One day a man calling himself Harold Sparrow took a plane from New York City to London.
The flight attendant saw him coming down the walkway, slow, stiff, limping, dressed painfully neatly, pulling an equally neat carryon and carrying an equally neat laptop case. His hair stood straight up on his round head in a way that was also very neat, and very odd. She helped him find his seat in first class and insisted on lifting up his carryon for him, because he obviously couldn't do it himself, though he stubbornly tried. It was her job, she told him.
He sat down in his seat, buckled immediately, leaned his head back against the headrest, and wrapped his hands around the armrests.
"Is this your first time flying, sir?"
He gave her a surprised look. "No."
It was his first time flying since Root, since Nathan, since his own death. It was his first time trusting his being to the uncertain protection of a metal box flying through the air since the world had demonstrated to him that it really was as unsafe as he'd always thought it. There was a wooden box, he said to himself. But that box was alive and knew how to take care of her passengers.
As soon as he was allowed, he leaned his seat back into its fully recumbent position (the advantages of flying first class), fitted on his sleep mask, put in his earplugs, wrapped his hands around the armrests again, and tried very hard to pretend he was back at home in his own bed in his own library.
Reese had offered to let him bring Bear, and he'd said sarcastically, "Why? So he can tear the arms off the stewardess when she tries to give me an orange juice?"
"They call them flight attendants now, Finch."
The flight attendant took a sympathetic look at the petrified little man in 1A but let him deal with his phobias in his own way. He obviously knew how to deal with them. She might have tried to reassure him with all the old chestnuts, about flying being safer than driving a car, but he looked like an accountant, which meant he probably knew all the statistics and hadn't found them reassuring. And maybe he was afraid of driving, too.
He woke up with a panicked start, in silence and darkness, not sure where he was or what he was lying on. Where had she taken him now? He couldn't even remember her drugging him again. Then his bed gave a shuddering lurch that sent a spike of pain down his spine but was ultimately reassuring. Turbulence. Airplane. Root was long gone. He'd been awakened by his phone vibrating in his breast pocket.
Finch removed his earplugs and sleep mask, returned his seat to upright (slowly, hiding his groan), and pulled out his laptop. His phone had given him the Machine's code for a new number. He didn't have to be in his library to decode it. The collection was electronically catalogued, after all.
"Are you alright, sir?"
He looked up at the flight attendant blankly. "Sorry?"
"You looked like you were in pain. Can I get you anything?"
"No, thank you. Just an old back injury. Flying doesn't help at all, but I have prescriptions, if I need."
She smiled at him. "I'm sorry about that. Nice as these seats are, they're not like being at home."
"How did you hurt it?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Playing football."
She laughed. "Sorry. I'm nosy. Too interested in people. Would you like anything to drink? We have champagne, wine, beer, juice, soda, coffee, tea (green and black)—"
"Green tea, please." It would probably be some revolting twigs from a bag in a styrofoam cup, which never improved the flavor, but he could use something hot. "Two sugars."
"Right away." She smiled again.
Finch set his program to glean the numbers and turned to his file on Cassidy Murphy. That was the flight attendant's name. He had no particular interest in her, but when he bought his tickets he'd made a complete dossier of all the pilots, crew, and ground crew of the flight he was taking. Then, for good measure, he'd looked into the other passengers.
"You're paranoid," Reese had observed.
"I'm alive, too."
Cassidy Murphy was a perfectly ordinary young woman of twenty-nine. Healthy, not terribly pretty nor terribly plain, a wide smile that enlivened her face, red-brown hair, no connection to Irish mob. Unmarried, with a three-year-old daughter she had to leave with her sister in New Jersey when she was working. A difficult way for a mother to live. But perfectly ordinary. He didn't need to worry about her.
Cassidy Murphy opened her purse and pulled out the packet, unwrapped one of the pyramid-shaped little sachets, admired the long, flat, green leaves inside, and poured boiling water over it into the china cup they gave first class passengers. She put it with its saucer on a tray with two sugars and a little spoon, added a small plate of biscuits, and carried it out to Mr. Sparrow, who looked pleasantly surprised.
This particular airline had never served green tea.