By J. Rosemary Moss
The kid looked shell-shocked--that's the best way Peter could describe it.
It wasn't just the glaring orange prison suit that had replaced his customary elegant attire. It wasn't even the handcuffs that bound his wrists behind his back, in deference to his talent for sleight of hand. Nor was it the ankle cuffs to keep him from running.
No, it was the dazed, uncomprehending look in his eyes. It was the same look he'd been wearing since the judge pronounced his sentence.
He was out of the courtroom now. Guards were watching over him in a small room to the side while they waited for his transport. Peter stared at him from the door. The kid didn't seem to notice him.
Four years--that must seem like an eternity to Caffrey. The kid deserved it, but somehow Peter couldn't take much satisfaction from the sentence. Funny, he should be thrilled. He'd spent years playing cat and mouse with this brilliant forger and con artist, finally proving some fake bonds were his handiwork. It should be a relief to know the kid would have a good long time to think about his crimes.
But Peter knew Neal Caffrey now. He knew that there was no real malice in him, only an adolescent desire to show off by conning pretentious marks and outwitting the authorities.
Peter sighed. Neal needed a swift kick in the ass more than a prison sentence. He almost wished he could take the kid home, put him over his knee and then ground him for a month instead of locking him up with hardened criminals. But he didn't have that option. Caffrey would have to serve his time.
One of the guards was staring at Peter with a questioning look. Peter peered down at the cup of water in his hand and then dismissed both guards with a nod. Then he took a seat next to Caffrey, who finally seemed to notice him.
"Here," Peter said, holding the cup to his lips. "Drink this down."
The kid stared at him for a moment, his blue eyes uncertain, but then obeyed him. "Thank you," he said as he finished. Neal Caffrey was invariably polite.
"So," Peter said, setting the cup aside. "Four years."
"Yeah," Neal agreed. "It sounds like--sounds like a long time."
"It would've been longer if I could have proven the money laundering--not to mention all the art fraud."
Caffrey managed a smile. "Alleged money laundering and alleged art fraud."
Peter smiled back. "Yeah. Alleged."
There was a long moment of silence before Neal spoke up again. "Will you miss the game?"
The blue eyes were sparkling now. "Admit it; I was a challenge."
"You were," Peter said slowly. "But it was never a game, Neal. Games don't end with bankrupt victims. Games don't end with one player behind bars."
The kid paled. "Touché."
Peter paused for a moment, then looked Neal in the eye. "You're going to be ok--just stay on your best behavior. Keep your head down. Don't go looking for attention. Don't run your mouth off. Don't try anything stupid. Just do your time without any shenanigans."
"Shenanigans?" Neal asked, raising his eyebrows.
Peter ignored that. "You're too damn bright and too damn talented to rot in prison. Don't give the courts any reason to extend your sentence. And when you get out--"
"I know--find myself a real job in the art world, right?"
Neal apparently couldn't help himself--he cocked his head at Peter and gave him a mock-devoted look. "Any more words of wisdom, Dad?"
Peter shrugged. "You'd have been better off if I had raised you."
That drew a smile from the kid--a genuine smile, as far as Peter could tell. "That's probably true," he owned.
One of the guards stuck his head in just then to indicate they were ready to transport the prisoner. That wasn't lost on Neal.
"Guess this is goodbye," he said.
"Looks like," Peter agreed as he helped Neal to his feet. "Take care of yourself, kid. I want to hear good reports about you."
Neal smiled again--a smile that was part mocking and part pleading. "If I behave, will you buy me a drink four years from now?"
Peter nodded. "Consider it a date."
He stood back to allow the guards to take charge of Caffrey. He meant to turn around and walk away--but he followed them out instead and watched them load the kid into the van.
Peter sighed. He wanted to look forward to that drink four years from now, but he didn't really think the kid would take his advice and stay out of trouble. Neal Caffrey was brilliant--but common sense had never been his strong point.