Every possible piece of information on paper was spread across the whole table of the conference room. Had Peter collected the whole team all like this when he escaped from prison? He had to ask him sometime.
"…the Marshal was one looking for Franklin at six-thirty this morning and he's an M.I.A. They've got a two-hour head start. We cannot let them get to Franklin before we do. If they catch him fleeing, they will shoot him. Jones?"
"I'll check the airports, transit in and out of the city."
"I'll put photos in circulation and cross-reference with his FBI aliases."
"All right, I want to canvass his friends and family, so let's move."
People filed out of the room. Neal took the folder that has caught his attention from the beginning. He leaned on the table next to Peter.
"Franklin was a good agent," he said. This was no bad apple making people's life hell for no reason.
"He was," Peter nodded. "Top in his class. 12 years of service."
"FBI medal of valor. That can't be easy to come by."
Peter agreed to that too. His friend had not got one as far as he knew, but this Franklin had, then something was very strange when an agent like that was on the run and a shooting target for the Marshals.
"He had an inappropriate relationship with his C.I."
"Really?" Neal smiled. It made the good agent a little more human and less of a superhero. Besides, it was a bit funny that there were some things about relationships the Bureau did care about after all. Most people had ideas about who should be allowed to date.
"How inappropriate?" Maybe 'inappropriate' did not mean what he thought Peter wanted to imply.
"Do you want me to draw you a diagram?" Peter replied.
"No." So, Franklin and his C.I. had had sex. That meant that Peter would not get in trouble with their friendship, at least not for that reason.
"He fell in love with her," Peter explained. "He got caught. And they sent him down to bank fraud."
There was a gap in the story of how he became on the run, but that mattered little now.
"Well, then, she was his first stop," Neal said.
"Well, maybe. She's his former C.I. They broke it off when he got transferred."
Neal showed him the file he was holding, which was the information on the C.I. A beautiful brunette named Rebecca Vidal.
"She has three known aliases," he pointed out to his handler. "She knows how to hide someone. I mean, come on, Peter. If you went on the run—"
"I wouldn't go on the run."
Naturally, Peter would say that.
"Yeah, but if you did…" Would he not search him out, asking his pet convict to hide him?
"Yes, I'm sure it'd be your fault," Peter huffed. "Let's move."
Peter drove to the car parlor where the former C.I. worked.
"Rebecca Vidal, please," he asked the woman behind the reception desk.
"Sure. Just one minute."
"She works here in..." He noted that Neal was not behind him but on his way to the cars. "…Sales," he finished and hurried after Neal before the kid suddenly had sold, stolen, or even worse: buying a car. They were all expensive sports cars, he realized. He glanced at a Ferrari that cost more than he would earn in a lifetime. But damn, they were beauties, all of them.
"Before she became a C.I., what was she into?" the kid asked.
"She was a car thief."
"Do what you know," Neal mumbled. What would a kid like Neal do if he had not been a forger? A banker?
"I'm a prospective customer," he told the kid, "Rebecca and I are going on a test drive." He would not spoil this chance, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"Maybe I should take the test drive?" the kid suggested. "Talk to her C.I. to C.I."
"You will do no such thing. You just want to drive the car." And so did he, but he could not drive one of these no other way.
The woman in the reception pointed them out for the brunette they both had seen in a photo. She was tall, exotic, and absolutely a knockout.
"Now I understand the inappropriate relationship."
"There's a reason El prefers me working with a male C.I," Peter said. It was not entirely true. She had trusted him. It was Peter himself who did not.
"All right, if the car talk gets a little detailed, I got you covered," Neal said as Rebecca approached, all smiles.
"Hi. I'm Rebecca. What can I do for you today?"
"Actually, my friend Peter has come into a modest windfall. I'm his consultant," the kid said, guiding her attention to her potential customer. Peter pointed at the Ferrari 430 Spider beside them.
"I have an '86 GTB, and I'm looking at an upgrade."
"Well, '86 is a classic, but the Spider's got 483 horsepower versus 270 in yours. Double the torque, F-trac stability, which you need at 200 miles an hour."
"How are the adjustments to Manettino controls?"
"Well, I could tell you you'd love the steering-wheel-mount shifting," she said as if she was just slightly flirting, "but nothing speaks like a test drive."
"And it comes standard with GPS?" the kid asked and Peter was baffled at the stupid question. He could at least asked about the traction control system. Rebecca chuckled politely.
"Yes. I'll go get the keys."
'86 GTB... nice touch," the kid said.
"You don't have to drive one to dream about them." And he was soon about to drive a Ferrari 430 Spider for real. "Jealous?" he asked his pet convict?
"A little, yeah."
"I think this one is faster than the Jaguar you stole."
Neal did not comment that and Rebecca returned with the keys, drove the car to the gate, and then changed places with him.
"Behave while I'm gone," he told Neal and got the car started, feeling like a kid on Christmas.
And the car was just as he had dreamt about it to be. On city streets, he could not burst away at high speed but that did not matter. He was driving a car with a V8 engine. It took sharp curves as nothing. But every dream had to come to an end. He stopped by the sidewalk, turned off the engine.
"Why are we stopping?" she asked, perplexed. He showed her his ID.
"Peter Burke, FBI." She leaned back in her seat with a sigh. "Based on that look, you know why I'm here."
"I knew it. I knew it!"
"Listen to me. I worked with Agent Franklin in the white collar division. I want to help him."
"The marshals already came by. They searched my place this morning, then went through all my stuff at work. I'm not doing this again. Take me back. Now."
"My C.I. is more than just my entrée into the criminal world," Peter tried not giving up so easily. "He's the one I turn to when I need help."
"Are you finished?"
"Yeah." He should have let Neal do this. Of course, she would react this way, not trusting an old fed like him.
"Good. Then turn the car around."
Peter did and they did not say another word to each other the whole short way back. When he stepped out he handed her the keys back.
"You better hope I find him before the marshals."
"Look, I haven't seen Agent Franklin in almost a year. He broke it off after they demoted him."
"He was a good agent."
"Whatever they're saying he did... There's no way."
If she had no clue what he did, she was awfully sure he did not do it.
"He needs to come in," Peter said. "It's the only way we can clear him."
"I told you, I don't know where he is." Peter was quite sure her voice raised a pitch when she lied. She moved to leave but he halted her.
"All right, listen, listen. If you two do make contact," he said, taking out a business card from his pocket, "let him know that I'll make him this promise... I'm willing to listen."
She studied him for a moment and then took the card.
They walked inside the car parlor.
Then Peter saw something he immediately knew Rebecca should not see: Neal sitting by one of the sales persons' computer.
He stopped her abruptly, making her turn her back to Neal.
"I know that you think I only took the car out to talk."
"Clearly you didn't take it out to drive it."
"No, but..." he stopped her from turning again. "I need an honest answer on one more thing. I've been with the bureau for 12 years. I've got perfect credit. Can I get financed on one of these?"
"You'd have better luck seizing one from a drug dealer." And nothing could stop her from turning now and see Neal rising from the desk. "Hey!"
"Hey, Rebecca. So glad you're back," Neal smiled at her. "This is Dan. He's buying the yellow Gallardo. Dan, Rebecca will take it from here. Congratulations, my friend." The kid shook hands with a man who was all smiles.
Neal left them all baffled, leaving. Had the kid sold a car? Why? Rebecca found herself quickly and Peter left before she had time to say anything else. He caught up with Neal.
"What were you thinking?" he asked and the kid handed him a paper. He unfolded it. "Her drive log from yesterday? So?"
"Three-forty-five PM she took a test drive with Claudia Weaver," Neal grinned.
"Claudia Weaver... that's one of Rebecca's aliases." Good work, kid!
"So, she took herself for an hour-and-a-half spin in a Porsche."
"Any idea where she and her alias went?"
"Luckily, the cars come equipped with a GPS tracking device."
"Just like you," Peter chuckled.
Neal watched Peter drive away with Rebecca by his side. He strolled inside again. Noted one of the sellers left his desk and logged out. The three computers were all logged out. He glanced at the manager's door. The sign said Eddy Von Mueler, and through the glass walls to his office, he could see that Eddy was out. That made things easier.
He looked around and saw an anonymous man, not that far from Mozzie, taking in the yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spider. None of the other sales guys showed any interest though they were not occupied.
He smiled and approached.
"You've been here before."
"Yeah, a few times," the man chuckled.
"What's your name?"
"Dan." The last Dan he met had been a nightmare. Neal hoped this Dan would repair the damage.
"Anyone ever offered you a test drive?"
"No. Nobody ever said hello." Idiots, Neal thought so himself. And Dan did not even seem to be surprised.
"People judge. I wish it weren't so, but people judge. By your cotton-poly blend. By your pleated khaki slacks. By your cellphone holster. But, Dan, you can wear whatever you want if you drive a Gallardo."
"But that's not why you drive one. You drive one because this car is... A transcendent experience. Hello, Dan. I'm Nick Halden," he smiled, offering his hand. "You ready for a test drive?" Dan shook his hand, agape like a fish.
"I'll get the keys."
He jogged back to the desks.
"Taking the Gallardo out," he said, searching the keys.
"He's a looker, not a buyer," a seller said behind him, sitting, drinking coffee. "When'd you start?"
"Oh, this morning. Eddy didn't tell you? Nick Halden."
They shook hands.
"Thanks. He may be a looker, but he's alive." What was the best that could happen if you approached a customer? Was it so bad to nurture someone's dream?
"Good luck," the salesman said with a sigh.
Neal walked back with the keys smiling, thinking he could steal the car right there and then. He did as Rebecca had done, drove the car to the gate and then changed places.'
"How long can I drive?" he asked. Neal figured it would be best to get back before Peter.
"If you're not made up your mind in ten minutes, another five will," he beamed.
Dan grinned back and drove the car down the street. Two minutes later he declared he loved the car. Five minutes later he said he wanted to buy it.
They drove back.
"What'd I say?" Neal said. What'd I tell you, huh?"
"I want it!" Dan grinned like a tiger. "That one!"
"Okay, have a seat. I'll get the paperwork going. Can I get you some espresso?"
"That would be great, yeah."
"Okay. Sure." He took a step to the other salesman, "Listen, uh, this is my first sale, and I promised to split it with Rebecca."
"I know, but she's out with another customer. Can you log me in on her computer?"
"Sure." The man logged him in. "Congrats."
"Thanks. Oh, um... Could you get him an espresso?" The glance he got back made him happy he was not there to stay. He had not made himself a friend. "Thanks."
He pushed a paper form across the desk to Dan.
"Fill this out, please. Here's a pen."
He glanced at what he just got access to and saw what he was looking for. He sent it to the printer just as Peter and Rebecca returned. He got eye contact with Peter who stalled her long enough for Neal to get the paper out of the printer.
"Done?" he asked Dan who nodded. He rose. "Come with me, Dan, and bring the form. Hey, Rebecca. So glad you're back," Neal smiled at her totally baffled face. "This is Dan. He's buying the yellow Gallardo. Dan, Rebecca will take it from here. Congratulations, my friend." It felt good to have nurtured a dream. Hopefully, Dan could afford it.
Neal passed them and walked out on the sidewalk, hoping Rebecca would take care of Dan. But she got the percentage, so she would.
"What were you thinking?" Peter asked behind him, catching up. Neal glanced over his shoulder making sure they were alone. He gave Peter the printout. He unfolded it. "Her drive log from yesterday? So?"
"Three-forty-five PM she took a test drive with Claudia Weaver."
"Claudia Weaver? That's one of Rebecca's aliases."
"So, she took herself for an hour-and-a-half spin in a Porsche."
"Any idea where she and her alias went?" Peter asked, grinning.
"Luckily, the cars come equipped with a GPS tracking device," so yes, he knew.
"Just like you," Peter chuckled and continued down the sidewalk.
"Just like me." A joke instead of praise. Why was he surprised?