What was Peter's first date with Elizabeth like? I have often wondered….
There was a steady, heavy pounding on Neal Caffrey's door. It was the type of knock that only a law enforcement officer would make. Neal, pausing in his scrutiny of an image of an aged manuscript, hurried to answer the summons. If he had to guess at the identity of his visitor- -Peter Burke would be the answer. Why would his mentor be visiting him this late on a work night? They had been together all day at the office struggling to identify the perpetrator of a recent theft at the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA). The RMA, in the Chelsea district of New York City, was a cultural and educational nonprofit that housed a collection of Himalayan artifacts. It was known for its comprehensive collection of paintings, sculptures and textiles.
"Okay, hold on, I'm coming," Neal called out.
He opened the door of his apartment and in rushed his partner. Peter was carrying a case of inexpensive beer, a moderately priced bottle of red wine, and his bulging office briefcase. Neal's caller thrust the wine into his hands and walked quickly over to the refrigerator.
"You don't mind if I keep these cold, do you?" Peter asked.
"Not at all," answered a caustic Neal, "feel free to come in and make yourself at home any time of the day or night." He scrutinized the bottle of wine.
Peter deliberately ignored the sarcasm. "Thanks Neal, I'll do that."
His friend took four bottles from the case and stored the rest. Peter appeared out of breath and was wearing the same disheveled suit he had on earlier in the day. Had he even gone home to have dinner with his wife Elizabeth?
"What's up, Peter? I thought you once told me there were only a certain number of hours per day you cherished my company. Now you're at my door during the TV sports hour."
Peter walked over to the bookcase and spied Neal's small chess board. He picked up a knight, gestured with it and hastily replaced it when he observed Neal's annoyed countenance. "Well, umm, I thought we could continue to brainstorm the "Stupa" heist tonight. We didn't get very far with any plausible theories today."
Earlier in the week, Peter and Neal had been assigned the task of investigating the unusual theft of an 18th century Himalayan painting titled: "Stupa. A Representation of Buddahood". The painting had disappeared several days before its scheduled exhibition premiere.
It was a baffling case with no identifiable suspects or motive. The exquisite painting, done with natural pigment on cloth, was beautiful and antiquated but hardly considered a coveted acquisition for any well-informed white collar criminal.
Neal knew Peter was irritated by their inability to progress further in the investigation, but the case was neither high profile nor on the top of Agent Hughes' priority list. No, something else had instigated his partner's appearance at his apartment tonight.
Neal removed the manuscript and papers from his table and sat down. He motioned Peter to join him.
"Did you and El have a fight?" queried an amused Caffrey.
"No!" exclaimed Peter. He paused, wearily sat down at Neal's table, and glanced around the room. "Well… she unexpectedly scheduled her catering associates to come over tonight. They're having some client issues and I," Peter hesitated, "graciously offered to let them have free use of the house." He smiled insincerely, opened his first beer and began to drink the brew.
"Elizabeth kicked you out of the house tonight," Neal surmised correctly.
"Yes," Peter conceded. "When I told her I'd go to the gym to find a pickup basketball game she suggested I come here instead. It seemed like a good idea." He shifted in his seat. "We can have a few drinks and analyze the material we have so far on the Rubin case. Maybe make some headway."
Neal smiled. His partner had nowhere to go tonight after being evicted from his home by a group of women! He didn't really mind the intrusion.
The two associates settled in at the table. Peter took the time to remove his coat and tie and open his briefcase. He removed several files of material he hoped would assist them in analyzing and dissecting the known facts of their baffling case.
Neal opened the wine Peter had generously purchased and poured himself a full glass. He politely refrained from offering his expertise on the variety chosen. Peter had bought a bottle of Castle Rock Pinot Noir for his associate. He obviously had requested a domestic wine known for quality at an affordable price. He had made some effort to find what he hoped would be acceptable to a wine connoisseur.
Sometime later as Peter finished his third beer and was starting on his fourth, knocking again was heard on Neal's door. This time the sound was muted and hesitant.
Peter looked questioningly at his partner who shrugged with uncertainty. "Maybe its June back from the movies," Neal presupposed.
"Open up, Neal," shouted a familiar voice.
Peter snorted and grimaced with distaste. He immediately took a large swig of beer. Neal smiled and proceeded to open the door to his old friend Mozzie. As the short, balding man entered the room, he spied Peter Burke lounging at the table.
"Oh," he blurted out, "you already have plans for the evening. I'll change my itinerary."
"I had asked Mozzie to stop by," Neal replied answering Peter's questioning look. "He was going to gather any scuttlebutt on the street about the missing "Stupa".
Peter waved Mozzie over to the table. "Join us. I'm anxious to hear what you found out. Hey, Neal offer the man some gin." He peered intently at Neal's buddy. "That's your preferred drink, right?"
"Sure," replied a hesitant Mozzie. Why was the suit so accommodating? How much alcohol had the nemesis agent already imbibed?
The eccentric lawbreaker slowly eased himself down in the chair next to Burke. He glanced over at Neal's boss with unease.
Neal carried over a glass and half-filled bottle of gin for his old companion. "You wouldn't have any food to go with this would you?" questioned Mozzie. "Some exquisite tidbit that June left out for you?"
"Hey, that's a great idea," added Peter. "Some food and drinks for everyone."
Mozzie became even more apprehensive. The suit wanting to bond with the infamous duo….
"I'll find something for us." Neal got up from his seat and rummaged in his kitchenette cabinet. He arranged some fruit, cheese and crackers on a platter and placed it on the table. Mozzie and Peter both reached for the food at the same time. Mozzie, awkward around the federal agent, began to quickly swig his gin.
The unconventional trio began to discuss the aspects of the RMA art theft. However, as the evening wore on the normal constraints of their relationship, usually distinct and defined, began to topple. First Peter, and then Mozzie, became somewhat inebriated. Even Neal, drinking more moderately, felt himself becoming mellow.
Mozzie turned to Peter with a quizzical look on his face. "How come you aren't home with your beautiful wife tonight?"
Peter with a warning glance at Neal replied, "She had an important engagement."
"Are you in the doghouse?" Mozzie abruptly asked.
The agent's body tensed in his chair. "Let's get this straight. My wife and I are doing fine." He leaned in toward the smaller man. "How is your love life?"
Mozzie skirted the question. "Ha… haven't you heard? Love is a temporary insanity cured by marriage."
Neal, attempting to halt any antagonism, shook his head at Mozzie. He questioned Peter, "You never told me the story about how you and Elizabeth met. Didn't it have to do with some kind of surveillance you placed on her?"
Mozzie adjusted his glasses and rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, didn't she hold up some kind of sign to get you to ask her out?"
Peter glanced in shock from one man to the other. How had they known these particulars? What had Neal told Mozzie about his private life? More disturbing- -what had El told Neal about their first date? Peter Burke was usually a very private man about personal affairs but, in his alcoholic daze, he felt a compulsion to clarify the details to these two men.
"I was sure El would turn me down if I tried to ask her out," he began.
Neal poured himself another glass of wine. He had always been curious how Elizabeth and Peter began their courtship. He had a hard time visualizing Peter sweeping El off her feet. "Why did you feel that way?" he asked with anticipation.
"Not everyone is like you," Peter remarked. "Elizabeth is an unusually beautiful woman and well… look at me," He gestured at his body. "I don't look like I stepped off the pages of some New York glamour magazine."
"I agree," cut in Mozzie.
Peter directed his gaze to Neal's odd friend. Was he being accommodating or insulting?
"Moz," Neal interrupted.
"Do you want to hear the story or not?" queried Peter with a bleary look on his face.
"Yes," exclaimed both men in unison.
Peter pulled up the memories inside him…