Disclaimer: Never! F[bleep!]k you, Jeff Eastin, they're MINE!
Actual Disclaimer: Okay, they're not mine. Don't sue me, please. I'm poor. *hides under table*
Just for purposes of continuity: Let's say this takes place before Point Blank. There aren't any spoilers for anything, but it's less complicated that way.
I read about: a challenge of giving a character a surprising hobby/interest/off-hours activity/etc. and decided to try it with Neal. I'm not sure if associating this particular activity with this particular character is such a surprise, given his other interests and his profession, but I thought it was funny, so I started typing.
And of course: because there's no "edit" switch in my brain, a single one-shot turned into four little linked stories, which is why the title of this first piece and the title you clicked on are different. I'll publish the four stories in order and end the whole thing by Christmas. Also, because this is mostly slice-of-life and comedy stuff, I promise, there are no nail biting cliff-hangers. But do feel free to click "Story Alert" anyway, so you'll know when something new is added. Concrit is always appreciated, please review/respond, and of course, enjoy. (-:
It was Peter's fault, really. He was the one who'd publicly upbraided Neal in the bullpen for being such a "handcuff-cracking nuisance" in the surveillance van. He was the one who smirked as Neal's cheeks went a little pink and Jones and Diana elbowed each other behind him. And he was the one who insisted that since they'd need Neal as an extra pair of eyes for what was promising to be a grueling stakeout of a bank, the ex-con had better bring something quiet and productive to do, or things would not go well for him.
A few hours later, everybody converged on the surveillance van. They clambered in, dropped off their supplies, and took up their positions. Jones had brought his DS and his earphones, outwardly stoic but inwardly gleeful about getting to play as many rounds of Angry Birds as he could manage during his breaks. He set the carrying case on the desk area and sat down at the monitors for first shift. Diana set up next to him at the audio station. She'd sensibly brought along a small tote bag stuffed with a few paperbacks and an airplane pillow. Peter had brought a copy of Finnegan's Wake and a brown bag containing two of Elizabeth's famous deviled ham sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. He began supervising. Neal quietly took a seat at the back.
Neal had brought a briefcase, which everyone assumed was full of case files. They all shared a quick look of pride; here was a former felon, now a part of their team and a friend, getting ready to spend some quality time reviewing cases and thinking things over. Maybe he'd have some ideas for them by the time the stakeout was done. And, if nothing else, a briefcase was the exact thing Neal needed to complete his day-to-day look and give him an air of respectability. He'd brought a dark brown leather number with gold snaps and a slick black handle. It was masculine, handsome, and the perfect accessory for his crisply ironed, well-tailored suit. Neal liked the briefcase because it looked good.
But mostly, he liked it because it was ironic.
His blue eyes darted between the team at the monitors and his briefcase as he opened it, making sure everyone was looking the other way. He was hoping to go unnoticed for at least half an hour, and he worked quickly, gathering his supplies and tugging the fingering-weight Panda Cotton Delft Blue out about a foot so that he could feed it through one of the three holes he'd drilled in the case right near the snaps. He pulled it through, snapped the case shut, set it at his feet, tied a slip knot, and got to work. Click-click, click-click, click-click.
Neal had been a fan of bamboo for a while, mostly because of the way the wood warmed up under his fingers. So he'd been thrilled to discover that there was a pretty large Michael's within his two-mile radius, and they carried Clover, which was his favorite company on earth for this type of work, bar none. The internet supplied most of his "raw" goods, like the lovely cotton he was industriously working on his circular size 1s. It was July, so a light summer project was just the ticket, and he wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to finish it.
He liked to keep things pretty simple when it came to small items like this, and he favored single color, basic stockinette with ribbing up top and well made heels and toes; nothing too fancy. He worked for about fifteen minutes, meditatively clicking away, and he'd hit row 9 when he realized that the van had gone completely quiet. He looked up.
Everybody was staring at him. Jones was blinking, Diana was pulling off her headphones, and Peter was trying, without much success, to mash down a smile.
Neal challenged their gazes with his own. "What?"
"What the hell are you doin', man?" Jones asked incredulously, and Peter lost it.
Neal ignored his giggling handler and speared Jones with a flinty glance. "I'm knitting a sock," he said loftily. "The other one is already done." He flicked open the case a crack and pulled out the equally Delft Blue finished product. "See?"
Peter just kept laughing, and Jones joined him. But Diana, interestingly enough, didn't tease him too hard. "That sock is just too precious. You know what, though, you're pretty fast. It's kind of cool."
"Thanks," Neal said tightly.
"How long you been knitting?"
"A while," Neal said evasively.
Diana snorted. "Please. Speed like that? You've been at it for years. Did Grandma Caffrey teach you?"
Neal raised an eyebrow. "No. Don't you have some conversations to record?"
Diana took the hint and went back to her audio, and Neal went back to his knitting. Of course, he only had a few minutes of peace before he was interrupted by Peter, who had lost interest in the monitors and decided to annoy him.
"So. Knitting in public. Wow." Peter shook his head. "You know what that says about you, right?
Neal didn't even look up. "Yup. It says that I'm a guy who's completely secure in his masculinity. It says I'm a consummate artist who appreciates all sorts of creative outlets. It says that I'm proudly honoring a tradition that goes back thousands of years. It says I can use my hands for good things, too." Then he finally stopped knitting for a second and gave Peter a false, bright smile. "But I'm sure whatever comment you came up with is witty and original, and I've never heard it before. What were you going to say?"
Peter just glared at him. Neal gave himself an imaginary point and cheerfully went back to work.
Because it wasn't his shift at the monitors yet, he didn't stop for the next hour and a half, and finished the sock. He cut the final bit of yarn, expertly wove it in, and inspected his work with satisfaction. Three slow claps got his attention. Peter, still bored, had watched him finish and was now giving him some high quality sarcastic applause. Neal ignored the sarcastic part and gave his partner a toothy smile.
"Thanks. These will be really great. And I think I brought a pair to darn … where's that darning egg? I know it's in here somewhere," he mumbled, flicking open the briefcase.
Peter looked over Neal's shoulder and caught a glimpse of the inside of the case. Little pockets had been neatly sewn into one wall for all his needles, there was a partitioned mesh cage in the middle to hold and separate about nine different balls of yarn, and the other wall was packed with neatly folded instructions and some completed projects, including a pair of socks that were worn down in the heels. Neal grabbed these and realized the darning egg was sitting in one of the socks.
"Ah!" he said. "Great." And he plucked a tapestry needle from the little pincushion on the needle side.
"Oh my God, are you kidding me?" Peter burst out. "Neal, if you ever had a Man Card, I'm just letting you know, it's been ripped up. You're out of the club."
"Knock it ah, Peter," Neal said through taut lips. He was holding the tapestry needle in his mouth while he hunted in the mesh basket for the matching yarn. "Yerr juss jellish uh ma' shkill."
That got a laugh. "Yeah, that's what this is. Raging jealousy. You know, you actually remind me of this cartoon I saw as a kid."
Neal had found his prize, and he threaded the needle. "You're hilarious," he deadpanned. "Keep it up."
"No, really! It was this old black-and-white Looney Tunes one. I must have seen it a hundred times."
Neal had the heel of the sock tight over the egg, and he made the first overstitch. "They had television when you were a kid? I thought you just watched firelight on cave walls."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Anyway, it was this one where Porky Pig was having a birthday party." Jones was still watching the monitor, but he perked up and listened. "He invites all these crazy guests, and he gets a silkworm as a gift. Well, the silkworm does nothing but knit for the entire cartoon. And really fast, too, with this little dainty music in the background. It makes socks, briefs, floofy ladies underpants, bras … underwear just blooms from this little creature every time you see it. It's fantastic."
Neal blinked. "Are you comparing me to something with wings and a teeny tiny brain? Peter, if you keep up this blatant verbal abuse, in front of witnesses, no less, I'm going to have to take my revenge. Just letting you know."
Jones had turned away from the monitors to watch Neal work and go at it with Peter. He stretched his arms over his head and enjoyed the banter.
Peter snorted. "What are you going to do?"
"Knit you a hat."
Peter made jazz hands. "Ooooh, I'm so scared."
"You should be. My knitted hat philosophy is the stupider, the better."
"I thought that was your regular hat philosophy, Deano," Peter jabbed.
Neal narrowed his eyes. "Oh, it. Is. On. You're going to look like a Lapland reindeer herder when I get through with you."
Jones grinned, and Peter didn't look very frightened at all. "Eh, big deal. I don't care if you knit me a stupid hat. You can't make me wear it."
"Hmm. This is true," Neal said, concentrating on his darning. "How about I just give it to Elizabeth, and she can take care of that?"
Peter suddenly looked a little alarmed. And Neal looked at the monitors in concern.
"Hey, Jones, what is that?"
"What's what?" Jones spun back to the monitor. "Whoa! We got runners and bags of money!" Diana snapped her fingers to let everyone know she had something, too.
"Everybody move in!" Peter said. Neal looked hopeful and stood up. Exasperated, Peter shot at him, "What you going to do, beat someone with your darning egg? Stay in the van! God, you and your stupid knitting! We almost missed this!"
"Wha-?" Neal said, but they were already moving. Jones and Diana looked apologetic, but Peter just barreled out the door. They closed it behind them and left Neal alone.
Neal sighed, but he immediately got on the radio and ordered backup to the scene. It turned out to be unnecessary, because he watched on the monitor as Peter and Jones caught the two thieves in a flying tackle and Diana started handcuffing them. He did as he was told, though, and stayed in the van. While he waited for the rest of the team to settle things up with NYPD and get the offenders taken away, he kept darning. About an hour later the three FBI agents came back into the van. He'd finished his task and was carefully putting his supplies away.
"Well, we got 'em," Jones said.
"Good catch, Neal," Diana added.
"No. Uh uh. Don't you compliment him," Peter scolded her. "It's his fault we were distracted in the first place. I bet you the reason we missed those guys going into the bank is because that's when we were staring at Suzy Homemaker over there."
Neal was speechless with disbelief. Of course, that didn't last long. "Suzy Homemaker?"
"Don't you shush me!" Neal said, and his tone was angry enough to surprise Jones and Diana. "You don't get to blame me because you missed something. I sat there, I made a sock, I fixed another sock, and I didn't make any problems, because you said, and I quote, 'bring something quiet and productive to do.' So I did. If anybody's at fault here, it's you, Peter."
It was the right thing to say, and yet it was the wrong thing to say. Peter's face looked like a storm cloud and Neal actually backed up a step.
"Caffrey, I swear to God … pack up your little, I don't know, nose-thumb at traditional American masculinity, or whatever it is, and get out of here. You are never allowed to knit in the surveillance van again. I forbid it."
"Fine," Neal said, standing up and grabbing his briefcase. "The next time I go on a stakeout, I'll just read. And once I've finished my book, I'll sit around and play with the handcuffs."
The two men stared each other down.
Two weeks later, they were on another stakeout. Jones and Diana were again at the monitors and audio, Peter was lounging in a chair and reading the newspaper, and Neal was sitting quietly in the corner. One of their undercover guys was posing as a grubby dock worker, and he let himself into the van with the intention of speaking to Peter. But he was brought up short by Neal, who was hard at work on another sock project. (The previous pair of socks had gone to a good home, and even though Neal had been sad to part with them, they'd solved a problem.) The ex-con was fully focused on his task and the needles were quietly clacking away. The undercover guy looked at Neal like he was about to laugh, and then looked at Peter. The lead agent's glare wiped the smile off the new arrival's face.
"He's with us. Leave him alone and let him work," Peter said, in a tone that brooked no argument. "What's going on, Jimmy?"
Jimmy stammered his way through an explanation of what they'd found out so far, and as Peter listened to the report, he put his feet up on the desk area. His pant legs rode up, exposing a comfortable, flattering pair of handmade Delft Blue socks.
- END -