A/N: OK, I admit it, I'm a huge fan of the bromance between Peter and Neal, and I want the rift created in "Under the Radar" fixed – and quickly! Since I have to wait until June to see how the show will handle this, I figured I'd do my own take. And it worked out to use an idea that Tim DeKay has said would be one of his dream episodes :-)
"All right, new case, people. Pay attention." Peter handed the folders around to the gathered agents, sliding the last one in the general direction of the farthest end of the table.
Neal reached out, snagging the folder just before it went over the edge. Honestly, he wasn't even sure what he was doing here. Peter was barely speaking to him, and the other agents were following his lead. He'd tried as hard as he could since Vincent Adler's death and the explosion at the warehouse to show that he was still capable of, and interested in, being a contributing member of the team. But even though Peter had yet to turn up any evidence that Neal had stolen the Nazi treasure – and since he HAD NOT DONE IT there wouldn't be any evidence – the frosty atmosphere continued.
"Medicare fraud," Peter continued, switching on the projector. Photos of two people, a man and a woman, appeared on the screen. "Susan Bolen and Wendell Yates, both physicians, though not licensed in New York." He clicked the remote and the photo changed to one of an old, almost derelict-looking building. "They have a so-called clinic called Medical Now on the fifth floor here. On paper, it looks like they're do-gooders, serving the poor and downtrodden."
"I take it the paper looks better than the reality," Diana commented, flipping through her copy.
Peter nodded. "We have a couple of witnesses who have come forward with some interesting stories. Bolen and Yates allegedly send out 'sweepers' to the shelters and homeless camps, looking for anyone with a Medicare card. These people are then transported to the clinic where exams – usually consisting of a few questions – are performed. The clinic then bills Medicare for office visits, lab work, x-rays, and all manner of diagnostic tests." He clicked the remote again and images of bills appeared, with a bottom line of thousands of dollars.
"Do we have any idea how many people they see at this clinic?" Jones asked.
The screen changed again, showing a surveillance shot of the clinic entrance. "A team watched the building for four hours yesterday." Peter pointed at a white van that was parked in front. "They counted eight vans like this one, with an average of seven 'patients' in each van." He grabbed a couple of plastic evidence envelopes and slid them down the table. "Each patient receives one of these just for coming in and filling out the paperwork."
One of the envelopes slid almost to the end of the table and Neal idly picked it up, looking at the hundred dollar bill it held. He'd already skimmed the whole case file, and it wasn't like Peter actually wanted his opinion on anything these days anyway, so this was at least something to look at. He spun his chair halfway toward the window, holding the envelope up to the morning sun…
Suddenly he sat up straighter, holding the envelope higher. Wow – he'd heard about this, but actually seeing it…
"Something you'd like to share, Caffrey?"
Caffrey. Neal turned back to the group slowly, staring up at Peter. "Maybe," he said. "Has this been checked for prints?"
Peter scowled, as if trying to figure out what angle Neal might be playing. Finally, he shook his head. "Why?"
Neal got up and grabbed a tissue from a box on the side table. Opening the bag carefully, he used the tissue to pull the bill out and walked to the front of the room, holding it in front of the projector light. "Do you see those slight shadows in the printing?"
Peter leaned in closer, studying the bill. "Yeah, I see it. What would do that?"
"This used to be a five dollar bill."
Diana was on her feet, coming to look over Neal's shoulder. "How is that possible?"
"I've heard about this," Neal said. "The counterfeiters take real money, low denominations, and bleach the bills. Then they get reprinted as higher denominations. That way the bills will always feel authentic, because it's real treasury stock being used. And you have to look pretty close to see the shadowing."
"So you've seen this before?" Peter asked.
Neal shook his head slowly. He really didn't much care for Peter's tone… "No, only heard about it. The only time I've been involved in counterfeiting was a few weeks ago in the operation with Ford and Ganz. From what I have heard though, this is trickier, trying to print cleanly on the smaller sheet."
"But they don't have to steal treasury stock," Jones pointed out. "Easier in that way."
"Sure," Neal agreed. "Fairly low cash outlay, getting the smaller bills. The ink isn't as hard to come by as the paper. And if there's a misprint, they can always just bleach it out again. At least until the paper finally gives out."
"So now we have Medicare fraud and counterfeiting," Diana said. "This just got more fun."
Peter reached for the bill, holding it with the tissue as he motioned for one of the agents to pass the evidence bag down. "Jones, call our contacts at Treasury and the Secret Service again. We'll need to brief them in. Diana, check with NYPD. I want a list of all of the homeless camps they know of. The rest of you, get on the shelters. I want some facts and figures on how many people we're talking about here before we try for a warrant on Medical Now. We'll meet again at three o'clock and discuss strategy." He sealed the evidence bag, turned off the projector, and walked out of the room.
Neal stood where he was, watching the agent leave. A lead like this and Peter would still barely even acknowledge him…
"Good catch," Diana said softly.
"Yeah," Jones agreed. "Complicates things, but good catch."
"Thanks." Neal sighed, looking into the next office. "And thanks for actually speaking to me."
Diana looked into Peter's office too, and then back at Neal. "It's… kind of complicated right now."
"Complicated?" Neal ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Diana, I did not steal that Nazi treasure. And I did not arrange for it to be stolen." And he still hadn't figured out who had done the job, and left him the key…
Nor had he figured out what he was going to do with the riches.
"For what it's worth, I believe you," she said. "And Peter wants to."
"He has a funny way of showing it," Neal said. "He'll barely even look at me, let alone talk to me."
"There's a lot of pressure coming down from above," Jones said. "Department of Justice is involved, Hughes is taking a lot of heat. Homeland Security has their fingers in it too, since Adler snuck back into the country undetected."
"Just give it a little time, Neal," Diana counseled. "If nothing else shows up to tie you to the theft…"
"There can't be anything else," he insisted. "I didn't do it!" He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and let it out. "But thank you for saying you believe me. I appreciate it."
Jones clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a light push toward the door. "It'll work out," he said. "Come on, I'm sure Treasury will be glad to know you've found another counterfeiting scheme."
"Oh, not the Men in Black bobsled team again…"
Nothing like a little counterfeiting to get things stirred up…
The office was awash in activity, and visitors – mostly of the black-suited, unsmiling, government types. Neal had repeated his discovery several times, always to a new audience of grim bureaucrats. They asked a lot of questions – repeated a lot of questions – and gave no indication whether they believed him on anything or not.
At least no one, not even Peter, had actually accused him of producing the counterfeit bills…
Other information started to come in. They had a rough map of all the known homeless encampments in the city, with agents sent out to canvas the camps. Other agents were at the shelters and soup kitchens, showing the photos of Bolen and Yates. And a third group of agents was working the banks, trying to track any unusual withdrawals of large quantities of low denomination bills.
And even with all of the activity going on, Neal found himself without an assignment. When he wasn't answering questions from the FBI, Treasury, Secret Service, and Homeland Security, he was sitting at his desk, watching everyone else work.
In fact, he'd been told to just wait, do nothing…
Which was never something he'd been very good at.
The number of agents, from White Collar and other units, out in the field actually worked to his advantage now. There were only a few still in the office on the twenty-first floor…
In fact, it was a perfect number to volunteer to get coffee for. Enough so it would seem he was doing a very nice deed, but not so many that it would be hard to accomplish.
A plan in place, he roamed among the desks in the bullpen, taking orders. And then, smile in place, fedora on his head, he promised to be back shortly – in a voice carefully modulated to carry enough for certain people to hear.
Once outside the confines of the federal building he stepped into an alcove carved into the front of a neighboring deli and pulled out his cell phone. "Hey, Moz… No, we're still playing the silent game… Well, he hasn't had me arrested yet… Moz, there's nothing to find… I know it would have been a great con, but I didn't do it!... Mozzie… Right, I'll call my lawyer. Listen, have you heard anything about the report?... Still a few days. Okay, yeah, not much choice but to wait… No, I'm on a coffee run… Believe it or not, I volunteered this time. Sitting there with Peter glaring holes in my back is getting a little old… Right, I'll see you later. And Moz? Maybe you could bring a bottle of wine for a change."
Neal ended the call and stepped back out into the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. The coffee shop was two more doors down.
Noah Gregg, recently conscripted from Organized Crime to help track down leads on the Medicare fraud, looked around nervously, hoping that Burke was talking to someone else. Unfortunately, there was no one else in close proximity. "He, uh, went out to get coffee for us."
"Who talked him into that?"
"I think he volunteered, sir."
Neal volunteered… "How long ago was this?" Peter demanded.
"Not long," Gregg stammered. "Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, tops."
Peter swore softly to himself before addressing Gregg again. "Do you know how to log into the U.S. Marshals' tracking system?"
"No, sir. Never used it."
Peter sighed and moved to the terminal on the desk Gregg was using. "I'll get it…" His voice trailed off as the doors opened and Neal moved slowly into the bullpen area, balancing two trays full of cups.
"Coffee's here," Neal announced, carefully setting his load down on his desk. He started to hand out the drinks, matching the faces with the names he had written on the cups at the shop.
"You volunteered for a coffee run," Peter said, coming up to the desk as the other agents moved away.
"Well, I seem to be excluded from a number of things these days," Neal replied. "This was at least something to do." He picked up one of the two remaining cups and handed it over. "Here, I got you a latte."
Peter reached for the cup automatically, then stood there, just staring at it.
"It's not poisoned, Peter," Neal said, his voice betraying some of the pain he felt. "Do you want me to take a drink first?"
"No." Peter shook his head, staring at the cup. "Thanks. But the Treasury agents have some more questions for you."
"Well, that sounds like fun." Neal set his hat on the desk and picked up his own mocha. "Let's do it."
"Nickel for your thoughts."
Peter's head jerked up as he felt El's fingers rubbing his neck. "A nickel? What happened to a penny?"
"Inflation." Her hands moved down across his shoulders. "Peter, what's wrong?"
"Oh, it's this whole thing with Neal. I really thought we were getting to a place where we could trust each other."
"And you're so sure he did this?"
"El, I told you about the piece of the painting I found."
"And you told me he said all of his paintings had been stolen."
"Oh, yeah, that's what he said."
Her fingers worked the base of his neck and then she leaned down, resting her head on his shoulder. "He looked you in the eye and said he didn't set up the explosion or the theft," she said softly.
Peter sighed and leaned back into her arms. "I know. But El…"
"Peter, we're talking about Neal. Our friend. The man who gave up a ring worth over two million dollars to save your life."
"And the man who admitted to trying to swindle Vincent Adler out of millions a few years back." But even as he said the words, he realized his certainty over Neal's guilt was wavering.
"We have a big case right now," he said, standing up and taking her into his arms. "When this is over… we'll see."