New York, FBI White Collar Division. Friday afternoon, December 19, 2003
"You wanted to see me?" Jones asked.
"Yes, come in, shut the door," Peter instructed. "I want to ask a favor of you. Will you keep an eye on Caffrey for me?"
Jones took a seat in Peter's office. "Sure. Happy to. Anything in particular I'm watching for?"
Peter sighed. "I have no idea what to expect from him, honestly. I've been warned about what could happen if he gets bored, though, so at least make sure he has something to work on when I'm out next week. Beyond that, try to keep him out of trouble."
"I'll do my best."
"How's he handling the lunch-time tails?"
"You know about that?" Jones asked.
"Yeah, well, I'm an FBI agent."
"He ran Hitchum ragged the first day, never staying anyplace for long. The rest of us he took caroling at a local hospital." Jones smiled.
"You seem to have connected with him, more than anyone else on the team."
Jones shrugged. "For a year now, I've been the new guy and the youngest member of the team until Caffrey came along. My first six months, half the people here called me 'Junior' instead of 'Jones.' I get what it's like, and I'm grateful it's not me anymore. He's a likable enough guy, but I'm not blind to his faults."
"He's impetuous. He knows he should keep a low profile around here and blend in while we get used to him, but he can't help showing off. And if there's something he doesn't want to do, he'll try to either talk his way out of it, or convince someone else to do it." Jones paused. "I have to ask. Why did you want him on your team?"
"He's brilliant," was the first thing that came to mind. "If we can harness his mind and energy, he's going to help us do great things here. The flip side is, if we don't keep him on the straight-and-narrow, he could go down in flames and take some of us with him." Peter paused, considering how much of his own speculation to share with Jones. "It's a risk, I know, but my gut tells me that he can do this, and more than that, he needs this. He needs the structure, the direction, the example that we'll set, and the knowledge that we want… or that we need him to do the right thing. That he can make a difference."
"Sounds like you've given this a lot of thought."
"I have. I keep coming back to your point that he's the youngest member of the team. I'm torn between feeling like his boss or his dad. In fact, I called my own father last night for advice. He reminded me that when I was 24, I wanted his input, but on my terms. I didn't want my parents hanging over my shoulder watching and judging everything I did. I wanted their respect, and their trust."
"Yeah, but at 24 you were completing a master's degree in accounting. You hadn't accumulated years' worth of cons, thefts, and forgeries."
"That's where you come in," Peter said. "I know this is asking a lot, but I want you to act as the filter. Monitor his accounts, his old aliases, his phone records. If you see something suspicious, dig deeper. I'm not looking for detailed reports or daily updates. Just let me know if I need to step in."
"You want me to spy on him."
"It's the best compromise I could think of. You've shown you have good instincts. After a while, if you tell me you haven't found anything to justify that level of monitoring, we'll stop. But at first… Do you have Christmas plans?"
"I'm going to hang out with my brother and his wife. They're local."
"I've talked to Hughes about our options for monitoring Neal over the holidays, when he travels to Washington D.C.. Hughes told me about a hush-hush program the government recently initiated, to gather raw data from the major cell phone carriers. It's a mass of data. Not just the standard times and numbers of phone calls, but the content of text messages, the locations of cell phones based on the towers carrying their calls or messages. It's supposed to be used for identifying and tracking terrorists, but we need to run some tests, determine how to mine and use the data so we can be sure of what we're doing when we need to track a terrorist. Hughes agreed we could use Caffrey's phone for one of our tests."
"That way you don't need a warrant. No one knows about the tracking, and the results don't go on record anywhere."
"Exactly. He's not a suspect, just a test case. And it's not like we're monitoring him 24/7. Over Christmas, pull his data occasionally, and plot his movements against a map of the D.C. area. I don't need to see the results unless you find something suspicious."
"Anything else?" Jones asked.
"Yeah, one more thing. I want you to look into Henry Winslow."
"One of Caffrey's aliases."
"That's right. But this is a real person, one who reputedly agreed to share his identity. I want to know if he's going to cause problems for Neal or the Bureau. And if you find a connection between this Winslow and someone named Shawn, look into that, too."
The Monday morning after Christmas, Jones was called back to Peter's office.
"How did it go?" Peter asked him.
"It would make my job a lot easier if Caffrey upgraded to a phone with GPS. Tracking locations by cell towers isn't very precise. The only thing that might be a concern was that he spent a few hours in a very upscale residential neighborhood on the 26th and 27th. Could have been casing a location and then breaking in. I'll follow the D.C. news and police reports for a few days, see if there are any reports of a theft from that part of town. But so far it's been quiet."
"Thanks. Hitchum stopped in a few minutes ago, to tell me Caffrey's new apartment belongs to a known felon. Were you aware of that?"
"I didn't know you'd asked Hitchum to watch Caffrey, too."
"I didn't. He's looking for extra credit. But I have to say, that's a big red flag. Associating with criminals, and a lease that indicates an incredibly low rate. It makes me wonder what they want from him. Can you tell me what's going on there?"
"I can, but it's complicated. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words?"
Jones opened the door to Peter's office. The team were all headed upstairs to the conference room for the morning briefing. "Hey, Caffrey!"
Neal popped out of the line leading to the conference room and smiled at them. "Good morning, Jones. Welcome back, Peter."
"That offer for dinner tonight still good?" Jones asked.
"Absolutely. When I asked for your help moving, I didn't realize it would involve moving half the furniture in June's music room, too. I owe you, man."
"I'm the one who pointed out they should rearrange things for a wheelchair to get through. Would it be okay to bring a guest?"
"I knew it! I knew you had a girlfriend you weren't telling me about."
"Not a girlfriend. Just a friend."
"Sure. June will be happy to see you and a friend. I hope you both like Spanish food." Neal patted Jones' shoulder and headed back toward the conference room.
"I'm your date?" Peter asked.
"A picture is worth a thousand words. And some things you have to see for yourself."
And Peter saw it. A mansion. Byron Ellington, suspected of any number of cons and frauds, and convicted twice. June Ellington, the elegant and gracious wife. Two beautiful daughters who spent the evening rolling their eyes at their father's stories and fussing over him. Two sons-in-law who mostly tried to stay out of the way. Two granddaughters who laughed and screamed and were obviously loved by one and all. And Neal Caffrey, hanging on Byron's every word and willing to do anything Byron and June asked.
After an amazing dinner, while June and her daughters sang a song to Neal's accompaniment, Peter said, "He needs this."
Jones nodded. "I can't get Caffrey to say a word about his family, but I think it's pretty obvious he's never had anything like this. I know what you read about Byron's record. He spent some time in prison before he met June, and again early in their marriage. Then there was a scare after the youngest daughter was born, when he almost did time again. He decided he needed to be here for his family, and turned his life around for them. He's not ashamed of what he's done. You can tell from his stories and their reactions that he likes to brag about his adventures. But he doesn't regret giving it up. I don't think you could find a better role model for Neal, someone who really understands where Neal has been and the pressures against you when you try to change your life. And the man has maybe two months to live, three at the outside. He's going to be spending that time at home, on hospice care, because the doctors can't do anything more for him but prescribe pain medications. It lights up his eyes when he gets to tell his stories to someone who hasn't heard them before. Caffrey's doing good here, and keeping busy away from old friends and old, illegal hobbies. I know why Hitchum's report concerned you, and I could have given you the facts. But in this case I thought you needed to see the reality."
Peter wasn't entirely comfortable making a distinction between facts and reality, but he was convinced that Neal should keep the apartment. He tried to grab his coat and make an unnoticed exit, but June caught him in the hall.
"I hope you had a good evening, Peter."
"Yes. It was very enlightening."
"I understand Neal and Clinton work for you at the FBI."
"I hope you aren't concerned about Neal living here." June's voice was warm and gracious, but there was an underlying core of steel. It implied she would have sharp words for Peter if he objected to June and Byron as Neal's landlords.
"Not at all. Not anymore. Clinton made a strong case that Byron is a good role model for Neal, and I have to agree. I suppose I'm not the most patient when it comes to Neal turning his life around. Things seem easy or obvious to me that probably aren't to him. I'm glad to see he has a support system here."
"He does. He has a good heart, and we're happy to help him."
"I might not be able to identify with him the way you can, but I do sincerely want him to succeed. If you see him struggling, I hope you'll let me know how I can help." Peter handed June one of his business cards.
June took the card and shook his hand, something he realized she had smoothly avoided doing when he arrived. "As they said in Casablanca, 'I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'"
Jones jumped in at that point, telling June he should leave, too, and Peter offered him a ride.
In the car, Jones asked, "You still want me to keep an eye on Caffrey?"
"Yeah. I think we should. Byron's a good influence, but losing a mentor can be hard. Let's keep watch until Neal gets past that."
"Trust, but verify."
"Words to live by."
A/N: Thanks for reading! I do have more sequels in mind for what I'm calling the "Caffrey Conversation" series. There will be more tidbits about Henry & Shawn for humor, more flashbacks of Neal's suppressed memories for angst, more about the Caffrey family in D.C., and of course much more of Peter and Neal adjusting their father/son dynamic as they work together.
The next story I have in mind for this series is set over New Year's Eve, and is tentatively titled By the Book. Neal will finally get to go into the field. Peter will fret about what Neal did over Christmas. Mozzie will return. There will be guns and cats and H/C. And possibly a safe to crack in the middle of a party. But enough teasing; I need to get back to writing.