By the time they'd worked together a few weeks, Sam thought she'd cataloged all the ways John Reese could say "We have a new number." There was oh shit not another day trader and Harold is too into this one; please help me stop him from insisting on fieldwork and pack the heavy artillery! and don't you love mysteries? and I am carefully keeping my face blank until you inform me of your feelings, but I think you're gonna like this. She'd never yet seen him look like it was physically painful to get the words out.
"Okay, what the fuck?" she said. They were on a bench in Central Park, watching children on the swings. "You think we're going to need surface-to-air missiles, and the 7-11 is out? Or did you actually eat one of those Hot Pockets and now you need to throw up? Or--"
"Sam," he interrupted with an even more tortured glare, and thrust a photograph at her.
She stared. "Harold's the number?"
"Not him. Her."
The woman kissing Harold's temple in the photo had pale skin and red hair and she looked… nice. Affectionate. Sam glanced up at John. "And?" she said.
"Grace Hendricks. She's… she was, I guess. His fiancée. Was because he's dead, I mean, not because she--"
"Yeah, I get it; you don't have to trip yourself up in verb tenses. What do you know about her?"
"I met her once. She's an artist, does magazine covers and that sort of thing. She seems kind. Not security-minded. Let me into her place on the strength of a stolen NYPD badge." He swallowed. "Harold loves her. Always will. He said he was going to grow old with her, just--"
"So I'd guess Harold's not the perp here," Sam broke in. "And she isn't going to kill him, since she doesn't know he's alive. So he's kind of… irrelevant. Except," and she held up a hand against John's protest, "that he's got you so worked up over this that you're liable to faint if you get within sight of her. Want me to take it?"
He let out a relieved sigh. "I'll look into the magazines that have bought her work. And find out about her friends."
"Has Harold hacked her finances?"
"Harold's catatonic," John said flatly. "But I'm willing to bet it's all in his files. Give me an hour or two."
There were targets you had to dance around waving things so they didn't notice what you were up to, targets you had to hide from, and then there were the ones you were best off just walking up to and saying hi, I'm here to help. After twenty minutes or so of John breathing sorrowful sighs and useless facts into her ear, that's what Sam decided to do.
"Hey," she said when Grace opened the door. "I called?"
"Come on in," Grace said happily. As soon as she shut them into the apartment, Sam grabbed her shoulders and backed her up against the wall.
"So this is the first thing we need to fix," she said. "You have to be a little more suspicious of people, okay? I could kill you about twenty ways just now without breaking a sweat. Just because I'm a woman and not very tall--"
"Though she be but little, she is fierce," Grace said, and actually smiled. "I thought you wanted your portrait painted?"
Surprisingly cool under pressure, Sam noted, let go and took a step back. "There's a threat against your life," she said. "Well, either that or… no. That." She'd tossed John the idea that Root had tricked the Machine into spitting out Grace's number so that Harold would have a heart attack. But that didn't actually make Grace the perpetrator, and besides, John had said with laughable earnestness, the Machine would never ever do that to Harold.
Well, you'd know more about that than I would, she'd said, but she agreed. "Someone wants to kill you," she added to Grace, to make things absolutely clear.
"Apparently, yeah. Any idea who?"
"Not a clue. Sorry," she added; it was sort of sweet.
"Well, then. What I said about not opening the door to strangers? Triple it. How are your locks?" Sam didn't wait for an answer, just started inspecting doors and windows. The locks were fine; they were actually really good, in fact. Not that they'd keep out Control's assassins, but she didn't think that was the most likely scenario. They'd keep out Root.
When she returned from the tour, Grace was sitting at an easel, charcoal in hand. "Sit down," she said. "I thought I'd do a sketch first."
"I didn't come here for--"
"I realize that," Grace said patiently, "but I'd like to try your cheekbones, and it'll help me listen to whatever you have to say. It doesn't bother me if you move your mouth."
Sam respected multitasking. "Okay," she said, assuming the position. "Now--"
"Head a little to the left. Thanks."
"So who do you know who--"
"Chin up a bit. No, not that much. Well... that'll do. Go on."
"You think maybe someone whose portrait you're painting wants you dead?"
Grace laughed, and, surprisingly, Sam did too. "I haven't painted anyone's face in years," Grace said. "That's why I was so curious about you. Couldn't imagine who'd given you a reference."
"Well… don't open the door to just anyone you're curious about. Even people with interesting cheekbones who seem really nice. Do you know this woman?" Sam said, and pulled out Root's photo.
Grace took a quick look and then went back to sketching. "No."
"She didn't meet with you to talk about illustrating children's books?" John had managed to pry this threat out of Harold, along with a shitload of panic.
"Oh. It might be Ms. Forrest? She never turned up for our appointment." Grace shrugged. "I was a little disappointed. Looking forward to magical woodland creatures." The charcoal stilled. "You'd make a great squirrel."
"It didn't sound like a compliment, did it? You move really fast. And you're athletic. We had a mulberry tree, where I grew up, and some of the squirrels would hang upside down and snack. It takes great stomach muscles. Maybe I could draw you in the nude sometime."
"A nude squirrel?"
"No. Just you." Grace grinned. "No fur."
"You don't even know my name."
"It's not actually a requirement, though usually the models get introduced. Sandy, didn't you say?"
"That's what I said."
"Mm." Grace shot a glance at Sam and stroked a decisive line down the paper. "So if some total stranger tries to kill me, it matters that I know their real name?"
"It's more likely to be someone you're acquainted with. Who doesn't like you."
Grace shrugged. "I'm not terribly good at making friends. But I'm not good at making enemies either. I don't think."
"You haven't stolen anyone's boyfriend? Girlfriend? Car?" Sam recalled to the best of her ability everything she'd seen in the apartment since walking in. She didn't dare move her head to look. "Truly hideous vase shaped like the Leaning Tower of Pisa?"
"That was a gift."
"Insulted anyone's precious possessions?" Grace smiled a little, and shook her head. "Threatened anyone's livelihood?"
"Not that I can think of. How do you know someone's going to kill me when you don't know who or why?"
Well, occasionally the hi, I'm here to help strategy backfired. "Let's just say it's a statistical probability."
"What sort of probability are we talking about?"
"Ninety-nine point nine percent. Rounded up. My source is never wrong."
"There's no such thing as never wrong. Except when it's something you really, really want to be wrong about." Sam opened her mouth, but Grace rode over her. "I believe you," she said. "I'm actually pretty good at faces, and yours isn't lying. And I think you do want me to survive. Not because you know me or care about me, but… what would you call it? A matter of professional pride?"
Grace nodded. "I can relate to that. So I'll try not to get in the way while you do your job, which is… protecting people?"
"That's what I do." She'd always thought of it as taking down bad guys, but this worked too. Was actually a better description of the last few crazy weeks. Though plenty of the other had happened as well.
"Okay, and are you planning to follow me around the city? I can't stay indoors all the time; I'll go stir-crazy. In fact I have an appointment with a client in two hours."
"I can follow you, but… how much self-defense do you know?"
"Ah. I was wondering how you intended to pay for the portrait."
"Yeah, thing is, I'm not really into the barter economy. I get paid well to help people."
"It's probably more dangerous than art," Grace said dryly. "Can I defend myself with a paintbrush?"
"If you have one, sure. The pointy end. Otherwise… if someone comes at you, take your two fingers like this and stab at his eyeballs" -- she demonstrated -- "and if that doesn't work--"
"If that doesn't work, I already have a knife between my ribs. Tell you what, let me finish this and then you can take me out to buy a gun."
Sam and John went to the Library together to report to Harold. "Threat neutralized," John announced the second he made eye contact: merciful timing, horrible miscalculation of tone.
"He didn't actually kill the guy," Sam explained to Harold's face, which was trying to decide if it was terrified or triumphant. She thought Grace would probably like to paint it. "Just… damaged him. But she's safe."
Harold closed his eyes for a second and nodded. "Thank you," he said. "And Mr. Allen's motive?"
"Well, that's the interesting thing, Harold," Sam said. "I'd call it petty jealousy, but he might call it… professional pride. He's an artist too. Maybe better than Grace, maybe not, but they're in the same market, and the last five commissions she's won? He's been second choice for. A couple of the editors helpfully informed him that he was their first choice until the publishers overruled them. It got a little frustrating."
John had been aiming stop why don't you stop looks at her through this report, but she ignored him. "Not that that's any excuse for murder," she added. "He's a scumbag. But a reasonably talented scumbag. While Grace is a reasonably talented really nice person. That should have put them on an even footing as far as jobs went. It could be that those publishers like redheads a lot, of course."
There was a long pause. Then Harold said quietly, "I wanted her to stay in the city. I thought…"
"She's a little weird, Harold," Sam said, "and she apologizes too much. But she's actually damn good at selling art." She'd made John carry the portfolio; gesturing at him to open it, she went on: "I can have these framed if you want. You pay me well enough."
Harold reached out reverently for the first charcoal drawing: Sam looking far prettier and more delicate than she felt she'd ever actually been. Like iron lacework. She was holding up two fingers, counting her blessings rather than demonstrating how to poke someone's eyes out. Harold smiled, lifted the paper, said "Oh. My," and stared just long enough for John to add "Nice abs" before flipping the second drawing over in red-faced haste.
Okay, so two frames, Sam thought, and waited for number three. "That's…" Harold said.
"Me hanging upside down in a tree dressed as a squirrel," Sam finished for him. "And…"
"Ms. Groves as a chipmunk?"
"Isn't she adorable? It's just a sketch. I think there may be more, eventually. Maybe you can bribe some book publishers." He threw her a betrayed look. "I can hint at a little owl with glasses," she added.
"No," he said sadly. "Better not."
She read the pleading note in his expression. "We didn't talk about you, Harold," she said. "I taught her how to fire a gun and how to use the element of surprise to get the better of someone larger and heavier. We discussed Italy and coffee and chiaroscuro and Shakespeare. Oh, and she's really annoyed with the government for reading her emails." Sam relented. "I spied a bit. She keeps your engagement ring in her underwear drawer. Doesn't want to get paint on it, I bet. But that photo of the two of you is front and center."
"Thank you," he said again, and she wanted to smooth down his feathers and put him back in the nest. "I'm extremely grateful."
"All part of the job, Harold. And you're welcome."