“Here we are,” June said, and opened the door to the closet. The suits lining the walls were neatly bagged and arranged by season and then by style, and a faint scent of rosemary hung in the air. Byron had preferred rosemary to both cedar and mothballs for keeping his suits pristine, and after his death, the household staff had continued to refresh the vases of rosemary in every closet.
Neal stepped inside, eyes widening. “This is amazing,” he said, and looked to her for permission. June nodded, and he pulled one suit out and held it up against his face, then another.
“If I remember correctly, there’s a grey pinstripe in here that will look stunning on you,” June said, searching through the dry cleaners’ bags, and found it among the fall suits. “Do try it on,” she urged, “I haven’t seen it in years.”
Neal nodded. “Should I--”
“I’ll just step out for a moment,” June said. She shut the closet door behind her, then took a deep breath. She had avoided this closet for years; it held the best of Byron’s wardrobe, the suits he’d acquired right before they’d turned straight. “I need to dress better than the best of society in order to be accepted there,” he’d said. “You,” he’d winked at her, “already do.” They’d spent time in the Garment District and found the bars frequented by aspiring designers, tailors’ apprentices, and off-Broadway costumiers. Byron had offered the most talented among them commissions and told them he’d make their names by wearing their suits, and those eager artists had accepted.
The door creaked open and Neal stepped forward, framing himself in the doorway. The jacket collar sat flat and snug against his neck, and the lapels fell smoothly along his chest. The lines of the trousers were as clean as she remembered them, although slightly looser on Neal than they had been on Byron, and June ran her gaze down his legs, making a mental note to have Wendy call the tailor.
“That looks marvelous on you,” June said. “That lump there on your ankle does spoil the cut, though.” In an even tone, meeting his eyes, she said, “Would you care to explain it?”
Neal cast his eyes down, slumped his shoulders, and said, “Well--”
“Spare me the stories, Mr. Caffrey,” June told him. “I’ve known a felon or two in my time, and I know exactly what that is.”
Neal straightened up and dropped the hang dog posture. “I had this great story about ankle sheaths and being a knife-thrower in the circus, too.” He leaned back, visibly pulling a story together, and June sighed.
“Mr. Caffrey,” June said, “I can tell you now that whatever story you’re about to come up with, I’ve heard them all. Why don’t you tell me why you approached me in the shop and what it is you’re looking for?”
Neal hesitated, and for a moment, June thought he was going to try another con, a sob story about a tragic mistake and how he’d seen the error of his ways and just needed a second chance. Then he looked her in the eyes and said, “I’m a confidential informant for the FBI. I’m on work release for the White Collar division, and I need a place to stay.”
June nodded. “And you thought you could charm your way into my house?”
There was no trace of a smile on Neal’s face as he said, “Something like that. I miscalculated.”
“Old, rich ladies aren’t at all easy to take advantage of,” June chided, “but this may work out nonetheless.” She studied him: ink on his fingers, no calluses on his hands. He was at ease in the bespoke suit, but his fingers covertly stroked the trouser seam, lingering over the fineness of the wool. “I’m prepared to offer you a deal. You must have been a forger, correct?”
Neal looked surprised. “How did you--allegedly,” he said. “Among other alleged things.”
June waved her hand dismissively. “The body has its tells,” she said. “Here are my terms: no weapons in my home and no deals, either. If you make the transactions elsewhere, you may pursue recreational activities as you please. Rent on the attic annex is whatever the FBI has budgeted for you.”
The shoulders of the suit wrinkled dreadfully when Neal shoved his hands in his pockets--a tell, but a lesser one than fidgeting with his fingers or raking them through his messy, prison-long hair.
June waited as he thought, and just before he could burst out and ask, “Why?” she said, “No tricks and no strings, Mr. Caffrey. You hold to your side of our deal, and I won’t ask anything else of you.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Neal said, and his body language radiated bafflement to match his words. “Not that I’m not grateful, but why?”
June looked at him again, wearing Byron’s suit and calling up memories of a livelier time in her life. “I believe in mentoring the next generation. Byron would have wanted it.”
Those words sank in and when Neal straightened up and offered her his hand, the calculated flattery in his expression had been replaced by respect. “No weapons and no deals at home. Thank you, Mrs. Ellington.”
June shook Neal’s hand firmly and said, “Call me June. I believe this will be the start of a fruitful relationship.”
And it was.