A/N: To get in the mood for the car chase scene, watch youtube dot com slash watch?v= iIhy6HjnAGk
John hummed a jaunty little tone as he made his way down the sidewalk with a paper bag dangling from one hand. The sun had long since disappeared behind the line of apartment buildings, leaving behind only a faint glow in the fading sky. He reached an unremarkable brown sedan and gently knocked twice on the driver's side window. The lock clicked, and he swung himself inside.
"Did I miss anything?" he asked the car's other occupant, setting the bag on the center console.
"Nah," Joss said. "But I missed you."
"I was only gone for fifteen minutes," John said, amused.
"That's fifteen minutes too long. I've barely seen you since this morning."
"It was a long fifteen minutes," John agreed, smiling.
They held each other's gaze for several seconds before Joss said, "Right, okay, enough lovey stuff, I'm starved."
"Only the best Chinese take-out for my fair lady," John said, proffering the bag.
The next few minutes were spent unpacking and enjoying the meal John had purchased from the restaurant up the road. The rich scents of Kung-Pao chicken and vegetable Chow-Mein quickly filled the car.
John and Shaw had switched roles earlier in the afternoon to avoid detection. Shaw stalked Leslie like a shadow as she left for lunch at a taqueria; meanwhile, John set up shop across the street from the car detailer and watched Ronald painstakingly apply a massive sheet of yellow vinyl wrap to a sporty coupe, shaping and smoothing the covering over the original finish with the meticulous care of a master craftsman until the vinyl was indistinguishable from a factory paint job. The display of patience was a far cry from the blustering man they had seen earlier that day.
Now, in the early twilight, John and Joss were staked out in a car outside Ronald's apartment building.
"So," Carter said between bites. "Your guy, Ron." She motioned to the second-story window of the apartment building across the street. "Heard he has a gambling problem."
"Yep. Finch is looking into his finances now."
"I got what I could on both of them," Carter said. She reached between the seat and center console, pulling out a manila folder and flipping through the pages with one hand. "Leslie's clean. Not even a speeding ticket. Ron, on the other hand…"
"A model driver?" John asked around a mouthful of chicken.
"Didn't your mama teach you to eat with your mouth closed?" Carter laughed. "No, definitely not a model driver—he's had three speeding tickets and two reported accidents in the past five years. Guess the fast cars went to his head. There's also a report of an 'altercation' when he was working as a construction foreman a few months back…he was arrested but not charged, at the alleged victim's request…says here the incident escalated from a disagreement about a parking space." Carter shook her head. "I know parking in New York is frustrating, but I probably wouldn't punch someone in the face if they took my parking spot."
"'Probably'?" John asked, eyes sparkling with mirth.
"No promises. Street parking is brutal. Anyway. You guys dig up anything else interesting on him or Leslie?"
"Mmm." Carter said.
They went back to eating. Carter wolfed down the rest of her meal, digging around in the bottom of the takeout container with her chopsticks in hope of finding one last piece of chicken. Disappointed, she closed the box and tossed it back in the bag.
"Didn't your mother teach you to eat slower?" John said, amused.
"Fine, we're even now," Carter said, rolling her eyes. She picked up her phone and unlocked it. Its web browser popped up, revealing an ocean-themed website. Splashed across the header was a young woman in a sparkling green mermaid tail much like Leslie's.
"'Fin Forum', huh?" John said, spotting the name just before Carter scrolled down the page. "Are you thinking of becoming a professional mermaid too?"
Carter snorted. "Just researching."
"That's what you said last time."
Carter ignored him. "I got curious about a few things while you were gone. Found this forum about mermaiding. These people are dedicated. Do you realize how much the really nice tails cost? It's not a cheap hobby. Not easy, either. It takes a lot of body strength to do the dolphin kick for more than a few minutes. Plus, you have to deal with the chlorine damage to your hair and equipment, and pink eye, and kids, and the business side of things…"
"Aww, you're ruining my fantasies," John complained.
"Fantasies, huh?" Carter gave him the side eye. "You hoping to see me in one of those things?"
"I can neither confirm nor deny."
"Uh huh. Sure. Keep fantasizing."
"That wasn't a 'no'," John said hopefully.
"It wasn't a 'yes' either." Carter snorted. "I swam in a monofin a few times when I was younger. It's tough. Don't know if I have it in me these days."
"Your stamina last night suggests otherwise."
"Well aren't you just the romantic one tonight. Seriously, you ever use a monofin? It takes a lot of effort."
"A few times. Didn't like the lack of mobility from having both feet attached to one fin."
"Fair enough. I liked the speed."
John's phone buzzed.
"Probably Finch," he said. He put the call on speakerphone. "Yeah, Finch?"
"Good evening, Mr. Reese, Miss Carter," said Finch, his voice tinny through the phone's external speaker. "I have completed a preliminary search on the video footage of the black SUVs spotted near Mr. William's workplace this morning. Of the three, one had a temporary registration and no license plate. Facial recognition shows the driver as one Jim Weaver, who has a criminal record—several counts of petty thievery, and recently he was charged as an accomplice as part of an attempted heist at a sporting goods store. There is at least one passenger in the vehicle, but his or her face is obscured. It should be noted that Mr. Weaver does not own a black SUV."
"Interesting. We may have to pay him a visit if he pops up again."
"Sounds sketchy," Carter agreed. "How about Ronald's finances? Any luck there on the gambling angle?"
"Mr. William is several thousand dollars in the red," Finch said flatly. "The amount of withdrawals at casino ATMs does not paint a flattering portrait of Mr. William's gambling skills."
"The house always wins," Carter said.
"Indeed, Ms. Carter. There is a telling pattern in the withdrawal locations. It appears that Mr. Williams has stopped visiting—or was kicked out of—many of the more legitimate casinos within a few dozen miles."
"Let me guess," John said. "Now it's backrooms and card tables?"
"At least one of the locations he likely visited, based on ATM proximity, was shut down last month by NYPD as part of a probe into an illicit gambling ring. At least one of the organizers is still at large."
"Sounds like a good angle to investigate," Carter said. "I can chat with Donnelly, see if he knows anything. Maybe our guy is on his radar."
"How's Donnelly doing these days?" John asked playfully. "Is he still chasing the Man in the Suit?"
Carter rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but he's keeping it low key—he's focused on another case. Whatever Elizabeth and that batshit hacker friend of hers did a few weeks back, it got him hopping mad. Did they really break into a field office in broad daylight?"
"I have it on good authority that it wasn't Elizabeth's idea."
"Yeah, well, she still went along with it, so she's a dumbass. That girl's lucky the security footage got all 'mysteriously' corrupted, 'cause now Donnelly is looking for some vague 'girl in a skirt' and a 'hacker in a hoodie'." Carter made air quotes. "Between you and me, he's horrible with nicknames."
"I dunno," John said. "The 'Man in the Suit' has a nice ring to it. Makes him sound dashing and handsome. Mysterious." He lowered his voice. "Sexy."
"Okay, Casanova," Carter laughed. "Don't get too full of yourself…"
The night passed without incident. Early the next morning, the team switched roles again; Shaw tailed Ron to the auto shop and ducked into the coffee shop across the street, ordering a coffee and a pastry before settling in to watch Ron work on a sporty sedan, carefully prepping a body panel to work out a dent. Meanwhile, John once again donned his IT technician disguise and checked into the office building where Leslie worked to continue to "troubleshoot" the wireless network, which (courtesy of Finch) was still acting up every few hours.
They really should've changed their router's admin credentials...
Shaw idly popped another chunk of pastry into her mouth, chasing it down with a swirl of coffee. Ron continued to work on the car, oblivious to his audience of one. He knelt down next to the dented panel, his movements slow and deliberate, and carefully affixed a portable LED lamp to the side of the car with a suction cup. With the flaw clearly illuminated by the powerful light, he spent a good thirty seconds examining it from various angles, considering his options and rubbing his chin absentmindedly.
Shaw felt torn about the car. On one hand, the E30 M3 was a beautiful vehicle, a true classic, and it was nice to see that its owner was paying someone to take care of it.
On the other hand, silver was a fucking boring color.
"Miss Shaw," Finch said, his urgent voice breaking into her idle thoughts, "Mr. Weaver's SUV just appeared on a traffic camera two blocks north of your location and appears to be headed your way. He has a passenger again."
"Any idea who it is?" Shaw stood up, stuffed the last of the pastry in her mouth, threw a twenty on the table, and headed for the door.
"One moment," Finch said.
Shaw stepped outside and huddled in the shadowy alcove of the entrance, every so often glancing up the street. She couldn't see the SUV amid the traffic yet. Or could she? Was that the SUV, half-hidden behind a van stopped at the light?
She waited, drumming her fingers against the cool brick wall.
"Facial recognition identifies him as one Johansen Morrison. Prior charges include assault with a deadly weapon and extortion."
"Lovely. Okay. I'll get Ron inside the building. He's out in the open in the garage. Get me backup."
"Detectives Carter and Fusco are on their way, but it will be some time before they arrive."
"Great." Shaw darted across the street, brazenly stepping in front of traffic to a chorus of angry honks. "Just great. Anybody else in the car?"
"The angle only allows me to see the front of the vehicle. There may be passengers in the rear."
"Right." She hurried across the street and stepped into the garage bay. Ron whirled around when her shadow fell across the car. He looked startled, but quickly composed himself.
"Uh, ma'am, you can't be in the garage," he said, "our insurance company doesn't allow—"
Shaw had been thinking of excuses to get Ron somewhere safe, but she couldn't come up with one in a few seconds that didn't sound completely contrived. So instead, she went with her trademarked direct approach.
"Yeah, you know that Escalade you were freaking out about yesterday?" she said. "It's coming back."
"What?" His eyes widened, almost comically, and he dropped the rubber mallet he'd been holding.
"Yeah, you might want to get in the office and lock the—"
"Fuck no! I'm getting out of here." And before Shaw could react, he ran outside, frantically digging around in his pocket for his car keys. Shaw caught up to him a few cars down the sidewalk as he struggled to unlock the WRX, his hands shaking too much for the key to make it into the lock.
"Dude," Shaw said, "it's New York, not an action movie. You're going to cause an accident. Get the fuck in the office, lock the door."
"I am trying to save your life," Shaw said, impatience filtering through her voice. She glanced up the road. "Get in the—"
She was cut off by screeching tires as the Escalade lurched to a stop in front of the shop's garage bays, the passenger doors flying open. Two hulking men stepped out in sync, both armed with pistols, and advanced on the garage. For a precious few seconds, it seemed they had not noticed that the quarry was no longer inside.
"Plan B," Shaw said. She snatched the keys out of Ron's hands and deftly unlocked the front door, swinging inside, pulling the seat forward, and unlocking the other doors all at the same time. She slammed her foot down on the clutch. "Get in the back."
"What—you can't—!" Ron sputtered.
"Get in or make nice with your friends, your choice."
Ron made up his mind a split-second before the driver of the SUV noticed him and shouted to his cohorts. By then, Shaw had the twin-turbo engine roaring to life.
"Get down!" She shouted. Shaw gave him just enough time to dive for the floor mats before she got the RPMs right where she wanted them and dumped the clutch. With a terrific squeal, all four wheels spun and then caught on the asphalt, launching the car forward and pressing Shaw back into the seat—briefly, before the car began to wander out from under her. God damn stance bros and their dumbass tires, she thought, easing off just enough for the tires to grip properly and guiding the car the way she wanted it to go. Even with the delay, the engine sang and soon hit redline, bouncing off the limiter for a split second before Shaw shifted. Behind her, Ron let out a colorful stream of curses and the passenger door slammed shut.
"You crazy-!" Ron's head was visible in the rearview.
"Down," Shaw reminded him. He command was punctuated by a dull pop, pop-pop—all misses—and then a much louder crack as the passenger side mirror exploded into shrapnel. In response, Shaw casually yanked the handbrake for a split second and jerked the wheel, sending the car careening left across the intersection through a brief gap in the traffic. Shaw, of course, was braced for the maneuver, but Ron was not, and he tumbled back down to the floor.
The car drifted a little further than Shaw had intended, but she recovered with aplomb and opened up the throttle—a little less than she usually would, to compensate for Angry McDumbass' crooked tires—to gain a little distance and plan her next move.
"You know these douchenozzles?" she asked as the Escalade lumbered around the corner, its nose briefly rising as the driver jammed his foot on the accelerator. While it was a far cry from the WRX, the Escalade still had a respectable amount of torque and horsepower. Shaw would have to win on maneuverability.
"Uh—I—I think I owe them money?" Ron stammered out.
"You think?" She nudged the wheel sharply, swinging the car around a Camry that was going a little too slow for Shaw's liking. "How do you think you owe somebody money?"
"I fucked up, okay?"
Shaw sighed. "How much?"
"...fifty grand," he said sullenly. "I was on a streak."
"And then you weren't," Shaw said. She tapped her ear. "Yo, Finch? How about some GPS?"
"Of course, Miss Shaw," Finch said, his placid tones at odds with the deep growl of the WRX's boxer engine and Ron's panicked gasps as Shaw continued to weave around slower vehicles. "Take the next right."
Shaw glanced, her mind intuitively judging speeds and distances. "Can't. Truck in the way."
She heard furious typing, and then Finch said, "The one after that then. I'll take care of the signals."
"Gotcha." She dove in front of the truck, ignoring the furious honking, and drifted the car around the corner, narrowly avoiding a lamppost and a food truck. She accelerated again, exceeding the speed limit by a comfortable margin, but she kept the gears low and the RPMs high. Now that she had a little space between them and their pursuers, she could afford to lose a little speed in favor of maneuverability. Too much speed would get them killed, or at the very least, make it more difficult to make quick maneuvers as opportunities presented themselves.
Once again, the Escalade appeared in the rearview mirror. They were gaining. Shaw gritted her teeth and resisted the urge to floor it.
"Next light, left," Finch said in her ear. As she approached, the green light turned yellow. She gunned it—and then had to slam on the brakes and swerve hard around the chickenshit sedan that decided that it wasn't about to run through a yellow light like every other New Yorker in existence. As a result, she missed the turn.
"Probably from fucking California," Shaw grumbled as she picked up speed on the straight. The Escalade blew through the red light behind her, narrowly missing a car that had jumped the green. "Finch, alternate?"
More furious typing. "Miss Shaw, you seem to be off your game today."
"I'd like to see you drive with these dumbass wheels."
"Hey!" Ron said. Shaw ignored him.
The Escalade continued to gain; obviously, whoever was driving had their foot all the way to the ground.
"Finch," Shaw said tightly.
A pause, then, hesitantly, "If you can make the turn into that parking structure, my cameras show no pedestrians—"
"-it's rather narrow-"
"No balls," Shaw said, grinning, and she dove for the entrance.
"The gate!" Ron bellowed. For a moment, it looked as though they would hit the caution bar across the entrance, but like magic, the gate began to rise just in time. There was a brief scrape from on the roof, and Ron moaned.
Behind them, the gate reversed and moved back down, right in front of the Escalade. It hit the gate and knocked it violently aside.
"Are you sure you only borrowed fifty K?" Shaw asked as she braked hard to make the corner and flung the car around it, racing down the aisle towards the exit at the other end of the garage. She hoped Finch's cameras were accurate. In cramped quarters like this, and at the speed they were going, an impact was more than likely. "This feels more like a hundred grand chase to me. Maybe two hundred."
"It was fifty, I swear!"
"Well, I've killed for less," Shaw said.
Once again, Finch worked his magic at the exit gate and it opened just in time for them to slip under it and onto the street. Thankfully, there were no cars in the way; he must have tinkered with the signal up the road as well.
A few seconds later, Shaw saw the Escalade burst out of the garage, once again ramming straight through the gate. This time though, part of the bar had gotten wedged beneath the vehicle. They were dragging it along with them in a shower of sparks. The driver was fighting to keep the vehicle straight against the uneven drag.
But they still kept coming.
"Dammit," Shaw sighed. Her eyes scanned the road ahead, looking for any opportunities, before settling on the raised roadway running parallel.
"Finch," she said, "how's traffic on the highway?"
Ahead of them, the road split, the lanes divided by a tree-lined barrier; Shaw's lanes continued straight, but the oncoming traffic on the other side curved up an onramp to the highway.
"Light. For New York, at least. Can you make the U-turn ahead?"
Shaw grinned. "Watch me," she said. The intersection was coming up quickly. She stayed in the middle lane until the last moment, when she slammed on the breaks, yanked the handbrake again to lock up the rear wheels, and whipped the tail around, making the car skid backwards into the intersection. She caught a brief glimpse of the Escalade driver, his mouth open in shock, as the car squealed its way around the U-turn until the nose was pointing the other way. This time, she applied just the right amount of throttle to get the wheels to catch as quickly as possible and she accelerated as fast as the tires would allow, going back the way they had come on the other side of the divider. There was no way the Escalade could make that turn, not at a reasonable speed.
By the time Shaw reached the base of the onramp, she could barely see the Escalade behind them. It looked like it hadn't turned tight enough and was trying to back up.
"So long, suckers!" Shaw scoffed, flipping them the bird. At the top of the onramp, she opened up the throttle. With the roar of twin turbos, they were gone.