“He was raised on a Mormon polygamous compound until he was thrown off when he was thirteen because they caught him holding hands with a girl who then had to marry the prophet, and he lived on the streets until a nice couple with two cats and a dog took him in and took care of him, but then they were killed by an axe murderer with a shoe fetish while he was at school, well all except for one of the cats, which he found covered in blood and took with him when he had to run because the police were convinced he did it-”
Peter rubbed the sides of his nose “Is there more of this?”
“Oh yes, he’s only fifteen at this point. So then he was picked up by a bus full of failed hippy rock musicians-”
Peter cut him off. “Let me rephrase. There isn’t. Stop talking.”
“But boss-” But Peter shot Diana a look like she was betraying him as soon as she opened her mouth. Clinton looked away.
“You’ve never actually used this alias, have you?” Peter asked worriedly.
“You’ve never actually used Ezra Smith, have you?” Peter demanded again, a note of terror entering his voice.
Diana put her hand on Neal’s shoulder. “We’re taking you out for lunch, and you’re going to tell us the rest.”
Clinton did his best to look very busy with paperwork as Peter slunk away.
“You know, Ezra Smith is all Peter’s fault, really.” Neal twirled the linguine around and around his fork idly.
“Yeah?” Clinton asked, trying to lick cannoli filling off his thumb unobtrusively. “How’s that?”
“You have no idea how boring it is hiding out in a building with an FBI stakeout on the doorstep.” He shook his head. “They didn’t even know I was there. They were looking into a mobbed up import-export company two floors down. Moz had a panic attack. I had to keep him entertained somehow.”
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” Diana shot back. “You could have been stuck on the stakeout instead. Or you could have turned yourself in.”
Neal shot her a hurt look that he didn’t really mean. “Listen, you can’t tell Peter I never used Ezra. I want to see him squirm a little more.”
Diana flicked the breadcrumbs off her napkin at him.“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Speak for yourself.” Clinton nodded sanctimoniously. “Some of us don’t get our kicks torturing our boss.”
“Oh come on. If you keep quiet, I’ll tell you about Ezra’s business partner, Shorty Wojciechowski and his childhood on the alligator farm.”
The grin widened.
“Killjoy,” Diana muttered.
Neal made a little moue of disappointment at him and went back to his linguine.
Neal filled the cheep plastic champagne flutes with water from the tap and handed one to Moz. “So after Shorty Wojciechowski’s dear sweet parents were eaten by alligators, and his idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, he ran away to the city, where the police sent him to an orphanage, where the cruel matron made him and the other children roll pierogis from dawn until late into the night and flogged them with a bullwhip if they weren’t fast enough, or if they rubbed their eyes with exhaustion.”
“Truly it was a hard life for young Jean-Baptiste,” Moz said, putting his hand on his heart.
“Oh, so that’s his first name?” Neal put his flute of water on a side table and flopped down onto the broken down couch next to Moz. “I thought we were going to call him Timmy.”
“Jean-Baptiste. I’ve decided.” Moz folded his arms defensively. “He’s my alias.”
“Alright,” Neal soothed. “So poor little Jean-Baptiste Wojciechowski knew he had to run away, so he scaled the wall in the dead of winter with two intrepid young girls, but no sooner were they finally free, but they were kidnapped by a crazed tattoo artist who tried to cook them into soup-”
“Oh no.” Moz said flatly “You cannot go on. It is too horrible.”
“There there Moz.”
“You can’t tell me about how they were rescued by snake charming motorcycle gang members and forced to take care of the giant scaly beasts! I don’t think my heart could stand it!”
“But soon they made the serpents their friends, and they protected the children from the tweaking gang members. But after one of the snakes ate the worst of the gangsters, the gang took their revenge and the children had to flee,” Neal told him. He stood up and peered through the window again at the utility van below.”
“They’re still there?” Moz called from the couch. Neal nodded and let the curtain slip out of his hands and swing back over the window. “Damn.” He held his champagne flute up to the light. “This vintage by the way, is too cloying, too chlorine filled, with undertones of rust and smog.”
“I already know you hate Chicago, Moz.”
“Shorty’s orphanage was in Chicago. Just hearing the city’s name makes him feel faint.”
Neal sat back down next to him and clinked their glasses together. “I promise, after this, it’s back to New York.”
“And next time we pull a job, we’re holing up somewhere with a better wine collection.”
“We’ll have room service.”
The two of them gazed out on the pile of forged cashier’s checks just waiting for the FBI to leave. They clinked their glasses together again.
"Moz is talking about forging police reports and everything for Ezra and Shorty," Kate said, hand pressed up against the plexiglass partition, his own hand just on the other side. "I'm trying to talk him out of it, but you know how excited he gets."
His fingers curled, trying to wrap around hers through the partition. "You just got to keep him busy."
"Yeah, I have some plans in the works. Nothing big. Next week I'm taking him to a couple of museums. He's really getting into sports memorabilia." She had to restrain herself from leaning her head against the plexiglass. "I hope it works, I mean, doesn't he remember how long it took to get the fake blood out of everything last time we staged a crime scene?
Neal shook his head. "I still can't believe you told him I told you about Ezra and Shorty."
She didn't mention just how hard it was sometimes to stay quiet when Mozzie went off on one of his resentful little here's-what-you-should-have-been-here-for tirades. "Yeah, well..."
"Not that you shouldn't have," he said quickly, making his eyes so wide she burst out laughing.
"Oh no, of course not." She looked at him through the partition in the orange prison uniform, his hair longer and unkempt. Every time she came, she felt caught, trapped outside the world, and she had to keep her hand on the partition to remind herself that it was there. "But I've had to make up a new partner to keep his mind off it."
"Oh really?" he said, and she knew he wasn't fooled.
Ezra and Shorty had lasted them almost three years, giving him something to think about, something he could show her, and she knew he spent all week coming up with the most outrageous story he could for her, to lay in front of her like he was some kind of Scheherazade, and he was terrified she wouldn't return if he didn't keep telling her tales. She tried to bring her hand up, to sweep his hair out of his eyes, but the plexiglass was in the way, and she plastered on a grin. "Daisy Fairchild was raised by wolves, and when she was thirteen, she ran away to join the circus."
"Aww," he groaned, chuckling. "I should have made Ezra run away to the circus."
"When?" she mocked, sticking her tongue out at him. "Before he joined the hippies? After he was lost at sea?"
"He's led a full life!" he defended, tossing his head back to gaze up at the gray and peeling paint on the ceiling.
She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, she had to run away to join the circus, because her family was so wicked and cruel."
"Wait, her wolf family?"
"Yep, they were constantly stealing her kills and making her sleep out in the cold, and all the other cubs were just horrible little bullies." Kate spread her arms wide. "So you see, it wasn't really her choice."
"No of course not." He leaned in.
"So at the circus, they started her out as the knife thrower's assistant, and she had to stand there completely still while he threw knives at her, but every night, she snuck out and stole the knife thrower's knives, and practiced until she was better than he was. One day, she snapped, and when he threw the first knife with everybody watching, she caught the hilt in her hand, and challenged him."
"Let me guess," Neal said breathlessly, beaming like a proud teacher, "They dueled in front of the whole circus and audience, there were trapezes involved, and they discovered they secretly loved each other."
She snickered. "No. They set up two targets, and each one of them got three knives. each of his hit dead center, then each of his hit dead center. So they gave them each one more knife. He threw, and it hit dead center again. Then she threw, and the blade landed in the center of the handle of the knife he had just thrown."
"Oh, of course, I see now." He dropped his head and picked it back up. "But do they at least come to acknowledge their burning passion?"
"No!" She drew the word out. "Because he left the circus in disgrace, and poor Daisy was in love with another."
"Oh! Who? Was it a-"
"Stop trying to tell the story," she scolded. "The circus had a very handsome trick poodle."
"Ummm..." Neal blinked. And then blinked again.
Kate giggled. She couldn't help it. "Well, remember, she was raised by wolves. She thought it was perfectly normal to fall in love with dogs. She imprinted."
"Just like ducks."
Neal glanced at her sideways through the partition.. "Oh man, I don't think I want to hear anymore."
He stuck his tongue out at her. "A poodle?"
"Hey," she said, deliberately misunderstanding him, "They're really cool dogs. And he was smart, and devious, and quick on his feet... He was a little sensitive, but..."
Neal scowled. "Sensitive?"
"He always had to be the prettiest."
He rolled his eyes. "Don't you hate that?"
"She loved him desperately in spite of that, though, and she loved the circus, but he had to live in a cage, and she had to gaze longingly at hi through the bars. So one day, when everybody was asleep, she broke him out and they ran away together."
"Awwww," he cooed, absolutely without mirth. "Now why can't I find a girl like that?"
She patted the plexiglass like she was trying to pat his arm. "Because I know better. And it doesn't end well for Daisy and her beloved Schatzi."
"I'm heartbroken," he retorted dryly.
"They get captured by pirates," she told him seriously, "But that's a story for next week."
"Oh so that's how it's going be."
"Yeah." She smiled and shook her head. "You have to learn to deal with disappointment, Neal, I know it's hard, but..."
"Oh please." But then he grew serious, hand limp against the partition, on the other side from her. For a while they just looked at each other taking it in. "I missed you. Things were... boring without you. It was lonely."
Her smile fell away. "I still miss you. You have to promise me when you get out, you won't let yourself get caught again."
He picked at his sleeve, a strand of ugly prison orange pulling free. "I thought I might go straight, you know, settle down."
Kate's eyes widened with horror.
"You don't think I could do it?" he said softly.
She closed her eyes and shook her head, hand tense against the partition separating her from him.
Diana set the file down on his desk like a cat with a dead mouse. "That's the file for the Konstantinou money laundering case. The alias you'll be using is in the back."
Peter flipped to it and started scanning it, watching her out of the corner of his eye. She knew she should leave, this wasn't what she usually did, and it wouldn't work if her boss got suspicious.
But she couldn't not watch.
Peter stared up at her, brow wrinkled. "Who came up with this?"
She tried not to smile, hands behind her back. "Caffrey was a lot of help."
"I"m sure he was!" Peter's voice rose higher and higher with every word. "Crash landed in the Himalayas and was forced to eat his boots and his own hand to survive?"
She shrugged. "Adrian Konstantinou likes adventure."
"I still have both of my hands," he pointed out. "He might notice."
"We have a solution for that." She pulled out a Swiss army knife.
"What's my real alias going to be?" he demanded with a sigh, ignoring the knife.
"What do you mean, boss? This is your real alias."
He rested his head in his hands. "Get Neal in here so I can strangle him."
"On it, Boos," she said obediently, but before she could open the door, Neal swept in, his own copy of the file in hand.
"Peter, It's nice to know you think I can do anything, but there's no way I can pull off an undercover identity who has been abducted by aliens."
"You need to work on your poker face," he told her, pretending to look over his paperwork.
Diana glowered at him, watching their boss and Caffrey through the glass office wall and trying not to laugh. "Oh yeah, like yours is so much better."
"Oh, it is," he said smugly.
Peter's door opened, and Neal stepped out, eying them both. "I thought you didn't get your kicks torturing your boss, Agent Jones."
"Diana tortured Peter. I tortured you."
Neal grimaced. "Very funny."
Clinton didn't smile. "So what did you think of our Billy Ray Loveless? and Brad Dropoff?"
"Well, they're no Shorty Wojciechowski and Ezra Smith."
Diana crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it at Neal's head.