He didn't have the shot.
"Dammit! Jones! Do you have the shot?"
"Peter, he's blocking me with her body."
The first two minutes of a hostage situation determines a victims chances. After that the chances get smaller and the danger to the victim increases. It was two minutes exactly since agent Berrigan had been taken hostage. According to FBI protocol, any early chance of resolution was gone. How had this turned so wrong? He was going over the room inch by inch. There was no way out.
"Take it easy, we can work this out," Peter tried to remain calm as he went through the protocol in his head and moved toward the man holding his partner.
The first blow caught her by surprise. It sent her silver Smith and Wesson skittering across the floor until it hit the far wall. The second blow was a vicious right to the face. She felt the bones in her nose shatter, blood was pouring down her throat.
"I'm okay, Peter" she breathed raggedly through the blood clotting in her nose.
"Bitch is right," the man said "but not for long if you take another step. Put the gun down."
"I can't do that. Don't make this any worse than it already is. There's no way out."
The man's left arm was around her neck squeezing so tightly, her vision was going in and out. With his right, he drew the razor sharp blade across her chest, slicing through the buttons of her shirt. He pressed down. A red snake of blood welled up from the cut, as Diana's body jerked and her eyes jammed wide in panic. The blade kept moving, leaving a crimson trail until the tip came to rest on her exposed breast.
"You sick son of a bitch!" Peter hissed. "What do you want?"
"I want you to look at me."
"Look at me and your little girlfriend here. What do you see? I'll tell you, a man with nothing to lose."
He put the gun down.
For the first time he was glad to be left behind in the van. He had always looked forward not backwards, concentrating on what was ahead. It had been hard the last few months since Elizabeth was taken. He missed the life he lived back then. Peter was trying, everyone was trying, but the easy camaraderie no longer existed. It all felt forced and likely to shatter at any moment. He couldn't breathe sometimes. Being cooped up with Peter, Jones and Diana for four hours had taken all of his considerable conning skills, he felt depleted and exhausted. But, when didn't he these days.
He laid the groundwork for the current case, set up the money trail, the meet; all had gone according to plan. Jones and Diana were the marks; Peter was there to wrap things up. Another routine sting, another notch in Peter's impressive record.
It was taking longer than it should. They should have been back by now. His old nemesis claustrophobia was taking hold; he could feel the sweat forming. He slid the van door open and stepped into the cool night air. As he made his way down the alley to the warehouse, something felt wrong. He took a cautious step inside. He saw Jones first, with his weapon drawn. Then Peter and then the man holding Diana.
He was six feet or more. His eyes were cold and empty. This wasn't the man he had met. Diana's head was bowed, slightly obscuring her face. But the blood soaking her shirt was not. It sickened him. The man had his arm around her neck, pulling with such force her feet were barely touching the ground. He was pressing the huge knife against her flesh. He was casual and practiced. He had cut people before. He liked hurting people. Neal's blood ran cold. He swallowed back a jet of bile tinged saliva and slipped farther inside.
He pressed back against the wall, into the dark. A dingy light fixture overhead cast shadows on the far wall. Then he saw it, the glint of Diana's Smith and Wesson. He dropped to his knees and crept until he reached the gun. Slowly breathing in and out, he quieted his racing heart, and with two fingers silently lifted the weapon.
"OK, let's talk. I did what you asked. You need leverage, a hostage. She's only going to slow you down, take me." Peter tried to bargain.
The man laughed.
"So, I hand you the girl, and your friend there puts a bullet in me. Or we make it outside to the waiting arms of the cops. I promise it will be painful for your girlfriend."
"I can guarantee..."
"I said SHUT THE FUCK UP! I am not going back. End of the line."
The broad blade glinted in the dim light as he raised it over Diana's chest.
"Wait!" Peter cried.
The man's face was contorted with hatred. Neal had seen that expression in prison more times than he cared to remember. There was nothing there worth trying to negotiate. He was going to kill her. The shot was next to impossible from his position on the floor. He had only one chance, Diana had only one chance. He aimed high, knowing that gravity would take the bullet right to where he wanted it. His finger tightened on the trigger, he took the shot.
The shot went through the top of the man's head. He went down arms and legs flailing, the knife and the remains of his head thumping against the stained concrete floor, blood splattering down like rain. Neal rested his shoulders against the wall for a moment. She was safe.
For a second Peter went blank with surprise, and then rushed to Diana as she crumpled to the floor. Jones was by his side, as he called for an ambulance and back up.
"It wasn't me, Peter."
He looked up to see Neal standing over the man, the gun in his hand hanging limply by his side.
"Is she going to be alright, Peter?" he said with an eerie calm.
Jones walked over to Neal, took the gun from him and squeezed his shoulder. What happened next was something of a blur, as the paramedics, NYPD and FBI poured into the warehouse.
Neal waited in the stillness of Diana's hospital room. Closed his eyes, then opened them again. Trying to blink back memories he thought he'd left behind. Amnesia had a shelf life. She was still beautiful, despite the bruising and swelling. Plastic surgery was scheduled for later to repair her broken nose. Christie said she would look good as new, might be home in a day or two.
She was trying to wake, the muscles in her cheek twitched slightly. Her mouth was open, trying to form words against the pain killers and sedatives coursing through her bloodstream. Her eyes fluttered open briefly.
"Neal?" her hand reached out to him.
He breathed hard and took a step back from her bed, from her touch; and waited for the drugs to claim her again. A long forgotten ache settled in his chest. He felt lost. He turned away and made to step out of the room only to find Peter standing there, watching him. He seemed strained and ten years older.
"Still asleep?" he nodded in Diana's direction.
"Yeah, she was stirring a bit."
"How you holding up?"
Shit! He didn't need Peter's scrutiny now. He knew if he said anything but the truth, it would send him into investigation mode.
"I'm tired. I think I'm going to pack it in for tonight, go home and go to bed."
"If you want to talk..."
"Thanks, maybe later."
"Even though it was a justified shooting, the Bureau still has to investigate. We will be meeting with OPR tomorrow."
"I expected as much, right. I'll be there in the morning, Peter. Thanks."
Peter didn't know what to make out of what he had just seen, as Neal walked away. Yeah, things had been tense between them, but he thought progress was being made. He ran his fingers through his hair, as he watched Diana sleep and reran the picture in his head of Neal backing away.
He decided to walk home. It was cold and damp, no wind. The Manhattan sky grey and unforgiving, winter was settling in. Up ahead he spied a mark. The man graciously accepted Neal's apology for bumping into him. He never felt him lift his cigarettes and lighter. It was a nasty habit he acquired in prison, the hot smoke singed his throat but it calmed nerves that were beyond raw. Two blocks later he darted into a liquor store. June was gone for the weekend. He was grateful for the solitude. He turned his cell phone off.
His eyes opened to the unwelcome sunlight pouring in through the open doors to the terrace. He stank of cheap whiskey. He tried sitting, that was his second mistake. The first was turning off his alarm. Jesus! It was Monday already, and he was late for his meeting with Peter and OPR.
He rushed through the doors of the elevator, carefully adjusting his tie, hoping he had scrubbed away any sign of his lost weekend. As he opened the door to the office, he was taken aback by the round of applause that greeted him. He was swarmed by staffers congratulating him on saving Diana and offering their support, in view of OPR agents awaiting him. He felt awkward and unsure. He'd grown accustomed to the stares laced with pity and revulsion. He had accepted being an outsider.
Special agent Russell was sitting at the head of the table, in the quiet conference room, waiting.
He was seated in Peter's chair. His interviews with Caffrey, Burke and Jones completed.
"We got anything on the dead guy?" Peter asked as he entered.
"Yeah, he's all over our database. Assault, armed robbery, rape and man one. A regular upstanding citizen. He was a last minute replacement for the pickup guy Caffrey met."
"So we good?"
"What do you know about Neal Caffrey?"
"Quite a bit. You're in my chair." Russell stood and pushed a file across the table in Peter's direction.
"I've read the file, Agent Burke. I know you wrote the book on Caffrey. But what do you really know about this guy?"
"I know he saved Agent Berrigan's life. I get it, there's history with Neal and OPR, but I have three agents testifying it was a good shoot, a justified shoot. What the hell is going on?"
"Take it easy, Burke. OPR has agreed to play ball. There won't be any charges brought against Caffrey. We went over everything with a fine tooth comb, forensics reviewed the
tape from the warehouse."
"So what's the problem?"
"Thing is, it's how he made the shot, that set off red flags."
He pulled a schematic from his file case and laid it out on the table.
"Here's Caffrey, you, Jones, Agent Berrigan and the dead guy. This is a computer generated analysis of all the possible combinations of shots that could be taken to stop our assailant. You didn't have a clear shot, neither did Jones. The only one with a shot was Caffrey."
"OK, tell me something I don't know."
"These are the trajectories of the possible shots available to Caffrey to take out the assailant. They are ranked by degree of difficulty. As you can see there aren't many. Any one shot would have stopped him. This is where it gets interesting, now they rank according to lethality. There was only one shot that would kill the assailant, the kill shot. The odds of making that shot are less than you and me getting hit by lightening right now."
"What are you saying?"
"There are only a handful of men who could have made any of these, let alone the kill shot. I am talking highly trained, special forces. So how does your man make the shot? You get my drift. In the wrong hands, Neal Caffrey is a very dangerous man. Like I said, how well do you know Neal Caffrey?"
The next several weeks were quiet, routine. Diana had returned part time, she was still undergoing physical therapy and counseling. He, Jones and Neal had been assigned to desk duty. Standard Bureau policy, when a shooting was involved. It gave him a better chance to observe Neal up close, and he didn't like what he saw. He was frequently late for work, eyes red rimmed and glassy. He reeked of cigarette smoke and overpriced cologne. His hands shook, his gait often unsteady. He had put off seeing the counselor, with one excuse after another. He was a different man.
He knew he had to confront him, but they hadn't been on good terms for awhile. Neal had refused his dinner invitations. Even a direct call from Elizabeth went unanswered. He was most skittish around Diana, always managing to duck out when she entered the room.
He was standing on the landing outside his office, waiting. Neal was predictably late; he tried to slip into his desk.
"Neal, in my office."
"Morning Peter, what's up?"
"That's what I'd like to know."
"I'm sorry; I've been a little behind on my paper work. I promise I'll get caught up by the end of the day."
"That's not what this is about, and you know it. You've been smoking, you smell of alcohol. You've been avoiding everyone."
His heartbeat accelerated and his chest tightened. He felt trapped.
"I just need a little more time," he smiled.
"Have you made an appointment with the counselor?" Peter was undeterred.
"I will, I'll do it now." he made to leave.
Peter slid the file across the table.
"It's an analysis of the shooting, Neal. According to the FBI forensic ballistic team, only a handful of trained marksmen could have made that shot. How did you?"
He was beginning to shake; he shoved his hands into his pockets.
"I guess just dumb luck." he smiled more convincingly he hoped.
"Just stop it Neal. Stop with the evasions and double talk. Tell me the truth. Where did you learn to shoot like that, could you have taken this guy out without killing him?"
"I already told you, but of course you don't believe me. What do you want to hear, Peter?"
His goal changed from avoidance to survival. Chaos prevailed internally; he was losing his battle for self control, his battle against the ferocious anger building in him.
"How about a straight answer?"a frustrated Peter hurled at him, moving in close to his struggling partner.
"How's this for a straight answer. Yes! I killed him, me! I blew his goddamed brains out. Not you, not Jones, not all your precious protocols and your by the rule bullshit!"
He was pacing the small office now, his sights set on the man in front of him.
"You make me sick with your sanctimonious crap. There's your truth. I can be a man or a con. Right? Because men don't lie, just cons. Did you lie to me about Kate, Peter? Did you lie to me about the music box, Peter? Did you lie to me about Fowler, Peter?"
"Just yes or no, Peter. You want it both ways, you lie when it suits you. Oh, that's right, you were protecting me. Like you're doing now? Nothing to do with this file and the FBI's concern over my shooting skill, he looked down at the file on the table. Con or man, Peter; which are you?" he slid the file back across the table.
Peter flinched at his words. A storm was gathering in Neal Caffrey.
"You don't know what you're saying, Neal"
But he did and Peter knew it.
"Kate paid in blood for your precious truth and Diana would have too. You know what, fuck you Peter. Fuck You!"
It was as if he had mainlined a pure mix of adrenaline and rage. It was coursing through his veins, unchecked. Flooded with every time he had to stuff down his feelings, choke back his anger. Every lie, every performance and practiced pose, every impersonation came crashing down around the polished facade.
He wanted to run, but he couldn't. He was remembering. He remembered each time he cowered in his room as his mother sobbed. He remembered each time he was pushed down in dark prison hallways and ground into oblivion. He remembered each time he was betrayed by his so called friends in the name of what was best for him. Each time a woman used him and lied that she loved him. Each time he had given everything, risked everything and it still wasn't fucking enough. Suddenly, he didn't feel like a nothing, like a coward, his fear was gone.
"What's gotten into you?" Peter pleaded.
He was far away now, in a void rapidly exploding outward. He didn't answer. He turned to walk away. Peter reached out and grabbed his arm.
"Get off me!" he yelled with such ferocity Peter took a step backward. He lashed out like a cornered animal, wildly connecting with his target. But the second blow was a deliberate upper cut to the jaw that staggered Peter sending him to his knees, bloodied.
He didn't know where he was at first. His body was numb, inert, without will.
His eyes opened and he could make out Jones and Hughes's faces. They were holding him down. He could hear voices talking to him. He closed his eyes again. He saw his mother staggering, swaying. He saw his father with his hands around her throat. He saw himself as a boy, arms wrapped around his middle, rocking back and forth quietly saying; I'm not you, I'm not you, I'm not you.
He could make out sounds now; he could hear Peter and Hughes talking in low anxious voices.
"It's your call Peter. I know Neal has been through a lot lately. Whatever you decide, it stays here."
"Thanks Reese. I just pushed too hard. I should have seen this coming. I called Dr. Sullivan; she's willing to see him now, if he'll cooperate."
"Peter, he has no choice. Not after what I just witnessed. Pull together the paperwork, if you're up to it." The older man looked at his battered friend and his troubled partner with concern.
Peter turned back to his office when he felt a slight tug at his sleeve.
"Diana, you OK? I am sorry you had to see all that."
"I'm OK boss. Do you think I might have a word with Neal, before Dr. Sullivan gets here?"
"I don't know Diana, he's not himself. He's really unstable. He could be dangerous in his present condition," he touched his split lip and bruised jaw for emphasis. I've seen how he avoids you."
"He saved my life. I'm not afraid. Please boss."
He was disoriented still, moving between past and present. He came around again, this time to the sound of Diana's voice, calm and reassuring.
"Neal, can you hear me? Come on, sit up. I got him Jones. Give us a minute?"
"Diana?" He reached out and tenderly touched the still mottled bruising along her neck and jaw. "Are you all right?"
"I will be, thanks to you. Dr. Sullivan is on her way to see you, she's good. You should talk to her."
"I can't, not after what I've done. I'm so sorry for this, his fingers lingered on her face. I wish I could have stopped it."
"I know," she looked deep into his eyes. Listen to me, Neal. I'm glad you killed him. I wanted him dead too." She squeezed his hand as life flowed back into his body and Dr. Sullivan appeared at the door.
They were seated in the interrogation room off to the back of the unit. Neal sat quietly, his hands folded in his lap.
"Tell me what happened?"
"I kind of lost it."
"Do you have any idea why?"
"I killed a man. I shot him in the head."
"How was that?"
"It was easy to do. Apparently I have a natural talent for it."
"And is that what's troubling you?"
"Then what is?"
"It felt good."