Calling in a Favor
The Malevolent Masterpiece
Chapter Two: The Forger
Six o'clock the next evening finds the brothers pulling up in front of a small one-story house. They are in the middle of a small subdivision, filled with a few dozen cookie cutter houses. The only thing that distinguishes this one from the rest is the nicely kept grass lawn spanning the small front yard, while all the rest of the houses on the street have desert landscapes covered in rock and cacti.
Dean parks the Impala on the curb, between the short driveway leading to a two-car garage and a yellow fire hydrant situated on the opposite corner of the yard. Sam eagerly jumps out of the car, rubbing his temple to assuage the fading ache there. He is all too glad to get away from his brother's – purposely off-key just to screw with him – singing. Dean climbs out as well, shutting his door as they both look around at their surroundings. Casa Grande, Arizona is a scorching dustbowl of a desert town; too small to be called a city, too big to have the close community of a small town. Mountains pepper the landscape off in the distance, barely visible through the constant heat haze, and the entire town looks as if it is coated in a layer of brown dust. The purest definition of dry heat Sam has ever seen.
No breeze blows by, and the sun still refuses to set as Sam and Dean stroll up the driveway towards the door. All is quiet except the cicadas droning their continuous buzz through the mesquite trees, and a dog's barking from a few streets over. Light played off the glass ornaments and metal pipes of a silent wind chime hanging from a neighboring house, catching Sam's eye. He taps Dean's arm, gesturing at it to point out how quiet and still the area is.
"Quaint," Dean mumbles sardonically before he turns them both onto the walkway leading towards the door and presses the doorbell button and waits.
. . . And presses the doorbell again. . .
And then presses it twice more when the door still isn't answered.
"Maybe he . . ." Sam trails off as the door is suddenly thrown open.
"Dean," the man at the door breathes, almost a sigh of relief, blue eyes locked on the elder Winchester brother. "You made it."
"Neal," Dean greets, both brothers taking in the state of the other man. His raven hair is disheveled and his clothes – a white button up with the sleeves rolled to the elbows and a pair of dark dress slacks – look rumpled and slept in. A sling supports his left arm and a number of fresh looking bruises stand out on his otherwise handsome face. "What's with the sling?"
"What's with the kid?" the man counters, head cocked in Sam's direction. His voice is teasing and curious, but there is anxiety and a hint of suspicion well hidden in his eyes. So well hidden, in fact, that Sam knows he would have missed it if he hadn't been watching as carefully as he is. Years of experience reading people, especially those who don't want to be read – namely, his brother – have taught Sam well, even after letting the skill gather dust while at Stanford.
"This is my brother, Sam." Dean seems to have noticed something in Neal also, since the next thing out of his brother's mouth is, "What happened?"
Neal's shoulders slump slightly – though whether in relief or defeat, Sam can't tell – as Neal steps to the side, holding the door wide open. "I'll explain everything inside."
The inside of the small suburban home is just as plain as the empty lawn outside, the simple set of basic furniture laid out in the open living-dining-kitchen area attesting to a generic and unlived in atmosphere. Across from a small entertainment center on the far left wall there is a tan couch pushed against a waist high half-wall that separated the living and dining rooms. A large square table surrounded by six matching dark wood chairs takes residence in the dining area, one side of the table pushed flush against the half-wall to keep the path open for the sliding glass back door behind it. The two remaining chairs are situated at the Formica topped kitchen counter bar, the kitchen lined with honey colored wood cabinets. The high slanted ceiling is painted white, and the walls are a bland, pale green; the flooring consisting of tan tile outlined in white grout, but the living room is set with beige carpet transitioning suddenly from the ceramic. Every window with a view to outside is covered with maroon blackout curtains, leaving the large room to be lit by the numerous recessed light fixtures. A door to the left in the entryway lead to what Sam assumes is the garage, and a door just outside the entry lead to another room. At the far right, a hallway disappeared around the corner, branching out to the rest of the house.
Sam guesses that the place is likely usually kept neat, but at the moment it looks more like a tornado zone. Everywhere he can see, there are things knocked over or brushed aside, chairs toppled backwards and sideways and glass fragments sprinkled the kitchen floor where dinnerware had been thrown and shattered. A broom and dustpan are leaned against the side of the fridge, evidence of Neal's somewhat futile attempt to clean the place up.
"There was another incident last night," Neal says by way of explanation. "The painting is in here."
He leads the brothers to the farther left door and into what could be the master bedroom, but is set up as something of an art studio. The bare concrete floor is covered in clear plastic tarps and the same maroon curtains as the other room hang over what looks to be a set of bay windows. A large shelving unit lay toppled on the ground, its previous content gathered in piles nearby, as though Neal had tried to pick it up, but couldn't lift the shelves themselves with only one hand.
In the middle of the room, two easels sat side by side, angled slightly around a padded stool beside a table scattered with small tubes of paint, paintbrushes, and other things he assumes are related to painting, but which Sam can't put names to. Each easel has a painting on it, but it is easy to tell which one is the real deal, since the second one is still only half covered in paint.
The painting itself bares a faded blue backdrop washed in grey tones, the diagonal brush strokes blurred and blended into the blues, looking almost like rain or dark snow. A trail of what looks to be red rose petals lead to a single wilting rose suspended over the opaque shadow of a man. A signature lays in the bottom right corner, scrawling white script that was mostly illegible save for a delicate looking G beside a curling M.
"Gabriele Moreno's El Amor Perdido—The Lost Love," Neal states, almost like a grand introduction. "A fifteen million dollar, seventeenth century Spanish masterpiece by an artist who's even more mysterious than the painting itself." He pauses, and when Sam glances at his face, there was a strange look in the man's blue eyes as he just stares at the painting, saying in a softer voice, "It tells the tale of a man desperately searching for the love of his life, who remains continually out of his grasp." Another pause before Neal shakes his head as if to clear it and continues with his information replay as though nothing had happened. "This is the only one of Moreno's works that survived when the Spanish museum exhibiting them caught fire in the early fifties. It's been circulating private auctions until it was purchased by a man named Carl Lynchen about five years ago. He has no appreciation for artistic value or the tragic beauty behind it, he was just interested in an impressive price tag."
"So you relieved him of it," Dean, who had stayed put while Sam moved closer to examine the painting, states in amusement.
Sam catches Neal's mischievous smile from over his shoulder.
"So," Sam starts, straightening up from his inspection and garnering the attention of the other two. "You said in your voicemail that something in the painting has moved?"
"The subject of the painting, the Searcher, he's just . . . not there anymore."
"What do you mean?" Dean asks, glancing over at the easel again.
"Here, I'll show you." Neal walks through the connected bathroom and into a walk-in closet. A moment later, he's back, carrying a pair of stretched canvases. "This is what it looked like three days ago," he says, handing each of them a canvas. Sam takes it and turns it to face him.
It has the same blue and grey background, rose petal trail, and red rose, all duplicated down to the smallest detail. But standing over the shadow, rose clutched in hand, string of beads in the other, is a man painted in earthy browns and deep blue. The painted figure has his back turned, shoulders slumped, but the invisible gaze is lifted upward, true to the title of 'Searcher'.
"The next morning, I wake up, and El Amour Perdido looks like that." He gestures helplessly at the painting. "And the Searcher is hiding somewhere in my safe house, slamming doors and throwing dishes at my head."
Sam and Dean stay quiet, glancing around the room, at the empty painting, at the forgeries in their hands, and, finally, at the blue eyed man standing beside them.
"You said to call with something weird." Neal's answering look is a piercing, half-hidden cry for help. "Think you two can help me?"
Author's Note: The painting and Artist are fake, the town Neal is hiding in is real. You all may not feel as such, but this story is developing nicely. I have renamed this as The Malevolent Masterpiece, which is to be the first part of my Supernatural/White Collar crossover series Calling in a Favor. Hope there wasn't too much confusion over that. So, if you have any suggestions for more crossover moments between the two that I haven't already contemplated, feel free to let me know. Take care all! Love ya! God bless!