position with NCIS despite not being a citizen, but with her friend Jenny Sheppard dead and Ziva's liaison position terminated - temporarily, as it turned out - that was unlikely to happen … and the legal employment options for former spies with Ziva's particularly lethal skill-set were limited.
They'd stayed in touch, much as they had when separated before. Theirs was a bond of trust, acting mostly as each other's ethical and-or personal soundboards. Physical intimacy was not required for that.
Harry knew Ziva had started seeing Michael Rivkin about four months after their breakup, after the two of them had been partnered on a bad mission in Morocco where Ziva had been injured in an explosion.
Ziva didn't mention Rivkin much in their conversations since; he was Mossad, and giving Harry too many details would have made her a security liability she was determined to prove she was not. Harry trusted Ziva's judgement, and had resisted the urge to start poking around for information on Rivkin. It was none of his business, and if Ziva thought he was being overprotective she'd be more than a little irritated with him - Ziva being irritated tended to result in the focus of said irritation getting bruised.
"Rivkin seems to be Eli David's personal hitman. He was running around LA murdering suspects last week, and Ziva lied to Gibbs about how close they were. Or misled him, at least. I wanted …" DiNozzo hesitated, but ploughed on, "I hoped you would have better contacts than I do internationally, maybe find out some more about Rivkin. And since I know you and Ziva are still talking, since I heard her answer the phone with your name last week, that means you still care about her. I don't want her caught in the crossfire over this."
"You're cleverer than you appear, Agent DiNozzo."
"Hmmm ... still, better than being cleverer than you are," DiNozzo fired back in a fairly decent John Cleese impression.
"And extra points to you for the Die Another Day quote," Harry laughed, then grew serious. "If your concern is that Ziva's first loyalty is Mossad, then why are you surprised? She is Mossad! If Rivkin's pulling a sanctioned operation in the USA, either Ziva's lying to protect him, which is her duty, or far, far more likely she isn't briefed in on it at all. Either way, why are you surprised?"
"Because ..!" DiNozzo started, then hesitated. "Maybe I've forgotten that. She's … family, alright? She's watched our backs for four years; and now I can't trust her any more. I don't want to have doubts, I want to get rid of those doubts … so I'm investigating. Because that's what I do."
"And if Ziva finds out how much you're prying?"
"She'll probably hurt me. In special super-secret ninja ways that can't be detected at autopsy." DiNozzo said, somewhat ruefully. "But neither am I going to let a murderer slip away just because he's Ziva's boyfriend."
"All right ... I'll shake some bushes and see what falls out. I'm not promising much; I have friends in Tel Aviv, but Mossad are a closemouthed bunch at the best of times. I'll get back to you in a few days. Have you got any pictures you can send me?"
"Yes, and thank you."
"By the way, who'd he kill?"
"Two members of an Al-Shabab cell in LA, and he's closing in on the rest."
"Killing terrorists is a bad thing?"
"Ziva said exactly the same thing, but this is Los Angeles for god's sake!" DiNozzo exploded. "We needed to interrogate these guys, roll up their handler, and any other cells he has dealings with. We can't ask dead suspects any questions. Mossad was deliberately obstructing that for some reason, in our own backyard! And don't even get me started on the need for oh, I don't know, maybe Rule of Law and our obligation to act lawfully and give these extremists fair trials. That's why we're the good guys, and they aren't."
"Who, Mossad or the terrorists?"
"That's a very good question."
"Mossad do have a habit of messing their allies around … I'll see what I can do."
Harry put the cellphone down, drumming his fingers on the desk for a few seconds. He was in his apartment in London, in the second bedroom, which he'd never used for that purpose. Instead, as befitting the sort-of-wannabe-Batcave of a professional military officer used to working alone, it was part armoury, part office and part planning room.
The innocent-looking wardrobe built into the wall by the door hid a sizeable array of his personal custom weaponry and armour that would probably give the Metropolitan Police a collective seizure, as well as a safe for classified documents. There were several worktables around with walls with various folders stacked in an orderly fashion on them, and on the desk rested two computers, a desktop and a laptop, both positioned to face away from the window, and both opened to classified intel reports he'd been reading before DiNozzo's call. They were set up to access DII, or the Defence Information Infrastructure, the UK's secure information network that was separate from the Internet.
One wall was covered with a large corkboard, to which was pinned maps of the Middle East, North and East Africa, with sticky notes tacked on at various places marking the last-known locations of various high-value targets. All of the notations were in his own shorthand and abbreviations; Harry's apartment in the high-rise was pretty secure: protected by guards downstairs, multiple numeric code locks, a keycard for the elevator and a retinal scanner on the door, and he swept it for surveillance devices regularly, but he wasn't taking any chances. Anyone who got inside or got photos from outside - unlikely, since he was on the twenty fourth floor - would hopefully be mostly baffled.
Who could he call? Granted, he had a few friends in the Israeli intelligence community, but most of them were special forces or Army intel rather than Mossad. Of the three Mossad officers he did have contact details for, two were barely acquaintances and highly unlikely to stick their necks out on this.
He didn't particularly want to ask them to do so either. This might be a wild goose chase, and he didn't want to burn bridges in pursuit of nothing at all.
Only one choice really. Harry dialled a number.
"Shalom, Harry." Lavin sounded like he was in an airport, somewhere busy; not unusual for the globetrotting Mossad officer. "How are you?"
"Can't complain. Busy, but I haven't been shot with an AK or blown up much in the last few years. I'll count that as a win." Harry answered in Hebrew.
"You speak Hebrew now?"
"Fluent for a while now." Eyal made a sound of understanding; he'd been Ziva's training officer, and was still good friends with her, so he likely knew of their relationship. "Listen, I … I need a favour. Can we meet at any point in the next few days? Anywhere you name, I can get there."
"Um … Paris, but I'm leaving in about eight hours. I can't spare much time, just passing through. Shouldn't be too hard for you if you're in the UK. Why?"
"Personal." Paris … it was 1700, which meant DiNozzo had called him about midday Washington time … on the Eurostar he could be in Paris, meet Eyal that evening and have some answers by the time DiNozzo finished work for the day.
"So … Ziva?"
So he did know. "Good guess."
"I thought you guys broke up. Director's orders. Heard it through the grapevine."
Harry snorted. "I'm somewhat scared to hear that Israel's tireless defenders have a normal human propensity for office gossip."
"I know, it's disturbing, right? So what's wrong?"
"Her coworkers at NCIS think she's … in trouble." Harry hesitated. He had to do this right or Eyal would clam up; the only reason he hadn't hung up already was that he'd trained Ziva, and was something of a big brother to her.
"Okay, be all cryptic, see if I care. I'll text you the place and time. I'm not promising anything, though."
Harry caught a Eurostar cross-Channel train from Waterloo thirty minutes later - taking advantage of the MoD's arrangements for last-minute priority bookings by British officers working on NATO business - and met Eyal just four hours later at a rooftop bar on the Galleries Lafayette, one of Paris' most upmarket department stores, located on Boulevard Haussmann in the north-central 9th arrondissement. It had a spectacular view of the Parisian night-time skyline to the South, the searchlight beam sweeping the city from atop the Eiffel Tower clearly visible.
Harry arrived first … or at least, he appeared to. He was good, but this cloak-and-dagger stuff was Eyal's bread and butter; if the Israeli didn't want to be seen in the crowd, he simply wouldn't be. He slipped in a few minutes later, having probably been watching outside to check to see if Harry was tailed, and took a seat where he could see the door.
"You bring me to the nicest places," Harry quipped, referencing the night out on leave with Eyal's unit in Eilat - which he'd first met Ziva on - while raising a hand to the bartender. "Un Sazerac pour mon ami, si'il vous plaît."
"You know me too well," Eyal grinned. Sazerac, a complex cocktail from New Orleans made with cognac and absinthe, amongst other things, was his weakness, but only when served at the correct temperature - very cold. "What are you drinking?"
"Ah, the dubious original inventor of bourbon whiskey."
"I don't care about the inventor, Eyal, I just drink it." Harry smiled back; unlike so many spies - pardon me, intelligence officers - of his acquaintance, who were often somewhat amoral, humourless, and utterly paranoid anywhere except inside their agency headquarters, Eyal was fun to be around. He was also the only person Harry knew who could manage to pull of being a real-life James Bond expy - sharply dressed, permanent five o'clock shadow, ladies man; oh, and let's not forget the concealed weapons - without being a complete prick about it.
"You, my friend, lack class." Eyal told him as he kept an eye on the bartender, making sure he was preparing his ludicrously complicated cocktail properly. "That is why I spend my days jetting around the world seducing beautiful women and you spend yours in a ditch in Afghanistan."
"Yemen, Oman and Pakistan occasionally too, these days." Harry told him. "With Iraq occasionally thrown in for good measure."
"Is that so?" Eyal mused. "So what did you want to know?"
"Michael Rivkin. You know him?"
Eyal blinked. "Yes, quite well actually."
"I wouldn't go that far."
"Ah. I see."
"Why?" Eyal's eyes narrowed at him. "Wait a minute … speaking of your breakup and Mossad's office gossip, aren't he and Ziva together now?"
"Harry, if you're playing the crazy stalker, I want no part of it."
"I'm not, my word on it. Ziva and I have been separated for a year now, and she's mentioned Rivkin a few times. I didn't pry, it wasn't my place, but now … something has come up, and I'm worried."
"Because he's under investigation by Ziva's coworkers at NCIS for murder. She's trapped between a rock and a hard place; specifically, her loyalty to a fellow Mossad operative and boyfriend, and her ... family at NCIS."
"Family?" Eyal raised an eyebrow, as his drink arrived.
"Family." Harry confirmed. "Unless you think Eli counts?"
"No. He's a crap father. I would know." Harry filed that away; did Eyal have a kid? "But … speaking as a Mossad operative, I'd say the decision's clear cut."
"Except ..." Harry showed Eyal the image DiNozzo had emailed him, of Rivkin talking to Eli David, "… that this is exactly the kind of thing I'd expect her father to pull."
"Ah … you think Rivkin is deliberately causing an incident on Eli's orders, specifically involving NCIS, in order to force Ziva to leave and go back to Israel?" Eyal examined the photo, then nodded slowly. "That … fits. Somewhat."
"Anything you can tell me?"
"Well … Rivkin's not exactly the kind of guy I expected to be involved with Ziva." Eyal told him, leaning in on his elbows. "He's the perfect agent as far as Director David is concerned. Never questions orders, willing to kill without a second thought. He was fast tracked through Kidon shortly after he qualified."
"Why wouldn't he be close to Ziva then?"
"He's practically a controlled psychopath," Eyal began.
"So are both of us, by most people's definitions." Harry pointed out.
"We may be violent when necessary, but we don't lack basic empathy. Rivkin's very, very good at faking it, but I've worked with him several times. He's practically a machine. Orders go in, bullets come out. I wouldn't have expected him to be involved with Ziva because he doesn't really bother with socialising with other Mossad agents … unless ordered to."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that your question is connecting some dots. I've been hearing rumours that various senior Mossad and Israeli government figures are concerned about Eli David's questionable parenting record … and Rivkin is exactly the agent the Director would send to … keep an eye on her. For his own peace of mind, and to silence those dissenting voices."
"They can't think Ziva's another Ari?"
"No, but they aren't certain she's loyal either; for that matter neither is Eli. She's too close to the Americans at NCIS, and no one's sure which way she'll jump if, or rather when push comes to shove, because it always does in this line of work. That's why you broke up on your own terms, wasn't it? Before something or someone else did it for you."
"Yeah, pretty much.
"Anyway, as I said, the Director's been under pressure again - same as he was during that Namir business - to prove his daughter isn't already half-way off the reservation … so your theory might not be too far off the mark."
"So Rivkin really is engineering a test of loyalties?" Harry mused. "I thought that might be possible, but I didn't think he might have been ordered to seduce Ziva. I thought it would be more like Eli just took advantage of their relationship when the necessity arose. Would Eli do something like that? To his own daughter? Every time I think I have a handle on that man, he shows me he can always be colder."
"Possibly," Eyal emphasised the qualifier. "I couldn't confirm any of that without digging deeper than would be noticed. On the other hand … I wouldn't have thought Ziva would fall for something like that. Rivkin can seduce targets when he needs to, but Ziva's smart, she's trained, and he's not that charming. Unlike me." Harry shook his head, smiling at the aside.
"Unless …" Eyal continued slowly.
"Bluntly? She's missing you, even if she's persuaded herself otherwise. She's filling the void you left with Rivkin, and he isn't up to the job. Not by a long shot."
"Wow. That almost sounds like a compliment, from Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang himself."
Now it was Eyal's turn to shake his head. "You were a good couple. Fix this, Harry. Don't fight the current."
Harry rolled his eyes at the mention of Eyal's little life philosophy - basically, 'live your life, just go where the river takes you,' - it was all very Lion King. Eyal had been in medical school when his sister had been killed in a terrorist attack on a peace summit in the Golan Heights; he'd joined Mossad, and claimed never to have regretted the choice, as 'that was where the river took him.'
"And if the current seems to be pulling us apart? Wouldn't that be fighting the current?"
"No. Her father is fighting the current, you and Ziva aren't. You were good together, like Yin and Yang, you fit together." Now he was just being facetious.
"The pop-psyche and New Age Zen routine are rather odd coming from a Mossad operative."
The tall Israeli ignored his jibe. "Ziva was happier, far more balanced and secure in herself since she hooked up with you in '04, and all the more capable for it." Eyal raised an eyebrow at Harry. "And you miss her, a blind and deaf man could tell that."
"That obvious, huh."
"Yeah. That obvious." Eyal finished his drink. "I've said all I'm going to say, and I have a plane to catch soon. Much like you did in Eilat. I just hope I don't end up in a firefight on the way back to my hotel or the airport. Shalom, Harry."
"Back at you."
Harry called DiNozzo back before he reached the Gard du Nord and gave him the information Eyal had relayed, and then called Ziva after he arrived back at his apartment three hours later.
She didn't pick up, either on her cell or her apartment.
Neither did DiNozzo. Harry didn't have Gibbs or McGee's numbers, or any other NCIS contacts. He was worried, but not that worried. Ziva could look after herself, as could the rest of her team. He couldn't do anything from the other side of the Atlantic, and he couldn't just hop across to D.C. without more information.
He didn't want to call the next morning, because London was five hours in front; it would be the middle of the night for Ziva. He spent all day helping to plan an upcoming mission in a secure room at Vauxhall Cross, MI6 headquarters; no cellphones were allowed inside the building, and the phones inside were certainly tapped. Harry wasn't betraying his country or anything, but private conversations were private, and paranoid counter-intel agents sometimes jumped to incorrect conclusions on minimal evidence, and such mistakes would require endless paperwork to sort out. That, he could do without.
So he waited, and called after he left the building at six thirty.
Ziva's apartment got him a disconnected message. Her cell was turned off, as was DiNozzo's. They were Federal Agents - both of them were supposed to be reachable at any time, which made this state of affairs very odd.
What the hell was going on?
When he got home, he searched online for a local D.C. news channel and started hunting. It didn't take long; a gas explosion at an apartment in Bethesda that morning was their top story.
Ziva's apartment. When an apartment belonging to a spy blows up 'accidentally,' it's unlikely to be an accident.
Clearly, there was something seriously wrong, but if he couldn't get through to Ziva, what could he do about it?
"Good friends are like stars … you don't always see them, but you know they are always there."
32°8'39.87" N 34°48'15.66" E
Mossad Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel
13 May 2009
Ziva was furious; in fact, she was well beyond that, but couldn't think of a better word.
In about twenty-four hours, everything about her reasonably stable life had just been yanked out from underneath her.
Michael was dead, killed … murdered by Tony.
Gibbs hadn't said anything, but she could see his hesitation; he had no reason to disbelieve Tony, his protégé in everything but his phlegmatic attitude.
Vance didn't really care either way, as far as she could tell. He'd sent her home once before, and seemed indifferent to the idea of her staying as liaison at NCIS. His only concern was limiting the diplomatic fallout.
Her father was practically hopping with glee. Now he had a way to extort favours from NCIS and Vance, and to drag her back home again. Ziva enjoyed NCIS; scratch that, she loved NCIS, she'd found friends who became as close as family - real family - at NCIS, or at least she thought she had. She didn't want to leave ... but right now … she didn't see a way to stay, either.
And what had Tony been thinking? Or not thinking, which was more likely. Why had he gone to her apartment; why had he shot Michael four times in the chest when one shot to wound him would have done; why didn't he just call her first; why, why, why, so many questions and no bloody answers!
He'd snooped around her desk, answered her calls, pried into her private life and generally stuck his nose in where it didn't belong … and all he'd had to do was to ask her earlier to introduce them and all this would have been avoided. She was certain Tony was jealous, she'd even accused him of that, but he wouldn't admit it.
And Harry … how was Harry involved? Tony's Internal Affairs report on the shooting said that he'd contacted Harry for information, and that Harry had returned with the answer that Michael was 'quite probably' a seriously dangerous sociopath who'd been playing Ziva all along, 'possibly on Mossad's orders.' That was what the report had said, so she presumed Harry had said that. Or at least, that was how Tony had interpreted it. Why had Harry said that? Had Tony even talked to him at all? Ziva was sure he was lying about what happened during the fight itself to protect his worthless ass - there was no way Tony could outfight Michael - so why not this?
But she didn't want to know, which was why her cell was still off. She didn't want to find out that the man who'd been her rock for the better part of a decade might have stabbed her in the back.
And now Tony was in interrogation - or rather, a conference room with a distinctly unfriendly atmosphere - with her father .She, Gibbs, and Vance were watching it remotely. Ziva didn't expect him to withstand the pressure of being under her father's gimlet eye for very long.
"You send all your rogue agents to D.C., make it our mess, huh?" Tony said derisively on the screen. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised about Rivkin, considering you did the same thing with Ari, and he was your son … speaking of family, what kind of a father would throw an out of control assassin at his own daughter? What kind of show are you running here, huh? Everyone just runs around, doing whatever the hell they want?
Her father lost his temper, grabbing DiNozzo by the neck, speaking in a low, deadly tone that sounded deceivingly similar to his usual one; ZIva had been on the receiving end of it a few times, and knew the difference. "They do what I say."
Tony cast a glance at the camera lens. Her father looked too, and grimaced at his mistake.
Ziva would have been impressed; getting the ice-cold Director of Mossad to admit to something he clearly didn't mean to was not easy. But now she had a different issue; Tony had been right, even if she still didn't trust him again - Michael had clearly been on orders - and if he'd been telling the truth, then Harry had been right, although how he had anything to do with this she still wasn't sure.
She didn't know what to think any more.
Had it all been a lie?
"Ziva! What the hell is going on?"
"I'm back in Israel." Harry paused for a moment, analysing that. Ziva loved Israel, why would she sound so depressed about that.
"Michael is dead."
He'd never heard that kind of sheer desolation in her voice before.
"Tony shot him. Mossad blew up my apartment to cover for Rivkin's mistakes."
She spoke right over him, her tone flat, emotionless, devoid of her usual energy and fire. "Tony said he was acting on intel from you. What did you tell him?"
Harry paused for a moment before speaking. His next words could destroy Ziva's trust in him forever. "My source said that Rivkin was your father's personal agent, the officer he used when he wanted to have a personal touch on a situation. It was also implied that Rivkin was the agent that would be chosen if your father wished to keep an eye on you. They also said Rivkin didn't normally socialise with other agents, that he lacked basic empathy and could only fake it, albeit rather well, when required, and that meant he was unlikely to have become involved with you by accident."
"Who was the source?"
"Are you sure you want to know?"
"Why do you ask? Of course I want to know!"
"Because you sound like you might shoot them."
"Maybe I will."
A sigh. "Fine. I promise I won't shoot them."
"Eyal." Ziva was silent. "You know he only had your best interests at heart."
"Yes. Yes, I know he does." Ziva sounded defeated again, denied an outlet for her anger. "Gibbs chose Tony."
"I wasn't going to be able to work with Tony … even though it seems like he was right … and that you were right. I asked him to chose, to transfer one of us out."
"And now I'm going to be back with Mossad. With my father." She didn't sound enthused with the idea.
"Ziva … I'm sorry … this was not the result I had in mind."
"What did you have in mind?"
"When I passed on what I found out from Eyal to Tony yesterday evening, he said he was going to talk to you that evening. From what you said last week sometime I gathered your working relationship with Tony had become strained recently, but not so much that you would point-blank refuse to hear what he had to say, and at least take it seriously enough to do your own checking."
"I still don't know. I asked my father if … if any of it was real, and he said he didn't know."
"Did you love him, Ziva?"
"Yes. Maybe. I don't know. I'm confused, Harry. It felt … it feels like the walls are closing in; collapsing in on me. How could everything go from so right to so wrong so fast?"
"I don't know, Ziva."
"And even if he didn't love me, Harry," a tired laugh; he could see her slight smile from thousands of miles away, "I know you do."
"You'll always have me, Ziva." Harry paused. "I'm sorry, that came out rather more suggestive than I intended."
Ziva laughed. Again, it sounded tired, but this time it seemed genuine; the beginning of healing, he hoped. "I know. Harry, I'm sorry I doubted you. You were ever my rock in this twisted world."
"Neshama, you know you don't need to apologise for anything between us. Ever." Harry changed tack. "This isn't the kind of conversation we should have over the phone, even secure ones. Do you want me to come out to Israel? I can hop on a flight from Heathrow …"
"No. I'm leaving very soon, on a mission."
"My father called it my aliyah." Aliyah was a Hebrew word, meaning 'Ascent,' referring to the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to Israel; it was a core idea of Israeli nationalism, a symbolic 'coming home.'
Harry thought Eli was laying it on a bit thick. "That's a bit of an exaggeration."
"He says he can't trust me - doesn't know who I answer to any more, after years at NCIS and my relationship with you. He wants me to finish off the mission Rivkin started, to prove myself again. I don't know exactly what it is yet; the briefing is … now, actually. I'll be out of contact for a while on this, I suspect. Whatever it is, I'm going to finish it. I can't go back to NCIS now."
"Okay. Good luck, Ziva. Can you give me a rough estimate? I'm heading back to the Sandpit next week myself, so I'm going to be out of contact too. If you can't reach me, leave a message like usual. We need to have a longer talk, Ziva."
"I know. I'd say about three weeks. If not I'll call you, Harry, or leave a message with Pearce."
"Stay safe, neshama."
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
The New Testament, John 15:13
NCIS Headquarters, Washington Navy Yard, Washington District of Columbia
20 June 2009
"Special Agent DiNozzo?"
'Yes, what!" Tony barked down the phone.
"This is Officer Yates, on front desk security. You have a visitor down here, sir. He wasn't pre-cleared, and doesn't have an appointment."
"Who is he?"
"Says he only wants to speak to you, sir, and he has the clearance to withhold his name from me. He's wearing a British uniform, kind of scary looking."
"... Harry? Send him up."
"You got it, sir."
Two minutes later, the uniformed escort - required for all visitors to this floor, due to the classified material often being worked with on investigations by the MCRT team and other senior agents - stepped out, followed by Harry Potter.
DiNozzo leaned to one side to see. Behind him, Tim did the same. Their view was slightly obstructed by the small queue of women waiting to be interviewed; the two of them had eventually forced Gibbs to consider filling Ziva's empty desk.
Neither of them had seen Potter much in the last few years; there was the Eschel incident, of course, and the week afterwards during which he'd hung around on leave. They'd had a team dinner out during that time, and Harry had been friendly but slightly aloof; not antisocial, but standoffish. DiNozzo didn't blame him; both he and Tim had been curious about the enigmatic and unusual British officer, and had probably pushed a little hard, been a bit nosy.
DiNozzo was self-aware enough to know his definition of 'nosy' was a little different to everyone else's, and had adjusted for that, too.
Potter had cropped up from time to time during the year after that incident too, mostly hopping over to see Ziva when he had a week off every few months. He'd come into the Navy Yard headquarters once to surprise her when he'd been in the USA on official business, too. In all those times, the then-Flight Lieutenant had worn civilian clothing, usually a leather jacket to hide his pistol holster and otherwise simple, practical clothing; boots, cargo trousers, that sort of thing.
This time he was in full service dress; Tony was, through working for NCIS, very familiar with the military's manic requirement for ridiculous numbers and types of uniforms.
Service Dress was usually called 'Number Two's', the level of formal uniforms after full 'Number Ones,' or Full Mess Dress (actually, for the RAF it fulfilled both functions, but Tony didn't know that particular detail). Most of the American military branches' uniforms were broadly similar, being a jacket, trousers and peaked cap or sometimes a beret with colour differences between services - olive green for the Army, blue for the Air Force, khaki-green for the USMC, dark blue-black for the Navy.
The RAF one, which Tony had not seen before, was blue-grey, and in a roughly similar style to the American ones. What distinguished this particular example was the rack of serious-looking medals across his left chest; Tony had known Potter was a dedicated solider, but the number of those medals were a clear indication he may have underestimated just how dedicated.
Potter made his way past the queue of hopeful applicants and nodded thanks to the security guy who had brought him up. "Agent DiNozzo. Agent McGee"
"Squadron Leader Potter." Tony replied in a similarly formal tone. Potter rolled his eyes.
"Fine. Tony, then. How's the arm?"
"Oh, it's fine. It'll get better." Tony followed the Brit's eyes to … Ziva's very empty desk.
"Ah. Not a social call. So you haven't heard from her either?"
Potter refocused on him. "No. And you haven't either." It wasn't a question; Tony's question had answered it.
"No. She'd be far more likely to contact you than us … specifically me, anyway. There's no specific reason she wouldn't have called Abby or McGeek here, other than taint by association."
"Yeah, you weren't exactly in her good books when we last spoke."
"When was that?"
Tony's eyebrows went up, and he exchanged a look with McGee. "That's the day after we left Israel."
"I know." Potter stressed the word. "I need to talk to Gibbs, and Director Vance. MI6 believes he and Eli David are friends."
"Yeah, something like that."
"Excuse me?" It was one of the interviewees, presumably wanting to get on with hers. Tony couldn't quite believe she'd interrupted what was rather obviously an important conversation; that didn't exactly scream 'I can be tactful.'
Harry looked at the woman with an expression that, much like Gibbs', was intimidating in its very blankness. He didn't glare, didn't frown, didn't do anything but look at her. Nonetheless, she shrunk back.
"We're interviewing to fill Ziva's position," McGee said quietly, by way of explanation.
"Yeah. I guessed." The military officer surveyed the line, looking each of them in the eyes for a second, before turning back. "None of 'em. You're wasting your time."
"In one look?"
"I'm good at judging people. Keeps me alive. And Ziva's ... irreplaceable." He shrugged. "Then again, I've been in love with her for several years. I'm not exactly what you'd call unbiased."
"In love?" Tony said, not quite hiding … something.
Harry focused on him. "Yes." He left it at that; it didn't need any exposition. Tony's feelings weren't his problem, nor did he want to alienate the agent by engaging with that question in public, which wouldn't be professional for either of them. "Gibbs and Vance?"
"Vance's office is there," McGee pointed upstairs, "I'll walk you up. Gibbs is … somewhere else."
"Probably," McGee confirmed with a grin.
"Alright. I'll go see Vance, and through him hopefully I'll find out what Eli David has to say for himself."
Leon Vance opened his office door to talk to his secretary only to come face to face with a very … serious looking individual. He recognised him immediately. Gibbs had mentioned him in passing, and Leon had, mostly out of curiosity, attempted to access the British officer's file.
He'd been distinctly … peeved when he found he was denied access - he'd skimmed and ignored the files in the DoD and CIA servers; they were clearly heavily edited and-or redacted; in some places he suspected they were outright lies or misdirection. The other file, one comprising of intel gathered directly by American sources was beyond his reach. The CIA was like a toddler with toys sometimes; not so good at sharing.
Considering his agency was Navy's primary security institution, and one of the US military's major overseas counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence services, there wasn't all that much he couldn't access, which made it all the more galling. NCIS might be small and not very well-known to the public, but it generally punched well above its weight. The fact he couldn't reach something concerning an allied foreign national - hardly likely to be a state secret - was highly irregular, and the CIA had yet to admit they even had a more detailed file on Potter, never mind let him see it.
Unfortunately, Leon knew his political capital was partly limited by the other bureaucracies' mistaken views of NCIS; his agency was viewed either as too small to bother with or as a bunch of maverick cowboy cops, neither of which were particularly accurate.
Although … that second part he blamed solely on one former Force Recon Gunnery Sergeant.
"Well," Vance checked the rank tabs … "Squadron Leader Potter, this is an unexpected surprise."
The scarred man turned from the secretary's desk. "Director Vance. Pleased to meet you. If you have a moment?"
"I do." Vance waved him in, waving a little gesture at his secretary to cancel whatever was next.
Once the door was closed, Vance dropped the pleasant façade. That was not to say he was unpleasant, just that he didn't bother keeping up a fake smile with a man he knew would see right through it.
"In a manner of speaking." Potter appreciated the businesslike switch, if that slight twitch of the lip was anything to go on. "MI6 says you have a friendly relationship with Eli David."
"That's … pretty generous, but okay."
"Anything, even a hint of an explanation about Ziva's silence?"
"No. If Eli is confiding about Ziva in anyone, it isn't me. I will say that he was very … agitated about your relationship with her when I saw him in Israel. That is to say, that even though you'd broken it off he was still agitated about it."
"Really?" Harry put on a thoughtful expression. "Ziva said he seemed to take it reasonably well."
"He put on a positive face for his daughter. Not entirely sure why."
"Well, I do have very good marksmanship scores." Vance nearly did a double take at the implied suggestion. Surely Potter hadn't threatened Eli David? Eli would have mentioned such a ballsy - and stupid - move, wouldn't he?
"Anyway," his visitor continued blithely, as if he hadn't obliquely threatened the life of one of the most ruthless spymasters in the world, "if Eli hasn't said anything about Ziva, then I'm going to have to get creative, because I'm not going to leave this alone until I have some answers."
"Anything you need in particular?"
"Director David's private phone number."
"So I can irritate the hell out of him until he gives me an answer."
"Eli is … not a man who reacts to such provocations."
"Really? Perhaps Agent DiNozzo has a particular x-factor of annoying-ness, then. At least, that's what my … low friends around Mossad's water coolers tell me. Rumour has it he nearly got strangled by Director David out of sheer frustration."
Vance had to work not to chuckle at the memory of the - on the surface at least - shallow, dull-witted and tactless DiNozzo getting under Eli's skin so thoroughly. It had been something of a high point in that otherwise unproductive trip to Israel. Vance had to admit, Tony DiNozzo was a very easy man to underestimate, even by those who knew him well. He seemed to be able to make people - even those he'd had long and close friendships with - completely forget he was a smart, highly capable investigator with over a decade of experience in all kinds of areas of police work.
"That particular rumour may have grown in the telling," Vance said carefully. He'd already decided to accede to this request; Eli's own vexing habit of leaving his allies in the dark deserved some minor retribution, and this would be both relatively harmless - probably - and Potter was sufficiently removed from NCIS it wouldn't get back to him. Plus it might give him something to pass on to Gibbs about Ziva, since his senior agent was becoming increasingly cantankerous on the subject as of late.
Actually … Gibbs was cantankerous about everything. The subject of Officer David just added multipliers to his behaviour.
"Nonetheless, a kernel of it is probably true." Harry countered with a smirk. "What say you?"
Leon leaned down, scribbled a number on a pad and handed over the sheet. Potter in turn dropped a card on his desk. "I'll call you if I get anything. I'd appreciate it if you could do the same."
"Certainly." Vance shook the man's hand, and watched him leave.
Which just left him with one burning question.
"Who the hell is that guy?"
"Lovers and warriors are not bound by the rules of fair play."
Wayne Gerard Trotman
51°29'37.99"N 0° 7'31.27"W
Thames House, London, UK
22 June 2009
A few days later, back in London, Harry was accosted by his handler, Sir Harold Pearce. More precisely, Pearce called him into his office at Thames House, the Security Services' headquarters building.
"Harry! What the hell did you do this time?"
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"This!" Pearce slapped a message printout on Harry's side of the desk. "This is from C."
C was the codename for the head of MI6 - no, it wasn't M. That's Hollywood for you, always getting the details wrong. Although there really was an actual MI6 'Quartermaster' who really did go by 'Q.'
Harry read the e-mail printout, then put it down carefully and put on a carefully neutral expression.
"Apparently, Director David likes a pepperoni topping. Bit odd, since pepperoni is proscribed under kashrut, but who am I to judge? Ziva likes it too, must be a family thing. What does this have to do with me?"
"Someone," Pearce growled, "ordered a pizza to be delivered to Director David's secure and secret compound residence on the outskirts of Tel Aviv last night. At three in the morning. And they, by which I mean you, gave Eli David's personal private line as the number for the deliveryman to call as he was arriving."
"I assure you ..."
"Mossad were, rather justifiably, concerned at this breach of security." Pearce went on. "Minor though it may seem, Director David assured his security chief he did not order a pizza. But the fact his private phone line was involved meant it was deliberate, since that number is highly controlled and not known to many people. So Mossad investigated. They went to the pizza company, and found out which call they received was that particular order, and traced the phone number, which, amazingly enough, was international, and came from a burn phone bought here in London. Interestingly, it was bought at Heathrow about forty-five minutes after you stepped off the plane coming back from D.C. And at the time of the call, it was relaying off of the cellphone tower nearest to MI6 headquarters."
"Seems MI6 has some in-house pranksters."
"No, it's where you went after landing at Heathrow; the building logs have you signed in then. So Mossad went to Shin Bet," Pearce continued the story relentlessly, his voice growing slightly more agitated as he went on. "They actively monitor, or at least record most international calls in and out of Israel. It so happened they had a recording of the pizza order. They matched it to a voice sample from another recorded call, Harry. One last year between Ziva David and you! And it wasn't Ziva who ordered the damn pizza!"
"No, it wasn't." Harry looked 'Old Harry' in the eye. "Because she's been out of contact far too long, and Mossad are being their normal, recalcitrant selves."
"You ruined my entire morning dealing with an irate head of MI6 just so you could send Eli David a message with a pizza? David blamed C! Said she must have given you the number, or let it slip. C can't decide whether to laugh at the prank because god knows David deserved to have his security humiliated in front of just about every Western spy agency, or have your head on a silver platter!"
"Well, I didn't get it from C, deliberately or unintentionally, so she can tell David that."
"Who did what?"
"Don't dodge the question, who gave you the damned number? David says less than a dozen people have that line!"
"Vance. Of course. His people are probably as interested in Miss David's location as you are." Pearce fixed him with a gimlet eye. "Director David is waiting to videoconference upstairs, secure conference room 5. Go talk to him, and no more pissing around."
"No more." Harry agreed. "Unless he tries to play me for a fool, in which case I'm going to get progressively nastier. You have met the Weasley twins, haven't you, Pearce?"
Pearce was the Head of Section D, which handled UK counter-terrorism. Because of Voldemort, he was also head of Section D's subdivision Section M, which unsurprisingly stood for 'Magic.' Because the wizards required secrecy, and MI5 was extremely secretive, Pearce had quietly spearheaded the non-magical government's push into magical society since Voldemort's death at the Army's (specifically Harry's) hands.
So yes, he had met the Weasley twins. He had even considered recruiting them, but realised he preferred his headquarters to still be standing at the end of the working day.
Faced with such a threat, Pearce reacted the only way he could.
"I need a drink."
Harry grinned. "It's eleven in the morning."
"You drive me to alcohol. Go answer the damn video call."
"Director David, this is a surprise." Harry put on his best innocent expression for the camera. "What can Her Majesty's Government do for you today?"
"Spare me the crap, Potter." David snapped. "What are you playing at?"
"No small talk? Very well. Where's Ziva?"
"None of your business."
"I'm making it my business."
"She's on a mission."
"Bullshit. She talked to me on May 14th, and she told me she'd call or leave a message within three weeks. It's been six. Spill it."
Eli sighed; Harry had a very bad feeling he knew what the Mossad director was going to say. "She's missing."
Harry controlled his fury. "She's been missing even to Mossad for most of a month and you didn't think there might be some people who might want to know this little nugget of information?"
"It is not your concern."
"As I said, I'm making it my concern. I won't repeat myself again." Harry stood easily, affecting outward calm, unruffled by the Mossad Director's glare. Eventually, Eli capitulated.
"We believe her to be dead."
At first, Harry couldn't believe he'd say something so … momentous … in such a normal voice. It seemed like Eli was just feeding him another load of crap. Maybe he'd point-blank ordered Ziva not to contact anyone outside Mossad, and this was his way of severing her ties to her past - just another decision made without emotion, in a career filled with such.
But Harry knew better. Eli's version of parental love was twisted, but it was there; it was just wholly focused through a lens of service to agency and country. He might've ordered her not to call NCIS, but cutting her off from Harry would probably have ended any hope he had at bringing Ziva back into the Mossad fold.
Which meant Eli was telling the truth. Or at least, what he believed to be the truth, which was not necessarily the same thing despite Mossad's customary efficiency.
"Dead." Harry repeated flatly. "How certain are you?"
A slight hesitation."As certain as we can be."
"I see. Are you going to tell me anything more?"
"Did you enjoy your pizza?"
A ghost of a smile. "I've changed my private number."
Harry raised his eyebrow. "Oh, that doesn't matter, Director. Believe me, it doesn't matter."
Despite those fighting words, no prank war on Eli David would be forthcoming. The pizza stunt had just been to get his attention and throw him off balance; any further attempts would have no effect, now that he was prepared and knew who was behind them. But he would be expecting them, and that would keep him looking in the wrong direction.
In the meantime, the teleconference had revealed some useful information. Mossad believed her to be dead, but weren't certain. The crap Eli had spouted about being 'almost certain' was an answer in and of itself; if another Mossad agent or asset had seen Ziva go down, or seen her body, then Eli wouldn't have equivocated.
That meant she was 'missing,' and that was a word Harry could work with. It was hard to motivate people to help in or to allocate military or intelligence resources to a search for a body just to confirm someone's death, especially if that person was a) not a friend of theirs, and b) a foreign agent to whom they bore no responsibility; however, searching for a hostage, regardless of nationality or affiliation usually generated more enthusiasm, because there was still hope.
Harry considered his options. He needed Ziva's last known position and intentions, or at least that of her team. Mossad would have a file on the operation somewhere; he'd try to get that first. Second option would be British and NCIS assets, but he didn't know where to start looking yet.
Eyal would once again be his best shot for the Mossad info. Once he knew where Ziva had been going, he could start using local British contacts to gather more.
Eyal came through for him again a couple of days later.
"I can't get you the file," Eyal told him; this time they were at a restaurant in Zurich. "But I have seen it in passing."
"Because you're also Kidon," Harry finished for him. Eyal gave him an irritated look.
"What?" Harry shrugged. "Mossad aren't the only people in this game, you know. The rest of us have some tricks too. You're far too skilled to be some run-of-the-mill katsa."
"Hmm. Well, since that cat's out of the box - " Harry winced; did all Israelis mangle English idioms? "- yes, I'm Kidon. Ziva was deployed to Africa, after a target affiliated with al-Shabab and the Taliban. I don't have the name because I'm not briefed on the op, but it was an assassination mission. I heard the man in question killed a Mossad officer last year, and the Director wanted to send a message."
"Not sure. Sudan, Eritrea, maybe Somalia? One of them. It was a training camp, they move around all the time."
"Yes. Their infiltration into the region was to be aboard freighter called the Damocles, out of Aqaba."
"Familiar ground." Harry muttered, referring to their visit to Eilat; Aqaba was about five miles away over the border from the Israeli city, on the Jordanian side of the bay.
"Indeed. There's something else. Officer Ben-Girion was the team leader; he returned to Israel, with one other officer, sometime about the end of the first week of June. Both were quite badly wounded."
"Can you ask him?"
"No." Eyal shook his head. "Malachi's a good friend, but he's like a more stable, if somewhat less capable version of Rivkin; the Director's man, through and through. Any prying by me will get reported."
"Okay. Damocles, team leader and one other man returned wounded. What about the rest of the team?"
"Don't know. Sorry."
"No worries. Thanks, Eyal. You've put a lot on the line for me. I owe you one. Or several."
"Yes, you do. Shalom my friend." Eyal stood. "Call me when you find out something about Ziva."
"Got something for you, youngster."
A sigh. "Hello to you as well, O wise elder."
Sir Harry 'Old Harry' Pearce grinned; he'd known 'young Harry' since he was fifteen, when MI5 had debriefed the teenager after he was kicked out of the magical world, and he'd been his handler-slash-surrogate father ever since. "Insolent whippersnapper. Anyway, the Jordanian-flagged 10,000 ton freighter Damocles is listed as missing, as of May 28th. Hasn't reported in since then, during a storm."
"Anything we have in the area to run a search?"
"Yes, Royal Navy has several ships in the region on anti-piracy duties; there's a big multinational task force off Somalia. The Admiralty says they can spare the sonar mapping ship HMS Echo to search for a wreck, and the Nimrod maritime surveillance squadron out of Dubai for a surface search; that's part of their duties anyway. If Echo finds it, they'll have to call in a salvage ship; that'll take a while. If it's on the surface, HMS St Albans will be dispatched to board and secure it."
"Thank you, Harry."
"No problem, kid. Where are you headed next?"
"NCIS. I need to talk to Vance again. I suspect he knows more than he's telling."
"Alright. I needn't remind you that your semi-leave of absence for this personal mission isn't endless."
"I remember. Until the end of July." Harry paused. "Wait a minute, did you say, 'May 28?"
"Eli David told me Ziva had been missing from the 30."
"Interesting …" Pearce rocked back in his chair, analysing that. "That would imply she and the other officers, the wounded ones your friend mentioned survived to be rescued, or reach the shore."
"So where is she? Why didn't she go home with the rest of them? And when and how did they get wounded?"
"Maybe they attempted to accomplish their mission, whatever that was."
"Which is why I'm going to NCIS. I'm pretty certain they know, or have a good idea what that mission might have been."
"Understood. I'll call you if I find anything else."
"Intelligence is essentially a banal trade of sifting through huge amounts of random information in a search for a single enlightening gem or illuminating link."
NCIS Headquarters, Washington Navy Yard, Washington District of Columbia
25 June 2009
This time, Harry had an appointment. His escort took him up in the elevator, bypassing the squadroom to the balcony above it, and he was shown into the conference room. Inside he found both Vance, Gibbs, DiNozzo and McGee waiting for him.
"So, what can we do for you, Squadron Leader Potter?"
"Oh, no Director, I'm not that easy. You first."
"Fine. We've got Ziva getting on a cargo ship called the Damocles, bound for East Africa."
"Reported lost at sea in a storm, May 28th," supplied Gibbs.
"Same. The Royal Navy's looking for it, but I don't think that's the place to look."
Vance's eyebrow went up at that statement, and the seniority and authority it implied. Harry didn't see any reason to disabuse him of that notion, even though it was Pearce who had the seniority to order it.
"Ziva and at least two other members of the team including the team leader, Malachi Ben-Girion survived." Harry continued. "Ben-Girion and one other were wounded, and are known to be recovering from those injuries in Israel."
"But the Damocles never made land." Vance objected.
"No, but the Mossad team did, probably including Ziva given that Eli David implied to me that Mossad 'lost contact' with her was on the 30th. As to where, MI6 is making discreet inquiries at East African ports from Zanzibar northwards and Aqaba southwards. Unfortunately our assets are pretty thin in the region and focused on other things, so that'll take some time and probably not be very fruitful."
"You have a better idea?"
"Yes. You." Vance's eyes narrowed. "I think Eli David is a lot more friendly with you than anyone else knows for certain. Amsterdam, wasn't it?"
"You're very good at this." Vance observed, not really admitting anything. Gibbs was observing the byplay with his customary reticence, watching them both over one of his ever-present takeaway coffee cups.
"Thank you. Ziva told me that her assignment would be to finish Rivkin's mission. I don't know exactly what that is, but you are the most likely person outside of Mossad to know."
"Rivkin's mission was to locate a terrorist training camp in North Africa."
"A camp? One camp? Come on, Mossad wouldn't go to all this trouble for one camp amongst the dozens if not hundreds that exist in the region. What makes this one special?"
"Not the camp, but the man who ran it." Both Gibbs and Vance were watching him carefully, now. What were they looking for? The two junior agents were looking at their bosses. Apparently they hadn't known this part. "An al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban-affiliated terrorist, now a senior member of al-Shabab."
Harry's eyes widened, and he quickly spun away from the group, towards the window.
Overhead, thunder boomed. Just once, but loud, close and unmistakeable.
As one, all four NCIS agents looked out the window … at a near cloudless, typical June day in D.C., all blue skies and sunshine. All four were capable detectives, trained in logical, deductive reasoning, and all four of them knew of the link between Ulman and Potter through the Sahar incident.
All four immediately considered the possibility that the unpleasant news they had just imparted might be linked with the sudden thunderclap on an otherwise perfect day.
Two - DiNozzo and McGee - immediately dismissed the possibility as being fanciful and unrealistic.
Gibbs and Vance's eyes narrowed. Both had higher clearances than their juniors, and more experience and personal contacts in the special forces, including people who had known Potter in the field. They had both, independently, discovered enough about the man to know that the overtly-helpful but actually very bland and uninformative files provided by the British were hiding something very, very … unusual.
Both senior agents exchanged a look, and mutually decided that the possibility was outlandish beyond belief, but was still another piece of evidence to file away on the mystery of Harry Potter.
Over by the window, Harry was struggling to contain his emotions.
His ability to compartmentalise was one of his fundamental strengths as a soldier. Too many of his fellow veterans became desensitised to the violence, falling victim to PTSD and battle fatigue, returning home unable to distinguish between a car backfiring and a gunshot. Harry's mental robustness was what enabled him to pull tour after tour in high-risk war zones without more than a few weeks or months time off between them.
Only one thing could break through that shield.
Saleem Ulman, once a mid-level Taliban commander in Herat Province was the man who had taken her from him, who had tortured, raped and eventually shot his best friend, lover and fiancé in all but name in order to break him.
He hadn't. He'd known Ulman would have killed both of them as soon as he had the information he wanted. He'd known Hetty would have been furious with him if he had broken, and thus betrayed and endangered potentially dozens more British soldiers on the base Saleem wanted intel on.
In the years since, Harry had consciously avoided seeking intel on Ulman, fearing a potential descent into a self-destructive spiral of revenge and hatred.
Well, just revenge. Given his history, hatred of Ulman was a given. Forgive and forget? Piss off. More like Fire and forget.
And now, that one name produced an instant burst of grief, loss, hurt and intense hatred that shredded Harry's years of mental discipline.
Normal people might have screamed, or shouted, or broken something.
In Harry's case, it produced a momentary loss of control - just one or two seconds - over his powers. His eyes shifted colour, from the usual emerald green appear into unrelieved jet black, and a two-mile radius hemisphere of atmosphere became immediately electrically charged artificially; negative on the ground, positive at higher altitudes.
Across the city, a lightning conductor atop the Washington Memorial - tallest building in the District of Columbia - became the sudden target of one hundred and twenty thousand volts of 'naturally occurring' electricity rushing down the path of least resistance offered by the conductor.
Harry detected the breach and clamped down, preventing the impromptu cloudless lightning storm from continuing. He fought down his rage and grief, and took a deep, steadying breath.
Harry didn't reply immediately, forcing himself to think clearly. Ziva had been sent after Ulman. She was missing, presumed dead.
Harry had been directly responsible for ruining Saleem's career as a Taliban commander. Harry's capture, and the information he could have provided if broken would have compromised Kandahar AFB's perimeter, and potentially allowed a successful attack on the supposedly secure interior where Coalition prisoners, munitions and documents could have been captured to further the Taliban's cause, not to mention the psychological value of destroying or crippling a major regional NATO base, which would have had global repercussions.
His failure to break, and his subsequent escape, had turned what Ulman had thought would be a triumph into an unmitigated disaster. Even though Harry's priority during his escape had been getting Hetty to a hospital he had taken note of everything he saw; every camouflaged AA-gun nest and fighting trench, and particularly the numerous caves containing anything and everything, from ammunition dumps and command centres to troop quarters.
After his escape, vengeful British Harriers, Tornadoes and Apaches had used this information to inflict forty percent casualties on Taliban forces in the area over the next thirty-six hours. Ulman was no longer some anonymous mid-level commander but had become a high-priority target for the now severely pissed-off UK forces in Afghanistan.
The USA is not the only military that subscribes to the code of 'leave no man behind.'
Saleem had shot up the watch lists, and was forced to go on the run. He was evacuated by al-Qaeda affiliated organisations through Pakistan to Oman in '04, and then Yemen in '05 and later Eritrea in '06, each time with MI6 or SAS grab teams nipping at his heels. Sightings had ceased for the last few years, and as a result Ulman had slipped down the priority list. There were more pressing threats than a man who had vanished, hopefully into obscurity.
Nonetheless, obscure or not … if Ulman found out about Ziva's connection to Harry, he would certainly use her to take out his frustration at Harry foiling his grand plan; the mistreatment Hetty had suffered at his hands was clear proof of that.
Ulman was intelligent (Yale educated, actually) as well as rational (at least as much as any jihadist ever would be), and very ambitious. A Mossad agent could be an extremely valuable source of intel if broken, and Ulman understood information was power. Harry had personal experience of that.
"What was the Israeli's interest in Ulman?" Harry asked, to draw attention away from his internal struggle. He already knew the answer.
"Revenge." Gibbs said shortly.
"He killed a Mossad officer." Vance added.
"Wasn't the only person he killed." Harry muttered. He locked down his powers, returned his eyes to their usual colour, opened them and turned around.
"Where was the training camp?"
"Mataban. Middle of Somalia, near the Ethiopian border."
"I'll need precise GPS coordinates."
"It'll have been moved."
"I know. That isn't the point."
Vance opened a file on the table, checked it, and scribbled something down.
"Thanks," Harry took it. "Can I borrow MTAC?"
"What's your clearance?" Vance asked.
"British or American?"
"You have an American clearance?" McGee asked, confused.
"I'm a dual UK-US citizen. I work a lot of missions for the alphabet soup agencies, and cooperate with various of your special forces units in the field all the time." Seeing their looks, Harry shrugged. "With my record, my integrity is considered above question on both sides of the Pond, so eventually the Pentagon just gave me an American security clearance to streamline the whole situation. Saves them from having to file the paperwork to get me cleared on every little individual thing I do for them every week when in theatre. It's Top Secret SCI Plus, in case you were wondering."
"That's higher than me!" DiNozzo complained quietly to McGee, who just gave him a look. Duh.
"Yes, you can use MTAC," Vance said, ignoring Tony.
Five minutes later, Gibbs and Tony followed him into the secured room. MTAC, or the Multiple Threat Alert Centre, was a data collation centre, which synthesised information gathered by NCIS's highly varied collection of assets into a coherent whole.
NCIS's rather unique role, ranging from law enforcement like Gibbs' team to overseas intelligence and counter-intelligence operations more akin to those of the CIA meant they had access to a global and multi-faceted network of sources. All of it was fed into MTAC in order to produce the 'big picture' analysis, linking terrorism, counter-intelligence, intelligence, cyber, criminal, and security information to produce summaries and updates not only for distribution to NCIS but also to the Navy and Marine Corps and other agencies.
"I want a video-conference with this number." Harry instructed one of the MTAC technicians.
It took a few minutes for the recipient to answer. Eventually the hold screen, a picture of the NCIS badge was replaced by a round faced man with thinning, receding blonde hair, sitting behind a desk.
"Youngster, what've you got?"
"GPS on the camp Ziva was sent after. Five point one nine nine seven degrees north, forty-five point five two five six degrees east. Harry …" 'Young' Harry paused, the words he was about to say producing a fresh, but now controlled surge of mixed emotions, "Mossad sent her after Saleem Ulman."
"Give me a few minutes to get some satellite pictures. I'll send them to you at NCIS?"
"Alright." Pearce's eyes flickered to the NCIS agents. "Call me later."
"Got it." The MI5 department head hung up.
"How long to get those images downloaded?"
"Half an hour for full resolution once they arrive, sir," the tech replied.
"I need a coffee." Harry turned to Gibbs. "I'll bet you do too."
"Black? You, Tony?"
"Milk, cream and sugar."
Potter grinned. "Sweet tooth?"
"Yeah, it's my weakness."
"Alright. I'll be back in twenty."
Once the door swung shut behind him, DiNozzo rounded on Gibbs.
"Why is Saleem Ulman important?"
"He was the Taliban commander Colonel Sahar was leaking intel too." Gibbs replied, still facing forward.
"I know Potter was involved." DiNozzo said slowly. "You know anything other that?"
"I'm not sure exactly what happened. Vance does; he headed the stateside part of the investigation back in 2003. Potter got captured by Saleem, and was a prisoner for several days. He and a fellow prisoner escaped - another British officer, a woman - but I don't think she survived."
"She died in the hospital." Vance said from behind them. DiNozzo jumped - how on Earth the Director managed to enter the room silently through the heavy pressurised doors, he had no idea. Gibbs didn't even twitch; obviously, he'd been aware of Vance's entry. "Her name was Henrietta Kirkland. She was Potter's girlfriend, although from what I heard at the time from some British colleagues of mine, girlfriend would be understating the depth of their relationship. He kept them both alive through thirty-six hours of escape and evasion through some of the most inhospitable mountains in the world, only for her to die in the Operating Room shortly after landing."
"And now …"
"And now Ziva, also Potter's girlfriend, albeit a former one with which he still had a friendly relationship, has most likely been killed by the same man. What do you think is going to happen, DiNozzo?"
Tony recalled his comment to Abby the first time he'd heard of Harry Potter, worrying about the bodycount he was going to leave behind. "This is not going to end well for Saleem."
Forty-five minutes later the images were ready, one selected from each day for period beginning June 1st. They were all centred on a collection of buildings a kilometre west of Mataban, Somalia; the al-Shabab training camp.
Harry went through the images on an MTAC terminal, one by one, zooming in when he saw something of interest. All showed exactly the same image from the same angle, although not always at the same time, from daily passes over the region. Harry noted sentry and defensive positions with interlocking fields of fire, a central motor pool, several shooting and grenade ranges, and a collection of possible barracks and classroom buildings and tents - everything the modern jihadist needed to be turned from an untrained zealot into a martyr of Allah.
The emphasis being on the word martyr, especially if men like Harry had anything to do with it.
Then on June 8th, the image changed. A collection of three still-burning vehicles - a pickup technical and two trucks - littered the road just about fifty metres outside the main entrance checkpoint, the dirt road scorched for metres around them. The rest of the camp was empty, except for ten graves out by the ranges - the disturbed earth was clearly visible on the high-resolution image. All the tents had been removed, and the camp was empty. It had been abandoned within the previous day.
"Throw this up on the big screen."
The NCIS agents had been waiting in MTAC for him to finish, and they all perked up as the image was displayed.
"Why this one?" McGee asked.
Harry pointed at the burned out trucks. "Distraction at the main entrance. Probably planted remote detonated C4 on the road the night before. When the vehicles go up, all the guards look that way, allowing the attackers to achieve maximum shock and surprise -"
"- by attacking from the rear." Gibbs finished. "A good plan for a team with limited numbers. A speedy assault straight for the main building while the enemy is looking the other way, gun down the target and extract to vehicles hidden in the desert nearby."
"So they made it off the Damocles in good enough shape to finish the mission." Vance observed.
"I don't think they did finish it." Harry said. "For two reasons. One, there would have been more graves. Kidon was here to make a statement; don't fuck with us. Half a dozen bodies is not, in the grand scheme of things, enough to send that message. Second, al-Shabab wouldn't have packed up and moved camp so quickly if Mossad had been successful. It takes time to take down this kind of infrastructure - the tents, the ranges, digging the graves, that kind of thing. If Mossad had killed Ulman, they wouldn't have moved out so quickly, because the camp's leadership would have been in chaos."
"And Saleem's lieutenants wouldn't have been able to achieve the same efficiency he could?" DiNozzo said skeptically.
"Saleem's lieutenants wouldn't even have been there. This is a terrorist organisation; it's a very Darwinian career choice. A drone strike - or, for that matter, a Mossad team - might take them out at any time; the leadership would have been distributed for safety, running other camps and cells like the one in L.A. There might have been some veteran instructors, but they would be more like experienced non-coms than leaders."
"So if Saleem had been taken out, they'd be looking for orders from their command." McGee said speculatively
"And contacting the al-Shabab hierarchy for orders would have taken time." Harry finished. "Especially since Mossad would have gone for the radios too, to prevent al-Shabab from mobilising to pursue them. It would have been too much time to be already packed up and gone by the time the satellite came round again. The gap between passes was about sixteen hours between this image and the one before it, and I doubt Mossad bothered to time their attack exactly as the satellite passed out of range, so we're looking at a smaller window than that."
"So Mossad were probably unsuccessful, based on what we see here. Which, admittedly, is very thin, but it's what we've got." Harry turned to Vance. "Think you can get Eli David to admit to the failure? And what happened to Ziva? And, well, just about anything else useful he might tell you?"
"You don't ask for much, do you?" Vance said dryly.
"Nothing worth doing is easy." Harry replied glibly.
"Fine. I'll do my best. Where are you going to be?"
"I'm going to CENTCOM's regional headquarters in Bahrain. I know some people in the regional intel shop there who might be able to help, and I want to be ready to move if something comes up."
"It's a question of mind over matter. I don't mind, and you don't fucking matter."
Royal Marines training sergeants
Two miles West-north-west of the MV Damocles, Indian Ocean
28 June 2009
Harry was now running on very little sleep. Fortunately, he was used to that.
The RN found the Damocles, eventually. The search for the ship had assumed it went down in a vicious tropical storm off Somalia on May 28, and had focused on looking for wreckage on the surface; the sort of random flotsam and jetsam that comes off a sinking ship.
They found nothing … because it hadn't sunk.
Crew or no crew, no one could know before the boarding party searched it, but its engines had still been running at a slow but steady six knots, and it had headed out to sea. Caught by the Mid-Equatorial current running Eastwards out into the centre of the Indian Ocean it was swept further and further from the shipping lanes.
Only warships mounted truly high-resolution radars; merchant vessels relied more on transponder beacons and radar blip enhancers, as well as radio and visual watch-standers to check for other ships in the area. As such, with the Damocles in an area not often under observation it had taken several days to find it; the powerful look-down radars of the Nimrod search squadron had trawled across thousands of square miles of ocean surface in the process.
The crew had given him some odd looks when he'd parachuted onto the flight deck of 'The Saint,' as the St. Albans was known in the Navy. They'd been diverted their merchant protection duties without notice and ordered to undertake a full-speed sprint across the Indian Ocean towards a spot some 350 nautical miles north-north-east of the Seychelles, some 600 nautical miles from their starting point just south of the Horn of Africa.
Even at thirty knots it would take nearly twenty hours to catch up to the Damocles. But it would only be thirteen to get into range for its two helicopters to deliver a heavily-armed cargo of eight Royal Marines and one SAS officer.
"Thirty seconds!" The crew chief, on the intercom.
The two helos skimmed at very low level across the surface, running at night with lights out on final approach to the target's stern. The Lynx was the fastest helicopter in the world, capable of two hundred miles per hour as well as some incredible acrobatics including barrel rolls at low altitude; the Ferrari of military helicopters. It was also one of the most versatile battlefield rotor-craft as well, being designed for light transport and reconnaissance duties as well as anti-armour, anti-submarine and anti-ship duties; these demanding specifications meant the end product was one of the most manoeuvrable as well.
The RN pilot of the Lynx also happened to be the squadron commander of the unit it was drawn from, with an enormous amount of experience from combat tours in Iraq. Therefore Harry was surprised, but not excessively worried when the helo was abruptly slammed over into a hard 90 degree left spin just as it passed the stern of the Damocles, so the nose was pointed straight at the unyielding steel of the hull. The pilot also tilted the bird over to the left at a large angle and slightly back, using the normally downwards-directed thrust to slow his forward momentum while increasing power to gain altitude. Through the headsets, the chief counted down.
Watching from the jump seat between the two pilots, Harry watched with a mixture of professional respect and envy - he was a good pilot on jets or helicopters, but this kind of flying was simply art, born of a decade or two of constant practice.
The battered, partially rusting hull of the tramp freighter slid past at high speed barely a few metres away outside the cockpit windows.
Then the Lynx was climbing past the railing and nosing forward to hover over the forward cargo hatch.
This in itself was a complex manoeuvre, as hovering a helicopter is complicated at the best of times.
Hovering while holding station over a moving target for thirty seconds or more to allow infantry to disembark doesn't make it any easier, especially when there are cranes, the foremast and other obstructions on the deck that can swat the fragile helicopter like an irritating fly if the pilot loses concentration for even a microsecond.
The Marines sitting in the doors threw the ropes out and grabbed on. One by one the Marines slid down, taking up defensive positions as they hit the deck.
"Nice flying, Commander." Harry slapped the pilot's shoulder as he unstrapped from the jump seat.
"Thanks." The pilot acknowledged, but didn't take his eyes from the windshield. "We'll be back on station in three hours. One-Two will stick with you for thirty minutes for fire support before they're at bingo fuel. Good luck."
Harry slid down to the deck and stepped away, unclipping his Kriss Vector SMG's sling and pulling out the extendable stock. Behind him the thick ropes collapsed to the deck as One-One ditched the extra weight before pulling away. As the downwash and the high-frequency thudding rotor chop of the Lynx receded, Harry crouched by the Marine Officer Commanding (OC) - identifiable by a slightly luminous name tag reading 'O'Sullivan' on the back of his body armour's collar - and slapped his shoulder.
"Last man in."
"Alright." The officer grinned, white teeth flashing oddly bright against the cam paint darkening his face. Harry had ceded tactical command to Lieutenant O'Sullivan for this op, as the RM lieutenant was the St. Albans' boarding officer and knew what he was doing. "This is much more fun than I was expecting on this tour."
O'Sullivan reached for his Personal Role Radio, or PRR, the British military's section-level tactical radio system. "Proceed as planned, with no opposition yet apparent. Check your corners. Move out."
Harry reached up and turned on his helmet camera, as did the Marines; standard equipment for deployed forces these days, to be reviewed later for various reasons - intel, training, going over mistakes.
The Damocles' deck was a mess - it was not a container ship, with lots of neat stacks of shipping crates, but a tramp freighter, whose crew lived practically hand-to-mouth between each port, on the ragged edge of being completely unprofitable.
The nine British soldiers spread out across the deck and advanced towards the stern, where the bridge superstructure towered above the deck. The second Lynx hovered off to the side, playing a high power spotlight across the scattered crates and cargo netting, then shifted it up to the bridge. The Royal Marines - the St Alban's detachment included - had been among the first issued with the new Multi-Terrain Pattern uniforms, a lighter, tan-based pattern than the old green, woodland-optimised Disruptive Pattern Material fabric, and the boarding party showed up slightly in the darkness as pale, indistinct silhouettes flitting from cover to cover.
On the bad side, they were slightly more visible at night than before. On the plus side, Harry's customised Multicam gear - Multicam being the camouflage design that MTP was itself based upon - no longer stood out, so he wouldn't be the first to get shot. Probably. Then again, with his luck ...
"Boarding party, Bandit One-Two. No movement on the deck or the bridge. All clear," the pilot reported.
"Roger that." O'Sullivan replied, taking cover beside Harry behind a crate as the section halted for a 'soak period' - watching for the enemy, getting a feel for the area before moving on. "What do you think?"
"I think we've landed on the Mary Celeste," Harry muttered back. "Why aren't the deck or nav lights on?"
"Good question. One of the lifeboats is missing." The Marine pointed out.
"That was expected."
"Sir, if I may ask … what the fuck is going on?" Harry had given the Marines a basic brief - crew list, blueprints, official cargo manifest, what MI-6 thinks is really on it, which really was a black-market weapons shipment for al-Shabab - but O'Sullivan wasn't stupid. There was no reason for Harry to come personally; the Marines could have cleared the whole thing without his presence.
Now that they were here … why the hell not?
"Officially or personally?"
"Well, both, sir, so long as you don't have to kill me afterwards."
"Personally, I'm looking for a friend, a Mossad operative. She was on this ship with her team, but the rest of her team is back in Israel already and Mossad aren't giving me shit about where she is. Or was. She may be KIA, or worse. I don't have many friends, Lieutenant. The ones I do have, I never give up on unless I have no other choice. I'm retracing her steps, and this ship was one of them."
"Leave no man behind, sir. Or woman. I get it. And the official version?"
"Officially, you are here to confirm, secure and seize an illegal weapons shipment bound for a terrorist cell. And I was never here."
"Of course, sir." The lieutenant's grin flashed white in the darkness again. "First time in my career I've had the chance to do any of the cloak and dagger stuff."
"A bit of redacted text on your service record is always good for promotion," Harry confirmed with an answering grin. "Makes you look mysterious and hardcore in front of the promotion board."
"Ha!" O'Sullivan laughed. "I hope so."
Over the PRR net, one of the Marines piped up. "Skipper, we're in international waters, aren't we? As in, not our jurisdiction, so isn't this, you know, piracy?"
"If the ship still has a crew, then yes, it could be argued that way." Harry answered before O'Sullivan could. "On the other hand, we have a warrant from the Jordanians, whose flag this ship flies. When the International Piracy Center asked for one, on evidence of illegal arms trafficking, the Jordanians were happy to oblige. As for the crew, don't kill anyone unless they are a clear danger to us; I want to know what happened to this ship. If there's anyone still alive, take them that way, please."
"Arrgh me hearties!" was the reply. "There be treasure aboard the Damocles!"
O'Sullivan chuckled, shaking his head. "You've done it now sir. Corporal Duncan?"
"Stop the smartass routine or I'll make you walk the plank."
"Aye aye, skipper."
"Sorry, my bad. Shouldn't give the lads ideas," Harry said, grinning; he'd forgotten how amusing the banter from an average British squaddie - or in this case, Marine - could be. "Let's get on with it."
The section split up. O'Sullivan led a fire team down to the engine room, and Harry led the other up the wing of the superstructure to the bridge wing, where they stacked up beside the heavy watertight door. One pulled a shotgun from a sling over his shoulder.
"I like to keep this for close encounters."
"Too right mate," his partner muttered back, smirking.
"Open and clear." The lance corporal spun the locking wheel and hauled the heavy door open. Harry was first in, followed by the other four.
"Check those corners!"
No enemy greeted them. Just the stench of decomposition. One of the Marines gagged, but didn't throw up.
The bridge was a mess. The helmsman was lying face down beside his station, three holes in his back, and an undrawn sidearm was jammed into the back of his belt. The door to the radio room was open, another body sprawled in the hatch, a bloodstain on the wall marking where he'd slid down it and another pistol beside him. The radio had been disabled with a burst of gunfire, as had the radar screen, GPS system and helm station.
No one bothered to check for pulses.
The rest of the ship was in a similar state of borderline disrepair to the hull. In pairs, with tac-lights sweeping ahead of their L22A1 rifles - the carbine variant of the SA80 family of British weapons - the Marines cleared it compartment by compartment, deck by deck.
O'Sullivan checked in from the engine room - two more long-dead casualties down there - before he shut the diesels off manually, killing the speed. The St. Albans would be able to catch up to them a bit faster now. The lights throughout the ship were out, because a burst of gunfire had taken out the main junction box outside the engineering compartment, and a few of the secondary ones too. Methodically clearing the ship would take considerable time with only eight men - they would probably only just be done by the time the helicopters got back. Harry had already waved off Bandit One-Two to go refuel early; they didn't need fire support for searching inside.
They found more bodies, all with weapons, scattered throughout the corridors, as well as separate bloodstains on handrails and watertight hatch handles which indicated someone or someones that were probably wounded had been moving around the ship.
The sickbay was below the superstructure on one of the lower decks, so it took them a while to reach it. Harry edged the hatch open … to find a light on inside. By the weak yellow glow it was an emergency lamp of some sort, and low on juice at that.
The hatch had been well oiled - despite the outwardly tetanus-infested look the Damocles projected, that was more because of its age; most of it was still in serviceable condition. It might not look pretty, but it worked and maintenance had been done properly. Harry paused in swinging the hatch open and looked at his partner, Marine Robinson. A quick flurry of hand signals followed: Harry pointed at his eyes with two fingers, then at the door - look here - then made a fist, and made a short jab towards the hatch - assault and clear. Robinson nodded, and hefted his weapon nervously, safety off, but with his finger lying along the guard. Good drills.
Harry took a breath, then rammed the hatch with his shoulder, holding the Vector one handed.
Inside, a man had been asleep on one of the sickbay bunks, a clearly self-administered bandage wrapped around his left shoulder. He wasn't sleeping too deeply though, as he rolled off the bunk and tried to bring up a two-tone silver-black pistol.
Too late. The sickbay was a small compartment, and he was only a quick step or two away. Harry was inside the man's guard and knocking his pistol away with one hand before he could bring it to bear; the SMG firmly planted into the wounded man's stomach, shoving him against the wall, and controlling his left wrist with one hand.
"Don't fucking move!" The man froze. He was white, caucasian, short brown hair, heavily built - clearly unlike any other member of the crew, who had all been African or Middle Eastern.
Harry backed off, out of range just in case the guy tried a desperate lunge, and brought his weapon up again, shining the bright light into his eyes to disorient him. Behind him, Robinson was covering the door and passageway, but casting quick glances at the situation behind him.
The wounded man groaned, and moved his hand to his wounded shoulder. "Daniel Shalev."
Shalev's eyes widened. "No." But he clearly knew why Harry might ask about them.
"Who are you?"
"British Special Forces." Harry gravelled, doing a credible Batman impersonation. "Mossad. Talk."
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because right now there's just you, me, and several thousand miles of ocean between us and the nearest witnesses who aren't under my command. There isn't anything around to keep me in check, tough guy. Do you like your kneecaps?" Harry flicked the torch down for emphasis.
Shalev's eyes widened again. "They hired me to get them onto the Damocles, passage to Somalia. I know … knew the captain."
"Fine." Harry switched on the radio. "Lieutenant?"
"We've got a live one, but wounded. I need two extra men, preferably one of them a medic, for prisoner detail in the sickbay, aft end of deck five. Double time."
"Understood. Jesse, Mack, that one is yours."
"Roger that, skipper, on our way."
"You." Harry said to Shalev. "Turn around."
He did so. Harry pulled plasti-cuffs from his armour and secured him … when he noticed a chain around the man's neck. The kind of chain normally only seen on dog tags.
Harry gripped it and pulled them out. "Well, well. You should have ditched these, Staff Sergeant Daniel Cryer, USMC. You're a long way from the Corps, Staff Sergeant."
Cryer said nothing to that. Is he Marine intel? Unlikely. He wouldn't be stupid enough to wear the tags, that's against basic SOP. Ex-Marine freelancer most likely. Agencies like Mossad like to use such people as middlemen.
"You the only person aboard?"
"Who else is left?"
"The first mate." Cryer twisted his wrists, testing the cuffs. Harry pressed the muzzle into his back a little harder.
"The Mossad team started shooting everything up. There had been a lot of tension the last few days before it all went to hell."
Harry pulled up Ziva's photo on his phone. "What about her?"
Cryer eyed the picture, then looked back at Harry. "What about her? She was the Mossad's second in command. We had a standoff during the firefight, and her boss put one in my shoulder."
Cryer raised an eyebrow. "I knew him as Malachi, no last name, so yeah, possibly."
"I ran, she let me go. We'd had a few chats during the days before. She saved my ass when I was snooping around the ship."
"Why did she let you go?"
Cryer shrugged. "She said she'd had a rough few weeks."
"Yeah," Harry muttered. "That she had." Behind him, Robinson moved back to the door, looking out.
"You know her?"
Harry pinned Cryer with a glare. "Yes. She's one of my best friends. And if you don't help me find her, I'll feed you to the sharks. Clear, marine?"
A gunshot, abnormally loud in the confined metal interior of the ship. Robinson jerked back and swore, one hand clamping over his right arm, blood welling between the fingers.
Harry turned back to Cryer and kicked him the groin - hard - to disable him before he could say or do anything. The American was an unknown and a possible threat even though he was cuffed; Harry wasn't about to take the chance he'd cut the plasti-cuff or anything like that.
He grabbed Robinson's shoulder armour and pulled him back. "Get that wrapped up." Not waiting for a reply, he went to one knee and edged one eye around the bulkhead.
Another gunshot, whining off the metal above him. Harry couldn't see the shooter in the darkness outside.
Shit. I'm silhouetted in the light from that lantern.
Harry turned off the tac-light on his weapon. "Robinson! Turn the light out. Rifle torch too. Use NVG's."
A click, and the sickbay was plunged into darkness. Harry reached up and pulled his helmet-mounted night-vision goggles down.
The NVG's worked with ambient light … of which there was none down in the belly of the ship. So he had to provide some.
Harry cracked a handful chemical light sticks, but rather than glowing a visible colour, they emitted infra-red radiation. He threw one to Robinson, hooked another through his armour's MOLLE straps and tossed the third down the passageway towards the shooter.
The clattering of the lightstick prompted another couple of shots, followed by footsteps moving away, echoing off the metal walls. Not running, more like shuffling - the shooter was moving in the dark, not the green-grey twilight Harry was now seeing - but still quick, like a crew member who was familiar with the ship.
"Sitrep!" O'Sullivan, checking in on his men.
"Potter. One shooter, outside the sickbay, deck five, now moving away. Robinson's wounded, so's the prisoner, both staying inside the sickbay."
"Roger that. Mack, head to sickbay. Jesse, give backup to Sport And Social."
"You know, it's not all fun and games at Hereford, you know." Harry muttered into the radio as he edged out into the passageway, the infra-red torch attached to the Vector swaying to side to side in the night vision. "Sport and Social my ass. Going silent."
This ship was undoubtedly the most creepy place he had ever had to fight in, Harry decided. With no lights, the infra-red torch and chem-light attached to his armour only illuminated things within direct line-of-sight, and only for about ten metres, meaning that opened doorways off the passageway were yawning caverns of absolute blackness until he was able to point his weapon into them. The rolling motion of the ship and the battered interior surfaces also lent it a particularly horror film-esque feeling, like some T-Virus infected person was going to leap on him at any moment.
He'd caught a glimpse of someone slipping through a hatchway in front of him and going left, so he followed … to find the passageway empty, stretching for at least thirty metres further down the long axis of the ship.
Moving slowly, footfalls muffled by special foam-soled boots, used by the Marines for exactly this kind of sneaking around during boarding operations, he edged down the passageway, stopping to listen every few metres.
Abruptly, a hatch on the left hand side swung open with a clanking, squealing sound of metal on metal. Only a scant two metres away, a man of East African origin - presumably one of the crew of the Damocles from his worn clothing - leaned out, scanning the corridor.
It was pitch black. Lacking any light source, the sailor couldn't even see his hand in front of his face, let alone the heavily armed enemy just out of arm's reach.
Harry had no such limitations. The Vector's aiming laser rested squarely on the sailor's forehead, clearly visible in the infra-red goggles. But there was no point pulling the trigger; this man's death served no purpose. Alive, he might have information, which was the whole point of this little jaunt across the Indian Ocean.
So Harry waited, not even breathing, as the man squinted into the darkness, before swinging the hatch shut with a slight clang - but the locking wheel didn't spin. That was what had produced the squealing metal-on-metal sound from before, and apparently the tango didn't want to produce so much noise. Footsteps again sounded as he retreated away from the hatch.
Harry switched the radio to whisper mode. "This is Potter. One tango, aft cargo compartment, just closed the portside hatch. O'Sullivan, what's the layout?"
"Wait one." Both officers had the ship plans on them, but O'Sullivan wasn't on top of the enemy and was thus free to look. "Two personnel hatches, yours and one opposite on starboard. Other access is a ladder up to the cargo hatch, but that's battened down from outside."
"Dimensions of the cargo compartment?"
"Ten meters high, twenty wide, thirty long."
"Cut him off at the starboard side."
"Roger that. Jesse, where are you?"
"One deck up, sir. Just a few seconds away."
"Good. McNeil, Parker, back him up."
A pause, about twenty seconds. "In position, sir. The others just arrived too."
"I would strongly recommend ear defence, lads. Prepping flashbangs. Opening the hatch."
Harry pushed in his earplugs, held around his neck on a string tied at the back of the collar, and pulled out an L107A1 stun grenade, holding it in his left hand with the safety lever pressed securely between his thumb and forefinger. He pulled the pin, arming the device, and with the safety lever still held down, he wedged his fingers into the gap between the door and the bulkhead and slowly tugged it open enough to peek inside using the night vision goggles.
No one in sight.
Opposite him the starboard hatch swung open slowly, revealing a kneeling marine - Lance Corporal Jesse Clarke - clutching a grenade, same as Harry, with another two standing behind, one of them aiming over his shoulder - Marine McNeil - the other covering the passageway - Marine Parker. Identifying Harry as a friendly, the McNeil swung his weapon away, sweeping the part of the cargo compartment he could see.
Harry held up three fingers. The grenadier opposite nodded. There were some scuffing sound from out of sight, like someone opening a crate with a crowbar.
Two. One. Harry and Clarke hurled the grenades into the compartment, towards the bow of the ship, and ducked back. Harry clamped his hands over his ears for an added layer of protection. He was only just in time - the grenades only had a one second fuse, and it felt like they went off immediately. Clarke's one didn't even hit the deck before exploding.
The L107A1s were 'six-banger' stun grenades, meaning they had six distinct magnesium-based charges that detonated in sequence, producing a blinding flash that overloaded the eyes' photoreceptor cells for approximately five seconds, and a loud blast that caused temporary loss of hearing and balance, by disturbing the fluids of the inner ear.
In the metal confines of the cargo compartment, the effect of the latter was magnified significantly. And with eyes adjusted to the darkness - even though he still couldn't see - the crewman in there would be affected worse than usual by the flash as well.
Ears still ringing despite the two layers of protection, Harry was up and around the corner of the hatch a second later, the infrared torch and laser beam sweeping in front of him. The three marines were likewise entering in a clearly long-practised move, clearing individual sectors and moving more like one organism with three weapons than three distinct individuals. They moved up the far starboard wall, checking between each cargo pallet as they went.
Harry let them get ahead, just in case they had to fire at someone in one of the lanes between the pallets. He didn't want to be at the other end of that lane - friendly fire isn't, after all.
They found the crewman rolling around in an aisle towards the other end, an opened wooden crate and crowbar next to him. He had his hands over his eyes and was gabbling out nonsensical Arabic, having been hammered by the amplified effects of the concussion grenades from both sides. The Marines pounced, zip-tying him and hauling him out.
"We'll take him to sickbay, watch both of the prisoners there."
"Got it. When they're treated, get them on deck for evac." Harry watched the Marines leave before flipping up his NVGs and switching on a normal light source. The helmet cam wasn't infrared, and he wanted to record the cargo around him, because unless he was severely mistaken …
The opened crate revealed a cargo of AK-SU submachine guns packed in straw; the tango had probably been trying to up-gun when they took him down. Harry recorded the discovery, making sure to catch the serial number on the crate - written in Cyrillic text, surprise, surprise - and walked up and down through the cargo space to document all the crates' numbers.
The radio crackled. "Skipper, this is Sergeant Hammett. We just found explosive scuttling charges taped to the hull on the lower decks. The timer's counted down; I'm not sure why they haven't exploded."
"Can you disarm them?" O'Sullivan replied.
"Yes sir. It's a simple setup, a NATO standard timer and electronic detonator wired into three blocks of C4 backed by a steel plate to make it a shaped charge; there's detcord lines running off down the passageway too. I'd expect at least seven more charges to be scattered around deck seven or lower. There's blood all over the connections, and on the deck, which might have shorted it out. Whoever set this up was wounded, or had a lot of blood on their hands."
"Squadron Leader Potter?"
"Leave them be." Harry ordered. "If the timer's counted down and they haven't gone off, they aren't going to go off. We can deal with it later. I've found the 'suspicious cargo.' It's been recorded. Check the other cargo compartments and continue sweeping the ship, making a note of any demo charges for the prize crew to deal with in a more controlled environment. I'm going to the captain's quarters and then the ship's office. Maybe he kept some record of where the weapons were going."
"It's Harry. Is the line secure?"
"Yes. What've you got?"
"Mossad was definitely here. We've got one survivor, a former US Marine of some description named Daniel Cryer. He survived the shootout that started when Mossad started 'cleaning house,' by which I mean killing the crew. I wouldn't mourn too much, they're a mixed bunch of terrorists and thugs. I doubt anyone's going to miss them. We've got one in custody, and ID'd him from the ship's files. He shot at us, but mostly because he was scared witless than anything else. He claims not to be a member of any terrorist organisation, and took work aboard the Damocles six years ago to get away from the chaos back home in Somalia."
"Why didn't Mossad scuttle the ship? Hide the evidence? That'd be their usual M.O."
"They tried. Their demo-man isn't as good as he thinks; he screwed it up. Charges didn't go off. The Damocles headed out into the Indian Ocean, locked on an autopilot heading. As I said before, Cryer survived, then did his best to patch himself up in the sickbay, including pulling the bullet out and stitching himself up."
"Yeah, he's one tough bastard. He says he didn't know a damned thing about the ship itself or how to work it; the radio was trashed, main power and lights were out, so he just left it as is, hoping someone would spot it and did his best to survive in the meantime. I roughed him up a bit, but he probably would have cooperated anyway."
"Cryer isn't important in the grand scheme of things, though."
"No. The ship's captain kept detailed records of both his legal and illegal transactions. The latter I had to hunt around for, hidden in a slick in his quarters, in the light fitting. I don't know where the weapons' final destination was, but I can tell you they were bound for al-Shabab's territory around Mogadishu, and that the final customer would have been Saleem Ulman."
"That is promising."
"Indeed. I've also got the name of the go-between in Mogadishu. Mohammed Waraabe."
"Waraabe … don't know the name." Pearce mused. "Gun runner, hmmm? I'll look into him, and Cryer."
"Uh-huh. You could discreetly check with NCIS to see if Cryer is officially undercover, or just freelancing. If the latter, he might be worth recruiting; as I said, he's a tough bastard, and evidently Mossad thought him reliable enough for this. He might have some good local contacts."
"I'll pass that on to the Middle Eastern Desk at SIS."
Harry hesitated for a few moments. "I'm not sure what to do now. Thus far, it's just been chasing leads. Getting boots on the ground in Somalia … that's a different level. Somalia's as bad a badlands as they come right now. I don't want you to put your head on the block for me on this."
"Of course I will." Pearce snorted. "I've backed you up this far, haven't I?"
"However," Pearce continued, "you can consider this an order Harry; you aren't going anywhere near Somalia until we have a hard lock on Ulman's location. You're too distinctive, and too valuable to us by far. You know how many operatives come along with your kind of natural skill at this paramilitary stuff? Never."
"Aww, you're making me feel all mushy inside, old man."
"Piss off," was the heartfelt reply. "I'm only as old as I feel. What's the next move?"
"Can MI6 start looking for this Waraabe character? I'm going to call in a favour from the NSA to pull surveillance on the sat phone number."
"GCHQ not good enough for you?"
"You know damned well GCHQ doesn't have the resources Fort Meade can throw at this tasking. Our mutual friend Colonel Lambert can dig deeper and faster than Cheltenham could even on their best day."
"That he can. But even though he's a good man whom I count as a friend, Harry, he's going to want his pound of flesh, so to speak. He's not going to help you without something in return."
"I know. Last time he tried to recruit me …"
"No dice." Pearce interrupted. "We're not giving you up."
"Nice to be needed." Harry commented dryly, "but I was thinking more along the lines of a short term arrangement. I get access to the NSA's vast resources, and he gets me for a couple of missions."
"Hmmm." Pearce mulled it over. "Fine. One or two. That I can accept."
"Okay then. There's something else, though."
"Cryer reported that there were four people on the Mossad team, including Ziva. One was killed - we've found the body, with an Israeli Jericho pistol next to him. Two were wounded - Malachi Ben-Girion and the other officer recovering back in Israel. According to the captured crewmember, Ben-Girion was shot in the shoulder, the other in the leg. Both those are mission-kills; there's no way they would have continued the mission after that."
"And yet someone attacked the camp …" Pearce trailed off as the full implication of that hit them both
"So the whole attack on the camp at Mataban … was just Ziva?" Harry said in disbelief. "Jesus. She made a hell of a mess for someone working alone."
"Like you usually do?" Pearce asked dryly. "We don't know that for certain."
"No, but short of Eli David giving us the operation file it's the most plausible explanation. Eyal told me Malachi and the other wounded man were back in Israel by 'sometime around the first week of June.' The camp was attacked on the 8th. Eyal's date was vague, but they couldn't have gotten back to Israel within anything less than 48 hours of that, not unless Mossad committed far more resources to this operation than we are aware of. But why did Ziva go on alone?"
"It's easy to forget what intelligence consists of: luck and speculation. Here and there a windfall, here and there a scoop."
John le Carre
NCIS Headquarters, Washington Navy Yard, Washington District of Columbia
29 June 2009
The MTAC screen shifted abruptly from the hold image, revealing Squadron Leader Potter seated at a communications panel on a ship somewhere, with a headset on.
"Morning, Mr Potter," Vance said in reply. 0900 in Washington made it 1800 in the Indian Ocean area north of the Seychelles, where the St. Albans was.
"You're just on time," The British officer continued. "NSA just came through. They hacked the satellite phone service Waraabe uses, got his call history and listened in to his subsequent calls. He answered a call six hours ago from Saleem. They didn't use names on the line, but NSA voice print analysis confirms the ID. Colonel Lambert also got a rough GPS ping off of Saleem's phone somewhere in southern Somalia, near the city of Kismayo. The call was too short for anything else, so they'll keep listening."
"Lambert?" Vance raised an eyebrow. "Which limb did he take in payment?"
"Just my services for half-a-dozen missions. No big deal. Why? You sound like you don't like him."
"Like? Not especially. Respect, definitely." Vance shook his head, clearly remembering some past incident. "He's a lot easier to work with and more cooperative than most NSA bureaucrats, but if you get on the wrong side of him … you will regret it. He puts Niccolo Machiavelli himself to shame."
"Point taken. I originally offered two missions." Harry grimaced. "He does drive a hard bargain. Anyway, now we have a hard target."
"Yeah. About that."
"Gibbs and his team ran down a lead. It was a long shot, but it seemed viable simply by how outlandish it was. They're heading in-country to follow up."
"What was it?"
"I have no idea what that is."
"It's a caffeine energy drink sold here in the States. Several of Ulman's friends at college mentioned he had a taste for it when he was at Yale. McGee and our forensics tech Miss Sciuto nailed down a low-key, high-priced personal supply line running into East Africa, which we believe is Saleem's little personal addiction supply."
"That's … so thin it might actually be outlandish enough to work out to something. Are they already in Somalia?"
"Flying towards Kenya as we speak. They'll head into Somalia tomorrow."
"Jesus." Harry rocked back. "They have no local experience. They don't know the language."
"White skin, no beards, presumably in Western dress, they'll stick out like a strobe beacon at night."
Potter's eyes narrowed. "You want them to get captured."
"DiNozzo's idea, actually. They tagged themselves with subcutaneous GPS chips that only respond to microburst pings from Navy satellites; almost entirely undetectable unless someone happens to be scanning them at the exact moment the chip is pinged. Officially, of course, I know nothing about such a moronic plan. Unofficially, Gibbs will be shadowing the other two; that man can just ... disappear practically anywhere. He'll provide overwatch, keep them safe until the rescue. I'd like you to go with him. Snipers work with spotters, after all."
Without even a moment's hesitation, Harry agreed. "Sure. The St. Albans can helicopter me to the Seychelles. Could you get a Navy jet of some description to pick me up there and fly me to Kenya?"
"How do you know they'll get taken to Saleem?"
"He's the regional commander, isn't he?"
"Yes, that's a good point. High-value American prisoners will intrigue him. He fancies himself an interrogator." Potter grimaced, one finger tracing the scar across his eye. "Personal experience of that. So I'm the rescue party, huh?"
"Indeed. And, of course, since American agents are now in harm's way, with the added bonus of Saleem Ulman being on the high-value targets list, Uncle Sam will provide a certain measure of support."
"Local assets include a platoon of Force Recon assigned to the counter-piracy Task Force. Plus some … extras." Vance's smirk was telling; the extras would be something special, clearly.
"Additionally, for your personal peace of mind, NCIS assets have reported rumours that back when Saleem shifted camp after the Mossad attack on June 8th that a woman was with the convoy. Dark hair, no ID. Only a glimpse, no idea if she was a prisoner or not."
"Thanks." Potter closed his eyes, rubbed his temples. "Thank you, very, very much."
"It isn't confirmed," Vance warned.
"It's enough!" Potter snapped, before calming. "Sorry."
"No problem. Perfectly understandable. You'll need to liaise with the USS Boxer, an LHD amphibious assault ship currently acting as the flagship of the multinational anti-piracy Combined Task Force One Five One. That's where any rescue force will be staging from. Go bring my people home, Mr. Potter."
"With pleasure, Director."
"Bidden to make war their work, Americans shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos - masculine, pervasive, unrelenting, of work as an end in itself. War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a peculiarly workmanlike way. I do not love war; but I love America."
Sir John Keegan, Lecturer on Military History at RMA Sandhurst
There are various analogies one could use to describe military operations.
Chess is of course one of the most popular, but in this case a jigsaw puzzle might be more accurate; all the pieces slotting into place, one by one.
The NCIS agents ended up being captured on July 2 and taken to a training camp about ten miles up the River Juba next to a village named Yoontoy, shadowed the entire way by Special Agent Gibbs and Harry. The pair had set up an OP on a ridge a kilometre further inland and provided intel on the layout and garrison of the camp, sending it back to the USS Boxer off the coast.
That was one piece. The second was the infiltration.
Hostage-rescue situations are always dicey. The initiative was almost entirely in the hands of the enemy, who were unrestricted in their use of force while the rescuers had to be careful at every stage not to either induce the hostage-takers to execute their captives or to accidentally frag them themselves.
Thus, to this end, Harry had decided, in concert with the planning staff back on the Boxer, to pre-position himself inside the camp. When the raid went down, he would secure the captives - providing they were in the same place, which seemed likely since they knew McGee and Tony were being held in the same building. Once he had located and secured them, the assault force could go all-out weapons free to mop up the rest of the camp.
Harry was under no illusions; this would probably be the more 'interesting' missions of his career if it all went to hell; he'd be trapped inside the compound, outnumbered fifty-to-one while trying to keep multiple - and probably injured - hostages alive. The J-3 Operations officer back on the Boxer thought he was insane, but the commander of the Force Recon team who would conduct the actual assault - one Captain Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield - had confirmed Harry's abilities, having actually operated with him in the past.
That was the second piece. The third would of course be the actual assault. The fourth would be the extraction. For this, a squadron of riverine gunboats would be heli-lifted to a point just off the mouth of the river and would pick them up a few hundred meters away on the River Juba, hopefully under the watchful eyes of fast air and attack helicopter support from the Boxer.
That was the simple version. There were many other pieces of the puzzle; to take just a few examples, the Marines would require airlift by Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to their parachute drop points; those Osprey's would need air-refuelling after dropping off their loads. The assault force needed extra personnel to maintain numerical superiority - these men would be drawn from some spare manpower from SEAL Team 9, under the command of Lt. Cdr Steve McGarrett. The objective was barely fifteen miles away from the port city of Kismayo, one of Al-Shabab's strongholds in Southern Somalia. There would undoubtedly be other patrols in the area as well, and they wanted to be in and out as fast as possible; hence, the extra manpower.
So, far from being a two-dimensional game of chess with only sixteen pieces per side, the operation was rather an extremely complex and fully three-dimensional game - air, land and sea - a puzzle in which every single piece had to fit together absolutely, lest the entire thing fall apart … with far more terminal effects than any board game.
Arrrgh ... cliffhanger! Well, not really. You know perfectly well what's going to happen. Saleem's going to die a very painful death ... or is he?
Some people are undoubtedly going to ask why I included this chapter; after all, it all seems very pedestrian. Boring. Humdrum.
That's the point. I always say I strive for realism, and the reality of intelligence work is that a lot of it is spent looking for that one clue that breaks the whole thing wide open. Much like the hunt for Bin Laden only ended with Operation NEPTUNE, this chapter is intended to show how a small group of determined, intelligent individuals can find a needle in a haystack the size of the Horn of Africa.
I cut it off here because the length was getting a bit ridiculous; the next chapter will follow shortly. Well, shortly for me, which means within the next week or two. Sorry guys; I've been on another two-week training camp and have just returned to university for my final year, so I have many, many other more important things to worry about than writing my stories, fun though they are. Finding a job and getting a good degree result must take priority.