Drowning: - A White Collar Fic
Disclaimer: - I own no part of White Collar
NB: - I'm English, therefore I quite unapologetically write and spell in English. I'll do my best to keep these characters American.
He didn't know what the hell hit him. The stunning impact thumped him hard between the shoulder blades. He half-spun and made a clumsy grab for his gun, but by then it was a lifetime too late. A boat wrench, a godamned boat wrench; his attacker had appeared from nowhere. He just about cleared the glock from its holster before the man struck him again. He yelled then, or swore and pushed backwards, dropping the gun from his nerveless fingers. It slid across the fibreglass boat deck and disappeared over the side into the water, before a third blow cracked the bones in his forearm with a sickening jolt of pain.
Just routine – this was not supposed to happen.
The guy, Sobek, was a witness not a suspect.
Him and Neal – they'd called in on their way back home – taking a detour to stop off at the marina. Neal had muttered about frostbite and overtime and sulked all the way across the city, cranking the heater to maximum efficiency in a vain effort to combat the cold. As usual, Peter had ignored him. He just wanted to get this over with. He was tired and decidedly hungry; looking forward to having dinner with El. Nothing was ever that simple of course, and there had been one or two loose ends which still puzzled him. So small, they were hardly anything. A mere crossing of T's and a dotting of I's but he wouldn't relax until they were tied.
Sobek had been friendly enough as he'd stepped onto the boat. There was nothing to suggest he should be wary. They'd swapped comments on the promise of ice in the air, and the clear frozen beauty of the sky. The other guy had been hiding at the front of the boat, hunkered down behind the bulk of a locker. He must have waited a few seconds and bided his time, before deciding on a plan of attack.
Peter lurched forwards and lowered his shoulder, face determined and jaw clenched in agony. He was hurting and taken badly off-guard, but be damned if he'd go down without a fight. The body check worked for a second or two, and his momentum sent them both reeling. He ducked sideways and made a desperate grasp for the wrench, but then Sobek struck him from behind. The whole thing was over in seconds, brutal and uncompromising. Something cracked hard across the back of his skull and he dropped like a stone to the deck.
Time stood still and the world became silent. He felt the shift of the boat on the water. He knew he should fight back, ought to call out for help, but his body refused to obey. The winter sun was low on the horizon and the sky was awash with colour. The sunset was streaked with crimson or it could be the blood in his eyes.
There was something . . . he tried to remember. Neal had been freezing and reluctant to come with him. He'd been talking to Moz on his cell phone and disinclined to leave the warmth of the car. Peter gave thanks for small mercies. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. He clung on to the meagre crumb of comfort amidst the darkening swirls of pain. Please God, this one time . . . if only Neal would stay put, safe and sound in the parking lot.
His head was pounding and his stomach gave a treacherous lurch. He held his breath and tried to quell the bout of nausea. It took some seconds and a whole lot of willpower not to heave his guts all over the deck. Sobek was staring down at him, his expression both bewildered and angry. Peter watched him and strove to get a sense of the man, tried to work out what he was thinking. Events had spiralled sharply out of control and Peter guessed he was out of his depth. Maybe there was something he could work with here. He was not prepared to give up the ghost just yet. If Sobek was a reluctant accomplice, he could appeal to the man's streak of decency. Or more likely, any fear of retribution . . . at the very least, he had to try.
"Think about it," his voice sounded terrible. "Just remember I'm a federal agent. You'd better run this through pretty carefully. There's still time to make things right."
"Shut-up," the man levelled a handgun at him. It was probably the same one he'd clubbed him with. "It's too late for that, you shouldn't have come here."
"Put me ashore," Peter tried reason. "It'll still give you and your friend time to get out of here."
"I said, shut-up!" Sobek raised the gun in his fist and used it to strike him again.
Peter curled in to protect himself and the blow caught the plane of his cheekbone. It hurt, but not as much as it should have done, misdirected by Sobek's rage.
He felt rather than heard Sobek walking away, and then the throb of the engines below him. The boat was moving, heading out onto the river, taking advantage of the swift evening tide. He lay back on the deck and closed his eyes. It truly was down to him now. There was no one else for him to worry about, and he'd rarely been more grateful in his life.
Neal was safe on the shore.
He exhaled in relief.
It was down to him to get out of this alive.
The two men were talking – arguing. It sounded like Sobek was pissed. He guessed the other guy had acted on impulse and created a major problem – namely him. He had to act, had to fight to stay conscious, before they decided to finish him. Something hard was digging into his hip-bone, and miraculously, he still had his cell. His breath caught as he shifted slightly, the pain in his arm was unbearable. He bit through his lip in agony. If they saw him, then he was probably a goner.
It was turned on – he pressed mute and then speed dial – his bloody fingers slipping and clumsy. He prayed Neal had finished talking to Moz as he scrolled down in search of the right name. He was facing away from the cockpit and they couldn't see his lips moving. With any luck, the noise of the engines would successfully muffle the sound.
One ring, and then; "Have you noticed how cold it's getting? Oh, and did I forget to say boring? You said this was going to take minutes. It would be nice to get home sometime soon."
He felt a rush of relief and would have smiled if he could – if the side of his face didn't hurt so much. Neal really was okay. He was safe in the car. The knowledge felt like a form of reprieve.
"Neal - "
Dear lord, he sounded worse than before. The name came out as barely a whisper. He knew that if he wanted to stay alive, he had to cowboy-up and get out of this mess.
"Where are you?" Any trace of mock-sarcasm had vanished. It was as if, somehow, Neal sensed he was in trouble.
Peter swallowed, feeling dangerously light-headed. "On the boat with Sobek and another guy. You need to call Diana for back-up. I'm hurt, Neal, I need your help."
"How hurt?" Neal's voice was suddenly sharp. "Hold on, I'm on my way."
"No time – need you to call for help, before they put a bullet in my head."
"Peter - "
"No time," he repeated for emphasis. His teeth were chattering loudly and a fine tremor ran through his body, although whether from cold or reaction, he really didn't want to think about it now. "Tell Diana I'm going into the water. She's got all of Sobek's details. We're headed down-river towards the Lower Bay. She'll know who to call, what to do."
"I'm going. For Christ's sake, be careful. You'd better be a damned good swimmer." There was a rough edge to Neal's voice. "Don't you die, Peter, don't you dare die on me, or what the hell am I going to tell El?"
"The right thing, you tell her the right thing. Whatever it is she needs to hear!"
He cut the call at the sound of her name. I'm sorry, El . . . it was way too painful. If he stood any chance of getting out of this alive, then right now, he couldn't think about his wife.
He knew they were planning to kill him or they would have put him ashore at the marina. Almost certainly, they were heading for the deep water channels of the Bay to dump his body out at sea. There were no choices, really, and he knew it. The Hudson was the lesser of two evils. He could either take his chances in the water or wait for Sobek to put a bullet in his head.
Now or never.
While they were still near the shore-line, and he still had some odds in his favour. He knew the river got more tidal and dangerous the closer they got to the sea. Peter looked down at his cell – he didn't need it – other than for psychological comfort. It wasn't one of those high-tech gadgets like the military used; the GPS wouldn't work in the river. The thought of ditching it was absurdly painful – there were lists of valuable contacts – and then, of course, there were the personal things. The precious pictures of Satchmo and El.
Maybe it could still be of use, though. He wedged it out of sight beneath the decking. The FBI would be able to keep tracking the boat regardless of what happened to him.
Talking of which . . .
He took a breath and braced himself. He was less than two feet from the railings. Peter forced his battered body into action and rolled swiftly over the side.
Neal left the car at a run and sprinted towards the quiet marina. There were only a couple of unoccupied yachts moored up in the dwindling light. He shaded his eyes against the sunset and tracked the wake of Sobek's boat across the water. It was moving pretty slowly at a couple of knots on a steady course out to the middle of the Hudson. One man stood topside near the rear of the boat, and he guessed the other was down in the cabin. His gut tightened and he tried not to panic. There was no sign of Peter anywhere. He couldn't see any trace of him out on the deck and his heart sank another few notches.
Even though it was February, the water was quite calm. The waves barely broke through the surface. There were traces of ice on the estuary mud shaped in crescents where the tide had been. It was the tail-end of one of those clear frozen days when the pale light was almost ethereal, but he wasn't in the mood to appreciate the view, or the beaten-silver beauty of the sky. Neal knew it must be bone-achingly cold, far too cold for a man who was injured. Although Peter was a very good swimmer, he'd be lucky to get out of this alive.
Talking of cold – he was already frozen. His hand was still clenched around his cell phone. He knew the temperature would drop even further as soon as it began getting dark. He'd called Diana immediately. It was a small but very solid comfort. She'd been calm and reassuringly professional, instructing him to wait at the scene. By scene – he knew she meant stay in the car, but she hadn't exactly spelled it out to him.
Since when had Neal Caffrey ever done as he was told?
It was almost a matter of pride.
He scanned the surface of the river between the boat and the shore, looking for evidence of anyone in the water. Each moment, every second was vital, as the vessel chugged further away. As they neared the centre of the Hudson, then the currents would get fiercer and more tidal. It would be harder – if not almost impossible for a wounded man to make it safely back to land. There was zero, he couldn't see anything. Nothing ruffled the surface of the water. Right now, it seemed the lesser of two evils, and he prayed that Peter was still on the boat.
"Come on, Peter," he found himself whispering. "Give me a sign, man, I'll settle for anything."
Later, quite a long time later, he would wonder if Peter heard him. Sobek's boat began to loop in the water, turning back against the quickening tide. He heard a shout, then the pop of several gunshots, as the vessel curved in sideways to the shore. He watched intently and cursed the fast-fading light as the colours played tricks with his vision. There was a man holding onto the railing and staring intently down into the water. Seconds ticked, and at least half a minute went by, but there was no sign of anyone surfacing. Another minute and the boat gunned its engines again and headed off down the river at speed.
Was that a shape or a shadow . . .
Neal scrunched up his eyes and looked harder, unsure if it was merely wishful thinking. There was something dark, bobbing erratically, about four hundred yards from the waters-edge. There was no question, it was definitely Peter. He didn't seem to be making much progress. Neal lost him for a heart-stopping moment as he disappeared out of sight.
What the hell did you expect, for crying out loud? Neal shook his head; what was he thinking?
It would be crazy to go into the water.
It must be barely thirty-two degrees.
He heard the whup-whup of blades and looked up at the sky. There was a helicopter some way off in the distance. The sirens followed a few seconds later, and he moistened his lips in relief. Okay, so the cavalry was on its way, but it would still take too long for them to get here. He looked down at his watch and raked a hand through his hair. The whole thing was the wrong kind of paradox. There was too little time to save Peter's life but enough time in which he might die.
There was only one possible solution.
It would be crazy to go into the water.
Neal knew he was quite a strong swimmer. That part of it was never in question. He'd spent plenty of illicit vacations diving off the world's colourful reefs. It was another place, another lifetime ago, and the thought still hurt in-spite of the danger. Him and Kate, they'd been sun-kissed and happy back then, their bodies lithe and glistening with salt water; but the oceans had been warm and pellucid, and he'd swum like a seal in their embrace.
This was different, so very different, it scared him. He swallowed hard as he watched Peter struggling. The freezing Hudson licked over the toes of his shoes as he crouched at the waters-edge. It was darker and the air cut into his lungs, remorseless with the first frost of evening. If he entered the water, he would be risking his life. Most likely, he would be dead.
It was Peter . . . it was Peter Burke out there.
In the end, it was a no-brainer. He slipped his shoes off and positioned them carefully, before removing the fedora from his head. It was too good a hat to be ruined, so he placed it where the tide wouldn't get it. Who knew, if he was lucky and the gods were on his side, then he might get to wear it again.
He looked down a little cynically at the tracker. It was allegedly one hundred per cent waterproof. Did that include an impromptu dip in the Hudson? He was about to put the damned thing to the test. In for a penny . . . he might have laughed at the irony but nothing about this was remotely funny. Neal Caffrey, the world's greatest con-man, and he was risking his life for a fed. His feet sank in the mud as he stood at the edge and took one last look at the sunset. The sky was bleeding wide streaks of vermilion. He kept his fingers crossed it wasn't an omen.
Not just any old fed, it was Peter. God, the man had a way of disarming him. Mister straight-arrow, by the book, vanilla . . . the man had wormed his way under his skin.
He took one step and then another.
The raw cold was shocking in intensity. It paralysed and then stole the breath from him. He clenched his jaw and struck out with a purpose. If he could synchronise his muscles and move quickly . . . the icy waters closed over his head.
Lisa Paris - 2011