A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed, alerted and added this story as a favorite. I'm thrilled you enjoyed "Door of Dread".
Within the dark, suffocating small closet where Peter lay hidden, he barely had room to sit propped up and partially extend his legs. Leaning against the cushions Johnson had placed behind his back, the upright position allowed him a small amount of ease in breathing.
Shallow inhalations decreased the pain and shortness of breath, but the small space he occupied, combined with empty solitude and lack of light, created feelings of claustrophobia and panic. Peter realized if he wasn't severely injured or hadn't undergone O'Reilly's abuse, the situation might have been bearable. But now he was having a hard time holding it together.
Heart pounding, the wounded agent broke out in a sweat, experiencing a tightness in the throat and trouble swallowing. Dizzy, trembling and angry over loss of control, a sense of impending death seemed to strike him without warning. The special agent was in a full stage panic attack. How much longer did he want to hold on? Suddenly out of hope, he pictured the stark reality of dying alone in the dark gasping for his last breath.
Peter had always been the one who appeared in command, calm and self assured, offering the solution to each crisis. At this low moment in his life, he wanted someone to provide company. In this lonely pain-ridden place of squalor, desperate for companionship, doubts began to crowd his mind. Had Neal made it safely out of danger? Would he return in time with backup to apprehend O'Reilly? Had Johnson done what he promised? Would this door open to reveal the haunting presence of his adversary?
He closed his eyes for several minutes, focusing on thoughts of Elizabeth. Beginning to feel calm, he saw her waving to him, asking him to come home. She approached him and he reached out to touch her. Smiling, dropping his head onto his chest, Peter drifted off into unconsciousness.
It was only a short time earlier that Ryan Johnson, certain his compatriots were off searching for their missing captives, had removed Peter from the foul, wretched room he occupied. Lifting him up to face him, the strong, muscular man pulled Peter onto his shoulders in a fireman's carry, ignoring the agent's deep cries of anguish.
He quickly staggered several yards down the corridor, entering a small, debris-filled room on the left. Gently placing Peter down on the floor, Johnson proceeded to pull away large sheets of particle board lying against one of the graffiti covered walls.
Removal of the wood revealed a small storage closet. Undoubtedly used in the past as functional space to hold files, cabinets and storage bins, it had been stripped of everything useful including the shelves, leaving an area large enough to accommodate a crouched man.
"No one knows about this closet," said Johnson as he removed sheets of old discarded inventories. "I found it by accident one day when I was exploring rooms on the second floor. It was perfect for me to use to hide my share of the valuables," he added smugly. "A great place to keep my stuff free from my partners' prying hands. I'm going to set you up in here."
With arms wrapped around his ribcage, Peter looked up at him with trepidation. Johnson hastened to add, "Don't worry. You should be safe from O'Reilly until Caffrey returns with your friends. Roberts and Joe aren't going to spend much time searching for you; they'll want to leave once they start worrying about your partner's escape."
Peter shook his head. His breathing increasingly labored, he spoke softly, frequently stopping to catch his breath. "Stay with me … and turn yourself in. I'll do all I can … to offer you protection."
"No. I'm going to take my chance on the outside. That's how I want to play it," he answered with a half-smile. "You wouldn't understand, but I'm not ready to give up my new found wealth."
"You mean what you stole," the relentless FBI agent pointed out.
"Is law enforcement ingrained in you at the academy … or do you not care I hold your life in my hands at the moment?" queried an amused Johnson.
Peter frowned at him and remained silent.
"Yes, Agent Burke. I want to keep what I stole. There … a full confession. Are you satisfied?"
The lawbreaker reached down and grabbed Peter under the arms, lifting him into the closet. "Hold on," he muttered and left to gather the cushions Neal had used to bolster his friend upright. Returning to the small storage closet, Johnson knelt down, pulling the agent forward to place the pads behind his back and neck.
The thief scrutinized O'Reilly's injured hostage. In the short time he had been with Peter, the lawman's condition had worsened. His continual cough, shortness of breath and gray pallor to face and lips, were worrisome signs. He reached out his hand for a moment to rest it on Peter's arm but hesitated, closing his fist and withdrawing his arm. He had no right to provide any consolation; he had done nothing to stop his gang from harming the law enforcement officer.
"You'll be all right, Burke. The authorities will be here soon." Johnson paused. "I'll call when I find a place to stop and let the police know where to find you."
Hearing that declaration, Peter was taken aback. As Johnson began to close the door, he replied, "Your father was wrong, you know."
Johnson stopped. Stunned by the agent's remark he hesitated for a moment, glancing back at Peter. Slowly backing up, he shut the door, repositioning the sheets of particle board. Walking down the corridor to head outside, he glanced back one time, trying to ignore the unease of leaving a vulnerable man in a darkened cubicle.
Neal paced back and forth outside the warehouse, waiting for permission from the local police, area SWAT team, and FBI officials to enter the building. After hotwiring one of O'Reilly's vehicles he had raced from the vicinity intent on finding help. Situated within an abandoned factory area, searching for assistance shortly after dawn, he had driven many miles before gaining access to a phone.
After calling headquarters in NYC and touching base with Jones, he had driven back to O'Reilly's vicinity waiting for local police to appear. Jones had contacted local officials, emergency medical personnel and the closest SWAT team in the area. The FBI Hudson Valley Resident Agency had been alerted and dispatched their agents to the scene. Countless law enforcement officials were providing assistance in searching not only the factory itself but local areas in the county's vicinity.
Displaying anger, worry and exhaustion the consultant had been denied access in the search for Peter. After carefully describing his partner's location within the building, he was told to wait until the area had been contained and cleared of danger. Not even numerous phone calls to the White Collar unit, talking to Diana and Jones and requesting Hughes' assistance, had gained him permission to enter the warehouse. The local authorities were adamant; he would have to remain outside.
Ben Nelson, one of the Orange County bureau agents, approached Neal. His face creased in a frown, speaking in a low tone, he said, "Our men reached the second floor and found that room you described for us." He hesitated; Neal motioned him to go on. "There was no sign of Burke."
Filled with dismay and fear, Neal pushed the agent aside and rushed to the entrance of the warehouse. Running through the entry way, he was stopped by a local SWAT supervisor.
"I need to find my partner," demanded the consultant as he fought off the official's hold. "I'm sure he's in the room where I left him!"
"Let him go," ordered Nelson. "Hold on Caffrey, we'll look together." Ripping his arm free, Neal frantically raced through the hallway and upstairs to the second floor, Agent Nelson following close behind.
Heart pounding wildly, Neal burst into the dark, fetid room where he had last seen Peter. The room was empty, devoid of any sign of having been inhabited. "He must have been moved to another area," he told the officials standing there gaping.
Nelson nodded. "We're searching every room." His radio went off and he moved into the hallway.
Neal looked down at exact spot he had left Peter. He sank to the floor in misery. Flooding his mind were images of his handler being discovered, maliciously beaten and murdered. O'Reilly would enjoy exacting special revenge for Neal's escape.
Why did I leave you here alone? I should never have left. I wasn't here to protect your back. Neal grabbed his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. I did what you asked, Peter, and it caused your death. "Do what's right," you always say. Well, it wasn't worth it …
The federal agent from Hudson Valley walked over to him, motioning him to rise. As Neal stood up, rubbing his hand through his hair, Nelson waved the radio in the air. "We just received word that O'Reilly and two of his men were apprehended a short distance from here. It was a smart move of yours, Caffrey, to disable the second vehicle before you left. They couldn't get very far—"
"What did they say?" interrupted the consultant.
"Every time the gang was asked about Burke, O'Reilly smiled and requested a lawyer," he replied, grimacing with disgust. "It doesn't look good for Burke."
Neal walked into the corridor and proceeded down the hall, entering the large room where he and Peter had been first held. He moved slowly, advancing to the back wall where Peter had been cruelly tortured. Staring down at the floor, noticing the still visible bloodstains, he wondered what words he would use to tell Elizabeth. How could he face her and everyone back in the office. How could he live with himself?
Neal stood there lost in thought for quite a long time. Something nagged at the back of his head, and he stared straight ahead, a vacant expression on his face. The cushions! They were missing from the other room. If O'Reilly or his cohorts found Peter they wouldn't have taken anything to provide comfort for an injured man. Turning to rush back to that area, he heard shouting and noise from down the corridor. Nelson appeared in the doorway.
"Caffrey! We've received a call from the local police. Someone called in a tip where Burke could be found. The person said he'd been here with him." The agent smiled at Caffrey. "Come on, we found your boss. The EMT people are with him now."
Nelson placed his hand on Neal's back guiding him forward down the corridor. Only a few rooms down from where Neal had left Peter, medical personnel were bustling in and out of the area. The consultant and agent hurried into the small room just in time to see Peter being placed on an inclined raised stretcher. Nodding to one of the EMTs, Peter looked over and spied his associate. Managing a small grin, he raised his hand in greeting.
"Hey," said Neal, briefly touching Peter's shoulder. "Where've you been? I told you I'd be right back."
"I didn't like that room you picked out," Peter rasped out. Pointing toward the closet, he added, "Our friend Johnson helped me out, moved me into … smaller accommodations."
"What happened?" asked Neal, inspecting the closet, concern clouding his eyes. "Who raised the alarm?"
As the medical team continued to check Peter 's vital signs, one of them frowned at Neal. "Let him rest. No more questions. We've given Agent Burke some pain medication. He needs to be hospitalized."
Peter grabbed the man's arm. "Just a few minutes," he answered with quiet authority. Turning back to his associate, he briefly and haltingly filled him in on the last few hours.
"Neal, I need you to contact headquarters and inform them about the situation. Talk to Diana … and tell her about Johnson. He's smart. He probably had a backup vehicle or cycle hidden in this area. When he's apprehended I want to be notified. I need to help him …" Peter's voice trailed off, his eyes grew heavy as he struggled to stay awake. "And call—"
"Elizabeth," his partner finished for him. "Don't worry, I'll take care of everything."
Neal smiled as Peter groggy with sedation, murmured one last sentence. "Thanks Neal ... you did good." Closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep, Peter barely heard Neal's reply.
"I'll be with you in the ambulance, buddy. You're not going without me." He paused, struggling to hide his emotion. "I'll always have your back," he added in a whisper.