The morning started ordinary enough. Reese walked into the library just as Finch was finishing attaching pictures onto the glass wall, and the latter man did not show surprise at all when Reese handed him his customary tea.
"We have a new number, Mr. Reese," Finch told him, all the while never removing his eyes from the wall. "And a potentially complicated one, at that."
"Aren't they all?" Reese drawled. Finch ignored him.
"Neal Caffery," Finch pointed at a picture of a handsome man with boyish features. Young, with a charming smile. "Also known as Nick Halden, amongst other aliases. Impressive criminal record."
"Mmm. So he's more a threat to others than himself?"
"I wouldn't be so quick to draw conclusions." Finch glances at the wall, his expression clouded. "Mr. Caffery is currently working for the FBI as a Confidential Informant in the White Collar division. It is perfectly possible that someone wants him dead."
"The FBI." Reese grinned humourlessly. "Always loved to deal with the feds."
Finch looked at him, expression indecipherable. "I think he's one of the good ones, Mr. Reese."
"In his impressive criminal record," Finch clicked away at the computer and pages after page of conviction records fly by, "he's never resorted to violent crime. Forgeries, art heists, long cons - I'd say he's clever, resourceful in his doings, but not the kind of person that the Machine would consider a threat."
"Wow, Finch." Reese raised his coffee in a slightly mocking gesture, "I've never heard such high praise from you, let alone about a Number."
"There is one potential problem though." Finch appeared not to have heard him. He pulled another picture off the table and taped it to the wall. It was an older man with kind features, smiling a wry smile. "Agent Peter Burke, his associate and handler at the White Collar division."
"Hmmm. Likely threat to our Number."
"Quite the opposite. From what I have seen, it seems that Agent Burke looks out for Mr. Caffery, protects him, even."
"A job contender." Reese contemplated for a moment, and grinned again, this time with real humour. "This is a stand-off then. I always wanted to find out which type of training offered the best protection - FBI, or the CIA."
Finch spun around, looking alarmed. "Please don't fight over the territory, or it could cause more trouble than we want."
"Oh, I won't." Reese flashed his teeth in a bright smile, "Mr. Caffery is just about to get lucky."
Neal Caffery sneezed. It was the sixth time today, and he felt a cold shiver going down his spine. Next to his desk, Jones snorted.
"Coming down with a cold, Caffery?"
"I'll make sure I disinfect all the surfaces that I touch, Jones." Neal replied amicably.
Inside the glass wall, Peter was watching him with worried eyes. Then he gave him the finger.
"Are you alright, Neal?" The concern was palpable from Peter's voice. "You've been looking unwell for the past few days."
"Ah, I'm fine." Neal waved it off, "It's probably from that pursuit in the rain a couple of days back. Stylish my hat maybe, it doesn't serve the same purpose as an umbrella."
Across the desk, Peter's mouth pressed into a thin line. "You let me know if you feel wrong, or you need a few days off, you hear?"
"Yes sir." Neal made a mock salute, started to make way out of the office, then stopped. "Actually, I have been feeling a bit off the last couple of days."
"Oh?" Peter furrows his brows in concern.
"Yeah. The hairs keep standing on the back of my neck. I feel like I'm being watched all the time - you haven't been tracking my ankle monitor all day, have you?" Neal grinned, a touch mischievously.
Peter sighed. "Away with you now. Don't wipe any snot on my desk."
Keeping his grin wide, Neal closed the door behind him.
"You'll need physical access to jack any FBI issued phone, Mr. Reese," said Finch in his ear.
Reese strode down the street, his eyes fixed on the younger man coming the other way, and replied, "Not a problem, Finch."
He deliberately bumped into Neal a minute later, spilling coffee on Neal's shoe. "I am sorry," he mumbled, offering a handkerchief. "Here, let me help..."
"Oh no, don't bother," came the cheery reply, "but if you could let go of my phone and return it to me, that would be great."
Reese looked up. Neal was grinning at him. "You have good skills. Just give me back my phone, and I won't tell. "
"Well well, he was a con-man, Mr. Reese," Finch commented dryly in Reese's ear.
Reese hesitated for a moment, then grinned back. "OK, you caught me. A fellow man of the trade?"
Neal smiled wide and gave no reply. "Thank you." He took his phone graciously, nodded, and walked off.
"What are you going to do now, Mr. Reese?" Finch's voice rang in his ear again, deliberately flat, as to not hurt his feelings.
"Who says I need to do anything else?" Reese glanced down at his phone, and the screen flashed 'Forced Pairing complete'. "I only needed to borrow his phone for a few seconds, and few seconds he gave."
"Very good, Mr. Reese."
"I try, Harold, I try."
A second or two of amiable silence passed, and Finch spoke again. "It won't be easy to spy on the FBI building, though. Any ideas?"
"Should I grab my workman suit and order for a custom built coffee machine again?"
"That'd be the best." Reese turned to hail a cab. "Knowing FBI offices, they are always in need of a good coffee machine."
"We really need a good coffee machine," Peter pondered out loud. "Maybe I should file a report saying how integral good coffee is to our conviction rates."
Near where he stood, Neal held a cup of his own and suddenly shuddered.
"Is it really that bad?" Peter's eyebrow nearly shot off into his hair, "I know you are man of fine taste, Neal, but it can't be that bad, can it?"
"No," Neal rubbed his neck absently, glancing around. After a second or two he snapped back into the present. "Well, yes, it is very bad, but I usually hide my distaste of office coffee in front of people who have no access to the better kind."
"Thanks for rubbing it in," Peter said sarcastically. "Why are you all agitated?"
"Still feel like I'm being watched," said Neal simply. "It's been three days and I haven't been able to figure out who."
"A secret admirer?" Peter teased, "Wouldn't be the first time."
Neal gave him a dirty look. "A secret stalker, more like. Anyway I don't feel flattered by this feeling. Something's off..." his voice trailed off, and both of them look around the office, deep in their respective thoughts.
"Our friend is hyper vigilant," said Finch, turning briefly to meet Reese's eye.
"Or he could be paranoid," Reese replied. "We have only been watching him for a couple of hours, at best."
"Interesting office dynamics they have there," Finch said inconsequentially. Reese glanced at him, and could not tell whether the man spoke in admiration or reproach.
"Certainly more loving than the office environment here."
This time Finch turned to look at him fully. "Do we not get on amiably, Mr. Reese?"
"I don't know, Mr. Finch," said Reese airily, "do you mind if I asked about your secret admirers?"
"Point." Finch returned his gaze to the monitor. "Although I have none to share."
Reese grinned. "Admirers always upfront about their intentions, then?"
Finch gave him an equal dirty look. "There's quite no need of that, Mr. Reese. I consider what you and I have rather unique, a dynamic that needs to bear no resemblance to what others may have."
Reese raised an eyebrow. "Really, Finch? I'm flattered."
"I'm not sure I meant it as a compliment," Finch deadpanned.
They returned their attention to the monitor, and it seemed that the two man in the office were debating about what to have for lunch.
"A French bistro. C'mon, Peter, let me take you to one for a change."
"Erhm." The older man's voice sound a bit strained. "I'm not sure your idea of fine cuisine suits this time of the day. I say we grab something off that deli in the corner."
"No way!" The younger man protested, "I've had enough salamis and sandwiches for the week. I want some proper food. Plus we have nowhere to be until three. More than enough time for some fine cuisine. Come on..."
Finch and Reese exchanged glances. From what they were seeing and hearing, it sounded awfully like the younger man was whining.
"Well, I for one do not see that happening in this office," said Reese, straightening up. "Lunch, Harold?"
"Indian would be fine," said Finch without looking up, but a smile evident in his voice.
"Let me know what they settle on," said Reese, smiling inwardly himself. "I'll be back with your tea."
Peter let out a long suffering sigh and picked up the menu. "I'm still not sure if this is a good idea. The bureau does not exactly pay me to have fine dining for lunch."
"Relax, Peter, it's on me." Neal flashed a smile and ordered two glasses of water. "Too bad we can't drink at mid-day. If you like it here, we can always come back and try the house wine. Oh and I think Elizabeth will like the dessert menu here too - very exquisite."
Peter gave him a wry look. "You corrupt me."
Neal looked extremely self satisfied. "Oh I try Peter, I try."
A moment later their entrees arrive, and Peter took a a tentative bite. "Mmm. This is good. I'm glad you didn't coax me into trying one of those experimental restaurants like the one you suggested last week."
Neal grinned, looking gleeful. "I heard Elizabeth liked it."
"Elizabeth likes everything that presents itself as a good idea," said Peter dryly, "I however, actually care about the food." He took a couple of more bites and washed it down with water. Dabbling the corners of his mouth with napkin, Peter asked nonchalantly, "Now. Why is it you insisted I have lunch with you this time?"
Neal smiled at him, quiet for a few moments. "I guess I won't insult your intelligence by saying, 'I just want to'."
Peter sighed again. "It'd be nice to hear, but no, I suppose you'd better not."
Neal looked around. Since it was lunch, the bistro was only half full, its clientele high class, mostly couples. He pointed his chin towards the backseat, where a dark haired man sat with his back to them, laughing with his girlfriend.
"Now I could be imagining things," Neal said in a low voice, "But I've seen this couple three times already this week. The first time I saw them, they had a map of New York in their hands, looking every bit a tourist. See? On the table. Yet they seem to stick around a lot for a tourist couple, and in all the non-touristy spots."
"You think they are tailing you?" Peter discreetly checked the couple out, and furrowed his brows. "I dunno, Neal. It could just be a coincidence."
"Could be." Neal admitted, "Or it could be they made their way to this restaurant after seeing us enter. I saw them hanging outside the building half an hour ago, near that deli that you are so fond of. It would appear this is their second meal."
Peter pursed his lips into a thin line. "Alright. I'll see what I can find out about them." He proceeded to get up from the table.
"What are you doing?" Neal widened his eyes, alarmed.
"Some light interrogating," Peter patted his hand. "Don't worry, just to find out about their intentions. I won't spook them - it is not my cover that they should be worried about blowing."
"Mr. Reese." Finch's voice had a certain sense of urgency when Reese returned to the library, takeout in one hand, tea in another. "They have left for the bistro."
"Hmm, it seems whining does help. Would it help if I whined to you sometime, Harold?"
Finch ignored him. Reese grinned.
"Do we have eyes and ears on them?"
"We do. It seems Mr. Caffery is concerned about a couple that has been tailing him for the past few days, and Agent Burke has gone over to question them."
"Question them?" Reese sounded genuinely surprised, "How brazen is the FBI nowadays?"
"To Agent Burke's credit, he is disguising himself as an average tourist, asking after a map."
"Still not a lot of finesse, I have to say."
Finch peered at him. "Not all those in the law enforcement sector believe in guilty until proven innocent, Mr. Reese."
"Mmm. It only takes one mistake to be fatal, you know, Finch."
Finch nodded grimly. "What are you going to do then, Mr. Reese?"
"For now?" Reese peeled back the lids of the takeout container and let the aroma fill the room, "Nothing. Our FBI friend seems competent enough to find out if I were to tail them, and I have no wish to be mistaken for his friend's stalker."
"Interesting." Finch studied him a bit more, then reached out. "Save me some chicken madras, please."
Reese was just about to hand over the food when the phone rang. The ring was old fashioned, not a mobile ringtone, but from a landline. For a moment they stared at each other, both startled.
"You have a landline here?"
The startled look on Finch's face transformed into a grim one, as he limped behind one of the bookcases, pulled out a few books, and picked up a receiver from the back. Reese watched soundlessly as Finch listened, and put down the phone again.
"We have a new Number."
Knowing full well now how the Machine gave out the Irrelevant list, Reese continued to watch as Finch went around the library to collect various books, and putting them together to get a Social Security Number. Finch pulled out the last book, stared at the combination, and frowned.
"We have a problem, Mr. Reese," he said, looking up with wide, alarmed eyes. "The new Number belongs to our friend at the FBI. He just made himself a target by talking to these people."