Mozzie has no loyalty to the Suit. The Suit is the government. He stands for law, social control and all the things that Mozzie fundamentally opposes. Unlike Neal, he's not delusional enough to think that any of that changes just because Agent Burke breaks the rules occasionally.
So he's not here because of the Suit. He's here because he likes El. She's smart, she's stylish, she gets his jokes and she got him an invite to the opening night party of La Boheme. Her only obvious flaw is her choice of husband but Mozzie's willing to ignore that right now.
He scopes out the building one more time and then -- once he's sure the delivery van across the street is nothing but a delivery van -- he rings the bell.
El opens the door with a smile. "Did you get lost?"
"No," Mozzie says, peering over her shoulder to make sure the room behind her is empty. He was sure before he walked up the front steps, but it never hurts to double, triple and quadruple check.
She steps back, waving him in with five perfectly French manicured fingers. "You walked past our place three times."
"I was making sure it wasn't being watched."
"You don't think walking the same street three times would look a little suspicious?"
Mozzie shrugs. "Suspicion's hard to prove." He doesn't explain that he needed to be obvious. If Neal had been here, he would have sent some signal, would have found a way to get outside and try to spot whatever Mozzie was looking for. Neal wouldn't have been able to resist his curiosity. It's one of those things that make Neal who he is.
El watches him closely, like she knows there's more to his incompetent recon act, and then she closes the door. "You said we needed to talk."
She lets the sentence hang there, waiting for an answer.
"Neal's..." Mozzie pauses. A friendship like theirs, given their professions, it's all about trust. About warning each other first, about not ratting out a co-conspirator (unless it's a triple-cross and there's already an agreed escape plan) and what he's came here to say goes against all of that. But Mozzie's pretty sure it needs to be said. "Neal's Neal, you know? He's high maintenance and sometimes thinks about things from all the wrong angles but mostly he tries to do the right thing. Not the legal thing, but the right thing."
El nods seriously. She doesn't laugh at him, doesn't tell him to get to the point. She says, "Sounds about right," and waits.
"There's no better way to say this." Right now, Mozzie wishes he wasn't here. He really, really wishes he wasn't here. "Kate's back in town."
"Oh." El's face goes thoughtful and she blinks, but Mozzie's seen her under pressure. She's good at this. "Does Neal know?"
"I haven't told him yet. But if I know, he'll know soon."
Mozzie wouldn't say that anyone knows him inside and out -- trusting someone completely, that's how a double-cross starts and it usually ends in a jail cell -- but Neal probably comes the closest. Same vice versa. But just because they know each other well, it doesn't mean they talk about everything.
They've never really talked about Neal working for the Feds. Oh, sure, Mozzie's vocalized his opinion on it (total, utter insanity) but it wasn't something Neal ever discussed. Like stealing Washington's letters, it's something Neal mentioned after he'd already dived in head first.
The whole thing with El and the Suit, that's the same.
Neal didn't mention it to Mozzie. He never sat down and said, "Doesn't look like Kate's coming back to Manhattan so I think the sane, sensible thing to do now would be to fall into bed with the only FBI agent smart enough to catch me."
No, Mozzie finds out when Neal lets himself into Mozzie's apartment one Tuesday afternoon, wearing a pair of painter's dark blue overalls, calling out, "You've still got my spare suit, right?" as he opens the bedroom closet.
"Gee," Mozzie says, "I don't know. I probably threw it out last time I colour-coded my wardrobe."
There's a full length mirror on the inside of the closet door. That's how Mozzie sees Neal roll his eyes and pull the dry-cleaning bag out of the rear of the cupboard. "If anyone asks," Neal says, although they both know he means Agent Burke, "I wasn't here."
"If anyone asks, I haven't seen you in a week."
Neal strips out of the overalls with the fast, efficient movements of someone who knows that ten seconds sometimes does make a difference, and says, "A week. Got it."
As Neal undresses, Mozzie notices a few small bruises on his side. He doesn't think twice about it -- odd costume and odd bruises tend to go together -- but when Neal reaches for the shirt the overalls slip low enough to show an unmistakeable bite mark low on his tailbone.
They're the kind of friends who love risks and daring, who talk heists and security (not relationships and conquests). Mozzie asks, "You need shoes?" and then goes to search through the shoe boxes under his bed to find a spare pair in Neal's size.
The thing is, he's known Neal for years. When he was seeing Kate, Neal was always faithful. Sure, he flirted as part of the job, he pushed right up to that line of infidelity but he never stepped past it. Before Kate, Mozzie can't say for certain, but it stands to reason that Neal probably didn't spend every night alone. So if Neal's decided he's over Kate and now considers himself a free agent, good for him.
"So what are we going to do about it?" Mozzie asks, and El's narrow brows rise up.
"We?" she asks pointedly. "There isn't anything we can do. Neal's ex is back in town. That's all there is to it."
"This is not Neal's ex. This is Kate. Kate. There's no way Neal sees her and just asks how's she been. There's no way she's back in town just to say hi. Neal and Kate don't work that way." Mozzie sighs and accepts the glass of white wine El passes to him. "I have watched this game from the sidelines for too long. If Kate's back, all it takes is one little origami note and then, snap, game over."
"You think Neal would do something stupid?"
"I don't think, I know. This is Neal. He loses all self-preservation when Kate's involved. It's how he got caught in the first place. Any half-decent thief would have left the country once the Feds started getting close, but oh no. Kate liked the States, so they stayed." He'd said the same to Neal before he got arrested -- told him that Switzerland was lovely this time of year and Prague had a really interesting art exhibit next month -- but Neal had laughed it off. Then he got arrested and was only saved from petty round of 'I told you so' by Mozzie's refusal to voluntarily walk onto government property. If he'd been able to call without having all his personal details pre-checked by prison guards, he would have gloated until Neal admitted he was right.
El takes a long sip of the wine, resting an elbow on the table. "I don't think Neal would risk what he has now."
"This is Kate. We need a better back-up plan than relying on Neal thinking logically."
Mozzie puts the bite mark down to the blonde barista at the local coffee shop (cute, matched Neal flirtation for flirtation) or June's granddaughter (the hot one, not the soccer-playing one). He doesn't think about it much further than that, until the Suit crashes their standing Friday night dinner. They were playing Fantasy Heist -- if grown men could play fantasy football and never step on a field or throw a ball, they could play fantasy heist and occasionally come up with a brilliant idea that worked in real life -- when there's a knock at the door.
"The game is on tonight and my TV is on the fritz," the Suit says as Neal opens the door. "I know you have cable."
"Hi, Peter," Neal says sarcastically as the Suit pushes past him. "How nice to see you. Come on in."
"You are in my custody," Agent Burke says, leaning over the table and helping himself to a wide wedge of ten year old vintage cheddar. Not that he's likely to appreciate it. "If I don't see the game tonight, you're spending the next week reviewing mortgage statements, making sure there isn't any sign of fraud."
"You're threatening me with the boring part of your job? I'm shocked, Peter. I thought you loved working for the Man."
The Suit doesn't even flinch. "How about you let me watch the game here and I don't check your tracking anklet for Tuesday afternoon?"
"Mi televisor es su televisor," Neal says with a dramatic sigh, arms wide in surrender. "Remote's on the coffee table."
"Knew I could count on you," the Suit says and pats Neal's back as he moves over to the couch. Mozzie's attention isn't caught by the length of contact -- a second, if that, nothing inappropriate there -- but the place. Very low on Neal's back. Mozzie would bet good money that the Suit knew the bite mark was there.
And… oh. That explains it all, really. Neal's probably not the first professional thief to sleep with a law enforcement official, but Neal's probably the only one to do it without a reliable ulterior motive.
Mozzie's thoughts must show on his face because Neal's smiles an utterly fake smile and says, "Feel like going for a walk, Moz?"
"Sure. I was about to leave anyway," he says towards the couch because he doesn't want Agent Burke knowing he's the reason their plans have changed. (The Suit doesn't even look away from the TV screen.)
"There's just one thing I want to know," Mozzie says once they're out of June's house. "Just one question."
Neal smiles as wide and confident as he can. It shows a lot of very white teeth. "I know it looks bad, Moz, but Peter's—"
"Just one thing," Mozzie interrupts because he really doesn't want to hear anything that's going to make him imagine any kind of visual. "Does El know?"
"Does El… Why would you need to know that?"
"She is smart and sexy and way out of the Suit's league. If he's risking his marriage over this, he needs his head examined."
Neal blinks and slowly says, "Thank you. That's very complimentary."
"You asked why I wanted to know and I told you. I haven't said that this is insane, that he's an FBI agent and every day, he works for the opposite team—"
"There aren't teams, Moz."
"And I like El. She gets me invites to parties and doesn't object when I crash without an invitation. I don't want it to be awkward next time I see her. If I have to lie and pretend that her husband isn't getting extra cream on the side, I need to be prepared."
"I have no idea how that would ever come up in a conversation between the two of you, but, yes. She knows." And then, because Neal's weaknesses have always been devotion, curiosity and the urge to boast, he adds, "Sometimes, she joins in."
There's a muffled scuff of footsteps outside the front door and a laugh too low to be Neal's, then the tell-tale soft clicks of a lock being picked. "See, I told you, thirty seconds," Neal says as the door swings wide.
"At least it wasn't groundless bragging," the Suit says pointedly but the way he looks at Neal... If Mozzie hadn't known there was something going on, that look would have clued him in. Then the Suit looks up and his expression shifts to pure business. "Mr Havisham."
"Moz!" Neal smiles like this is a pleasant surprise, like it's his birthday and this is the start of the party. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm visiting El," Mozzie says, because it's the truth and he needs a second to think before Neal asks something more complicated.
"Do you like opera, Neal?" El asks, casually swirling the last mouthful of wine in her glass. "We were thinking of going next weekend."
"Opera?" Neal asks warily, making the same distasteful face as the Suit does.
It's hilarious how the Suit double-takes at Neal. "You don't like opera?"
"And you do?"
"Course not. I just assumed, you know," the Suit says, waving a hand towards Neal's hat and tie. "The clothes, the wine, the art exhibits. Opera and ballet seem to fit right in there."
"Ballet, yes. Opera?" Neal pulls another face. "I can live without the fat lady singing."
"We're surrounded by philistines," Mozzie says, standing up and passing his empty glass back to El. "I'll call you tomorrow about the tickets."
Then he makes his escape.
Mozzie feels like he's ducked a bullet. A week goes by and Neal doesn't mention Kate: no accusations, no recriminations, no ridiculously stupid schemes or sudden plane tickets with false passports. It's enough to make Mozzie, who believes mistrust is a necessary trait in this modern world, breathe easy and relax.
Then an origami lily shows up on Neal's doorstep.
"Are you even sure it's Kate?" Mozzie tries, knowing it's a long-shot. A handful of cryptic postcards have arrived since Agent Burke used blackmail and maybe a deal with the devil to prove the Kate's apparent death was a hoax. To have a postcard show up a week after Fowler admitted the set-up, Mozzie can't believe that's coincidence. But as much as Mozzie's argued that it's a head game, that it's Fowler, that it's anyone other than Neal's officially dead ex-girlfriend, Neal's never even pretended to agree with him. Neal thinks she's scared and hiding from any connection to him.
Mozzie thinks… Mozzie tries not to think too much about it but he has his doubts. He particularly doubts the explosion ever allowed time for Neal to escape with Kate. Historically speaking, Mozzie's doubts have always kept him out of trouble, whole and emancipated. Those are doubts that have saved his skin too often to be ignored.
"I'd know those folds anywhere," Neal says, pen in hand and already scribbling on a notepad.
"Looks like a poem to me." Mozzie peers over Neal's shoulder, trying to ignore the shadow of a bruise down the back of Neal's collar. At first, he'd feared this thing with the Suit would change Neal into a law-abiding goody-two-shoes; right now, he almost wishes it had.
"I already Googled," Neal says, jotting down numbers and trying a basic alpha-numeric switch on the letters. "It's nothing published. It's a message."
"What if it is? What could Kate possibly want?" Mozzie asks, and gets a split second of Neal's focus. "If, as you say, she's underground to stay safe, why would she have any reason to contact you? Taking a risk as big as that isn't smart."
"Maybe she's scared. Maybe she thinks I can help." Neal turns back to the paper, like that can hide how earnestly he says, "I got her into this mess, Moz. If there's anything I can do to help, I owe her."
After a midnight session of decoding the message -- a ridiculously simple time and place, a meeting Neal's definitely going to attend -- Mozzie calls El. He tells her the details but she says, "It's Neal's choice. We have to respect that."
So Mozzie respects it. He also helps Neal plot out the meeting place -- because that's what he does -- and he's even the one to realise the corner Kate specifies is a few yards out of Neal's allotted leash.
At first, Neal doesn't see it. "I've walked up and down that street. I can make the meet."
"Not on the north side of the street," Mozzie says and he has to pull out another map, the one with the perfect red circle of Neal's limits to prove it. "Unless you're planning to wave from the other side of the street, you have to call this off."
"Hmmmm," Neal says, staring at the map.
Mozzie stares at the map and thinks about the things Neal isn't saying. Like that Kate was a lot of things, but she wasn't stupid. So this is either a trap or a test. Hopefully, it's just a test, an obvious way of finding out if Neal's still FBI-bound before Kate even talks to Neal.
Mozzie doesn't say it because, really, he's already told Neal how ridiculous this whole thing is. Neal's not saying it because the last thing he'll ever do, apart from wearing off-the-rack polyester, is admit he's:
a) over his head,
b) not thinking clearly, or,
c) being played for a fool.
"I could meet her," Mozzie says. "Pull the chauffeur trick and take her to a place within your approved play area."
He doesn't expect Neal to agree, but he has to offer.
Neal, predictably, waves the idea away. "She's taking the risk to contact me. I should be the one to meet her."
"She knows me."
Neal quirks an eyebrow at him, trying not to smile in a really obvious way.
"I didn't say she liked me," Mozzie says, because it's true. Kate liked talking to the pretty boys with the glamorous thefts under their belt; Mozzie prefers girls like Alex, sharp, cunning and smart without the pretence of sweetness. They were never going to be the closest of friends. "But she knows me. She'd know I was working with you."
Neal taps one long elegant finger against the meeting spot. Slowly, he says, "What about Copenhagen?"
"This time of year? It's really a waste of a trip."
"No. The stunt we pulled in Copenhagen with the GPS?"
Mozzie thinks for a moment. They had run out of time to completely rewrite the loaned car's GPS so instead, they'd had to skirt around the outside edge of the recording range, occasionally driving down the wrong side of the street. "If you stayed on the south side of the car, at least three foot from the sidewalk, it'd work."
"So that's what we do."
Mozzie hires the car with a fake ID and a fake credit card, from a small Budget office that doesn't have CCTV cameras. He drives their exact route, stays as close to the middle of the road as he can, and double-parks at the meeting spot.
Kate's standing under the eave of a redbrick townhouse, wrapped up in a dark coat and half in shadow. She glances up, but doesn't move closer until Neal leans over -- keeping his foot and the tracking anklet pressed against the door to stay in range -- and pushes the back passenger door open. Even stretched across the seat, Neal manages to make it look casual, adds an extra flourish with a wave of his hand. It's a skill.
Kate hurries across the sidewalk and gets in without a word.
Neal's smile fades as he slowly looks at her as he sits back up. He holds out an arm in invitation and Kate shifts closer and hugs him.
There's a long awkward pause. Mostly, it's awkward for Mozzie who has to drive while watching the rear-view mirror, while watching Neal hold on Kate, his hand stroking her back in a weird comforting gesture. Not that it's weird to comfort someone like that, but Mozzie thinks it's definitely weird when currently sleeping with two other people.
"We thought you'd appreciate a touch of extra style," Mozzie says, hoping to kick-start the two into talking. He's fine treating this like a job, but that means talking and plans, not cuddling while Neal looks uncertain and a little sad. "Nothing says style like chauffeur driven."
Neal gives a smile that wouldn't convince a cop, let alone a fellow conman. "Can you pull over and give us a minute?" he asks.
Mozzie pulls a face -- a face that speaks volumes about how much he doesn't like this idea -- but he parks the car in the next available spot. He grabs his scarf as he gets out of the car and wraps it tight, wishing he hadn't been smart enough to demand tinted windows.
Even if he suspects watching this conversation wouldn't reassure him any.
"I'm the first to appreciate a general air of mystique," Mozzie says, closing the door to June's 'spare room', "but if there isn't honour among thieves, there's certainly friendship and friendship requires a little thing called communication."
Neal doesn't look up from the table. The silent brooding act might work in bars but Neal hasn't said anything since Kate got out of the car and walked away. Mozzie's had his fill of it.
"It's personal." He pushes both hands through his hair and Mozzie doesn't know if it's a genuine tell or supposed to be a sign of distress. It's one of the things that make it hard to work with con artists. One of the many things.
"We just circumvented your leash so you could spend half an hour on that personal conversation. From what I remember, Kate wasn't big on the I-love-you speeches."
Neal lifts his head and says, "She only wanted to catch up. Nothing more," and Mozzie doesn't believe it for a minute.
He gets a message to meet Neal the next night. Neal uses the email address that means serious business -- not 'I'm in over my head' as Mozzie personally suspects -- so Mozzie is expecting Neal's kitchen table to be covered in stacks of art history books and a few large pages of butcher's paper for planning.
"Are we organising a heist?"
"First I need a good fake, and for that, we need a few ingredients."
Mozzie nods. This is his area of expertise. "What are you faking and what do we need?"
"18th century enamelled locket." Neal points at an open book, a glossy colour picture of small gold and enamel rectangular locket. There's detailed filigree on the horizontal edges but Neal's done that kind of complex work before.
Mozzie's usually got a good eye for valuing trinkets like this. "Worth a quarter of a million?"
"Last valued at US$245,000," Neal confirms. "Would you have any trouble getting the materials?"
"You'd have to mix the gold yourself. They used a higher level of copper and bronze in the mix than anything I can easily get my hands on." Melting metals is a painful process -- quite literally, given the splash burns that almost always occur -- but if he had more time, Mozzie might be able to source a closer mix. "What's the timeframe--"
He falls silent when Neal urgently raises a finger to his lips. Neal points to the door with his other hand and Mozzie hears the slow steps up the stairs. They're too heavy to be June's and it's too cold for him to sneak out via the balcony, so Mozzie whispers, "Hall closet?"
Neal nods once, and they both grab armfuls of books and paper, as quietly as they can, and dump them in the closet between Neal's door and the kitchen. There's a knock on the door, and Neal calls out, "Just a minute, June," as they stack the books on the floor.
"It's Peter," the Suit calls out from the other side of the door.
Mozzie steps into the closet, pushing the winter coats aside and making himself as comfortable as he can on the makeshift seat of books. Neal closes the closet door, calling out, "Come in."
There's the creak of Neal's door opening and footsteps, and then the Suit says, "I'm not interrupting, am I?"
Neal laughs and it sounds real. "I was thinking about curling up in bed with a good book, but if you're here..."
"El's out, and I had a few hours to kill."
"So no ulterior motive?"
"Does sex count as an ulterior motive?"
"I think it's too transparent to really qualify," Neal replies, flirting so heavily Mozzie knows the exact smile he's wearing: wide, easy-going, just a hint of naughty teasing.
"Good to know."
The worst thing about this closet, Mozzie thinks ruefully to himself, is that there's no way to sneak from here to the front door without everyone noticing. He's stuck here, at least until the Suit leaves.
Hopefully, that will be soon. Sitting on books won't be comfortable for too long.
There's a soft thump as someone's back is pressed against the closet door. The books are nowhere near as uncomfortable as realising that on the other side of a few thin bits of plywood, Neal's making out with a Fed. It makes Mozzie's stomach uneasy, makes him wish for an antacid.
He tries to think about bronze, copper and gold ratios.
(Tries to ignore the rustle of hands under clothes and the sound of kissing.)
He tries to evaluate his five favourite heists.
(Tries to ignore the clink of a belt being undone and Neal's breathy laugh as the Suit mutters something about buttons.)
He tries to list all of Monet's work chronologically, and when that's too easy, alphabetically.
(Tries to ignore the Suit ordering, "Bed. Now." Tries to ignore fast footsteps and the protest of a mattress.)
Mozzie presses his fingers against closed eyelids and pushes his thumbs against his ears, and thinks about Tiles of Fire. He starts with the first film, the first scene, and tries to recite the dialogue inside his head. He doesn't have the entire film memorised but the important scenes, the tension filled moments just before a tile is placed, he knows those word for word.
If he concentrates really, really hard, he can even picture the scenes.
It blocks out most of what's happening only a few yards away. He's shocked out of his internal retelling -- a third through the second film, where the hero's nemesis has just laid down the dragon tile -- by Neal's voice.
Thankfully, Neal's voice is muffled fast, although the bed starts thudding to a very rhythmic beat.
Mozzie moves both palms over his ears and holds tight; he doesn't move his hands until he gets to the credits of the second film.
Cautiously, he eases his right hand and finds relief in the silence. Someone yawns, and Mozzie thinks it's probably safe to listen now.
"I did have an ulterior motive, you know."
"Other than the sex?" Neal asks, sounding worn out in a way Mozzie never, ever wants to think about.
"You're up to something," the Suit says. He doesn't say anything else, like what Neal's up to or how he knows -- or if El's told him anything -- and there's silence as he waits for Neal's reply.
Mozzie finds himself hoping Neal will confess. Or at least explain what an expensive locket has to do with Kate, since they've got to be connected.
"I'm not up to anything," Neal lies with absolute conviction. Mozzie would be disappointed, but Neal does it very well and when you've got a skill, it should be used.
"I'll find out what it is." The Suit doesn't say it like a threat. He says it like it's a fact, something Neal occasionally needs to be reminded about, like his month living expenses budget or the expected working hours for a consultant.
"I'm not up to anything," Neal repeats. "Nothing illegal. Not technically." He pauses, sighing like he's considering giving in and if the Suit had seen Neal in action as often as Mozzie has, he'd know that sigh shouldn't be trusted.
"Neal." It's not a question, more like an order.
"I'm helping Moz work something out. A way around a few difficulties. I'm not going to do anything."
"You're helping him plan an illegal act," the Suit says, clearly disapproving. It's like the guy's never felt the thrill of breaking the rules and getting away with it. Like he doesn't know the strongest appeal of law enforcement is being that step above the law. "That's called being an accomplice."
"It's called being a friend," Neal bites back with just the right level of personal affront.
"I can't protect him because he's your friend." It assumes Mozzie needs the Suit's protection, making it a false argument. "And if you get connected to it, I can't protect you."
"It's not in your jurisdiction, Peter."
"You get that my jurisdiction covers all fifty states, right?"
"It doesn't cover Eastern Europe," Neal says back, a touch smug. Mozzie has to give him credit: it's a good cover story. Enough details to sound like something Mozzie might be involved with, far too vague for the Suit to disprove.
"When was the last time you saw Alex?"
"Last night," Neal replies, not missing a beat. "Why? Was there another dark hair on my suit collar? How did you know I wasn't with El?"
"Because I was with El last night." There's a pause, and then the Suit adds, "And if you'd been there, you wouldn't have been wearing your jacket."
"Hmmm." There's a suspicious silence -- where Mozzie suspects he doesn't want to know what's happening -- and then Neal asks, "Can you stay the night?"
Mozzie is perched on a stack of books, his backside is slowly but surely going numb, and he's in a closet so small he can touch all four enclosing walls without needing to stand up. He's the epitome, the personification of uncomfortable, and Neal seems to have forgotten he's even there.
"I can't. El's hosting a party and she'll be home at twelve. You know how wired she is after a successful event."
"You say wired but I think you mean turned on."
"That's my wife you're talking about," the Suit says seriously. There's a very clear threat there.
"I was there after the Henderson's bash. I remember what El was like. Don't you?"
"Oh," the Suit says slowly, "I remember that."
There's a rustle of bedding, and Mozzie hopes they're not starting round two. He doesn't think his lower back -- or his stomach -- could handle it. He's thinking about the opening sequence of Tiles of Fire III when he hears Neal say, "If you want to be home by midnight, you should probably have a shower now."
There's a groan, and then footsteps from the bed leading to Neal's small bathroom.
When Neal opens the closet door, Mozzie squints into the light. "You asked him to stay the night," he hisses at Neal while his eyes adjust and register that the edge of one naked hip shows around the door, "while I'm stuck in the most uncomfortable circumstances imaginable?"
"I'm sure there are worse circumstances." Neal shrugs. "And if I didn't ask Peter to stay, he would suspect something. Besides, El mentioned the party to me at lunch."
Neal turns his head towards the bathroom as the water shuts off. He grimaces an apology to Mozzie, and then closes the closet door again.
Mozzie is left with darkness and winter coats. The Suit makes a surprising amount of noise getting dressed, constantly stepping back and forth, asking where his socks and tie are, and then tripping over one of his own shoes.
And this is the man who arrested Neal. Twice.
The front door opens, and Mozzie nearly sighs in relief, but the Suit hovers there. "Don't do anything stupid." This is the thing that should be an order but it sounds more like a hopeless wish.
"Anything that forces me to throw you behind bars."
"Come on, Peter." Mozzie can hear the smile in Neal's voice. "Handcuffs, sure, but you're far too vanilla for metal bars."
"I mean it, Neal. Be smart." Then the Suit closes the door behind him.
Mozzie waits for Neal to open the closet door before standing up and walking into the light. "You know what, this? All of this? This can wait until tomorrow. I need at least twenty-four hours to scrub tonight out my memory."
Neal's expression shifts to an awkward kind of grimace. That's what genuine embarrassment looks like on him. "I have new bottles of wine, if it helps."
"There's not enough alcohol in the world, my friend."
Mozzie likes the endless curves of the Guggenheim. The building itself is as much a piece of art as the paintings hanging inside. (Neal disagrees. He thinks museums should draw attention to the art housed inside them, not distract and overshadow with architecture. But his opinion's biased. He's still holding a grudge against the Guggenheim for that failed burglary in '02.)
El suits this building: she's all curves too, from her smile and her jaw line to the sweep of calf to slim ankles. Even her ridiculously high heels -- ridiculous for an afternoon walking around a museum -- have smooth contours, arching her foot to the ground with subtle hints of femininity.
They're here because El has a corporate anniversary to plan and feels the need for artistic inspiration. Or so El said on the phone.
They've been here for an hour, talking light and tones and use of space, but Mozzie can spot an ulterior motive at fifty paces. "You wanted to know more about the Neal and Kate situation, right?"
El tilts her head to the side and smiles, charming and coquettish all at once. There are times like this, when she smiles or laughs, when she uses expressions and body language to talk louder and move convincingly than words ever could, that the similarities to Neal are very clear. Mozzie wonders if the Suit realises he has such a clear type.
"That is why you invited me today," Mozzie says. "After all the defending Neal's right to make his own choices and let's treat Neal like an emotionally mature adult, now you've seen the error of yours ways?"
El waves a hand through the air, ignoring the criticism. "I thought Neal would have told us by now. Told one of us, at least."
When El shakes her head, the dangling cascade of her earrings sway and catch the light. "No. Which is fine if he decided not to meet with her--"
"They met," Mozzie interrupts.
"I drove the car. That's the only reason I know." They stop walking and lean back against the railing. When Mozzie leans back, he can see the circular lines of the pale walkways above, the arc of the ceiling hovering over it all. He really does like this place. "He won't tell me what Kate said, but he's making a rather pricey charm for her."
Beside him, El sighs. "Peter knows something's up and he'll find out. I have to tell him."
"You hadn't told him already? I thought telling the truth was implicit in the love, honour and obey vows?"
"I swore to love, honour and cherish." For a second, El smiles and for possibly the hundredth time, Mozzie finds himself wondering how a girl like her ended up married to the Suit. "I wanted Neal to have the opportunity to tell Peter on his own terms. To prove Peter's trust isn't misplaced. But if Neal's going ahead with this and he hasn't told anyone, I need to tell Peter everything."
"Try not to mention you heard it from me."
El grimaces but she doesn't back down, doesn't apologise, and it's clear in the firm set of her mouth that the Suit's going to have every detail. "This is Neal we're talking about. Peter needs to know it all."
The rents are expensive in a city like New York, but Mozzie's always found it best to have a few active residences. This particular one, a loft in the Meatpacking District, he mostly uses as a warehouse of art supplies. He keeps the tech stuff somewhere else, and has another where he mostly lives, and has a back-up apartment (devoid of anything vaguely illegal) just in case. He also has a secret back-up apartment, just in case the 'just in case' isn't enough but that isn't technically Manhattan and he refuses to acknowledge it to anyone.
But, the point is, he has places. Places that are under different names and addresses, places that are legally rented and above-board, and most of all, places that are kept secret. Absolutely secret. He's only ever given Neal one address, and while Neal may suspect there's another apartment, he certainly doesn't know any details.
So when there's a knock on the door, Mozzie answers it expecting it will be the building super, since no one else knows about this place.
It's the Suit.
And while Mozzie's still in shock, sputtering, "How the hell did you--", the Suit throws the door wide, takes three angry steps inside and pins Mozzie to the wall by his shoulders. By the time Mozzie thinks enough to say, "You don't have a warrant. You have no legal right to be here," the Suit has also kicked the front door shut behind him.
"And yet, Mr Havisham, I'm in here. Amazing how that works."
Mozzie looks down at the Suit's open jacket, the holstered gun against his side. One of the many things he and Neal share is a dislike of guns and the bleeding bullet wounds they leave behind. He currently has an angry, armed Fed in the middle of his stash of not-entirely-legally-imported art supplies and is physically pinned to a wall. Mozzie isn't sure how this situation could be any worse.
"From now on, if you have something to say to my wife," the suit growls, squeezing Mozzie's shoulders for emphasis, "you say it to me."
"Really? You want to hear why La Boheme is the better opera than Madame Butterfly? I thought you made your dislike of opera crystal clear."
The Suit's eyes narrow. "You talked to El about Neal."
"Given that you're sleeping with both of them, I don't think insane jealousy is the appropriate response here." Mozzie hears the words come out of his mouth and can't believe it. Of all the things he could imagine saying to a gun-toting federal agent pinning him to a wall, that was probably the least appropriate and the most likely to result in a sudden ER visit. He's shocked at his uncharacteristic lack of self-preservation.
The Suit looks equally shocked, but Mozzie guesses it's for different reasons. "I'm not... jealous," he says slowly, blinking as if he really can't believe he's having this conversation with Mozzie. His hold loosens on Mozzie's shoulders but Mozzie is nowhere near short-sighted enough to try to make a run for it.
Mozzie shifts, trying to work out the least awkward way of getting out of this situation. "Can we forget I just said that?"
The Suit blinks. Then he gives one slow nod. "Tell me about Kate. All of it."
So Mozzie does.
A week ago, if someone had told Mozzie he'd be voluntarily working with a Fed, he would have laughed. And then checked his place for bugs because anyone crazy enough to think he'd work to uphold the law was crazy enough to wear a wire and do the government's dirty work for them. But here he is, in an apartment filled with not-entirely-legal items, with a Federal Agent sitting at his table.
This is what being Neal Caffrey's friend gets you. A good to strong chance of unexpected insanity.
"I'm only telling you this because I'm Neal's friend," Mozzie says as he finishes the tale of Neal's meeting with Kate, leaving out his own minor role in the affair, and the subsequent interest in enamelling. "After the explosion, before we knew it was a fake-out, I helped you purely for Neal's sake. I figure you owe me, or owe Neal in a roundabout way."
The Suit nods, gaze travelling around the room and settling on the far corner. For all the messy piles of paints, fabrics, metals and other assorted raw materials, there is organisation to the chaos, method to the madness. Mozzie knows precisely what's lying in that far corner; he just hopes the Suit doesn't.
"Is that…" the Suit says, frowning like he doesn't quite believe what he's about to say. "Currency ink? Really?"
"I find it lends a very attractive shade to plain writing paper. People don't take enough care in correspondence. It's all emails and text messages, lost capitals and forgotten punctuation. I like the act of writing on nicely coloured paper."
There's a sharp, disbelieving arch to the Suit's eyebrow. This is why Mozzie likes being a middleman, a supplier. The people who pay him to acquire items don't need any convincing.
"If I come back in a week, that's not going to be here," the Suit declares seriously.
"Come back here in three days," Mozzie corrects, "and this entire apartment will be empty and this alias will never be used again."
"Good." There's silence for a while after that. It's a New York silence filled with distant traffic and the building wail of a siren as a fire engine passes. Mozzie doesn't want to break it -- in case Agent Burke decides his original approach of threats and wall-shoving was the better option -- so they sit there quietly until the Suit huffs a sigh. "Do you think this is just a romantic gesture, some old promise like the empty bottle of wine?"
"Might be for Neal, but Kate's never struck me as the sentimental type."
The Suit's face twists sourly. "Kate seems to be a lot of things, but… no. I wouldn't say sentimental. Not when it comes to valuable antiques."
Mozzie's not sure he likes a Fed, a representative of everything he doesn't believe in, agreeing with him on Kate. He'd like to take it as undeniable proof that he's always been right about her, but it still doesn't sit well.
"You know what bothers me?"
Mozzie could say, 'An ex horning in on your new boytoy,' but he likes his civil liberties as they are, thank you very much. "That if the original is somewhere in Manhattan, Neal could steal a cool quarter mil?"
"That he wouldn't even need to pretend it's the original. He could say it was a good replication, found in an attic somewhere and he'd probably still get close to a hundred thousand. That's plenty of money to flee the country."
The same thought has occurred to Mozzie, but he hadn't really credited the Suit with coming up with it on his own. "He'd still have to get out of the city without being caught--"
"Please," the Suit says with annoyance. "You two plan heists as a pastime. You really going to tell me you two haven't got a plan already figured out? Given limitless funds and the need to flee, how would you do it?"
Mozzie bows his head, brings his hands up to his temples. Years back, he was seeing a girl, strong Irish Catholic who'd even dragged him to her church a few times. He'd never understood the point of confession. Why commit sins and then talk about them? But sitting in a dark little room and baring your soul, this must be what it feels like.
But Neal is Neal. And Neal left to his own devices with Kate… that's what got him caught by Feds in the first place.
"Find the tallest building in Neal's allotted area with a helicopter pad, visit it a few times so it doesn't read as too unusual on the tracking data. The tracking data doesn't record vertically so go up to the roof and have a helicopter meet you. At the last minute, cut the anklet as you take off. By the time you get through the traffic to his last known location, he could be halfway across the city."
"Add a quick disguise and taking his chances at the airport, there's a possibility he could get out of the country if he really wanted to. Much bigger chance I'd catch him," the Suit says it like it's a fact, a regrettable fact but nonetheless true, "and then it's a lot of years in prison."
The Suit leans back in the chair, crossing his arms. He looks like an advert from the sixties: plain wooden kitchen chair, simple off-the-rack suit, serious father-knows-best thoughtful expression. There should be a logo for old-fashioned tobacco or sensible shoes.
"Or you could let him go," Mozzie suggests.
"He'll just get caught somewhere else by someone else. He won't stop. He hasn't stopped now, he just steals and lies for the right people. He runs off with a girl who's charmed by promises of expensive wine in the future, and you think he'll settle down and live in the suburbs?"
"Neal thinks so."
"Neal thinks a lot of things," the Suit says, and he sounds resigned. Or maybe overwhelmed. Mozzie can't quite pick it. "Doesn't make it true."
The "plan" -- and it warrants quotation marks for pure lack of detail -- is this: Mozzie gets more information from Neal while the Suit looks into the locket's history and tracks down Kate. As far as plans go, only Neal has had worse ones (and even his crazy, insane, guaranteed to fail and probably end in broken limbs plans have more specifics).
It's not like he expects Neal to tell him the truth and confess all, but he goes over to June's anyway. Neal's in the process of grinding glass and mixing chemicals to make the enamel paste. He's wearing a grey turtleneck, probably to avoid fine traces of glass against his skin. Mozzie's seen him fake paintings and sculptures; he knows Neal works shirtless for clay and watercolours but covers as much skin as possible when it's oils or metalwork.
"Any trouble mixing the metals?"
Neal empties his hands and pulls up the sleeve of one arm. The skin of his inner-wrist looks soft and pale and most importantly, unblemished. "A combination of aluminium foil, oven mittens and plenty of cotton batting. Looked ridiculous but it worked."
"Really?" Mozzie notes it for future reference. Never know when information like that will come in handy.
"It was June's suggestion. Her Byron knew some interesting people." Neal goes back to measuring chemicals, pouring carefully and grinding the glass. This is where Mozzie should ask about Kate but there's no point. Neal's always been biased and Mozzie's seen most of the game from courtside seats.
Back when Neal's boyish good looks favoured the boyish side a lot more, and Mozzie only knew him as an associate of an associate there was Kate and Keller and Neal. Or more correctly, there was Kate and Keller, and Neal -- for some reason Mozzie still can't identify -- fell for her. He thinks it was the chase because cons come in two types: those after cash and those after the thrill. If Neal was after cash, he would have retired to his own private beach getaway with money stashed in the Cayman Islands. Neal's always been about the thrill, the challenge, the chase and Kate was all three.
She was already mixing in not-so-lawful circles and didn't take Neal at face value. She smiled and flirted, made sure Neal knew she was interested, but didn't let Neal get close enough to catch her. So Neal charmed her: took her out to expensive places, promised her the stars and the moon. This was back when he looked like a million dollars but lived in a five-story walk-up on the East Village with cracked walls and very dubious carpet.
In the end, it was probably Neal's sense of style that got Kate. Keller's good at what he does, always made a good living, but he's rough around the edges. Compared to him, Neal's polished glass, smooth enough to make a second-hand wine bottle romantic, to make cryptic love notes into a fun game and more than that, sophisticated enough to fit anywhere Kate wanted to go.
Mozzie knows he sounds bitter on the subject. Maybe he shouldn't be. Neal spent a lot of happy years with Kate, and that should count for something. But Neal does stupid things for Kate and doesn't think twice. Like start a lifelong rivalry with Keller, a guy who was skilled with his fists before he became skilled with his forgeries. Or break out of prison mere months before his sentence was up.
Or risk getting imprisoned by the Feds for creating a very beautiful locket.
Mozzie worries. It's his default in an unknown situation. He worries that Neal won't get out of New York, that Agent Burke will throw him back behind bars. He worries that Neal will get out, that the fake-death wasn't meant to be fake for Neal and Neal will discover that too late. If they were different kind of friends, if this was the kind of friendship you see on an ABC drama, he'd ask Neal outright: do you love the Suit?
If the answer was yes, well, he'd know Neal would stay in Manhattan no matter what. That's how Neal does devotion: it's all or nothing. Either it means the world to him or it's just another part to play, another dupe to con.
But Mozzie worries that Neal would say no. While El may like Neal, Mozzie's pretty sure she'd have a firm stance on anyone breaking her husband's heart. Mozzie definitely doesn't want to be the messenger of that bad news.
"He didn't tell you anything else?" El asks, taking a seat at her dining table and perching her chin on her hand.
"I asked about plans to offload it but Neal said he was waiting on confirmation of a few details." Mozzie sighs. "Also, tell your husband that barging unannounced into someone's secret apartment is bad manners."
"You know, Peter has a name."
"He works for the government. He doesn't have a name. He has a title and serial number."
El smiles and her entire face lights up. "You still think of him as the Suit, don't you?"
Mozzie shrugs. "He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt." There is no situation an Albert Einstein quote can't improve.
"Maybe no news is good news," El says hopefully. "Maybe Neal hasn't made up his mind yet."
"Or maybe he's selling it as we speak." That's unlikely, Mozzie knows. The reason the Suit isn't here is because he had to work late on a current case. It's a safe bet that Neal's in the office with him. "You don't regret marrying Peter?"
El takes a beat, blinks and then says, "Why would you ask that?"
"Well, you're independent, competent and highly attractive but look at who you married. I don't get it. I get that for Neal, it's probably a challenge thing. Seducing a Fed's got to be hard work, even with Neal's charm. But you married him."
El looks at him for a long moment, like she's waiting to see if this is a joke.
"I'm serious," Mozzie says, tapping a hand on the table to make his point. "You live in Manhattan. Walk down to Wall Street, throw a penny and as long as you don't hit one of the Starbucks workers, you'll find someone better paid and with better prospects than a government employee. Plus there's the whole Upper East Side. How in the world was the Suit the best option for the rest of your life?"
El's face goes through a range of expressions and settles on somewhere between amused and wary. "Peter was right for me."
"Sure, sidestep the question. I was only curious anyway," Mozzie says, waving a hand. "Bottom line is that we're still in dark about what Neal's going to do, so this clandestine meeting can be officially closed."
He stands up to go, but El lays a gentle hand on his forearm. He sits back down.
"I wasn't avoiding the question. Peter was right for me. I'd dated other guys before him, and…" El looks to the right, and the light from the window catches across her cheekbone and chin. She's way too stunning to be a Mrs Suit. "I was sick of men treating me like the pretty girl. As if the most important thing in my life should be making sure I look good when I'm on their arm. Like I should only have opinions on dresses, shoes and hairstyles."
"If you tell me Peter was blind to your beauty, I won't believe you."
"Peter used to have this look when I walked into a room, like he was stunned that I was going out with him, but he always treated me as like I was someone he wanted to know, someone he just happened to find attractive. Peter listened. Peter asked questions and remembered details about my job and my family."
Mozzie snorts. "Probably had a background check sitting in a folder somewhere."
"He'd talk to me and sometimes he'd take my advice. Not because he was indulging the pretty girl he was dating, but because he thought I knew what I was talking about. And Peter didn't do it just to get me into bed. He treated me with respect from the moment he met me, when I was just another employee to be interviewed, with the same respect he showed everyone at the gallery."
"Good manners win fair maiden?"
"It's probably what Neal sees, too."
"Really?" Mozzie says, struggling not to snigger. "You think Neal's sick of being treated like the prettiest girl in the room?"
"Neal's very attractive and I'm sure he knows that if you look the part, if you don't say too much, people will make up their own story. They look at you and see a good smile, a great body, and they don't look any further than that. It makes it easy to charm people, to fool them because they don't want to look any deeper." El pauses, and Mozzie wonders if she played that game when she was younger, if she smiled and batted her eyelashes and let guys buy her jewellery and trinkets and weekends in the Hamptons. It's hard to imagine her sharp mind and mischievous sense of humour being mistaken for a Barbie-wannabe but people do foolish things when they're young.
Mozzie should know. There used to be photos of himself in acid-wash jeans and head-to-toe denim. Even for the standards of the times, it wasn't a good look. Thankfully, those photos have been destroyed.
"As I said," Mozzie says, because a good I-told-you-so is always satisfying, "it's the challenge. Neal has to work harder for the charm to work."
"It's refreshing. You meet someone who wants to know who you are, who sees that first, and you find yourself letting them in."
It's a charming line -- especially charming in the nostalgic way El says it -- but they wouldn't be meeting like this if it was true for Neal. Neal was head over heels for Kate and still didn't tell her where his stash really was (if it even exists). Neal's never had trouble separating devotion and honesty.
"Neal trusts Peter," El says, like that will save the situation.
The next time Mozzie goes over to June's, it's actually to see June. They have a standing arrangement every second Thursday of the month: competitive checkers and martinis, followed by little known but passionately loved gems of Asian cinema. There's no telling what they'll talk about on a given day. June frequently tells stories of Byron in his younger, headstrong days, wild parties of her youth and gossip about the other women of a certain age who live in this neighbourhood. It's fun, even if Mozzie will never meet Ann with the roving eye for young tradesmen or Claire who's currently on her seventh husband and clearly shopping around for the next one.
"He's on an oxygen mask," June says, not quite sounding scandalised. She sounds more amused, really. "I'm all for people falling in love and there's certainly no age limit, but I think it's common decency to wait until the funeral before meeting for coffee."
"I don't know," Mozzie says, taking one of June's pieces in a slick move. "This Harry sounds a bit smooth. Things could be serious."
"Between them," June says, pausing dramatically for a sip from her elegant glass, "that's a dozen marriages."
"You don't think it'll last?"
June hums a noise of amusement. It's the kind of musical noise people make when they're too refined to snort.
"Doesn't Claire deserve a little happiness?"
June watches the board, and then mercilessly captures two of his pieces in one move. "I think Claire's already had her share of happiness, and possibly someone else's."
"Did you ever think about remarrying?"
"There aren't too many men who could step into Byron's shadow." June's fingers play with the ring on her left hand. It's a modest gold band, very plain, and the engagement ring has one small, simple garnet. The eternity ring, clearly bought after Byron's shady schemes started paying off, is thicker than both of them, filled with square-cut diamonds.
"If only Neal was older, maybe he would have turned your head."
"If I was much younger," June allows graciously, as she attacks his weakest spot, culling pieces ruthlessly. "And Neal wasn't elsewhere involved."
Mozzie buries his head in his hands and listens to the endless pelt of rain outside. He's already lost the game, he can tell. "Can we not talk about that?"
"Do you have a specific objection?"
Over the rain he hears the click-clink-clink of his last pieces removed from the board. "I try to be patient, I try to give Neal room, but deep down, I think we all know it's wrong. It's unnatural."
"I didn't know you felt that way." June sounds maternal and protective. If Neal isn't making women swoon at his feet, he makes them cluck over him and invite him for a home-cooked meal. "Have you told Neal your opinion?"
"Neal knows. I've told him this is wrong, this is crazy, this is the kind of thing they should be able to lock you up for." When Mozzie looks up, June doesn't look so motherly anymore. Not unless you're thinking of a lioness about to hunt for her cubs. "June, come on. The Suit's a Fed. When has a crook slept with a cop and walked away better for it?"
The hardness in June's eyes melts into a smile. "You know, when I met Byron, I was working as a secretary at the Elmsford Police Department, over in Westchester. Look how well that turned out."
"You're clearly the exception that proves the rule," Mozzie mutters, setting up the board for the next game.
"The original's going on auction in two weeks," the Suit says as he opens the door.
"As far as greetings go, I've heard better," Mozzie says, stepping inside and taking care to leave the dripping umbrella outside. When New York decides to pour, it's a marathon event. "Nice build-up, by the way. Demand I come over and then blurt out the information as soon as I'm here. Good time efficiency."
The Suit glares and takes a half-step forward. It's only a half-step because El's hand lands on his shoulder and she peers past him to say, "Should I get a towel, Moz?"
"Thank you," Mozzie says, but it comes out more peevish than sincere. Somehow, despite the umbrella and the raincoat, he's still soaked. He can feel the water down the back of his spine and his toes are wet. It's not as bad as a winter blizzard, with dirty snow piled everywhere and cabs impatiently careening around corners, but it's still uncomfortable. There's nothing like cold water dripping from his earlobes to put Mozzie in a bad mood.
When Mozzie is sans wet coat, shoes and socks, and wrapped up in a blanket masquerading as a towel (he has to ask El where she found a towel that size; it's fantastically luxurious), he gets to the important question. "When does the locket get into Manhattan?"
While Mozzie tries to become one with his ridiculously huge towel, the Suit is all tension. Sitting on the armchair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his fingers laced tightly enough to show the knuckles, the Suit says, "Tuesday."
"Tuesday? And you're telling me this on Friday?" Mozzie demands, hearing his voice go sharp and shrill. It's not his best quality. "What was the point in even telling me?"
"The auction gives us two weeks."
"The auction is pointless," Mozzie says, ignoring the Suit's narrowed glare and ticking jaw. He'd make a few 'I'm annoyed too' hand gestures if he wasn't holding onto the towel. "Everyone knows a piece is most vulnerable when it's being shipped. You really think Neal's just going to waltz into the auction room to give you time to come up with a counter plan? Knowing Neal, he could, but by all standards of logic, if you wait until the auction, he'll be gone."
"Moz," El tries gently, and Mozzie ignores that too.
"This is ridiculous! You're going to let Neal walk off blindly into the sunset and the thing is, when Neal really wants to disappear, he can. And you're never going to know if Neal chose to disappear or if turns out that dying by explosions isn't just a once in a lifetime opportunity!"
There. Mozzie's said it. There's really no comeback for it, no matter how menacingly the Suit leans forward, or how low he growls out, "Can the attitude. You came to us. You brought this to us. The very least you can do is pretend to respect the fact that I am very good at what I do, up to and including catching Neal Caffrey."
"Also," El adds when the Suit has huffs and looks away, "we have a plan."
"You are a ray of sunshine on the most miserable of days," Mozzie says, and the Suit snorts.
It's certainly not the most complicated con Mozzie's ever pulled, and most of Mozzie's best work is technical and behind-the-scenes, rather than face-to-face, so it's failing to meet a standard that isn't all that high in the first place.
This might be something Neal will see through in about five seconds.
But the con's only a small part of this. The con's the part that will keep Mozzie out of hot water and hide his involvement in this whole thing.
Mostly, the plan relies upon honesty. Honesty from a conman. Lord help them.
The first part of the plan is easy. The next time he's over at Neal's, he asks, casually as you like, "Does the enamel need to be stored carefully?"
Neal's dealing with the finishing touches: checking edges, checking colouring, checking all the details to make sure it passes. Up to a chemical analysis, this thing would satisfy most auction houses. "As long as it's dry, it's fine. Probably best kept away from too much heat or metal."
"Where are you keeping it?"
"Under the sink," Neal says, gesturing with his chin but keeping his eyes on the locket in his fingers.
"At least the kitchen's getting some use." Mozzie's never actually seen Neal cook; he's not entirely sure Neal can. This is New York. There's no better city for living on take-out and restaurants. "So…"
Mozzie lets the word hang in the air, not sure what to say. It's Neal that raises an eyebrow and looks up. "So?"
Mozzie tries not to wince because it's a tell and he knows it, and it's an old failing he's almost trained himself out of doing. "You and the Suit."
This isn't part of the plan. Pushing Neal for details or trying to get confirmation of a little commitment, that's totally not part of the plan. The plan only needs Mozzie to find out where Neal's keeping the incriminating evidence. After that, he'll tell the Suit, and tomorrow night cause a short, sixty second or more distraction so the Suit can raid Neal's place and "find" proof of the forgery and confront him. When El and the Suit were talking about it they made it sound simple, easy, and there's an unstated assumption sitting there. They assume that once Neal's confronted with the truth, all will be well.
Mozzie believes in the truth but he also believes that governments hold power by manipulating facts until they fit. (Just look at the supposed "moon landings".) A lot of relationships seem to work the same way. Pure truth keeps people together as much as pure oxygen keeps them breathing: a good thing in moderation goes a long way.
Still, he's going to ask. Any minute now.
Neal goes back to looking at the locket. He studies the underside and says, "Did you know June was working in a police station when she met Byron?"
"Yes," Mozzie says, because he did know. "She took the time to tell you?"
"She's a little concerned that you don't approve of Peter, but she's very relieved that you don't approve of his occupation, not the gender thing." Neal says it with a roll of his eyes, as if even he knows how ridiculous that is. Mozzie's a lot of things, but he's never been narrow-minded. He's always preferred thinking in as many directions as possible.
"I know I said I didn't want to know anything else, but I've changed my mind."
"Is this your coy way of asking for the steamy details?" Neal asks with a shrug of his shoulders and an almost wink. Neal's acting as the confidante, but he's joking, overplaying it. Mozzie remembers a four-year-old in Macy's standing in front of the mirror, pulling faces because she could, laughing at the expressions reflected back at her. Dealing with cons tends to make him think of that.
"No, this is my way of asking where things stand and if you're sure of what you're doing."
Neal blinks, and the overstated gestures fade into a confused raise of the eyebrows. He's not actually confused. (When he's actually confused, Neal looks vaguely constipated, honestly. Neal as a con is ridiculously attractive; Neal as Neal, not so much.) "Do you want to know my intentions towards El's husband?"
"I'm just wondering. You're spending your nights making trinkets for Kate, and I don't get how that fits in to you and Peter."
Neal starts packing away equipment, taking as much care with the long-handled, obviously new, fine metalwork tools as he does unscrewing the forty-year-old stand and magnifying glass. Everything gets packed away into other sets and covers, Neal's meticulous about it all. It's a distraction technique, keeping your hands busy and moving while you spin a story ("Look at my hands, watch my hands!"), so Mozzie watches Neal's face.
"It's a bit of fun, Moz. A good time was had by all." Neal smiles softly, enough to hint at fond memories. There's not enough ego, not enough bragging, not enough teeth showing for it to be a genuine smile. "There might be a little emotional fallout, but no promises were made."
"Nothing deeper?" Mozzie asks, thinking they're screwed. They are absolutely screwed. The Suit's entire plan rests on using Neal's feelings to convince him to do the sane, reasonable thing and stay in New York. But if he tries to leverage Neal's mild attraction to him against that all-consuming devotion he has to Kate, Neal's going to be gone within an hour of that locket getting to Manhattan. Or before.
"El really isn't going to blame you if I skip town. Peter'll get over it." It's an if, not a when, but Mozzie's clutching at straws to find comfort there.
Even a bad plan's still a plan, and Mozzie doesn't have anything better. He tells the Burke's what he found out (where Neal's stuff is, not that this is doomed) and in return the Suit supplies two legally obtained invitations to the pre-auction viewing.
"How did you get these? Do you know how many financials you have to fake to get these?"
"Or," the Suit says, standing there and failing to hide smug self-satisfaction in his tone, "you could tell them you work for the FBI White Collar Crimes division and politely request one as a precautionary security measure."
"You got Neal access by setting him up as an FBI agent?" Oh, that is a world of temptation right there. It's Biggest Loser meets a Vegas buffet. Once he's given these, Neal might go to the auction just for the fun of seeing what he'll get away with.
"No," the Suit says, pushing the tickets -- black, cream and navy blue, art deco logo -- into Mozzie's hand, "you did. Come to Neal's place tonight at seven-fifteen--"
"Peter," El interrupts, resting a hand on the Suit's wrist. "Don't forget we're having dinner with Luke and Stacy tonight."
Mozzie thinks a truly impressive FBI agent shouldn't look as if his wife just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
"I thought I could beg off," Peter tries hopefully. "You know, it's Neal. Priority."
"You can see Neal after. He'll still be awake." El smiles, turns to Mozzie and says, "He was working late last time we had dinner with them, and the time before. Three times in a row, they'll start thinking it's an excuse not to see them."
"He always wants to talk about guns," the Suit says with a definite whine in his tone. "I shoot as part of my job. I don't want to sit around a dinner table and discuss marksmanship or the fine thrill of shooting paper targets."
"I know that, honey, but I appreciate that you're still going to come." She reaches over to kiss his cheek; it's almost sweet. "Maybe you should tell Neal about it. Get him to call you at half past eight and fake a work call, give you an excuse to leave early."
There's a moment where they hold each other's gaze and grin. It's like being on the other end of a con: there's a world of knowing behind those smiles that an outsider can only guess at. Then the Suit looks away from her and it's back to business.
"So at nine-fifteen," the Suit says and El gives an encouraging nod, "come over to June's. Say that you need to talk to Neal and it can't wait. Do whatever it takes to get Neal out of that room and use the tickets to stall him. Give me sixty seconds to find the stash and you're done."
"Do you really think this plan will work?" It's this sort of questioning that makes Neal call him a neurotic New Yorker (a badge Mozzie wears with pride) but he can't help it. He's a worrier. "I mean, honesty is a language Neal's conversational in but not exactly fluent."
The Suit rolls his eyes. "If it makes you feel better, I'll take handcuffs. At least if Neal doesn't agree, we can keep him out of trouble until we find a way to convince him."
At nine-fourteen exactly, Mozzie rings June's doorbell. June answers it with a familiar looking cover in hand. It takes Mozzie a moment to recognise it because he's been seeing the promo posters online for a while but there's been production hold ups. "Is that Tiles of Fire VI? That's not scheduled for release for another three months."
June smiles and says, "Good evening, Mozzie, and yes. Although technically, it's not the final cut."
"But you know a guy who knows a guy?" Mozzie asks, already grabbing the cover and turning it over in his hands. He can't read any of it -- none of it's in English -- but that's not the point. He's been looking forward to this film for the last eleven months. "We're about to sit down and watch this, aren't we, June?"
"I was going to call you," June says, tapping his hand and taking the DVD back. "It only came this afternoon. I thought you were one person I knew would appreciate it."
"Absolutely." And then Mozzie remembers why he's here. "First I have to give Neal something. It'll only take a minute. Literally."
"Neal has company," June says, stressing company in a way that makes it clear it's the Suit. "Upstairs," she adds, in case he didn't get the hint the first time.
"In that case…" Mozzie pauses, as if he's thinking it over. Being too careful never hurt anybody. "Maybe you could get Neal for me. This isn't something the Fed will be too happy to see."
"It's one of those deliveries," June says with understanding. "I'll go get him."
Mozzie waits at the bottom of the stairs. The sound doesn't travel very well but he thinks he hears a knock. Then he doesn't hear anything.
June comes back down alone.
"What happened?" Mozzie asks, and his internal mantra is: Do not panic! Do not panic! Do not panic! It's not necessarily working.
"Neal said he'd be down in a moment. He just needed to be presentable."
"Given Neal's normal standard of presentable, that could take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes. Maybe we should put the disc in and get the upcoming previews out of the way?"
"I don't think Neal will take any longer than necessary," June says, and Mozzie does not want to think about what that means. "But I'll go set up the film and find something to drink."
When Neal comes down the imposing staircase with one hand resting on the banister, he seems completely unrumpled. Like he'd been sitting there playing with a pack of cards, or was an off-duty member of the Rat Pack, ready for a cocktail party at a moment's notice. "You have interesting timing," Neal says, with slightly less good humour than he usually has.
"Meaning if this had waited about twenty minutes, I would have been in a much better mood for company." Neal shrugs, and adds, "Also if this is anything that doesn't fit into my pocket, I'm not going to be able to sneak it upstairs without Peter knowing."
Again Mozzie doesn't want to think about it. "This fits into a pocket. Well, nearly." He pulls out the envelope and waits for Neal to open it up.
When Neal sees the invitations inside, he covers his reaction pretty well. He just gives a wry smirk and says, "That makes things easier."
"Heard about the auction. Thought you might want to see it up close."
Neal closes the envelope and folds it, slipping it into his left breast pocket. "Come by tomorrow night. We'll work it through."
Neal has one foot back on the stairs, but it's only been twenty-five seconds by Mozzie's count. The Suit said sixty. "Do you want to stay? June has the latest Tiles of Fire. You could even invite the Suit downstairs, as long as he promised not to interrupt with stupid questions."
Neal grins. "You recall that I didn't finish watching the first one, right?"
"I left it with you for a week. You had plenty of time to watch that. It's almost the best in the series."
"The second film is arguably the best, due to a far more satisfying emotional storyline. The drama of mah-jong and the high stakes are one thing, but when it comes at the risk of losing the love of his childhood sweetheart, well, that's a whole new level of intensity."
"I'll have to take your word for it."
"But if the advertising is true, and we all know that capitalist-driven advertising is frequently more honest than the so-called news, this one is better than the last three combined." Mozzie thinks that's probably forty-five seconds now and close enough might have to be good enough for the Suit. "And it goes for two and half hours. That is definite bang for your illegally purchased buck."
"Thank you, Moz, but no thanks," Neal says, smiling and holding up his hands in mock surrender. "Really."
"Your loss," Mozzie calls out as Neal trots back up the stairs. Maybe this is will work, he thinks as Neal's footsteps disappear from earshot. Maybe he needs to give Agent Burke more credit. Maybe the sheer attempt of trying to get through to Neal with honesty and simple confrontation will be enough.
Mozzie has his doubts but if the Suit pulls this off, Mozzie will get him something nice, like those Czech motion sensors that have just been "released" onto the market.
He jumps at the feel of something heavy on his shoulder, and spins to find June standing right behind him. "Has anyone ever mentioned that you shouldn't creep up on people? It's downright spine-chilling."
June gives a meaningful look to the top of the stairs. "Is there something I should know?"
Mozzie sighs. At this stage, this is a secret the entire Greater New York area seems to know. There's no point lying about it to June. "There's about to be. There's also a chance your spare room may unexpectedly be spare again."
June frowns up at the second story. "Follow me," she says and leads Mozzie out to the main balcony. The night is mild enough but Mozzie's glad he's still got his coat on when she leads him to a small metal ladder on the side of the building.
"After you," she says so Mozzie climbs. At the top, he looks around and realises they're at the far side of Neal's balcony.
"Are we spying on Neal?" Mozzie whispers down, waiting for June. When she gets to the top, he offers her a hand to steady herself. "Not that I'm against a little clever surveillance but don't you think he'd see us through the glass wall."
"Not if you stand in the right spot," June whispers back. In the dark, she wraps a hand around his wrist and leads his through the shadows cast by surrounding buildings. When she tugs his wrist down, he ducks and follows her, crouched over and really hoping nobody's looking out Neal's windows.
They get to the corner of Neal's place, and June pulls him down to kneel on the ground. From this angle he can see Neal's front door and the table the table in the middle of the room, the edge of the kitchen cabinets on the opposite wall. On the table, there's a collection of tools and jars of enamel paste spread across it, and standing nearby, he can see Neal and the Suit in profile. Neal's overly casual, loose arms and a half-smile playing at the corners of his mouth; the Suit, on the other hand, looks wound up tight but his hand gestures are slow and controlled.
Beside him, June shifts. "Sometimes, Byron wanted a second set of eyes and ears for a meeting. Back then, I used to wear hairpins. Do you have anything thin, about so long?" she asks, holding her fingers a little way apart.
From his right side jacket pocket, Mozzie pulls out what she needs. It looks like a pen -- it even writes -- but with the press of a small lever, a three inch sliver of metal slides out. "Never know when you'll forget your house keys," Mozzie says, although that's not a lock he's ever needed to pick.
"Thank you." June takes it, slides the metal into the edge of a small, square window frame. She wiggles it and then, with a flick of her wrist, it opens outwards.
Mozzie's checked Neal's place top to bottom -- never hurts to check and double check for bugs -- and he'd always thought the lower windows didn't open. He'd even tried a few at random to make sure. They're tiny, too small for a human head, and at floor-height, so it would be a useless window… unless you were using it to eavesdrop. He gives June a thumbs-up sign to show his approval.
Now, he can hear Neal saying, "It's between us. Back when I couldn't promise Kate much more than dreams, this was one of them. I remember her admiring it, pointing it out, and I promised that one day, I'd make it hers."
There's silence for a while. (Isn't that always the way? As soon as you get the equipment set up right, people stop talking.) Then the Suit says, "Then give it to her."
Neal doesn't say a word, just watches warily keeping his hands in his pocket. Mozzie scans the table and realises for all the equipment, the locket isn't there. He hates thinking it, but they might be too late.
"I mean it, Neal. Give Kate the locket. Let her decide what to do with it." The Suit takes a small step forward and raises a hand, but Neal leans back slightly and the Suit stops.
There's an arms-breadth between them but Neal keeps his shoulders back and his hands in his pockets, and doesn't give an inch. "Why?"
"It's not illegal to make jewellery, that's a hobby. If you sell it as something it isn't, if you use it to steal the original, if you violate the terms of your parole, that's illegal. You want to give Kate something because of your shared history together, to show your affection, then give her a gift. Don't break the law for her."
Mozzie winces as he hears the words. Neal broke out of prison for Kate; he stole that pointless music box for Kate. At this stage, breaking the law might as well be the gift.
"Why not?" Neal pushes, too stubborn for his own good. "You don't think I could get away with it?"
The Suit doesn't rise to the bait. Instead, he keeps his voice soft and patient. "You do it and you lose everything you have now. You do good here. You make the world a little bit better for people and there are people who would miss you. It's a good life."
"I've told you before," Neal says, eyes on the evidence spread across the table, "it's not a life I ever wanted."
"But it's a life you've got. June, Mozzie, Cruz, Jones, El and me. That's half a dozen people who would miss you if you disappeared." The Suit takes a slow breath in and lets it out even slower. "I love you. And I would miss you. So I'm asking you, please, don't go."
Neal starts at the l-word. Just a slight twitch -- a heck of a tell for a con as good as Neal -- but Mozzie spots it. The Suit probably does too. (This is mesmerising to watch. Maybe not quite as good as Tiles of Fire II but definitely better than IV or V.)
"I never--" Neal swallows and starts over, "I never promised you anything."
"Yeah, you did. You said if I vouched for you, if I got you out of jail and into my custody, you'd follow the terms of your parole."
Neal shrugs and the smile on his face isn't nice. "I said I couldn't find a way out of the anklet. As it turns out, maybe I can."
"Semantics." Now, the Suit sounds upset, voice a touch too loud. He doesn't take a deep breath, doesn't try to control it. "Don't twist this. Either you made a promise to me and you keep your word, or the whole thing was a con and I was a fool to fall for it."
Neal takes a step backwards, and then walks to the other side of the table, physically giving himself distance. It doesn't surprise Mozzie. Neal isn't fond of conflict; he's too used to talking his way out or around it. Doesn't mean he'll give in; he's also used to getting exactly what he wants. "Do you have anything else to say?"
"I think I've laid down all the facts," the Suit says, walking to the door with his jacket over one arm. "You need to make a choice. Let me know when you've figured out what you want."
The door shuts firmly behind the Suit and Mozzie is tempted to applaud. It's a great exit.
Then he sees the lost look on Neal's face.
June leans over him and pushes the tiny window closed. "I think we should go downstairs," she says, "and then invite Neal to watch the movie."
"I already asked," Mozzie whispers back.
"Just in case he changed his mind," June replies. "He might want company."
Mozzie calls the next afternoon to ask what time Neal wants to meet. Neal says, "Let's postpone it until tomorrow. There are a few things I have to figure out."
So Mozzie calls El. It's not that he's concerned about the Suit, but he still finds himself asking if the Suit's okay.
"What does that mean?"
On the other end of the line, El sighs. "It means he came home last night, turned on ESPN and slept on the couch. He got up this morning, went for a run, and now he's back watching sports."
"Adult male escapism," Mozzie mocks. "Did he tell you what happened?"
"He said he told Neal all the important facts and he's waiting for Neal to decide."
As far as summaries go, it's concise and accurate. Mozzie has to give him that. But hiding in sports? That can't be a good sign. "Do you think he knows what he's doing?"
"I think Peter's doing this the best way he knows how," El says, loyal to the last. "And if Neal's the man I think he is, he'll make this right."
It's amazing how long it takes twenty-four hours to pass when there's something important being decided. Mozzie tries calling Neal but it goes to voicemail. Mozzie can take a hint. He doesn't call back.
He waits for Neal to call him. But it's amazing how slow the hours pass before Neal calls and says, "Hey, Moz, be here at seven. I could do with your help."
Of course, Mozzie agrees to meet.
Neal sounds like he always does: upbeat and ready to bamboozle the world. Mozzie doesn't know if that's a good sign or not.
Neal hands him the key to a safety deposit box, the details of the name it's held in and the signature required. It's easy enough for Mozzie to do; a fake ID and remembering to answer to a different name and he'll have no trouble emptying it.
"What's in there?" Mozzie makes it a personal rule of thumb to never collect or deliver unknown items. If he's breaking the law, he wants to know exactly how much personal risk he's taking. In his line of work, he can't always rely on the honesty of his associates.
"The locket. I thought it was tempting fate to keep it here, just in case Peter dropped by. Given last night," Neal says, as if Peter had come by and all else was normal, "it's a good thing."
"What happened?" Mozzie tries to look uninterested, to look as if he wouldn't have any clue of the details, as if all he noticed was the Suit leaving in a huff and Neal begging off one of the greatest films ever made saying that he needed an early night.
Neal takes his jacket off, smoothing the shoulders onto a padded coat hanger and hanging it in the closet. "Peter found the enamel paste. It's nothing conclusive but..." Neal shrugs.
"He wouldn't be a Fed if he wasn't suspicious?" Mozzie finishes for him. "Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society."
"Maybe not the bane, but it can be inconvenient. Peter will be watching me a little more carefully."
Mozzie dangles the safety deposit box key up at eye height. "So now he knows you've made something, now you want it back on your property. With a Suit that could come over any time. Sure that's wise?"
"I don't think he's going to come over in the next twenty-four hours, Moz. Trust me." Neal says 'trust me' like every conman does: with just the right mix of sincerity and mischievousness, with a faint touch of self-deprecating humour. Of course, Mozzie doesn't trust that at all. "I need to deliver it somewhere tomorrow night, which means I need it back. Peter won't come over uninvited tomorrow but I'm not going to be able to get out of the office during business hours to collect it. So I thought you could."
"Sure." Mozzie doesn't ask how Neal got it there in the first place. Did he go in late, say he'd slept in and drop by the bank early in the morning? Did he call in sick? Did he sneak it into a FBI office and then casually go out at lunchtime? All three are possible.
"Also, there are two letters in there. I'll need those too."
"Meet you back here?"
"Best not to. We'll meet at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 37th. Let's say eight o'clock."
It's an easy location but Mozzie pulls a face at the time. "You know I like exact times."
"Fine. Eight-oh-seven. Better?"
It's a simple matter of a fake ID, a fake signature and Mozzie doesn't even bother with a fake accent. A New Yorker in New York is hardly memorable. It's why he loves the city: nobody cares enough to pay attention but everyone insists their opinion -- of what they didn't see -- is absolutely right. It combines two of his favourite things: anonymity and easy alibis.
When he slides out the plain metal safety box, after the bank employee has left the room, he checks the locket. Firstly, to make sure it's empty (can't be too careful). Secondly, to admire it. It's an impressive piece: detailed and beautiful to touch, the filigree edges softened enough to suggest age and the enamel prepared to the perfect shade. A fake or not, it deserves to be a collector's piece.
Under the locket, there are two envelopes. One is duck egg blue and the other is tinged the slightest hint of green. They're both sealed, which Mozzie doesn't appreciate but he'll take them home and steam them open, make sure he knows what he picked up.
Neal probably expects he'll do that, but if not, it's an easy matter to apply a little glue and reseal them.
After he reads the letters, he calls El. There are the usual pleasantries and then Mozzie asks, "If I theoretically had a Dear-John letter written by Neal to Peter, is that something you'd want to see before the fact?"
And El says, "Where are you?" without missing a beat.
"I'm not going to say that over a cell phone."
"Then where can we meet?" El asks, so clearly her answer is a definite yes. "I'm up at 89th Street, so where's the closest place for us to meet?"
"Central Park, opposite the Museum of Natural History. Twenty minutes."
"I'll see you then," El says, and as she hangs up, Mozzie hears her call out, "I have to step out for a few minutes. I'll be back as soon as I can."
El shows up, sexy in that polished, professional way: heels, slim-fitting skirt and a perfectly modest blouse and jacket combination that looks stunning on her. Mozzie's good at multitasking though. He can admire and simultaneously dread what's about to happen.
When she spots him, Mozzie pats the bench he's sitting on and she sits beside him.
She gives his hand a squeeze and says, "Thanks for calling."
It's easy to hand over the pale green envelope. El handles it like it's evidence, like it's a precious new exhibit at a gallery. She slides the single page out and unfolds it, and as she reads, her face tells every reaction.
Mozzie knows what's in the letter. It starts 'Dear Peter' and ends with an 'I'm so sorry, Neal'. In between, there's a whole section on how lost he felt after prison, after Kate disappeared, after he risked everything and still couldn't help her. It talks about how seeing the plane explode nearly destroyed him and if it hadn't been for Peter, he's sure he wouldn't have survived it, both physically and emotionally. He says that while working with Peter, he'd found things he'd never expected in an FBI office. Encouragement. Acceptance. Support. He says that he's done the long-term cons before, lived someone else's life for months, but he's never wished so much that he could be that person, that he could keep their life and be happy.
He says that this time, he wanted to say goodbye. He wanted Peter to know that he cared, that he wasn't leaving because he was unhappy or had been anything else than sincere in his affections, but he still had to go. This was Kate. Once upon a time, Kate had been everything to him and he couldn't turn his back on that now. Most of all, Neal wanted Peter to know he was sorry this couldn't end differently.
"Oh," El says when she gets to the end. Her mouth is pulled sideways, worried and upset. "He writes a good letter but I think Peter would prefer a face-to-face goodbye."
"The bitter word which closed all, earthly friendships, and finished every feast of love - farewell," Mozzie quotes with a sigh. He waves a hand around and adds, "But there are three interesting things about this letter."
El's skimming the letter again, re-reading it. She stops, and raises an eyebrow.
"One, this was written before Peter confronted him, but it still hits all the high points of that argument. Two, it's not the only fond farewell Neal wrote down. Three, the other letter," he says, holding up the blue envelope and giving it to El, "is for Kate."
El looks confused. "Really?" She opens up the second envelope as carefully as the first.
"He asked me to pick them both up. Naturally, I read them both." Mozzie takes the green letter back and folds it silently as El reads the second letter.
A lot of the contents are the same. 'Dear Kate' to start, same 'I'm so sorry, Neal' to close. It mentions how lost Neal felt when she disappeared, how shattered he was by her apparent death, how Peter and his work with the FBI was one of the few things that kept him going. How Kate used to be the world to him, how he would have given up anything to make sure she was safe and happy.
Then it says:
'But I can't come. A few years ago, six months ago, I would have abandoned everything and run to your side. But now... While you've been gone, I've somehow gathered a life with people who care, with a job that's interesting, exciting and, strangest of all, completely legal. It has early mornings and bad pay and terrible coffee, but I can't leave it for a dream I once had. Not when there's a real chance for me to be happy here. I hope you understand how much I loved you and how hard this was to write. But mostly, I hope you find happiness too.'
"Can I hold on to these?" El asks when she's finished reading it.
"No." Mozzie fishes in his pockets, finds the card for Burke Events and holds it up. "I have to hand them over to Neal tonight. If you need to show the Suit, I'll take a photo and email you a copy."
And then El does the strangest thing. She kisses him on the cheek as she gets up to go.
Halfway through inventory, Mozzie realises he has thirty-one Chinese Cockroaches (so nicknamed because those bugs would survive anything short of nuclear holocaust). Given the price of each of these little bugs and the fact that he's supposed to have thirty-two, he starts looking through everything again.
It's not amongst the inks, it's not the paints. They're small, so he pulls out all of the clays, all of the metals, and inspects every side and possible pocket. Then he pulls out the technology, piece by piece. He could activate the bug and then scan for it, but there are too many devices here that would negate the signal. (He does that for a reason. If you're stockpiling ex-military surveillance, make sure you can't get found by a casual scan of the apartment next door.)
It's not the best time for his phone to ring.
"Yes?" he asks, hitting connect on his cell.
"It's Peter Burke," the Suit says, and of all the people he could have heard from… well, he probably should have expected it would something connected to Neal. These days, everything seems to be connected to Neal.
"Did El talk to you?"
"She showed you the letters?"
"Good. If you're calling to arrange a covert meeting to discuss them, I'd like to point that I have a life. I have a life that does not revolve purely around Neal. Between this morning, and then El, and meeting him this evening, that's three meetings in one day for something that doesn't even have a payday attached. I'm not making four meetings within twenty-four hours when I have a life of my own. There are things I need to be doing."
The Suit takes a moment, as if he's thinking and abandoning his plans to meet Mozzie in some supposedly clandestine location to discuss something Mozzie can't fix. "Can you talk?"
"Am I physically capable of it? Or do I have time to discuss things right now on a cell phone, which is not the most secure form of communication?"
"The second option," the Suit says dryly.
"Yes, I can talk as long as there is nothing I may or may not have to deny later in court."
"Understood." There are background sounds of people in the office talking, and then they're suddenly quieted. Mozzie guesses the Suit's just closed the door. "I wanted to say thanks. For… you know. Telling El about this. For going behind Neal's back and giving us the letters."
The Suit sounds surprisingly thankful. Pleased. As if he has a solution for the whole Kate-and-Neal-leaving-New-York crisis.
"You read the letters, right?"
"Yes, I did."
"You don't sound as if you'd read the letters. If you'd read them, you'd know Neal's breaking up with someone but he doesn't know who yet. Or," Mozzie adds, the thought suddenly coming to him, "he's going to send both and disappear alone."
As soon as he says it out loud, Mozzie realises that's not too likely. Neal likes being around people. He likes having company. If he wanted pure freedom so bad, he would have run long before Kate reappeared.
"That's one way of looking at it," the Suit says, like he's secretly amused, like he has a card up his sleeve.
Mozzie has to ask. Now he's curious. "How are you looking at it?"
"Both letters said the same thing." The Suit takes a breath, like he's debating whether or not to explain it. Then habit -- the habit of working with a team of FBI agents and having to explain a lot of things, possibly in very small words -- kicks in. "Being lost without Kate, how hard Kate's death hit him and what helped him get through it. That's an interesting insight into Neal's state of mind."
"Insight, sure," Mozzie says, rolling his eyes even though the Suit can't see.
"It means he's happy here," the Suit says.
"As much as I hate devolving the English language to its most basic forms, I have to say it: duh!" Mozzie sighs. Just when he thinks there's hope for the Suit, just when he seems to make intellectual progress, he says something so ridiculously obvious that Mozzie loses all faith. "Of course he's happy here. If he wasn't happy, I'd be helping him plan his escape, not talking to a suit on my cell phone."
"It gives us something."
"Something some of us already knew. Now, unless you have any more insightfully obvious statements, I have things to do. As I mentioned before."
"A life of your own, fine," the Suit says. "But thanks anyway."
Mozzie spends the afternoon sorting through every piece of technology he has. He was going to do it anyway -- you can't sell effectively if you don't know what you have on hand -- but instead of marking off model numbers and quantities, he has to check each side of it and make sure the cockroach hasn't attached itself somewhere it's not supposed to be.
It couldn't have got up and walked. Mozzie moved all of this stuff himself, in small, unremarkable lots. And nobody else has ever been in his apartment; he's not stupid enough to do deals there. But after looking through everything he has, there's still one miraculously disappearing bug left unaccounted.
When these came on the market, he bought as many as his contact could get his hands on, and worked out a way to get the money later. It's not the financial loss he objects to -- he put the effort into getting the money but it wasn't technically his in the first place -- but it's the principle of the thing. What's the point of making sure he always has the best technology available if he can't even keep track of it?
So, fine, Mozzie puts in place his last resort. He activates the bug and hopes he can track it from the ambient noise. Technology like this isn't the kind of thing that gets tracked easily, but no-one knows New York like Mozzie. If it's somewhere in the five boroughs, he'll find it.
He sets the equipment up and listens. It's mostly background noise, chatter, a rustle of papers; that proves it's definitely left Mozzie's apartment. There's the unmistakable sound of subway doors closing and Mozzie can at least narrow it down to a subway station somewhere, and currently on the move. Although how it got out of his apartment… It makes no sense. He's always careful to put his equipment back, to make sure everything stays in its place.
Then he remembers Agent Burke pushing in the door. The Suit is the only other person to have stepped across this threshold while Mozzie had stock here. He doubts the Suit picked it up on purpose. In fact, he's pretty sure of it. The Suit probably wouldn't have recognised what it was; it's far too sophisticated for the FBI's budget.
He listens to background noise, the start of a low hum. It takes a moment to realise it's Springsteen's 'Romeo and Juliet'. The timbre suggests male, the song choice suggests good taste and a certain age, thirties or older. Mozzie's best guess is that the bug was out when the Suit barged in without warning, and the Suit brushed against it. The hooks on the back of the cockroach probably caught on the fabric of the Suit's suit, and the Suit walked out with it without even realising.
He might have dry-cleaned the outfit in the meantime, but the cockroach would endure that easily.
Option one is call the Suit and explain the situation, then ask for it back. There are numerous reasons why that idea is stupid and bordering on suicidal, so Mozzie scraps that straight away.
Where does the Suit spend most of his time: at his house, the office, at June's. Mozzie might be able to ask El to look for him, but she'd probably tell the Suit everything anyway. Next choice, Neal.
"Hey, honey," the Suit says through Mozzie's padded earphones. It's not that Mozzie wants to eavesdrop, but he needs to know where the Suit is heading and if Mozzie's equipment is leaving the Greater New York area. "Yeah, I'm on my way over to Neal's now. I'll call you afterwards and let you know how it went."
That timing was better than Mozzie was expecting. He pulls off the earphones, picks up his cell and is about to hit Neal's number on speed-dial. Then he stops. Thinks. Let's his curiosity get the better of him.
A little bit of eavesdropping never hurt anyone, and he can always call Neal when the Suit's actually over there. That's probably the most efficient way to get his equipment back anyway. (A chance to really try out the surveillance quality of his bug, well, that's an added bonus. It's not the main reason he's doing it, really.)
Mozzie runs the audio feed through speakers, and finishes his stock take. He makes a list of supplies he's running short on, and starts thinking about who he's going to need to contact to resupply. For some of the items, it might be easier to leave the country and get them through customs himself, but a quick trip to Chicago and Detroit could save him the trouble.
Then he hears Neal's voice on the speakers and figures this can wait a little while. He gets himself a fresh orange juice, puts on the headphones, and listens.
"I thought I had to make a choice for myself," Neal says, and it feels like listening to a radio play: the upset lover, the plodding cop. The melodrama portrayed by words and voice alone. Mozzie wishes he'd thought to grab popcorn.
"I thought it couldn't hurt to give it another try," the Suit says, sounding friendly but a little too loud. Mozzie realises he has the volume turned up too high. He adjusts it, and the Suit says, "Stay, Neal."
"There's no point discussing this. There's nothing new to say."
There are footsteps as the Suit walks closer. "I love you. Maybe that bears repeating."
"It's not that simple. Kate needs me."
"Sure. She needs you so much that during the last year, she didn't bother coming back to Manhattan at all."
"She sent postcards," Neal bites back. "Don't try to make her sound like--"
"I'm not attacking Kate." The Suit says it softly but it still sounds harsh. "This is about you. You can't hide behind what Kate supposedly needs or what you owe her. You need to stand up and make this choice based on what you want."
Mozzie takes a sip of his orange juice and wonders if that's a little hypocritical: the Suit telling someone not to make decisions based on obligation. He's really not the poster boy for do whatever you like, hang the consequences.
Neal doesn't call him on it. "Maybe Kate is what I want."
"Is it? Because this isn't Fowler's out, this isn't a house in the suburbs. This is breaking the law, changing your names, moving when people get to know you. This is spending the rest of your life running and knowing that any day, you could get caught. Is that how you want to spend the next ten years, Neal?"
"As opposed to what?" Neal's voice is a ragged, upset and not at all composed. Even when he was talking about catching Kate's killer, Mozzie can't remember hearing Neal so honestly upset. "What happens here in ten years? The next two years is easy, I'm still on parole. But what happens after that, when I have a rap sheet three pages long and nothing else?"
"That's what this is about?" the Suit asks, soft and so surprised.
"If I run with Kate, in ten years time, I probably still have Kate. If I'm smart, I have a solid identity and enough cash for no-one to ask too many questions."
"Or you get shot during a deal gone wrong. Or you get arrested and end up behind bars."
"Is that a personal threat?"
"It wouldn't be me. I wouldn't have the resources," the Suit says. It surprises Mozzie because the Suit always seems so confident that he can work out how Neal thinks and where he'll go. The Suit doesn't seem like the type to give up and give in. Maybe Neal looks just as surprised because the Suit adds, "I vouched for you. When it gets discovered that you ran under my supervision and I had an inkling of it, or worse, that I was sleeping with you at the time… If I'm lucky, Hughes will be able to limit it to termination without it getting publicised."
"Maybe you should have started with that," Neal says weakly. "That if I run, you get fired."
"That's not the point. I don't want you to stay out of guilt." The Suit sighs, and there's the rustle of movement, a few soft footsteps. "If this goes wrong, it's my responsibility because I've done the wrong thing. This is an abuse of power while you're in my custody but this is the thing: I don't trust another agent with your safety. They'd put too many limits on you until you got bored and acted out by doing something stupid. Or they'd let you take too many risks."
"Peter," Neal says softly. (They must be close because that sounded like a whisper but the bug transmitted it clearly. Score one for the Chinese Cockroach.) Neal doesn't say anything else, and for a moment, Mozzie wonders if he's spotted the bug.
Then the Suit says, "In two years time, we do what I'd do now if you weren't in my custody and wearing a tracker. I ask you to move in, because while June's has a fantastic view, I think you belong with us. Not on a trial basis, not with a time limit, just move in and make it home."
"And do what?"
"Whatever you want, as long as it's legal," the Suit says, surprisingly gentle. "Keep working as a consultant. It's not the best paid job in the world, but you're good at it and you make a difference. Or work for Burke Premiere Events because El plans a party the way you plan a heist. You'd love it."
"Would El be okay with that?"
"It's her idea. The way her business is growing, she'd love you working there right now." There's a rustle, a brush of clothing, but Mozzie has no idea of the gesture causing it. "Or do something else. By that stage, you'll have worked for the FBI for four years, and there's a few of us who'd be willing to give you a glowing reference. You'll have options, Neal."
Mozzie pulls the earphones off. While he doesn't want to interrupt a moment like this, if he doesn't interrupt soon, he might end up listening to things he really doesn't want in his mental soundscape. So he picks up his cell and calls Neal.
Neal answers on the third ring. "Hey, Moz."
"This is slightly embarrassing," Mozzie starts, "but one of my bugs accidentally left my apartment."
"Do you know where it is now?"
"At a guess, somewhere on the Suit's suit."
Neal doesn't even pause. "Turn it off."
"It was only on because I had to work out where it was," Mozzie points out, which is almost true. "When I recognised the voices, it sounded like a conversation I didn't want to interrupt."
"Moz," Neal says, and there's an unspoken warning in his tone. Clearly, there are limits to how much personal information should be exposed to their friendship and this is one of them. "Off, now. I'll talk to you later." Then Neal hangs up.
Mozzie's tempted to put on the earphones again just to check, but he's not tempted enough to actually do it. He deactivates the signal.
Neal casually strolls around the corner of Sixth Avenue at eight-oh-six, and pauses by Mozzie's side as if he just happens to have an interest in the shoes displayed in the store window. He pulls a folded slip of paper from his left breast pocket, and in one practiced move, slides it into Mozzie's jacket pocket. "That's downright careless, Moz. Just leaving those around."
"Did you get it without the Suit noticing?"
Neal shoots him a sideways look, eyes wide and brows quirked. "Are you questioning my abilities?"
"Of course not," Mozzie replies. Thieves: they're always so touchy when it comes to the humble art of picking someone's pocket. Or, in this case, collar. "It's just that some of us don't make a habit of taunting officials, and if the Suit's going to be especially annoyed the next time I see him, I'd like some forewarning."
"Peter didn't suspect a thing," Neal says slowly, over-enunciating to make the sarcasm obvious for the dim-witted kids in the class. "Although the question proves you turned the transmitter off. How much of that conversation did you overhear?"
Discretion is the greater part of valour, and the greater part of discretion is the social white lie, so Mozzie says, "Far more than I ever wanted to. Did you want to do this here?"
"A bit crowded for my tastes." Neal looks to the left, up towards the theatre district, and Mozzie nods. He hooks the strap of the messenger bag over his right shoulder and follows Neal to the corner. They cross 37th and walk up to 38th before Neal speaks again.
"Are you going to ask?"
Neal's probably making conversation because it looks a little suspicious to walk beside someone without talking, so Mozzie keeps it flippant and fun. "If you're waiting for me to ask details about your sordid sex life, you'll be waiting a long time."
"Sordid? I think I should object to that," Neal says, stepping aside to avoid a gaggle of tourists hovering around a map. "At least on Peter's behalf."
"You're sleeping with two married people." A girl near them looks over, surprised out of her casual eavesdropping, and Mozzie frowns at her until she pretends to read a message on her phone. "Neither of them is married to you."
"But they're married to each other. That's got to count for something."
"If the story of your romantic entanglements would be out of place in a Harlequin novel, but has probably featured in several films of a pornographic nature, your sex life is sordid. There's no denying it."
Neal looks like he wants to argue it just for fun, but they stop to cross the street. Neal isn't the type to argue his sex life while surrounded shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of strangers. Once again, Mozzie is glad of Neal's airs and graces. (He appreciates them every time Neal talks them out of trouble, every time he charms his way somewhere Mozzie could never get.)
They keep walking. "What would you do?" Neal asks eventually, when the crowds thinned a little.
"Me? I wouldn't be in the situation in the first place," Mozzie says, because, well, he wouldn't. He's too smart to ever consider sleeping with a Fed, and girls like Kate, they never go for the quirky best-friend types. "Are you actually asking for my advice?"
Neal shrugs, looking somewhat pained. "I'm asking your opinion, Moz. Don't blow it out of proportion."
"I wouldn't be sleeping with a Fed because I wouldn't be working with the FBI, because," Mozzie says, stabbing a finger at Neal, "I wouldn't have got caught in the first place."
"Thanks," Neal says dryly, brushing imaginary lint from his cuff. "That's very helpful."
"But assuming a certain drop in IQ…" Mozzie says, because it's true. During a particularly dull stretch of seven hours waiting for a museum party to finish, they'd completed actual IQ tests out of pure boredom. Mozzie had sent them in and then gloated about his twelve point lead. Neal still claims he threw the test on purpose, but Mozzie knows how competitive Neal really is. That whole too-cool-to-care thing is such a front.
"Or assuming you had three very attractive people offering sexual favours and undying love," Neal replies, with only a hint of smugness. "If you were me, what would you do?"
Mozzie doesn't even need to think about it. "I'd stay in Manhattan. There's nowhere in the world like New York City, and if sleeping with a pig is the price you have to pay, then do it. This city's worth it."
"Nice to know your romantic advice has nothing whatsoever to do with my relationships."
"This isn't advice, this is opinion," Mozzie says, shifting the messenger bag on his shoulder meaningfully. "As far as I knew, that wasn't the point of tonight's rendezvous."
"That looks heavy," Neal says casually, like he doesn't know exactly what's in there. "You want a hand with that?"
"Finally." Mozzie hands the bag over eagerly. "Are we done?"
"Got somewhere you need to be, Moz?"
"I'm making travel plans." Mozzie shrugs, and then adds, "Visiting old friends in Detroit."
Neal doesn't flinch but his eyes cut straight to Mozzie. "Anything I should know?"
"Restocking." He really does need to restock. This is not solely a transparent attempt to delay Neal leaving by being unavailable to help switch the locket. "But, you know, if you don't hear from me in three days time, might be time to break the seal and send some anonymous tips to the cops."
Neal nods, and as cowardly as it is, Mozzie's relieved. It's not that he doesn't enjoy his job, it's just that some parts of it -- the parts involving guns, sharp blades and scary guys with missing fingers and no surnames -- aren't as much fun as the cons and the forgeries. It's good to have a friend like Neal. It's good to have someone who knows 'break the seal' refers to a very specific set of incriminating folders currently taking up space in a warehouse down by the old sea docks; it's good to have someone who knows that 'old friends in Detroit' and sudden disappearances are a bad mix.
"Of course," Mozzie says, "that only works if you're going to be here for the next week."
"I can stay for a week," Neal says, rolling his eyes.
"Only a week?" When Neal frowns at him, Mozzie adds, "I just want to know for travel plans. In case I need another safety net in place."
Neal shrugs, smoothing a hand over the outside of the messenger bag. The locket inside is in a small velvet bag wrapped within a thick sweatshirt but Neal's probably feeling for the edges anyway. "Do you think..."
Neal doesn't finish his question, but Mozzie guesses at it. "Do I think the Suit was lying?"
"Tell someone what they want to hear," Neal takes a deep breath, "and it's amazing what you can get them to do."
"I guess you'd know," Mozzie says because Neal would. It makes sense that someone who seduces with flirtation and smiles would know how easy it is to do without meaning a word.
Mozzie buries his hands in his pockets. He'd complain about the trials of working with conmen, but this is Neal. He's never met someone so willing to believe in the concept of love, so blindly able to see Kate's actions as signs of absolute devotion and so blinkered against the idea of it happening again. Neal has waxed poetic about the Burke's marriage -- after far too much champagne -- so it's not that he doesn't admire the Suit's marriage; it's that he finds it hard to believe he has a place there.
Mozzie understands. It's not a conventional relationship by anyone's standards. But at the same time, Neal's not really a conventional guy so it does make sense. In a weird, this-would-only-happen-to-Neal-Caffrey way, of course.
"His ulterior motives are pretty valid," Neal says calmly, like they're discussing a mark and the best approach to use. "We're talking his career, and that means a lot to Peter."
"So does honesty," Mozzie points out. "I'm not saying the Suit hasn't lied to you in the past -- furtively keeping the music box is a glaring example -- but why would he lie here? Wouldn't it be easier to secretly track down Kate and get one of his lackeys to arrest her? He'd barely need to tell you."
Neal looks across the street, shading his eyes from the sunlight. They wait for a break in traffic before stepping across, ignoring the red 'do not walk' sign. "Probably."
"And if he really wanted to go for the guilt-trip, he would have got El to come over, supposedly behind his back, to tearfully tell you how the Suit would lose his job when you ran. Much as I hate to say this, especially when it comes to one of our government's enforcers," Mozzie says, affecting a sigh, "I don't think the Suit's lying."
Neal nods. Mozzie honestly can't tell if he's convinced or not.
Mozzie's riding the travelator at JFK airport when his phone rings. There's a very limited number of people with this number but he still checks the display before picking up. It reads, 'Jelly,' so he answers with, "Hi, El."
(Neal and Suit are in there as initials -- PB and N respectively -- and he was hungry when he was programming the numbers. Jelly made perfect sense.)
"Hi. Can you talk?" El sounds upbeat but her voice is hushed. Mozzie can't tell if it's happy-upbeat or nervous-panic-upbeat, so he prepares for the worst.
"Sure," Mozzie says, stepping off the travelator and wandering over to one of the windows. He's already checked in; now he's just killing time before his flight. "What's this about?"
"I've been offered tickets to Madame Butterfly. I was wondering if you'd like to go with me."
"I'd love to," Mozzie says, because the combination of good tickets, good company and a good opera is a rare treat. But he's been around Neal and Neal's ilk too long to be sidetracked so easily. "This is really about Neal, isn't it?"
El laughs, and Mozzie wonders if she's standing in the kitchen making this call or if she's dragged the phone to the coffee table, kicked off her shoes and curled up on the couch for this call. "It is, but it's also about the opera tickets. They're a thank you for the help with Neal."
"Neal's still there," Mozzie says. He doesn't add that he knew that because he'll be in Detroit for the next two days and if Neal's escaping, he'll probably need help. "Are you sure that's a cause for celebration?"
"He came over last night," El says. She pauses, there's a slight rustle as she covers the phone for a moment and there's the distant creak of a door. "He brought the locket. And the letters."
"Oh," Mozzie says.
In the background he hears the Suit ask, "Are you coming back to bed?" and El's replying, "I'm on the phone."
"So," Mozzie says, choosing to ignore the fact that it's eleven-thirty on a weekday morning and the Burke's are apparently playing hooky, "it's all good?"
"It is. We talked about some things and Neal's agreed he's staying. And Peter's agreed to let Kate leave the country with Neal's replica."
"As long as she leaves the country, right?" Mozzie asks, thinking that's what he'd demand in the Suit's place, and El laughs.
"That was made quite clear. Peter tends to get a bit possessive."
"Surprising for someone so happy to share." Mozzie thinks for a moment. Something isn't right here. "If everything's tied up in a neat little bow of happy endings, why did you call me now? This could've waited."
"I wanted to put your mind at ease." That line might work better if Mozzie was there to the bright, caring smile that surely went with it. Over the other end of a phone call, though… it still seems suspicious.
"Well," El says, drawing out the word, "during last night's discussions, Peter might have let a little more slip than intended."
"Neal knows I ratted him out to the Suit?"
"He knows you mentioned your concerns to me. But I'm sure by the time you get back he'll forgive you completely. I'll make sure of it."
Mozzie hates to repeat himself, but after working with a Fed against a friend, he deserves a lot worse than echoing his own words. "These are details I really don't want to know. Ever."