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"Honey, where are you?" Elizabeth Burke shouted as she came through the front door, arms loaded with sacks.
A muffled voice called out, "In here," somewhere in the direction of the kitchen.
Elizabeth set the sacks down on the dining room table and entered the kitchen. She saw her husband's long legs sticking out from beneath the kitchen sink.
Kneeling down, she asked, "Are you fixing the leak?"
There was a thud and a curse. "Trying to."
Elizabeth smiled fondly. Peter would get it done, no doubt of that. She became aware of a delicious aroma. "Babe, is that pot roast I smell?"
With a final grunt, her husband came out from beneath the sink. "Yes. How perceptive you are, dear," he teased with a smile.
She swatted him on the arm. "Very funny." Looking around, she asked, "Where's Satchmo?"
Peter was wiping his hands on a rag. "Outside. He wanted to join me down there and there wasn't room for both of us."
Elizabeth got up and opened the back door and Satch came charging in happily. Closing the door, she realized that annoying catch on the near the top was gone. "Did you fix the door too?"
Peter stood up and came over to her, inspecting his work critically. "Yeah. Hopefully the wood won't warp again that much; I hate it when that thing sticks to the frame."
Elizabeth rubbed his arm. "You didn't have to do the entire honey do list in one day, you know."
Peter took her in his arms, his expression serious. "Look, El, I know I've put you through a lot these past few weeks. I know I was a pain. I'd like to make it up to you."
Elizabeth put her arms around his waist. "Oh, you will, Agent Burke. You will. But I think you got these days off to rest up a bit, not run around being Mr. Fixit."
Peter looked quizzically. "You're complaining?" he said, nuzzling her hair.
Elizabeth smiled. "Not really,' she said as she reached to kiss him.
WC WC WC
Neal Caffrey sat down at his desk with a small groan. The punch the Brentamo man had hit him with was nothing more than a deep bruise but it was still sore. So, he sat in the van all morning; sat at the desk all afternoon. Really, was this what law enforcement was all about? Where was the thrill of the chase?
He thought about putting his feet up on the desk but a quick glance confirmed Hughes was in residence and the old guy didn't care for people who slouched at their desks or 'looked like they were at a lawn party.' So Neal straightened up and pretended to look busy.
Jones would be back soon and Neal knew when he returned it would be studying the case folders. Diana had an appointment this afternoon and a meeting before that, so she wasn't expected back. This was fine with Neal. Diana was pushing hard to get everything done that they could finish so when Peter returned Monday he wouldn't be inundated with cases. Neal was okay with that but, with some cases, like the one concerning today's surveillance, there just wasn't really anything they could do until they could get some hard evidence.
Clinton Jones was a calm man and Neal admired the way he pitched in even though he was sure Jones was privately disappointed that he hadn't been picked to run the team in Peter's absence. Jones never said a word. The one time Neal had asked he simply replied it was good experience for Diana and he figured the next time, may that be sometime in the long distant future, he would get his chance but it would not be a practice run like Diana's had been. Maybe when Peter got his long overdue promotion.
Jones strolled in while Neal sat in contemplation. "Caffrey," Jones nodded a greeting.
Neal smiled. "Good lunch?"
Jones grinned. "Just fine." He offered no details and moved on, leaving Neal to speculate. Neal grinned; he knew the warm feeling of keeping secrets.
Clinton Jones wasn't the taskmaster Diana could be and he sat down at his own desk, making some phone calls. The way he kept glancing around made Neal think these weren't FBI numbers he was dialing. There was certainly a Friday mood around the office.
Neal decided to make a call of his own. He started to dial Peter but then changed his mind and chose Elizabeth's phone instead.
"Hi Elizabeth," Neal said brightly. "Isn't caller ID a wonderful thing?"
Elizabeth laughed, that bright and bubbly laugh Neal hadn't heard too often lately. "Neal, are you working? Did you want to talk to Peter? He's at home."
"Just wanted to see how you guys were doing. I talked to Peter briefly yesterday but he sounded like he was in home improvement mode so I moved on."
"Well, today, thankfully, he crashed. I had an early appointment; he got up with me and took Satchmo for a walk. Later, I had to go back to the house to get something and I found them both upstairs asleep."
Neal grinned. "Well, if he wakes up before evening, tell him to relax. We, the working people, will stand watch against crime." Even as he spoke the words, Neal reflected briefly on the irony of that sentiment.
Laughing, Elizabeth replied, "I'll be sure and tell him. Oh Neal, I know you're not into sports but the Giants first game is on Sunday. I'm planning on a barbeque; why don't you join us?"
Neal was a bit uneasy. "Well, you know I'm not much on sports-"
"It's just going to be Peter and me. I was going to invite some others but right now, I'm enjoying having my husband back. I don't want to share him with that many yet. Besides, I know you boys have missed each other."
"Yeah, nobody's yelled at me for a couple of days," Neal retorted but the humor in his voice belied the words.
"Funny, Peter mentioned just yesterday that he hadn't been aggravated for at least twenty four hours."
Neal heard voices in the background and then Elizabeth came back. "Look, Neal, I've got to run. Kickoff's around three, it's the late game. See you then, okay?"
Neal smiled. "Okay." As if anyone could tell Elizabeth Burke no.
WC WC WC
"Well, Neal, you're actually here to watch football," Peter Burke stood at his front door, exaggerated amazement on his face.
"I'm here for the free food," Neal replied brightly, smiling when Peter laughed. He held open the door and Neal came inside.
"What do you have here?" Peter said, eyeing the bag Neal carried.
"I brought you some imported beer, some really good German stuff," Neal broke off, seeing the skeptical look on Peter's face. "Trust me on this, all right? You'll love it."
"Oh really?" Peter remarked dubiously.
"Yes," Neal insisted. "I've also brought popcorn, some of the finest ever grown in this country. Very few hulls. Every kernel pops perfectly."
"You sound like an ad campaign," Peter retorted.
"Mozzie recommends it. It's organic," Neal said defensively. "I've had some, too."
Elizabeth came out of the kitchen, carrying a couple of bowls of chips and dip. Satchmo was on her heels, wearing a blue Giants scarf around his neck.
Neal smiled. "I had no idea Satch was such a big Giants fan."
"If he knows what's good for him, he is," Peter said darkly. His expression changed instantly when El turned around, ready to scold. "Just kidding, dear." he added sweetly.
"You'd better be, dear," Elizabeth said archly. "Come help me with the drinks. Neal, what do you want?"
"Neal brought fancy German beer," Peter informed her. "Get out the finest glasses."
Elizabeth swatted him. "Not during a game. You broke one of my glasses during the Yankees – Red Sox last month." She touched Neal's arm. "Sit down and relax. Peter and I will get the drinks."
Neal made sure to give Peter the bag and then sat down in the chair with the confident air of a man reaching home port. Peter scowled in automatic reaction, but followed his wife into the kitchen.
Neal could hear them in there, talking and laughing as Satchmo came up to greet him. It was all so normal again. Peter still looked tired but not that fine edged exhaustion he'd worn for the last few weeks. He seemed more like the Peter Burke Neal knew.
Peter and Elizabeth came back with drinks and snacks. They settled on the couch. Despite himself, Neal got interested in the game and caught up in Elizabeth's enthusiasm. Elizabeth was a very vocal Giants fan, praising or criticizing every play. Peter sat back and watched, involved but not nearly so loud. He drank the beer Neal brought, grudgingly admitting it was pretty good but not great, as he made certain to add, just in case Neal got any ideas. Peter seemed very relaxed, if not a little heavy eyed. Elizabeth however, more than made up for any mellowness on her husband's part.
It was near the end of the first half when the referees called back an apparent Giants touchdown that Neal really saw another side of his friend's wife. Peter got up and hastily muttered something about starting the grill and escaped. Elizabeth went on a tirade, berating the officials, the opposing team and the rules of the game. Neal stared fascinated. Satchmo hurriedly joined his father out on the patio, barking at the door to be let out.
"I can't believe this! What game are they looking at? Or can they see anything at all? Sometimes I wonder just where they find these guys to referee games? I think the FBI should look into it!" she yelled loudly.
Neal stifled a smile. "You know, I think I'll just go out and help Peter a bit."
He made his way out the back door before Elizabeth came up for air.
Peter stood at the grill, smirking. Satchmo, too, appeared to be smirking; at least it looked that way to Neal. "Why are you out here, Neal?" Peter asked innocently.
"The better part of valor and all of that," Neal replied. He nodded back at the house. "Are you sure that's Elizabeth and not a pod person?"
Peter laughed. "Only happens during games with the Cowboys, Eagles and the Redskins. The rest of the time she's all right."
Neal nodded dubiously. "Good to know."
The back door banged open and Elizabeth joined them. "Okay, I get it. I'm supposed to be quiet when the ignorant referee cheats my team out of a touchdown. Now, are you coming back in?" She smiled sweetly. "It is halftime and therefore safe."
Both Peter and Neal sighed in relief. Satchmo let out one sharp bark.
"Men!" Elizabeth said in exasperation.
WC WC WC
Neal Caffrey arrived early bearing the tray of espresso cups. He was sure he had left in plenty of time but he had run into Ashley Leewood in the coffee shop and he couldn't bring himself to walk out on her. She was braced for the return of Agent Ruiz to head Organized Crime again but Neal reassured her it would probably be a more subdued Ruiz than before. The abrasive agent was facing a couple of review boards and would be lucky to keep his job. Privately, Neal felt it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy but Peter seemed to think Ruiz might just learn something for a change.
Entering the bull pen of the White Collar division, Diana Berrigan sat at her desk, impatiently waiting. "Took you long enough," she scolded Neal.
"I ran into a friend," Neal explained with a charming smile.
"Peter's already here," Diana hissed.
Neal's smile faded. "What?"
Clinton Jones stood up near the conference room. "He's in a meeting with Hughes, Ruiz and Bancroft. He hasn't been to his desk yet."
Neal gave Diana a look. "Gee, thanks for the false alarm."
"You needed it," Diana replied, unruffled.
The two went upstairs to the conference room. Boxes of pastries and Neal's espresso were placed on the table. "Hope they don't take too long. I won't be held responsible for cold espresso," Neal said solemnly.
"Hey, what timing," Jones said, watching Peter and Hughes get off the elevator. They said something to Bancroft, who stayed inside the car and turned to enter the bullpen. Hughes place a hand on Peter's shoulder and said something to him. Climbing up the short staircase, Peter finally noticed his team in the conference room, waiting and smiling.
Entering and noticing the food and drinks, Peter smiled widely. "Is this a party?"
"A welcome back party, boss," Diana said warmly.
Peter took a cup of espresso and sipped it. "Still warm."
Neal smiled. "I do my best."
They all dug into the food and drinks, even Hughes, who later excused himself to work in his office. It was a good relaxed time; everyone talked at once and the clerks also came in to have some food, armed with their own coffee cups.
Although it was pleasant to just sit and talk, Peter felt keenly the presence of Hughes just down the hall and finally, taking his drink, went into his own office.
His desk was absolutely clean, no case files, no paperwork. Peter stopped; his face incredulous. "Wait a minute, there is no way you are all caught up here!"
Diana slipped in beside him, Neal and Jones following. "Well, we do have some outstanding cases, but nothing urgent, just old stuff. I forged your signature on all the reports that were due this week, so you can take it easy."
"Just don't let Hughes see you," Neal advised him hastily.
Peter was a bit flabbergasted. "You really did a great job, all of you. Good work, people. After almost three months of nobody working together, this makes a great change. Thank you."
Jones asked the question uppermost on everyone's mind. "They say anything more about you staying in Organized Crime, Peter?"
"It's Ruiz's again, for now. He's going to be on probation for a while; having two agents go rogue doesn't help the resume. Agent Stevenson has decided to retire. He has a son in Florida; sounds like he going down south."
"What's going to happen to Zahn and Watters?" Neal asked.
"Zahn's headed for trial. No parole, she's too much of a flight risk. Watters was more of an opportunist; he stumbled onto Zahn's little deal with the Brentamo family via Sammy Gamitz and tried to deal himself in. The Brentamos were going to take him out once his usefulness was over anyway. According to Sammy, that is, who is spilling everything he knows to everyone he sees. Watters is spending some time in jail too and will definitely be headed for a grand jury. I am sure his troubles are just beginning. Oh, Barnes is being transferred to Omaha; might not be as stressful for him there, watching the Missouri River traffic go by."
"Organized Crime in Omaha?" Jones asked, confused.
Peter grimaced. "Gangs."
"Oh," Jones replied. "Lucky guy."
"Who did you suspect?" Neal asked intently.
"Oh, I knew what they were up to," Peter replied flippantly.
"Sure, you did," Neal agreed, his voice dubious. "But when?"
Peter sighed as he sat down behind his desk. Neal, naturally, would not let it go. "I knew Watters was up to something, but for a long time, I thought Barnes was either his accomplice or the mastermind. When Barnes freaked out that night he went with me to meet Sammy, I knew he didn't have the intelligence or the guts to see this kind of operation through. I checked Collins and Castillo out thoroughly; they were clean. The fact they stayed away from Barnes and Watters made that easy. Zahn was the tough one." He turned to Neal. "Remember when I told you about all those calls to her boyfriend? I did some checking; turned out more than three- fourths of the calls were to a burner phone. Sammy carelessly left his jacket lying around one afternoon and I got his phone and compared numbers. Same number Zahn had been calling."
"You stole his phone?" Neal's expression could not have been more pleased.
Peter arched an eyebrow. "Borrowed it. Just for a while."
"But you let Zahn in on the take down, Boss," Diana pointed out. "Wasn't that risky?"
"I didn't have any proof," Peter admitted. "But that was why I had Collins and Castillo so far away from the action, so they could respond to any other move the Brentamos might make. I warned Ruiz one of his agents was dirty, but other than that, I couldn't really do much more. I needed to catch her in the act."
"That cost you a dive off the pier," Neal reminded him.
"That was not part of the plan," Peter admitted sourly. "Almost turned out unlucky." He still felt cold at the memory of the dark water.
Neal grinned. "At least your face is healing."
Hughes stuck his head in. "I hate to break up this class reunion, but it looks like we have a new case. Mortgage fraud. Here are the files, Peter. If you can find some time alone, you might want to look at them."
Hughes stalked off and everyone exchanged a chagrined look. Neal made a point of looking at his watch. "Remember, everybody, we need to be at the restaurant by 11:45. Don't be late or we won't get seated right away."
Peter watched in confusion as Diana and Jones both nodded as they left his office. "What are you talking about?"
"That new Italian place on 6th; I have reservations," Neal said proudly.
Peter drew a hand over his eyes. "Neal, that place is pricey and always full."
Neal looked affronted. "Look, I plan a great welcome back lunch for you and all I get are complaints. The owner is a very nice man and I explained to him that you'd just come back from busting an international drug ring."
Peter couldn't bear to hear it. "Neal, please tell me you didn't-"
"Did you or did you not bust Joey Brentamo's drug operation?"
"Well, yes, but-"
"No buts," Neal said proudly. "And no lies. The owner is a law and order type guy; he promised me he'll get us seated and in and out in about an hour or so."
Peter finally looked up. "I cannot imagine you taking 'an hour or so' on a fine Italian dinner."
Neal smiled. "Finer things in life cannot be hurried, Peter. Besides, the wine list alone is excellent."
"Neal, we're at lunch. Not a state dinner. No wine."
Neal looked disgusted. "Oh, all right. Not Italian without wine though."
Peter drew out of his suit jacket his picture of Elizabeth and placed it back on his desk. He also fished out the rubber band stress ball that Neal had given him and held it up. "You know, I was going to give this back to you. But I think I'll keep it for now. If I go outside on the balcony, I know a good throw will hit you on the head from here."
"The things I do for those who do not appreciate me," Neal huffed as he turned to leave.
"Neal," Peter's voice stopped him. "I know asking you questions is a fool's errand but I'm going to try it anyway. Why, exactly, did you get involved in this case?"
Neal could tell by the agent's face that a glib answer and a smile would probably cause friction on a day that should be savored. He sighed. "I never liked the Brentamo family. They don't plan, they don't research, they smash, grab and kill. Sadistic morons like Freddie DiStephano work for them."
Peter leaned back, his expression serious. "That museum guard you mentioned?" Even during the heat of the moment he recalled how surprised he was that Neal had let slip some information of his past.
Managing a small smile, Neal corrected, "Allegedly. Yes, him." Speaking softly, he added, "He was an old guy just making extra money. He didn't deserve what he got. He was no threat."
Peter remained silent. Now didn't seem the time to go digging for more information, his usual modus operandi with Neal. He sighed.
"It was not however, any sort of misplaced loyalty or concern for your well-being," Neal said loftily, obviously determined to move on.
"Well, thank you for ruining the moment," Peter complained.
Neal pointed at his watch. "Lunch, soon. Budget your time accordingly."
"I can see I am going to have to reassert authority around here," Peter muttered.
Pausing on his way out, Neal threw a bright smile over his shoulder at Peter. "Welcome back."
Peter watched as Neal stalked out, walking through the office like he had Hughes' job. He shook his head ruefully.
The phone started ringing. "Let the usual headaches begin," he said as Diana headed up the stairs with an armful of folders and Hughes appeared outside his door. Somehow though, the routine didn't seem that bad today.