Greetings readers and fellow POI fans. This is my first attempt at writing a POI story – I've previously dabbled in the "MacGyver" and "Stargate SG-1" fandoms, and deicded to try something different.
This story is set in mid to late Season 2. The gang's all here – Reese, Finch, Carter, Fusco, and Bear. There is some blood, but nothing more than we've seen on the show. There are no parings, only good friends uniting to come through tough times.
Thanks to KaiDromeda and Wuchell1 for finding my mistakes and keeping me going when writers block tried to slow me down.
I'll try to post every Thursday. Reviews are appreciated.
The seemingly uncontrolled hustle of the New York City morning commute could be overwhelming at best. Thousands of people weaving their way through, over, and around one another, all striving to reach their destination as quickly as possible. Horns honked, airbrakes hissed, and disgruntled voices rose and fell in time to the repeating pattern of the traffic lights strung high above the city streets. Pedestrians flocked together on curbs, and bicyclists sped almost haphazardly through the ever-changing landscape.
Perched safely above the mayhem, an old stone building stood sentry. It was a library, but no patron ever entered to borrow a book or to research the answer to some pressing question. This library was different. It was special. Owned and maintained by a reclusive billionaire, it served as a home base for one the city's most vital assets. An asset it didn't even know it had.
Surrounded by dusty stacks of catalogued books, a cobbled together computer sat atop a cluttered desk. Bulletin boards peppered with scraps of photos and notes defined the workstation that was set up within the library's massive main hall. Large panes of frosted glass filtered the harsh morning sun, resulting in a warm, pleasant glow. Protected from the chaos and immediacy of the streets below, the mood was almost peaceful.
Harold Finch, expert hacker and technological genius, sat before the computer, his hands gliding effortlessly over the keys. He had been at it for several hours already; researching the latest Number The Machine had relayed to him through a payphone earlier that morning. The Machine, a program of his own design, was able to predict premeditated crimes, giving him and his associates the chance to stop them before they occurred. Originally designed to help prevent acts of terror in the post 9/11 world, Harold had made it his mission to help save the victims of crimes the government felt to be irrelevant.
A forceful sneeze prompted Harold to glance down at the dog on the floor by his feet. Bear, a fawn colored Belgian Malinois, lounged on his bed with a tennis ball wedged firmly between his front paws. He was diligently striping the jacket from the ball's surface, and had managed to coat both himself and much of the floor with florescent green fluff. Harold frowned at the mess, but didn't command the dog to stop. Bear was occupied, and that meant he could work at his computer without interruption.
It was just past seven when the sounds of jangling keys and the security gate being slid open broke into the pleasant hush of the library. Harold watched from the corner of his eye as Bear leapt to his feet and bolted down the hall, an excited whine escaping him as he went. A moment later, he heard the skid of toenails and a soft grunt, followed by several words spoken in Dutch.
"Naar beneden." (Down)
He could picture the Malinois going as still as a statue, waiting for his owner to give the next command.Tock…Tock…Tock… A tennis ball bounced on the floor.
Tock tock…tock tock…tock tock… Two tennis balls bounced on the floor.Tock tock tock…tock tock tock…tock tock tock…
Three balls? Harold stiffly turned his shoulders in an attempt to see down the hall. Just what are those two doing over there?
The sound of scrabbling feet and an over zealous dog crashing bodily into furniture floated down to where Harold sat.
"Vinden." (Find it)
There was a muffled, anxious bark, followed by scrape of more furniture being moved.
"Goede jongen!" (Good boy)
Bear trotted around the corner a moment later, his head held high and all three tennis balls clutched in his mouth.
"Practicing stupid pet tricks, Mr. Reese?" he asked as his associate made his way into the main hall.
John Reese, ex-CIA operative and an expert in all things lethal, set a box of breakfast pastries on Harold's desk. "The world record for a dog holding tennis balls in his mouth is five. I think Bear could beat it by at least three."
Both men turned to Bear, who was still holding the bright green balls between his jaws and happily wagging his tail. The guard dog looked ridiculous.
"Perhaps you should lower your standards."
"Laten vallen." (Drop)
All three balls hit the floor as soon as John gave the command. "Or just be thankful he favors tennis balls over stray cats," he muttered, watching as Bear hooked one of the balls in his paws and began ripping the felt from its surface. He nodded toward the bank of computers. "We have a new Number, Finch?"
"As a matter of fact, we do." Pushing back from the table, Harold stood and limped over to the nearest bulletin board. "Tell me, Mr. Reese, how do you feel about horses?"
"Horses?" John hadn't expected such a question. He immediately envisioned a person with unpaid track debt or maybe a trainer being strong-armed to fix a race. "I think they're beautiful creatures. Why?"
"Because it will make interacting with this Number much easier." Harold picked up a photo and stuck it to the glass. In it a woman was standing beside a remarkable black horse, her arms embracing its massive neck. "Maggie Barton: a thirty-seven year old equine enthusiast and down home country girl. She owns a sizable property several hours north of here where she runs a rather lucrative breeding and training program."
"And the horse?"
"'The Count of Monte Christo,' or 'Count' for short." Harold returned to his computer and tapped at the keyboard, triggering a patchwork of photographs and text to appear on the main monitor. "He's a twelve year old Tennessee Walking Horse with foundation bloodlines and a pedigree traceable back to the 1930's. According to Mrs. Barton's website, Stepping Pace Acres currently has six stallions at stud, but Count is the farm's biggest draw. He's won numerous World Grand Champion titles, and his color, movement, and gentle disposition make him highly desirable to breeders. For five thousand dollars, you can have a vial of cooled semen sent to your door, or for ten thousand, a live breeding with the Count himself. Live foal guaranteed, of course."
John rummaged around in the box of pastries he'd brought and came out with an icing smeared Danish. "Ten thousand dollars for a date with him? Does it at least come with dinner?"
"If you'd sired nearly three dozen Grand Champions, your fees would be a bit steep too, Mr. Reese. Count himself is worth six figures and between show earnings and stud fees, he's grossed in excess of two million dollars."
"Sounds like Count's living the dream."
Eyebrows raised over his glasses, Harold looked at his partner in mild shock.
John merely smirked around a bite of Danish and shrugged. "Any indications why The Machine chose Mrs. Barton for me to follow?"
"I haven't found anything suspicious thus far, however, I've only had time to explore the most obvious venues." Harold's fingers worked over the keyboard. "She has no criminal record; the only contact she's had with the authorities is to report nuisance animals or the occasional escaped horse. Her cyber footprint is almost exclusively related to her business, including some of the more popular social media sites. Even her finances are rock solid, with funds coming in and out at an expected rate."
"What about signs of money laundering?" John asked, peering over his boss's shoulder at the screen.
"No – nothing explicit, anyway. From what I've seen so far, her record keeping is scrupulous. She has detailed documentation for every transaction she's made spanning across several decades."
"Records can be falsified."
"Very true; however, to do so at this magnitude would be a full time job in and of itself. There's no mention of an accountant, so I assume she does her own bookkeeping. If she's wrapped up in something illicit, she's hidden it well. In fact, the only item of interest I could find was a sealed court case dating back to 2003. I've sent the details over to Detective Carter with the hope that she can access it. In the meantime, I need you to head up to Stepping Pace Acres and establish contact with our Number."
"I don't know much about the horse industry, Finch."
"You don't have to. In addition to the breeding and training programs, the farm offers guided trail rides of the estate and neighboring properties. I've arranged such a ride for you as a cover. Was I correct in assuming you've ridden before, Mr. Reese?"
"Once." John's memory flashed back to a mission he'd been part of during the early 90's. His unit had been in Mexico, helping to search for several Boarder Patrol guards who'd gone missing while pursuing a smuggler. They'd split up into groups of three to better cover the territory they'd been assigned, and spent the better part of two days scouring the desert with no luck. On the third day, his group caught a creditable tip, but they were thirty miles out from the location. An old tobacco farmer offered them the use of his horses, instructing them to simply turn the animals loose when they were done. The horses would or would not return on their own – he didn't seem to care either way.
His mount, a cantankerous brown mare with a badly swayed back, possessed a short, choppy stride that he could find no comfortable way to ride. His desert fatigues had offered little protection against the hard leather saddle as he bounced and chafed across the desert. Nearly eight hours later, they came across the missing guards, but not before he had discovered a new meaning of the term 'ball breaker.'
"It was a rather…uncomfortable experience."
"I see." Acutely perceptive, Harold seemed to know what John was alluding to without being told the details. "I certainly hope this endeavor doesn't turn out to be as unpleasant as your last one. However, in case it does, I do still have the cushion I purchased for you when Agent Snow made an attempt on your life. If you would like me to get it out of storage, you're welcome to it, Mr. Reese."
Perceptive himself, John didn't need Harold to laugh aloud or smile to know the other man was enjoying himself at his expense. "I think I can manage."
"Very well. Now Mrs. Barton suggested wearing comfortable clothes for the ride, and by comfortable, she means jeans and sturdy footwear such as hiking boots. Do you own such items?"
"Good. Keep a close eye on the people around you – especially the farm help. With no clues as to who may be targeting our Number, the threat could come from anywhere. I'll keep digging here and update you with anything I find along the way. Your ride is scheduled for eleven thirty. You should have plenty of time to get there and have a look around."
"I'd best be leaving then."
Harold began pecking at the keyboard and then paused. "Above all, Mr. Reese, be careful. You'll be out of your element in the country and dealing with potentially dangerous animals."
"Careful is my middle name."
"Really? And here I thought it was mine."
"No – yours is paranoid, Finch." Flashing his employer a lopsided smirk, John gave Bear a departing clap on the haunches and headed out to prepare for his mission.