Neal looked up from the arrangement of coins and paper clips laid out across the architectural plans on the tiny white table in Mozzie's kitchen. "You've got to be kidding me."
Neal had a stack of pages with his notes (encrypted, naturally; he knew a thing or two before Mozzie got a hold of him) for tonight’s teaching scenario. Mozzie had set up the problem: A Rothko, more than nine feet tall and eight feet wide, to be forged and switched during the hours between The Museum of Modern Art's closing at 5:30 and a special event hosted by the local Boys and Girls Club beginning at 8 pm sharp. The painting was, of course, located in the gallery where the reception would be held, so there would be caterers and security staff coming in and out of the area unexpectedly, as well as all the usual security.
Neal knew Mozzie would throw in something else at the last minute; he always did. But this was too ridiculous to swallow.
Mozzie merely raised an eyebrow. "I assure you, I'm quite serious. Expect the unexpected! It's the only way to succeed in this world."
"I know that's the point of these exercises, Mozzie. And I'm sure I learned something," Neal rolled the word carefully, just this side of facetiousness, "from crafting a back-up plan in case the Spanish Embassy was struck by a sudden tornado in the middle of a jewel heist --"
Mozzie's eyes lit up, and a pleased smile danced across his face. "You did well with that one --"
"And I imagine," Neal plowed on, trying to be unmoved by the praise, "that it will be useful to know how to get out of a Terrapin 380-C vault in lock down because of a computer terrorist's fire sale --"
Mozzie's grin grew larger. "I had the idea long before that movie came out, I'll have you know --"
"But for the life of me, I can't see why it would matter," Neal continued, "whether or not I could get out of MoMA during a zombie apocalypse. Honestly. A zombie plague starting between the time I enter the museum with the fake and the time the caterers start coming in? Even if I accept the existence of zombies -- which I don't! -- you have to admit that the timing alone makes your scenario incredibly unlikely."
Mozzie smoothed a hand over the curling edges of the museum plans thoughtfully. "Would it make it easier for you to imagine if we moved the start to a few hours before the museum closed?"
Neal rolled his eyes. "No, it wouldn't make it easier for me. Somehow, I don't see myself following through on a job if the streets are crawling with zombies."
"Yes, you would." Mozzie snorted once and began rearranging the paper clips and chess pieces according to a pattern only he could see. "If it's the best chance you have to switch out the real Rothko for the fake, you'd take it."
His words startled Neal into a laugh, an automatic move to cover his discomfort, and one he would have skipped if he'd been prepared. Mozzie could read that laugh too easily. "Maybe you think a true thief ought to go through with it, Mozz, but somehow I think my focus would slip with, I don't know, the end of the world."
Mozzie caught Neal's eye for a moment, voice dropping into a serious tone for the first time all evening. "Don't fool yourself, Neal. You'd do it."
Neal thought briefly about derailing the topic again, but these were supposed to be study sessions. "What makes you say that?"
Mozzie grinned, whether at Neal's decision or his own cleverness, Neal wasn't sure. He still couldn't read the other man as well as he wanted. Yet.
"You're a showman." Mozzie pushed his glasses up his nose pensively. "It's a flaw on your part, your need to be seen. But I don't think you can change it, so you might as well make the most of it. So if you only had one night left on this earth, you'd be more than thrilled to spend it on one last job. As long as it was impressive. Like stealing a Rothko from MoMA."
Neal dropped his eyes to the plans, considering Mozzie's words. They were probably true enough. Including the part where Mozzie called it a flaw. "I think I'd rather spend my last days forging one of Monet’s views of Venice," he offered.
Mozzie’s hands stilled suddenly. "Is it the difficulty of the brush strokes in his reflections?"
"No," Neal lied, working on making his tone simple instead of sincere. Sometimes he got away with these. "But if the world were ending, it'd be as close as I could get to the real thing."
"Ah." Neal couldn't tell if Mozzie bought it or not. "So you'd rather I set the zombie apocalypse at the Brooklyn Museum?"
"I'd rather try something more realistic." Neal slid his now-useless notes across the table in defeat. The top sheet caught a draft from the open window and wafted to the floor. "Maybe you could have Batman crash through the atrium and throw shiny bat-shaped weapons at me. I've always wanted to go up against Batman."
Mozzie sneered at him. "Of course. I should have known you'd prefer the photogenic multimillionaire vigilante over the unwashed masses. You have no loyalty to your fellow workers, do you?"
Neal shook his head. Mozzie never gave up, never flinched at taking the most ridiculous stories all the way. It was a skill Neal envied even while it drove him crazy. "Make it a flash-mob political protest, then," he countered, giving in. "A few thousand of our fellow workers, several hundred riot-gear-carrying police officers --"
"-- Three circling news helicopters and a dozen activists broadcasting the revolution live on the internet." Mozzie nodded along with his own points, fingers tapping thoughtfully at the table. "That's the first scenario you've suggested that shows some promise. I think I can work with that."
Neal sighed, relieved. "Good."
"After you’re done with the zombies." Mozzie grinned at him again, unrepentant in the face of Neal's glare.
"Mozzie." Neal tried to keep looking angry, but he knew it was slipping by the way Mozzie's grin sharpened.
And then Mozzie turned on the mournful look. "But I worked really hard on that one."
Neal knew when he was defeated. "Fine. One round of zombie apocalypse. But the next one had better have Batman."