There would be problems. Undoubtedly, there would be problems, and even as Neal edged his way through the crates and heaps of loot in the storage unit, his mind was turning them over.
First and foremost, a lot of this was plunder, and Neal had an uneasy relationship with keeping -- or selling -- art that had been looted by Nazis. On the other hand, a lot of it would probably be unregistered, and at least some would have no remaining heir. He could get into the Art Loss Registry tomorrow and do an inventory. Even if the bulk of the art was registered, there would be finder's fees.
Second, of course, it would be tough to move any of this, especially with Peter watching him like a hawk. Neal didn't know why Peter thought he'd stolen this art; he hadn't, but Peter must have had good reason to ream him out in front of half the FBI the way he'd done. Peter was furious and distrustful and Neal didn't know why, but at the moment that was hardly a twinge.
The point was that if art suspected of being Nazi loot started flooding the New York market -- any market, really -- Peter would clamp down so hard Neal wouldn't be able to breathe without Peter knowing about it.
Third, if Peter caught him with this, he was fucked beyond belief. It was risky just being here.
On the other hand...
He stood in a clear place in the center of the art, obviously staged so that anyone in this position would be surrounded by it, and smiled. This was wealth, yes, monetary value, but also beauty, beauty beyond reckoning -- beyond life, Adler had said, and certainly beyond Adler's life. Peter had proved that.
God, it was so beautiful. He wanted to open every crate, to line up each painting and study it. He wanted to stand there and soak up all the glittering gold and sparkling gems and breathtaking paintings forever.
And then he heard it: footsteps on concrete.
Neal considered, for a fleeting second, finding somewhere to hide. It could be someone visiting their own storage unit; warehouse units like this one were pretty common stash spots for people whose business was best transacted after dark. Not likely, though.
It could also be his benefactor, whoever had gifted him with the key to the warehouse. He'd like to know who'd give a con man a couple of billion dollars in art and antiques.
Or this whole thing could have been a trap. Pretty good trap, if so; Neal wouldn't mind dying surrounded by this much glory. After all, Kate was dead and her killer avenged; Neal didn't have a whole lot left tying him anywhere.
He could see a figure beyond the crates. Neal discarded the idea of hiding. He'd been made, and they both knew it.
"So," a voice said. "What do you think?"
Neal tensed, sucking in a sharp breath.
"I'm no Neal Caffrey," the other man added, "but I think I put on a pretty good performance this afternoon, don't you?"
Neal gave him a wary look. "I didn't steal this, Peter."
Peter Burke stepped into the circle of light, one hand drifting along a low, oblong crate.
"No, I know," Peter answered. "I did."
He wasn't even wearing his holster. He was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, like this was a shopping trip or something. He did have a gym bag with him; he set it down calmly.
"Actually, it might not even be theft. I don't know how illegal this is," Peter continued, leaning on the crate, hands curling over the edge, careless of the millions in valuable art inside it. "The u-boat is salvage. I checked the records and it's not insured, so no company can claim it. The German government can't either; it was in US waters in a time of war. I guess it belonged to Adler, but he's -- "
"You did this," Neal said, interrupting Peter's serene monologue. "You stole the truck, you blew up the warehouse, you put on that show after the -- no way. You're not that good."
"Flattering," Peter drawled.
"Mozzie had to teach you to pick locks!"
"Did he?" Peter asked. He lifted a hand, one finger raised. "Either I'm not that good, or I'm much, much better than you ever dreamed."
Neal swallowed against sudden fear in his throat. Peter saw it. He spread his hands.
"No gun, Neal. I'm not interested in hurting you," Peter said. "Why do you think I brought you here?"
Neal looked around him, stalling for time.
"It's a gift," Peter said softly. "For you. A good-faith gesture."
"This is a trap," Neal said. "A test of some kind, right? If I don't give it back -- "
"No. No games. This is where the game ends," Peter said.
"You stole all of this from Adler," Neal repeated.
"Yes. Well, in part," Peter said. "Mostly, I thought it'd be fun."
"Fun," Neal repeated.
"Yeah, you know. It's what you do when you're not working."
"This is a hobby?" Neal asked hoarsely.
Peter regarded him for a minute, hands on his hips. Finally, he knelt and opened the gym bag, taking out a thick FBI-issue folder. He tossed it to Neal.
"What is this?" Neal asked, opening it.
"My FBI file," Peter replied. "In a couple of ways, actually. It's one of my cold cases."
"Julius Seize 'Er," Neal read aloud.
"I picked the nickname," Peter said, a hint of pride in his voice.
"God, you're a nerd," Neal said absently, paging through it.
"I'm also the subject of the file," Peter said.
Neal's eyes widened as he lifted one of the pages. "Suspect is considered to be strongly implicated in the -- oh, no you did not," he said. He looked up at Peter, gaping. "The Gardner heist?"
Peter shrugged modestly. "I like Vermeer."
Neal closed the file and offered it back to him at arm's length. Peter eyed his stretched-out arm with amusement, and then accepted the file back. He dropped it into the bag and then took out two pairs of white cotton gloves. "Put these on," he said, throwing a pair to Neal. "Our prints'll be on the crates anyway, but I don't think anyone would buy that you or I handled every piece."
Neal looked down at the gloves in his hand. "I don't understand."
"About fingerprints? It's not hard -- "
"No. Everything. This, I don't...you're a federal agent," Neal blurted.
"Yes," Peter said. "Neal, how do you become a successful master criminal?"
Neal stared at him. "Study the police," he said in a very small voice.
"That's right." Peter gave him a grin.
"You screaming hypocrite," Neal growled. "You've been lecturing me, me, for two years -- "
"Had to keep my cover," Peter said, unrepentant.
"Does Elizabeth know you're a -- a thief?"
Peter took a crowbar out of the bag, swinging it a little before hooking it in the seam of a nearby crate. "Who do you think robbed her gallery?" he asked.
Neal stared at him.
"She's the only person who ever made me. Recognized my voice when I questioned her about the theft the next day. She covered for me, I thought she was a nice kid. I am," he grunted as he opened the crate, "genuinely bad at flirting, so I put her under surveillance half to see if she had a boyfriend, half to see if she'd rat me out."
"Bet she didn't," Neal said.
"Nope. She did blackmail me, though. Ten grand and a promise I'd take her along next time. Do you know she used to paint?" Peter asked, looking proud. "I think at least two of her Gauguins are still in major galleries."
Which was when it really hit Neal, what this meant, what was going on here -- he tried to stumble towards a crate for support, legs collapsing underneath him. Peter reached out and caught him, helping him down to the ground.
"Easy," Peter said, passing him a bottle of water from the gym bag. "Thought you might have some issues."
He sat down too, offering Neal his shoulder to lean on. Neal leaned, very carefully.
"See, the thing is," Peter said, while Neal tried to regain his equilibrium, "I really do love solving crimes. I like chasing the bad guys. There's a huge intellectual challenge there, and I love solving puzzles. It's satisfying. But I also like -- "
"Vermeer," Neal said. Peter laughed.
"I like taking things. That's satisfying too. Outsmarting the system." Peter considered it. "Honestly, I just like crime. All of it. I'm not picky about what side I'm on."
"Did you shoot Adler because -- "
"No," Peter interrupted. "I shot Adler because he was going to kill you. I couldn't allow that. If he hadn't had the gun, I would have arrested him, cuffed him, taken him in like the good FBI agent that I am. Just because I do it for the challenge and not from any overdeveloped sense of morality doesn't change what I do."
"Why'd you bawl me out in front of Jones and Diana?" Neal asked. "Why not just keep quiet? They're going to -- " he broke off, because he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.
Peter nodded. "Little bit of insurance. I don't actually think you'll try to double-cross me, but if you do I'll hang you out to dry on all of this. El's suggestion," he added, standing, tugging Neal up with him. He slapped the crowbar into Neal's palm. "Put some back into it, Caffrey. I want to get these catalogued fast. El's gonna kill me if I'm home after midnight again."
Neal, numbly, cracked the lid of a nearby crate, looking down at the wood-shavings that filled it. Something white glittered underneath, and he shifted the packing material aside. Next to him, Peter waited for the reveal.
"That," he said, when Neal held the delicate little object up to the light, "is one of the eight lost Imperial Fabergé eggs. Ten bucks says we find the other seven. At least a couple of them." He squinted at it. "It's in competition with the music box for baroque ugliness. I can't tell you how much I hate cherubs."
Neal set the egg down and turned to him. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"About the cherubs?" Peter asked. Neal scowled. "Honestly? I didn't know I could trust you."
"Are you kidding me?" Neal demanded. He took a step forward. Peter stayed where he was, impassive. "You couldn't trust me? You've spent years telling me I had to trust you while you lied to the FBI and you couldn't trust me?"
"Tell me where your caches are," Peter said. Neal froze. "Yeah. That's what I thought. We both know how this works, Neal. We can't be too careful. Especially in my line of work," he added. "Besides, I haven't done any big jobs in years. Didn't seem relevant."
"Sure. Come on," Peter said, slapping him on the shoulder. "We have a collection to curate."
Neal scrubbed his hands through his hair. "I don't know you at all."
"Not true. You know most of me." Peter walked away, back to the crate he'd been working on, patting it like a beloved pet. "So I have a few tricks up my sleeve. You'll get used to it. You gonna help me open this, or what?"
"I..." Neal sighed, because admitting this -- well, he might have done it to the Peter he'd known before tonight, but now it was different. Now he was talking to a con, and this kind of talk could get him laughed out of the fraternity of crime. "I was going to get a list from the art loss registry tomorrow," he said finally. "You know, send back what we could."
"That's very...moral," Peter said. Neal opened his mouth to object to Peter Burke judging his morality, but Peter dug in the gym bag and handed him a sheaf of papers. It was headed ART LOSS REGISTRY - SIMPLE SUMMARY.
Neal broke into a grin. Peter nodded. "Now, let's get everything uncrated. I'll sort, you keep inventory."
"Why didn't Elizabeth come?" Neal asked. Peter dug his gloved fingers into the seam of the crate, but he turned to give Neal the most criminal smile he'd ever seen on Special Agent Burke's face.
"This is a little time for just you and me," he said. "After we're done here, you come home with me, have a snack, get a few more of those questions answered. It'll be good. El's really looking forward to it."
"You robbed the Gardner Museum?" Neal asked, helping Peter pull the front off the crate.
"Youthful high spirits," Peter said. "Honestly, I'm shocked it worked."
"Yeah, you ruined museum security for the rest of us," Neal replied.
"You like a challenge," Peter pointed out. "Oh, hey! Vermeer!" he said, taking the first painting out.
"Is that one of van Meegeren's forgeries?" Neal asked.
"Guess we can't win them all," Peter sighed, setting it aside.
"Well, they're worth something in their own right, now."
"I suppose." Peter shifted away from the crate, enough for a shaft of light to fall on the next painting.
"Wow," Neal breathed.
"You recognize it?" Peter asked, cocking his head. In the painting, a man in bright robes knelt to kiss the hand of an older man, both of them surrounded by wild scrub brush. There was a dim, ancient-looking fortress in the background.
"Looks like Rembrandt," Neal said, crouching. "Yeah -- see?" he pointed to a smudged signature in one corner. "You don't see many paintings with two men as the subject matter. Crowd scenes, men and women...men alone is weird."
"Oh," Peter said suddenly. "I know what it is."
"Yep, all that Sunday school's finally paying off." Peter smiled. "It's the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau."
"My Bible's a little rusty."
"Two brothers meeting after twenty years apart," Peter said, giving him a cryptic look.
Neal touched the edge of the painting with one gloved finger. "Are we gonna do this?" he asked.
"Give this art back, keep what we can. Then...?" Neal glanced up at him.
Peter nodded. "There's a piece at the Cloisters I want, but it's a two man job and El's not tall enough. You in?"
"Oh, I'm in," Neal said. "Julius."
"Watch it, James." Peter gave him a wide smile. "Don't call me that in the office. You know what they say."
"Loose lips sink ships."