Twenty-two year old waitress. Working her way through school. Her life had been coated in red flags. She'd practically shed them as she walked. Everyone who saw her probably knew she wasn't long for this world, through no fault of her own. Everyone but the girl herself.
Carter crouched down by bloody mess by the victim's nose and refamiliarized herself with that helpless sadness.
This could've been stopped. She didn't need to die. How could no one see this coming? How could no one care enough? Why did no one do anything?
“He'd have saved you,” Carter told her. “You would've been scared, but you'd be safe. You'd have graduated next year without ever looking over your shoulder again.”
She pushed a lock of hair up with her pencil to examine a bump on the victim's forehead. “Problem is he's dead. I as good as killed him. Guess I killed you too.”
Harold tried not to hold it against him.
His number hadn't come up, and Harold had trusted Carter too.
There was no way this could've been John's fault.
And with a bullet hole in him, the best John could do was prop himself up in a car and drive around shooting at things. If he was strong enough to fight Harold off and get out of bed, he surely would.
But the numbers kept coming. Gary, the accountant with three kids. Sally, the woman who'd always wanted to be a cop but had ended up doing security in a part of town the never saw any action (almost never.) Kim, who worked at a local diner, a semester and a half from her bachelor's degree.
And then they were Gary, the mafia kill. Sally, robbery gone bad. Kim, case destined to go cold.
A week away from recovery, John developed an infection. The type of thing that results from non-standard medical care in a library that had more dust particles in the air at any one point than it had books on its shelves.
It wasn't John's fault he got shot. And it wasn't Harold's that he picked up the phone.
“Mr. Bernadette. Is he... how is he?” John, his name was John. Special Forces John, one of many, and she was widdling away at the stack too slowly for her liking, and she liked it even less that it was her only lead, and it would bring her no closer to a face-to-face.
“Unwell. I have a name for you to look into: Anita Cromwell. It will be dangerous. You've seen what my associate gets into.” Harold hangs up long before the call can be traced, not that it would matter if she managed to find out the phone belonged to Mr. Cardinal, from San Francisco.
Harold turned to John. Even though he was coated in sweat and there was a tightness to his expression, he looked nearly relaxed. “You're awake.”
John forced his elbow under him, and the next moment he was standing. “Don't go giving my job away yet, Finch. And if you're going to do that, Fusco is the better choice.” His movements were jerky, but not unsteady.
“I really do hate to physically overpower you when you're sick.”
John jerk-stepped to the closet slower than Harold on his worst day. “You couldn't manage it any other time. Relish those few days you could control me. They're over.” He pulled off his sweats slowly and tugged on the spare suit, the door between them.
Harold had no doubt that wasn't a bluff. John was weakened, but no longer shaking or confused. “I really must advise against this.”
John buttoned his shirt, emerging from the closet with combed hair, looking more like a frustrated, freshly showered man than a sick and pained one. The scent was the only give away.
“Then you shouldn't have put the only honest cop on a number,” John growled in that condescending way he had for mocking people who went in over their heads. As he walked past Harold, his gait forcibly straightened, smoothing out.
“Make no mistake, Mr. Reese. If it came to it, I could force you to do anything I deemed necessary.”
John's responded with the fading sound of footsteps on hardwood.
Carter didn't do subtle if it wasn't going to get her places. She flashed her badge and implied threats and she was in Cromwell's open plan office in ten minutes. The place was made of windows and white next to Cromwell's pink, pink, pink dress.
“Detective Carter, NYPD. We have reason to believe you're in danger.”
“Danger?” Cromwell had a deep laugh and distinct tilt to her head that said, oh, aren't you adorable with your little investigation and your shiny badge?“Officer-”
“Hmmm. I can't imagine what anyone would want with my little distillery.” She flipped a hand at the time line of beer cans and bottles lining one of her shelves, reflecting colored lights across the wall onto radiating silver blocks on the wall – a giant sundial. “I realize there's quite a bit of controversy about a woman running a beer company, but I very much doubt it will result in 'danger.' Unless you mean the harassment, in which case, I assure you, I have it handled.”
Carter placed her hands on Cromwell's desk and leaned in. “I'm afraid this is more of a bodily harm threat.”
Cromwell arched her eyebrows unevenly. No doubt if she could raise only one, she would, but the move was loaded with more than enough mockery.
Carter pushed up. “Suit yourself. I hope you don't mind a few cop cars sitting outside your house.”
Finally, a reaction out of Cromwell other than a scoff. She looked pained. “So long as you can be discrete.”
“That's not going to happen.”
Cromwell's desk drawer was silent, but her gun cocking was not. She held it at arm's length and pointed it at Carter's head. “Do you know, besides not liking beer, women don't shoot people in the face?” She tilted the gun away with a smile and quirk of her eyebrow, only for a moment.
Carter drew and sank a shot in Cromwell's shoulder, but hesitated on the second and third shot her training demanded. Across the room, a bottle shattered. Cromwell dropped the gun in shock and gripped her hand. Carter scooped it up.
“Skittish people shouldn't carry guns.” To be fair, few people wouldn't have spasmed on the trigger. Or dropped it after the kickback, if that was their first time firing a gun.
As soon as a handcuffed Cromwell was on her way to hospital, Carter's phone rang.
“You're alive,” she answered.
He didn't have to say No thanks to you. “The next time he calls, pretend he didn't.”
“You don't have the training and you know nothing about how this information is obtained – or just how incomplete it is.”
“You know I'm a competent cop.” If an untrustworthy one.
“And that's why you're still alive, detective.”
“Don't do it again.” She'd meant for getting him shot; she doubted he did.
“I'm on your side.” And if the opportunity to assist his vigilante justice legally wandered up to her again, she'd take it.
“That's a bad place to be, Detective.”
Before she could protest, he punctuated with a dial tone.
John waited until he could hear the sound of Carter driving in the background to shuffle into Cromwell's office and make sure it this one was really as simple as it seemed. No doubt Cromwell was into something illegal and fully willing to shoot someone, and that could very well be that.
Money laundering. With antique beer bottles, sold at grossly inflated prices.
Now that he was the one making the call, he dialed Fusco. John could trust in fear to keep Fusco in line. He could trust Finch's self interest to keep numbers and resources coming without too many strings.
And he could trust that he himself had nothing to lose but innocent lives.