By the end of the first buzz from the cell phone, John Reese was awake.
Halfway through the second buzz, he had already rolled over and reached out to silence it, hoping he had turned it off it in time to allow his partner to stay asleep.
For a precious few seconds, he laid there in the quiet bedroom, reluctant to leave the warmth of the sheets and the woman sleeping next to him, her breaths deep, slow, and steady. Half-covered by the bedding, Joss Carter's languid form was silhouetted against the early morning light beyond the drapes. John allowed himself a brief moment to appreciate what a lucky man he was to be beside this marvelous woman and to have her in his life. Then, reluctantly, he carefully extricated himself from the sheets and made his way to the edge of the bed, taking care not to jostle the mattress and wake Carter.
But it was not to be.
"Hey," Carter murmured into her pillow, her eyes still closed. "Case?"
"Yeah," John said gently. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"S'ok. Was between dreams. Half-awake."
"I hope they were nice dreams." He swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
"They were," Joss said wistfully. "I dreamed I was royalty. Princess Carter was looking for her Prince Charming." She opened one sleepy eye and smiled. "Oh, look. I found him."
"You know how it goes with sleeping princesses," John said. He leaned over and gave Carter a quick kiss on the cheek, then another. "They get a kiss."
"Does that mean I have to get up now?"
John chuckled. "No, go back to sleep. I'll call you later."
"Sounds good," Carter said.
John couldn't resist giving Carter one last quick peck on the cheek before he left.
When John arrived at the Library later in the morning, he found Harold Finch already bustling about, retrieving pictures and documents from the printer in the corner and taping them up on the pane of glass that served as a whiteboard. The morning light streamed through the windows, casting golden rays onto puddles of sunlight. Bear, who had been dozing peacefully in his doggie bed near the desk, jumped to his paws the instant he smelled the sweet pastries within the cardboard box in John's hands.
"Good morning, Harold," said John. He set the box of donuts down next to the keyboard and shook his head at Bear, who continued to gaze at the box with pleading eyes. John scritched behind the dog's ears and said, "Who's our number?"
"Good morning, Mr. Reese," Finch said. He limped past John on his way to the old laser printer as it spat out another sheet of paper. "Meet Leslie Johnson, mermaid."
John blinked in confusion. Surely Finch was using some obscure literary reference, or perhaps making a pun. It was too early in the day for wordplay. John hadn't even had the chance to get his coffee from the Keurig. "What?"
"Precisely what I said, Mr. Reese." With difficulty, Finch eased into his desk chair. "Miss Johnson is a professional mermaid. You can see for yourself."
Still unsure, John stepped closer to the whiteboard and examined the photos. In the first one was a young Black woman, maybe twenty-five or thirty years old, with deep brown skin and wavy, jet-black hair. She stood in front of a sign for an aquarium complex. Nothing unusual there, nor in the photo next to it, in which Leslie Johnson posed in a cap and gown, grinning widely next to another woman, who Reese suspected was her mother.
Reese raised an eyebrow when he got to the next photo. From the waist up, it was Leslie Johnson lying playfully on the beach, leaning backwards with her arms behind her for balance. But from the waist down...
"It's rather convincing," Finch said.
John wasn't sure that Finch's description did the picture justice.
"Is that Photoshop?" he asked, motioning to the glistening mermaid tail of green and teal. It started just below Leslie's belly button and encompassed her hips and legs, ending in a wide, fluted fin where her feet should have been. The tail was covered in thousands of tiny, iridescent scales, overlapping in a glittering, shimmering weave, and the tail fin was easily several feet across and long.
"No," Finch said. "Not Photoshop. Miss Johnson regularly performs in this attire." He motioned to one of the many monitors on his computer desk and opened a web browser tab.
"'Mermaid Ria, queen of the high seas'," John read aloud once the page had finished loading. "'See her at the Aquatic Center this August.' Also available for children's birthday parties and other events." He indicated for Finch to scroll down to the photo gallery, stopping at a particularly impressive underwater photo. Leslie looked to be suspended effortlessly in a cerulean expanse, her hair and the tail fin floating lazily in the clear waters. She was lit from behind by rays of sun, highlighting the edges of her hair and tail and giving her an ethereal look. "Are you sure that's not Photoshop?"
"I'm certain, Mr. Reese. You are looking at a very high-quality, bespoke mermaid tail—several thousand dollars' worth, at the least. The manufacturing of such tails is a growing industry."
"The more you know," John said dryly. "Where should we start? Do you think she's planning to lure some poor sailor to his doom?"
"I've done the usual prerequisite searches," Finch said. "Bank statements, relationships. She works part-time as an office receptionist and supplements her income with her mermaid performances. According to her social networking posts, she hopes to one day perform full-time. In addition, she has an ex, and the parting was not amicable, as far as I can tell. Ronald Williams works as a vehicle painter and specializes in vinyl-wrap installation on performance cars."
"Dibs on him," Shaw said. "I want to see the cars."
John, who was well used to Sameen Shaw's stealthy entrances, merely nodded in greeting, but Finch flinched in surprise.
"Good morning, Miss Shaw," he said. "Glad you could join us."
"Why'd they break up?" Shaw asked.
"I'm still digging up information on that," Finch said. "Unfortunately, much of their communication was via Snapchat, and that means that their messages are long lost. But there may be other data we can harvest from their phones via bluejacking."
"Anything else stand out about Leslie?" John asked. "It's not a lot to go on."
"Unfortunately, none yet. I'll keep digging."
"I'll tail Rob," Shaw volunteered. She walked off without waiting for affirmation, her exit as stealthy as her entrance.
"I'll follow Leslie," John said. "And I'll see if I can get Carter or Ellie to check out her house."
"Miss Johnson is likely at the office by now," Finch said. "I'll furnish you with the address and a suitable excuse to loiter."
"Sounds good," John said. He gave Bear one last scratch behind the ears and headed for the coffee machine.
A/N: my first try at writing Careese! Let me know what you think please!