- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Canon Divergence
4 July 2009
Tony got up from the airplane seat and stretched. He really loved private jets, just for the legroom if nothing else. Even in first-class or business class, his legs always ended up cramping if the flight was longer than two hours or so. And Washington to London was over seven hours, more on a commercial flight.
But it had given him time to relax, knowing he wasn’t going to be getting calls about interviews or emails or texts or going out for breakfast or a run only to be ambushed by someone conveniently “in the neighborhood” and offering him a job.
And one huge plus of his early departure thanks to Eli David’s entrance into the US — no one knew he was coming, he wasn’t expected to be in London for another five days for his first interview by a European agency. So he was going to get a nice hotel room and spend time doing the tourist thing in London and maybe he would even rent a car and drive to other sights in other cities.
If his Uncle Clive had still been alive, Tony would have made sure to swing by for a visit. But he was several months too late and the only one left from his mother’s side of the family was Crispian. And that was just a hard no, the hardest of hard limits. Red light. Not a chance. No way in hell. Tony had had enough assholes at work, leading to his current job hunt, he didn’t need to spend time with the ones in his family if he wasn’t forced to.
Now, hopefully, the thought didn’t jinx him, here was hoping he didn’t somehow stumble on Senior during his travels. It would be just his luck, the old man getting wind of his situation and the head-hunting frenzy going on, and trying to horn in to get his “just piece of the pie, Junior.”
Tony made his way off the jet and through customs in the international VIP terminal before claiming his bags and heading towards the taxi stand. He got five steps when he stopped dead, blinking in disbelief.
There was a man in a driving suit and cap, round, dark-framed glasses perched on his nose. He was holding a sign, “A. DiNozzo.” What the hell? No one knew he was coming! He was five freaking days early!
Tony just wanted to relax and unwind from the recent insanity of protective custody and aliens and robot houses and their robot cats and getting shot at and AIs tracking every move and old friends with dozens of job offers and emails from skeevy private security companies that he would never work for even if they were the only ones hiring in the world. He’d rather take a job at McDonald’s or collecting garbage than some of the suspicious offers he was getting. Hell, he’d rather take a job at the CIA than the last two offers that were in his email inbox before he boarded the plane.
Tony was tempted to just ignore the sign and pretend he wasn’t “A. DiNozzo.” Maybe he really wasn’t. Not for this guy. As Senior always said, he was the real Anthony DiNozzo. Maybe he was coming into London and it was a big freaking coincidence.
The thought fizzled out as Tony took another step forward and the man met his eyes and inclined his head. “Mister DiNozzo, the car is waiting. May I take your bag for you?”
Tony tightened his grip. “I’ve got it. Who sent the car?”
The man smiled. “Someone who wants to join the queue and offer you a job, sir. I can drop you at your hotel. Or elsewhere.”
Tony narrowed his eyes. “How did this someone know I was here, now?”
The man shrugged. “You would have to ask him, sir. I just drive the car.”
Tony’s eyes flicked over the man, taking in the strangely stiff driving jacket and pants, the gloves with haptic tips, the small tell with how his coat hung that spoke of a holster underneath, though the normal bulge was missing. Tony hummed a note, nodded, and motioned with his hand. “Okay, Hoke Colburn, just call me Miss Daisy.”
The man turned and led the way outside. Tony moved his suitcase to his left hand and unbuttoned his jacket. He wasn’t wearing his gun, but he did follow Gibbs’ Rule 9, one of his best rules, really. Always carry a knife. And he had amended the ‘a’ to ‘several’. He hadn’t traveled commercial and so security hadn’t really been an issue. The possibility that he’s bringing a knife to a potential gunfight isn’t far from his mind, but it’s better than a shard of a glass table, so there’s that. Plus, they are currently in public. Once he’s in the car, things could change rapidly, but he was nearly positive this has nothing to do with the Davids or Mossad.
As they neared the curb, Tony’s eyes widened as he saw the car he is being escorted to. “Hmm. Mis-referenced it. You aren’t Hoke, you’re Travis Bickle. Played by Robert DeNiro, 1976, Taxi Driver. Highly acclaimed movie though incredibly controversial at the time. Nominated for four Oscars but got shut out. Won a Palm d’Or at Cannes, though. Gave us the much-quoted pop culture line, ‘You talkin’ to me?’ Considered one of the best films of its genre.”
The man nodded his head. “I’ve seen it. But I don’t think I compare to Mister Bickle. I’m fairly normal, sir.” He opened the taxi door.
Tony looked inside, at the man sitting in the seat and the interior of the car, and shot a look over his shoulder. “Yeah, Alex Reiger, that’s you. Totally normal taxicab driver. Should be working for Louie DePalma.”
“I couldn’t possibly pull off the accent, sir.”
Tony huffed a laugh and slid into the incredibly luxurious backseat of the cab. Leather seats, a minibar with crystal decanters and tumblers, polished fittings and a television screen set into a wooden partition. The driver walked around to his side, slid behind the wheel and raised the heavy wood partition between the front and the back, no Plexiglas here. Tony met the eyes of his fellow passenger.
The man’s head was bald but not by nature. At least, not entirely. More like he was balding and just decided to go all the way and shave what would be there rather than cover up what wasn’t. His face was impassive behind oval glasses, black tops with small strips of gold framing the lenses. He was wearing a bespoke suit with a sweater underneath.
And that is what he was thrown off by with the driver — he was wearing a taxi driver uniform type suit but it was bespoke. What kind of pay would a taxi driver make to afford a bespoke uniform?
“I suppose you’re the one joining the queue for offering me work?”
The man smiled. “Yes, Agent DiNozzo. I think you would make a wonderful fit for the agency I work for.” His Scottish burr put a hint of menace behind the words.
Tony smiled in return, all teeth. “Now, you know my name but I’m afraid I don’t know yours.”
The man inclined his head. “My name is Merlin.”
Tony’s eyebrow twitched. “How very Arthurian.”
Merlin’s smile widened. “Yes. Indeed, it is.”
Tony tilted his head to the side and looked at his new companion as the car pulled into the traffic flow. “Code name, then.”
Merlin nodded. “Quite right, Agent DiNozzo.”
Tony shrugged. “Not hard. It isn’t a common name, even on your side of the pond, so to speak. And you have referred to me formally twice now, but your introduction was only by your first name. Now, while I considered the fact that Merlin could be a name given by more — free-wheeling parents, you don’t come off as the informal type, not without an invitation to be so. Especially as you’ve been formal with me, to this point. And you certainly aren’t Cher or Madonna, so the fact that you only used a single name to introduce yourself, no surname, and the reaction to my Arthurian comment, the conclusion was obvious. Merlin is your code name in your agency and I would take a guess that most, if not all the others, are named for Arthurian legends and tales.”
“Very impressive, Agent DiNozzo. All of that analysis from a very small answer.”
Tony chuckled. “It’s what I was trained for, to spot inconsistencies and make connections. And just make it Tony. I’m not terribly formal and if you only get one name, I’m not going to be a jerk and make you use the whole mouthful every time.”
Merlin smiled a more genuine smile this time. “I’ve heard tales, lad.”
“Oh? I know my talents have evidently spread far and wide but tales?”
“I worked with your Uncle Clive for a great many years. And he was quite fond of your exploits.”
Tony blinked. “I’m sorry? I was under the impression that Uncle Clive mostly lived off the family money other than when he worked as a — oh, tailor. Bespoke uniforms for drivers of limo-like taxis, taxis whose exterior appears normal, though the interior is anything but and I’m betting the glass is bulletproof, the panels, as well. And possibly hidden weapons in the chassis. My uncle was a spy. Not MI6 or MI5. Something else, more covert, more off the books. Hidden under the guise of a tailor shop.”
“You are indeed very good at what you do, Tony. I was fairly sure Clive was correct. And I do agree with him that you would make a wonderful agent for us. Unfortunately, the timing is off for that. Your uncle’s position opened up months ago and the trials are nearly complete for his replacement.”
“Trials, huh? Very quest-like.”
“We are consistent in our working. We are an independent intelligence agency working under the highest discretion. We don’t need to worry about the bureaucracy and red tape of the governmental intelligence agencies.”
Tony cocked his head. “And who watches the watchers?”
Merlin sighed. “Very few know about us. Some do. It is unavoidable. But they allow us to operate as we are able to do things and go places they cannot, for various reasons.”
“Plausible deniability on behalf of Her Majesty’s government? They don’t know who you are if caught, you weren’t working for them.”
Merlin nodded. “Exactly. The timing is too bad. You would make an excellent agent.”
Tony smirked at the slightest of pauses he heard in the sentence and several pieces fell into place. He was enjoying this little game, this puzzle. “An excellent agent. Something you’re not. At least not regularly. You’re good but you keep giving yourself away. Small tics. Like just then. You aren’t used to calling them agents. Based on the ongoing theme, the agents in your agency are usually referred to as knights, am I right? Knights of the Round Table, perhaps?”
Merlin’s breath left him in a huffing sound. “You are even better than I had surmised based on previous knowledge.”
“Thank you. Other than Uncle Clive, who was a knight of your table, I suppose, what other knowledge do you have of me? Because the way you phrased that wasn’t talking about stories of my days at Ohio State or on the force.”
“No. I’ve heard plenty of those tales. Clive kept a closer eye on you than you likely realized. But no, you’ve actually encountered some of our — knights during your time at NCIS.”
Merlin nodded. “Twice during the few months when you were leading your team and running foreign operations in your secure center and once during your tenure as an agent on the aircraft carrier.”
“Huh. Your knight wasn’t onboard. I didn’t miss that level of infiltration?”
“No. During one of the shore leaves. It wasn’t on an official investigation. But the man you helped when he was in an alley? In Naples. He was a knight and you inadvertently helped him to escape the gang he was investigating.”
“The tourist who had been mugged and robbed? The guy in the — bespoke suit. That is a tell.”
Merlin nodded. “We don’t always wear them. Not all situations make it feasible, but we do consider it our modern armor.”
“And the two MTAC missions?”
“Both from the Middle East, our knights were in the background and information you provided to some of their contacts allowed us to stop a ring that had access to biological weapons-grade hazardous materials, lad. The intelligence you were looking at led your people to the insurgents who were targeting the US troops in the area and kidnapping Americans. The analysis you did, led us further to those we were searching for, and we stopped them, with only a day or two to spare from setting off bombs laced with smallpox, Spanish flu, and the bubonic plague in eight cities around the world. That incident, that excellent analysis, led to your placement on our list of those to watch for potential recruitment.”
Tony sighed blew out a breath in almost a whistle, shivering internally at the dreaded word ‘plague.’ “Well. I’m glad I could provide support to your operations, unknowingly as it was. But you keep lamenting the fact that your knight trials are underway for Uncle Clive’s place after his death. So, is this just an open-ended we exist, keep us in mind offer?”
Merlin shook his head. “No, lad. We don’t do that. And we only hold knight trials when there is an opening at the table. That is, when one of the knights dies, whether on a mission or naturally.”
“Okay. So what is your pitch, Merlin?”
“As I’ve said, we have a limited number of knights — field agents as you would term them. But my department is different, to an extent.”
“I already knew you weren’t a knight, even if the name didn’t point it out. So, what division is your division?”
“The Merlins oversee the magic that happens. Everything from tech creation to mission set up to intelligence analysis and knight handlers and running missions to running the knight trials when needed.”
“So, that’s you, you’re the current Merlin. But you aren’t trying to recruit me as your position. I am not remotely qualified. And I’m getting tired of being offered jobs that I am not qualified for just for the sake of one-upmanship, hoping to get me to rub the others’ noses in it. So, since you aren’t looking to retire and leave your knights and such to me, what section of your division are you hoping to recruit me for?”
Merlin’s burr grew stronger. “I’m nowhere near retirement age, lad. You and I are nearly the same age, truthfully. Not quite but it is close. No matter what my bald head might say.”
“I can tell you shave it.”
“Good then. Fine.” Merlin huffed. “I think you would be an excellent fit mixing a few of the jobs in my division. I’ve already praised your innate intelligence analysis skills. I won’t swell your head or kiss yer bum about it. And you’d make an excellent handler with your ability to think on your feet as situations change. And handlers do occasionally and sometimes often go into the field to an extent with their knights.”
“So, some of the knights have squires?”
Merlin sighed. “Damn it, yes. They do. Now, our tech is advanced, more so than you’re used to but I know you’ve kept up on your technical skills and computer knowledge and you’re a fast study, it wouldn’t take much to get you up to speed.”
Tony looked away. “It is intriguing. But I’ve gotten a great many intriguing offers in the past month or so. And are you offering a potential knight trial in the future?”
Merlin shook his head. “I won’t lie to you, lad. If you join my division, there’s no being a knight in your future. The way the trials work, how we test the recruits, you’d have insider information and would start several steps ahead. But you could help with any future trials. Or you turn me down and maybe in a few years or weeks or months or never, someone in a bespoke suit with glasses will approach you and offer you a job interview at a tailor shop. The most intense and dangerous job interview of your life.”
Tony hummed under his breath. “I’m not going to give you my answer now. You realize that.”
“Of course not, lad. I just wanted to get time with you to give my offer. And it is open-ended. There’s no time limit on when you can contact me and accept it. If you turn me down this time around, but your next step doesn’t work out, immediately or years down the line, just call. As long as I am Merlin, you have a job if you want it.”
Merlin took a business card out of his pocket and held it out. Tony took it. It was high-end card stock reading Kingsman Tailors, London with a small phone number in the corner.
“Just tell the person who answers your name and that you wonder if brogues are in this season. It will get to me and I will get back to you with the next step.”
Tony chuckled and shook his head. “I wonder if brogues are in this season. Those exact words?”
Tony grinned. “I always did love spy movies.”
Merlin nodded. “As do we all.”
The cab pulled up in front of the Dorchester and pulled to a stop. “How did you—”
“As I said, Tony, Clive kept a close eye on you. I took the liberty of making a reservation for you.” As the taxi driver opened the door behind Tony, Merlin reached out a hand and Tony shook it. Merlin’s other hand patted Tony on the back of the shoulder twice before he smiled. “It’s been a pleasure and I hope to hear from you soon, lad.”
“It’s been interesting. And intriguing, as I said. Thanks for the lift.”
Tony grabbed his bag with a little help from the driver and entered the hotel lobby, the hotel brand he always stayed at whenever he visited London or Los Angeles or Paris and it wasn’t for work. He checked himself in, the reservation was for a suite but at least it wasn’t the Presidential Suite or a Bridal Suite.
It was a lovely room and Tony set his bag down and eased off his jacket, running his hands over the back shoulder. He grinned and laughed aloud at the small, nearly invisible bug he found there.
“Nice try, Merlin. But the touch was too out of the blue. And the one on the bag from the driver, too. But nice final test. You may hear from me yet.”
Tony disposed of the bugs by flushing them and laid back on his hotel bed to contemplate the increasing insanity of his life. What next?