Neal Caffrey, Cindy mused, was not the sort of person most people would want to have as their grandmother's permanent house guest. She knew for a fact that he'd only been in prison for a fraction of the crimes he'd committed, and every single visitor he'd ever had was either a career criminal or an FBI agent. Except for his girlfriend, who had helped put him in jail in the first place.
Then again, most grandmothers' guest rooms weren't refurbished rooftop casinos, and most grandmothers didn't largely number career criminals among their best and oldest friends. Admittedly, the last was something of an assumption, not having a large pool of grandmothers to personally draw from. Neal knew that she was the family's designated spy to make sure he wasn't going to drag Grandma into anything dangerous, and she knew that he knew and since she knew that he knew that she knew, they got along famously. Though the family had let up about The Dangers after Neal had helped with Samantha's kidney transplant.
Besides which, Neal not only improved the view, but her grades had improved quite a bit after he moved in, and he was currently doing wonders for her Masters. There were other benefits to having a forger living upstairs, too.
"Are you paying attention?" Neal asked
"Of course! I always pay close attention when you're telling me how to duplicate the masters." Neal gave her the look that said 'Am I helping you learn about art history and techniques, or am I training the next generation of forgers?,' which she ignored. "Besides, I told you, this painting is personal. I'm not even studying the Impressionists right now."
"Personal and private."
"Did I ask questions when you asked me to take off my clothes so you could break into a lab?"
"But did I pry?"
His only response was a cocky eyebrow waggle. There had to be some special criminal training for that, because she kept trying to duplicate it but never could.
Among the benefits of a wealthy and eccentric family was the fact that when you said you had to fly to the other side of the country to attend an art conference, no one asked questions. Of course, she was meeting an expert of sorts, and it did involve art, so perhaps it wasn't as big a lie as it seemed.
Bradford Tombs would have been an easy man to spot even if there weren't a number of pictures of him with Grandma and Grandpa in their younger years in Grandma's photo albums. It was, it seemed, a requirement that men in June Ellington's life dress like temporally displaced members of the Rat Pack. Even Dad had a couple of those hats in his closet. Cindy had also decided to take the fact that he had asked to meet in a Seattle bar as further proof that a certain breed of man just liked "the classics," as Neal would put it.
"Well now, I'd know you for June's granddaughter anywhere." In person, his voice had that same used car salesman quality--yet somehow managed to be interesting instead of sleazy--that it had over the phone.
"Really? Because not many people say we look alike."
"You don't, particularly, but you have the same look about you."
"And there are pictures of me at Grandma's."
"That too. I have to say, I was surprised to hear from your friend, I assumed I'd be persona non grata with your family now."
Among the benefits of easy access to Neal Caffrey was Mozzie. Who was strange and paranoid in an oddly cuddly way, but could apparently find anyone, anywhere. Though he had an odd tendency to fanboy other criminals.
"Well, no one likes anyone who stands Grandma up, but hey, think of this as an opportunity to make amends."
"That I will. Now, shall we go see a man about a painting?"
"Now, if you two keep this up, you'll start spoiling me."
"You can never be spoiled, Grandma," Cindy said, kissing June's cheek. "To be spoiled, you have to be getting more than you deserve."
"She has a point." Neal said, swooping in for June's other cheek, with considerably more flair.
June Ellington didn't believe in mourning her husband on important days; she believed in remembering him and doing the same things she would have done if Byron were still alive. Every year, the family still met for their anniversary and had a big family dinner, but this year, like last year, there was a smaller, more private party with Cindy, Neal and June. There was singing and dancing in all combinations, and all the photo albums came out, along with quite a few stories about The Good Old Days.
"Now!" June said, clasping her hands together, "Let's see those gifts you two thought you were being so clever about hiding."
"Oh! Me first!" Neal's eyes lit up like the superhuman little blue lightbulbs they were as he produced a rectangular package, not even wincing as June tore into the careful packaging.
"I've always loved getting presents." She said with a delighted shiver.
"We know," they both responded.
It was an electronic photo frame (designed to perfectly match the decor, of course) with, according to Neal, almost three dozen pictures of Grandma and Grandpa converted into a slideshow.
"Mozz helped," he said, with that indifferent little shrug he had that he tended to use to try to underplay whatever he did.
"My turn!" Cindy said, pulling out a much larger rectangle, the nature of its contents made obvious by its shape.
"Now, is this one of yours, de-- Oh!" June broke off once she saw the painting inside. "This Cassett..."
Neal, whose face had become curious and then slightly suspicious when he first saw the gift, couldn't hide his little jolt of surprise as he instinctively analyzed the Cassett.
"Look at the back, Grandma." Cindy said, helping June turn it over and pointing at a small bit of writing.
Neal peered closer. "I thought only teenagers put those on trees, not-"
"Not on forged paintings?"
"I never told you this story, did I, Neal?" June asked, settling back into the couch as she gazed fondly at the fake Cassett.
"No, but I'd love to hear it now."
"Well, when Byron acquired this, he didn't realize it was a forgery. He was a man of many talents, but I'm afraid spotting forged art just wasn't one of them."
"Really? Because that's good but I could-" Cindy glared at him from the other end of the couch. "I mean, go on."
"Of course, once he learned the truth, he was more than a little angry with himself. But as I told him then, not being the original doesn't make it any less lovely. I was fond of it from the start, and as for that note...well, we were young and in love and it was an early learning lesson. We had intended to keep it forever, but... well... "
"In his younger days--before the children--I'm afraid Byron was sometimes prone to drinking more than his better judgment could withstand. One night, he went in a little too deep in a poker game and lost. The winner, a temporary business associate named Lewis Franks, suggested that Byron let him choose one of our pieces of art as payment. Our collection was small then and we didn't have anything of great monetary value, so Byron agreed. It turned out Lewis thought the Cassett was real--we always had it on display. Byron told him it wasn't, but Lewis thought he was trying to hold onto it because it was. He had it appraised, of course, but by then business arrangements had gone sour--for other reasons--and once that was over, well, we were expecting Cindy's father by then and I'm afraid...life happened. Lewis went straight long before Byron did. He lives in Seattle now, I believe." June broke off to give Cindy a look that was half--stern and half--proud. "I actually ran into him a few years ago and offered to buy it back, but he said he'd grown attached to it." She sat the painting down and turned to grasp both her her granddaughter's hands. "However did you manage to get him to part with it, dear?"
"Well, I managed to get in touch with your friend, Ford-"
"Ford! How is he?"
"He's good. He said to tell you he's sorry he wasn't able to take you dancing."
"As he should be." Neal and June spoke in unison, startling all three a bit.
"Anyway, he helped me come to an arrangement with Mr. Tombs."
"What kind of arrangement?"
"Don't worry, there aren't any warrants out for my arrest or outraged phone calls in your future."
June patted her knee. "Well, as long as you won't be in any trouble."
"Good." June bussed her cheek. "It's perfect." She turned to give Neal the same treatment. "And so is yours. And you two have kept me up very late. As usual. You gave me the most wonderful evening, but I'm afraid I have to turn in now."
As soon as she was gone, Neal scooted over to sit by Cindy.
"So, I'm assuming Franks still has a painting on the wall."
"A better one."
"So, these arrangements, were there any little black dresses involved?"
"No. Why?" She turned and tucked up her legs, curious.
"Oh, I just understand that that's the norm for this kind of thing."
"Is it from some con you pulled with Alex or Kate?"
"Oh, no, that one was an FBI case. Great girl. You'd like her."
"You know the strangest people."
"Can't deny that." He shot her a chiding look. "You really should have told me, you know."
"Probably. But there aren't many chances to get a shocked look out of Neal Caffrey around here."
"I'll give you that."
She kissed his cheek." "Good night, Neal."