Peter made the turn as directed by the GPS unit, merging onto Washington Street. According to the display, he'd turn again, onto Ganesvoort, in a few blocks.
Neal's message had been quite cryptic, and he found himself pushing the local speed limit a little.
Okay, maybe more than a little.
He backed off the gas, watching the map display count down the blocks. Finally, he was there, turning left. The marker showed the building halfway down the block on the right, which appeared to be a storage unit business.
So why would Neal…
Well, there was the man in question, standing up from where he had been sitting on the curb, waiting. So hopefully he could get answers soon.
Peter pulled over to the curb and parked, then got out of the car and walked toward the sidewalk. "What's going on, Neal?"
Neal took what appeared to be a nervous breath before answering. "There's something you need to see, Peter. But I need you to promise me something."
That made him nervous right there. "Like what?"
"That you'll remember what we talked about in that elevator, and why I told you those things. And that you'll listen, before jumping to any conclusions."
Definitely nervous. "I'm not sure I like where this is heading."
"Oh, you might, actually," Neal replied. "It'll answer some questions."
"Peter, please. Just listen?"
Peter considered that for a moment and then nodded.
Neal took a deep breath before continuing. "That day at the docks, after the explosion, and you shooting Adler… I was pretty upset when I left, and I just wandered around for a long time. When I finally got home, I found this on my table." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card, handing it over.
Peter looked at the card, and then up at the street number on the building. "That's this place."
Neal nodded, holding something else out. "There was a key too. Unit A."
Peter found he was actually holding his breath as he took the key from Neal's hand and looked at the door. "Neal…"
"A picture's worth a thousand words, Peter. You just need to see it."
Peter's hand closed around the key as he started toward the door. Once inside, he took a moment to get his bearings, and then he saw the "A" on the door across the way.
The key slid into the lock easily and he stepped inside…
The sight that met his eyes was enough to take his breath away.
"I didn't lie to you, Peter," Neal said, his voice coming softly from the direction of the door. "I didn't steal it, I didn't plan it. I was as surprised that night as you are now."
"This… this is all of it?"
Neal walked closer, into view, and shrugged. "I haven't found an inventory or anything."
"I… but…" Peter paused, taking a deep breath and considering what he wanted to say. "I believe you, Neal," he started, knowing that he meant the words. "But if you didn't do it, then who? Alex? Mozzie?"
"Alex would never have left it to me. She might have left me a few crumbs, but she likes her money too much. Mozzie wouldn't have been so cryptic as to leave a card. He would have been bursting to tell me. And he would have asked me to help."
"So who does that leave?"
"I have a theory." Neal reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out some folded sheets of paper. He handed it over.
Peter glanced at the top sheet, and then looked back at Neal. "Adler's autopsy report?"
"I had Mozzie get a copy." Neal reached over and flipped to the second page. "He was dying, Peter. All his money, all his power, all his connections, and he finally found something he couldn't beat."
"Pancreatic cancer," Peter said, reading.
"Inoperable, and not responding to chemotherapy."
Peter stared at the report, trying to process the information. "All right, let's say he knew he was dying. That explains his timetable to find the sub now and get the treasure. But why would he leave it for you?"
"Before you got there, Adler said something to me. He said I was the closest thing to a son he'd ever had."
"So this is the family legacy?"
Neal shrugged. "Best theory I've got."
"But he was going to kill you."
Neal turned the report to the last page. "Personal property inventory. He was wearing a two-way transceiver."
Peter nodded, starting to understand. "We arrested a couple of his men not far away."
"They could have been watching for you, letting Vincent know when you were coming."
"So he'd know when to blow the explosives."
"And when to pull a gun on me."
"Knowing that I'd try to save you." Peter shook his head. "Suicide by cop."
"It's just a theory," Neal reminded him. "But it's the best one I've got. I mean, unless you did it…"
"You weren't at the top of my suspect list."
Even though Neal had certainly been at the top of his list… Peter took another look around, almost overwhelmed by the sheer volume of treasure surrounding him. "So, all of this…"
Neal stepped to one side, pointing at a grouping of artwork. "All of these pieces were stolen from Jewish owners," he said softly. "People who wound up in the concentration camps. Sara has a lot of international contacts. I thought she might be able to help track down survivors, or descendants."
"Yeah, good idea."
"These items all came from museums that are still around," Neal continued, indicating another grouping. "I'm not really sure what the protocol is for returning items."
"I guess you do have more experience with taking than returning."
Neal answered that with a shrug and a little half nod of his head, and then moved on to the next group of items. "These are from museums that were destroyed during the war."
"I guess we'll need to find someone versed in international law."
"Not Mozzie's area of specialization," Neal said, moving to yet another grouping. "I can't find any record of these items at all." He pointed over to the other half of the room, where a number of crates still stood unopened amid a mountain of loose objects. "I haven't even had a chance to look for information on any of those items yet. And I guess there could still be some documentation in one of those, but a lot of records were also lost during the war."
"So now we might be involving international salvage law too."
"Quite possibly. Sara found that map showing where the U-boat was believed to have gone down. It was in international waters."
Peter found his head swimming, so many thoughts trying to compete for his attention. He turned slowly, trying to actually comprehend the magnitude of what he was looking at. And then he saw the chest. "Wait, is that the…"
"Ark of the Covenant," Neal said softly from behind his shoulder. "I guess Spielberg and Lucas got it wrong. The Nazis really did find it."
"But something like that… I mean, how would you even know where it belonged?"
"The Ark was rumored to be in a lot of different places over the years, so who knows where it was even found," Neal said. "And antiquities laws weren't nearly as stringent seventy years ago. I called a couple of contacts in Germany and they're looking, but again, so much was lost."
"Imagine, a secret like that hidden for so long…"
"I'm not a particularly religious person, Peter – but this is an incredible find. It needs to be in a museum, where people can appreciate it, and study it."
The next several hours passed quickly as the two men lost themselves in opening the remaining crates and sorting what they found. Some of the items Neal was able to identify as coming from a particular museum, but most wound up in the 'to be identified later' category.
Anticipating this expenditure of time, Neal had brought coffee and sandwiches – though he was quick to point out to Peter that there would be NO deviled ham allowed in his storage unit.
Finally, by mid-afternoon, the physical toll of recent injuries, combined with the work they had done, caught up. Neal poured the last of the coffee into their cups and they sat on the floor, side by side, leaning against an empty crate, surveying the room.
"This just doesn't seem real," Peter said.
Neal nodded. "I know, and I've seen it before."
"I just…" Peter stopped, shaking his head. "You could have kept all of this," he said softly. "If I didn't find any evidence that you stole it…"
"Which you wouldn't," Neal cut in. "Because I didn't do it."
"So you could have kept it all, and been set to live like a king."
"The thought crossed my mind," Neal admitted. "But you know, even that first night, when I was so mad at you… even then, a big part of me wanted to call you, show you all of this."
"You've ruined me, Agent Burke."
"What, ruined a good con artist and thief?"
"Great. I was a great con artist and thief."
"So what happened?"
"You happened," Neal said, so softly it was almost a whisper. "It wasn't supposed to be like that."
"You. You were just supposed to get me out of prison. I'd help you for a while…"
"While you looked for Kate."
"Yeah. Real simple. Except you did something to me – and for the first time in a very long time, I had someone in my life who I didn't want to let down." He looked over at Peter. "Mozzie would say you brainwashed me."
"Or maybe I used the mind control chip we got from the aliens at Roswell," Peter suggested, reaching up to tap the back of Neal's neck. "Injected it right here one night after you'd had a couple glasses of wine spiked with Andorian… pixie dust."
That made Neal laugh out loud. "Yeah. Yeah, maybe that's it. You know, they just took a bunch of x-rays at the hospital. Maybe I should ask to see them."
"Maybe you should," Peter agreed, joining the laughter.
The laughter lingered for a long moment, and then Neal's expression turned serious again. "Even at the height of my former career, I wouldn't have wanted anything to do with what the Nazis stole from the people they were sending to death camps. And that," he continued, gesturing toward the Ark. "That's bigger than any one man."
"Unless maybe if you're Vincent Adler."
"And I'm not."
"I know." He leaned closer, nudging Neal's shoulder with his own. "Remember when we were talking about Ford, and you said people can change?"
"Yeah, you said 'maybe.'"
"Well, I guess some people can change."
Neal sighed. "Keller said I was starting to sound like a lawman."
Peter just grinned, apparently trying not to laugh. "Does that scare you?"
"Maybe a little." Neal sighed again, shaking his head as he looked around. "I could have fenced just a fraction of this and been wealthy beyond what most people even dream of. I would have been gone, off to somewhere with no extradition, before you even knew what was happening. Eating the finest food, drinking the finest wine, bedding the finest women…"
"Would you have been happy?"
Neal shrugged. "I guess we'll never know," he said softly. "I would have sent you a postcard though."
Peter laughed, and then leaned over, reaching for the jacket he had shed hours earlier. "We got so tied up in all of this, I almost forgot that I had something to show you too," he said, pulling some printouts from the inside pocket. He handed one sheet over.
It didn't take Neal long to get the main message. "My dad's out."
"Yup. Living and working in Chico."
Peter handed over the next page. "There's more."
This time Neal audibly caught his breath. "Seattle."
"Yeah, your mom's there."
Neal sighed and leaned his head back against the crate, closing his eyes. "I guess I can write…"
"Might be better to do this in person."
Neal opened his eyes again, staring down at his left leg. The bottom of his jeans had ridden up, exposing the flashing green light on the tracker. "I think the west coast is a little out of my radius for another couple of years."
Peter shrugged casually. "Not if a responsible FBI agent agreed to accompany you."
"It'll be a couple of weeks yet before I'm certified to go back to work, and I can do the exercises on the road." He handed one more sheet of paper over. "We leave on Monday."
"Peter, I…" Neal shook his head. Words didn't usually fail him, but this was one of the rare times as he looked at the e-ticket itinerary.
"Hey, would Butch leave Sundance hanging? Anyway, El is going to take off a few days too. There are some things she discovered on her business trip to San Francisco that she wanted to show me."
"So is this like a second honeymoon or something, and I get to tag along?"
"No, this is to get you some closure – or maybe open up some long-closed doors. I guess that's up to you." He set a hand gently on Neal's shoulder. "We'll have to have some ground rules, Neal. But I'll give you as much space as I can."
"Peter, I don't know what to say."
Peter got stiffly to his feet, stretching gingerly. "Well, you could tell me if you'd like to come to dinner tonight."
"Ummm, thanks, but June already invited me."
Peter nodded, shrugging into his jacket. "Going to sing more songs?"
Neal grinned and shook his head. "No audience tonight, so probably not."
"Well, enjoy. We'll talk tomorrow about plans for Monday." He took one more look around the room. "This will all be here when we get back, right?"
"It'll be here. I've already done the whole soul-searching and deciding thing."
"All right. Want a ride home?"
"I think I'll walk." Neal held up the papers in his hand. "It's good for thinking."
Neal stood on the curb, watching as Peter drove away. And then he looked down again at the pages in his hand. A link to his past, a chapter he'd thought was closed off to him…
It was both exciting and frightening at the same time. But he'd have Peter and Elizabeth there to see him through, and to catch him if things fell apart.
It was an incredible gesture on Peter's part. Maybe the last piece to fixing what had been broken between them that day on the docks a few short weeks earlier.
And that was almost enough to make him feel guilty about the jewelry and other small, untraceable items he'd already moved from the storage unit into other, more secure stash locations.
NB: Thanks to Tim DeKay for the idea of getting Peter and Neal stuck in an elevator and just letting them talk :-)