It was Neal who had gone to Peter with the case. "Take a look at this," he said, tossing the glossy catalogue for a special auction on the desk.
"It's a catalogue." Peter had barely given it a second glance before his attention shifted back to the email he'd been responding to when Neal had burst in.
"Yes, thank you, Peter, I hadn't realized that," Neal said sarcastically. "Look at the bowls that are listed."
With a sigh Peter tore his gaze from the computer screen and took a better look at the items Neal pointed to. "Fifty thousand dollars for a bowl? Well, that's certainly criminal, but I don't see what you find so interesting."
"They're forgeries," Neal said, picking up the catalogue and practically waving it in Peter's face. "Kristoff's work."
Peter quickly snatched the catalogue out of Neal's hand. "How do you know they aren't the originals?"
Neal gave a wry smile, tilting his head a little, and gave a half shrug. "Well, let's just say I happen to know where the originals are located and they aren't anywhere near New York at the moment."
Peter's eyes narrowed and he raised his eyebrows. "And you just happen to know that."
"Yes." Neal calmly met Peter's gaze.
"Okay," Peter drew the word out into two long syllables. "And how do you know these have been done by Kristoff?"
"Well, that's more of an educated guess on my part. It's the era and style he's best known for focusing on."
"All right. I assume you know what you're talking about in that regard, but I have one question though. I thought it was standard for auctions like this to have in house experts appraise each item? Shouldn't they have picked up on fakes?"
Neal nodded. "Kristoff is good, but not that good. Any self-respecting appraiser should have been able to discover his heavy- handed glaze work and recognize it was a result of modern gazing materials."
"Which means the entire auction house might be involved."
"Either that or the appraiser has managed to keep them unaware of what he has been doing," Neal countered.
"True. All right, I'll bring this to Hughes and see how he wants to go this." Peter grabbed the catalogue and stood up, walked past Neal, and paused in the doorway. "Good catch on this," he said with a smile.
Neal smiled back. "Thanks."
The plan Hughes agreed to was simple. The case would be stronger if they obtained the bowls legally, so Neal, the only one in the office who looked the part of a wealthy fine arts enthusiast, had been volunteered to go to the auction to bid on the bowls. Once he'd been successful bidding, he'd go to pay and that was when Peter and the rest of his team would swoop in and make the arrest.
Or that had been the plan anyway.
Everything had been going smoothly. Neal's bid was the highest, however, when he went to the accounting room to make the payment he pushed the door open he realized he had stumbled into the middle of a robbery.
"Hands where I can see them!" a man in a ski mask yelled, turning and brandishing a gun at Neal.
Neal instantly raised his hands, calmly saying, "I hate having guns pointed at me," in the direction of the small microphone he was wearing. He took a slow step to his left, out of the doorway. "Hey, I just want to pay and go. This doesn't have anything to do with me."
"Don't move," the second robber shouted, his attention shifting from the finance manager who had been about to open the safe to Neal. The inattention had immediate consequences when, as the gun wavered, the manager jumped the robber and chaos ensued.
All Neal's microphone picked up after his comment about the guns was the sound of gunfire followed immediately by a soft "oof" and then a moan from Neal.
"Man down!" Peter shouted into his radio in the surveillance van, throwing open the door and running inside. "Man down!" He hoped it would be like the last time there had been weapons fire when Neal was involved, the time with the stolen bible, but that had been one shot and this had been several.
Peter and the other agents burst into the room with their guns drawn. "FBI! Drop your weapons!"
The first robber took one look at the mass of agents swarming in and immediately dropped his gun, but the other, the one exchanging blows with the auction house employee took the distraction as an opportunity to deliver a sharp uppercut to the man's chin, momentarily dazing him. Peter cocked his gun and when the robber looked up to see numerous weapons pointed at him his eyes grew wide and he surrendered his gun.
It took only seconds to locate Neal once the area was secure. He lying still on the floor, curled on his side, a small red pool growing under him. Peter rushed over, yelling for an ambulance. "Neal?" He fumbled for a second at Neal's neck before finding what he was looking for; a pulse, a bit weaker and faster than it should but obviously there.
"P'tr?" Neal blinked, trying, but obviously unable to focus.
"I'm here. I'm right here," he said. He shucked off his jacked and then rolled Neal onto his back and pressed the jacket up against the wound. "Hold on. Just hold on."
Neal moaned, fumbling weakly at Peter's hands to move them off of his side. "H'rts."
"I know. I know it does, but I have to try to stop the bleeding." Keeping pressure on the wound with one hand he reached over with the other, to brush the hair out of Neal's eyes. "Help on the way. You'll be fine. I promise. I won't let anything happen to you."
"I know," Neal sighed softly and his eyes slipped closed. "Trust you. Knew you'd.… Knew you'd have my back."