And here comes the finale!
... Monday morning ...
It was early - very early. Neal was awakened by Mozzie, who was searching through the kitchen cabinets. He was making a lot of noise, banging the doors and drawers.
"Why don't you have any soy milk? I've made coffee and brought bagels."
"Because I'm not the one with lactose intolerance. But what are you doing here at ..." Neal checked his alarm clock "... at 5 a.m.? And it's a bit unusual to break into someone's apartment before sunrise to make breakfast."
His friend wasn't impressed. "It seems you're getting narrow-minded. You're hanging out with the suits too much..."
The FBI consultant had gotten out of bed and put on a dressing gown. "Mozzie, what's up?" he asked. "I tried to reach you all day yesterday."
The little man looked up. "I guess your deal with Wilson went alright? Sorry, I couldn't be around."
Neal saw clearly that his friend was dying to tell him something important and wouldn't have the patience to listen to an elaborate story. "Yeah, everything has been fine. I'd say Wilson won't cause any more trouble. Now spill it!"
Mozzie was bursting with pride. "I found the warehouse where Curtis Hagen set up the printing press and has already started to reproduce the Spanish bonds. You can reveal the location to the suits, help them to catch the Dutchman and prove yourself invaluable."
Neal was overjoyed to hear this. "And then they will gladly prolong my deal so that I can stay out of prison and you have every day unlimited access to my wine stocks. Thanks, Moz. It's really good news."
The consultant was already waiting for his handler at the office and presented the news as soon as he arrived.
Since he couldn't give the source of the information away, Peter Burke had some doubts regarding its validity. But he agreed to take a look at the warehouse and both of them were soon driving over.
They heard noises that sounded very much like a printing press at work, but Peter refused to break into the building. The CI shook his head in disbelief.
"We know the bonds are there," he argued. "Just open the door."
Obviously it wasn't conclusive proof to hear something from the outside where they were lingering without any credible reason. Neal regretted that it was so complicated to handle problems FBI style. Acting as a criminal was much more effective.
All the way back to the Bureau the consultant gabbled on and on about how they were chucking away this chance. He was surprised that they wouldn't even get a search warrant for the warehouse unless they had more tangible leads to show to the judge.
Finally, back at the Bureau, Peter Burke had had enough. He grabbed a big book and threw it to his CI. "Yeah, well, you should read this - warrant law," he said. "All I've got is sounds coming out of a warehouse and no way to link this to the bond forgery. I've got to talk to your source."
Neal was positive that Mozzie wouldn't agree to talk to the Feds under any circumstances, but that didn't prevent him from affirming the exact opposite. "Okay, okay. I'll bring you to him ... first thing tomorrow."
In the evening, Neal couldn't find any rest. The 19th was close and they were running out of time. The moment Hagen finished forging the Spanish bonds he'd up and leave for good. The Dutchman would once again disappear without a trace, just like his namesake.
Instead of sleeping, Neal was lying on his couch and reading warrant law. It was dull and boring but he worked through it. He'd never gone to college and even if he had he wouldn't have studied law as his major. But he was sharp and had no problem at all understanding a legislative text, and whatever piece of information he read once he'd remember all his life. Furthermore, he wasn't only able to recite the details but also to link them and catch the point.
Finally he read something that made sense to him and he started to work on a plan...
... Early the next morning ...
Peter Burke's phone was vibrating. El woke when her husband was getting dressed in a hurry.
"What's going on?" she asked sleepily.
The FBI agent was racing to catch Caffrey – once again. How stupid could this man be? Why didn't he cut his anklet? The FBI and the Marshals would be on his tracks following the GPS data.
Peter checked the geo data on his phone once more. Right now, he was at ... wait ... that daredevil. Realization hit Peter Burke hard. What a bold and reckless venture. Dangerous, yes – but it could actually work!
Seen from Neal's perspective, everything had gone according to plan so far. He'd been dragged into the warehouse and there it was – the printing press, the Spanish bonds, and all the evidence the FBI needed to arrest the Dutchman. Nevertheless, when he saw how furious Hagen looked and all the guns around him he hoped that Peter would be right on time and that the door to the small office was really inch-thick Lexan.
The consultant rapped on the desk inside the locked office. "Nice," he commented. "You shouldn't have signed the bonds, though. I'm no stranger to vanity myself, so I understand the impulse."
Hagen was infuriated. "I'm gonna kill you. I hope whatever they're giving you, it's worth it."
"It is." When he heard the sounds of sirens and braking cars Neal tugged back his pant leg to reveal the tracker, flashing red. Yeah, he could trust his handler would be coming after him in a hurry when he was on the run.
"You are a particular kind of bastard!" Hagen was looking for an escape route.
Outside of the building, about a dozen of FBI agents had arrived. Peter Burke left his car and smiled.
"Gentlemen, we have a fugitive hiding in this building. Knock down those doors!"
The Feds followed the order and forced an entry. "Freeze! Get in there! Federal Agents! Get 'em up in the air!" All workers and security guards in the warehouse stopped and lifted their hands into the air.
Peter followed and headed to Hagen and his lawyer.
"This is what the law calls an exigent circumstance," he said smugly. "Any of you Harvard grads know what that is?"
The question was greeted with silence. One of the probies muttered under his breath, "Don't even know how to spell it," but he was smart enough to keep his voice low so that Agent Burke wouldn't overhear him.
"Huh? No hands? Diana?"
She'd done her homework and answered immediately. "Exigent circumstance allows us to pursue a suspect onto private property without obtaining a warrant."
Peter picked up one of the forged bonds and smiled at Hagan. "And to seize any and all evidence that has been discovered in plain view, regardless of the connection to the original crime." Hey, he could get used to this. Even though he had to admit it was not the usual way the FBI arrested a suspect, it was sort of fun.
Neal opened the office door without hesitation as Peter approached. He greeted him with a big smile, smoking one of Hagen's Cuban cigars. "You should arrest me," he said. It felt weird to be pleased that the FBI had just caught a criminal with his help. Until recently, whenever he'd witnessed Peter Burke arresting a felon he was the named felon himself and that hasn't been pleasant at all.
His handler was elated that they had caught the Dutchman in the act. "I'll let the cigar go, but you are a fleeing suspect. You know this makes me three-and-oh?"
The caught suspect was unperturbed. "Maybe I'm not trying hard enough."
Peter Burke gave him a deprecating stare. "If you're going to stay on my team, there'll be no more playing a lone hand. This could have had a bad end. What if I haven't been here in time? Did you have an actual plan? This bulletproof glass was your lifesaver. Any ideas what you would've done if it hadn't been between you and the guns? I'd like to keep my team alive and in one piece. I lost a partner once and have no intention to do it again."
Neal was quite sure that he would have come up with something to save his skin if there hadn't been the bulletproof office. He'd survived many dangerous situations and that had given him an ability to react to almost anything. But he was caught off guard by the implication of Burke's speech: Burke was thinking of him as a partner. Why did it feel so good to hear this? After all, he was one of the world's greatest con men and only working for the FBI to stay out of prison. He didn't care a damn about any one of them.
... Wednesday ...
Catching the Dutchman was a big success for the Bureau and Hughes was more than willing to take a stand for Caffrey. Why their consultant had cut his anklet and run in order to catch a forger in the act needed some explaining; the administrative machinery wasn't very amenable to non-standard, out-of-the-box practices. But he hadn't been in the federal system for almost forty years without learning how to navigate his way through bureaucratic barriers.
Hughes thought that this deal with Neal Caffrey turned out just the way he had hoped. He had helped the FBI not only to arrest the Dutchman, but had also handed over Wilkes as a bonus. Peter Burke was an excellent agent and the best man in his department. His key strengths were analytical skill, keen perception and predictive acting. Pairing this with the creative and unconventional criminal mastermind would help the Bureau to raise the closure rate, help his agent to loosen up and maybe even keep the felon away from the dark side...
Both men were sitting in front of him and together they had set up the parameters for the extension of Caffrey's deal with the FBI. The head of the department was about to bring the meeting to a close.
"Now, you'll have to see the FBI recruiting office to make this official," he said. "I have made an appointment for you tomorrow morning. I think this Dutchman case has proved that both of you have built up sufficient trust in each other to make this co-operation work."
The agent and the con man spoke at the same time. "Trust him? He's a criminal!" "Trust him? He's chased me for four years!" They looked at each other, appalled.
Hughes was amused. Both of them were sharp and had a quick wit, but nevertheless, they failed to see the obvious. Men are able to trust one another when knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect.
When they left Hughes, Peter asked his CI to join him in his office. Once Neal was seated, he waited for a wearisome lecture about rules and regulations, the dos and don'ts at the FBI, and so on and so forth. He could let his mind wander and still keep an interested face. He had perfected that look.
He was caught by surprise when his handler opened a drawer of his desk and took an evidence bag out. It contained an old but empty bottle which was once filled with Bordeaux.
"I kept this from when I caught you in the deserted apartment some months ago. I guess it has some special importance to you. I mean, more than the eight hundred bucks you must have paid for it - if you paid for it. If you didn't, don't tell me. Listen, if you want to keep the goodbye message that Kate left for you, it's yours." Peter handed him the bottle.
Neal fought hard to keep his jaw from dropping and to blink back tears. The bottle had meant so much to him and Kate. "Don't worry, I paid for it. But I got it empty it was far from eight hundred dollars."
His handler was confused. "Empty?" Why would anyone buy an empty bottle of old wine?
The CI was lost in thoughts. "Look, when Kate and I met, we had nothing. I got that bottle, and I used to fill it up with whatever cheap wine we could afford and we'd sit in that crappy apartment and drink it over cold pizza and pretend we were living in the Cote d'Azur."
The agent recognized the bitter grief hidden in the story. "How'd that work out for you?"
Neal looked young and quite vulnerable when he had to acknowledge his failure. "It didn't. Because that bottle was a promise for a better life. What Kate got was a guy locked away for half a decade." He was quiet for a moment, contemplating the bottle, before he said, "Thank you, Peter. It means a lot."
And then in a couple of moments he switched his con man face back on. "I'm sorry I didn't get you anything. But I could forge – ahem, I mean paint a French Impressionist for you that would look really great above your couch. El would love it."
His handler threw his hands up in mock horror. "Get out, Caffrey! Don't forget to show up in time at the recruiting officer tomorrow."
... Same evening ...
Peter Burke was seated on his couch with his lovely wife.
"I don't really know how this teamwork thing will work out," he said. "He's bright and smart, without any doubt. But he's driving me crazy and has absolutely no sense of consequences. Sometimes he acts like a child and the next moment like a criminal mastermind. I'm walking a fine line between giving him a pat on the back and shooting him."
"Hey, I don't believe it. You like him!" El teased him. "Peter Burke likes a criminal. And the world hasn't stopped turning."
Her husband frowned. "Ha, ha - very funny. I really hope the bottle I gave him today won't beguile him into doing some mischief. I feel a presentiment of danger."
She tried to reassure him. "Just do what you do best - watch him and try to keep him on the straight and narrow. You're as solid as a rock and if there's anyone at all who can give him stability, that would be you. Just give him a chance; maybe he's ready to take it."
On the other end of the city, Mozzie was trying to convince his friend to run.
"Do you remember the first day when I checked your anklet?" he asked.
Of course, Neal had a very vivid remembrance of that evening. "Yeah, I won't forget the Marshals appearing at my door and being read the riot act the following day by my handler..."
The little man looked at him proudly. "I found a way to pick the lock without raising alarm. I've seen the construction plan of the tracking device and spoken to one of the engineers who worked on the development team. There is a fail-safe way to unlock it without interrupting the GPS signal.
"In addition to that, I have a first class French passport for you and sufficient funds to live in style for the next couple of months. After that, I'm pretty sure we'll have come up with something to replenish those funds. We can cut your tracking anklet right now and you have twelve hours until tomorrow morning when your handler starts looking for you. No more dull FBI office for you, no rules, and no keeper."
Neal didn't react as his friend had expected. Instead, he looked sad.
"Moz, I can't run," he said. "If I run know, I can't come back to New York - ever. Peter will be on my tracks to catch me whatever the cost. And I don't want to run right now and lose everything. Look, I've got the bottle Kate left. We have to find out if there's any secret message hidden. I just don't believe she left me for no reason."
According to Mozzie's experience with women in general - and Kate in particular - leaving a man for no reason was a very likely event. But he kept his belief to himself and remained silent. If his friend wanted to stay with the Feds, he'd be around to keep an eye on him and protect him from them. His younger companion seemed to feel some strange and incomprehensible affection for the suit. Stockholm syndrome!
... Thursday morning ...
Peter Burke was waiting for his consultant in the lobby. They took the elevator to go upstairs to the FBI recruiting office. There would be some forms to sign for both of them, probably in triplicate, and lots of fine print. After all, it would be a permanent contract and nothing temporary like the current deal. He wasn't looking forward to this act of bureaucracy, but there was nothing to be afraid of.
He hadn't expected to be confronted with a committee of three FBI officials. They had large files in front of them.
"There have arisen some doubts regarding the employment of Neal Caffrey as a consultant for the FBI," one of them announced. "We have to discuss this."
Peter was getting annoyed. "Gentlemen, what can I do to resolve your doubts?" he asked impatiently.
Neal didn't say anything. He had a bad feeling. Maybe he shouldn't have turned down Mozzie's offer the night before. He could have been in the Caribbean instead of sweating in the office...
"First of all, Mr. Caffrey left his allowed radius and had to be caught by an FBI team. This is unacceptable."
The special agent was very cold. "I guess you may have read the statement of the head of the White Collar Department that this was an action approved by himself in advance. The division is very grateful to Mr. Caffrey for his willingness to take the risks implied. If you haven't read the statement yet, I would suggest you take your time to get prepared for this meeting first."
The committee had some more accusations. "Mr. Caffrey has met with a known criminal at his apartment and agreed to forge a painting for him."
Peter Burke cut them short. "That was part of an undercover investigation. Mr. Caffrey has exceeded the Bureau's expectations by not only catching the Dutchman as we have hired him to do, but also to get hold of one of the most wanted violent offenders. Anything else?"
They had one more breach of regulations to claim. "Mr. Caffrey was neglecting his duties. He came twenty minutes late to work once and extended his lunch break longer than allowed on another occasion. During the qualifying period of his consultation contract, one hundred percent compliance with all rules and regulations is required. His behavior proves his slack attitude towards his contractual obligations. Under these circumstances, we cannot approve any further working agreement with him for the FBI."
Neal paled. That was it. They'd hit home. Al Capone was locked up for fiscal offences. And he might be sent back to prison for coming late to work. Damn it. He should have seen this coming. Was Peter part of this scheme? Had he set him up? All this talk about being partners, working as a team, was just a con. And he? He let himself be led like a lamb to the slaughter. Now, it would be back to prison for him. He wouldn't show his desperation and give them the satisfaction of delighting in his sorrow.
His handler was really pissed off and his voice was icy. "I have no doubts that you are responsible servants of the FBI, working hard from nine to five. My team - of which Mr. Caffrey is an essential member - is working hard not only from nine to five but also before and after office hours, and weekends, too, if necessary.
If Mr. Caffrey came in late to the office that doesn't mean he wasn't carrying out an important task for the Bureau. And if required, we take lunch time to complete a job. Now, could we please sign the contracts and start to go back to work to catch criminals in order to do what we get paid for? If you have any more objections, I'll talk to your superior. I'm not willing to waste any more time here. I should call the Director."
He took his phone out and started searching for a number in his contact list. He was stopped.
"Wait. I guess you have resolved all objections," one of the officials said.
The first recruitment officer took a pen and signed the contract - in triplicate. The second and third officers followed. Caffrey and Burke put their signature on the paper as well. Finally, they shook hands and left.
Neal looked like a cat that got the cream. "Did you just lie to an FBI official?"
His partner looked innocent. "Have you been working hard on the case?"
Peter Burke shrugged. "Then we're good."
After a while, he went on. "You're a consultant, and I own you for four years. You okay with that?"
Neal was still smiling. "Yeah."
The end, finally.
I've had fun writing the story and I hope you've liked reading it. Thank you for all the reviews and comments. Your response was really encouraging. Since this has been the longest story I've written so far it was a bit of a personal challange... To lie awake at three o'clock in the morning because you have to find out how Peter and Neal can build up their . ?docid=30598686st in a certain chapter is a bit weird.
I hope you've noticed that I took your critics of my previous stories to heart: hardly any italics! And you were right - it's easier to read without the italics.
I can't give enough thanks to my beta VoicesInTheWind. She had invested so much of her precious time to review so many chapters. And thanks again to the other person (who doesn't want to be named) to help me identifying some logical inconsistencies in the first chapter.
I am really anxious to hear what you think about the end of the story.