A/N: Greetings readers. If this is your first time finding this story, welcome and I hope you enjoy. If you are a regular reader thanks for your continued support. Word of warning, I like to edit my stories so if you come back and things are a little different don't panic.
This story is rated T for some language and plans to introduce minor adult themes in future chapters. I will always warn you in an authors note, if something might be triggery. I hope you enjoy... Reviews are always appreciated and I love peoples thoughts and suggestions. If you want something included in a story I will do my absolute best to accommodate you, so don't be shy about asking. No slash though.
I gain nothing from writing this story and all characters from the show are simply borrowed for entertainment purposes.
A Second Look Costs You Nothing
The case started on a Thursday with a small green origami dragon left at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Normally a discarded piece of paper wouldn't be cause for alarm. Unless of course it's discovered inside a locked case containing priceless works of art. So where a two by four inch Lapis Lazuli lion once lived, the little dragon sat in pristine condition, taunting both FBI and museum staff alike.
Perhaps the curator was so furious because, while the theft appeared to take place in the middle of the night, no one noticed it until shortly before the museum was set to open. A few angry phone calls later, and Peter was called in to deal with a pissed off man in his fifties, who was going red in the face from screaming at two contrite looking security guards.
A review of some security footage revealed that despite cameras in every gallery and several alarms on the cases themselves, the lion, a Da Vinci sketch of child and Madonna, and a gold necklace engraved with figures of the Egyptian god Bes had vanished in thin air.
Calming down the curator had been a difficult job ,and Neal's comments to the man on the impressive skill of the robber didn't help. Finally, Peter managed to get out a "Sir, right now only two people care about finding your missing art, and one of them is fast losing interest." The curator had huffed and sputtered, but in the end went off to find pictures of the missing pieces and gather all the paperwork on their histories and value to the museum.
After hearing Neal's somewhat smug comments about the theft, Peter normally would have interrogated the man, or at least checked his tracking anklet data. Except the two of them had been pulling an all nighter, to go over surveillance reports from one of their current cases. For a moment, Peter was tempted to interrogate Neal anyway, but Neal would probably find it flattering that Peter thought he could be in two places at once.
Neal himself was intrigued by the little dragon, and kept carefully turning it over and over in his fingers, while he examined it with a critical eye. Something in Neal's eye, as he regarded the piece, made Peter think the conman knew who made it. Once he even thought Neal opened his mouth to say a name, but after another minute Neal just said it was an impressive piece of work and handed it over for processing.
The lab boys, who dusted for prints, had no luck either. No prints latent or otherwise, were found, and they said the paper could be purchased at any local craft store for a couple dollars. The dragon itself was in absolutely perfect condition, but, not holding with traditional origami techniques, this little figure had small cuts around the feet to represent claws.
Of course now that the lab guys were finished, the little dragon was somewhat less pristine, which Neal considered a desecration to a fine representation of the craft. Peter frankly didn't care since there were still no clues left behind that could lead to an arrest. It appeared the thief's only goal was to taunt them.
A search of the FBI's and Interpol's databases, the next day, revealed no similar heists from other museums local or worldwide. This succeeded in amplifying the frustration felt by the entire white-collar division. And, after working for almost 48 hours straight and checking out alibis, the museum staff and security guards were all cleared, ruling out the possibility of an inside job.
Exactly one week later, just when the media stopped sensationalizing the robbery, they dubbed 'The Phantom', the two smallest moon rocks, and the spikes from the stegosauruses tail, disappeared from the American Museum of Natural History. In place of the moon rocks now sat a little origami monkey holding what appeared to be a tiny yellow banana.
Neal was delighted by the little monkey, commenting to Peter about the artistic skill it took to create origami of such detail. Peter had to admit these figures were beyond the typical origami crane he'd learned how to make in third grade. But when Neal proceeded to launch into a supernaturally long and boring story on the history of origami and how its development influence modern culture, before Peter gave him an icy glare to make him glue his lips together, while they interviewed the the museum staff.
Seven days later five paintings and a statue were taken from the Guggenheim including: van Gogh's "Mountains at Saint-Remy", Duchamp's "Study for Chess Players", Seurat's "Seated Monkey", and an iron Degas statuette entitled "Dancer Moving Forward: Arms Raised".
In place of the statuette were three origami birds: a chicken, a rooster and what Neal identified as a phoenix, complete with fiery red plumage. Peter had a strong desire to crumple the figures in his fist as soon as he saw them, but instead let the little birds be taken into evidence.
"This is ridiculous," the senior agent grumbled the next day in White Collar's conference room. "There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to these thefts, other than those damn pieces of paper. Usually when thieves steal something their not so... so…" Peter waved his hands emphatically searching for the correct word, "versatile," he concluded, and then pulled a face as if that still didn't quite fit with what he was trying to imply.
The other agents in the room had worked with Peter long enough to know better than to add their two cents during one of Peter's frustrated rants. Any question asked was rhetorical so they waited, knowing in a moment he would ask for a lead, any possible scrap of evidence, that might lead to an arrest. Neal however, never had qualms about interrupting Peter, or any sense of self preservation.
"Some people like the heist for the thrill Peter," Neal tried to explain. "There doesn't have to be a reason for the specific art they selected, just the act of theft itself."
Peter knew Neal was only trying to help, and had a very valid point, but the agent was feeling tired and frustrated. He had barely seen his wife during the past two weeks, which made him feel worse. Rolling his eyes he added with a scoff, "The voice of experience has spoken." Peter knew it was petty to jump on Neal, but if anyone knew about entering a life of crime solely for the thrill, it would be his partner.
Choosing to ignore the jab Neal continued, "I just meant if we're looking for their next heist based entirely on some sort of artistic preference we're probably going to hit a dead end Peter. There has to be some other motivations behind these specific thefts."
Peter knew Neal was right, but that still did nothing to fix their current situation. All three museums were desperate for their art and artifacts to be recovered. Even NASA had placed a very angry call to Peter, that had him on the phone for over an hour explaining how he appreciated the importance of the space program and was doing everything possible to recover the missing rocks.
The higher ups were also relentless in asking for leads and Peter was feeling the heat. Cases like this were Neal's specialty and Peter needed more than a history of origami if they were to have any hope of solving this thing.
"Any word from your contacts about possible fences", Peter asked again, desperation tinting his tone.
Neal pinched his lips and shook his head. He had presented the facts to Mozzie, who was keeping an ear out for any whisper or rumour of the stolen pieces being readied for sale on the black market, but so far nothing had surfaced. It seemed logical the pieces had disappeared into the hands of a private collector who requisitioned specific pieces, expect Neal couldn't think of anyone who had such eclectic tastes in art.
Since this thief hit each museum exactly one week after the first, they now had six days to figure out the location of the next robbery. Over a dozen museums in New York City made it was impossible to increase security at or stakeout every single every location. Any clue telling white collar where best to use their resources would be invaluable. At least that's what Peter kept stressing since he was the one filling out the reports justifying their use of time and money.
Sitting hunched over the kitchen table with pictures, lab reports and other interviews and files Peter was forced to remind himself he had found the perfect partner in his wife Elizabeth. The divorce rate among many of his colleagues, who kept similar work hours was unbelievably high, and he still couldn't believe how understanding she was when he missed dinners to stay late at the office, or was up at all hours of the night pouring over case files.
Currently, El was half listening to her husband's somewhat internal musings as she arranged a bouquet of flowers he had bought her in a desperate attempt to apologize for once again, making her eat dinner with the dog.
"If we could just figure out what this person wants we'd know where to set up surveillance. So far he's hit three different museums and stolen some art from mostly lesser-known artists, moon rocks, and part of the tail from the Natural History Museum's stegosaurus. I mean, who steals the tail and leaves the rest of the dinosaur? It's not even the whole tail. Either this thief is intentionally stealing obscure things just to throw us off track, or he's legally insane." He concluded, not feeling any better at the end of his little rant.
Glancing up from the red rose she was currently measuring, for cutting and placement in the vase Elizabeth observed, "Maybe he is just trying to throw you off. Isn't that something criminals like to do? Draw attention away from the actual crime, like when someone trashes a house after a murder to make it look like a robbery gone bad?"
As always, Peter was always impressed by his wife's brilliance, but this time the agent's gut was telling him something just didn't add up. Peter didn't know how he knew it, but something about the stolen artwork gave a clue as to the suspect.
"Why the origami?" He asked to no one in particular. "It's like a calling card, but the figure keeps changing. First, a dragon, then a monkey and now these damn birds." Peter rubbed the back of his neck in frustration.
"Almost seems like something Neal would do," he ventured on, "except Neal is far more of an art connoisseur to choose pieces without rhyme or reason."
"Nothing's by the same artist. Most people have an style or period of artwork they favour but this guy took a Da Vinci and a Duchamp. I didn't even know who Duchamp was before this," He muttered then quickly glanced up. "Don't tell Neal that."
El gave him a little smirk and stuck a tulip between some alstroemeria leaving Peter to continue in his musings. "We have no idea how this person even got into the museum or past the security systems at all. Guards, alarms, locks, and even a freaking laser grid haven't stopped him. What's next?" Peter felt like literally throwing up his hands in frustration
Sensing it was a rhetorical question, El chose instead to walk over and wrap her arms around Peter in a gentle embrace. "You'll catch him hon," she said emphatically. "You always do."
Peter responded by turning and kissing El's lips, the kiss growing more passionate. Thoughts began running through his head about dropping the case for the night and forgetting his frustrations in the bedroom when a sharp knock at the back door killed the mood in a heartbeat. Only one person could have timing that bad and Peter paused long enough wonder if ignoring Neal would go away, when the door swung open and said conman sauntered in.
"Peter, I think I may have a break in the… Oh…" Neal paused, his mouth in a perfect "O" as he observed Peter and El hastily pulling apart. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he added a bit of a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Of course not." Peter had gotten used to Neal's spontaneous visits every since he found the him sitting on the couch with his wife and dog during the Dutchman case. But right now he wished for once, Neal would call ahead.
"It's not like showing up at eleven o'clock at night would ever interrupt any of my plans to spend time alone, with my lovely wife." Peter let his frustration seep into his tone. May be Neal would take the hint.
"Well alright then," Neal gave them his most endearing smile. "In that case I'll make sure I stop by more often, just so you two can fully enjoy the pleasure of my company."
Peter gave Neal that wide-eyed, disbelieving look he always got when Neal said or did something that meant he was ignoring sound advice given to prevent future incarceration.
"Not happening… ever Neal. Evenings are my "Caffrey-free time" with my perfect wife, which doesn't include international art thieves. Next time call ahead."
"Alleged international art thief, I was never convicted," Neal couldn't resist pointing out, and with El present felt brave enough to add. "So because I ruined your chances of getting lucky tonight you're throwing me out." At after midnight it was probably the wrong thing to say because Peter grabbed Neal's upper arm and pulled him towards the door.
"You can tell me your brilliant ideas tomorrow Neal."
"Judging by the clock it is tomorrow," Neal protested, and then rushed on realizing he was pushing Peter's level of frustration beyond what the agent normally allowed. "I'm sorry Peter the getting lucky comment was out of line, I just came by because I figure out the location of the next robbery."
There was a brief letting up of pressure on his arm and Neal seized the moment. "The origami figures, the thief is telling us which exhibit he'll strike next."
Peter stopped pushing, torn between finishing the night with his wife, and the desire to see how this new information might lead to a break in the case.
El was gracious enough to make the decision for him, knowing Peter wouldn't be able to concentrate if he thought any piece of information on a case was being kept from him.
"It can't hurt to hear what he has to say hon, he did come all this way to tell you and if it helps you solve the case…" she let her words trail off, and gave Peter "the look". The same one she used to get him to listen to Neal after the man had been accused of stealing the pink diamond. It worked every time.
Neal wisely said nothing and let El perform her magic, but couldn't resist his rather sad puppy dog eyes.
"Fine," Peter replied, releasing his grip, immune to both looks, or so he told himself. "Alright. Tell me me what you've found, but please be certain Neal. You know how much we need this one."
As much as Neal could be all jokes and coy, flirtatious smiles he also understood how important each case was to Peter. And after their almost three year partnership Neal's desire to catch the people they were after moved beyond a simple desire to stay out of prison.
"I'm certain," he said and sat down a the table.