Chapter 1: Chapter One
Knocking on the door, Peter glanced at his watch. It was nearly seven, and he felt a little guilty that he wasn’t home with El and baby Neal. Since his birth, Peter had made it a point to be home for dinner every night possible; leaving the late nights to Jones and the other members of his team. But a phone call from Diana just as he was set to leave the office had forced a change in his normal routine.
From the moment he had answered, Peter could hear the worry in her voice as she explained why she was calling. While he had wanted to dismiss her concerns, Peter knew Diana wasn’t one to entertain false fears. She had practically sounded embarrassed to even have the conversation with him so Peter knew it was serious if she had made the effort to reach out for help.
The door opened and while he had expected the maid, Peter was surprised to find June standing before him. Displaying a radiant smile at finding Peter at her door, she ushered Peter inside.
Taking a seat in the parlor area, Peter took a moment to look June over. She looked good, a little older maybe, but she still carried herself like royalty. He remembered their first meeting when he had told her that thing around Neal’s ankle wasn’t jewelry and that Neal was a felon. She hadn’t batted an eye when she told him so was her late husband Byron. Peter wouldn’t have admitted it, but he had come to have a lot of respect for her even as he suspected it wasn’t just Byron who had been prone to commit criminal acts.
“It’s good to see you Peter. Can I get you anything?” June politely asked him.
Peter shook his head and then gave her a guilty look. “I just realized I didn’t properly thank you for helping with Neal’s funeral.”
June waved him off. “It is what you do for family.”
Peter nodded his understanding. Neal had been family. Not for the first time, he envied the relationship she had with Neal; no complications, no issues of trust, just simple acceptance of who he was without judgment. He wondered if he should tell her that Neal was alive, but then, having only the bottle message and the storage unit to base his belief on, Peter decided to remain silent. June appeared to have dealt with her grief, and he wasn’t going to be the one to potentially open any old wounds.
“Peter, we both know this isn’t a social call. What’s on your mind?” June asked him.
“Mozzie,” Peter stated simply.
June was surprised. She had thought Peter had come here to talk to her about Neal; to ask if she knew where he was. June had assumed that by now Peter had realized Neal had faked his own death, but his funeral remark left her questioning that theory now. Though she had seen little of Peter since the funeral, she knew he had taken Neal’s death particularly hard; blaming himself. Studying him now, she didn’t see the same grief-stricken person before her. If he didn’t know Neal was alive, then that must be the way Neal wanted it. That knowledge would hurt the man even more than dealing with his friend’s death. For that reason, June chose not to speak on the subject.
Realizing she had been silent for too long, June looked up and saw Peter studying her. Although he looked like he wanted to say something, Peter broke off eye contact as if coming to some type of decision himself. For a moment, June wondered if they were both lost in the same thoughts.
“What about Mozzie?” June finally asked.
With obvious discomfort, Peter told her about his call from Diana and her fears that Mozzie was in trouble. Specifically, that since her move to Washington D.C., Mozzie had showed up at her house uninvited every other Saturday; insisting on spending time with Theo. Diana expressed how she had been annoyed at first, especially when Mozzie had explained he took his role as Theo’s godfather very serious. Diana had tried to tell him that the Burkes were actually Theo’s godparents, but Mozzie had only looked non-plussed as he reminded her that it wasn’t the Burkes who had helped deliver her baby.
Diana confessed to Peter that after a few months, she actually looked forward to Mozzie’s visits. As much as it pained her to say it, Theo adored his “Uncle Mozzie” and she knew that she could actually trust Mozzie with her son’s care. It had the added bonus of giving Diana time to spend with Christie as the two had been attempting to reconcile their relationship.
When Mozzie hadn’t shown up at the doorstep this past weekend, Diana had immediately come to the conclusion that something wasn’t right. Even as she left a message on the burner phone he had provided her for “Theo-related emergencies only”, her gut was screaming at her that Mozzie was in trouble. When Monday had rolled around with still no contact from him, Diana had finally broken down and called her old boss for help.
June sat up in attention as she listened to Peter. When he had concluded, she stood up and began heading for the stairs. Not knowing what she was doing, Peter hopped to his feet and followed her. From his past observation, June typically moved slowly, almost wearily. None of that weariness was evident now as June quickly ascended the stairs. Peter almost smiled realizing that this was the real June, the elderly woman just part of her act.
At the door to the guestroom, Peter hesitated to enter; bracing himself for the flood of memories being inside Neal’s old apartment would bring. Sensing his reluctance, June reached back and took Peter’s hand guiding him inside. With obvious sympathy, she gave him a moment to get his bearings before speaking.
“It’s mostly the same as he left it. At first, I couldn’t enter either. I sent the maids in to clean up a little but that was all. Then Mozzie showed up one day with two copies of a book and a bottle of Sauvignon. I had thought the days of our book club were over, but there he was insisting we go to the guest room. He returned three days later with a scrabble board and a bottle of scotch. And then the following week, he returned again on the same days except this time he brought Elizabeth with him.”
June saw the look of surprise on Peter’s face. Of course, she knew that he was unaware of Elizabeth’s visits. It would have devastated him to know that his wife had been forced to seek comfort outside of their relationship. He would have viewed it as just another failure on his part. “Oh, I know that must surprise you, Peter, but don’t be upset with her. You have to remember you were in a really bad place, but you weren’t the only one hurting and for her it was even worse because she had your guilt and pain to deal with as well. Our little club got us all through some really tough times. We even thought of asking you to join us but we recognized you had to deal with it in your own way and for you that meant throwing yourself into work; specifically into ensuring all of the Pink Panthers paid for their crimes. Maybe even paying for the ones they weren’t actually guilty of.”
Peter looked away effectively acknowledging the truth of what June was saying. Keller had been responsible for Neal’s death, but that hadn’t stopped Peter from taking out his rage on Woodford and his gang. It had been all he could focus on. At least until the birth of baby Neal, and then he had tried his best to let his anger go and move on. Now looking back on those days, Peter realized he hadn’t been there for Elizabeth like he should have been. So lost in his own grief, he had thought Elizabeth was managing fine without him. Now he learned it had only been with the help of June and Mozzie that she had managed it at all.
Looking around the room, Peter could see Neal and surprisingly, Mozzie, all around him. Neal at the kitchen table with him the night they had stayed up late talking about Adler and telling the story of how he had met Mozzie. He thought about the night he had crashed Neal’s date with Sara and how Mozzie’s arrival had saved the day by getting the drawing of Serena to him. He remembered the night Mozzie had helped him and Neal choreograph their boxing bout in order to take down Dunham for insider trading.
Then he thought of that moment with Mozzie in the morgue when he had forced Mozzie to look at Neal. Running a hand through his hair, Peter closed his eyes and audible sighed. Feeling June’s presence next to him, Peter normally would have been embarrassed by his display of emotion, but he only felt grateful for the comfort she was offering even if he didn't deserve it.
“Peter, it’s okay to still have moments. We all do.” June said softly.
Peter kept his back to her, not wanting her to see how close to tears he really was. “I know, but that’s only part of it.” Peter took a breath and slowly exhaled before he continued. “I realize now that I was selfish or maybe arrogant is the better word. When you needed me, I wasn’t there for any of you. You had to rely on each other because I was so blinded by my own grief that I never stopped to consider that someone else’s pain could compare to mine. I never thought your loss was as great as my own.”
June answer tried to alleviate some of Peter’s guilt. “We all knew how special he was to you.”
Peter began pacing the room and seemingly changed the course of the conversation. “You know despite our different views on who Neal was or should be Mozzie helped me ‘handle’ Neal. After Kate died, Mozzie let me know how Neal was doing. He was the one who called and warned me that Neal was going after Fowler. To my surprise, it was Mozzie who was my ally during the whole Sam/James saga. And it was with Mozzie’s help that I was exonerated for Pratt’s murder.”
At last Peter stopped his pacing, turned, and faced June as he made his confession. “Did you know that in the morgue, Mozzie kept going on and on about it being a con and that Neal couldn’t really be dead? He was so convinced he wouldn’t even look at Neal instead he kept talking about JFK and a decoy hearse. I made him look, June.”
June was confused by Peter’s confession. “Peter, he needed to look. He needed to face reality.”
Peter lowered his eyes, shame written all over his face. “I made him look not just because he needed to accept Neal’s death, but because I needed someone to feel the same pain that I was in. I made him look and shattered his world but his pain didn’t matter. Your pain didn’t matter. Hell, apparently the pain my own wife was in didn’t matter! None of your pain even registered! What does that say about me?”
Not expecting an answer, Peter resumed his pacing. “I haven’t given another thought of Mozzie since he left the bottle on my doorstep nearly a year ago. Truth be told when Diana called my first thought was that Mozzie wasn’t missing, he was just in Paris with…” Peter’s voice trailed off stopping himself for finishing his thought.
June took in a quick breath as she realized what Peter was implying and what it meant. Reaching out, she halted Peter’s steps. “You thought he was in Paris with Neal.”
Peter looked astonished. “You knew.”
Instead of immediately answering, June entered the kitchen and pulled a bottle of wine from the small wine rack. Peter recognized the label as the same one he had received. Now Peter’s expression reflected the betrayal he felt. “You never said anything.”
“Neither did you,” June gently reminded him. Peter had the presence to look chagrined at the truth of her words.
Redirecting Peter back from the past to the more pressing matter at hand, June advised that they should take a look around. At Peter’s befuddled look, she told him how Mozzie had been spending Friday nights in the guest room. “He said something about one of his safe houses being compromised and needing a temporary place until he could find a suitable replacement.”
Peter couldn’t help but smile. Mozzie named all his safe houses after different days of the week, but never actually went to them on the specified day. Eccentric and quirky didn’t even come close to describing him.
Reining his emotions back into check, Peter transformed back into Agent Burke as he and June poked around the residence aiming to find any clues as to what Mozzie had been into and where he might have gone. While initially relieved that there were no obvious signs of foul play, Peter’s concern elevated when they entered the secret room that had once been used as a speakeasy. There in front of the back wall was a large easel containing pictures, lines to other pictures, and various handwritten notes. An unwelcome sinking sensation threatened the pit of Peter’s stomach when he recognized the photograph at the top of the board; the one where all the lines started or ended depending on your point of view.
Running a hand over his face, Peter cursed under his breath. “Mozzie, what were you doing?”
Picking up on Peter’s tension, June stepped closer. While the man at the top looked vaguely familiar, she couldn’t quite place him. By the tension radiating off Peter, it was obvious that he recognized the man and was not happy about it. A chill passed through her. When Peter remained silent, she finally asked, “Peter, what is it? Who’s that on the board?”
With concern showing in his eyes, Peter pointed to the top picture, “That is Alan Woodford, head of the Pink Panther organization.”
Peter calls in help from the gang when the Pink Panther connection to Mozzie's disappearance is revealed. Elizabeth seeks help from an outside source much to Peter's discomfort.
With June’s permission and after promising to keep her updated on the situation, Peter removed the easel and returned home to set up shop there. Elizabeth’s concern for Mozzie intensified into horror when Peter told her about the possible Pink Panther connection. His wife knew how dangerous that organization was and about their earned reputation for ruthlessness. It was precisely because of their reputation, Neal had felt the need to fake his own death and flee the country in order to protect all those he cared about from the Pink Panther’s lust for vengeance.
After talking with Elizabeth, Peter first called Jones who without hesitation agreed to stop by the office for the Pink Panther files before joining Peter at his house for a strategy session. His next call was to Diana. The phone barely rang before his former probie answered. Listening to Peter’s report, Diana was silent for only a moment before announcing firmly that she was on her way. Even though it would take her hours to get to New York, Peter didn’t try to talk her out of coming instead relieved to have the additional help. To take on the Pink Panthers again, Peter and Jones were going to need her.
While waiting on Jones, Peter made a call to the prison holding Woodford. Once satisfied that the mastermind was not only incarcerated but held in a maximum security facility, Peter gave a brief explanation of his time-sensitive investigation into a missing person and requested Woodford’s prison records.
Turning his attention back to Mozzie’s board, Peter grabbed a notepad and started making notes. His attention was temporarily distracted by Jones arrival. Putting down the large paper box on the dining room table, Jones gratefully accepted the cup of coffee and sandwich from Elizabeth. They shared a shrug when they noticed the sandwich by Peter remained untouched. They both knew how Peter was when he sank his teeth into a case. Only this time, the case was far more of a personal nature than normal and neither doubted Peter would rest until he found Mozzie.
Ding! They all turned their attention to Peter’s laptop. The email from the prison had come through and Elizabeth moved to print a copy of the records. Jones took up position beside Peter to study the board. A few minutes passed before Peter’s head snapped up when he heard Jones’ breathe hitch in excitement.
“What? What do you got?” Peter demanded.
Jones pointed to the two men in the middle of the board. Next to their picture were the letters: HTM. Jones shook his head hoping he was wrong in what the letters meant. “Ah, Peter, I think-I think these two are hitmen. Or at least Mozzie thought so.”
Peter was stunned. If Jones was right, and now that he looked closer, Peter was almost certain Jones was correct in his analysis, the situation had just gotten even direr because a line was drawn down from the two men to a circle containing the letters: VM.
Swallowing his fear, Peter picked up the phone and called a number he hadn’t used since Neal’s death.
Cursing himself for forgetting the time difference, Peter instantly knew he had awakened her from a deep sleep. “Sara, I’m sorry I forgot how early it is there!”
Shaking off the sleep, Sara took note that it was also late in New York and Peter wouldn’t have called without good reason. “Peter, is it Neal?”
Her question threw Peter off since it implied she knew Neal wasn’t dead. First June and now Sara-did everyone know Neal was alive? Knowing this was not the proper time or place, Peter dismissed the questions he wanted to ask. Instead he responded, “Yes.” Then backtracked because he really wasn’t sure Neal was involved. “Well maybe. Actually, I’m not sure.”
Groaning, Sara was not in the mood for his ambiguity. “Peter, please!”
Peter apologized and then told her what he knew. “Mozzie is missing and we think it has to do with the Pink Panthers. I’m sending you a picture now of a board Mozzie created diagraming the information he collected.” Peter paused to snap a picture and sent it to her via text.
“Okay, I got it,” Sara answered after a short pause.
Peter pointed out the two men believed to be hired killers and then to the line connecting the men to the letters VM. He waited to see if she drew the same conclusion he had.
“Shit, Peter, VM has to be Victor Moreau! Mozzie wouldn’t risk using Neal’s real name in case someone found his board.”
Peter nodded and then realized she couldn’t see him. “I agree.”
“What do you need, Peter? Just ask!”
Peter sighed in gratitude. He was so hoping she would say that. “Sara, I can’t risk taking this to the FBI. Neal faked his death and made off with millions of dollars from that heist. Because of that, I’m not sure the FBI would honor his deal. I need Sterling Bosh technology, specifically facial recognition software. I need to ID these two guys ASAP!”
Sara didn’t even hesitate in granting his requests and told him to hold on. Peter could hear her talking on another phone before returning her attention back to Peter. “Someone will be dropping off a special laptop with scanner within the hour. Anything else I can do?”
“Thank you, Sara. I’ll let you know if I think of something else.” Peter hung up feeling positive that he would be able to identify the hitmen in short order. Seeing Jones’ questioning look, Peter stared down the younger agent; letting him know that under no certain terms was he going to have a conversation about how long he had known that Neal was alive or about the fact Neal had made off with a substantial portion of stolen money.
Backing down, Jones raised his hands in defeat and turned his attention back to the board. Peter was as straight-laced as they came and he took his job very serious. However when Neal was involved, Peter would and had crossed lines that he would not have otherwise crossed. It was evident to Jones that the rule-breaking and willingness to dive head first into gray areas now extended to Mozzie as well.
Knowing he had made his point, Peter turned away from Jones. He zeroed in on the strange expression on his wife’s face who Peter knew had been reviewing the records from the prison. “El? You got something?”
“Maybe,” she said slowly. Coming up behind her, Peter saw she was holding what appeared to be visitor logs. She pointed to a name from two weeks prior.
“Ivan Bliminse,” Peter read. The name did not ring any bells with him. “You recognize the name?”
Elizabeth was considering her answer and then said, “That’s Mozzie.” When Peter asked if she was certain, she took a moment and then nodded confidently, “That’s him. You were too busy dealing with Neal, Fowler and the music box, but that’s the name Mozzie went by in the hospital after Larsen shot him. When I asked him, Mozzie said it was an anagram for invisible man.”
Of course it was, Peter thought while shaking his head. It was just like Neal to come up with a way to protect Mozzie from being identified in ‘the system’.
Excited to finally be making some progress, Peter kissed his wife. “Now we’re getting somewhere!”
A short time later, a courier arrived with a Sterling Bosch laptop. Jones happily took the computer and set up in the dining room to run the suspected hitmen photos through the company’s image recognition program which must have been something special given the appreciative grunts and other noises coming from Jones who suddenly looked like a kid in a candy store. Peter suspected he was going to have a hard time returning the computer back to the insurance company.
Turning his attention back to his wife, he found her looking lost in thought once again. “Hon?” Peter asked slightly concerned by her expression. It was the one she had whenever she got Peter into something she knew he was not going to be happy about even if it was for his own good which typically it was.
Looking up, Elizabeth bit her lip knowing what she was about to say would likely disturb her husband on several levels. It was one of the reasons she had not spoken up earlier. That and the fact she was equally convinced Mozzie would not appreciate her bringing “the Suit” into his personal business. But given the circumstances, she was hoping both men would at least understand her motives. Catching her husband’s eye, she stated, “I could reach out to some of Mozzie’s associates to put the word out he’s in trouble. Maybe they could help.”
“How?” Peter asked warily feeling pretty certain he was not going to like her answer.
Wide-eyed, Peter was left speechless when Elizabeth moved to the bookcase and withdrew a burner phone. Obviously his wife spent more time with the quirky man than he had been aware of. Frankly, Peter wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that, but given the circumstances, he chose to set any qualms aside for future consideration.
“Spousal immunity?” Elizabeth asked with a shrug of her shoulders. It was obvious Peter was disturbed by the phone, but she knew him well enough that A) he could never stay mad at her and B) the agent in him would force him to put aside his personal concerns for the betterment of the case.
Catching her eye, Peter looked sternly at her. “For the moment, I’m not going to ask, but at some point we are going to have a conversation.”
Solemnly, Elizabeth nodded her understanding. Turning her back to Peter, she started making calls.
“Bennie?” his wife said as Peter listened in. “It’s Lizzy.” Seeing Peter narrow his eyes, Elizabeth decided it best to continue her conversation away from her husband’s increasingly suspicious glare so she made her way into the kitchen. “Yes, Mozzie’s friend. He’s why I am calling. Mozzie’s in trouble...”
Peter’s brows furrowed watching his wife walk away. She was definitely going to have some explaining to do. Turning his attention back to the board, his eyes gravitated to the letters DoD which were circled and had an arrow pointed at Woodford’s picture. Peter was pretty sure he knew the significance of the letters but wasn’t exactly sure how it fit into Mozzie’s overall plan. That’s if Mozzie actually had a plan.
At that moment, Jones cried out “Got them!” Hurrying over, Peter saw that the Sterling Bosch program had indeed provided identities. Looking up, Jones stated he would run the names through the bureau’s various databases. Hearing Jones’ excitement, Elizabeth re-entered the room. Glancing at the computer screen, she quickly snapped a photo of the two men and sent that along with their names to someone, presumably the Bennie she had spoken with earlier.
Jones looked at Peter who merely shrugged in response. Jones wasn’t sure who he felt the most sorry for: Peter who now realized his wife thanks to Mozzie was involved with some shady individuals; Elizabeth who was going to be mercilessly interrogated by Peter about that involvement; or Mozzie who was likely to be strangled by Peter for involving Elizabeth in the first place. Jones only knew for certain he did not want to be around to see how it all played out.
With nothing to do but wait, Peter entered the kitchen and started a fresh pot of coffee. Handing cups out to Jones (who was still running checks) and then to Elizabeth (who was still making calls to only God knew what kinds of people associated with the likes of Mozzie); Peter grew more and more frustrated, mostly with himself. He should have made a better effort to get to know Mozzie. If he had, he wouldn’t be feeling so useless. He would know who to contact, who to go lean on, or offer to make a deal with in exchange for information. Instead he had to rely on others. Obviously his wife, Diana, and June had all kept in touch with Mozzie, and now the success of finding him was likely in their hands. Oh, and maybe in some unsavory character called Bennie.
Mozzie is found and Peter meets Bennie.
Diana was a welcome sight when she finally arrived at the Burke household. The background checks Jones had completed on the two suspected hit men painted a grim picture for what Mozzie was going through if indeed the men had him in their control. She frowned seeing the lengthy criminal records which included numerous assaults and weapon convictions.
“What’s the game plan?” Diana asked, deflecting her concern for her friend.
Peter almost looked embarrassed when he pointed to his wife. “El’s waiting for a source to call back.”
Diana raised an eyebrow, but made no further comment when a look from Jones silently conveyed the message not to ask questions on that particular subject. As if on cue, the phone held tightly in El’s hand rang.
“Bennie,” she answered immediately. Listening intently, Elizabeth looked hopeful when she met Peter’s eyes. “Text me the address. My husband will handle it.” Elizabeth frowned and then said more forcefully, “Bennie, I said my husband will handle it!” Without another word, she ended the call and seconds later a text came through. Writing down the address, she handed it to Peter.
“You’ll find Mozzie at this address along with his captors. I’m not sure what condition you’re going to find any of them in.”
Staring hard at her, Elizabeth waved her husband off. “Yes, hon, I know. We’re going to have to talk. Go take care of Mozzie first.”
Arriving at what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse, the trio cautiously entered with guns drawn. For Peter it felt like old times with Jones and Diana watching his back. Methodically searching the first floor, they came up empty. Descending the stairs into the basement, they found the two hit men, sprawled out on the floor and tied up with ropes. The men had obviously been beaten but did not appear to have suffered serious injury.
They found Mozzie sitting slumped in a chair, his head hanging down. Handcuffs that had binded him to the chair were scattered at his feet. When Diana called out to him, Mozzie raised his head, a dazed and unfocused look on his bloody face. Although appalled to find him filthy with dirt, grim, and blood all over his skin and shirt, Diana whispered a silent prayer of thanks for finding Mozzie alive.
Knowing he was blind as a bat without his glasses, Diana searched and found them on a nearby desk; hastily placing them in his hands. With slow, deliberate movements that attested to injuries to at least one or more of his ribs, Mozzie put his glasses on and attempted to stand. Swaying unsteadily, Diana gently but forcefully eased Mozzie back down into the chair threatening to put the handcuffs back on if he tried that again.
“I’m okay,” Mozzie slurred but he remained seated in the chair. To her surprise (which only added to her concern because she knew in his right mind, Mozzie would never allow her to touch him), Mozzie did not bat her hands away as she moved them over his body surveying and noting his injuries. Carefully lifting his shirt, she found his left side black and blue but judged from his breathing that if indeed broken none of his ribs had punctured his lung. Spying a near golf ball size knot on the back of his head, Diana swore under her breath. That coupled with the slurring were good indicators Mozzie had a concussion. The severity of the concussion was undetermined. Quickly assessing the rest of his body, Diana was thankful to find all other wounds appeared to be superficial cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
Seeing that Mozzie was in good hands with Diana and that Jones was working on cuffing the two suspects, Peter pulled out his phone to call for an ambulance and the New York Police Department. Finding no cell service in the basement area, Peter had to go all the way outside of the building to make the calls. As Peter moved to re-enter the building, he found the entrance blocked by a tall, elderly man dressed in a smart suit and a black trilby on his head.
The man had his hands in his pockets causing Peter’s instincts to kick in and reach for his weapon. While Peter recognized the man, under the circumstances he wasn’t sure if he was friend, foe, or somewhere in between. Peter didn’t flinch when the man looked Peter up and down, clearly assessing him. When he spoke, the man’s voice was strong and the type that was accustomed to garnering attention. “So you are Lizzy’s Suit.” His tone clearly implying he wasn’t sure whether or not to be impressed.
Peter nodded and continued to steadily meet the man’s gaze; all the while his hand resting on the butt of his FBI issued weapon. Peter noted the man did not seem bothered or concerned in the least by Peter’s gun. However, that knowledge spoke volumes to Peter about what type of man stood before him.
“Bennie, I presume,” Peter said dropping his hand away from his gun.
With a wry look of amusement on his face, Bennie nodded. Then he smiled, “You’re a very lucky man, Agent Burke. Please give Lizzy my regards. Oh, and be sure to mention to her that despite my misgivings, I abided by her wishes and left the men inside for you to deal with—unless you would rather…”
Peter narrowed his eyes at the implication of what Bennie was saying; wondering for a moment exactly what would happen to the men if he simply nodded his approval to Bennie. Would they disappear never to be seen again or would parts of them be found scattered about? With a negative shake of his head, Peter answered simply, “No thank you.”
Accepting Burke’s answer, Bennie tipped his hat and strolled away, whistling as he did so.
Peter watched as the driver of an awaiting Cadillac opened the back passenger door for the elderly man to enter. As the driver rounded the car, Peter could clearly see the outlines of a shoulder harness. Pinching his nose and scrubbing his face, Peter decided that once Mozzie was healed, Peter was going to strangle him for getting his wife (for getting ‘Lizzy’ he sarcastically corrected himself) involved with a former mob boss.
Mozzie and Peter have a long overdue conversation about Neal and come to a mutual understanding.
It was late in the evening when Peter made his way to the hospital. He had been tied up the first part of the day with NYPD. After taking his statement, Peter was allowed to watch the interrogation of the two hit men. As Peter had expected, neither man was willing to speak Woodford’s name nor did they acknowledge even that a hit had been ordered instead insisting they had a personal grudge against Mozzie and had only wanted to scare him. When pushed both men promptly lawyered up.
From there, Peter had planned on going home for a few hours of rest, but a phone call from the prison holding Woodford had changed that. Following a two hour drive to the prison, Peter found himself staring down at the lifeless body of the former Pink Panther leader; a gaping knife wound in his chest clearly signifying cause of death.
Peter learned Woodford had been taken to the infirmary for an unspecified illness. There, he got into an argument with another inmate resulting in that inmate shanking Woodford. The assault had been captured on video. Watching it, Peter found he held no sympathy for Woodford as he took his final breath. However, the moment just before that breath, Woodford had said something. Peter had to rewind the video twice more before he was able to read the word off Woodford’s lips: dentist. His final word had been dentist. Confident no one at the prison would recognize the significance, Peter left the prison.
Peter drove straight home. Although both physically and emotionally exhausted, he took a shower, poured himself a cup of coffee and paced the kitchen grateful that El was at the hospital so he didn’t have to answer any questions she would ask.
Peter knew Mozzie was responsible for Woodford’s death. Obviously, he had not killed the man himself but Woodford with his dying breath had identified the person responsible for his death. Maybe if DoD hadn’t been written on Mozzie’s board, Peter wouldn’t have put two and two together. But the letters had been there and Peter knew damn well DoD was the Dentist of Detroit and that was Mozzie. His gut, his heart all told Peter that he was right about this.
Peter wrestled with what to do with that knowledge. In reality, he had no proof, no evidence that would stand up in court. And okay, if he was being completely honest with himself, Peter was more than a little relieved about that. But at the same time, here he found himself again with that stomach-churning feeling of having his principles compromised. He missed Neal, he really did. He missed their friendship, missed working with him to solve a case, and he missed using all of Neal’s talents for the betterment of society.
However, in the two years he had been gone, not once had Peter found himself working in gray areas, skirting the edge of legality. The exact place he was in now only this time Peter was doing it for Mozzie. But again if Peter really wanted to be honest (and perhaps he should take a lesson from his former conman and pace himself when delving into self-truths), Peter knew he couldn’t blame anyone else. The decisions had been his and his alone. Maybe, just maybe, they always had been.
Having stalled long enough, Peter finally entered Mozzie’s room spying Diana seated in a corner keeping vigil. Seeing Peter, Diana stood up. She looked about as exhausted as Peter felt. Quickly, Peter informed her of Woodford’s death making sure he spoke loud enough for Mozzie to hear, secretly trying to gage his reaction. When none was evident, Peter suggested Diana take a break and get something to eat. Reading her former boss’ face and body language, Diana agreed without further comment and left the room.
Mozzie’s eyes tracked Peter as he crossed the room to stand by his side. From his back jean’s pocket, Peter took out his badge and laid it on the tray by Mozzie’s bed. From the inside of his brown leather jacket, Peter withdrew a pint size bottle of whiskey. Somehow given the seriousness of the situation, he didn’t think a six pack of beer was going to get him through this time.
Looking at Peter suspiciously, Mozzie stated, “Are you offering me immunity until the sun comes up?”
Peter didn’t look at Mozzie. “Against my better judgment, I am.”
“From the way Neal spoke of it, you weren’t so reluctant with him.”
Peter retorted sharply, “I knew he hadn’t killed anyone!”
Mozzie braved Peter’s glare and didn’t blink as he responded calmly. “And neither have I.”
Peter shot him a look that indicated he didn’t believe Mozzie for a second. “Woodford is dead! We both know his blood is on your hands!”
With barely contained sarcasm, Mozzie responded sharply, “Plausible deniability…isn’t that what you are all about? Isn’t that how you live with yourself for having Neal do all your dirty work?”
Peter started to speak but bit back his answer instead reaching for the whiskey. Taking a long sip, he concentrated on the burn in his stomach. Exhaling loudly, Peter met Mozzie’s hard gaze. “No badge, remember? Quit stalling because this is a one-time deal.”
Mozzie was silent for a moment, weighing the best response. An angry Peter on his hands was not something to take lightly, but Mozzie also had been holding back feelings of his own for years. With the offer of ‘immunity’, now was as good a time as any to speak his mind and let the chips fall where they may.
“Fine, let’s talk about blood. You killed Adler and Keller so there’s just as much blood on your hands as mine. The only difference between us is that you get to hide behind a badge.”
Peter zeroed in on something Mozzie had said. “What do you mean ‘just as much’? Who else?”
“Like you, I only did it for Neal.”
“Who?!” Peter feeling exasperated with Mozzie.
In for a penny, in for a pound, Mozzie decided to go all in knowing that Peter was a man of his word. Nothing Mozzie would say would be used against him. And while Peter wouldn't condone his actions, he would understand them. Meeting Peter’s hard gaze, Mozzie said in a matter of fact voice, “She was going to get him killed or back in prison which we both know would have been a death of its own.”
She. Peter couldn’t believe it; had never even considered it. “How…?”
Mozzie shrugged, “It wasn’t hard. It really was her idea to put the explosives on the plane. I just had to whisper the right words into Adler’s ear to make him think he couldn’t trust her.”
“Does Neal…” The corresponding glare from Mozzie made Peter swallow his question. He knew the answer. Neal would have been devastated and unforgiving if he knew the truth about Kate’s death.
“The first thing you and I ever agreed upon was that she didn’t love him and was only using him. Tell me, Peter. How confident are you that there were two parachutes on that plane?” Not expecting an answer, Mozzie continued, “As for Woodford? Don’t lose any sleep over him. His hit list didn’t just include me and Neal. Those goons holding me bragged about how they were going after some federal agent’s wife and kid.”
Peter stepped back, stunned at Mozzie’s admission. “Woodford was going after Elizabeth and Neal?” In anger, Peter picked the pint bottle up and took another swig; reveling in the harsh burn as the liquid went down. Woodford had targeted his family. Woodford wanted his family dead. Now, Peter didn’t have to worry about it because Mozzie had taken care of the situation. Shit, he thought to himself, he was well beyond a gray area on this one. Peter paced for a moment before pulling up a chair next to Mozzie. As he sat down, he let out a loud exhale of breath; coming to a decision it was best to let things go.
“Okay,” Peter finally said.
Mozzie raised his eyebrows in question. “Okay?”
Peter nodded and waved a hand in dismissal. "You’re right; we both have blood on our hands for Neal.”
Mozzie narrowed his eyes. “Huh? Take away the badge and put you in a pair of jeans and you lose all Suitness?”
Peter’s lip curled upward and he shrugged, “I guess my time with you and Neal has made me realize that the law works pretty well for right and wrong, for guilt and innocence but it’s not equipped to handle evil. Evil tests us and sometimes you just have to do what you have to in order to defeat it. Law be damned.”
Mozzie turned bug-eyed. “What have you done with Peter?”
This time Peter did smile. “He’s here, just older, wiser, and without that stick up his ass.” Mozzie harrumphed to hide his own smile.
Enjoying the moment of peace, Peter took a swig of whiskey before offering it to Mozzie. Returning the bottle, Mozzie saw Peter watching him closely. Clearly something was on his mind. “Peter, ask whatever it is you want to ask.”
Peter leaned forward. He started to speak and then closed his mouth. Did he want to open an old wound? With a sigh, Peter forged ahead. “How’s Neal? Is he happy?”
Mozzie should have expected the question. They both cared deeply for the conman and wanted what was best for him. They just couldn’t agree on what that best meant. For Peter, it was a life walking the straight and narrow. For Mozzie, it was a nomadic lifestyle delving into shadier avenues. Not for the money, although that was a satisfactory byproduct, but for the thrill of the con; to see if they could get away with it.
Shaking his head, Mozzie answered Peter’s question. “I think he’s homesick. It’s why I went to see Woodford in the first place to see if I could work out a deal to bring Neal home.”
Peter looked up, a shimmer of hope in his eyes. “Homesick—for New York?”
“For me, you, Elizabeth, June, I think even Diana and Jones. Home is all about family.”
Peter slowly nodded. “I was surprised you weren’t in Paris with him.”
Mozzie stared at Peter. “I was surprised you didn’t go after him.”
Peter didn’t flinch from Mozzie’s hard gaze when he answered Mozzie’s unspoken question. “He earned his freedom; the right to his own life.” Turning the gaze back on Mozzie, Peter said, “Your turn.”
Mozzie sighed. “When I met Neal, he was already a pretty good con, but I saw the potential for greatness. I became his mentor and he my protégé. Then you came along and you saw something more in Neal-a goodness that I was too jaded to even look for. You became a father figure to Neal and offered him a chance to use his skills for something positive.”
Mozzie paused to gather his next words; knowing the importance in them. “You and I had different visions for the man Neal was supposed to be and we constantly pulled him in two different directions. For a man like Neal who deems friendship and loyalty above all other attributes, it must have been hell. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it Peter, if he faked his death not only to protect us from retribution but to save himself from having to make that choice?”
That thought had never crossed Peter’s mind but he heard the truth in what Mozzie was saying. All one had to do was look at Neal’s actions when it came to Kate, Alex, Mozzie, and even himself. How many times had Neal broken the law not for his own benefit, but to help someone he cared about? Neal held loyalty above all other virtues and it had been cruel to have ever asked him to choose between the two most important people in his life. Peter knew he couldn’t put Neal in that position again. Turning back to Mozzie, Peter saw the same conclusion mirrored back at him.
“Mozzie, we can’t make him choose.”
Mozzie again sighed, “I know. That’s why I’ll step away.”
While Peter appreciated Mozzie willing to make that sacrifice for his friend, Peter knew it would never work. Even if he didn’t want to admit it, Neal needed them both. They had to find a compromise. “Home is all about family, right? That includes you.” Peter informed him.
Mozzie tilted his head. “Do you have a solution?”
Peter thought for a moment and then smirked, “As a matter of fact, I do. You may not like it…”
Separately, Neal and Mozzie both have an unexpected visitor who makes an unusual offer.
A hard knock at the door surprised him. It was late and he certainly wasn’t expecting company. Setting down his half empty tumbler of scotch, he shook off the melancholy feeling that was threatening to overwhelm him…again. Seemed like it was happening more and more these days; a longing for that other life, the impossible dream.
Opening the door, his visitor stormed in without invitation which was good since he was not certain he could have spoken even if he tried. This was by the far the last person he ever thought would be walking through his door.
“Don’t just stand there mouth gaping, Caffrey, shut the door!”
Neal, instantly obeyed, knowing this man was not one to disobey. “Agent Hughes, I wasn’t expecting you sir.”
Hughes let the understatement go without comment. Instead, Hughes hit him with one of his infamous hard stares. “You look damn good for a dead man.” When Neal started to speak, Hughes just narrowed his eyes causing Neal to instantly clam up.
Now that the initial sense of shock had worn off, a sense of foreboding coursed through him; a tickling of acid in the back of his throat. Neal could think of only a handful of reasons why Hughes would track him down and none of them were good. Neal’s initial thought was Hughes was there to arrest him. That thought passed when no swarm of French police or Interpol agents paraded through his door to slap cuffs on him.
His next thought was much, much worse and nearly brought him to his knees. Hesitating to say the words out loud, Neal met Hughes eyes, “Peter…is he…”
Hughes softened his look knowing exactly what Neal was asking. It said a lot for the man that stood in front of him and just how much he had changed over the years. Never would Hughes have guessed upon first meeting the infamous Caffrey that he would be capable of caring so much for a federal agent, let alone the one who had caught him and shackled him to a 2 mile radius for all those years.
“Peter’s fine,” Hughes assured him. “Elizabeth too,” he added quickly seeing a secondary look of concern rise in Neal’s eyes.
Neal exhaled in relief. The people who meant the world to him, the people he had left New York to protect remained safe. That left Neal back to reason number one for why Hughes was there. Resigned to his fate, Neal stepped closer to Hughes holding out his wrists.
Hughes again gave him a sharp look, “Have you done something during your time here that deserves cuffing you?” Hughes held up his hand, thinking better of what he was actually asking and the possible answer he could receive, “Forget I asked. I really don’t want to know.”
Neal dropped his hands back to his side. Feeling more confused than ever, he turned his back on Hughes and picked up the tumbler, draining it in one swallow. Picking up the bottle he refilled his glass and took another fortifying drink. Hughes waved him off when he offered some to the former agent.
“Why are you here, sir?” Neal finally asked once the warm glow from the alcohol overtook him and created a fake calm within.
Hughes pulled a thick envelope from the inside of his jacket. Withdrawing one document, he slapped it down on the small coffee table before him. “Signed pardon for one Neal Caffrey.” Neal’s eyes widened in disbelief but before he could say anything, Hughes was slapping a second document down. “One conditional job offer for same Neal Caffrey to be a paid consultant with the FBI’s New York White Collar Unit.”
Now completely stunned, Neal could only take another sip of scotch as Hughes slapped a passport down along with a half sheet of paper. “Last but not least, one Neal Caffrey passport and a plane ticket for JFK leaving tomorrow at noon.”
Stepping forward, Hughes took the glass out of Neal’s hand, drained it and handed the empty glass back to Neal. Without a word, he turned and headed for the door. Before leaving, Hughes turned and faced Neal, his eyes like laser beams on Neal’s face. “I expect to see you on that plane tomorrow! Let the past be the past. Son, it’s time to come home!”
Not waiting for a response, Hughes closed the door behind him leaving Neal in the same state that he had found him in, mouth-gaping not knowing what had just hit him. A quiet moment passed where Neal found he couldn’t breathe. His mind and heart both racing; Neal forced himself to inhale a long slow breath and exhaled just as slowly. Then he took another. A smile blossomed across his face. All the sadness and melancholy he was feeling earlier was vanquished as he dared to believe his dream could come true.
He was going home.
A week later…
Mozzie was resting in the Berrigan guest room in Washington D.C. when there was a knock on the door. Without waiting for permission, in stormed a tall, slender man impeccably dressed in a dark blue Devore suit, fedora sported on his head.
Mozzie’s face lit up seeing his friend. “Mon frère!” he exclaimed.
Neal’s face remained neutral as he strolled confidently over to his friend, manila envelope in hand. Withdrawing one document, he slapped it down on the nightstand beside Mozzie. “Signed pardon for one Teddy Winters.” Before Mozzie could speak, Neal slapped a second document down. “One conditional job offer for same Teddy Winters to be a paid consultant with the FBI’s New York White Collar Unit.” Withdrawing a single small sheet of paper, Neal concluded, “Last but not least, one train ticket to Grand Central leaving tomorrow morning.”
Seeing his friend stunned speechless, Neal allowed the full Caffrey smile to illuminate on his face. “Come home, Moz! Working for ‘the man’ can be fun!”