20. Date

While Finch excused himself to go clean up in the bathroom, Reese did the best he could in the car with his handkerchief. The dark spots on his trousers would not come out, though, and he knew it wasn’t just because they were still damp.

Guess I’ll have to take these to the cleaners, he thought. A contented smile crept across his features as he decided, But it was definitely worth it!

He could hear a subdued Finch return to the desk, replace his headset, and start tapping on his keyboard.

“How are you doing, Harold?”

“I’m fine, of course, just…” Finch groped for the right word. “…a little overwhelmed, I think.”

“Have I been pushing you too fast?”

“No… No, I don’t think so. I’m just not… accustomed to… this sort of thing.”

Envisioning how Finch was blushing at that moment sent waves of warmth through Reese’s body, all the way down to his toes.

“You’re going to have to get used to ‘this sort of thing’ soon, Harold. I’ll make sure you do.”

“I’m sure you will.”

There was a slight note of amusement, perhaps even anticipation, in Finch’s voice.

“What are you doing now?” Reese asked.

“Well, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m tracing the recent activities of a certain Carl Banks. If we can find a pattern to his movements, it should be easier to track him down…”

“I’m sure you can, Harold. And then we can turn him over to Detective Carter – that should distract her a bit from chasing after us, I hope.”

“That would be… helpful…” Finch trailed off, before taking a rather deep breath and beginning anew. “Mr. Reese, I was wondering… I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but… I think we should keep things more… professional, when we’re working a case.”

“How so?” Reese asked, although he felt he knew already.

“Well, I think it would be best if we referred to each other by our surnames – whatever alias we’re using at the time – while we’re in contact with a… client. Although I do realize, most of the time we don’t have a client…”

“You don’t want people to hear us whispering sweet nothings to each other?” Reese said with exaggerated disappointment.

“As I’ve mentioned before… I’m still new to all this, John. I’m simply not comfortable with… public displays of affection.”

“Like when the Russwood family is listening in?”

Especially when a family like the Russwoods is listening in, yes. By the way, however did you explain Detective Carter’s interest in us? Although the Senator did seem to take it in stride…”

“I’d given him an overview of what we do – nothing specific, of course, and I didn’t tell him anything about how we find the people we help, but he’s a smart man… He realized that some of our actions wouldn’t land us in the good graces of the local authorities.”

“I see… Well, you know how I feel about… informing people about our… operations…”

“It was a judgment call – I realize that, and I’m willing to take responsibility for it, but I thought the Senator might get suspicious of our cover, especially after what he saw last night. Giving him at least a portion of the truth made it much easier to work with him… fewer questions in the long run. Incidentally, are you going to charge him for our services?”

“I wasn’t planning to. Why?”

“Just wondering. I think he was expecting a hefty bill, at least when he first contracted us, so to speak.”

“Well, as the only cost involved so far is our time and your current transportation, I think we can let it slide. I’d rather not leave a money trail for Detective Carter to follow, in case the Senator changes his mind about protecting our anonymity.”

“Speaking of Carter, since I didn’t have to post your bail – kudos to your award-winning performance – you should transfer that money back out of my account before I’m tempted to spend it,” Reese reminded.

“I suppose so…” Finch mumbled, somewhat distracted as he typed on his computer.

“We’re coming into the City,” Reese told him. “Stop-and-go traffic now…”

“Yes, I see… Mr. Reese, I was, ah… wondering, if you would care to… join me for dinner.”

“Tonight?” Reese asked, as though it made a difference.

“Well, yes,” Finch said awkwardly.

“For a business dinner, or… are you asking me out on a date?”

“…The latter, Mr. Reese,” Finch answered, his even voice betraying no emotion.

“Well in that case, yes, I would love to,” Reese replied, reverting to his overtly-gay persona. “I thought you would never ask, Harold!”

“I never imagined I would be, either,” was Finch’s dry comment.

“Will I need a tie this time?”

“I don’t believe so. But you may wish to bring a change of clothing…”

“Oh! Harold! You naughty man…”

“Me? ‘Naughty’?” he protested. “You’re the one who made me… stain my trousers, Mr. Reese. I need to take these to the cleaners now.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I stained mine, too.”

Reese could hear Finch’s breath hitch in his throat.

“I see… So in that case, I should pick you up at your apartment after we’ve both changed.”

“All right. Do you need directions?” Reese facetiously asked. Of course he knew that Finch knew exactly where he lived, as well as when he moved to a new location, which he did quite often.

“I believe I can find it, Mr. Reese. I’ll pick you up at a quarter to seven on the corner in front of the drugstore.”

“I can’t wait, Harold.”

“Ah… And I’ll bring your pajamas with me.”

“As well as the… other items I left with you?”

“Yes, o—of course…”

Finch flushed as he glanced at the shopping bag on the floor, remembering some of its contents.

“I’ll be looking forward to it, Harold,” Reese’s mellow voice curled around his ear before he ended the call.

Since Reese didn’t have an overnight bag, he simply packed everything he owned (which was spartan) into the pilot’s case that he’d bought after being hired by Finch. There was actually room to spare in it now, since he was carrying the soiled suit over his shoulder and wearing another. When he left the apartment, there was nothing in the rooms to suggest that they were even inhabited, let alone by what manner of man. He stopped by the dry cleaner’s store down the street before returning to wait for Finch at the designated corner. He didn’t wait long, as the other man arrived a bit early, also, and popped the trunk open for him.

“I see you’ve brought all of your earthly possessions,” Finch remarked as Reese sat down in the passenger seat.

“Almost. Call me an optimist, but I’m hoping that you won’t want to let me go after tonight,” he grinned.

“Do you mean to tell me, last night wasn’t your A-game?”

“Hardly, Harold – I was only getting warmed up,” he assured him, one hand wandering over to leave a trail of warmth along Finch’s thigh.

“John… please don’t distract me when I’m driving,” Finch murmured.

“I’ll try, Harold, but I’ve missed you so much…”

Reese leaned closer to place a gentle kiss on the other man’s cheek before fastening his seatbelt.

Finch drove them to a high-end Chinese restaurant near Park Avenue, where Reese’s eyebrows shot up in wordless surprise as he took in the opulent décor. He also noted that the maître d’ recognized Finch immediately. They were led to a private dining chamber with a table large enough for ten but set for only two, and his suspicions were confirmed when the waiter arrived with a genuine smile and the greeting, “Mr. Crowe! You bring a friend today!”

“Ah, yes… Liang, this is John – John Westerton, my… business associate.”

Reese smiled pleasantly at Liang, who asked him for his drink order; he had already brought out a steaming pot of tea for Finch, as though he knew from past experience what his customer would order.

“So… do you come here often?” Reese asked when the waiter had left them.

“I assume that’s a rhetorical question,” Finch responded, “or a rather over-used pickup line. I assure you, John, you needn’t bother with the… usual intricacies of seduction. I’m what would be called a… ‘sure thing,’ I believe.”

“That’s nice to know,” Reese said, placing a hand over Finch’s where it rested on the table. “It takes a great deal of pressure off. But it makes me sad to think of you coming here, all by your lonesome, to eat a delicious meal in this beautiful setting, and nobody to share it with.”

“Well… at least that’s not the case tonight,” Finch said, nervously glancing at their overlapping hands. His first impulse was to remove his, but he did not want to offend Reese. Thankfully, Reese slipped his hand off as soon as he sensed the waiter approaching again.

“No book today, Mr. Crowe?” Liang asked with a twinkle in his eye as he set out menus in front of them.

“No… I have much better company,” Finch said, trying hard (and failing) not to blush.

Reese insisted that Finch order his “usuals,” so he selected the Crispy Duck appetizer and Shrimp Spring Rolls, with Seafood Delight Soup for both of them. For their entrées, he chose the Baked Bass for himself and recommended the Orange Beef for Reese. Since they were secluded in their private room, Reese shamelessly stole bites from Finch’s plate, laughing in delight when Finch worked up the nerve to retaliate. Even Finch could not help the rare smile that broke out on his face as he realized, with some shock, that he was happy.

“Well, this is the best Chinese food I’ve ever had, Mr. Crowe,” Reese declared after savoring another bite of his tender beef. “Of course, it may have something to do with the fact that it isn’t served in a cardboard box.”

“Possibly,” Finch replied dryly. “I am rather fond of this place… I’ve heard people argue that you have to go to Chinatown for authentic Chinese food, but I must admit, I’m not usually that adventurous – especially when you can have something quite as good in the safety and comfort of this environment.”

“You’re not eager for a re-enactment of last night, I take it?”

“What? Oh, that fiasco? No, indeed! I think we should leave the small-time criminals in the capable hands of the police.”

Reese chuckled – a deep, throaty sound that sent shivers up Finch’s spine. Partly to distract himself from the lascivious thoughts that rose, unbidden, to the surface of his mind, Finch added, “I do hope that young man has learned his lesson… He caused quite enough trouble for the hope of a few ill-gained dollars.”

“I’m sorry it all snowballed out of control like that,” Reese said, suddenly sober. “But there was a method to my madness, you know… I didn’t want him stealing our licenses and credit cards, then leaving them where the police could find them. I know you can replace them – and will have to, anyway – but I thought it best not to give Detective Carter and her colleagues a good picture of my face. It could still be identified through facial recognition if they run it through the Agency’s database.”

Finch nodded, realizing that Reese had considered all of this in the split second before moving into action.

“Of course, John… I trust your judgment implicitly.”

“You do?” Reese smiled, his eyes glittering with provocative innuendo.

“Ah… yes. For most things, that is,” Finch hedged.

“Not all?”

“Well… I was rather curious… when you mentioned the additional funds that I’d placed in your account for our… contingency plan,” Finch said, trying to steer the conversation to less titillating subjects. He had no wish to leave the restaurant with a bulge in his anterior clothing. “You said you might be tempted to spend it all… How exactly might you have spent it?”

“Well, it all depends on my mood at the moment, of course,” Reese answered in a matter-of-fact tone, though his eyes continued to dance with mischief. “But I can think of any number of ways to blow a substantial wad of cash… Clothes being an obvious choice, today, since we’ve both had our… mishaps…” He smirked, making Finch’s heart thump with the recollection of their memorable phone conversation. “And of course, my usual favorites: high-tech toys and guns.”

“Of course,” Finch mumbled.

“Depending on how substantial a wad it is, perhaps some means of transportation as well,” Reese continued. “Nothing like a new set of wheels to make a dent in a pocketbook… although here in the City, I would probably opt for something with two wheels over four.”

“A motorcycle?” Finch asked, intrigued.

“Yes. Much easier to tail people with, although it’s also easier to be spotted by them.”

“I’m guessing you’re adept at… evading their scrutiny, though?”

“I’ve been trained,” Reese replied modestly. “Whether I’m ‘adept’ or not is a matter of opinion.”

“Very interesting,” Finch commented as Liang returned with their dessert.

“So is this, Mr. Crowe,” Reese said as he peered into the bowl of cubed almond jelly and fruit.


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