Stifling a yawn, John idled on a bench outside of Mr. Alger's apartment building.
It was in a nicer part of the city, surprisingly. There were pigeons flocking on a sidewalk around him, and he could smell the bay even though it was out of sight. Sighing, he propped an arm on top of the bench and rested his face against it. Peter was taking so long to make an appearance John had half considered breaking in, but he didn't want to risk it until he knew more.
"Mind if I take a seat?" a low voice to his right slowly said.
Swinging his head, John struggled to keep a poker face as he looked into Peter Alger's tired eyes.
"Not at all," he said calmly, sliding over.
"Thanks," Peter said as he awkwardly eased himself into a sitting position.
John observed as the man began to eat an apple in his hand, his hands shaking violently.
"What brings you to this part of town?" Peter asked as he began to take a bite.
"I'm supposed to be meeting a friend," John answered, "you?"
"I live in that building," he pointed a crooked finger at the apartment complex.
Easily trusting. Maybe not as secretive as Harold thought.
"It's nice here," John casually observed, "pretty."
"Yes," Peter agreed, "I like being close to the bay. I grew up next to an ocean."
Listening to Peter's apple squelch and crunch between oddly pristine teeth, John made a few mental notes about his appearance. He was an average height even with the disabilities that left him hunched, although his hair was prematurely graying and he shook like an elderly man. Smartly dressed in a striped polo with beige slacks, the man didn't immediately strike him as the average janitor. In fact, he doubted the man's mind had slipped as far as Finch had implied.
"What kind of work are you in?" John asked.
"I'm a gymnast," he answered steadily.
"Oh?" John said, raising an eyebrow on impulse.
"Just a joke," Peter reassured him, cracking something close to a smile, "I received a big inheritance when my father passed, I don't have a set job," he paused to chomp on his apple, "I've tried to become well rounded, I like to bounce from occupation to occupation – I'm currently a janitor, perhaps not the best way to use my education."
John allowed a small smile to slip onto his face.
If only all the numbers spilled their life stories during surveillance.
"I do a lot of private consultant work," John lied, "although bouncing from job to job certainly sounds more interesting."
"Yes, well," Peter turned a shaky arm to check his watch, "I should probably head inside. It was nice talking to you Mr…"
"Mr. Chase," John finished for him, "likewise, Mr…"
"Mr. Nichols," Peter said as he pushed himself off the bench with a grunt, "perhaps we'll meet again, Mr. Chase."
On second thought, maybe he was a bit secretive.
"Perhaps we will," John said, perplexed, as he watched the man drag his bum leg to the building.
"Well this is an interesting development," Finch chirped in John's ear after Peter had departed.
"You could say that," John agreed.
"I suppose I should start digging up information to see how many aliases Mr. Alger possesses," Finch sighed, "and maybe you should check with one of the detectives to see if they have anything."
"You think he's a lawbreaker?" Reese questioned with some surprise.
"No, not necessarily," Harold continued, "I just think it would be wise to browse police reports. Our friends on the inside could have information about his accident that's much easier to obtain than via my methods."
"Right," John said as he rose from the bench, "I'll get on that."
Hanging up the phone, he was dialing Carter within the second. She answered on the second ring, and he grinned at the reluctance he could hear in her voice.
"What is it this time?" she asked in a low tone.
"I've decided to assassinate the president," he said sinisterly, "would you be willing to discuss it over lunch?"
"Usual place?" she asked without hesitation.
"Twenty minutes?" he responded.
"I'll see you there," she said briskly before hanging up.
It didn't take John long to get to the little café - quite removed from the city's chaos - that he was beginning to love. Ordering a coffee as he settled into a booth to await Carter's arrival, the aromas of fresh pastries danced around his nostrils.
He had awoken to the smell of pancakes the morning – or maybe night, he couldn't be sure – after the accident at the pier. When his eyes first opened a crack he had panicked. He had no clue where he was, why he was there, or how he got there. So, naturally, he attempted to sit straight up. That proved to be a horrible mistake.
Pain had rocketed through his sides, abdomen, shoulders, back, head, and even his legs instantly. After letting out a horrible groan and squeezing his eyes shut as hard as he could, he tried to organize his thoughts. He remembered driving off the pier. He almost remembered escaping the wreck. He barely remembered being found. He couldn't remember how he ended up on a couch in a place that smelled like pancakes.
"John?" a familiar voice had asked with concern.
Shifting his eyes a bit, he had seen Carter approaching from across the room. She had put her hands on his shoulders gently, causing no pain even though they ached. After forcing him to lie back down, she covered him with a blanket he had apparently knocked off his body.
John had begun to ask her what he was doing on her couch, but when he opened his mouth he found his throat was too dry to form words. Picking up a glass of water resting on a coffee table, she tucked a hand behind his head and placed the cup to his lips, helping him take a drink. Most of the water ended up spilling on his face and down his chin, and he was relatively embarrassed to be accepting such intimate help from the detective, but all things considered he had decided to deal with it. She was just being amiable.
"What am I doing here?" he had finally croaked after she set down the glass.
"You drove off a pier," she had said dryly, glaring at him a little.
"I hope you aren't insinuating I'm dead," he had answered as he closed his eyes.
"No, fortunately," she had thrown an exhale in with her statement.
"You found me?" he had asked, opening his eyes a crack.
"Thank you," he had said as he relaxed a tad, letting his eyelids slide shut once again.
"You look deep in thought," Carter said – interrupting his reminiscing – as she slid into the booth across from him.
"I was," John answered, nodding his head a bit.
"Maybe," he said, "we aren't exactly sure what we're dealing with. We were hoping you could dig up some information on a man who goes by the name of Peter Alger, primarily. He was involved in some sort of accident a few years ago if that's of any help."
"Peter Alger who was in an accident a few years ago," she said with a brow raised, "sounds simple enough."
"They always do at first," John sighed as he sipped his coffee.
"Then everything goes to hell," Carter said, nodding in agreement, "is that all you needed me to do?"
"Yes," John said slowly, "assuming you won't go another three weeks without acknowledging my existence."
"There was nothing to acknowledge, you didn't need my help," she shrugged, "that's how our arrangement works. You call when you need me."
"I know, but I thought after –"
"I don't really want to talk about that, John," she said plainly, "I think we'd both be better off pretending I never rescued you. God knows you would have pulled through somehow on your own anyway."
With that, Carter left as quickly as she had arrived. John had turned to watch her leave, hoping the spite behind her words wasn't heartfelt.
"I wouldn't have, though," he said quietly to himself after a moment, finishing his coffee.