Neal felt abandoned after Peter's last visit but with Mozzie's help he had finally decided on a plan of action. They were still working on getting the evidence Hagan had on him so for the meanwhile he was stuck helping the forger he had put away while pretending to be loyal to Peter and the FBI. Mozzie was his inside man when it came to the crimes that Hagan requested he do as payment and he was glad for that help. They were close to finding the source of the video and any other evidence Hagan had on him (and Peter), then he would be free to disappear. Peter was unaware of his deceit on the anklet, the device Mozzie made helping to make it look like he was where he was supposed to be and so far it was working.
"What did Hagan call you about today?"
Mozzie's voice held an obvious hint of derision, Neal shrugging because he felt impotent to react any other way while he was trapped between his two masters. They had to get that evidence and soon.
"Just to tell me to be ready. No assignment yet."
He gave a sigh, rolling up his sleeves as he moved back over to his easel and started to paint. He was making it a habit of pretending his stillness on the GPS was him painting but it was actually helping to calm his state of mind regardless of his reasons. Peter seemed no more the wiser and his new handler unlike the former one didn't come to visit him at home so that helped. Besides, the new guy was nothing like Peter.
Neal dabbed a bit more paint onto the canvas, hard violent strokes that he thought might poke a hole through the material but he controlled the tempest within by easing up enough to smooth the oils and make the painting flow. It didn't help he was painting a ship being tossed by a storm but that's where his thoughts were currently. He felt cast asea on a rough ocean with only himself holding onto a small bit of planking…
"Good. I think I have an idea where he has all the evidence on you. Now that he's out, I followed him a few times. Thankfully, he didn't see me."
Mozzie seemed confident, pulling out some papers and what appeared to be a map. Neal put down his brush for a moment, getting up and moving over to see what it was his friend had brought out. It was specs to a building on the warehouse side of town. It was little more than an old factory, something like the building Hagan had worked out when they'd first arrested him for forgery. Could the man be making the same mistake?
"Deja Vu… Mozzie, are you certain this is his only hide away? Could he have any other places he might be working out of?"
Neal wanted to be certain before they went in and checked the place out. Again, he was thankful his new handler didn't bother to be chummy with him outside of work like Peter… like Agent Burke had. He dismissed the thought, glancing down at the lay out of the building and getting an idea of how they might enter without being seen. Mozzie answered him.
"It's just an old factory building, used to house a bottling plant but now it's disused far as I could ascertain. There's only one catch…"
He paused dramatically, rolling out another sheet of paper and some photos that made Neal swallow hard. Hagan wasn't going to make this easy on them.
"Whatever he's hiding in there, innocuous as the place appears… he has it hardwired with sensors, guards and dogs. Hagan isn't taking any chances of anyone getting in or out of the place alive much more in one piece. I was lucky they didn't make me while I was watching them. There are sentries with rifles on the roof! I think he's paranoid."
Mozzie sounded overly dramatic but in this case something important must be in that warehouse if Hagan was watching it with so many safeguards. Neal's curiosity was piqued and he had to get inside when time permitted. Right now he was working on a robbery case with the FBI. A string of houses had been robbed of several millions in valuable art and jewels. There were no signs as to who could have done it, forensics at their wits end when they found neither fingerprints nor any other evidence to show how the culprit(s) got in.
"Keep an eye on that place, Mozz. I have to work on some actual case files for Peter. Get back with me."
Neal was exhausted, his new handler not only treating him like a tool in his belt at times but running him ragged with paperwork and errands around the bureau. Peter seemed consumed with his own business in his new cozy office, the phone always on his ear as it had been with Hughes. Maybe the agent no longer cared about the "criminal" he had come to call partner and friend. Neal sighed, trying to push the thought out of his mind as he closed the door behind him, kicked off his shoes and walked over to the kitchenette. He grabbed a bottle of chablis, pulling out a glass to fill it with wine when his cell buzzed in his pocket. He hoped it wasn't work calling…
"Mister Caffrey… I do hope you have some time to spare for me this evening."
It was Hagan, the man's accent and tone grating on him after the day he'd had. Neal wanted to reach through and punch the Englishman but for now he had to play nice while his and Peter's positions depended on the forger not giving away what he'd done. Neal frowned, nodding at the phone with as much dislike as he could.
"Of course, Hagan. What is it now?"
He left enough derision in his tone to show how unhappy he was with their deal, a cold icy laugh ringing through the receiver.
"Do I sense a hint of unhappiness in our pact? I could just show your friends at the Bureau that video of you breaking into the vault in the fireman's suit… or should I tell them about the tape your father made? I'm happy to ending this as openly as possible…"
Hagan had him and he knew it, Neal fuming inside but unable to do much until they figured out how to destroy the evidence against him and make sure that Peter was safe. Neal could care less about the agent otherwise but at least he could make sure that one detail was never revealed.
"Just tell me what you want, Hagan."
He had pulled off his jacket and shirt, walking around shirtless as he moved into the closet and pulled out a comfy pair of dark jeans, a black turtleneck and gloves he had just in case. He heard Hagan breathing on the other end, the pause dramatic enough to be annoying.
"Since you asked so nicely… I have a side operation in need of another employee. Someone's had to leave suddenly and I need you to take over where they left off."
Neal didn't like the sound of that request but there was little he could do. Much as he was unhappy with his current situation, Hagan held enough over him to not only destroy his life but Peter's. He bit his lip and then answered.
"What kind of operation are we talking about?"
He waited for the man to reply, a bad feeling washing over him as the pause grew. Finally Hagan replied.
"Those robberies in the news… I know you're expert at snatch and grabs as well as escapes. I need you on the team if they are to continue to be successful. I will text you the details."
Hagan hung up without a goodbye, irking Neal more than he already felt as he tossed the phone onto a nearby shelf and finished changing. A few minutes later the cell buzzed indicating he had a new text. It was the instructions of where and who he was to meet up with that evening. He had 3 hours before the meet so he decided to put the wine aside to keep himself sharp. This was going to be a very long night.
Peter glanced up to see that Neal's desk was empty. It was well after 8 am and already his handler was in his office, the rest of the White Collar crew at their desks and performing their usual routines. It was only Neal that was missing as he got up and walked next door to see what was going on.
"David… I noticed Neal isn't at his post. Anything the matter?"
The new guy was still learning the ropes and so far he was doing ok by Neal but not as well as he expected. The consultant was tolerating the new agent but it was obvious he was less than happy with the situation, Peter reading into his ex-partner's body language lately more than usual. He should just let it be, partnerships don't happen overnight but a part of him was still very protective of Neal despite everything. He'd noticed the fatigued slump to the consultant's shoulders when he thought nobody was watching. Something was bothering his friend although lately he wasn't sure that word was true anymore. He'd been busy getting into his new role as ASAC the past month so he'd left Neal to his own devices minus watching him at work with Agent Siegel.
"His landlady called in and said he had a fever. I went by to make sure it wasn't some kind of ruse and there was a doctor looking in on him. I figured it was best he didn't come in if he was ill."
The agent seemed very matter of fact, something that shocked Peter because he would have stuck around to make sure Neal was ok but that was him. Maybe he had gotten too close to the man he captured. He nodded his head, hiding his disappointment and curiosity at what might be wrong with Neal and the agent's lack of regard.
"Carry on then. Any news on the robberies?"
Peter was back in boss mode, channeling his inner Hughes as David nodded back, handing him a report.
"There was another robbery last night. This time though, they shot one of the thieves but there wasn't any blood trail so no forensics info to see who they were. The owner's daughter was staying the night. Nobody knew she was there. She said the three men were dressed in black with masks so she was unable to ID them, sir."
Peter read the report, his thoughts going back to Neal despite everything but he had push his feelings aside for the con while he was busy repairing damage to his career and working on how to make sure Caffrey wasn't sent back to prison. He nodded his head, handing the paper back and smiling stiffly.
"I'm guessing you've already checked all the ERs, hospitals, clinics etc…"
He was looking at the new agent now, Siegel nodding his head as he showed him another sheet and pointed out at the bullpen beyond where Diana and Jones sat.
"Agents Barrigan and Jones were assisting in that area. Nothing yet. I'm sure he had to find medical assistance somewhere. Gunshot wounds aren't anything to cough at, sir."
Siegel was efficient, he gave him that much as he gave another head nod and left him to his work after a few more questions. He had a meeting with Ruiz in Violent Crimes in about 20 mins then he was free to have lunch at home with his wife. It had been a month and he'd barely been home to eat dinner with his new work obligations. Maybe this promotion wasn't as nice as he thought but for now he had to do what was needed to keep everything in order and fix what had been broken. He'd earned this promotion, hadn't he? Bruce had told him people had noticed his closure rate and dedication to the Bureau. He was glad his jail time hadn't affected his good name, his thoughts going back to the folder his friend had given him. He pulled it out of the drawer and opened it up, the words DC jumping out at him. Fowler was from OPR which was in DC… Kramer worked in DC… Pratt had been a Senator from DC and Neal… he had been raised there. He gave a sigh, his thoughts back on his former partner "in crime" and law as he closed the folder and leaned on his hands a moment. El had been surprised when he told her the news about their new lives if things worked out but New York was their home and had been for the past 13 years. They didn't have children so it wasn't like it wouldn't be hard to pack up and go at a moment's notice but he had friends here, family… Neal. The young man was on his own except for them but he was a man as El had reminded him lately, one he was as Kramer might say "too invested in." He had to think of his future and what was best for himself and El. He nodded, coming to the conclusion he wouldn't get invested again but he did have to see how Neal was. He was certain of that.
Neal took the lead when they entered the home that night. He had met his new "crewmates" for only a few minutes before the actual job. They were tough men, one of them reminding him of Wilkes and the other of Keller if he had to make a comparison. Neither one talked much but they had a map of the house they had planned to robbed, eying him suspiciously as they spoke in brief rough tones about the operation.
"Hagan said you work for the Feds. How do we know you won't turn on us like the last guy?"
The man speaking had a hoarse almost gravelly voice as if he had smoked too much or gargled bleach. His face was equally beat up with various small but obvious scars around the cheek and eye area. Hagan's choice of himself in this operation seemed odd now, the other man almost as weathered as the first. The manner in which they mentioned the guy he was replacing made him slightly nervous but he wasn't going to let them know that.
"I'm not a snitch. I'm mostly a gopher."
He didn't like the terminology anymore than snitch but it made it sound like they had him doing anything but working cases. The two men smirked at him with obvious derision.
"Sounds like Hagan and the Feds have the same idea… So, how do you see us getting into this house, Gopher. Perry here thinks the chimney was a safe bet. It's an older home and the hearth has plenty of space for a skinny guy like you to slip through."
Eric continued to smirk at him, his coppery brown eyes glinting dangerously as he poked a finger at him and then back at the map they were staring at. They were in the back of a dive bar in Queens, not the kind of place Neal would usually hang out but it had been necessary. He shrugged, looking down at the plans with a studied look.
"I think the hearth works unless they have a fire but it's still warm enough they wouldn't especially since the lady and man of the house are out of town. They don't have any children at home either so we only have to worry about hired help if there are any and there aren't according to my intel."
Neal had been lucky enough to use a database Mozzie had showed him to find out a bit more info than most would know about alarm systems in the area they were breaching. It also had information about the family and their habits along with personal details. The Smiths had one daughter but she no longer lived with them and was currently upstate at college.
"They have a coal hatch in the back off the street. It's hidden by bushes and would fit all of us quite easily if you don't mind getting a bit dirty."
He grinned slightly, nothing but derisive looks from the others but he didn't care. He just had to get through this and hope Hagan left him alone for a bit so he could find a way out of this Faustian bargain he'd trapped himself in. Suddenly he thought of Peter. So much for doing a good deed.
"Good idea but that chute hasn't been used in ages. We thought of it too but it's clean. My brother has a hand at contracting in the area. It hasn't been used in decades so no problems with dust or debris. I think you just proved yourself Gopher."
Neal was surprised how quickly they entered the building, the chute more roomy than they thought. He fit through like nothing but the two larger men also were able to navigate the opening easily enough. The house was silent, Perry disabling the alarm system as they entered the house and Eric moving to the upper level where they knew the safe was. Neal saw a Monet over the fireplace and smiled. It was on their list. He pulled it from the wall quietly, placing it before the hearth on a large armchair. It was in a heavy frame but he quickly cut it loose, rolling the canvas up into a cardboard carrier on his back. He followed the others upstairs when Eric hissed down at him from the railing. Perry stayed at the bottom to watch for any visitors.
"Hagan said you were a good safecracker. Crack it!"
The man was bossing him, something he didn't like but he had to play nice as he nodded back. It was hard to see through the masks they had on but it was necessary. He pushed his ear to the safe door and started to work on the combination. Neal was intent on the process and didn't notice he was alone as the last number clicked into place and he turned to see not Perry or Eric but a young woman staring back at him, a gun obvious in her shaking hands. Neal wanted to say something but he couldn't move much less speak without giving them cause to shoot him or giving himself away. He could just make out her fingers on the trigger as he ducked to side at the signs of a flash. The bullet nicked him in the upper chest closer to his right shoulder. He gave an involuntary gasp of pain, the gunshot echoing loudly in the quiet home. She looked shocked but he didn't blame her for shooting him as he scooted backwards and made a run for it. Eric found him first, pushing him hard against the railing. The girl followed, peering out with fearful blue eyes at them before the door shut and locked.
"Moron! He said you were the best and you get shot… hurry up!"
Eric dragged him along, Perry looking up from below with a shocked expression as they exited out the back door and disappeared into the night. Neal could barely think straight, his shoulder and chest burning from the bullet still lodged inside. He wasn't bleeding much which was good for them. Forensics wouldn't find much but the pain was agonizing, more so than when Collins shot him in the thigh. He was tossed in the back of the vehicle without much ceremony and they took off before anyone could figure out what happened. Neal could just make out the two men talking and he knew they were talking about him.
Take whatever he has in the tube and toss him on the next corner. To hell with Hagan!
It was Eric talking, someone poking at him as he fought to stay conscious but the pain kept him from moving much. Neal was in horrible agony as he felt the tube with the Monet removed from his body and then the vehicle stopped.
"Hagan be damned if we're going to get caught with the likes of you, pup!"
The back door opened up and he felt himself dragged out by his feet, dropped on the street before there was a slam of a car door and the sound of the same car taking off at high speed. He smelled burnt rubber which made him cough as he sat up weakly and tried to get his bearings. The corner was dark at least as he glanced around and saw he was alone. It was an unincorporated part of town, somewhere near the harbor as he heard the sound of a ship whistle nearby. Neal was barely conscious but he had to get help as he pulled out his cell and called a number.
"I hoped Hagan would let you come home at a decent hour but I guess he's no better than the Suits…"
Mozzie was already complaining as Neal fought to speak, the pain threatening to knock him out.
"Mozz… I need a ride."
He wasn't sure he could say much else but Neal took in a deep breath as he pulled himself up to his feet and tried to see a landmark to send his friend to. There was a moment of silence then Mozzie answered him again.
"Neal… where are you? You sound terrible. What did Hagan do to you?"
Now the paranoid voice was in his ear letting him know his friend was worrying about him but he just needed to let him know where before he passed out. He took in another deep breath.
"Warehouse… near harbor. Aramay Industrial Plant… hurry."
He dropped the phone back into his pocket, finding a crate to lean against as he sat down on the ground. The night was chilly, the wound burning as he settled down to sit. He managed to remove his jacket, pulling off his turtleneck and using it to wrap the wound before pulling his jacket over him and leaning back. He was all alone, the harbor area silent but for the sound of distant mournful horns and the echo of a weather bell somewhere off in the distance. These items eased him into a semblance of relaxation or maybe it was just the blood loss as he slumped to the ground and passed out. Neal had an odd dream about showing up at Peter's doorstep, the agent scowling at him and pointing a finger at him to go away although he was begging for help. Elizabeth was no where to be seen, the agent the only other person in the dream as the door slammed closed barring him entrance. Neal felt tears rolling down his cheek and then someone was nudging him with urgency, throwing something warm over him as they spoke in quiet anxious tones. His eyes fluttered open and he saw a blurry figure overhead, glasses evident as they sparkled in the lamplight. It was Mozzie. Neal remember little else as the con got him to his feet with some effort, easing him into a yellow taxi and then he blacked out for a while longer, the motion of the car keeping him on the verge of consciousness.
Neal… Neal wake up… He's lost too much blood!
Mozzie was talking, his voice urgent but he wasn't talking to Neal.
I'll call my friend. He will keep this private. He owes me a favor…
The other voice was familiar, female and one he knew well. His mind wandered off into the ether after a moment, listening as it could before he blacked out completely. His mind went back to Brooklyn and the Burke home.
You're a criminal Neal… just a criminal! I can't help you if you can't help yourself. Go home!
Peter was scolding him, sending him away despite the cold and his wound. Neal felt the sting of tears on his cheeks, his voice hoarse from pleading in the dream but he never once told his friend what he did. He just kept asking for mercy and not receiving it as the dream faded away and he sensed consciousness coming back. His lips were moving ever so slightly, his body shivering from cold but his face burning up as he curled up tightly beneath the sheets. His body ached, sweat dripping down the side of his face as he lay there, someone placing a gentle hand on his forehead and a cool wet rag that helped to ease the fever.
Will he be ok? I'm just glad his wound wasn't any worse.
It was June talking, another voice answering her he didn't recognize.
He should be but the fever is due to his body reacting to the metal of the bullet and blood loss. Luckily I was able to retrieve the slug. You really should consider taking him to a hospital… but call me if he gets worse. I'll leave the extra blood bags just in case and some antibiotics.
The man's voice was gentle but business like, a much less familiar touch of a hand to his bare forehead and then someone reaching beneath the sheets, grasping his wrist and holding it a moment.
His pulse is fast but I couldn't bring any monitors. Just watch the fever and keep him hydrated and covered up. I'll come back…
The voice was interrupted, the sound of footsteps moving away as the door opened and closed. Something was pulled from his arm not too long after and then another voice he vaguely recognized as his new handler. Maybe he was hallucinating but then it was quiet again and he felt another pinch as the IV was again inserted and he was left to rest. Someone moved around the room while he slept, his mind only partially in the realm of sleep as he listened to Peter scold him in his dreams for getting stuck in another scam and tried to plead for understanding.
I… you don't understand Peter. Trust me… trust me… trust…
His thoughts faded even from the nightmare, the feeling that someone was sitting on the edge of the bed evident. A firm hand touched his as it poked out of the blankets and a deep sigh emanated from the unseen figure.
Mozzie… what happened? I have to know how he was hurt.
The voice was angry but not at him. There was concern there however much it was hidden behind the anger. Neal shifted slightly, his pulse starting to pick up as stress from being near them quickened his heartbeat. His body started to shake and tremble, the same hands holding him down gently but firmly, keeping him secure and some part of him wanted to respond positively but couldn't as he continued to seize.
He's seizing… Mozzie, what happened… June?
The voice was there, talking about him with a worried tone and although he was happy to know they cared his anxiety grew, eyes popping open to see blurry faces around him. One of them was covered with brown hair, brown eyes staring down at him with true concern before he felt his body give in to the pain and fever once more and darkness came over him.
Author's Note: Neal's in trouble, Peter's worrying for once and Hagan is a particular kind of bastard or at least the company he keeps is. More to come.