A/N: This story is a sequel to my previous fanfic "Chasing the Past" which was published in February 2011, just prior to the US airing of S2E15 "Powerplay". The following picks up the action from the Season 2 finale "Under the Radar". The primary White Collar characters are the creation of Jeff Eastin, creator and showrunner of the show.
The character of Stephanie Harper, for the benefit of readers who are not familiar with my previous stories (first created for "Chasing the Past"), is a self-made millionaire, and widow of someone from one of Manhattan's richest families. She is also the college sweetheart of Peter Burke and has been working secretly for the FBI White Collar Crime Division since college.
There was no specific mention of timeframe in "Under the Radar" between when Neal, Peter and Alex were rescued from Adler's capture at the dry dock to when they actually located the warehouse where Adler had moved the treasures. Therefore the timeframes as described in the following chapters are just my assumption.
The room was large but not well-lit given its size but that did not matter to the man, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt and baseball cap, carrying the final painting inside. When the painting had been settled on top of one of the many crates he had spent the night moving, he straightened up. He took one last look at the treasure trove in the store room around him and smiled.
The man walked out, closed the door behind him and carefully locked it, then placed the spare key inside the small envelope and headed out into the daylight.
As he walked out, his phone rang. He took it out of his pocket, checked the caller ID and said, "It's done. Is Neal out of his apartment yet?"
Then he paused to listen to the voice on the other end for a few seconds before saying, "I'm on my way." The man hung up without saying anything further.
Neal had skulked off angrily away from Peter, with Diana and Jones staring after him. Peter was still fuming, pacing up and down outside the still-burning warehouse. Diana and Jones looked away from the departing Neal and walked over to their boss.
"Peter, what's going on?" Jones asked.
"The art burning up in there is not Adler's U-boat treasure," Peter replied, pointing at the burning warehouse, still angry.
"What do you mean? What is it then?" Diana asked.
"It's Neal's art," Peter said.
"How do you know?" Jones asked.
"Because I have seen it in his apartment," Peter answered as he walked back towards the burning building to where Adler's body fell. Jones and Diana watched but did not follow. Peter bent down to pick up the burnt-out piece of Caffrey's painting of the Chrysler building.
Diana and Jones shared a puzzled look and promptly followed Peter as he walked back to his own car. Peter turned to his trusted subordinates and said, "Jones, stay here and work with NYFD and the bomb squad. I want a full report of whatever they find inside that warehouse. I want to know what triggered the explosion, what type of explosive was used, who had access to them and where they got it from. And when they're cleaned up I want forensics to run everything through whatever they can get from the debris."
Peter then addressed Diana, "Diana, I want you to go back to the office. Find out if there are any security cameras anywhere within a five-mile radius of here. Anything that might give us an idea of who's been in and around this area in the past 48 hours. And I want you to check the tracking data on Caffrey's anklet. I want to know his every move from this point forward."
"Do you want me to put a man outside June's house?" Diana asked.
"No. Not yet. Just keep monitoring his anklet. He'll spot our guys from a mile away. If he is responsible for what just happened here, he's not going to be making any stupid moves. Keep me updated."
"On it, Boss," Diana replied and she and Jones headed off to follow their orders.
Peter turned back for another look at the burning warehouse, black smoke filling the air around them. He wondered how long Neal had been lying to him. "I've never lied to you, Peter, and I'm not lying to you now." That was what Neal had said to him, piercing him with his steel-blue eyes.
Peter got into his car and slammed the door hard, turned the ignition and started driving. He knew he needed to clear his head. He needed evidence and facts. He needed the truth. And he knew who might be able to provide some answers.
"He thinks I'm lying!" Neal thought to himself as he stormed off from the pier. "He just shot Adler and saved my life and then he accuses me of conning him? What is going on? What's just happened?"
There were so many questions going through his mind. He didn't even know where to begin. He was still trying to comprehend that Adler was dead – shot and killed right in front of his eyes by his partner, and up until a few minutes ago, the man who he thought was also his friend.
His pace picked up the angrier and more confused he got. He needed to clear his head. He just kept walking aimlessly. He did not know where he was headed – he just knew he could not go back to the office to face Peter till he had calmed down. He had not even noticed the phone in his pocket had been ringing.
Peter pulled up outside the Park Avenue building. The doorman, Ted, recognised him immediately even though he had only been here a handful of times during his first case working with Stephanie Harper.
"Good morning Mr. Preston," Ted said as he held the door open for Peter and followed him in, leading him to the Concierge desk. Stephanie Harper had introduced him as Peter Preston, a new business associate working for the Harper Foundation to avoid attracting attention to her own undercover and his FBI status.
"Good morning Ted. Is Mrs Harper home?"
"Yes, she is, sir. Barry will call her for you. Just call down when you are ready to leave and we will have your car at the front door when you are ready. Have a good day," Ted said and headed back to his post by the door.
"Nice to see you again Mr. Preston," Barry, the Concierge, greeted heartily.
"Hey Barry," Peter replied back, slightly distracted. "Could you please let Mrs Harper know I'm here to see her?"
"Already called her as soon as I saw your car pull up, sir. She said to go straight up," Barry said.
Peter was a little caught off-guard. This is New York efficiency. Lifestyles of the rich and powerful, where doormen and concierges remember you when they have only met you a few times and can anticipate your needs.
"Ok. Thanks," Peter managed to say and headed to the elevator. When he got inside, he pressed "PH" for Stephanie's penthouse apartment.
When the elevator doors opened again at the top floor, Peter stepped off then knocked on the door. Sofia, the Harpers' housekeeper, opened the door and let him in.
"Good morning Mr. Preston. Mrs Harper is out on the terrace. I'll let her know you're here," Sofia greeted.
"Thank you Sofia," Peter replied, following her through the front hall and into the living room.
Peter was pacing when Stephanie came back inside the apartment a few minutes later.
"You're going to wear out my carpet if you don't stop that," Stephanie said. She caught the look of frustration on his face and asked, "What happened at the pier, Peter? Did you find the right warehouse? Have you arrested Adler?"
"Not exactly," Peter answered, finally standing still to look at Stephanie.
"But you found him, right? What happened?"
"OK you need to sit down and tell me what's going on. I've been trying to call Neal for the last hour and he's not answering. Is he all right?"
"Oh, I'm sure Neal is more than all right. He's finally gotten away with what he wanted after all these years."
"Now you're really not making any sense, Peter. Reese told me you had worked out the location of the warehouse where you suspected Vincent had moved the U-boat treasures to. He was going to give me an update once Adler was in custody. You'd better explain to me what happened at the pier," Stephanie asked.
"Adler's dead," Peter said flatly.
Stephanie was taken aback by the news Peter just broke to her. He recounted the events leading up to his killing of Vincent Adler. At first, she did not speak. Her eyes softened as she turned away from Peter and walked to the window, staring out.
Peter watched her as silence hung heavily in the air. After about a minute, she turned around and faced Peter again, head held high, eyes suddenly turned cold, and said, "So you killed him."
"He would have killed Neal," Peter explained, almost defensively.
"You did what you had to. You did what I should have done in the Rainbow Room when I had the chance," Stephanie said flatly.
Finally Stephanie walked back towards Peter, her demeanour suddenly turned business-like. "So what did you mean about Neal getting what he wanted?"
"There was art in the warehouse that went up in flames all right, only it wasn't from the U-boat. It was Neal's. He must have found out where Adler was hiding the treasures and moved them before we got there, replaced them with his forgeries, then rigged the explosives to go off so we'd all think the art went up in smoke."
"Now you need to prove it," Stephanie said.
Peter frowned slightly at what Stephanie said. It was a statement, not a question. "You sound like Caffrey," Peter said, recalling Neal's angry last words to him at the pier.
Stephanie offered a slight smile. "Peter, I know you. You have great instincts but you would never act without proof. You're accusing a man who is your friend, perhaps your best friend, of somehow stealing billions of dollars worth of treasures. On top of everything else that's happened lately, that's got to be messing with your head right now."
Peter did not say anything.
Stephanie sighed in resignation, knowing that Peter was still uneasy, and asked, "How do you think I can help?"
"I know you and Neal have been getting close the last few months that we've been working together. Has he said anything to you? Anything that might lead you to think he had more than just revenge on his mind if he ever found Adler again?" Peter asked.
"You think Neal would tell me if he was planning the con of the century? I think you may be over-stating our relationship a little, Peter," Stephanie said.
"You knew Adler better than anyone else. If Neal was going to confide in anyone about Adler, it'd be you."
"I don't know what to tell you, Peter. Neal has never spoken to me about trying to steal this treasure. He didn't even know what Vincent was after till he saw the U-boat with you two days ago. How would he have had time to even plan a heist of that magnitude in a couple of days?"
Peter put his hands on his hips and started pacing again.
Stephanie walked over closer to Peter, placed a hand on his arm and said, "I think you are angry and upset about what just transpired at the pier. You just killed a man, Peter. I think you need to go home, talk to Elizabeth, let the adrenaline slow down so you can think more clearly. Then we talk."
Neal felt as if he had been walking for hours, and he had. It was dusk by the time he finally found himself back home. As he opened the door to his apartment, tired and worn, he saw something on the corner of his dining table. He hurried towards it, picked up the key laying on top of a small envelope. He quickly opened it and found a type-written note card inside:
77850 GANESVOORT ST
NEW YORK, NY
YOU'LL THANK ME
Neal picked up his jacket and headed out into the night.
Peter headed straight for Diana's desk when he stepped off the elevator on the 21st floor of the FBI Building and walked into the bullpen. He stood behind Diana's chair and looked over her shoulder at her computer screen. "What have you got for me Diana?"
"There's nothing unusual at all with Caffrey's tracking data since we put the anklet back on him two days ago after the dry dock, Boss. He left with Sara from here to a bar uptown, then he went to your house and then he went back home. He came to the office yesterday and was with us all day till he left for dinner with Stephanie Harper at 6.30pm. It looks like he spent the night with her because he didn't move again until this morning when he came here to meet us and we went to the pier together. If he is responsible for the theft then he must have had a crew of people doing the heavy lifting for him."
"Where has he been since he left the pier?" Peter asked.
"Well, he seems to be wandering. He headed midtown, then through Central Park and now it looks like he is heading home," Diana replied.
"Has he stopped anywhere?" Peter asked.
"Not that I can tell. There was a period of about 10 minutes when he stopped off at 30 Rock but I think that was at the coffee cart, long enough to maybe just grab a coffee, but that's pretty much it. He's just been walking and walking," Diana answered, turned to look at Peter.
"What about security cameras at the pier? Any luck there?" Peter asked.
"Jones is still trying to get access to their footage. Apparently their systems had a meltdown this morning, may have something to do with the explosion. Until they can get their systems back up, we won't have anything more," Diana replied.
Peter was still frowning. His head was starting to hurt from the events of the last few hours.
"Do you want me to see if I can find any traffic cams or CCTVs along the route that he took to see if he was with anyone?" Diana asked, noticing her boss' dissatisfaction at the report she just gave.
"No. Not yet. Neal is too smart to try to move anything now if he did switch the treasure for his paintings. Keep monitoring his movements and let me know if he goes anywhere unusual or stays anywhere for longer than 15 minutes," Peter instructed. He looked over to Jones' unoccupied desk then asked Diana, "Has Jones been back?"
"He came back a couple of hours ago and then headed out again. He said something about meeting with Captain Shattuck?"
"OK. Ask him to come up to my office when he gets back."
"Will do, Boss," Diana replied.
Peter headed up the stairs. Hughes called out from his office, "Peter!" and gestured with his two middle fingers at Peter to go into his office.
Peter stepped inside. Hughes pointed at the chair opposite him for Peter to sit.
"You think Caffrey is responsible for the mess at the pier?" Hughes asked.
"I want to believe he DIDN'T have anything to do with it, but honestly Reese, I don't know how else to explain it. I don't even know where to begin writing up the report on this," Peter admitted.
"Have Jones and Barrigan write the report. Until we get the bomb squad and crime scene report from NYFD, I need you to look at another case that's just come up."
Peter looked at Hughes with curiosity. "Something more important than the missing multi-billion dollar treasure?"
"That loot has been missing for over 60 years. It can wait a little longer while we gather evidence. You can question Caffrey later," Hughes replied. "In the meantime, I need you to have a look at this," Hughes said as he handed a file across the desk to Peter, "and I need you to work with Stephanie Harper on this one."
Peter hesitated slightly, "Stephanie?"
"We've had complaints about a charity being run by a church in Manhattan that is supposed to be supporting the construction of orphanages and clinics in Indo China in partnership with its sister churches in the area, but so far there's nothing to show for the millions of dollars that have allegedly been raised. The Director was at a function with a couple of the charity's biggest donors a few nights ago and this subject came up. The Director thought there was something about what they told him that smelt bad and asked us to look into it ASAP. I've had Blake pull together some background for you to start with."
Peter flipped through the contents of the file he just received, then looked up at Hughes and asked, "Does Stephanie know about this yet?"
"I just got off the phone with her. Agent Blake is on his way to delivering the file to her. I need you and Stephanie to look this over and let me know if there is anything to justify an investigation. If so, I need you two to work out a plan and get to the bottom of this before it becomes front page news," Hughes said, then looked back down at the pile of paperwork in front of him, dismissing Peter.
Peter got up and headed for his own office to call Stephanie Harper. He wondered if he had any painkillers in his drawer strong enough to ease the pain that had been throbbing in his head for the past hour.
Neal inserted the key into the lock and walked into the store room. As his eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit room, he slowly realised what was in front of his eyes. He looked all around him – did a 360 degree turn to take in his surroundings. Still, he could not believe it was all for real. He closed his eyes, convinced he was just dreaming; that the events of the day had finally caused his brain to play tricks on him.
When he opened his eyes again, nothing had changed and suddenly it seemed like déjà vu, the same feelings he had when he first climbed down into the U-boat with Peter and saw the paintings, the jewellery, the sculptures and all the Nazi plunder that Adler had craved and killed for – everything laid bare in front of him.
Neal finally allowed himself to smile. His brain was slowly catching up to his eyes and beginning to process what he was looking at. He had no idea how long he had been standing there for, smiling like that, staring in semi-disbelief. He had so many questions going through his mind simultaneously he did not even know where to begin.
The vibration in his pocket finally broke Neal out of his reverie. He took the phone out of his pants pocket without looking at the caller ID. He did not want to take his eyes off the prize in front of him. Instinctively, Neal held the phone to his ear but still was not able to speak.
"Hello? Neal? Are you there?" It was Sara.
"Yeah," Neal finally spoke.
"Where are you? I've been trying to call you all day," Sara said.
"Um, I'm out," Neal replied ambiguously.
"Out where?" Sara insisted.
"Walking," Neal answered.
"On your own?"
"Yeah, I'm on my own. Listen, Sara, I don't know if you heard, but I had a pretty traumatic day today, so I just needed to walk and clear my head," Neal tried to explain to get Sara off the phone.
"Yes, I heard about Adler and the explosion. That's why I've been trying to call you. I wanted to make sure you were OK," Sara added.
"I'm OK, thanks for asking, but you really don't need to worry about me. I've been walking for hours. I'm not even sure where exactly I am right now," Neal lied, "so I'm going to try and find my way home and get some rest and start over tomorrow with a clear head."
"Oh, OK. Well, let me know if you or Peter need me to help with anything," Sara said.
"I will. Good night, Sara."
When Neal hung up, he saw that he had 23 missed calls and 5 voicemail messages. The missed calls were from Stephanie, Mozzie, Alex, Sara and June. He did not bother to listen to any of the voicemail messages. Instead, he made a call.
"Hi, it's me," Neal said into the phone. "How soon can you meet me at my place?" He paused for a response, then added, "See you then," and hung up.
Neal took one last long look at the contents of the store room before finally turning away to leave. He made sure to lock the door and carefully placed the key back in the envelope and into his pants pocket and left.
Neal walked briskly out onto the street, quickly checking his surroundings as he did so to make sure he had not been followed.
Neal had not noticed the tiny surveillance camera that had been hidden behind the vents in the storage room. The feed was being transmitted to the computer screen at Stephanie Harper's office at Harper Group Headquarters. She turned the computer off when she was satisfied that Neal was not going to turn back. In any case, the feed was being recorded via secure encryption and an alarm would be triggered by any movement inside that room and an alert sent to her Blackberry should anyone enter that room.
Her phone rang just then.
"Hello Peter," Stephanie greeted as she noticed the caller ID. "Reese told me to expect your call."
"Can we meet in my office in half an hour?" Peter asked.
Stephanie looked at her watch. It was 6.45pm. "I have a few things I need to wrap up at the office first. I have a feeling we're going to be working on the new case a lot in the next few days. Can we meet at 9?"
"Fine," Peter said. "I'll order some food, too. I think it's gonna be a long night."
"Great. See you at 9," Stephanie replied and disconnected the call. She spent an hour going through the file that had been dropped off by agent Blake earlier to familiarise herself with the facts of the new case she was going to be working on. When it was time, she picked up her bag with some files, walked out of her office. Her assistant was still at her desk.
"Maree, reschedule all my appointments for the rest of the week will you? I'll be working from home."
"No problem Mrs Harper. Have a good night," Maree replied.
"You too," Stephanie said as she headed out for her meeting.