Neal gave a little yawn in the passenger seat as he felt the car slow to a crawl and stop. He looked out the window with a sleepy gaze and back at the driver.
"Here already? How long did I sleep?" Peter smirked at him, waving at the door.
"Long enough but you earned it. Tell June, Hi for me." Neal nodded as he removed the seat-belt and exited the car. Just before he closed the door, he peered over at his friend one more time.
"Uhm... next time, you think I could get some of that extra equipment. I thought you said I was part of the team." Peter nodded with a sleepy yawn of his own.
"I wanted to but Hughes felt it would be too obvious on your skinny frame seeing that you had to hobnob with a few people up close." Neal gave a smirk of his own back.
"Feeling the love... not. Night Peter. Tell El hi for me." Peter gave a sleepy nod as Neal shut the door and the car took off.
Neal had barely made it up to the door to June's when he noticed something not right: The door was slightly ajar. He looked at his watch: it was just a few minutes before midnight. Neal opened the door quietly and glanced around with a furtive side to side movement of his head. He closed and locked the door as he made his way over to the umbrella stand and grabbed a large wooden cane from it. He held it tight in his grip as he crept up the long hallway and into the main room. The lights were out except for one small lamp in the dining room. He could hear voices, men's voices arguing somewhere nearby. He tightened his grip on the cane when something drew his attention. He peered at the sofa at the bottom of the stairs and saw a figure lying there. He walked closer and crouched down. It was June. She was unconscious but she was unharmed, her hands tied with duct tape and a scarf around her mouth. Neal made sure she was OK before he carried her back the way he came, making his way towards the staircase.
"We'll get the old woman to tell us where her safe is. She has to have one in a place like this. Look at all this stuff! We could make a fortune on one of the stones from that chandelier alone! We hit the jackpot!" Neal felt his hackles rise at the sound of the men talking about June's things like so many trinkets. Not to say he never thought of the value of what she owned but he would never think to steal from her. She was his friend! His benefactor. She didn't deserve this and he would be sure they paid for it one way or another.
The voices were getting closer so he couldn't go upstairs as he had planned. He remembered something and made his way over to a small alcove along the entrance. He turned the light fixture clockwise and suddenly the wall slid open. Neal carried June into the hidden room and stepped on one of the floor tiles till he heard the wall behind him close again with a soft click.
It had been mere accident Neal had found this room while exploring June's house one afternoon. It had been one of those stormy New York days that kept you from going outside and Peter hadn't called him in for any consulting gigs, so Neal did what he could to keep his mind occupied. He had found the light fixture on the wall of the alcove intriguing because he had only seen it's like once while in Europe. He had reached to touch it and it moved! The wall slid aside and suddenly there was this hidden salon.
Neal had looked around to see if anyone had seen him, but June was busy in the kitchen and the housekeeper was off for the day. Of course he went in and explored a room beyond words with a stylish collection of furniture and a small pool table. As he stepped forward to explore the room he felt the slightest give to one floor tile as he stepped on it and the wall behind him closed as if the entrance had never been there. He gawked in fascination and smiled. Tricky of June to have a room like this in the house. He wondered if it had been an invention of her late husband's or something left here by former owners. Perhaps this had once been a speak easy. It did have a nice little bar in the corner so perhaps this was one of the homes he had only read about in books.
Neal had never told June he found the room more out of respect than anything. He didn't want her to think he was a snoop and it hadn't occurred to him that it was much of anything at the time. Now he was glad he had found the hidden space as he gently placed the sleeping woman on a nearby sofa. She had been drugged he suspected, possibly chloroform since he could smell something like it on the scarf around her mouth. He removed the scarf and found a letter opener on a small desk in the corner which he used to cut the duct tape loose from her wrists. He took his long wool coat off and lay it over her warmly, pushing a small cushion under her head to make her comfortable. He smiled at her but his smile hid his worry over how to deal with the people outside. He turned from her when he heard voices nearby.
"I swear I heard someone in here and now she's gone! She couldn't have gone far in her condition." Neal held his breath but it didn't help as he heard June make a sound.
"I don't have anything... leave me alone..." Her voice was soft but it was loud enough for the men outside to hear it through the walls. Neal crouched beside her, talking softly.
"June... it's Neal. It's ok. You're safe. Relax." She was barely conscious so he didn't know if she heard him as she continued to talk in her delirium. Neal heard a click and the sound of the wall panel opening up. He stood and turned with the only weapons he had, the letter opener and the cane, his body blocking June from harm.
"So this is where our mark went... and you would be?" The man wasn't too much older than Neal, just slightly shorter with dirty blond hair and pale skin. He wore a beat up denim jacket over a dirty gray sweatshirt and torn jeans. His friend didn't look too much different only with dark hair, nearly black with blue highlights. The blond man held a gun in his hands, the sound of it cocking as the figure stepped into the room and stared straight at Neal. Luckily or maybe not so luckily, the criminal stepped on the right tile sealing himself and Neal off from the other man. Atleast it would be one on one rather than two on one. Still, what could he do with a wooden cane and a letter opener against a pistol? Neal had to think fast.
"I was about to ask you the same thing. If she's anyone's mark, she's mine. I found her first and I claim rights to anything in this place." Neal stared coldly at the other man, smiling as menacingly as he thought he could. The other man blinked a moment but kept the gun on him.
"Your... mark? How do you come to that conclusion, Mr..." Neal arched a brow up and smirked. "Caffrey. I'm living here. I didn't have to break in." He pulled out a small key from his pocket and held it up briefly.
"The smartest way to get to a mark is trust. Anyone lacking imagination can break in and use a gun." He clucked his tongue at the other man in a condescending manner.
"Beating up on an old woman. You should be ashamed of yourself." He saw the blond man bristle, gun trembling in his hand.
"So you're saying that you made friends with her and she just let you stay here? How did that happen?" He didn't put the gun down but he seemed fascinated by Neal's attitude so the con continued to talk, hoping to stall getting shot a while longer.
"Well, I was like you. I had nowhere to go, just out of prison and she was at the one place I could afford to be. We talked and here I am." the man looked at Neal and smiled.
"An ex-con. Interesting. Yeah... me and my buddy got out a few weeks ago, if you know what I mean." He seemed to be indicating they had escaped and that's when Neal noticed what was left of a handcuff hanging under the man's jacket. He nodded with a smile, trying to hide that he noticed anything.
"Well, now that we understand one another, why don't we go outside and talk. Maybe I can help you with something while she sleeps and get you on your way." The blond man nodded, uncocking the gun and pushing it into his pocket.
"Yes, but be warned, any funny business and you'll be the first casualty." Neal smiled despite himself and nodded.
"Sure just give me a moment here." The man nodded and turned to the wall looking confused.
"Third tile by the door." The man nodded, stepped on it and the wall opened up revealing his confused partner, gun drawn. The man walked out and started speaking quietly with the man as the door closed again. Neal drew in a sigh of relief, pulling out his cell and texting Peter as quietly as he could. It had only been 10 minutes or so since all of this had happened and he figured the Fed was barely home and getting into the door. He sent out an SOS and hoped it would reach Peter. He had barely finished sending the text when he heard the door panel open again and hid his phone in his jacket pocket.
"I think she's going to be asleep for a while. You said we were going to speak business. Come on outside." Neal nodded to the blond man with a smile and made his way to the exit as confidently as he could. He stepped on the tile and stepped through quickly as the door panel closed once again.
"Caffrey... This is my associate, Jared and I'm Conner. We were in for a bit of rough housing at a bank. One of the guards got cocky and tried to stop us from stealing the cash so we had to kill him. What were you in for?"
Neal tried not to make it obvious that he was scared and gave a smug grin.
"Treasury and bonds. Would have gotten away but for one guard. I shot him but he got one off on my leg. Still hurts when the weather's bad." Conner laughed.
"High stakes. I'm guessing you're a gambling man?" Neal nodded with a modest grin.
"Always. Played in Monaco and beat the house." He saw Jared smile.
"I've heard good things about Monaco but never could get there." Conner turned and hit the man on the side of the head with his palm.
"Quiet! So Caffrey, what do you think we can do to start our partnership. I think $5000 ought to do it."
Neal arched a brow at the man.
"You think she keeps money in here? I can do better than that." He looked down at his wrist, remembering the watch Peter gave him.
"This is a one of a kind. Pawn this and you'll have more than enough to get by till the next fix." It was a GPS watch so atleast they'd have no problems finding them. His anklet was back on and hidden under his pant leg for now so he didn't need the watch which Peter had forgotten to take from him as he left the car. Neal made as if he was demoing the watch, pushing the buttons till he knew it was operational.
"Just keep it hidden. It's an expensive watch. Wouldn't want you to get mugged for it on your way to pawn it." Conner smirked at him, pointing at his pocket.
"Not with this little item in my reach. Thanks." Neal smiled, handing the item over to the con just as they heard sirens outside.
"What the hell? I don't remember tripping an alarm system!" Conner turned to Jared, gun out and pointed at the door. He turned to Neal.
"Does this place have an alarm?" Neal shrugged.
"I have a key so I haven't had to break in." The two cons looked at Neal, who's back was against the hidden panel at then back at the door.
"Maybe we should hide in there with the old lady. They won't find us there, well have a hostage too. You'll be OK out here since you live here." Neal shook his head.
"They'd wondered where she is and if I don't know, well they'd think I was a suspect with my record. Go out the back and I'll keep them busy." Conner nodded, pulling his buddy towards the kitchen with a wink to Neal as they vanished.
Neal slipped down to the floor, his back to the hidden panel as he tried to calm his jangled nerves. He heard a knocking at the front door and then Peter's voice. He stood up and walked to the front door, unlocking it with a relieved sigh. The Fed had his gun out and was looking around, his free hand on Neal's shoulder.
"You ok? June?" Neal nodded and the Fed looked relieved.
"Good. Where are they?" Neal pointed towards the kitchen but stopped Peter from going forward.
"They went out the back. I gave them the GPS watch as collateral. They thought it was a Rolex or something and I was their friend. Only way to get them not to shoot me was to tell them I was a con and using my charms on June." Peter blinked at the young man with a slight grin but nodded.
"Must have sounded pretty believable if they didn't shoot you. Where's June?" Neal led the agent to the hidden panel and opened it up. Peter gave a whistle of appreciation.
"Nice. Now I know where to find you if you go missing." Neal smirked humorlessly, walking inside and warned Peter of the third tile. June was semi-conscious by now and she looked at the two men with a thankful glance. She hugged Neal to her and he held her gently.
"Are they gone?" Her voice sounded frightened as Neal remained close.
"I got rid of them." She nodded to the young man and looked up at Peter.
"We're going to find them, June. Neal gave them our fake watch so they should be trackable."
Peter stepped back out into the main foyer, motioning for Neal to follow but June caught the young man's arm in hers and pulled him close whispering just loud enough for him to hear.
"I didn't believe anything you told them." Neal blinked, looking down at her as she lay back on the sofa. So she had heard what he said to her assailants? His face flushed red in guilt as his conscience got the better of him. He had hoped she had been unconscious but apparently she wasn't. He gave a heavy sigh and she patted his hand.
"Neal... you did what you had to do. Thank you." He nodded, his face still red with guilt as he saw Peter motion to him again and she let go with a thankful smile. He shuffled over to the agent looking a bit worse for wear.
"What's wrong with you?" Peter noticed the young man's look as he motioned him over to the sofa in the main room and sat him down. Neal shook his head, eyes lowered.
"June heard everything." Peter blinked then made a "oooh" kind of look.
"She heard you talking to the other criminals. What did she say?" He seemed genuinely sorry for the young man's chagrin.
"She said she knew I said those things because I had to. And that's the truth... but I had hoped she wouldn't hear it." The young man squirmed in his seat looking more uncomfortable than the agent had seen him in a while. Peter patted him on the shoulder gently.
"Sometimes you have to say things in order to get out of a sticky situation. I'm sorry she heard those words but you did it for a good reason. You prevented yourself and possibly June from being hurt. You did good." Neal turned and looked at his friend with a devastated look.
"I guess... uhm, you're going to ask me for their descriptions?" Peter nodded, pulling out a small pad and pen and taking notes as Caffrey told him about the two men, how he came in and found the place and their names.