“Huh.” Finch leaned back in his chair, staring at a monitor.
John quirked an eyebrow. “Finch?”
“Oh -- we have a new number, but... it’s odd.”
“Odd in that this is the eighth time I’ve seen it come up, although only the first since you joined me.”
“Precisely. I’ll have to update the information, but here’s what I have so far.” Finch clicked on a folder and brought up the dossier as John moved closer to look over his shoulder. “His name’s Robert --”
“McCall,” John finished, straightening a bit.
“You know him?”
“Of him. Man’s a legend. Before my time, but I’ve heard some of the stories.”
John bared his teeth in a smile. “Very.”
“I’ve been assuming that the repetition of his number meant he was a perpetrator rather than a victim, but --” Finch hesitated, sweeping a hand at the screen as he leaned back to look up at John. “How dangerous can he be? The man’s 82 years old.”
“The man’s a legend,” John repeated softly, eyes fixed on the image on the screen. Older than the pictures he’d seen, sure -- the hair had whitened and thinned out into a bald spot, and the slight paunch and heavy jowl of middle age had thickened into roundness, while the ramrod-straight spine had softened into a slight stoop.
But the gaze was still sharp, and the grip on the cane was one that could turn it into a weapon in an instant.
“We all got warned about him, anyone who was ever in New York -- stay away from McCall. He was retired, and he was off-limits. Official word was that it was out of respect for his service.”
“And the unofficial word?”
“Rumor had it he had something on someone, or lots of someones. Something big, big enough that he could walk away on his own terms and not be touched. The stories said he retired to be some kind of vigilante, help the little guy who couldn’t find help anywhere else.”
Finch raised his eyebrows at that. “Really.”
John grinned. “Sound familiar?” Amusement faded as he moved closer to the displays, reaching out to brush his finger above the glassy surface of the photograph. “I don’t know how true it was, but men like him don’t retire peacefully, Finch.” He turned his head and caught Finch’s eye. “Men like him don’t retire.”
“They go out in a blaze of glory?” Finch asked softly.
“Or vengeance. Or petty grudges.” John stepped back, rolling his shoulders to settle his jacket more firmly. “Whatever it is, this man is still dangerous.”
“I never saw any reports of deaths after his number cleared.”
“No,” John agreed. “You wouldn’t.”
“... Ah. Quite.” Finch turned back to his monitors, frowning. “Well, I suggest you follow your legend --” He stopped when John shook his head.
“He’ll spot a tail, even me.”
“... All right, then. Perhaps, instead of watching from a distance, it would be better to go up close and personal, get inside his guard. You could challenge him to a game of chess; he plays in the park most days.”
“Don’t think so. He’s a Cold War spook, Finch, and he was the best. He’ll have me pegged for ex-military and CIA before I even sit down.” What must it be like, he wondered, to make it to 82.
“Then I suppose I shall have to,” Finch said, rising to his feet, mouth set in a determined line.
“What? No, Finch -- listen, whatever’s going on with McCall, it’s too dangerous for you to be out there with him.”
“I don’t really see what other choice we have, Mr. Reese. If you’re right, he’d spot Fusco or Carter as fast as he’d spot you. Besides, if I play this right, I can even explain why you’re lurking about, if he notices -- you can be my bodyguard. He’ll buy that, won’t he?”
John nodded grudgingly. “It’s about the one thing he will buy, if you do the discreetly-wealthy thing.”
“I’ll see if I can manage,” Finch said dryly, slipping into his perfectly tailored coat.
McCall was at the park, as expected, just settling in at what seemed to be his favorite table. The long wool coat from Finch’s dossier photo was missing, replaced with a thick wool cardigan against the cool October breeze.
They risked a circuit of the tables, with Finch peering interestedly and obviously at players and games while John eyed the bushes and checked sight-lines, and tallied possible threats, discreetly enough so most of the park patrons wouldn’t notice. Finch meandered casually back to McCall’s table and smiled slightly, gesturing at the board. “May I?”
“Oh, yes, please,” McCall said, reaching a hand across the table. “Robert.”
Finch shook it politely. “Harold. Shall we?”
“Pleasure,” McCall said. He picked up a white and black pawn, hiding them for Finch to pick, and the game was on.
John took up position nearby, with the widest possible view, letting the occasional murmur of polite game-and-weather chatter between Finch and McCall wash over him, as it gradually shifted to include travel, music, and art. Sounded like they were well-matched -- no surprise there.
“Check and mate, I believe,” McCall said eventually, sounding pleased.
Finch made a rueful sound, and tipped his king over. “So it is. I would insist on a rematch, but I must admit I’m getting rather hungry. Would you care to join me for lunch?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose...”
Finch smiled. “It’s no imposition. I’ve enjoyed our game and our conversation, and I’d very much like to continue it. Please join me. There’s a very good steakhouse nearby.”
McCall studied him for a moment, then smiled back. “All right, then. Why not?”
They strolled through the park to the nearest exit, John following ten yards behind, lurking with as much casual menace as he could to give off the proper air of rich man’s hired muscle.
The path curved around a small stand of bushes, and Finch and McCall vanished from John’s view. He sped up, just in time to hear Finch’s alarmed “What do you want?” followed by a distinctive crunching sound. He broke into a run, bursting into the tiny grotto in the bushes where McCall was standing over two would-be assailants.
“You call that an ambush?” McCall said contemptuously, pointing his cane at one of the men, who subsided back into the ground, wide-eyed. “Whoever had the training of you did a damn poor job, let me tell you. Go on, go on, get out of here -- and tell your boss I am getting tired of these little ‘surprises’ of his. If he wants me, he’s going to have to do a damn sight better than this!”
The last was shouted after the departing backs of the two hobbling thugs.
“Where’d you hit ‘em?” John asked mildly.
“Kneecaps,” McCall said, brandishing the cane a bit. “Best place -- can’t protect them, and if you take out a kneecap, the other fellow’s going down.”
John nodded approvingly. “That’s what I’ve always thought.”
“Now, as for you.” The cane was suddenly at the base of John’s throat.
John went perfectly still.
“Why are you surveilling me? Do you work with them?” He jerked a head after the thugs, eyes ice-cold.
“He works for me,” Finch said, stepping closer.
John shot him a look, trying to warn him off.
“Yes, thank you, that much is perfectly clear. Clever cover, hiding in plain sight like that. But that doesn’t answer the surveillance question.”
“I just wanted to play some chess,” Finch said.
John shut his eyes briefly.
McCall snorted. “Oh, do me a favor. Do I look like I was born yesterday? You made a circuit to assess the situation, then came back and you -- Harold, is it, really? -- inserted yourself to keep a close eye on me, and I assume to bug me, while this one here assessed the broader picture. Wonderful job, by the way, splendid work spotting and stopping those two so the senior citizen could go peacefully about his day instead of having to risk life and limb.”
The acid was remarkable; John could almost feel actual strips of skin coming off. He braced himself and met McCall’s eyes. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I don’t think it was your life or limbs at risk there.”
McCall huffed out a breath, not quite a laugh. “Perhaps so. But you’ve still not answered my question.”
“We were here to help. We got a tip that someone was going to try to take you out, if not today then soon -- no details, no names, just that something was going down. We just wanted to be around to help. Totally unnecessarily, as it turns out.” He looked at Harold. “I told you, the man’s a legend.”
“I’m beginning to believe it,” Harold agreed. “Mr. McCall, do you think you could let my associate go? We have no quarrel with you, nor you with us. He’s telling you the truth -- we wanted to help.”
McCall shook his head and lowered the cane. “I must be going soft,” he said. “I actually believe you.”
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear it,” John murmured.
McCall grinned at him, bright and battle-sharp. John carefully kept his hands in view.
“Now, about that lunch,” Finch said.
McCall raised an eyebrow at him; John didn’t quite dare, under the circumstances.
“I meant what I said, Robert -- I enjoyed our game and our conversation a great deal, and I’d like to continue at least one of them. And I really am hungry. Will you still join us?”
McCall blinked once. “‘Us,’ is it? So, not quite the hired muscle you seem to be after all?”
“Not quite,” John said.
“Good. You’d be wasted in a position like that. Ex-CIA, isn’t it? And Special Forces, too, unless I miss my guess.”
John slanted an I-told-you-so look at Finch. “I’m Harold’s head of security.”
McCall snorted. “Of course you are.” He eyed them both for a moment, clearly considering the proposition. “All right, gentlemen, you’re on -- let’s ‘do lunch’, as they say, and see where that takes us. I find I’m very intrigued by you two, very intrigued indeed.”
John shifted to walk between Finch and McCall, ignoring the exasperated look Finch sent him and McCall’s quiet chuckle. This was going to be a long lunch.