Disclaimer:  The following is a work of fan fiction based on 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.   

Antoinette for your beta reading. 

Deadly Gifts.

Forced FED AU Standalone Story

General Story

White Collar

 

Notes

FBI VOLUNTEER INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS [1]

Each summer, a special group of outstanding undergraduate and graduate students are selected to participate in the FBI Honors Internship Program at select Field Office locations.

Program Overview
The FBI Volunteer Internship Program offers undergraduate, and graduate students an exciting insider's view of FBI operations and provides an opportunity to explore the many career opportunities within the Bureau. This opportunity is available for undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the nation. The Volunteer Internship Program begins in June and ends in August. FBI Volunteer Interns can look forward to ten extremely rewarding and interesting weeks. You'll be working side-by-side with Special Agents and Professional Staff personnel on important cases and management issues. You'll feel like you're a part of the Bureau...because you are.

 

Ralph Best was an intern at the FBI office in New York on a ten week program, his father had been a special agent for the last fifteen years, and had the ten year ring to prove it. There had been no real choice in what he would do, he would enter the FBI just like his father, and keep the Best traditional alive, his grandfather had been one of the first generation of G men so he had a lot to live up too. His father had managed to get him into the White Collar department, under SAC Peter Burke, the man had a reputation second to none, and if he impressed Burke, the agent’s name on a favorable report would go a long way when he applied to Quantico, since it was well known that Peter Burke didn’t play favorites.

On the third day of his placement, he had noticed a young well dressed man with Agent Burke, the man had smiled at him and made him welcome, and when there was a briefing he was the first person that Burke called on. Ralph had been impressed by the man’s knowledge of art fraud, and it was clear that Burke considered him a valuable asset. Ralph had told one of the other agents how much he admired Agent Caffrey, and Agent Walker had looked as if he was about to burst out laughing, and had called some of the other agents over to share the joke.

All that day, Ralph had the feeling that he was the butt of a joke only he couldn’t understand what it was but it had something to do with Agent Caffrey. It was only later when he had asked Agent North, about the tall, dark haired well dressed agent; he had been met with surprise and then laughter, and a warning to watch his wallet. North must have taken pity on him, because he sat him down and told him all about Neal Caffrey, it was then that Ralph’s anger had begun to fester, as he realized that he had been laughed at, the dumb intern too stupid to notice the tracker on the Caffrey’s ankle, that showed the man was an ex-con, on a work release deal.

That night, he had told his father what had happened and blurted out everything that he had told about Neal Caffrey, a convicted felon, as well as a con man, art forger, counterfeiter, a man that should still be behind bars and not polluting the FBI headquarters. His father had listened to him in silence, and that had made him feel a better, his father was taking this seriously, until he had chuckled and clasped him on the back, and told him to cowboy up.

Ralph hadn’t thought it could get any worse, until he arrived in the department the next morning, he found that he was to be allowed to assist with a major case, that was the good news, the bad news was that it  meant working closely with Caffrey.

Caffrey was intelligent, and seemed to effortlessly work the case, and where as he had spent all morning looking at one lead, Caffrey had seen the loophole within minutes of picking the papers up. Alright he had been good about it, he hadn’t rubbed his face in it, but all the same it ranked Ralph, at school he was a straight A student, and here he was made to look like a fool. That evening at home he picked up the remote and began to flick through the television station, then he paused, a smile began to lighten up his face, who would think that the History Channel could be so informative, and it hadn’t taken long to Google the case in question and got all the information he needed. A sly smile touched his lips; if this worked he would get his own back on mister high and mightily Neal fucking Caffrey.

0-0-0-0-0

Three days later Ralph sat in a down town McDonalds waiting for Gerry Webber. A contact at school had given him his name, Webber was a back street chemist, always with a little something to help a student that needed a buzz to keep them awake for all night revision. Normally he wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole, but had his uses, and this was one of them. Ralph all but rolled his eyes, jeeze Webber looked as guilty as sin, it was a surprise he hadn’t been pulled over by the first police officer to see him.

"So how does it work?" Ralph would not put it past Webber to wimp out on him at the last moment.

"I have a demonstration set up. If you’ll come with me…?"

Gingerly, Ralph got into the clunker of a car that was Gerry’s pride and joy, trying not to step on the fast food wrappers and junk that filled the foot well of the passenger seat. The car set off toward the warehouse district. Gerry was explaining about the substance, but Ralph tuned it out. All he wanted to know was did it work.

The warehouse had broken windows and looked as if a bomb had gone off near it. With a shrug, Gerry just waved a hand at the burned ruin next door to it. "Drug lab blew and took this building with it." It was then Best heard the barking of a dog.

There was a crude pen in the center of the building and a mongrel was running up and down, trying to escape from its temporary prison.

Gerry slipped into academic mode. "I found the thesis on the Salem Witch Hunts and the case reported in 1951 on Pont-St-Esprit in Providence. I’ve made a cake up with the substance. Now watch and learn."

A small cake was tossed into the pen. The dog sniffed it and walked away. But a few minutes later it circled back and ate it. Before long the animal began to run around the pen in wild frantic circles, and then began chewing at a piece of metal until its teeth were smashed. Finally its back legs collapsed. At that point Gerry stepped in and put it down with one bullet to the head, sadly shaking his head. "I hope that makes my point."

Ralph was already tugging the notes from his wallet. "$800 as promised."

Greedily he grabbed the package from Gerry then his face fell. "What the fuck! I paid you for..."

Gerry cut in. "You paid me for the ergot; it’s up to you to make the bread. I am a chemist, not a baker." Then he strode out of the warehouse.

0-0-0-0-0

The one thing that Best was good at was picking the right person for the job, and he had his perfect tool in Clare Goose. She had worked in the Federal building for the last eight months, and was two years older than him, she had always had the dream of being an FBI agent, and going to Quantico. But her eyesight had been too poor, and working as a civilian clerk was the nearest she would ever get to her dreams. They had met over the coffee machine, and it hadn’t taken long for him to play on the rather plain, insecure looking girl, and get the whole story.  She had the dream job, she had been assigned to White Collar and most of the agents in   particular Agent Jones and SAC Burke had treated her like one of the team, and she took pride in every arrest they did, because in some small way she helped them.

Over the next few weeks, as they got closer, Best had encouraged her, to talk more and soon it call came out, recently everything had changed. She had added quickly she wasn’t the only one, who felt it and resented it. Clare had leaned into him and told him how disgusting it was that Neal Caffrey was being let out of prison, to work as an FBI consultant. How someone as well respected as SAC Burke, would take on a con man, forger as a consultant was an unbelievable. . But the resentment in the FBI was not aimed at Burke, he was one of them after all, but at the lying cheating con, who didn’t know his place in life. It was clear that Caffrey had somehow conned the lead agent of the White Collar Department, and it was plain that Neal Caffrey needed to shown they were onto him.

Clare had gone on to explain that Caffrey wasn’t having a clear run of the place, some of the agents made sure that Burke’s tame convict knew his place, and Caffrey had already been caught a few times without a member of Burke’s team  with him. They had been careful to keep their hits where it couldn’t been seen, and a harsh warning of what would happen if he talked to anyone about the attitude adjustment, they handed out to him. After all they had gloated who would accept the words of a con over that of an FBI agent.

So it was no surprise that when he had suggested a way of bringing high and mighty Neal Caffrey crashing down to earth, she jumped at it.

Like all offices White Collar had a small but well stocked kitchen, and it wasn’t unusual that someone would bring in donuts or pizza as a treat, and after a few days round the water cooler with some of the girls, she learned that Caffrey short of money at the end of the month, since Agent Burke had taken his Gold Card, how the hell he got that they still hadn’t found out. The ex con had taken to eating whatever was free and on offer to pad out his food supplies.

Ralph had explained his idea to Clare, when he had taken her out to dinner, he had seen the worried look on her face and had added quickly, “don’t worry it’s not going to hurt  Caffrey, just embarrass him. It’s going to have Caffrey flying as high as a kite, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t singing and dancing on the table.” Ralph lent in, “can you imagine Director Hughes face if he walked in on that. Come on Clare it wouldn’t hurt Burke’s pet con to be taken down a peg or two.

Hesitantly Clare asked, “are you sure it’s not going to hurt him.”

“He’s going to feel he’s got the worse hangover going, but other than that, he’ll be okay.” Best didn’t push, he left her to think it over, and changed the subject to the latest film, and if she would be interested in going with him to see it.

For the rest of the day, Ralph was working at the other end of the office, Clare at her desk was putting together one of the case files, collating the information for the agents. She saw Caffrey come with Peter Burke, the FBI agent was smiling and then laughed at something the con man said, as he patted him on the shoulder. Neal came over and perched on the edge of her table, smiled and opened his mouth to ask her something, Clare pointly glared at him and got up, taking a file with her, Neal shrugged and moved over to Nancy’s desk.

When she stopped for a coffee break she looked round for Ralph, and taking a quick look came up to him, “if you still want my help, I am okay with it.”

They arranged to meet later that night at the small apartment she shared with Heather Watkins another clerical worker, and he gave Clare the bag; she   looked inside, and ran her fingers through the flour.  "Where did you get this?" The rye flour had an odd greyish look to it.

“Can you use it?” Ralph asked neatly avoiding the question.

“I can try,” once she started making the dough, it felt slimy and she wrinkled her nose up at the smell of it. The dough refused to rise and she had to empty some of the ordinary flour into the mix to get anywhere. But soon two loafs were baking in the oven.

0-0-0-0-0-0

The plan was scheduled for the next day, carefully Clare made up a bag of sandwiches using the bread she had made, she put in black pepper and lemon tuna, along with salad, the tuna would hide the malty smell caused by the grey flour. Just before dinner she prepared the flasks of coffee for the office, all the time watching Neal Caffrey moving round the office, sharing a word with one agent, giving another a wide berth, perching on the edge of a desk of the third, he was laughing and looking at ease. Any qualms she had disappeared as she watching him work the office. She volunteered to go down to get the sandwiches, brought an extra pack, quickly removed it from the wrapping, dumping it  and slipping in her own sandwiches into the bag, and it hadn’t taken much when she had finished collecting the money to appear to have one pack left over, she shrugged at Heather, “the sandwich vendor must have miscalculated.” Clare saw Heather looking towards Neal Caffrey, and Clare had nodded in agreement.  

 

0-0-0-0

Neal Caffrey was all too aware that he had been lucky to meet June, and get offered the guest room in her lavish house, there was also an irony in it that hadn’t gone missing on him. His entire working career had been aimed in one day being able to live in this zip code, and now he got it because he was on parole, and had found a woman that believed in him.   June had reluctantly accepted some of the Department of Corrections money for his lodgings, charging him only a fraction of what a rent in that zip code could charge.  So each month Neal deducted his rent from the small amount he was paid for working as a consultant, and that left him the balance, if he was careful, he could make it stretch without having to miss too many meals.  The sandwiches that Clare brought up each lunch time look delicious, but he knew to the cent how much money he had in his pocket, and he couldn’t afford them. Instead he snagged one of the free oat and raisin giant cookies and a bottle of water, and started to head back to his desk when he heard Clare call his name.

Neal smiled as he turned, he liked Clare she was painfully shy and still blushed when he spoke to her, she was nervous of him, and so far he hadn’t been able to put her at her ease, he looked from her face to the sandwiches in her hands and back again.

“This one looks like it’s left over, would you like it.” Clare held the sandwich out, Neal took it.

“Thank you,” and with the unexpected bounty in his hand returned to his desk, it was twenty minutes after he had eaten the sandwich that his head began to feel fuzzy, the office began to reek of aviation fuel, the text of the cold case file in front of him began to swim, the letters bending along the lines. The stench of aviation fuel, burning fuel got stronger, along with the sickening smell of seared flesh he got to his feet, and stumbled away from his desk, and collided with Agent Rice.

SAC Agent Rice instantly caught hold of the consultant, it was then she saw the look on Caffrey’s face, it was one of total fear, his skin was pale and clammy, sweat was plastering his dark hair to this face. His hands caught her arms, and he was shaking her pleading with her, “Can’t you smell it, the fuel it’s burning,” his head was snapping round as if he was trying to see something. “It’s burning,” Caffrey was almost sobbing the words; he flinched and ducked to one side.

“Caffrey what’s wrong, I can’t smell anything.”

“Burning,” he flinched again, “Kate, she can’t get out, the flames,” he began to shake her violently “she can’t get out, why won’t you help her, why won’t.” He trailed off

Agent Rice was all too aware how she had fouled up the first time she had worked with the consultant, calling him a tool, ignoring him and using him as bait, she  had learned by her errors, watching him closely since then she had changed her mind about him. He was a felon but he was also a good man and she wouldn’t drop the ball this time. He was seriously worrying her now, she tried again “Caffrey what’s wrong.”

Neal looked round he saw the beginning of flames licking round the side of one of the filing cabinets. He couldn’t believe that she couldn’t see them, the smoke was beginning to fill the office, he could hear explosions.

Agent Rice tried to talk to him but he ignored her turning away from her, couldn’t she see  the flames they were now  engulfing his desk morph into grinning and gloating faces with long worm like bodies and they began to slitter towards him, their mouths open Everything around him seemed to slow down, as he pushed her away he lifted her Glock, and took off at  a run, feeling the heat of their breath on his neck, he had to get to the roof, let them follow him taking them away from his friends. He wouldn’t fail them like he failed Kate, when the plane had exploded killing her, and he had been unable to save her.   

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

SAC Peter Burke got the phone call, as he was in the elevator; his consultant was on the roof of the Federal Building, armed and in an unstable state. Hughes was already on the scene when Peter arrived, the older man caught his arm, "Listen, Peter, no one here wants to hurt Caffrey, but he’s armed, he lifted Rice’s sidearm and he’s seriously disturbed. He’s not making any sense."

"I have to go to him." Peter started forward only to be pulled down again.

"If you do,” Hughes looked critically at Peter, and shook his head resigned to what was going to happen next, “and I know there is no way to stop you, you wear a vest. No agents are dying on my watch."

Peter was already pulling the vest on; he edged his way past the armed response team, and then got into place so that he could approach Neal slowly.  The young man was right near the edge of the roof, he was walking up and down, his actions fast and jerky, talking to himself in a loud voice. He was waving the gun around, using it to punctuate his rambling words.

So far Neal hadn’t fired the gun, which meant that he still had a full clip and one up the spout, he slowly closed the distance between them, Peter kept his hands clear of his sides, making himself as unthreatening as he could. In all the time he was chasing Neal, Peter had never known him to carry or use a gun on his jobs. This was so alien for the young con man that Peter knew something had to be seriously wrong with him.

“Neal, it’s alright. I’m here." Peter kept his voice soothing; the last thing he wanted to do was spook his friend, because regardless of how the other agents saw Neal. Neal Caffrey was his friend and he didn’t want to startle him into pulling the trigger. But even so, Neal flinched and whirled round.

"Neal, no," Peter put in quickly was he saw the gun hand start to come up. At the same time as he heard the rounds being chambered by the response team. But then he heard Hughes ordering them to stand down. Thank god Hughes had his and Neal’s back. For the longest minutes of his life Peter Burke stared down the muzzle of the Glock, in the hands of his best friend and knew that if Neal fired and by some miracle the response team didn’t gun him down. Neal would never be able to live with what he had done.

Neal’s voice was strained, and rasping, “Can’t you smell it Peter, the fuel it’s burning the whole place is burning,” he threw out his other hand and swayed, “the building it’s going to collapse you have to get out.” He ducked as if something had exploded near him, his whole body flinching. The young con man was looking round him again, pure terror on his face, he stumbled backwards, and in horror Peter could see that Neal was getting closer and closer to the unprotected edge of the building.

“Neal, no.”

Even in his drugged state the ex con stopped, tears were running down his face, the hand holding the gun went to his head, Peter started forward, not sure what the younger man was going to do. But instead of aiming the gun at his head, Neal’s gun hand was clamped to the side of his head, and if he was trying to shut something only he could hear out. 

Peter moved forward quickly, as Neal suddenly doubled over with a cry of pain and went down onto his knees, his whole body swaying, the FBI agent was by his side, knelt next to him, reaching for the gun, his grip firm but gentle as he pushed the gun away from Neal’s head.

The younger man releasing his hold, letting Peter take the Glock, his blue eyes filled with such terror and pain that it was heart breaking, once he no longer had the gun, Neal reached for him, his arms wrapping round Peter, holding onto to him as if his very life depended on it. His body wracked with tremors, as he buried his face against the older man’s neck. Peter threw the gun, sending it skidding across the roof away from them, and gathered Neal close to him, one arm pinning him against his body, as his other hand stroked up and down the younger man’s back trying to sooth the tremors, as he spoke softly against Neal’s ear, giving him reassurance as Neal rambled on about burning buildings, the stench of fuel, and Kate.  Suddenly Neal’s voice got louder, and he began to panic again, and tried to break free. But Peter kept a firm hold on him, riding out Neal’s panic attack.  Slowly in his arms Neal became silent and still, his eyes tightly closed, his face pressed against the older man’s neck, tears running down his face as he clung even tighter to Peter as if he was his only lifeline.

It was only as Peter felt Neal’s body finally relaxing against him, did he call for a paramedic, but even then he didn’t let go of the younger man, preferring to keep hold of him as he was checked over. The moment he allowed Neal to be placed on the gurney, he came round, and began to struggle against them, his fist swinging, scream obscenities, fighting for his life.  Peter managed to grab Neal’s wrists, but it was a losing battle until Hughes, joined in, and between them managed to get the young con man pinned to the gurney while the paramedics buckled the restraints on him. 

But it had been hard work, Neal had kicked, bit, bucked and twisted to keep them from pinning him down, he had called Peter every vile name under the sun in at least four different languages, scream obscenities at him, as he had twisted and bucked, leaving the two FBI agents bruised and bleeding.

“Can’t you give him something,” Peter had asked as Neal had tried to break free, but the paramedic had shaken his head, “we can’t sedate him, until we know what’s in his system, and is he a known drug taker.”

“No way, Neal’s clean, I don’t know what happened to him, but he didn’t take it willingly.”

Reese Hughes knew that to begin with he had been worried about the closeness between his top agent and the ex-con. But he needn’t have worried, instead of being a liability, it had made them stronger, and they were the best team he had. He knew that whatever he said Peter would go with the Caffrey; this way he was giving Burke his official permission to accompany his partner Neal Caffrey to hospital.

As the paramedics began to move the gurney, Hughes caught Peter’s arm, “You best go with the ambulance and stay with him, I’ll deal with this.” He nodded towards the armed response team.

“He didn’t mean.” Peter started to say, immediately trying to protect Neal.

 “I know he didn’t mean it Peter, it was the drug talking, he won’t get sent back for this.”

Hospital

Three hours later, Dr Dan Archer, came into the waiting room, “the family of Neal Caffrey.”

Peter came forward with Elizabeth, his wife, the moment she had heard what had happened she had come straight over, she had taken to the young con man the first day she had met him, and mothered him unmercifully  if given a chance. “Neal doesn’t have any family, I am his partner,” he showed her his FBI badge.

Dr. Archer took in Peter in one glance and knew that he wanted answers and he wanted them fast. 

"First and most importantly, we got to Mr. Caffrey in time. He’s going to be okay. It’s not going to be pleasant, but he will be all right. He’s suffering from ergot poisoning."

"Ergot." Peter shook his head. "Never heard of it."

"Ergot is a fungus that affects the ripe grains of some cereal crops, especially rye. If it gets into the food supply it can cause untold harm. Your friend is particular susceptible to it."

"But he is going to be okay?"

"He should make a full recovery. He will have muscle aches and pains, and we will have to monitor him for high blood pressure for a few days, but he will make a full recovery." The doctor was quick to give Peter as much reassurance as he could. Now seeing the very obvious need for the agent to be united with his partner he added, “You can see him now. But he is still coming down from the side effects of the poisoning, having you near him should help calm him down" Dr. Archer stepped back quickly to avoid being trampled by the agent, who was clinging to the hand of his wife.

When he entered the hospital room, Neal was lying too still his hands and feet were buckled by restraints the sides of the bed, Peter was use to seeing Neal in almost constant motion. His partner was hyperactive to a fault, and his hands where always on the move, whether it was folding paper  swans, or sketching, or throwing a elastic band ball up and down, as he talked. 

Neal’s eyes opened and he began to tug at the restraints, his body arching, Peter caught his face in his hands, “Neal look at me, Neal.” To the FBI agent it seemed like an eternity before Neal’s blue eyes locked onto his.

“Pe eeter.” He drew the name out, “don’t send me back, can’t go back, can’t go back, can’t go back, can’t can’t.”

“Neal, NEAL” Peter in desperation snapped at the younger man, who tried to throw himself backward away from him, but he was tethered, and tried to pull free.

Elizabeth was immediately by his side sitting on the bed, “Neal darling, it’s alright,” her soft voice seemed to bring him out of the mental loop he was trapped in.

“Kate.” He turned to her, “Kate.” His voice softened, and the panic seemed to ease from him, “You’re here.”

Elizabeth exchanged a look with her husband, and understood, Neal wasn’t seeing her he was seeing his beloved Kate,  Peter nodded. Elizabeth reached down lightly stroked Neal’s face, brushing the sweat soaked hair from his eyes, “I am here Neal.”

Neal’s blurred blue eyes, searched her face he tried to lean his head into her hands, he began to get agitated.

“Peter, can you free him.”

“El, he’s dangerous like this.”

“Please, Pete this is Neal, he needs me.” Elizabeth begged.

Peter looked from his wife to his friend, and nodded, he released Neal’s legs, one hand and then the other watching him closely, he started forward as Neal seem to launch himself at Elizabeth, wrapping her in his arms, but before he could drag Neal away, Elizabeth shook her head, “I am okay Peter, I  am okay,” she reassured him, “he’s not going to hurt me.”

 She stroked Neal, shoulder and head, “Its alight I am here now, I am here,” she leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of his head, her long hair veiling his face, in an intimacy that Peter knew he would allow no other man.

Elizabeth was rewarded by Neal grip on her relaxing, as he began  sobbing Neal buried his face against her shoulder.  

Peter moved the pillows to make her comfortable as she pulled Neal more comfortably  into her arms, Neal made a low whimpering noise. Elizabeth’s hands ran other him soothing the tremors that racked his body. Her voice was pitched low as she told him how much he was loved, and how they cared about him. Each time he shivered and flinched El was there to sooth away the fear, and anchors him back to his skewered reality.

Neal clung to her, his voice a rasping raw whisper, caused by his screaming, so different to his usual voice with its slight southern drawl, as he called her Kate, and begged her to stay with him, that he loved her, and needed her.  She kissed his forehead, and held him close, telling him with tears running down her face that she would never leave him, even after exhaustion took him to a deep natural sleep, she still rocked him. Over the next hours the pattern would be repeated, a nightmare would wake Neal, and he would scream that the room was on fire, calling out for Kate  and Elizabeth would calm him down, and sleep would finally over take him. Somehow during the long hours they had sat with him, he had taken Peter’s hand, he held it curled against his chest as he pulled Peter to him, rather than break the hold the agent climbed onto the bed. 

Resigned to losing that hand, Peter  curled himself up round Neal, reached out with his other hand and gently stroked Neal’s head and shoulders, light touches that allowed him, through them, to tell Neal how much he meant to him, he met Elizabeth’s eyes over the head of the special young man that they had taken into their lives and into their home, and saw her smile, and he knew that together they would see Neal through this.

0-0-0-0-0

The news of what had happened to Neal went through the Federal Building like wild fire as the FBI Crime Scene Investigators and the Health Department descended on the building, wanting to find the cause of the poisoning. Ergot poisoning was not unheard of; it had struck in the past, with devastating results. The quicker the source could be tracked down, the quicker they could stop it.

They had sealed off the area round Neal’s desk and then taken it apart, finding a small part of a sandwich ground into the carpet. Other than that, the area had been clean.

The wrapper for the sandwich had lead them to the Picnic Box, a professional catering organization. The small Ma and Pa operation had been checked and had been given a clean bill of health, which was beginning to puzzle the investigators, since ergot poisoning cases never stopped at one person.

Sharon Riley had been working for the Health Department for the last 20 years and was one of the few people to have seen an ergot outbreak. And this one was not following any known pattern. Usually there was a clear path to the source; there was no way that only one person would be affected.  She had gone over the consultants’ home and checked out all the food he had in the cupboards. She had done it to make sure that no stone was left unchecked, but logic dictated that it wasn’t the case source.

That was when they’d had their first break.

Gillian Green, an undergraduate student, had approached her tutor with concern that someone had been messing with her experiment. She was studying the Salem witch-hunt and had decided that the cause of the extreme symptoms of witchcraft might have been caused by Ergot poisoning. She had then been called home, only to return and hear the news on the television about the incident at the Federal building. The buzz was that someone had been poisoned with ergot, and she had checked her experiment, and found it missing, she had suddenly known with certainty that if the ergot was traced back to her experiment it was going to be her grant that was going to suffer. So she had immediately got to the university authorities with her suspicions, concerning her ex boyfriend Gerry Webber. 

0-0-0-0-0

Clare was now getting worried. For the first time, she realized what she had done, or rather, been talked into doing. Now Ralph had dropped her like a stone and she was all too aware that it was her who was in the firing line.

Heather Watkins, meanwhile, had been turning the problem over in her head. She worked with Clare and had seen her come in with the sandwiches from the dinner time run down to the sandwich shop. Before Clare had started at White Collar she had done the run herself, and knew that half of the sandwiches would be rye, so why had only Neal been taken ill. She knew that Clare loved cooking, and had seen the shy way she was with Neal Caffrey. She smiled to herself, now there was a good looking man, and with a nice personality, of course the fact he was a con man was something you hand to keep in mind. But he had a way of talking to you that made you think you were the most important person in the world. She had been the sole focus of his attention once and wow it had been something. So maybe she had cooked him something, after all he needed fattening up; he was so slim; kind of an ‘apple for the teacher’ thing. Now she was beginning to get worried.

Clare had tried to push her away, the moment she mentioned it. "You don’t know what you’re talking about, Heather. I never would do something like that."

"It was an accident right? No one is going to blame you for an accident Right?" When Clare would not look her in the eye, she swore, and felt sick to her stomach. "What have you done, Clare? She demanded"

"Ralph … he asked—"

"Ralph, it’s always Ralph! When are you going to learn what we all know – that he’s...? She broke off what was the use of argument."

"You never have liked him." Clare began to move way. Only to be caught hold of and shaken.

"What the hell did he have you do, Clare?"

"He asked me to make some bread for him and made the sandwich up. He said that it was – it was just for fun, that it would not hurt Caffrey, just keep him stuck in the john for the next six hours, or have him dancing on the tables. A little payback for not knowing his place."

"And you didn’t see anything wrong in poisoning him."

"It wasn’t."

"Clare, it is poisoning. You have to own up, otherwise you’re going down with Ralph, and Burke is going to take you down personally. Neal could have been killed the other day; he was out of his mind and armed.”

Clare shook her head, “no way, they.”

“Clare,” Heather, caught her and gave her a hard shake, “Neal is an ex-con he was armed, if he had started firing, what the hell you think they would have done.”

“Never meant, I... he had to be punished, Caffrey, a criminal he walks around as if he owns the place he.....”

“He’s Burke’s partner and his friend,” she saw the disbelief in her friend’s eyes. “Yeah his friend, I don’t know how it happened, but they’re close, you’re going to have to tell him what happened now.”

Clare tried to pull away, but was held closer, then found herself being bundled into Heather’s car, as  older girl drove them to the hospital.

0-0-0-0-0-0

The hospital

Heather recognized SAC Peter Burke straight away, he was getting two cups of coffee, and Clare still struggling was dragged to him. It was then Heather felt herself stuttering, how the hell did your tell an FBI agent this.

"Err…  Agent, Burke.

"What?" The word was fired at her and she took a step back, nearly colliding with Clare, as Peter Burke rounded on her.

"Sorry, Sir, Mr. Caffrey your consultant?"

"Yes." She felt the brown eyes rake across her and suppressed a shiver, they were hard and unforgiving.

 At  Caffrey’s name the older man had stepped closer, into her personal space, and she almost tripped back only to be caught by him as he dropped the coffee cups.

"What do you know about this?" He was almost shaking her.

“Clare needs to tell you something,” she reached round and pulled her friend in front of her, for a heartbeat, Clare didn’t speak and then she dragged her eyes up from where she had been looking at the floor to look at Peter.”

“I didn’t mean for.”

“Clare,” Heather warned.

“I made the sandwich that Caffrey eat, and I knew it was tainted.”

“Poisoned.” Peter corrected sharply.”

“Yes poisoned.”

“What the hell did Neal ever do to you?”

“N..Nothing, he’s a criminal, he shouldn’t be here, he should be in prison. I wanted him to embarrass you, the department so he would get sent back to prison.” She stepped back into Heather as she saw Peter reaching for his cuffs.

“It wasn’t her idea; Ralph Best put her up to it.” Heather put in quickly.

“Best as in Agent Theo Best’s son.” Peter said.

“Yes, Clare’s his girlfriend.” Heather ignored the wounded martyred look she was getting from her friend; there was no way she was going to let Clare take the fall for her boyfriend.

“You,” Peter, pointed at her, “are going to go back to your apartment, and collect any of the ergot that you have and bring it to the Federal building, if you run, I will hunt you down,” He strode back to the hospital room, he reappeared a few minutes later and with one glare at them stormed out of the hospital.

0-0-0-0-0-0

The Federal Building.

The look of fury on Peter’s face sent agents and civilian worker scattering out of his way, Peter was a respected agent, and usually easygoing but there was no vestige of it now.

The doors of White Collar flew open, and in five strides he had Ralph Best dragged off his seat, and flung face first over the desk as he pulled the younger man’s hands behind his back, then he hauled him to his feet, and seeing Jones, pushed him at him.

 “Read him his rights, the charge is attempted murder of Neal Caffrey.”

“It was a joke that was all Burke, a stupid joke; I didn’t know that Caffrey was going to go off the deep end. My father is SAC Best; he’s not going to....”

“To what Ralph, he’s not going to be able to help you now, your little girlfriend by now is spilling her guts, and you’re going down. Jones, I want this water tight.”

“Yes boss,” he caught Ralph and dragged him off even as he pleaded his case, to every agent he passed.

“Caffrey’s a criminal, he’s filth, he...” his voice trailed off as the doors to the department closed behind them.

Peter looked up to see Director Hughes stood there; the older man gave a shake of the head, and waved Peter up to his office.

Inside, Hughes took a seat, “this is a bad business, Peter.” He paused “How is Neal?”

“He should be home in a couple of days, they just have to make sure that the ergot has left his system, then, he’ll be off for a couple of days, so.”

“Wednesday at the earliest,” Hughes finished for him.  He picked up the file on his desk, and handed it across, “this is the next case I want you to work on, tell El hello from me and I am sure she will have mother henned Neal into submission by then. So bring Neal in on Wednesday.” Hughes smiled “come off Peter, your really don’t think that I don’t know that he spends nights at your house, and that El feeds him whenever you brown bag it. To begin with I thought he was running a con on you.” Hughes held up a hand to stop Peter when he opened his mouth to protest.

“But I soon saw the difference you where making with him, he needs roots and you’re giving him that. So keep on the good work, and make sure he doesn’t steal the silver.”

Peter grinned, “And Reese, you called him Neal three times you’re slipping.”

The Director returned the smile, “you tell him that and I’ll deny it to doomsday, he shrugged, “I admit it the kid gets to you.”

“He’s one of the best,” Peter said, as he left the office.

Reese leaned back in his chair, “One of the best what,” he mused “the best art forger, con man, counterfeiter, or  one of the best in that he was a good man. A mixture of the four he decided with a good man perhaps coming out on top.” The Director picked up the next file and went back to work, confident in the knowledge that his best agent and his wayward consultant would be back to work soon.

The End

Information on Ergot poisoning taken from “Secrets of the dead” by Hugh Miller, page 117 Bewitched, ergot poisoning and the Salem witch hunt. Published by Channel 4 Books.

 

 



[1] Taken from the official FBI website, career section