Tony had made rapid progress in the last two weeks. He ran and swam every morning and did strength training in the afternoon. In the evenings, he played cards or listened to music with the other patients. He played the piano in the sunroom as his dexterity came back. He did crafts in the art room. His appetite had returned, and the simple meals at the monastery had helped him feel better than he had in years. He and Brother Zachariah had had long and meaningful conversations—him talking and the small monk listening. It was good to talk to someone he knew would not repeat his conversations or twist his words.
He had met with Father Dana in the morning and was told he was ready to go home. He wasn't sure he was mentally ready to go back out into the world. The monastery had been a refuge. He put on his suit—the monks had cleaned it. It felt strange to be wearing ordinary clothes again after the freedom of the robe. He rolled up the tie and put it in his backpack. He was glad Jimmy had been able to bring it to him. He was going to need it soon.
Standing in the doorway of the monastery, he hugged Brother Zachariah and shook Father Dana's hand. "Thanks for everything. This place has been a real haven for me."
Father Dana nodded, "You are welcome back anytime you need a break—even if it's just a spiritual one. And Brother Zachariah's vow of silence ends next month. You may want to come back and talk to him."
Tony smiled, "He's been great. You've all been wonderful to me. Now I have to get back to the real world."
A small black car pulled up to the doorway, "Brother Valentine will drive you to town. Do you need to call anyone?" said Father Dana.
"No, I'm good. " He gave Brother Zachariah another hug and climbed into the car next to Brother Valentine.
After a half-hour drive, they arrived at the small town nearest the monastery. Brother Valentine showed him the local hotel, the bank and the car rental next to it. Tony rented a generic sedan, using one of the false IDs he had in the hidden pocket of his backpack, and was soon driving. He hadn't driven in a few months, and he enjoyed the feel of being in control. The quiet mountain scenery was beautiful. He stopped at a diner on the way and enjoyed a simple meal. The monastery food seemed to have reset his food choices.
After a few hours, he came to the capital city. He had made plans while he was recovering. The first thing was to see if Mossad was still a danger to him and others.
He checked into a chain motel near the airport and bought a couple of burn phones at the local Walmart. He picked up some jeans and a couple long sleeved tee shirts as well. At a more up-scale store in the nearest mall, he bought a leather jacket—black that reversed to blue cloth. It might come in handy to be able to change his appearance quickly. .
The next day he bought a ticket and flew to New York. The noise and crowds were hard to get used to after the quiet serenity of the monastery. At the airport, he used one of his burn phones to call Amit Hadar. He left the number of the phone with the Israeli embassy. When he landed in New York, he checked into one of the airport hotels using another of his false IDs. He had kept this one from his days undercover in Philadelphia and hoped it was no longer flagged by the FBI.
It was early the next morning when the burn phone rang. He had been down to the hotel gym and had eaten a good breakfast and was back in his room. He was watching a pay-per-view movie—one that had come out while he was recovering.
He answered the phone. "Good morning, "he said.
"Good morning to you, Agent DiNozzo. " He recognized Hadar's voice.
"Well, "Tony said, "How are things in Israel?"
Hadar laughed and said, "Interesting. Many things have happened since your last visit."
Tony responded, "Well, I've had an interesting time as well. So, am I still on the Mossad most wanted list?"
"We have many others far more important, but there are a few here who still bear you ill-will because of Rifkin's death. He had many friends. I know he was out of control. He was endangering our relationship with our most important ally. "Hadar said. He continued, "You are no longer a priority with most of us."
"Most of you?" sighed Tony.
"I have an idea that could ensure you will not be bothered by them. We need to meet and talk."
Tony had no desire to meet with any Israeli in any but a very safe and public place. He thought a moment and said, "Can you meet me tomorrow? Philadelphia-Precinct 6, on the front steps?"
"I am in New York now and can meet you—what time?" Hadar answered.
"Noon—you can bring have lunch." said Tony. Tony went to the airport and managed to get a ticket on a commuter flight that left early in the morning. Then he made a few more calls.
Tony sat on a bench in front of the police station. He had visited with one of his old fellow officers and had back up—two undercover officers lounging on a nearby bench. At noon, he saw a shadow cross in front of him. It was Hadar.
Hadar handed him a bag—inside was a pastrami sandwich. "I brought lunch—from the best kosher deli in the city. And your favorite coffee—with the hazelnut cream. "
Hadar sat down next to him. He turned towards Tony. "You look different—I almost didn't recognize you."
Tony had not shaved or had a haircut since he entered the monastery just over three months ago. The chlorine from the pool had bleached his hair to a golden brown. He knew he was very different looking from the agent who had left Israel with Hadar's help.
"Actually," Hadar said, "it gives me a good idea of how you can earn Mossad's protection. Michael was to go on a mission…I think you can do it. It's dangerous….but after it, you will have Israel's gratitude."
"And Israel's gratitude should protect me?" Tony asked.
"If this mission is successful, you will have my personal protection and that of Mossad." Hadar said.
"Your protection?" Tony questioned.
"Mine. I am now the acting assistant director of Mossad. Eli David is growing oranges on a kibbutz near the Dead Sea. His health, you know, was not good." Hadar smiled with a smirk.
"So, what is the mission? And how soon do we start?" asked Tony.
Tony had been gone a month when the videos had been sent. After Abby and Tim saw them, they showed them to Gibbs and Vance, who now sat in an interrogation room with Ziva. They played the first tape. It showed Ziva undercutting Tony's legs and slamming him to the ground. They saw her draw her gun and place it on his chest.
The video feed finished. Ziva sat stone-faced. Vance and Gibbs looked at her. She said nothing.
Finally, Vance asked her" What do you have to say for yourself?"
She looked at him impassively. "What should I say? He murdered a Kidon officer. He should have been charged and punished."
Gibbs shook his head and sighed, "Tony was following my orders—mine. I told him to keep looking. Rifkin attacked him."
Ziva almost snarled, "You don't know that. If Michael had not been drugged or something, there is no way Tony could have won a fight with him."
Vance turned to the technician. "Play the other video."
Ziva's apartment appeared on the screen. Michael was answering the door. Tony spoke with him and took out his handcuffs. Michael attacked him. The fight was swift and brutal. Michael broke Tony's radius and while Tony was on the ground, he came at him with the glass shard. Tony shot. Michael fell.
Ziva shouted, "Where did you get this video? Who was monitoring my apartment?"
Vance turned to her and said, "It doesn't matter. The videos were sent to us anonymously, but who would have bugged your apartment? It wasn't NCIS."
Ziva slumped in her chair. "My father…..he sent Michael. He must have sent you the videos. He wants to destroy me."
Gibbs said quietly. "You did that yourself….when you didn't tell me about Rifkin. You had to have known he killed the ICE agent. You were helping him get away. And then, you attacked your partner. You knocked him down. You held a gun to his chest. He was injured…a concussion, broken wrist, dislocated shoulder and a cracked hip. You left him in the hot sun, injured and hurting." Gibbs voice rose. "You let him down. You let me down."
Vance turned back to her, "You will be deported back to Israel immediately. "
Ziva looked at Gibbs, silently imploring him to intervene. He shook his head. "Ziva, no one can trust you. Your loyalty has always been to Mossad. I thought you wanted to make a new life here with us, but you have betrayed our trust. Goodbye." He turned and left the room.
Jimmy had been out for a run in the early morning before work. When he returned, he found a large Federal Express package at his doorstep. He recognized the handwriting on the address and eagerly opened it. Inside, he found a package with his name on it and several other packages. There was one addressed to Gibbs, one to McGee, one to Abby, and one to Dr. Mallard. There was a note to Ziva. He sighed—she was gone.
He opened his package. Inside was a belt. It was black leather and was reversible. One side was plain, but the other was embossed with his initials in a kind of Celtic pattern. There was a note in the box as well. He opened it and began to read.
As you can see, I have been doing some arts and crafts along with my rehab. I made this belt for you. I had to special order the kit. The buckle is a knife—remember Rule 9—always carry a knife. (I made one for McGee, as well, but your belt was my first project. I am feeling pretty good—as back to normal as I can get. Anyway, I am going on a mission with Mossad which should get the target off my back. I am fairly sure we can pull it off and I will be back safely in a few weeks. Then, I don't know. I don't know if I can come back to the team. I have some decisions to make. Well, enjoy the belt. I hope you never need to use it. Mine has helped me out of a couple of sticky situations in the past.
Yours in crime, Tony. P.S. Can you give the others their packages? Thanks.
Jimmy shook his head. He couldn't blame Tony for thinking about leaving NCIS. He showered, dressed and put his new belt through the loops of his pants. He wore it with the embossed side out. When he got to work, he placed the others' gifts on their desks. He almost made it out of the lab without meeting Abby, but she was coming in as he left. "What are you doing in the lab?" she asked.
He answered, "I got a package from Tony this morning. There was something for you. I left it on your desk."
Abby ran eagerly to her desk and tore open the package. She held up a braided leather collar with matching gauntlets. They had been tooled with tiny skulls and crossbones. "It's gorgeous." She sighed.
"There's a note, too." Jimmy said.
Abby opened the envelope and began to read.
Dear Abby, (once again this sounds like a letter asking for advice),
One of the rehab activities was making things in the craft room. I hope you like these. I miss you like crazy. I am almost back to normal—if I ever was there. I should be back in a few weeks if everything goes ok on the mission I am going on with Amit. You remember him? I don't think you have met. He's a good guy. Anyway, after the mission, I shouldn't have to worry about Mossad again. Then I'll come and see you before I make my next move.
Love you always, Tony.
"What does he mean—his next move?" Abby questioned.
"He may not come back to NCIS—Vance screwed him over pretty good when he made him go to Israel and face Eli David. I don't think Tony can trust him. And I don't blame him for that." Jimmy said bravely.
"No, no—he has to come back. Ziva's gone. I can't lose Tony too." she keened.
Jimmy took advantage of her distraction to escape the lab. When he returned to Autopsy, he saw that Dr. Mallard had already opened his package. He was holding a wooden pen and pencil set made from what appeared to be oak. There was a beautiful oak box to hold them. He had his letter in front of him and looked very solemn. He looked up and saw Jimmy.
"From Tony," he said.
"I know," said Jimmy. "The packages came to my place this morning. Tony asked me to bring them here and give them to you and the others. What did he say in your note? He told me he might not come back."
Dr. Mallard sighed. "Nor should he as long as Vance regards him as expendable. He told me he is going on a mission with Mossad. I am not happy about that. Our experiences with that group have been far from positive. I presume he sent packages for the others?"
"Yes," Jimmy responded. "I put them on their desks. There was a note for Ziva—no package. I still have it and will give it back to Tony when he returns."
"Positive thinking, Mr. Palmer. Indeed, he will return, whether he rejoins us here or works somewhere else."
Up in the bullpen, McGee was regarding the package he found on his desk with suspicion. He recognized Tony's handwriting. After a few minutes, he opened it. He found a leather belt embossed with his initials in a Celtic font. He opened the letter that accompanied the box.
By now, you have probably learned that being an SFA is not all roses and sunshine, and being Gibb's SFA is even less a walk in the park." Tim paused in his reading, grimacing as he remembered the horrible day they had arrived at a crime scene and run out of evidence bags. If Ducky had not shown up in the coroner's van and gave him some, Gibbs would have killed him. It didn't help that a few of the other SFAs heard about it and ribbed him daily. Boxes of bags appeared on his desk at regular intervals. Gibbs was not amused.
He continued reading, "You don't have to worry about me coming back and shoving you back from the SFA job. I know how that feels. I am going to consider my options once I finish a little adventure I am planning with Mossad. If it succeeds, and Amit is sure it will, I will not have to worry about them again.
The belt has a buckle knife like mine. I made it in arts and crafts in rehab. I hope you never need to use it, but mine helped me out a few times. Good luck, Tony."
Tim shook his head. He had learned that Tony's job was not easy. It had taken a lot of time before the other SFAs treated him with anything but barely veiled contempt. It hadn't been pleasant, but he had managed to take the ribbing and earn back, if not their respect, their toleration.
The elevator door opened, and Gibbs strode out. He was carrying his usual coffee. He looked at the package on his desk. "What's this?" he asked.
"From Tony, "Tim answered. "He sent me this belt—a knife belt like the one he always wore. He made it at the rehab place. I wonder what he sent you."
Gibbs opened the package gingerly. Inside, he found an envelope and a wooden box. It was a highly polished exotic wood with the Marine emblem engraved. He opened the letter.
I made this for you in the arts and crafts room. Thought you might appreciate the wood. I spent many an afternoon sanding away while listening to music. It's a puzzle box. I'm sure you'll figure out the secret opening without any trouble. Anyway, I'm getting into pretty good shape—running and swimming and eating the simplest food. I was still pretty worried about Mossad, but have met with Amit Hadar, who informs me that Eli David is retired to an orange grove. I bet Ziva is pretty upset about that. Anyway, Hadar and I are going on an adventure together which should take me off the Mossad top ten hit list. Then, I'll have to decide what to do. I can't work with Ziva. I know she's like a daughter to you, and I would never ask you to choose me over her. I am not sure I trust Vance either. He threw me to the wolves and would do it again in a minute. So, I will have to decide what to do. Fornell has sent me a few job offers in the past—don't know if he was serious. Tom Morrow over at NSA has offered me a position a few times. I will have to make a decision. But that can wait until after my bonding time with Amit. He's a pretty good guy and thinks we have at least a three to one chance of coming out of this in one piece. Not too bad odds. Well, take care of the team. Yours, Anthony D. DiNozzo"
Gibbs pressed the letter "I" in the engraved "semper fi" on the box, and a drawer slid open. Inside he found Tony's badge.
No, he was not going to lose DiNozzo again if he had to apologize a hundred times. And Vance would have to learn to leave his team alone.
Two weeks later after meeting with Amit Hadar, Tony found himself standing on a beach in Somalia. He was dressed once again in the robes of a monk—brown this time as befitted his role as Brother Dominic. Brother Dominic had been a monk since childhood. He had joined the order just barely out of his teens and been a calligrapher, recreating the beautiful manuscripts of the middle ages. Brother Dominic had been an ordinary monk until one day when he fell from a ladder in the library of the monastery. He had been in a coma for six weeks. Upon awakening, he had become obsessed. He believed that the Holy Mother had given him a mission—to recover a lost icon. The background story was that a wealthy patron was sponsoring his search. He would pay two million dollars to the mercenaries if they brought him back with the icon—one million if without it.
Hadar drove a battered old jeep with Brother Dominic and two other men. They headed towards where the Israeli knew the camp they were looking for was. The plan was to be captured and for Brother Dominic to convince the terrorists he was a harmless fool on a religious quest. It seemed like a dangerous plan, but Hadar believed Tony could pull it off.
They drove further into the desert—Hadar and two other Mossad officers disguised as mercenaries. They looked like hard men who would do anything for money. Tony, or Brother Dominic as he thought of himself, fingered his rosary and recited the prayers in Latin. He had remembered them from childhood and two weeks of preparation had embedded them in his mind. He looked ahead at the unending sand.
They were ten miles from where they believed the terrorist camp was located when they first spotted that they were being followed. As the afternoon lengthened, they pulled over and set up tents. Brother Dominic had his own tent and knelt in front of it, praying aloud. The others ate a meager meal while Brother Dominic appeared to fast. They knew they were being watched.
Brother Dominic entered his own tent and quickly drank a protein drink that Hadar had placed there. He buried the empty bottle. He was still hungry, but wanted the observers to believe he had not eaten or drank while they watched. He came back out of the tent and returned to his knees, praying, with his eyes focused on the horizon.
As he chanted, he saw movement in the distance. He forced himself to stay focused on the words. As the light of the day faded into twilight, he was able to see several figures moving towards them. Hadar and his men saw them too and forced themselves not to react.
Suddenly, they were surrounded by a dozen men dressed in Bedouin robes. "Who are you?" one shouted in Arabic.
Hadar shouted back, "We're escorting this crazy man. His patron is going to pay us a lot if we bring him back alive and with this thing he is looking for."
"Get down on your knees, all of you!" shouted the apparent leader.
Hadar and his men kneeled. The men came closer. Brother Dominic continued his chant of the rosary. He unfocused his eyes and seemed to be looking far far away. One of the men approached him. He continued to pray.
"Who is this and what are you doing here?" asked the leader, shoving Hadar to the ground.
"This crazy one is Brother Dominic. He seeks the icon of the mother of Jesus. He says it is here, in the desert."
The men searched the tents and found Hadar's weapons. They dragged the men to their camp. Brother Dominic continued to pray as he was pushed by the Bedouin robed men. After a few minutes, they arrived in the camp.
Hadar was taken into the biggest tent, while Brother Dominic was tied to a jeep. He knelt and continued his chanting. A few of the men began to chatter among themselves, wondering who and what they had found. After a few minutes, they untied Brother Dominic and led him into the big tent. There he saw a slightly built, heavily bearded man sitting on a camp stool. Hadar was kneeling behind him. He had obviously taken a beating as his eyes were blackened and he was holding his left arm at an uncomfortable angle.
The bearded man spoke, "Who are you?" he said in Arabic. Getting no response, he repeated the question in English. Brother Dominic continued to chant softly. The bearded man nodded to one of his guards, who struck Brother Dominic on the back. Brother Dominic sank to the sand and then scrambled to his knees. "Who are you?" the bearded man asked again, this time is Spanish.
Brother Dominic looked up at him, smiled, and said, "I am Brother Dominic. The Holy Mother has sent me to find her and return her to her home."
"I am Saleem Ulman. This is my camp and you are a spy." the bearded man said in Spanish.
"I seek the Holy Mother. She commands me to this place." replied Brother Dominic.
Saleem nodded again, and his guard again struck Brother Dominic in the back. Saleem continued, "Who are you? Who sent you here?"
"I am the servant of the Holy Mother who has sent me here to return her image to its home. She called me and I answered. "responded the monk.
The questioning continued, and each time he answered that he had been sent by the Holy Mother, the guard dealt him a blow. After a half-hour, Saleem ordered his guards to take the pair to a smaller tent and tie them up.
"Well, Amit, "said Brother Dominic in Spanish, "This has been interesting."
"Stay in character, "said Amit. "They may have someone else who speaks Spanish here."
They were left in the tent through the night. A guard brought them some water and rice and pointed to a bucket in the corner of the tent. He untied them long enough for them to eat and use the bucket. At least he took the bucket out with him.
Brother Dominic began chanting lowly. The next day, they were left alone until nearly noon. Then the guard brought them more water and rice. He untied them, and after they had eaten, led them out to the camp. Brother Dominic began to walk towards the edge of camp, his eyes focused on a half-decayed wall about six hundred feet away.
"She calls me." he said. The guards laughed at him, but a few were disturbed. They let him get almost to the wall before dragging him back to the camp.
Saleem had watched. He did not understand what motivated men like Brother Dominic. There was no tradition of monasticism in the Muslim world. He had met priests when he studied abroad, but had never encountered anyone like this. He had the guards bring the monk to him where he sat in the shade of the tent flaps.
"Tell me, Dominic, what are you seeking?" he asked after the guards had shoved the man down in front of him.
"The Holy Mother has commanded me to return her to her home. She lies out there." He gestured with his hands.
Saleem had Amit brought to him. "How did you meet this one?" he asked.
Amit said, "I was offered a million dollars to bring him here to find this thing he looks for. If I bring him back with the thing, I will get two million. This old Mafia don wants to buy his way into heaven by helping the monk on his quest."
Saleem took a drink from his canteen. "Let him look, it could be amusing." He also thought that if he returned the monk, he could take the money for his own uses.
Brother Dominic walked to the wall. He began digging. The sun beat down on him, but he continued for two hours. One of the guards offered him some water, which he gratefully drank. Then he continued to dig. After another hour, he reached a floor. It was mosaic tile. He began to clean it off. An image of a dove appeared. He continued to dig. After another hour, he had cleared a three foot square of tile depicting doves and grapes. The guards were beginning to believe they had a holy man in their midst, not just a crazy one.
The dusk came down, and they dragged the monk back to the tents. They gave him water and more rice and tied him to his tent pole. Amit entered behind one of the guards. "The meet is the day after tomorrow." he said in Spanish. "You can find the image by noon, press the button, and our drones will hit the place. We'll need to hide by the wall." He then said to the guard in Arabic, "Maybe this one is not so crazy after all."
The next morning the guards led Brother Dominic to the dig. He knelt and prayed for nearly an hour and then began to dig. One of the younger guards began to help him. They revealed a six by ten foot mosaic filled with doves, grapes and cherubs. As the sun rose high in the sky, several jeeps carrying a dozen men pulled into the camp. The men entered Saleem's tent.
Amit nodded at Brother Dominic. The monk began to sing as his hands dug at the edge of the tile. He cleared the sand away to reveal a wooden box. The guards began to gather in wonder. What had this crazy monk found?
Brother Dominic lifted the box from the bottom of the pit. He opened it and fell to his knees. Inside was a gilded portrait of Mary and her Child. He held it up for all to see. He began to pray and while praying he pressed a small button on the box. The beautiful icon was covered with jewels, and some of the greedier guards talked among themselves about taking it from the monk. One had run to the main camp to tell the others of the find.
While he was running, a sound came in the distance. It grew louder. Amit jumped into the pit and shouted to the monk to cover his head. Suddenly, there was the sound of explosions. Drones had hit the main camp. Fire and smoke covered the area.
The sound of helicopters roared overhead. Gunfire and shouting echoed through the desert. Through it all, Amit and Brother Dominic stayed down. Then there was silence. One of the helicopters landed. A voice shouted for them to get on board. They sprinted to the landing site and scrambled on board. A few of the guards were still shooting, but the incoming fire sent them scrambling. The main tent was totally destroyed. Saleem and his fellows were dead.
As the helicopter rose, Brother Dominic clutched the icon to his chest. "It is beautiful," he said. Amit nodded and said, "It will go back to the museum as soon as we get back. Malachi, here, "he indicated the pilot. "He's the one who had to infiltrate and bury the icon."
The two men drank copiously from the water bottles on board. In a few hours, they were back on Israeli soil.
Tony had spent several days by the pool in Amit's home. The shaded garden and soft breeze helped him heal his tired body. The split lip and black eye were nearly healed, and the bruises from the initial days at the camp were fading. When his face was back to normal, he would head back to Washington. It had been nearly four months—he wondered what he would find when he returned.
On the fifth morning, Amit asked him to join him for a journey into the country. "There is something I want you to see. It is important to me and to my countrymen."
So he found himself riding shotgun in a closed jeep with air conditioning blasting. There was another jeep ahead and one behind. Amit had to be guarded whenever he left the safety of Mossad headquarters. Tony drowsed a little even though the road was bumpy. After a few hours, the jeep pulled into a parking lot. He got out and felt the blast of the heat. Before him loomed a rocky formation. He recognized it.
Amit joined him as they stood beside the road looking up at the massive fortification. "This is Masada."
Amit said. "It is the place every Israeli soldier comes to take the oath. It is a symbol for us—never again will we be conquered."
Tony nodded. The grandeur of the place enveloped him. He thought of those fighters all those centuries ago who chose to die rather than be subjugated to Rome. "It is truly moving." he said.
The two men, shadowed by guards, walked up the long stairway that led to the top. It was hot, and the guards passed them water bottles. Finally, they achieved the summit. There was a bench near the edge. Amit sat down and waved Tony to sit next to him. "Here is a place I hold sacred. I brought you here to give you this." Amit took a small disk from his pocket. It was the size of a nickel, enameled white on one side with the Star of David in blue enamel. On the other side was the outline of the fortress of Masada. "We give this only to those who have shown themselves to be a true friend of Israel. Carry it proudly. Show it at any Israeli embassy or consulate, and you will be given aid and help whenever you ask."
Tony accepted the token. He studied it carefully. "I will carry it with pride." He said.
"Some put it on a chain and wear it around their neck. Others have it placed in a watch. Whichever you prefer, we will make it for you." Amit said.
Tony nodded. He would have it set on a chain. But now he began to want to return home-If Washington was still going to be home. He didn't know what Vance would do to him.
Amit embraced Tony as they stood in the Tel Aviv airport waiting for the boarding announcement. Tony was dressed in black jeans and a cool linen shirt, but carried a jacket for the flight. He was wearing the enameled disk in a locket around his neck. He had finally rid himself of the beard and had his hair cut. He experimented with a goatee, but decided he looked like the alternate world Spock from an old Star Trek episode and gone back to being clean shaven.
The bruises on his back from the beating the guards had given him had faded and his skin was tanned from days at the pool.
"You will always be welcome here, "Amit said.
Tony answered, "I'm just glad to come out in one piece. I just wish I knew what I want to do when I get back. I can't work with Ziva and I can't ask Gibbs to choose between us."
Amit smiled slyly," Not going to be a problem. Ms. David has joined her father growing oranges on the kibbutz. Someone sent videos of her attack on you and of the fight you had with Rifkin. Vance sent her packing. Eventually, we'll put her to work….She might be able to train some of our people in self-defense. She seems to be good at taking care of herself."
"Someone?" Tony smiled. "Would that be you? Now Gibbs will understand why I can't work with her. But I've been gone four months. That's a long time. Things change. People move on. McGee has been SFA and I can't ask him to accept a demotion."
Amit nodded, "I understand, but give NCIS a chance. "
The loudspeaker called his flight number. Tony gave Amit a handshake and a quick hug and strode off to the plane. The flight attendant led him to a first class seat. "I hope this will be all right for you, Mr. DiNozzo. Director Hadar has told us to take extra care of you. The screen next to you has internet and movies. We'll be boarding the rest of the passengers in a few minutes. You can move this curtain to screen yourself if you wish."
Tony dozed fitfully and after around three and a half hours, the attendant announced that they would be landing in Rome. The attendant stopped next to him and said, "We will have a three hour layover in Rome, but will be continuing your flight on this plane. You can stay aboard or go out to the airport. We have a very nice First Class Club you can use."
"Thanks, "he said, "I think I will get out and walk around. "
"We'll be serving dinner two hours after we take off. Just listen for the boarding announcement in a couple of hours." the attendant said.
He took his backpack with him off the plane and found the First Class Club. It had private showers, a gym area, and a bar among other amenities. He washed, shaved and changed his shirt to a loose fitting long-sleeved tee shirt. He wished he had more time to look around Rome, but the two hours were going quickly. He sat down in a club chair with an iced tea and watched the planes land and take off.
Someone sat down next to him. He turned and saw a diminutive woman dressed in a long jacket. "Good afternoon, Agent DiNozzo." she said.
"Hetty Green?" he questioned.
"In the flesh, "she answered. "You've heard of me?"
"Everyone at NCIS has heard of you. Your undercover work is legend. Is it a coincidence that we're here at the airport together?" he asked, tilting his head.
"No, it's not a coincidence. I'm here to talk to you about your future in the agency." she answered.
Tony sat up straighter in his chair and asked, "Do I have one?"
Hetty smiled. "I hope so. It depends on you. Can you work with us?"
Tony answered, "I already know that Officer David has been sent home. Amit told me at the Tel Aviv airport. I wouldn't be able to work with her, but with her gone, that obstacle is gone as well."
The petite woman nodded. "And Leon Vance is gone. He made a move to NSA—the western division."
Tony smiled. "Looks like a promotion, but not really. "
Hetty nodded again. "His allowing Officer David to continue in her role at NCIS was questionable at best. His personal relationship with Eli David blurred his vision."
"Then who is director now?" Tony inquired.
"That would be me." she responded. "And I am her to offer you the position of Team Leader of a new rapid response team to be based in DC. You'll have to create a team—select from a number of good agents to fill it. You would take care of investigations all east of the Mississippi that our local offices are not able to handle. They'll be the toughest cases. Are you interested?"
"Have you talked to Gibbs?" Tony asked.
"He is on board. He would like nothing better than to have you back on his team, but he realizes that you are ready to lead. He said to quote Rule Five to you." Hetty answered.
Tony laughed. "Rule Five…." He shook his head. "When do you want the team up and running?"
"Yesterday, "she said. "But the end of next month will do quite well."
The loudspeaker announced the boarding of his plane. "Are you on this flight too?" he asked.
"No," she said, "I'm going to be visiting some of our European bases to meet and evaluate our teams there. But I will be back in Washington next week and expect to meet you in my office on Thursday. At eight."
"I'll be there." He said happily.
The small woman who was going to be his new boss got up, shook his hand and joined her two bodyguards. They left the lounge. Tony watched her go, shaking his head at the way things seemed to be turning out.
Back on board the plane, Tony enjoyed the first class dinner with its complementary glass of wine. Then after he watched a movie, the attendant helped him convert his seat into a recliner. He was covered with a warm blanket. He slept.
He woke six hours later, stretched and after looking around to see most of his fellow passengers still asleep, he made his way to the restroom. After another two hours, the attendant asked if he wanted breakfast. He had a latte, juice and a flakey croissant with jelly. He asked if he would be able to use his cell phone in flight. The attendant said no, so he turned on the video and watched the news. The total flight time was supposed to be about twelve hours.
After another hour, the attendant announced that they would be making preparations for landing. Tony found himself wondering about his apartment. He had asked Jimmy to clean out the perishable food from the fridge, and the cleaning service would have still come weekly. He figured he would have to take a taxi back to his place. He wondered what Abby and McGee thought about Ziva's ouster. He was worried they would blame him.
Gathering his backpack and jacket, he walked out of the plane and down a long corridor. He stood in line with his passport—his real one—and made it through customs. He turned down another corridor and found the escalator to the main concourse.
Suddenly, he felt a thud and was being squeezed tightly. It was Abby, of course. "Tony, you're back." she shrieked. "We all missed you."
He looked over her shoulder and saw Ducky, McGee and Jimmy standing with big welcoming smiles on their faces. "Welcome back, Anthony." Said Dr. Mallard. McGee shook his hand, and Jimmy, after hesitating, gave him a hug.
Then he felt a slap to the back of his head. "Good to have you back, DiNozzo." Gibbs smiled and then grabbed him into a hug. "We got a message from your good buddy Hadar that you'd be arriving. Don't ever run off like that again."
Tony smiled back. Abby began babbling about a dozen things that had happened while he was gone. McGee carried his backpack as they all walked out to a waiting limo. Jimmy said, "When we heard you were coming back, Gibbs had me stock your refrigerator and retrieve your goldfish."
Tony said happily, "It's good to be home."
They all got into the limo except Gibbs and Tony. Gibbs wanted to say something to him in private.
Gibbs said"Good to have you back. I wish I had known a lot of things before. Ziva…." he hesitated.
"I trusted her. Shouldn't have. You talk to the new director?"
Tony answered, "Yes. She told me Rule Five."
"That's right…Rule Five. You'll do great. And we can still have cowboy steaks on the weekend."
Tony smiled again. "It is good to be home."