White Collar: The Eye of Sita
Just over eight months since his tumultuous trip to DC Neal sat in his apartment watching the rain lash against the glass doors that lead out to the patio. It was late in the day but he was still lounging in his pajamas. Mesmerized by the rain Neal subconsciously rubbed at his tracking anklet with his barefoot. Outside the storm lightened and turned to a steady drizzle that ran down the glass making the world outside appear to melt.
Neal looked over his shoulder at the mail spread out over the kitchen. Feeling heavy hearted Neal turned his attention back to the rain. He wasn't sure how long he spent staring at the lightning dancing across the gray New York sky before there was a knock at the door.
Jumping up Neal rushed over to the door. Opening the heavy oak door Neal did his best to hide his disappointment when his visitor was not who he was expecting. Smiling brightly Mozzie invited himself in. He held up a bottle of wine with a blue ribbon tied around it and pushed it into Neal's hands.
"Thank you, Mozzie. Let's see," Neal looked at the label "a bottle of your favorite wine...you shouldn't have."
"I know. I'll get glasses."
Neal was forced to chuckle as Mozzie bustled over to the cabinet to get a set of glasses. Neal went over to the drawer and pulled out a cork screw. Joining Mozzie over at the kitchen table Neal poured the deep red wine into the glasses that Mozzie had fetched. Mozzie lifted his glass and Neal obliged and clinked glasses before taking a drink. Neal took a half hearted sip at the dark wine before turning his attention back to the mail sitting on the table.
"Neal?" Mozzie asked with concern. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Neal replied unconvincingly. "I was just expecting to hear from someone today."
"Peter didn't wish you a happy birthday?"
"He did, even gave me the day off."
"Looks like you needed it." Mozzie noted. "What's on your mind?"
Before Mozzie could press further there was another knock at the door. The gentle sound told Neal that it was June at his door. June leaned in and gave Neal's cheek a kiss as she wished him a happy birthday. She handed him a medium sized flat box that had been wrapped in plain brown paper.
"This just arrived by special courier for you." June said as she handed over the package. "No name or return address."
"Thank you, June." Neal said brightly.
"I take it you know who it is from?"
"I think so."
June didn't pry any more and simply said hello and good bye to Mozzie before leaving. Neal brought the package over to the table and pulled off the brown paper. Under the brown paper was a blank white card. Neal smiled and picked up the card. Mozzie watched as Neal tapped the card on the table so he could peel it into two pieces. Neal went over to the cupboard and brought over a clear liquid that he brushed onto the exposed paper.
"What's that?" Mozzie asked.
"Of course, developing a secret message. Nice."
The silver nitrate reacted with the common table salt message that had been painted into the interior of the card. Neal recognized the sloppy handwriting instantly.
"What does it say?"
"What else?" Neal smiled. "'Happy Birthday'."
Neal set the card aside and carefully opened the box. He lifted up a badly damaged and torn canvas painting in a wooden frame of Monet's water lilies. Putting the painting down on the table he smoothed out the ripped canvas to reveal the beautiful painting.
"Yeowch." Mozzie commented. "Looks like someone put their fist through it."
"I think it was my elbow."
"I take it this painting holds some deep sentimental value for you?"
"This is my first true forgery. I spent years completing this painting, only to fall backwards and destroy it."
"Does this have something to do with this 'Daniel' character you've been avoiding telling me about."
Neal sighed. After returning to New York after the odd reunion the last thing Neal had really wanted to talk about was Daniel. Mozzie was clearly hurt that he had shared the story with Peter and not him. Giving in Neal drained the rest of his glass of wine and retold the tale to Mozzie. He included the part where Daniel had added the real Monet to the evidence in DC.
"So Peter handed the original back over to Paris?"
"It was finally authenticated last month. They threw a huge gala for its return."
"I think I'll restore this." Neal smiled as he touched the canvas fondly.
"Wait a minute, you said you'd just finished the painting when you fell through it?" Mozzie asked.
"It hadn't even been an hour before that I'd put the last brush stroke on it."
"So why isn't the paint smeared?"
Neal knit his brow together as he more closely inspected the tattered painting. The wet oil paint should have smeared when he fell through it. The paint where the canvas was ripped was chipped in places, but not blended together. More than that the paint showed all the classice signs of aging. Looking in the corner where his hidden signature should be Neal gasped sharply.
"Mozzie...this is the real Monet. I destroyed an original Monet, it was my painting in DC."
"You got fooled by your own forgery?"
"Daniel must have aged it for me before sending it to Walters."
"So that means your work is..."
"...hanging in the Louvre."