(note: now also a podfic, read by lunchy_munchy!)
Olivia Dunham was thirty years, two months, eight days, twelve hours and four minutes old as she sat in front of the Pie Hole and squinted inside with her binoculars. Beside her, Peter Bishop, who was twenty-nine years, one month, twenty-six days, seven hours and one and a half minutes old, let out a sound of frustration.
"Come on, this isn't getting us anywhere," he said, desperate. He let his head fall against the dashboard. "This guy is the most boring guy in the history of boring people."
"He's on the list," Olivia protested.
In fact, they did not know this for sure. The file had read, Ned, Couer d' Cours, age four, but the last name had been unfortunately smudged and illegible. However, quite luckily, there had only ever been three Neds in the history of all Couer d' Cours.
One Ned was an eighty-two year old traveling badminton racket salesman, one was a forty-seven year old rocking chair carpenter, and one was a twenty-eight year old pie maker.
Only the pie maker was the right age to be the one they were looking for.
Peter lifted his head, and glared at the pie shop with the bizarre piecrust roof. "We're wasting our time."
"Everyone else on that list was exhibiting strange abilities," Olivia said.
"Yeah, and they were all low-life criminal types that had gone nuts," Peter said.
The facts were these: They had recently come into possession of a list of names, found in the secret basement of the recently deceased John Scott. Upon investigation, all of the people on this list were either in prison, institutionalized, or dead, all of them, that was, except for one. Each of the others had been surrounded by strange unexplainable occurrences, that of course, being unexplainable, Olivia currently had no explanation for.
"This guy does not look like a threat to society, this guy bakes pies," Peter said. "Hey, maybe that's his special ability. Maybe he makes super-pies."
"Are you finished?" Olivia asked exasperatedly.
"Yeah," Peter said, and sunk down into his seat. "Except now I really want some pie."
Olivia rolled her eyes, and returned her attention to the pie shop. She was about to lift her binoculars again when someone slammed a hand down on her side window. She quickly rolled it down, and frowned at the man that had disturbed them.
The man in question was in fact, Emerson Cod, private detective, and lover of pie. He had seen the car sitting across the street when he had gone into the Pie Hole to order some pie and talk about his latest case with Ned, his secret detecting weapon. Ned had the unique ability of being able to wake the dead and ask them how it was they had come to be dead, which often made matters much easier when it came to locating a murderer, and was very useful for Emerson, who liked money more than work.
Occasionally it went like this: Emerson took Ned to a dead body, Ned touched the body, the person sat up, Emerson asked "hey, who killed you?" and they said, "So and so did" and sometimes even gave an address. However, it did not happen this way as often as Emerson might like. Dead people didn't always get to the point within sixty seconds, and for the most part, that was all they got.
This was not the case with Charlotte Charles, who the pie-maker had awoken and could not bear to put to sleep again. As far as Emerson knew, she hadn't stopped talking since.
"You want to tell me what you're doing here?" Emerson demanded.
Olivia flashed her badge. Peter flashed a smile. "Just on our lunch break," she said. "We were thinking about getting some pie, but we just couldn't decide. We're not really from around here."
"Huh," said Emerson. Emerson Cod prided himself on being able to tell when someone was lying to him. This woman was good, he would admit, but he was better. "Why don't you come on in, then? My treat."
With their cover entirely blown, and Peter desperately wishing for a piece of pie, they decided that they may as well go with him inside. Ned met them at the door, with a lovely young woman at his side. The woman was wearing a bright pink dress. Peter glanced at the way it flared out at the edges, and wondered if she was seriously wearing a hoop skirt.
"Friends of yours?" Ned asked Emerson, grinning politely. "I'm Ned, and this is Chuck."
"I'm Chuck," said Chuck with a wide pleasant smile. "That's Ned."
Emerson snorted. "They're not friends. They were spying on you," he said.
Ned's smile faltered and disappeared. He thrust a menu at them. "Pie?" he asked. "Would you like some pie?"
Peter dropped into a booth. "I would love some pie," he said. "I think I'll go with the Apple."
"Coming right up," Ned said, and quickly fled.
Chuck was frowning. "Why are you spying on Ned?" she asked, and placed her hands on her hips. "There's absolutely no reason whatsoever that you should be spying on Ned."
"We weren't spying," Olivia said quickly.
Chuck looked uncertain. "Well, you shouldn't go around telling people that you're spying on them if you're not."
"I didn't--" Olivia stopped herself, staring at Chuck. "Do I know you? You look very familiar."
Chuck's eyes widened. "I have one of those faces," she said. "Think nothing of it."
Peter was watching her now as well. "You do," he said. "I know I've seen you somewhere before."
Ned had returned with the pie, and he quickly pushed it into Peter's hands. "Here, here's the pie," he said.
Peter was distracted by the pie at once. Olivia didn't even glance at hers. "Really, I think we must have met," she said. "Peter, do you--"
Peter looked up again, reluctantly prying his attention from the pie. "I've got it," he said. "You look just like that girl that died, that Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles."
"Oh, that's not me," Chuck said quickly. "That was someone entirely different from me."
Peter seemed confused. "Considering that she's dead, I certainly didn't mean to imply that you were actually her."
Chuck smiled brightly. "Of course you didn't, that's what I said," she said.
That was, of course, not what she said. Still, Peter, while a believer at heart, was a skeptic first and foremost, and he took no notice of this strange behavior.
Olivia, however, leaned forward, intrigued. "Does that happen a lot?" she asked.
"Does what happen a lot?" Ned asked quickly, bringing them more pie to distract them. "More pie?"
"Do you get mistaken for the Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles a lot?" Olivia asked Chuck. Now that Peter had brought it to her attention, Olivia had to admit, she was a dead ringer for Charlotte Charles.
Of course, Olivia had no idea how apt a description that was.
"Well, as your friend said," Chuck said, "she's dead and I'm not, so that kind of makes comparing us rather problematic, I'm sure you'll agree. I'm alive, you know. And she's . . . not."
Olivia frowned, but nodded. "Right," she said.
"This is really awesome pie," Peter said.
"Thank you," Ned said.
"I think I read that Charlotte Charles was from Couer d' Cours," Olivia said, frowning. "Ned, isn't that where you grew up?"
Ned hugged himself and glanced from side to side, as though he expected to be attacked. "How could you possibly know that?" he asked.
"Because she's here watching you," Emerson said. "Like I've been saying."
"I did grow up in Couer d' Cours, yes," Ned said, almost primly. "But I was sent away to school when I was very young, and anyway, it's a very big place."
"The population there is about four hundred, isn't it?" Peter asked, in between bites of pie.
"Big is relative," Ned said defensively. "At my school the population was only about a hundred and really it made me think that Couer d' Cours had actually been a very a big place. Also, I was much smaller then."
Olivia had noticed that Ned had managed to entirely avoid answering her question. "But did you know her?" she asked.
"She lived next door," Ned admitted reluctantly.
"That's a strange coincidence," Olivia said.
"Not as strange as you might think," Chuck said. "Because, actually, it's how I got this job. When Ned saw me, he said, 'you look just like this girl I used to know who's dead now', and I said, 'that's weird' and then suddenly I was helping him bake pies."
Olivia stared at them. "That is weird," she agreed.
"Oh, for--" Emerson rolled his eyes. "Why don't you just tell us why you're really here? I know it ain't the pie."
"Actually," Peter said, raising his pie covered fork, "that's why I'm here."
Emerson watched him for a moment. "Okay, I'll buy that," he said, before turning to Olivia. "So why are you here?"
Olivia leaned back in the booth and watched him. "We're just here to make sure that Ned is okay," she said. "His name came up during an investigation, as a possible victim of an experiment."
"An experiment?" Chuck asked. "Oh, that sounds awful, but you absolutely must have the wrong person, because Ned's been here all the time. We're always together."
"This would have been about twenty-four years ago," Olivia said, "and of course you wouldn't have known him then."
"Of course not," Chuck agreed. "Not if I only met him after Charlotte Charles was dead."
"I think I would know if I was part of some experiment," Ned said quickly. "In fact, I'm almost sure I would know if I was part of some experiment. That sounds like the kind of thing someone would necessarily need to know about."
Olivia watched him carefully. "So you've never noticed anything . . . odd?"
Emerson, Chuck, and Ned, exchanged a quick look, before Ned shook his head. "I don't know what you mean," he said.
Olivia looked to Peter for help, but Peter was looking at his pie. "Any abilities?" she asked. "Something you couldn't explain?"
Ned looked uncomfortable. He started hugging himself again, and narrowed his eyes. "Abilities?" he said. "What, like telekinesis or psychic powers?"
"You have telekinesis and psychic powers?" Olivia asked excitedly.
"Of course not," Ned said. "I only meant, as a for example, kind of thing. I'm not psychic at all and in fact I don't even believe in psychics. Or telekinesis for that matter."
"He doesn't even believe in ghosts," Chuck confided. "Can you believe that? Who doesn't believe in ghosts?"
"I don't believe in ghosts," Peter said helpfully.
"Thank you," Ned said to him. "There's absolutely no such things as ghosts and I don't know why you're here asking me if I believe in ghosts."
"I didn't ask you if you believe in ghosts," Olivia protested.
"I think you should leave," Ned said, clearing away the pie plates in front of them.
Peter tried to grab the pie as it was snatched away, but wasn't quick enough.
"The pie is on the house," Ned continued, "but I really think you ought to leave. This is a family oriented establishment. There's no ghosts here."
"I wasn't taking about ghosts," Olivia said. "I only meant--that in case." She frowned, realizing once again that the pie-maker known as Ned had completely avoided a straight answer. It seemed that the more he said, the more confused she got. "I only meant, that in case you had noticed anything strange, you might be in danger."
"I bake pies," Ned said. "Admittedly I also moonlight as an occasional PI and have been in my fair share of unfortunate situations, but I'm perfectly safe. And entirely ordinary. Everyone always tells me how absolutely ordinary I am. They used to call me Ordinary Ned at school."
"Ordinary Ned?" Peter said, skeptical.
"It was a boarding school," Ned said. "We had to wear uniforms and there weren't a lot of opportunities for cool nick names. I was also once called Pie-Boy, but I'm sure that's not relevant to this line of questioning at all."
"Ned," Olivia said, using a soft sincere voice, the one John used to call her calm-the-witness voice. "If anything strange has been happening, you can confide in us. We're here to help you."
"I appreciate that, you're really very kind," Ned said. "But I'm sure I don't need any help at all. Nothing weird ever happens around here. We just sell pies."
Olivia set money on the table for the pies, despite Ned's offer. "In that case, we're very sorry to have bothered you."
"Oh, no bother at all," Ned said. "We're always happy to have customers, right, Chuck?"
"Come any time," Chuck said. "Except that you probably don't need to come here at all. Unless you want pie, I mean. You can always come for the pie."
Without entirely knowing how, Olivia and Peter soon found themselves back in the car.
"Okay," Peter said. "You were right. Those people are weird. Those are possibly the weirdest people I've ever met. I think my father would get along really well with them."
Olivia glanced back, watching the way Ned quickly stepped out of Chuck's way as she moved into the kitchen, arms going around himself like he was afraid of what he might do.
She knew he was hiding something. That much was obvious. But Peter was right about one thing, Ned the Pie Maker was the only one on the list to have managed to create a life for himself, with a business and with friends. He seemed fine, if weird.
And she had more important things to deal with. Better to just let this one go.