The library was quiet. No whuffles and loud breaths from Bear; no click of the dog's claws across the library floor.
Maybe it was too quiet without the dog. He had no intention of admitting that to anyone, although he suspected that he was more transparent in his feelings than he would wish.
At any rate, the dog needed his exercise. Harold had researched the breed, which didn't stop John Reese from telling him the same information anyway. A high-energy breed, high prey drive, almost impossible to tire out physically, needing mental stimulation... all of which was why Finch had been reluctant about having a dog around in the first place.
And yet here he was in a library that was far too quiet, while Bear was presumably 'hunting' tennis balls at the park. Harold was using the brief respite from an active case to take care of some pressing business. Universal Heritage Insurance needed Mister Wren's attention, as did some of his other identities; he began digging through the files.
One of the computer monitors scrolled through everyone's locations. Even when they weren't working a case, Harold liked to keep an eye on the team. The patterns of movement were, for the most part, predictable-at least with the two detectives and their sons. Since Elias's men had grabbed Taylor Carter several months ago, he'd included the boy and Lee Fusco as well, although the looping images didn't display them as often.
Harold updated accounts and moved stocks around. The dot representing John Reese moved steadily through town. Detectives Carter and Fusco were stationary, dots steadily lit at the Eighth this afternoon; Lee Fusco was at his mother's apartment, Taylor Carter was... wait. That was an irregularity.
Sometimes the dot representing him moved in what showed up as a jittery tiny circle as he ran laps at a track next to his high school, but right now his dot was moving at a quick pace, not entirely steady. He was moving along city blocks far from his usual territory. Running, Harold assumed.
Concerned by this anomaly, Harold looked at the boy's current direction and made a decision on which camera to access that would be most likely to give him a view of the teenager.
Thirty seconds and another stock trade later, his guess paid off. Harold had a brief glimpse of Taylor; the boy was running, a smile visible even in the grainy footage, and Bear was with him. Irritated at this unexpected development, he tapped the button to connect his phone to John's.
"Mister Reese? Is there some reason why our trained attack dog is currently on the end of a leash held by a teenage boy? One who, I might add, doesn't speak Dutch?"
"He needed the exercise."
"Yes, and I was under the impression that you were going to take care of that yourself." Harold sent another e-mail response with Wren's electronic signature and waited for an answer from John.
"Bear is fine, Finch. I gave Taylor a route, he knows the basic commands, and I'll be meeting up with them soon."
"He knows the commands? You didn't just give him a sheet of paper, did you?" Harold had watched Detective Fusco's lack of success with the dog when he'd taken the time to review what he had missed while in Root's clutches; a tribute to the sleeplessness and paranoia her actions had brought about.
"He knows them," Reese replied, bringing Harold's thoughts back to the present day.
"This isn't the first time you've done this, is it?" Not surprisingly, Harold didn't receive an answer to this query, so he continued. "Is Detective Carter aware that her son is now working as your dog walker?"
After a moment Harold heard John answering, "Yes. Mostly."
How exactly could the detective mostly know that her son was out exercising a dog who was capable of killing a person? Reese didn't answer that unspoken question. Instead he added, "I needed another person to help with his training."
Harold looked at the screen again, clicking to retrace John's steps, noticing the pattern. "I see," he told him.
Harold heard the click signaling that Reese had disconnected. Apparently the conversation was finished.
A Belgian Malinois might live fourteen years, or longer. In the quiet of the library, Harold thought about how much time he and John had before attracting more of the wrong attention. How long until those already after them caught up?
Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to have Taylor get to know Bear.
Harold started a short program he'd created to show more camera feeds along the path he predicted that Taylor would take. Their exuberance was visible, even with brief glimpses and poor visual quality. The dog kept easy pace with the boy; their long limbs moved confidently across city pavement.
He remembered when he ran like that. Never so fast; Taylor was taller than him, younger by decades. But the feel of the cool air against his skin, the satisfaction of ground passing underfoot-Harold missed it. He would take the stitches in his side and the shin splints, all of it, if he could experience that again.
Too early for the crowd returning home from work; the streets and sidewalks were mostly empty in the residential streets where they were running. Taylor turned south again, sooner than Finch had predicted. He adjusted his program accordingly and went back to work, glancing at the screen from time to time.
Their route took them through a busy commercial area. While Harold supported the idea of Bear learning to deal with the city's teeming humanity, he wasn't sure if Taylor qualified as a proper handler for socializing. Certainly he was better than the men who had Bear before, from what little John Reese had told him. Harold didn't have much say in the matter at this point, and the boy looked confident enough.
More than confident. Now that they weren't running, Taylor Carter was moving with what could only be described as swagger. Not an adjective he would normally use for Detective Carter's quiet son. Bear seemed to have caught the spirit; his walk had an edge to it that he hadn't exhibited in front of Harold. Almost... sassy. A pretty woman eyed the dog, and then Taylor, and they both preened. She stopped to offer her admiring attention, letting Bear get used to her and then scratching under his chin. The dog stood like a gracious monarch accepting his due adoration from a subject.
Socializing, indeed. Harold wondered how long it would take them to walk one city block, if they kept this pace.
Smiling, he returned to his work, glancing at the other screen now and then to watch the pair.
After another five minutes at the computer, he decided it was time to stand up and walk around. I should have done that ten minutes ago, thought Harold, wincing at the familiar aches. He went over to his favorite bookshelf and perused the titles there, thinking of which book to re-read next.
Settling on a large volume of early twentieth century short stories, he returned to his chair. Taylor Carter and Bear were standing in one place, body language completely different from the last time Harold had looked. The camera's resolution was too poor to allow him to discern the expression on the boy's face, but it certainly wasn't the wide smile he'd had while running. He was holding tightly to Bear's leash, and his posture was rigid. Bear reflected the same attitude, body compact and tense, standing protectively next to Taylor.
Initially Harold could only see the back of the man talking to them. His hair was light-either blond or white-and his build muscular. Tapping at the keyboard, Finch found a view from a camera from across the street in time to see the man lean forward, reaching toward Bear.
Stepping out of the jewelry store, Vitali spotted her partner standing in front of a teenage boy. Damn, she thought. She didn't want to deal with this today.
She was Yoder's first partner since the man had made detective a few months ago. That meant she was the one who had to train him out of the bad habits he'd acquired from his beat cop days. Randomly harassing teenage boys along their path was part of that routine. If this was what all the beat cops were doing, it was no wonder the NYPD had a reputation.
Whatever the kid had or hadn't done, he was probably either pissed off or afraid.
A loose afro and big eyes, she noted; the kid stood straight, with a blank expression on his face and rigid posture. Fear, then. Vitali noticed the dog right after that; it stood next to the boy, nudging slightly ahead in a move to protect the boy.
Her parents helped run a rescue kennel for German Shepherds; Vitali knew that kind of body language from dogs. Yoder was an idiot, pressing in so close. The dog was reflecting the kid's nervousness.
The kid's eyes were open wide; she heard him say, "He had some bad experiences with a blond man."
Well, shit. Yoder was so blond that she had wondered if he bleached his hair the first time they met. So maybe the dog wasn't protecting the kid; maybe this was its own aggression and fear.
Yoder started to lean forward. "You shouldn't pet him yet," the boy told him. He caught a glimpse of her and sent her an imploring look. Either he was smart enough to pick up the connection between the two of them, or he was just hoping for any adult to intervene.
Too late; Yoder tried to pat the dog's head, resulting in one loud bark from the dog and a quick jump back by her partner. The boy held more tightly to the leash and said, "Zit."
The dog instantly sat down, though it let out a whiny growl as it did so.
Vitali moved forward, grabbing her partner and pulling him back a few feet. "Don't you know anything about dogs?" she asked, letting her frustration seep into the question.
"I-we had a dog like that in Iraq." Her partner's face turned pink as he said it; maybe it was the realization kicking in that he'd been an idiot. A lucky one, at that. "We used to play frisbee and stuff with her."
Yoder shoved his hands in his coat pocket. "Her name was Cora," he added.
"Yeah, well, this ain't Cora," she told him, still annoyed. Hard to stay mad at her idiotic partner when he looked like he was twelve, complete with blushes.
"Yeah," agreed her partner.
Vitali turned to the kid. "I'm Detective Vitali, NYPD. And I'm guessing you already met my partner." The idiot, she added mentally, but didn't say it aloud.
"Yes, ma'am," the kid said. "My name is Taylor." He looked like he was going to say something else, but stopped himself.
"And who is this?" she asked, referring to the dog.
The kid looked like he was finally starting to relax. "His name is Bear."
He was a fine fellow, she thought. She revised her initial impression that he was a German Shepherd. This dog was smaller than the dogs her parents rescued, with a more square body. His coloring was similar; the black fur around his muzzle and eyes gave him a slightly sinister look. Now that her partner wasn't crowding him, the dog's body language was slowly shifting from aggressive to watchful. Maybe a mixed breed.
"That wasn't German, was it?" she asked the boy.
Vitali was curious now, and she knew the value of silence. So she waited, one eyebrow raised, until the boy volunteered more information. "He's not my dog. I'm just helping with him."
"And you learned commands in Dutch for that."
"Well, yeah." The kid looked embarrassed at that; leaning down, he stroked the fur along the dog's shoulder. The dog relaxed another degree, pressing slightly against the boy's leg. Still on duty, guarding the kid; she recognized that same attitude from the dogs at her parents' place.
Vitali bent at the knees and stayed low, fisted hand slightly in front, letting the dog get used to her. ("Don't stretch your fingers out like that," her dad had told her. "I know its human body language to look less aggressive, but dogs aren't people. Keep your hand in a fist.") He finally leaned closer a bit, delicately sniffing her hand. She gently patted his chest, taking care to avoid his head so he wouldn't feel challenged.
"You're a good boy," she whispered, letting her tone convey the meaning. The dog's ears swiveled forward and he let out a whuffling breath.
"He likes you," said Yoder. He sounded both pleased and envious.
"You gotta know how to speak to 'em," Vitali said, standing up again. She knew she was grinning like a fool, but there was something about dogs.
"Maybe if you do like she did," the boy advised Yoder. "Try kneeling and letting him get used to you." The kid was absolutely polite, but she didn't miss the slight hint of superiority in his tone. The kid had the upper hand-or the dog on the leash, rather. A subtle form of revenge, after whatever Yoder did or said to get the kid upset in the first place.
She didn't laugh at the kid's tone, but it was a close thing. Yoder was oblivious to it in his desire to get the dog to like him. He dutifully knelt down, hand out farther then hers had been, fingers curled in as she'd done. The dog looked up at the kid as if to ask, "Really? Do I have to do this?"
After the kid nodded, the dog sniffed Yoder's hand and allowed Yoder to pet him on the chest. "Goede hond," Yoder said.
The kid's eyebrows shot up in surprise; Vitali was sure she had the same expression on her face.
"That's what we always said to Cora," admitted Yoder, sounding pleased with himself for remembering.
He stood up, straightening his trouser legs as he did so. "Sorry I don't have a treat for you, Bear."
"He'll get a treat later," the kid told him. "I-I should get going. Unless you have more questions?" He looked at Yoder first, then glanced at Vitali.
She looked at her partner and raised an eyebrow. "Uh, no," stammered Yoder. "You're fine. Have a nice afternoon."
The kid walked off with the dog. "Questions?" she repeated. "What the hell were you asking the kid?"
"If he knew anything about the burglary." At least he looked abashed when he said it.
"Seriously? You asked some random kid walking by if he knew about the burglary?" How much of that was his habit of bothering teens and how much was his desire to pet that damn dog, Vitali didn't know. She sighed. "What am I gonna do with you, Yoder?"
"It's a rhetorical question," she snapped.
Harold breathed a sigh of relief after the interaction ended. Taylor had done well enough, getting the dog to sit. The dark-haired woman had defused the situation with the blond man after that. Police detectives, both of them; Finch had checked the logs and found a burglary listing at the store.
The boy and dog continued down the street. When they were close to the corner, Taylor pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and sent a text. It didn't go to John's phone. Or rather, it didn't go to the phone that Finch was monitoring. If he hadn't known about previous dog training sessions with Reese and Taylor, it stood to reason that Reese was using another phone to plan those meetings.
After reading a reply, Taylor took something out of his coat pocket, held it in front of Bear and said something, presumably giving an order. Bear pulled at the leash once; Taylor started to jog with him and this time the dog was in the lead, turning his head now and then to catch the smell he was hunting. The text reply had to be from John, confirming that the game was on.
Bear led Taylor a few blocks down a busy street, then directed the boy toward a residential area.
Only a few more blocks before they would catch up with Reese; Harold had given up all pretense of doing work and was watching the dots move around, curious to see how long it would take the dog to find John.
He needed to put a tracker in the dog's collar, Harold decided. Really, he'd been remiss in not doing so before now. Depending too much on John to keep the dog safe, but if the man got hurt or taken...
The park where John was waiting had multiple cameras, so Harold watched the reunion. Bear was clearly proud of himself for finding John, his tail wagging at a furious rate. Taylor and John knelt to offer him affection and treats.
Harold laughed out loud when the dog caught Taylor off guard and licked his face once. Shortly after that, the boy began jogging in the direction that would take him home. John pulled a tennis ball out of his coat pocket and started playing fetch.
The girl wanted to come over and pet Bear. John could see her glancing at the dog as she ran around the children's area, alternating between slides and swings. She didn't have that scared look on her face; she just wasn't sure of the protocol, especially since the dog came with him-unknown adult male.
Her older brother was playing some kind of complicated verbal game that only made sense to a group of nine-year-old boys. John wasn't sure which of the three women nearby was their mother, but both kids had glanced in that direction a few times.
He threw another tennis ball. Now that Bear was getting regular exercise, the dog could go all day. Running, fetching, whatever activity was asked of him.
Too bad the dog couldn't tell them if a number was a victim or perpetrator. Maybe he could sense it, though. Bear ran up to him again, tennis ball held carefully between his teeth.
He was glad he'd worn civilian clothes for this. That was how he thought of them; the suit was his uniform, but now he had on plain trousers, hiking boots and a coat. He even had a scarf on today. Normal-people clothes.
Bear had the focus typical to his breed while he played fetch, but he wasn't oblivious to the children in the area. John guessed that Bear would enjoy the attention, and he needed the dog to get familiar with kids anyway. Better now than some other time, under less optimal conditions. He shifted his game with Bear, moving it closer to the three women seated on the bench. They were the ones he had to win over first.
After a few more throws, he realized they were talking about him, using Spanish and assuming he wouldn't understand. Apparently the debate was over who was better-looking, him or the dog. He smothered his initial amusement and scratched Bear behind the ears, listening to the conversation.
"Los dos," one woman said. Both of them.
John used that as the moment to introduce himself, jumping into the conversation by saying, "Gracias."
Well, that got a reaction. The women looked at each other and him, speaking more quickly than he could understand for a moment.
"You speak Spanish?" one of them asked. The question was in English, which didn't surprise him. Early on, when he'd first tried practicing Spanish, a native speaker shrugged and told him that he didn't have the right kind of face for speaking Spanish. The visual cues were too strong to ignore sometimes.
The girl from the swings seized the opportunity to scoot in closer, ending up leaning against the woman who had asked him the question.
"Un poco," he said. A little. That resulted in another short flurry of conversations. The same woman asked him what breed Bear was. Malinois had no translation that John knew, so he settled for pastor belga. Belgian Shepherd. "Mas pequeño que el pastor alemán, y mas energía tambien." Smaller than a German Shepherd, and more energy, too.
The woman nodded. Her daughter overcame her shyness enough to ask in English, "Can I pet him, please?" She glanced at her mother right after she asked the question, getting a quick nod from her.
"You can. Try standing close to him first." The girl walked over, looking carefully at Bear as she did so, and then waited for more instructions.
"Always let a new dog get used to you before petting him. See how he's relaxed, though? He's not growling or showing his teeth?" The girl nodded, eyes big. "That means you can get a little closer. This time put your hand in a fist so he can smell it."
That was more for her than for Bear; the dog's sense of smell was strong enough that he didn't need an offering, but people often felt more at ease that way. Bear sniffed at her hand and wagged his tail.
"Now try touching his chest or shoulder," John said, but he needn't have bothered. She had already stepped closer to the dog and was enthusiastically petting the top of his head. Bear didn't take it as a challenge or an assault to his space, though, so it was fine.
More than fine. John felt a bit foolish for his earlier concerns; Bear was enjoying the attention, even if the girl didn't follow the rules.
After a minute the girl's brother came over, going through the same steps as his sister. Bear was practically grinning, gently butting the girl with his head when she slacked off in her duties. "Glory hound," Reese muttered, watching his well-trained dog act like an affection-starved puppy.
The sun had already gone down; he could feel the chill in the air, even inside. Leaving paperwork scattered on the table, Harold went to make himself a cup of tea. He'd moved on from identity maintenance to tracking some of their ongoing interests: keeping tabs on Elias, trying to find more information about what the CIA was doing, digging into HR's collapsing organization...
And some of the time he reached into the dark, hoping-and dreading-that he would find some small strand to lead them to Root. Reese's own efforts to find her hadn't gone unnoticed by Harold. The delicate maneuvering through various codes and back doors, looking for traces of her, left him mentally exhausted.
He was glad for the distraction when John and Bear came back. Bear's tongue was lolling; panting exuberantly after his long workout, his nails clacked across the floor as he walked to his water dish.
Harold turned his body to give an ostensibly irritated look as Bear lapped water from his bowl, spilling drops onto the surrounding floor.
"I see that our four-legged friend hasn't gained any manners from his outing," he said.
John's cheeks and ears were pink from the cold air, but he grinned as he removed his coat and scarf. His annoyance was John's amusement, apparently.
Harold sat and took a sip of his tea, raising an eyebrow as Bear finished at the water bowl and padded over to him, an expectant look on his face. "What is it?" he asked.
Reese snickered. "He knows that you like him, and he knows you have snacks."
Good heavens. Did this mean he was the indulgent parent to Reese's strict disciplinarian? Turning his head, he asked John, "Do I have to give him one?"
"No, but I think he deserves it."
"Is that so?"
John smiled-a genuine smile, not his sarcastic grin. "He did a good job today. He's getting more comfortable around others."
"Well, then." Opening the jar hidden in the desk drawer, he pulled out a treat. "Bear." He held out the treat; the dog quickly took it from him, wide jaws carefully closing around the treat. He immediately retreated to his bed, holding it defensively as if to guard the treat from predators.
John stayed a few minutes longer, ostensibly to let Bear settle in. Instead he peeked at the papers, trying to discreetly check what work Harold had been doing.
After John left, the library grew quiet again. Bear nibbled at the remains of his treat and then pick up a toy in his jaws, making occasional whuffs as he nudged the toy with his nose, ending up at Harold's feet with it.
When Harold stopped what he was doing, Bear picked up his slobbery toy in his jaws, holding it out for him to take.
"Just this once," Harold told him, and threw the toy across the room. He smiled to himself as the dog ran and slid across the floor to capture it.