Neal's eyes opened groggily as he thunked onto hard wood and heard the sound of wind, wave and the spray of water. Rolling his eyes around, he resisted the urge to move and give away that he was conscious. He was near a railing and peering over the edge, he saw a speed boat and the river. He resisted the urge to shift. His wrists were tied behind him.
Something slammed his ribs and he had to gasp.
He was lifted bodily to glare at Carlson. "You always treat your colleagues like this?"
Delilah had her hands on her hips and the sun glinted off her hair. "You're the one who brought the gun to the meet."
"No, Harry brought the gun, I just took away his toy so he wouldn't be tempted." Neal fired back.
"Be that as it may, you are coming with us."
"Where and why?" He shifted sideways, as if to collect his balance on the gently rocking boat. But his movement was checked by a hand clamping tightly to the back of his neck. Another hand gripped one bound arm, hard.
"First, your going to tell us where the Bergmans are. Then, your going to keep painting for us. Clearly you have a lot of talent."
" I don't work for people at gunpoint."
"You'd rather die at gunpoint?" Carlson asked.
Delilah stepped up to him again and Neal again felt like something slimy was approaching. She would've made an excellent vampire. "I can do far worse than kill you with a gun. I can make you wish you were dead."
Neal inwardly noted that anytime now would be excellent for Peter to show up. He hoped he wasn't having too much fun sorting out things at the warehouse. "You know, rewards often work better to inspire people than punishments."
"Who are you, really? This name you use, Nick Halden, it's not your real name, is it? No. I consider it my business to know the criminal underworld." She looked him over carefully. "I have contacts as well. I bet if I have someone run your prints, a famous forger will come out."
"Or infamous?" Neal tried to ignore the pain in his neck and arm. "The best of us aren't known because we aren't caught."
"If you were known by no-one you would be unable to sell you forged masterpieces."
"My contacts are discreet."
"And we will surely have some of the same."
Neal sincerely hoped not. He would be sure to reevaluate the relationship with anyone of his colleagues who dealt with her. She'd stabbed Harry with casual viciousness when he tried to climb in the speed boat. Neal doubted he was dead, but still.
"Boss. Call from the guys we left. That was gunfire we heard!"
She grabbed the phone and listened.
Neal squirmed slightly, getting a feel for where the guy was behind him. They were paying more attention to her and the phone call. Her face had gone stiff and cold anger was in her hard eyes. Feeling lightly along the man's side with one hand, Neal found a knife in a pocket. He worked it up and with professional dexterity, opened it. He kept shifting and squirming.
"Quit moving you!" His impatient captor finally snarled.
"Sorry. I get seasick." He doubled over slightly as if to lose his lunch. Frantically sawing and knowing he had only seconds he felt the rope part. Delilah lowered the phone and spun to glare at him. Neal kicked back hard, slammed back into the guard and rolled sideways. The man yelled, the blade had cut him. Neal flinched too, he'd nicked himself. They all charged at him and Neal went the only direction open to him. Over the side.
"He's a fed! Kill him!" Rang out while he was still plummeting. He hit with a splash, just missing the speed boat. He thought for a brief choking second of trying to board it but gunfire was splashing down all around him. He ducked underneath instead, holding his breath. The boat bounced, clearly taking fire and started to sink. Shaking his head he started to swim under water under the yacht. He had to stay deep to avoid the propellors. But he couldn't stay forever. His lungs were screaming for oxygen and he could barely see through the polluted water. A flow struck him and he realized there was a current. Looking aside, he saw the propellor close and speeding up. He hastened to swim away, rising as he did and came up gasping and choking. He flinched and nearly went under again as gunfire continued to rip the water near him. The yacht was retreating. Other boats were approaching. Daring the weapon's fire, Neal headed toward them.
He could see people in the distance on other boats staring. But one was heading fast for him while two others pursued the yacht. They wouldn't get away. He grabbed the life ring flung at him and was hauled in. He half fell on Peter, drenching the other man's suit and flak jacket. He blinked water out of his eyes, shoved wet strands of hair aside and asked "What kept you?"
Peter thumped him. "Okay?"
"Just wet, bruised and a few nicks. And chilled. I think I've been slimed. That woman was a real snake."
"They've got her." Jones said, eyes glued to binoculars. "They're boarding."
Peter fished the Eagle pen recorder out of Neal's pocket doubtfully. "I don't know if this survived."
Jones glanced back. "We've got the recordings. But we could try rice."
"Agent Rice?" Peter looked puzzled.
"No. The food. Absorbs the moisture. Works sometimes on wet electronics. Phones. Even laptops."
"Nice to know."
Neal sat up, clutching the blanket Peter handed him tighter. "How did you find me?"
"Harry decided he'd get to the doctor quicker if he told us where they took you."
"Ah. He'll be okay then."
"In prison, but he'll live to roll on them."
"That would be wise." Neal snorted. "Because even if he doesn't they''ll still try and shut him up."
It was late evening before things were totally wrapped up. Neal sat, uncharacteristically silent at his dining room table and sipped hot chocolate. It was more effective than coffee or tea and warming him up and right now he desperately needed it. A knock at the door made him rise reluctantly.
His friend stepped in, studied his warm but casually dressed state. "Thawing out?"
Peter paused. "Hm. Yeah, sure. Chase away that river chill."
"And the Lady White chill."
"We probably haven't got all of them."
"And they won't go to trial for awhile. So we have to leave the Bergmans in WitSec."
"That'll be hard." Neal sympathized. "To leave behind everything."
Peter looked intrigued. "You do it, or did it, all the time."
"I didn't leave my art, Peter. I always had that. She won't be able to sell hers or she'll give herself away. It's a shame." He sipped his drink and stared down at it, as if it held the secret of life.
"And you didn't have a badly injured sister to care for either. Gotcha. But they leave the bills behind too. For now at least. It'll give them a head start. And I think Cynthia really will get a reward. That girl has some serious guts.
"Her sister found her backbone too." Neal smiled faintly. "They gone?"
"I'm sorry I missed saying goodbye."
"So was Lana. She said to thank you. And she gave you this." He handed him two poster tubes tied together.
Neal opened the tubes and pulled out two paintings. One was a space scape that he'd openly admired. The other...Neal blushed.
Peter's eyes widened and he leaned over. She'd painted Neal in a noble heroic pose. He couldn't identify the painting she'd borrowed the idea from but the idea of Neal the hero was clear.
Neal looked up at Peter, eyes wide. "At least she didn't give me bug eyes and an antenna." He smiled ruefully.
Peter chuckled. "As long as we keep inspiring people to see us like that, we're going to be all right in the end."
Neal smiled back over the rim of his mug. "Yeah?"
They clinked mugs and took a long warming drink.
Author Note: I was partly inspired by the artist Michael David Ward in regard to the space art ideas and "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" are real Van Gogh paintings and really were stolen and are still missing, according to the Van Gogh Gallery website.