A/N: There was this bit of a plot concept languishing in my story idea file. Then a prompt at CollarCorner - Neal and Diana are kidnapped and must work together to get out - spurred the completion of this story.
"And finally, boys and girls, we have a series of reports of credit cards being stolen from Manhattan mailboxes. Out of state banks, so this crosses state lines and it's our baby." Peter slid the folder across the table to Diana. "See what you can find out."
"Oh, joy," Diana muttered. Catching sight of Peter's raised eyebrow, she quickly amended herself. "Oh, boy!"
"Right." Peter cleared his throat, stifling a grin, and turned back to the group. "Any questions?" Silence greeted his query, so he closed his own portfolio. "All right, let's see what we can do today."
Neal picked up the two folders in front of him – cold case art thefts, with his assignment to see if he could recognize any patterns or signatures – and stood up. It wasn't much, but at least Peter had given him something. And that was definitely something…
Given recent events.
It was eleven days since Elizabeth Burke had been kidnapped by Matthew Keller, and nine days since they had successfully rescued her, relatively unscathed. Keller, unfortunately, had escaped entirely unscathed.
Eight days since Neal had been sitting in the interrogation room, making a full and emotional confession concerning everything that had happened concerning the Nazi treasure. Some of it had been used to draw Keller out, and some, Neal knew, had financed Mozzie's disappearance as soon as they knew Elizabeth was safe. The bulk of the treasure, however, was now under FBI guard in a secure location.
It was actually in the sub-basement of the federal building, though Neal was aware that he wasn't really supposed to know that.
Peter had taken the next week off to be with Elizabeth, and Neal had been told, in no uncertain terms, to stay away from the office until Peter returned. Yesterday had been their first day back. Peter had spent it getting caught up on things that had happened in his absence. And Neal had spent it…
Well, mostly in silence and solitude. Most of the agents tried to ignore him, and Neal did his best to look interested in the same mortgage fraud files that had been on his desk two weeks ago.
He was almost to the door when Peter's voice stopped him.
"Neal, hold up."
Neal sucked in a deep breath, pasted a neutral expression on his face, and turned back. "Peter?"
The agent gestured next door. "In my office."
While Peter used the connecting door, Neal stepped out onto the walkway. Down below, the bullpen was already filled with activity as the agents settled in for their assigned tasked. But instead of joining them he turned and walked into Peter's office, pushing the door closed behind him before stepping toward the desk.
Peter picked up a thin folder from his desk and gestured toward a chair. "Sit down."
Neal set his files on the side table and sat, waiting for Peter to speak. And this time he made sure not to fidget or do anything other than wait.
Pulling out a couple sheets of paper, Peter finally looked up. "This came down from the Department of Justice," he started. "There's going to be a formal hearing about the Nazi art at the end of the month."
Neal nodded in acceptance. "Kind of figured there would be. And until then?"
"Until then, you continue to work like usual. But there are restrictions. Once you're here, you don't leave the building alone until we're done for the day."
"So I can't go to the coffee shop down the block?"
"Not unless there's an agent with you." Peter flipped to the second page. "They're also giving you a curfew. You need to be home by ten o'clock each night."
"Ten? Wow, it's like junior high." If anyone back then had cared enough to enforce a curfew…
"Coming from way over my head. " Peter held out the documents. "If you want to read it?"
Neal shook his head. "No, that's fine. Anything else I need to know?"
"That's it." Peter re-filed the pages in the folder. "If I hear anything else about the hearing, I'll let you know."
"Thanks." Neal got to his feet, started for the door, and then turned back. "Peter, can I ask how…"
"Physically, Elizabeth is fine. Emotionally, she's doing better." Peter sighed and sank down into his chair. "Neal, she knows what you did to help find her. But she's not quite ready to talk to you yet."
"I understand," Neal said, opening the door. "I'm glad she's doing better."
He closed the door behind him and headed for his desk, setting his hat aside to set the files down. A nice latte would help…
But no, the coffee shop was now out of bounds.
He plopped down behind his desk and opened the first file. Eventually he'd probably give in and go for the office coffee, but not just yet.
Bringing a thermos of coffee from June's fine Italian roast selection got him through the next few days. It was still hard by afternoon, when the last drops spilled out into his cup and he had to face the rest of the day with office coffee, but it helped. And there was generally someone headed out to lunch who would either let Neal tag along, or bring back something for him. Jones seemed to be working his way through all two hundred eighty three advertised sandwiches at a local deli, and he could usually be counted on to pick up one of Neal's favorites.
And since the deli did NOT deal with deviled ham, there was no chance of contamination.
Even the curfew wasn't a real problem, physically at least. With Sara no longer part of his life – and no desire yet to look for a new relationship – he was generally home well before ten anyway. The problem was simply knowing that he couldn't be out later.
The problem at work was similar. There had previously been many stretches of time where the days consisted of paperwork and old case files, with no new investigations to take them out into the field. But he'd always had the option of a coffee shop run, or the distraction of deciding on where to go for lunch, to help alleviate the boredom. Now, he simply got to watch as everyone else came and went.
He couldn't even count on interludes of conversation with Peter these days. They had adopted a casually correct attitude with each other. They spoke, when it was necessary for a meeting or to report on any discoveries in the files. If they passed in the corridor they offered each other a courteous nod in greeting. But there were no private conversations, just the two of them discussing a case, throwing out ideas until the solution seemed to just naturally appear in front of them. And when Peter left for lunch these days, it was to meet Elizabeth – with Neal most definitely not invited to tag along.
Neal jotted down a few notes on the file he was reviewing, drained the last of his good coffee, and then looked at the clock. Damn, not even eleven o'clock yet. He hadn't been sleeping well, and it was apparently catching up with him. He'd finished the coffee in record time, and there was still a big part of the day to go.
Might have to break down and ask someone to bring him back a large latte later – definitely too many hours to last on office coffee alone.
Of course, drinking the coffee that fast led to other issues as well, and his bladder was reminding him of one such issue now. Sighing, he stood up, stretched, and headed for the restrooms.
Even that was more complicated now. If Peter noticed that Neal was gone from his desk for more than a few minutes, the agent came looking for him. And hadn't that been fun, being called out while sitting on a toilet seat…
Fortunately, this time he managed to get to the restroom, do his business, and return to the bullpen before any search party got sent out. Just as he got there, Diana hung up the phone and got up, reaching for her jacket.
"NYPD has those files I've been waiting for," she told Jones. "But they claim they can't messenger them over here. I'm going to go pick them up at the 25th Precinct."
Jones grinned. "All those empty credit card envelopes someone found? Should be a lot of fun going through all of those."
Diana rolled her eyes with a grimace. "Yeah, can't wait."
Without really even thinking about it, Neal stepped up next to them. "Diana, let me come with you. Please."
"No, look, I'll carry everything. I'll even buy you lunch while we're out, anywhere you want." This was coming very close to begging, and Neal hated that – but he couldn't help it. "Please, I really need to get out of here, and as long as I'm with you, it's all right."
Diana seemed to be considering that and she finally sighed. "Lunch, any place I want?"
Neal nodded right away. "You pick, I buy."
"And no funny business."
"I just desperately need to get out of here for a while," Neal replied, hoping that his voice carried the sincerity behind the words.
"All right, you can come."
"I'll tell Peter when he gets out of his meeting," Jones offered.
Neal hurried to get his jacket and hat before Diana could change her mind. "You won't regret this."
"I'd better not," she warned as they headed out the doors.
The elevator dinged on the twenty-first floor and Peter got off, turning toward the White Collar offices. It was going to be good to get 'home' again after spending the morning in inter-departmental meetings with Organized Crime, Missing Persons, and Violent Crimes.
Yeah, what a fun bunch…
He pushed open the doors, heading for the stairs and his office – and then stopped short.
Neal's desk was empty.
Of course, that could just mean a restroom break. And yes, maybe he needed to give Neal a little more leeway when it came to that.
But it could also mean that Neal had taken advantage of Peter's absence to slip out against orders.
"So how was the meeting?"
Peter's grimace was probably all the answer that Jones needed. "Let's just say I'm glad it's only a quarterly gathering. Don't know if I could handle that bunch more often."
Jones just grinned. "Well, you survived."
"Yeah." Peter took one more look down the – empty – corridor leading to the restrooms and then turned back to the younger agent. "Jones, do you know where Caffrey is?"
"He's with Diana. The 25th Precinct had some files for her on that credit card case and she went to pick them up."
"And she needed Neal for that?"
"Well, I don't know about needing him," Jones admitted. "Neal asked to go, and she agreed."
"Did he threaten her?" Peter muttered.
Jones gave that a small smile. "Nope, just pleaded his case – and offered lunch as part of the deal." Jones paused, looking around before dropping his voice to continue. "Peter, Neal's been cooped up here for days. He just really needed to get out."
Peter nodded, sighing. "I know. And I'm not happy about the terms Justice set out. But I don't want Neal to do something stupid that'll make this hearing even worse."
"You really think it'll be that bad?"
"I don't know. They haven't sent the 'clarification' about the terms yet."
"Well, you know Diana won't let him get away with anything."
"True. And it is good that he has a chance to get out for a while. Did I miss anything else?"
Jones gave that a small smile. "Just your portion of all these cold case files."
Peter rolled his eyes and resumed his trek to his office. "I'll tackle that after I get back from lunch with my wife."
Neal grinned and shook his head as Diana handed him a napkin.
She matched the grin. "What?"
"Oh, just not what I imagined you choosing for lunch."
"What, a gourmet food truck and lunch in the park are beneath the cultured tastes of Neal Caffrey?"
"I didn't say that. I was just picturing you making a different choice."
"So now you're complaining because I didn't take advantage of your lunch offer to stick you with some over-priced restaurant?"
Neal laughed in response. "Not a complaint, just an observation. It's a beautiful day for lunch in the park."
"Yeah, it is. And with fall almost here, who knows how long that'll last. Kind of why I chose it."
"Good choice then." He pointed up into the branches of the tree overhead. "The first colors are starting to show."
"Fall color, then falling leaves, then the first snow." Diana gave an exaggerated shiver. "That tech conference in Miami is going to feel so good in November."
"You do have something to look forward to," Neal said. He dropped his attention to the grilled roast beef, Portobello and Swiss sandwich in his hands.
"Sorry, that was a little insensitive."
"No, it's fine. Miami's great – you'll enjoy it."
They spent the next few minutes in silence, each concentrating on their own sandwich. And then Diana suddenly straightened up, staring at something over Neal's shoulder.
He quashed his own instinct to turn and look. "Something wrong?"
She gave a quick shake of her head, scowling. "I'm not sure. I'd swear I've seen that guy several times over the past few days."
Neal shifted slightly, 'accidentally' sending his napkin sliding to the ground. "What's he wearing?"
"Khakis, brown polo. Standing near that ambulance that just parked by the corner."
Bending over to pick up the napkin, Neal got a good look at the man in question. Tall, dark hair, mirrored sunglasses shading his eyes; all in all, nothing out of the ordinary. "You recognize him?"
"No. There is something vaguely familiar about him, but I definitely can't place him."
The mystery man had stopped to talk to the two ambulance attendants as Neal snagged the napkin and started to sit up. "What do you want to do?"
"It's not like he's actually done anything," Diana started.
Just then there was a soft popping sound, so muted it almost blended into the other background noise. A moment later a small, brightly colored canister landed by their feet.
Before Neal could even set his sandwich aside, the canister opened and a fine mist emerged. He grabbed for Diana's hand, but his movements felt sluggish, and it took a few tries before they managed to connect. "Come on," he said, the words coming out more as a harsh whisper as the mist seemed to reach down his throat. He tried to stand up, tried to pull her with him…
Diana slumped to the ground, her hand still caught in his, and he followed her down.
The mist worked at the edges of his vision, turning everything blurry. He heard footsteps coming closer, felt someone touching his shoulder.
'It's all right, folks. We'll take care of them Good thing we were here!'
Through his fading consciousness, Neal recognized the uniform from one of the paramedics from the ambulance. A feeling of relief washed over him, thinking that help was there so quickly. But then, as he was rolled onto his back, his eyes tracked to the man's shoes…
Italian leather – definitely not uniform issue.
It was his last conscious thought as the mist claimed him completely.
The rigors of the morning meeting seemed far away as Peter emerged from the elevator. Between his schedule and Elizabeth's they'd had to make their lunch a quick one today, meeting at a brasserie not far from the federal building.
Still, seeing her always helped calm whatever was going on in his world. And so far they had managed to stick to their goal of making time for each other – and lunch – each day. That would undoubtedly change when they caught the next big case, or when Elizabeth's big fall events kicked into high gear. But in the meantime, he intended to enjoy it.
He pushed open the doors to the bullpen – and immediately noticed that Neal's desk was still empty. Diana's showed no sign of recent activity either.
Jones was just digging into a large roast beef sandwich when Peter stopped by his desk. "Diana and Neal not back yet?"
Jones shook his head, setting the sandwich back on its wrapper. "Haven't seen them. But Caffrey did say he was buying wherever Diana picked, so maybe they're just having some fancy lunch somewhere."
"Yeah, probably." But there was a little twinge starting in his gut, and he didn't think it was from what he'd had to eat.
"You want me to start checking?"
Peter shook his head, pointing at the sandwich on Jones' desk. "No, have your lunch. Neal hasn't been able to go anywhere for a while, so you're right, they're probably just having some fancy, long meal."
"But if they're not back by the time you finish, maybe you could do some checking…"
There was a distant thrumming in his head…
That was the first thought Neal was conscious of – once consciousness started to return. And then several other thoughts and realizations nearly overwhelmed his thrumming head.
It was dark – he was pretty sure he had managed to open his eyes, but he couldn't see anything.
After a moment of contemplation, he realized there was thrumming from outside of his head too. A steady drone, the feeling of motion – must be in a vehicle of some kind.
Something boxed in his shoulders, which served to emphasize that his arms were pinned underneath his body. A brief test told him that his hands were restrained behind his back, and thus were not going to be much help to him in the near future.
If he could have moved to take some pressure off of his arms, he might have been able to do something about the bindings. But the weight on top of his body made that quite impossible. At least the soft strands of hair brushing his cheek and nose told him that it might be Diana. It smelled like her shampoo…
"Diana?" Receiving no reply, Neal tried rolling his shoulder a few times – one of the few movements he found he was actually able to make. But the nudge seemed to help as he heard a soft groan from above. "Diana!"
The reply was a bit fuzzy, but welcome. "Neal?"
Her weight shifted on top of him, which was good, because it meant she was waking up. But it was also bad, because it pressed her leg more firmly between his. And, well, under the circumstances, he really couldn't be held responsible for what was happening down there…
"Yeah. Welcome back. Are you all right?"
"My head feels like it might explode."
"I know the feeling."
"We were in the park…"
Neal started to nod, and then realized that in the dark it was something of a useless gesture. "There was some kind of mist."
"I remember you tried to grab my hand."
"You fell to the ground, and then I was there too."
Diana was silent for a moment, and Neal was sure she was struggling to clear her memories, much as he was. "There was an ambulance."
Images were coming back to him, and he was trying to make sense of them. "The paramedics came over after we went down. But I saw one of them – definitely not standard FDNY shoes."
"That man I thought I recognized – he was over by the ambulance."
"Yeah. Pissed anyone off recently?"
"Only the perps I've arrested. Maybe someone from your past?"
"I'm usually pretty good at recognizing a tail, and I haven't seen him before. Besides, I think Ryan Wilkes and Keller are the only ones I ever pissed off enough for something like this. Wilkes is in prison, and I don't think even Keller is brash enough to try something again this soon."
The vehicle they were in hit a bump, which forced Diana's leg down farther, and Neal couldn't quite stifle a groan.
"I don't suppose that's a gun I'm feeling."
"Sorry, no. Diana, you do understand, right, with your leg there, I really can't help it…"
"I do have a basic understanding of male anatomy and physiology, Caffrey."
"That's good. Because I'd really hate to survive whatever this kidnapping thing is, only to have you kill me later over… physiology."
"Right." She sighed, her breath warm against his neck. "If I could move my leg, I would. But I can't."
"Are you hurt?"
"I don't think so. There's just no room."
"Can you move anything? Your hands?"
"I can feel something right above me. It's soft, but it's not budging. Are you handcuffed too?"
"And the great Neal Caffrey can't get out of the cuffs?"
"With both our weight on my arms, I can't even move my hands."
"And I can't move enough to find anything useful."
Just then the vehicle hit rough road, bouncing several times.
"Railroad tracks?" Diana guessed.
"Feels like it," Neal agreed, his voice tight.
They hit another set of bumps, Diana's leg jerking against him, and then…
"Oh, you are so going to owe me a new pair of pants, Caffrey."
Peter looked up at the sound of knocking on his door, motioning for Jones to come in. "What's up?"
"I've been trying to get a hold of Diana, like you said. She's not answering. I can't get Neal on the phone either."
"Which precinct were they going to?"
"The 25th, up by Harlem. I called over there, and the detective Diana has been talking to said they were there a couple of hours ago. Picked up the case material and left. Nothing seemed to be wrong."
Peter turned to his computer. "We have Neal's tracking data."
Jones cleared his throat, shaking his head. "Actually, the web site is down. I called the marshals service, they said they're in the middle of a re-boot. They won't lose any data because of the back-up systems, but they can't access it right now."
"Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes."
"Was this something they planned?"
"Yeah, normal maintenance. I guess they do it every week on a rotating schedule."
"All right, I'll monitor that. You keep trying Diana and Neal on their phones."
"Will do." Jones started for the door, and then turned back. "It really hasn't been that long," he started. "Diana and I, we've been feeling kind of bad for Neal. She might have just agreed to stop at a gallery or something, and they turned off their phones."
"Yeah, maybe so," Peter agreed.
But the twisting in his gut seemed to be getting worse…
There was a sudden lurch as the vehicle stopped short, and then the engine died. That was followed by the sound of doors opening, and then there was a glimmer of light as something was opened above them. A moment later, Diana was pulled off of him, and then hands were reaching for him, jerking him out of…
Well, as his eyes adjusted to the light again, Neal realized they had been riding inside the bench along one side of the ambulance.
"Pretty good, huh? Totally out of sight, even if someone's looking in."
The speaker was the dark-haired man Diana had noticed earlier. Up close, Neal realized there was something familiar about him, though he couldn't place the face either.
"What do you want?" Diana demanded.
"Oh, we'll get to that."
There were two other men in the back of the ambulance, both dressed as paramedics – though now that his head had cleared a bit, Neal realized that neither uniform fit very well. And both of them had shoes that were totally out of place for that line of work. One of them reached down and lifted the left leg of Neal's pants.
"Felt this when we pulled him out, boss."
The 'boss' looked at the tracking anklet for a moment, and then turned to Diana. "Slumming a bit with the boyfriend, are you? And you a fed."
Diana ignored the challenge, merely glaring at the man. "Kidnapping a federal agent is a serious offense. You should think about letting us go now, before things get any worse."
Neal was at least glad to hear her talk about letting 'us' go – but her words didn't seem to have much effect on the kidnappers. "What is it you want?"
"Oh, just a little revenge." The man pushed back the edge of his jacket, revealing a holster – from which he extracted a gun. "You see, I believe you know my brother, Agent Berrigan," he said, running the barrel against her jaw. "In fact, I believe you shot him. Roger Barrow."
Neal met Diana's eyes, and he knew they both remembered. The Gary Jennings case, the Aphrodite Club that had funneled money illegally into the political coffers.
"It took me a while to get a name," Barrow continued. "The FBI doesn't like to give out that kind of information. Fortunately, I have some contacts in the defense contracting industry, and they were able to help."
"Your brother was breaking the law," Diana said. "And he was about to shoot me."
Barrow just shrugged that off and went on as though she hadn't spoken. "My contacts were also able to help me procure the gas I used in the park. Quite effective, wasn't it."
"Oh, the best," Neal replied. He was flexing his hands, trying to get some feeling back into his fingers. "So, what now?"
"Now? First, we're going to remove that tracking device. I really don't want to be disturbed. Because we're going to have so much fun."
And somehow, Neal didn't think that sounded like much fun at all…
The tracking website was back up, and Peter was studying the screen, following Neal's trail from earlier that day. He could see the route taken to the 25th precinct house – obviously they had been in Diana's car, given the speed with which the distance was traversed. It was a little far to walk anyway. Then it looked like they had walked over to Marcus Garvey Park, and the dot stayed steady there for a while. But then things got interesting as the tracking dot, again apparently traveling by vehicle, made its way across the Kennedy Bridge toward Queens, finally stopping, just a few minutes ago, in an industrial area near Flushing Bay.
Very near LaGuardia airport, which was making him a little nervous…
Just then, the dot started flashing red, and an Alert message popped up on the screen. Almost simultaneously, his phone rang.
'This is Agent Mabry with the US Marshals tracking service. We have an alert on tracker ID# 78934, subject Neal Caffrey.'
"Yeah, I see it," Peter said, getting to his feet and reaching for his suit coat with his free hand. "I have the last location, and I'll take care of it."
Neal, what the hell…
He was out of the office and on his way down the stairs before he even finished that thought.
"Jones, Neal's anklet was just cut."
The younger agent looked up in surprise. "What?"
"Industrial area, near Flushing Bay."
"But that's out by…"
"LaGuardia. I know."
"You don't really think he took Diana out somehow and is trying to run, do you?"
"I don't know what to think. The tracking data is… strange. Listen, after they went to the 25th, the data shows Neal at Marcus Garvey Park, not moving for a while. I want you to take Blake and Sherman, head to the park and see if anyone recalls Diana and Neal being there, and if anything out of the ordinary happened. Oh, and get someone to pull up the GPS record for Diana's car."
"Got it." Jones was on his feet, pulling on his own suit coat. "You'll be at Flushing Bay?"
Peter nodded, already heading for the other end of the office. "I'll grab a couple of agents and check out the last known location."
Diana was pushed along, gun to her back. She could hear Neal stumbling along behind her – though how he was even still conscious was amazing.
Ahead, Barrow stopped and used a key to unlock a padlock holding a door closed, and then she was being pushed through that door.
Oh, shit – steps!
She stumbled a bit, finally caught her balance. But Neal didn't stand a chance. She heard him fall as he was pushed in through the door. With her hands still cuffed behind her there was little she could do to help. His momentum caught her up, and she went down, both of them tumbling as gravity pulled them to the bottom of the stairs. A box was tossed down after them, and then the door was slammed shut.
For a long moment Diana just lay on the floor, breathing hard and taking stock. Fortunately, aside from some bruising, everything seemed to be in working order.
Neal, on the other hand…
Barrow's men had found a reciprocating saw in the toolbox of the ambulance. Probably intended to free victims from accident scenes, the men had used it to cut the tracker off – and in the process, left Neal's ankle a bloody mess. With his hands still bound, and only one good leg, he hadn't had a chance to save himself from the fall. There was blood trickling down from a cut over his left eye, and he was curled in, apparently protecting his ribs.
Diana forced herself to her knees and crawled over to where he lay. "Neal?"
For a long moment he lay still, eyes closed, and then he finally drew in a deep breath and looked up. "Next time, I pick the place for lunch."
"Yeah, next time," she agreed, trying to smile. "How bad is your ankle?"
"Hurts like hell," he admitted.
"I made them bring some bandages from the ambulance, but I don't know if I can do anything with my hands like this. Any ideas on the cuffs?"
His eyes were closed again, but he nodded slowly. "Just give me a minute."
She could only watch as he took a few deep breaths, grimacing at the pain, and then forced himself up into a seated position, sliding back against the wall. For just a moment his eyes focused on his bloody ankle, but then he looked away and started doing something behind his back.
It wasn't long before there was a CLICK and he pulled one hand free, using it to work on the cuff still connected to his other wrist.
Diana found herself just staring at the small pick in his fingers. "Where did that come from?"
He looked up, a touch of humor returning to his eyes. "I'm not sure I should tell you all my trade secrets – just in case you ever search me."
That earned him a raised eyebrow – and she got a touch of a grin in return.
"Small slit in the belt," he admitted, opening the cuff. "Just enough for a pick. Force of habit."
"See, I told Christie you were devious."
"But she liked my smile."
"True. But she didn't know about the hidden pick."
"Didn't need it to make risotto." Neal attempted to get up, but fell back immediately, gasping in pain. "If you can make it over here, I'll get the cuffs off for you."
It wasn't quick, and it definitely wasn't graceful, but Diana managed to scoot her way over next to Neal. And it wasn't long until the cuffs were, indeed, off and she was able to flex her hands. "Thanks."
"I have to make my contributions where I can."
Diana pushed herself to her feet and retrieved the box. Returning to where Neal was sitting, she started to unpack the contents, laying out bandages, antiseptic, and bottled water. "Guess they don't want us dead just yet."
"Where would be the fun in that? Much better to play with us for a while." He picked up one of the bottles, studying the seal. "Doesn't look like it's been tampered with," he said, twisting the cap off and offering it to Diana. Then he picked up another bottle and inspected it before opening that one as well and taking a long drink.
Diana sipped from her bottle and then set it aside, using both hands to roll the cuff up on Neal's pants leg. "Any ideas on how to get out of here?" she asked as she used the rest of the water to wash out the wound.
Neal's eyes had been scanning the room, already searching for an escape. "Well, the windows are out. Even if we could get up twelve feet, and get the bars off, they're too small."
Diana looked up, eyeing the four narrow slits that were big enough to let some illumination in, but that was about it. "That leaves the door, which had a padlock on the outside." She used a piece of gauze to dry the wound on Neal's leg and then uncapped the antiseptic.
He hissed in a deep breath as the liquid stung the open wound. "Damn."
"Sorry," she muttered, starting to bandage the ankle. "I don't suppose you have some magical way to open a lock on the other side of a door."
"No magic I'm afraid, but there might be options. I'll need to take a closer look." He watched as she finished wrapping the bandage. "Can you help me up?"
It was awkward, and Diana found herself glad, in more ways than one, that they hadn't seen any surveillance cameras in the room. But finally Neal was on his feet – correction, on his foot – and she helped him hop over to the stairs. "So, how do we do this?"
Neal twisted and grabbed for the railing, then lowered himself onto one of the steps. "Well, going up on my butt won't be pretty, but it'll work," he answered, using his arms to push himself up onto the next step. "I'll check out the door. Why don't you check around the perimeter, see if there's anything that might help."
"Like maybe a secret passageway?"
"Hey, it could happen! Or, you might find something useful for, say, prying off a hasp."
"There is a lot of junk in here," she agreed, moving off to start exploring as Neal worked his way slowly up the stairs.
The address near Flushing Bay turned out to be a remote park and shuttle location for the airport.
Peter had made the customary courtesy call to the local police on his way over, and two cruisers arrived shortly after he did. Agents Wesley and Cordova were right behind him.
Jones called, and he had had some luck at Garvey Park, locating a helpful food truck vendor who remembered Diana and Neal. He definitely recalled what they ordered – mainly because the well-dressed man who paid the bill had left a very nice tip. And you know, not many people tipped at food trucks…
The proprietor of a hot dog stand had more information. He had seen the pair sitting on a bench, eating. And then, the strangest thing. They'd been on the ground – and that was very strange given the way the two of them were dressed. They looked like such a nice young couple. But fortunately there had been an ambulance standing by…
Oh, and the hot dog man had retrieved the man's hat from under the bench…
Leaving instructions for Jones to have Blake and Sherman continue to interview potential witnesses, and look for traffic cameras, Peter turned his attention to the parking lot.
The attendant on duty – a young student, working his way through City College – wanted to be helpful. He really did. Yes, he did think it was strange when he saw an ambulance in the lot. No, he hadn't been on duty when it arrived. No, he hadn't gone near it, and he didn't know of anyone else who had either. Yes, the lot had video surveillance. No, he didn't have access to the video, only the manager did. Yes, he could call the manager.
There was no sign of activity in the far corner of the lot where the ambulance was parked, but Peter and the others still approached carefully, guns at the ready. Technically, there wasn't even any evidence of a crime – yet.
The trail of blood leading out of the back door of the vehicle quickly changed that.
A quick checked showed no one up front in the driver's area, and they couldn't see anyone while looking in the window in the back.
Wesley had grabbed an evidence kit from his vehicle, just in case, and Peter donned a pair of gloves. With the other agents and the police officers arranged in a defensive position behind him, he reached up and turned the handle on the back door…
It didn't take long to open the actual door lock keeping them prisoner. But, as they'd noted on the way in and down, there was a hasp on the outside of the door, and the padlock had been re-engaged.
"Anything big and heavy to use as a pry bar?"
"Not really." Diana kicked some junk aside, taking out her frustration on the detritus.
Neal turned his attention back to the door. "Well, we might be in luck anyway."
That brought Diana up onto the steps as she knelt down next to him. "What?"
"The door opens in," Neal pointed out. "That means the hinges are on this side. If you can find something to use as a screwdriver…"
"I'll be right back."
The coppery smell of blood was almost overwhelming when the door opened.
Lots of blood.
Forcing himself to stay in analytical FBI agent mode – and not worried friend mode – Peter stepped inside the rear of the vehicle, careful not to step in any of the blood, or anything else that looked like potential evidence.
"Wesley, get ERT out here. I'd say we definitely have a crime scene."
There wasn't a lot of room to move around, not without potentially contaminating the scene, so Peter let his eyes do most of the searching. The bench to his right was standing open, and there were several blankets tossed aside. To his left, the standard gurney was locked into place. And on top he could see Diana's FBI credentials, a badge, Neal's consultant ID, two cell phones…
And the tracking anklet, the band sliced unevenly, covered in blood.
There was a huge puddle of blood on the floor, and a saw lying in the middle of it.
That pretty much eliminated any lingering doubt he might have harbored that this was some scheme of Neal's. Neal would have had a much cleaner escape plan.
Of course, he was assuming that the blood was at least mostly Neal's. But given the younger man's affinity for a clever con over violence, it was hard to believe that any escape plan would have entailed that much gore.
And definitely not if the blood was Diana's.
There wasn't much else to see. He really needed the evidence recovery technicians.
And where the hell was that manager so they could get access to the video…
Diana had found some flat items amongst the junk – assorted pieces of metal, some broken glass, even a rusty table knife. None were quite as effective as a good Phillips-head screwdriver would have been, but they had to make do.
In deference to his injured leg, Neal sat on the top step, working on the bottom hinge. Diana leaned over him, her attention on the top fastener.
"Just another ordinary day, huh?" he said.
"Oh, yeah. Do this all the time. Bet you're glad you asked to come along."
"Well, I could have done without the kidnapping and the saw and all – but I'm glad you're not alone."
That made her pause a moment. "Yeah, me too."
"And there's something even better," Neal continued.
"Barrow was after you all along. Which means, for once, it's not my fault."
"Oh, that makes me feel better."
"Well, it's just unusual – in my experience."
"Right. So, how do you do it?"
"Make light banter when you've been kidnapped and injured."
Neal looked up at her and gave a slight shrug. "Is panicking going to help?"
"Banter helps me not panic. How's it working for you?"
"I'm not panicking either."
"Good." Neal extracted a screw, setting it aside as he looked up again. "Got a plan for when we get this door open?"
"You mean other than run like hell?"
"Well, that's one option. Unless you run smack into the three guys with guns."
"I suppose something slightly less obvious might be good."
"Did you see anything down there that might make a good weapon?"
"Not really. But maybe we'll find something on the way out."
"Yeah, maybe." Neal pulled another screw out and held up the hinge. "One down," he said. "Let's get the other two off."
Jones arrived at almost the same time as the ERT van, and Peter filled the other agent in as the technicians swarmed the ambulance.
"Blake called just before I got here," Jones reported. "FDNY reported an ambulance stolen from a repair lot two days ago. Matches the unit number seen on some surveillance video from a bank near the park – and just happens to match this ambulance."
"I guess it's good that we don't have two stolen ambulances," Peter replied. "He's working on tracking the route?"
"Got the request in with the police surveillance group."
"And Diana's car?"
"Still in the visitor's lot at the 25th. From everything we can piece together, they picked up the evidence at the precinct, probably dropped it off in the car, and then walked over to the park for lunch."
"All very ordinary. Do we have any photos of the people with the ambulance?"
"Sent what we have to the techs to see if they can clean up the video any. And we've got agents talking to people at the park, see if anyone caught the ambulance on camera."
"Good work." Peter sighed, running a hand through his hair. "You're sure Diana didn't say anything about something strange on the credit card fraud case? Or anything else that had come up?"
"Nothing. She was just picking up evidence."
"He was working on those mortgage fraud files all morning. Peter, he was just desperate to get out of the office for a little while."
"Well, somebody was targeting one of them. I don't buy that this was just a random attack."
"Not a fan of coincidences myself."
"Anything on the manager here?"
"Located him at another lot he runs by Newark International. He's on the way."
"Good, that's good. Hopefully we can get some video on the ambulance when it got here."
"Yeah, they must have had another vehicle already parked here."
"We need that video!"
"We'll find them, Peter."
Peter took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah, we will, But that's a lot of blood…"
Neal removed the final screw and pulled the hinge away from the door. Leaning heavily on the railing he pulled himself up next to Diana and then, using one of the pieces of metal she had found, he pried the door away from the frame. It got stuck for a moment, throwing him off balance, and he stifled a gasp of pain as his injured leg was jostled.
"Are you going to be able to walk?" Diana asked.
"Not sure," he admitted. "If I can't…"
Diana pulled his arm over her shoulder, taking up some of his weight. "We're going together."
Working together, they pulled the door open far enough to look out. To the left was the way they had come in – but there were voices coming from that direction. Neal tipped his head toward the right, Diana nodded in agreement, and they pulled the door back a little farther.
The way to the right was clear, a short hallway that came to a "T" against a solid wall. What they'd find in either direction wasn't clear – but waiting around for Barrow's 'fun' wasn't an option either of them wanted to entertain either.
With Neal gamely using his injured ankle as best he could, and Diana supporting him as much as she could, they stepped out of their prison and into the hall. At the end, the route to the left seemed to open up into a large room just beyond what they could see – and it was quite possibly the same room where they had come in, and where their captors were waiting.
They opted for the passageway to the right.
The video was enlightening – and worrisome.
The grainy images showed the ambulance from a distance. It had been parked well toward the back of the lot, away from where the main body of vehicles was located. But they could make out Diana being led from the ambulance to a waiting panel van, apparently at gunpoint. And then two men dragged another man out of the ambulance. From the suit he was wearing, it was almost definitely Neal – and from the way his body hung limp between his captors, it was fairly certain he was injured.
Well, that would explain the blood…
The good news was that Diana's body language had suggested that she was uninjured – just pissed as hell. So if they were still together, at least one of the missing people had been healthy.
And hopefully was still healthy.
They were waiting for the manager to bring up the exit video footage that would show the van leaving the lot. Hopefully they'd be able to get a license plate number, and at least the direction the van headed.
Beyond that though, they had fewer tools to work with. This wasn't like downtown Manhattan, where cameras of one sort or another covered virtually every intersection. The local PD had already confirmed that there were a few traffic cameras in the area – but only a few. And that number dropped dramatically the farther away from the airport you went.
Peter sighed and leaned in as the manager pulled up the footage from the time stamp where they thought the van might be leaving. Hopefully they could at least identify the vehicle's owner, search for property records or rentals. And once they had a license plate number, they'd put out an alert for local law enforcement to watch for the van. But it still wasn't much to go on.
And that left Diana and Neal on their own.
They had traversed a series of hallways, always trying to make decisions that would take them toward the exterior of the building. From everything they could see, it was some kind of warehouse, with some of the space closed off for offices.
When they finally reached an exterior wall, the sight that greeted them was something of a surprise.
Even though they had been brought in on the ground floor, and even put into a basement room, it appeared that the warehouse was built into some sort of bluff – because now they were at least two stories up, looking out over the water.
Through a barred window.
Diana reached up and grabbed the bars, shaking them. "Damn it!"
Neal was pressed up against the wall, trying to see what was below and around them. "I think that's the East River. That looks like the Whitestone Bridge."
"Makes sense. It didn't seem like we traveled that far after they switched us to the van."
"We can figure that Peter has found the ambulance by now. It's been a while since they cut the anklet."
"The question is if anything they find there will lead them to this place."
Neal sighed and shook his head, studying the bars. "I don't think we can take that chance."
"I agree. But even if we could get those bars open, I'm not so sure about jumping two stories onto concrete. And there's no way your leg would make that."
"You won't have to jump." Neal motioned for her to come closer, and then he pointed at something outside the window. "Maintenance ladder. It's narrow, but it'll do the job."
Diana's expression was somewhat dubious, but she accepted the premise for the time being. "What about these bars?"
"Just one lock, and it's a simple one. You should be able to get it open."
"Me? I'm not the master thief."
"That's alleged master thief," Neal pointed out. "And right now, I'm an alleged thief working on one leg. That lock is a good eight feet up – but if you climb onto the sill, you can reach it. I'll talk you through the rest."
"Look, there's got to be an interior stairway somewhere."
"Maybe, but we haven't passed one. And since this area looks like it was all re-done after the warehouse was built, it's possible that they just expect everyone to go out the main entrance."
"What if I can't get the lock open?"
"You can." He braced his back against the wall, balancing carefully on his one good leg, and then held his hand out. "Let's give it a try."
Diana gave a single nod and reached one hand out to take Neal's, using her other hand to grab onto the bars. With her pull, and his push, she got up onto the narrow ledge.
Neal fished in his pocket and pulled out the pick, handing it up to her. "All right, slide this in at the bottom, as far as it will go…"
After the initial flurry of leads, progress turned slow. The ERT agents had photographed every inch of the ambulance, and collected all of the evidence they could.
The initial field test indicated that the blood matched Neal's type that was on file; the technicians would take samples back for DNA testing to make sure. They also had the video from the shuttle lot to enhance and analyze.
Peter's gut didn't need the results of the tests to know whose blood it was.
They had the license plate number from the van. It turned out to be a rental, signed out to a James McElroy from Bemidji, Minnesota. They even had a scan of the man's license from the rental company. It showed a man in his late twenties, with sandy brown hair – very similar to one of the men caught on video at the shuttle lot.
Unfortunately, a records check showed that the only James McElroy from Bemidji was a seventy-three year old retired teacher. He'd chaperoned a school group on a trip to New York a few weeks earlier…
And reported that his wallet was stolen while they were at a museum.
There was no video from the repair lot where the ambulance had been stolen. The camera covering that lot was broken, and city funding cuts had left them with no money to get it fixed until the next budget cycle. Still, that was a little suspicious by itself – could it be an inside job, someone who knew the cameras were down, and that the ambulance in question had actually been repaired enough to run?
Peter dispatched Wesley and Cordova to check out the repair lot. They'd look through employee records, inquire about anyone who might have called in sick.
Blake and Sherman had found several people at Garvey Park who had been snapping photos or shooting video that day. Many of them had captured Neal and Diana, or the ambulance and the people around it. The two agents had a collection of cameras and memory cards and were on their way back to the office to see if they could isolate the suspects and get clear enough pictures to run through facial recognition.
They had pretty much tracked the ambulance's path from the park to the shuttle lot, filling in gaps by matching Neal's tracking data. The video footage was being sent to the FBI's lab to see if any of the shots would show the suspects.
And they had alerts out in New York and New Jersey – be on the lookout for the van, along with the license plate number. If there were no hits soon, they'd expand to other states.
But they also had to face the fact that the van might already have been ditched for another vehicle, or that the suspects might at least have switched the plates.
All of that meant that Peter was left standing at the shuttle lot, frustrated in his inability to do something.
In the end, he and Jones got into the car and headed out in the direction the van had gone. There was a lot of riverfront to cover…
Neal grinned and held up a hand to help Diana down. "Told you that you could do it."
Diana climbed down and stepped back as Neal swung the bars open. The actual window stuck a bit, but a little extra pressure from the two of them soon had the pane sliding up.
"You're okay with heights, right?" Neal asked.
Diana nodded, looking out at the narrow ladder. "The heights are fine. Getting to the ladder might be a bit of a stretch."
"You'll make it."
"What about you? Gonna be tough on one leg."
Neal nodded, using one hand to urge her toward the window. "That's why I'm not going."
Diana stopped, pulled away. "No way. We go together."
"Diana, thank you for saying that – but you have to go."
"Believe me, as someone who has – allegedly – spent a good deal of time making spectacular escapes, this is a hard admission. If I could physically do it, I'd be going with you. But I can't do it."
"Then we'll find another way."
"Diana, right now this ends one of two ways . One of us – you – gets out of here and goes for help. Or both of us get caught, because honestly, I can't do it."
"I'd rather look for an option where both of us get out."
"That happens when you get out and bring back help." Neal reached over, his fingers brushing against hers. "Diana, I swear, this isn't some kind of con so I can run. I wish I could run, or even walk. But I think this is as far as I go."
"But when they figure out we're not locked up any longer, they'll come looking."
"I'm pretty good at hiding – and that's what I'm going to do as soon as you get out of here."
Diana finally nodded and threw one leg over the window ledge. "I'll be back as soon as I can," she said, reaching out with her foot for the narrow rung. "And Caffrey, you better be here when I get back with help, because you owe me those new pants."
Neal grinned, reaching out to steady her arm as she gingerly made her way onto the ladder. "I'll be here," he promised.
It felt like an exercise in futility, but at least they were doing something. Even if it felt like they'd just been driving in circles for the last hour or so.
And maybe they had been – Peter really wasn't sure. Jones was behind the wheel, while Peter worked the phone, pushing everyone for updates on the videos and the evidence from the van and the traffic cameras, and…
He was on hold with the traffic surveillance unit when the call waiting beep came. A quick glance showed a number he didn't recognize – then again, he'd left so many messages, and asked for those messages to be passed on, so who knew what this might be in regard to. He hit the flash button…
"Burke… Diana! Where are you? Okay…" He was punching in an address on the Explorer's GPS unit as he listened. "Who? Barrow… Right, I'll call for back-up… What about Neal… How bad… All right, the GPS says ten minutes." He looked over at Jones, who had turned on the emergency lights, stepped on the gas – and was signaling something different. "Forget ten minutes – Jones says we'll be there in five. Hang on, Diana. We'll be there soon."
According to the dash display, it was five minutes and three seconds from the time they got Diana's location until Jones brought the vehicle squealing to a stop in front of the small convenience store where she had found a phone.
From there, it didn't take long for her to direct them back to the abandoned warehouse where she and Neal had been taken. The black van was no longer where it had delivered them, but whether that meant that everyone had left, or just that the vehicle had been moved, they didn't know.
It took a few more minutes – long, agonizingly slow minutes – until back-up arrived in the form of two local PD units. SWAT had been alerted, and the team was on its way.
Peter didn't want to wait.
With Diana armed with a riot gun from one of the cruisers, and the seven of them deployed in a strong defensive formation around the two main entrances, they stormed into the warehouse. The two men they encountered elected to fight. It was the last decision one of the men would make; the other was still breathing when the shooting ended, though he was bleeding heavily from two bullet wounds.
Leaving one of the officers to guard the wounded prisoner and wait for the ambulance, and another officer to watch the door in case the van returned, Peter led the others farther into the warehouse. Diana pointed them toward the basement room where she and Neal had been held, but a quick check showed that it was empty.
Diana led the way from there, following the route they had taken before toward the window escape. But despite checking each room along the way, they still hadn't found any sign of Neal when they reached the window.
With some trepidation, Peter leaned cautiously out the window, almost afraid of what might have happened if the injured man had been forced to try the ladder escape anyway…
But there was no body squashed on the landing below.
Since they hadn't seen any sign of the third man, Peter decided to take a chance on calling out. "Neal? Neal!"
There was a muffled thump from somewhere nearby, and then a voice. "Peter!"
"Neal, where are you?"
More thumps, and the sounds led them around the next corner. The open shaft for a freight elevator faced them.
Peter approached the opening carefully, grabbing the frame and looking down…
"I said up, Peter."
So Peter looked up – and found Neal balanced precariously on a narrow ledge about six feet up, nearly hidden by a jumble of cables. "How the hell did you get up there?"
"Adrenaline is a wonderful thing," Neal replied. "Until it runs out. I could really use some help."
"Right." Peter leaned in a little farther, studying the shaft. "Can you hang on a little longer?"
"About all I can do right now, but yeah, I can hang on."
"Good. SWAT should be here any time now, and we'll get you out."
"You better hang on, Caffrey," Diana called. "You owe me new pants!"
That got a soft laugh, which echoed in the empty space. "In that case, I wouldn't dare let go."
The SWAT team was well-named – special weapons and tactics. They had dealt with any number of hostage rescue situations, and getting an injured man out of an elevator shaft was so ordinary it wouldn't even get a spot on their highlight reel.
One ambulance had already left to transport the wounded kidnapper to a hospital, accompanied by a police escort. The medical examiner arrived at the same time as the Evidence Recovery Team, and the front room of the warehouse was soon abuzz with activity. They made way for the ambulance crew when the second bus arrived, and the paramedics were soon working on Neal.
Neal insisted that Peter check the credentials to make sure these paramedics were real.
Once Neal was on his way to the hospital, there were other matters to take care of. The APB on the van was updated – driver believed to be armed and dangerous. An alert went out for John Barrow too, and agents were working to pull every bit of information that could be found about the missing man.
It was well after dark by the time the activity at the warehouse was winding down. Peter had sent Jones to take Diana to the hospital, just to make sure that her protests of being 'fine' were true. He had too much experience with people claiming to be fine, only to have hidden injuries, whether physical or psychological.
Finally, after telling Blake that he'd be ready to go in just a few minutes, Peter walked out into the cool night air and found a quiet place to make a call. "Hey El… Yeah, I'm sorry about dinner. Things got a little crazy… No, I'm fine… Well, Neal was involved, but it wasn't anything that was his fault… Yeah, for once… I'm going to stop at the hospital and see how he's doing, then I'll be home… Love you too, hon."
He ended the call and then stood there for a long moment, staring out at the water, under the umbrella of the emerging stars.
What a day…
From the brief description Diana had given on the way to the warehouse, it was clear that her escape had been equal parts her grit, and Neal's rather unique skills. And Neal had pushed himself to his physical limit to make sure she got out.
Peter and Jones had been in position to reach their colleagues quickly because they had pursued every lead, and followed instincts that helped them find their missing teammates.
That's what a team did – they looked out for each other…
And he'd be damned if the Department of Justice was going to mess with that. They'd be getting a call in the morning.
Peter saw Blake standing by the car, waiting, and he started in that direction. There was still so much to be done, and he needed to figure out how much needed to be done yet that night. He could definitely light a fire under ERT – they had an overnight evidence crew to keep analyzing what the teams had found. There might be something to help them find John Barrow.
Roger Barrow would be getting an official visit in the federal holding facility tomorrow too.
The local police sergeant who had responded to the scene had taken charge of setting up a new traffic camera search for the van. If there was any news, Peter's phone would ring; otherwise, it was another thing to follow up on the next day.
He'd need to arrange for official statements from Diana and Neal as well. Hopefully Diana really was fine, and with any luck, Neal's injuries would prove to be manageable now that he was getting medical attention.
He'd know soon, when he got to the hospital. Hopefully he could at least see if either of them remembered anything that might help them find Barrow, even if other questions might have to wait until tomorrow.
Like why did Neal owe Diana new pants…
So many questions, so many things to do – and he'd figure out what needed to be done yet tonight on the way to the hospital. Then he could get home to Elizabeth, let her help him get refreshed to pick up again tomorrow.
And hopefully it would just be a quiet, ordinary day…