Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the TV series, White Collar which belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Eastin and USA.

Special thanks to Mam711 for  your  beta reading,  editing and  feedback. 

 

 

Copyright to Murder

 

White Collar.

Pre-series

Main Characters Neal, Peter, Elizabeth

Notes on psychopathic behavior taken from “A Natural State of Psychopathy" by Laura Knight-Jadzyk  and                       www. findlaci2003 .us; all errors are mine. Story inspired by a line from Criminal Minds season 6 when they said that most con men have psychopathic tendencies, and from an article in a British newspaper about psychopathic behavior being more common than imagined, and of course the master writer herself, Agatha Christie.

The Present - 2011

Peter entered Neal’s apartment, the door being unlocked; he looked around and saw that his partner stood out on the balcony, his body slumped forward as he leaned on the stone wall and gazed off into the city night. Calling out to Neal, he was concerned when he didn’t get a reaction from him. As he passed the table he saw the half-empty bottle of whiskey, and shook his head; this was worse than he thought. The sting had been straightforward, Neal had gone undercover at a private psychiatric hospital, while Jones had gone undercover at the insurance company. Between them they had caught the people behind a health insurance fraud which had cost the insurance company thousands and left patients denied the most basic treatment.

Neal had gone in as a patient, and he had expertly mimicked the symptoms needed to set himself up as a prime candidate for the fraud.  Peter had gone in as an orderly so that he could keep close to him, but it had gone to hell in a hand basket, and he had found Neal drugged and struggling violently in a straitjacket when he led the raid on the hospital. 

Peter had rushed him to the local hospital; the next 24 hours had been exhausting as Neal had detoxed from the drug given Neal’s acute reaction to some drugs, Peter had stayed by his side, refusing to leave him until he was cleared for discharge.

Very much against Peter’s will, Neal had refused to come home with him; there had been something darker in Neal’s mood that Peter had never seen before, and that was why the older man was at his apartment now, because Peter’s gut feeling was that there was something wrong with Neal, and he was there to find out what.

Making his footsteps heavier, Peter made sure that Neal could hear him approach, because the last thing he wanted to do was spook his partner. Peter leaned on the balcony next to him as if he was admiring the million-dollar view of the city, and waited for the younger man to acknowledge him. 

The silence stretched on, and finally Peter broke it as he said, “I am sorry, Neal.”  He had misjudged the situation at the asylum and hadn’t had a chance to apologize, and now was a good time to do that, but what he wasn’t expecting was the response he got.

The slender con man shrugged, and his voice was flat and cold as he said, “It wouldn’t have made any difference.  You still needed your pet con to go in; I didn’t have a choice.”

He had only heard that depressed tone in his partner's voice once before, and that was when Kate had died and he and El had dealt with the aftermath of keeping Neal sane and centered. Now that tone was back, and he was the cause of it.

Peter had heard some of the agents call Neal his pet or tame con, and refer to the anklet as his leash at headquarters, and he'd come down hard on them; he might not be able to stop it, but he wouldn’t allow anyone to put Neal down in his hearing: he didn’t deserve that.

“You know you’re my partner; you’re sure as hell not my tame con.” Peter didn’t hide his emotions from Neal, but all he got in return was a shrug of the shoulders.

It was cold out on the balcony, and he could see Neal was shivering, dressed just in his dress shirt and slacks. Quickly Peter slipped out of his coat and threw it around the younger man’s shoulders; as he did so, he felt Neal shudder and somehow knew that it had nothing to do with the cold. It was then he felt the pressure of Neal’s shoulder as the younger man leaned into him. Peter didn’t hesitate; he wrapped his arm around his partner and pulled him close as if that way he could shield him against whatever demons he was fighting.

Neal didn’t look at him, but one hand clutched the coat, the other hand covered his, as he wordlessly drew comfort from him. For a man that had made his living from spinning stories designed to con people out of their money, Neal was strangely quiet at times. Usually those times were when he needed to open up about himself, when the con-man veneer was peeled back, and he couldn’t hide behind the public face of Neal Caffrey or one of his many aliases. Now was one of those times; Peter had learned to be patient and wait it out.

Finally Peter said, when it seemed that Neal wasn’t going to speak, “I wouldn’t have sent you in if I had known there was a problem, but you have to talk to me, Neal; you can’t keep this kind of thing a secret.”

“I thought you knew, or guessed, after the ABC murders; I was surprised you didn’t use it against me when I was caught. I thought it was just your style, that you wouldn’t stoop that low, and when you briefed me on the sting all I could think was that I was wrong and you didn’t care.”

Peter shook his head and then tugged Neal a little closer. “It was six years ago, Neal, and I never did find any evidence other than what I guessed from the way you acted at the asylum; I never knew for sure. In the future you have to trust me, buddy, and if a sting is going to be a trigger for you, you have to tell me.”

“Huhhh.” Neal said it softly under his breath, the meaning all too clear to Peter hell would freeze over before he willingly gave over personal information.

“I mean it, Neal.  You’re my consultant; we have a job to do, but I am not going to send you into situations that are going to damage you, not just because I am your handler, but because I am your friend.

Somehow he must have gotten through to Neal when he spoke from the heart, because Neal released a shuddering breath, and then began to talk……

0-0-0-0-0

Seven and half years ago

Quantico

Agent Peter Burke was hunting for the man that the FBI had nicknamed James Bonds.  So far he hadn’t gotten even close to catching him, and so when he was offered the chance of having Bonds profiled, he had readily agreed.

 After arriving at the department of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, Peter had found himself seated in the office of SAC Michael Freeman. Freeman had given him a rundown on the profile his unit had been working on for James Bonds, and their concerns about him. They referred to a case they had just completed, where a con man had suffered a psychotic break and ended up turning serial killer, and how a high majority of the con men caught had exhibited some psychopathic symptoms. He must have seen the look on Peter’s face because he had quickly qualified it by explaining that psychopathic symptoms were more common than had previously been suspected. 

“The current survey taking place has certainly been an eye opener: some CEOs and heads of industries have been found to have them, along with people who demographically would seem to be predisposed.  In its mild form it’s a drive to succeed, which includes trampling people under foot without regard to them, coupled with an ego that tells them they are right and the world is wrong. Most of them would never kill; they're just the jerk that you meet and walk away from cursing. But as you know, Agent Burke, it can evolve, and this is what concerns us about James Bonds. Now, the key symptoms of a psychopath are these, but bear in mind that con men commonly fall into the groups exhibiting some if not all of the of them:

1. Glib and superficial

2. Egocentric and grandiose

3. Lack of remorse or guilt

4. Lack of empathy

5. Deceitful and manipulative

6. Shallow emotions

 

“James Bonds, as you call him, has in our opinion exhibited psychopathic tendencies; he is very effective in presenting himself well and is described as being very likable and charming. A psychopath's charm, in fact, is legendary. James Bonds, like all psychopaths, is an expert at using people they can ask anything of anyone without embarrassment, and can easily seduce people into doing what they want.  He is incapable of feeling concern or remorse for his actions.

"Your unsub has progressed from counterfeiting to art thefts; the crimes that you have detailed in your report show a total lack of fear in his method of entering and exiting the buildings this again fits into what I have outlined.  Psychopaths cannot feel fear for themselves, much less empathy for their victims. Most normal people, when they are about to do something dangerous, illegal, or immoral, feel a rush of worry, nervousness, or fear. Guilt may overwhelm them and prevent them from even committing the deed. The psychopath feels little or nothing."

Agent Freeman paused and looked at Peter, and made sure that he understood what he said next. “The cards that he has been sending you: it is his way of attempting to subtly control you; he is attempting to build up a relationship with you that he will exploit to his benefit.  The evidence from past examination of unsubs that we have caught has shown that con men are among the most charismatic type of psychopath. Their victims end up doing their bidding without realizing that they are being manipulated to perform criminal acts, or acts of sabotage against another innocent person on behalf of the psychopath. So take great care in your dealings with James Bonds, and always remember who and what you are facing.”

Peter had accepted the report and thanked him for the briefing before adding it to James Bonds' growing files, but in his heart he didn’t think that it was right; nothing that James Bonds had done had fit into the pattern.

Eighteen months later Peter was still chasing an enigma. Slowly the aliases had come up as he chased James Bonds, and he and his team had tracked each of them down and burned them. In forcing him to change his name, Peter believed that they were pushing him one step closer each time to exposing his real name, and that once he had that it would be a keystone to the case against him. But slowly there was one name which was gradually appearing through the tangle of other names: Neal Caffrey; it was the only name that had no ID connected to it, and privately Peter thought that this was Bonds’ real name, and it was the one that Peter had taken to calling him.

Sitting in his office sipping his cup of coffee, Peter looked at the crime board that decorated the length of one wall. It was a mass of alleged crimes, pictures of stolen paintings and treasure, several eight-by-ten grainy pictures of a man who logically was too young to have carried out eight high-tech multimillion dollar robberies in the last year. He had the face; now he needed that name confirmed.  He was convinced that the smoke and mirrors were clearing and soon he would have the evidence he needed to pin that name on Bonds officially.

Two days later, it was late in the evening as Peter faced the same board and pinned upon the board a black on white notice containing two words.  “Neal Caffrey.”  Peter said it out loud with relish. Okay, not time to celebrate yet, that would come when he had Caffrey behind bars. Getting his name officially brought him one step closer, but he still had a long way to go. Suddenly he felt very tired; he picked his jacket and briefcase up and headed out, nodding his head at the cleaner as he went.  Once he had Caffrey, the one thing he wasn’t going to miss was the late nights, when there was only him and the cleaners left in the building, and he knew that El would appreciate it.

 

0-0-0-0-0

One week later

New York City.

 

Mr. Allison took his seat in the restaurant.  Every time he was in New York he would come: the waiter knew what he liked and his table was one of the prime tables.  He took a sip of his wine; it was magnificent but then again at $75 a bottle it should be. Anyone looking at him wouldn’t credit the gray-bearded chubby man with a reputation for being one of the key confidence players of the last forty years. Allison took pride in his work, and considering his cut from the last sting, he was looking to retire finally to that condo in Miami. The chef had brought out three cuts of their famous steaks for him to choose from. He had played the game: put his glasses on and examined them before making his choice. The waiter topped up his wine glass, and then laid out his personal condiment set, the sure sign of a favored regular customer. When the steak arrived, it looked mouth-watering; it was, he mused, almost a religious experience, and as he cut into it, it was like cutting through butter.  Beef was his favorite; he took a sip of wine, and then reached for the salt and pepper.

 

A few minutes later, he was staggering to his feet, his chair crashing to the floor, one hand clutching at his throat, the other at the tablecloth, then his legs buckled and he crashed to the floor, pulling the tablecloth and its plates and glasses with him. The waiters came running to his aid, even as they yelled for someone to call 911 at the same time as asking if there was a doctor present. By then Allison’s face had gone blue and he was losing his fight for breath; within minutes he was dead.

 

In the panic no one saw the waiter collect the salt shaker from the table and walk away.  Once out the back door of the restaurant he stripped off the waiter's jacket, turned it inside out, pulled a baseball cap from the pocket, and then with a bounce to his stride disappeared into the night, pausing only to mail an envelope.

 

0-0-0-0-0

One day later

Len Gardner had been out on the town.  He opened the door of his apartment and dropped his keys into the small ceramic bowl that he kept near the door.  He had only just stepped inside when he heard a noise.  It was behind him; he began to turn when he was kicked behind the knees and he went down hard. His hands went down to break his fall; it was then something flashed past his eyes and tightened on his throat. Len clawed at it, but he couldn’t get his fingers around it, and his attacker’s knee went between his shoulder.  A cry of pain came out as wet gurgle as blood gushed from his mouth as he died.

 

When the killer looked down at the body, he didn’t show any remorse; Gardner was just another pawn in his game with the FBI. As he walked away from what would become a crime scene, he paused and mailed two envelopes.

 

Two days later

Peter sat in his office.  In front of him was a file on Jay Allison; the man was a minor legend among the grifters, a relic from the golden age of the sixties. Semi-retired, he was no longer considered a player. That was, Peter mused, why his death hadn’t even caused a ripple; the old guy had a nut allergy and it had killed him, tragic.  The only reason he had the file was because it was passed on to him as a common courtesy since Allison was or had been a white collar criminal.

 

That evening Peter came home from work after picking El up from her office; as she headed upstairs to change, Peter collected the mail.  He was about to drop it onto the small table near the doorway when he frowned.  The top letter was addressed to him, but the address was slightly wrong; it had been corrected in scrawled handwriting: someone had put a line through Burnside Avenue and written the words 'try Burnside Road' on it.

 

Opening the letter, Peter looked at it, not believing what he saw:

 

A IS FOR aLLison AND Allergies. cATch Me iF you can.

You have 24 hours BefoRe The next one Dies.  G is for Gardner and garroting tick tick tick.

 

The words were made from newsprint.  He swore under his breath; what this proved was that Allison’s death was murder.  Getting on the computer, he used his authorization to access the list of crimes reported in the last 24 hours in the city of New York.  Quickly he found what he was hoping wasn’t there. The report was for the murder of a 40-year-old man called Len Gardner, who had been found garroted that day.  He put the letter down and then saw the second one, same envelope and stamps. This time he went over to his desk and pulled out latex gloves from a drawer, and a letter opener. Carefully he opened the second envelope, drew the letter out and opened it up.

 

It was written in the identical way, with newspaper letters.

Burke, this time I give you 48 hours, C is for Caffrey and C  Guess………what I plan to do.  G-Man ?????? catch me if you can.

 

 

 El had come downstairs and seen the look on her husband’s face, and knew that there was something very wrong. She  looked over his shoulder at the letter, reading it, and said, “Neal Caffrey; Peter, how are you going to warn him?”

 

“Damn.” Peter slammed his hand onto the table; the killer might as well have challenged him to find the impossible.  Now he had to catch Caffrey to save his life, and how the hell was he going to do that? Seeing the look on his wife's face, he took a breath as she sat down opposite him.

 

“Okay, El, let’s work through it.” Peter saw the smile his wife gave him; she was used to being a sounding board about Caffrey. “If he’s making the threat, Caffrey has to be in New York.”  A smile suddenly quirked Peter’s lips. “We just have to make Neal come to us.”  That was something they both knew wasn’t going to be easy: Neal was going to be as paranoid as hell, and he could just take to his heels. But on the other hand, Neal Caffrey was curious, and that might just work in their favor.

 

Thinking about the letters, something clicked in her head; El got up quickly. Peter looked at her in surprise, but she waved a hand at the letters.  “I’ve seen this before."  She came back a few minutes later with a book in her hand, and a look of triumph on her face.  “Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders; the killer in that used a location of the murder to match the victim’s name. For example ..."  She flicked a few pages. “... Mrs. Ascher of Andover, only this killer is using the method of death.”

 

“Great; that’s just what we need: a serial killer with a literary bent.”

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

FBI Headquarters

 

Peter called his team together; he finished his briefing about the letters, “The NYPD is working the homicides and the BAU are going to run some profiles for us, and we are going to catch....”  For a long moment, Peter just stood there. “Okay, correction, we are going to find Neal Caffrey and place him in protective custody, and if he happens to have his sticky fingers on some art work or bonds when we do, we're putting him in lockdown. So, boys and girls, time to hit the street; make sure that you get the message across: Caffrey is in danger, and needs to contact me.  I'm sure Caffrey will do the rest. He might not believe that this isn’t a trap, but it’s going to get his curiosity fired up.” 

 

The team split up and Peter looked at the thick file on his desk. Neal Caffrey: the paperwork might be mounting up on him, but linking it back to the man so they could arrest him was proving near impossible. But now the clock was ticking and each minute was taking Caffrey nearer to his death.

 

It didn’t take long for word to reach Mozzie; the small man had worked with Neal Caffrey since he had first seen him, when Neal had conned his partners out of the money they were hustling off tourists using the old three card trick. Mozzie had ditched his partners immediately and traded up to Neal the kid was young and highly talented that was two years ago and he hadn’t regretted a minute of it.

 

Mozzie prided himself that his contacts had contacts, but the word that filtered through from them was all the same.  Neal Caffrey was wanted; nothing new there, but this time Agent Burke was putting out a call for him to get in touch. Mozzie’s paranoia kicked in, but the more he checked, the more he was sure that Agent Burke wasn’t setting Neal up for a sting.  This seemed to be legit, but the reason behind it was murky and Mozzie didn’t like that; there was no way he was going to send Neal into a dangerous situation. But then you could never trust the suits.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

 

The next morning Peter found a hand-delivered letter on the mat:

 

CaFFrey is for C???? time IS TICking……. Burn baby burn…….G man …..

 

Peter hit the streets early, but by the evening they were none the nearer to finding Caffrey; it was as if Neal Caffrey had vanished off the face of the earth.  Nothing new there, but in his gut Peter knew the younger man was still in the city; he had gone deep under the radar.

 

It was only as he was getting into his car that his cell rang. “Agent Burke.”

 

It was Agent Wright, one of the probies, on the phone. “The NYPD found another body, and someone leaked it to the press.”

 

“Who?”  Peter’s hand tightened on the cell phone.

 

He heard Jones’s voice in the background and then he came on the line. “Peter, it's Jones, the body was not Caffrey; the man’s name is Edwards and there was a note by his body, and I quote, 'E is for evisceration, catch me if you can, Burke, you have 24 hours before the next one'.”

 

“Do we have something on....” Peter paused as he remembered someone. “His name wasn’t Jason Edwards, was it?”

 

Jones hesitated. “Yes.”

 

“Damn, he’s another grifter.  I'm on my way to the office; pull everything you can on him, all his known associates, help Diana cross reference him with Allison and see what it throws out.”

 

“What about Caffrey?”  Jones asked, then added, “I cross reference his aliases and see if it brings anything of interest up.”

 

“Good idea, Jones; do that, but remember Caffrey is the loose cannon; we don’t have concrete evidence on him, and so he could give a false reading, so try to stick to facts that are known about him.” Jones was showing good instincts, and promise, and that was what he liked on his team people that could think for themselves.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

The next morning Peter found a hand-delivered envelope in this mailbox.

 

H is for Nicholas Halden and hanging. Tick tock.

 

 

The police soon confirmed that there had been another killing; the man didn’t have  a record or wasn’t connected in any way to the white collar world, but he did have a copy of The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie placed near his body.

 

Peter sat at his desk and then got up and poured himself a cup of coffee; there was a connection to the.…  He halted, looked at the evidence board, and took a step closer; why the hell didn’t he see it earlier?

 

Nicolas, or Nick, Halden: the name was used in the diamond necklace robbery of the Fuller Gallery, and was an ID that Caffrey had used before they had shut it down.  Real people whose only connection to the world of white collar crime was that Caffrey had at one time used their names on one of his jobs: not their IDs, just their names.  Mistaken identity, was that a possibility? Then the pictures came through from NYPD: in no shape or form could they have been mistaken for Caffrey. Gardner was small and fat, and Halden was African-American.

 

NYPD Homicide detectives were not happy with the FBI involvement with their case, but had reluctantly been forced to work with them when the serial killer aspect of the case made itself known. So they shared information with as much good will as going to a dentist to have their teeth pulled. Peter had looked through their evidence but they had little to go on; whoever was killing these people was intelligent, and meticulous at the scene of crime. More and more Peter began to think that the only person who could shine any light on the crimes was Caffrey and he was still in the wind.

 

Once he had made the connection with the aliases, he had notified the police of the other ones that he knew: George Danvery, Steve Tabernacle, Gary Rydell, and Benjamin Cooper. Now there was a race on to find the people that shared these names and warn them of the risk.

 

Five days later another letter arrived, again to Peter’s home address.

 

P is for Gary Peterson and poison. Tick tick tick …

 

Peter grabbed the Caffrey file and then flicked through it; he tossed it and picked up another file with Caffrey’s name scrawled across it, and ran his finger down a list of names;  Peterson wasn’t a proven alias of Caffrey’s. It had never been burned by the FBI, so how the hell could the killer know about it if it was still active.

 

The next day in the office, Peter brought the team up to date with what he had found out the night before; he suspected it gave the profilers a field day.

 

 So Peter found himself looking at an updated profile of Neal Caffrey.  The young con man had moved from possible victim to possible killer, the unsub. The profiler had put forward the possibility that if he was the unsub, he might have had a psychotic break; it had been seen once before in a con man in Florida.  When the reality of trying to maintain multiple personalities caused his mind to fracture, he had ended up killing his marks.  They had put forward the idea that Caffrey might be killing each of his aliases that had been burned by the FBI, symbolically killing that part of himself, and that he had moved on to killing his current aliases as he saw them as weak links that would soon be exposed by the FBI. But Peter hadn’t bought into it; Neal Caffrey was one of the least violent men that he had ever chased—he had even backed away from a multimillion dollar job because of the risk to innocent people getting hurt. There was no way he was a serial killer.

 

All Peter knew was that he had to get into contact with Caffrey and fast, and find out if he had an alibi for the killings. His gut feeling told him that Caffrey was innocent; now he just had to prove it.

 

The Burkes' House

Evening

 

Elizabeth was just putting the final touches to her menu for the bride from hell when there was a knock at the door.  She opened it and then her mouth dropped. “Wow.”

 

“Good evening, Mrs. Burke.”  Standing there was Neal Caffrey; the smile he gave her was brilliant.

 

“That certainly wasn’t what I expected.”  She paused, waiting to see what he was going to do, her hand tightening on the door, in case she needed to slam it shut, but somehow she knew she wouldn’t have to.

 

“I am Neal Caffrey.”  His whole body language was designed to put her at ease, and non-threatening. He shrugged.  “I thought it better to approach you rather than Peter; he is rather impulsive ...” Neal leaned forward as if confiding in her as he added, “... where law and order are concerned.”

It was her curiosity that made her want to find out more about this enigma that stood in front of her.

 

“So why did you need to see me, and what couldn’t you tell Peter?”

 

“Peter is looking for me; nothing new there, Mrs. Burke, but the rumor is that he wants to talk to me.  The question is, can I trust him?” 

 

“I could lie to you,” Elizabeth said.  She watched as he cocked his head slightly as he looked at her; the smile this time was gentler.

 

 “I don’t think you would.  If he was hunting me to arrest me, I can see you trying to bend the frying pan over my head, then trying to sit on me until he arrived home. But I think you can....”

 

Suddenly he broke off as he saw Peter’s car turn into the street. “Perhaps later.”

 

It only took a couple of strides for him to be down the steps and taking off; Elizabeth came down quickly and waved to get Peter’s attention and pointed the way he had gone, yelling "Caffrey." She watched as Peter went off in pursuit.  She hurried back up the steps, and then pulled her cell phone out of her pocket; she had recognized Neal when she had moved the curtain to check before she opened the door. Peter would go ballistic that she took the risk, but it was the only way, and once he had calmed down he would understand it was the only way. She had hit the speed dial, and Peter had been privy to the whole conversation with Neal.

 

Peter returned half an hour later; he had lost him.  Once inside the house he had pulled Elizabeth into a hug.  Standing across the street, Neal stood melting into the shadow, watching as Peter wrapped his arms around his wife, their heads close together: they looked perfect together.  He turned his collar up and walked away.  Somehow it wasn’t the coldness of the night that made him shiver; it was the feeling of watching something he could never have. Glancing at his watch, Neal increased his pace; he was picking Kate up from the airport, and then he had to see Mozzie.

 

Storage Unit

Next morning

 

Mozzie sat on the small foldaway chair in the building he called Wednesday, and watched Neal sleeping. The kid had a great god-given talent for painting that would put professional artists to shame; he was a natural con man, and the rest had followed; the student surpassing in time the master.  He shook his head he was beginning to sound like Caine from Kung Fu. But Mozzie knew that Neal had problems; he might keep them well hidden but every now and again they came back with a vengeance and he spiraled down into a dark place in his mind.

 

On his lap was a newspaper; emblazoned across the headlines was 'Police Hunt the ABC Killer'.  Mozzie had already read it through several times. It was then he realized that Neal was lying looking at him; the vivid blues eyes were dull, and he could see the exhaustion in them.  The younger man was in need of serious sleep. Mozzie knew he could get them out of the city; Kate was already gone: when picked up from the airport, she had been told what was happening and hadn’t protested when they had taken her to Grand Central Station to catch a train out of the city.  Anyone tracking her would have seen her arrive into New York and assume that she was still here; leaving by rail was simple and traceless: anyone could buy a ticket, and as long as they paid cash it was anonymous.

 

Kate: Mozzie kept his views of her very private. Neal was not only in love but totally devoted to her; if she had been in trouble he would never have left, but Kate’s feeling for Neal....  She might like him: he was good looking, and the danger of the heists appealed to her. Kate had liked dressing up as a cop the few times they played the protect-and-serve con. But he'd had the feeling that she would leave Neal high and dry and she had proved that not that you could tell him that she had all but grabbed the train ticket and run.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

 

Night

 

Peter Burke yawned and rubbed his eyes; it was then he heard the noise again. Elizabeth rolled over and opened her mouth, but he shook his head and raised a finger to his lips as he got out of bed; reaching into the drawer of the bedside table he removed his service automatic.  Slowly he made his way down the stairs, pausing at the bottom; there was a lamp on in the downstairs room, which he knew he had switched off.

 

Slowly he edged forward, and then exhaled. “Caffrey.”

 

Sitting on the couch, dressed all in black, was Neal Caffrey.  The younger man looked up from here he was fussing with Satchmo, the Burkes' golden retriever; the dog was rolled on his back in doggy heaven as the con man scratched his belly.

 

“Peter.”

 

“You’re under arrest, Caffrey, for....” 

 

“For what, Peter?”

 

“Well, we can start with breaking and entering, and....”

 

“Or we can start with those murders.” Neal said as he looked up at him. “What’s more important, Peter, me or a serial killer?”

 

There was a creak on the stairs, and Neal looked up to see a woman standing there clutching a baseball bat in her hand.

 

“Mrs. Burke, it’s good to see you again,” Neal said politely as if he was in some Paris salon rather than sitting in his FBI stalker's front room.

 

Elizabeth came down the stairs and lowered the bat. “Have you come to give yourself up, Mr. Caffrey?  I would rather like my husband back, if you’re finished with him.”

 

“I am an innocent, but misunderstood, man, Elizabeth.”

 

“So you never faked a painting or robbed the Met.” Elizabeth put her hand gently to rest on Peter’s arm before he could take offense at Neal calling her by her first name. She didn’t get an answer, but a grin that made her smile back.

 

“I can see we're going to get along,” Neal said.

 

“Caffrey,” Peter put in sharply, which made Neal jerk slightly, but there was no anger in his face. “What do you know?”

 

“Edwards and Allison worked together on a long con; the mark was a business man called….  Well, that can wait for the moment; their idea was an update on the Seattle shift, but with a twist.” He paused and looked at Peter, “Why’s it called the Seattle shift? I’ve seen it done as far away as Moscow and Tokyo.”

 

“Neal, stay on track here,” Peter put in almost gently.

 

“Oh, right.” He gave an apologetic shrug.

 

For Peter this was a godsend: not just for information that might help in  catching this killer, but for getting close up to Caffrey; actually seeing him in the flesh, he could get a better feel for hunting the man down when it came.

 

“They had a couple of paintings the mark wanted; he wasn’t too bothered with the source, just knew he needed them for his collection.  Hypothetically speaking, he approached an artist to reproduce these paintings and was turned down. The whole job was flawed it was strictly last century instead they picked another artist, Jon Lemon, he was fresh from the university, and desperate for money.  He did the pictures and was paid off; the mark went ballistic when he found out they were fake.  The kid didn’t know enough to be able to extract himself from the situation and ended up getting two bullets in the head, and the others got away with the money.” Neal shook his head. “I tried to warn him off the job, but….”

 

He trailed off and then suddenly looked up as he realized what he had said and opened his mouth to try and cover his slip up, when Peter asked, “Hypothetically, why did you bail out, Neal?” throwing him the life line.

 

“Hypothetically, Peter. Because the con wasn’t going to work it relied on too many people being in the same place at the same time; it had too many holes in it.”

 

Peter noticed that while he was talking Neal was rubbing at his upper arm. “The only way the gallery could be hit was by taking out the guard; there would have been people hurt. Allegedly Edwards didn’t like me bailing out, and made it known.”

 

“That two months you disappeared off the radar the last year...."  Peter nodded towards Neal’s arm, and the younger man released it quickly, as if it burned.

 

Neal nodded. “The next thing I heard the job had gone ahead, and that was the last I knew of it.”

 

“Who was involved in the con: Edwards, Allison, who else?” Peter was ticking them off. “How are the other men connected with it?” Peter asked, his eyes never leaving Neal, waiting to see if he would acknowledge them as his aliases. “You must have seen them in the newspaper."

 

The younger man hesitated. “Bystanders unlucky enough to have…."  Neal broke off and the color seemed to drain from his face.

 

“They think I am the killer, don’t they?  The police, now you. Because the other people, their names are all my aliases. I haven't killed anyone. You have to believe me.” There was a note to Neal’s voice that brought every protective instinct that Peter had to the fore.

 

“Neal, you have to trust me; you trusted me enough to come to me, you have to…” Peter’s voice trailed off, as Neal shook his head slowly,  It was then Peter knew that the younger man was going to make a run for it. He would be damned before he would find Neal dead in a gutter because the killer had gotten to him, or some over-keen agent had shot him. No way was that happening on his watch.

 

Slowly Peter’s hand went to his pocket and he pulled out his handcuffs. “Neal, don’t make me use these on you.” Peter saw the look on Neal’s face, and he felt sick at the fear that he saw there, and instantly he knew it wasn’t just the fear of being caught; it was more than that it was deep-rooted.

 

That was as far as he got, when he saw Neal begin to back away, his eyes fixed on the handcuffs....

 

0-0-0-0-0

The next day

 

Peter sat poring over the file in the office; every now and again he stopped and looked at the crime scene board and the face of Neal Caffrey looking back at him.  Last night he had realized that Neal would have fought him tooth and nail to escape; no, that was wrong not escape from being arrested, but from being cuffed. The very thought of it sent him into what would have been for anyone else a full-fledged panic attack.  Neal had hid it well, but he had seen small tells that had told the true story. Why had he trusted Neal enough to walk away from him last night? He couldn’t put it into words; he just prayed that he hadn’t made a mistake.

 

The only plus side was there were no more letters, so no more deaths.  Looking at the names on the board, he went through them; the NYPD had the full list but there were only two more to go, and the police were contacting all the men on the electoral roll with those names. Thank god Caffrey had never been a John Smith; at least he always had a touch of imagination about him. If it wasn’t Caffrey killing, which Peter was 100 percent was the case, then how did the killer know the names he had used? He turned back to the files on his desk, and the possible will fraud he was working on.

 

The Burkes' home

 

It was late evening before he got back home.  El was out overseeing  a function for a rather demanding client, so Peter was sitting in his living room, a cup of coffee in his hand, a three-cheese pizza in its box in front of him, studying the files spread over the table.

 

“You know, Peter, not many people get to have their own personal stalker.”

 

Peter was off the chair and facing the door; standing leaning against the back door, dressed in a black suit and holding a fedora in his hand, was Neal Caffrey.

 

Neal walked over and took a look at the scattered files and photographs but Peter was there catching his elbow, and led him away from them. “Better if we talk through here,” and all but pushed him down on the couch.

 

“What did you find out, Peter?”

 

“I think we’ve been looking at this the wrong way; we're all assuming that the killing had to be connected with the art scam.  What if that's indirectly the cause?"

 

Peter moved to look out at the window at the street below; in the reflection he could see Neal perched on the edge of the couch.  “What if it’s not payback for a dud painting or because they want the money back; we overlooked the kid because he was already dead three years before the killings.”

 

Neal continued the line of thought, “So what if the kid is the reason? I mean Edwards killed him because he was collateral damage, a loose end. But if it’s revenge, why wait this long?”

 

“Perhaps the killer wasn’t able to get revenge straight away. The killer....” Peter nodded to himself. “The killer was able to track down Allison and Edwards, but he’s got ...” Peter paused. "... a laundry list of names where you’re concerned, and is hunting each and every one down.”

 

“But they're all names you’ve burned; he would have to know that there is no way that I would use them again.” He hesitated. “Not that I am admitting they're mine, but none of the victims look anything like me.”

 

Peter nodded. “But it would be easier if the police were hunting you to find the real you; the profilers already have you penciled in as the unsub their take is that you're killing yourself each time you kill one of the aliases, a cleaning of the soul.”

 

Neal exploded onto his feet out off the couch, “You think that, Peter, you….”

 

Peter cut across him. “If I did, you would be in cuffs now, Caffrey. I would never have let you walk out of my house the other night, so calm down.” The way Neal had come off the couch was an emotional outburst he hadn’t expected; this was a new side to the cool con man.

 

The younger man pulled himself up and took a couple of deep breaths. “I don’t kill, Peter; I never would, and certainly I wouldn’t kill innocent people just because of their names. He wants me and can’t find me. This whole game, all these people are dying because of me.  We have to find him.”

 

Just then his cell phone began to ring; Neal walked away from Peter as he listened to Mozzie, then turned back to Peter.

 

“A friend has been doing some digging.  Jon Lemon’s father Richard suffered a nervous breakdown when his wife committed suicide after their son’s murder; she couldn’t come to terms with his death. He was in the psychiatric hospital for eighteen months.

 

“Sounds like a promising lead,” Peter said thoughtfully and turned to his computer.  When he looked up, Neal was gone.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

FBI Headquarters

 

Peter had spoken to his boss, Reese Hughes, the minute he got into the office that morning, telling him about his contact with Neal.  The older man hadn’t been happy, to put it mildly, but had finally given in and allowed Peter to keep up his direct contact with Caffrey. As he mused thoughtfully, they might as well use a criminal to catch one, and since Caffrey was the heart of the mystery they might as well run him. But with Hughes' warnings ringing in his ears Peter had gone back to his desk.

 

The email on his computer when Peter switched it on first thing was blunt and to the point. It was two simple lines telling him that Richard Lemon had been in an upstate hospital, and that Caffrey would meet him outside.

 

Peter pulled out of the FBI underground parking lot; he saw Neal Caffrey standing on the curb, a cup of coffee in his hand; the younger man drained it and pitched it into the trash bin, and then opened the door and slipped into the car.

 

The younger man just smiled at him and made himself comfortable; he reached out for the radio only to have Peter slap the back of his hand. “My car, and my radio.”

 

One thing Peter noticed was the moment they drove through the gates of the psychiatric hospital, Neal seemed to tense up; oh, he still smiled and was his charming self to everyone he met, but there was a tension in him that he hadn’t seen before. Peter was starting to get a bad feeling about this.

 

Peter was thoughtful as in his mind he ran over what the profiler had said about Neal all those years ago, and he asked himself, is that what he was doing, buying into whatever con a psychopathic Caffrey was spinning him?  In doing so he was allowing Neal to get close to him; after all, wasn’t that what Neal wanted: if he read the postcards and all the birthday and Christmas cards Neal had sent him right, Neal was flirting with him; was this a way to get his attention? Then El would be a threat to him she had his attention, and.... Peter was brought back to the present as he realized that Neal was looking at him, his head slightly cocked, but with what appeared to be very real concern on his face, so he just nodded to him and waved him forward. The doctor had been very circumspect about Lemon, but in the verbal fencing that they did, the doctor had expressed concern that he’d been released, hinting without breaking his oath that Lemon had issues still unresolved.

 

It was only when they left the hospital that the tension seemed to leave Neal’s body; there was a mystery there that Peter wanted to solve but for the moment it would have to be left unresolved.

 

It looked like they had a probable ID on their killer; they just needed to find a way of reeling him in. They drove in silence, Neal looking out the window, locked into his own thoughts. Peter was thoughtful; the killer had named Caffrey and then left him alone; the answer to that was that he couldn’t find him.

 

After all, how would Lemon know the names of Neal's aliases?  It was feasible that he might find out about Edwards and Allison; their names would have come up in the investigation. But how could he know the aliases: only Caffrey and the FBI knew them. Then niggling at the back of his mind was Neal’s reaction to the hospital; there was some deep-down trauma there. Also it was telling there hadn’t been any more letters since Neal had started helping him with the investigation, and the one thing that the profiler always said was that the killer would try to insert himself into the investigation. Neal was doing that, and of course he was now giving the con man his full attention, and that was what Caffrey wanted. Just what the profiler had warned about; could he have been wrong?

 

Two days later

The Burke residence

 

Elizabeth looked at Neal as he sat on the couch. When the younger man had turned up, she couldn’t somehow see him as a threat to her; she had given him a cup of coffee, and he looked relaxed and was as charming as ever.

 

“You have some information for Peter.”

 

Neal nodded. “A friend has a few ideas that I want to run past Peter.” He paused. “You don’t mind me coming here, do you?” He cocked his head slightly to one side.

 

Before she could answer there was a knock on the front door; when she went to answer it, Neal blocked her.  He opened the door carefully and looked around, then as he was about to close the door he looked down. Bending, he picked up something off the front doormat, and tore it open.

 

“Neal.” She called out to him, not liking what she was seeing.

 

She noticed he was shaking slightly; a tremor was running through him—it was as if he was vibrating with energy. He held out a crumpled letter to her; she took the letter and opened it.

 

E is for Elizabeth and electrocution. The color drained from El’s face as she read it.

 

Neal took a step towards her, and she backed away from him; he cocked his head slightly and looked at her with concern. “Is there a problem, Elizabeth?” She could see him looking from her to the letter and back again.

 

“No, no,” she added quickly, remembering all too clearly what Peter had spoken to her about: they had both agreed that Neal wasn’t the killer, but coming home and finding him in her house, playing with Satchmo, had been unnerving to say the least.

 

He looked past her at the file on the desk. “I read the profile.” His eyes seemed to harden. “Does Peter believe that?  Do you believe it?  Is he just playing me along?”

 

Elizabeth didn’t go for the innocent 'what? I don’t understand' line. “Peter doesn’t want to believe it, Neal, but you have to see the way it looks, the letter....” She nodded towards the one she was holding. “It doesn’t look good for you.”

 

“I am not a killer.” Neal said it softy. He turned and headed towards the back door and paused. “This was a bad idea; I should have just left it on the doormat.”

 

Elizabeth followed him to the door; over his shoulder he said, “I am sure he’ll find my prints on the letter, and it’s not because I wrote it.” But he hesitated, and nodded to the files on the table. “Have you read them?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I am not insane, Elizabeth.”

 

“I never thought you were.” She saw the tension ease slightly, and then he reached out a hand for the door handle; it was then she saw the water on the floor it had seeped below the back door: it hadn’t rained.

 

“Freeze, mister,” she snapped.  He was just short of the water; she pointed to it. “It hasn’t been raining so why is there water there?”

 

Neal crouched down so that he was looking at the back door; the key was still in the lock but something was wrong with it a piece of fine wire was wrapped around the barrel of the key; it was easily missed. The moment someone stepped on the water and touched the door handle they would have been electrocuted. Simple but effective; he knew from his surveillance that Elizabeth’s first job when she got home was to take Satchmo out into the small pocket handkerchief-size garden they had. If she had touched it, she would have died.

 

Seeing the fuse box, he flipped the switch to cut the power off.

 

“It seems that I am not the only one he’s missed.”  He nodded at door. “Get Peter’s guys to check it out; keeping the power off’s the safest thing you can do.”  

 

El knew that some people would argue that Neal had set the trap, but she didn’t believe it: if she hadn’t stopped him he would have walked right into the trap; no one took those risks. He hadn’t known about it; she was really sure of that. She knew that Peter was on his way home, but already Neal was out of the front door and taking the steps two at a time; by the time she got to the door he was already making his way down the street. It was then she looked down; on the doorstep was a copy of The ABC Murders, and a note:  C is for Caffrey and cars, catch me if you can…. Tick tick…….

 

Lost in thought, head down, Neal walked along the deserted pavement; it was only when the car revved that Neal’s head snapped around, and he saw it mount the pavement and come at him.  Neal sprinted across the road, and tried to vault across the hood of one of the stationary cars, but before he could clear it, the car was hit by the attack vehicle, sending it spinning around into one of the other stationary cars. Neal was thrown off and went down hard in the center of the road.  The attacking car pulled up fast; dazed, Neal saw the reverse lights coming on.  He just managed to roll out of the way as it came at him. He tried to get to his feet but fell down onto his knees, his head spinning; the car came barreling down at him, only for him to be pulled out of the way as the car swerved past him. 

 

Shakily he looked at the man that had saved him. “Hi, Peter,” then rolled onto his side, threw up in the gutter, and blacked out.

 

0-0-0-0-0

 

The doctor had released Neal into their care, especially when it was backed up by an FBI badge; he had a concussion, and could rest as long as he was awakened every hour and could answer the basic questions of name and location. El and Peter knew that they were in for a long night. But it soon answered Peter’s question: Caffrey was the name he gave each time he was woken up, even if he sounded a little out of it.

 

It was early the next morning  when the phone rang.  It was the FBI: a letter had been found by a cleaner at FBI headquarters with his name on it.

 

The duty officer read him the letter: it comprised two words, “Len Fox…….” This time there was no taunt, and the newspaper letters hadn’t been cut out; it had been scrawled by hand, a hand that matched the one of the first envelopes redirecting the letter, the agent told him.

 

Peter swore under his breath; he could look into why the killer did that later. Gardner was dead there was nothing they could do to help him but Fox was still alive, and could be saved. “Len Fox, he’s a retired con man, he used to specialize in the old duck and roll con from the Cold War days. He’s a person of interest at the moment, since we know that Caffrey runs with an older man, and Fox could be our man. Check the file: we have an address for him, and get a couple of agents over there to pick him up. “

 

Less than an hour later, the agent reported back: Fox was dead  in his apartment in a frenzied attack by the killer; the old man had died when he had answered the door.

 

As tragic as it was, this time Peter had his proof to clear the younger con man; Neal had been unable to leave the house because of his concussion, and he had both of them to testify to it. Now he just had to find the killer and take the bullseye off Neal’s back once and for all.

 

Peter had a plan but it would take a giant leap of faith from the skittish con man for it to work.

 

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

The next morning

 

Neal had struggled and fought the moment he had put the handcuffs on; the next minute he was out of them and nearly out of the door, everything they had talked about forgotten. Peter had had to tackle him to the ground and use every bit of skill he had learned at Quantico to hold him; he was hampered because he didn’t want to hurt him. Whatever it was that had caused Neal’s flight response had kicked in the minute he had slapped the cuffs around the younger man’s wrists.

 

Neal had struggled violently, and he had had to keep him pinned to the floor. Peter had carefully eased back when Neal had finally stilled under him. Peter knew without knowing how it wasn’t just the fear of being arrested, that this went a lot deeper, and he was willing to bet it was connected to his reaction when he visited the asylum; he was willing to wait as long as it took for Neal to be ready; only then would they take the plan to its next level.

 

One hour later, Peter walked Neal into FBI headquarters. hands cuffed behind his back, a firm grip on his arm; he could feel the tremors running through the younger man.  To look at Neal, no one would guess what they had gone through first thing that morning or the toll it was taking on the young con man to be cuffed. Neal looked cool and collected, and fired back one-liners at anyone stupid enough to come near him.

 

The interrogation took part in Hughes' office; the Director had agreed to the plan, and was all too aware of the fact that Caffrey was still only a person of interest and not actually under arrest.  He wanted to keep everything nice and legal, because otherwise it could come back and bite them in the ass when they wanted to arrest him for real. But all the same, he played his part to the hilt, and after six hours of interrogation Neal was finally taken to FBI lockdown.

 

The cleaner was working on the floors of the lockdown; although his name wasn’t known, his face was: he had been working at the FBI building for the last two and a half years, so that he moved around the building almost invisible to the agents that worked there. The cameras in the lockdown covered the corridor, and near the cleaning station was one blind spot right where Caffrey was now seated, head in his hands, unmoving on the bed; he was the only prisoner in lockdown.

 

Taking a bottle of cleaning liquid out of his cart, the cleaner gave one look around, and moved to the bars.

 

“C is for Caffrey and combustion”, he chanted as he twisted the top off the bottle and raised his arm back to throw it when.…

 

“Freeze, FBI.” Peter stood there, his gun trained on the cleaner.  The man hesitated and then just as he was about to throw it, Peter fired; the bullet slammed into the man’s arm, making him drop the bottle.  It rolled away harmlessly. As Peter approached him, the man turned eyes burning with hatred on him.

 

Rick Lemon stood there, blood seeping from a shoulder wound. “If it wasn’t for that filth ...” He spat at Neal. “... MY SON,” he yelled, his voice dying down again as a wave of pain flooded through him. “He would be alive; Caffrey should have done the paintings, but he didn’t, and my son was murdered because of that.”

 

“So you tracked down everyone associated with the con,” Peter said.

 

“Yes,” Lemon laughed and it turned Peter’s blood cold; whatever sanity that Lemon had had was now long gone.  He snarled, “You’re  a dumb bastard, Burke; you never saw me, did you?  All those nights I cleaned your offices and read your board and files, you never saw me. Just like your kind didn’t see my son’s death as important.  You wanted him ...” He pointed at Neal. "... and didn’t care about him. What was he, collateral damage, Burke?” His voice fractured as he began to sob and Peter knew the man would never stand trial, he had seen the pictures of what he had done to Edwards, and the man would spend the rest of his life in a maximum security facility for the criminally insane.

 

 Neal vanished the minute he was released from lockdown, and went under the radar again.

 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Three weeks later

 

 

Peter entered the ballroom with El on his arm; the evening was a charity fundraiser, and he was going to take the opportunity to enjoy the night with his wife.  He reached across to take her hand to lead her onto the dance floor. And then frowned as he saw the people parting for one couple to dance.

 

“The son of a….” Peter trailed off and El followed his line of sight and saw what everyone else was watching: the young couple on the dance floor.  Some of the crowd looked shocked and scandalized at the sight of two handsome, well-dressed men dancing.  If the tango was at the one time the forbidden dance, then watching the pair dance you could see why. They must have raised the temperature of the dance floor to sizzling. When they and the music finished, it was to a round of wild applause from the other couples. The immaculately-dressed dark-haired young man pulled his partner up from the final dip and twirled him around and into his arms; his smile was as sexy as hell, and his smile widened as he saw Peter.

 

“Neal Caffrey.” Peter said the name with a shake of the head, as his young nemesis disappeared with his partner into the crowds.

 

Elizabeth, her eyes never leaving Neal, said, “You have to help him, Peter.”

 

“El, he’s a con man, a counterfeiter, an art forger, he’s....”

 

She cut in. “He’s Neal Caffrey,” Elizabeth said.

 

Peter watched the con man’s retreating back, as she added, “So what can we do?”

 

Neal Caffrey. Peter shook his head. “There’s only one problem with that, El.”  He arched an eyebrow at her, and gave a small shrug. Then seeing her puzzled look he added, “I have to catch him first.”

“But you will.” El said with certainty.

“Damn right,” Peter agreed.

The Present

Peter listened as Neal talked, the younger man never once looking at him, just at some place out of reach. He spoke of his father, the dirty cop, and his mother, born of wealthy Texan parents, and how on her death he had lived with them. How they had believed his sexuality was a disease to be treated and had ended up in a private facility owned by one of their friends. His voice had faltered as he told Peter of his attempts to escape, and how each time, he had been caught and forcibly restrained as a punishment, until finally he had managed to escape and just kept running.  Subconsciously he began to rub at his wrists, as if he could still feel the shackles on them. Peter reached out, and pulled him closer, telling him that it would never matter to him or El, and that he had them. Only then did he lead Neal back into the apartment and seat him on the bed, leaving him clutching his jacket to him.

Peter put on some of the Italian roast coffee that Neal liked and tugged out his cell phone from his pocket and called El; he told her quickly what had happened, she told him point blank to stay with Neal, and that she would be over in the morning.  For the hundredth time Peter thanked the gods he had a wife like Elizabeth, who had understood and shared his concern for Neal. After getting a cup of hot coffee inside of him, Peter coaxed Neal into bed, and the look on Neal’s face had been a picture when he had kicked off his own shoes and then lay down next to him. He had raised an eyebrow at Neal. “I am not spending the night on the couch; the last time I did that I put my back out, so get over it, Caffrey, and cowboy up.” But even as he said it his tone had taken on a lighter tone, and carefully making sure that Neal was okay with it, he tugged him into his arms so that his head was resting on his shoulder. Slowly the shivering began to stop, and Peter knew that it had been a cold of not just the body but of the soul.

“Neal, you can be whatever you want to be with us, you know that. You’re a good man.”

Peter felt the slow nod of Neal’s head on his shoulder, and he increased his grip on him. He hadn’t chased Neal for three years and waited another four while Neal had been in prison, lived through the death of Kate, and the pursuit of Fowler, and the Nazi treasure threat to lose him now. 

The End