White Collar: The Nightingale

Chapter One

Despite being well known as the City that 'never sleeps' the inhabitants of New York still needed to rest sometime. Alone in the apartment turned mink lined prison cell Neal Caffrey slept soundly. He was very grateful to June for letting him stay in her house. Mozzie however often pointed out to him that golden gilded bars did little to change the nature of a cage. Neal's currently living situation and line of 'work' bothered his friend far more than it bothered him.

"If you have to serve time, this is way to do it." Caffrey had told Mozzie on more than one occasion.

"The trick is to not serve time."

"Well it's too late for that."

Outside the city of New York was buzzing, beeping, and screeching as it always did. For a New Yorker the mechanical background noise was like crickets out in the country. It was only if the noise suddenly stopped that you'd ever even notice that it had been there. Inside the apartment the raspy sound of a metal tool trying to coax a lock open wasn't out of place enough in Caffrey's world to wake him. The slight creek of the door as it was slowly opened did bring Neal out of his dream, but not to the point of truly being awake.

What did wake Caffrey was the undefined sixth sense that lets you know you're not alone when you should be. Neal snapped his eye open just as the intruders descended on him. It suddenly occurred to him that a few years of working with the Feds rather than being on the run from them had brought his guard down. His first instinct was to take a deep breath to call out for help, but he didn't get the chance as a rough hand clamped down over his mouth. The man put his forearm across Caffrey's chest and pinned him down.

Neal was about to turn to physical violence, always a last resort in his playbook, to free himself. The distinctive click of a hand gun being cocked changed his mind about fighting back at this moment in time. The man using his hand to keep Caffrey silent leaned in next to his ear to whisper to him.

"If you wake up the Lady of the house I'll be forced to kill her. Understand?"

Neal nodded slightly.

"Good. Now just stay where you are for right now."

The man pulled away. Neal hadn't even realized how hard it had been to breath until the man's weight was off his chest. With his heart still pounding against his ribs he risked a quick glance around. The first thing he caught sight of was the second man in the room, a large ox of a human with the gun that he'd heard clicking standing next to his bed. The man who had held him down was now rummaging around the apartment. He disappeared into the back room that held Caffrey's closet and returned with one of his suitcases.

"I don't really own anything of value." Caffrey offered. "All the art in here is my own work, and I'm not really a jewelry guy. There is some money behind the painting with the Monet influences."

"Be quiet."

"Alright, I was just trying to be helpful."

Since he didn't recognize either of the men Caffrey assumed that he was in the middle of a home invasion robbery. He never participated in any home invasion jobs that involved confronting the home owners directly. It was too dangerous for everyone involved and much too easy for things to go wrong and for someone to get hurt.

When the man went directly for the painting that held the money he'd told him about Caffrey was more convinced in his theory. He relaxed slightly, buglers didn't tend to want to add murder to their rap sheets if they didn't have to. The man roamed through the whole apartment, taking an odd selection of items. The bugler looked around one last time, when his eye landed on Neal's fedora that was resting on the kitchen counter he added it to the suitcase.

"Do you have to take the hat?" Caffrey protested only half jokingly. "I love that hat."

"Do you want me to slit your landlord's throat?"

"I'm sorry." Neal apologized sincerely. "Take anything you want."

"Let's go." The man ordered.

Neal didn't move, he assumed that the man had been talking to his partner with the gun. The man with the gun used it to make a motion that suggested that he wanted Caffrey to get out of bed. Furrowing his brow in confusion he sat up but made no move to get to his feet.

"Look, guys, I don't want any trouble. You haven't even taken anything worth reporting to the police, just go."

"Get up, now." The leader of the pair hissed.

To emphasis his partner's point the man with the gun stepped up closer and pressed the dangerous weapon against Caffrey's temple. Bringing his hands up in a placating manner Neal moved slowly to try and keep the situation calm. With the suitcase in one hand the leader took a hold of Neal's upper arm with the other and lead him towards the door, down the stairs and out into the night.

Dressed in a white cotton tank top and pair of royal blue silk pajama pants the cold autumn air was a bit of a shock. Stepping barefoot across the frost touched sidewalk Neal looked around to see if any late night New Yorker might be out for a stroll. Unfortunately the only person in sight was the one who drove a large black van up to the curb where they were standing.

The gunman slide open the van door and made it clear that he wanted Caffrey to step inside. He tried to stall, but the man with the suitcase shoved him forward with surprising strength. Inside the mostly empty van Neal was ordered to sit in the back corner. Once the two men were inside the driver pulled away from the curb and started heading towards Main St.

There were no windows in the back of the van, but from his vantage point Neal could see some of what was going on out the windshield. The fact that they didn't seem to care that he might know where they going was alarming. It didn't matter if a victim knew where they were going if they died once they got there. Fighting was not one of Neal's strong points so he decided it was time to give talking his way out of this a try.

"Can we talk about this?" Caffrey asked with a sickeningly sweet smile.

"Keep quiet." The leader said with little interest.

"Or what? You'll make me?"

"Exactly."

"Come on, don't you think that's a little cliche?"

When the gunman raised his weapon level with Neal's heart he put his hands up in peaceful surrender. The man accept the surrender and relaxed. Caffrey was having a difficult time reading his new friends. Whatever was going on they didn't appear to have a personal grudge against him. They weren't trying to be overly menacing, or aggressive, and they had very few demands. It gave Neal the impression that they were the hired help, errand boys sent to fetch him.

Still not really sure who his assailants were, or how much they knew about him, Neal did his best to hide his anklet from the men. When they reached the end of his two mile leash it was going to briefly beep a warning, but he was hoping that with all the noises that New York City made at night that no one would notice one more. Pretending to just make himself more comfortable Neal folded his leg underneath himself so he could sit on the tracking device to silence it further. No one seemed to care.

"We're coming up on two miles." The driver announced.

"So much for that plan." Caffrey muttered to himself.

"Let's see that high tech jewelry of yours." The leader demanded.

"It also comes in pink," Caffrey offered as he brought out his leg and pulled up on the hem of his silk pajama pants to expose the tracking anklet "but black really matched better with my wardrobe...well most of it anyway."

"Yer funny." The man said dryly.

Still being held at gun point Caffrey didn't offer any resistance when they brought out a pair of heavy duty wire cutters. The anklet wasn't designed to physically stop someone from cutting it and it easily came free. The severed device cried out with a shrill alarm until the men silenced it with a hammer. The gunman handed the broken GPS to the driver who casually tossed it out the window. Caffrey flashed his captors an uneasy smile.

"You do realize that half of the F.B.I is going to be hunting me down now, if for no other reason than the fact that those things are expensive."

The man who had initially attacked him broke into an honest smile and chuckled. He came closer and knelt down in front of him. Caffrey just stared at him warily. Despite being on his guard Neal wasn't quick enough to move out of the way when the man lashed out at him with a hypodermic needle that he had brought out of concealment with blinding speed.

Caffrey gasped sharply as the needle caught him under his jaw and sank deep into his throat. Whatever the fluid was in the needle it felt warm and acted fast. Neal fought to keep his eyes open, but it didn't matter his vision was turning to black despite his best efforts. The last sensation he was aware of was a sense of falling backwards as he lost consciousness.

Across the city in the Burke house it was the middle of the night when the phone rang. On the fifth ring Elizabeth elbowed her gently snoring husband to wake him. Agent Burke grumbled in protest and rolled over to go back to sleep, however the phone was persistent. Sighing in defeat Peter reached over and answered his cell phone.

"Burke here." He muttered. "What? ...damn it."

"What's wrong, Honey."

"Caffrey cut his anklet." Burke sighed as hung up the phone and got out of bed. "He's on the run."

"Are you sure? Maybe he's in trouble."

"He *is* trouble." Burke growled darkly.

Elizabeth sat up and watched sadly as her husband rustled through their closet and pulled on his work clothing. He picked up a tie, but before he bothered putting it on he threw it back into the closet. After slinging on his shoulder holster he knelt down to access the safe that sat on the floor of his closet.

Taking his government issued weapon out of the safe Burke automatically checked it over before securing it in the holster. Also taking his Federal ID out he stood up, pulled on his suit jacket and slipped the ID into his breast pocket. Peter paused for a second, looking around the dark room to see if he was forgetting anything. Elizabeth noted his hesitation to leave.

"I'm sorry." Elizabeth said.

"It was only a matter of time before this happened."

"I know, but I can see that it still hurts."

"I never should have trusted him."

"Why did you?"

"Because he's the world's greatest con-man and despite all my training and what I believe is a normal level of intelligence I fell for it."

"You really believe that the past two years has just been a con job?"

"I do. I can see the agency headlines now."

"What do they say?" Elizabeth smiled warmly. "'Kindhearted Agent tries to give criminally gifted kid a second chance.'?"

"More along the lines of 'Agent Burke: Neal Caffrey's greatest masterpiece.'."

"Honey..."

"Make that 'ex-Agent Burke' if I don't catch him this time."