"Hey Neal, El's working tonight. You wanna come over for dinner and catch the game with me?"
Peter and Neal are in the FBI Agent's office after returning from court where Peter was testifying against a man they had arrested three months ago for insurance fraud. It was already after 6pm and they had been in court all day and Neal hates going to court.
"You making your famous pot roast?" Neal asked.
"I'll promise not to burn it this time, assuming I don't get another surprise visit from any fugitive FBI agents," Peter replied, referring to the Jack Franklin case.
"And you think I'd be into watching a football game with you?" Neal frowned at his friend.
"For your information, it's baseball. You got a better offer?" Peter countered.
"As enticing as your patented pot roast sounds, I do already have plans, as a matter of fact."
"Meeting the little guy?"
"I do have friends other than Mozzie, you know," Neal tried his best to look offended.
"Oh, you mean Alex?"
"Must you mock me?" Neal asked. Peter smiled.
"Before I went to prison I travelled in a pretty wide circle, you know," Neal continued.
"Yeah, your wide circle of thieves, fences and other assorted crooks. Listen, you've been doing so well since you were released into my custody. With all that's happened over the last couple of years, with Kate's murder, Fowler, Larssen, the whole music box business and Operation Mentor, you've been through a lot and I know there have been many temptations out there for you. But you said yourself you have a life here now, a life that doesn't involve you committing crimes, but solving them. I just want to make sure you know where I'm coming from. I'm not trying to keep you on a tight leash after hours. You understand that, don't you?"
"I know. Peter, I swear I'm not plotting a heist or anything. Look, you're right, I am meeting Mozzie tonight. He practically lives at my place anyway, especially since the shooting. He's more paranoid than ever. So I promised we'd just watch a movie, indulge him and watch one of those conspiracy movies he's so obsessed with, have some vino, and chill."
"OK. Well, in that case, I'm going to pick up some Chinese on my way home and catch the game. I'll catch up on the paperwork tomorrow. I'm beat – you'd have thought after nearly 15 yrs of testifying in court I'd be used to sitting around in a courtroom all day waiting for my 10 minute appearance by now. I'll see you tomorrow. Tell Mozzie I said hi," Peter said as he started packing his briefcase.
"Will do. Have a good night Peter."
Neal walked out of Peter's office and headed home.
Neal opens the door to his apartment in June's house. Mozzie is already on the couch sipping on Neal's Chateneuf-de-Pape, watching Tiles of Fire VI for the millionth time.
"About time you came home," Mozzie said.
"Well, some people have to work, you know."
"I don't know how you can sit in a room filled with judges and lawyers who are all more corrupt than Bernie Madoff."
"Do I have to remind you that you are also a lawyer?"
"Yes, but I represent clients who were wrongly accused!" Mozzie cried.
"Like people who free-falls out of a judge's chambers from a second storey window onto a bakery awning?" Neal replied with a hint of a smile on his beautiful face.
"Yeah, especially that kind!" Mozzie laughed. "So how long's it going to take you to get ready?"
"Don't worry, we've got time. You can finish your wine and your movie while I get changed. And I thought you weren't coming with me?"
"I'm not. I just want to know when I can resume watching my movie in peace."
"All right Spielberg. I'll shut up now," Neal teased.
Elizabeth Burke is giving instructions to a couple of waitresses to bring more champagne out for the guests. She heads back into the kitchen to discuss the hors d'oeuvres with the head chef and tells him the guests are ready for the next round of canapés.
"Everything is going perfectly, Elizabeth. I knew I did the right thing hiring Burke's Premier Events to host my gallery fund-raiser."
El turned at being addressed.
"Thank you so much, Stephanie. And I've told you, please call me El."
"OK, El. You've done a great job, especially considering I gave you only two weeks to make all this happen."
"What can I say, I work best under pressure," Elizabeth smiled.
"I can understand why Peter married you. You're efficient, smart, can anticipate every possible disaster before it becomes a disaster, and you're adorable," Stephanie returned Elizabeth's smile.
"I'm so glad you accepted this job," Stephanie continued. "Given the circumstances, I would have completely understood if you'd turned me down."
"Well, what happened between you and Peter happened a very long time ago, before he and I even met. He told me about your relationship and what happened when we first started dating. We all have histories and it's been nearly 20 yrs now anyway."
"I'm glad you feel this way. Peter and I haven't seen each other or spoken since he left for Quantico and I guess, in a strange way, given what he does for a living now and what I do, it's probably a good thing that our paths haven't crossed over the years," Stephanie joked.
"Ah, yeah, I would say being the head of one of the largest privately-owned investment firms on Wall Street, the last thing you would want is to come to the attention of an FBI Agent in the white collar crime division," Elizabeth responded.
"Still, it would've been nice if Peter could have made it tonight. He works too hard – always did even when he was in college, studying like crazy, playing football and then working as a tutor while helping his father in his construction business. Come to think of it, it's a wonder we ever managed to spend any time together at all!" Stephanie had a tiny glint in her eye as she appeared to be reminiscing about her first love.
"He's not much different now but we do try to make time. We have date nights whenever we get the chance – no work and no talk of work. But you know how it is. You were married for a long time yourself and both you and your husband were busy professionals with a lot of pressure. How did you manage?"
"Ryan was a man of extremes – he worked hard but he loved to play hard. It was always hard keeping up with him. He could just as happily sit and stare at a painting all day as he could be being on the go for days. Our vacations were never just sunbathing in Hawaii. They were diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, skiing in the Swiss Alps, bungy-jumping in New Zealand or hiking in Peru. But he was a good man – he and Peter would have got along," Stephanie was now looking sad.
"I'm sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine how you must have felt when you found out about Ryan's death," Elizabeth said, touching Stephanie on the arm with compassion.
"Ryan wanted to live an exciting life and he died in about as spectacular a fashion as I could possibly imagine. He used to call me chicken for not going parachuting with him but I never understood why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good plane," Stephanie's sadness was starting to show as she appeared to be tearing up but trying to lighten up the conversation.
"Anyway, this is what this gallery is all about – to celebrate Ryan's love for fine art so that his legacy can live on and be shared with others," Stephanie continued, changing the topic away from discussions about her husband's untimely death.
"And I have to get back to my guests. I see a lot of rich people gathered out there dying to donate to the Harper Foundation," Stephanie said.
"Don't worry about a thing. Leave it all up to me. I'll keep the food and drinks coming – that should ensure your guests are happy when they open up their checkbooks and part with their money!" El said.
Stephanie turned to head back to the main gallery and Elizabeth returned to giving orders to the wait staff and catering staff.
Neal, now dressed in an Armani tuxedo with one of those skinny bow ties, is looking at a painting, admiring it amongst the throng of about 150 rich people, all more interested in showing off their bling and being seen than in the beautiful priceless art pieces hanging on the walls and the sculptures on display.
"That was my husband's favourite painting, too," Neal turned, mild surprise on his face, at the voice. It was Stephanie Harper.
"Well, it was one of Picasso's best pieces," Neal replied.
"Personally, I hated it. I could never understand it. Ryan wanted to hang it above our bed but I told him I'd divorce him before it got anywhere near our bedroom!" Stephanie joked. "But then again, he always said art was not to be understood but to be appreciated. I just never learnt to appreciate it the way he did," Stephanie said.
"Your husband was a smart man," Neal replied, then added, "I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thank you. It's been 6 months already and I miss him everyday but I still have my responsibilities and my life to live. I can't let his death consume me. Some papers and gossip columnists have said I'm not grieving enough. Ha! How much is enough, right?" Stephanie asked rhetorically.
There's a brief silence as she turns to look at the painting on the wall.
"Mrs Harper, I'm…" Neal started to say.
"Call me Stephanie, please, Mr Halden," Stephanie interrupted. Neal is caught by surprise that she knows who he is. Stephanie picks up his expression. She is always a step ahead of the rest.
"Mr Halden, I run a multi-million dollar investment company. I make it my business to know everything about my clients and my investments. I might not know everything about you, but I at least know who's on my guest list, even if I didn't put that list together myself," Stephanie gave Neal a warm smile.
"I apologise. I should not have been surprised. Of course, this is your party after all. With all these priceless works of art, you wouldn't want to let just any riff-raff in here, would you?" Neal joked.
"And, please call me Nick," Neal added.
"No need to apologise. I didn't make my fortune by giving away freebies. All I ask in return is that you are very generous with your checkbook when my assistant comes around to take that money away from you," Stephanie smiled broadly.
"I'll do whatever I can," Neal returned the smile.
The band in the background is playing "Sway".
"Good. Now, how about a dance, Nick?" Stephanie asked.
"It would be my pleasure, Stephanie," Neal's smile broadened flirtatiously, holding out his hand to Stephanie and leads her to the middle of the Gallery floor and start to dance.
Neal gets into Peter's Ford Taurus, looking exhausted but still dressed in his typically immaculate fashion, three-piece black Devore suit with a blue pinstripe shirt and a red striped tie, clipped by a vintage tie-bar. Of course, he also had a matching fedora.
"Big night with Mozzie?" Peter asked. "You look like you hadn't been to bed at all."
"Are you making fun of me?" Neal replied, a little grumpily.
"I'm merely stating a fact," Peter almost laughed.
"What do you expect when you call me at 6.30am telling me you're on your way to pick me up and then only gave me 15 minutes to get ready?"
"How long did they give you to get ready for the exercise yard when you were in prison?" Peter teased.
"Oh, you're going to bring up prison again?" Neal growled.
"It makes me smile," Peter continued.
"You're pure evil, you know that, Agent Burke? I don't know what Elizabeth sees in you!" With barely 2 hours' sleep after crashing the Harper Gallery party and spending the night dancing with the host, Neal has lost his sense of humour.
"Aw, poor Neal. El loves me plenty and she had barely come home from work and got into bed when I got the call from Jones to come in, so, personally, I would have rather spent my Saturday morning in bed with my wife than to be here with you. I never even got to speak with her before she crashed out. I just kissed her goodbye and left a note on the dining table to tell her where I'd gone," Peter grumbled.
"And you know I would not have woken you up, Sleeping Beauty, if Hughes hadn't called this urgent meeting," Peter tried to be nicer to Neal now.
"Look, I even brought you a coffee," Peter said, holding out a cup of coffee to Neal that had been in the cup holder of the Taurus.
Neal accepts the cup, takes a sip and pulls a face. "Urgh, where did you get this?"
"I'm sorry it's not June's Italian Roast but you can either drink it and like it or leave it and go without your morning caffeine. Your choice."
"You're evil," Neal muttered under his breath.
"What was that?" Peter asked.
"I said you're the best partner a man could ever ask for," Neal replied. "So what's the case anyway?" Neal tried to change the subject.
Neal and Peter step off the elevator on the 21st floor of the FBI's New York Field Office together and through the glass doors leading into the squad room. Jones and Diana are already there with junior agents Blake and Matthews. The office is already buzzing and it was barely 7am on a Saturday.
Hughes was in his office with Stephanie Harper. She looks like she has been up all night but looks impeccably dressed in a Chanel skirt suit.
Neal sees Stephanie and stops dead in his tracks.
Peter is heading towards the stairs and noticed Neal was no longer walking alongside him. He turns around.
"What's the matter?" Peter asked Neal.
"Um, I really don't feel well. Must've been the Italian food Mozzie ordered last night. It obviously didn't agree with the bad coffee you brought me this morning. I think I'd better go home and have a lie-down," Neal tried to back away.
"Caffrey, stop! You're not going anywhere except upstairs with me to Hughes' office," Peter commanded.
"But…" Neal started to speak.
"Up!" Peter interrupted.
"I…" Neal tried again.
"Stairs!" Peter continued as if Neal had not spoken.
"Seriously…?" Neal tried for his escape a third time.
"Now!" Peter said. Neal headed back towards Peter. Together they walked up the stairs from the squad room to Hughes' office, with Neal trailing behind and walking as slowly as he could.
Hughes and Stephanie are talking intensely. Peter knocks on Hughes' open door. They both look up. Hughes waves Peter in.
Peter catches Stephanie's eye and smiles fondly.
"Hello Peter," Stephanie returned the smile. "It's been a long time."
"Yep. Nearly 20 yrs, give or take," Peter replied, with a slight hint of sadness and regret in his voice. He moves to stand close to Hughes' desk, not sure whether to hold his hand out for a handshake or if he should lean in for a kiss, for old times' sake. Stephanie made no move toward him so he just stood there and put his hands in his pants pockets.
Neal is still trying to back away from the doorway.
"And this is…" Peter turns to introduce Neal and sees him trying to run away.
"Neal Caffrey," Stephanie finished Peter's sentence for him.
Neal stops. Then slowly walks back towards Hughes' door. He is somewhere between surprise and embarrassment at having been caught out using an alias the night before.
Stephanie walks to the door and holds out her hand to Neal. She is smiling.
"We've met," Stephanie explained as Peter stared at both of them with confusion.
Neal slowly walks into Hughes' office and takes Stephanie's hand, now somewhat confused as well.
"Yes, we have," Neal managed to say.
"Where? How?" Peter was now more confused than ever.
"Last night. At the fund-raising party I had at the Harper Gallery," Stephanie is still looking at Neal as she spoke. Then she turns to Peter. "I'm surprised Elizabeth hasn't told you. After all, she organised the whole thing for me, and did a fantastic job, too, I might add."
"Neal?" Peter looks quizzically at Neal.
"What? The Harper Gallery is within my 2-mile radius!" Neal said somewhat defensively.
"I thought you were just staying at home, 'chilling with a friend', as you put it," Peter asked half-accusingly.
"I never said that was ALL I was going to be doing last night," Neal continued his self-defence.
Hughes interrupts this little exchange. "Never mind what Caffrey did or didn't do last night. We have more important things at hand," Hughes said.
Neal, Peter and Stephanie are all looking at Hughes now.
"Close the door," Hughes gestures to Neal. "Sit down," he continued, doing his double finger point at Peter and Neal, then turns to look at Stephanie and then back at the men before he starts. Stephanie is still standing, now having moved a little closer to stand beside Hughes rather than in front of his desk.
"We have a complex scam that involves breach of SEC regulations, insurance fraud and a boiler room scheme," Hughes starts. Stephanie is avoiding eye contact with both Peter and Neal and staring out the window behind Hughes' desk with her back turned to them all. This behaviour has piqued Peter's and Neal's curiosity, almost more so than what Hughes is telling them.
"You know what securitisation is?" Hughes asked Peter and Neal.
"Sure. It's when you turn an illiquid asset, most commonly mortgages, into cash by packaging them, typically into bonds and selling them to investors at a higher interest rate than they would otherwise get on the money market. Depending on the way the bonds are structured, the investors pay either face value or discounted value on the bonds and expect to receive interest on those bonds on a regular basis over the term of the bonds. If the bonds are principal-reducing, the investors will get a certain amount of the face value back over the life of the bond, if not, they will get the entire face value at the end of its life," Neal answered.
Peter gives Neal a quick glance as if he was just showing off, then turns back to look at Hughes.
"That's not against the law," Peter adds.
"You're both right," Hughes said and continues to detail the facts of the case. "The case we are investigating involves new mortgages on residential buildings, primarily small apartment blocks scattered around the country. What IS illegal is that these buildings don't exist."
"The company that securitised these loans, Carroll Investments, took out mortgage insurance with Gleason International in order to get a better investment rate with investors of their bonds which were issued 12months ago and pay interest every 6mths. No principal repaid in the first 2 yrs according to the structure of the deal. With the GFC, many of those loans defaulted. Carroll Investments, under the insurance policy, filed claims against those loan defaults. This happened before the first interest payment was even due on the bonds. To make things worse for the investors and for Gleason International, there's a clause in the deal that when the number of defaults reach a certain level, the bonds start losing their redemption value which means investors start losing their money." Hughes pauses then asks, "Questions so far?"
"How much were the bonds worth?" Peter asked.
"250 million US Dollars," Hughes replied.
"On the global market, the securitisation market is worth a lot more than that. So what made this one special that caught the SEC's attention?" Neal asked.
Stephanie still had not said a word to this point.
Hughes answered, "This is where the boiler room scheme comes into play. We believe a company called Hyland Financials was set up to sell these bonds. The bonds have individual face value of $5000 so they are targeted at small investors, not the usual institutional investors that buy them by the millions. We received some information that there was suspicious activities going on there but we had no proof till recently. We are still trying to gather enough evidence to make an arrest."
"Whistleblower?" Peter asked.
"In a manner of speaking," Hughes said.
"What does that mean?" Neal asked.
Stephanie turns away from the window and speaks for the first time since the briefing began: "My senior investment adviser is sleeping with the guy running Hyland Financials, a Timothy Staton." Peter and Neal look at Stephanie now with surprise.
"She came to me one day with a proposal to work with Carroll Investments to put together their next deal, estimated at $1billion. She said Hyland Financials wasn't big enough to underwrite the deal on its own and Staton was looking for a third party to sponsor the deal. She figured that we could stand to make a lot of money out of this deal if it was done right and would put us on the international stage if we were able to expand the investor base offshore. In this economy, nobody even attempts to put together a deal this large, so naturally I was curious. I did some digging, then came to Reese with this and he felt that your team would be the perfect people to investigate this case. We've already got a plan laid out about how we can take Carroll Investments and Hyland Financials down."
Neal and Peter are surprised at Stephanie's apparent familiarity with Hughes, calling him by his first name.
Neal is about to speak but Peter beats him to it, addressing Stephanie, "and just exactly what do you mean by "we've got a plan laid out"? I don't understand why you came to the FBI and not the SEC for this."
"Gentlemen," Hughes said. "Perhaps I should have started the meeting with a proper introduction. Peter, Neal, please meet Agent Stephanie Roberts Harper of the FBI White Collar Crime Division."
There's a knock at the Burkes' door. Peter, dressed in casual jeans and a LeMoyne College sweatshirt, goes to open it.
It is Stephanie Harper, looking more casual than earlier this morning in the FBI office.
"Hi," Stephanie greeted.
"Hi," Peter said, surprised.
"May I come in?" Stephanie asked.
"Ah…sure…" Peter said hesitantly. "Come on in." Peter steps aside, holding the door open for her to step in.
Stephanie enters, stopping in the middle of the Burkes' living room. She looks around, slowly inspecting her surroundings.
"Is Elizabeth home?" Stephanie asked, looking around.
"She's gone out with some of her girlfriends since I was going to be working tonight. It's Saturday night, you know?" Peter replied.
"She did a great job at my party last night," Stephanie was trying to make small talk.
"Yes, she's worked very hard to build up her business, which is not easy in this town, as you well know, in any line of work." Peter was clearly feeling uncomfortable in his own house. They both are.
"I hope I didn't ruin your date night?"
"You know about our date nights?" Peter asked.
"Elizabeth told me. I think it's a great idea. Relationships are hard work. You shouldn't take it for granted," Stephanie replied.
"Sure, of course." Peter is starting to fidget, and decides to put his hands into his jeans pocket, uncomfortable talking about his marriage with an ex-lover.
"Oh, where are my manners? Can I get you a drink? I'm afraid I'm fresh out of Oolong tea but I can offer you some instant coffee or I think El has some chamomile tea somewhere?" Peter found his voice, slightly nervous.
"I'm impressed you still remember what my favourite drink is," Stephanie gave a slight smile.
"Well, I remember not knowing what the hell it is, then going all over New York trying to find it to impress you after your roommate hinted to me that it'd be a sure-fire way of getting a first date with you," Peter smiled at the memory of it.
"Oh my God, yes! Karen was a genius matchmaker!" Stephanie and Peter shared a laugh, followed by another awkward and uncomfortable silence.
"Um, how about I go get you some water…" Peter tries to break the silence.
"No, Peter. Please. Let's just sit and talk, if that's OK with you." Stephanie starts heading to the dining table.
Satchmo jumps off the lounge from where he'd been sleeping and follows Stephanie and Peter towards the dining room and settles himself at Peter's feet.
"Cute dog," Stephanie commented.
"His name's Satchmo. Don't let his looks deceive you. He can be nasty when he wants something from you," Peter laughs, rubbing Satchmo's head.
"So you've got your own personal conman at work and at home?" Stephanie teased.
"Something like that," said Peter. "What did you want to talk about?"
"This sting we're pulling. You know if your cover gets blown, they could kill you. These guys mean business and we're talking about a billion dollars at stake this time. They are being extra careful with this deal," Stephanie warned.
"I appreciate where you're coming from but this is not my first time going undercover. Jones and Diana and the team are in the office working on our history right now so that there would be no issues with a background check on us. Neal, as you know, was, and still is, one of the best conmen I know. He can sell ice to Eskimos so I wouldn't worry about him getting into Hyland Financials and you'll get me into Carroll Investments. We've got it under control. We've done this before. Your plan is a good one. You don't have to worry."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't think you were capable of doing this. I've been following your career. I know your clearance record. I know your reputation. I know who you've put away and how you put them away. Most importantly, I know you."
"I still can't believe you've been in the FBI all this time." Peter shook his head.
"It feels like I have been living this double life forever, and I guess, in a way, I have. I've had to hide this from all my friends and family since College. That's why I had to break up with you. You know I was never able to keep any secrets from you. The first couple of months after I was recruited, it just absolutely tore me up trying to keep my meetings with my FBI trainer from you. My only saving grace was that you were always working, or studying, or playing baseball, so I didn't have to make many excuses about where I was going or who I was seeing but I always felt like I was cheating on you, and in a manner of speaking, I was. And then when you…"
"Wow, you made me sound like I was a really bad boyfriend," Peter joked.
Stephanie started to open her mouth to apologise again but Peter holds up his hand to stop her. "Anyway, it was all in the past. You did what you felt you had to do. Sure, I was cut up about it at the time, but it all worked out in the end, right? I mean, you married Ryan Harper, one of the wealthiest men in the country from a great family, and I met and married Elizabeth. None of this would have happened if you hadn't broken up with me, so I guess I should be thanking you!"
Stephanie isn't sure what to say to this. "I'd be happy to accept your thanks except for the fact that Ryan is dead and I will never be able to tell anyone about my life as a deep cover FBI agent. And if this operation doesn't work out, I will have no life to go back to. I will have no business and I won't be able to continue working for the FBI."
Peter is staring at his hands. He hadn't given much thought as to what would happen to Stephanie after this take down, if her identity was revealed. He and Neal would return to business as usual but her life would be turned upside down.
"Then we will have to make sure nothing goes wrong and your cover doesn't get blown," was the best that Peter could offer.
"Well, let's hope that's the case," Stephanie said, stands and starts to head to the door. Peter stands and follows her. They both stop at the door and Stephanie turns back to face Peter.
"Thanks for listening to me, Peter. This was not how I pictured our reunion to be like."
"When this is all over, you should come over for dinner," Peter offered.
"You'll make your pot roast?" Stephanie asked.
"If you're lucky!" Peter smiled.
"Actually, I'd hoped that you might have learnt some new dishes by now?" Stephanie teased.
Peter chuckled, "Well, let's just say I've been burnt one too many times to try anything new!"
Stephanie smiles, opens the door and says, "Good night, Peter."
"Good night Stevie," Peter used his old nickname for her.
Stephanie hesitates, as if she wants to kiss Peter, and she does, leaning in and reaching up to give him a gentle, lingering, kiss on his cheek. Then she walks outside and gets into her Mercedes SLR. Peter watches as she drives off into the darkness.
The doorbell rings in Sara Ellis' apartment. She checks the security camera. It is the Fedex guy. She opens the door.
"Ms Sara Ellis?" the Fedex guy asks.
"Yes," Sara replies.
Fedex guy hands over a large box, which Sara accepts. "Sign here," Fedex guy said, holding a wireless signature pad for her to sign which she does.
Sara closes the door, takes the package into the living room. She runs a hand-held security scanner over it to check for metals. Nothing. She opens the package carefully. She cannot believe what she's holding in her hands.