“Kate and I, we’d sometimes throw a warm rug, a couple of chicken salad sandwiches and a cheap bottle of wine into a backpack and head down to the beach just after dusk….and we’d stay there till morning, wake up with sultry air of the southern Adriatic Sea blowing against our exposed faces.” Neal leaned back in his seat and his eyes wandered off the two junior agents sitting across the conference room table, seemingly enthralled by yet another extraordinary tale being recounted by their younger work colleague, and began to gaze into the distant past. Remembering a time that was long since over, a time that could never be again. Neal sighed woefully as he continued, “Kate loved Montenegro. Said it reminded her of-”
“NEAL!!” Agent Peter Burke’s booming voice echoed through the room, causing all three to cease their private little confab without pause.
“Whaaaat?” Neal asked ever so slowly while he quickly fast-tracked his brain to process any past indiscretions that may be the culprit for his handler being so riled up.
“Last week…” Peter stepped into the room, then thinking better of it, shut the door behind him before continuing… “Last week, I, you, last week…” The older man was having a difficult time getting his words out. His breathing was heavy, his face a deep crimson, and the veins aside of his head pulsating vigorously. Neal began to become a little concerned that he’d finally tipped Peter over the edge and the poor guy was going to have a stroke. If he went and grabbed a hold his left arm, Neal was going to call the paramedics for sure!
Neal held out both palms in a placating gesture, “Whatever it was last week-”
“Don’t!” Peter held up his own hand, this one gripping a large manila envelope. “Wanna take a shot at guessing what I’ve got here, Neal?”
Clinton and Dianna swiveled in their chairs and turned back towards the young con, awaiting his response to their boss’s question.
Neal schooled his face before looking up seriously at the older man, “Two pink flamingos and a bottle of baileys?”
Clinton cringed and Dianna simply shook her head. Their young friend tread a dangerous path they would never contemplate.
Peter pressed his lips together tight and squinted his eyes, directing a first class glare at the impetuous young con on the opposite side of the room.
Neal merely shrugged his shoulders, “What?”
Peter slammed the envelope down on the table between the two junior agents and proceeded to march around towards his juvenile delinquent.
Neal eyebrows shot up in surprise, a little concerned that Peter was making his way around to what? Slap him on the back of his head? Take him by the arms and shake him senseless? Wring his neck? But was Peter even capable of something so…un-Peter-like- with witnesses in the room, no less? And not just witnesses, but Federal agent witnesses? He quickly glanced across and after being meet by matching amused expressions, he decided it wasn’t worth the risk. His handler was closing in fast, so Neal wasted no time in springing to his feet and heading off around the table, in the opposite direction.
Jones let out a chuckle, “Never seen Neal move so fast!”
“Can you blame him?” Dianne turned to her co-worker. “Wouldn’t wanna be in Caffrey’s shoes right now.”
“I hear you.”
Neal made it around to where the duo were smarting off, and leaned in close over the back of their chairs, “Thanks for the support…team,” before skipping off on his trip around the table. Peter had made some ground and was closing the gap fast.
Peter passed by Dianna and Clinton. “Your ‘team’ is probably just as fed up as I am about you going off the reservation. Am I right?”
The younger agents nodded in agreement.
“What a shock!” replied Neal with a thick dose of sarcasm as he rounded the top end of the table, Peter continuing the same path as he rounded the bottom end.
“What a shock for me Neal,” Peter echoed, “when my old buddy, Detective Norris from the 48th Precinct phoned and said he was sending over photos taken from a security camera after a break-in at Chirp ‘n Dales. Said he knew we’d been working a case involving the business and asked if we were able to shed any light on who may have broken into the premises early Saturday morning around 2am?” Peter stopped and glared down his young charge. “Want to hazard a guess as to who may be on the surveillance photo’s Neal?”
Neal paused at the opposite end. “Could be anyone. Alistair McNamara has a lot of enemies Peter.”
“Yep, there’s no disputing that.” Peter placed his hands on his hips and took a couple of deep calming breaths. “But how many of said ‘enemies’ do you think have the skill set to disarm a TypeIII Hatchner 3000 Secruity System without triggering the off-site monitoring station?” The agent left that question out there while he continued, “One of the six surveillance camera’s did however capture a rather clear image of a male, approximately 5’ 11’, around 160 pounds…Sound like anyone you know, Neal?”
The young con pretended to consider, “Shaquille O’Neal?”
“You know,” Peter began to circle the table once more, forcing the younger man to also resumed his circuit. “You may be half -right. I’m convinced there was a ‘Neal’ in there somewhere.”
“If you’re so ‘convinced,’ why not simply check the photo, why all this?” Neal used his finger to trace a circle in the air, indicating the direction they both continued to move.
“Because the guy in the security photo is sporting a chicken mask…”
Both Dianna and Clinton laughed out loud.
“…but I’m thinking you already knew that…Neal.”
Neal was growing tired of the walking. His top-of-the-line tan, Italian leather shoes were made for style, not comfort, and the laps were starting to take their toll, “Listen, Peter. How about you and I just sit down and talk about this like a couple of grown-ups?” As opposed to this irate father and naughty child scenario currently taking place!
“Grown-ups?” Peter scoffed. “How can you even speak that phrase with a straight face, Neal? In light of recent events…” Peter stabbed a finger towards the manila envelop lying ominously in the middle of the table, “your behavior, your immature retaliation, you’re impulsive reaction to McNamara’s comments…you don’t have any right to stand there and refer to yourself as a ‘grown up.’ Can I let you in on a home truth, buddy - you’re not ready for the grown-ups table. Hell, I don’t think you’re even entitled to eat in the same room.”
Peter picked up his pace, Neal picked up his. “You just couldn’t help yourself, could you? I told you to leave it alone, I ordered you to stay away from Alistair McNamara. I told you he was a dangerous man and you wouldn’t be doing yourself any favours by delving deeper into his alleged betting ra-”
“Alleged!’ Neal interrupted. “How can you say ‘that’ with a straight face? There was nothing alleged about it, Peter. The guy’s running a racketeering scam out of his bird-house! Alistair McNamara’s dirty to the bone…and a complete and utter ass. And we simply dropped the case and let him walk free.”
“No we did not!” It was Peter’s turn to take offence at the remark. “It’s called due process, Neal, something you know nothing about! Or care about, is probably a more accurate interpretation of your laissez-faire attitude towards the judicial system. Ever since our first meeting with McNamara, you’ve been peeved at him for his snide remarks and no doubt plotting revenge at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Neal sensed he was in the midst of an argument he couldn’t possible win, and his poor feet were well overdue for break, so he changed tact, while maintaining his current course around the table. “Look Peter, you’re missing the point…”
Peter slowed down and paused momentarily at the whiteboard, eyeing off a mostly unused object, resting in a thin layer of dust in the contoured equipment tray that ran along the bottom edge of the board. “No Neal…” Peter picked up the object and studied it in his fingers, “I think it’s you who’s missing the point.” The older man resumed his circuit, holding the new acquisition in his right hand.
Neal easily dismissed Peter’s new distraction and continued with his defense. “I can’t see what the big deal here is.” He looked down and shook out his right foot while on the move. The back right heal was starting to sting and each new step was creating a ‘sandpaper on skin’ sensation. “This is ridic…This is ridi-ri-” Neal stammered as Peter extended the small metal point to a length of at least two feet. “Riiiii-P-Peeeeeeter, watcha doing?”
Peter’s slowed down at the door as he was passing, just long enough to reach out and twist the door latch to lock position, then he continued moving along, whipping the metal pointer through the air a couple of times, like he was testing it out for…
“Peeeeeeter,” Neal squealed and picked up his pace. “You can’t be serious!” It was his turn to pass the door, and just as Peter had, he reached out and twisted the door latch, back to the unlock position.
It wasn’t long before Peter was passing again, “Oh, take a look at my face, Neal, and you’ll see just how serious I am.” He twisted the latch and once again the door was locked.
Neal was suddenly overcome by a sense of dread and tried his friends again for support, “Clinton, do something!”
“Fraid I can’t, Neal. My head is spinning from watching you two go in circles. Can’t do anything till I get my equilibrium back.”
He wasn’t likely to do any better with the young woman but still, any port in a storm! “Dianna?”
“Yeah, I’m getting dizzy too.” Dianna pushed back in her seat and stood in Neal’s path, effectively blocking a subsequent pass. Neal would have needed to be out of his mind to even consider taking Dianna on and as desperate as he felt, he still retained some semblance of self-preservation. The young con stopped at the top of the table and for some reason, Peter came to a standstill also, at the bottom end.
“Peeeeter,” Neal steadied himself by holding on tight to the back of one of the office chairs. “W-what’s going on? You’re not planning on what it looks like you’re planning on?”
Peter made a point of studying the thin metal stick in his hand, “What does it look like I’m planning, Neal?”
“It looks a lot like…a lot like…a…You know!”
“Like you’re planning on ‘hitting’ me with that thing!”
“Nothing gets by you does it, Neal?” Peter proceeded to move around the table, towards the kid.
Neal took a step back but soon found his butt pressed against the far wall. “Peeeter! You can’t hit me! You can’t simply think it’s okay to go around hitting your CI.”
“And you can’t go around breaking and entering just cause someone has provoked you, but, hey…you went and did it anyway.”
“There’s no proof I broke into McNamara’s, like you said, the guy in the photo had a chicken mask.” Neal slid along the aircon board, nudging his body closer to the door to Peter’s office.
Peter reached the top of the table and pulled the chair the younger man had previously been leaning on, back and out of the way, “I checked your tracking data, Neal.”
Neal crossed his arms defensively, “I was at The Colton – the club out front of McNamara’s. It’s in my radius. It’s a good club. Good music, fine wine. Besides, as far as I know I’m permitted to go wherever I want in my free time.”
“At two in the morning?”
“It wasn’t a school night…DAD
. I’m entitled to stay out to whatever time I want as long as I stay in my radius.”
“Unless I’ve specifically ordered you to stay away, SON
. I told you not to go, you went against my orders and did anyway, and now,” Peter swished the rod, “you’re going to suffer the consequences.” He tapped the table with the end of the pointer, “Over here.”
Neal swallowed hard and took a deep breath, trying to return oxygen to his brain before he passed out. He’d finally gone and done it. He’d finally gone and pushed the old man off the edge. Once more, he looked to the junior agents for a lifeline, “Di-Dianna, Peter has clearly lost the plot. Talk some sense into the man, pleeease. Help me out.”
Dianna sat back down in her seat, now it was clear the kid was done with running laps around the conference room. “What do you want me to say, Neal? Tell Peter that if Christie found out I’d done the reckless crap it sounds like you pulled, I’d have trouble sitting for a week? Does that help?”
“No it does not!” Neal spat out then calmed himself before imploring a more positive outcome from his less irrational colleague, “Clinton…bro…come on, back me up here. You know this isn’t right!”
“Yeah, I’ve probably got to agree,” Clinton tilted his head as he pretended to study the scene at the end of the table. “It’s not right, Neal….”
“See Peter!” Neal jabbed his finger in the direction of the young agent, “listen to the voice of reason in the room, I beg of you.”
“Actually, I hadn’t finished,” Clinton cleared his throat, “I was about to say, it’s not right because if my dad was going to give me a thrashing for reckless behavior, I’d be made to drop my pants first.”
Neal paled as the blood literally drained from his head. “Wa…what? N..no way!”
Peter pressed his lips together in order to suppress a smirk, “Relax Neal. Your pants can stay where they are.”
“And I think we’re all be thankful for that,” Dianna deadpanned.
Peter sighed deeply, “But I reserve the right to change my mind any second, so hurry up and put your hands on the table.”
“Peeeeter!” The whining was getting worse.
“Now, Neal.” Peter’s resolve was growing stronger.
“Seriously, can’t we ju-”
“Fine,” Neal huffed with great theatrics, stepped forward and splatted both palms onto the smooth polished surface of the conference table. “Please remind me later to remove you two from my Christmas card list!” He informed the junior agents before growling, “Happy?”
“No, Neal. Not happy. And let me demonstrate to you just how very unhappy I am at the choices you made.”
“Yeeeoww!” Neal sprung up, spun round and clasped both hands to his smarting rear end. “Crap Peter! What the hell?”
Peter didn’t react to the young man’s melodramatic reaction, “Turn around, Neal.”
Neal’s eyebrows shot up, “What? Why? Surely you don’t think you’re going to do that again?”
Dianna couldn’t help a snigger and had to cover her mouth to avoid a potentially embarrassing full bodied laughter.
Peter nodded unsympathetically, “Yes, Neal. I am.”
“But Peter…” Neal whined… “How…How many times?”
“I haven’t decided.”
“Can you maybe…give me a ball park figure so I can decide?”
“Decide whether I’m going to stand here and let you tenderise my butt with your stick or go running and screaming to Agent Hughes, begging him to lock me up.”
“No reason you can’t do both Neal. I’m sure Hughes is good with both of those choices but knowing Reece, he would probably insist I finish off at this end first.”
Neal groaned as he looked back over his shoulder to seek confirmation that what Peter was saying held an element of truth. He studied their faces. It was more than an element. Hughes would be just as likely to come and hold him down while Peter finished the job. “Can it just be one or two more?” Neal asked ever so hopefully.
“I think a few more than that, Neal. But please bear in mind, the longer you take to make a decision,” Peter warned, “the twitchier my hand gets.”
Neal gave his butt a feverish rub before turning with haste, to face the table and placing his hands back down on the surface. “Just…not so friggen hard, okay!” Neal shut his eyes and clenched his butt cheeks tight.
“Ooo..ooo.” Neal jumped up and down and reached back with his right hand to rub, but otherwise remained in position. “That was harder than the first, Peter!”
“No it wasn’t Neal, but the next one can be if you don’t move your hand.”
Neal retracted his hand with lightning speed. “It’s moved, I moved it!”
“Good boy,” Peter lined up the pointer, and brought it down,
Three times. Swiiiiish…Thwack!
before Neal jumped up again.
“Okay,” he leapt out of the way and spun around, “Enough, Peter. You’ve made your point. I’m sorry.”
“For…?” Peter waited.
“I’m sorry I’m a disappointment. I’m sorry I’m not…” Neal directed a glare back over his shoulder at his two, most unsupportive, colleagues… “your favorite any more.”
Peter tilted his head and fixed Neal with a glare of his own. The silly kid still wasn’t taking this seriously, so, without saying a word, he took him by the upper arm and spun him back over the table and let the rod do the speaking.
The rod found its mark across the top of Neal’s thighs.
And again, directly over the same spot.
Neal tried to pull away, but this time Peter had him well anchored. “Peeeetter! Can’t you just ground me, or give me extra chores around the house or, you’ll have to check with Elizabeth on this one, send me to bed without any de”…Swiiiish…Thwack!…
“zooooow! Do you know how much that friggen hurts!!!”
Peter paused, “You think this is a game, Neal?”
“It’s not? I figured we must be role playing some kind…” Swiiiish…Thwack!...
“K…okay…I get it Peter!” Neal blurted out as he reached back to shield his rear as much as he could with his free hand.
“What do you get, Neal?”
“I get…” Neal tried to turn around but Peter wouldn’t have it. “I get that I should have listened to you. Next time I’m going do everything you say. I’ll heed your warnings and I’ll follow protocol, and…behave myself.”
“You better mean it, Peter laid the pointer to rest on the table and released his hold, “or you might just find yourself hauled back for another dose.”
“I can guarantee, Peter,” Neal grumbled as he moved well out of arms reach and began rubbing his butt with vigor, “on behalf of my poor, sorry behind, I will never dress up in a chicken mask or any similar animal disguise for that matter and brea-”
“No,” Peter cut him off, shaking his head, “I don’t want to hear what you did or didn’t do in the early hours of Saturday morning,” then went on to explain after being met with a pair of puzzled blue eyes... “Plausible deniability.”
“Plausible deniability,” Neal repeated.
“Yes, Neal, two words I’ve become all too familiar with since becoming responsible for one wayward CI.”
“Maybe the CI wouldn't be so wayward if he didn’t get treated like a naughty little kid,” Neal mumbled under his breath then spoke a little louder to be sure they all heard, “I don’t ever see you going all parental with Clinton or Dianna.”
Peter placed both hands on his hips and released a great sigh - a sigh only a frustrated father could normally muster, “That’s because they, unlike you, know not to commit criminal acts in the name of expediency and retribution.”
Neal buttoned his lips and stared at something interesting on the floor.
“No? Nothing to say about that? What a shock.”
“Can I just…?” Neal nodded over his shoulder towards the door without looking up.
“Go. Go get yourself cleaned up. Five minutes, Neal. Then I want you back in this seat. We have a racketeering scam to take down and I need my smartest kid
brainstorming solutions to solve our apparent stalemate.”
Neal’s eyes shot up and sparkled almost as much as his smile, grinning at Peter before pointing to his chest and turning to the other two while mouthing, ‘smartest kid’. With that shot of ego bolstering his stride, he marched over to the door and yanked it open with gusto. Except…the door was still locked and as he pulled, his hand slipped from the knob and he stumbled backwards…and landed on his butt on the floor…and yelped.
Dianna and Clinton burst into full-blown hysterics. But unfortunately, the young con didn’t find any amusement in it at all as he leapt back off his tender rear end with great haste. He brushed off his designer pants, gave everyone a death stare then departed the room, remembering this time to unlock the door first.
Peter simply rolled his eyes and slumped down into the nearest seat. “Kids,” he moaned as he dropped his head down into his hands, giving his temples a rub while trying to figure out at what point along the way, he’d signed up to become a parent.
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