"Burke!" Rivera leaned over the railing in front of her office, doing the single finger point. "Conference room, ten minutes. Bring everything you have on your guy."
"Got it," Peter said, going for his bottom desk drawer. The stack of seven case files was a lot thinner than he'd like it to be. He could hold it all together with one rubber band, a couple of flimsy theories, and what Rivera called 'the gut.' Maybe an eighth, soon – she would have looked a hell of a lot happier if they'd gotten an actual break.
A whole contingent of NYPD guys came through five minutes later. Peter watched long enough to see they were going for the conference room, then got up to follow. Rivera took care of the glad-handing in less than twenty seconds. "And Agent Burke," she finished, jabbing a thumb at Peter. "My probie who decided to stay on with us. He has some possible priors."
Captain Wayne grunted and took a chair, rapping his knuckles impatiently on the table. "No ID?"
"No, sir," Peter said, squaring his stack of folders. "No face, either. We have multiple descriptions of a dark-haired man, blue eyes, young -- early twenties, maybe even less."
Wayne grunted again, and flicked a photo across the table. "You can add this to the collection," he said. "A still from about ten seconds of security video." Peter squinted, turning it into the light. It showed a man at an angle from the rear. He was wearing a dark shirt, one arm extended in mid-gesture. It was a night shot with terrible lighting against a brick background, and he was little more than an impression.
"What'd he do now?" Peter asked, looking up.
"Somehow got into Hilson's, little gallery on the Upper East Side," Wayne said. "Stole two sculptures by some Canadian guy, Bouvin, Boufin, something like that, and left an origami swan."
"Bouvin," Peter murmured, pursing his lips. Sculpture, that was new. Was there anything this guy didn't like?
"Whatever," Wayne said. "That part's your problem. But this guy also may have stolen her, and that's ours." He flicked another photograph down the table. Peter put a hand out to break its slide and found himself staring down into the smiling face of a beautiful blue-eyed woman. "Elizabeth O'Dell," Wayne said. "Assistant manager at the gallery. She didn't show up this morning. Her roommate says she was working after hours last night and never came home."
"Oh," Peter said, weirdly surprised. From art theft to abduction in one night, that was one hell of a leap. And a strange leap, for a guy who had once reportedly spent fifteen minutes lighting cigarettes for a tied up security guard and talking with him about the cost of good veterinary care these days.
"Peter was the one to realize we had a repeat offender," Rivera put in. "When I saw the swan, I thought of this guy."
"Seven cases," Peter said, recognizing his cue. "A stock sales scam, three painting forgeries, two residential thefts by false pretenses, and a commercial paper scheme. We're not a hundred percent sure it's the same guy, but we do have the similar descriptions and there's a certain . . . style to them. He's left origami figures twice now." That had been the first thing to tip him off, before he'd even compared witness descriptions. The two thefts were planned to the letter, precise, a little playful. And the commercial paper scam was as slick as they got, with a twist of brilliance to finish it off. Peter had started working back from there, sitting for hours on the floor in the file room reading cold cases, sniffing out any trace of that same flamboyant intelligence at work.
Wayne looked unimpressed. "You got any known associates?"
Peter kept his wince internal. "No sir. He's a loner, at least according to the few witness reports. He does one job every few months, takes lots of time to plan. He seems to be trying a bit of everything. And he's escalating, upping his take every time." The check scam was the earliest Peter could find, and had netted just under ten thousand dollars. Eighteen months later, the guy had probably pulled two hundred thousand in a night. "This is the first hint of potential violence," Peter said. "I don't know what he might do."
"Girl's still alive," Wayne said. "Or she was three hours ago. She left a voicemail for her roommate. One of my guys is bringing the tape. You don't have any leads for us?"
Peter shook his head. "He's a skilled painter," he said. "And a document forger. He's reported to be warm and friendly, the kind of guy you can trust. Women like him. Small children like him. Everyone likes him. He'd rather con a museum employee into opening a door for him than drill a hole through it. He drinks expensive imported coffee. He wears a men's size eleven. He can pick locks and pockets. Other than that . . ." Peter spread his hands helplessly.
The NYPD tech arrived, knocking on the doorframe as he came in, and handed a tape player to Wayne.
"Here we go," Wayne said, and hit play without ceremony.
Elizabeth O'Dell's voice was warm. She spoke clearly, though quickly, and there was a faint tremble to her words. Tears? "Hey, Ames, listen," she said. "I'm sorry to do this, but I have to go out of town for a while. Maybe for good. The rent is paid through the end of the month. Don't worry about my stuff, I won't be needing it. Just, um, it was really fun living with you, okay?" She paused, and there was the murmur of a man's voice in the background. When she spoke again, the quiver was stronger. "Don't worry about me. I'm all right. And kill the MCAT, you hear?"
"We can try and isolate that, see what he's saying." Wayne knuckled his forehead, grimacing. "It's weird though, why have her make the call in the first place. He knew she'd come up missing today no matter what."
"Play it again," Peter said.
Wayne did. Peter listened, leaning far forward across the table to hear.
"Have you background checked her?" he asked when it was over.
"Working on it," Wayne said. "Why?"
"Because I don't think she's scared," Peter said. Those weren't tears he was hearing. "I think she's excited. She sounds like she just won the freaking lottery."
Wayne accepted this insight with a dubious frown. "You think she was in on it? It's possible. I'll be visiting her mother when we're done here."
Peter wanted to ask him to play the tape again. He looked down at the gorgeous woman grinning up at him from the photo; that was the voice that went with the smile, he just knew it.
"Boss?" he said, looking to Rivera and hoping her freaky mind-reading would kick in.
She rolled her hand at him -- sure, run with it. "Mind if Burke tags along?" she said.
Madeline O'Dell lived in a cozy wood-floored apartment, too low on the eighth floor to get any New York sun. She ushered them into her living room and offered them coffee before they could ask a single question. Wayne was good – he redirected her and had her sitting on the sofa with just a few adroit suggestions.
"Now, you told Detective Stanfield that your daughter called you this morning?" he prompted, sitting next to her.
She looked so much like her daughter with an extra thirty years, it was eerie. Kind of like human time capsules. "Around eight, yes. I'd just gotten back from my bagel place, I almost missed her . . ."
"Is that routine for you?" Peter asked. Wayne shot him an irritated look, but Peter let it slide off. They could have a slapfight about territory sometime when there wasn't a witness to question.
"I go three or four times a week," O'Dell said. She bit her lip. "Around the same time, Elizabeth would know that, yes." Smart. Did she give that to her daughter, too?
"What did she say?" Wayne asked, taking the reins back.
O'Dell looked down, fiddling with her ring. "She said good morning, and that she didn't have a lot of time, but that she wanted to tell me she'd met someone and she was going away for a while. She said not to worry, she would be in – she would be okay. And she said she loved me, and hung up."
"Could you hear anything in the background?" Wayne asked, taking rapid notes, for whatever they might be worth.
"Traffic," she said, which was like saying it happened on a day when the sky was blue. "I think she might have been at a payphone."
"We can check with your phone company, get the number," Wayne said.
O'Dell nodded, mouth pressed flat. And she was still twisting her wedding ring round and round. She was stressed, yes, worried, definitely. But terrified for her missing daughter, no. Terrified but very good at concealing it? Peter just didn't think so.
"What did she say the second time she contacted you?" Peter asked.
She twitched once, then controlled herself fast. "I'm sorry?"
"When she called you again," Peter said, though he could already see it was futile. "What did she tell you?"
She looked up, right into his eyes. "She didn't call me again. I don't know what you're insinuating, but I have no idea where my daughter is, or who she's with."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter said. "I hope you'll call us if there's anything else you'd like to add. Every bit of information will help the investigation."
"I'll do that," she said, chin up, face still.
Wayne waited until they were all the way down the hall and in the elevator. "All right," he said, punching the garage level. "You've got me curious, at least. Phone company will tell us if there was a second call."
"Bet it won't," Peter said, leaning against the wall.
Wayne shot him an annoyed look. "What the hell were you doing alienating the witness, then?"
"Oh, there was a second call," Peter said. "But there won't be phone company record of it. If my guy's involved, and I think he is, he's way too smart for that. They called a neighbor or a friend she visited this morning, or hell, a payphone as she walked by. They could have arranged anything. We're not going to get them that way."
Peter ran his own background check, but came up with exactly what NYPD had. Elizabeth O'Dell was clean. Not as a whistle – there'd been some college shenanigans at NYU, one arrest at a protest, no charges filed, one disciplinary citation at school for an incident involving a lot of water balloons and naked people. She'd worked at the gallery for over two years. Her job history before that was a little aimless. She worked hard and was well-liked, but Peter had the impression of someone who hadn't really found a calling. She was twenty-eight, her financials were ordinary, and she had no known criminal connections.
So. She had a connection to the thief he was missing. Not impossible, considering they still didn't have a name. A classmate from NYU, maybe, though witnesses would have put his guy at least five years younger than her. Or maybe a new boyfriend her roommate hadn't met yet, or someone she'd deliberately kept hidden. He could be anybody.
The stolen statues didn't turn up. They were too hot to get out of the country, so it'd probably be months before they'd surface. Elizabeth O'Dell's credit cards and bank accounts went untouched. She didn't return to her apartment, and she didn't call anyone else. Anyone who was talking, at least. Dead ends all around.
And then they got lucky. It had to happen eventually, even on one of these cases where having a smart criminal often made it feel like the guy was beloved of some higher power. NYPD had widely circulated Elizabeth O'Dell's picture, and a rookie beat cop happened to be paying enough attention, and then he just happened to go out to lunch with his girlfriend in the same tiny Brooklyn bistro where Elizabeth O'Dell was having coffee and chocolate cake with an attractive, blue-eyed man.
Peter nearly sprained something, he got over there so fast. The two of them were long gone, of course – they'd casually rabbited about twenty seconds after the cop had made them. The uniform was a rookie, so maybe he hadn't been subtle, but still, those were some quick instincts.
It was New York at lunch, so of course the cashier didn't remember a thing about them. But Peter didn't care, because this wasn't one of those places that only took cash, and hallelujah to the weeping angels, there was a credit card record matching the time and order. They had a name.
And from a name, it was easy to get to a photograph.
"Nathan Glass," Peter said, waving the grainy fax at Rivera. "Got his driver's license. Twenty-five, one seventy, six feet, blue and brown. And an address."
The wait for the warrant to come through was tortuous. Peter had plenty of time to stare at that tiny, pixilated photograph. No one looked good in driver's license photos. No one except Nathan Glass, apparently. He was as described: young, his face dominated by blue eyes, with wavy dark hair arranged just so. He was beaming into the camera, like he was fucking delighted to be there, pleasure to meet you.
"Look at you, babysitting your first real big bust," Rivera said. "They grow up so fast."
"Oh, I don't think we'll get them today," Peter said, looking up. "This guy's smart and careful. He knows he was made, he knows he left a trail. They'll have cleared out."
"Just think of everything they might have left behind," Rivera said.
"Evidence," Peter said longingly. "Receipts. Painting supplies. Notes on the refrigerator . . ." And his things – his medicine cabinet and his linen closet and his kitchen junk drawer. All those intimate spaces would be a treasure trove after so long with absolutely nothing to go on. O'Dell might just blow this whole case open for them.
"Just don't start drooling," Rivera said, amused. But when the fax machine hummed to life, she beat him to it. "Warrant. Let's go."
Knowing he was right wasn't the same thing as wanting to be right, so Peter slumped in disappointment when the all-clear came down.
"Birds have flown," the SWAT commander reported, coming down the dim cement staircase. "And no visible weapons. You're gonna love everything else, though."
Peter did. He really, really did.
"Wow," Rivera said quietly beside him as they stood together in the middle of the crappy cement and plaster living room. "He is really not getting his security deposit back."
Glass – or Neal Caffrey, according to the lease – had drawn on everything like a demented two-year-old. A prodigiously talented two-year-old. Most of the concrete floor had been painted with a map of the world. Except the perspective was stretched as if it were actually a globe. The illusion of a curved surface imposed on the flat one was good enough to be disorienting.
The pillars were covered in a jumble of overlapping images: the New York skyline, a single lily, one of Renoir's girls casually but precisely copied.
"I think that's . . . sharpie," Rivera said, leaning close to one of the few plaster sections of wall. "And he signed this one. Caffrey, not Glass."
"O'Dell was here," Peter said, pointing to a puddle of bright color on the end of the couch. "I'm pretty sure that's the scarf the roommate put her in the night she disappeared."
Peter started in the tiny kitchen and slowly took the place apart. Rivera stayed with him for a few hours, but she had a whole unit to supervise, and she eventually left him to it. Maybe this really was going to be his first big solo case.
They'd left a lot of stuff behind: dishes, clothes, books, that morning's paper. But there were no signs of hurried packing, and Peter was half-convinced by the time he was done that they hadn't come back here at all after the bistro. Peter didn't think many people could resist coming back, if only for a few things, but Caffrey and O'Dell had just walked away with the clothes on their backs, like snakes abandoning their shed skins.
Which meant they had somewhere else to go to ground. And also that they weren't particularly worried about anything he might find here. This thought only made Peter redouble his efforts, sifting through every drawer, checking every crevice. It netted him several bundles of cash, at least ten thousand in each, and a stack of top-quality IDs taped to the underside of the nightstand drawer. All for Caffrey, none for O'Dell.
There was an enormous quantity of information to process. Peter took pages and pages of notes, drew diagrams, took pictures. The scene techs came behind, cataloging.
He spent the entire next day at the office, shuffling identities. Nathan Glass appeared to exist only to have a couple of credit cards. His purchases were regular but innocuous. Neal Caffrey was far more substantial on paper. He had a lease, a meandering work history, and a freaking library card. He also didn't seem to really exist before 1995, but still, it was a name.
But after all that, there was nothing to go on. No activity on any of Caffrey's known aliases from the fake ID's, no other sightings of either of them. Peter waited.
He was expecting a crime. It was already clear that Caffrey wasn't just one of those guys who did it; he was one of those guys who loved it. And even the NYPD was pretty thoroughly convinced by now that O'Dell was partner, not prisoner. So Peter had been expecting another scam, maybe more forgeries, something to follow the trend by being slicker and smarter and more lucrative than the last one.
He hadn't quite expected them to pull off a gorgeous, giddy, completely fucking insane heist at the Chicago Institute of Art. They came away with half a dozen tiny pieces from the Silk Road Collection that would net them a cool two million at least, and a Carriès canvas that Peter was pretty sure one of them just took a random fancy to.
They left the Chicago field office and PD collectively tripping over their own feet. Peter went out for a look. He stood in the Institute's atrium where they had sipped champagne with the crème de la crème of Chicago for an evening reception. He followed the route they had each followed as best he could, though he didn't try to duplicate Caffrey's acrobatic flight from one gallery to another across a four story drop. He interrogated the catering staff, the docents, the party goers, the rental car company, the manager at the boutique where Elizabeth O'Dell had bought her Christian Dior dress. With cash, naturally.
And he watched the security tapes until they nearly wore out, straining through the terrible audio pickup in all the parts where the lipreaders couldn't get a clear enough view. Most of the heist wasn't on film. They clearly knew exactly where the cameras were, which still needed an explanation. There was half an hour of them mingling downstairs; Caffrey's hand rested low on her back, and they launched a double blue-eyed charm offensive at everyone who came within range. Then Elizabeth excused herself to the ladies' room, Caffrey went to fetch her a fresh glass of champagne, and they vanished for seventeen-and-a-half minutes, just long enough to get by the motion detectors, the alarms, and the guards.
They met up in a second-floor reception room. Did they not know about that camera, or did they just not care? Caffrey came in first, not a hair out of place. The whole thing was clearly planned down to the second, because Elizabeth came around the opposite corner in less than a minute, silently barefoot on the tile with a large evening bag over her shoulder. They were both holding innocuous, 'nothing to see here, I belong,' expressions, but Elizabeth lost it the minute she saw him. She flew across the hall, beaming radiantly. Caffrey caught her and they kissed, the loot cradled in the crook of her arm.
"That was amazing," Elizabeth said, breaking away. "Look at me, I'm shaking."
"Deep breath," Caffrey said, rubbing his knuckles down her cheek. "It's not over yet. You're doing great."
"I love this," she said, still speaking too fast. "Neal, just. Thank you." Like seducing someone to a life of crime was a present. Like she didn't know how she'd gotten so lucky.
"Oh, it's my enormous pleasure," Caffrey said. "Come on. Our three minutes of padding are almost up." They stepped back, grabbed hands, and ran for it.
Peter's file got fatter. Over Labor Day weekend, they hit a house party in the Napa Valley. Peter reconstructed the whole thing in three sleepless days. It was a classic: O'Dell had been on the wait staff for an intimate dinner party, and Caffrey had managed to get himself legitimately invited. It was the first time he'd ever scaled down his take from one job to the next. They bypassed nearly ten million in art and antiquities and made off with a single da Vinci sketch. Profitable, yes, but not as much as their museum take. But worth a hell of a lot to one of them.
Caffrey, probably. Peter had the impression he genuinely loved art, in the rapt, transcendent way some people did. He liked money, too, and adrenaline, clearly, and being a smartass punk. Peter didn't quite have a handle on O'Dell yet, so he wasn't exactly sure what she was getting out of all this. Money, obviously, and thrills. And Caffrey.
In late September, they lifted a Cézanne in Seattle. Peter followed the thing like a goddamn bloodhound through a half dozen separate black market transactions before he got his hands on it. And then the authenticator from Seattle spent two solid days going "hmm," over it, before declaring it a fake. "But a beautiful one. Really, just exquisite, look at this." And by then the original was long gone.
They stayed on the west coast until the end of October. The timeline got a bit tangled – no one realized the shipping crates in safe storage at the Getty were neither full nor safe for at least a week, and Peter was never sure whether the Brathwaite robbery came before or after that. They were moving fast, either not stopping to plan or, more likely, connecting the dots on a set of pre-planned jobs, geographically grouped for the discerning criminal's convenience. The whole thing was kind of like a highly illegal six week vacation package.
And then they came back to New York. Peter had been expecting it. O'Dell had ties here, and maybe they could walk away from an apartment, but not many natives walked away from New York and made it stick. And maybe Caffrey had ties, too, that was still a pending question.
They hit the Guggenheim first, audacious as you please, then a private collection. Peter was still playing catch up. His entire function seemed to be to arrive on the scene after they'd split, figure out just how the hell they'd done whatever they'd done, try not to sound too impressed when he wrote his report, and then wait around for them to pull something else.
His luck changed two weeks before Thanksgiving.
"They're going to hit the Guggenheim again," he said, stopping hard with his hands planted on the edge of Rivera's desk.
"Seriously?" she said. "Are they stupid?"
"Naw," Peter said. "Just crazy like foxes. Listen, they pulled a night heist last time, all that cat burglar nonsense with the skylights. That got the whole security team looking the other way, so now they're planning a day job, something to do with an outside construction contractor, I don't have it all worked out yet. The museum has a new Monet on loan – Caffrey has this thing about Monet. But I think I've got one of his aliases, and from there—"
"You don't want to catch them in the act, do you? We've got plenty else to charge them with, if just on suspicion," Rivera said.
"Right," Peter said. "And I don't really want to take the risk. I'd rather just track them down now, take what we can get."
"Okay," Rivera said, nodding. "You've been doing great work on this; it's your call."
Luckily, Rivera was running ten minutes behind him a week later when they busted into the fancy penthouse O'Dell and Caffrey had rented, so she didn't see him when it turned up empty. Their breakfast was still on the table, the coffee was lukewarm. There was a damp towel on the bathroom floor and the bed was still rumpled. And on one of those refrigerator magneted whiteboard thingies, Caffrey had written, Wow, you actually got close this time! with a goddamn smiley face.
Peter punched a wall and then laughed, all in the first sixty seconds.
They'd left in a hurry, but the apartment was still pretty clean. Most of the stolen property was clearly stored elsewhere. The weeks of caffeine fueled madness netted Peter a closet full of his and hers designer clothes for every occasion from Presidential ball to midnight jewel theft and daring rooftop escape. They also recovered a five hundred year old Chinese tea service that had never been linked to either of them, and a single sketchbook from the bottom nightstand drawer.
Peter sat on the edge of the unmade bed to look. Caffrey favored ink over pencils. Peter's background in art was haphazard, acquired by necessity on the job. But even he could tell Caffrey was as much a chameleon here as he was everywhere else, his style changing from page to page.
Every sketch was dated. The back half of the book was all Elizabeth. Peter flipped through those sketches fast, looking for something more obvious like museum blueprints. Then he slowed down and did the series again in reverse, and forward again, and back.
There were just tiny pieces of her, in the beginning. The first sketch, on June 23, was one hand curled around a coffee cup. After that was a foot and ankle in a high heel. And then a pair of crossed knees, a skirt hem riding up. Then, just two or three strokes on a white page, a strand of hair across the curved suggestion of a cheek. When he finally drew her in full, standing naked in profile, it was so minimal that it almost looked like an optical illusion – now you see a woman, now you see a half dozen meaningless lines.
It was fascinating. Like he couldn't draw her, like he was so moved or overwhelmed that he had to strip it down to nothing.
Peter went upstate to his mom's for Thanksgiving. It was nice, but he came home on Friday, pleading work. Which was true in the sense that he had a superstitious conviction they would only resurface when he was around to take the call.
The office was a morgue. Peter poked at a few different cases for a couple hours and called it good. He ordered pizza and had an early night.
The phone rang at 3:30 on the dot. Peter got to it before he was really awake, so Elizabeth O'Dell's voice overlapped strangely with the trailing ends of a dream he was already forgetting.
"Agent Burke?" she said.
"Yes?" Peter said. He knew instantly who she was. He'd heard her recorded voice enough, though never strained like this. "Miss O'Dell."
"Do you have Neal?" she asked.
"Huh?" Peter said intelligently.
"Neal," she snapped. "Caffrey. Dark hair, six feet. Does origami and calls you 'Bulldog Burke.' Do you have him?"
"I take it you've misplaced him?" Peter said.
Her breath crackled in his ear. "He was supposed to be back twelve hours ago. If he was going to be late, he was supposed to get a message to me. No one's heard anything. So. Did you catch him?" Her voice was controlled, a layer of steel over terror.
"I didn't," Peter said. Which wasn't to say he wasn't in a holding cell somewhere. Or maybe he'd just taken off, though Peter's gut said no, Caffrey wasn't that guy, and Elizabeth O'Dell really wasn't the woman any man ran out on. But there were lots of other possibilities. "Have you started calling hospitals?" he asked gently.
"That's next," she said.
Peter rubbed his eyes and flicked on the lamp. "Well, I'm glad to hear my skills of detection rank marginally more likely than a freak accident," he said, and went warm all the way down to his toes when she actually laughed in his ear.
"Don't let it go to your head," she said. "You're a notch below a certain South American gun running acquaintance of ours who's carrying a grudge." Jesus, did anything scare this woman? . . . Anything other than Neal Caffrey gone missing. "But thanks anyway," she said. "Sorry I woke you."
"Wait," Peter said, "Elizabeth, I can—" but she was already gone.
Peter bolted down two cups of coffee and went in to the office. Caffrey was out there somewhere, and all Peter had to do was get to him first. Nice of Elizabeth to give him a heads-up, though he'd really like to know just how she'd gotten his home number.
He plunged straight into a grueling fifteen hours on the phone with desk sergeants and ER nurses and informants. He talked until he was hoarse about Neal's blue eyes and his many, many potential names. He came up with absolutely nothing, aside from a massive headache.
He got home in the early evening, vaguely thinking about dinner. He laid down on top of the covers instead, fully dressed, too tired and dispirited to do any better.
Elizabeth must be out of her mind by now. And Caffrey, if he was still out of touch, he could be in real trouble. The kind of trouble where no one ever found the body. Fuck. Stupid punk, with his melodramatic acrobatics and his felonious fingers and his beautiful, beautiful brain. If he was dead, Peter could never catch him. And if he was dead, Elizabeth would be left alone in the dangerous world he'd probably gotten her into in the first place.
When the phone jerked him out of sleep, it was dark. After ten, Peter saw dimly.
"'lo?" he said, dragging the handset down onto the pillow.
"I got him," Elizabeth said.
Peter sat up. "Um," he fumbled. "Is he okay?"
"No." She was breathing fast but steady, cool as a cucumber in the middle of crisis management. "But he will be."
There was a voice in the background. Male, but not Caffrey. "Come on, hang up before you bring the entire Fascist Bureau of Iniquity down on us, too."
"Uh," Peter said, before she could hang up. This entire conversation was the weirdest goddamn thing to happen to him in years. "Thanks for letting me know."
"Thanks for turning over rocks," she said. "You called someone who called someone whose fence went to see a guy about a horse."
"Oh my God," said the voice in the background. "Seriously, I do not enjoy having some suit in jackboots standing on my face."
"Later, Peter," Elizabeth said. She was actually laughing a little, so Caffrey couldn't be too bad off.
"Later, Elizabeth," Peter said to the dial tone.
He flopped back onto the pillows and stared at the ceiling. It hadn't even occurred to him in the past day to pull his incoming call logs. He could do it now. Well, he should do it now. But why? They'd clearly been on the move, so it wouldn't do a bit of good. And that wasn't how he was going to catch them, anyway.
For now, he could sleep. Tomorrow he could go in and start figuring out exactly what he was supposed to have caught Caffrey doing yesterday.
She called him again the following Friday, at his desk in the middle of the afternoon. He saw only that it was an outside line, and he nearly sprayed coffee all over himself when her voice hit him.
"Peter," she said, sounding relaxed and breezy. "Listen, an anonymous tip can be sufficient probable cause for a warrant, right?"
"Under certain circumstances," Peter said, making frantic gestures at Pollard to start a trace.
"All right, well, try these," she said. "A man named Matthew Keller is currently planning to rob Senator Schumer. He has an apartment in Chelsea, I have an address. He'll have plenty of evidence lying around, and he's a packrat, so you can probably get him on something previous, too."
"Uh-huh," Peter said, writing rapidly and thinking twice as fast. "I need more than that. A judge isn't going to go for this without some indication of reliability."
"Well, figure something out, then," she said, with a snap of impatience that made Peter want to sit up straight and salute. "Because I want you to take your gun and your handcuffs and your big shiny badge down there and put him away for a long time."
"Ah," Peter said, things coming together. "So you're using me to get revenge on the guy who messed with Caffrey."
"I'm counting on you," she said, like she really meant it, and gave him the address. Peter made eye contact with Pollard, who shook his head and held up two fingers, mouthing stall, stall.
"Um, so," Peter said, palms beginning to sweat. He could feel whatever few grains of suave he'd ever possessed just sifting away. "Caffrey's all right, then?"
"He's getting there," she said. "I'll tell him you asked, he'll be touched. Anyway, thanks for—"
"Wait," Peter said frantically. Say something, say something! "Um, Elizabeth. You know it might not be too late for you. If you come in, I could help." . . . Something other than that, maybe.
She laughed again, just as warmly as before. But all she said was, "Oh, Peter. That's sweet," and hung up.
"Damn," Pollard said, slamming his receiver down, too. "It was international, that's as far as we got."
"It's okay," Peter said. "I think I've got some other stuff to work with here."
The bust came together like a dream. Keller had beaten a conspiracy charge when he was nineteen, precocious bastard, so his prints were in the system. Peter had a brainstorm, and matched the prints to sets he got off eight separate employment applications for jobs in Schumer's household and office, each under a different name. That, combined with the anonymous tip, got him a warrant, and the warrant got him Keller and a comfortable heap of circumstantial evidence. And then they got a surprise bonus.
"Hey, check it out," Pollard said, coming out of the bedroom with a canvas. "Is this real, do you think?"
"Hang on, I've seen that recently," Peter said, leaning closer. "Pavil Tchelitchew – yeah, yeah, this was reported stolen just a few weeks ago."
Keller had been leaning against the entry wall, ignoring his cuffed hands and looking bored while he waited for a wagon to take him to booking. "Hey," he said suddenly, "that's not mine."
Pollard snorted. "Wow, Peter, guy says the evidence isn't his! I bet he doesn't know how it got in his bedroom!"
"I don't, as a matter of fact." Keller's indifference had dropped away; now he just looked pissed.
"Sure," Pollard said, laughing. "Hey, your ride's here. We'll see you in court. Bye now." They watched him go, and Pollard leaned the Tchelitchew against the living room wall. "Wonder what else he's got under his bed," he said. ". . . Peter? Something wrong?"
"I thought . . ." Peter said slowly. Okay, he had no evidence whatsoever, no witnesses, no tapes, no traces. But he'd really thought the theft from the Russian embassy including the Tchelitchew had been Caffrey and O'Dell's work.
"What?" Pollard said, staring at him.
"Um," Peter said. Apparently he'd been wrong about that. Except no, hell with it, he wasn't. He knew that was a Caffrey-O'Dell special. And O'Dell was really mad, and she'd come right out and said he'd find additional evidence. He should examine the canvas, go over it with every tool they had.
Except he didn't want to. There was supposed to be a basic symmetry to the law: you committed a crime, you went down for it. Peter felt physically ill whenever he thought too hard about the possibility of arresting the wrong guy, or even convicting him. It happened. It was happening right now. Except, damn it, it wasn't. Keller was a bad guy, that was clear as crystal. And they had some evidence on him, but it wasn't a slam dunk. Art theft though, and burglary, or even just possession of stolen property, that would help a lot.
"It's nothing," Peter said to Pollard. "Let's keep looking, see what else turns up."
The first two weeks of December were relatively quiet. It made sense if Caffrey and O'Dell were still out of the country. Peter added some international news reading to his daily routine, and waited. Rivera seconded him to one of Pollard's cases, which took them motel hopping down the eastern seaboard until they rounded up all three counterfeiters in Atlanta. The whole thing was basically a long, glorified car chase; the counterfeiters weren't actually smart, they just had a good head start. So taking them down was a necessary, joyless chore, like scrubbing the bathroom.
Peter came home to the slushy remnants of a snow storm. He trudged up all three flights to his apartment, soaked to the knee. And he'd left the heat off, too, so it was going to be freezing in there.
He got through the door, suitcase bumping behind him, and stopped dead. His gun was in his hand, and he was suddenly breathing way too fast. The hell?
He flattened to the entry wall and gave himself a three-count to stop tripping off the slam of adrenaline that he still couldn't explain. Something felt really wrong here.
Peter flicked on the hall light with one hand. The entryway was clear, and everything he could see of the kitchen and living room. The TV, probably the most valuable thing in the place, was untouched.
He cleared the whole apartment. Not like there were many places to hide. Everything was exactly as he'd left it, down to the mess he'd made on the bathroom counter the morning he'd gone, pulling out half the medicine cabinet to find his travel shaving cream. There was no one hiding in the closet or in the dark nook beside the bookshelf, and no evidence that anyone had been there at all.
Peter put his gun away and went to collect his suitcase. He needed to sleep for twelve hours, maybe do a caffeine detox, calm the fuck down. He was hardly out there busting down doors every day, but he really didn't need his brain firing off half-cocked like that on him anywhere, let alone at work.
He slept like the dead and got in late the next day. Which turned out to be fine, because Rivera wasn't in yet, either. That was weird, and by the time she was ten minutes late for the scheduled debriefing with him and Pollard, Peter had ticked over to concerned.
She called five minutes before he would have tried her home number.
"You are not going to believe this," she said. "I got O'Dell."
"You what?" Peter said, banging his knee off the edge of his desk.
"Elizabeth O'Dell," Rivera said. "I got her. It was textbook, Peter, you should have seen it."
"There was movement on Caffrey and O'Dell and you didn't call me?" Peter said, realizing only after it came out that he might not want to use that tone on his boss.
Rivera didn't seem to care – then again, she talked to her boss like that all the time. "No, Peter, this is what I'm saying. It was pure chance. I stopped at my bank this morning before work, and there she was. Just wandering around, obviously casing the joint. I had reasonable suspicion right there, so I did a Terry stop-and-frisk, and what do you know, she had a piece from that Chicago heist of theirs in her jacket pocket!"
"Wait, really?" Peter said. "I was sure they'd fenced all that by now."
"Apparently not." A door opened and closed somewhere on Rivera's end. "Listen, sit tight, I'm bringing her in. God, it's like getting them on a tail light or tax evasion, you gotta love it." She dropped the phone with a rattle.
"Yeah," Peter said slowly to the dead air. "Except they don't rob banks."
Rivera brought her off the elevator twenty minutes later. Elizabeth was wearing a blue pantsuit, her dark hair up in a twist. She looked like any successful businesswoman, pressed and chic. Aside from the handcuffs, anyway.
"Burke," Rivera said, jabbing a finger at him. "She says she'll only talk to you."
Peter had spent the entire wait trying to come up with some argument as to why he should take point on the interrogation. "Okay, yeah," he said, hurrying up the steps and holding the door open for them.
Rivera settled Elizabeth in a chair, only releasing her arm when the door locked behind them and the record light went green.
"You've been advised of your rights?" Peter said, sitting across from her.
"I have." She nodded at him, warm and relaxed. Sitting so close at the little table, Peter could smell her perfume. She was the sort of woman who could scramble his brains just by smiling at him. The sort of woman he'd fumble around for weeks but somehow never actually manage to ask out to dinner.
"Good," Peter said, still not entirely sure what tack to take here. "I'm Agent Burke."
"I know." She smiled beautifully at him. "It's a pleasure to meet you at last."
"Likewise," Peter said dryly. Had she always been this politely infuriating, or had Caffrey gotten to her that much already?
She put her cuffed hands up on the table, demurely clasped. Peter glanced down, and gaped.
"You're engaged?" he said. There were at least half a dozen diamonds on that ring, all set into the platinum so they looked big but not gaudy. Peter was no expert, but he was pretty sure he was looking at a hundred grand at least.
She beamed. "I am. He proposed three days ago." She went pink, thinking of Caffrey. "We're planning a spring wedding, maybe early summer."
Peter cleared his throat gently. "You know that isn't going to happen," he said. "What were you doing at Hudson Mutual this morning?"
She shrugged, keeping the smile. "Not much. I was looking around, thinking of making a deposit."
"Really?" Peter said. "Because a suspicious person, a person who knew anything at all about you, might have thought you were casing the place."
She shook her head. "We don't rob banks."
Rivera, leaning against the back wall, rolled her eyes and snorted. Elizabeth twisted around to look at her. "We don't," she said mildly.
The problem was, Peter believed her. He didn't know half the crap they pulled, that was increasingly obvious all the time. And Caffrey did have a streak of adrenaline junkie crazy in him. Elizabeth had tempered him a bit, worked him down from dangerous to merely flamboyant. But bank robbery had the highest rate of accompanying gun violence of all theft crimes, on both sides, and they just didn't go there.
"All right," Peter said. "Let's start at the beginning. When did you first meet Neal Caffrey?"
"June twenty-first, this year," she said promptly. "A little after eleven at night."
Peter stared. "You're telling me the first time you met him was when he broke into your gallery?"
"Yes," she said. "Though he didn't break in, he had a key."
"Of course he did," Peter muttered. "So . . . what? He said he was there to rob you, and it was love at first sight?"
"No," she said. "He said he was a friend of the owner's and we got to talking about French post-Impressionism. And then he told me a few things about his profession and that he didn't know the owner, and he asked me to run away with him."
Caffrey, clearly, had no trouble asking a woman like her for a hell of a lot more than dinner. And getting it, which was the real kicker.
"And you said yes," Peter said. "just like that."
She looked down at her ring and closed her hand into a fist. "Best decision I've ever made," she said.
"Huh," Peter said. He could feel a flush creeping up his neck under his collar. "Funny thing, though. Most people can go their entire lives without ever having to wonder if their boyfriend's somewhere bleeding out with a security guard's bullet in him."
He instantly knew that was a mistake. It was like he'd broken some agreement just by alluding to Thanksgiving. Elizabeth's friendly warmth suddenly dropped to sub arctic. She sat back and pulled her hands into her lap, her face going still. "My fiancé," she said. "Not my boyfriend. And I think I'd like my lawyer now, please."
And whatever window he'd had here was gone. "Okay," Peter said, pushing back from the table. "We'll continue this later, then."
He went straight to the men's room and splashed water on his face until he was in slightly better shape to face the music. And sure enough, Rivera was waiting for him when he came out.
"The hell was that?" she asked, keeping her voice down.
"I know, I know," Peter said. "I'm sorry, I botched that completely. It won't happen again."
Rivera huffed out an annoyed breath. "Damn it, Burke," she snapped. "It's not satisfying to rip you a new one when you're already doing it yourself."
"Uh," Peter said. "Sorry?"
She rolled her eyes and waved him away. "We've got her," she said. "And we'll make something stick to her. Just deal with whatever your issue is, and let's get this done right."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter said, and escaped to his desk. Except there was a little bald guy sitting in his chair, typing fast at his computer.
"From IT," he said without looking up. "I'm upgrading your network drivers. It'll be another twenty minutes."
"Great," Peter muttered. "I love how you guys always check with us first to make sure you won't be using someone's computer in the middle of an important investigation or anything."
"Whatever," the little guy said, flicking Peter an annoyed look. "Take it up with my boss."
Pollard was upstairs watching Elizabeth, and he'd left his computer logged in like they weren't supposed to, so Peter took his desk. He had a hunch, and he made a series of increasingly wide-ranging searches and phone calls until bingo, there it was, a diamond theft in Montreal. On Thanksgiving, of course. The thief had gotten access to an entire shipment waiting for cutting and fitting, but had taken only seven stones.
"Damn it, Caffrey," Peter said under his breath.
The IT guy was gone when he resurfaced, and Rivera was coming down from her office.
"Is the lawyer here yet?" she asked, wrapping her knuckles on the edge of Peter's desk. "If not, we should get O'Dell over to holding."
"I'm not sure," Peter said, pacing her to the stairs. "I can – hey! Pollard, why aren't you in with O'Dell?"
Pollard made 'calm down' gestures with the hand not holding a Starbucks cup. "Relax, she's not alone. A guy from IT came in, said there was a problem with the cameras. I cuffed her to the table, what's she going to do?"
And Peter just knew. "Oh my God," he said, and ran for it. He took the half flight of stairs in one jump and swung around the corner. Elizabeth O'Dell was thirty feet down the hall with the little bald guy, shoving hard at a window. Which was coming open, even though they weren't supposed to this high. And past her shoulder through the window was Goddamn Caffrey, riding one of those window-washer platforms, both hands outstretched.
"Don't!" Peter blurted like an idiot. But of course they weren't listening, and Elizabeth was jumping from an awkward perch on the window sill. Nausea swamped Peter as he ran – Caffrey was going to miss her, she was going to take him down with her, they were going to splatter their gorgeous brains all over the fucking sidewalk Jesus fuck fuck fuck. But Caffrey had her, their hands locked, and the little guy was across in a surprisingly athletic vault. Caffrey flung a harness around Elizabeth, hands moving too fast to see. He looked up and made eye contact with Peter across ten feet. And he winked, the fucker just winked at him, and they were gone.
"They had a zipline set up to the parking garage roof," Peter said wearily, dropping into Rivera's spare chair. "And then a second window-washer rig down to the alley, because it was faster than the stairs. And they had a car waiting – they got actual street parking, can you fucking believe it? In the middle of the day! And no one saw the plates."
Rivera pressed two fingers to the bridge of her nose. "That's a pretty good escape plan considering they had -- what? An hour and a half?"
"Yeah, about that," Peter said. She really wasn't going to like this part.
Rivera dropped her hand. "Peter. If you sit there and tell me with a straight face that this woman set herself up to be taken in for some nefarious purpose, I will fire you," she said.
"Um," Peter said uncomfortably.
"Who does that?" she demanded. Peter opened his mouth. Rivera held up a hand, took two long swigs from her water bottle, and exhaled hard. "All right," she said. "Hit me with the Oceans 11 crap: what did they want?"
"My desk," Peter said, reliving that moment of lurching realization when he'd found the bottom drawer unlocked. "The little guy got through security downstairs as her lawyer, then lifted a keycard from an IT guy." He'd abandoned his suitcoat and tie, too, and transformed instantly. "They wanted a look at my files on them. And they got it. It's not a disaster," he said hastily. "A lot of stuff is in my head, I haven't gotten a chance to write it down." And a lot of his more outlandish theories were just embarrassing. Still, if the fake IT guy had managed to snap a picture of every page, or even get to the fax machine, that was a lot of the playbook compromised.
Rivera nodded, lips pressed tight. "Fine. Take some time. You know these guys. Think about what they know now, figure out what their next move is."
"Already on it," Peter said. Not that it had gotten him anywhere so far. Though the current problem was far too many ideas, rather than too few.
"And all things considered, maybe it's best if some things stay in your head," Rivera added. "Since that's apparently the one place on the planet they can't break into. Send Pollard in on your way out, will you?"
"Sure," Peter said, making his escape. He was glad someone was in much deeper shit than he was today.
He slept like crap that night, then got up an hour early. He left a preemptive message for Rivera to tell her he might be late. And then he looked up bagel places.
He got lucky on his third guess. It was a tiny café with seventies wall paper and a menu that said only, "Coffee, one kind. bagels, every kind." Peter got coffee and a blueberry bagel piping hot from the oven, and came up to her little table from behind.
"Mind if I join you?" he said.
Madeline O'Dell looked up, squinted at him for a minute, then rolled her eyes. "Really?" she said. "I mean, at least they're sending someone new this time."
"I'm sorry?" Peter said. Then, "Wait, has NYPD been bothering you?" The morons: it'd been clear from day one that O'Dell wasn't about to roll over on her daughter's location, and badgering her would just make her dig in for the long haul.
"Every week like clockwork," she said, rolling her eyes again. "Not recently, but then here you are."
"I'm FBI," Peter said, which didn't appear to be nearly as reassuring as he'd intended. "Look, this coffee is really hot, can I at least put it down?"
"Oh, just sit," she said. "Let's get it over with."
Peter sat before she could change her mind. "I'm not here to ask you questions," he said. Though if he were, he'd start with how a retired psychologist could afford the beautiful rose gold watch she was sporting. Hard to say whether it was Caffrey's taste or Elizabeth's – they both seemed to have quite the eye for the finer things.
"Oh really?" she said. "You here to try and scare me, then?"
"No," Peter said. "Well, okay, maybe a little. But not like you're thinking. Look, NYPD can't actually get you on anything. As long as there's no evidence you're concealing a location, they can't charge you with aiding and abetting or harboring fugitives."
"I know," she said, and sipped her coffee.
Of course she did. "Right," Peter said. "So let's just take it as rote that you haven't spoken to either of them and you have no idea where they are. But I was thinking, maybe there were some things you might want to ask me."
She frowned. "Like what?"
"Well," Peter said. "This thing happened yesterday. Your daughter was arrested in a Manhattan bank. She's not in custody anymore," he said hastily as her mug clashed down. "She . . . exited abruptly." And he told her the story of Elizabeth leaping from a twenty-first story window, fleeing like a circus performer. She dropped her face into her hands halfway through; Peter was briefly terrified she might be crying, but when she looked up again she was flushed with laughter.
"Oh my God, those maniacs," she said furiously. "I should wring their necks."
"I second the motion," Peter said. "Believe me. But you have to realize, your daughter's in deep here. Probably too deep to get back out again, now." She nodded minutely, hands tight around her mug. "I've been chasing Neal Caffrey for a while," Peter said. "I know him. And I thought there might be things you'd like to know."
She sighed and picked at the edge of her bagel. "His charisma is just unreal, you know?" she said. "He could make a cow fly if he smiled pretty and said all the cool cows were doing it."
"You've met him," Peter breathed. Her head snapped up, and he hastily waved both hands. "Hey, whoa, that was a declarative statement, not a question." Though what he wouldn't give to get to ask just one. She'd actually met Neal Caffrey face-to-face. Sat and talked to him, hell, probably had dinner with him. Did he tell stories of crimes past? Did he brag about crimes future? Were those actually faint freckles high on his cheekbones, or did Peter just have bad still photographs of him?
"Okay," Madeline said. "Here's a question: do you think he'll ever stop?"
"No," Peter said instantly. "He's never going to be rich enough or legendary enough. Maybe in twenty years he'll wake up one morning and decide he's gotten way too good and it's all boring now, but until then . . . no." Until Peter caught him, anyway. But that wouldn't make him stop. Prison wasn't going to fix Caffrey.
She nodded, unsurprised. "Is he a good man?"
"He's a criminal," Peter said. "And he has a few screws loose, there's no doubt about it." There was that pissed off South American gun runner; rumor said Caffrey had smuggled his daughter out of the country along with a case of counterfeit currency in order to get her out of marriage to a child trafficker. Caffrey was lawless and high-strung and a bit nuts, and he could make people dance to his tune like trained monkeys. But he also once gave an emerald necklace to a college girl crying in a bus shelter, and he was tender like a lover with beautiful things, and somehow Peter knew he had a core of endless devotion in him, just waiting to latch on to someone and never let go. And apparently he'd found his someone. "Yeah," Peter said. "He's a good guy. He'll treat her right."
Madeline nodded, and some of the strain went out of her. "Thank you," she said. "I appreciate the unbiased perspective."
"It's not unbiased," Peter said. "Really, really not." He glanced down at his watch. "Anyway. I should go." He stood up, then hovered uncertainly. "Next time you – I mean, if you ever see him. Tell him—" he stumbled over four or five options, then just shook his head. "Never mind. Have a good day."
Peter's one big indulgence this year was his Rangers season ticket. A nosebleed seat, sure, but he could see the puck, and that was the important thing. Pollard had the aisle seat next to him, but he'd called earlier to say both his credit cards had been stolen and he was stuck at home dealing with all the hassle. Which Peter wouldn't wish on anyone, but he was still a bit pissed at Pollard for being careless with Elizabeth, so it was probably for the best.
So there he was, eating his hotdog and minding his own business, when Neal Caffrey dropped into the empty seat, beamed at him, and said, "So I heard you wanted to talk to me."
Peter stared. No, not freckles. The seats were packed in so tight up here, Caffrey's arm was pressed warmly against his. Peter dropped his hotdog and seized his wrist, fingers skidding on the soft sleeve of his cashmere coat.
"Easy there, tiger," Caffrey said, twisting free like an eel. "You don't have your cuffs, remember?"
"I can still arrest you," Peter snapped.
"Yeah," Caffrey agreed, easing to the edge of his seat. "You could try. But I can be out that fire exit in less than eight seconds." He pointed up the aisle. "And wouldn't you rather enjoy your game and have a nice, civilized conversation?"
Peter measured the distance, then dismissed the fire door: if Caffrey had pointed it out to him, he had another exit strategy. Really, all he'd have to do was wait for the crowd to get riled and disappear into the mass. And Peter did have a chance of getting him. But he had an even bigger chance of running him off and missing this golden opportunity.
"Okay," Peter said, easing back. "Let's talk."
"Excellent choice," Caffrey said, rubbing his hands together. "What's on your mind, law man?"
"Your fiancée," Peter said. "You know, you made a mistake with that stunt on Wednesday."
"Did we?" Caffrey asked interestedly.
"You guys have been careful, I'll give you that," Peter said. "You're wanted for questioning about eleven times over now, but you and I both know everything I've got is circumstantial. Even the tape from Chicago—" little smile, yeah, he'd known about the camera "—even that couldn't sink you on its own. Everything is pretty damning taken together, but it's not a slam dunk."
"True," Caffrey agreed comfortably.
"But I have her dead to rights on fleeing custody now," Peter said. "And you as an accomplice."
"I love being an accomplice," Caffrey confided, leaning in. "It's such a great word, don't you think?"
"You're missing the point," Peter said. "That was a dumbass risk to take." Which wasn't quite the point either, damn it. Talking to either of them was just so weird. They lived in some freaky Wonderland where Elizabeth could call him and talk to him like she and Peter were Caffrey's concerned friends. And they could pull Peter in without any effort whatsoever.
"We wouldn't have had to do it if you weren't such a stickler for the rules," Caffrey said. "It could have all been avoided if you'd just brought your case files home for once."
"What?" Peter said. Then it came together. "Caffrey, did you break into my place? You did! You searched my apartment."
"It's only fair," Caffrey said. "We showed you ours."
"There is no fair," Peter seethed. "Fair is irrelevant. I had a warrant, you had lock picks."
Caffrey gave him a look like, so what? then turned away as their section started a cheer and stomp. He joined in, blending so instinctively he probably wasn't even thinking about it.
The law meant nothing to him. Peter had known that as a figure of speech, a general descriptor. But Caffrey wasn't one of those guys who broke the law for the sake of breaking it. Caffrey didn't even comprehend the rules; it clearly never occurred to him to apply them to himself.
"You look upset," Caffrey said, sitting back.
"You broke into my apartment," Peter said.
"Yeah," Caffrey said, "but I did it with love." He eyed Peter's expression. "Look, I'm sorry, I had no idea you'd get so bent out of shape about it." He looked genuinely remorseful, which was meaningless. Still, maybe he could be taught after all, with a human face on the rules. Why did it have to be Peter's face, though? "But really, it all worked out," Caffrey continued brightly. "Elizabeth wanted to meet you anyway."
"She did?" Peter said, feeling himself go red.
Caffrey nodded, grinning. "She loved it when you anticipated our entry point into the Fitzpatrick collection. Alleged entry, I mean. She thinks you have a devious soul – that's a quote, by the way."
"Um," Peter said, thoroughly flustered.
"Of course, she's completely pissed at you now," Caffrey continued. "What did you say to her, anyway?"
"I questioned some of her lifestyle choices," Peter said.
"Oh, that's all? She'll get over that. I mean, as long as you didn't say anything about me she'll – Peter, you dope, you didn't!"
"How did we get onto this?" Peter demanded uncomfortably.
"Oh man," Caffrey said, clucking his tongue. "And here I thought she just wasn't speaking to you for a while. You should be worried."
Peter gritted his teeth. "I am not worried because a criminal is giving me the silent treatment."
"Yeah you are," Caffrey said.
"I'm really not."
"Yeah you are," Caffrey said.
Peter scowled sideways at him. "'Bulldog Burke?'" he asked.
Caffrey actually blushed, all pink and rosy under the crappy rink lights. "Shut up," he said, nudging Peter with his elbow. "The alliteration was just there, I had nothing to do with it."
"You never have anything to do with it," Peter said sourly.
"Speaking of." Caffrey leaned in, grinning. The far side of his face was faintly yellow and green; that must have been one hell of a bruise. "I hear you're cheating on us with Greg van Pelt."
"I'm not talking to you about active investigations," Peter said. "Particularly not when you learned about them by snooping through my desk."
"I didn't," Caffrey protested. "I know Greg a bit, and he was complaining about you, all 'who is this motherfucking fed?'" He did van Pelt's gutter Chicago accent flawlessly.
"Do you guys have club meetings or something?" Peter asked.
"The Peter Burke fan club," Caffrey said, twinkling at him. "Elizabeth and I are the charter members. Van Pelt is unlikely to join, I've got to tell you." The crowd erupted around them, and he leaned even closer to speak into Peter's ear. "No one appreciates you like we do."
"Lucky me," Peter said, covered by the cheering.
"Greg's kind of stupid though," Caffrey said when things quieted down. "What? You can't honestly tell me you haven't noticed. I mean, the same serial number on every bank note he printed? That's just lazy. And they weren't even very good bills," he added disapprovingly.
Caffrey crossed his knees, one foot jiggling. He was a compulsive fidgeter, Peter could tell after only ten minutes.
The problem with Caffrey was that Peter didn't hate him. He should have; Caffrey was a criminal. And more viscerally, he was going to marry the woman Peter had a stupid, helpless thing for. But Peter didn't hate him, and clearly the Caffrey magnetism was at work, because when push came to shove, Peter just . . . liked him. Stupidly, helplessly. If everything were different, he was the sort of guy Peter would love to talk cases with, the sort of guy – hell, the sort of guy he would go to a hockey game with.
"Hang on," Peter said suddenly. "You stole Pollard's credit cards, didn't you?"
Caffrey beamed, all but wriggling, thrilled to his toes that Peter had figured it out. "He's kind of stupid, too," he said. "You should give van Pelt to him; they'd enjoy each other."
"What, so I'll have more time for you?" Peter said. In their bizarro world, it was all right to be a little amused.
"Exactly." Caffrey slapped both his knees. "Anyway, good talk! We should do it again."
Peter lunged for him. And for a second he had him, hard grip around both of Caffrey's wrists. If he could just get him up the steps, maybe there'd be a rent-a-cop nearby, maybe – and then his hands were stinging and Caffrey was up, bounding down the steps five at a time. Peter went after him, eyes flicking between his feet and Caffrey's dark head, but he already knew he was too far behind. Caffrey hit the bottom of their section where a bunch of people were gathered at the divider, and he turned left, and he was gone.
Peter went to his mom's again for Christmas. She baked a mean ham, but he could have done without the wistful questions about whether he'd met anybody recently. She missed his dad, he got that, and she wanted him to have what she'd had. But it was all a bit much this year, exhausting instead of just frustrating.
He got home on the twenty-seventh. The elevator was actually working, and Peter leaned his suitcase against his knee, flipping through his accumulated mail. Bill, college reunion, ad, ad, ad – whoa.
He yanked his bag out of the elevator on his floor and then stopped to rip open the envelope right there in the hall. There was no return address, but he knew that handwriting, the smug little flourish at the top of the P in Peter Burke.
It's Elizabeth's turn to drive, but I can't sleep. I've been up for twenty four hours, and sometimes when I'm on, I can't turn off again for a while. It's an amazing night. No clouds, no moon, no city lights, not even airplane trails. I'm a city boy, through and through, but even I love this.
Have you ever looked at The Starry Night until your eyes unfocus and it goes blurry? Van Gogh said he had a "terrible need for religion" when he painted it. He had a way with words. My Dutch is just barely good enough to get through his letters, but even I can tell he had the same way of writing things as painting them – weird and off-perspective, but like he's uncovering something more fundamental instead of missing what's in front of him.
He didn't like that about himself, though. He had this way of talking about Gauguin and some of the other cloisonnists that just makes you hurt for him. They believed a lot of the same things about art and representation and the beauty of the visually unreal, but van Gogh could never be happy about it. No matter what he painted, he would always come back to asking what the correct shape was, the proper color, like he was doing something wrong by seeing what he saw. Who knows if he was that way because he was crazy, or if he went crazy because he was that way, or neither, but just imagine how much pain he could have avoided if he'd just let go of the whole thing.
Then again, the people who keep comparing the painting to that Hubble photograph of the swirling patterns around a star, something something Monocerotis, aren't seeing things. They really are nearly identical. So maybe Vince was painting something real after all, maybe he was tapping into something fundamentally true. Stop rolling your eyes, it's three in the morning.
Peter read it three times before the elevator behind him opened and he had to get out of the way. He went into his apartment, shoved his suitcase behind the couch, and read it again.
He'd taken a class on profiling at Quantico, and he'd heard about this sort of thing. Criminals who wanted your attention, criminals who wanted to talk to you, criminals who wanted to show off. But all that stuff was supposed to be creepy, wasn't it? And this was just . . . it was a guy who couldn't sleep on a long night drive.
Drive to where? And more alarmingly, from where? Neal didn't give any telling details, he was far too careful for that even when he was sleep-deprived. Wait, okay, the postmark said New York, with yesterday's date. It was regular mail, so there was no way to trace it. Nice thick paper, no lines, with a tiny scrim of glue across the top edge. From a sketch pad, then. And ink that looked a little faded, with all the letters feathered like he'd used a fancy pen.
Peter had already made up his mind. It wasn't like they didn't already have Caffrey's prints. And they weren't going to catch him by tracing the paper, he would have thought of that. And Rivera had said to play this one close to the vest just in case. So really, no point bringing it in and logging it into evidence, that would just be a hassle and a fair amount of mockery with no gain.
He did, however, go over to the MOMA the next day. Something that looked very much like The Starry Night was still safe and accounted for, and two separate staff experts confirmed its authenticity. Peter went over their security measures with them anyway, just in case it was a warning rather than a gloat.
He was reflexively suspicious, but when push came to shove, if he had to put money on it, he'd bet it wasn't a warning or a gloat. Just a letter.
He lost track of them over New Year's. Rivera put him on a theft insurance fraud case. They didn't have their guy yet, but it was just a question of methodical back trailing. It was weird; Peter knew exactly what was going to happen every morning when he woke up, and then it did, and he went home again at six every night.
Neal and Elizabeth resurfaced on January eighteenth in the background of a photo in the society section of Le Monde. Elizabeth was wearing white, and they were both tanned a healthy brown. Neal was in profile, mostly hidden, but he looked like he was back to a hundred percent.
This conclusion was reinforced by a flawless heist from the Danek and Jadzia Gertner Gallery in Tel Aviv on the twenty first. The Israeli police were at a complete loss. Peter would have passed his conclusions up the chain to Rivera to be sent over through the proper channels, but Neal and Elizabeth would be long gone by the time it could be any help, if they weren't already.
He got another letter five days later, exotically stamped. It was a chatty little note, all about how disorienting it was to change hemispheres in rapid succession at the height of winter and summer, had Peter ever done that? He should make time, someday. Also, for his information, Elizabeth looked ridiculous in a beret, with a whimsical margin sketch offered up as proof.
They came back to New York sometime in early February, Peter wasn't quite sure when. Their Valentine's Day date was the acquisition of a diamond and sapphire necklace, straight off the neck of a guest at the Governor's mansion and replaced with an excellent fake.
Neal's letter – and Peter's finely-honed sleuthing skills were detecting a pattern here – arrived two days later. It was a dreamy meditation on the greatest food he'd ever eaten: Pâté Lorrain, and grass-fed beef tenderloin, and piping hot fried dough rolled in cinnamon from a street vendor in Queens. Peter read it several times, then had to go out alone to his special occasion steak place eight blocks east.
Some people smoked a cigarette after sex; after crimes, Neal Caffrey wrote him letters.
In March, they robbed Senator Schumer. Peter actually thunked his forehead down on his desk when he found out.
"It's all right," Rivera said, rolling up a wad of faxes and whacking him on the back of the neck with them. "You couldn't have seen this coming."
"You don't understand," Peter said. "I really, really should have."
Neal's note, when it came, said only, Oh come on, don't make that face, we had to!
Peter took the subway an hour out of his way the next morning. Madeline O'Dell looked marginally more welcoming when Peter came up to her table this time.
"I won't bother you," Peter said. "Just, do me a favor. If you hypothetically happen to talk to them, tell them that was not funny. Or clever. Or – or anything."
O'Dell's eyebrows climbed. "I'll do that," she said. "Hypothetically."
The insurance fraud came together right on schedule. The man behind the curtain turned out to be in Delaware. Peter rented a car and drove down to baby-sit the capture himself. It all got dragged out with an extra helping of bullhorns and adrenaline, which Peter had predicted. He was getting so jaded about these things. They finally took the guy in after midnight. Peter stuck with him through processing, then abandoned him to the mercies of the interstate prisoner transport machine.
He really didn't feel like spending the night in a motel, and he was still completely wired, so he just drove through the night. The New Jersey Turnpike went amazingly fast when there were only scattered truckers on the road. He returned the rental at four and made it home before five, while it was still dark. The leading edge of tired was just starting to roll over him when he put his key in the lock.
The kitchen light was on. Peter stopped in the entryway, slamming back up to alertness so hard it made his head throb.
There was a half-drunk bottle of red wine on the counter. Peter put his hand on his gun, then dropped it, then put it back. He groaned and rolled his head against the tension in his neck.
"Neal," He said quietly. Silence. More tentatively, "Elizabeth?" Nothing.
The living room was empty. There was a damp towel over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom, but there were no other signs of life in there, either. The bedroom door was ajar.
Peter pushed it open with two fingers, standing clear. He waited a three-count, then stepped around the jamb and flipped on the light.
Empty. The double bed was rumpled, though, on both sides. And the window, half a story up from the old-fashioned fire escape, was open.
Peter checked the closet just to be thorough, then closed the window. He could still see the impressions of two heads, laid so close together on one pillow they almost merged.
He nearly had a heart attack when the phone rang. Peter rolled his eyes and sighed. How was this his life?
"Caffrey," he said, picking up the receiver.
"Peter." Neal sounded way too happy and alert for a guy just chased out of bed and down a fire escape before dawn. "Listen, sorry about that, we needed somewhere quiet to spend a few hours, and we thought you'd be gone overnight."
"Yeah, well, next time I'll keep you posted on any changes to my travel plans," Peter said.
"That would be helpful," Neal agreed. A car passed in the background. He was clearly at a payphone. Maybe the one in front of the post office two blocks east.
"Were you doing anything illegal in here?" Peter demanded. "Aside from the breaking and entering," he amended hastily.
"I don't know." Neal sounded intrigued. There was a rattle as he moved the receiver away from his mouth. "Elizabeth, Peter wants to know if we were doing anything illegal in his bedroom."
"Maybe if his bedroom was in Tehran," he heard Elizabeth say. "Or possibly Utah."
"Oh, hey, I think she's speaking to you again," Neal said, sounding delighted.
"Oh good," Peter said, with enough sarcasm to stun an elephant at thirty paces.
"Anyway," Neal said. "Gotta go. Sorry we didn't have time to change the sheets." Which was the single most blatant, outrageous lie Peter had ever heard him tell. "Until next time," Neal said, and hung up.
Peter dropped the phone back into the cradle. He retrieved his overnight bag from the entryway, but unpacking it just wasn't going to happen. While he was out there, he poured a glass of the wine they'd left. Verisimilitude – what were they tasting when they were here, in his space? It tasted like . . . wine. Okay, good wine, even he could tell that by the way it rolled smoothly through his mouth.
What crime had funded it? The necklace at Valentine's Day, though maybe Elizabeth had kept that for herself. Peter wanted it to be the Chicago heist, for some reason, back where it all began. He carried the glass into the bedroom.
He stripped fast, kicking his shoes into the closet and leaving his clothes on the floor.
The heat of their bodies still lingered, trapped by the covers. Peter pulled the sheets up to his shoulders, spreading his arms wide to touch either side of the bed. A double was pretty small – Lana had complained about it all two times she'd stayed over before they split up.
He had a whole chain of excuses poised and ready; it was a habit. He always slept in his boxers, he'd been awake since yesterday around this time, he wasn't sure he actually had a second set of sheets, he was doing nothing wrong.
And maybe he really was just that tired, because it didn't seem to matter. If he was on the wrong side of a line here, he'd stepped over it a long time ago.
His cheek fit into the indentation on the pillow. Peter breathed in. Had they stripped down, too? They'd been able to clear out in a hurry, so maybe not. But maybe they could get dressed really fast. So an undershirt for Neal and maybe a little tank top for Elizabeth. No bra; Neal could finger her nipples through the flimsy fabric, rub his mouth along the lacy edging. And she could tug the wavy hair at the nape of his neck, scratch down his back, and—
Though she would wear a bra, wouldn't she? It would take too long to get it back on if she had to --
Peter groaned. He didn't care what was real anymore, what was true. What did it matter? They'd been here in his bedroom – in his bed. This wasn't a crime scene, it never had been.
Something came loose in him. He jerked off fast, unrepentant. He just let his brain go, tripping from what was real to what he suspected to what had never happened. Coming home from the long drive, turning on the light and finding them in his bed, because they hadn't run. Watching them all over each other, seeing Neal's expert hands smooth her hair across his pillow. And the final unreality, climbing into bed with them, where they made a welcoming space for him. Kissing Elizabeth with Neal pressed between them, leaving a mark high up under Neal's jaw. Twisting his fingers up with Neal's and pushing them into Elizabeth together so Neal could show him what she liked, because he knew her body so well –
Peter didn't move for a while, wrecked, after he came. He got up eventually to wipe himself down, then went back to bed, where he slept for ten straight hours.
He was expecting a letter. Needed somewhere quiet to spend a few hours, uh-huh.
What he got instead was a wedding invitation.
It was simple and beautiful, just black ink on a cream card. The calligraphy was good enough to be a typeface, but Peter was sure Neal had done it by hand. There was no postmark; it had been hand-delivered to his mailbox.
You are cordially invited to the wedding of Elizabeth Marie O'Dell to Neal Foster Caffrey on the evening of Saturday, April 5, 1999. Formal reception to follow. RSVP.
They were getting married in three days.
No address, no directions. What, was it supposed to be a scavenger hunt? Was he supposed to track down an address by cracking some hidden code, and his reward was getting to watch their wedding? Peter dropped the card on his kitchen counter, obscurely angry. He had other things to do with his weekend, and this was one game of theirs he wouldn't be playing.
Rivera called him into her office the next afternoon.
"Shut the door," she said, which was not a good sign.
Peter sat down, wondering which of his many infractions she was likely to be angriest about.
"All right," she said, swiveling away from her computer. "You know those bullshit questions I have to ask you about your career goals every performance review? Well, this is the version that actually counts."
"Um, okay?" Peter said, blindsided.
"I assume you've started putting together your next promotion package," she said.
"I've . . . made some progress," Peter said. In the sense that he'd been vaguely aware it was on the horizon.
"Good," she said. "Do you want my job?"
"Um. I'm really not qualified for—"
"Not yet, no." She sat forward, her braid sliding over her shoulder. "Look, Peter, you've always done good work. But recently it's kicked up to great. It's like Caffrey and O'Dell lit you on fire or something. And God knows you're the only person who can stand that case."
"Really?" Peter said, startled. He'd known he had the case entirely to himself, but he'd just assumed it was professional courtesy.
Rivera rolled her eyes. "Caffrey rappelled down an eighty-story skyscraper with Ming dynasty porcelain," she said. "I think I'm getting an ulcer just watching you chase them. You're the only person who they don't actively drive insane."
"Oh, I really wouldn't say that," Peter muttered.
"The point being," Rivera said, "that you're going to have some decisions to make in the next six or seven years. Do you – what?"
"Sorry, sorry," Peter said quickly. "I just, uh, I just figured something out. About Caffrey and O'Dell, it's not a scavenger hunt, it's an invit – uh, sorry. You were saying?"
"Your career," Rivera said dryly. "Specifically, your promotion within the Financial Crimes Unit. You need to start thinking about these things now, because I don't plan on being here forever, and when I go, I'd prefer to have you ready to step in."
"Oh," Peter said, entirely present in the conversation for the first time. "That's, wow. I'm flattered."
"You should be," she said. "I don't waste my time with idiots. So? Are you in?"
The answer was yes, obviously. It had been yes since he'd attended that recruitment lecture the first year of his Masters. He knew he was good at this, and he knew he could do more with a bigger playing field.
As long as he didn't fuck it up irredeemably. As long as he could somehow get out from under this feeling he'd had all winter, like things were silently spinning out of his control.
"Can I have some time?" he said. "There's a couple things I need to straighten out. Actually, I have nothing urgent right now, do you think I could take a few days?"
She eyed him, head to one side. "Fill out the leave request and I'll approve it," she said at last.
"Thanks," Peter said, standing. "And also, thanks. For asking at all."
"Hmm," she said. "Don't let me down."
Peter filled out the leave request, asking for Friday and Monday both. Then he spent the rest of the workday getting hold of Madeline O'Dell's financials through mildly dubious means. It was all right there on her Visa card – flight, rental car, bed and breakfast.
Ten minutes and a shocking amount of money later, Peter had a ticket to Cherbourg leaving in eighteen hours.
There was no point hiding, so he booked a room at the same bed and breakfast as Madeline. It would make following her easier, anyway. The drive from Cherbourg through the Norman countryside took longer than expected. Peter blamed the fact that all the roadside signs were in fucking French; he maybe should have seen that one coming.
He checked in at the B&B late Saturday morning. It was a tiny, unpronounceable village, right on the cliffs. It earned Peter's tentative approval by way of the best scones he'd ever had.
He was a little worried about missing his guide, so he got dressed in the late afternoon and staked out the B&B's front door in a tux like a moron. Madeline came in at six in jeans and a sweater, so at least he knew he hadn't missed it. Peter skulked behind a potted plant, but she was in a hurry and distracted.
She came back down forty five minutes later all gussied up in a swirly blue dress. Peter had been planning to shadow her out to the parking lot and follow her at a safe distance in his rental car, but she headed up the street on foot. That made trailing her a bit harder without being too obvious, but he gave it a shot.
She headed straight for the shore. Peter had been pretty sure it wouldn't be a church, but an outdoor wedding seemed unlikely as the sun sank and the temperature dropped.
She turned in at an iron gate and headed up the driveway of a three-story house. The ocean sounded very close, but Peter couldn't see it. He eyed the angles. There was no good cover out here, and this side of the house was mostly brick with few windows. Well, crap, there went the plan of safely surveilling proceedings from a distance.
He took a breath and jogged up the driveway. "Mrs. O'Dell," he called.
She turned, spotted him, and blinked.
"Hi," Peter said, arriving at her side.
"Agent Burke," she said, lifting an eloquent eyebrow.
He stuck his hands in his pockets. "I was invited," he said.
"I know." She started walking again. "But we didn't hear, so we weren't expecting you."
"I didn't have much notice," Peter protested.
She sighed. "Who did? Five days ago, I thought I'd be at my book group tonight like every Saturday. Come in." She went through the front door without knocking, and led Peter up two flights of stairs and out to the back of the house, to a long, unfurnished room, just a bare wood floor and a wall of glass giving a breathtaking view straight down the granite cliff to the ocean far below.
"I'd introduce you around, but it might get a bit awkward if someone asks what you do," Madeline said.
Peter tore his eyes away from the view. Nine or ten people stood at the far end of the room, talking quietly. Peter automatically started memorizing faces, and forcibly had to make himself stop. Except, of course, the little bald guy was in the corner, muttering with a gorgeous brunette.
"Why here?" Peter asked.
"Romanticism," Madeline said promptly. "They spent a month in France when they first met, getting to know each other."
'Getting to know each other' encompassing a crash course in white collar crime for Elizabeth, naturally. Peter could just see it – dinners at fancy restaurants, long walks in the countryside, hours of practice in card-counting and sleight-of-hand. "Most people try a few lunch dates first," he said.
Madeline's mouth twisted wryly. "I did point that out, yes," she said. "But apparently when you're sure, you're sure. Excuse me a second, Neal wanted to start at six to catch the perfect light. Let me check on them."
She left him alone in the room with a bunch of crooks and cons. Awkward. Peter accidentally made eye contact with the little guy, who glared daggers and whispered behind his hand to the woman next to him. Peter felt like the odd guy out at a high school dance.
There weren't many people here, all things considered. Peter had gone to Rivera's no nonsense wedding last year, and even she'd had fifty guests. Short notice? Short list of near and dear? If so, what the hell was he doing here?
"Here we go," Madeline said, reappearing. Peter turned. Neal and Elizabeth came in together, and a hush fell over the room. She was wearing gold instead of white, but he had gone for the classic black tux. The crowd converged loosely around the middle of the room, and the two of them sort of walked each other up an informal aisle. The little guy joined them at the glass windows, clearing his throat to begin. Good God, had he actually gotten ordained for this?
Peter didn't like weddings much: they were usually a lot of pomp and nonsense when he'd always thought the thing they were supposed to accomplish was very simple. He liked this wedding, though. It was fast and a little rough around the edges, obviously unrehearsed. He'd worried that Neal would want some extravagant, ritual display, but instead they seem to have whittled the whole thing down to the kernel of truth at the center, the really important part.
They said their own vows. Elizabeth was steady and dry-eyed throughout; Neal was not. The setting sun came right in upon them, and it lit Elizabeth's dress on fire. She held Neal's hand in both of hers while she put his ring on. "Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people," she said.
Everyone breathed out when it was over, and Madeline unclenched the death grip she had taken on Peter's upper arm somewhere in there. The little guy started clapping, and someone whooped from the back. They kissed indecorously, hugging the hell out of each other, careless of their clothes.
It had been a mistake, coming here. He'd thought it would fix things; he'd thought it would exorcise them from him, like demons. But he could already tell that if there was a way to do that, it wasn't this.
And then of course they were shedding well-wishers right and left and coming straight for him.
"Peter," Neal said, grinning. "You came."
"You did invite me," Peter said, a little defensively.
"We did," Elizabeth agreed. "We're just surprised – you didn't RSVP. But we're thrilled you're here." It wasn't like they'd enclosed one of those stupid little answer cards: check here if you will attend, please indicate number of well-armed United States law enforcement personnel you will be bringing.
"It was all very sudden," Peter said.
"Some of the best things in life are spontaneous," Neal said. He slid his arm around Elizabeth's waist, and their bodies swayed together.
"That's hilarious, coming from the guy who set up the Getty robbery six months in advance," Peter said sourly. "Yes, I figured that out.; you didn't even make it that hard."
"Aww, I'm sorry," Neal said. "But you can't say I haven't made it more fun for you since. And besides, I've played much longer games than that."
"Like what?" Peter asked.
Neal winked. "I'll let you know. And nice binoculars, by the way," he added, tapping them where they stuck out of Peter's breast pocket. "Peter Burke: rather surveil a wedding than attend it."
"I came prepared for all contingencies," Peter said. There would have been a comforting veneer of propriety, watching from a distance. But somehow he wasn't surprised to find himself here in the middle of everything, out of place, out of character. This was what they did to him.
Neal smiled knowingly. "And yet you dressed up for us," he said. "You weren't going to come all this way and watch from three hundred yards."
"Well, I did want cake," Peter said.
"You have to dance first," Elizabeth said. She and Neal did a complicated couple thing with eyebrows and emphatic hand gestures.
"Fine, fine," Neal said at last. He dug a euro coin out of his pocket. "Call it," he said, and spun it glittering up into the air.
"Tails," Elizabeth said decisively.
Neal slapped the coin into his palm, uncovered it, and sighed. "She cheats," he informed Peter.
"You taught me how," Elizabeth said. She looped her arm through Peter's. "I win the first dance."
"But aren't you going to do the whole . . . thing?" Peter said, waving back at Neal.
"I dance with him all the time," Elizabeth said. "Come on."
She took him down the stairs to an even bigger space. Someone had already started the music – jazz on an actual record player. Madeline was dancing with the little guy.
Elizabeth tucked in against Peter, her arms up around his neck.
"Thanks again for coming," she said quietly. "We didn't think you would."
"I didn't either," Peter said honestly. He paused. "Hell of a risk, inviting me at all." Even with such short notice, even out of his jurisdiction like this, it really was.
She shrugged, making her hair slide over her shoulders. "We decided it was worth it," she said.
"And I was just thinking the other day about how you've mellowed him," Peter said.
"I guess I did," she said. "But Neal gets most of the credit for himself." Her face hardened momentarily. "No one else really deserves it."
"Or the blame, depending on your perspective," Peter said.
She laughed. "Point. But just look at what he's accomplished before his twenty-second birthday. Most guys his age are playing beer pong and failing Anthropology 101."
Peter would have disputed the exact meaning of 'accomplished,' but he got distracted. "Hang on, he's twenty four," he said.
Elizabeth shook her head ruefully. "Twenty one. His birthday's next month."
"You dog," Peter said. She burst out laughing, and her dress shimmered in a long ripple down her body. Peter's heart wrenched, looking at that smile. "Caffrey better know what a lucky bastard he is," he blurted.
She flushed up, head tilted back to look him in the eye. "I tell him on a regular basis," she said. She eased an inch closer, and the distance between them suddenly went from casually flirty to intimate. Her body swayed into his, her breath was on his neck. And then she leaned up and brushed a kiss down his throat.
Peter jerked back. She came with him, stumbling. "Elizabeth," he said, honestly shocked. "I've never known you to be cruel."
Her eyes opened wide. "Oh, no no," she said quickly. "Peter, that's not at all--"
"What, are you really going to tell me you two haven't been playing with me?" he demanded, furious.
"No," she said again, then shook her head. "Okay, yes, maybe we were. But that's not why you're here."
"I know why I'm here," Peter said. "To get a good look at what I can't have."
She shook her head again, and a strand of hair fell across her face. "We wouldn't do that."
Peter looked away. "I meant me," he admitted. He'd already said too much – he was here at all, for God's sake – so why not. "I mean that's why I came."
"Oh." They'd stopped dancing, but they were still close in the loose hold. "What if you could have it?" she said.
There was a quiet footstep on the wood behind him, and Neal appeared. The rest of the room had emptied out; Peter could hear a cork popping somewhere in the distance, and the quiet murmur of voices.
"Everything all right?" Neal asked.
"Your wife just propositioned me," Peter said blankly.
"Well yeah," Neal said. "She won the coin toss."
"I cheated," Elizabeth admitted to Peter.
"I taught her how," Neal said smugly.
"How do you cheat at a coin toss?" Peter asked.
"Psychology." Neal stepped closer. "We have a flight out first thing in the morning," he said. "We're going to—"
Peter slapped a hand over his mouth. "Do not tell me where you're going," he said. "I do not want to know what you two think will make an exciting honeymoon."
Neal turned his head, breath tickling Peter's palm, and gently bit the sensitive skin on the inside of his wrist. Peter jerked his hand away, breathing hard.
"I think you really do," Neal said. He was right up in Peter's space. Elizabeth came up on his other side and rested a hand on Neal's back. Peter had never seen them together in person before. They were beautiful; there was a symmetry about them, a fittingness. Peter didn't know the right word for it, but he bet Neal did.
"Kiss him," Elizabeth said.
There was a blank moment before Peter realized she was talking to him, not Neal.
"I don't think he's going to," Neal said. "I think he's chicken."
"Oh, seriously?" Peter demanded. "That is not going to work." Except it already had, maybe a long time ago. He leaned in, his hands coming to rest automatically at Neal's waist.
Peter kissed him. It was weird for a second, because Neal was too tall and there was no curve at his waist for Peter's hands to fit to. And then something came roaring up in him. Peter shoved. Neal staggered back and Peter was on him, driving him two more steps to the wall. He flattened Neal there and pressed in close, body-to-body. Neal scrabbled at his back. Peter kissed him until Neal was hanging from his shoulders, fighting to catch his breath.
It was the shock at himself that gave him the strength to step back. He didn't even know who this guy was, who took career-destroying transcontinental jaunts and got propositioned to have a threesome with Mr. and Mrs. Illegal Undertaking, and who kissed Neal Caffrey like he would die if he stopped.
"Uh-oh," Neal said. "I can smell a sexual identity crisis at twenty paces."
"You can cause a sexual identity crisis at twenty paces," Elizabeth said. "Peter, are you okay?"
"That is so far down the list of crises, it isn't even funny," Peter said. He scrubbed a hand over his face and took another step away from Neal. "I need to go."
"Are you sure?" Elizabeth said, gently touching his arm.
"Yes," Peter said. "I'm going back to New York tomorrow. This is already so far over the line."
"So why worry about it now?" Neal asked, which explained pretty much everything about him right there.
"I can't do – whatever with you guys and start chasing you tomorrow like nothing happened," Peter said. "I'm not wired that way." On their wedding night, Jesus.
"Oh, Peter," Elizabeth said. "We're not asking you for a fling."
He blinked. "You're not?"
She shook her head, smiling sweetly. "We're asking you to run away with us."
"Oh," Peter said. That was actually a relief, because the idea was so absurd, it wasn't even real to him. Ridiculous sexual shenanigans were just barely possible on the outer fringes of this screwy life they'd dragged him into, but running away with them? Who actually did that sort of thing? "No," Peter said. "That's really not happening."
Neal opened his mouth, but Elizabeth put out her hand and he shut it again.
"I should go," Peter said. "Thanks for the invitation. And, uh, congratulations."
He couldn't stand the thought of waiting out the night at the pretty little B&B full of their felonious wedding guests, so he wrote off his connecting flight entirely and drove the four and a half hours to Paris. When had it become him running away from them, instead of the other way around?
He wasted a few hours in an all-night coffee shop, then showed up at Charles de Gaulle at dawn and snagged a seat on an earlier flight to JFK. He was home in his crappy little Brooklyn one bedroom less than seventy-two hours after he'd left.
"Wow, you look like you haven't slept in a week," Pollard said first thing Monday morning. Peter's body had absolutely no idea what time it was supposed to be at this point, and he could have stayed home, but he didn't want to.
"Long weekend," he said. "Why do you look excited?"
"We couldn't reach you on Friday, so I stepped in for you," Pollard said. "There's been a break on the van Pelt case. Come on, I'll catch you up."
They didn't actually get van Pelt until Thursday. The whole thing was pretty boring; Peter could outthink him even when he was half out of his mind with sleep deprivation.
"Good job," Rivera said Friday morning.
"Not really," Peter said. "He's just really, really stupid."
"Just how I like 'em," Rivera said.
"I don't," Peter said slowly. He'd known that, but it was still kind of surprising to realize that van Pelt's clumsy attempts at lawbreaking had actually pissed him off, with nothing else underneath.
He was in so much trouble. Rivera was wrong – Neal and Elizabeth could break into his head after all. They'd done it, and they'd stolen his sanity and replaced it with a forgery that looked the same but really, really wasn't.
It was a paperwork day. Peter left at six thirty, about five hours earlier than he'd managed all week. He ordered a pizza, drank a beer, and stared vacantly at the TV. He was so tired, the sound seemed to buzz in his ears.
When the pizza came, he ate a few slices over the kitchen sink, beer in his other hand.
Their half-drunk bottle of wine had been sitting open on the counter for the past two weeks. Peter got a faint whiff of vinegar from it, so he poured it out in the sink. It was an '82 Bordeaux, huh. Probably so far out of his price range, it wasn't even worth checking. He went to throw away the bottle, then stopped.
The thing he should be doing was getting off their case. He could do it without hamstringing his future in the unit if he played it just right. As long as the words 'conflict of interest' never came up.
The thought made him crazy, though. He still wanted to catch them, that hadn't changed. But what catching them meant had. He'd wanted to lock them up at first, of course. Then he'd just wanted to fix them. And then he'd wanted to give them each a good hard shake. Now he just wanted to know where they were, what they were doing. And setting some rules wouldn't hurt either, like 'no jumping off of anything more than fifteen feet tall without at least one goddamn anchor point you maniacs'.
So. He wasn't going to do the thing he was supposed to do. That left a lot of options in play.
What if he could have what he wanted, she'd said. Easy for her to say. Elizabeth had walked out on her life at a second's notice on the basis of what? A pretty face, and a middle-of-the-night conversation? No, he knew her better than that. She had a gift for people, an instantaneous sense for them. That was increasingly her part of their cons, being the man on the inside and judging who needed what kind of gentle pressure. Peter didn't get people that way. He needed hundreds of surveillance photos, a complete background workup, the whole thing.
She'd run in the middle of the night after one conversation. He'd thought that was crazy when she'd told him. He still did, but now it also seemed . . . brave.
Peter went to bed early, just after eight, and slept like the dead until six the next morning. He lingered in bed for a while, refreshed, feeling like he might be thinking clearly for the first time in weeks. If he wasn't going to do what he should do, what did that leave?
He'd accumulated a long list over the Winter of ways he wasn't going to catch them. Yet right now, this was the first time he'd really thought of a way that he was going to catch them.
Could he watch them do what they did? Could he be complicit like that?
All right, truth. Could he stop being complicit?
He flung out of bed and showered fast. He took a cab instead of the subway, and rushed into the bagel place just as Madeline was sitting down with her coffee. She looked up, startled, and smiled warily at him.
"Agent Burke," she said, as if she hadn't held onto him for dear life all through her daughter's wedding last weekend.
"Hi," Peter said. "Listen, I'm not here to bother you, but can you do something for me?"
"Maybe," she said carefully.
Peter took a breath. "Tell them I said, 'RSVP.'"
"RSVP," she repeated, dubious.
"Yes," Peter said. "Just that. Thanks."
He lived through the next four days on nerves. It might have been better if he'd known what he was waiting for or how long it might take. There'd been no sign of them for over a week, and he had no idea where in the world they might be. It made him even crazier than usual, not knowing. God knew someone needed to be watching them, and turned out it had to be him.
On the fourth evening, he came home from work to find an envelope neatly centered on his kitchen counter.
There will be a car waiting for you in the alley behind your building at 1:45 in the morning this Saturday the seventeenth. The driver's going to ask you for a code – just ignore him. Don't pack anything. Don't change your routine.
We'll see you on the other side. We're looking forward to it.
And then at the bottom, in Elizabeth's handwriting:
P.S. You could bring your handcuffs, though.
Peter laughed. He burned the letter over the kitchen sink, feeling like he was in a spy movie, and washed the ashes away. Don't change his routine, ha, what a joke.
He settled down after that. There was always the quiet section of his brain frantically firing, what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck, but he'd gotten used to that over the past nine months, and it was just background noise by now.
He wore his lucky tie on Friday. But that was okay, he just did that sometimes. He didn't pack – he even abandoned his wallet on his nightstand. He did bring a couple things, including his emergency cash fund. He left his keys on their hook and let his apartment door lock automatically behind him.
The car was a sedan, black or dark gray. Peter wasn't sure what to do, so he just walked up to the driver's window.
"I heard a mockingbird sing in the park," said a voice from the cracked window. A familiar voice.
"Oh, it's you," Peter said. "Let me in."
The back door unlocked, and Peter slid in.
"Down," said the little bald guy, starting the engine. "On the floor, pull the blanket over your head."
"Is this really necessary?" Peter said, obeying.
"You'll be thanking me when all your jackboot friends aren't knocking down your door," the little guy said. "Assuming you don't call them yourself, anyway."
"Where are we going?" Peter asked, as they turned left and accelerated.
"Need to know basis," the little guy said. "And for the record, I think this is the most insane idea I've ever heard."
"Oh, no argument," Peter said.
"Now shut up and let me drive," the little guy said, and turned the volume way up on an opera CD.
They drove for about five hours, by Peter's watch, frequently switching from highways to bumpier roads and back again. He dozed, even scrunched up on the floor like that.
"All right," the little guy called at last. They had been slowing for a while, driving like they were on city streets again.
"Montreal?" Peter guessed, sitting up.
"Briefly," the little guy said. "Here." He flipped an envelope into the back. Peter opened it to find a passport belonging to a Canadian citizen who looked like Peter Burke but didn't have his name, and a ticket right back to Paris.
"You have half an hour," the little guy said, stopping at a drop-off curb in front of the airport.
"Thanks," Peter said, stretching and opening the door. "I'll see you around."
"If you betray them, I'll hunt you down like a dog," the little guy said through the window, and drove off.
He slept through part of the flight that time, and when he came out into the arrivals hall, Elizabeth was waiting for him. She was all casual chic in a dark red jacket with her hair tucked up under a cap. She was practically on top of him before he recognized her, and she just kept coming. Peter opened his arms automatically. She hugged the hell out of him, then stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth, just like that.
"Hi," she said, cheek brushing his.
"Hi," Peter said, breathless. "where's your worse half?"
"Cooking. Are you hungry?" She took his hand, like she was his girlfriend meeting him after a business trip.
"Starving," Peter said.
She had a cute little two-door thing parked on the top level of a cement garage. It was evening, Paris time, and the streets were busy. Peter was relieved to learn that, despite previous evidence to the contrary, she couldn't magically make a traffic snarl disappear with a wink and a smile.
They had a loft at the top of a red brick building overlooking a park – "Parc Monseau," Elizabeth said as she pulled in. "Because Monet painted views here at least five times. Neal has this thing about Monet."
"I did notice," Peter said dryly.
"Honey?" Elizabeth called when they walked in. The entryway was tiled in blue and green, and there was a mosaic in progress stretching up the right-hand wall.
"Neal's?" Peter asked, tipping his chin at it.
"You like it?" Neal appeared from the kitchen in jeans and a black sweater. Peter had yet to find any light that didn't love him, and the sunset glow through the skylight was definitely no exception.
Peter had been laying metaphorical breadcrumbs all the way here. He'd gone through with it, yeah, but he was a planner. And up until that moment he still had a way back – cab to the airport, flight back to JFK, show up for work on Monday like nothing had happened. He'd done it before. But when Elizabeth crossed to kiss Neal hello, that was it. It was something about them together. Peter watched Neal take her hat off and start drawing the pins out of her hair. One of them he could have resisted, but two against one just wasn't fair. He could run, but they would catch him again.
"I have wine," Neal said. "And cheese and salad. And I was going to poach salmon."
"Or we could all just go to bed," Elizabeth said brightly.
Neal pulled out the last pin and Elizabeth's hair fell messily around her shoulders. "She's really smart," Neal said to Peter. "I love that."
"Me too," Peter said.
He followed them through a minimalist living room and passed an open door to a dark room that smelled strongly of paint. There was another skylight over their bed. Peter lingered in the doorway, sponging up details.
"You coming?" Neal asked, turning from the lamp in the corner.
"Um," Peter said, mouth dry. He kept getting caught on all the little things, like the sound Elizabeth's bracelet made when she dropped it on the nightstand. The sort of things that didn't make it into fantasies. "Would it be okay if I just, uh, watched for a minute?"
"We can give you a pair of binoculars and you can climb up onto the roof across the street if it'd make you feel more welcome," Neal said.
Neal was actually nervous. Peter had never seen that on him before, so he wasn't sure how he knew, but there it was. And somehow, Peter also knew how to settle him down.
"Kiss me," Elizabeth commanded, at the same time Peter said, "Kiss your wife."
Neal went and knelt in front of her where she sat on the edge of the bed. She had to lean down to kiss him, and her hair fell forward across both their faces. That was okay, though, Peter could still hear the soft sounds they made.
Neal undressed her slowly, piece by piece. When he took off each shoe, he bent and kissed the arches of her feet, one and then the other. It should have looked stupid and showy, but he did it so seriously that it made Peter's heart ache.
Her jeans came off by inches. She was wearing dark blue underwear. Neal spent a while rubbing his face against them, getting the fabric damp with his breath.
"Come up here," Elizabeth said to him. Her sex voice made Peter weak in the knees.
Elizabeth undressed him far more quickly. And she didn't spend any time teasing him; she just pushed him onto his back and went down on him. She moved instinctively with his first surprised arch. Peter loved the way their bodies knew each other.
Peter sat carefully on the foot of the bed. Neal was just unraveling under Elizabeth's mouth. One foot kicked helplessly at the air; she ruthlessly elbowed his thighs farther apart and held them there. Peter wasn't sure whether he wanted to be the one with her mouth on him, or the one kissing the head of Neal's pretty dick and making him shake. Both at once, that was all right, wasn't it?
She sat partway up after a minute. Neal's cock was wet and flushed dark red. Elizabeth gathered her hair up, turned her head, and whipped the ends of the strands across the head of his cock. Neal shouted through closed lips.
"One of these days, I should just slap you," Elizabeth said conversationally. She gestured demonstrably with an open hand, missing his cock by centimeters. "Not too hard."
Neal jerked from head to toe when she missed, his eyes rolling to track her hand. "You could try it right now," he said persuasively. "I wouldn't mind."
"Hmm," she said, like she was considering it. "No," she decided at last. "Peter could mind."
Neal looked over. "Bet he wouldn't," he said.
Peter really hoped they wouldn't ask for a deciding vote from him. He was too busy trying to figure out how watching that could make his blood pound, even though he didn't want her to do that to him. But he wanted to do that to Neal, yeah, no question; he wanted to make Neal tremble, like Elizabeth could.
"I know these things," Elizabeth said.
"She cheats," Neal said mournfully.
"How do you cheat at sex?" Peter asked.
Elizabeth made like she was going to slap Neal's cock, pulling it at the last second. Neal whined, arching into the hit that never landed. "Psychology," Elizabeth said.
"Aren't you tired of watching yet?" Neal asked him. Peter interpreted this as an appeal for reinforcements.
"I'm good," he said truthfully. "But I'll let you know."
Neal opened his mouth to say something smartass, but he just let out a long groan when Elizabeth straddled him and sank slowly down, no condom, no warning.
"Go on," Elizabeth said, rolling her hips. "Keep arguing with him, don't let me distract you."
"Um," Neal said. Which was more than Peter thought he might have been able to manage in Neal's place. Elizabeth was riding him hard, powering through on her thigh muscles. Neal couldn't do much except lie there and take it. And look pretty while he did, that was something.
Elizabeth was moving fast enough to make her breasts bounce. It kept short-circuiting things between Peter's ears – he'd think she looks so . . . breasts. Do they ever . . . nipples.
Elizabeth kept one hand on Neal's bicep to balance herself and slid the other down. She could barely keep up with herself, but she braced her wrist and ground forward into her fingers on every other stroke. Peter leaned in, breathing hard. Neal pushed up onto one elbow, straining. He was staring, mouth open, breathing as fast as Peter.
She came more quietly than Peter expected. She rocked down hard on Neal's cock, twisted her wrist, and just stayed there for a long time, her hips jerking minutely as she moaned behind her teeth.
She dropped forward on her hands, her hair swinging. "Damn," she said with feeling. She rolled off of Neal and slumped sideways onto the pillows at the head of the bed.
Neal snapped up like a guy on springs. "Peter," he said urgently. "If you put your tongue in her, it's gotta be right now, just—"
Peter lunged across the bed. Elizabeth wasn't tracking very well, so she went, "mmm?" when he pushed between her legs. Then he spread her open and licked her, and she actually shrieked.
"Just your tongue," Neal was saying at his shoulder. "Fingers would be too much."
Peter flickered his tongue against her, then pushed it in. She recoiled from him, then shoved back against his mouth, like she didn't know whether she liked it or not. Peter decided to assume it was good when she tugged hard enough on his hair to make his eyes smart, but said, "don't stop don't stop," at the same time.
He worked his tongue in her while she said, "oh," again and again at higher and higher pitches. Then he took a chance and slid up to suck her clit into his mouth. She shrieked again, and Neal reached around Peter to hold her down while she thrashed through another orgasm. She was hoarse by the time Peter came back up for air.
"Nice," Neal said admiringly.
Elizabeth blinked at the ceiling for a minute, then slowly rolled her head. "Why're you still wearing clothes?' she asked dreamily.
"That's a really good question," Peter said, and reached for his lucky tie, now thoroughly rumpled.
He ended up on his knees, naked in the middle of the bed. Elizabeth lay on one side, eyes half-closed. Neal waited on the other with the expression of a hunting dog on point, just waiting for the rifle shot.
"You," Peter said inarticulately, and fell upon him.
It was like their wedding. Whenever he got his hands on Neal, something happened and the next thing he knew he was mauling him, with Neal's wrists pinned together in one hand and the other against his throat, up under his jaw. It wasn't like Neal minded. It was just a little scary, knowing there was this animal in him, that it had been there all along.
He made himself slow down, kiss Neal more gently. Neal liked that, too. Neal seemed to like everything, as long as Peter's hands were on him. Peter let his wrists go; there was a lot of Neal to put his hands on. He touched Neal's shoulders, the soft skin inside his arm, his ribs, his hipbones. He pinched Neal's nipples to see him squirm, and bit his earlobe. Neal gave as good as he got; his thieving hands stole Peter's breath, and then the rest of his patience.
"Peter," Elizabeth said, touching his back. "Do me a favor?" She pushed two fingers into his mouth. Peter licked at them, distracted. Neal had both hands around his cock, stroking smooth and sure. "Thanks," Elizabeth said, and her hand vanished. A few seconds later Neal's hands lost their rhythm. "Payback," Elizabeth sing-songed, and Neal started rolling his hips.
Peter knelt up to look. She had his thigh pushed up; her hand disappeared under it, her wrist jerking rhythmically because she was – she was fingering him. Fast, too, with just Peter's spit to make it easier. Because Neal liked it. Neal liked getting fucked. He might want Peter to fuck him, one day. He might want to return the favor.
Neal's hands started working again and Peter rocked forward into his grip. He was suddenly right there, no more intermediate stops.
"Neal," he said warningly.
"Go on," Neal said, opening his eyes wide. "It's fine, come all over me." Kinky little bastard, kinky little conman, always knew what you wanted to hear even when you didn't know it yourself. That was definitely cheating.
Peter came across his stomach and chest. He had to slap his hands down either side of Neal to stay up through it. Neal petted his cock with his fingertips until it was all over. Peter stayed propped up on his hands an watched while Neal came, too, and then while Elizabeth kept fingering him for an extra minute. Neal moved into it, his face blanked by intensity, until Elizabeth was good and ready to stop.
She was the one who got up an brought washcloths back, and she was the one to get a blanket from the trunk at the foot of the bed, since neither of them were really moving. They dozed in a sweaty pile while the stars came out, shining through the skylight. Neal curled contentedly in the middle – Peter didn't think he could have stood having two people pin him down like that, but Neal just ate it up.
Elizabeth slipped away after a while. Neal turned more fully into Peter, drowsy and heat-seeking. Peter put both arms around him and watched the stars, while Neal drooled trustingly on his shoulder. Peter held him close, moved.
The reality of their bodies pressed together was still throwing him. Peter had spent the last nine months thinking about them, and it was only now he could honestly see how he'd been circling and circling the edges of questions whose answers he could only get here. In bed with them, with their clothes off. All the things he wanted to do . . .
Crazy kid. Neal was like a vector virus; he'd given them both his special case of stupid grand gestures and making impossible things happen and, well. The other stuff, like how Peter still wanted to fix him, except he didn't really want Neal to change.
"We should talk about this," Peter said eventually.
"Wow," Neal said, stretching. "You really are worried."
"Well, considering what I just did—" Peter started. "I like having a plan, okay?"
"I know," Neal said quickly. "And I have some ideas for the short term, but that's not what you're worried about." He rubbed his face on Peter's shoulder, affectionate like a cat. "You can be our consultant," he said. "Our law enforcement informant."
That was nuts. And not a terrible idea, actually.
Elizabeth came back with a plate of bread and sliced cheese and stuffed olives. Peter's stomach growled at the sight, and he pounced.
"You forgot the most important bit," Neal said sleepily, and wriggled free of Peter. He wandered out, casually naked. Elizabeth and Peter watched him go, then grinned at each other.
"You dog," Elizabeth said.
Neal came back with a bottle of wine and three glasses.
"So I was thinking we have about a week here," he said, clearly wide awake now.
"Mmm?" Elizabeth said. She was supremely unconcerned, used to Neal's nomadic ways.
Peter had never lived away from New York for more than six months at a time, and all his ideas of moving involved lots of planning and effort and hassle. "Why do we have to go?" he asked.
Neal popped an olive in his mouth and pointed the bare toothpick at him.
"But we did that whole thing with taking backroads to Montreal," Peter said.
"Yeah," Neal said, sipping his wine. "But it's going to take your colleagues about two seconds to connect your disappearance with us, considering all the evidence."
"Uh," said Peter.
"What?" Neal said. "I wrote you letters. I realize some of those guys are kind of dull spoons, but—"
"I didn't put them into evidence," Peter blurted. Weirdly, after everything, that felt like the biggest transgression. Maybe because it made it clear just how long this had been coming.
Neal sat up slowly. "You what?"
"I kept them," Peter said. "And I know you said not to pack, but I brought them. I just never logged them in or sent them for processing." He faltered, confused by Neal's look of growing outrage.
"But," Neal said. "I can't believe you! Do you have any idea – I stole Oscar Wilde's fountain pen to write you letters. I aged the ink!"
"How cute is that?" Elizabeth said.
"I hand-designed watermarks that point to obscure Shakespeare passages and are visible only under polarized light," Neal said, wounded. "Peter, how could you?"
"I'm sure he's sorry," Elizabeth said, shooting Peter a look that clearly said she could make sure of it, if necessary.
"I am," Peter said hastily. "Really, really sorry. Next time you send me a letter, I will disassemble it to its atoms."
Neal subsided, slightly mollified. "So maybe we have a few weeks then," he said, brightening irrepressibly. "Good. I love Paris."
"Oh God," Peter said, translating this as Neal contemplating his selection of museums like a lion choosing a gazelle. He really wished seeing the germination of the process up close wasn't so sexy. Then again, if the results weren't also illegally, maddeningly sexy, they wouldn't be here. He was so screwed.
They finished the bottle in twenty minutes flat. Peter was kind of tipsy with the lack of dinner. He stretched out at the head of the bed and dozed while Neal and Elizabeth wandered in and out, still naked, occasionally feeding him bits of things and asking his opinion. They'd learn better soon enough.
He dropped off to real sleep when they came back to bed to stay. When he woke up again, it was still night, he'd somehow been maneuvered into the middle, and there was something weird draped across his back.
". . . can be a lot more sophisticated than Peruggia," Neal was saying.
"And stylin'," Elizabeth said, making fun of him a bit, but mostly not.
"I do not skulk in closets," Neal said haughtily.
Peter yawned. Peruggia. Peruggia. Vincenzo Peruggia, why did he know that name? Hiding in closets . . .
He bolted up, and something paper slid off his back. Peter rolled over and yes, it was a giant set of blueprints, unfolded to its largest dimensions.
"You can't steal from the Louvre," he said, appalled. "Their security gets crazier every year." Then he wanted to bang his head into the wall for a while. Because really, he could have just asked them to put on a live action exhibition of how they could steal from the Louvre and give him a free front row ticket.
"Of course we can steal from the Louvre," Elizabeth said, and Peter could see the train leaving the station right here.
"We can steal anything," Neal agreed. "We stole you, didn't we?"