Title: Chasing the Past
Summary: Who killed Ryan Harper and why? What other secrets will Stephanie Harper reveal to Peter and Neal?
A/N: This is the sequel to my first White Collar fanfiction "Crossing Paths" published in December 2010. If you haven't already read it, I would recommend that you do so before reading this one to explain the new characters I created for this story.
This story is to be published in six chapters and all chapters have been written prior to the airing of S2E14 "Payback", therefore, some references will be made to events that have occurred up to S2E13 "Countermeasures".
Elizabeth Burke was holding the paper she had taken out of her husband's hand. It had only 6 handwritten words – a woman's handwriting, she suspected.
The note read: "Ryan Harper was my Neal Caffrey."
"What does this mean?" Elizabeth asked Peter.
"I think it means that Ryan Harper was a con working for the FBI," Peter said this as if he was just wondering out loud.
"You think Ryan Harper was a criminal who had cut a deal with the FBI similar to Neal's?"
"Except for the anklet."
"Why would one of the richest men in Manhattan be a white collar criminal?"
"I don't know. If this is true, he certainly wouldn't be the first one." Peter was still trying to wrap his head around the revelation.
"But Honey, who left you this note and how did it get into your pocket?"
"Stephanie Harper." Peter took the piece of paper back from Elizabeth's hand. He looked at his wife and continued, "I recognise her writing. It's been a long time since I've seen it but I remember it and I have no doubt it's hers. I think she might have put it in my pocket when I gave her a hug to congratulate her on closing the case just before I left the office."
"If you are right then why is she telling you this now? Ryan Harper is dead and this little secret could have been buried with him 'coz I'm pretty sure the FBI would never have made this public knowledge."
"I don't know, El. But I know one person who can give me all the answers."
Stephanie Harper was sleeping, Neal lying next to her, awake. Her head was resting on his shoulder. They were in her apartment. He was watching her sleep, with quiet admiration and fascination. He gently stroked her arm as if making sure she was really there with him. She stirred in his arms, then slowly opened her eyes. He returned her gaze with his blue eyes, and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. She turned her face up towards him and they kissed deeply.
"I'm sorry if I woke you," Neal said.
"If that's what I wake up to, then there is nothing to apologise for," Stephanie smiled.
"I could have watched you sleep like that for hours. You looked so peaceful, so…" Neal tried to find the right word, "…so serene."
"Serene…" Stephanie repeated after Neal. "I don't think I have slept so well since, well, I don't remember the last time I slept so well."
"Not even with Ryan?" Neal asked.
"Neal," Stephanie shifted away from Neal's embrace, moved so that she was leaning on her side, resting on her elbow. She looked thoughtfully at him. "Neal," she said again. "We need to talk."
Mozzie and Alex were in Neal's apartment, but no Neal.
"So where's Neal?" Alex asked.
"I'm not his keeper. That's the Suit's job," Mozzie replied.
"I need to talk to him," Alex said urgently.
"Well, as you can see, he is not here."
"So why are you here?"
"This is where he keeps the good wine."
"Argh!" Alex grunted.
"What is so urgent that you need to speak to him in the dead of night?" Mozzie asked, curious now.
"I'm being watched. I don't know who it is but I need help. It's got to have something to do with Adler. Now that he knows the Feds are on to him!" Alex was clearly rattled and was speaking quickly.
"Well, how do you expect Neal to help?"
"He knows people. He's tethered to the FBI. They got the target off my back before. I need them to do it again!" Alex said with desperation in her voice.
"How are you being watched?"
"I have clients – very important clients – very RICH clients, who have been avoiding me. I got suspicious. Then yesterday, one of them finally admitted that they are staying away from me because they think I'm too hot to buy from, and they're not saying it in a complimentary way. How am I supposed to work like this? Then this morning, when I picked up my phone to call Hale, I thought I heard a 'click' on the phone. Hale heard it too so I know I wasn't imagining it. So we had to pretend like we got a bad line and hung up. I had to throw my phone away and get a new burner phone. I can't go back to my apartment either."
"So you came HERE?" Mozzie exclaimed, walking over to the window and quickly drawing all the curtains close. "If your apartment is being watched then they were probably following you and now you've brought them HERE?"
"I was careful, Moz. I checked and took different routes and detoured and all that. I may be desperate but I'm not stupid. Besides, if it is Adler, then he already knows where Caffrey lives."
"Neal is on an anklet, Alex. The FBI don't watch him because the Marshals know where he is at all times anyway." Mozzie went to his satchel, retrieved a bug sweeper and began to walk around Neal's apartment, running the bug detector over and under furniture and furnishings as he spoke. "Take a look around in case there are hidden cameras."
"You know you have OCD, right?" Alex relented and started looking around as well.
"You wanna have this argument with me now?"
"So where is he, Moz? I thought he was closing his big case against Hyland Financials and Carroll Investments today. Why isn't he home yet?"
"He didn't tell me. I assume he's with the Suit."
"It's 2.30 in the morning."
"Like I said, I'm not his keeper. Now keep looking!"
Neal was standing with Stephanie in her kitchen, making coffee like a trained barista, dressed in one of Ryan's robes.
The intercom rang. Stephanie stepped out of the noisy kitchen and picked it up from the living room. A minute later, she walked back into the kitchen and said, "Neal, you'd better go get dressed. We have company coming up."
Neal raised an eyebrow and was about to ask a question but Stephanie had already walked back out again.
The door bell rang and Stephanie opened the door. Peter was standing there, looking unusually rattled.
"Hey, Stevie. I'm so sorry for coming here so late."
"Come on in," Stephanie replied and stepped aside to let Peter into the room.
Peter walked in and noticed two wine glasses on the table. "Oh, you have company. I should go."
"Sit down, Peter." Stephanie took a seat on the lounge.
Peter did as he was told and sat across from Stephanie. He turned towards the hallway at the sound of someone walking out. It was Neal, now dressed in his black shirt and gray suit-pants, hair a little mussed up, the same clothes he had been wearing the day before.
"Hello Peter," Neal said.
"Neal…" Peter said in surprise. "What are you…" he did not ask any further. He tried not to think about why Neal would be in Stephanie's apartment in the middle of the night.
"I could ask you the same thing," Neal tried to joke. "Are you checking up on me? I am within my 2 mile radius, plus I am in the company of an FBI agent," Neal continued, nodding his head at Stephanie.
"I believe Peter has found the note," Stephanie answered for Peter.
Peter turned back to Stephanie, "He knows about the note?"
"That's as far as we got," Stephanie said.
Peter continued, "I don't think we should be having this discussion in front of him."
"Peter, no more secrets. I trust Neal and I want him to hear this," Stephanie replied.
Neal was still standing, feeling like the third wheel and said to Stephanie, "Peter's right. I should go."
Stephanie looked up at Neal and said, "I need you – both of you. Please stay."
Peter was still uncertain but now also curious.
"Well, in that case, I think I'll get us some coffee. Sounds like we'll need it," Neal said and disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with 3 cups of coffee which he placed on the marble coffee table.
Neal sat down in the armchair in between the couches Peter and Stephanie were on.
There was a brief silence as everyone gathered their thoughts.
"Let's start with an easy one: what did you mean by this?" Peter asked, holding up the note Stephanie had given to Peter.
"My late husband was a CI working with me for the FBI. I was his handler for the past 15 years," Stephanie replied.
"You're telling me that Ryan Harper was a criminal? But there is no file on him with the FBI," Peter asked.
"He was never formally charged with any crimes so there would have been no file on him as such. We reported only to Hughes and Bancroft. Anything you might have seen on either of us would have been redacted."
"It's a hell of a secret to keep all these years," Neal commented.
"You're no stranger to secrets, Neal," Stephanie replied, then added, "I will explain everything later but there is another reason why I'm telling you all this now."
"You need our help," Peter responded.
"Yes. I believe Ryan was murdered."
"Homicide's not our area of expertise and I thought he died in a parachuting accident?" Neal asked.
"That's what the coroner's report said. But I never believed it," Stephanie replied.
"What did the report say?" Peter asked.
"They found nothing suspicious with the parachute. The conclusion was that he must have panicked, mistimed the opening of the 'chute and caused the cords to wrap around his neck when he crashed to the ground."
"But you suspect foul play," Neal said.
"Ryan had been parachuting since he was 18. He BASE-jumped, bungeed, abseiled, parkoured – you name it, he would have tried it at least once. He was an adrenaline junkie. There was no way he panicked or mistimed opening the 'chute."
"As I recall from the news, Ryan's pilot said he didn't look well that day and he'd tried to talk Ryan out of jumping," Peter said.
"I dropped Ryan off at the hangar that morning and he was perfectly fine. He was as excited as he always was before a jump. There was nothing wrong with him."
"I thought it was Ryan's usual pilot flying him that day. Why would he lie?" Peter asked.
"Bill Caton had been Ryan's pilot for almost 10 years. He was as close to being Ryan's confidant as you could imagine."
"Did he know about you and your cover?" Peter asked.
"Not as far as I could tell. At least I never told him and Ryan assured me he had never told a living soul about us," Stephanie replied.
"What was Caton's background?" Neal asked.
"He was a former naval pilot. He was dishonourably discharged in 2000 for suspicion of smuggling antiquities. The charges were never proven but there were enough strikes against his name to warrant the discharge."
"How did Caton and Ryan meet?" Peter asked.
"Through Vincent Adler," Stephanie replied.