It ends like this:
Peter misses Neal by half a day, and it’s three years of work lost in the emptiness of the flat. Neal had ordered them pizza from this flat yesterday, and then disappeared, a sleight of hand that nobody but the most exquisite of magicians would understand.
It begins like this:
Peter misses Neal by half a day, and it’s three years of work lost in the emptiness of the flat, and Peter wants to go home to his wife and eat Chinese and watch bad movies, but he knows that he’ll stay at the office until Diana kicks him out, and he knows that he’ll be too angry at himself to do anything but go straight to bed.
Peter misses Neal by half a day, and goes home and finds a postcard addressed to him in handwriting that he knows better than his own by this stage, with an apology.
Dear Agent Peter, I’m sorry that I had to skip our date, it starts and Peter stares at it. I’m sure you’ll get over it though, with a wife as beautiful as yours to distract you.
It has a picture of Paris on it and is signed Nick but while Peter is terrible with remembering dates and could never quite get the hang of not burning food while cooking, he is excellent at his job.
So Peter misses Neal Caffrey, but Neal Caffrey apparently misses him. He isn’t quite sure what to make of this.
There is a letter for him the next week at his office, and Peter doesn’t tell anyone, because it’s -- it’s just a letter. Just a letter from an art thief, about the first painting he fell in love with, and how he never stopped falling in love with art after that.
It takes three weeks before he suspects that it might have been Neal flirting with him.
There are several letters after that, written on thick paper meant for watercolour paintings, on thin paper from a notebook, scribbled on the back of several receipts stuck together. There is nothing important to them. No indication of where he and his accomplices may be, no indication of whether or not he has stolen anything recently, nothing. They’re about mundane things, and mundane places; that time when Neal was four years old and went to a museum and stared at a Caravaggio for an hour before someone made him move. That time when Kate accidentally poured red wine on his suit; when they were kicked out of a restaurant for being too drunk on rum and happiness.
Each time there is a drawing, and each time it takes Peter’s breath away. He shows a couple to El, and she doesn’t believe that someone so talented would only be a forger. Peter only sort of wants her to meet Neal, if only because Neal wouldn’t be able to resist committing her to eternal youth on paper, and he’d be able to see her like this -- eyes sparkling, smiling, beautiful and wondering -- forever.
Six months later, and it is his birthday. There is a sharp rap on the door while he is eating breakfast and smiling at El, and he finds a box. Small and square, it sits determinedly on his doorstep, the smile drawn on top of it staring up at him.
There is a note inside it, accompanying the tie and cuff links. Stolen, probably; Caffrey is like a magpie, collecting beautiful shiny objects, and beautiful paintings, and beautiful women. Beautiful landscapes stolen away by his paintbrush and beautiful phrases sneaked into his letters.
Dear Agent Peter, the note reads, in neat copperplate. Happy birthday.
He doesn’t want to know how Caffrey knows his birthday, nor does he want to know how much those cufflinks cost, but El gasps and says, “Honey, they’re beautiful,” and the look in her eye says expensive. But she puts them on his new shirt for him and beams at him, and he’ll not complain about a wanted criminal sending him silly things like postcards and cufflinks if only for that look.
(He doesn’t show her the drawing that came with it, folded carefully and stowed away at the bottom -- him, standing beneath a street light that could be any road in any city.
It is dated 2/3/2007, Paris.)
The next letter comes with a tie. The one after that, with a card bearing the address of a tailor. Then, tickets to a show that El has been looking to see.
It’s something that very few people know about.
He thinks he should be worried.
The end is in the beginning is in the end, and Peter thinks he understands that when he wakes to find an internationally wanted art thief sitting in his kitchen, drinking coffee with his wife and talking about how beautiful Paris is, how beautiful Rome is, and he can’t do anything but blink for a moment, before they notice his presence.
“Hi, honey,” El says. Happy. Her voice is bright and cheerful and full of laughter, and she smiles at them both. “Neal was just telling me about his travels.”
Caffrey -- Neal -- twists in his chair, to grin at him. His hair is longer than it was, and there are dark smudges under his eyes. “Have you really still not taken her to the Caribbean, Peter?” he says, and Peter wants to lift the phone and call Diana, call Hughes, call someone because they’ve been trying to trace this man for four years now and he’s sitting in Peter's kitchen with Peter’s wife and how is this his life.
He sighs, takes a step forward and says, “Maybe this year.”