Neal made his way down the street, looking for an easy mark for his sticky fingers. He had done this hundreds of times so he was confident that he could make a few bucks when he found someone that didn't need the money as much as he did.
He didn't do it for the thrill, not really, he did it so he could pay the rent and buy food and beer for his dad. He internally shuddered at the memory of the last time the fridge was out of beer. Neal had passed out on the floor that night and didn't wake up until the next day.
Pickpocketing was the quickest way to earn some money, but Neal also dabbled in other less-than-legal things to pay the bills, like counterfeiting art, bonds and checks. Hustling pool can bring in some good money as well, but if he did that too often people would start to notice. He also knows how to pick locks and break into safes, two things that had helped him earn some extra money in the past.
Finally Neal found a man in a suit talking on his phone, not paying attention to anything but his conversation. He looked like he could loose a few bucks and be fine.
Neal could see the bulge of the mans wallet in his pants pocket. Piece of cake. He made his way toward the man and bumped into him, grabbing the wallet and pocketing it while apologizing for his clumsiness. The man was more concerned about his phone conversation than a clumsy kid to pay any attention to what Neal stole.
He ducked into a nearby alley to take a look at his winnings. fifty bucks, not bad. That would be enough for food and beer for a week or so, if he spent carefully and his father didn't get ahold of it.
He left the alley and dropped the wallet by a bench where someone would find it. As there was no money in it, the person that found it would probably give it to the authorities and it'd make its way back to its owner.
On his way home, Neal stopped at the convenience store to buy beer and milk. There was enough beer at home to last a few days, but it's always better to be safe then sorry.
Neal opened the door to his apartment a little warily and was happy to see that his father wasn't there. It was always easier when he wasn't around.
He went into the small kitchen and put the beer and milk away in the fridge. He had no clue where his father was or when he'd be back, so he just went to his room to catch up on his late homework. School hadn't been his first concern for quite some time, but if he dropped out or flunked, people would notice.
He was half way done with his English essay when he heard the front door to the apartment open and close. He had trained his ears long ago to listen for that sound. He immediately stiffened and prayed his father would just leave him alone for a while.
"Neal, get out here," he heard his father yell. He definitely didn't sound happy. So much for that.
Neal didn't know what he wanted, but knew it would be even worse for him if he didn't come when he was called.
Neal left the relative safety of his room to face his father. He was standing in the living room in front of the crappy, stain-covered couch. He did not look happy - he never really did.
"Yes, sir?" Neal asked. His father never liked him to call him 'Dad' or 'Father' or even 'James', at least since Neal's mother died. That's when it all seemed to go downhill.
It was on Neal's thirteenth birthday, him and his mother were on their way to the store to buy him a cake. It was a real treat for him because they couldn't really afford things like that, but his mom insisted every year and he cherished the cake every year.
They didn't live in a very nice neighborhood, never did, so it wasn't too much of a surprise when someone stepped out of an alley and told them to give them their money. He had a gun and his mother did as he asked without hesitation.
Neal never knew why the guy pulled the trigger - it could have been fear or adrenaline or he planned on doing it from the beginning, the only thing he knew was that his mother died in his arms on his birthday on the way to get a cake that was just for him.
His father always blamed him for his mothers death, and once even told him he didn't want to be called Dad because he didn't like to be reminded of the fact that they were related.
He also blamed Neal for loosing his job as a cop. It wasn't Neal's fault, but when that's all you hear about it, after a while it seemed more like the truth than what you've been telling yourself.
His father was never physical with him until his mother died. God, how Neal missed her.
"How much money did you get today?" James asked, bringing Neal back from his dark thoughts. He usually took the money that was supposed to be for rent and food to waste it on the slots or ponies.
"Um, I got fifty, but I spent ten on milk and beer, sir," Neal said.
"That's it?" his father asked, very angry now. Neal nodded shakily. "You worthless piece of shit!" He took a threatening step forward and Neal couldn't help but take one back. Any little thing would set his father off, so he wasn't surprised by his anger. But that didn't mean that he wasn't terrified of it.
"I-I'll get some more if you want me to," Neal said. He knew he was in trouble now.
"Oh, so you think you can just go out and make things all better?" James asked. He took another step forward, then another and soon he was right in Neal space.
"I'm sorry, sir. I'm sorry," Neal said, but it was too late. His father wouldn't just let it go and Neal knew it.
James grabbed Neal's shirt and threw him into the old TV in front of the couch. The screen shattered and Neal fell onto the floor on top of the shards of glass. He could feel some of them embed themselves into his back and flank. He knew he was going to have to pay for a new one somehow.
"Dammit! Look what you made me do!" James said and kicked Neal in the stomach, then he did again, and again. Neal knew if he curled up as much as he could, he'd be able to protect his head and abdomen pretty well, so he did so. Of course that only worked if his father just kept kicking him.
He grabbed the front of Neal's shirt and hauled him up into a sitting position. He brought his fist back and Neal tensed, preparing for the hit, but a pounding on the front door stopped James.
"Police, open up!" someone called from the other side. Both men just looked at the door for few seconds, then James turned back to his son.
"Don't say a word," he warned in a threatening tone. Neal nodded - he hadn't been planning on it anyway.
James went to the door and opened it up, revealing two police officers. They couldn't see Neal from where he was, but he could see their lower body.
"My name's officer McNab, this is officer Bradshaw. We're looking for James Bennett. Are you him?"
"Yes," James said warily.
"You're going to have to come with us," he said and Neal could hear the jangle of handcuffs.
"On what grounds?" James demanded.
"You're under arrest for illegal gambling," Bradshaw said.
James looked back to where Neal was still laying, then back to the officers.
"This doesn't have to be hard if you don't want it to be," McNab said.
Neal knew his father wasn't a runner and there wasn't any easy way out of the apartment besides the front door, which the officers were blocking. Neal's father may be a deadbeat, angry drunk, but he he was smart enough to know when he couldn't escape.
James reluctantly held out his hands and McNab cuffed them. The three men left and Neal was left alone in the apartment.
It wasn't the first time his father was suspected of something, but Neal knew his father wouldn't get out of jail this time. His father was too sloppy when it came to his recent illegal activities.
His father was going to jail. He really didn't know how to feel about that.
His entire life, his only other loyalty besides to his mother was to his father, as twisted and as forced as it was, no matter how bad it got. Now that he's gone, what should he do?
Was there really a point to stay here anymore? He had thought about running many, many times, but he was always afraid of what his father would do to him if he ever found him. The fear always kept him here, but now it was gone, his father was gone. Does that mean he should leave, too?
There was nothing here for him and nothing holding him back.
Neal picked himself up off the floor and tried to wipe off the glass that was stuck to his clothes. He could feel that there were shards in his back and side, so he went into the bathroom and slowly, painfully took off his shirt.
The new bruises he just acquired were still red, but the older ones he got a few days ago for being ten minutes late home were a dark purple that spread over his built abdomen and across his smooth back.
He turned around and winced at what he saw. There were small cuts all over his back and down to his right flank, and most still had glass in them. The cuts were bleeding sluggishly down his skin in little red lines. He studiously ignored the scars that were also there.
It took a while, but Neal managed to get most of the glass out. It was a slow and painful process to twist his body around that far, but he knew he had to get as much glass out as he could.
After cleaning himself up, he went into his small bedroom and got a dark blue t-shirt from his closet and put it on. He grabbed his backpack from his bed and took out his school supplies - he wouldn't need it anymore - and stuffed it with some clothes, a few of his favorite books, a sketchbook, colored pencils and a picture of him and his mother on his birthday. In the picture he was blowing out twelve candles on a cake and his mother was right behind him, a proud smile on her face. It was one of the only pictures he had of her. He never wanted to forget her or her smile, so he put it in his backpack and zipped it up.
That place wasn't his home for three years, so he didn't even look back when he walked out the door for the last time. He left St. Louis and his old life behind him and never looked back.
Neal didn't want to associate himself with his father anymore, so he decided to take his mothers maiden name instead of his fathers last name. He was no longer Neal Bennett, from now on, he was Neal Caffrey.
He traveled over nine-hundred miles on seven different buses and he ended up in New York City. He hoped the physical distance from his old life would help him get away from it.