A/N: Dear Jeff Eastin, please bring Alex back because Sarah Ellis is a poor substitute. Thanks so much. From, A Fan.
More seriously, thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed. Especially those who left very glowing reviews (you know who you are!). This chapter is for you.
Jane stared fixedly at the table in front of him. On it lay a single, yellow, perfectly folded origami flower. Cho and Lisbon sat across from him, failing to see exactly what was so captivating about that piece of paper. Lisbon alternated between watching the flower, and watching Jane's expression.
Neither proved particularly informative. The flower refused to spontaneously combust, or rattle off long sequences of complicated code words. Jane refused to blink, speak, or do anything more involved than breathing. Or staring.
Finally, she gave up. "Jane, what are you thinking."
Jane glanced up, surprised, as if he had forgotten they were there. "Neal Caffrey swiped this from the woman at the airport. I think it's meant to be a tulip, but it's always hard to tell with origami."
Lisbon glanced at Cho. "What woman?"
Cho opened his mouth, frowning. Jane answered for him, "Oh, Cho wasn't there. He wouldn't know her. But I have a strong hunch."
Cho's mouth snapped shut.
Lisbon frowned, the gears in her head slipping slowly out of 'frustrated damn Patrick Jane' mode into 'murder case' mode. "Who do you think she was?"
Jane smiled brilliantly and stood, grabbing the flower off of the table and putting it carefully into his pocket. "Not yet. I'll let you know when I have something more substantial."
Lisbon stood, glaring. "Jane—"
"Lisbon," he cut her off, in the obnoxious, patient tone of voice he'd cultivated over his months with the CBI, "Just wait. We don't need to be running around on half-thoughts and fledgling suspicions. Just let me verify this information."
And with that, he was out the door. Lisbon turned to stare with disbelief at Cho.
"Verify? Since when does Patrick Jane need to 'verify' anything? We always operate based on his half-formed suspicions."
"Yes, honey, just for a few days."
Peter paused, then said, "No, don't worry about it. It's not me, it's Neal."
"Yes, honey. Okay. I love you too. Bye."
Peter snapped the phone closed and looked around, in an almost automatic way, for his charge. Neal was examining the bedsheets.
"They'll do," he announced, looking up at Peter and grinning. "The CBI treats their guests a little better than the FBI, huh? They even got us each our own room."
"You weren't a guest," Peter reminded, "you were a criminal on a very special kind of parole. Not the kind that warranted expensive hotel rooms."
Neal affected a wounded expression. Peter raised an eyebrow. Neal cracked first. He usually did; he knew how to pick his battles.
"Well," Neal said, smiling again, "the room's great. I'm going to go grab a coffee, you want something?"
"Sure. Just get me a regular coffee, no sugar—the big kind."
"Venti," Neal said, with a hint of exasperation.
"Fine." Neal grabbed his jacket. "I'll be back in a bit."
The door closed. Peter looked hard at the hat that lay lonely on Neal's bed. He waited another minute. Then he got up, grabbed his own jacket, and slipped out the door.
He spotted Neal at the end of the block, turning right. He hurried a little, to catch up. The sidewalks were crowded enough that he wasn't particularly worried about being seen—not yet, anyway. If Neal continued into any kind of secluded location Peter knew he couldn't follow.
But Neal didn't enter any homes, or any shops. He walked straight to the public park on the west side of their hotel.
It was a nice day—the park was crowded. Mothers pushed double strollers, fathers sported backpacks with tiny heads peeking out, and toddlers ran splashing through the fountains. On the left side of the park was an enormous jungle gym, brimming with children of all shapes and sizes. On the right side was an elaborate floral arrangement; red rose bushes, blooming lilacs the size of small trees, and several rows of yellow tulips.
Neal stood in front of the flowers, with his back to Peter. Then he bent, and picked something out of one of the flowers. Peter backtracked hastily, and walked quickly toward the hotel entrance, praying that Neal hadn't spotted his suspicious retreat.
Of course, with Neal, things never went as smoothly as he would like.
"Peter," said a voice at his elbow, "why were you following me?"
Peter stopped, resigned, and said, "Because obviously you need constant supervision. I can't even trust you to get coffee by yourself anymore."
Neal laughed. "That's not it. You are just too curious."
"And with good reason," Peter muttered. "What were you getting?"
Neal's face closed off, almost unnoticeably, but Peter had worked with him long enough to have mastered these simpler nuances of expression.
"A friend left me something in the park," Neal said carefully.
Peter mulled this over for a few minutes.
"You have the strangest friends," he said finally, and didn't miss Neal's slight exhale of relief.
Patrick Jane was waiting for them in Neal's room when they got back to the hotel. He looked up from his seat on the windowsill and greeted them cheerfully, as if he hadn't just broken into their rooms, and had every right to be there.
He pointed to Neal's fedora. "Nice hat."
Neal smiled at him; a genuine smile, not the smooth cover-up smile that Peter saw a hundred times a day at the Bureau.
Jane turned to Peter and said, "I was hoping to speak with Mr. Caffrey alone, actually."
Peter stared at him, surprised. "I don't think—" he began, but Neal cut him off.
"It's okay, Peter. I'll be fine. You can go get your coffee."
Peter frowned at the reminder, hesitant. But, he reasoned, what was the worst thing that could happen? Neal would embarrass the Bureau? Leak…what? He wasn't privy to confidential information. So, "Okay. I'll be back in ten minutes."
When the door closed behind Peter Burke, Jane turned to Neal and held up a paper flower.
"Very nice," Neal said, "Did you make it yourself?"
"No," Jane said, "actually, it was Alexandra Hunter who made it."
Neal's smile froze. "Fingerprints?"
"We checked. Except for mine and yours, it was clean—she must have been careful. But thank you for confirming."
Neal shrugged, but his gaze was sharper as he watched Jane put the flower down on top of the television. "You knew. Or, at least, you thought you did. Which is usually just as good."
"So," Jane said, after a pause, "I can't figure it out. You were in New York at the time of the burglary; we've been able to get multiple eyewitness confirmations. But, somehow, the painting gets stolen, and all the trails seem to, at some point, come back to you."
"That's quite the conundrum," Neal agreed, pleasantly.
Jane stood, abruptly. "Don't worry. I'll figure it out eventually."
"I'll do everything I can to help you," Neal said politely. He got up and opened the door. Patrick Jane took one last look around the room, and left. He almost ran into Peter Burke on the way out; he didn't stop.
Peter stared at Jane's retreating figure, then turned to Neal.
"What's up with him?"
Neal shrugged. "He's too used to being Sherlock Holmes. And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to turn in. I'm feeling a bit jet lagged."
I'm afraid the weather has been rather unpleasant lately. Even Dorian Gray is looking a bit worn. But then, I suppose we're all tired. Here, it takes all the running one can do merely to stay in the same place. At least I still have my good health. As Matt always said, three good meals a day will save one at least half a dozen trips to the doctor. And I haven't been to the Doctor in months, so I suppose it is working—though perhaps the physician's office is rather worried about my lack of appearance. A nurse attempted to contact me the other day, or so I was told; I was out of the house, you see, and they were forced to leave a message.
In any event, I am glad to be once more in touch, and will remain so.
Neal stared at the letter, and his lips curled slowly into a smile. Alex had always been the best of them at writing codes. This one was, for her, fairly straightforward.
Nicholas—she'd be wanting his Nick Halden persona at some point; or, at least, something like it.
The weather has been unpleasant. She was, in case he'd missed the memo, in hot water.
Dorian's looking a bit worn. Even her oldest, most unscrupulous contacts were shying away from giving her some help with this problem. Which was troublesome—Alex was a very connected, useful person to know. Being owed a favor by someone like her was not something to take lightly. Which begged the question, how on earth had she managed to get into such a tight spot that only the FBI could cut her loose? (And another, which he'd have to ask her personally, was she referring to any contact in specific by her reference to Dorian Gray? Just curious.)
Here it takes all the running…The Red Queen. "Red Queen" had been their code phrase, in Copenhagen, all those years ago. It meant, "Meet back at base, ASAP." Did she give him a location?
Oh, yes, there it was. Matthew 3:6. "And confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." Only, in this case, she meant the Sacramento River. A Catholic church on the riverfront; easy enough.
Haven't been to the doctor…they left a message. He loved her humor. The "doctors" she was avoiding were law enforcement—and wasn't that their official business? To clean up society's issues and keep it safe and healthy? But she knew the CBI were on her tail; she didn't feel it was safe to be seen yet.
Glad to be in touch, will remain so. She'd leave any more correspondence in the same place—the yellow tulips in the park.
Catherine Linton. She was using an assumed name; she didn't want him throwing around the name 'Alex.' (Cathy was never really a Linton; he and Alex had always agreed on this, though more often than not they had wildly different opinions of great protagonists. She was always an Earnshaw at heart.)
So. Neal leaned back, and refolded the note, tossing it absently onto the desk, and considered. The earliest he could possibly get away without being noticed was tomorrow evening. After dinner would be the best time; Peter would be on the phone with Elizabeth, and all their responsibilities with the CBI should be concluded—or, at least, postponed—by that time.
He could only hope Alex managed to stay under the radar for another twenty-four hours.
"Jeff, are you sure about this?"
The small, fair haired man glanced up. "About what, Jonah?"
His companion shrugged, and shifted uneasily. "We killed those two guards. Was that really necessary?"
"They saw us," Jeff pointed out, "That sealed their fate, and you know it. Stop worrying about the past, and focus on how we're going to move this painting."
Together, they turned to look at the plain wooden box.
"I can't believe that guy wants to pay fifty mil for this thing," Jonah said. "It's not even a clear picture."
"Well, duh," Jeff said, rolling his eyes, "That's why they call it abstract art."
"Will you two shut up?" The Boss said, standing. Jeff and Jonah shut their mouths and looked up at her warily. She pushed a lock of long brown hair away from her eyes and continued, "The customer's motives aren't your concern—I hired you two for muscle, not to think. Luckily for you."
Jeff and Jonah were still too nervous to be insulted. The Boss sighed and turned sharply. "Grab the painting, and lets move. We've been here too long already. The cops are starting to get suspicious."
"But," Jonah said, brow wrinkling in confusion, "didn't you say they pinned the theft on Alex Hunter already?"
The Boss turned, and snapped, "No, I said she was their main suspect, and I'd like to keep it that way. Which means we need to go. Now."
She turned again, and Jeff elbowed Jonah viciously in the side. "Don't. Fucking. Talk."
Jonah rubbed his side with a wounded expression, then picked up his end of the crate and followed his brother out of the warehouse. Outside, the air was still and cold. He could see their reflections, slightly distorted, on the surface of the river, as they walked quickly to the new location.
What he didn't see was the pair of binoculars trained on their movement, nor the slender woman dressed all in black who was looking through them from the rooftops.
A/N: Yes, we'll see some more of Alex in the next chapter. And some more Neal/Jane interaction.