Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar or its characters.
Diana resisted the urge to readjust the hem of her silk cocktail dress as she focused her energy on the attractive man in front of her. He was reacting just as she planned – smiling often and initiating physical contact with increasing frequency. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Neal's gaze. Dressed as a cocktail waiter, he gave her a mischievous smirk as he watched her companion's hand snake its way up to her exposed thigh. Diana let out a throaty little laugh and leaned in toward the man, providing him with a generous view of her cleavage.
The man in question was Plata Pedroza – not his real name, Diana was sure. Visiting from Miami, Mr. Pedroza was believed to be in New York to personally pick up a shipment of Sierra Leone conflict diamonds being flown in from Liberia. In recent years, diamond retailers in the North American and European markets had come under increased scrutiny from lawmakers and customers alike to ensure that the diamonds they obtained were not funding violence. "Conflict-free diamonds", as they were known, commanded a much higher price than diamonds obtained in cheaper, more dangerous ways. Three months ago, Burke's team had gotten word that there was an influx of diamonds in the New York area that were being passed off as conflict-free Canadian gems, complete with Kimberley Certificates and laser inscriptions, but were actually blood diamonds which had been illegally obtained from Sierra Leone. The diamonds were being marked up by a tremendous amount, and the war lords who had traded away the diamonds for weapons were getting away with their crimes.
So here sat Diana, practically in the lap of Plata Pedroza. She looked him over – she could freely admit that he was a very magnetic man. Looking to be in his late 40s, he had a shock of prematurely grey hair; Diana guessed that is where the "Plata" portion of his alias had originated. He was well built, with warm brown eyes and olive skin. Never judge a book by its cover, thought Diana, for this man looked more like a kindly professor than a diamond smuggler. Pedroza was most certainly the brains behind the operation – he didn't seem like the type to get his hands dirty. He was actually quite a powerful man in Miami, running a flourishing (and very above-board) import-export service. He didn't drink, didn't do drugs, didn't even smoke. After doing some digging, it had actually been Neal who had discovered a potential "in": Pedroza's last serious girlfriend bore more than a passing resemblance to Diana.
As Diana drained the last of her champagne, she knew what she had to do next. The FBI didn't have enough evidence for a warrant on Pedroza's hotel room, but if she was to be freely invited into the room, she could search the place on her own and call for backup. Diana actively disliked these sorts of undercover operations, and she knew her girlfriend did, too. Pushing away her discomfort, she looked down at her now-empty champagne flute and smiled coyly at Pedroza.
"Please," he said warmly, "let me get you another drink."
"I'd like that," Diana said, letting her hand linger over Pedroza's.
Pedroza turned away from Diana and began to scan the room for the nearest cocktail waiter. Diana watched with heightened interest as the muscles in Pedroza's back clenched and he stared openly at one particular cocktail waiter – certainly not the nearest one, but one lingering in the back of the room. Neal. Thinking fast, Diana, reached her hand out and stroked Pedroza's thigh. Pedroza barely looked at her, his eyes still locked on Neal. "Waiter!" he called out, his eyes narrowing.
Neal was aware that he had captured Pedroza's attention and hurried to his side, being careful to keep his tray of Champagne perfectly balanced as he did so. Neal smiled at Diana but let his gaze linger on Pedroza, aware that the man was looking him up and down.
"A drink for the lady," Pedroza said, watching Neal closely.
Neal let a wide grin come over his face. "Yes sir," he said dutifully. As he handed Diana her drink, their eyes met. She cocked an eyebrow at him, unsure of what he was planning. Neal broke the eye contact with Diana and refocused all of his attention on Pedroza. "And tell me, sir, is there anything at all that I can do for you?"
The boldness of Neal's tone and the suggestive nature of the question hung in the air. Pedroza was clearly intrigued and a bit thrown. "You know, I could use a sparkling water in a few moments, mine is almost empty." He looked at Neal purposefully. "I'll find you."
Neal actually winked at the man. "I'll be looking forward to it, sir."
Well, shit. Diana couldn't believe it. She'd been doing so well, her seduction had clearly been working, then all it took was a few meaningful glances between Pedroza and Neal Caffrey to completely throw off her plans. "I'll be right back," she purred into Pedroza's ear.
"Alright, my dear," Pedroza murmured, barely registered her words – he was still watching Caffrey's retreating form.
Diana rolled her eyes as she collected her purse and sauntered toward the restrooms. She softly but firmly spoke into her bracelet communicator. "Neal, what the hell was that?"
Neal ducked into the kitchen area, still balancing his tray. He spoke quietly into his watch, which served as both a communicator and a recording device. "That, Diana, was Caffrey charm."
Peter's voice crackled to life over the open feed. "Seriously, Neal, what were you thinking, approaching Pedroza like that? You know this is Diana's op!"
Neal sighed. "I know, and she was doing great, but then Pedroza saw me and – "
"He was eyeing Caffrey like a piece of meat, boss," Diana interrupted. "Looks like I was barking up the wrong tree."
In the van, Peter brought a hand to his forehead and began to massage his temples. "I don't even understand this. There's nothing in Pedroza's file to suggest he's into men. Look, we still need access – invited access – to Pedroza's room. " Peter swallowed hard. "Neal, I hate to ask you this, but – "
"Sure!" Neal answered brightly. "I'll make sure I'm invited up to the room. Diana, before I do that I'm going to cut the anklet and ditch it in the kitchen. I'll keep my watch on an open frequency unless I'm scanned – you'll be able to hear everything. Even if the diamonds aren't in the room, I'll try to get a confession on tape."
"Neal!" Peter said firmly. "Anything turns dangerous, just call for backup. Code phrase is starry night."
"Van Gogh, nice," Neal commented.
"Just get this done, Caffrey," Diana said. "I'm exiting the restroom now, and I'm guessing Pedroza's going to ditch me within the next few minutes. You need to be ready for him."
"Understood, Diana," Neal said.
Diana straightened her dress and walked out of the restroom. She made a beeline for Pedroza, and still hoped that perhaps she could still be the one to take him down.
Pedroza smiled when he saw Diana approach. "Ah, Yelena, there you are." He lightly brushed her arm with his hand, inviting her to sit. "I can't tell you how good it has been to meet you, to talk to you. I would like this conversation to continue, yes?"
Diana smiled flirtatiously. "I'd like that, too."
Pedroza took a deep breath. "Good, good." He pulled out a business card and a pen and scribbled something on the back of the card. "This is my private line. I would very much like to meet you again, perhaps a place that is not so…" he gestured to the club-like environment that surrounded them, "…loco."
Diana laughed lightly. "That sounds good." She leaned in. "Why not find some place a little less loco right now?"
A bashful grin spread slowly across Pedroza's face. "Ah, Yelena, you're killing me. You have no idea how much I would like that. Unfortunately, a business matter has come up that I must take care of."
Diana nodded her understanding, but internally, she was still confused. All of their research on Pedroza had suggested that he was a bit of a playboy. He had long-term companions, all female, but he was also known to enjoy the attention of women whenever he went out. Diana tried to strike the right combination of sad, horny, and adoring as Pedroza kissed her hand and left her side. What was it about Neal that had so captured Pedroza's attention?
Diana stayed at the bar and listened closely to the audio feed on her earpiece. She casually looked around and spotted Pedroza walking toward the kitchen. "Showtime, Neal," she whispered.
Neal nodded and exited the kitchen with a full tray of champagne. He locked eyes with Pedroza and closed the distance between himself and the older man. "Can I get you that water now?" Neal asked.
Within the van, Peter rolled his eyes. "How does he make a simple question sound so dirty?"
Pedroza looked at Neal intensely. "Put your tray down." Neal did as he was asked. With his gaze averted, Neal was caught off guard when Pedroza slammed his back against a support column and brought his body flush against Neal's. Pedroza snaked his hand up Neal's arm, bringing it to rest at the back of his head and pulling Neal's face closer to him. In a heated whisper, Pedroza relayed his message. "I'm in room 1910, the penthouse. Be there in ten minutes." Pedroza released the back of Neal's head, bringing his hand around to the front of Neal's neck and running his hand down the length of Neal's cheap cocktail waiter tie. "And bring the tie. We can have some fun with that." Pedroza winked at Neal, released the tie, and stepped back into the main room of the night club as if nothing had happened.
Neal released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding before breaking into a large grin. "You hear that, Peter?"
"Yes Neal. Sadly, I can't unhear it." Peter sighed. "There's our invitation, though."
Neal feigned pouting. "What, no 'good work, Neal'?"
"I don't congratulate you for breathing, do I? Apparently, seduction comes just as naturally." Peter shook his head. "Seriously, though, Neal, be careful with this guy, okay? Call us in if you need us. We've done a lot of research on him, but I admit, this little proposition is coming as a curveball."
Neal ducked into the bathroom and looked at his reflection, wrinkling his nose at the sight of his current uniform – white shirt, black tie, vest and pants, white half-apron. Not exactly his favored tools of seduction, but apparently Pedroza had a bit of a kink for this getup, so he'd roll with it. Neal glanced at his wristwatch communicator and made his way to the special elevator with direct access to the penthouse suite. He knew that the elevator contained a camera that could be monitored by the occupant of the Penthouse suite, not to mention security. Neal tried to make himself look eager and slightly naïve as the elevator approached the top floor.
Neal was buzzed in to the reception area of the penthouse without even having to knock or ring a bell. He's watching me, Neal thought with satisfaction. As Neal walked into the penthouse, he pretended to take in the breathtaking view of the New York skyline while privately going over the details of the operation in his head. At some point, preferably sooner rather than later, he had to case the place and see if Pedroza was keeping the diamonds in the suite. If not, getting a confession would be the next best thing.
"Admiring the view?"
Neal turned toward Pedroza, finding himself very thankful that Pedroza was still fully clothed. Neal allowed a slow, lazy smile to come over his face. "Absolutely – this has to be the most beautiful city on earth."
Pedroza nodded his agreement. "And the people here, they are charming. Every time I come to New York, I find that I get to meet someone fascinating."
Neal smiled. "Fascinating? I hope you're not talking about me. You don't even know me yet."
Pedroza's smile suddenly had an edge to it. "I'd like to." He crossed the room quickly and kissed Neal fully on the lips, raking his hand through Neal's hair, even tugging a little. Not wanting to alert Pedroza to anything suspicious, Neal leaned into the kiss hungrily, trying to match Pedroza's intensity and movements. It was a technique he often used in his cons, trying to mirror the body language of his mark to gain their trust.
Pedroza pulled away, breathless. "I am putting all my cards on the table. You know now why I wanted you here."
Neal smiled, a bit shyly. "I think I knew well before this."
Pedroza smirked. "Yes, well, now it is quite obvious. If this is not for you, please go, but if you would like to stay, I promise you that it will be a memorable evening."
Neal grinned slowly and approached Pedroza. "Of that, I'm sure." Without waiting for Pedroza's response, he began to slowly kiss Pedroza.
Peter tugged at his tie nervously. "Geez, Neal." He looked at Jones. "I thought he'd take it slow, you know, get the guy talking…"
Jones shrugged. "It's Neal, boss – I'm sure he's got a plan."
Peter nodded. "Yeah, well, he just better be careful is all. That guy's got some serious muscle on him."
From her perch at the bar, Diana turned to the side and spoke softly into the communicator embedded in her bracelet. "You know boss, you were about to let me waltz up to Pedroza's penthouse and I don't remember you ever being half this worried about my well-being."
Peter chuckled. "See, Diana, the reason for that is because I trust you. I have no doubt that, if things were to start heading South, you'd call for back-up, no questions asked. But with Neal… well, he always takes things too far." The van grew uncomfortably quiet, with the only sounds coming from Neal's audio feed.
Neal ended the makeup session abruptly. "Wow," he murmured, raising an eyebrow. "I think I need a drink after that."
Pedroza chuckled. "Help yourself," he said, gesturing to the fully stocked wet bar.
As Neal walked to the bar, he made sure to look around. The penthouse was breathtaking, all plush fabrics and expensive art. Neal purposely decided to mix himself a particularly complex drink. Now that Pedroza had sampled the goods, it was time to cool things down a bit and get him talking.
As Neal was making his drink at the bar, Pedroza had settled into a large leather loveseat. "Despite first impressions, I'm actually quite old-fashioned about certain things, and I realized that I don't yet know your name."
Neal grinned sheepishly. "You're right, we didn't quite get to that, did we?" He set his drink down. "Let's start over." He approached Pedroza, hand outstretched. "Hi there, my name's Wayne, Wayne Jennings. Pleased to meet you…" He looked expectantly at Pedroza.
Pedroza chuckled a bit. "Plata Pedroza. But you already knew that."
Neal shrugged. "I did. Being on staff, it's sort of my business to know who's who at the hotel."
"So tell me, Wayne, do you often find yourself entertaining hotel guests?"
Neal gave a low whistle and dropped his head. "No, actually, this is kind of a first for me." Pedroza looked at him questioningly. Neal raked a hand through his hair. "I mean, my first time with someone on the job, you know?"
Pedroza leaned back in the loveseat as Neal went back to the bar to retrieve his drink. "So," Neal said, slowly dropping ice cubes into his drink, "what brings you to New York?"
Pedroza grinned more broadly. "The energy. There is no place like New York. The city, it positively glitters – like diamonds." Pedroza watched Neal closely as he sipped his drink. "How is it, Wayne?"
Neal smiled. "It's good. I see you get to enjoy all the top brands up here in the penthouse. Can I make you something?"
"I'll take that sparkling water now."
Neal nodded. "Not a big drinker. I can respect that," he said as he prepared Plata's drink. "Want a twist of lime or lemon?"
"Lime, please," said Pedroza. Neal crossed the room and presented it to Pedroza with a flourish. "Your drink, sir." They clinked glasses and Neal settled down opposite Pedroza in an intricately carved wooden chair. Unbeknownst to Pedroza, Neal had been carefully scoping out the penthouse. He was sure that a man like Pedroza would not have hidden the diamonds in the hotel safe – that would be the obvious choice, and Pedroza was smart. No, Neal was looking for something that was more brazen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an elaborate flower arrangement in the corridor between the bathroom and bedroom. The flowers were anchored in a suspiciously sparkly mix of beads and stones. Neal needed a closer look. "My god," he said suddenly. He walked quickly toward the floral arrangement. "Are these prairie snowdrifts?"
Pedroza stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
Neal smiled shyly. "Sorry, it's just – I was a botany major, and I couldn't help but notice that they've included prairie snowdrift roses in the arrangement over there. It's a new varietal from Canada, and I've never seen them up close." He looked at Pedroza. "May I?"
Pedroza shrugged. "By all means."
Jones looked at Peter. "Where the hell does he get this stuff?"
Peter didn't respond right away, as he had been busy searching for the rose on his phone. "Yup, it's real. Of course it is." He turned toward Jones and simply shrugged.
Neal walked over to the vase and deeply inhaled the scent of the roses. With a practiced eye, he inspected the stones that were anchoring the flowers in the vase. As eye-catching as the stones were, they weren't real, and they certainly weren't diamonds. Neal snapped off one of the buds and held it behind his back.
"Found what you were looking for?" Pedroza asked.
"I did," Neal said, slipping the bud into Pedroza's lapel and kissing him deeply. Pedroza sighed contentedly and deepened the kiss, digging his fingers into Neal's back.
"Let's be honest, Wayne," Pedroza said, still a bit out of breath. "I think we both know the real reason you went back there to look at that vase."
Peter froze. "Shit," he muttered. Jones looked at him worriedly.
Neal pulled away a bit. "You caught me. I just wanted to sneak a peek at the bedroom. For as long as I've worked here, I've never actually been in that bedroom."
"Well then," said Pedroza, taking Neal by the hand. "What are we waiting for?"
Thanks for reading my first White Collar story! It's a quick little two-shot, so just one chapter left. Hope you enjoy! - AE