"What's wrong…here let me help," he cried and took his wife's place and helped Neal back up the rest of the stairs and up to his room.
It was then that Neal caught sight of Peter and broke down, "I d-didn't d-do it…
i-it w-wasn't m-me…it wasn't m-me…y-you've g-got to b-believe me P-Peter, I-I was f-framed-d-d!"
"It will be okay, buddy…but for now let's get you to bed," and tried to sit him down when Diana cried out,
"Don't Peter…he can't sit…he's been strapped viciously," stopping him just in time.
Peter nodded and mouthed, "help me undress him so he can get some rest."
Diana nodded and while Peter held him Diana stripped him of his coat and shirt leaving him his undershirt but as she was about to remove his trousers Neal started to struggled thinking it was Fuchs coming back to beat him again.
"Nooooooo, p-please n-no m-more," until El was there talking in his ear and reassuring him that Fuchs wasn't there until Diana was able to complete her chore leaving him only his boxers where they noticed for the first time specks of blood.
"That bastard beat him until he was bleeding," cried out El shocking Peter with her language and the culprit who had done the beating.
"He wasn't punished by Hughes? Fuchs did this to him?" he asked Diana.
"The first two times it was Hughes but this last time Agent Fuchs took it upon himself to discipline Neal," she explained bitterly.
"Where was Hughes?" Peter asked as they finally got Neal into bed and quickly on his side.
"I think he had an appointment with the head of our department; anyhow he wasn't there and as soon as Neal arrived Fuchs had two of his men escort him straight away to interrogation room three.
El ever watchful realized that he was bleeding from the specks of blood on his boxers and said, "Peter he's bleeding…I'm going to get him a painkiller…I think we still have some from his last visit…" and was off returning moments later with the medicine and a glass of water.
"Neal, baby, I want you to take these…they will help ease the pain," she said soothingly before handing him two tablets. He obediently with the help of several swallows of water to down the two painkillers before lying back down on his side. It only took a few minutes for the painkillers to do their job and knock him out.
"You do realize what that's going to do to him when he wakes?" murmured Peter with a smile.
"Oh, yes and I don't care at least he's out of pain now…any how I like to hear him sing," replied El as she stooped down to kiss him on the forehead before moving on to the task at hand of treating his bottom from the abuse at Agent Fuchs' hand.
With El upstairs with Neal Peter s able to learn all that took place while he was a way as allowed Diana the time to fill him in.
"Diana I won't you to tell me all that you know about whatever happened with Neal…start at the beginning please," requested Peter as he waited anxiously.
Dian paused to get everything straight in her mind. "Well, I didn't notice him doing anything wrong; he did take an extra-long lunch break the day Agent Fuchs was handed the MET art theft case. We would have gotten it if you had been there boss," she added to Peter's amusement.
"It wasn't until the next morning that Hughes called Neal to his office and from my viewpoint Hughes was really mad at Neal and soon afterwards Neal left and headed back to the interrogations room. Hughes followed a few minutes later going in the same direction so we figured that Neal must have done something wrong and Hughes was going to punish him for it…and we were right because about thirty minutes later Neal reappeared and although he didn't say anything he was squirming for the rest of the day…a sure sign that he had been strapped."
"Oh, Neal what did you do this time," Peter muttered as he motioned for Diana to continue.
"The next morning as soon as Neal got off the elevator Hughes as there to greet him and hurried him off to the interrogation rooms again…and the squirming intensified to such an extent that Jones went and bought him a pillow to sit on but what I have learned was that Neal had snooped at Fuchs' crime scene and had been caught…or at least a personal item of Neal's had been found there and identified as his leading to him being punished…Hughes did both of those punishments. But today when Neal stepped off of the elevator two of Fuchs' agents were waiting and took him away…we assumed to the same interrogation room and when Neal didn't reappear thirty minutes later Jones went looking for him and found him in the men's restroom on that floor still sobbing and in obvious pain that we hatched this idea of getting him away to the safety of your house where El would watch him and be the witness that he might need if something else is laid at this door…she would vouch for him being with her and not at any crime…you being here is an added bonus," Diana finished her narrative.
"You don't know the reason Fuchs took it upon himself to beat Neal?" asked Peter as Diana shook her head.
"No, sir, but I'll call Jones and see if he's learned anything," pulling her cellphone out to make the call…she was only on the phone long enough to discover what Jones had found out.
"Boss, Neal is supposed to have returned to the MET and questioned several staff members using the disguise of one of Fuchs agents…obviously Fuchs took his anger out on Neal," she added dryly.
Peter nodded and then asked, "Diana would you mind staying here and acting as a shield for El and Neal; I'm going to have a talk with Hughes and try and straighten it all out. I know he didn't authorize Fuchs to discipline Neal so what he did could easily be called assault."
"Sure boss, I don't mind," she smiled, "I won't let anyone come near Neal or Elizabeth…they will be safe with me."
Peter's gut was starting to bother him long before the Diana's explanation was finished…he knew something was wrong…if Neal did this he wouldn't have been so careless as to leave personal items behind to incriminate him. He agreed with Neal he had been framed and Peter was going to get to the bottom of this now.
He was just about to walk out when Diana's cell buzzed and she answered only to turn to Peter and exclaimed, "Boss, someone has hacked into Hughes' computer and has deleted some vital information on a current case…Neal's fedora as found at the scene…he's being accused and Hughes is livid."
"When did this take place?" Peter asked as his gut churned.
"Within the last hour…but it couldn't have been Neal; he was here or on the way here with me," replied a puzzled Diana," and Neal's tracking anklet isn't working…Hughes figures that he's found another way to remove it."
"Ask if there are any other evidence linking Neal to that crime?"
A moment later Peter had his answer…
"Yes, our new CI reported seeing Neal near Hughes office about thirty minutes ago and when he checked a few minutes later he found the fedora perched on the edge of the desk," replied Diana after ending the call.
"New CI? When did he arrive?" asked Peter.
"A few hours after you left, boss; he was assigned to Fuchs. Hughes assigned Neal to show him around and explain the rules to him, etc. He was assigned the desk across from Neal's. His name is Thomas Jenkins," explained Diana.
"Diana I want you to check up on Thomas Jenkins; find out all you can about him; what he was incarcerated for…the whole nine yards. You can use my laptop…I left it on the end table as I entered. I'm going to check in with Hughes…but first I want to check on Neal," Peter said as he headed up the stairs.
"Honey, how is he?" he asked in a quiet voice upon entering the kid's room so not to wake him.
"He's got a fever Peter, probably due to that whipping he received but I've been fighting it with cool compresses and it is going down," replied El as she lovingly smoothed out Neal's hair.
"El, I'm going in to the office; it seems that another charge has been added to our boy…he's supposedly hacked into Hughes' computer an hour ago and they have even a witness to it. Most likely the witness is the true culprit to all Neal has been punished for.
"Find out why Peter; our boy has suffered so much while you have been away and I want to know why," insisted El.
"Don't worry El, I'll get to the truth and I am leaving Diana here to watch out for you and Neal…his tracking anklet isn't working and I want Diana here to make sure no agent trying to make a name for himself tries to take him away. She will protect you and Neal," Peter said as he kissed his wife goodbye.
It was while he was on his way downstairs that he heard raised voices and hurried down to find Diana blocking Agent Fuchs from coming in any further.
"Fuchs, you have some nerve…after what you did to Neal to show your face here" Peter said angrily.
"Burke…I thought you were in North Carolina," surprise clearly on the man's face.
"I was, but they reached an early verdict and I came back. What do you want Fuchs?" replied Peter angrily.
"Your boy screwed up Burke and I'm taking him in," replied the agent with a smug look on his face.
"After the beating you gave him he is barely able to function much less break into Hughes' computer…anyhow he isn't guilty. He's been here for the last hour with my wife and me and that is when they decided the break-in took place," replied Peter forcefully. "But if I were you I would check out your CI's story; he's the one who said that Neal was near Hughes' office and he's the one who found Neal's hat…it seems to me that he's got his facts wrong…or maybe he's the one behind the whole frame," taunted Peter.
Fuchs had nothing to say to that and left angrily. Peter turned to Diana and said "Thanks, I owe you one…did you find out anything about Jenkins?"
"Boss he was arrested for breaking in to high security systems…and he can hack into any computer. There isn't a tracking system that he can't break into or destroy…it is foolish to believe that he is reliable for change. He's a bigger flight risk than Neal," Diana exclaimed as Peter was on his cell requesting that Jenkins be held; that he was a suspect in an ongoing investigation.
"I've got to go…I'll check back when I learn something," promised Peter before leaving.
And Peter did check into things and when confronting Jenkins with the latest evidence that Neal had reliable witness to his whereabouts during the hacking charge, confessed to everything.
Jenkins was arrested for hacking into Hughes' computer as well as for framing Neal. He told them it was his way to keep out of prison by blackening Neal's reputation and sending him back instead. The confession would earn him a harsh strapping and the return to prison for his crime.
Agent Fuchs had been reprimanded for his assault on Neal. He will be demoted back to a field agent and to a new location. He's been assigned to the great state of Alabama for the next year. He would have to work his way back to where he had been before he had allowed his temper to rule his career.
"Caffrey, I want to apologize for not believing you and strapping you the second time. You were clearly innocent of that charge although I stand by my decision to punish you the first time…you shouldn't have been snooping in another case instead of the one you were assigned no matter how boring yours seemed,: Hughes said gruffly.
Neal was still recovering with the Burkes when Hughes had arrived to apologize for his part in Neal's pain.
"Sir, I think that Neal is due something for all of the pain he had to endure," suggested Peter, "maybe an extra mile could be added to his radius…then he could visit more of the museums, theaters and concerts of his choosing."
Hughes considered the request and with a twinkle in his eyes said, "I authorize it, but I had better not hear about any mischief from you because of my generosity."
"No sir…and thank you," replied Neal clearly moved by his generosity, "and don't worry you won't hear of any mischief of my doing."
"I know…Peter will and he will take care of it before it ever reaches my desk…oh and Peter he has one "get out of a strapping free" from me to make up for the one he got earlier to be used whenever he likes," Hughes added with a smile as he surveyed the young man smiling in return.