“If you were worried about my ability to operate a GPS, McGee, maybe you should have let me drive,” replied Ziva from the passenger seat.
“More worried about getting there in one piece,” muttered McGee. Ziva shot him a dirty look and he stammered, “b-but I wasn’t expecting this guy's cabin to be so…”
“Middle of nowhere? Corley said he was a…hermit.”
Garvan Corley, the suspect in custody in their most recent case, had used a much more colorful expression. Ziva smirked at the memory.
“It does make one wonder what kind of person would choose such an unusual place to live. No modern conveniences: electricity, running water-"
“Cell phone coverage,” added McGee after checking his own phone and failing to find a signal. “No internet, either. Maybe he’s a neo-luddite.”
“Or maybe he has something to hide. Explosives, perhaps?”
McGee turned to her, obviously surprised. “You think he was involved in the bombing?”
Three days before, an IED had been detonated in an unoccupied barrack at Camp Allen in Norfolk. Among the wreckage was the body of Lance Corporal Matthew McCready. Ducky had determined that the young marine had been shot three times in the chest prior to being badly burned in the explosion.
Corley, a civilian, had been apprehended when he attempted to leave the base after lock down, and Abby had been able to connect the gun he was carrying at the time to the bullets in McCready. Corley denied shooting the marine and setting off the bomb, but eventually Gibbs and DiNozzo got the man to admit he'd been involved.
It was his partner, Lorcan Keane, who'd set off the bomb and shot McCready when he interrupted them. Corley also claimed that he had not known the full scope of the plan until it went down, and that the bomb was only supposed to produce “minor damage”.
Keane had eluded capture and Corley offered that Lorcan's brother, Doran, might know where the elder Keane could be found. McGee had been able to track the brother down through property records to a homestead in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, where he and Ziva were currently parked.
“It is possible this brother is not an innocent relative,” Ziva said. "In any case, we must be cautious. This feels like a trap.” Wide-eyed, McGee simply nodded.
Ziva briefly wondered how Gibbs and DiNozzo were faring. They were headed to Norfolk to try and track down more information on how Corley had actually managed to get on the base in the first place. To make matters worse, Gibbs had also been occupied keeping Fornell from interfering. The FBI agent had insisted that the bombing was an act of terrorism, and therefore his jurisdiction.
Ziva decided that she was lucky to be with McGee for this errand instead of Gibbs. Encounters with Fornell always put Gibbs in a particularly foul mood, and it had been a really long drive…
She stepped out of the car, quietly shut the door, and headed up the trail towards the cabin, noting that McGee had followed her lead. When they reached the cabin, Ziva nodded to McGee and he moved to the far side of the door, drawing his weapon and holding it down by his left thigh, out of sight. She drew her own weapon, moved to the other side of the door, and knocked.
“Mr. Keane? Doran Keane? NCIS. We need to speak with you.” She drew back from the door, expecting gunfire from within, but the cabin was silent.
“Mr. Keane?” she called, louder this time. Still no answer.
She reached down to test the doorknob and was surprised to find that it twisted easily. Ziva pushed on the door and it swung open with a soft creak of metal hinges. She motioned to McGee, who nodded in return and brought his gun up, ready to move. She stepped through the open door with her back to the wall and swept the room while McGee did the same. The two of them moved in opposite directions to make a circuit of the small cabin. As they regrouped back at the front door it was obvious that Keane was not at home and they'd found no evidence of any bomb-making equipment during their quick sweep. Ziva wasn't sure if she was annoyed or relieved.
McGee gestured to a chipped mug of still steaming liquid which sat on the edge of the battered wooden dining table.
“He was definitely here and not too long ago,” observed McGee. “But we didn’t see him leave, and there’s no back door. So how did he get by us?”
They scanned the floor and ceiling for trap doors, but none were evident.
“Guess this one’s a bust,” muttered McGee.
“We should check the surrounding area. He cannot have gone far.”
“Got it.” McGee headed out the door.
After one final look around, Ziva followed.
Silence returned to the cabin, and after a hundred heartbeats, a new noise stirred the dead air. A wooden panel in the ceiling, imperceptible to the unknowing eye, slid back and a pair of boot-clad feet emerged. A tall, thin man carefully and quietly lowered himself through the gap to the floor. He glanced through the still open exterior door and smiled: he definitely had the advantage this time. After replacing the panel, he removed his weapons of choice from a small cabinet which stood near the far wall, grabbed his coat from the hook next to the door, and then quietly slipped outside to pursue his prey.
Ziva had turned right after exiting the cabin and was now a few feet from the door of a small outbuilding about fifty yards to the north. One whiff of the foul air surrounding the structure told her what its function was, and she turned away in disgust. She spotted another small outbuilding near the rear of the cabin and began walking towards it when she was startled by the sound of gunfire: three shots in quick succession. She turned and dashed toward the sound, resisting the urge to call out McGee’s name. It was, after all, part of her training: never give away your position. She rounded the southwest corner of the cabin and froze at the strange sight. A dark-haired man, dressed entirely in black, was pointing a revolver towards something hidden by the far side of the cabin. Casually, he put the gun away and withdrew a long blade from the lining of his duster. He raised the blade and stepped forward.
“FREEZE! Federal Agent! Drop your weapon!”
The man turned, the annoyance in his expression quickly morphing into amusement. He stared at her for a brief moment, winked, then turned and ran. She fired two shots at the man, sure she had hit him and surprised that it did not appear to slow him down at all. He disappeared into the forest before she had made it half way across the clearing. As she fought her way through the underbrush, she heard the roar of a powerful engine. She doubled her efforts and had almost made it to the tree line when a series of loud crashing noises and a fading roar told her he was making his escape on some sort of all terrain vehicle. She broke through into a clearing only to find the vehicle and driver were gone.
“Damn it,” she spat. Their one good lead was in the wind. Gibbs was going to kill her. Her, and--
“McGee!” All thoughts of Gibbs had fled and she raced back to the cabin fearful of what she would find. As she approached the cabin what she saw made her blood run cold.
She rushed forward, hoping it wasn’t that bad, but when she drew closer she saw that her fears were justified.
McGee lay on his back, utterly still, with one arm outstretched. The front of his shirt was soaked in red. Two rivulets of dark congealing liquid ran from each side of his mouth, and small spatters around his lips and chin told her what she had not wanted to see: McGee’s death had not been instantaneous. She thought of the pain and fear he must have experienced as his life drained away, drowning in his own blood, and her strength gave out.
She fell to her knees next to his body and as her eyes locked into his wide, staring ones, now glazed over in death, hot tears slid down her cheeks. Horrified at her weakness, her loss of control, she struggled to rein in her emotions. She knew there was nothing to be done for McGee, but she could damn well make sure his killer was caught. After releasing a shaky breath, which sounded more like a sob than she would ever admit, she rose to her feet and stepped away from McGee. She resisted the urge to reach down and close his eyelids, imagining the fit that Ducky would give her for touching the body.
Do the job…Do the job…
She could also imagine Gibbs telling her to focus. Gibbs kept them all together, making sure they all did what needed to be done. Gibbs would…She let out another shaky sob. Gibbs really was going to kill her. Under that gruff, no nonsense exterior, she knew how much he cared for his team members. His team, to which she still sometimes felt like an outsider. There would be no tacit forgiveness waiting for her this time.
Especially since she could not forgive herself.
She cared for McGee. Working with him was almost like having a geeky, slightly annoying younger brother. While McGee was…had been a good agent, competent despite the constant ragging from DiNozzo that suggested otherwise, and generally able to take care of himself, she still felt responsible. They never should have split up. This was her fault, and this time there was no one else to blame; not Ari, not even her father.
Ziva sighed. She would take whatever Gibbs had to dish out, but in the mean time, she had a job to do. She checked her cell phone: still no signal. They did not have a satellite phone, and she had not seen one in their search of the cabin. She would have to leave to get help, but first she needed to document the scene in case the killer returned to destroy evidence.
Since this had merely been an information-gathering trip, they had not brought the scene kit, but she still had her personal camera. That would do. Slowly, she began to photograph the clearing around the cabin, starting with McGee. She took a full series: overview, medium, and close-up, and had to bite her lip to keep herself focused as she documented the fatal wounds.
She carefully made her way around the site, hoping to identify something that would help find the killer. She noted and photographed a few footprints that did not match hers or McGee’s. Maybe Abby would have some luck with those. The man had used a revolver, so she did not expect to find cartridge casings. She pushed back through the underbrush to the clearing, trying to find tire tracks, but the few she found were not very clear. She documented them anyway and returned to the cabin, where she searched for fingerprints and some other trace of the killer.
She checked the exterior every few minutes in case Keane had returned, but the area remained silent. Each glance outside ultimately brought her thoughts back to the still figure near the cabin, and finally, when she had done all she could with her limited resources, she decided it was time to leave. She wanted to make sure she got the rest of the team here before dark. Before…
She shuddered. She did not want to think about what would happen when the nocturnal residents of these woods found the body. She had seen it before and could not consider that happening to McGee. He deserved better.
Ziva returned to where McGee’s body lay, carefully retrieved the car keys from his pocket, and looked down at him one last time.
“Shalom, my friend.”
Turning her back on her fallen colleague, she headed towards the car and had gone just a few yards when she heard a sound behind her and felt a surge of pure fury.
That bastard came back!
She spun around, drawing her gun, and pointed it towards the source of the sound.