Chapter 1: I was running at the speed of life
The shit had hit the fan big time and this job was going nowhere fast.
The mark had asked for the impossible and while they did the improbable pretty much on a daily basis, this was just… well, plain impossible.
Everybody was talking at the same time, everybody knew exactly where everybody else had gone wrong to land them in the mess they were in and everybody claimed it of course hadn’t been them who fucked up. Parker argued loudly that it was all Sophie’s fault for going on holiday just before they took over this case. Because everybody knew they always got into worlds of trouble whenever Sophie wasn’t there.
It was getting old pretty fast and it was getting them nowhere.
„I know a guy,“ Hardison said suddenly.
In the stunned silence that followed, Eliot asked testily, making chopping motions with his hands: „You. Know a guy. A guy who can forge a lost page from Shah Isma‘il the Second’s Shahnama. Convincingly enough to fool one of the world’s leading Islamic Art experts.”
Hardison shrugged and looked offended.
Why was it so hard to believe that he had contacts, too? He hadn’t just started being a hacker and professional criminal yesterday, had he now? But every time he came up with something, everybody acted all surprised and insultingly incredulous.
Yeah, right, he was Hardison, the resident geek. The guy who got tangled in Parker’s rigs, hurt himself trying to hit someone like he’d seen Eliot do countless times, maneuvered himself into an untenable position trying to grift and damn near got themselves killed trying to run the show. So he did what he always did when nobody was inclined to take him seriously, namely launch into an incredibly exaggerated rant, in the hope of browbeating, embarrassing or emotionally blackmailing someone into listening and believing.
“Is this, like, a racial thing, Eliot? Because I’m black, I can’t know any art forgers?” Hardison asked, getting more and more worked up about the entire thing. “And you know what? You’re too damn right, I DON’T know any art forgers. But I know a guy who does and who totally owes me the world’s biggest favor.”
At that, a heated discussion broke loose, with Parker, bless her sweet soul, arguing Hardison’s side, Eliot patently disbelieving Hardison was even capable of tying his own shoes, Nate developing plan J and Sophie trying to moderate between all of them. Hardison kept his mouth shut, just taking a sip of his soda every now and again. They were STILL giving him the look - even Parker, when she thought he wasn’t looking. Well, let them. Alec Hardison was the one who would rescue this job from abject failure and he would do it with verve and style, baby. And with the world’s greatest forger, no less. Finally, they all turned towards him and fell silent.
“You want me to call my guy now, or what?”
Oh fuck, fuck and fuck-dee-doodle fuck.
This was so not how Hardison had wanted this to go down. After being submitted to Mozzie’s usual paranoid third degree to establish he was indeed who he said he was and after wasting more time negotiating if getting Neal to do something for them would indeed settle the score between Hardison and Mozzie for good, the weird little man had told him about Neal’s situation. And Hardison had no clue how Caffrey could still help them while being under FBI surveillance, wearing a fucking tracking anklet to boot. WORKING as an FBI consultant, no less.
He took a deep breath and sat down on the barstool next to Nate, wiping slightly clammy hands on his jeans. While the older man was nursing his whiskey, Alec explained the predicament to him, carefully not naming any names as he had promised to Mozzie. If anyone could find a way to make this work regardless, it was Nate. Hardison could almost hear the man’s brain work overtime, pondering pros and cons and hopefully coming up with a solution.
After a couple of minutes, Nate took a drink, then turned to Hardison.
“I think we WOULD be able to pull this off, using the FBI credentials you and Parker established, some of Sophie’s stuff, some of Eliot’s stuff, yeah, I think it would be doable. It would, however, be a high risk operation and I’m not willing to do it unless I’m convinced that your guy can actually deliver what you promised. So, unless you tell me who the forger is, my hands are tied.” Hardison sighed, slid off the barstool and tackled Mozzy again.
After two hours of ifs, buts and howevers, Mozzie told him to clear it directly with the man himself and finally gave him Neal’s number. Thankfully, that call went so much quicker. All Hardison had to do was say his name and briefly describe what was needed and Caffrey had laughed, saying he knew precisely who his crew was and what they were doing and sure, he’d honor Mozzie’s debt to Hardison and gladly so. Called them Nathan Hood and his Merry Men, which made Hardison wince. But Neal agreed without further ado to do the forgery for them if they could find a way for him to do it right under the noses of the FBI.
That call had been a godsend. Neal had been bored out of his mind. The current case Peter was working on had no angle Neal could work on, so Peter had him go over old cases, checking if he could find anything that looked familiar, that Neal could maybe pin on any old acquaintances. Neal had been chin-deep in dusty old paper for days now and at this point, he’d have committed a crime himself just to be called in to solve it.
And Hardison had said Thomas Farnsworth was the mark.
Real estate mogul and out and out bastard, Farnsworth would not stop at anything to reach his goal. The same held true when it came to Farnsworth’s obsession, late Medieval Islamic art. Neal was fervently hoping Ford and his team would find a way to get him to Boston for this case. The time might finally have come for some serious payback. And Jamie Milligan might finally be able to rest in peace.
Hardison couldn’t help himself, he just had to do a little victory dance.
Neal Caffrey would help them. He, Alec Hardison, had gotten them the forgery pope himself, the ayatollah of art theft, the guru of grifting, the most accomplished con man that ever lived. Yay for Hardison, the invincible! He twirled another time, then printed out the preliminary shopping list of materials Caffrey had already given him off the top of his head.
When Hardison got back downstairs, the entire crew was there. He couldn’t help the satisfied little smirk that just wouldn’t go away as he sat back down on the same barstool as before and nonchalantly inserted a quiet, slightly bored “Neal Caffrey” into the conversation.
They all went quiet as if someone had pressed the mute button. It was priceless. Parker looked like a kid in a candy store, probably thinking about all the things she could learn from picking Caffrey’s brain. Even Eliot seemed… unusually cheerful. And Nate? Well, Nate opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking to all intents and purposes like a carp on dry land.
“Ah, yes, ah, Hardison, he will… I think… he will do quite nicely. So… ah, let’s go steal a con man, shall we?”
Chapter 2: Through morning's thoughts and fantasies
“Mr. Ford, I’m Agent Burke, what can I do for you?”
Nate groaned inwardly. This was his worst case scenario.
He could tell at first glance that the agent in front of him was no dummy, nor some mindless bureaucrat – for both of these types, they had prepared elaborate paperwork, dotted their Is and crossed their Ts. On the contrary, Nate thought, this brisk, slightly grumpy looking man was sharp as a tack. They would have to watch themselves very, very carefully around him during the entire duration of the job.
“Good morning, Agent Burke, I work for…”
“IYS, I know, Mr. Ford, I ran a check on you as you were coming up to the office from the lobby. Makes me wonder why an insurance investigator wants to talk to me,” Burke said, easy smile not quite reaching his eyes.
Nate beamed at him, “harmless desk jockey” oozing from every pore, cheap, but tasteful suit and muted tie shouting “sharp but geeky”.
Nate had left nothing to chance, not when he had to stride into the lion’s den, bold as brass. From the hair to the clothes, everything was designed to make him look honest, serious, more or less harmless and in dire need of help.
Sophie would’ve been proud of him.
“Ah, you see, I am investigating a possible insurance fraud and I am faced with alleged forgeries so perfectly done that I would need an expert to help me clear this up. An expert with, shall we say, rather unique skills?”
Nate tried to project professionalism laced with a fair measure of desperate anxiety and, so he noted with some relief, it seemed to be working. He decided to put some more meat on the bones of his story.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the van Holden estate?”
Burke nodded and Nate continued: “See, there is an art collection, worth around 26 million dollars. Some of the prime pieces were stolen after old man van Holden’s death and we are suspecting that the widow may have actually switched them for forgeries and sold them years ago.”
Nate gestured, wishing he could deliver a presentation, with photos and fact sheets, just like the one they did at the start of each of their own jobs. It might have made selling this scenario to Burke so much easier.
But then again, there was a very real danger of overselling this, so Nate would have to watch the other man’s reactions like a hawk.
Nate took a deep breath and went on: “As the struggle over the estate continues between the trophy wife and the sons that are actually older than her, van Holden’s sons have ordered the entire collection to be re-evaluated and a few days later, those pieces in question were allegedly stolen. From a house with one of the most elaborate alarm systems I’ve ever come across in a private home, I might add.”
“Sounds fishy to me,” Burke said, an interested light in his eyes.
“Yes, that’s what I thought immediately, too. The problem is, however, that van Holden’s art appraiser has declared the paintings to be genuine, as he had catalogued and evaluated them a few weeks before they were stolen. Now, me, I don’t buy that. I still think they’re forgeries and whether or not the appraiser’s in on it remains to be seen, but it could also be they were done so expertly that I’m going to have a hard time finding proof.”
Nate could see that the bloodhound instinct in Burke had awoken. Now for the final piece de resistance, the thing that made Caffrey traveling to Boston unavoidable.
“There is one Raphael that I think is also a forgery and the hired thugs probably just overlooked it, as it’s small and fairly unassuming and was hanging in the master bedroom, rather than the library or living room, like the other major paintings. When I got there, the wife tried a little bit too hard to keep me away from that particular painting. Juuuust a little bit too hard, see?”
“I see…” Burke said, expression carefully neutral. “And so you thought…?”
“Now, Mr. Neal Caffrey is currently working for you, so my sources say and he is rumored to be quite the, shall we say, Raphael expert, right? And so I thought I might trouble you to lend me your Mr. Caffrey for a few days. If that were at all possible? To go to Boston? With me?”
Peter wasn’t happy with the thought of letting Neal loose on Boston and on an art collection of that size. Not happy at all. The worst thing about it was that he couldn’t even send Diana and Jones with Caffrey, since they were urgently needed in the current investigation.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Ford. I can’t spare any agents to accompany Mr. Caffrey to Boston at this point. I’m very sorry, but…”
“I, ah, have already spoken with the Boston FBI field office and they are sending two agents to meet us at the airport, Special Agents Hagen and Thomas. See, I have the paperwork right here? If you could merely escort us to the plane here in New York, I think I can guarantee there won’t be any unwanted… shall we say… complications?”
Every instinct in his body was screaming “bad idea”, but Burke was an FBI agent through and through and it did look like there was a crime to be solved and a crime that could probably only be solved with Neal’s help at that.
And to be honest, Neal had zero input to their current case and right now was nothing more than a valuable asset going to waste.
So in the end, he resigned himself to the inevitable, sighed and yelled: “CAFFREY!”
Nate was inwardly shaking his head, as he was sipping champagne on the flight to Boston.
Champagne Caffrey had procured in coach, no less, with nothing more than a smile and a wink. The flight attendant had actually simpered. SIMPERED. Nate hadn’t even known women still did that this day and age.
The man was… irritatingly charming.
The perfect con man, in short. Good looks, impeccable manners, killer dress sense, a keen intellect and charm in abundance. One might argue that Caffrey had disqualified himself from the perfect con man contest, so to say, by getting caught, but in the end, he had been caught on a technicality, had never admitted to anything else than the bond forgery, yet every grifter and con man knew just WHAT this man could do and had done.
In his mind, Nate went through a very long list of unsolved cases of art theft and forgery he had always felt sure had been pulled off by the same man. He had suspected that man had been Caffrey ever since Neal had been arrested for bond forgery, but Nate grew more certain with every passing minute the man he was sitting next to right now had been behind every single one of the cases he had failed to solve while still at IYS.
“The answer is yes, Mr. Ford,” Caffrey said suddenly.
“What was the question?” Nate asked, startled out of his reverie.
“You are asking yourself if I was behind any of your old, unsolved cases. And the answer is yes. I know you were after me, but you never even came close to catching me. Not even on the Matisse, in spite of what you’re thinking. I was never actually IN the storage facility, so you did NOT only miss me by a few minutes, after all.”
All this in a calm, cheerful voice, with that same terribly nice, open smile on the perfect face and that guileless look in those very blue eyes. Yeah, the man was good. Very, very good. Nate couldn’t help but suspect there was so much more going on under that smooth surface than even he could imagine.
The question firstly and foremostly on Nate’s mind remained, however, why Caffrey had agreed to help them.
“I like what you are doing, Mr. Ford,” came that smooth voice again, intruding into his thoughts as if the younger man could actually read Nate’s mind.
“I don’t much like it when big players, powerful people, huge companies, think they can basically get away with anything. Little people get trampled on, hurt and maybe even killed, while the folks up there don’t even notice or simply don’t care. You’re after Thomas Farnsworth now, or so my sources said. He’s… bad news and if I can help taking him down a notch or three, I’m in.”
There was a curiously hard light in Neal’s eyes and a steely note in his voice as he said that.
Nate thought there was a lot more to this than the other man had let on, but he decided they weren’t in a place yet as, well, as partners in crime? coworkers? where he could ask for more information and actually be told the truth.
“Did you receive my shopping list, Mr. Ford?”
“Yes. My people already got everything, except for the paper. Can you work with something else? We have a few pages from an Italian manuscript of around the same time?”
“No, I’m afraid that won’t work. Those pages will be vellum, but I actually need paper. Never you mind, Mr. Ford, in a city like Boston, I can easily procure what is needed from my own sources.”
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that the “source” showed up at John McRory’s Place within minutes of their arrival at the bar.
Neal interrupted the introductions to the team immediately to check the paper. When he was satisfied that it would do, he told the elderly gentleman who had delivered it to give his regards to Mr. B. and the debt was now repaid.
Chapter 3: Secret secrets never seen
Neal was sitting at the table in the apartment, sketching an elaborate battle scene, kind of the follow-up to the page currently on display at the LA County Museum of Art – the Byzantine army under shah Khusraw Parviz driving Bahram Chubina and his men off. End of the attempted usurpation.
He had decided to go with the style of Ali Asghar as the main, if not the sole contributor to the lost volume, just because there were at least a few surviving examples of his drawing style and Neal felt he could get a better grip on it than on any of the other artists.
Also, he chose to go for the more flashy fight rather than a quiet garden scene, since it simply seemed more likely that another page close to the other surviving pages would have survived. The Byzantine battle armor was a little tricky at first, but he had it down to a tee by the time he had sketched the third soldier.
He gave the horses a slightly Chinese look, as at the time the Chinese influences on Islamic art were steadily growing. Besides, he was rather fond of the special dynamic in Chinese horses.
He just loved drawing horses. When Neal had been a kid, he had filled sketchbook upon sketchbook with horses in different colors, poses and styles, from all periods of art history. Horses fascinated him. He couldn’t even say why, but all his life, he had been curiously drawn to them. Yet he had never been on horseback, not even once.
He set the sketch aside and tackled the infinitely more complicated matter of the writing.
He had chosen the words ‘At the dawn of the second day, shah Khusraw Parviz’ eyes were as expectant of the dust from the hooves of the Byzantine steeds flying onwards to the rescue as the ears of those who fast are for the cry of Allahu akbar.’ for the first vignette on the page and ‘As they arrived, the men of Bahram Chubina, the traitor and coward, were shaking with fear and were no match for the courage of the noble Byzantines.’ for the second.
Getting the translation and calligraphy was easy, but still the actual writing remained tricky, as the ancient letters and the modern ones obviously differed quite greatly. Good thing Hardison was extremely good at retrieving information. After studying dozens of pages from roughly the same period, Neal felt fairly confident his calligraphy would be up to expert scrutiny.
Neal smiled. This was way more fun than he had had in a long time.
What he didn’t enjoy at all, however, was the phone calls with Peter.
Weirdly enough, lying through his teeth was not getting any easier, the more time Neal was spending with Burke.
What really bugged him, though, was thinking that the agent might, at the end of the day, even grudgingly approve of what they were doing.
Of course, Peter would grudgingly approve while still slapping cuffs on all of them regardless.
Hardison had watched Neal at work all morning. He was infinitely fascinated by the way Caffrey immersed himself into the complex process of forgery. The man’s deft fingers were dancing across the paper with sure strokes of the brush as he now wrote line upon line of Arabic script. Before, it had been soldiers in elaborate armor and horses, lots of horses.
Now, Hardison could fake anything that could be created by using a computer, but this? This was sheer genius of an entirely different kind and Hardison was in awe of it. This wasn’t something he could research, copy, hack or steal, this needed a talent he sadly did not possess at all. If all Caffrey did were to copy something that already existed, Hardison might at least understand the process, but the man looked at some things and then came up with something entirely new and so completely convincing that it just left Hardison speechless.
Thomas Farnsworth the Third was pacing.
He was so close to owning a piece of the Shahnama, so close! Over the years, as his obsession with it grew, he had had several offers, but none of them had ever panned out. So when a Professor Reginald Emerson from the Smithsonian had approached him, claiming to have a source in Iran that could procure almost anything, he hadn’t been hopeful at all.
The Professor, however, had produced some quite lovely pieces of art, a dagger, a rock crystal vase and a bowl, all very nice and enticing, but not enough to satisfy the needs of a true collector. So in the end, Farnsworth had told the man to find him a lost page from Shah Isma‘il The Second’s book.
There had always been rumors about a private Iranian collector who might hold on to as many as three pages altogether, but nobody had ever been able to verify that. If Emerson really had the kind of contacts he had claimed he had, there was a good chance Farnsworth might finally get his heart’s desire after all these years.
Emerson had promised to call that morning.
It was nearly 11 am and the man hadn’t contacted him yet. So Farnsworth was pacing, almost sure he’d crossed his office so often there should be wear and tear in the carpet to prove it.
Please, please let the Professor call and let him have good news, Farnsworth thought as he walked across the room in frustration once more.
Finally, the phone rang.
Emerson sounded ecstatic. Yes, his source in Iran had found the collector and as the man was very, very keen to leave the country, he would be willing to part with the page for enough money to make a fresh start in the US. No, it did not look like the man indeed possessed the rumored three pages, it seemed to be only the one.
The Professor’s source, an attaché to the US embassy in Teheran with a bit of a gambling problem, would act as a go-between and make sure the collector would receive the money. The source expected to be able to arrive in the States already within the next five or six days WITH the page.
Now all Farnsworth had to do was make sure the good Professor and his source would hand over the page and then conveniently vanish from the face of the earth. Farnsworth needed neither witnesses, nor was he particularly willing to actually part with his money.
He made the phone call that would make sure of that, smiling happily the entire time.
Chapter 4: You must see the movie, the sand in my eyes
Neal stepped out into the bright morning sun.
Eliot Spencer was standing at the edge of the roof, doing tai chi moves. Sword form, of course.
Quite the spectacle. The man sure knew how to move. He conveyed an image of tightly controlled energy. Reigned in until the time was right to let go.
Precise, calm and very, very expertly, Eliot was doing his morning exercises.
Suddenly, there was someone standing next to him, mirroring his every move.
Eliot was startled, because the man had managed to approach him without Eliot noticing a thing.
Caffrey moved like a cat, all elegant grace and quiet efficiency, that much Eliot had seen during the last days. Everybody else seemed to assume the man was nothing but a great forger and art thief. Harmless, physically. But Eliot saw beyond that. A man who moved like that obviously had to have some sort of training. Eliot would be interested to find out what else Neal might be trained in.
After the final set, Eliot said gruffly: “Nice moves, Caffrey. What else can you do? Guns? Knives? Martial arts?”
Neal smiled and rolled his shoulders ever so slightly.
“I don’t like guns,” he said, looking Eliot straight into the eyes.
“Neither do I. And I’m damn sure, same as with me, that doesn’t mean you don’t know how to use them.”
There was no danger Eliot would blab about this conversation to anyone, but you never knew when it might come in handy to have at least one team member know a thing or two about him.
Especially given their mark. Neal hadn’t let on, but he had serious misgivings about their plan so far. Farnsworth was a rabid wolf who didn’t even bother with sheep’s clothing and so far, Ford’s plan wasn’t making allowances for that
Plus, it had been a while since he last had had a chance to spar. And sparring with Eliot was going to be awesome, Neal thought. Painful, but so much better than the rather meek training sessions he secretly got at a gym in the Bronx whenever he could, claiming to have Chinese dinner at the place on the ground floor, when in fact he was beating the shit out of some heavy or other upstairs.
So Caffrey smiled, a little wider than usually, a tad more wolfish, letting that part of him show that he usually so carefully kept hidden and motioned for Eliot to come at him.
Half an hour and several bruises later, there was a lot of respect in both their eyes.
Eliot simply grabbed his towel, tossed a bottle of water over at Neal, nodded and walked back inside. No need for words here, no need at all.
Neal gulped down half the bottle in one go, as he stood panting, looking at the Boston skyline.
Good workout, that. Excellent, in fact.
And he’d had to use moves he hadn’t been forced to use in a VERY long time.
He reckoned he’d cracked a rib or three, but then again, Eliot would feel that punch to the kidneys for almost as long a time. He’d held his own, making up his disadvantage in mass with his slightly better reach and speed.
Yes, a good way to start the day.
“So, while Neal and I hand over the page, Parker and Eliot enter Farnsworth’s home and take the file from his safe. Hardison will tackle the alarm system and talk Parker and Eliot through the break-in, as usual. Any questions? Fine, let’s roll.”
Nate was already moving towards the door, when Caffrey’s cool voice stopped him in his tracks.
“Not quite so fast, if you please.”
Nate turned around, arms outstretched. What now?
Caffrey was looking unusually grim, as he said softly: “It’s more by way of an observation, really, Mr. Ford. Farnsworth has a certain reputation.”
Parker and Hardison were looking at him confusedly.
Eliot, however, crossed his arms and merely nodded grimly. Good thing it didn’t have to be him this time, pointing out the fly in the ointment, the one detail Nate had conveniently forgotten to mention.
See, Eliot had sources, too, and they had spoken of deals gone hideously wrong for the other party. Farnsworth ALWAYS got what he was after and when he did, well, let’s just say there usually wasn’t any ‘other party’ left standing.
Definitely not a man who honored his deals.
“Yeah, well, I’ve taken that into account. When we get there, you will tell him that right before you left, the old man showed you two more pages. There have always been rumors that there are three pages out there in total, so it’s a plausible thing. That way, the mark will still need us. Problem with Farnsworth’s reputation solved. Let’s roll.”
Neal doubted that it would be that easy, but he just shrugged, turned and gave Eliot a measured look, then made a small sign with his left hand that Hardison didn’t quite catch.
Eliot nodded and looked slightly relieved. Less grouchy? Not quite as aggressive? Reconsidering running up and down the street outside, killing pedestrians as he went? Hard to tell with Eliot.
Hardison was briefly startled that there seemed to be some kind of accord between Neal and Eliot, of all people, but then they were off and there was just no time to consider puzzles like that.
Not when everything depended on both legs of the con running like clockworks.
Chapter 5: I walk through a desert song when the heroine dies
The break-in went as planned.
Hardison disabled the alarm system segment by segment as Parker made her way to the safe, while Eliot was making sure there would be no surprises on their way out.
The safe was no match for Parker’s skills, the file was there and both she and Eliot were on their way back out right on time.
It was the other part of the con that was going to the dogs at record speed and Hardison didn’t like what he was hearing on his earbud.
The handover meeting was scheduled to take place in an alley in what easily was the seediest part of town.
At first, everything sounded normal. Nate did the introductions, Neal was smooth and suave, as expected. The page was handed over and inspected, no flaw was found, likewise as expected.
But before Neal even had a chance to say anything about the two additional pages, a couple of goons suddenly showed up behind Nate and him and within seconds, they were fighting for their lives.
Neal swiftly and quite brutally dispensed of two goons, breaking bones and doing something exceedingly nasty to one of them with nothing more than his scarf. Nate had his hands full with goons 3 and 4, but it still was looking like they just might wing it, when a fifth guy came up behind Neal, just as the younger man was turning to help Nate.
The sharp, familiar bite of the knife in Neal’s back actually didn’t come as much of a surprise. Neal had expected something of the kind.
Old instincts took over.
Cool Irish voice telling him what would happen if a knife entered here, here, or here. That spot? Painful, yes. Severe blood loss imminent, yes. Not life threatening, provided he got to a doctor within the next couple of hours.
He whispered “ten double-zero, code thirty”, then turned and made sure his attacker wouldn’t do that with anybody else anymore.
His attacker obviously had expected him to go down without any further resistance, so Neal managed to grab the goon and turn him around.
He snapped the man’s neck without as much as a second thought.
Briefly, he thought of Peter and how appalled he would be that Neal could do such a thing and not even blink. Well, there were things Peter didn’t know and would never know about him, if Neal had any say in the matter. Fact was that there was no time to try to simply knock the guy out, because Neal had to make sure the man stayed down and not come up behind Nate or himself again later.
“Dammit, Hardison, can’t this hearse go any faster,” Eliot snarled.
“Lucille is doing what she can, man, we’ll be there in five, now calm down, will ya?”
Eliot slammed his right fist into his left palm repeatedly, accentuating every word as he tried to get his point across.
“Ten double-zero. Officer down. Code thirty. Trauma case. That was Neal telling us that they are under attack and one of them’s severely wounded. Now hurry the FUCK UP!”
Eliot damn near screamed those last words and Hardison squeezed another five miles per hour out of his much abused van.
Neal knew he didn’t have much time left. The clock was ticking. Soon, he would faint from the blood loss and / or the pain that hadn’t registered just yet. Farnsworth had vanished and there were still two goons to be taken down and a getaway to be made. Plus, no telling, really, if Farnsworth had only brought five guys with him.
Neal picked up a length of iron pipe from the debris behind a garbage bin and knocked the remaining two goons out as fast as he possibly could. As the ominous humming in his ears and his rapidly contracting vision told him, he didn’t have much time left.
“We’re here, guys. Entrance of the alley is blocked so we can’t drive all the way, but we’re right there, just a few hundred yards from you.”
“We’re on our way, Hardison.”
Deep, dark growl that Hardison couldn’t quite place. Neal?
Neal simply grabbed Nate by the arm and ran in the general direction of Hardison’s van. His lungs felt like they were on fire as they rounded the last corner, but the sight of the black van gave Neal the boost of energy to make it through the remaining few yards.
Three feet from the van, Farnsworth stepped into their path, gun in hand.
The man’s eyes looked black in the light and hard as flint. Farnsworth realized immediately that he had made a fatal error in underestimating this guy.
He probably should have just let them make their getaway, but he couldn’t risk it. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t get his own hands dirty, but who could have foreseen a professor and a lesser diplomat taking out five of his men? He raised his gun.
Eliot barreled into Farnsworth with a hoarse scream. The gun was knocked right out of Farnsworth’s hand and vanished into the darkness, clattering as it hit the ground somewhere.
“He’s mine,” a rough voice growled into Eliot’s ear, as Neal pushed past him.
Caffrey was much too pale and the large red stain blossoming on his shirt did not bode well. But Eliot respected the man’s wish and stepped aside.
He’d step in should Caffrey be unable to finish the job, but Eliot would be damned if he’d stand between the man and whatever axe he had to grind.
Neal thought he roughly had a minute left until he’d pass out, maybe two. Well, that just would have to be enough then. Taking out a dirty rat like Farnsworth shouldn’t really take longer than that, anyway. He had, however, originally planned to make it last. Make sure the man got a taste of his own piss before he went to meet his maker.
Neal shrugged inwardly, smiled and slowly walked towards Farnsworth. The rat was wiping blood from his mouth, where Eliot must have hit him and smirked when he saw the blood on Neal’s shirt. Apparently, the guy thought Caffrey was no danger anymore.
If anything, he was more dangerous wounded, because he needed to end this quickly. Less toying with his prey, less margin for error.
It didn’t take long.
Actually, Neal had the man on the ground, begging for his life, with about half a minute to spare.
Enough time to lean down and whisper: “This is for Jamie, you motherfucker. Jamie Milligan, remember? Guy you had that Asian goon torture to death? He. Was. My. FRIEND.”
Hardison looked away, expecting things to go way too unsavory for his taste. He needn't have worried. Neal merely pretended to deliver the big punch, the one that would have ended it all. At the last second, he stopped and looked at the puddle of piss forming underneath Farnsworth with both satisfaction and distaste. Self defense was one thing, cold blooded murder? Well, he'd leave that to soulless people like Farnsworth.
Neal straightened, with effort and not very well, he had to admit. But he was still standing. When his knees buckled a little, Eliot simply silently slipped an arm around Caffrey and started to walk Neal to the van.
“The fuck’m I gonna tell Peter?” Neal mumbled before passing out.
Chapter 6: Epilogue - Never here, never seen
He needn’t have worried, he didn’t have to tell Peter anything at all.
Nate Ford had seen to everything. The happy ending of their cover story held up to scrutiny and Hardison had faked some very convincing news articles about how they had uncovered one of the biggest insurance scams of the new millennium.
Eliot had patched up the knife wound and three days after, Neal was actually able to fly back to New York and fairly adequately act as if he was okay.
“So, Neal, the whole thing WAS one big insurance scam, then?” Burke said the next morning, putting a coffee mug on Neal’s desk.
“Yeah. Ford got them all, was quite a lot of fun. Very… satisfying,” Neal said with a small, grim smile.
Yes, it had been VERY satisfying. Jamie could rest in peace now and Neal’s cut of Farnsworth’s money had been very generous, so he had some money Peter didn’t know about. One never knew when that might come in handy.
Plus, he had made new… friends. Yes, friends, strangely enough. Also, one never knew when they might come in handy. He had to smile, thinking about how each and every one of them had quietly and secretly slipped him their phone numbers. All, except Eliot, with a conspiratory smile and a wink.
Eliot had taken him aside and shared some information that was way more delicate in nature than phone numbers. A safety net. Go-tos and go-betweens, safe houses and other things Neal would make absolutely sure nobody ever found out about.
Now, if Neal was careful enough, Peter would not even notice the knife wound and this entire outing would be filed under “raging success”.
Neal couldn’t help but whistle an old Bowie tune, as he sauntered over to Jones’ desk to liberate a donut to go with his coffee.
Not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all for some weird-ass Arabian adventure.