Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar or its characters.
Neal smiled and let Pedroza lead him right up to the locked door of the bedroom. This was excellent. It was clear to Neal that the diamonds were not hidden in the main room, and it seemed likely that Pedroza would keep them somewhere in his locked bedroom.
"Well that's just fantastic," Peter muttered sarcastically. "They're in the bedroom now."
Pedroza looked at Neal intently and pulled him inside the bedroom. This time, the kiss was somewhat fiercer, and for a moment Neal felt a flash of concern. Pedroza was stronger than he looked. Pedroza finally broke the kiss, loosened his tie, and relaxed on the bed. "You, my friend, are overdressed."
Neal grinned. "I agree."
Peter groaned. "Thank god this thing doesn't have a video feed."
Maintaining eye contact with Pedroza, Neal slowly untied his cocktail apron and tossed it to the floor. He began to loosen his tie, but Pedroza's voice stopped him.
"Leave that on. You can lose the shirt, though."
Neal nodded. "Ah, I see how you like it." Neal slowly shrugged out of his vest, aware that Pedroza's eyes were on him. He turned around slowly, presumably to give Pedroza a show, but in actuality he wanted a 360 view of the bedroom. Frustratingly, no obvious hiding places stood out. Once again facing Pedroza, he began to slowly unbutton his shirt.
Pedroza grinned at Neal and walked toward him. "It is taking you entirely too long to take that off. Let me help." In one swift motion, Neal was divested of his cheap white shirt and was standing in just a simple tank, tie, and his dress pants. Pedroza's hands were on Neal's torso as he inched up Neal's tank and pulled it over his head. Neal reached for Pedroza's shirt but, to his surprise, Pedroza pulled back. "Not yet, Wayne… there's something else I had in mind first." Neal looked at Pedroza questioningly, and then a thought struck him. Neal pulled Pedroza close, running his hands over his chest greedily and kissing him deeply. Without warning, Pedroza gave him a hard shove and sent Neal stumbling backwards against the wall. Neal grinned. "You like it a little rough, huh?"
Pedroza grinned back. "I do. On your knees, kid."
Peter looked at Jones with alarm. "How far is Caffrey taking this?"
Jones shook his head in frustration. "I dunno Boss – he knows the words to say, he's just not saying them."
"Dammit Neal," Diana grumbled. "You better have a plan…"
Neal slunk to his knees, still grinning to himself. He was now almost certain he could prove that Pedroza took the diamonds; he only needed to alert Peter. But how to use the phrase "starry night" in a way that wouldn't tip off Pedroza? Neal was very aware that he was running out of time before the situation got far too out of hand. Neal bit his lip and looked up at Pedroza. "I can't believe we're about to do this. Just look out the window at this-"
Pedroza's hand in his hair cut him off. "That's enough talking – your mouth should be busy doing something else."
It would be a pleasure taking this guy down, Neal thought. Trying to buy time to formulate a plan, Neal swallowed hard and forced himself to smile up at Pedroza. Slowly, Neal lowered his eyes and began to run his hands up the length of Pedroza's pants before making a move toward Pedroza's waistband. He was about to begin undoing Pedroza's belt when he heard the all-too-familiar click of a gun being cocked. He looked up in surprise at Pedroza, who was currently leveling a pistol in the direction of Neal's face.
"I'll tell you what, Caffrey, when you commit to a con, you commit," Pedroza said.
"Dammit!" Peter yelled. "He's been made. Neal's been made."
"Wait, wait, Peter!" Jones said urgently. "I say we let this play out a bit, see what happens. It sounds like Pedroza's made Neal as a conman, but not necessarily as a Fed. We could still get a confession."
Peter thought about Jones' words. "You're right, Jones. We'll let Neal run with this, but first sign of trouble, we're moving in, got it?"
Shit, Neal thought. He was sure that he and Pedroza had never crossed paths before. How could he have been made?
Pedroza backed away from Neal, still keeping the gun trained on him. "Whatever you want from me, you must want it bad, because last time I checked, you liked the ladies." Pedroza paused. "And you were in prison." He smirked at Neal. "Tell me, did you pick up a taste for dick in there?" Neal narrowed his eyes at Pedroza. "You know, Neal, there's a small part of me that will admit to some satisfaction seeing you on your knees in front of me, staring down the barrel of my gun."
A half-smile came over Neal's face. "Which gun are we talking about, Pedroza? You seemed pretty into this a few seconds ago."
"Don't flatter yourself – I had to find some way to get you alone without tipping you off," Pedroza grumbled. "You should know that spotting you in the bar cost me a very hot night with a very attractive woman. I'd much rather it was her in your position right now."
Listening to the audio feed at the bar, Diana scrunched up her face in disgust.
"I get it, you tricked me," Neal said, throwing his hands up in mock surrender.
"You're not the only one around here that can run a con, kid."
"Fine," Neal said. "Can I at least have my shirt back?"
Pedroza pretended to think over his request. "Ummm, no. I think you're going to stay right there, half-naked on your knees. Besides," Pedroza said slyly, "this," he gestured at Neal's body with his free hand, "is nothing I haven't seen before."
Neal's face twisted in confusion. "Wait, what?"
Pedroza leaned back on the bed, still keeping the gun aimed at Neal. "About six years ago, I fell totally, madly, and foolishly in love with a breathtaking woman. She was young and beautiful – probably too young and beautiful for me, but I didn't care." Pedroza's face seemed to momentarily soften as he considered this memory. "About six months into our relationship, she began to act more distantly. She traveled often, and I am a jealous man. I suspected she had other lovers. She denied it, but I had to know for sure." Pedroza's expression became harder. "I had her followed, and I was right – she was involved with a young man in New York. The private detective I'd hired to trail her gave me photographs of the two of them. Together." Pedroza glared at Neal. "Does the name Maria Gonzalez ring a bell?"
Neal shook his head in the negative. It was a generic name, but it wasn't setting off any alarms.
"How about Alex Hunter?" Pedroza stared at Neal. "Don't even try to deny it – you should really remember to close the hotel blinds. I must say, I stared at your face more than I care to admit, wondering who you could be, this man that lured her away from me. It didn't take long for my men to ID you, and all these years later, I knew who you were the instant I saw you downstairs in the club. So tell me, Mr. Caffrey, why are you really here?"
Neal took a deep breath. "Isn't it obvious? I'm a cocktail waiter."
A sickening crack came over the audio feed, causing Peter to hold his breath.
Neal groaned and reached up to touch his cheekbone where he had been pistol whipped, wincing when his fingers came back bloody.
"Let's try again, Caffrey, why are you here?"
"The diamonds," Neal said simply.
Pedroza stared at Neal. "What diamonds?" he asked. "I have no diamonds."
Neal nodded. "You're right about that." Pedroza looked at him curiously. "You don't have the diamonds." Pedroza's hand ghosted over the front of his shirt, the shock registering on his face. Neal reached into his pocket, producing an ornate crucifix. "I do."
Pedroza's face twisted in anger. "How did you…? Dammit, it was when you were trying to get my shirt off, wasn't it?"
Neal nodded. "That was bold, you know. You were wearing them right out in the open the whole time. I could have lifted the crucifix down in the club."
"But you didn't think to," Pedroza said. He pointed the gun at Neal with renewed vigor. "Now throw me the necklace."
Neal held his hand up. "Wait, may I? I want to know if the rumors are true." Watching Pedroza's trigger finger, Neal held up the crucifix and carefully scrutinized the many gems embedded within it. "Ohhh, these are good, they've got the laser inscription and everything. There's no way these are actually conflict-free, right? But you're making a mint on them, aren't you?" Pedroza merely shrugged. Neal bit back a sigh of his own and continued talking. He needed a damn confession soon. "Was this your idea? It had to have been. It's too complex for Hernandez or Germana…" Neal brought the crucifix close to his eye. "Where are these from, Angola? Sierra Leone?"
"Why do you care?"
Neal looked up at Pedroza. "I'm planning something big, and I'm trying to put together a crew. Your reputation is growing, but some people say that Hernandez is the brains behind this diamond operation. I only intend to deal with the mastermind, not the foot soldiers."
Pedroza scrutinized Neal and lowered the gun. "As much as I've hated you from afar, Caffrey, I have to admit you're good. If you're planning a heist, I want in."
"Then I need a show of good faith," Neal explained. "Lowering the gun was a good first step, but to prove that you're the one in charge of the diamond op, I'm going to need the name of your smuggler."
Pedroza scoffed. "I'm not giving you that – you'll look him up and steal him from me. Just trust me when I say that Hernandez is an idiot. I came up with the whole diamond scheme. The Sierra Leone diamonds get smuggled into Liberia – that's where we cook up the correct paperwork and do the laser inscriptions. We could use a good forger on those Kimberley certificates, you know. Once the diamonds get stateside, they look like conflict-free Canadian gems, and everyone's happy. The warlords over in Sierra Leone have their guns, we have the diamonds, and we turn a tidy profit by passing them off as conflict-free stones."
Gotcha, Neal thought. Finally.
"So..." Pedroza said. "What's the target of this heist of yours?"
"I'm planning to steal a painting," Neal said matter-of-factly.
"Which one?" Pedroza asked.
Neal grinned. "Starry Night."
Neal strolled into Peter's office. It had been three days since Pedroza's capture, yet Peter still seemed upset.
"Hey Peter," Neal said, casually leaning over Peter's desk.
"Neal," Peter said curtly, not looking up from his computer screen.
Neal sat down opposite Peter's desk and looked at him quizzically. "Listen, I don't understand what's got you so upset. I mean, I did what you asked me to do, I got Pedroza to invite me up to his suite, I recovered the diamonds, and got a full confession. The takedown went off without a hitch – what more do you want?"
Peter finally looked up at Neal. "You know what I want, Neal? I want you to stop taking stupid risks. You should have called for back-up way earlier than you did. Seriously, Neal, how far were you going to let that little scene with you and Pedroza play out? You're lucky he didn't actually want your ass."
Neal nodded. "I know, Peter, I just really wanted to get him, you know? Make it an airtight case. The whole thing, it's like a rush to me."
Peter sighed. "I know, Neal. Thing is, I would never ask you to do something like that just to get a suspect, okay? And before you can protest, Diana would have called for backup much sooner – that's how we're trained. You could have really gotten in over your head."
"Peter, you know me better than anyone; hell, you've probably memorized my case file. You know that wasn't exactly my first rodeo. I've been in situations much riskier than that."
Peter's eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute…" He lowered his voice, "Are you talking about Venice?"
Neal's face reddened. "I've heard it's a beautiful city."
"And I've heard that poor Venetian nobleman actually shed tears when his young art model fled his palazzo in the middle of the night with an original Tintoretto. People weren't sure if he was crying over the painting or the model."
Neal waved his hand in the air. "Rumor has it the nobleman was a very devout Catholic. Should there have even been any… desires, I'm sure he wouldn't have acted on them. I'm betting nothing, well… nothing major ever actually happened between him and that young art model."
Peter cocked an eyebrow. "The nobleman's sixteen most recent sculptures certainly suggested otherwise."
Neal swallowed hard. "Sculptures?"
"That's right," Peter said. "All nudes."
For a moment, Neal looked concerned before breaking into a smile. "Well, the nobleman was a very talented artist. I mean, given the rumors about that art model, I'm sure the sculptures are absolutely stunning. Priceless, even. I bet people weep upon seeing them."
"Neal…" Peter warned, struggling hard to keep a straight face. It was a battle he lost. "You are too much," he smirked.
"You wouldn't have it any other way," said Neal with a wink as he adjusted his fedora and strolled out the door.
Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! -AE