When Cyril Donnelly himself appeared at the door to his apartment, Neal knew he had almost won. All he had to do was stay conscious long enough to get the deputy commissioner on the recording.
Well, maybe not all…
He also had to hope that someone – Peter, Diana, Jones – would discover the recording. He hadn't mentioned Mozzie's other addition to June's security – namely, the relay that would enable the eagle to transmit downtown. With any luck, at least some of the conversation was reaching the office. It was probably too much to expect that someone would discover it today – he couldn't recall a reason that anyone would be in the office on Sunday this week. But the recording program should show some activity on Monday. The rest would be recorded, assuming that the pen was found later.
He needed to stay alive long enough to make sure of that.
After his treatment at the hands of Gavin and his men, that could be problematic. He probably had another couple of cracked ribs and there was a stabbing pain in his left leg, in addition to new bruises and cuts. And that was even after pointing out how useful he could be.
Donnelly walked into the room, stopping in front of Neal. "Well, Mr. Caffrey, you're certainly proving to be an interesting man."
Neal shrugged through the pain. "I do my best."
Donnelly grinned – and it was about as friendly as Gavin's earlier look. "Here's my problem, Neal – can I call you Neal? You've been in the FBI's pocket for a long time. How can I trust you?"
Neal sighed, his face a mask of annoyed impatience. "Like I told your man Gavin here, I'm facing a hearing on Tuesday. It should be easy enough for you to verify that. Maybe they commute my sentence – and maybe they throw me back inside until the next millennium. My money's on the latter. And it shouldn't take a genius to figure that a guy who's worked for the Feds for almost three years isn't going to fare well in prison."
"So this is a mutual interest thing?"
"It is." Neal put on his most earnest look. "It's simple. I have a lot of skills, and I'm very good at what I do. As for you – you obviously have connections. You can get this anklet off of me, help me disappear off the Feds' radar."
Donnelly grinned again, though it seemed somewhat softer now. "And this would earn your eternal gratitude?"
"I'm sure we could come to an agreement on remuneration. I can be a very reasonable guy. And it's a good deal for both of us."
"You'd really sell out the Feds, and your girlfriend?"
Neal leaned forward, selling his story. "The Feds are selling me out. They dangle a carrot, and deliver a stick. I've put my life on the line for them time after time, and what do I get? I get an OPR agent telling me to bring a good lawyer."
Donnelly seemed to be considering that for a long moment. "You know, we just might be able to work something out. We got word that Barry Koontz had a safety deposit box, which just might contain certain materials that I'm interested in. Think you could find a way to access it?"
"A bank? Sure. I've done it before. Just give me a couple of days to scope it out."
Donnelly stopped, and all attention was turned to the door as someone came running up the stairs, fast.
The man who had previously found the security recording stood in the doorway, breathing hard. "We got company. Flashing lights, just down the block."
"Doesn't mean they're coming here," Gavin started.
The crashing sound of a door being opened by force belied that line of thought.
Donnelly turned on Neal, an angry glare in his eyes. "You set this up," he growled, reaching for his gun.
Neal was on his feet, letting the eagle drop to the floor as he slowly backed up, hands raised. "No, they must have followed you or one of your men."
The three guns that were now pointed at him didn't waiver.
There were more footsteps on the stairs now, coming up fast. But maybe not fast enough…
Neal backed up a couple more steps. "I don't know why they're here."
"Maybe not," Donnelly said. "But now you're just a loose end. We came here to investigate a tip, an ex-con got violent. Such a sad ending."
Neal dove for the door into the hallway as the first shots rang out. One, two…
The third one struck him just as he got through the door and he went down. He was vaguely aware of more gunshots, lots of shouting, and the overwhelming pain in his side.
And then Peter was there, kneeling down next to him. "Neal?"
Hand shaking, he grabbed onto Peter's arm. "Please tell me you got this recorded."
"Yeah, we got it." Peter settled onto the floor, pulling Neal up against his leg. "And I've got you. The ambulance is on the way…"
Peter stopped in the doorway, looking into the room. The stark white walls seemed cold and uninviting, as did the monitors that were beeping away. But at least the beeps were steady and strong, which was a good sign.
Neal appeared to be sleeping, the hospital bed reclined and his head facing away, toward the windows. For a moment, Peter debated leaving and coming back later. But just then Neal turned, his eyes opening.
Peter smiled and walked into the room. "Neal. How are you feeling?"
Neal shrugged, and then winced a bit at the pain the action caused. "Like I have four cracked ribs, a hairline fracture of my left fibula, a bruised kidney – and more assorted general contusions than I care to think about. Oh, there's a mild concussion too."
"You were also shot."
"Turns out that was just a flesh wound," Neal replied. "The ribs hurt more."
Peter pulled up a chair and sat down. "Yeah, I've had cracked ribs. Hurts to breathe, but not breathing doesn't work so well either."
"They at least have you on some good pain meds?"
"They did overnight. I asked them to stop."
"Why? If you're in pain, the drugs can help."
"The doctor said she can't really assess how I'm doing if I'm high on drugs."
"You do get loopy. Were you singing again?"
"Not that I recall."
"Lucky doctor," Peter mumbled.
"Hey, some people like my singing!"
"It wasn't opera," Neal muttered.
"What's the rush on the assessment?"
"Dr. Bartz needs to sign the release papers if I'm going to make the hearing tomorrow. Unless, of course, you're here to help me break out."
"Are you thinking the stunning leap from rooftop to rooftop, or the mad dash across the back lot?"
Neal sighed and slid his left leg out from under the blanket, revealing the lightweight cast encasing it. "I was thinking more the plan where you flash your badge and then roll me out in a wheelchair."
"You in some particular hurry?"
"It could be my last night without bars. I don't want to spend it here."
It was Peter's turn to sigh. "Neal, it could also be the night before your sentence is commuted."
"Right. That's why I've got this." Neal pulled his left hand up a few inches – enough to make the handcuffs clink against the metal bedrail.
Peter was on his feet, staring. "Diana didn't say anything about that."
"It wasn't her. She came to the hospital with me like you told her to, took the anklet off when they had to do x-rays on my leg. I figured she'd put it back on the other ankle later, but she just told me to behave."
"Agent Boone showed up. He reminded me again to bring a good lawyer, and added the cuffs."
Peter started to reach for his pocket, but stopped, staring down at his clothes. He was still wearing the jeans and polo he'd had on when he rushed out of the house on Sunday; they'd spent the whole night running down suspects and he hadn't gotten home. "I don't have my keys. But…" He fished in his pocket, coming out with his Swiss army knife. "Anything here you can use?"
"You're authorizing me to remove the cuffs put on by OPR?"
"Well, unless you can't pick them…"
Neal grabbed the knife, studied the tools for a moment, and opened one. He worked at the lock for about thirty seconds before there was a soft click and he pulled his wrist free. Another brief wait ensued while he opened the other cuff, and then he handed both the cuffs and the knife to Peter. "I assume you'll want to return those."
Peter nodded, pocketing the knife. "My thoughts exactly. Neal…"
"It is what it is, Peter," Neal said softly. "Even if Keller did take credit for the treasure, we both know that Boone can come up with enough to at least get me a probation violation, if not new charges."
"You have a little over a year left on the original sentence."
"Except now I'm a known FBI informant. I won't make it a year."
Peter sucked in a deep breath, sinking back down onto the chair. "Neal, if – if – that happens, it's a year. You can do it in solitary."
The sad smile on Neal's face sent chills down Peter's spine. "Let me tell you a story, Peter. Say a guy does his twenty on the NYPD and takes his pension. He moves out of the city. Where does he look for a job?"
The answer was obvious, and deflating. "I imagine a prison would be a good place."
"Lots of ex-cops there. Some of them probably know Donnelly. And you might be surprised how many guys die in solitary."
"It's not news to me, Peter. You know, back in the early days, when it seemed like you threatened to send me back at least every other day, it wouldn't have been so bad. Would have screwed up my search for Kate, but I had contacts, protection. Even after the plane explosion, when OPR sent me back, it was still all right. I mean, none of the cases I worked on had made it through the courts yet. There were some rumors, but I could deal with that."
"It's more than rumors now."
"Yeah. But like I said, it's not news. Except for the Donnelly connection, I've known all along. And I never really believed the commutation would happen. There was this small hope that they'd just leave things as they were, let me finish out my time with you. After everything with Keller though, that's not what you want."
And that left Peter silent, wondering what exactly he did want. As angry as he had been with Neal, he also couldn't imagine life without Neal.
As was so often the case, El was right – Neal was a part of their lives, had been for quite a while…
He looked up, aware that Neal had been speaking. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"I just wanted to know if there's a chance you can get me out of here."
Peter got to his feet, pausing to rest a hand on Neal's arm. "Give me a little time. I'll see what I can do."
"Sure, that's fine. Thanks for calling ahead."
Sara disconnected the call and went to the window, watching as the headlights approached the house. The caller was Jones, saying that he was on the way up the long driveway so no need to worry.
Actually, though she was surprised, she was also pleased by the visit. As beautiful as the home and the area might be, it was lonely being there… alone. And even with the secure laptop and phone, she still didn't know much of what was going on.
She went to the door and opened it as the car pulled to a stop in the circular drive out front. Jones got out, opened the back door, and pulled out a duffel bag.
Wait, was that Neal getting out – and on crutches?
Sara hurried down the stairs. "What happened?"
Jones turned back toward her, closing the car door. "There have been a few developments in the case."
Neal came toward her, moving carefully with the crutches. "Can you handle some company for a night or two?"
Sara and Jones both hovered as Neal maneuvered the steps, but he managed on his own. Then she opened the door and led the way inside.
"Must be some story," Sara remarked.
"I had another little chat with Gavin and some of his buddies," Neal said. He lowered himself carefully into a recliner near the door.
"But Neal managed to get Donnelly on tape, bargaining for his services," Jones added. "The guys we caught are tripping over each other trying to give up names and make deals."
Sara dropped down onto the sofa. "So I might be able to go home soon?"
Jones nodded. "Peter said for you to hang out here for a little while longer, until they get things sorted out. But hopefully it won't be too long."
"Hopefully you can handle me crashing on the couch until then," Neal said.
"Yeah, that's fine. I'll be glad to have some company. But what about the hearing?"
Neal shrugged. "I'm not sure. When Peter got me out of the hospital this afternoon, he put me in the car with Jones, and now we're here. He said he'd take care of dealing with the panel, so I guess he's going to ask for a delay, give me a little chance to heal."
Sara looked to Jones, but he just shook his head. "I don't know any more about it either. My instructions were to get Neal here. But if it's all right, I'll stay over. Kind of late to start the drive back."
"Sure, you know there's plenty of room. Did you eat on the way up?"
Neal shook his head. "No, we didn't."
Sara got to her feet, heading for the kitchen. "Well, I was actually just going to call for some takeout. I'll order for three. And then you can tell me what's happened."
The room designated for the hearing was small, and there were already a number of people there when Peter walked in. A long table had been set up at one end, with five chairs behind it. He didn't know any of the people from the probation board, but the man on the far end was all too familiar.
There was a smaller table, with one chair set up facing the front of the room. Peter set his stack of files down on that table and then walked toward the front, pulling something out of his pocket.
"I think these belong to you," he said, tossing the handcuffs down in front of where Norman Boone stood. And he didn't wait for a reply, simply turned and walked back to the table.
Hughes and Diana had added more files to the collection by then, and were now sitting just behind him as Peter pulled out the chair and sat down.
The woman who was standing near the center seat stared at him, a puzzled look on her face. "You're Peter Burke, aren't you?"
Peter nodded. "I am."
"I don't understand, Agent Burke. This hearing is concerning Neal Caffrey, not you. And in two minutes he'll be considered late."
"Neal Caffrey won't be here today."
"Now see here, Burke…" Boone started.
Peter cut him off. "Neal is recovering from injuries sustained on Sunday while helping to uncover a large-scale corruption scheme within the police department."
The woman in charge studied him for a moment, then slowly nodded. "We would have appreciated some notice about this. But we can reschedule…"
"No, that won't be necessary. I'm sure I can answer any questions to your satisfaction." Peter pulled the first case file from the pile and opened it. "But first, let me make a statement about my partner…"