Chapter 4

The car ride back to the Manhattan office was more relaxed than the earlier trip. Hughes and Caffrey were more comfortable together. They had begun to undergo a progressive acceptance of their different temperaments. Neither man was so adamant about the preconceived faults they held about each other.

Hughes broke the silence. He turned toward Neal. "You're view on life is to always see the glass half full. What's that like?" he gruffly inquired. "Why do you portray only the upbeat persona?" His eyes shifted back and forth from the road to Neal.

Turning in surprise to address Hughes, Neal muttered, "I try to focus on the positive." He continued more strongly, "Humor is also a way of saying something serious. Is that wrong in your eyes?" He shrugged his shoulders and continued, "Have you heard the saying 'some people always grumble because roses have thorns, I am thankful that thorns have roses.'" Neal signed and sank heavily into his seat. "That's how I want to deal with life."

Reese was amazed that Caffrey had shared a bit of himself with him. He continued to drive for several minutes lost in thought. His hands tightened on the wheel and he made the decision to be more candid himself.

"You do realize what Burke has invested in you, Caffrey." Hughes exclaimed, leaning in toward the ex-felon.

For some reason Neal did not feel threatened.

"Peter? What do you mean?" questioned Neal. He looked perplexed and focused on Hughes' face.

"My lead agent has put his career on the line for you. Everything he has worked for up to this point, his solid reputation, how he is viewed by the top brass, could be brought down like a house of cards. By you. All you need to do is return to your old ways," he quietly stated.

Neal responded with resignation, "You don't trust me."

"No, I don't trust you," the senior agent replied honestly. "Should I?"

Neal didn't answer the question. He shifted in his seat and scanned the outdoor scene from his window. Turning back to Hughes, he protested, "I would never hurt Peter. He's my partner. I owe him a great deal." He's my friend… he mentally added to himself.

"You wouldn't hurt him directly, no, not intentionally. But if a crucial, substantial goal was in reach what then?"

Kate! What if he had to choose between Peter's trust and finding Kate? Neal was suddenly hit with uncertainty. He really didn't want to examine that option. No, he wouldn't go there yet….

Hughes glanced at the conman turned consultant. He perceived his apprehensive thoughts.

"Neal," he continued with hesitation, "let me tell you about someone named Bobby Rizzo. Maybe this is some of the source of my apprehension about you. I've never told anyone, except my late wife, this story..."

It was near closing time. Neal was reclining in his seat in Hughes' office stacking files. He was finishing up some paperwork from the Wilsons' visit. The next few days would be quite intense. Case files in the hundreds to review and compile. Statistics to collect, bank documents to examine. He felt weary contemplating all the work. This scam would be an ongoing agency project. Right now they were in the beginning stages. It would eventually be farmed out to hundreds of agents in different locations.

Neal's focus was on helping people like the Wilsons get some of their money back. It would involve seizures, and forfeitures of money and assets the scam artists had collected. Hughes felt it was possible that, with a huge effort from an investigative team, comprised of many field offices, millions in restitution would be repaid.

Agent Hughes returned to his room. He glanced at Neal and gestured to the outside. "Our agents are returning from the Long Island office," he stated with a mischievous expression. He knew how much Caffrey and Burke enjoyed goading each other.

Neal was startled! He straightened up and observed the unit's boss. After such a long day of arduous work and personal disclosure, was Hughes giving him permission to put one over on Peter? Was it possible?

His face lit up and his blue eyes brightened. He decided to go for it.

Hughes sat down at the table across from Caffrey. Both men put their feet up on the table as they heard voices come down the hall. Neal spied Peter heading straight toward them. He was walking quickly and Neal knew he would be anxious to find out how the day had progressed for his partner.

This should be good, thought Neal.

As Peter hesitated at the doorway, knocked and entered, Neal leaned back and yawned. He turned to Agent Hughes with a companionable expression and said, "Well, I think that is a good idea! We'll start off tomorrow morning with cappuccinos and croissants from Delmonico's and have lunch together at that Italian café down the street."

"Sounds good, Neal," replied Peter's boss. "I'm looking forward to it."

Neal was overjoyed with the expression on Peter Burke's face. His partner's mouth dropped open. His gaze returned to the doorway as if to verify the location he just entered. Burke did a double take of the two men in the room. Neal had seldom seen him so bewildered.

Priceless, thought Neal. Some things money can't buy…………………