Exigent Circumstance

PG

Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the creation of USA's White Collar

As he threw on his clothes Peter's stomach clenched with fear so badly that he didn't even down the cold coffee remaining in the coffeemaker. He was in his car and on his cell without even a shave. "Where is he?" he asked the dispatcher. It was too early for any of his own team to be at work. She gave him Neal's movements – headed somewhere by car, fast.

Dammit. How was Caffery not hitting the traffic that Peter was mired in, despite the early hour? How could Peter have been so stupid as to trust that man? What he hadn't told Neal was how much of his reputation, performance report, and hell, career was riding on his not losing the FBI's new indentured servant. "Sir?" asked the dispatcher in a tinny voice from the phone still clenched between Peter's ear and shoulder, "He's well beyond his radius. It's time to alert the Marshal's Office."

"No, wait," Peter ordered. "Give me …" Give him what? It was ridiculous. He'd thought he knew Neal better than he did, apparently. They were going to lose the Dutchman on the 19th, and the prospect of going back to prison had panicked the man. Peter had no options and needed to shed his illusions. "Yeah, go ahead."

His light turned green and he squealed his tires pulling away, though he knew it was useless. All of midtown was between him and Neal; he might as well just go to the office and face his disgrace. "What's his position?" he asked, anyway.

"He's turned on side streets," the dispatcher said with a bemused tone. "The database is still working on the street names, but he's in the dock area. I'll alert Port Authority. He may have an escape planned by water."

"Yeah." He hated to think of another swarm of armored manpower like what he'd brought with him to Kate's apartment piling onto this particular fugitive. "Remind them he's not dangerous." He finally hit a series of green lights and was able to pick up some speed. The rising sun flashed in his eyes between buildings as he drove from shadow to shadow. Whatever he was up to, Caffery would be caught – the tracker on his leg guaranteed that – but he'd go back to prison and Peter would lose the Dutchman. His empty stomach now felt nauseous. This had been his pitch to the Bureau; he was responsible for the idea's failure. He let the phone drop into his lap.

What scheme did Caffery have ready in the dock area? They'd just been there the day before, had he set something up? Peter couldn't remember that the man was ever out of his sight. He remembered Neal's excitement when he realized they were hearing a printing press. Dammit, he'd thought Neal was on board. How could he do this?

For a moment, he allowed himself a tiny spark of hope that Caffery was actually pursuing some lead, some answer that would bag them the Dutchman. The spark faded. There was no earthly reason he wouldn't have called first. June had a phone, for Christ's sake. No, somehow Caffery had used their case as a cover for whatever he was really up to. But, the docks… the spark of hope just wouldn't die.

He punched up dispatch on the police radio. "… at the staging area," he heard in the voice of a U.S. Marshall's agent he thought he recognized. "Copy that," said Dispatch.

He broke in with his car's call numbers. Speaking to Dispatch on frequency, he would have to use police radio protocols. "Update the target's location," he said. "The target appears to be on foot," she replied, and read off an address in the warehouse district.

The address of Hagin's printing operation.

Peter's spark of hope flared. He slapped the siren on the roof of his car and grabbed the microphone. "Dispatch, hold units at the staging area until I arrive. I am designated operation commander. Can you get my team there?"Dispatch acknowledged and told him Diana was already on her way. He didn't know how Diana had heard, but Jones, he assumed, was sensibly just now rolling out of bed.

Normally his siren would be a useless formality on Manhattan streets, but at dawn it was actually effective in clearing him a path through traffic. Peter joined Diana and the FBI's midnight shift alert team. As the specialists suited up, Diana asked, "Why is he there? Is he an accomplice of Hagin's, after all?"

"An accomplice?" Peter shook his head, snapping the slide on his gun as he checked it. "I don't think so."

"Then what?"

Peter smiled what he hoped was an enigmatic smile. He'd realized that If Caffrey was doing what he thought he was doing, the prosecution would be compromised if the lead agent was in any way aware of it in advance. He dared admit nothing to his probie. She was smart; she'd figure it out on her own.

Besides, it would be less embarrassing if he was wrong.

He really hoped he wasn't wrong. But, if he was right, Neal was in danger. Hagin had killed at least once to protect his operation. Peter waved away the coffee Diana offered. His stomach still refused it.

"Listen up, people," he announced. "We're pursuing a fugitive. He's smart, but not dangerous. However, he's fled into an area where we suspect dangerous criminal activity." It was safe to admit to suspicions, he decided. "We go in full out. Be alert for any trouble; there could be some. Caffrey himself is mine. No one else approaches him, I want that understood." Helmeted heads around him nodded. "Let's roll."

Peter led a small army to Hagin's warehouse. The S.W.A.T. guys led in, but called it secure within seconds. Peter strode in, Diana close behind. He took in the books, the presses, the men being slammed against walls, Hagin with his hands up, but it was Neal he searched for. He spotted him in an office, watching the proceedings with his feet up on a fancy desk. Something painful inside him unclenched. Neal was safe, and he hadn't lost him. "This is what the law calls an exigent circumstance," Peter announced.

There was still one more concern. Had Neal done this intentionally? Peter approached the glass office and couldn't stifle a grin of relief when a cigar-smoking Neal hurried to unlock the door, his own grin of welcome answering the final question.

Peter's stomach growled. Now he could have some coffee.