Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.


Special Agent Peter Burke and his team were gathered in the conference room at the White Collar Crime Unit reviewing new cases that had come in over the past couple of weeks; debating the merits of each in order to prioritize which would be handled next. Agent Clinton Jones gave his colleagues a short synopsis of the Walker case, flipping up the security footage of their prime suspect leaving the bank; a woman in her early thirties with long, dark hair, held back by sunglasses, casually leaving the bank with a briefcase full of cash. Jones stilled the tape on the clearest image of her face, which she appeared to make no effort to hide. As he did so Neal Caffrey gasped and in an uncharacteristically unguarded moment he let slip a barely audible whisper, "Girl."

"Neal, do you know this woman?" Peter asked the Criminal Consultant.

Neal gave no response; in fact he seemed unaware that his boss had even addressed him. He just continued staring at the picture, his complexion growing paler by the second. Peter repeated himself, louder this time but Neal remained transfixed. After an awkward pause, Peter all but shouted at Neal, who slowly turned to face him, before softly replying, "No, Peter, I don't." It was so patently obvious that Neal's response was untrue that Peter was too taken aback to question him further.

"Okay Jones, what else do you have?" Peter asked the agent, who shot Neal an irritated look before carrying on.

Immediately Jones started talking, Neal got up and walked out of the conference room. He went down the stairs to the agents' bullpen, passing their empty desks and turned into the corridor leading to the restrooms, disappearing from view.

"Well, that was odd. Even by Caffrey standards." said Agent Diana Berrigan.

"Anyone got a clue what the hell is going on with him?" Peter demanded.

Diana and Jones shook their heads, both just as baffled as he was. Peter looked up at the clock. It was nearly 12:00 noon.

"Fine, take an early lunch and let's meet back here in an hour. Perhaps we'll get some sense out of Caffrey then." He snapped, dismissing them with an irritated wave as he went off in search of Neal.

Peter found him in the men's room, splashing his face with cold water. His eyes were red and puffy and it was clear that Neal had been crying. Peter's frustration dissipated on seeing that his friend was clearly upset. He put his hand on Neal's shoulder and asked quietly, "You okay there, buddy?"

Neal shrugged him off, replying somewhat sharply, "I'm fine Peter. I just need some fresh air. I feel a migraine coming on."

He pushed past Peter and walked quickly to the elevators, pressing the Down button with much more force than was necessary. Peter wasn't sure whether to follow or let him have some space to cope with whatever was going on in his mind. One thing that he was certain of was that Neal was far from fine. This behavior was so aberrant for the normally courteous conman that Peter decided to let it drop and catch up with him later when Neal had had a chance to gather himself together.

When Neal didn't return by 2:00 PM no one was particularly surprised. Despite Neal's deception regarding the mystery bank robber Peter didn't doubt that he was probably now in the grip of a fully-fledged migraine and had gone home to try and sleep it out. They carried on without him, Jones picking up where he had left off.

"It's not that big a case yet, Boss." He began, "So far, over the past three months she's cashed out five checks that we know of at various banks around town, all cashier's checks with the same fake account and routing numbers, each for eight thousand dollars. They're quality forgeries. Neal took a look at them for me earlier and said they were among the best he'd seen. Of course, that was prior to his episode before lunch. He certainly didn't act like he recognized the workmanship when he first saw them. Do you think they've been partners in crime?"

"Or maybe just partners," Diana suggested, "She's quite glamorous, looks very much like Neal's type."

Peter groaned, "Let's just hope that there's no connection."

He knew how fiercely loyal Neal was to his criminal friends. If he had been involved with this woman, Neal would be uncooperative at best. More likely, he would compromise the investigation to protect her. Peter's gut feeling was that this was not going to play out well for all concerned. Unfortunately, his gut was seldom wrong and in this instance his sense of foreboding would turn out to be all too justified.


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