Author's Note: I've reposted this to correct Diana's last name and to fix some typos. This is my first fiction in about 10 years, my first White Collar fiction, and my longest fiction ever. Thanks to those who've reviewed, and of course I'd appreciate more.
The suspect was moving through the crowds of elegantly dressed and bejeweled opera patrons, homing in on the most expensive necklace in the room. Neal Caffrey also moved through the crowd, keeping an eagle eye on the suspect, and on the necklace, which was around the neck of Agent Diana Berrigan. She was stunning in a deep blue designer gown, laughing and flirting with the very eligible man on her arm.
The suspect, Robert Simms, was several years younger than Neal, about the age Neal had been when Peter had first apprehended him. He was extremely attractive, in a blond Ivy-League sort of way, and he had used his looks and his charm as his entree to high society. Few of his victims suspected him; they liked him too much.
"He really reminds me of Neal," said Agent Peter Burke, not for the first time on this case.
His MO, the FBI had determined, was to take the jewelry, hide it in the catering equipment somewhere, then retrieve it from the catering van after the event. There was always general chaos around a catering van during cleanup (Elizabeth Burke had confirmed this), and it was easy for a thief dressed as a caterer to retrieve something and get away clean. The FBI decided to catch Simms before this, because it would be too easy for him to claim that he'd just found the necklace and was about to report it. And in one other case (in LA), a caterer had found a ring and reported it, which is how Neal had figured out how he was doing it.
Agent Peter Burke was in the surveillance van, monitoring his team at the Metropolitan Opera opening night reception and benefit. He and his team had been working on the string of jewel thefts for several weeks, and their primary suspect had just slipped an exquisite diamond and sapphire necklace from around Diana's neck- her cover story was that she was the new girlfriend of a prominent Manhattan bachelor; a popular society blog had extensively covered their budding romance, their meeting due to mutual love of the opera, and his expensive gifts to her (the blogger had owed Moz a favor). The very rich man had agreed to work with the FBI at the urging of his mother, the victim of one of the suspect's previous heists. The necklace was, intentionally, by far the most expensive piece of jewelry at the event.
Neal Caffrey's assignment was to prevent Simms from having an opportunity to cache the loot, and get him to a quiet alcove. Neal looked quite elegant in a tuxedo, holding a champagne flute. He made an uncharacteristically clumsy move, spilling champagne over Simms, then insisted on helping him clean up; club soda was urgently needed to prevent ruining the tuxedo; there was a quieter bar over here in this alcove.
Neal had managed to expertly maneuver the suspect into the quiet alcove without raising his guard. This had been part of the plan in order to guarantee the safety of the other attendees, and minimize the embarrassment to the organization which was hosting the event. While Simms had never hurt anyone in the past that they knew of, he'd also never gotten caught before, so they didn't know how he'd react.
"There's the signal. Everyone move in."
Neal and Simms were surrounded by undercover FBI agents who recovered the necklace from Simms' pocket, catching the thief red-handed.
Peter came into the room, and read the prisoner his rights. As he was taken away in handcuffs, Peter turned toward his consultant. "Good work, Neal. There's another asshole that's getting what he deserves."
Neal gave Peter a sharp look. Peter gave him a look of confusion. "What? ..."
Neal shook his head. "It's nothing, Peter. Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow."
Peter watched Neal as he walked over to Jones, who had a new tracking anklet for him. His look of confusion continued.
Peter and Neal were in Peter's office, discussing the current case. It was an art heist from a museum, and they'd yet to figure out how the thief had managed to get a rather large painting out of the museum undetected.
Neal paused for a moment, and Peter could see that an idea had occurred to him.
"Maybe it's something like the technique I used when I stole the Pizarro."
Peter looked at him in shock. "You stole the Pizarro? We didn't even suspect you of that one!"
Neal gave a sardonic little smile. "Yes, I was pretty sure that you hadn't. Anyway, here's how I did it." He went on to give an entertaining description of the truly-innovative technique he'd used.
Peter and Elizabeth were sitting at the dinner table, which was beautifully set. The food was giving off appetizing aromas; Satchmo sat between them looking hopeful.
Peter wasn't eating. He was just staring off into space, and hadn't even noticed that El had asked him a question.
She took his hand to get his attention, and asked a new question. "Is this about Neal?"
"Is what about Neal? I didn't mention Neal."
"Peter, you came in the door claiming that you were starving, but now you've only taken two bites in two minutes. I know the food is delicious, and it's one of your favorites, so it's not that. You're either thinking about a case, or about Neal, and judging from the look on your face, I'm guessing it's Neal."
"It's Neal." Peter sighed. "He s been behaving ... differently for about a month now."
"Eat something. Differently how?"
Peter thought as he chewed. "The first thing I noticed was after that opera thing about a month ago. We'd cut Neal's anklet for that one."
El snorted. "Yeah, I guess red or green lights wouldn't go very well with a tuxedo."
Peter laughed. "Ruins the line, too. Anyway, every time we've gone to replace his anklet, he's tried to come up with some delaying tactic. Every time. One time he left completely. Given all the activity that night, he could easily have gotten away with that again. But this time, he went directly to Jones and immediately had it replaced."
El considered. "Maybe he's finally bowed to the inevitable."
It was Peter's turn to snort. "Neal?" He took another bite. It really was delicious; Satchmo was out of luck tonight.
"So you said that was the first thing you noticed. What else?"
"He used to complain about everything. Now I don t think I've heard him complain ... since that same night. I've even done stuff to deliberately provoke him."
"Yesterday, I kept reminding him that I can send him back to prison."
"Peter! That's just mean!"
"El, he knows I don't mean it. Usually he says something like 'Do it and I won't tell you how I just broke the current case.' But this time, he'd get this look like he'd come up with a really good rejoinder, then he'd get a look like he'd thought better of it, and said nothing."
El was beginning to look alarmed, too. "You're right, that really doesn't sound like Neal. Could he be sick?"
Peter shook his head. "I really don't think so. He's still got all that patented Neal Caffrey energy and charm. He's the best researcher I've ever seen, never gets bored, barely even takes breaks. He correlates seemingly-unrelated pieces of information faster than anyone. It'll look like he's going off on an irrelevant tangent, but 90% of the time it'll turn out to be relevant. And he often will tell the most entertaining stories, and have the whole bullpen in stitches."
El laughed. "Yes, that sounds like Neal, and it doesn't sound like he's sick."
Peter smiled. "Of course, the stories are always liberally sprinkled with 'hypothetically' and 'allegedly'."
Peter suddenly sat up. "Until today!" He stood up and started pacing. "Today, we were talking about the current case, and he started talking about a theft we didn't even suspect him for. Not a single 'hypothetically' or 'allegedly'. He flat out confessed to a crime for which he can be prosecuted. He's never done anything like that before."
"Has the statute of limitations expired?"
"No, it was only a few months before we caught him. In fact, he did it while we were already heavily surveilling him. And I didn't have a clue, El."
"So could he just have been having fun tweaking the great FBI agent, and just forgot to say 'allegedly'? And sit back down, Peter; you know Satchmo thinks he's getting the leftovers when you get up."
Peter sat; Satchmo whined. "It didn't feel at all like tweaking; it felt like he had useful information to contribute to the case. And that man never, ever forgets anything, or lets anything slip that he doesn't want to slip. No, it was a confession, and he knows he can be prosecuted."
"I guess he really does trust you." Then El looked confused. "But why do you say he can be prosecuted? Doesn't he have immunity?"
Peter shook his head. "It really wasn't an option, under the circumstances. He'd just earned four more years for escaping, and he'd never confessed to anything. It wasn't necessary for our arrangement. So we never offered it to him."
"He's confessed now, to one thing anyway. Maybe it's time."
Peter considered. "We could close a lot of open cases, and I'm sure we'd learn a lot. Maybe it is time."
Elizabeth thought about the whole conversation as Peter finally got back to his food. After a few moments, she said, "OK, so I'm getting that the gist of the reason you're worried about Neal is that he isn't as annoying any more."
"YES!" He kissed her. "He hasn't been at all annoying! And I don t know why!" At this point, Peter looked very annoyed.