Title: The Dream Becomes the Man - Part Two of Six
Notes: See Master Post
Neal opened his apartment door to the sound of his television. Sure enough, his friend was on his couch, watching his TV and drinking his wine. Neal was equal parts irritated and relieved. For all his talk about The Man, Neal wasn’t sure that Moz could cut it in prison.
The man in question was currently yelling at the television.
“This is why the workers are oppressed! No understanding of the needs of the many! Oh, hey Neal.”
“I thought we were going to meet up at Friday?”
“We were, but I forgot I’d left the Pinot out to breathe.” He indicated the half bottle of Musigny on the counter. Putting the tiger lilies on the table, Neal walked over to the counter and poured himself a glass. “Besides, I knew you’d shake the Militia, so there was no sense sticking around.”
“What happened, Moz? How’d they find us?” Neal took a seat on the couch next to his friend.
Mozzie muted the television. “Harrison had a Proximity Talent on staff.”
“You’re kidding! How’d we miss that?” Neal shook his head. Proximity Talents kept track of the number of individuals in a given radius. If there were more or less people than listed, they would alert the security divisions they were assigned to.
“I have no idea. They must have hired them after I pulled the employee list.”
“That’s why the Militia were close.” Neal sighed. “And then the Veiling Talent went sideways and they saw me…”
“But you got the egg, right.” Mozzie’s attention was focused on Neal as he took the egg out of his pocket. “Excellent. I’ll get it to Rusty.”
Neal handed him the treasure and he placed it in a black velvet bag.
“By the way, what took you so long to get back?”
“I had to cut through Union Square Market to avoid the Militia.”
“I noticed the tiger lilies. Very nice.”
“Yeah….they are.” Neal smiled to himself, again thinking of the brunette and wondering what kind of flowers she liked.
“Wait. Why are you smiling?” Neal schooled his expression, but it was too late. Mozzie zeroed in on him. “I’ve seen that face before. That’s the face you make when you – no. NO. No girls, Neal. You promised!”
“I did not promise -.”
“You did!” Mozzie interrupted him in a huff. “We were in the warehouse in Baltimore and you swore to me that there would be no more women. No more relationships!”
“I was drunk, Moz. Remember? We swiped the counterfeit Shackleton from the travelling exhibit.”
“Doesn’t matter. You swore on the Raphael.”
“Well it doesn’t matter. I have no idea who she is anyway.” Something in Neal’s voice must have alerted his friend because Mozzie backed down.
“Alright.” Mozzie sighed. “Tell me about her.”
“She’s gorgeous! Long, brown hair. All sorts of shades in it too. Gold and coffee and bronze.” Neal wished he could run his hands through it right now. “Oh and blue eyes, crystal blue eyes...and god, Moz, her smile…” He trailed off, imagining those eyes, that smile focused on him.
“She sounds like Kate.” Mozzie’s voice was less than pleasant.
“No – nothing like Kate.” Neal put his wine glass down and went to his easel. Grabbing a pad of paper and pastels, he began drawing. A short time later, he showed his sketch to Mozzie.
“Okay, same coloring, maybe.” Mozzie studied the drawing. “She’s beautiful,” he admitted grudgingly. “She doesn’t look familiar.”
Neal was about to reply when Mozzie straightened and hushed him. “Be quiet! There’s a thing about Imperator Burke coming on. I want to see this.” Mozzie turned up the volume on the television.
The blonde news announcer was speaking.
“Earlier this week, Imperator Peter Burke was asked about the failing of the Marriage Law referendum.”
Neal watched as Peter Burke was stopped outside his building. Microphones were pushed into his face and Neal could hear questions being shouted out at him.
“Imperator, what are your feelings about the fact that the referendum was defeated?” This was from a short redhead.
“There has been a lot of talk about the Marriage Law and whether it’s archaic and outdated.” Burke’s voice was neutral. “The referendum was placed on a special ballot to see how the citizens of New York felt about it. Its defeat indicates that the voters are not ready to return to single couple marriage.”
“He doesn’t like that the referendum failed.” Mozzie was watching intently.
“How do you know?” Neal shot him a quick glance but focused on the television as Burke answered a few more questions.
“Watch his body language. He’s open to the reporter, but his face is masked. He’s not happy with the vote.”
“What’s his Status?” Neal was curious. He’d really not paid attention to Burke since coming to New York. His time had been spent getting set up and scoping out the city. Mozzie, however, had been watching the news and gathering information from the people he knew.
“Married, but no Third. Now be quiet. I can’t focus when you talk.” He turned the volume up.
Burke was impressive, Neal thought, as he watched the man deftly field inquiries. His stature, the cut of his suit, his patience in answering the media’s questions - all spoke of a man comfortable in his skin. Comfortable with being the alpha in the room.
He was handsome, Neal would give him that. Solidly built, Neal could tell there were muscles under his clothes. His brown eyes were sparkling, laugh lines crinkling at the corners. He had a quick smile and laugh for the reporters.
But there was something underneath – something coiled, wild. Neal wondered just what it would take to rattle that composure and bring out that side of Burke. He made a mental note to have Mozzie dig up more information on the man who ran the city. This could get interesting.
A bustle drew his attention back to the television. One of the reporters was crowding Burke.
”Imperator, why haven’t you and your wife taken a Third?”
Neal watched those eyes that were kind, turn flat. This was a point for him, Neal realized, and leaned in to hear his reply.
“My wife and I have not settled on a Third as of yet.” Burke’s reply was noncommittal, but Neal could tell by his stance that he was angry at the reporter’s question.
Burke began walking away. However, the reporter was not finished and followed him. “But are you actively looking for a Third, or are you planning to continue to flaunt your disregard for the Marriage Law.”
Oh Shit. Neal couldn’t believe that the reporter had the balls to ask that question.
Burke stopped and looked at the reporter with a chilling smile.
“Ms…” He raised an eyebrow.
“Ms. Richards, the Marriage Law was put into place during a time when the world’s population was unstable. Taking a Third as quickly as possible was beneficial. Now, with stability and growth being the norm instead of the exception, for the citizens of New York, taking a Third can be more of a choice than a necessity. My wife and I are taking that choice seriously, and refuse to rush into a decision that is not beneficial for all concerned.”
With that, Burke entered the building, effectively cutting off the questioning.
“He has no plans to take a Third.” Mozzie muted the television.
“How can you tell from that bit?”
“Not just that. Other video pieces I’ve seen and what I’ve picked up from the folks around town.” Mozzie’s street contacts had been very helpful. “Rumour has it that he was very interested in the outcome of the referendum because he and his wife are not interested in adding a Third. They don’t feel that the Law is relevant anymore.”
“But that’s illegal.” Interesting, Neal thought. The Imperator was willing to break the law. His mind started to consider what he might be able to do with that information when he was interrupted by Mozzie.
“No, not really.” Neal grinned at him as he picked up his wineglass and took it over to the sink. “But I think we need more information about the illustrious Imperator.”
“While I agree with you, just remember, he’s not a nanny goat in a petting zoo. The man didn’t get where he is by being a pushover. He’s dangerous.” Mozzie finished his glass and stood up to leave.
“Oh I know, Moz.” Neal corked the bottle and put it back on the counter.
“But it’s not going to matter, is it?” Neal just smiled. Mozzie sighed. “You’re going to tease him anyway.”
“What is it you say? ‘Know thine enemy?’”
“Heathen. It’s ‘know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles.’ Sun Tzu.” He headed to the door. “I have to meet Rusty in an hour. Don’t wait up.” With that, he left.
Neal shook his head. He loved Moz, but there were times…. Chuckling to himself, he headed to the bathroom to shower.
Elizabeth took a sip of her coffee and made a face. She hated cold coffee, but she didn’t feel like going downstairs to get a fresh cup. Looking back at her spreadsheets, she made a few minor adjustments to the seating arrangements and head count and saved the document. The Anderson-O’Malley wedding was going to be a success if it killed her.
It just might, she thought with a chuckle. Between the ever-growing guest list and the squabble amongst the in-laws, someone was bound to go to jail before it was all said and done.
She leaned back and stretched the muscles in her shoulders. Peter was definitely going to earn his Mr. Magic Hands moniker tonight. Taking a look at her “To Do” list, she checked off a few entries, closed her day planner and logged out of her business software.
Quickly checking her email, she dashed off an email to her sister thanking her for the steaks and shut the lid of her laptop and put it away. Looking at the clock, she figured that Peter and his agents would be still at it for about another hour – plenty of time for her to dig in to her newest true-crime novel.
Flipping on her favorite internet radio channel, she crawled into the bed and opened her book. Soon she was wrapped up in the tale of the wife and the Third who may have conspired to murder their husband’s boyfriend.
As she turned the pages, she began to feel the same prickle on her neck that she felt earlier that day in the Market. The pain above her right eye came and went quickly and she could feel her Talent kick in. Swift images of the bookseller who sold her the novel and the men who loaded and unloaded the books crossed her mind.
The pain returned, harsher this time, and she grimaced, rubbing her forehead. Suddenly her vision whited out, coalescing into a puff of what looked like steam. Her mind registered a shower as the vision engulfed her senses.
Water, cascading down, caressing freckled shoulders. Dark hair, wet like a selkie’s pelt. Face turned up to the spray.
Her beautiful man.
She could almost smell the shampoo – something clean and sharp. Artist’s hands, sudsing, massaging, lathering. Elizabeth wanted to bury her fingers in his hair, carding through the strands, rinsing out the soap, feeling his curls nestle on the back of his neck.
He ducked under the spray, the lather sluicing down his body, turning so she saw the play of muscles in his shoulders. The line of his spine taunted her imagination, inviting her hands to stroke the expanse of his back. She gasped as a jolt of desire shot through her.
As if he’d heard, his head turned and he paused in his ablutions. The line of his jaw shadowed his neck. She wanted to mould her lips to that sliver of darkness and discover the taste of him there.
He moved, washcloth in hand and began soaping up. Exposing his neck, arms stretching, almost posing as he cleaned his day away. He was art in motion. She was transfixed.
Elizabeth moaned softly as he ran the washcloth over his chest, his nipples hardening at the rough texture. The washcloth moved lower, abs flexing at his own touch.
Lower again to the cut of his hips, the indent of his thigh, dipping down to his…
“Huh?” Elizabeth was startled to see Peter standing in the doorway of their bedroom.
“You okay? I’ve been calling.” Peter looked worried.
“Oh yeah, sorry. Just wrapped up in my thoughts.” She smiled at him, hoping that she wasn’t blushing like a teenager.
“Diana and Jones are leaving. Thought you’d want to say goodbye.”
“Sure, I’ll be right down. Let me grab my coffee cup.”
“Okay.” He headed downstairs as she got up off the bed. Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, she walked over to her desk to get her mug.
The origami butterfly had fallen out of her purse. She picked it up and tried to focus. Nothing. She quietly cursed - on rare occasion her Talent didn’t kick in when she wanted it to. Like now.
“El, you coming?” Peter’s voice floated up the stairs.
“On my way.” Tucking the piece back into her purse, she left the room, her thoughts in a jumble.
Who was her beautiful man? And how was she able to see him without touching anything? El didn't know the answers, but she certainly wanted to find out.
The next day was an in-office day, much to Peter’s relief. He’d never thought that paperwork and meetings would be a blessing, but at least it kept him out of the courts and out of the press. He knew he had to deal with Martinez sooner or later, but that day was not today. Today he could be an agent and do what he did best – take down the bad guys.
“Okay, let’s take a look at what we have left. Jones?” He motioned to the agent who put the last case up on the screen.
“Michelson loan scandal. We got word that several micro-lenders are creating fraudulent court orders that instruct employers to deduct small loans from employees' salaries.” Jones put up the names of several micro-lenders that were being implicated.
“The consumers are taking out short term unsecured loans.” Diana picked up the briefing. “They are required to pay the loans back at exorbitant interest rates of around thirty percent over a period of six months or so.”
“And the minute the consumer defaults, loan sharks slap on a court order requiring the employer to deduct the money owed before the salary is paid.” Peter made a disgusted sound. “We’ve traced these court orders and have found that about forty-five percent of them are fake. The thieves have managed to create documents that have all the required stamps and signatures.”
“There’s a very good possibility that they have an inside person at the courthouse. Jones, see if you can trace the bank routing numbers and determine where the money is being sent. Diana, you and Blake head to the courthouse and see if you can find out who the leak is.” Peter checked his list. “We’ll meet this afternoon and see where we are on this. Good work folks.”
As the meeting broke up Peter motioned to Diana and Jones to follow him into his office.
“What’s up, Boss?” Diana asked as they both took a seat.
Peter handed Jones a file. “I want you two to do some digging on this for me.”
Jones flipped it open and Neal’s face grinned out from the picture. “New case?” He tilted it to show Diana.
“Not sure yet. It’s the one we got from DC. Keep it under your hat, but take a look at our recent unsolveds from the last thirty to sixty days and see if anything pings. It’s not a priority, so I haven’t made duplicate files, but see what you can find out on that guy.”
“Sure thing, Boss.” Jones put the file back on Peter’s desk and the two agents left.
Peter pulled his wallet out of his pocket and slipped the picture out from behind the photo of Elizabeth. Unfolding it, he could see where the creases were slowly being embedded in the photo from where he’d taken it out several times.
There was just something that drew him to the man in the photo. Whether it was the eyes that looked they knew all his secrets, or the smirk that Peter wanted to wipe off his face, Peter wasn’t sure. He just knew that he wanted to meet him.
Sighing he put the photo back in its place – he’d already started thinking of it as “its place” – and unlocked his computer to start working on the next case.
Diana knocked on his doorframe sometime after three. She put a cup of expresso from the shop around the corner on his desk. “Figured you’d need a good cup of coffee at least once today.”
“Thank you! What is with our machine, anyway? Is ‘bad coffee’ a built in setting?” Peter shook his head and took a sip. Sighing in gratitude, he leaned back and looked at her. ‘What’s up?”
“I had a few minutes between calls, so I dug into the Caffrey file like you asked.” The grin on her face made Peter perk up. Diana only smiled like that when she’d found something good.
“Haven’t matched up anything locally yet, but your boy has an impressive list of possibilities.” She circled his desk and spread out several papers. Peter started reading and let out a low whistle.
“He’s suspected of lifting the Antioch manuscripts.”
“AND forging the Vinland Map.” Diana’s grin got wider. Peter could tell she was enjoying this.
“Oh wait! Did you see this?” Peter laughed out loud and pointed to an entry. “He’s the top suspect in the theft of the Fiorentina from the Smithsonian eight years ago. Seems as though the thief replaced it with a chocolate one wrapped in foil. That takes balls!”
“Oh my God, how did they find out it was a fake?” Diana couldn’t stop laughing.
“The air conditioning went out and it melted.”
“Yeah.” Peter shook his head. “My mentor, Phillip Kramer told me about it. He was on that case. They were not happy. Caffrey, or whoever it was, made them look like fools.”
“So you think that Caffrey’s in New York?” Diana quirked an eyebrow at Peter.
“Kramer seems to think so or he wouldn’t have sent us his file.” Peter read through more of the crimes. “This reads like a Christmas list of major thefts and forgeries. Says here Caffrey may have forged the Papyrus Seven Scrolls. He also may be responsible for the disappearance of the McNally Solitaire from the Scotland Royal Museum, Poe's Tamerlane book, a Tamayo Painting, and Washington's love letters.”
“That’s a pretty impressive haul.”
Peter rubbed his forehead. “Oh, it gets better. He’s suspected of stealing Raphael's St. George and the Dragon.”
“Whoa, what’s that payout?” Diana sounded impressed.
“It’s worth at least fifteen million.” Peter fell silent for a moment, then looked at his agent. “Diana, if he’s in New York, it’ll be like a playground for him.”
“Boss, if half these things about him are true, we’re gonna have a chase on our hands.”
“Yeah.” Peter could feel his blood thrum as he thought about what Diana said. “Yeah, we are.”
His phone rang at that moment and he saw that it was a DC area code. Motioning to Diana to sit he picked up the handset.
“Petey!” Kramer’s jovial tones sent a shiver of distaste down his spine. “How are things in the great State of New York?”
“Oh, you know. Politics, bad guys. The usual.” Peter took a sip of his coffee and grimaced at the lukewarm temperature. “How are things in DC?”
“The same.” Kramer chuckled. “And how’s Elizabeth?”
“She’s well. Business is booming.” Peter could make small talk with Kramer all day if needed, but he knew the reason for the call was spread out over his desk. He figured Kramer would have waited a week or so before giving him a call about it. The fact that he didn’t even wait twenty-four hours sent up a hell of a red flag. And Peter wanted to know why.
Peter purposefully let the conversation lag. He was going to make Kramer ask for it. It was petty, he knew, but Kramer brought out that side of him.
“So Petey, did you get that file we forwarded to you?” Kramer’s voice sounded innocent, but Peter knew he was anything but.
“Not sure which one you’re talking about, Phil.” Diana snorted at his tone and he made a shushing gesture at her.
“The one Jankowski sent up.” Kramer’s voice took on an edge and Peter knew he was getting annoyed. Work for it, asshole, he thought.
“Oh yeah, it’s somewhere around here. Haven’t gotten to it. Why, is it important?” Peter tossed out the bait to see if Kramer would take a bite. He wanted to know why Kramer was so interested in Caffrey.
“Nah, just wanted to see if you’d had a chance to look at it yet.”
“Nope. Any information you want give me before I take a look?”
“Don’t want to spoil it for you.” Kramer paused. “Say, why don’t you call me when you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with it and we can brainstorm. Just like the old days.”
“Let me take a look and get back to you.” Like the old days, my ass! Kramer wanted information and Peter was not going to give it to him. Caffrey was his. “Hey listen, someone just walked into my office and I need to go. It was good talking to you, Phil.” Fucker. He hung up and turned to Diana.
“If Phil Kramer calls anyone at this office looking for information on Neal Caffrey, they don’t know anything and the calls get forwarded to you.”
“Understood.” She stood up to leave. “And of course we tell him nothing.”
“That’s what I want to hear.” He gathered the papers into the file, put it in the bottom drawer and locked it. “Now let’s get back to work on cases we can solve today.”
“Yes, Mrs. Anderson, I understand. Yes ma’am, the flowers need to be fuschia, not pink. Yes ma’am, I know your uncle William can’t sit next to your cousin Adelaide.” Elizabeth was ready to scream. She held the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes. Yvonne, her assistant, giggled. They both could hear Mrs. Anderson clearly. When it sounded like the woman was about to take a breath, Elizabeth put the phone back to her ear.
‘Mrs. Anderson. Do you trust me?” Elizabeth paused. “That’s right, I asked you ‘do you trust me’? Then relax and let me do what you are paying me to do. I promise, the flowers will be lovely, your relatives won’t even know the other person’s in the room, and your daughter will have the wedding of her dreams. Can you do that? Can you relax and trust me?”
Elizabeth gave Yvonne a thumbs up at the reply. “Good. Then go enjoy your spa day and I’ll see you at the reception hall on Friday.” She hung up and sighed. “I swear that woman would drive anyone to drink.”
“I don’t know how you do it, Elizabeth.” Yvonne gathered her notes.
“Lots and lots of patience. Oh, and wine, lots of wine!” The women laughed. “Okay, so we are set for the rehearsal dinner on Friday, right?”
“Yes. The caterers know that we added ten more to the dinner, and that we need two less vegetarian meals.”
“Great.” Elizabeth checked her watch. “Shoot, it’s past noon. Go grab lunch and take your time.” She shooed her assistant out of the office and started to organize her notes.
Moments later she was hit with a blinding headache over her right eye. Dropping her pen, she buried her head in her hands and tried not to get sick as a wave of nausea washed over her.
Wind ruffled hair, sculpted cheekbones, he was aware of the appreciative scrutiny of the passers by. He walked like there was no doubt in his mind that the looks were simply his due, the natural order of things.
Dark suit, subtly patterned shirt, all exquisitely tailored. She knew what was hidden under the silk and wool. Her hands itched to touch the fabric, to peel it off his lithe frame, to bare him to whatever intent her imagination could create.
Blue eyes searching – for her? – finally settling on a dark wood door with a golden symbol. With a smile that she wished he would smile for her, he entered the building and was gone.
Elizabeth’s vision cleared and her headache began to subside. Rubbing her temples she got up and poured herself a glass of water. Fishing for the Tylenol she kept in her desk, she took two caplets. Sitting back, she replayed the vision, looking for anything that would give her information about her beautiful man.
Elizabeth smiled as she pictured the gold symbol. She knew that image – she passed it several times a week. This time she was going to take the initiative. Grabbing her purse, she headed out the door.
Mozzie always finds the most out of the way places, Neal thought as he opened the door to the Thai restaurant. He would have missed it if it weren’t for the small gold character on the front door. The smell of curry, shallots and lemongrass teased his senses as he entered and he could tell that this was not designed to be a tourist destination.
Dark paneled walls hosted lacquered art and silks in golds and reds and greens. There were several small tables and a few booths scattered about the room. Neal slid into a booth at the back, choosing the bench seat against the wall so he could keep an eye on the entrance. He was early because he’d had no idea where the place was and Mozzie always got cranky when Neal wasn’t on time.
He’d just ordered a bowl of hot and sour soup and a cup of tea when Mozzie slunk in and sat down.
“I see you found the place.” Mozzie picked up the menu like it had malaria and gently opened it.
“Your directions were less than stellar,” Neal replied drily. “It would have been just as easy to say ‘the place with the gold symbol on the door on Reade Street.’”
“Yes, but the journey would have been diminished.” The waitress brought Neal’s soup and tea and waited for Mozzie to place his order. Closing the menu, he handed it to her. “I will take a glass of water with five ice cubes. Make sure it’s five. Not four, not six. Five.” She looked at him strangely and went to get his water.
“What was the point of looking at the menu, Moz?” Neal shook his head.
“It might have changed since the last time I was here.”
“Let’s move on then.” Neal tasted his soup and groaned in appreciation. “This is delicious. Okay, what did you find out about Burke?”
“I’m still in the preliminaries. I’ll have a full workup with pictures in a day or so, but this is the stuff I got from Google.” He pulled out two typed sheets from his messenger bag. “I made a copy for you.”
“Peter Burke, forty-seven. Born in Cooperstown, New York to mother Cathy and father Joseph. Middle child. Older brother Joseph, Jr., younger sister, Meghan.”
Neal took the second sheet. He scanned it while Mozzie talked.
“Elementary, junior high and high school all in upstate New York. I’ll get the grades but - .” They fell silent as the waitress brought Mozzie’s water.
“Five cubes?” She just looked at him and walked away.
“As I was saying. I’ll get the grades, but he did very well. Got himself a full ride to Harvard with a double major in mathematics and accounting.”
“Nice.” It excited Neal that Peter was smart. He liked smart. “What else?”
“Interesting tidbit. Burke played baseball in college and got signed with the Empire State Tornados. Farm team for the Twins. Tore his rotator cuff. That’s when the Militia recruited him.”
“What division?” Neal read down the sheet. “Damn! You have got to be kidding me!”
“I wish I were, mon frère.” Mozzie sipped his water.
“White Collar? That means he probably knows - .”
“Shit, Mozzie, that’s not good.” Neal ran his hands through his hair. “You have got to get more information and fast. We need to know whether we were followed here.”
“I know, man, but I can only get what I can get.”
Neal slumped back in the booth. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. Just keep working on it.” Neal felt the tension in his shoulders and knew he needed to do something to relax. He picked up the acrylic menu stand, slid the card stock out of it and began folding. “What else did you find out?”
“Rose through the Militia pretty quickly according to the NYC Regional Government standard bio. Was Special Agent in Charge under a Reese Hughes, former Imperator. I’ve got information coming on him, too. The Regional Legislative branch nominated him by unanimous vote to succeed Hughes when he retired.”
“What about personal life?” Neal took another spoonful of soup. “You said he was married, no Third, right?”
“Right. Married for ten years to Elizabeth Burke nee Mitchell, proprietor of Burke Premiere Events. Their website is down for maintenance, by the way.”
Neal raised his eyebrow.
“What? It was. You said you wanted immediate information and I was busy setting up our next job so I didn’t have time to hack into the files.” Mozzie scanned down the paper. “They live in Brooklyn – never moved after Burke got voted in as Imperator.”
“Man of the people?”
“So far he’s not bad – for a suit.” Mozzie shrugged and took another sip of his water. “We’ll see.”
“Why Moz, I do believe that was a compliment for a member of the establishment.” Neal chuckled at his friend’s expression.
“I like him. But I told you already - he’s not a pet, Neal. This guy has teeth and if you’re not careful he’s gonna bite your ass.”
“Might be fun…” Neal knew he was baiting his friend, but he wanted to lessen the tension a bit. It rattled him that Burke might know some of the people that caused them problems in DC.
“Keep your voice down! It’s bad enough that you’re pining for a strange woman you met at the Market. I don’t want to know about your designs on the man who runs the State Government!”
“Relax, Moz. I was just kidding. When can you get more details?”
“I’ve got a few more things to set up for the next job then I’ll dig deeper and see what I can find.”
“Great.” Neal handed him the paper and Mozzie tucked both pages back in his messenger bag. Finishing his soup, he was about to ask Mozzie about the set up for the new job when the door to the restaurant opened and several people came in.
Glancing over at them, Neal couldn’t believe what he saw. His Muse from the Market had just come into the restaurant. “Moz! She’s here!”
“Who’s here?” Mozzie turned around to look, gasped and then whirled back and slid down in his seat. “Crap!”
“The woman from the Market.” Neal stared. She was wearing a royal blue designer wrap dress and what Neal was sure were at least four-inch patent Louboutins with peep-toes. She was scanning the room as if she was looking for someone. They locked eyes. Her face broke out into a fabulous smile and she started walking towards hm.
It was then he noticed that Mozzie was practically under the table.
“Why are you hiding?”
“That guy that came in behind your princess? He’s the mark! If he sees us together then the con won’t work!” Mozzie shrunk down even further in his seat.
“Damn – okay.” Neal’s mind calculated what they had to do to get out of the restaurant. His Muse was almost at their table. “Give me something to write with.”
“Just do it!”
Mozzie scrambled for a pen from his bag while Neal dug in his pocket for a twenty. Tossing the money on the table, he scribbled a sentence on the origami and left it on his seat. He grabbed Mozzie and pushed him through the door to the kitchen.
His Muse had been stopped by the host asking if she needed to be seated. Turning to her, Neal shrugged in apology, winked at her and slipped through the door. Con or no con, he thought, Mozzie was going to owe him big time for this one.
Elizabeth watched in dismay as her beautiful man disappeared. Again! Brushing past the host, she hurried to the booth where he and his companion had been sitting. Looking for any sort of clue to who he was, she found another origami piece on the seat.
It was a flower this time. On one of the petals he had written Try the hot and sour soup – it’s delicious. She chuckled to herself. Gorgeous AND a food critic. Turning the folded paper over, she noticed another note. She inhaled sharply as she read it.
Don’t worry – I’ll find you.
Elizabeth shivered. She knew the note was a promise. She knew that he would find her. And she was terrified as to what would happen when he did.
Peter actually managed to get home at a decent hour, thanks to Diana and Jones. He was greeted by Satchmo whining to go out. Leaving his briefcase at the door, he clipped the leash on the dog and they headed out.
Walking through towards the park, he watched as Satchmo sniffed at trees and bushes as he did his business. This was part of the day he liked, relaxing with his dog, wandering his neighborhood, talking to his neighbors.
After a lively discussion with old Mr. Costano about the best way to grow heirloom tomatoes, Peter and Satchmo headed back to the house. Opening the door, he was met with an armful of Elizabeth. Laughing as she peppered kisses all over his face, he pressed her up against the banister so that they wouldn’t fall down. Satchmo danced around them, barking and wagging his tail.
“What’s this about?” Peter placed a kiss on Elizabeth’s nose. She giggled and captured his lips, running her tongue on the edges. “Mmmm…not that I’m complaining.”
“I’m just happy you’re home early.” She gave Peter a hug and slid from his arms. Taking his hand, she led him to the dining room table. Gently pushing him down into a chair, she crawled into his lap and cuddled her face into his neck. “I missed you.”
“Let me guess – Anderson wedding again?” He rubbed her shoulders and she arched into his hands like a cat.
“Yeah, it was….oh, right there…” Peter chuckled as he watched Elizabeth’s eyes close. “I finally had to put my foot down and tell her to let me do my job. Peter dug his thumbs into her lower back. “Oh God…yeah…uh huh.”
He nuzzled her neck, licking the spot behind her ear that he knew drove her crazy. She gasped and grabbed his head, pulling away slightly and kissing him again.
“You are a naughty boy, Peter Burke,” she murmured against his lips.
“That’s why you married me, Elizabeth Burke.” He continued to massage her back, feeling the tensions of her day disappear.
“Mmmm, nice.” She shifted and looked at him. “How was your day?”
“That sounds like you need a beer.” She slid off his lap and Peter watched her walk to the refrigerator. As she leaned in to get a bottle, he admired the way she moved. Popping off the cap, she handed it to him and sat back down on his lap. “Tell me about it?”
He sighed. “Phil Kramer called me today.”
“Ahh. What did he want?”
“He sent us a case and wanted to know where we were on it.” Peter took a drink and put the bottle on the table. Wrapping his arms around her, he put his chin on Elizabeth’s shoulder. “He was fishing for information.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because he called less than twenty-four hours after we got the file, and sounded too blasé about the whole thing.”
“What was the file?”
“That’s just it, El. It’s this con artist making his way up the coast. He may not even be in the city. Nothing that would indicate any specific concern.” Peter huffed in frustration. “Phil’s after something and I’m not sure what it is, but my gut tells me it won’t end up good.”
He felt her hand run through his hair. “You don’t trust him, do you?”
“No, not after - .” He trailed off.
Peter paused as he considered how much to tell her. “Okay, remember that time I was loaned out to DC, oh, about five years into our marriage?”
“Yeah. I hated it because you were away for such a long time.” She kissed the top of his head.
“Kramer and I were working an art heist. There was a stolen Degas on the market and our guy was trying to fence it. All of Kramer’s men either were unavailable or had no clue what they were talking about, so they brought me in as the buyer.”
“I remember. But that’s all you told me.”
“Well, we got the whole thing set up, ran the sting, caught the guy. It should have been over at that point.”
Peter leaned back to look at her. “Kramer was in interrogation trying to find out who the thief was and our suspect was not talking.”
He took a deep breath. “I walked in to observation to see how things were going. Maybe learn a few things. Kramer was the best and I wanted to be the best, too. Plus we were friends. He was my mentor.”
Peter stared into space. “El, the guy had his own hands around his neck, choking himself. Phil was touching the guy’s shoulder, that’s it. But the guy was turning blue.”
He shuddered at the memory. “Phil was talking softly but we could hear every word. He was telling the guy that all he had to do to breathe again was to give Kramer the name of the art thief.”
“What? How? What kind of Talent does Kramer have that he can do that?”
“Kramer’s Talent is Compelling. He touches you and you do what he tells you. It’s against the law for him use his Talent in the interrogation of a suspect, but that didn’t seem to matter.”
‘Oh Peter!” Elizabeth looked horrified. He hugged her. “What happened?”
He shrugged. “The guy gave up the name. It was either that or choke to death. And there would be no way to link it back to Kramer.”
“And they let Kramer get away with that?” Elizabeth’s voice was furious. ‘Why didn’t you do something?”
“There was nothing I could do. I was a visiting agent – it wasn’t my house. And I couldn’t prove anything. No one would have taken my word over the great Phil Kramer.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“When I got back home I talked with Hughes about it.” Peter shook his head. “Reese said that there’d been rumors about Kramer misusing his Talent but that there was no proof. No one on his team would talk and any technology that was around ‘conveniently’ malfunctioned.” Peter made air quotes with his hands. “Reese told me to keep it under my hat and promised me that he would try to keep me from having to go back to DC. Kramer and I never really talked after that.”
Peter leaned into El again. “I’m worried, El. Phil never does anything unless he has a good reason. I don’t know what this guy has done but Phil wants him. I need to find out why.”
Phil Kramer was in a shitty mood. And it was steadily going downhill. He slammed papers around his desk, growled at anyone who had the misfortune to step into his office and generally was an out and out bastard. His people did all they could to steer clear of their boss’s office until they could escape at quitting time.
The silence of the office after everyone had left didn’t make his attitude any better. His mind whirled as he stared out the window, never noticing as the sun set over the Potomac River.
Damn Peter Burke!
Turning back to his desk, he picked up the phone and dialed. When the phone connected, his comment was simple.
“Meet me in the office. Bring our friend.”
He hung up the phone and turned to his computer. He punched a few keys on his keyboard and opened the file titled “Servus.”
Multiple documents popped up on the screen, some with pictures, some without. Kramer scrolled through them until he found the one he was looking for.
Clicking on the radio button, he started the video attachment. Sitting back, he let a small smile of satisfaction play across his face.
“I am not going to help you, Kramer!” Caffrey’s voice was hoarse. He struggled against the restraints holding him tethered to the chair.
Kramer chuckled. “I know you Neal. You really think I’m going to have you cuffed with the standard issue restraints? You’re so much more talented than that. I had these designed especially for you in light of your last attempt.”
“Fuck you, Kramer.”
“Now now, language.” Kramer walked around the chair and stood behind Neal. “You’re not listening to me. And you know how I feel about you not listening.” He placed his hand on Neal’s shoulder and spoke one word.
“That’s right. Now tell me what you are going to do for me, Neal?” Kramer bent down and spoke softly into Neal’s ear.
Neal’s head fell to his chest. “I’m going to use my Talent to steal the Ginevra de Benci,” he moaned.
“Good boy.” Kramer ruffled his hair. “You have three days, then you will come back here.”
“I’ll come back here.” Neal repeated Kramer’s words.
“I’m glad we had this little talk.” Kramer unlocked the restraints. “Three days, Neal.”
The video ended at that point, but Kramer’s satisfaction at the outcome didn’t. He clicked on another document and brought up a picture of the Ginevra de Benci. The Da Vinci painting was leaning against a gray wall along with what looked like a Vermeer, a Manet and a Rembrandt. He smiled at the memory of busting the fence and the buyer and returning the paintings to their rightful places. It was the right thing to do and showed how qualified his team was.
But now all that had been taken away by the audacity of a conman and someone who should be helping Kramer in any way possible.
Burke. Kramer closed down the Servus file with a bit more force than necessary. Burke was working on the file – it was just the kind of chase he loved. For him to say he hadn’t looked at it was a lie…
Kramer’s thoughts were interrupted by the ding of the elevator. He watched as the two gentlemen enter the office.
They were a composite of opposites. The taller one screamed Government, from his short clipped red hair and dark suit to his regulation shoes, while the other one’s scruff and demeanor labeled him as someone who walked on the underside of the law. But both were useful.
And Kramer intended to use them fully.
“Gentlemen.” Kramer gestured to the seats in front of his desk. “It seems we might have a bit of a problem.”
“What’s going on?” The taller one seated himself and looked at Kramer. “Caffrey?”
“Of course it’s Caffrey, Fowler,” the shorter one scoffed, his British accent dripping with distain. “You think you and I would be in the same place if it wasn’t?”
“Don’t be an ass, Hagen.” Fowler glared at him.
“Relax.” Kramer held up a hand as the two men began to argue. “Curtis, you need to play nice.” He waited for the tension in the room to subside. “Please sit.”
After glaring at Fowler, Hagen took a seat. “What’s the little shit up to now?”
“We think Caffrey’s made it to New York.” Kramer’s voice was cold. “I need eyes in the city.” He shuffled some papers. “Garrett, I’m sending you up to work with Peter Burke.”
“The Imperator of New York? He’s involved?” Fowler seemed impressed.
“Yes. He’s an old friend. I had Jankowsi forward a copy of Caffrey’s file up to him yesterday. When I called today, he claimed he hadn’t had a chance to go over it yet. He lied. So you’re going to New York to help with the investigation.” He handed a set of papers to Fowler. “Here’s your paperwork. And Garrett, Petey’s smart. He’ll try to keep you out of the loop if he can without being obvious. So use your skills.”
He turned to Hagen. “You, Curtis, are going to use your contacts. Set up a job if possible.” Kramer paused a moment. “The Frick Collection would be good. I’ve always wanted to hold the Lodovico Capponi.” When’s the last time you saw Caffrey?”
“We were considering a job in New York several years ago. Spanish Victory Bonds. Caffrey passed on it. Shame really – it would have netted us a cool hundred and fifty million, give or take.”
“So it won’t be a problem to meet up with him again?”
“I don’t like the bugger – he’s too cocky, but no. Nothing that would make him suspicious of me.”
“Excellent – I want him set up and caught. Feed your information to Fowler. I’m sure you two will find a way to keep in contact.”
Hagen smirked. “If we have to.” Fowler glared at him again.
“This is not a game, gentlemen. Burke doesn’t want us to know he’s looked at Caffrey’s file. I want to know why, and I want Caffrey back in DC as soon as they catch him.” He looked at the two men, his eyes piercing. “Caffrey’s mine. Do whatever you need to make that happen. Now get out.”
Kramer turned to his computer, dismissing them. As they left, he pulled up a picture of the man in question.
“Soon, Neal,” he murmured. “Soon you’ll be back where you belong.”
“Moz, where the hell are we going?” Neal bumped into an older lady and apologized as he dashed after the smaller man. “What’s going on?”
“You wanted information on Peter Burke. I’m getting you information on Peter Burke. Now put this on.” Mozzie handed him a baseball cap and a windbreaker with “Yankees” printed on the back.
“Why?” Neal shrugged on the jacket and placed the cap on his head.
Mozzie ignored him. “Now these.” He handed Neal a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Neal put them on and glowered at his friend. “There. Now you look like a geek who likes baseball.” He began walking towards an outdoor bistro down the street.
“And why do I want to look like a geek who likes baseball?” Neal didn’t move.
“Because you need to be obvious but stealthy when you go and pickpocket Burke’s right hand man. Who is actually a woman.” Mozzie stopped for a moment. “So that would make her a right hand woman.” He giggled at his own joke. Neal looked at him. Mozzie sighed. “Just come on. I’ll explain on the way.”
He led them to the corner next to the bistro. “Okay, see that woman sitting at the outer table? That’s Diana Berrigan, one of Burke’s senior agents.” He jerked his head to the left. Neal quickly glanced in the direction of Mozzie’s gesture. “Don’t stare! She’ll see us!”
“I wasn’t staring! And she won’t see us as long as you don’t look like you’re having an epileptic fit!” Neal looked again.
His target was leafing through a copy of The New Yorker. “She’s pretty.”
“Don’t go there. You already have enough strange women in your life. Besides, you’re not on her dance card.”
“I could be.” Neal grinned.
“No, you couldn’t.” Mozzie pulled out a clipboard from his messenger bag.
“You don’t play for the right team.”
“I don’t?” Neal thought about Mozzie’s comment. Oh. His eyes widened as he got Mozzie’s meaning. “Maybe she’s a switch hitter -.” he began until he caught Mozzie’s expression.
“Can you please be serious?”
“Fine. What’s with the clipboard?”
“We’re running a Deke Martin.” Neal watched as Mozzie straightened the papers and made sure he had a pen.
Neal looked skeptical. “You really think she’s going to buy a survey, Moz?”
“She will if it’s about the Marriage Law referendum. While I’m distracting her, you’re going to take this and clone her phone.” Mozzie handed him a small square box. “We can keep track of emails and texts.”
Mozzie grabbed a set of glasses out of his bag and replaced the ones on his face. “There, now I’m in character.”
“A regular chameleon, Moz. Go survey.”
Neal watched as Mozzie headed over to the table where the agent was sitting. When he felt that her attention was fully captured, he strolled past the table. Bending down to tie his shoe, he quickly rifled through her purse to find her Blackberry. Heading to the men’s room, he locked himself in a stall and proceeded to clone her phone with the device Mozzie had given him.
Keeping up the pretense, he flushed and then went to the sink to wash his hands. The door opened as he was finishing and automatically he looked up into the mirror to see who entered.
Shit! What the hell was Burke doing here?” Realizing he was probably here to have lunch with Agent Berrigan, Neal ducked, hiding his face as Burke passed him. Thanking the gods that it was normal behavior for men not to look at each other while in the restroom, he dried his hands and quickly exited. He saw that Mozzie had already disappeared. Figuring he had maybe three minutes max before Burke exiting the restroom, he walked past Diana’s table, stopped and crouched down. Pulling her phone from his pocket, he stood up again.
“Excuse me, miss. I think this is yours.” He gave her a geeky smile and handed her the phone.
“It is. Thank you.” Diana smiled back. “I guess it fell out of my purse.”
“You have a great day, miss.” Neal walked out of the restaurant. Pausing at the bus stop, he turned around and waited for Burke to come out of the restroom. He knew it was risky, but this was the first time he’d had a chance to see Burke live and in person and he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.
His phone buzzed and he looked down to see a text from Mozzie. Where are you?
He dashed off a quick reply. Peter Burke just showed up.
No! Leave now! Neal could feel Mozzie’s panic through the phone.
Good chance to get a look at the man himself.
Mozzie didn’t reply right away. Then Neal’s phone buzzed again. Fine. Just don’t get caught.
Neal smiled and pocketed the phone. Glancing over at the table he saw Peter arrive and sit down.
Making a decision, he took off the jacket and folded it over his arm. Switching out the horn rims for a pair of aviator sunglasses, he walked back into the restaurant and headed towards the table that was close to where the two agents were sitting.
He had to pass by them and as he did, he caught the scent of something clean and almost woodsy. He realized it was Peter Burke. Neal thought it suited him. Something his wife might have purchased, perhaps.
Sitting down, he picked up the newspaper from a nearby table and, pretending to read it, tuned his ear to what they were saying.
“…and because of Mendelsson, I got out of the meeting late, and had to leave Jones to deal with the mess.” Burke was explaining why he was late for lunch.
“Poor Jones. But he wanted to be in charge of this one.” Agent Berrigan started laughing.
“True.” Burke grinned at his agent. As they continued to discuss the office, Neal took the opportunity to study him. He swiftly came to a realization.
Peter Burke was gorgeous.
Neal’s initial impression of him from the news programs was correct, but the television did not do him justice. His brown hair took on highlights that weren’t visible on videotape. Brown eyes, full of intelligence, were softer in person, but Neal could see where they would snap when Burke was irritated or angry.
Broad shoulders, long legs. Neal had always leaned toward tall men and Burke certainly fit the bill.
He dressed well. Neal admired the quality of his suit – Armani from the looks of it. Burke filled it out well. Neal could see the strength coiled under the clothes.
And hands. Strong hands. Hands that could easily put Neal where Peter wanted him. He shivered at the thought of what those hands could do.
In person, his aura of power was subtle, but Neal thought that was because he looked relaxed. He could feel the wildness he’d suspected Burke had when they’d watched him on the news. There was a dangerous element to the man – just like Mozzie said, Burke was not a pet. More like a wolf - sleek, fast, a predator. Top of the food chain.
Neal’s world suddenly went off kilter as he got sucked in by what Burke did next.
Not a polite, public laugh, but a full belly laugh. Burke’s eyes sparkled, his head tilted back, his throat exposed. Completely enjoying his mirth. It was a wicked laugh. The kind of laugh that held promises when directed at the right person.
Neal wanted to be that person.
He mentally shook himself. He really needed to stop thinking of Peter Burke as anything but an adversary. Mozzie would have a fit if he knew. He would also tell Neal that he needed to get laid and soon.
His phone buzzed. Speaking of the little imp. Important information. Get back here ASAP.
Neal folded the paper and got up to leave. Exiting the bistro from the opposite direction of Burke’s table, he took one last look. Burke was sipping a cup of coffee, totally unaware that he was being watched.
Gorgeous. No doubt about it.
The thought made him smile. This was going to be exciting.
Go To Part Three