At first, Peter thought his suspension was going to be okay. Better than okay - Hughes had suspended him for a month with pay, which was not exactly the standard punishment for insubordination, but would give Neal a heck of a head start on his big getaway. Kramer was literally the only person at the Bureau who thought that anybody other than Peter Burke had any chance of catching Mozzie and Neal. It was a nod and a wink; it showed his boss had confidence in him. It was as good as a vacation, even!
But the lovely early-Spring weather meant that Elizabeth's event planning business was incredibly busy. They hadn't planned for this time off, and she just wasn't available to spend it with him. Peter spent one day sleeping late and watching all the sports, one day at the park with Satchmo, and then he was out of options, at loose ends. He jogged down to the corner store with Satchmo after Elizabeth kissed him and left on his third morning off, bought a newspaper and a cup of inferior coffee, jogged home and sat on his front porch to read about all the things he was missing.
He read every scrap of the news, all the sports, even the society page. He did the crossword and the sudoku and the word jumble. Then he set the paper down and looked around. Nothing was going on. Not even 10% of his "sentence" served, and he was almost ready to start climbing the walls. He picked the paper up again to go through the ads and notices.
Hey, the Senior Center was offering volunteer help with people's taxes. Maybe he could use his accounting degree, and go volunteer to help the elderly.
The woman organizing the volunteers had been impressed by his degree, dubious about his suspension, and then impressed again after she'd gotten off the phone with Hughes. Peter got a badge and a pencil, and a spot in the Senior Center's big linoleum-lined room.
They'd been told they'd probably only be helping with the easiest forms of returns, but a few people came in with more complicated situations. The other two volunteers started referring their questionable cases over to Peter, since he seemed to know what to do with them. Everybody filling out a schedule A (because they had itemized deductions amounting to more than the standard deduction) was coming over to him by 10:45 a.m.
At 11:15 he noticed the first evidence of fraud.
By 4:45 he'd found three - three official-looking receipts for charitable contributions, made out in the name of Save Our Poor, a non-existent charity using a taxpayer ID code that really belonged to a food bank in Sacramento, and claiming a 501 c 3 status that it did not hold. All three of the taxpayers seemed a little confused (one had spent fifteen minutes worrying that he might be taking premature distribution from his IRA, even though he was well over the minimum age), and they were all sure that "that nice young man" had been telling the truth about his group's work on behalf of the city's unfortunates.
The most confusing part was that each contribution was only ten dollars. Somebody was going to an awful lot of trouble to swindle people out of such a paltry amount of money.
When the volunteers' day ended at 7:00, Peter had collected four more fake receipts and three consistent, fairly good descriptions of his perpetrator. He also had a plan. It was an old plan, really, one he'd first come up with as a sort of a daydream back when he'd been chasing Neal - once he'd seen how darn young "James Bonds" was, and knew for sure that he'd never used violence, he'd started wondering what it would have taken, if somebody, some time a decade or so before, could have "saved" Neal Caffrey from a Life Of Crime.
Elizabeth was still out when he got home. On a typical Wednesday, he would have been at work for an hour or more yet. He took Satchmo for a walk and gave June a call. He wanted to see how she was holding up, of course, but he also thought she might make a good accomplice.
"How was your day at the Senior Center?" El asked when Peter and Satch got home from their walk. She'd brought Chinese food home with her; it smelled good.
"Fine. Helped some people. Kinda caught a case, too."
"Yeah, maybe. There's some kid, twenty or so, passing forged receipts for donations to a fake charity."
"Oh, sweetie! That's terrible!"
"All ten dollar donations."
"Huh. So this is, what?"
"I don't know. Kid would rather hustle than beg? But he's not exactly taking anybody's life savings or anything. I don't know."
She looked at him over the rim of her wineglass. "You gonna bring him in?"
Peter shrugged. "I'm on suspension."
June and her little dog met Peter in the area the young con-man seemed to favor, bright and early the next morning. The tax prep session didn't start until 9; they'd have almost two hours before he'd have to get back.
"You understand what kind of guy we're looking for?"
"Probably better than you do, Peter. Don't worry."
"I'm not worried. Stay within view."
She just waved carelessly and proceeded down the sidewalk. He stayed well back and kept an eye out.
Not forty minutes later, June was approached by an earnest young man in white shirtsleeves, carrying a clipboard. She had a friendly-looking conversation with him, and then he started filling out one of his forms as she searched her purse. Peter came up to them, with perfect timing, and put a hand on the boy's shoulder within a couple of seconds after he'd exchanged a fake receipt for June's sawbuck.
"Ah ah ah!" Peter chided. The kid tried to squirm away, but Peter had years of experience at holding onto slippery characters, and June and her dog got their leash tangled around the boy's feet, too. It was all over in less than a minute.
"How old are you, anyway, kid?"
"I... I have the right to remain silent?"
"Oh, honey," June started.
"You're not under arrest," Peter suddenly decided.
"I'm not? Then let go of me!"
"No. You've been swindling the elderly for blocks around. What's the deal, kid?"
"Awful lot of trouble for ten bucks a pop."
The kid looked like he was about to start talking, but then thought better of it.
"Come on, honey. He won't bite." June nudged the boy with her elbow. "I won't let him."
He sighed, looked at June, and then looked back at the sidewalk. "I can't get a job," he said. "I've been trying for months! And I won't go home to Ohio. I just won't."
"Is that all?" June said kindly. "Where have you been staying?"
The kid snorted out a bitter little laugh. "I'm renting a storage unit a few blocks from here. I bribe the guy to let me sleep there."
June smiled up at Peter, and he let go of the kid's shoulder. "My dog-walker just recently left the country," June said. "I have friends who need some help with odd jobs, too. Come on; I'll buy you a coffee."
"Really?" The kid had a nice smile, not really like Neal's at all.
"You still owe a lot of elderly people a lot of money," Peter said sternly.
"I'll advance it to you," June said. "How many swindling victims did you have, Peter?"
He told her, and collected seven ten-dollar-bills, and Charlie Walker's promise to write letters of apology.
"And you'll apologize to anybody else who turns up, too! And pay them back."
"Yes, Peter. He will." June threaded her arm through the crook of Charlie's arm, and led him away.
Peter went back to the Senior Center.