Title: The Dream Becomes the Man - Part Four of Six
Notes: See Master Post
Setting up surveillance on June’s mansion was as simple as filing a request. Keeping it from Fowler wasn’t as easy. Peter buried it under a small investment scam case, claiming that June Ellington was a potential victim and they were watching to see if the scam artist appeared. Boring enough for Fowler not to be suspicious but useful enough to get the van in place to watch Caffrey’s comings and goings. He distracted Fowler by sending him and Jones to check out potential leads on Caffrey that usually turned out to be nothing.
Diana and Blake were manning the Municipal Van when Peter stopped by with coffee and danishes.
“So what’s happening today?” He handed out the cups and pastries and sat down next to Diana.
“Nothing much. Caffrey and the little guy have been in and out. June walked the dog. All in all fairly boring.” Diana sipped her coffee. “But I’m pretty sure they’re on to us.” She gave Peter a grin.
“Why do you think that?”
“Um, because Caffrey waved at us when he was leaving this morning?”
“You’re kidding!” Peter couldn’t help but smile at that. He knew he shouldn’t be amused but something about Caffrey’s brashness at acknowledging their surveillance amused him to no end.
“Nope.” Blake spoke around a mouthful of bearclaw. “Caffrey came out of the mansion with the short guy, turned toward the van and waved.” He chewed some more. “Short guy wasn’t too happy. He kept hiding.”
“You don’t seem to be too upset that he’s made us, boss.” Diana looked at him quizzically.
“I’m not. As long as he knows we’re watching, that’s good enough for me.” Peter’s grin got wider. “Let’s think of it as crime deterrent. Keep me posted. I’ve got to head back to the office and see whether Jones and Fowler have any more leads.”
“You know you’re going to owe Jones big time for this.” Diana smirked at him. “He says Fowler is a pain in the ass.”
“I’m sure he is. But we need to make sure he’s kept away from Caffrey until we can figure out why Kramer is so interested in him.” Peter stood to go. “Call me if anything changes. Oh, and Blake? Don’t wave back next time.”
Peter left the van to Blake’s voice asking Diana how he knew that.
“So the Suit is leaving the van.” Neal watched Mozzie focus the antique telescope over the balcony so he could get a clearer view. “It simply amazes me that they think they can watch unobserved in that eyesore. Especially in this neighborhood.”
“I’m not sure they’re going for unobserved, Moz.” Neal refilled his mimosa. Picking up the New York Times, he flipped to the Arts section. “The Militia can be subtle if they want to. Peter wants us to know he’s watching.”
“You know you’re becoming a bit too familiar with the Suit. I’m not sure being on a first name basis is good for your health.” Mozzie stepped away from the balcony and came to sit beside Neal. “Speaking of suits, have you run into Mrs. Suit lately?”
Neal sipped his drink before replying. “No, not since the restaurant.” He deliberately kept his attention on the paper. He knew if he told Mozzie about kissing Elizabeth, his friend would have a breakdown. Plus, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to share.
“Well it’s my opinion that you need to stay far away from her. And her husband.” Mozzie poured himself a drink. “Especially since we’ve got the Slesinger job lined up. Better for everyone all around.”
Neal thought about that. A grin slowly crossed his face. “Actually Moz, I think staying away is exactly what we don’t need to do.” He folded the paper and turned to his friend. “You still know the ticket guy at Yankee stadium, right?”
“Neal, what are you thinking?” Mozzie took a gulp of his mimosa.
“Peter has us under surveillance. We can’t – well, I can’t make a move without him focusing attention on us. So let him focus on me.”
“What are you gonna do?”
Neal gave Mozzie his patented Caffrey smile.
“I’m gonna become the center of Peter Burke’s world.”
“Diana where’s the Pederson file!” Peter tossed his glasses on the desk and rubbed his eyes.
“Here boss, sorry.” Diana hurried through the door from the conference room and handed him the file. “It was stuck under the mortgage fraud cases.”
“As long as I have it. I’ve got a status report to put together by three today. Oh, and I need updates on MacKenzie, Johnson, Jamison, the boiler room scam from the Kansas field office and the break in at the Channing.”
“Will do.” She wrote down what he needed. “I’ll get Blake to check on the Channing. Think it’s our boy?”
“Nah – too sloppy.” Peter looked at his watch. Noon. “Damn! I promised El I would take her to lunch.”
“Want me to call her?” Diana looked sympathetically at him.
“No, I’ll do it. Just order everyone some lunch from the place around the corner that delivers. Tell them to bill us.” He gestured to Diana to close the door as he picked up the phone to call Elizabeth. Before he could press an outside line, his cell phone rang.
Blocked Number. He swiped the open tab.
“This is Peter Burke.”
“Hello Peter.” The voice was velvet smooth, with hints of laughter. Peter straightened in his chair.
“Neal Caffrey.” He pulled up his chat window to have Diana to run a trace.
“Got it in one.” Neal chuckled. “Oh and don’t bother, Peter. I’m on a burner phone and we won’t be talking long enough for Agent Berrigan to run a trace.”
“How’d you get this number?”
Arrogant little - Peter shook his head. So it was going to be like that. He turned to face the window so no one could see him easily. Game on.
“You kissed my wife, Neal.” Peter cut to the chase.
“I did.” Neal’s tone was amused but unrepentant.
“I could have you arrested.” Peter tossed out the threat to see how Neal would react.
“You could.” Smooth – no fear.
“Why are you calling me, Neal?”
“Just to let you know that Elizabeth will be receiving a lovely bouquet of flowers at her office this afternoon.”
“And why are you sending my wife flowers?” This should be interesting, Peter thought.
“To apologize for you missing dinner tomorrow.”
“Why am I missing dinner?”
“You'll see - in five, four, three, two, one…”
There was a knock on Peter's door. One of the mail clerks stuck his head in.
“Agent Burke, this was left for you at the front desk.”
He handed Peter a manila envelope with ‘Peter Burke’ written on it in an elegant hand. Peter waited until the mailroom runner left before he spoke.
“How did you do that? The timing?”
“Just part of my skill set, Peter. Open the envelope.”
Peter used his letter opener to make a slit in the flap. Opening it, he discovered tickets to the sold out game between the Yankees and the Red Sox, as well as pre-game dugout passes.
“Neal, these are behind home plate. Where did you get them?”
“A friend owed me a favor.”
“You didn’t forge these, did you?”
“Peter! I am shocked and horrified you would think that of me.” Neal sounded neither shocked nor horrified.
“Neal, your wanted poster lists forger.”
“Well, did you? Forge them?”
“They’re real, Peter.” Peter heard him chuckle again. “Oh, and you should take Agent Jones. I think he’d enjoy the game.”
“You know I can’t accept these.”
“C’mon, Peter. Live a little. After all the trouble I went to to get them to you, the least you could do is enjoy them. Consider them a gift.”
“A gift, Peter. A bribe implies I want something.”
“What I want doesn’t relate to your job.” The intent in Neal's voice hinted at things that Peter was afraid he'd enjoy far too much. “Take the tickets. Enjoy the game. We’ll talk again.” The call ended.
Peter looked at the silent phone in his hand. The game had begun and in the opening gambit, Neal played masterfully. Whether Peter wanted to admit it or not, round one went to Caffrey.
As the weeks progressed, Peter realized Caffrey was outplaying him at every turn.
After the tickets to the Yankees game – which Elizabeth convinced him to use, and Jones thoroughly enjoyed attending with him – and the huge array of azaleas which had a place of honor on their dining room table, Neal pulled out all the stops.
Things started appearing.
At the office, to his house, in the van. To his wife.
Delivery from Peter’s favorite pizza place to an overnight stakeout on a case that wasn’t remotely connected to Caffrey. Double pepperoni. The Note – “Even Militia have to eat sometime, Agent Burke.”
Italian roast and New York’s finest pastries to a quarterly staff briefing, accompanied by “Meetings can be so dull, don’t you think? Here’s something to sweeten things up.” Peter had IT look for hidden cameras, sweep for bugs and check the network firewalls because there was no way Caffrey could have known they would be in meetings all day.
Lunch for his entire bullpen from the Vietnamese restaurant on Water Street.
Preview passes for the new James Cameron movie mysteriously appearing on everyone’s desk, courtesy of the Imperator.
One of the highlights was a large basket of bones, rawhide and chew toys delivered to the office for ‘Mr. Satchmo’ in care of Peter Burke.
“He’s sending baskets to my DOG, El!” Peter didn’t know his voice could whine like that.
He was pacing in his kitchen while Elizabeth unpacked the basket. He’d been doing that a lot lately - pacing. She just smiled as she put away the dog biscuits.
“Aww, I think it’s cute, Peter. He’s flirting.”
“With my dog?” He threw up his hands in frustration. “I need a beer.”
“Neal sent us some to the house today. Bottom shelf on the door. He said we would find them ‘robust yet refreshing’, I think the note read.”
“Of course.” Peter sighed and grabbed a bottle. Twisting off the cap, he took a taste. Neal was right, it was robust, yet refreshing. Damn him.
“So what surprise did you get today?” He was almost afraid to ask. Neal had already sent Elizabeth multiple bouquets of exotic flowers, a certificate to one of the most exclusive spas in the city, as well as tickets to the latest staging of Cosi fan tutti by the Met.
“He sent me a Ms. Rule for my desk.” Elizabeth grinned.
“A Ms. Rule. Pop artist. Very exclusive.”
“Naturally.” He sat down at the dining room table. “El, this has got to stop. HE has got to stop.”
“Why?” She took a seat next to him.
“Because he’s a criminal. Because he’s straddling the line.” Because I’m enjoying this way too much.
“He’s just trying to get your attention, hon.”
“What do you want me to do? Next time we’re staking out June’s, hold up a sign that says ‘I heart Italian’?”
“Couldn’t hurt.” She got up to start dinner. “Actually, I think you’re jealous.”
“Jealous? Why would I be jealous?” Peter wasn’t sure he liked where she was going with this.
“I think you’re jealous -,” she came back and kissed him on the nose. “ – because Neal hasn’t given YOU anything since the Yankees tickets.”
Peter began to protest until he was silenced by her look.
“Okay, maybe you’re right.” It was stupid, he knew that. But he’d been a little disappointed that Neal hadn’t sent anything since the day he called.
“Which is why he sent me this, too.” She handed him a phone. Burner, Peter’s mind registered as he flipped it open. He scrolled through to the contacts. There was only one number. 212-555-0174.
“Dinner won’t be ready for at least a half hour. Why don’t you call him?”
Peter walked out onto his back porch and sat down. He ran his thumb over the call button.
Taking the tickets was one thing. Peter could chalk that up to not wanting to waste good baseball seats. If he called Neal, he might be opening a door he may never be able to shut again. And maybe that might be the best decision I ever make in my life, his inner voice whispered.
He pressed the button.
Moments later, the door shut as the call engaged.
“Philip Kramer.” Kramer was in the middle of composing an email when the call came.
“What’s happening Fowler?” Kramer growled into the handset. “You’ve not given me anything new in a week.”
“That’s because there is nothing to give. I’ve been running down leads with Agent Jones and nothing is panning out. The only thing happening is that Burke keeps getting stuff delivered to the office.” Kramer hated the whiny little-girl voice that Fowler sometimes used when he felt threatened.
“Deliveries?” Kramer leaned over to grab a file from his credenza. “What kind of deliveries?”
“Just stuff like lunches and food for meetings.” Kramer could hear Fowler moving papers around. “Movie tickets for his staff. Oh yeah, and some fancy basket of crap for his dog.”
Kramer smiled. Gotcha! Whether Peter realized it or not, he had just tipped his hand. He knew his former student – maybe better than he knew himself. Peter was not the kind of man to lavish unnecessary gifts.
Neal Caffrey was.
Caffrey was in New York, Kramer could feel it. And he was certain that Burke was in touch with him.
“Has Burke talked to you about the case?”
“I’ve barely spoken to him. He’s been wrapped up in quarterly reviews and other cases. Caffrey’s not a top priority for him.”
“I think you’d be surprised.” Kramer paused for a moment. “Keep doing what you’re doing. Even if it doesn’t turn anything up, at least it’ll keep Peter occupied. Call if anything develops.”
Kramer hung up and chuckled. He knew Peter would take to Caffrey’s case like a starving man to a steak dinner. He couldn’t help it. It was Peter’s nature to dig. One of the reasons that his nickname – “The Archeologist” – was apropos.
It was time to call Hagen and see what information he could shake from the less than honest side of the tracks.
Kramer considered Hagen to be another tool in his belt - an especially useful one when he couldn't afford to get the Militia’s hands dirty. Other than that, Hagen was worthless - maybe not as much of a dupe and a fool as Fowler - but in the scheme of things, not worth his time.
He called Hagen on the unregistered cell he used for situations like this. No need for anyone to know his business.
Hagen picked up on the third ring.
“Good afternoon, Curtis.”
“Kramer.” Hagen’s voice had a sneer of distain. Kramer could care less what he thought. He paid the man well enough that he didn’t need to worry about his opinion.
“I think it’s time for you to work your magic in the Big Apple. I have it on fairly good authority that Caffrey’s there.” A white lie, but it served his purpose.
“Not a problem. I’ve got some feelers out. There’s been a sighting of Caffrey’s little friend.” Hagen sounded almost gleeful. Kramer knew there was bad blood between Hagen and Caffrey’s friend but he really didn’t care enough about them to find out what it was. Caffrey was his only concern. “Plus, I’ve heard rumblings of some jobs that have Caffrey’s stamp on them.”
“Excellent. Call me when you have solid confirmation that you’ve found him. And make sure you stay off Peter Burke’s radar.”
Kramer disconnected the call. A small smile graced his face. He knew they were closing in on Caffrey. An idea formed and he turned to his computer to open a browser window. A few clicks later he had a hotel confirmation at the W New York and a rented Cadillac at Washington National Airport. No sense in not travelling in style.
He wanted to be there when his people found Caffrey. He unconsciously licked his lips as he thought about the man that he was chasing. With Hagen’s contacts it would only be a matter of time before Caffrey was back in DC.
Back home where he belonged.
It took less than a week for Peter to realize that he had fallen into a routine of communicating with Neal. Sometimes he called Neal, sometimes Neal called him. Or they texted. The times varied, but there was at least one point of contact every day. He had taken to carrying the burner phone with him to work so as not to miss a call.
Their conversations ran the gamut from art and philosophy to history and politics. Each time they spoke, Peter inevitably told Neal to turn himself in. And each time he did, Neal laughed and changed the subject. It had become a game that both men enjoyed playing.
More and more, however, Peter would call Neal and ask his opinion on a case. It started with the theft at the Channing. Peter remarked on how sloppy the job was and, off the cuff, asked Neal how he would have done it – hypothetically.
“Trade secrets, Peter. But I wouldn’t have gone in through the skylight, I’ll tell you that. That’s for amateurs who’ve watched too much Mission Impossible.” Peter could hear the professional disgust in Neal’s voice. “You should check the surveillance feed from the parking garage a block away. Someone ran into a pole and knocked one of their cameras off track. They haven’t realigned it yet.”
After they ended the call, Peter had Jones check the footage from the parking garage. Sure enough, it caught the burglars entering through the skylight. By enhancing the video, they were able to make out the faces of some known criminals and made several arrests.
The next time Neal called, Peter asked him, “Don’t you feel bad about turning them in? I mean, isn’t there some kind of criminal code against that or something?”
“I don’t like shoddy work.” Neal’s reply was simple. “The sloppier they are, the more likely your side will pay attention. That’s bad for all of us.”
“So I should look for the most professionally done heist and I’ll find you there?”
Neal laughed. “Peter, the only time you’ll ever catch me at a job is if I actually wait around for you to show up.”
The conversation continued, but it gave Peter some food for thought. Caffrey might be a criminal, but he took pride in his work and Peter could respect that. It went a long way to changing his view of Neal as a simple con man.
Of course, Elizabeth thought it was the funniest thing to hear them arguing the finer points of the security system at the Metropolitan as she cooked dinner. Peter would put the phone on speaker and they would debate the ability of the guards to actually apprehend a thief as the Bolognese sauce simmered.
Peter was getting ready for bed that evening when Neal’s latest text came through.
I think you should take Elizabeth to the opening of the Magritte exhibit at MoMA.
He chuckled and sent back a reply. I think you should stop sending my wife lingerie.
Should I send you lingerie? was the immediate response.
I think you should turn yourself in. Peter knew that Neal would sidestep the comment. He headed to the bathroom to brush his teeth.
I like the lingerie idea better.
I’m sure you do.
About ten minutes later Peter’s phone buzzed again.
So when do I get to see the fashion show?
Peter’s thoughts took a decidedly inappropriate turn as he pictured Elizabeth modeling Neal’s gifts for him. For them, because damned if Peter was going to miss that. With a bit of shock he realized he was imagining El half dressed with Neal in their house. In their bed… He felt his desire raise it’s head and blink sleepy eyes.
He shoved that thought back in its box, not quite ready to go there, not yet, and dashed off a reply.
The day I handcuff you.
Ohh – kinky. I knew there was a reason I liked you.
Stop bothering me. I’m going to bed with my wife now.
Kiss her for me. Then shortly after. Rest well, Peter.
He was still grinning when Elizabeth came into the bathroom and gave him a hug. Ducking under his arm, she wrapped her arms around him and he picked her up. Pulling her legs around his waist, he walked them to the bed and sat down on the edge.
Elizabeth laid her head on his shoulder. “You like him, don’t you.” Not a question. She’d seen the texting, watched him over the last weeks.
“Yeah, El. I do.” He looked at her. “I didn’t want to. I mean, he’s a thief and a con artist. Everything that I’ve spent my life fighting against. But -.”
“But he’s also a person.” She finished his thought. “He’s funny and he’s smart and you like that he can keep up with you.”
“Exactly.” Peter was silent for a moment. “El, is it wrong that I can see how easy it would be to let him in?” And how scared I am to let that happen?
“Oh, Peter.” Elizabeth put her hand over his heart. “Don’t you realize? It’s too late. He’s already here.”
“Tell me about Philip Kramer.”
Peter’s words stopped Neal in his tracks. Pedestrians in the middle of Madison Square Park flowed around him, some giving him dirty looks as they had to navigate around his frozen form.
Shit, shit, SHIT!
His body cold, all his senses were screaming danger, but his voice was steady as he replied, “Don’t know a Philip Kramer.”
“Philip Kramer, Imperator of DC? Ring any bells now?” Neal could hear the frustration in Peter’s voice.
“Nope. Sorry, Peter.” Neal began walking again, glad that Peter couldn’t see him. He needed to get back to June’s. Back to where he could breathe for a moment. To decide what to do next. To run.
“Don’t bullshit me, Neal. He sent us your file. What’s he want with you?”
Neal was silent. He couldn’t tell Peter about Kramer. Peter was Militia, the Imperator. The Man. A pipe dream.
Neal had allowed himself to forget, just for a moment what Peter was. He’d let his emotions override the reality of the situation. Mozzie was right – Peter was not a pet. He was dangerous and one word from him could send down a manhunt that would keep them running forever.
“Neal?” Peter’s voice broke through his thoughts. His voice was soft. “Neal, are you in trouble?”
Neal laughed hollowly. “Oh that’s rich, Peter -,” he began, but Peter interrupted him.
“Neal, whatever it is, we can fix it.” Peter’s voice was firm with promise.
We can fix it. Neal had to sit down. Finding a bench, he almost fell as his legs gave out from under him.
“Neal, are you okay? Talk to me.”
“Peter, I – I need to go.” Neal hung up amid Peter’s protests. Taking a deep breath, he ran his hands through his hair. Time had run out and he and Mozzie had some hard decisions to make.
Two hours later he’d made a decent dent in the Laphroaig 18 Year and was watching Mozzie pace the apartment like a mad man.
“And he said Kramer. You’re sure?” Mozzie was vibrating.
“Yeah, Moz, I’m sure.” Neal took another drink of his whiskey and wondered how many more glasses it would take before he could forget Peter’s phone call.
“We’ll need to run then. I can get some IDs made. They won’t hold up for long - .”
“- but they’ll do for the short term.” Mozzie stopped pacing. “Money. We’ll need money. And transportation.” He started ticking off things on his fingers.
“Moz.” Neal’s voice got louder.
“I’m sure June will lend us some cash, plus the stash we have in -.”
“MOZ!” Neal’s shout finally got through to his friend.
“I’m not running.” His voice was low. “Not this time.”
“Are you CRAZY?” It was Mozzie’s turn to shout. “The Suit has your file!”
“I don’t care. I’m tired of running.”
Mozzie moved over to the table and stared at him.
“What?” Neal wouldn’t meet his eyes. His friend saw too much as it was and Neal knew he couldn’t hide his reason for staying.
“It’s the Suit isn’t it? You’re staying for the Suit and Mrs. Suit.” Mozzie made it sound like an accusation.
“So what if I am, Moz!” It was Neal’s turn to pace the apartment. He turned to Mozzie and said in a hoarse voice. “So what if I am.”
Mozzie regarded him in silence for a moment. “‘Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts,’” he said quietly.
“Oliver Wendall Holmes, Moz?” Neal’s grin was shaky.
“When the quote fits, mon frère.” Mozzie put his hand on Neal’s shoulder. “If you stay, I stay. That’s the deal.”
Neal never appreciated Mozzie more. “Then we stay.”
“I asked Neal about Kramer today.” Peter took a bite of the pot roast and decided it needed a bit more pepper. He’d told Elizabeth the other night that he was going to ask Neal about Kramer’s interest in him.
“And?” Elizabeth paused in her meal. “What did he say?”
“Said he didn’t know who he was.”
“And you believe him?”
“Nope.” He sighed. “El, I’ve gotten to where I can tell if he’s just sidestepping a question. This was different. He shut down like he was scared.”
Elizabeth took his hand in hers. “Do you think Kramer hurt him?”
“I don’t know. But Neal hung up on me and I haven’t heard from him since.” Peter felt silly for worrying about a con man, but Neal's reaction when he'd mentioned Kramer's name was so out of character that he couldn't help but be concerned. “I tried calling back but the phone went straight to voicemail.”
“Give him time, hon.” She squeezed his hand.
“El, can you maybe see if you can see him?” He realized that he sounded like a middle schooler with a crush. “Never mind.”
“You’re worried, hon. I get it, I’m worried too.” She let go of his hand and moved her plate out of the way. “Let me see if it’ll work.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes and Peter watched her take a deep breath. Moments later, her face smoothed out from any expression, then a slight smile crept onto her face. She opened her eyes and broke into a grin.
“Yeah. He’s okay. A bit tipsy if the bottle of Laphroaig that’s on the table is any indication, but he’s fine. He’s talking to his friend.”
“The short guy?” Elizabeth nodded. Peter blew out a sigh of relief.
“Peter, it’ll be okay. Whatever it is, I have a feeling he’ll tell you eventually. Then you’ll fix it. You always do. Now, c’mon. Let’s finish dinner.”
Rationally, Peter was sure that Elizabeth was right, but he just couldn’t get past his gut instinct that things were about to get worse. And unfortunately, his gut was right far too often.
Peter was almost asleep when he heard the noise downstairs. Checking to see that Elizabeth was still sleeping, he grabbed his gun and flipped off the safety. Slowly getting out of bed, he quietly padded down the hallway to the staircase.
Listening intently, Peter heard a slight shuffling that wasn’t Satchmo twitching in his dog bed. He made his way stealthily down the stairs, avoiding the second to last step which always squeaked. His back up against the wall, Peter slid over to the light switch.
Flipping it on he yelled, “Freeze!”
“Peter, it’s me! Put down your gun.” Neal stepped out of the shadowy kitchen, his hands slightly raised. “And can you turn the light back off, please?” He gestured at the overhead switch. “I’d rather not scare the neighbors into calling the cops.”
“Goddammit Neal, I almost shot you!” Peter engaged the safety and turned off the lights. “Flip the down lights on in the kitchen.”
The kitchen lights gave off enough light that Peter could see Neal’s face. The younger man looked exhausted.
“You know you could have just called.” Peter made his way to the fridge and grabbed a beer. He held one out to Neal.
“I’d rather have coffee if that’s okay.” Neal took a seat at the dining room table. “And I figured it was about time we met face to face.”
Putting his gun on the counter, Peter popped the top off his beer. Taking a quick drink, he turned on the Keurig. “All we’ve got is dark roast. That okay?”
“Sorry, no.” Peter smirked at Neal’s grimace. “Some of us don’t own a refined palate like you do, Neal.” He took a mug out of the cupboard and placed it under the spout of the coffee machine and popped in a K-cup.
Neal grinned tiredly. “Your loss, Peter.” He paused. “You know, you’re a lot taller than I thought you would be.”
“Well, you’re more -.” Beautiful, sexy, perfect. “- symmetrical.”
Neal snorted at his comment.
“So – were you just going to sit in my kitchen until morning?” Peter leaned up against the counter and crossed his arms.
“Actually, I was going to call you and tell you I was downstairs,” Neal admitted sheepishly. “Not my smartest idea.” He indicated the gun and Peter laughed.
“Yeah, what with me being licensed to carry that and all.”
Just then, Peter heard footsteps on the stairs. Elizabeth. “Peter, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, hon. Neal just decided to drop by. We’re in the kitchen.” Like it was the most normal thing to have a con artist over for coffee at two in the morning.
Elizabeth came in, sleepy and rumpled. “Hello, Neal,” she said, heading over to the teapot to heat up water.
Peter saw Neal glance his way and realized that the last time Neal had actually seen his wife was the night he’d kissed her.
“You can say hello to my wife, Neal. I’m not going to shoot you for that. Arrest you maybe…”
“Peter Jamison Burke, stop that! You are not going to arrest him!” Elizabeth headed over to Neal and gave him a quick hug. “You okay, sweetie? Peter’s not been mean to you, has he?” She sat down across from him at the table.
“Hello, Elizabeth. Sorry for waking you up.” Peter could see the confusion on Neal’s face as he looked back and forth between the Burkes. “And no, he’s been fine.”
Peter had to turn away before Neal saw his grin. Elizabeth in her mother hen mode could be overwhelming - but that’s why he loved her.
“You’ll have to forgive El, Neal. She’s convinced that I’m the big bad wolf determined to wreak havoc.” Peter put his hand by the side of his lips and pretended like Elizabeth couldn’t hear him. “Plus I think she likes you.”
He saw Neal relax as Elizabeth stuck her tongue out.
“Don’t worry, Neal. Peter’s cranky this time of night.”
“I’m pleading the fifth on that. What do you take in your coffee, Neal?”
“Just some milk please.”
Grabbing the milk out of the refrigerator, Peter balanced it, his beer and Neal’s coffee as he headed to sit down at the table.
No one spoke as Neal poured the milk and took a drink.
“Okay, Neal. I think it’s time we talked.” Peter could see Neal’s shoulders stiffen. “Let me preface this by saying, nothing you tell me tonight is going to get you in trouble. Full immunity.”
“You say that now, Peter.” Neal’s voice was mocking. “But you don’t know what I’m going to tell you.”
“Did you kill anyone?”
“Then full immunity.” Peter leaned back and watched him. “Let’s start with Kramer. What’s he want?”
Neal inhaled, then let the air out slowly. “He wants me.”
“You?” This from Elizabeth. “What do you mean, ‘You’?”
“More specifically, he wants my Talent.”
“Why? What’s is it?” Peter leaned forward.
“I can borrow other people’s Talents.”
“Borrow?” Peter’s brow furrowed. “Clarify that.”
“When I touch someone, I’ll get their Talent for a few hours. Whoever I touch will lose their ability for about that same length of time. Here, let me show you.” Neal stood up and walked around the table so he could sit next to Elizabeth. “Elizabeth, what’s your Talent?”
“When I touch things I can see the people that have them and where they are.”
“So that’s how you found me.” Neal smiled at her.
“Actually -.” Elizabeth blushed. “I didn’t need to touch anything to find you. My Talent sort of kicked in by itself. That’s why I kept looking for you. It wasn’t normal and I wanted answers.”
“But for the most part, you can turn it on and off, right?”
“Okay. May I?” Neal held his hand out for Elizabeth’s. “I promise it won’t hurt. It just may feel strange – like you have cotton in your head.”
Peter watched as Elizabeth placed her hand in Neal’s. Neal closed his eyes. Elizabeth gasped and jumped like she’d been shocked.
“Okay.” Neal opened his eyes. “Peter, if you would hand me the milk carton.” Peter did as he asked. “Hmm, I can see the store where you bought this, the stockboy – blonde with a nose ring – the driver who hauled this from upstate…” Neal looked at Peter but spoke to Elizabeth. “Now you try.” He handed her the container.
Peter saw Elizabeth try to test her Talent. “Peter, he’s right. It’s not working and my head does feel kind of stuffy.”
“Don’t worry – it’ll come back in a while.”
“Try me.” Neal looked surprised at Peter’s request.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Oh, I believe you. Just humor me, okay?” Peter held his hand out for Neal to take.
“Sure.” Neal took his hand but didn’t close his eyes this time. He kept them trained on Peter. “Ready?”
“Do your worst.” Peter watched Neal concentrate then shake his head.
“Wait, something’s not working. Let me try again.” This time Neal closed his eyes, a frown marring his brow. “It’s not letting me -.”
Peter chuckled. Neal’s eyes flew open.
“You’re doing that – you’re blocking me. How?”
Peter let a lazy grin sneak out. “That’s my Talent, Neal. Blocking. It’s what makes me good at what I do. No undue influence.”
“So you can block me?”
“Seems like it. I wasn’t sure because I’ve never come up against a Talent like yours and I wanted to test it to see.” Peter took another drink of his beer.
“Let’s get back to the topic at hand. I still don’t understand why Kramer wants your Talent.” Peter was trying to put the pieces together but couldn’t come come up with a finished picture.
“Kramer needed me to make him look good.” Neal stared at the coffee mug in his hands. “You know what his Talent is.”
Peter nodded, not liking where this was going.
“With my skill set and my Talent it’s pretty easy for me to - liberate – items from their locations.” He sighed and looked up at Peter. “Kramer needed his division to be impressive, so he forced me to steal things and fence them, then he would arrest the fences and return the stolen merchandise.”
“He Compelled you.” Peter smacked the table in anger. “That sonofa – did he hurt you?” Neal’s silence told Peter what he needed to know. “I’m going to kill him.” Peter couldn’t sit still any longer. He got up and paced the kitchen.
“Why didn’t you leave?” Elizabeth’s voice was soft and Peter looked over to see her hand on Neal’s arm.
“When I wasn’t being compelled to run his schemes, Kramer had me locked up in a facility. ‘For my own safety’, I think was what he said.”
“So how’d you escape?”
“A friend, a bribe, a set of smuggled lockpicks and plain luck.” Neal sipped his coffee and grimaced. “Cold.”
“Here, let me.” Elizabeth got up and held her hand out for Neal’s mug.
“You’re friend – the short guy?” Peter watched as Neal’s eyes followed Elizabeth movements around the kitchen. Strangely, it didn’t bother him like he thought it should.
“Mozzie. But don’t ever let him hear you call him short.”
“I’ll remember that.” Containing his anger against Kramer, Peter sat back down at the table. “Okay, so what are we going to do about Kramer? He’s got one of his guys in my office so we’ve been trying to investigate you very discretely.”
“He’s not going to stop, Peter. Not until he finds me and brings me back.”
“Then we need to make sure he doesn’t do that.” Elizabeth spoke up from where she’d been fixing Neal’s coffee and her tea. “You can make that happen, right Peter?” She came back to the table and sat next to Neal.
“That’s easier said than done, El.” He looked at the two of them. Elizabeth’s face was hopeful, Neal’s guarded. He sighed. “Look, I hate Kramer as much as you do. I’ve seen what he can do with his Talent and it’s wrong. We need to be very careful how we handle it. Give me a couple days to figure something out. In the meantime you need to lay low.” He pointed at Neal. “That means no cons, no thefts, no nothing. I don’t want you on anyone’s radar and I don’t want to have to arrest you. Are we clear?”
“Crystal.” Neal’s smile was brilliant. Peter realized he wanted to do whatever he could to keep that smile on the younger man’s face. “Listen, I better go. It’s really late and I’m sorry I woke you up.”
“You’re staying here.” Elizabeth’s voice cut through his thoughts.
“I can’t. I don’t want to put you out.” Neal rose and headed towards the back door. Peter glanced at Elizabeth and saw a tiny nod of her head.
“Wait, Neal.” Peter grabbed his arm. “El’s right. It’s late and the subway will take forever to get back to June’s. C’mon, you can help me put fresh sheets on the bed.”
“You sure?” Neal looked at Elizabeth, then at him as if waiting for the right words.
Peter met his gaze with a direct one of his own. “I’m sure, Neal.” I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.
Go To Part Five