Caught In The Art
AN: This is being written in response to a challenge by ferryboat George. The challenge was one where Neal is 'forced' to do arts and crafts.
Here is the challenge as written: White Collar: This one isn't a crossover idea, but I can't help but put it here. The idea comes from two sources, first Neal referring to his painting as doing 'arts and crafts' and then my thoughts as I was making pine cone turkeys for Thanksgiving. Not sure how to make it happen, but I would love to see Neal somehow forced to do real arts and crafts, something like making pine cone turkeys. It would be especially nice if it involved kids, but not sure how that would work. I have a feeling Neal would turn any craft into real art, he couldn't help it :)
This is my take on it. Neal's alias, is used in memory of a dear friend who died WAY too young. He also had the most amazing blue eyes. Enjoy.
"You're serious?" Neal asked as he and Peter looked in on a room full of kindergarteners.
"There's a teacher here, at this school, passing their students' work off as high art." Peter explained.
"I don't see how gluing macaroni to construction paper is high art." Neal replied, making a face.
"It's not these students. It's the higher grades. We need you to infiltrate the art world at PS 107 and find out who's doing it." Peter said.
"You can make it sound as 'James Bond' as you want. It's still a bunch of over-worked, underpaid teachers drinking bad coffee in a smoke-filled teachers' lounge." Neal declared.
"Look, Neal." Peter said. "You know art. That's what we need here. We need somebody who will 'fit in.'"
"I look like I should be teaching rugrats to finger paint?" Neal asked, slightly insulted.
Peter sighed, exasperated. "Just do it, or I'll send you back to prison! Oh, and I would wear something a little…less expensive to work tomorrow if I were you. You start at 8 a.m."
"Everything you own is a little less expensive." Neal muttered under his breath.
"What?" Peter asked. He paused. "You will need to come by my place in the morning. I'll have to cut your anklet for this. We'll have to leave it off until this is done. Here's the info on your alias." Peter said, handing Neal a folder. "You are now Neal Frasier. You will find you are up-to-date on your teaching credentials, and you graduated college in the top of your class."
"I don't know this stuff. I don't know how to teach." Neal said.
"You did pretty well teaching that lit class." Peter replied.
"Teenagers are a hell of a lot easier to fool than little kids." Neal replied.
Peter waited for Neal to explain. "You say something wrong, mess up a fact with a teenager, you can still save face. They just think you're having an off day. Mess something up with a little kid. Something they think you got wrong, and they'll call you on it. They're…intimidating."
Peter grinned. "I've heard it all. Neal Caffrey is afraid of a 5-year-old."
"Look, I just don't want to spend my days keeping kids from eating paste and picking their noses." Neal replied.
"Be by my place early in the morning so I can cut your anklet" was all Peter said in reply.
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Neal was met the next morning by 3 women as soon as he walked into his classroom. Ellen, the middle-aged cafeteria-looking lady was giving him an appraising eye. The other two women, Cynthia and Kelly, as their name badges on their smocks said, were also. They were much younger, than Ellen. Neal was beginning to feel self-conscious from all the intense scrutiny.
Cynthia was the first to speak. "I don't mean to be so…bold. But usually people who look like you are seen posing in underwear ads in magazines, not teaching art at an elementary school."
Neal smiled and blushed just slightly. Then he turned on the charm. "And here I thought it was because I was dressed a little too casually." He had on a pair of jeans and a plain black t-shirt. He had dressed it up with a blazer, which he hung on the back of the chair at his desk.
All three women shook their heads. They smiled, instantly charmed. Ellen spoke up this time. "You've got the right idea there. Don't wear nice clothes in this place. They just seem to draw tiny, sticky, dirty hands."
Neal smiled again. He could tell he was going to like these women already.
"Mr. Frasier." Ellen stepped forward. "I'm Ellen." She said extending her hand. "This is Cynthia and Kelly." She indicated the other two women in the room. "We're your classroom helpers."
"Neal, please." He said, shaking their hands. "Very nice to meet you all."
"I'm not sure how it's gone in the other schools you've worked at, Neal." Ellen started. "Each school does things a little different. Here we have 10 kindergarten classes. Each class has art 2 times a week. Each class has 10 to 15 kids. We try to keep the order. Help them with whatever project you have them do. That type thing."
Cynthia spoke up next. "We have an easy schedule this semester. Thank goodness. You will basically have 2 classes before lunch and two after. Your first period, right now, is your free period. Then at the end of the day you'll have a free period."
"We usually use that time to clean up for the day. We'll set things up for you for the next day, if you want us too. You could just leave us a copy of your lesson plan." Kelly offered.
Neal nodded and sighed. "Okay, sounds good. Let's just get through today first." His nervousness was returning.
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Neal gave the kids instructions on their art project after his assistants got them into their seats. At first it took them a few minutes to realize that there was a strange man in the room. Once that happened, they quieted down on their own. Neal quickly learned each child's name. It was easy for him, using word association. He was not sure what he wanted the kids to call him, until an adorable little blonde girl called him Mr. Neal. He liked it so much that that was how he introduced himself for the rest of the day.
Neal realized the time he spent in each session passed quickly. He and his assistants would take a couple kids or a table depending on the size of the class and walk them through how to make a project. The first had been a worm made out of egg carton container cups. He had spent so much time showing them how to string the cups together to make a worm that they had not had a lot of time to paint them. Most of the worms were half painted, some a paint brush had not touched.
"Too…ambitious for the kindergarten set, I guess." Neal said as he went around the room cleaning off the tables and putting the crafts on shelves for the paint to dry.
"No, I don't think so." Cynthia said, helping with the cleanup. "Just a little too much excitement…a new teacher and all. They will be settled down tomorrow."
Neal nodded as the other two ladies agreed.
"You really made an impression on Allison." Ellen said.
"She is a very sweet little girl." Neal said. "It really surprised me when she hugged me."
"I think you remind her a little of her dad." Kelly said. "He had brown hair and was tall."
"Her dad doesn't see her much?" Neal asked.
"He died in Iraq about 8 months ago." Ellen explained. "She shied away from men for the longest time. What she did today, it was amazing. It's the first time I've seen her smile in months."
Neal didn't know what to say or to think.
Neal left the ladies to clean up the room and prepare for his afternoon sessions. He found his way to the teacher's lounge. It was empty when he walked in. He looked around the room, for signs of…. Well, he didn't know exactly what he was looking for. Nothing caught his attention, so he got himself a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch.
"…yeah, blue eyes, dark brown hair. Kelly said he was totally…." Helen Wilson said. She and Paige Kendrick, two of the four, second grade teachers that the school employed stopped dead in their tracks. The object of their conversation was sitting on the couch.
Neal stood and introduced himself to the two women. They both blushed, knowing Neal knew who they were talking about.
They were soon joined by two of the kindergarten teachers who taught at the school, William Kingston and Hilary Jackson.
"Well, 'Mr. Neal'…" Hilary spoke up. "…you've made quite an impression on my class. All they've talked about since your class this morning is you."
Neal smiled. "The kids had fun this morning."
"How old are your kids?" William asked.
Neal took a sip of coffee before answering. "I don't have any."
Everyone seemed shocked at his answer. "My fiancée was killed in a plane crash." Neal explained. "We never really had the chance to…."
Everyone in the room nodded sympathetically.
The room was quiet for a moment and Neal was grateful. Even though Kate had not been Neal's fiancée, he had wanted to marry her. And he had stretched the truth about the plane. But nobody needed to know that. Plus, it put an end to the questions. That was what he really wanted.
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"So, how was your first day?" Peter said after he caught up with Neal at the end of the school day.
"Pretty good, Anthony has potential. I caught Karen trying to snack on paste. And Joseph got blue paint all over his clothes." Neal said smiling.
Peter grinned. "Funny, you know what I mean."
Neal nodded. "Nothing yet, I have 4 sessions a day, only two free periods. Not much time…."
"Make time, we have a limited window to catch this person." Peter explained.
"So, what did you teach your students today?" Peter asked, looking very amused.
"You are enjoying this far too much." Neal replied.
Neal sighed. "We made egg carton worms."
Peter ducked his head immediately. He didn't want Neal to see his face.
"Stop it!" Neal said irritated.
Peter kept his head ducked. He couldn't speak.
"Stop laughing, Peter!" Neal warned.
Peter took a moment before he raised his head. "I'll bet they were cute. I bet that they were just…adorable."
"You really, really are enjoying this, aren't you?"
Peter smiled. "Just a little bit."
Neal shook his head. But he was smiling.
"Can I at least have one 'aww'?"
"No!" Neal replied as he walked ahead of Peter to Peter's car.
"Elle wants you over for dinner." Peter managed to say through his laughter.
"She knows everything?" Neal asked.
"Of course." Peter replied.
"So I'm in for Round 2." Neal reasoned.
Peter and Neal arrived at Peter's house just moments before Elle put the food on the table. Elle heard them enter. She came out of the kitchen and kissed Peter. She then said hello to Neal. They made idle conversation until dinner was ready.
"So…Neal…Peter tells me you're teaching art now." Elle said by way of introduction.
Neal nodded glaring at Peter. Peter just smiled in return, enjoying his meal.
Neal looked back at Elle. "Yes, I'm sure Peter told you all about why I'm there."
Elle nodded. "He did. And today was your first day…."
"Yes, it was." Neal glanced at Peter.
Peter was still grinning. He was truly enjoying this.
"So, you're teaching kindergarten. What did you do?"
Neal thought for a second. He had been with Peter since he had told him about his day. Peter had not had a chance to call Elle and tell her anything, so she couldn't be setting him up. Besides Elle wouldn't do that.
"Oh, you know, kids stuff." Neal replied.
Peter spoke up then. "Oh, you know, Elle. Those little egg cart worm things. You cut up an egg carton, the cups. You link them together with yarn. Then you paint them."
"You were watching me?" Neal said, surprised.
"Of course, I am required to check on my CI." Peter replied.
"Without me seeing you?" Neal asked. "Without me knowing?"
"That's the best time to check." Peter said. "Oh, Elle, you should have seen him…."
Neal stood up, interrupting him. "Thanks for everything." Neal said, grabbing his coat.
Peter looked at Neal. He then looked at his wife, who was glaring at him. Peter was not at all sure what he had done.
"Neal, Wait!" Elle said. She started after Neal, waving her husband off as he began to stand.
Elle took Neal's hand stopping him. She looked him in the eye. "I didn't know con men blushed."
Neal didn't respond. He just ducked his head and then looked at her again.
"Don't let my Neanderthal of a husband bother you." Elle stated. "What you're doing with those kids doesn't surprise me a bit. You need patience and a good heart to work with kids. Kids know if you want to be with them. They can tell." Elle explained. "You have those qualities. That is why those kids liked you. That's why you connected with them. Peter sees it too. It's just nice for him to see that side of you. I already knew it was there. But it's nice to hear about. It's nice to know I was right." She smiled at him.
"You are pretty good at reading people." Neal stated smiling. He was relieved.
"Come back and have a seat. Satch will protect you." Elle said.
"Satch?" Neal asked, confused.
"Peter took him for his annual vet visit. Satch hates those." Elle explained. "He is not at all happy with Peter right now."
Neal smiled. He felt better, but he shook his head. "Got to get up early, my first session is at 8 a.m."
Elle nodded. She gave Neal a big hug. "I understand. Thanks for coming."
Peter got up from his seat and come to the door. "Neal, I'm…."
Neal shook his head. "No, it's okay, Peter. I understand. Thank you, Elizabeth."
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"So…there's nothing?" Peter asked.
Neal shook his head. "I have been hanging out in that nasty little teacher's lounge, drinking that horrible coffee for a week, nothing."
"Maybe because you're the new guy…." Peter surmised.
Neal shook his head. "Trust me, these people talk about everybody and everything. I've heard comments about me that would make a sailor blush." Neal paused. "There's nothing here."
"Our sources say…." Peter started.
"Who are your sources, Peter?" Neal asked. "A bunch of pissed off Soccer moms whose babies didn't get A's on their 'wonderful' art projects? I'm telling you…."
"There is something here, Neal. You know me. I wouldn't waste FBI resources, man hours on this if there was nothing to it." Peter replied.
Neal knew this to be true, he nodded.
"So…what?" Neal asked. "These people…it's all pretty tight-lipped if there is more than one person involved. If it's only one teacher, he or she is doing one hell of a job of keeping it secret.
"Well, you keep teaching those little rugrats how to paint and we'll figure it out." Pete replied. "And Neal, about the other night at my house, I…Elle was right. When I saw you with those kids, it just…. You looked like you belonged." Peter replied. "And I have to admit, I was a little jealous."
Neal looked at Peter in surprise, but said nothing.
Peter continued. "I mean, Elle and I decided we didn't want kids. Between our jobs and everything, we felt like the kid would only see us on the weekends. And then that might not even work out. It just wouldn't be fair, to the kid, or to us. We wanted…" Peter cleared his throat. "…if we were going to be parents, we wanted to be good ones."
"But kids aren't always planned, Peter. Sometimes they just…happen." Neal replied.
Peter nodded. "And if they had just happened, we would have dealt with it. We would have adjusted, but it didn't. I'm too old now. And Elle, well, she finally has her business at the level she wants it. She's happy. She seems so, anyway."
Neal nodded again, waiting for Peter to continue.
"Seeing you it…it just makes me wonder, you know. What it would have been like? Would I have been a good Dad? I know Elle would have been a great Mom." Peter paused. "It's just, I don't know; people make you feel guilty. They find out you're married, and you don't have children. It's like we broke a law by not procreating. We're perceived as selfish."
Peter looked at him, irritated. "Well, I'm glad my discomfort brings you joy."
Neal shook his head. "It's not that. I could never imagine you with kids. When I was finding all those things out about you, when you were hunting me, I never imagined you going home to a child."
"Why?" Peter asked sincerely, wanting Neal's honest answer.
Neal's response was immediate. "It just wasn't you. You know what I mean. It just didn't…fit." Neal explained. "It's not a judgment call, Peter. It's just…babies shouldn't be made just because they can be. People are not commodities. It's an 18-year commitment, not a toaster oven. And it's not like you can trade it in if you don't like the model."
That made Peter smile.
"What?" Neal asked, confused by Peter's smile.
"I just never knew you thought about this stuff." Peter said.
"Oh, you know. I had a few minutes between my thefts and my forgeries."
"Smart-ass." Peter replied grinning.
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Neal knelt down beside Allison as his assistants were helping the other kids. She had her head down and was not working on her art project.
"Come on, let's work on this together." Neal said as he prepared to help her. She didn't move.
"Come on, Ally." Neal said.
Allison looked up at him. "My daddy used to call me that. He used to take me to the park on my birthday, too."
"It's your birthday?" Neal asked.
Allison nodded. "Tommorrow."
"What did you and your dad do at the park?" Neal asked, unsure how else to approach the problem except allowing Allison to talk about her dad.
"We used to fly kites. Dad would buy me a new kite and we would fly it." Allison bowed her head and looked at the floor.
"You and your mom can go to the park." Neal suggested.
"Mommy doesn't know how to fly a kite." Allison replied. "She doesn't even like kites."
Neal looked at her and smiled. "I bet she would learn to like them and to fly them to spend a little more special time with you."
"I don't want Mommy to do it. I want Daddy to do it." Allison stated.
Neal sighed. He had nothing to say to that. He supposed 'real' teachers were trained to help kids, at least a little, when these types of things come up. But since he didn't have that training and he was not a real teacher, he had to wing it.
"You daddy wouldn't want to see you unhappy. So I tell you what you do, you go and take your mom kite flying. Teach her, like your dad taught you." Neal said. "I'll even make sure you have a special kite to fly, how's that?"
Allison nodded. Then Neal helped her get started on their art project for the day. He checked on the other kids as they worked. But he kept going back and checking on Allison. He gave himself a special project. His kept running over his idea in his mind. But the time he got out of school that evening, he had it all worked out.
Peter found Neal working at his easel when he walked into Neal's apartment. Peter stood and stared for a moment as Neal continued to work.
"This is not your usual work. Peter commented.
"No, it's not." Neal said, not turning to acknowledge Peter.
Peter went to the table and sat down. There he could see Neal's face and his work-in-progress.
"Are you brining your work home?" Peter asked amused.
"Sort of." Neal admitted. "There is this little girl, Allison, she lost her dad. Tomorrow's her birthday. She said she and her dad used to always go to the park and fly kites." Neal said, still working.
"You said she lost her dad…how?"
"He was killed in Iraq, 8 months ago." Neal replied. "I told her I would make her a special kite that she and her mom could fly in the park tomorrow."
"Wow, poor kid. But be careful here, Neal." Peter warned. "This is a temporary assignment. It seems like you're growing fond of this child. It's just…."
"It's not that, Peter." Neal said. "It's more for me. I understand what she's going through, I can sympathize. I would have loved for my mom to pick up and do things with me like my dad did. But she didn't. When he went off to jail, it was almost like it was too painful to look at me. She always told me I looked like him, especially the blue eyes. But, if this kite makes it easier for Allison, if it helps her and her mom get over the loss, and be a family, then it helps me, too."
Peter just looked at Neal and smiled. He then admired the kite. It was really pretty and very suitable for a little girl. It had two big, beautiful bright-colored butterflies on a pink background.
"She likes pink, and she likes butterflies." Neal stated.
Peter opened his mouth speak.
"This is not a place for you to 'aww.'" Neal said, reading his mind.
"Are you sure, 'cause it really, really feels like it needs one."
"No." Neal stated firmly.
"It's just so sweet."
"Forget it." Neal replied.
"Come on." Peter pleaded, enjoying Neal's discomfort.
"Can I say it as I leave?" Peter asked.
"So what about the actual case? What's going on there?" Peter asked.
"I asked the principle if I could go into the art classrooms of the teachers teaching the older kids." Neal said. "There is a 'starving artist' art show this weekend. It would be a good place for these teachers to showcase those works of art. Since the show is open to everyone, it will be perfect." Neal paused. "I thought I would get a look at the kids' artwork. Then I would be able to pick out the ones taken to the show."
"But you said starving artists, that's not high-dollar artwork." Peter stated.
"No." Neal replied. "But there are always high-end buyers at these things. Sometimes people also come selling works they don't want. Some people have no idea what they have. And sometimes these art brokers walk away with a great piece. It's kind of like buying a Rembrandt at a garage sale. Plus, people are always looking for the 'next big thing.'"
Peter nodded. He was glad to hear Neal was finally making some progress.
Neal closed his door as Peter left. Neal heard the 'aww' as Peter walked down the stairs.
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Neal paid close attention to the works in front of him. He could tell, from the effort made by some of the students, that they considered art class a free period. But there were some that made him take notice. He stood behind a 17-year-old girl as she painted.
The girl, Amy Jamison, leaned over to her neighbor and whispered. Both girls then turned and stole a peek at Neal. They giggled before returning to their work.
The bell rang and Amy took her time gathering her things. She then went up to Neal.
"Nice brush technique." Neal told her.
"Thanks." Amy said. "I've not seen you here before."
"I'm new." Neal replied.
"Oh, you're one of the live nude models." Amy replied.
"You don't paint live nude models in high school." Neal stated.
"This is an…advanced class."
"Not that advanced." Neal replied. "That's an advanced college class. I teach elementary art."
"Lucky kids." Amy replied. "And you can't blame a girl for trying."
"You really do have good technique." Neal said, getting back on subject. "You ever thought about going further with it."
"You sound like my teacher, Mrs. Abrams. I just like to paint. No big deal, it's more of a hobby." Amy replied.
Neal went over to the painting, picked it up and examined it. "You have talent."
"Thanks, but…like I said…." Amy started.
"Mrs. Abrams?" Neal decided to follow up on a hunch. "What does she do with these paintings?"
Amy shrugged. "The good ones, the ones she likes, the ones that win awards get posted in the halls, after that…. I've been told they recycle the canvases."
"But…?" Neal asked, prompting her to continue.
"I've been back here at night, for club meetings and stuff, and I've seen finished canvases being loaded into cars. Plus, I used to be one of the ones who recycled the old paintings." Amy explained. "All we did was use a couple coats of white paint and paint over whatever was there. But none of the 'good' ones…" Amy used air quotes. "…were recycled."
"Really?" Neal asked, feeling he had finally found something.
Amy nodded. "They would be hanging in the halls, and then they would disappear."
"Why don't you get to take them home?" Neal asked.
"Budget cuts to the art programs around here, paint and canvas are expensive." Amy said, not believing her own words. "I've cut and stretched the canvas myself. They buy the cheap stuff on big rolls. They do recycle the frames. But…I've never gotten one of my paintings back. I've always been told they were…recycled."
"You don't believe it."
"As many paintings as I have done. And for the length of time I did the recycling, chances are I would have painted over, at least, one of my own works. I never did."
Neal nodded. It was the law of averages.
Amy sighed. "We have a few art teachers driving nice cars and living in nice houses."
"That's not a crime."
"No, but…don't you get it? You know how much teachers get paid. And none of these people have second jobs."
"Pretty strong accusations and assumptions."
"Adults think kids are blind, Mr…." Amy retorted.
"Mr. Fraiser, my name is Amy Jamison." Amy continued. "I've also been asked to copy masterpieces…well-known masterpieces. It was supposedly as a 'class project.' But out of a class of 22 kids, only 4 were asked. And it just 'happened' to be the 4 who showed the most promise. Not much of a 'class' project." Amy paused. "Let's just say I've had my suspicions. I've told people, my parents. They just think I'm nuts. Teachers don't steal from students, they told me. It's unethical, immoral. But it happens, Mr. Frasier. The teachers are never questioned. The parents think…well, I don't know what the parents think. And the students, they are dismissed. What they say is…." Amy shook her head.
"I believe you." Neal stated.
Amy looked unconvinced. "You'd be the first."
"I do believe you." Neal asserted.
Amy sighed again. "I'm glad, Mr. Fraiser. I truly am. But I'm not sure how much difference it'll make. You're new here." Amy slung her backpack over her shoulder. "Good luck." She said before leaving the room.
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Neal could hardly wait till he left the school building to call Peter. Neal related his conversation with Amy. It seemed Peter had been right. Neal headed over to the Burke house. He was welcomed by the wonderful smell of dinner.
"How could teachers be that callous?" Elle asked as she forked the last piece of apple pie on her plate into her mouth.
"Money." Neal replied. "Everybody wants it, and you can never have enough."
"You speak from experience?" Peter asked.
"Human nature, one of the seven deadly sins…Greed." Neal replied.
"Not everyone is like that." Peter replied.
"No, you're right. We all have longings, desires. It's just what we choose to fill the holes in our lives with. Money fills no holes, it runs out. The good things, the best things in life are the ones that can't be depleted." Neal replied.
Peter and Elle looked at one another. They had just gotten another peek at Neal's life. It was always nice when Neal revealed little tidbits about himself.
They were all quiet for a moment.
"So, Agent Burke," Neal said, breaking the silence. "…what's our next move?"
"You go to the show and look for the students' paintings." Peter replied. "We watch a transaction. We follow the money."
"That easy, huh?" Neal asked.
"I've seen Ms. Abrams. She's not the making-deals-in-a-back-alley-with-'Vinnie' type." Neal replied.
"A bank wire transfer, then." Peter said. "We monitor her bank accounts, her husband's accounts, her kids, her second cousins'."
Peter watched Neal's expression.
"It's too easy." Neal stated.
"These are not master criminals, Neal. They don't plot. They don't scheme. They take advantage of what seems like a good opportunity. And they get caught." Peter explained.
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Neal showed the class their next project, hand turkeys. The thumb being the face, and the other fingers being the feathers By the end of the day, the kids had traced Neal's hand about 50 times. They said their hands were too little, and they wanted a nice big turkey. They then made cones out of brown construction paper for the turkey to be glued to, to stand. At the end of the day Neal had some very colorful turkey sitting on his shelves waiting for the paint to dry.
Neal waited until the class was over, then he asked Allison to wait. He knelt down in front of Allison and showed her with the kite he had made for her.
Allison's eyes lit up as she reached for the kite. "For me?"
Neal nodded. "I promised you something special."
"It's too pretty to fly." Allison said holding it in her hand. "I'll mess it up. I'll lose it."
"That's what kites are for. Here, we'll fold it up and put it in your backpack." Neal took the kite back from her, folded it up and put it away.
"Thank you." Allison replied, giving Neal a big hug
"You just go and have fun with that kite." Neal told her.
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Diana had been walking around looking at the art at the art show for about 15 minutes. Neal was strolling around too. He was acting as an art teacher at an art show. Diana was posing as a potential buyer.
"Neal, have you seen any of the students' paintings?" Diana asked through the wire she wore.
Neal responded. "Several." He told her which ones to look for. He could even tell a few of Amy's paintings were there. He had picked up on her style.
Diana had begun to discuss price, when Neal spotted Amy walking around, checking out the painting.
"Damn!" Neal said.
"What is it?" Peter asked through the wire. He and Jones were stationed in the van.
"Amy, the one who told me about all this, if she sees Diana buying her paintings…."
Peter nodded, though Neal could not see him. "She could blow it. Stop her, whatever you have to do."
Neal hurried across the room to intercept Amy. Thankfully, Amy had not spotted Diana or her artwork. Neal kept her occupied until Diana could make the purchases.
Amy turned in time to see Diana make her final purchase. "That's mine! That's my painting! See Mr. Frasier, I was right! And they are not going to get away with it! You're my witness and there's the proof!"
Neal touched her arm, stopping her. "Look, we don't want to make a scene."
"I don't care if I make a scene!" Amy declared. "I want everybody in this room to know what is going on here."
Neal pleaded with her. "Look, you are not the only student whose work has been stolen. Let's do this right and take them all down, okay."
Amy considered what Neal said. She nodded her consent.
"Good. I'll go and talk to this lady. Ask her to donate to the local art museum." Neal explained.
"You don't work for any museum."
"She doesn't' know that." Neal replied.
Amy nodded. "Nice."
Neal strolled up to Diana. "Excuse me, Ma'am." Neal straightened his tie and stuck out his hand. They shook. "I'm Nick Halden. I am a museum curator for our museum for local artists. I am always looking for local talent. And I must say…" Neal said, indicating some of the pieces Diana had purchased. "…these are extraordinary."
Diana just looked at Neal, confused.
Neal whispered. "The student who painted those is here. She was going to blow it. Just go with me on this."
"I agree with you, Mr. Halden." Diana said slipping back undercover. "But I paid a great deal of money for these paintings. What are you prepared to offer me for them?"
"Karen Gibson." Diana said, making up a name on the fly.
Neal nodded. "Well, to be honest, Ms. Gibson, we usually have our pieces donated."
"I see." Diana replied. "I am looking for paintings for the summer house. I just hate bare walls. These are absolutely perfect."
"Maybe if you met the artist…" Neal motioned Amy over. "…you would change your mind."
"Caffrey, you are a dead man." Diana threatened as Amy came over.
"What the hell are you doing, Neal?" Peter said in Caffrey's ear.
"All Amy wants are her paintings." Neal muttered. "I want to make sure she gets them."
Diana nodded continuing with the ruse. "It is very nice to meet you, Ms. Jamison."
"Call me Amy, please." She wasted no time getting to the point. "Look, I know you paid a lot of money for those paintings. But they are mine, and a few of my fellow student's work. I never gave permission for them to be sold. I am not making a dime off the sale. I would just like my artwork back."
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"Good work, Neal." Peter said as Neal sat down in front of his desk.
Neal nodded. "I hear Ms. Abrams sang like a canary when she was brought in."
"She did. She named 4 more teachers, and a couple teacher's assistants who were involved."
Peter smiled. "How's Amy?"
"Great. She saw me and stopped me in the hall. She was so grateful to me for believing her. And she was, of course, thrilled to have her paintings."
"Getting Amy on tape talking to Diana, that clinched it. We have an air-tight case." Peter said.
"Good." Neal said, seeming far away.
Peter smiled. "You miss those kids." He said, sort of astonished. "You miss getting up at 8 a.m. to teach a bunch of kindergartners."
"It was fun." Neal admitted. "I miss it…a little. They were some great kids." Neal paused. "Which reminds me, I've got a present for you." Neal sat a hand turkey he had personally made and painted on Peter's desk.
Peter looked at Neal, than at the turkey before he burst out laughing. "Very cute." He managed to say.
After Peter stopped laughing he bent down and opened a drawer. He produced Neal's anklet.
Neal took the anklet and put it on. "You really know how to ruin a moment."
Neal stood up. "…mind if I cut out early?"
Peter shook his head, and Neal headed out the door.
"Neal." Peter said, making Neal turn. "Thanks." He said, holding up the turkey.
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Neal stepped into his walk-in closet. He admired his gifts. They each had their own hanger and were protected with a plastic cover. He had been given a t-shirt from every class he had taught. On each one were tiny hand prints in neon paint with each child's name written over it. Neal smiled as he looked at each shirt and read each name.