Things got busy again for them and that was good because John didn't like dwelling on his personal problems. He liked working. He liked thinking about the numbers, doing surveillance and fighting and knee capping and walking away alive and seeing the numbers who were in danger walk away alive too. It was so much easier to help others than to think about himself.
Almost always, when he had to make contact with a number to help them, they would ask the same question: “who are you?”
John didn't like being asked that. He almost always demurred to answer. He usually gave some kind of line to them, like “a friend” or “I'm not really sure myself.” It was of course more than just not being able to give them a name so they could friend him on Facebook. He really didn't know who he was and he didn't like the prospect of trying to figure it out. He knew it meant that he was hiding things even from himself, that though he didn't fear bullets or knives or bombs, he did fear looking into a mirror. If he didn't say who he was, then the man who walked in the dark wasn't the man who was helping the number that day. If he didn't give more than the name John, then the man who had so many last names didn't have to face the times he'd failed a number, or think about the woman he'd loved dying because he'd been in China or the dead bodies he'd left littering the world.
They worked a few numbers and neither he nor Finch talked about the incidents that had nearly shattered their world. Rikers retreated into the past. Bomb vests were forgotten. Or so the both of them pretended. He tried not to show how those events had messed with his mind and was grateful when Finch, after that one time in the hotel suite, didn't try to draw him out. There were just some things you didn't talk about. He'd been trained not to dwell and he figured there wasn't much reason to change now.
And he didn't call Carter for many weeks. Or Zoe either. He really didn't want to call Zoe and was grateful that they didn't find a need for her in their cases.
Mornings, he tried to get up early and work out, needing to try to stay flexible and strong, to still be able to shoot straight and punch hard and run fast. It was getting a bit more difficult but a man who wasn't really able to tell other people who he was didn't think about age much either. And if he didn't wake up hard like he did in his twenties, that wasn't something he spent a lot of time thinking about either.
Every so often, he did think about it. Once every week or so, he'd try in the shower, and he'd get partly erect. He would stroke himself, slow and tight, or fast and slippery… and when not much happened, he'd rinse off and get himself dressed and go pick up his coffee and Finch's tea and their donuts and get on with work.
They met a woman named Shaw who turned out to be working for the relevant side of things. She tried to kill him a couple of times and they tried to help her. She didn't want to, but she stopped shooting at least. It bothered John some that she seemed to be pretty good at getting the drop on him. Maybe it was because she'd been trained by the same kind of people who'd trained him. Maybe it was because he was usually preoccupied with other things when she snuck up on him.
Things were going a little wonky with the Machine. He and Finch didn't talk about that much either, but every so often the glitches were more obvious. Finch spent a lot of time writing code and trying to figure out what the virus on the hard drive meant. Reese did his best to work the numbers efficiently so that Harold would have time to make sure that when the time ran out, there would still be a mission for them to do.
“We have a new number,” Finch said without looking up from his computer when John walked in a few days after they'd said good-bye to Sam Shaw.
“Good,” John said without thinking. Finch paused with his fingers above his keyboard.
John tilted his head, realizing that it wasn't necessarily good for someone to be about to be murdered or kidnapped. “I mean it's good the Machine is working,” he answered, with just a little sarcasm in his tone.
Finch didn't bother responding. John smirked anyway. “The number is a Miss Angela Powell,” he said, getting up from his seat to walk over to their board. He pointed out the photo already taped up. “She works for a company called Hudson CryoBank.” Finch's voice slowed down the way it did when he was expecting John to begin to think about how they should proceed.
“Frozen assets?” John asked.
“So to speak. Though I am uncertain as to who would have any reason to try to harm her. My preliminary investigation doesn't show anything out of order in the company's financials.”
John took in the picture. She was a very attractive blonde, in her early thirties he supposed. She looked like someone who might be in the movies, with an engaging smile and long, loose hair that fell over shoulders in waves.
“Scorned lover?” he asked. “Any broken relationships?”
“No. Ms. Powell is single, never engaged, no current boyfriend as far as I've been able to determine thus far.”
“She purchased her apartment in Manhattan last year, and although her salary from the Cryobank is close to meeting her mortgage demands, it's a bit tight. She could be making extra cash under the table…” his voice trailed off.
“What's this… Cryobank place do?”
Finch focused on him. “Really, Mr. Reese?” He seemed surprised by the question. “It's a sperm bank.”
“That's what they call them these days?” He didn't really expect an answer. He remembered a couple of guys in college who'd talked about making some money by donating their sperm but he hadn't paid much attention. It wasn't something that he'd ever wanted to do, even when he'd been broke, having the foresight to realize that might mean that someday, somewhere there could be a kid who was his, in DNA only. “Is there any way someone could… blackmail someone who works for a sperm bank?” he asked.
“Isn't the question really why someone would want to?” Finch answered.
John turned the subject over in his mind, trying to come up with reasons. “Someone might want to find out who donated. Someone might want a certain donor's sperm or prevent someone from using a certain sample…”
“Subjects are paid based on whether their donation is open or closed,” Finch informed him. “A man who is willing to let the couple who uses his sperm know who he is would obtain greater remuneration.”
“So if you're anonymous, you get paid less?”
“That appears to be the case, yes.”
“I don't see why someone would want to manipulate something like this,” Reese mused. “Do certain types of donors cost more or something?”
“You mean, would a more attractive or more intelligent donor cost the recipients more?” Finch turned to head back to his computer. “Certain banks are set up and advertise that they have sperm from Nobel Prize winners, which might cost prospective parents more, but there could be lawsuits from parents whose babies aren't healthy.” He brought up a news article from Utah. “This says that a mother sued because her baby had Asperger's and a heart defect, both of which she claims were inherited from the biological father.” He read from the article, “When she searched out the sperm donor, she found that at least 36 children were conceived from his donations before he learned of his conditions, and that many had similar health problems. Even after becoming aware of his flawed genetic material, he neglected to inform any of the banks selling his sperm, which could have informed prospective mothers of the risk.”
“I thought they screened people before they donated.”
“They do,” Finch nodded. “But as we've seen, any system can be corrupted.”
“So,” Reese concluded, “if you knew you had something wrong with you, you might try to pay the sperm bank off to keep it quiet. Or, I guess you might pay off the person at the bank that you'd dealt with, like Angela here.”
“The selection process for prospective donors is supposedly quite rigid,” Finch said. “I imagine someone might want to pay off an employee to assure he would be accepted… but why? Usually, those who donate do it because they need money.”
“Paying to be able to donate your sperm so that someone specific might conceive your child…” Reese shook his head. “That seems pretty far-fetched.”
“It appears we will need to do some in depth investigation,” Finch nodded.
“I'll get eyes on Angela,” Reese nodded, going to the cabinet to retrieve his camera.
Observing their number at work proved more difficult than usual. It seemed that the Hudson Cryobank wasn't all that easy to locate. It would have been simple if the address were given on the company's website, but it wasn't. Reese figured that type of place wouldn't be all that likely to hang out a big flashing neon sign: “Money for Sperm” the way places that paid you for your unwanted gold jewelry did. He ended up heading to Angela's home address after working hours instead. The next morning, it was easy to tail her to the company's main office where she worked.
to be continued...