|sam_storyteller (sam_storyteller) wrote,|
@ 2011-01-23 01:44 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||ao3, white collar|
Rating: PG-13 (Canon ships only; a bit of Neal -> Other People, but nothing concrete.)
Summary: Neal still dreams of the big cons -- but now they have a familiar cast of characters.
BETA CREDIT JESUS: neifile7 beta'd this. SHE BETA'D IT HARD.
Now available at AO3.
The Burke household is quiet, after the somewhat rowdy meeting earlier that night. The sandwiches have been cleared away, dishes done; Jones and Diana left to get the necessary bugging equipment from the FBI, and Sara has gone home to refine the diction in her voice-emulation software as much as possible.
"Get some good sleep," Neal said. "It's important, before a job."
"I'm computer jockeying," Sara replied. "I could do the actual job in my sleep."
"Still. You'll see," Neal said, and he knew she would. Tomorrow, when they con Bilal into contacting Larssen, she'll feel it. They all will; not just the rush of adrenaline but the hyper-awareness, where everything gets bright and sharp. If you're not on top of your game, you'll get lost in it. Neal knows.
Now if only he could follow his own advice.
He turns over on the narrow guest-bedroom mattress, trying to find a comfortable way to sleep. He's never been able to sleep well the night before a con, especially one where he's singing backup, where he's not in control. He'd much rather be out there harassing Bilal or running Mozzie's jammer, but his role in this job is clear, and there's no use chafing about it. Makes it hard to sleep, is all.
Mozzie's downstairs, sawing logs on the foldaway bed in Peter and Elizabeth's sofa. For once he made no fuss, which Neal is grateful for; after he helped Mozzie onto the mattress, Mozzie grinned wide and said, "Hey, this has great lumbar support!"
Neal used to track Mozzie's paranoid-neurotic upswings and downswings; when he's working a con there's not much that'll bother him, but when he's bored or upset or anxious he'll suddenly develop new and temporary food allergies, behavioral tics, strange habits. (The lactose intolerance thing is real, as is the shellfish allergy. The rest is -- well, it's real in the moment.) Mozzie's doing a lot better now that he's back in a game, any game.
Peter and Elizabeth are sleeping, no doubt, the sleep of the just and morally upright. Poor kids, they really don't know what they're missing. Other than the insomnia, of course.
Burke's Six. He'd said it earlier and he'd known the rightness of it then. This is Peter's crew, Peter's con -- Peter's sting, he corrects himself, with a mental eyeroll in Peter's direction. A six-man job is complex, but Neal and Mozzie have a good bond, and so do all three FBI agents; Sara is quick, and she likes Peter, so there's trust there. Neal thinks maybe she trusts him a little too, now. Just a little. This will be their first con, the six of them, but they're tight. They'll pull it off.
What he couldn't do with a six-man crew like this. They could rule the world.
He's come up with complex heists before, ones that require four people at minimum, but that's the problem with big crews. You don't need it for most jobs -- he can knock over a bank solo and steal a painting with one, possibly two skilled accomplices. Gems just aren't valuable enough to split seven ways. He'd considered hitting a casino, once; Ocean's Eleven is a fun movie but Danny Ocean, in Neal Caffrey's professional opinion, was a hack job. Neal could do it with nine, as long as they were the right nine, and he'd have liked to have proved it.
Six...well. There is one job. It'd be better with seven, but six could make it work.
Neal grins to himself in the dark. Better than functional -- it'd be fun.
Peter wouldn't be swayed by the take. Jones might, conceivably; he likes con work. Sara likes money and she likes status; she could be bought, especially for her share of a hundred and twenty million dollars. Diana would come in if Peter did, but flipping Peter would be the hardest part of the whole thing.
Oh, but if Peter agreed, that would be the most fun of all.
The Cultural Preservation Institute Museum was in Midtown, and unlike some of its near neighbors -- particularly MOMA -- it was an unpretentious building. It had begun as a single brownstone in a row of brownstones and gradually expanded, while around it the rest of the residential neighborhood had slowly transformed into offices and storefronts. The lovely, antique row of facades had been maintained, though the interiors of the brownstones were gutted, renovated, and connected. Starting at the east entrance, you could walk through the CPIM from one building to the next, via a network of narrow hallways adorned with the work of American artists -- some of it paintings, some reproductions, some murals done on commission. The Jackson Pollock hallway was one of the prize exhibits. The CPIM boasted proudly of being the heartbeat of American culture and history, and while it may not have been large, it had a certain prestige.
The New Wing of the CPIM was an ugly, blocky thing, built onto the back of the museum to provide administrative offices. The vault housed in it, so the CPIM said, was the most secure storage unit outside of Fort Knox.
Ten minutes ago, a tall man in a sharp suit had walked up to the vault and casually leaned on the door, tripping the pressure alarm. Now he sat across a large, ornate desk from Dee Palmer, the sharp-eyed curator.
"James Graham," he said, offering her his business card. "Independent security consulting."
"Mr. Graham," she replied, ignoring the card. He dropped it on her desk and sat back. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't swear out a complaint of criminal trespass against you."
"Aw, c'mon, I wasn't doing any harm," he said, grinning. He was just approaching middle age, fit and good looking, no grey in his brown hair; he practically bled confidence.
"I don't think that's a good reason," she replied.
"How about this, then: your security's bad," he shot back, sobering a little. "With no plan and no partner I got all the way to your vault before your boys caught me."
"But they did catch you," she said, leaning on the desk, hands folded.
"Because I let them. I'm not interested in your vault, except in a professional capacity."
"Do tell," she said.
"Honestly? Work's a little thin on the ground," he answered. "I could use a federally-supported contract. I'm stumping for business, and you need my skills."
There was a moment of uncertainty there, and he caught it, but before he could make any use of it she let it fade into professionalism.
"We have a contracted security firm," she said.
"I don't provide rent-a-cops. I'm a consultant. I tell you what's wrong and how to fix it. Call it putting myself out of a job, but..." he shrugged. "There's always someone who needs better protection."
"And why should we hire you?" she asked.
"Experience. I have fifteen years at the FBI under my belt, in fraud and art theft," he said, offering her a second business card, this one with an FBI shield logo on it. She accepted it. "You can call my old boss, Risa Hughes; she'll verify me. I've been consulting independently for three years. I can't give you a list of my clients but I have letters of recommendation."
She set the business card aside and turned back to him.
"Mr. Graham, as ingenious as your pitch has been, we're not interested in a security consult at this time, and we have no budget for it. I understand a salesman like yourself needs...an attention-grabber to pique my interest, so I'll let the trespassing slide, but if I see you back here again I will call the police."
"Think about my offer," he said, rising to leave.
"I already have," she assured him. "Lawrence will see you out."
Lawrence, an enormous, imposing security officer, not only saw James Graham out, he saw him onto the sidewalk and down the block. Graham thanked him, tipped him, and strolled away cheerfully.
Two blocks away, in a small coffeehouse full of dreadful local art, he ordered an espresso and sat across a small cafe table from a dark-haired man reading the newspaper. He nudged a narrow-brimmed fedora to one side and set his espresso down. The man let the paper flop over, giving him a raised eyebrow.
"You can pretend to be disinterested all you want," Peter Burke said, "but I can see you vibrating excitedly from here."
Neal folded the paper and tossed it aside. "So? How'd it go?"
Peter grinned. "She bit. Not hard enough to hire James Graham, but hard enough to think of him if she has...issues with her current security."
"Imagine that," Neal said, beaming.
They'd need to wait a few days to put step two in motion. Preferably a week.
Neal stares up at the ceiling, imagining it. Moving through the city like shadows, carrying this secret, making plans; this is his fantasy after all, and while flipping Peter might be fun, in his fantasy nobody has a job, they don't go in to the FBI or chase bad guys. They just sort of...exist in static, for him to play with. Neal hosts a dinner party at June's place; Peter does lunch with Diana and Jones; Mozzie and Elizabeth play parcheesi (Elizabeth makes seven, and really it is better with seven, so Neal has no qualms about dancing her into his little dream). Neal and Sara go to art galleries together, but it's not a dating thing. Well, maybe it's a dating thing, an awkward dating thing, because that's fun, but mostly they just walk close together and Neal points out fakes and reproductions.
He stretches his arms, folding his hands behind his head, studying the little webwork of minute cracks in the guest bedroom ceiling. The room smells like old books and fresh linens, and it feels private, as if it's a whole separate world from the rest of reality. It feels safe, which is odd, because Neal doesn't usually like safe.
"On a scale of one to ten, how risky is this?" Peter asked, and Neal batted Peter's hands away from his backpack, because if Peter checked the straps one more time Neal was seriously going to strangle him.
"Wait, is one risky or is ten risky?" Neal asked in reply.
"One is safe. Ten is risky," Peter said, and Neal jerked Sara's pack away before Peter could touch it.
"Low seven," Neal said, pushing Peter out of the room and slamming the door. From the corner, Sara snickered.
"Why do I have to stay home?" Peter demanded, through the door.
"Because you're the mastermind, we've been over this," Neal called back.
"I don't want to be the mastermind!"
Neal opened the door a crack. "Too bad. You had your fun, it's our turn now."
"I don't like it," Peter grumbled.
"Would you rather this be Caffrey's Seven? Because I can stage a coup," Neal said. Peter looked sullen.
"No," he admitted, and then on reflection, "Jesus God, no."
"Thank you," Neal told him, and shut the door. Sara finished pulling on her shoes -- Neal had made a lot of jokes about black spike stilettos, but he couldn't fault her choice of black army surplus combat boots.
"Well?" she asked, standing up, hands on hips.
"You look perfect," Neal said.
There was a knock on the door. Neal jerked his thumb at it, then went to open it.
"Okay, Jane Bond, are yo....oh," he finished, staring at her.
Neal closes his eyes, shakes his head. There's fantasy and then there's fantasy, and he's pretty sure if he mentally dresses Elizabeth in skintight matte black, she will hear his thoughts from across the house and come smother him with a pillow (or Peter will). Rewind, erase, fast forward.
Mozzie was in a rented SUV down the street, and Diana and Sara were already there as well, doing a final inventory, when Neal stopped Elizabeth and Jones at the back door of the Burke house.
"Remember," he said, "this has to look like a one-man show. If your partner's working, you shouldn't be. Once I'm on the move, the two of you need to sit on your hands. If something goes wrong, alert us over the radio but don't act until I tell you, or until Peter does. Peter?" he asked.
"Yep," Peter replied, voice coming down the radio in Neal's ear and from across the room simultaneously. There were three laptops sitting in front of him on the coffee table: one with all the recon data up on the screen, the other two still dark, awaiting their turn. Neal gave him a nod. Peter nodded back, looking nervous, and the three of them disappeared out the door.
There were two ways into the CPI Museum's administrative offices: a door activated by keycard, set in the rear, or through the museum, which had floor pressure-sensors that could only be disabled from the administrative offices themselves. They knew, thanks to some daring recon Mozzie did, that all the camera surveillance was digital, fed through a server before it went back out to the monitors. Sara had a hardware patch that would freeze the feed before it got recorded by the server, but it had to be plugged into the server itself. Once the right feeds were frozen, it'd be showtime for Neal.
Jones, unaccountably, seemed more nervous than Elizabeth, who narrated quietly as if she'd been breaking into buildings her whole life. Faking a keycard RFID signature wasn't hard, and that got them into the offices; from there it was just a matter of dodging two cameras until they got to the server room -- easily done. Neal, whose dark turtleneck and black jeans weren't exactly going to make him stand out in New York, loitered nearby, carefully out of range of any exterior surveillance.
"Okay," Jones said into the radio. "Cameras one through forty five are going down now. This better work, Sara."
"Relax, it'll work," Sara assured him. Neal could see her sitting in the SUV, but only as a shadow. "Elizabeth, reroute the feed."
"Yep, got it," Elizabeth said. "Peter, sweetie?"
"Hang on, this stupid..." Peter sounded frustrated. He wasn't big on technology. Neal bit his tongue. "Okay. I can see like a million tiny screens. Honey, throw something past a camera."
Neal heard a couple of laughs on the radio, and then a triumphant Ha! from Peter.
"Live feed totally saw that," Peter said. "Dead feed to the security monitors looks the same. We're in. Neal, show's all yours."
Neal took a deep breath. "Okay. Elizabeth, Jones, this is going to be a twenty-minute run, just like we practiced. I want you alert the whole time. The second I give you the go sign, I want you running. Got it?"
"Loud and clear," Jones replied.
"Ready," she said.
"Diana and Sara?"
"Already on our way," Diana answered.
"Let me know when you're in position," Neal said, still walking casually towards the east entrance of the museum. The doors on this end were bolted, but it only took about thirty seconds to pick the lock. The foyer had a camera -- now nonfunctional -- but no pressure plates; Neal stepped inside, slid up against the wall where he wouldn't be seen from the street, and pulled his mask over his face. He gave the camera a little wave.
"Don't get cocky, Neal," Peter said.
"Cocky," Neal said, "is what I'm all about."
"Halfway to the vault," Sara said. "Boys, stop flirting."
"Well, I could flirt with you instead, if you want," Neal answered, pushing the inner door open and immediately stepping up onto a pedestal of one of the decorative pillars inside. The door swung shut; Neal hung there, getting his bearings, and then swarmed up the pillar effortlessly. From there it was a two-foot leap to the network of pipes hanging in the ceiling. The fire suppression system had been upgraded since the museum's early days, but they hadn't cleared away the sprinklers -- something about preserving the building's integrity, Neal had stopped listening to the architectural historian he was pumping for information at that point. The sprinkler pipes creaked, but there wasn't any water in them; even if he knocked against one of the sprinklers, nothing would happen.
"Did anyone ever tell you, you make sex noises when you're working?" Sara asked.
"No chatter on the line," Neal grunted.
"Thanks, now that's all I can hear," Peter sighed.
"And we're at the vault," Diana interrupted pointedly.
"Peter, back to you," Neal said, huffing a little as he went hand-after-hand along the pipes.
"Peter, are you sure nobody can see us? Because it's pretty brightly lit in here," Diana said.
"I'm looking at the camera feeds," Peter said. "I promise, I'm the only one who can -- " he stopped, snickering.
"Did you just flip off my husband?" Elizabeth asked.
"Blew him a kiss," Diana answered smugly. Neal reached the end of the first room and dropped down to dangle by his fingertips in the doorway, then swung sideways onto another column and started the whole process over.
"We're starting work," Sara said.
It took Neal another ten minutes to get to the secure room where the Equinox was kept, while Sara and Diana quietly went about their business near the vault. He dangled upside-down from the sprinkler pipes while he picked the lock; he swung the door open and used its leverage to shove himself onto another column.
There were no sprinklers here, but there were a couple of benches; he jumped from the column to a bench and settled down, crosslegged, sighing with relief as he stretched his aching arms.
"I'm in position," he said.
"We need two more minutes," Diana answered.
Neal stayed still on the bench, studying the Equinox on its little velvet mount. Even in low light, encased in a tube of bulletproof glass that ran floor to ceiling, it sparkled. The biggest diamond ever found in the United States, the most beautiful oval-cut forty-one carat carbonado, deeply hued, almost opaque black. Some people thought carbonado diamonds came from the stars, from asteroid impacts with Earth, and Neal was willing to believe it; the Equinox was ethereally lovely. He'd always wanted to steal it. There it was, six feet away. Waiting for him.
"Boss, are you getting anything?" Diana asked.
"Video just came up," Peter said. Neal pictured him, sitting at the coffee table, staring at the lit-up screen of the third laptop. "I have eyes all over the place in there."
"Hot," Diana said, the amusement evident in her voice. "You should have five views."
"Yep -- can you mess with camera four at all?" Peter asked. "Left -- left -- there," he said, just as a squeal cut over their headsets. Neal heard Elizabeth let out a startled eep!
"Sorry," Sara said, as it died down. "Feedback from my radio. Peter, you should have audio now too."
"Testing," Peter said, and Neal heard two swift clicks; Diana and Sara turning off the microphone feeds on their radios. After a second, Peter's voice came back warm and pleased. "Yep, I hear you loud and clear. Neal, it's yours."
"Elizabeth, cut the transmitter to Peter's computer," Neal said. He heard a sharp breath from her as she tugged it free.
"Feed's dead," Peter said.
"Diana, Sara, Elizabeth, get clear," Neal ordered.
There were rustling noises, and the sound of soft breathing; Neal held his own breath until he heard Mozzie say, "Charlie's Angels have landed."
"Call us that again and I'll kick your ass," Diana said in the background.
"Everybody but Peter and Jones, turn your mics off," Neal said. "Jones, check?"
"Loud and clear," Jones replied.
"And I read. Peter?"
"I'm here," Peter said.
"I read," Neal repeated. "Jones, I'm in the blind spot. On my mark you pull that thing and run. The minute you're out the door, give me the cue."
There was a tense moment where all they could hear was Jones's breath and his footsteps; there was a soft thunk, a second one, and Jones said, "I'm clear."
"Neal," Peter said. "Be careful."
"Careful's no fun," Neal answered, and stepped off the bench onto the floor.
Alarms went more or less immediately, but Neal ignored them; he had, by his count, twenty seconds before security would reach the access doors to the museum, and another fifteen seconds after that before they got to the secure room. Plenty of time.
He unstrapped the crowbar he'd tied to his thigh and swung it, hard, against the glass; the shock made his bones rattle, but only the barest hint of a scuff appeared. He smashed it again, and then hooked the crowbar in the crevice between the glass tube and the little access door that could be used to remove the diamond, trying to pry the door open. No luck. He jammed the edge of the bar into the crack, looked up, and saw shadows moving.
Neal let go of the crowbar, turned tail, and ran like hell.
He can almost feel the pump of adrenaline, the breathless joy of pursuit, even lying still and quiet in the bed. Neal wouldn't play with the security guards as much as he'd like, but he'd play just enough to annoy Peter, to elicit that bark of "Neal! Cut the crap!" that would tell him it really was time to get out of there.
Neal knows he can lose a tail. Unlike the others, he wouldn't get the luxury of a ride home; he'd have to escape, blend in, and then take the subway. Still, that can be exciting too.
He wriggles his shoulders happily. He's enjoying this little story; as a kid he used to tell himself stories at night to get to sleep, and these days he'll go over cons in his head for the same reason. This isn't one he's messed with much, but making it about the people he knows, the people he's going to run a con with tomorrow, is infinitely fun. He can hear Peter's commanding tone when he asks for status reports; it's something he gets from Peter every day at work. He can hear Elizabeth's excitement, too, familiar from whenever she's asking them about a case.
He can also hear noise on the landing, suddenly, and he tenses. After a second, there's a gentle scrabble at his door and a soft whine. Neal sits up and grins in the dark.
"Hey, Satch," he whispers softly, opening the door to let the big lab slink into the room. Satchmo immediately beelines for the bed and hops up on it, curling up in the warm spot where Neal had been lying. Neal shoos him onto the blankets, gets a reproachful look from Satchmo, and slides under the covers, rolling onto his side. Satchmo curls up in the curve of Neal's legs and props his head on Neal's hip, exhaling happily. Neal rests one hand on his head, closing his eyes.
Neal didn't talk again, too busy running and then hiding, until he reached the subway. Just before descending, he paused.
"I'm clear," he said, and heard various cheers and exhalations of relief over the radio.
"Good work, Neal," Peter told him.
"I'm switching off. See you guys soon," Neal replied, and took his earbud out, tucking it in a pocket. He'd already left his mask and turtleneck in his pack, which he'd ditched in a dumpster. By morning it would be either on its way to the landfill or split amongst a couple of homeless guys, he was sure.
When he arrived, Elizabeth gave him a welcome-back hug, Diana punched him in the shoulder, and Peter sat back, grinning at him from the couch.
"Anything yet?" Neal asked. Peter shook his head. "Well, they probably have guards on the diamond. Bet they're calling the police."
"Yep, we had siren noise a few minutes ago," Peter said. Neal leaned over his shoulder to study the camera feeds from the vault hallway. All quiet.
"I'm disgusting and sore and I smell like subway," Neal said, leaning back. "I need a shower. I'm stealing yours, and then I'm stealing your guest bed."
"Thief," Elizabeth said affectionately.
"Yep, it's down time," Peter added. "Go home, everyone, get some rest. You've earned it."
If this were a different sort of fantasy, Neal would be in the middle of his shower when he'd hear the door open and Sara -- or Elizabeth, ooh, or Peter -- would slip into it with him. But this is a con fantasy, and Neal's lying in the Burke guest bed with their dog sleeping and drooling on him, so it feels a little inappropriate.
Neal sighs and redirects his attention to the con at hand.
Neal woke late the following morning; he guessed Peter and Elizabeth had let him sleep. When he came downstairs there was hot oatmeal, sausage, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Neither Peter nor Elizabeth were watching the laptop, which meant they must have intel, but Neal was starving and so he didn't bother asking until he'd inhaled a bowl of oatmeal and a few mouthfuls of egg.
"So?" he asked, as Peter came in from the kitchen, carrying a plate in one hand and a notebook in the other. "Dish the dirt."
"Full report," Peter said, tossing the notebook down and sliding it across to him. "They put the Equinox in the vault around seven this morning. We have the vault code, a recording of both vocal passwords, and we know who carries each of two keycards used."
"Look at this," Elizabeth adds, pulling a photo printout from the notebook. "Their RFID cards open the vaults. The same ones that open the back door of the offices."
"Amateurs," Neal snorted. "They probably rotate the vault keycode daily, though."
"Well, we'll have enough tape to know, soon," Peter said.
"So, what next?" Elizabeth asked.
"Now, we wait," Peter answered, sipping his orange juice. "Either they'll call James Graham, or they'll call his boss to confirm his bona fides, or the news will get out and James Graham can call them."
"Last resort," Neal said, pointing a fork at him. "If Graham calls them, it looks suspicious."
"Hell, Neal, it looks a little suspicious anyway," Peter said. Neal reached out to the opposite end of the table, currently covered in books and schematics, and picked up an envelope.
"Graham's alibi," he said. "Receipt says he was having dinner with his lovely wife the evening of the theft, and afterwards they went to a nightclub, where he ran a tab on his credit card."
"You're a little too good at forging this stuff," Peter said, studying the contents of the envelope.
"Well, a boy has to make his way in the world somehow," Neal replied with a grin. "Are you ready to go back in as Graham?"
"I'm starting to like him," Peter replied. "He's kind of an asshole, but he means well."
"Freud would have a field day with you," Elizabeth told him.
"Freud had a field day with everyone he met," Peter answered easily. "I'm going to get some sleep, I have to drive Jones and Mozzie to the airport this afternoon. Your packages arrive?"
"Yep. There's one waiting for Mozzie in Osaka, post-restante, and Jones's is in the safe in a charming little pensione in Florence. I hope his Italian is as good as he thinks it is."
"Jones'll do fine," Peter said. "These forgeries better be something else, Neal."
"They're perfect," Neal answered. "They'll pass any test you can think of and a few you've probably never heard of. Trust me, when we pull this off, Jones and Mozzie are going to have no trouble selling them."
Peter grunted, always the worrier.
"Go sleep," Elizabeth said, kissing him on the cheek. "We'll call you if anything happens."
Neal wishes he could sleep. As entertaining as this all is, the minutes are ticking down.