Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.


Chapter 2

Peter sat alone at his desk and looked out across the now deserted White Collar Crime Unit. Jones and Diana had long gone for the day and Neal hadn't returned since his abrupt departure that morning. His wife, Elizabeth had a function with Burke Premier Events that evening and so he had stayed on to re-read through the Walker file so see if he could find any connection with Neal. Jones had given the case its moniker as he thought that the woman walked out of the banks with a certain panache, more like a model going down the runway instead of a thief slinking out disguised in hats or glasses. She certainly had nerve, and style. Peter agreed with Diana's assessment that she looked like Neal's type. Both felons were excellent forgers and about the same age, dressed well and favored non-violence when committing their crimes. The more he studied the women's features the more she reminded him of Sara, Neal's on-again/off-again girlfriend. Peter liked Sara and although she had given evidence that helped put Neal in jail the first time, she had eventually succumbed to the conman's charms now that he was under the FBI's wing. Peter thought they made a pretty good couple. It was his hope that Sara would be the influence Neal needed to keep on the straight and narrow. They clearly had the same kind of trust issues that dogged Peter and Neal's own relationship but he had encouraged her to stick with Neal even when she got frustrated by his 'grey areas' as they jokingly referred to them.

The usual preliminary searches had come up with nothing useful about the woman. She always wore thin gloves and had left no fingerprints at any of the banks or on the cashier's checks. Her ID was another excellent forgery yielding nothing on her true identity. Even facial recognition had come up blank, other than confirming it was the same women in each of the banks. It was as if she had arrived in New York out of nowhere and Peter feared that she would disappear just as mysteriously.

It infuriated him that Neal had lied outright about knowing her. Whilst they had certainly had their spats over the previous three years that Neal had been attached to the Unit, he always insisted that he told Peter the truth. How could his response be anything other than a blatant lie? Peter decided that he was just chasing his tail trying to come up with an answer; it was time to confront Neal man-to-man. He picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and slid into it as he left the office and headed off to the parking garage.

Neal's landlady June answered the door with an extremely concerned expression.

"Peter, thank goodness!" she exclaimed as he walked in. "What on earth has happened? I can't get any information out of Neal. I have never seen him this upset."

She told Peter how Neal had come home looking completely washed out and had been unable to give her anything close to a coherent answer when she had asked what was wrong with him. He had claimed he had a migraine and while he did look unwell, she thought there was more to it. When she had gone up to check on him an hour later she was surprised to see that he was not sleeping it off as he would usually do when he had migraines. Instead he was manically drawing various portraits of a woman and a girl. There were dozens of them strewn around the apartment and Neal's hands and face were covered in dark charcoal marks. His hair was wild and his face so pale it had a green tinge to it. When she spoke to him he hadn't answered until she picked up one of the drawings at which point he seemed to snap to and then started shouting at her, "Leave her alone, don't you touch her!"

While June was technically Neal's landlady, in reality she was far more than that. She had been one of the people to befriend him when he was released from jail into the custody of the FBI. A chance meeting at a thrift store had resulted in an offer of a guest apartment and she and Neal had become very close over the following three years that they had shared a residence. Her role had become more indulgent grandmother than landlady and Neal adored her for it. He had always treated her with the utmost respect. Yet today, he had all but thrown her out of his apartment (her apartment!) and had actually frightened her by his behavior.

"I did think of calling you Peter, but I was going to check on him again before doing so, in case he had calmed down. It's been quiet for some time now but to be honest, I was still a little too scared to go in."

Peter put a reassuring hand on June's shoulder and recounted the events at the office.

"Don't worry we'll get to the bottom of this. I think we have a rough ride ahead though. This woman clearly means a lot to him and given how hard he took the whole Kate saga I am not looking forward to where this is going. Let me go up now and see if he's talking. I'll speak with you before I leave." He assured her.

Peter headed wearily up the stairs to Neal's door. He already had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and it only worsened when he opened the door to survey the chaos within.


TBC

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