Well, that had been a strange conversation.
Peter turned to watch the kid walk away. For reasons he couldn't quite pin down, he found himself wanting to run after the stranger and stop him to -- well, he wasn't sure what, honestly. It was the kind of oddball conversation that one had on the streets of New York all the time. Someone walked up and said something weird: par for the course of living here.
So why did this particular conversation cause something to twinge, deep in his brain?
Honey, El would say, teasing and scolding all at once, you have a suspicious mind.
And she'd be right. Still, he gazed into the crowd that had swallowed the kid and replayed their exchange in his mind -- like I'm memorizing it to tell a jury later, he thought wryly. Maybe he should listen to El a bit more.
And yet, and yet. He looked down at the green sucker and twirled it between his fingers. The whole thing wasn't really that odd except for the last bit. Typical worried bystander, overhearing something out of context in the course of a standard investigation, and leaping to conclusions. However, typical worried bystanders didn't walk around randomly handing out suck--
"You think James Bonds made you?" Bancroft sat back in his desk chair and gave Peter a look of disbelief.
Peter straightened his back and tried to remind himself that he was a 40-year-old FBI agent, for crying out loud, not a kid standing in the principal's office, no matter what it felt like.
"We've got a visual on him now, sir. Assuming I'm right and it was James Bonds. The description is in my report --"
"He made you. I don't believe it. And you told him your name." Bancroft shook his head. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't yank you off this case and put you on something else." Like, say, send you over to the NYPD to help with traffic control, his tone implied.
Having had plenty of time to anticipate Bancroft's reaction, Peter had an answer prepared. "Look, this kid's smart, and he already knows we're after him. You put another agent on him, you'll get maybe a month, two months, six months before the same thing happens again."
Bancroft snorted. "Sounds like you're trying to excuse your screw-up by saying it could happen to anyone. That's not you, Burke."
"No," Peter said, as the gears began clicking. "I'm saying we use it. Right now he thinks he has a leg up on me. Overconfident means sloppy. So -- put me back on the case. Let him know that we know he's onto us and we don't care, because we're just that damn good. He wants to yank our chain? Let's yank his right back."
Bancroft stared at him for a moment, then laughed -- a small laugh, but genuinely amused. "I'll give you this, Burke: you don't lack for confidence."
"You know I'm right, sir," Peter said.
"I'm not going that far," Bancroft said, "but if you want enough rope to hang yourself, then you've got it. The James Bonds case is still yours, for now, so get out there and get back on it." As Peter started to turn away, he added, "Oh, and Peter?"
Peter turned back.
"Don't tell the criminal your name next time. Bad for our image."
Peter arrived back at his desk in the bullpen to find suckers in several different colors laid out in a neat array on top of his desk calendar. For the love of -- he'd only mentioned it to Macready while he was typing up his report for Bancroft. Word traveled fast.
"Very cute," he said to the room at large, noting a smattering of grins hidden quickly behind hands and coffee cups. "You guys should take your show on the comedy circuit."
He brushed the suckers into a pile at one side of his desktop, then leaned down and opened the bottom drawer. James Bonds' green sucker lay on top of a pile of folders. Forensics had already been over it, extracted a couple of fragmentary and not-very-useful prints, and asked him if he wanted it back. There were a few smudges of fingerprint powder, but it was otherwise unharmed.
Peter took it out and flipped it over in his hand.
A subtle taunt. A bad joke. And, he thought, a promise of one hell of a chase to come. He'd always liked going after the smart ones.
This was going to be fun.