Sorry it took so long, had to graduate. SUPER BUSY WEEK! But it's over now, I have my diploma, and I managed to get through my salutatorian speech without anything horrible happening. Life is good and I should be able to post more often!
Neal grinned. "Well then, let the game begin."
"Hang on, hang on. Give me a minute to think of my lie. It has to be good."
"Tsk. Tsk, Jack. I thought you would be better than this. If it takes you this long to come up with a good con…"
"I'm out of practice. Alright, alright. I'm ready. Okay, first bit of information. There are four 'Guardians'. Well, technically five but it gets sketchy. Santa Clause, he's a master at forging artifacts, sculptures, carvings, any kind of handcrafting. But the thing he's best at is thieving. He can get in and out of anywhere, no matter how secure, with nothing to show that he was there other than the missing objects. Like the cookies gone on Christmas morning.
"Then there's the Tooth fairy. She's the only girl and is a master hacker. She can get into any databank and get any kind of information she wants, files, data, memories, all sitting in the palm of her hand. Or, in her computer. One of her specialties is hacking the bank accounts of corrupt businesses or congressmen or thieves and giving the money to people who really need it.
"Next is the Sandman, he's kind of the enabler, or the cleanup. He's a chemist who made his own… concoctions. Two different types of powdered drugs, one a shiny gold and one bright yellow. The yellow is kind of like knock-out powder, but it sinks into the skin, so any type of contact works. The gold is a hallucinogen that gives you the best hallucinations possible. Imagine the best dream you'd ever had, that's what you would see, and just as real as if it were really happening but still bizzare in the way only a dream can be. Put them together and you get the best night's sleep you could ever have. And if a security guard thinks that he saw a guy in a Santa suit break into a high security museum, well a pinch of dust will have him convinced that the whole thing was only a dream, especially if whatever's stolen was replaced with a fake.
"Last but not least there's the Easter Bunny, master art forger but you already know about him."
"How did you-"
"No questioning my methods. Anyway, about the sketchy fifth member. There is some mysterious benefactor that got them all together. He goes by the codename 'Man in the Moon' and no one, not even the Guardians, know who he really is. He contacts them using this one cell phone that not even Tooth has been able to trace. He's a mystery. If the Guardians are a myth, he's a whisper in the wind."
"I've never heard about him." Neal answered.
"Maybe I have better intel than anyone you've heard of. Or maybe this was the lie. Who knows. Second piece of information." He dunked another treat into his coco, working to keep from revealing any tells. This was the lie, he had to tell if perfectly, no hesitation. "They don't actually all live in New York, they all have different houses all over the country. Every once in a while, they'll pick a new major city and set up a mini-base there for a while. When they're done, they split up again until something happens and they start up again. They have different shops and businesses that they have to keep their identities secret. Santa's headquarters are somewhere in Alaska, really far north." Lie, his office was less than an hour away.
"The North pole." Neal murmured and Jack grinned.
"They really do love their themes. Unfortunately, he doesn't run a toy company, he has a bakery and a factory that makes specialty cookies that are sold all over the country." Lie. He did have a toy company, the best in New York, FAO Schwarz.
"Anyway, the Easter Bunny lives in the Virginia- Marylandish area where he can see the cherry blossoms during spring. He owns a floral shop, best flowers of spring." Truthfully he owned a specialty chocolates shop a couple of blocks way. "Sandman lives somewhere in California I think, a beach house near the ocean. He lectures at a bunch of different colleges for chemistry." Sandy wrote children's books and worked at a local library, shaping children's dreams and imaginations. "The Tooth Fairy lives in Arizona, I think she has a humming bird observatory up there. Obviously, she owns a dentist office." Surprising false as well. Really she was a professional portrait and events photographer. Baby Tooth said her favorite thing was to see the children's beautiful smiles.
"What does the Tooth Fairy have to do with humming birds?" Peter asked with a frown.
Jack shrugged easily, his heart beating rapidly. Baby Tooth reminded him a hummingbird, and she and all her sisters absolutely loved them. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the myths to connect the two. "She likes colorful things. Besides, hummingbirds are kinda fairy-like. Besides, not all of their interests have to connect with thief nicknames."
Peter and Neal shared a look before Neal nodded at him. "Point. Third thing."
"They don't work alone. At least, most of them don't. Santa has big men he calls Yeti's who keep his 'workshop' secret and who help him carve the larger things. I think they also help in his side business, like with production and assembly line stuff. And he has a bunch of 'Elves' scrawny geeks who do all of his research to help him break in. If a security system exists, they know about it and any bugs it has. They're really bizarre, no common sense at all, just what can be learned in a book or from a computer screen.
"Then there's Tooth and her Mini-Fairies." Jack was steadfastly avoiding the word baby, just in case. "They're a bunch of girls who can do just about anything you can think of with a computer. Tooth Fairy delegates and helps out if she needs to, but normally she just gives them assignments and they do their own work."
"Do they help with her everyday job too?" Neal asked, testing the boy for inconsistencies.
Jack made a noncommittal hum. "I don't think any of them know how to use dental equipment but I can't be sure. I get most of my intel by overhearing stuff and they don't exactly talk about their everyday lives much."
Peter nodded, his intense gaze never leaving Jack. "Makes sense. Continue."
"Anyway Easter Bunny has these sentinel guys, but they mostly just protect his workrooms. I think they'll get his supplies and stuff too if he's running low. Paint and brushes and canvas and stuff. And Sandy has… well, I guess he doesn't really have anyone now that I think of it. But he's good at convincing people to do stuff, or setting plans in place to make them do what he wants without telling him to. It's like he molds their thoughts and dreams until they do what he wants them to do. So, it's almost like everyone works for him."
He leaned back in his chair and spread out his hands as though laying cards onto a table. "So. What was the lie?"
"Not the first." Neal said certainly.
Peter nodded in agreement. "So either the second or third."
"Wooooow." Jack drawled slowly. "What would the FBI do without you deductive skills?"
Peter cast the teen a glare but otherwise didn't reply. "The problem is, the bit about accomplices makes a lot of sense when you assume that they all have their own businesses all over the country, but-"
"But if they have the locations, then they don't have accomplices. That would make it really hard to run the businesses when they're away on less than legal excursions."
"But there could be workers who aren't necessarily accomplices if they don't know what their bosses are doing while away."
"If that's the lie then there would be a lot of people running around New York without legal jobs."
Neal grinned. "You say that like there aren't already. Also, not necessarily. A big part his second one was that none of them lived in New York permanently. If it's the lie then they could have second jobs here, jobs other than what he said."
"Then the accomplices could work there."
"Exactly. I say the second one is the lie."
Jack grinned. "Is that your final answer?"
Neither hesitated as they simultaneously answered yes. Neal wasn't one to be tricked by a simple happy expression, and Peter too used to Neal to be fooled. Jack just shrugged. "Yup. Looks like I'm going to have to try harder next round."
"Looks like you lost your snack." Caffery said with a grin, happier about beating the child than was really warranted.
"Guess I'll just have to eat more now." Jack responded, reaching out to grab an apple. "So then, next round. I'll make it simpler now, I think I was trying to be too complex. The Guardians have a bunch of different reasons for stealing, let's see if you can figure out which ones are true. First, they steal in order to help children. That's where they got the name 'Guardian' and their aliases. Whatever they steal they use the money from it or from selling it and donate most, if not all, of it to orphanages, children's hospitals, organizations against child trafficking, or any other sort of kid's organization.
"Second, they steal to fight off their eternal foe: Pitch Black. He's a real bad guy, tall, dark, creepy, British accent, tons of aliases, penchant for big crimes but almost completely unheard of, too They call him 'The Boogeyman'."
"Finally, third. They steal just because they're bored, smart, and like shiny things. I mean, its child's play for them to steal millions in minutes, so why not do it? Most of the time they resell the stuff, but they all have certain things that they take just for themselves. Tooth likes old books and carved ivory, Santa likes ancient toys, Bunny Faberge eggs, and Sandy likes gold, especially gold sculptures or designs. There. I think that's better. Try and figure this one out."
"Second one." Peter answered without hesitation.
Neal tossed him an irritated glance. "Peter-"
"I refuse to believe that there is a Disney cartoon villain out there monologing about how he'll rule the world by buying fancy art."
"It would be a pretty farfetched lie."
"Maybe that's exactly why I said it. Who knows. Or maybe it is true, it does sound crazy. Then again, how odd would it be that their interests match their nicknames. Seems convenient for me."
Neal smiled as the teen took the words out of his mouth. "Which of course, makes it seem like a very farfetched lie"
"Which may or may not be true." Jack added with a grin. "Of course, why would people who are this good at what they do simply give all of their stuff away for kids they don't even know? Doesn't seem like the usual criminal profile."
"We already know that the first one was true." Peter interrupted. The teen simply shrugged.
"Figured you did. Just wanted to make sure all bases were covered."
Neal said nothing for a long while, then he sighed. "Fine. I'll go with Peter."
Jack smiled broadly. "Nope! I win that round."
"Then the third was the lie."
Jack said neither yes or no, simply shrugging. He kind of gave that one to them. "This begs the question. I only know a tiny bit more about the Guardians, but I know a lot more about Pitch and he's a much bigger fish with a lot more dangerous teeth. What do you want the last round to be about?"
Neal and Peter shared a meaningful glance before the agent spoke. "Depends. Is part of that 'tiny bit' their civilian names?"
Jack grimaced and shrugged. He knew, but that was part of Baby's Do-Not-Tell category. "They always refer to each other in their code name. All the time. It's creepy really." Not a lie. "What about where their headquarters are?"
Now Jack looked uncomfortable. He bit his lip looking for a lie before sighing and admitting to the embarrassing truth. "Well… the thing is I'm not as invisible as I would like to think. I kept eyes on them for a while but… I got caught. I snuck into Santa's place when they were already on high alert and… well let's just say that his Yetis may not always be observant, but they're strong enough to keep hold of a struggling 14 year old. After a good bit of flustering and yelling I was able to talk my way out of it but… the place was cleared out the next day."
"So you've given us nothing that could help us to arrest these guys."
Jack blinked owlishly for a moment before slowly nodding. "I guess… I guess not. I can show you their old place. Dunno what you'll find though."
Neal nodded. "If that's all you have…"
"Yeah," he responded, refusing to fidget or lower his eyes. "So what'll it be?"
The two watched Jack carefully before Neal answered. "Let's hear about this Pitch character."
Jack grinned. "Great! Okay, so first bit. He is the leader of a really big empire. He calls his men nightmares and they can be almost anyone. They kind of mostly act alone. He funds them but… he doesn't care what they do as long as it's crime. He's messed up like that. They're all over, you might have some of them in your own jails and they just don't think to mention him. Or choose not to. Every once in a while, he'll call them all together with some task or job, but mostly they roam free.
"Second bit. As for him, he does a bunch of stuff. Let's see, white collar-y stuff would be artwork and sculptures and money like things, right?" The two nodded, bemused, and he continued. "Well, he steals and buys a bunch of artwork, but more to give himself a name than because he actually likes art. Well, he likes dark and gruesome stuff, but not normal artwork. All he cares about is money. Actually I heard that he does more than just buy and sell artwork, sometimes he'll sneak into museums and stuff to find the rarest of the rares, so that he can destroy it."
Neal frowned, feeling a mini heart-attack when he thought about priceless artwork being maliciously destroyed. "Why?"
Jack shrugged slightly. "How much would you pay for a Van Gough? A lot right? Probably more than you could get working at the FBI for 20 years." Neal and Peter nodded. "Imagine if you knew that there was only one Van Gough left in the entire world. How much would you pay?"
Neal swallowed, mouth dry as he mentally calculated the figure. "… But, the art…"
"Like I said, he doesn't care. He does it with all kind of stuff, but only when he gets his hands on a lot of other pieces. He buys under a ton of names. Pitch Black, Cucuy Night, Nigel Faris, Dublin Nox-"
"Faris?" Peter interrupted. "That was the buyer set up for The Railway."
Jack shrugged. "Probably why the Guardians stole it."
"How did you-"
"Really? We're going through this again? Anyway, those are all the names I know and I'm pretty sure none of them are his real one, so on to the last bit of news."
At this his joking demeanor left, and he became completely serious almost solemn. "He's a bad guy. Really bad. If I had to describe him, I would call him a terrorist. He doesn't really care about art or precious things or even money. He likes power. He feeds off of fear. Especially fear of him. He does whatever he can to make people worry, make them panic. He'll do anything, raise the crime rate, start destroying rare things, anything. He has this drug that he made, Nightmare Sand. It's a copy kinda of Sandy's stuff except instead of good dreams, it only gives you nightmares and fear.
"He's never tried using it in a biochemical attack but… with a hand in the drug business… just a few sprinkles in a couple of choice drugs would be enough to cause complete hysteria. And he would love it. But… but the worst is… when he's at large children tend to go missing. Dozens at a time. For days, months, hours… Sometimes they're never seen again. The ones that are found… they're not the same. Small fears become terrors, they won't sleep at night… children who wouldn't pet dogs suddenly scream and hyperventilate whenever they see one. A kid who avoided clowns will sob whenever someone mentions a circus. Its… scary and horrible."
There was a long period of silence, then Jack finally broke it, voice sounding awkward. "I- I think that's it. So what's the lie?" He asked, a grin gracing his face, looking as false as a Prada purse in a trailer park.
Peter and Neal shared a glance. Both obviously wanted to question the boy, to ask him more about the last bit of information, concern lacing through their beings. However, both knew how useless it would be to press and the look was more a promise to discuss it all later than anything else. "The first." Neal answered. Peter said nothing, at that point he didn't care about the first and second answers, it was the third that worried him, and it was all too obviously true.
Jack nodded. "Yup, you got it." He answered with a tense smile. "Guess you win. What are your questions?"
"You're in a hurry." Neal remarked, forcing an idle expression as he took a deep drink of his coffee.
Jack shrugged. He was getting uncomfortable, he never was indoors for long nor was he usually the center of attention. When he was, he usually felt in control, probably more than was warranted, but between the unfamiliar game and the combined wits of Neal and Peter, he felt his usual control slipping. "I've got places to go, people to see. Plus, I'm ready to get you guys out of my hair now that I lost the game. Usually the prize is just that they don't have to pay." He answered, fidgeting uncomfortably in his chair and eventually giving up to crouch on the seat despite the pain in his ankle. He always felt better when he could stand quickly. The two shifted nervously, worried that the boy would leave. Jack felt a tinge of his usual control return, but it wasn't as satisfying as it usually was.
"Alright, fine." Neal quickly interrupted placating. Jack relaxed minutely, trying to anticipate what the questions would be. Maybe information on gangs or more questions about the guardians or- "How old are you Jack?"
The teen blinked in surprise. "What kind of question is that?"
"It's one that I want to know the answer to." Neal responded. Jack shrugged.
"Fifteen." He answered, curiosity rampant in his voice. Neal whistled lowly.
"Only twelve when you started getting a record. Impressive."
"No, what's impressive is that I was good enough at twelve to get a record, but you guys hadn't even heard of me until last week."
Neal smiled and nodded in agreement, but before he could say anything more Peter interrupted with his question, his voice only professional despite the worry in his eyes. "Where do you live, Jack?"
Jack shifted on his perch. Oh, so that was it. They were concerned for him. How sweet. He tried to infuse the right amount of sarcasm into the thought, but it really was kind of nice to have someone worried about him freezing at night. Unusual, but nice. "Here and there." He answered. "Depends on the season. I'm a fan of camping out under the stars in summer, in parks and stuff. When the weathers bad but it's warm out I'll find a warehouse or storage closet to hide out in. During holidays I can usually find an empty house from where people are visiting family. Usually in the winter I've saved enough over the year to get a cheap hotel room or something for a few months."
"Usually?" Neal asked.
Jack shrugged, he couldn't afford to this year, not with his broken leg sapping up so much of his funds. Most of the time he hid between bookshelves at Sandy's library or made a nest in a broom closet somewhere. If he thought there would be a snow day he found a school to hide out in. "Do you really want that as your question?"
Neal said nothing for a moment before shaking his head. "Not now. Maybe next time we play."
Peter snorted, as though he couldn't possibly imagine going along with all this again. Jack bristled at the sound, nearly growling when he turned on the agent. "I won the second round. You have to come to me for information next time you need it, those were the rules. We will play again." His face sunk into a scowl for a millisecond before he suddenly grinned. "Of course, I'll win that round and you'll actually have to pay me so it doesn't matter what questions you come up with."
"Fine, then I have a question." Peter said, irritation hinting his voice. "Why all of the games?"
Jack grinned. "I get bored. Usually I can make enough money for a couple of days in just a few well done lifts. This keeps life entertaining. Also, it's the only time the invisible boy gets seen." He said, smile never wavering. The two men shared a glance. Translation: the kid was lonely and just wanted someone to pay attention and play with him, and he was desperate enough to do this to do it. Just like Valentine had guessed. But, if the kid had won, the game would have already been over. It must have been quite the prize to make him willing to chance losing time with two men giving him their complete attention.
Neal looked the boy dead in the eyes as he asked the final free question of the night. "If you had won, what would you have asked for as payment?"
The boy was silent for a moment before answering slowly. "Information." Peter bristled, looking furious but before he could say a word Jack beat him to it. "Don't get your panties in a twist, I wasn't going to ask about any current cases or what info they have on this mob boss or who the undercover agents were or anything like that. Nothing you couldn't tell me and nothing I intended to sell."
"What were you going to ask about then?" Neal asked. Jack looked down.
"I answered the question. I'm not saying any more about it until I win, or you win more questions." He said, voice tinging on angry. His words faded into a stunned quiet.
The suffocating silence was finally cut as the door burst open, a familiar short bald man with glasses making his way in. "Neal, do you have any eighties movies or pineapples? This guy in Santa Barbra-"
He stopped in his tracks as Jack rose in a flurry of movement to jump off of his chair, tugging the new coat over his shoulders as he made his way to the balcony. Within less than a second he was standing with his back braced against the glass of the window, a snarl on his lips. "We agreed, only you two."
Neal and Peter jumped to their feet, the situation dissolving around them. "I know Jack, I know." Neal said quickly, shooting his intruding friend freeing a glare. However, before he could tell the man to leave, Mozzie grinned.
"Wait, this is still going on? Great! So you're the infamous invisible Jack Frost."
"Apparently not as invisible as I thought." He replied with a scowl.
"Are you kidding?" The strange man asked, eyes blown wide. "Do you have any idea how few know about you? I mean, Neal hadn't even heard a whisper of you until the other day, and I've heard nothing but rumors. You almost don't exist, kid. It's impressive."
Jack's posture relaxed marginally as his paranoia gave way to confusion and interest. "Thanks, I think." He straightened up all the way, regaining his previous ease and comfort. "I answered all of your questions and you got your intel. Things are getting a little crowded in here for my taste and I can't see any more reason for me to hang around."
He maneuvered easily through the glass doors, Mozzie's voice stopping him before he could make it all the way onto the terrace. "Wait! You can't leave yet, I want to hear about the Black Gold Debacle straight from the horse's mouth."
Jack stilled, his lips twitching up as he gave into a laugh. "Of all the stories I could tell, that'd be one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I don't have the time." He inched away, clearly ready to be gone.
"Dinner." Peter said suddenly, the word accented with a slight groan. He didn't know what he'd been thinking- he hadn't been thinking. All he knew was that he couldn't just let the kid disappear again, not after seeing those injuries, the way he attacked the food. Oh well, he'd opened his big mouth, might as well finish what he started. "Dinner, next week at my house. The Tuesday before the trial. Come and tell it to us then."
Jack paused for a moment, watching the three suspiciously before breaking out in a large grin. "I guess Mrs. Burke did say she wanted to hear a good story. Be there at seven." He turned, walking towards the terrace edge. "Just a couple more things before I go," he added as he jumped onto the railing, stumbling slightly because of the injury on his leg. "That third round? Just because what I said was a lie, doesn't mean it always was one, or that it always will be. Remember that. Also, Neal: 8." And with that he turned off the roof and disappeared. None of the men bothered to look for him, knowing well that any effort would be met with only empty air.
"Eight?" Peter asked.
"Shoe size." Neal answered with a hum before turning to the transmitter. "You guys can come up now." He called as he shut the recorder off. They had all the information they needed by now anyway.
"You've got the mini suits here too? Forget it, I'm going to make like Frost and disappear." Mozzie said, ambling towards the door. "Call me when they all leave."
"Pick up some shoes you think he'd like while you're out." Neal called to him. "Remember size eight."
Mozzie was barely gone when the others returned, Diana looking as though caught between a scowl and a smirk. "You didn't tell us you were planning to play games Cafferey."
Neal shrugged, completely unrepentant. "It's the only way to keep his attention."
Jones nodded. "Well, I think he was more eager to talk with us than we thought. He knows more than he's letting on."
"What do you mean?" Peter asked, though he had a good idea what the man was saying.
"First he's insulted that the Guardians aren't that big a secret, then he knows that we're on to the Easter Bunny. In the middle of talking about the Guardians he starts on this bigger fish we should watch out for."
"Then there was that insanely cryptic ending remark about the lie not always being a lie."
"You think he's feeding us information with an agenda." Neal realized as the two agents nodded. Peter frowned.
"He wouldn't have anything to gain from it though. Not unless he's with them."
Neal shook his head. "If that was true he wouldn't be so dead set against his name coming up in the report. He wouldn't be worried about getting in trouble with them if they were lies either."
There was a long stretch of silence as everyone pondered their thoughts. Finally Peter shook his head and sighed. "Pitch. It's all about this Pitch guy, the end was a warning."
Neal nodded. "Makes sense. If there is one thing from all of that that I think is true, it's that Jack doesn't like him. He's afraid of him."
Peter nodded. "We'll have to keep an eye on Jack, keep all this in mind. And look into those aliases he gave us. I don't think we'll find anything just yet, but keep your eyes out." The group nodded, silently immersed in their own thoughts as they each left. Neal and Peter sharing a glance that promised further conversation once each had time to process their thoughts.