"Why can't we fly?" asked Neal petulantly, his passenger side car seat pushed back, his size 10 feet - bare in their soft brown leather loafers, crossed - propped up on the richly textured grey dashboard of the cobalt blue Taurus, the lime green light of his tracking anklet flashing…flashing…flashing.
"Neal, we're only going 30 miles," answered Peter, Caffrey's FBI handler, jailer and - incongruently - friend. Glancing quickly behind him at the toll booth they just passed through, the agent brought his eyes forward again to peer through the windshield. These new Fords practically drove themselves, yet even off duty he couldn't break his habit of keeping track of what was around him at all times. Probably a habit he would carry with him into the nursing home, thought Burke ruefully.
"Why am I here again?" groused Neal, breaking into Burke's morose thoughts. "It's my day off." His alarmingly blue eyes surveyed the landscape languidly. Boxey city blocks were turning into velvety green hills pushing out of dark purple valleys as they sped out of New York City. The fingers on his left hand drummed an erratic beat on the armrest between them.
"Elizabeth is working today," Peter repeated for the third time that morning. "As for days off – you don't get them. Besides, I like tormenting you."
"Obviously. Where are we going again?"
Burke sighed. Not for the first time Peter wondered if Neal was going through a delayed adolescence. Or was he himself becoming irritable in his middle age?
"We're going to visit my brother, today is his 45th birthday," Peter repeated yet again, wondering how often he would have to say it before they arrived at their destination in a half hour.
"Right!" exclaimed Neal, which was exactly what he said the first time Peter had repeated it to him barely an hour ago. Turning his head to survey the backseat, he announced, "I am hungry. Where are the snacks?"
Burke was beginning to wonder who was tormenting whom on this trip. "Neal, I took you out to breakfast before we left. You can't be hungry already."
"Yet, oddly I am," answered Neal with a grin. "Haven't you ever gone on a road trip? You're supposed to stock up on snacks, drinks, magazines, music, and…"
"It's not a road trip, Neal. I told you that before."
"We're on a road. It's a trip. Road trip!" insisted the younger man, grinning. "Will we be there soon?"
"I need to go the bathroom."
Burke glanced over at his CI in amazement. "You're kidding me!"
"No, I need to go."
"We've barely been on the road 15 minutes, Neal."
"I had three cups of coffee back at the restaurant. You didn't tell me we would be leaving civilization. Please, Peter. I NEED to go."
"Fine! Fine!" Burke snapped, beginning to think that he and Elizabeth had indeed made a good decision to not have children.
Peter pulled the Taurus over to the side of the road where it kicked up chalky dust and pebbles before rolling to a stop next to a clump of dying trees and assorted weeds.
"Why are we stopping?" asked Neal, turning to Peter in surprise.
"You said you had to go…," Peter gestured impatiently toward the trees.
"Here?" protested Neal, disbelief playing across his fine features. He looked over in distaste at the small clump of pseudo-greenery, traffic whizzing by a few feet away.
"Where did you think we were stopping?"
"At a gas station, a restaurant, a place that has…facilities."
"Neal, this is all the 'facilities' you're getting. Go here – don't go – whatever. Just make up your mind so we can get back on the road. I want to be there by visi….er, I want to be there by ten-thirty."
"Visi….visiting hours?" Neal looked at Peter suspiciously. "Where are we going where there are 'visiting hours'"?
"Are you getting out or not?" demanded Peter, ignoring Neal's question while reaching to turn on the car again.
"Alright!" snapped Neal. "Just wait." He jumped out of the car and ran into the clump of trees. Peter pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, hoping to see a text message from Elizabeth. There was nothing.
The car door slammed shut as Neal leapt back in a few minutes later. "I think I saw a rattlesnake back there," the young man reported accusingly, his blue eyes wide with indignation. He looked back through the window apprehensively.
"You do know we're in New York, right?" laughed Peter.
"There are rattlesnakes in New York," countered Neal, defensively. "Where exactly does your brother live, again?" asked Neal wishing he had bothered listening to Peter earlier. He still had too much of the con artist in him not to pay attention to the vague uneasy feeling that was growing in the pit of his stomach.
"You'll see," Burke answered mysteriously.
Fifteen minutes later, Neal read aloud a road sign passing that said, "Village of Ossining - 5 miles".
"Your brother lives in Ossining?" asked Neal with growing anxiety.
"More or less," answered the FBI agent evasively.
"Do you actually have a brother?" Neal suddenly demanded, suspiciously. "You've never talked about a brother."
"I haven't?" replied Peter innocently.
"In fact, I've never seen a picture of a brother in your house," remembered Neal outloud.
"That's true," admitted Burke, nodding his head. There were no pictures of a brother in his home.
"If there's no brother, then what's going on?" asked Neal, his face blanching to an alarming shade of concrete gray when they rounded a turn in the road. The famed prison of Sing Sing suddenly came into view with its turrets and watch towers, it's castle-like concrete walls and miles of razor wire. Neal's fingers impulsively went to the passenger door and he grabbed the handle as an overpowering desire to GET OUT OF THE CAR THIS VERY SECOND engulfed him. But the passenger side door with it's child-proof lock would not budge and Neal felt a rising sense of panic which made his skin crawl and sweat break out in the palm of his hands.
Peter was too busy navigating the tricky exit from the expressway to answer his paroled con artist and when he finally glanced at his friend, he gasped with alarm, "Neal! What's wrong with you?" and then barked, "Open the window - NOT in the car!"
"Listen, Peter!" begged Neal, his damp hands clenching the armrests. "I know the last case didn't go all that well. But I told you I'm not into the whole Hell's Angels thing, I didn't know anything about them. I'll do better next time…"
"Neal, stop blabbering. Breathe. Breathe." Peter had expected to have some fun at Neal's expense today but he hadn't planned on throwing him into cardiac arrest. "I am not leaving you here, Caffrey."
The younger man, hand on his heaving chest, eyes focused on the dreaded prison ahead, looming bigger by the moment, managed to pant out between gasps, "Then what…?"
"It's my brother's 45th birthday today, remember?"
"Your brother works for Corrections?" asked Neal, color slowly returning to his face, beads of moisture on his forehead glistening in the sun shining through the car window.
"You could say that," replied Peter with a wry smile but if Neal had looked over he would have seen Burke's brown eyes grow hard as he scrutinized the fabled prison and a tightness to his lips appeared that might have alarmed Caffrey even further. For a brief moment a bleak look of emptiness washed over Burke's face, an expression which Neal would never have seen before. But it was gone in a flash and by time Neal glanced over at his friend, the agent's familiar face was reflecting only slight bemusement.
An hour later, Neal realized that had he given it any prior thought, he would have taken for granted that an FBI agent at Peter's level would have some clout at a state prison and thus an easy time getting into it but such was apparently not the case. Both he and Peter were forced through the same slow agonizing process as the other visitors standing in line and by time it was over, Neal felt like he was in one of his own recurring prison nightmares. He had not been patted down so expertly in nearly a year and he discovered he was no longer accustomed to the intrusion of unfamiliar hands on his body without his permission. He had to empty his pockets and leave all his personal possessions behind, in a worn brown manila envelope, at the main station where the uniformed guards checked his ID, pushed him through a metal detector, and stamped the back of his left hand with indelible ink. Lord knew when it would come off, he thought worriedly, casting a dour look at the black mark. By time he stumbled out into the prison side of the walls, his legs were trembling so much he had to steady himself by reaching out to a hewed rock cemented in the wall nearby. Peter seemed to take it all in stride as though visiting Sing Sing was a daily occurrence. Finally they were through the gauntlet and pointed up a hill to a tall building surrounded by a wall on top of which were further layers of razor wire. Neal unconsciously stayed to the right of the yellow line going up the hill until he noticed Peter looking at him oddly and then tried to nonchalantly meander to the other side of the line but without success.
Reaching the top of the hill, Peter prodded him in through a doorway of the building into a large room filled with visiting families, inmates, and guards in their gray and blue uniforms. An overwhelming sick smell of too many men together in too small a space hit Neal in the face and he soon found himself breathing through his mouth and even then he tasted the odor. The clangy sounds of the ancient prison were all too familiar and Neal actually pinched his wrist just to make sure he was not dreaming. Peter, however, did not seem to be aware of anything unnerving. Children of every color and size ran around amongst the tables and chairs, playing and screaming, their sounds echoing off the eggshell white walls. Young mothers with too-old faces were holding crying babies as inmates dressed in jeans and black shirts looked anxiously at their loved ones and whispered in low voices, keeping a wary eye on the circle of grey and blue around the perimeter of the large bare room.
"What are we doing here?" asked Neal urgently, his blue eyes darting around the room quickly. Was Peter's brother the Superintendent? A guard? He searched Peter's face but his handler was scanning the crowded room, his eyes narrowed to slits. Just then Neal's line of vision wandered past Peter's ear to a man in regulation jeans and shirt who had just then entered the room from the other side. "Ohmygod," Neal murmured, grabbing Burke's arm in a death's grip. Peter turned to follow Neal's gaze, then threw up his other hand in greeting. The man took notice and began making his way through the crowded room toward them, a burly black guard, his eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses, following close at his heels.
Neal found himself actually rubbing his eyes, wondering what sort of weird nightmare this was turning out to be. He'd had strange dreams before but this one was way beyond the pale. The inmate in prison garb resembled Peter so much it was like looking at his twin.
"Since you're identical twins, I have to stay right here for the entire visit," the CO following the man stated sternly, relaxing his massive body into a comfortable stance as Peter and his brother shook hands warmly, ignoring the correctional officer.
Peter turned to Neal with a grin, "This is my brother, Philip."
"I…I…I…" stuttered Neal, his face flushed in shock as he stared open-mouthed at the prisoner, who was now lowering himself by his tattooed arms into one of the white metal chairs at the round aluminum table, its surface covered by chipped red paint.
"Is he always so articulate?" asked Philip with Peter's favorite grin.
"Usually he's chattering his head off," Peter remarked with a dismissive wave of his hand. Sitting down quickly in another metal chair at the table, he continued, while studying his brother's tired face, "I am sorry El couldn't make it, she's catering a wedding today in the Hamptons."
"The economy hasn't hurt her business, then?"
"You know, it's up and down. She…" Neal's head felt like it was going to explode. His initial panic was subsiding to be replaced by a million questions. Peter had a twin brother. Who was in Sing Sing. Neal tried to digest it all without success. On one hand he felt strangely honored that Peter wanted to share this with him. But why?
"Caffrey? Caffrey!" Neal heard his name and tried to focus. The brothers were sitting side by side staring at him, both laughing that same sardonic Peter laugh.
"What's wrong with you?" Peter hissed impatiently, leaning over to give him a sharp poke in his shoulder.
"Nothing! I am fine!" Neal forced his mouth into a smile while rubbing his now throbbing shoulder. There was no problem. Just sitting here in Sing Sing with his FBI handler's convict brother. No problem at all.
"Pete's told me a lot about you," Philip remarked to Neal, his voice not identical to Peter's, more hoarse, probably a smoker, guessed the con man. But his mannerisms were so familiar, Neal felt a major bout of déjà vu coming on.
"All good, I hope," laughed Neal awkwardly, trying to regain at least a portion of his wits. The brothers snickered as twins often do when sharing a private joke at the expense of others.
"Oh yeah, ALL good," verified Philip with that Peter grin again. "So you've been out – what a year, now?"
"Just about," agreed Neal, with a lopsided smile. He was beginning to fear he had had a stroke. His facial features did not seem to work properly at all.
"Pete – why didn't we think of this?" asked Philip, suddenly turning to his brother. "You could get me out, I could be your CI, help you with all your cases."
"What a great idea!" exclaimed Peter, snapping his fingers. "It would be perfect. Then I wouldn't need Neal here. He could go back…"
"I am sitting right here, guys!" protested Neal with a forced laugh. They were teasing him – right?
"Don't worry, kid," said Philip with a regretful sigh, glancing down to the worn table. "You're safe. I'm in here for life."
"Indeed?" replied Neal politely. He had been eager to find out what Philip was in for but well knew it was very bad manners to ask.
"First degree murder," added Philip bluntly, giving Neal an appraising look.
"Oh?" Neal replied with a tight smile. Murder? Murder! How had he missed this when he had investigated Peter when he himself was in prison? He knew where Peter went to kindergarten but never a mention of a twin brother. This was very strange indeed. Yet there was no doubting the evidence of his eyes. Peter squared.
"Philip never did anything by halves," remarked Peter, the jovial mood fading fast. "Tell Neal what your life is like in here, Phil."
"He knows what my life is like," answered the other twin defensively, pushing himself away from the table and leaning back in his metal chair, he folded his painted arms over his chest.
"I am not so sure Neal does," said Peter seriously. "He's willing to risk coming back in here, all because of so-called love."
"Pete couldn't save me," whispered Philip, leaning over to Neal, "So he's trying to save you." Philip glanced over his shoulder at his twin with the exact same disapproving expression Peter so often used when looking at Neal.
"I am not trying to save anyone," protested Peter, the color rising quickly in his face, his brown eyes darkening.
"You're always trying to save someone," contradicted Philip, with rather too much emotion. Neal noticed the guard had straightened up, moving his hand closer to the baton at his belt. "That's why you became an FBI agent. It's who you are, Pete. A savior."
Oops, thought Neal to himself. Probably not a good thing to say. Peter jumped up from his chair in sync with the guard leaning over. "Is everything okay here?" asked the guard sternly. His eyes were unseeable behind the dark glasses but there was no mistaking the threat in his deep voice.
"Fine. Fine. Everything's fine," insisted Peter, falling into the metal chair again, the legs of the chair making a high-pitched squeak as it skidded across the linoleum floor a few inches.
"It was the same thing with Dad, Pete. You tried to save him and couldn't."
"He was NOT our father!" protested Peter angrily, his fist was headed toward the table when he suddenly pulled it back, thinking better of the outburst with the muscular prison guard standing over them.
"I nearly ruined your career. Elizabeth begged you to stop. Is she begging you now, Pete?"
"This is ridiculous," insisted Peter, turning his head to stare off into the crowded room, his eyes glistened too bright under the harsh light. He folded his arms across his chest tightly, his chin stuck out stubbornly. The two brothers reminded Neal of angry bookends.
"You wouldn't believe what my brother did for me," Philip whispered to Neal who by this time was feeling acutely embarrassed to witness this painful family moment. "I almost got away with murder. But at the last moment, Elizabeth got through to him – I guess. But it was this close." Philip held up his right hand with thumb and forefinger about a quarter inch apart.
"You were always quite the storyteller, Philip," Peter growled from behind clenched teeth, his head turned away.
"Pete," Philip stated to his brother's back. "He doesn't want what you're offering. Open your eyes."
Hey, guys. I am still here! shouted Neal silently but he didn't open his mouth. He was oddly embarrassed for Peter and he didn't quite know what to make of Philip. On the surface they looked near identical but it was already obvious they were quite different men. It was only when Peter and Neal were back in the car on the way home that Neal found the courage to ask the question that had been bugging him all afternoon.
"I don't understand it. I thought I knew everything about you. How did I miss a twin brother?"
Peter kept his eyes on the road, his hands strangling the steering wheel to the point his knuckles were white. "Our parents divorced soon after we were born, my brother late one night and me the next morning. My mom took me and my brother was raised by our…father. We don't share the same last name. The medical records were lost in a fire the following year. There's no way you would have known."
Just as Neal opened his mouth to respond, Peter's cell phone rang and the FBI agent pull his Blackberry out of the holster on his belt. "Hi, hon…we're on our way home. I'll be there soon."
"Who did your brother…er… kill?" asked Neal gently, trying to phrase his question politely.
"I don't feel like talking about it, Neal," Peter answered tersely, keeping his eyes glued to the road ahead. "Just Google it, you're going to anyway."
Neal didn't tell Peter he had already googled his brother's name on his iPhone but in the darkness of the car, the small screen was impossible to read. He turned the phone off. Neal stared at the black mark on his hand and started scratched at it, trying to remove it. But it stayed as resistant as a tattoo and Neal gave up as skin accumulated under his fingernails. Great, he thought, depressed. Marked for life. As if the tracking anklet wasn't enough of a reminder that he wasn't free, now he had this black gash from Sing Sing branded on his body.
It had started out a fun day - breakfast with Peter, a ride to the country, his first trip outside New York since going to prison half a decade ago. Now Neal felt sad and awkward. He was not accustomed to examining his emotions and this day had been too bizarre for him to process. No one needed to tell him that if it were not for Peter, he would still be marking off the days on his cell wall, trying to keep one step ahead of the other inmates, his youth fading away behind razor wire and iron bars. They rode silently for a long while, Neal trying to find something to say but it was Peter who spoke first as June's house came into view.
"It's been a long day and I want to get home. If you see June, tell her I said 'Hi'".
The younger man opened the door and stepped out of the car. He had barely turned to close the car door when Peter reached over, grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut. With a slight wave of his hand, he put the Taurus into drive and pulled out into traffic. Neal stood there on the sidewalk looking after the car as it merged into the line of other cars waiting at the signal down the street.
Entering his apartment a few moments later, Neal was briefly startled to see Mozzie stretched out on his sofa in the darkened room.
"Where have you been?" asked Mozzie, sitting up while rubbing his eyes. He peered in Neal's direction but only saw a blurry but still familiar figure.
"Sing Sing," answered Neal, concisely, flicking the light on. He briefly wondered if Mozzie had moved in with him and forgotten to mention it.
Mozzie whistled softly. "An object lesson?" he asked, searching the sofa for his glasses, hands outstretched.
"Kind of - I guess," replied Neal, tossing his hat on the rack by the door. He had done it so often his pitch was perfect and the hat landed square on the peg, next to Mozzie's jacket.
"He never gives up, does he?" Mozzie observed, putting his feet, in their black stockings, on the floor.
"What do you expect? He's a FBI agent."
"True," agreed Mozzie. He had never gotten this close to a FBI agent and was finding the study of Peter Burke fascinating. He liked the man more than he would have admitted, although he didn't trust him but then he didn't trust anyone. Mozzie liked Neal too but he was well aware of the young man's priorities and that he himself was not as high on that list as he himself would like. Neal had abandoned him before and would do so again should Kate return. Mozzie was not sure why he kept coming back every time Neal called. But this last encounter was proving to be the most interesting for him. Although Mozzie was alert for opportunities that would work to his advantage, it was inevitably hard to con a con and harder yet to con Neal.
"Don't you have a home?" asked Neal, more impatiently than he intended. He felt angry but was puzzled as to why. Mozzie was always a good target for these rare bouts of temper that came upon him. Neal instantly regretted his words and quickly put his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I am sorry, Moz," he said. "It was just a hard day."
"I can see that," replied Mozzie, peering at Neal through his glasses. He had wiped the lens on his shirt and the result had not been successful. Shuffling over to the sink, he turned the cold water on and ran it over his glasses then reached up for a paper towel. Paper towels were not great at cleaning glasses either but they would do in a pinch.
"Any progress in getting this anklet off me?" asked Neal curtly, opening the refrigerator to peer inside.
"Not yet," replied Mozzie, tossing the paper towel in the trash and putting his glasses on. Better.
"Keep working on it, Mozzie," Neal ordered abruptly. "I've got to find Kate. I've got to get out of here. Please, keep trying."
Mozzie nodded and grabbed his jacket off the rack beside Neal's hat before opening the door to leave. It was reassuring for him to realize that as long as Kate was alive, nothing would change.
Across town, FBI agent Peter Burke was lying in bed with his wife Elizabeth, holding her close to him, feeling her familiar warmth.
"Do you think it made an impression on him?" Elizabeth asked her husband, running her right fore finger along the black mark on the back of her husband's left hand."
"Oh, I am sure of it, El," Peter said with conviction, pulling her closer. "Maybe not Philip, he was as irritating as ever. But just being in Sing Sing - you should have seen Neal's face. I thought the kid was going to pass out. I am sure he's re-evaluating his whole life at this very moment. Believe me, El, this trip today is going to be the turning point in Neal Caffrey's life."
An hour later Caffrey put down the book he had been reading and checked his watch. The young man slowly rose from the lotus position he had assumed on the floor to lock his apartment door very quietly so June wouldn't hear the 'click' of the bolt. Even though he was on the third floor and knew no one could see him, he also closed the shutters on the window side of his studio. Thanks to Mozzie, he felt comfortable that he wasn't under surveillance but he still lowered the lights. Sitting down on the sofa Mozzie had vacated earlier that evening, Neal pulled off his loafers and then extended his left foot up toward his leg until his toes touched his lower calf and then he began gently pushing the tracking anklet around his heel, past his arch, and over his toes where it fell silently on the rug. Strange, he ruminated, not for the first time, that the FBI did not test for double-jointedness.
The young con artist padded in bare feet over to an impressionist painting hanging on the wall and reached up, taking it down carefully. Turning it over, he removed a cellphone from the back and propped the painting next to the wall. Checking his watch again, he flipped opened the small black phone and quickly hit a series of numbers from memory. He put the phone to his ear, the light from the keys casting a blue shadow over his handsome features.
"Colin!" he whispered into the phone, absently rubbing the back of his neck. He hadn't realized how much he ached to see his brother again until he heard his voice. "I know what he wants…"
Across the street an early morning newspaper delivery truck had stalled and was parked by the curb.