The Burkes' home
It was late evening before he got back home. El was out overseeing a function for a rather demanding client, so Peter was sitting in his living room, a cup of coffee in his hand, a three-cheese pizza in its box in front of him, studying the files spread over the table.
"You know, Peter, not many people get to have their own personal stalker."
Peter was off the chair and facing the door; standing leaning against the back door, dressed in a black suit and holding a fedora in his hand, was Neal Caffrey.
Neal walked over and took a look at the scattered files and photographs but Peter was there catching his elbow, and led him away from them. "Better if we talk through here," and all but pushed him down on the couch.
"What did you find out, Peter?"
"I think we've been looking at this the wrong way; we're all assuming that the killing had to be connected with the art scam. What if that's indirectly the cause?"
Peter moved to look out at the window at the street below; in the reflection he could see Neal perched on the edge of the couch. "What if it's not payback for a dud painting or because they want the money back; we overlooked the kid because he was already dead three years before the killings."
Neal continued the line of thought, "So what if the kid is the reason? I mean Edwards killed him because he was collateral damage, a loose end. But if it's revenge, why wait this long?"
"Perhaps the killer wasn't able to get revenge straight away. The killer..." Peter nodded to himself. "The killer was able to track down Allison and Edwards, but he's got ..." Peter paused. "... a laundry list of names where you're concerned, and is hunting each and every one down."
"But they're all names you've burned; he would have to know that there is no way that I would use them again." He hesitated. "Not that I am admitting they're mine, but none of the victims look anything like me."
Peter nodded. "But it would be easier if the police were hunting you to find the real you; the profilers already have you penciled in as the unsub their take is that you're killing yourself each time you kill one of the aliases, a cleaning of the soul."
Neal exploded onto his feet out off the couch, "You think that, Peter, you…."
Peter cut across him. "If I did, you would be in cuffs now, Caffrey. I would never have let you walk out of my house the other night, so calm down." The way Neal had come off the couch was an emotional outburst he hadn't expected; this was a new side to the cool con man.
The younger man pulled himself up and took a couple of deep breaths. "I don't kill, Peter; I never would, and certainly I wouldn't kill innocent people just because of their names. He wants me and can't find me. This whole game, all these people are dying because of me. We have to find him."
Just then his cell phone began to ring; Neal walked away from Peter as he listened to Mozzie, then turned back to Peter.
"A friend has been doing some digging. Jon Lemon's father Richard suffered a nervous breakdown when his wife committed suicide after their son's murder; she couldn't come to terms with his death. He was in the psychiatric hospital for eighteen months.
"Sounds like a promising lead," Peter said thoughtfully and turned to his computer. When he looked up, Neal was gone.
Peter had spoken to his boss, Reese Hughes, the minute he got into the office that morning, telling him about his contact with Neal. The older man hadn't been happy, to put it mildly, but had finally given in and allowed Peter to keep up his direct contact with Caffrey. As he mused thoughtfully, they might as well use a criminal to catch one, and since Caffrey was the heart of the mystery they might as well run him. But with Hughes' warnings ringing in his ears Peter had gone back to his desk.
The email on his computer when Peter switched it on first thing was blunt and to the point. It was two simple lines telling him that Richard Lemon had been in an upstate hospital, and that Caffrey would meet him outside.
Peter pulled out of the FBI underground parking lot; he saw Neal Caffrey standing on the curb, a cup of coffee in his hand; the younger man drained it and pitched it into the trash bin, and then opened the door and slipped into the car.
The younger man just smiled at him and made himself comfortable; he reached out for the radio only to have Peter slap the back of his hand. "My car, and my radio."
One thing Peter noticed was the moment they drove through the gates of the psychiatric hospital, Neal seemed to tense up; oh, he still smiled and was his charming self to everyone he met, but there was a tension in him that he hadn't seen before. Peter was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
Peter was thoughtful as in his mind he ran over what the profiler had said about Neal all those years ago, and he asked himself, is that what he was doing, buying into whatever con a psychopathic Caffrey was spinning him? In doing so he was allowing Neal to get close to him; after all, wasn't that what Neal wanted: if he read the postcards and all the birthday and Christmas cards Neal had sent him right, Neal was flirting with him; was this a way to get his attention? Then El would be a threat to him—she had his attention, and... Peter was brought back to the present as he realized that Neal was looking at him, his head slightly cocked, but with what appeared to be very real concern on his face, so he just nodded to him and waved him forward. The doctor had been very circumspect about Lemon, but in the verbal fencing that they did, the doctor had expressed concern that he'd been released, hinting without breaking his oath that Lemon had issues still unresolved.
It was only when they left the hospital that the tension seemed to leave Neal's body; there was a mystery there that Peter wanted to solve but for the moment it would have to be left unresolved.
It looked like they had a probable ID on their killer; they just needed to find a way of reeling him in. They drove in silence, Neal looking out the window, locked into his own thoughts. Peter was thoughtful; the killer had named Caffrey and then left him alone; the answer to that was that he couldn't find him.
After all, how would Lemon know the names of Neal's aliases? It was feasible that he might find out about Edwards and Allison; their names would have come up in the investigation. But how could he know the aliases: only Caffrey and the FBI knew them. Then niggling at the back of his mind was Neal's reaction to the hospital; there was some deep-down trauma there. Also it was telling there hadn't been any more letters since Neal had started helping him with the investigation, and the one thing that the profiler always said was that the killer would try to insert himself into the investigation. Neal was doing that, and of course he was now giving the con man his full attention, and that was what Caffrey wanted. Just what the profiler had warned about; could he have been wrong?
Two days later
The Burke residence
Elizabeth looked at Neal as he sat on the couch. When the younger man had turned up, she couldn't somehow see him as a threat to her; she had given him a cup of coffee, and he looked relaxed and was as charming as ever.
"You have some information for Peter."
Neal nodded. "A friend has a few ideas that I want to run past Peter." He paused. "You don't mind me coming here, do you?" He cocked his head slightly to one side.
Before she could answer there was a knock on the front door; when she went to answer it, Neal blocked her. He opened the door carefully and looked around, then as he was about to close the door he looked down. Bending, he picked up something off the front doormat, and tore it open.
"Neal." She called out to him, not liking what she was seeing.
She noticed he was shaking slightly; a tremor was running through him it was as if he was vibrating with energy. He held out a crumpled letter to her; she took the letter and opened it.
E is for Elizabeth and electrocution. The color drained from El's face as she read it.
Neal took a step towards her, and she backed away from him; he cocked his head slightly and looked at her with concern. "Is there a problem, Elizabeth?" She could see him looking from her to the letter and back again.
"No, no," she added quickly, remembering all too clearly what Peter had spoken to her about: they had both agreed that Neal wasn't the killer, but coming home and finding him in her house, playing with Satchmo, had been unnerving to say the least.
He looked past her at the file on the desk. "I read the profile." His eyes seemed to harden. "Does Peter believe that? Do you believe it? Is he just playing me along?"
Elizabeth didn't go for the innocent 'what? I don't understand' line. "Peter doesn't want to believe it, Neal, but you have to see the way it looks, the letter..." She nodded towards the one she was holding. "It doesn't look good for you."
"I am not a killer." Neal said it softy. He turned and headed towards the back door and paused. "This was a bad idea; I should have just left it on the doormat."
Elizabeth followed him to the door; over his shoulder he said, "I am sure he'll find my prints on the letter, and it's not because I wrote it." But he hesitated, and nodded to the files on the table. "Have you read them?"
"I am not insane, Elizabeth."
"I never thought you were." She saw the tension ease slightly, and then he reached out a hand for the door handle; it was then she saw the water on the floor it had seeped below the back door: it hadn't rained.
"Freeze, mister," she snapped. He was just short of the water; she pointed to it. "It hasn't been raining so why is there water there?"
Neal crouched down so that he was looking at the back door; the key was still in the lock but something was wrong with it a piece of fine wire was wrapped around the barrel of the key; it was easily missed. The moment someone stepped on the water and touched the door handle they would have been electrocuted. Simple but effective; he knew from his surveillance that Elizabeth's first job when she got home was to take Satchmo out into the small pocket handkerchief-size garden they had. If she had touched it, she would have died.
Seeing the fuse box, he flipped the switch to cut the power off.
"It seems that I am not the only one he's missed." He nodded at door. "Get Peter's guys to check it out; keeping the power off's the safest thing you can do."
El knew that some people would argue that Neal had set the trap, but she didn't believe it: if she hadn't stopped him he would have walked right into the trap; no one took those risks. He hadn't known about it; she was really sure of that. She knew that Peter was on his way home, but already Neal was out of the front door and taking the steps two at a time; by the time she got to the door he was already making his way down the street. It was then she looked down; on the doorstep was a copy of The ABC Murders, and a note: C is for Caffrey and cars, catch me if you can…. Tick tick….
Lost in thought, head down, Neal walked along the deserted pavement; it was only when the car revved that Neal's head snapped around, and he saw it mount the pavement and come at him. Neal sprinted across the road, and tried to vault across the hood of one of the stationary cars, but before he could clear it, the car was hit by the attack vehicle, sending it spinning around into one of the other stationary cars. Neal was thrown off and went down hard in the center of the road. The attacking car pulled up fast; dazed, Neal saw the reverse lights coming on. He just managed to roll out of the way as it came at him. He tried to get to his feet but fell down onto his knees, his head spinning; the car came barreling down at him, only for him to be pulled out of the way as the car swerved past him.
Shakily he looked at the man that had saved him. "Hi, Peter," then rolled onto his side, threw up in the gutter, and blacked out.
The doctor had released Neal into their care, especially when it was backed up by an FBI badge; he had a concussion, and could rest as long as he was awakened every hour and could answer the basic questions of name and location. El and Peter knew that they were in for a long night. But it soon answered Peter's question: Caffrey was the name he gave each time he was woken up, even if he sounded a little out of it.
It was early the next morning when the phone rang. It was the FBI: a letter had been found by a cleaner at FBI headquarters with his name on it.
The duty officer read him the letter: it comprised two words, "Len Fox…." This time there was no taunt, and the newspaper letters hadn't been cut out; it had been scrawled by hand, a hand that matched the one of the first envelopes redirecting the letter, the agent told him.
Peter swore under his breath; he could look into why the killer did that later. Gardner was dead there was nothing they could do to help him but Fox was still alive, and could be saved. "Len Fox, he's a retired con man, he used to specialize in the old duck and roll con from the Cold War days. He's a person of interest at the moment, since we know that Caffrey runs with an older man, and Fox could be our man. Check the file: we have an address for him, and get a couple of agents over there to pick him up. "
Less than an hour later, the agent reported back: Fox was dead in his apartment in a frenzied attack by the killer; the old man had died when he had answered the door.
As tragic as it was, this time Peter had his proof to clear the younger con man; Neal had been unable to leave the house because of his concussion, and he had both of them to testify to it. Now he just had to find the killer and take the bullseye off Neal's back once and for all.
Peter had a plan but it would take a giant leap of faith from the skittish con man for it to work.
The next morning
Neal had struggled and fought the moment he had put the handcuffs on; the next minute he was out of them and nearly out of the door, everything they had talked about forgotten. Peter had had to tackle him to the ground and use every bit of skill he had learned at Quantico to hold him; he was hampered because he didn't want to hurt him. Whatever it was that had caused Neal's flight response had kicked in the minute he had slapped the cuffs around the younger man's wrists.
Neal had struggled violently, and he had had to keep him pinned to the floor. Peter had carefully eased back when Neal had finally stilled under him. Peter knew without knowing how it wasn't just the fear of being arrested, that this went a lot deeper, and he was willing to bet it was connected to his reaction when he visited the asylum; he was willing to wait as long as it took for Neal to be ready; only then would they take the plan to its next level.
One hour later, Peter walked Neal into FBI headquarters. hands cuffed behind his back, a firm grip on his arm; he could feel the tremors running through the younger man. To look at Neal, no one would guess what they had gone through first thing that morning or the toll it was taking on the young con man to be cuffed. Neal looked cool and collected, and fired back one-liners at anyone stupid enough to come near him.
The interrogation took part in Hughes' office; the Director had agreed to the plan, and was all too aware of the fact that Caffrey was still only a person of interest and not actually under arrest. He wanted to keep everything nice and legal, because otherwise it could come back and bite them in the ass when they wanted to arrest him for real. But all the same, he played his part to the hilt, and after six hours of interrogation Neal was finally taken to FBI lockdown.
The cleaner was working on the floors of the lockdown; although his name wasn't known, his face was: he had been working at the FBI building for the last two and a half years, so that he moved around the building almost invisible to the agents that worked there. The cameras in the lockdown covered the corridor, and near the cleaning station was one blind spot right where Caffrey was now seated, head in his hands, unmoving on the bed; he was the only prisoner in lockdown.
Taking a bottle of cleaning liquid out of his cart, the cleaner gave one look around, and moved to the bars.
"C is for Caffrey and combustion", he chanted as he twisted the top off the bottle and raised his arm back to throw it when.…
"Freeze, FBI." Peter stood there, his gun trained on the cleaner. The man hesitated and then just as he was about to throw it, Peter fired; the bullet slammed into the man's arm, making him drop the bottle. It rolled away harmlessly. As Peter approached him, the man turned eyes burning with hatred on him.
Rick Lemon stood there, blood seeping from a shoulder wound. "If it wasn't for that filth ..." He spat at Neal. "... MY SON," he yelled, his voice dying down again as a wave of pain flooded through him. "He would be alive; Caffrey should have done the paintings, but he didn't, and my son was murdered because of that."
"So you tracked down everyone associated with the con," Peter said.
"Yes," Lemon laughed and it turned Peter's blood cold; whatever sanity that Lemon had had was now long gone. He snarled, "You're a dumb bastard, Burke; you never saw me, did you? All those nights I cleaned your offices and read your board and files, you never saw me. Just like your kind didn't see my son's death as important. You wanted him ..." He pointed at Neal. "... and didn't care about him. What was he, collateral damage, Burke?" His voice fractured as he began to sob and Peter knew the man would never stand trial, he had seen the pictures of what he had done to Edwards, and the man would spend the rest of his life in a maximum security facility for the criminally insane.
Neal vanished the minute he was released from lockdown, and went under the radar again.
Three weeks later
Peter entered the ballroom with El on his arm; the evening was a charity fundraiser, and he was going to take the opportunity to enjoy the night with his wife. He reached across to take her hand to lead her onto the dance floor. And then frowned as he saw the people parting for one couple to dance.
"The son of a…." Peter trailed off and El followed his line of sight and saw what everyone else was watching: the young couple on the dance floor. Some of the crowd looked shocked and scandalized at the sight of two handsome, well-dressed men dancing. If the tango was at the one time the forbidden dance, then watching the pair dance you could see why. They must have raised the temperature of the dance floor to sizzling. When they and the music finished, it was to a round of wild applause from the other couples. The immaculately-dressed dark-haired young man pulled his partner up from the final dip and twirled him around and into his arms; his smile was as sexy as hell, and his smile widened as he saw Peter.
"Neal Caffrey." Peter said the name with a shake of the head, as his young nemesis disappeared with his partner into the crowds.
Elizabeth, her eyes never leaving Neal, said, "You have to help him, Peter."
"El, he's a con man, a counterfeiter, an art forger, he's..."
She cut in. "He's Neal Caffrey," Elizabeth said.
Peter watched the con man's retreating back, as she added, "So what can we do?"
Neal Caffrey. Peter shook his head. "There's only one problem with that, El." He arched an eyebrow at her, and gave a small shrug. Then seeing her puzzled look he added, "I have to catch him first."
"But you will." El said with certainty.
"Damn right," Peter agreed.
Peter listened as Neal talked, the younger man never once looking at him, just at some place out of reach. He spoke of his father, the dirty cop, and his mother, born of wealthy Texan parents, and how on her death he had lived with them. How they had believed his sexuality was a disease to be treated and had ended up in a private facility owned by one of their friends. His voice had faltered as he told Peter of his attempts to escape, and how each time, he had been caught and forcibly restrained as a punishment, until finally he had managed to escape and just kept running. Subconsciously he began to rub at his wrists, as if he could still feel the shackles on them. Peter reached out, and pulled him closer, telling him that it would never matter to him or El, and that he had them. Only then did he lead Neal back into the apartment and seat him on the bed, leaving him clutching his jacket to him.
Peter put on some of the Italian roast coffee that Neal liked and tugged out his cell phone from his pocket and called El; he told her quickly what had happened, she told him point blank to stay with Neal, and that she would be over in the morning. For the hundredth time Peter thanked the gods he had a wife like Elizabeth, who had understood and shared his concern for Neal. After getting a cup of hot coffee inside of him, Peter coaxed Neal into bed, and the look on Neal's face had been a picture when he had kicked off his own shoes and then lay down next to him. He had raised an eyebrow at Neal. "I am not spending the night on the couch; the last time I did that I put my back out, so get over it, Caffrey, and cowboy up." But even as he said it his tone had taken on a lighter tone, and carefully making sure that Neal was okay with it, he tugged him into his arms so that his head was resting on his shoulder. Slowly the shivering began to stop, and Peter knew that it had been a cold of not just the body but of the soul.
"Neal, you can be whatever you want to be with us, you know that. You're a good man."
Peter felt the slow nod of Neal's head on his shoulder, and he increased his grip on him. He hadn't chased Neal for three years and waited another four while Neal had been in prison, lived through the death of Kate, and the pursuit of Fowler, and the Nazi treasure threat to lose him now.