The woman was still slender and beautiful despite the two children she had borne; in addition to inheriting the fortune of her father, a textile magnate, she had also inherited the impeccable genes of her mother, a movie star. She now looked to Special Agent Tony DiNozzo with anxiety, putting her cares into his hands.
"Leave it to me, ma'am," he said in his most reassuring tone. He was as confident as his demeanour suggested; by now he had handled dozens of hostage situations. He was an old hand. He had no doubt he could resolve this one.
He rapped on the barricaded door. "You can't stay in there forever. You're going to have to let Cindy go."
"I will not! I'm cutting her up right now!" came the shout from inside.
"He's bluffing," DiNozzo quickly assured his audience.
"No!" Caitlin wailed. Her mother quickly pulled her into a hug.
"Jethro," DiNozzo called through the door, "we've talked about this before. How do you handle it when your sister uses your things without asking?"
"He doesn't even like 'Iron Man 4'! He said it was dumb!" Caitlin accused. "Why should he care if I watched his stupid DVD?"
"You didn't ask!"
DiNozzo began the negotiations. "Jethro. If Caitlin apologizes, will you return her doll?"
"Daaaaaaaaad! Isn't she in trouble?" came the outraged reply.
"You're both in trouble anyway."
"That's not fair! He started it!" Caitlin yelled.
"Hush," her mother murmured. "Let your father settle this." Caitlin reluctantly quieted. With Cindy's safety at stake, she was in no position to stand on principle.
"Jethro?" DiNozzo prompted.
There was a long silence behind the door. "Yes," came the grudging reply at last.
"Caitlin?" DiNozzo looked at his daughter.
Caitlin scowled, but her concern for her loved one was the overriding concern. "I'm sorry I watched your DVD without asking," she grumbled.
Jethro's door opened and Cindy came flying out. DiNozzo expertly caught her in midair and put her into Caitlin's waiting hands. Caitlin hugged her favorite doll close. Cindy was unharmed. Last year Jethro had mangled one of the doll's arms. Their parents had taken Cindy to a doll hospital for a new arm and Jethro had been grounded for two months, as well as having to do punishment chores. Hence, DiNozzo's confidence that this time, Cindy would be returned intact.
DiNozzo stuck his foot in the door before Jethro could slam it shut. "Both of you, go down to the kitchen and get out the mops. Then report to your mother for further instructions." The expected chorus of whines began and he cut it off with, "NOW!" Both children grumpily stomped their way down the stairs.
Their mother watched them with relief. "How do women who aren't married to trained hostage negotiators manage?"
"Unfortunately, there aren't enough of me to go around," DiNozzo answered. She chuckled and put her arms around him, but before they could kiss his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket with resignation. "DiNozzo here."
"Boss, we ID'ed that Private John Doe," a voice said.
In the background, DiNozzo could hear a second voice raised. "Excuse me, I was the one who ID'ed him! Tell him that!"
The first voice replied, slightly away from the phone's mouthpiece. "There is no 'I' in team, remember?"
"Oh, so why is it that when you find something out you insist on getting the credit, but when I do it, suddenly it's all about the 'team'?"
Before this could go any further, DiNozzo cut the debate off with a curt, "And John Doe is who exactly?"
The first voice explained, sheepishly. DiNozzo listened, then asked with elaborate patience, "And what did his C.O. and his associates say when you interviewed them?"
"We haven't interviewed them, boss. Er, yet. Not yet. We're just about to."
DiNozzo pressed the button to end the call, kissed his wife quickly, and headed down the stairs. From the kitchen he could hear the sounds of his offspring fighting over who was going to use which mop, but the missus was going to have to handle that one herself.
As he neared the front door, he glanced quickly at the largest of the collection of framed photos on the hall table. It was a boot camp graduation portrait of a young man with bright blue eyes and a steely jaw. In a black frame.
"You must be laughing your ass off," he muttered to the picture as he hurried to the door.