Stolen art and stolen kisses

Chapter 1

This is a continuation of the 'Neal and Sara's Wonderful Adventure' series which includes 'Coloring outside the lines' and 'Alfredo sauce and bowling balls'. Neal goes undercover and leaves Sara to fend for herself. Hope you enjoy!

(Week 13)

The Moretti case fell into their lap in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.

Neal and Peter had just returned from lunch at a local eatery, Travelo, a bistro type Italian place a couple of blocks from the Bureau. Picking a place for lunch was always complicated for the pair what with Peter's propensity for hot dog stands and Neal's particular taste for fine cuisine. This place seemed to fit the bill for both of them. Peter settled in front of a chicken and pesto sandwich with salad and Neal had opted for the linguine with clam sauce.

'How's Sara's doing?' asked Peter. It had only been six weeks since Sara had been released from the hospital and he hadn't seen her since the weekend before last.

'Great' said Neal. 'The cast came off last week so she's still building strength in her arm but her ribs are healing well.'

The last few weeks had been difficult for Neal and Sara as she muddled through her first three months of pregnancy. She had had a rough time of it, not having much of an appetite and severe morning sickness which was exacerbated by the injury to her ribs. But she had begun to eat a bit more over the last two weeks and she had returned to work which greatly helped with her mental health.

'What about emotionally' added Peter, 'how is she recuperating from the attack?'

'Well, the fact that we arrested the asshole seemed to help a lot' answered Neal 'and I was glad I could convince her to stay at my place while she got on her feet – that gave me a chance to keep an eye on her when she was having a tough time of it. You know, the baby has really helped a lot too, gives her a focus.'

Once you got Neal talking about the baby, you couldn't stop him. He read everything he could about pregnancy, giving Sara a rundown of what was happening inside her body every night before they fell asleep. It had become like doing research for a con – intense and fascinating - he was thoroughly enjoying every day of Sara's pregnancy.

'Would you believe she's already starting her second trimester? The baby has fingerprints, Peter, can you believe that?'

'Well, hopefully, those fingerprints won't find themselves in our data base like yours did' Peter quipped.

'Funny' said Neal 'I saw how you threw that in... the baby is about the size of a peach and tiny bones are beginning to form in his arms and legs. The intestines...'

Peter cut him off 'Neal, as much as I want to support you in this, there is such a thing as too much information. Please, stop now or I won't be able to finish this sandwich.'

'Well, this is your godson or goddaughter, Peter – you could show a little more interest. Anyway', added Neal, 'the really great news is that the chances of a miscarriage are a lot lower at this point so I'm hoping we're out of the woods.'

'Are all expectant fathers as annoying as you?' asked Peter. 'I have never seen someone so invested in a pregnancy before.'

''Cause you know so many guys who've had babies' chimed in Neal

'Nooo, but I'm sure not all guys spend their free time on pregnancy websites researching the minuscule details of the changes to their partner's body. Eat up, it's time to get back'

They walked back to the office chatting, making plans to get together on the weekend for a meal and a movie as long as Neal promised to ease up on the details of the development of the baby's intestines. Neal grudgingly agreed.

Hughes was waiting for Peter when they returned and gave him the overused two finger point when they arrived in the bullpen.

'Looks like something's brewing' he said under his breath as he left Neal at his desk and headed up the stairs.

Neal went back to the very boring task he had set aside before lunch, reading dead files for any new ideas on cracking the cases. Neal was terrific at spotting the small details that had gone undetected by the Harvard crew who had initially investigated the cases. He would always come up with an angle that no one had thought of – thank God for his devious mind and sharp intellect.

Within twenty minutes, Peter was calling the whole team up to the conference room. Alright! thought Neal, something really is brewing as he headed up the stairs, two steps at a time. There was always something exciting about getting a new case, the anticipation of hearing the details, processing the information and looking for an angle to propose that could break the case wide open. Of course, Neal was not a linear thinker so he enjoyed throwing out novel and unusual ways of approaching the case and he loved putting himself in the place of the thieves, imagining how they were thinking and plotting. It was a way of living vicariously through others without having to do the jail time and that suited Neal just fine.

'Informants tell us that key members of the Moretti family have moved into town. They are suspected in that heist at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art two weeks ago.'

'Yeah, I hear a whole collection of Argentinean art was stolen' said Neal - of course, at any given time Neal was up on all art thefts anywhere in the world.

Peter raised an eyebrow. 'That's right, the whole collection was taken and word on the street is that they are moving it here to New York to fence. Now you know the Moretti clan is a large syndicate operation which deals mostly in drugs and guns so art is unusual for them but they stand to make a bundle with this loot. Any thoughts?'

Peter was greeted by a bunch of blank faces – it usually took a while for his team to digest the information and come up with tactics and strategies. As usual, this was not the case with Neal whose hand flew up almost immediately – impulsive and quick.

'I think a case like this calls for an undercover operation.' he said, 'Infiltrating the clan is the way to go. They're going to be looking for fences to move this stuff and if I were them I would want to diversify and not go to through just one guy. Spread the information, you know... less chance of the trail leading to them from one source who knows too much. And they usually work out of Chicago so they're going to be looking for some local expertise.'

Diana piped up 'I agree with Neal, they probably don't know New York they way they do Chicago. Maybe Mozzie can put the word out that Neal has the expertise they need. We could get him in on the ground floor'.

'Are you suggesting we resurrect one of your past aliases for this one?' Peter asked Neal, 'Maybe Steve Tabernacle – he had quite a reputation.'

'I think Steve would be a good choice' added Neal 'he could make contact and offer to help them through the local landscape, put them in touch with local fences – you know kind of like a middle man.'

'Any other thoughts?' asked Peter. 'We have to move fast people if we want to infiltrate before they dump everything. I'll run this by Hughes, people, stand by.'

He headed over to the boss's office and left the group in his wake wondering what the hell hit them.