The cheap suits gave them away. The two people - a man and a woman - that strolled through the White Collar Unit's doors were definitely Marshals, which made Neal fidget at his desk. He surreptitiously checked his anklet, but there didn't seem to a problem; the light was as bright and green as ever.
He looked up toward Peter's office and saw the FBI agent motion for him to join the group in the conference room. Perplexed, Neal strutted up the steps and slid into a chair across from the Marshals.
"Neal," Peter said, in a tone that indicated something big was about to go down, "Deputies Leonard and Carter need to have a word with you."
"I've stayed within my radius, Peter, and the anklet's where it always is. On my ankle." He pulled up his pant leg to show them.
Peter held up a hand to try to calm the younger man. "Relax, Neal. This isn't about your anklet."
"Then, what's it about?" Neal was even more anxious now. Not to mention suspicious.
Leonard and Carter shared a look before Carter, the woman, sat forward. "Mr. Caffrey, we regret to inform you that your mother, Mary, passed away last week."
Neal didn't know what to say. This certainly wasn't what he expected to hear, and now… He was at a total loss.
"What happened to her?" Peter asked, suddenly concerned for Neal's safety. "Was she found in WitSec?"
"No," Carter replied, shaking her head causing her shoulder-length blonde hair to brush her shoulders. Mary's hair had been the same color and roughly the same length the last time that he'd seen her. "She was diagnosed with leukemia about six months ago."
"Six months?" Neal's mind caught on those words. "No one told me. You knew she was dying for six months and no one told me?"
"We couldn't compromise your mother's safety. Or yours, Mr. Caffrey." It was Leonard that spoke this time, with a deep voice that fit his stocky build.
"She left this for you." Carter pulled an envelope from her inner jacket pocket and slid it across the table to Neal. His name was written across the front in blue ink, and he was barely able to recognize the shaky scrawl.
When Neal just stared at the envelope, Peter jumped in and said, "Thank you for coming, Deputies. If there's nothing else…" His voice faded as he ushered the Marshals out of the room.
A few minutes later, a mug of steaming coffee was placed in front of him. Peter sat back down in his chair and waited. When Neal didn't say anything for several minutes, Peter reached over to squeeze Neal's shoulder and asked, "Is there anything I can do?"
Neal shook his head but didn't shrug off the older man's hand.
"C'mon then. I'm going to take you home."
"I'd rather walk," Neal said quietly. He gingerly picked up the envelope and tucked into his jacket.
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Please, just… Let me be." Neal was out the door before Peter could even stand up.
He wandered the city for hours, slipping easily in and out of the crowds as if he were any other New Yorker. Out here, on the sidewalks with millions of other people, he wasn't a conman or a felon. He was merely a man wearing a vintage suit that was keeping pace with the working mothers and businessmen and dog walkers and pimpled teenagers.
When Neal finally decided that he was ready to face whatever Mary had left for him, he headed into Brooklyn, careful to stay within the anklet's designated range. He took a seat on a bench across the street from the Burke house to open the envelope and pull out the single sheet of paper inside. A streetlamp strategically positioned to his right offered plenty of light to see that the letter was short. His mother never was one to beat around the proverbial bush.
Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you, and I regret every day that I did. I've wondered and worried about you every day for the last fifteen years. I hope that you're well and happy - that's all I've ever wanted for you.
James wasn't a bad man. Your father did what he did to protect us. It took me a long time to understand that. Now, it's your turn. He should have been released from prison in 2009. Find him, Neal, and let him explain. It's the least that he owes to either of us.
Neal crumpled the letter in his fist as soon as he finished reading it. Of all the deathbed confessions and pleas and apologies she could have made, she chose this one. Telling him to find the one person that he never wanted to see again and ask him why he ruined their lives. Thanks, but no thanks.
It was just like Mary to do this. Leave him nothing but eleven short sentences and her name. Not even a decent valediction.
He thought he'd put all this behind him, but now… He wanted to scream at the heavens; he wanted to beat something bloody; he wanted to curl up into a ball and push the world away.
He did none of those things. Instead, he crossed a quiet street in Brooklyn and knocked on the door of a brownstone where two friends and a dog would let him in and not ask any questions. Until morning, at least.
Thanks for reading!