I promised at the end of "Snowball Fights" (my other fic.) that I'd write a multi-chapter story and have it completed before I posted chapter 1. Well, its here!
Chapter 1 Artistic Surprises
Neal pulled his overcoat off and smiled at the storm clouds outside. He ran his fingers through his slightly damp hair and grinned when he saw Peter's scowl. While Neal always came to work prepared for the worst, Peter had decided the chances of rain were too slight to bother bringing rain gear.
Peter initially scoffed when Neal had jumped into his car thirty minutes before, decked out for all kinds of weather. But within fifteen minutes the light gray clouds had burst and Peter was looking at a mile walk in the rain, with no umbrella, hat, or coat.
Silently, but with a small smile, Neal had handed his umbrella to Peter and pulled his hat down and his long coat tight around him before getting out of the car. The walk down the street to the FBI headquarters didn't seem too long since Neal shared his gear.
Now they were in the lobby, and Peter muttered a quiet thanks before turning to the elevator.
"So, what are the plans today? Heists, cons, or...more cold cases?" Neal shook his coat slightly and water sprayed the two of them.
"Hughes called me last night, it looks like we have a case. A private owner had his prized painting stolen. Its never been appraised, so we don't know the market value, but the insurance policy is quite substantial." Peter hit the button to the fifteenth floor, White Collar Division, and they waited until the doors closed.
"So we're looking at an inside job?" Neal opened the tiny notebook he always kept with him and flipped to the middle of it. Peter leaned over his shoulder and read some of his notes.
"I swear, if I find out you're taking notes for your own cons, I'll have you locked in the record room for a week."
Neal laughed. The elevator dinged as it slowly passed each floor, they just made it past the sixth. "Not at all. These are old notes I took...for fun....a few years ago. Mozzie brought them for me." Neal turned the notebook so Peter could read it.
Ins. P. (?), m. s, one way: M-F, S/-Su, Picasso.
"You kept record of all your heists? Let me see that." Peter pulled Neal's notebook out of his hands and started flipping through it.
"Yeah right. You think I'd be dumb enough to bring a book like that to the FBI?" Neal waited patiently as Peter flipped to the first page of the notebook. "Those are notes on how heists would be done. Like, note cards....so the details would come back when I read the general words. Its just a trick so I don't have to worry about forgetting anything."
Peter grumbled. "Everything's abbreviated. How am I supposed to read any of this?"
"You are not supposed to read it." Neal took the notebook back and flipped to the page he had originally turned to. "See here? 'Ins. P. (?)' means insurance policy, 'm. s. means minimal security, 'one way' means owners away. So here, I would look first look at how much the owners received for insurance if the painting was stolen, then I looked to the security system to determine whether a theft were possible, and then I checked to see if they were away Monday through Friday, ever Saturday, and its generally a given that if there is a family they'll be around Sunday."
"You keep notes on that? It seems so simple." Peter shook his head and rolled his eyes.
Grinning, Neal explained, "Its the order that's important. For a museum..." Neal turned to the third page and let Peter look at it while he quoted from memory, "...first the security system, from there look to hours of operation, public financial information, than insurance policies."
"The order's important?"
"Only if you don't want to get caught after. Every operation has priorities, and if you get those mixed up, you get caught. I'm talking hypothetically, of course."
Peter grunted. "Well, I guess I hired you for those hypotheticals anyway. So you're refreshing up?" Neal nodded but couldn't hold back his grin when the elevator opened.
"When I work a case here, I've learned to look for clues with the same direction. So starting with the insurance policy: was there one?"
Peter nodded, "There's three million riding on this painting, but we're already looking into an inside job. The family's financial records are clean and stable, and the owners have millions. So if its an inside job, the reason won't be as clear."
"Inside job theory is out on my books, then. There are other obscure reasons for wanting a painting stolen, but if the owners risk more by getting caught for insurance fraud than they might benefit from the policy, they probably won't have it done. Simple balancing test."
"All right, I'll put some interns on looking at the inside job theory, and we'll leave it at that. So the next item on your list is the security system?"
"Good memory." Neal laid his rain gear across the desk he had taken over a few weeks earlier. One day, after Peter and Neal had an argument, Neal had moved his few possessions downstairs to the main area. The partners felt like an old married couple for days after that, trying to make up, but Neal found himself liking the open space and lots of company and stayed there even after they started talking to each other again.
"But if they have more than a few million dollars, its a given that their security system is above standard. If not, we're looking at an inside job again, with one of the more obscure reasons. That should make the case more interesting." Neal smiled while Peter poured some coffee for the two.
"I'll have Jones look into it. Sounds like this case is getting more complicated."
"Not at all. Only if its an inside job. We're still looking at a straight forward theft. So next issue, when are the owners home?"
"They work pretty long hours, but there's always staff around the mansion. They had five staff hired on in the last four months. The owners had background checks done on all of them, everything is clean."
"But they won't be 'loyal' employees yet. If they were paid enough, they'd be happy enough to provide schedules on the staff and owners. Which leaves us to the last question: who's the artist?"
"Why does that matter?" Peter unlocked his office door and they stepped in. Neal noticed the conference room next door held several people, including Hughes who was standing by a whiteboard.
"I want to know if I've heard of him or her. You say the painting hasn't been appraised, but is insured for three million, and—excluding an outside job—that means somebody must have reason to want the painting enough to steal it. So the artist is either long dead, recently dead, or well-known." Neal sat in Peter's extra chair and leaned back.
"The name is Jean Paul Rinolli." Peter answered as he turned to his computer, and without looking at Neal, he went on. "We don't know much about him, except that he's the youngest child of the family. The oldest brother is the one who owns the painting, and he says there are only ten of them out. Eight of those are owned by the family."
When Neal didn't say anything, Peter looked up and started. Neal looked like a statue, completely frozen. Neal's eyes were stuck wide and his left hand rested his mouth.
"Neal? Are you all right?" Peter quickly got up and moved to Neal's side, noting that Neal's breathing was the only thing that suggested he was really alive. The breathing grew harsher as the seconds rolled by.
Peter immediately connected the dots. Neal must have some connection to the artist, and the fear of being caught, now, for a previous crime must have overpowered him.
"Its all right. If you admit to everything now, the family may not even press charges." Peter grimaced when Neal didn't move. "Did you steal the painting already, Neal? I know how you like to leave forgeries in place, and sometimes owners don't find out about their loss for years."
Neal's hand moved down and he shifted in his chair. "Are they here?"
"Just the brother. Look, it might be a good thing if the new thief took your forgery, rather than the real painting. All we have to do is get the real painting back, catch the second thief, and we'll make amends real fast." Peter rubbed Neal's forearm lightly, since he still looked overly distressed.
"What are you talking about?" Neal gave Peter a confused look and Peter hid his disappointment. So Neal wouldn't admit to the crime, meaning that when they got the forged painting back and attempted to verify it, Neal would get caught anyways.
It would be so much easier if Neal just admitted to his guilt.
"You made that painting, didn't you?" The distressed look returned to Neal's face and he shuddered, then turned to look out the windows to the rest of White Collar division.
"How do you know that?"
"Educated guess." Relief flooded Peter, because it looked like Neal was confessing, for perhaps the first time in his life.
"Where's Anthony?" Neal stood slowly and glanced in the direction of the conference rooms.
"Who?" The strange twists were starting to grate on Peter, he felt like he was two steps behind in this conversation.
"The oldest brother, you say he's here?"
"Oh, conference room." Peter took Neal by the elbow and began lightly tugging him toward the adjoining door. He took the fact that Neal knew the name of the oldest brother as confirmation of the heist. "Come on, Hughes told me to come in after I've briefed you on the case. I didn't realize you'd be the original culprit, but we might as well get this done with.
Neal dragged his heals but Peter just gripped him tight enough to bruise and pulled harder. "Peter, you don't understand, its not like that at all."
"Then explain yourself to everyone in there." Peter switched his grip to his left hand and opened the door with his right. Neal immediately quieted and began shaking his head at Peter violently, eyes so wide Peter almost felt sorry.
Peter pulled and Neal came without struggle, not wanting to be seen as fighting with Peter at this point.
The moment Neal walked inside he immediately searched the faces for one that would be too familiar. His stomach clenched as he passed over Hughes's confused face and covered the rest of the room until he made it to the person sitting only three feet away.
Anthony's face mirrored Neal's in shock, but there was something more that Peter immediately realized. While Neal seemed more than a little afraid, unable to hide it with his usual charm, Anthony expressed traces of joy and longing.
"Hello Anthony." Neal spoke barely above a whisper and Peter immediately rested his hand on Neal's shoulder blade. Offering the little comfort he could, Neal would have to work the rest out on his own.
Anthony Rinolli stood up slowly and closed the small distance in two steps. He reached to Neal and, ignoring Neal's flinch, pulled him into a tight hug.
"Jean Paul? Oh god, its Jean Paul."
A/N: So, I want to get some reviews in between chapters. I don't want to post them all at once, and not here anything about them. Plus, I might be changing the chapters up a little bit depending on the season finale.
I figure, I'll immediately update after ten reviews, or I'll wait a week before posting my next chapter. That way, my readers will decide the pace of the chapter updates!
P.S. I totally think Jones is going to die in the season finale. Is that paranoid, pitiful, or totally sad? Its just my theory, but I'm dreading the season finale because I really don't want it to happen. Pray that I'm wrong!