sam_storyteller: (White Collar)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2011-01-23 13:45
Entry tags:

The Seven Man Con 2/2

Title: The Seven Man Con 2/2
Rating: PG-13 (Canon ships only; a bit of Neal -> Other People, but nothing concrete.)
Warnings: None.
Summary: Neal still dreams of the big cons -- but now they have a familiar cast of characters.
BETA CREDIT JESUS: [livejournal.com profile] neifile7 beta'd this. SHE BETA'D IT HARD.

Chapter One

***

Peter's patience in the days that followed, his serene placidity, was reassuring. There was no report of the attempted theft in the newspaper, probably by design; the video feeds showed that the Equinox remained in the vault, and when Elizabeth went to the museum to do a little recon, she reported back that there was a sign in the Equinox's display case that it had been temporarily removed from display -- no explanation or reasoning provided.

On the third day, Diana called. Peter put her on speakerphone.

"Dee Palmer, the Curator of the CPIM, just called Risa Hughes," she said, and Neal saw Peter smile. "She wanted to verify James Graham's employment with the FBI."

"In that case, a call to James can't be far behind," Peter said.

"How are Jones and Mozzie?"

"Mozzie says the food is good," Neal said. "Jones is seeing the sights. I think he's liking Florence."

"Nice for some," Diana groused.

"Next time we pull a hundred and twenty million dollar theft, Diana, I promise you can be the one to go to Florence," Peter said. "Be ready to roll, we're coming up fast on the next phase."

"You know me, boss," Diana answered.

"Yep, I do. Call you when I hear anything," Peter said, and hung up.

He did get a call from Dee Palmer that day, asking to meet in her office; Neal helped Peter dress, making sure he looked snappy, and then he and Elizabeth went shopping and to a late lunch while Peter met with the CPIM brass. Wearing a wire was much too dangerous; they'd just have to assume he was getting the job done until he called to let them know he was out.

"I spoke to Ms. Palmer," Peter said, when Neal answered the phone over dessert. "I told her I was sorry to hear about the real break-in, and I'd do her a pro-bono. Told her they should have a facsimile of the diamond made and put on display in its place."

"You give her the names of some guys who could do good copywork?" Neal asked, grinning at Elizabeth.

"An armored car is picking up the diamond tomorrow morning," Peter said. "It'll be out for a week while they make the copy, and then the copy and the original will come back to the museum together. Only the curator will know which is on display and which is in the vault."

"So, tomorrow night," Neal said.

"Day after tomorrow," Peter corrected.

"Day after tomorrow," Neal repeated. Elizabeth caught Neal's eye and made an "ok" symbol with her fingers. "Elizabeth's going to call her friend at the Times," he added.

"I think that's a great idea," Peter said, chuckling. "Where are you guys? I'm starving."

"Peter, we had a civilized lunch sitting down at a table, with water glasses and wine and everything," Neal said. "Make yourself happy, get a hot dog from some terrible food cart, we'll see you back at your place."

"Snob," Peter said.

"Later, Everyman," Neal answered, and hung up. Elizabeth was already calling her journalist friend, warning him to keep an ear on his police scanner; Neal had to get in touch with Diana and Sara, to let them know he was going back in.

"You ready for this?" he asked Elizabeth, as they paid the bill and walked out of the restaurant.

"Bring it on," Elizabeth said with a grin.

***

Outside of the bedroom, there's more noise; footsteps, then the flush of a toilet. Neal smiles. Just barely, he can hear Mozzie's snores through the floorboards. He listens for the sound of Peter and Elizabeth's bedroom door closing, but it doesn't come; instead the footsteps edge along the stairs, and Neal closes his eyes, letting his face relax, just before he hears his own door open. Through closed lids he can see a little light coming in from the hallway.

He hears Peter's low laugh. It must be a little funny, seeing Satchmo curled up with him on the bed.

"Satchmo," Peter calls softly. "Satch, c'mere buddy."

Satchmo, stalwart, doesn't move. Peter sighs, and a second later the door closes.

"Good dog," Neal murmurs, rubbing Satchmo's ears.

***

They'd put a guard on the vault, up until the morning that two heavily armed men came to collect the Equinox in an armored car. After that, of course, there was no point; the target of the theft was gone, and the thief wouldn't be able to get into the vault, even if he had somehow made it into the secure room with the Equinox's display.

Mozzie was in Japan, so it was Diana's turn at the wheel the evening they went back in. Neal could have taken her inside with him, but Elizabeth was shorter, and already knew what to do.

The heist did not go as planned.

Neal had swung by the museum right at closing, to meet with the curator and her assistant and assure them both, on Mr. Graham's behalf, that the diamond was secure and under heavy guard. This was probably the truth; Peter had hooked them up with a genuine reproductionist, someone not even in on the game, to create a fake Equinox and store the real one securely. Neal had asked for a tour of the offices and a look at the vault, like a hungry kid who loved his job, and slyly lifted their ID cards as they left. He'd counted on them not noticing until the following morning, but apparently Palmer, at least, had noticed and called security to have her RFID changed. When he and Elizabeth tried to card in with Palmer's card, the door remained steadfastly locked.

"Sara, we have a problem," Neal said, as they carefully crept through the blind spots to the server room. "Palmer's card's been reprogrammed. The assistant's card still works, and I have the card emulator, but it could take hours to randomize to her new number. Hell, it could take days."

"The RFID codes on the keycards, read them off to me," Sara said, and Neal stopped, leaning in the doorway while Elizabeth ducked into the server room.

"Two star four, nine two nine eight six," Neal read. "That's Palmer's."

"And her assistant?"

"Two star four, nine three zero one two," Neal said.

"Okay, go back out to the door and try to get in again. Start the emulator at two star four, nine three zero one three," Sara said. "If they go in ascending order -- "

"Gotcha," Neal said. "Elizabeth, are you okay here alone?"

"I'm good," Elizabeth said. Neal took a second to guiltily, slyly appreciate her ass sticking up from under the server cage, and went slowly, carefully back to the door, cards in hand.

He started the emulator and let it run in the door, trying each number, while he listened to Elizabeth go through the same motions as last time -- plugging in the feed to Peter's computer, checking with Peter to make sure it was live. Just as she was about to plug in the patch that would freeze the security monitors, the door beeped. Neal looked down at the RFID emulator.

"Two star four, nine three five one five," he breathed. "Sara, you got that?"

"Got it," Sara said. "Keep that number in the emulator."

"Uh, El?" Peter said, as Neal crept carefully back to the server room.

"Hon?" Elizabeth asked. "Are you seeing the cameras freeze?"

"No, I'm not," Peter said, sounding worried. "I just saw part of Neal's hand in one of the security monitors."

"Shit," Neal breathed, freezing, waiting for an alarm to go.

"You want me to create a diversion?" Diana asked.

"Not yet," Peter said. "I'm not seeing any movement along the corridors. I don't think security caught it."

"Everything that can go wrong will," Neal murmured.

"Sorry, Neal, I didn't copy," Peter said.

"Nothing. Old con cliché," Neal replied.

"They must have figured out how we froze the cameras," Sara said. Neal could hear frantic typing in the background. "Guys, I don't know if we can disable the security cameras."

"They're all over the vault," Neal said. "If we can't disable them, we're gonna have to scrap this and come back in some other night."

"They'll know we've been back," Peter said. "A couple hundred failed RFID attempts does draw attention."

"How fast can you get the vault open?" Sara asked.

"Thirty seconds," Neal answered. "I can be in and out in under a minute, but it'll take another two minutes to get out of here, and there's Elizabeth to think about."

"Four minutes thirty is a long time to keep the guards away from the monitors," Diana said.

Neal paused. "I have an idea," he said. "We can leave the feed to Peter's laptop in the computer this time, right? It won't be traceable back to us?"

"Sure," Sara said. "Are there prints on it?"

"Nope. Only been handled with gloves," Elizabeth answered.

"Then yes."

"Okay," Neal said. "I'm going to re-create last week's disturbance."

"Neal, no," Peter said. "We'll find another -- "

"Nuh uh," Neal interrupted. "As soon as I give the signal that the guards are in pursuit, Elizabeth can go down to the vault and get it done."

Elizabeth was already emerging from under the servers. Neal passed her his tools -- the RFID emulator and the assistant's ID card, the miniature digital recorder, and the diamond blade. He fitted the head mount with the mini cam on it to her forehead and adjusted the strap.

"I'll pull a bolt and hide like last time, Elizabeth gets out clean with the take," Neal continued. "They'll have to call the cops, it'll be beautiful. It's just what we wanted, Peter."

"Neal, you can't risk yourself again -- Elizabeth," Peter said. "You're not supposed to -- "

"It's okay, sweetie," Elizabeth said. Neal grinned at her. "I'm wearing a face mask, I'll be fine."

"Peter, come on. We can't have come this far to let a couple of security cameras and some rent-a-cops stop us," Neal said urgently.

They waited in silence, all of them, the only noise down the line Peter's breathing and the click of Sara's keyboard.

"Okay, do it," Peter said. "If you get my wife arrested, Neal, I swear to God -- "

"Silence on the line," Neal ordered, and even Peter fell quiet.

***

Neal enjoys being the hero, the center of attention. Hell, if he'd thought about it, he'd probably have arranged it this way in the first place.

He calms himself, because Satchmo snuffles and whines every time he tenses up, and instead thinks about Elizabeth, steady-handed, cool-headed.

***

When Neal opened the door between the administrative offices and the museum, he jumped as far as he could into the room, rolling and coming up to his feet in an instant. They'd see it on the monitors as well as hear the alarm; he hid in the shadows and waited until he saw two guards before he started running.

Dodging, running, distracting, that was all instinct; Neal had been chased by some of the best cops in the world, including Peter Burke, and he knew how to keep two men busy. He thought instead about Elizabeth, taking his marks from her; she was at the vault, she said, she was fitting the RFID cards into place, entering the digital code on the vault's keypad. He heard the passwords being spoken, played from the digital voice-recorder, and then the pop and hiss of the vault opening.

"I'm in," she said, as Neal watched security run right past the doorway to the room he was in. He darted out, whistled, and ran on. "Found the Eagle. I'm cutting the case now."

"Fast as you can," Neal said, dodging around a display case and narrowly missing getting Tased. He really hated Tasers.

"Finished cutting. I have the Eagle," Elizabeth said. Neal pictured her -- standing there in the darkened vault, surrounded by priceless treasures of American history, holding a small gold object up to the light.

"Get out, get out, get out," Peter said breathlessly.

"I'm going," Elizabeth said, and Neal could hear her running. "Neal, sweetie?"

"Cue me when you're out the door," Neal said.

"I'm out," Elizabeth gasped, still running. Neal turned to make for the east entrance --

And found two armed guards on it, probably new security measures since the last theft. He ducked quickly around a wall, but the other two guards would be here soon.

The ground-floor windows of the museum had been boarded over long before. From the outside, each window was a beautiful work of stained glass, lit by a little lamp behind it; from the inside, all you could see of where they'd been were faux stones over panels blocking access.

The upper floor of the museum, on the other hand...

"Peter, how pissed are you going to be at me if I jump out a second story window?" Neal asked, carefully edging his way around the grand staircase and slithering up it on all fours, while the guards ran around below him.

"Very, very pissed," Peter replied.

"You've got eyes, what's going on?"

"Armed guards are helping search. Guard one is with them. Guard two's doubling back for the monitors," Peter said breathlessly. Neal reached the second floor and looked around. "Police scanner says they're dispatching cars, they know something's going on. Neal, you have about two minutes before you're in serious trouble."

There was a tapestry hanging on one wall, an ugly thing of mediocre quality at best. Neal reached for it, tugged it down, and took a quick glance at the plate next to it. It had been embroidered with scenes of The American Civil War.

"Sorry, Lincoln," he said, and wrapped himself up in it.

"Neal, what are you -- NEAL!" Peter yelled, as Neal covered his face with the rough fabric and took a running leap through the window. As soon as he was through, he let the tapestry go, clinging to the corners. The drag would do something, if not much.

The fall seemed to take forever; Neal wrestled with the stomach-dropping vertigo, felt every fiber of the cloth under his fingers, heard every second of Peter's angry No! over the radio.

He landed, as he'd planned, in the decorative shrubbery under the window.

"Unh, that's gonna hurt in the morning," he groaned, crawling out of the tapestry and over the edge of a railing. He collapsed on the grass, struggling to get his breath back.

"They heard the glass, they're heading for the east exit. Diana, that diversion -- " Peter started.

"Already on it," Diana said.

"Keep me in the loop," Neal mumbled, staggering to his feet.

"Diana's on the east exit, blocking their progress," Peter said, and Neal could hear Diana talking fast, telling the cops she was worried, she'd seen someone fall out a window. "She's slowing them down but Neal, you gotta run."

"Trying," Neal gasped, his lungs still uncooperative. He stumbled onto the pavement, dropped briefly to his knees, got up and took off again.

"They're past Diana. Neal, where are you?"

"Around the corner, heading west," Neal said. His vision was greying out. "Peter -- "

"The SUV's in a camera blind spot a block and a half west. Elizabeth, Sara, duck your heads and pop the trunk," Peter ordered. Neal stumbled as he ran, but he managed to stay upright; he kept trying to scan the street for witnesses, but luck seemed to be on his side. When he saw the SUV sitting there, rear hatch open, he nearly cried in relief. He tumbled into it and pulled it shut after him and lay there in the tiny crawlspace between trunk door and backseat, panting.

"Sweetie, are you -- "

"Heads down!" Peter barked, as Elizabeth peered over the edge of the seat at him. "Diana, what's your location?"

"They went north, I'm still here," Diana said.

"Can you get away without looking like you're running?"

"No problem, boss," Diana said. "I'm on radio silence until I reach the car."

"Okay, this is what we're doing," Peter said. "Elizabeth and Sara, keep your heads down. Neal, are you okay?"

"Fine," Neal gasped. "Breathless."

"Keep trying. Diana, when you get to the car, start it up and drive slowly, casually away. We need any traffic cams to make it seem like you're the only one in the car. You're just a passing witness," Peter said. His voice was soothing, calming. Neal felt like he could breathe again. "I want you over the bridge from Manhattan before any of you even think about getting up, understood?"

"Not a problem," Neal murmured. There was blood running down his arm; he held it up a little and picked a small shard of glass out of it, pressing his hand over the cut to stop it bleeding.

He heard Diana return and open the car door; after a second the engine fired up, and Neal felt movement.

"Neal, how you doing back there?" Peter asked.

"Better," Neal said. "Couple of cuts and bruises, but I'll be okay."

"You are a crazy son of a bitch."

"That's what makes it fun," Neal answered. "Elizabeth, how's our baby look?"

"Beautiful," Elizabeth said. "It's gorgeous, Neal. I'd pay ten million for it myself."

"Couple of months, you'd even be able to afford that price tag," Diana put in.

A thought struck Neal as funny, and he laughed, high and nervous.

"Neal?" Peter asked over the radio.

"I was just thinking," Neal said. "It's too bad we can't steal the Equinox too. I know, I know I said gems weren't worth it, and it'd be a sin to cut up the Equinox, but still...it's awfully shiny."

"A nice, shiny MacGuffin," Peter reminded him.

"You learn fast, young apprentice," Neal said, grinning wide and a little sneaky in the dark. "Hey, can I at least get out of the trunk? I'm getting a cramp back here."

"Not until we're out of Manhattan," Diana said.

***

It occurs to Neal that he probably shouldn't have con fantasies where everything goes wrong and he ends up jumping out a second-story window into some shrubbery. On the other hand, it's a good backup plan if he says so himself (and he does, because nobody else will).

Plus, it's an adventure. And Neal does love adventure.

***

When they finally reached home base, Diana dropped Elizabeth and Sara off in the alley, then sedately parked the SUV in front of the house and helped Neal up the steps to the front door. Peter was waiting inside, a storm on his face.

"You are getting your ass kicked," Peter informed Neal, who had a gauze pad from the car's first-aid kit pressed to his temple. "As soon as you're not falling apart, I'm kicking your ass."

"I'll give you a rain check," Neal said, easing himself onto the couch and leaning back, groaning. "I think I bruised a couple of ribs."

"I'll get the first-aid kit," Peter told them, bounding up the stairs while Diana helped Neal struggle carefully out of his shirt. There were little shards of glass stuck in it; when he was free, she bundled it up carefully and stuffed it in a paper bag retrieved from the kitchen. Elizabeth came in through the back door just as Peter was returning.

"Oh, Neal," she said, frowning, coming to sit next to him. He gave her a brilliant smile. Peter clicked on a flashlight and shone it in Neal's eyes, around his hair, down the skin of his face and arms, looking for glass that might still be there.

"We're going to have to brush it out," he said, plucking a smallish shard out of Neal's hair. He glanced at Elizabeth. "Where's Sara?"

"Loaded up her equipment and went home," Elizabeth said. "She'll courier us a DVD with the video of the heist."

Peter leaned over and kissed her, then returned his attention to Neal. Once they'd cleaned the glass out of his hair and treated the cuts -- Peter also insisted on strapping Neal's ribs, and he did feel better after that -- they moved to the dining room table, and Peter poured the wine.

"To ingenuity," Neal said, offering a toast. Peter gave him a dirty look. "Fine. To success, even at a price."

"Hear hear," Diana said, and they toasted.

"Now," Peter told his wife, "let's see it."

Elizabeth drew a small, plain brown velvet bag out of her pocket and laid it on the table. Neal offered Peter a pair of white cotton gloves.

Peter pulled the gloves on and opened the bag. Inside, burnished gold gleamed in the low lamplight. Peter took it out carefully, holding it up between thumb and forefinger.

"A 1933 Double Eagle," Peter said, voice low and almost awestruck. He spun it so he could study the other side.

"A monetized 1933 Double Eagle," Neal reminded him. "The most expensive twenty bucks in the world."

The coin was large, nearly an inch and a half in diameter. It was almost pure gold, just ten percent copper; enough to give it a reddish tinge, highlighting the figures stamped in the metal. On one side, Lady Liberty stood boldly, a torch in one hand and an olive branch in the other. One of her legs was bent, propped on a stone, and the drape of her dress revealed her thigh, thick and strong. Behind her was a sunburst, and the word LIBERTY. On the flip side, an eagle in profile soared over the same sunburst; it was stamped UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, below that TWENTY DOLLARS, and below that, molded to the curve of the rising sun, IN GOD WE TRUST.

Neal knew every inch, every flaw, every line of it; he had, after all, carved the positive from which they'd cast molds for the forgeries. The original coins had been carved by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who had sculpted the Shaw memorial, the bronze of Diana the huntress at the Met, the stern and enormous statue of Lincoln at the conservatory in Chicago.

"Hey there, Gus," Neal said softly. Peter looked beyond the coin, to Neal, and gave him a quiet smile.

"What do we do with you?" Diana asked Lady Liberty. She laughed a little. "We never really planned what to do with the original, did we?"

"Didn't seem important," Peter said, eyes still on Neal. He put the coin on top of the bag and passed it carefully to Neal. "Got any ideas, hot shot?"

"One or two," Neal said, setting it down. He stood up -- ow, he was already hurting -- and went to his overnight bag, sitting unobtrusively near the door. "I got you a present."

He came back and set it in front of Elizabeth, taking Peter's gloves and pulling them on. The box was small, the size of a watch case, with a bow on top; inside, once Elizabeth opened it, a circle of glass outlined in gold lay on the velvet, with black ribbons attached to each side. Neal picked it up and opened the clasp, then took the coin and carefully slotted it in between the two thin sheets of protective glass. He closed it and offered it to Peter, who turned and tied the ribbons around Elizabeth's neck.

"For special occasions only," Neal said with a smile. Elizabeth picked up the key that had also been lying on the velvet, looking at Neal with a mixture of brilliant joy and curiosity. "That's a safety-deposit box key to an untraceable box in another name. Keep it there when you're not wearing it."

"It suits you," Peter said, voice low and rough. Elizabeth touched the pendant at her throat, closing her eyes.

***

Neal knows the history of the 1933 Double Eagle like he knows fairy tales and urban legends. In '33, Roosevelt outlawed the gold standard; coins weren't made of what they were worth anymore, but simply signified that worth. The Double Eagle was the last gold coin struck. Before it was even issued to the public, almost all five hundred thousand of them were melted down. Twenty or thirty were stolen, and they pop up every now and then.

The Mint Cashier at the time was a corruptible man; he did a back-door deal with a local jeweler, and two of the coins were issued as legal tender. One disappeared, but the other monetized Double Eagle was recovered and gifted by the government to the Cultural Preservation Institute. A Double Eagle could fetch seven million dollars at auction, and recently had. A monetized Double Eagle, even a stolen one...

Neal knows too that coin collectors are freaks. A collector just wants the coin, and doesn't care if no one else ever sees it. Twelve counterfeit Double Eagles, carved and cast by his own hand, would be overseas, waiting to be sold; with footage of the theft to prove the coin's authenticity, Jones and Mozzie would have no trouble asking for, or getting, ten million a coin. The footage is also insurance -- even if the collector found out their coin was a fake, the video would prove the collector knew it was stolen. Nobody would talk.

It's the perfect con. It's a Lustig. Peter would remind him that Victor Lustig died in Alcatraz, but the con man led a hell of a life first, and he sold the Eiffel Tower -- twice.

Neal is tired. His head feels thick, and sleep's not far away. He doesn't struggle against it, just lets it wash over him slowly. He feels satisfied, both with the con they've pulled in his imagination, and the con they'll pull tomorrow, against Bilal and Larssen.

He tries to calculate precisely what the take from the heist would be. Twelve gold Double Eagles sold at ten million apiece, a hundred and twenty million all told; minus ten percent for laundering, that's twelve mil, leaving 108 million. Divided seven ways is fifteen million, four hundred and...twenty eight thousand, five...hundred and seventy one dollars...and forty two cents...

His own laughter is the last thing he remembers before he slips into sleep.

***

Peter returns from capturing Larssen on a horse, and that's exciting enough; Neal's high off the con when Peter passes off the gun to Diana and remarks, shaking his hand out, "Larssen's got a hard face."

"Aw, it felt good though, didn't it?" Diana asks. Neal can see in her face that she's enjoying herself.

"Why yes, it did," Peter agrees.

Neal can't help himself. He knows there's no chance, but it never hurts to ask, and anyway it's part of his cheeky con-artist charm. "Before you get your badge back," he says, "there's a seven-man con that I've been meaning to -- "

"No," Peter interrupts, tolerant and amused. "The Burke's Seven is hereby disbanded."

Perhaps some other time. A guy can dream, anyway.

Story Notes

(Anonymous) 2011-01-24 17:29 (UTC)(link)
This was BEYOND brilliant, like all your White Collar fics--just exhilarating, fun, exciting, written in a way that this could be canon (I wish it were!). I really like how all of them are sleeping over, and the scene with Satchmo was priceless. Love it. I can't wait for the next episode (I hope you're inspired to write more WC, too!).

~shadowfireflame on LJ