Thanks to Fawkes Song for betaing. This story takes place after A Bit Annoying which takes place after A Bit Clueless. Hope you all enjoy.
I was dead. That was the pure, simple truth if I had to confine myself to something as trivial and inconsequential as truth, which I objected to on an existential level. Truth was irrelevant and subjective and idiotic, but the truth was I was so, so screwed.
Peter would kill me, he would kill me dead. Which, of course, in my book did not involve him standing over my limp body with a smoking gun, but something much worse. Lecturing, scolding, that disappointed look which I could not endure, and probably some kind of physical, barbarian torture. He had paddled me a few weeks ago for stealing his car and had been an absolute tyrant while I was sick, but that was all minor compared to what I had just done and what he would do to me when he found out.
Good Lord, I was in trouble. I had not done anything this awful since I had escaped from prison. I would have given anything at that moment to turn the clock back. A time machine or one of those clock-turning-back apparatuses from Harry Potter – and I could return to this morning when I was helping Peter on a new case.
He had been all hovering and mother hen since I was sick a week ago, asking how I felt and if I had taken the rest of my medicine. I assured him I had, and thankfully I made a quick recovery, or Peter would have taken my temperature in the middle of the FBI office and started spooning out medicine while Jones and Lauren looked on, smirking.
Lauren had called me the "invalid" a few times over the last few days, telling Peter not to overwork me and to make sure I had time for an afternoon nap. I ignored her for the most part and laughed off her comments, secretly hoping Peter would put an end to her snide remarks. But of course, she stopped herself just short of annoying him, and Peter gave her an indulgent smile as she criticized me and I had to grin and bear it.
"Ah, we're taking good care of him," Peter clapped a hand on my shoulder, guiding me down to a chair. "So let's break down this new case. Any evidence we can use to get a warrant?"
The new case involved some guy smuggling Italian art (presumably stolen) into the country through barges and disguised under Prada merchandise. Apparently, the FBI didn't have enough authority to bust in and just open the barges, so we were doing the warrant dance again.
"It's simple," I told Peter. "Let me do the whole tracker out of bounds trick again. I go outside my radius into the barge, and you can come after me and you'll have your evidence."
"No, that wouldn't work here," Peter frowned as he shuffled through papers. "This guy has too many goons, too many guns, and too much power. We need another plan."
The next two hours were filled with designing plans, maneuvering people into place and trying to get more information through tapped phone lines and boring stuff like that.
Peter seemed to ignore me for the most part, his only directive to me coming at lunchtime when he told me to eat up. I ate without protest; he had promised me a talk about taking care of myself better, and so far, that talk had not come. I had a brilliant argument set up with rebuttals and clauses and conclusions, but I would evade that talk as long as I could. For all his smiles and teasing and good nature, Peter can turn into a bulldozer when he thinks he's right, and I knew he would twist the argument into something horrid. He'd probably end by saying, "You got sick, I made sure you got better, hence I win."
I would not get pulled into that brainless reasoning by my own volition, so I laid low.
However, when Peter went to give his team a play-by-play detail of the raid, I looked over the blueprints for the bust. Apparently, the content of the barges had been moved to a warehouse, miraculously a warehouse barely in my two mile radius.
I blame Lauren for what I decided to do next. All that ribbing – she had to know I would react. Or Peter – I could blame him for my newfound need to please the FBI. Heck, I could blame the entire FBI for putting me in this precarious position where I had to help solve cases or I got shipped back to prison.
As I slipped out of the room with plans, I continued to think of reasons why someone else should be blamed for my sneaking away to break the case. Don't misjudge me – I like working with Peter and solving cases together, but I need a little more glory from time to time. As a forger, I didn't get to take credit for my work, but as a consultant, I could bask in the glory.
And honestly, there is something inside me that craves a little of that glory . . . a lot of that glory. I get to show up the FBI all the time – that would go to anyone's head, and I'm a brilliant artist, so none of this was my fault. I was acting upon my most basic human need for recognition and praise. Everyone wants to be a hero sometimes, and I am no exception, except I am an exception because I'm amazing at what I do.
By the time I arrived at the warehouse, I had almost convinced myself that I was Batman and invulnerable, if a little cold. I had my suit coat on, but I had left my wool overcoat in the office, on the rack next to Peter's. I snuck into the warehouse via a high broken window after climbing come crates, and as I dropped into the dark warehouse, I was certain I was Superman. (I like Batman more than Superman, though – I can't understand why the most powerful man in the world would work as an awkward journalist for a grubby paper when he could be living in a penthouse with any woman he wanted.)
The crates had been loaded into the back of the semi-trucks, and I walked quickly up a ramp into the back of one truck, pulling out a small digital camera to take some pictures. My plan was simple: I would take pictures of what was inside the truck and take them back to the Bureau. They could use my photos as incriminating evidence because I was just a consultant who stumbled upon something illegal, just like any ordinary citizen.
But then my plan hit a tiny, little snag. I was in the truck when I heard a door opening and footsteps of men coming in the warehouse. I had a feeling these men would probably shoot first, dispose of my body, and then never bother asking questions, so I quickly jumped in back of the truck, wedged between the crates.
The men were talking in Italian, so I pulled out a tiny recorder and pushed the play button. I admit it – Peter might have taught me a few small things about gathering evidence though I could have learned by myself. I recorded for several minutes, breathing softly so no one could hear me.
I would have awesome evidence – photos and conversation. Case shut and solved, thanks to one brilliant Neal Caffrey.
And then they shut the doors to the trucks.
And then they locked the doors.
They left the warehouse, and I sat in the dark, the recorder still in my hand. The dark slightly freaked me out, but I managed to fumble for my phone. The greenish light from the screen made the inside of the truck look like something from a ghost story, haunted and morose. I went to pull at the drop door of the truck. It wouldn't budge an inch.
A dilemma for certain, trapped here in the dark. Did I wait to see if the truck would leave and I could escape at a new location? That presented a problem as I had no idea when the trucks would leave (it could be days), where they would go (across the country?), and if I would have a chance to sneak away once they stopped.
The other choice was to call someone. I thought about Mozzie – surely he could figure out a way to get me out, but I hated the idea of him facing thugs with guns. Why do bad guys have to carry guns?
Elizabeth was the next person to come to mind, anything to keep from going to the obvious person I would have to call eventually. I fantasized about calling her and having her rescue me because she would know what to do against a band of art smugglers. She would perform daring feats of bravery, and I would have her back, and I would get out and get back to Peter without having him suspect a thing. This little stunt would be our secret, one we would take to our graves, because Peter would slaughter me for putting El in danger if he ever found out.
Elizabeth is a smart, savvy woman who can achieve the impossible by handling Peter, but I didn't think she could turn superhero with a phone call. And she'd tell Peter right away anyway.
Maybe Jones could come rescue me. I'd even take Lauren at this point, and I'd let her humiliate me all she liked if she just wouldn't tell Peter. I indulged myself in another fantasy where Lauren exacted her revenge by making me her sex slave and I had to do depraved, sinful things in the bedroom while Lauren wore lacy lingerie and made me lay completely naked on the bed.
And then maybe Diana would come over and join forces with Lauren.
I credited the porno that played through my head for the next few minutes to the fact that I was in a near-death scenario and terrified. I would make apologies to Kate later for my infidelity, but sometimes a man has to protect himself and that should include becoming a sex toy for two gorgeous women.
After exhausting that fantasy, I actually scrolled down on the phone to Peter's number. As I pushed it and lifted it to my ear, I half-hoped I had no reception and I would have to figure a way out by myself.
But of course, the phone rang.
"Where are you?" Peter demanded as way of greeting. "We need you here, and I made excuses for you going to get coffee, but you need to get back."
"Peter," I hated the sound of my own weak voice, "I'm – uh, in a little trouble here."
Silence and then, "Where are you?"
I swallowed hard. "In the back of a truck."
"A truck filled with stolen art. You were right about the smugglers. And I got pictures and a recorded conversation and enough ev-"
"Neal Caffrey, you tell me where you are right this second."
Peter's tone sent a rush of fear tingling over me, and I nearly dropped the phone. "I'm in a warehouse, the one you had on the maps, but I kind of got locked in the back of one of the trucks."
"Damn it, Neal," Peter hissed. I knew he was moving to where he could talk without anyone overhearing him. "Why didn't your tracker – it's in the radius, I guess. And you're supposed to be with me so it doesn't work right away. You're in the warehouse in the truck, locked in I suppose?"
"A little," I admitted.
He gave an angry huff. "Perfect, just perfect. You're in danger now. We can't bust them until the warrant comes in, and even once it does, you're in danger because once we show up they could try to destroy the cargo and kill you."
"I'll hide here," I promised.
"No good – the warrant might not come in until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? The FBI isn't known for its speed I guess."
"Neal," Peter's voice was dangerously low.
"I'm done with the derogatory remarks, I promise."
A few more huffs, and then Peter said, "This is what I want you to do. And you're going to do it, young man, or I will personally drag you back to prison and pay them to put you in solitary for a month."
Any other time I would have bristled at being called "young man" – Peter was only thirteen years older than I was. However, I replied, "Yes, sir."
"You sometimes keep a pocket knife in your overcoat pocket. Do you have it with you?"
"I don't have the overcoat with me," I confessed.
Several seconds of silence. "You went out into the cold without an overcoat?"
My heart was pounding in my ears. "Peter, please, I was coming here to get evidence to help you. I wanted this case to be solved quickly. You know how good it looks when we solve cases quickly."
"Yes, I do," he said in a tone that boded nothing good. "Any chance you have the knife in your suit coat pocket?"
"Um," I reached down to feel for it.
"I swear to God, Neal," Peter growled, "if you went out in just a shirt and a vest, I'm bringing you back here and turning you over my knee in front of the whole Bureau."
"No, no, I'm wearing that coat. I'm feeling for – yeah, I have the knife." My heart was thudding hard as I pulled it out.
"All right, I want you to take off your coat and wrap it around the tracker."
The air felt cold, but I did as he told me.
"Once you have the tracker muffled, cut the band around your leg. That's going to alert the monitors, and then we can come after you right after we give the sign. Keep the tracker muffled, hide in the back of the truck, and wait. Do not move until you hear me calling you. If you get caught by anyone else, put your hands on your head with your FBI consultant badge open and hanging from your mouth. That will make them think twice about shooting you. You do have the badge, right?"
"Yes, sir," I nodded though he couldn't see me.
"Hang up and get into place. And Neal?"
"I better find you in one whole piece or so help me, you'll be begging to go back to prison once I'm done with you."
He hung up abruptly. I went back to the far corner and knelt to cut the band off, using the light of the phone to guide my shaking hands. I hated to admit it, but my eyes were stinging. I hate it when Peter yells at me. Not just a little teasing or light scolding or even serious instruction, but full-out yelling and threatening me – I hated, hated it.
The squeal of the tracker was muffled by my coat, and I wrapped up the tracker and held it tight to my chest. Any other time, I would have thought of running. My ankle felt light and free without the tracker, but I didn't dare budge from my spot. Peter had found me twice, three times if you counted our first case together, and I knew Peter was counting that. Not a chance in the world that he wouldn't catch me again, and I knew then it would be back to prison for life.
I could do nothing but sit in the dark truck and wait.