Disclaimer: I don't own White Collar or profit from it. I'm just playing in their world until the premier.
This story is sort of a sequel to "The Miracle of the Cakes" but it does stand alone.
Neal stared in fascination at the painting. It featured people coming out of a church. He analyzed every stroke of paint, every color. He even analyzed the smell and the feel of the canvas in his hands.
"This is really good." He finally remarked.
"But is it real or forged?" Peter demanded.
"Forged, I think. The canvas doesn't feel quite old enough for a Van Gogh."
"Feel old enough? Peter was a bit was expecting something more on the style being off and less an observation based on instinct.
"Well, it's his style. And this painting was reported stolen." Neal studied it carefully. I'm not seeing a forger's signature anywhere."
"Is there supposed to be?" Peter asked dryly.
Neal smiled. "Well, not everyone is as cocky as Hagin."
"I should hope not." Neal's eyes sparkled with mischief.
"You didn't steal it did you?"
Neal smiled. "Peter..."
"...or forge it?"
"I'm honored you think I'd do such a good job." Neal smirked.
"Oh for...I don't want to think what happens if one of your forgeries turns up in a case. Conflict of interest and I know better than to think you'd tell me."
"I might. If I was proud of it, the statute was up, or you offered me immunity."
"Huh. If. Of course, I'd have to suspect it was you to offer the immunity in the first place."
Neal just shrugged and shook his head, still smiling.
"So, where did it turn up?"
"In the middle of a drug dealers hideout."
Neal smile vanished and he looked utterly appalled.
Peter opened the file he was holding and dug out the picture. Neal lay down the painting and took the large crime scene photo. "Oh no. No, no." The drug den was littered with a bricks of cocaine in a stack on a table, along with an astounding amount of rich merchandise. High end electronics, jewelry just scattered on shelves and at least ten pieces of artwork including paintings and a few odd sculptures. Neal's lips pinched in disgust. "This guy does not deserve a piece of art like this. Even if it's a forgery it deserves a better home."
"I kind of figured you'd think that." Peter smiled.
"What about the rest of the art?"
"Two of the paintings are confirmed stolen. Three we haven't identified yet. One is a definite forgery. One of the sculptures is confirmed stolen, we're waiting on a report about the other ones."
"I could take a look."
"I'm working on it."
Neal looked up, handing back the photo. "Working on it? I can see this one but not the others?"
"This was an NYPD drug bust. They already had people analyzing some of this. We're still doing paperwork to get it transferred."
Neal studied him soberly. "Is that the only reason?"
"If you mean is anyone reluctant to involve you, yes. Various NYPD and FBI officials are a bit wary after...well, your checkered career."
Neal's lips firmed into a line. He scowled. "I've helped solve a lot of cases. You've said it yourself. We've got the best closure rate in the bureau."
"But you haven't exactly colored between the lines while you've been here now have you? And they don't even know everything."
Neal's eyes slid shut. "Thanks for that." Some of the things he did he had done for good reason, though the law may not agree with his methods. Those didn't bother him. But there were times he really had disappointed Peter, and himself. Somehow he'd thought at the time he was doing the right thing. Instead it had blown up in his face in spite of his best efforts. And he knew it was only Peter's defending him, risking his career for him, that kept him from being sent straight back to prison.
"So is it our case now?" Neal forced his mind back into the present.
"The art part of it is. And they're welcome to the drug end."
Peter sighed. Neal was eager to see the art. He was eager to prove himself again too. He did love the challenge. It was a good thing. He just wished Neal would stop doing things that kept setting him back. Every time he was convinced Neal was finally on the straight and narrow, the young man pulled a stunt that could slam him back into prison. And for that matter, there was a real danger he'd go down with him. He could lose his career. He'd nearly lost his wife. And while Neal wasn't directly to blame, he'd certainly opened them to danger.
Then again, it would be good to rebuild their team. They all wanted it back. Neal did. Peter did. Elizabeth did. Jones and Diana hadn't commented, but he saw the glances they exchanged. Maybe this case would help. He just hoped it wouldn't involve sending Neal into a drug den. He was pretty sure Neal could outsmart and out talk any drug addict alive, by virtue of the fact that even sober types rarely could out think him. Still, you couldn't reason with someone on drugs and some of them carried guns or knives.