She watches the sun come up from the roof of a high-rise a few blocks south of the New York FBI offices.
She's been up here two hours, and she's mapped five different escape routes from this roof and the next one; the air is harsh and cold, this high, making her eyes water and snapping her hair like a flag.
The roof is mostly flat, rough concrete scraped by the wind, but it holds a commanding view of anyone approaching; it's also due east of the roof exit for the Marriott next door. She'll see Burke before he can see her, in the shadow of a low wall and backed by the rising sun.
She wants to pace, bleed off tension and warm up at the same time, but she's found the only sheltered spot out of the wind where she can watch for him. A family of small brown birds has found it, too; she can hear peeping from the nest a few yards away, near the air conditioning vent, when the wind dies down. If she moves too much or too suddenly the parents start to dive at her head, threatening to give away her position.
She waits until she sees Burke step out onto the roof next door, propping the door behind him, before she pulls out her phone. 6:58 AM.
Fowler picks up on the second ring. "If this is who I think it is, you'd better be on your way back here."
She waits just long enough that he might start to wonder if it's someone else, then says, "Good morning to you, too."
Another beat of silence; she imagines him ordering a trace, possibly clearing the room or moving onto the balcony. "Where are you?"
"I'm sure you'll know soon enough." She watches Burke, alert and pacing on the next roof, and keeps her voice quiet. "If your people are still following Burke, you'll know he's about a hundred yards away from me."
"Is there some reason I should care about that?"
"Maybe." She takes a deep breath, dragging her fingers through wind-snarled hair. She has a better hand now than she's had yet, in all this, and she has to play it carefully. "Neal doesn't have the music box."
Fowler's voice is soft and dangerous. "If this is your idea of a joke -"
"He never did." Burke has stopped pacing and retreated into the shadow of the roof exit, cautious, checking his watch. She hardly expects protection from him, but his presence is leverage she can use. It's a delicate balancing act, up here; the trick is to not look down.
"I don't know what kind of game you think you're playing," Fowler says, and his tone drops the temperature further before she cuts him off.
"It's in New York."
"I don't know. But I have reason to believe it's in the city." The rising sun blazes red and gold in a tide of fire washing up wide panes of mirrored glass below her; to the west, behind Burke, grey twilight lifts and fades into pale, hazy blue. The wind sings past an antenna near the roof's edge. "If we can figure out where it is, we can get it for you."
Silence. Finally, he snaps, "How?"
"He's Neal freaking Caffrey." She allows an impatient edge to creep into her voice. "How do you think?"
"How do we figure out where it is?"
"With our combined talents and resources I'm sure we'll come up with something."
"We'd better," he says. "I don't know where you are and I don't care, but I want you back here in thirty minutes. And you're going to tell me what you know, and why you think it's here, and how we're going to find it. And if I don't get the damn thing -"
"If you don't get it," she interrupts calmly, "you have a problem."
"Believe me," and it's almost a whisper, "I won't be the only one. You have two choices here. Option one, I get the music box and we never have to see each other again. You and Caffrey get to finish out his next three and a half years in a million-dollar loft in downtown Manhattan." Burke isn't moving; for half a second she's afraid he's left, but he's only standing still in the shadow of the door. "Or you can take the bus down to Sing Sing once a week for the next twenty-five years. I suggest you think very carefully about your next move."
"Oh, I have." She covers the phone and lets out a slow, shaky breath before continuing. "And Neal's not doing three and a half more years, in Manhattan or anywhere else. We get you the music box and he's done, Fowler. He goes free."
His voice is arctic. "I don't think you're in a position to make demands, here."
"I'm in a much better position than I was six hours ago and you know it." She looks up; Burke has seen her. But he can't hear her at this distance. She holds up a hand and waves. "Agent Burke is getting impatient; we're supposed to be meeting at seven."
The words are flat, expressionless. "Is that so."
"This meeting was his idea. I don't know what he wants and I don't care. But I know what he's going to get if you and I can't come to an arrangement in the next, oh, five minutes."
"Your position hasn't improved nearly as much as you think," he says at last. "I don't know what you think you have, but it's all well outside Burke's jurisdiction. And if you had anything like proof you'd have said so before now."
"I don't need proof." Now Burke moves toward the roof's edge, arms spread in a now what? gesture. "You know Burke as well as I do. If I put him on this scent he'll keep digging until he finds some."
A long pause; her mouth is too dry to swallow. Don't look down.
Then he says, "I don't know what kind of pull you think I have with DOJ, but I can't get his sentence overturned."
She's got him.
"Then you're going to help him escape." She takes a deep breath, heart racing. "Clean IDs for both of us and safe passage out of the country. That's my price."
"You're telling me you and Caffrey can't forge your own passports?"
"I want deep-cover, permanent new identities." She hears Burke yell something, the words torn away by the wind, and she holds up a hand, give me a minute, here. "Witness protection quality, with a background and a paper trail. We get you the music box and we disappear, away from the feds and whoever the hell you're working for."
"Why would I do that?"
And now to close it.
"Because you want this to be over as much as I do." This much she knows; she's watched his face while he's on the phone enough times to be sure of it. "Because I am not asking for that much. Two clean passports and a plane. You can make this happen." Her voice drops. "And you know this will be over a lot faster if you give me a reason to work with you and not against you. I might not have enough to take you down, but I can make your life very difficult."
"You've already made my life difficult."
"It's a skill. I practice." She pauses. "And believe me, I'm just getting started." She pushes herself to her feet, ducking as the pair of birds swoop just above her hair in tight formation. "Now do we have a deal?"
Another pause. She can count her heartbeats, count Burke's steps as he paces impatiently; the seconds stretch, taut and waiting.
Finally, he says, "If you screw me on this -"
She snaps, "Likewise."
She counts six slow steps away from the roof edge before she turns, eyes down to avoid looking into the sun; enough for a running start.
She sees Burke start, looking up to see her running toward him; it's a far enough leap to the roof next door to look daunting, but not far enough to be dangerous. Much. She thinks. But in this game hesitation will be fatal.
She imagines she is one of those sharks that has to keep swimming or it will drown.
Burke yells something as she jumps, words dropping into the silence of the long drop below.
She can handle him. Blood pounds in her ears, triumph singing like a fine razor. She can handle Fowler. And they're all going to regret the day they backed her into a corner.
She lands on a sliding scree of broken concrete, flings her arms out for balance and barely avoids landing flat on her ass at his feet. Burke is staring at her, with an expression somewhere between relief and exasperation and annoyance. Finally he shakes his head, with a muttered, "Unbelievable."
And okay, it's not falling four stories into a bakery awning, but it's a start.
She steps back, puts the roof edge on her left side and Burke some six feet in front of her, still breathing hard; exhilaration is tempered by the knowledge that only reckless momentum is keeping all of this from falling apart. She's casual about moving so she's closer to the door than he is, but she's pretty sure he notices.
"You're looking informal this morning."
She glances down at the lavender silk pajamas under her coat, her light slippers. "I had to leave in a hurry." She shrugs, hands out in a "you got me" gesture. "You said you have a message."
"I do." His eyes fix on her face, but he doesn't try to move toward her. "Neal says 'tell her I'm starting to wonder if the bottle really did mean goodbye'."
She pivots sharply away from him to stare at the door, half-propped with a broken brick; she doesn't trust her face to stay blank under his scrutiny. She hears Mozzie's voice, Neal doesn't know what to think, and the brief flash of triumph fades and deflates like a squashed balloon. She's back, all of a sudden, in that little visiting room where it all fell apart and all she can see are Neal's eyes, uncomprehending, stunned and lost.
Damn Fowler and his stupid music box, anyway.
"Let it be goodbye," Burke is saying behind her. The words are quiet, almost gentle. "This music box, whatever it is - I don't think Neal has it."
"He doesn't." Because nothing could ever be easy for them. She's won her first step forward in nearly a year but there is so much further to go and she wants this to be done. She's worn out with being afraid for both of them and she doesn't want to do this anymore.
"I don't know what's so special about this thing, but Neal can't get it for you. It's time to let him move on."
As if the words "move on" had ever meant anything to Neal. But she can't say that; she needs a way to get him a message. One Burke can't translate. She wishes, fiercely, that she could be sure Neal won't translate it for him.
"Tell him 'see Robert'," she says. Short, simple, and not open to misinterpretation; a location for a message drop. Now she just has to figure out what message to leave there.
Burke frowns, suspicious. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"He'll know." She turns back to face him, attempts to smooth her face blank. "If he has any sense he won't tell you, but I'm not counting on that."
"You think he can steal the box." He takes a step forward, then stops when she freezes.
"Do you think he can't?" she asks, lightly, challenging. Surely he knows better than to underestimate Neal.
"You -" He draws a deep breath, blows it out sharply, half turning away. "Look, he has a chance at something good, here. He's got a real shot at turning his life around. Probably the last shot he's going to get, and I'm not about to let him blow it over -" he waves an angry hand at the air between them "- whatever the hell it is you and Fowler are trying to pull here."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Look, Kate -" He scrubs a hand over his face, pinches the bridge of his nose, looking tired. "If you ever did love him - please don't screw this up for him. He's got a lot going for him, right now. He's got work he enjoys and a chance to help people. He's got people who care about him."
"Everything except freedom." And how do you put a price on that?
"He'd be free right now if he hadn't escaped last year. What's in that damn box, anyway, that you couldn't wait until he was released?" He's angry, now. "You're the one he broke out to chase after."
And that's too much. Mozzie has a right to say that to her. Burke does not. "I'm not the one who put him back inside."
"If he steals that thing he's going away for twenty-five years. You have to know that."
"Only if you catch him." But she knows by the way he sighs, sharp and harsh, that he won't be bought off. She hears Fowler, again, saying Burke's a Boy Scout; he thinks he's going to reform Caffrey.
"We both know he'll do this if you ask him." He spreads his hands, angry and exasperated and helpless. "I'm asking you not to." His voice softens. "He has a life, here."
"It's going to be a short life if he stays here much longer." She lets out a slow breath, forcing her face to remain calm.
She knows whoever is pulling the strings here isn't afraid to kill; whoever is behind all this set up Mulvany to be killed. She wouldn't be surprised if Fowler's wife's death was a paid hit to set him up as well; like Kate, she was nothing to them. Less than nothing.
Only a pawn, used to set a trap for the man she loved.
His voice drops, dangerous. "Are you threatening him?"
"I'm not the one making threats, Burke." Her voice stays cold, but it's edged in a way she can't hide.
"I don't know what kind of game you and Fowler are playing, here, but anyone who tries to hurt Neal will regret it."
"This goes so much higher than Fowler." She forces her voice to remain cold. She can't let Burke or anyone else see she's terrified for Neal. "You know Neal. He hates guns. He doesn't know how to fight. He knows how to run and how to hide, and he can't do either as long as he's got that damn thing around his ankle. You'd better hope you can protect him, because you've taken away every means he has of protecting himself."
"I don't understand you." His voice is quiet but fierce. "What is it you want, anyway? If you mean to hurt him, you should know you'll regret it. If you're in some kind of trouble, you need to tell me, and I can help. Neal can't help you. You need to let him go."
She laughs, high and sharp and wild, before she can stop herself; the echoes bounce off the surrounding buildings before the wind rips them. "It was a fed got me into this mess," she says. "You think I'd trust another one to get me out? You people have given me nothing but grief since long before I started breaking the law."
His face moves through annoyance, frustration, and anger, before settling into contempt. "You like nice things," he says. "What, are those real silk?" Waving at her outfit. "Neal has a way of acquiring a lot of things, and you think he can get you this one. Maybe you really did care about him once, maybe not. But he still has feelings for you, and you think you can use that." He takes a step toward her, and she doesn't back away. "I'm not going to watch you use those feelings to manipulate him into something that will ruin his best shot at -"
"I used -" she breaks in, and stops, staring. And she can feel something snap, like a physical release somewhere behind her ribcage, like something breaking. She steps toward him, stops when she's suddenly not sure she won't shove him off the edge.
"You used me." The words are quiet, deliberate, precise. She clenches her hands into fists, holds them behind her back. "You used his feelings for me to draw him into a trap. And then you shut him in a cage for four years. Now you're holding him on a two-mile leash and you have the nerve -" Her voice rises. "- you have the absolute fucking nerve -" And she thinks she might be shouting, now; she can't tell through the grey rushing sound in her ears. "- to come to me and tell me 'let him go'."
Burke blinks, startled, but doesn't step back.
"You asked me what I wanted." She steps forward, the next words are a low hiss. "I want the last four and a half years of our lives back. Can you get that for me?"
Lost paintings, she thinks, can be found again, or copied; the right kind of oven can make a diamond; you can always get more money. Those four and a half years can never be recovered or replaced; time, once lost, is gone forever.
"You say he's your friend," she continues, when she can breathe normally, "If that's true then take that damn thing off his ankle."
His face hardens. "So he can steal your music box for you?"
"I don't give a damn what you think of me." She leans in close. "But you need to understand something about Neal. He doesn't belong in a cage. He doesn't belong on a leash. He's not your child and he's not your pet."
"He's on that anklet for a reason -"
"He can be your prisoner," she breaks in, overriding him, "or he can be your friend. He can't be both." And she's not sure why she bothers; her words aren't sinking in. "If you do care about him, you need to let him go."
"Alexandra Hunter," she says, walking in to find Fowler and five other agents camped out in the living room. Someone has found a card table, finally, and some folding chairs. Fowler is at the breakfast bar with a stack of files; he looks up when she comes in.
She drops her coat in the bedroom and decides coffee is a higher priority than getting dressed; she's been up all night and it's only 9 AM and it's been a long day already. Thanks to these people she lives here, and if they can't deal with her wandering around in pajamas that's their problem.
"I hope I didn't miss breakfast." She leans over Fowler's shoulder to peer at the file.
He shuts it with a snap, tilting his head toward a tray on the counter; she grabs half a bagel and pours what's left in the coffee pot into a mug. She can practically see him running through a long list of things he'd like to say, threats he'd like to make, before deciding none are likely to be useful right now.
Finally, he says, "Who's Hunter?"
"Old associate of Neal's." She perches on a stool, hooking her feet through the rungs.
"By associate you mean ex?"
"I mean his partner when he went after the music box the last time," she says, refusing to be baited. "She's in New York, and she's been on the trail of this thing a lot longer than you have. If she's here, she thinks the box is here. And she's probably right. We follow her, that's our best chance of turning up a lead."
Or she could tell Neal to follow her; Alex would be more likely to speak to Neal than to Kate or any FBI agent, though she's unclear how much trust still exists between them. She tears a sheet off of Fowler's yellow legal pad, idly folding without looking at it.
The coffee is already cold, but it's caffeine.
"How was your meeting with Burke?"
"Less interesting than it could have been," she says quietly, with a brief but pointed glance.
He says, in the same tone, "This Hunter had better not be another dead end."
"She's not." She takes another slow sip of coffee and gives him a look over the rim of the mug. "You were right about Burke. He's a Boy Scout."
"Infuriating, isn't he?"
"Don't even get me started."
There's a flower vendor in the park near where she and Neal used to go walking. She buys a tasteful arrangement; large enough to show respect without being showy or extravagant, tied with a thick ribbon. They have a delicate scent, the sort you'd stick your nose in to fully appreciate, and then see the yellow paper flower tucked in among them.
The real ones are for her father; the paper, carefully folded by hand, is for Neal.
She hears her own voice - you couldn't just say "let's go to Copenhagen for this opportunity Alex told me about". She hears Mozzie - if you'd just tell him what you're doing. She folds it slowly; she doesn't need to write anything inside. It's a signal and an apology at once, and she hopes he'll read the other message in it. I get it now, I hope you will, too; I hope you'll forgive me; love is about more than honesty.
It's nearly noon when she arrives at the cemetery. The sun is high; she can see a party of mourners following a gleaming black hearse somewhere on the other side. She moves in the other direction, gold and orange leaves crunching beneath her feet on the gravel path.
She'd come here once, with Neal; it had been just before they left New York to head up to Philadelphia for a few months; they hadn't known, at the time, when or if they'd be coming back to New York, and she'd had this idea she should say goodbye. She'd had some idea about closure, or forgiveness, and she'd told Neal "let's go" without saying where.
She'd thought it would help, to say goodbye without anger. But she was still angry, standing there with the wind on the hill whipped in scarf; she could feel it like a tight knot, a hot stone lodged somewhere just behind her ribs, rage banked and held tensely in check.
They hadn't touched or spoken on the way there; as she turned to walk away, her steps quick and furious, Neal caught her hand in both of his and held on; when they got on the subway he wrapped his arms around her and held her until she finally let herself lean into him, until she could finally start to relax.
They say things about closure, about confronting your feelings, about forgiveness; they say a lot of crap, Kate thinks.
She's always pictured her mother on some organic farm outside San Francisco, wearing beads and a skirt; that was her father's image. Now she wonders if her mother made a fortune as a forger and retired to some island somewhere. She decides she likes that image better.
She's not angry anymore, but she's pretty sure this isn't forgiveness.
She stands under the wide, empty sky and looks at the field of grey polished granite and colorful, quiet, tasteful bouquets like her own and feels - nothing. Only the memory, coming unexpected, of Neal beside her gripping her hand.
Michael said, the one time she brought it up, that anger fades and eventually you remember why you loved the person. She remembers none of that. There is no warmth, no sorrow, no peace where that hard fist of rage beneath her ribs used to be - only a burned-out hole where nothing will grow.
"I won't be coming back," she says, and she knows some people find peace, talking to headstones, but she just feels like she's talking to herself. "I'm fleeing the country. I'm going to be a wanted fugitive. With my boyfriend. Not the one you met; this is a different one. He's an art thief."
And there's not even a flicker of bitter amusement at the thought of his reaction. She thinks that should worry her more than it does.
Thin voices rise, singing, from somewhere across the green. "I found a way to make a living as an artist," she says, finally, but the satisfaction she'd expected to feel, saying this to him, is a shadow of a memory, a reflection in water shattered by the impact of all that's come since. "It's easy, all you have to do is not care about breaking the law."
She's trying to feel something, but there's nothing there, not contempt or defiance or regret. She wants Neal beside her, holding her hand. She wants him to tell her there isn't something terribly wrong with her, now.
She wonders if this is temporary, if it's some kind of long-delayed cumulative stress reaction, an overload of fear and anger and frustration and loneliness built up over the last year, the last four years, leaving her unable to have any real emotional response that isn't tied into her own and Neal's current peril.
Maybe time and distance fade love as well as anger. Or perhaps she simply isn't the same person who loved Robert Moreau once and held on so tightly to rage and grief together at his controlling nature and his secrets. Maybe she has changed so much she has nothing in common with that girl.
Neal loved that girl. She wonders if he will love the person she's becoming now.
The bells ring out twelve noon, and continue caroling a rippling melody, some old hymn half-remembered. She sets the flowers gently on the grass with a whispered, "Goodbye."
"Hunter's been trying to get a meeting with this man," Fowler tells her, barely a week later, throwing a file on the coffee table. "He won't go near her, but she thinks he knows something."
"Can we get to him?" she asks.
"He'll be at a party at the Argentinian mission to the UN in two days. He'll talk for the right price, but only there, and he's on his way out of the country three days after that. We need to move fast."
"Can we get inside?"
"He sent over invitations to the reception. Says we'll need to be inconspicuous."
"I can do inconspicuous." She stares at Fowler until he raises both eyebrows at her, wary and curious. "You look like a fed."
"Only to an experienced criminal."
"You flatter me."
She buys a new dress for the reception and charges it to Fowler's FBI expense account because she can. Their contact is spooked; he's being given shelter inside the Argentinian mission, hiding out in preparation for fleeing the country. Who he's looking to escape from is unclear.
The hall is lit by a giant chandelier at the center of the room, a glittering confection of glass and tiny lightbulbs that casts a wide circular glow around the long hall, leaving the edges and the corners crowded thick with shadows.
Far corner by the bar, their contact had said; the corner nearest the door is darker and less crowded, but the man, with a thin, pinched face and a sharp nose, had opted to risk increased exposure by the busy bar table to be near a steady supply of alcohol to calm his obviously unsteady nerves.
"You're young," is the first thing he says to her, and he's obviously drunk, leaning in to touch her arm, his eyes meeting hers briefly before darting from one end of the bar to the other, restless, tense and fearful. "And beautiful. This thing you're after –" he leans closed, and his breath stinks of gin, "- people have died for it already. It isn't worth it. Go home and forget you ever heard of it."
She could fend him off easily herself, and does, but she thinks it might lend credence to their cover if her escort bothered to do something about the little man pawing drunkenly at her arm and leaning into her space, a gin-soaked Cassandra in a bowtie and an ill-fitting suit, instead of looming a step behind her looking faintly amused by the whole thing.
"I'm afraid I don't really have a choice," she says, prying his hand loose; he seizes hers in both of his.
"You know, I used to think it would be romantic to die for a song."
She leans in toward him with a finger to her lips. "Shhh. Just tell me where it is, and then you can get out of here and let us worry about ourselves, okay?"
He shrinks away from the table toward the wall, drawing her with him. "What you're looking for was picked up by Edward Reilly last December."
That name is familiar; she sees a flicker of recognition in Fowler's eyes, too. "Who did he deliver it to?"
He shakes his head quickly. "No idea. Reilly keeps all his appointments on his laptop. That's all I know. These people are dangerous."
"Oh, I know Reilly's dangerous."She exchanges a look with Fowler. This couldn't be easy. A phone she could lift on the street; for the laptop they'll probably have to break into his house.
"Ha!" He waves a hand and almost knocks over a tray of champagne flutes; glass rattles a high warning. "Reilly's just a courier. He's not the one you need to be afraid of."
A courier who likes to chop off his enemies' hands for amusement, she thinks. She glances at Fowler briefly and when she looks back the little man is moving along the wall toward the door.
Another man turns from the table; she almost imagines he's watching their contact disappear into the crowd, a moment before he says, "If it isn't Kate Moreau."
She's not sure what expression shows on her face, but whatever it is has Fowler's right hand reaching for a gun that isn't there.
It's him, all right. He's gone a little grey at the temples but otherwise he looks thoroughly pleased with himself, in a silk suit with the old smile that manages to be distant and patronizing all at once.
"Argentina agrees with you."
"Lovely place," he says. "You should think about a visit."
"I can think of few people I'd like to visit less," she says, and it's a flat, cold rage.
"You're in a bad position here, Kate." His voice drops. "I might be able to help you."
She grabs a champagne flute from the tray and gulps about half of it at once, leaning close and hissing, "What would you know about my position?"
He smiles in faint amusement. "I know the man you're with –" he tilts his head at Fowler, watching all of this and looking suspicious, "- is bad news."
"Oh, I'm well aware of that." She laughs sharply, stilling abruptly as a few heads turn towards them.
Fowler steps up beside her, clearly aware that he's missing something and annoyed by that. "Have we met?"
"No, I don't believe so." Adler offers a thin smile. "But your reputation precedes you, Agent Fowler."
"Really." Fowler's eyes have gone flat and hard.
"Lucky for you he doesn't have the authority to make an arrest in here," Kate whispers, low and furious. And then, to Fowler, "I think we've learned all we can, here."
They are trying to be inconspicuous, and if she punches Adler in the face it will make a scene.
She's a skilled enough pickpocket to notice when someone tries to lift something from her; she watches Adler's hand slip into the pocket of her coat as he turns away.
Walking away past the wrought-iron gates of the mission, she pulls out a business card stamped with a phone number. Written on the back, in Adler's familiar hand, if you decide you want my help.
"You want to explain that?" Fowler demands.
"It's a shame your badge doesn't mean anything in there." She nods back at the gates. "You could have made your entire career, bringing him in."
"I didn't recognize him."
"You never worked White Collar." She forces her voice to stay level, her hands clenching beside her. "That's Vincent Adler."
"Do we know where Reilly is?" she asks, once they're back at the hotel.
"He's got a house in Alexandria, Virginia." Another agent answers. "He's been staying there the past few days."
"Is he traveling anywhere any time soon?" she asks. A hotel room would be easier to get into than his house, most likely, and he'd take his laptop with him on business.
"No trips booked under any known alias." The agent looks up. "How soon can we get a warrant?"
"Based on what?" Fowler snaps.
"Don't we have a judge who can -?"
"Not anymore." He stalks over to the balcony doors, stares out at the skyline.
"You have a forger who can make you a decent copy," Kate says, raising her hand and her eyebrows at them.
Fowler shakes his head. "Reilly's a professional. He'll know we've got nothing on him; he'll call the judge to confirm it's real."
"So pick a judge who's out of town this week. The warrant's a distraction, anyway." She leans over his shoulder. "What's the security like at his house?" Fowler looks at her. "You knock on the door, show him the warrant, wave your badge around and make a big noise. I go in through the upstairs window while everyone's watching you; by the time he gets ahold of the judge and realizes the warrant's fake, we already have what we need."
"It's a big house. You really think you can find it quickly?"
"They'll be running around in a panic trying to hide anything they don't want you to see. Can we tap into the security cameras?"
"We get into the camera feed, we can watch from the van and see where they hide the laptop," another agent says.
Fowler gives her a sharp look. "You can make a copy of the hard drive and get out before anyone sees you?"
"Tell me where it is and give me something that'll break through his passwords and I've got it."
Sometime later, while Maurice and the younger agents are doing something complicated involving computers and code-breaking, Fowler motions her over to the breakfast bar.
"You know who Edward Reilly is." It's not a question.
"The name rings a bell," she says. Everyone on either side of this line of work knows who Reilly is. Fowler has a file in his hand; he slides it across the bar at her. "What's this?"
"Motivation," he says, with a thin smile. "Did you know your boy stole a ten million from Reilly last week?"
She blinks, and something in her throat tightens. "The hell are you talking about?"
"It's all in here." He taps one finger against the file.
"Is this another one of your frame jobs?" she demands, looking up with a stare like a knife. "'Cause I'm not about to –"
"This isn't me." His voice is quiet and serious, the mocking glint gone from his eyes. "You're familiar with Ryan Wilkes, I'm sure."
"You've read my file."
"And you've clearly read mine." He sits on a stool across from her. "Wilkes was recently arrested for kidnapping," he goes on. "Sixteen year old girl, her father owns Atlantic Incorporated, which I'm sure you're also familiar with, but Wilkes wasn't after his money."
Kate isn't sure where this is going, but she's sure she's not going to like it. "What was he after?"
"He wanted to steal ten million dollars from Reilly. But not being suicidal, he wanted Caffrey as a front man. Said he'd let the girl go in exchange for your boy."
She sits abruptly on a stool, her mouth suddenly dry. "Neal turned himself over to Wilkes in exchange for this girl."
It's just the sort of thing Neal would do. Wilkes is unfinished business for him; he has always felt responsible for Wilkes' plans, ever since that disastrous job, and if Wilkes had kidnapped this girl precisely to get him to cooperate, he'd had felt he had to go along with whatever Wilkes demanded in return for her safety. Even if he must have known Wilkes wouldn't let the girl go when he said he would.
She realizes she's half crumpled the edge of the file in her fist; she lets out a slow breath and forces her fingers to relax.
"Kate." When she looks up, Fowler's eyes are steady and serious, watching her face; his next words are soft and level. "I never said he turned himself over."
The air is suddenly thick and stifling and the cover of the file under her hands feels somehow unreal; she thinks her fingers have gone numb. Her voice is oddly calm and steady, but somehow distant; she might be listening to a stranger's words, far away and distorted, coming to her through fog or water.
"Burke gave Neal to Ryan Wilkes for some banker's daughter."
She's back there again, in the car after she and Mozzie rescued him from Wilkes the last time; she's holding his head on the back seat, trying to stroke his hair back from his flushed face and steady the IV line at the same time, trying to keep his hands still while he fights her, trying to pull it out. Then she blinks and she can see Burke, only briefly, before his face is gone in a flash of red; for an instant she can see herself pushing him off that roof.
"Burke wasn't the lead agent on this case." The fog retreats and she can see Fowler's face again; his expression hasn't changed, but for a split second she thinks he knows exactly what's going through her mind. "But obviously he couldn't – or didn't – prevent it from happening."
He looks at her for a moment before pulling out his phone; he touches the display and slides it across the bar toward her. "He's fine. Recovered three days ago. He's back at his apartment."
The phone display is pulled up to Neal's tracking data; she can see the green dot on Riverside Drive. She stares at it for a few seconds before she looks up.
"Who was the lead agent?"
"It's all in the file." He picks up the phone again and pockets it. "I had nothing to do with this. Just in case you're thinking whatever leverage you have against me is enough to protect him. In case you're sending us on another dead end trip. I am not the only threat facing Caffrey right now." He leans forward as she opens the file. "He's not working at a desk and sipping expensive coffee all day in White Collar. They've got him in the field, unarmed, facing guys like Wilkes and Reilly. And as you can see, their concern for his safety is – limited."
"Kimberly Rice." She will remember that name. She will remember the face staring up at her from the file photo, red hair in curls swept back from her forehead. She looks up and meets Fowler's eyes steadily; she wonders for the first time what she might be capable of, if pushed far enough.
"There's a Learjet in a hangar at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina," he says. "I've got a contact at an airstrip in Newfoundland where you can refuel with no questions asked, and from there you'll make it all the way to Ireland. As soon as I have the music box it's yours, and you can get him out of there to someplace safe. But for his sake I strongly suggest you don't try to waste any more time."
"It says here Rice is up for a disciplinary hearing."
"Not my case."
"Could it be your case?"
"The hearing's this Friday." He waves a hand at the room, the files spread across every flat surface, the surveillance equipment covering the floor, as if to say clearly I am working on other things. But he pauses, with a measuring look. "If I get the music box before then I'll find a way to take the case and string her up by her thumbs for you."
The chances they'll be able to find and steal the music box in two days are close to none. Still, she allows herself a cold smile. "Now that's what I call motivation."
Two hours before the scheduled raid, Maurice tells them their contact from the mission is dead.
Kate wraps her hair in tight braids around her head; there's no time, now, to wonder what this might mean. She pulls on sensible boots; a black sweatshirt and black pants complete the cat burglar outfit; she tugs on thin leather gloves in the van. Maurice hands her a flash drive on a thin cord.
"This will break the security on the laptop and make the copy; all you have to do is find it and then get out without being seen."
"That's what I do," she says, slipping the cord around her neck and tucking the drive under her shirt. Except normally she has Neal or Mozzie on lookout backing her up.You don't pull the con with the partner you want, she hears Mozzie's voice in her head. You pull the con with the partner you've got. Fowler hands her an earpiece and a watch with a radio transmitter without speaking; she taps the watch, hears her own voice on the van's speakers: "Is this thing on?"
Theoretically, once they get into the security camera feed they should be able to mask her approach, but she's not taking any chances. She stays in the shadows by the hedges until she's under the nearest window, waits to hear voices at the front door.
She's not waiting long. "FBI! Open up!" Lights come on upstairs; she pulls the grappling hook off her belt and coils the rope around her hand, testing the weight of it. She hears Fowler's voice, a slow drawl over the radio: "We have a warrant to search the house. Now are you going to put the guns down and get out of our way?"
Then Maurice, from the van: "Yeah, they're scared, all right." An owl hoots slowly in the woods behind the house. The rustling of trees blends with the static on the radio. "I got four different guys running upstairs and hiding stuff. Don't see a laptop yet."
Kate raises the binoculars, examining each of the fourth floor windows; none looks any easier to open than the others, and she shifts the view down to the third floor. Tapping the watch, she says quietly, "Ready when you are."
She wonders if this is how Neal feels, before he goes in on an undercover FBI op. She misses his voice on the radio, misses the familiar twenty-year-old Russian surplus gear Mozzie finds for them; does he have the same creeping hesitation, getting ready to go into danger with no one but a team of feds to watch his back?
The breeze pulls the clouds along, as shifting shadows play across the grass, darkness giving way to moon-silvered dew. She holds herself still and wraps her arms around her chest, hands tucked into her armpits for warmth, trying not to shiver. The trees have bled dry of color in the dark, solidifying as the night deepens into a solid wall of black against the silver-and-charcoal sky. She moves carefully to try to get out of the wind; shivering will make this harder.
"Got a guard hiding a laptop in a chest at the end of a bed; looks like the thing has a false floor." Maurice again. "It's in a bedroom, looks like the far end of the hall. There's a vanity table with a mirror; judging by the reflection, the window looks out the back."
She touches the watch again. "Which floor?"
"Looks like the fourth."
"Looks like?" she mimics sourly, spinning the grappling hook around her hand, experimental. She breathes out slowly, draws her arm back and watches the hook come down to land on the window ledge; a light pull and she feels it catch. She might be out of practice, but she's still got it. "And here goes," she whispers, mostly to herself, as she hauls herself up to the narrow ledge. The moon comes out from the clouds then, outlines her clearly against the frame and casts a glare on the glass so she can't see inside; she has no idea if anyone is inside, but if they are they can see her. She can hardly see the ground; the hedge is only a faint grey line in a sea of soft darkness below. She can see the wire running up the glass, ready to set off the security system if the window moves. Crouching on the ledge, she leans against the glass, speaks softly into her wrist. "Okay, I'm gonna need an alarm, here."
She breathes slowly, her eyes focused on the lower edge of the window frame as she pulls a knife from her belt; it seems like a long wait, as her legs start to cramp and she fights the urge to shift to a more comfortable position. The ledge is narrow and smooth, and it's a long way down. Finally she hears Fowler say, "Come on, people, I haven't got all night here."
That's the signal. "All right, alarm in three, two, one -" She jams the knife under the frame and wrenches it sharply upward; the window moves, opening several inches with that first push, and she grabs the edge of the frame to keep from falling backward as a loud electronic shriek bursts into the night.
Through it she hears Fowler in her ear: "Was I not supposed to touch that?"
She shoves the window the rest of the way up, ducks under and inside the room and presses herself flat against the wall; it's too dark to see clearly and she can't hear anything over the alarm.
The end of the cord from the blinds makes a faint tapping sound against the sill, in time with the breeze, making the skin crawl at the back of her neck. She hears a loud thump somewhere downstairs; she moves toward the door, peering into a dimly lit hallway.
"Where am I going, guys?" She waves impatiently at the security camera outside the door.
Maurice says, "Two doors down on your left." A pause."No, three."
She sighs, wishing desperately for Mozzie and his Russian surplus spy cam and his voice in her ear providing commentary on the mark's taste in interior decorations.
She finds the room, eases the door open; once her eyes have adjusted she can see the dark shape of the chest at the end of the bed. The laptop isn't plugged in, but the screen hums to life, casting a blue glow across the thick carpet. She pulls the flashdrive over her head, tugs the cap off with her teeth and shoves it into the slot.
"Waiting for the password," she murmurs into her watch.
Mozzie would have something to say, she knows, about the turquoise and fuschia pattern on the carpet. She flexes her fingers impatiently, staring at the darkened doorway so the light from the screen won't blind her. The graphic on the screen changes; whatever program is on that flash drive has broken through the security; a green progress bar crawls slowly across the screen as it makes a copy of the files.
It's done, the drive capped and tucked out of sight under her shirt, when she sees a light come on at the end of the hall.
She shuts the laptop quickly and stows it out of sight. "Done," she says into her wrist. "On my way out."
The light comes on and she can't see; she makes a lunge for the window and trips on something; a chair falls to the carpet with a soft thud. A hand locks around her throat and flings her into the wall. "Who the hell are you?"
Maurice snaps something over the radio, but it's lost in white noise inside her head and she can't breathe, can't make any answer. Her eyes are still dazzled by the light and her attacker is standing too close for her to kick him, his weight pressing her into the wall and both hands wrapped around her neck. She can't breathe, can't speak, can't scream; she thinks dammit Moz some backup would be nice but Moz isn't here. Neal isn't here.
She hears a voice in her ear, faintly, above the harsh, choked sounds as she struggles for air – can they see this through the cameras, from the van? But if they can they're too far away and the edges of her vision are grey, a sparkling fog creeping across her eyes. She shoves uselessly at him with one hand. Then her right hand finds the knife at her belt; she hears someone shout as she brings it up in a blind sweep, feels resistance as something warm sprays across her face and neck.
A shadow looms behind him and Fowler is there, seizing the back of the man's collar with one hand and flinging him halfway across the room to slump against the chest.
She and Fowler stare at each other for a brief, frozen moment before she gasps in air and sags against the wall, coughing.
"We need to go," Fowler snaps; she holds up a hand as he steps toward her.
"I'm good," she says, touching the hard plastic lump of the flashdrive under her shirt. The cord didn't break in the struggle, at least. Good might be overstating things a little; her face and her sleeve are wet; she can't see the face of the man crumpled against the chest, but blood runs down the side of his neck where her knife sticks out and he's not moving.
She ducks past Fowler into the hallway, now brightly lit by lamps at both ends. She hears Fowler's voice, raised, behind her; he blocks the hallway, barking imperiously as more of Reilly's hired thugs run up the stairs, long enough for her to find the darkened room where she entered and slip out the open window.
The rope slides through her hands, too fast, and she's grateful for the gloves; she lands hard in a crouch and spares only a second to recover before springing for the street, weaving slightly and breathing hard; cool air scrapes at the back of her throat; she can't seem to get enough, still, and she chokes back another coughing fit and nearly runs into the wrought-iron fence.
Shouts come from the house; half the upstairs windows are lit, now. She forces herself to take one slow, careful breath, feeling her pulse jump and pound in her throat, forcing back bile and choking panic.
She can't fall apart now. Finish the job, shut down everything you're feeling until you get out, Mozzie always said. She grabs onto the iron crosspiece at the gate, hauls herself up, swings her legs carefully over. The moon has gone behind clouds again. She needs to stay calm, keep moving and get back to Neal and Mozzie; once she's someplace safe, then she can fall apart.
She lands in wet grass, feels the dew soaking through the knees of her pants. Looking up, she sees the grey shape of the van up the street, and she remembers.
Neal and Mozzie aren't waiting. And there is no safe place here.
She crosses the road in the shadow between the streetlights, jogs up the sidewalk and wrenches the door open.
Maurice raises both eyebrows at her; the other two agents – both young, and relatively inexperienced, she decides – start at her appearance.
Maurice says, "What the hell happened in there?"
"I got the job done." The door bangs open again to admit two more agents; Fowler brushes past her without a word or a glance, so she drops the flashdrive into Maurice's hand, turning to look for a place to sit down. With Fowler's return there are now five FBI agents crowded into a very small space; she's never been claustrophobic before, but this is a lot of feds in one place.
Fowler pulls a water bottle from somewhere and holds it out toward her, still without looking at her. She takes it with her left hand, tugs at her right glove with her teeth and tastes blood.
One of the younger agents hands her a wad of tissues; she pulls the gloves off, drops them beside a darkened monitor and dabs at her face with wet tissues; they come away bright red, soaked and staining her fingers.
Fowler takes the drive from Maurice. "Get back to the office and go over everything you got from the security cameras. Anything that might be useful."
Maurice nods. "And the drive?"
Fowler gives him a look. "Let me handle that. We're going back to New York." Inclining his head in Kate's general direction, still without looking at her. "You can drop us off at the train station."
She ducks into the train station bathroom while Fowler buys the tickets, checking the mirror to make sure she doesn't still have blood on her face.
She doesn't, but she can see vivid bruises in the shape of someone's fingers on her throat, red darkening to purple.
It's nearly three AM. The station is quiet, only a few passengers on the long bench seats, slumped and dozing against their suitcases.
She sees a red scarf lying on top of a backpack beside a sleeping woman; she waits until the ticket agent is looking the other way and picks it up, wrapping it around her neck and tucking the ends under her sweater.
Fowler's eyes slide past her as she moves to stand beside him at the ticket counter.
A second later he looks directly at her for the first time since they got out; with a sharp frown, he hands her a ticket and steers her away from the counter with a hand at her elbow. "Did you just steal that from someone's luggage?"
"We broke into someone's house only two hours ago," she says quietly, as they turn toward the doors to the platform. "And we need to talk, and it's going to be hard to hold a conversation with you if you won't look at me."
His face shutters abruptly, his eyes blank and cold as the station intercom crackles, calling all aboard for the 97 to New York. "You have done your homework."
She hears yawning and subdued grumbling behind them, passengers stirring, bleary and tired. Fowler pushes the door open and they move along the platform, following the line of the tracks as the train whistle shrieks; the door closes and then there's only the pounding of the wheels against the track, getting closer, the beam from the light in front of the locomotive slicing through the night mist.
She can hear the clanging of the gate coming down at a nearby intersection, blocking traffic as the train slows to a halt. As they wait at the platform's edge she says, "Tell me honestly you haven't read every letter Neal wrote to me from prison and I'll apologize for invading your privacy."
They walk past their assigned seats, between rows of sleeping passengers, until they find the café car. The car is empty; the counter is deserted, but there's a vending machine humming in a corner. She checks her pockets for change then holds out a hand; at his look, she says, "Or I could break into it."
He rolls his eyes and gives her a handful of quarters; she pulls out a glazed pastry filled with some red fruit that doesn't really taste like cherries. She goes to lick the glaze sticking to her fingers, then remembers some guy was bleeding on her hands not too long ago and wipes them on a napkin instead.
The train whistle keens, a long plaintive call blown back to them in the wind of their passage; the rhythmic rocking of the wheels is inexplicably soothing.
A drinks dispenser at the far end of the counter promises cappuccino. What it delivers is syrupy and far too sweet, but the combination of sugar and caffeine will jolt her awake. Fowler settles into a booth by the door with a cup of black coffee, opening his own laptop and inserting the flashdrive.
"Only meeting Reilly had last December was with an Armond Saletta," he says, after a silence.
"Italian. Here on a diplomatic passport, works at the consulate in New York."
They are making progress, but she still can't see the endgame clearly, and it's making her twitchy and tense. Her hands still itch with drying blood and it hurts to swallow. She has seen too many dead men lately; the contact they talked to three days ago is dead, and that guy back at the house may be, too.
"So let's say he's got it at his house." Because that's easier than imagining Neal breaking into the consulate itself; she doesn't doubt he could do it, but she doesn't want to think about that right now. "Let's say Neal gets it for you. Then what?"
"We've discussed this." His voice is weary. "I've already got a guy setting up deep-cover backgrounds for both of you. The plane's ready whenever you are."
"That guy we talked to three days ago is dead. That doesn't concern you?"
"I don't see what you think I can do about it."
"You don't think whoever you're working for decided he knew too much?" And this is it, what's been scraping at the back of her mind, clawing at the edges of what triumph she has gained so far. She leans back against the counter, arms folded tightly across her chest. "You really think we're all just going to walk away from this and go back to our lives when this is over?"
Something dark flashes in his eyes; he is trapped and he knows it, and the helpless rage has since worn itself down to despair, a fire starved and suffocated without oxygen. The edge in his voice is cold. "What choice do you think we have?"
His phone buzzes and his eyes close briefly; when he opens them his face is completely blank. "Yes, sir." Her skin itches with frustration and anger; Fowler she can grapple with, him she can read. She is learning him, living this close. The voice on the other end of that phone is a mystery and a phantom and a constant unknown variable, floating in the mix of her plans and cutting an unpredictable swath through all her calculations. "This lead looks solid." She can hear frustration in his voice, tense and stifled and half-choked. "We're still checking, sir. I'll call with an update when we know something."
Her own frustration is going to lead her to do something reckless and stupid, the longer she has to stand here quietly and listen to only half this conversation. The longer she waits, the more she feels it's not stupid at all, but the only possible way forward. She sips at her cooling cappuccino and makes a face.
"You realize there's a good chance your friend on the phone paid that guy to kill her so he could set you up."
The words are out before she has a chance to think better of them.
"Do really think that thought hasn't occurred to me?" And there is rage there, still, compressed and squeezed flat like molten glass; she sees it flicker and then fade, banked, behind his eyes.
"And you're okay with working for him?" Her voice rises.
"I don't know who he is." His voice is quiet but no less sharp. "I don't know his name, I don't know what he wants, I don't know where he is. I don't even know if the person I talk to on the phone is the one behind it all or just an intermediary. He uses a voice-changer and he calls on a line that can't be traced. Believe me, I've tried." The train whistle moans again, calling a warning; his voice drops the temperature in the car, his eyes flat and cold. "Put me in a room with the son of a bitch and I'll show you how okay I am with it. But unless you can make that happen -"
"I can't make it happen if you're not going to help," she snaps, and he blinks; she's managed to surprise him. "This is never going to end as long as we keep dancing to his tune whenever he pulls the strings." She steps sharply toward the booth, braces both hands against the table. "Whoever he is, he's already hurt people we love and I, for one, am tired of being used by him. I'm tired of being helpless and I am sick to death of being a pawn." Her voice has dropped to a low furious hiss as she leans toward him, holding his eyes fiercely. "What about you?"
He only stares at her, his face completely still; when no answer comes after a long, tense silence she straightens and walks out of the car, making her way back to her seat. She curls up against the window, exhausted and keyed up and still furious, shivering against the glass.
Some two hours later the train pulls into DC and stops. This stop is longer than most; in DC the diesel locomotive is switched out for an electric one; the hum of the air conditioner and the rumble of the engine both fade and die as the power cuts out, leaving only low emergency lights glowing in the darkness. The sun won't rise for another hour at least.
The stirring of sleeping passengers is loud in the thick silence; the abrupt loss of ambient noise is enough to wake some. The car door opens and she sees Fowler out of the corner of her eye, coming down the aisle; she doesn't turn from the window as he sits beside her. He says nothing as they wait. The air grows thick, getting warmer with the air conditioner off.
Thirty minutes later the new locomotive is hooked up and the power comes back; cold air blasts against her arm, leaning against the window vent. Fowler hasn't moved the whole time, but she can tell he's not asleep. He doesn't speak until the train starts moving again, his voice pitched low beneath the rattle of the wheels.
"You do realize," he says, without looking at her, "in the extremely unlikely event that we're able to find this guy, I have no intention of arresting him."
She stares at her own reflection in the window, her eyes dark and uncertain above the red scarf, her face overlaid on top of the dark trees blurring past. She wonders, not for the first time, if Neal will recognize her when all this is over. She wonders if she'll recognize herself.
"Yeah," she says at last, without turning. "I kinda figured that."
They don't speak for the rest of the trip, as the train rocks north into a weak and watery dawn.