Fandom: White Collar (vague spoilers for season 1; inconsistent with end of season 3)
Summary: Scams might rely on altruism or greed, friendship or loneliness, or any of a dozen other human qualities. But they always rely on the investment principle: the more time, effort, and emotion you invest into something, the less willing you are to give it up....
The Refugee Scam
The scammer pretends to be in a refugee camp and needing help to access their inheritence from their recently deceased parents. Relies on sympathy for the deserving poor.
Peter was on his way out to lunch when a piece of paper on Neal's desk caught his eye. Lunchwrap paper. He backtracked and looked at the paper and the sandwich it had contained while Neal looked innocently back. "Neal, that's Janice's sandwich."
Neal cocked his head to one side as if disappointed. "Peter, are you accusing me of stealing a sandwich?"
"No." Under Peter's baleful glare he added, "She said she had an unexpected lunch date and she didn't want it to go to waste."
"It's Tuesday," he said. There was nothing unexpected about it: Janice always met her friends for lunch on Tuesday.
Neal shrugged elaborate helplessness. "It's pretty good," he said, and took another bite.
"Neal--" he started, and his pocket beeped. He didn't even need to dig his phone out to know it was a reminder message from El.
"Not as good as the Cafe Carbonaro," Neal admitted. "You want me to come along?"
"You--" He caught himself, took a breath, and reminded himself El was waiting. "The moment I get back, my office."
The moment he got back, Neal fell in beside him. "Enjoy your lunch?"
"I did," he said. Pasta and a good conversation with El always helped when he was suspicious of Neal. "And I hope you savoured yours, because if you want another one like it you're going to have to forge it yourself."
"Foodstuffs aren't really my medium," Neal said judiciously. "And I really don't see what you're so upset about," he added, following Peter into the office. "If you don't believe she gave it to me you can ask Jones: he was there."
"Or I could ask Janice," Peter pointed out.
"Or you could ask Janice," Neal agreed a little too readily.
He narrowed his eyes and studied him. What else wouldn't he want Peter to hear from Janice? "Why," he asked, "did she give it to you?"
"I told you what she said."
"Yes, you did." He tapped his fingers on his desk. "Have you been giving her the impression you're broke?"
"I've never said any such thing. Not that the FBI is particularly generous with--"
"All the powdered egg you can eat," Peter promised him, and meant it. Janice did not deserve to be taken for a mark. "This stops, now. No more free lunches."
"Come on, Peter, what do you want me to say? If she thinks I conned her she'll die of embarrassment."
"Don't worry, I'm not asking you to confess to anything. Tell her you've come into some money. Legally. Or you're arranging your finances more responsibly, hard as that may be to believe."
Neal ignored the snark. "You want me to lie to her?"
"Neal, you're a con. You'll think of something. Because if you don't, I'll take you over to her desk and make you empty your pockets onto it, and then I'll look up the bank records for every card in your wallet, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was a little bit more than embarrassing for you."
Neal opened his mouth, then shut it again. "I'll talk to her," he conceded.
"Good." He hit the spacebar while Neal headed out.
"By the way," Neal added, "could I leave early today, since I worked over lunch?"
"Your sacrifice will not go unnoticed," he said from his email.
"That would be a no?"
"That--" He hit 'delete' on a charity scam, and looked up with a smile -- "would be a no."
He kept an eye on Neal's lunches over the next week, but when another Tuesday came and went without any sign of suspicious sandwiches he put it out of his mind. Until the Friday he decided to stretch his legs and incidentally get away from his inbox by walking his own file down to Records.
Janice was just stepping out, cellphone to her ear and a hand over the other, looking worried. Peter went on in and found the office deserted for the lunch break, except for Neal hastily bumping a drawer shut again. A flash of deer-in-headlights was quickly replaced by the patented Caffrey charm, which would have been more successful if he hadn't also been holding half a sandwich. "You don't know where she keeps her tissues, do you? This mayonnaise keeps dripping."
"Uh huh," he said. At least she'd locked her computer. "I distinctly recall telling you--"
Neal put his hands up. "Peter, I promise she knows I can afford my own lunch."
He folded his arms.
"She offered! It would have been rude to refuse. Besides, they're really pretty good."
"And in return you offered to look after her desk while she took a conveniently-timed personal call."
"I had nothing to do with the phone call."
"Oh, it's a scandal how you keep finding yourself in these compromising situations," he said, rolling his eyes. "Neal, she doesn't have any files about Kate. She doesn't have access to any files about Kate. And," he clarified as the door opened behind him, "under no circumstances would she ever consent to try and gain access for you to any files about Kate Moreau or anyone else."
"Who's Kate Moreau?" Janice asked.
By the time Peter stepped out of the way, Neal had covered his pained expression with a slightly less pained expression. "Ex-girlfriend. Peter thinks I'm stalking her."
Frustratingly she only looked more sympathetic. "Oh, is she the one who gave you the bottle?"
"Yeah," he said with a small grimace and a gesture apparently indicating that she, unlike Peter, understood.
And all Peter's scolding would only make her more sympathetic. He managed to dredge up a fond laugh instead and said, "Well, admit it, Neal, you don't let go easily. But you're right, it's good you're starting to make new friends." He handed Janice the file he'd brought down and added, as if struck by a thought, "You know what? You two should go out for coffee together."
"Oh," she said, startled, "I'm not-- I mean, we were just--"
Neal tried hastily, "He doesn't mean--"
"No, it's okay," Peter reassured her, and headed to the door. "Get him talking about the Benjamin Franklin effect, he's good at that." He gave Neal a final satisfied smirk over his shoulder, and decided the evil eye he got in response constituted a win.
The Facebook Scam
The scammer, having hacked your friend's address book and assumed their identity, claims to have been mugged in a foreign country. Relies on friendship.
"Hey," Lauren said, appearing in his doorway.
"Hey," he agreed, hoping it wasn't too obvious that he'd been falling asleep over these screeds of whois data. "What's up?"
"I don't know. Should I be worried about Neal?"
That woke him up. "What's he done now?"
"He's been--" She broke off and corrected herself: "That is, I'm almost certain he's trying to make everyone think Ruiz's people have been hassling him. --I know," she added as Peter dropped his head into his hands, "but then I couldn't help thinking that if by some chance it turned out to be true after all..."
"Yeah," he sighed. "What's he doing exactly?"
She waved a hand vaguely. "Trying to get people to run his errands to Organised Crime -- more than for other places, I mean. Coming back a bit too late and a bit too cheerful. Shifting at his desk when he... thinks people think he thinks no-one's watching. Deflecting. Today he came back via the bathroom with his collar just that bit damp, like he'd been splashing water on his face. It... brought back memories."
"Does he know you were bullied at high school?"
"I never told him. But he might have heard someone mention something. Or he might have guessed. Anyway, the FBI, odds are someone here was. Why the hell would he do it? Is it just some sick group dynamics game, get us to close ranks?"
He did his best to give Neal the benefit of the doubt, but the strain was too much. "It'd make a good start to a long con. Okay, send him up and I'll deal with it."
She nodded tightly and said, "Make someone regret it."
"Oh, I will."
He watched through the window as she delivered the message. Neal didn't look unduly surprised or alarmed. He didn't exactly bounce out of his seat, though he didn't have anything more interesting on his desk than Peter and should have been glad for the distraction, but a few steps up the stairs he seemed to remember himself and half-jogged the rest of the way.
Dammit, he was good, Peter thought, and made himself breathe the anger out before Neal came in.
"You wanted to see me?" Neal asked brightly, hands in pockets and settling into a casual slouch.
"Yes." He considered and discarded several openings, then stood. "Actually, let's talk in the car."
"Okay," Neal said curiously, and followed him down to the bullpen. "So... where are we going?"
"I'm curious what our ISP will have to say for itself."
Neal tipped his head, provisionally accepting that, and waited until they were alone in the elevator to speak again. "I'm pretty sure they'll say 'Show us your warrant.' Where are we really going?"
"Around," he said shortly.
Neal subsided, confining himself to a few assessing sideways glances. When they were buckling their belts he asked, "Did Lauren say something?"
"Why would Lauren say anything?"
Neal opened his mouth and shut it again. He watched Peter start the car. "So what's this about?"
"Don't you just hate it," he said meaningly, "when people refuse to just come out and say what's wrong so you can deal with it head on?"
Neal stopped feigning puzzlement and turned to look out his window instead. "Sometimes people have reasons."
"Yeah. Usually bad ones."
They drove around while Peter breathed some more, and then while he found a park. He turned to Neal and tried not to get annoyed again at the solemn expression the conman pasted on. What if, he reminded himself, something really was wrong? "You're my responsibility, Neal. That means I keep you out of trouble, whether it's trouble you make or trouble anyone else makes for you."
"I'm not in any--"
"Just--" He put up his hand. "Listen. If anyone hurts you, you need to tell me straight up and I'll deal with it. No matter how little evidence there is, I will find out the truth, and I will deal with it, and there will be no repercussions for you."
"You can't guarantee that," Neal told the glovebox.
"I can and I do." What if...? "Yes or no, Neal, is someone hurting you?"
Neal took a breath and looked up. "You've got to hear me out."
Which couldn't presage anything good, but it was better than silence. "Sure."
Neal still hesitated, in the way that for most people signalled the effort to lie, but for him the effort to tell the truth. "He's got Kate. He's working with Fowler."
"Ruiz?" Peter said in disbelief.
"OPR's investigated him four times and he's got off every time with a slap on the wrist."
"Yeah, turns out sometimes OPR investigates someone who isn't actually guilty."
"Come on, Peter, you hate him too."
"I don't hate him, he's just a pain in the ass to work with because he never shares any information. This is ridiculous, Neal, why on earth would you think--?"
"Every time he sees me these days he starts humming Für Elise." When Peter made an empty-handed gesture he elaborated: "That little tune they put in cheap music boxes?"
Dammit. He looked out at the traffic, licking his lips, and felt Neal's eyes narrow at him.
"I told him about the music box."
"Why--" the hell was implicit in his emphasis -- "would you do that?"
He could feel himself getting defensive. "You might work alone, Neal, I don't."
"So you trade him my secrets?"
"He helped me find Kate. Which is kind of a big step for interdepartmental cooperation so yeah, I figured he deserved to know a bit about why."
"So he can gloat at me?"
"I'll make him stop."
"No!" Neal said hastily and with emphasis. "Peter, I do not want him knowing that got to me."
"Hey, you're the one who escalated this."
"I--?" He shut his mouth even more furiously than he'd opened it and reached for his seatbelt.
Peter caught his wrist. "You're not running away from this. I get that you're mad, and maybe you've got reason--"
"Maybe," Neal muttered sarcastically.
"--But that doesn't change the fact that what you did is not okay. You don't get to con my team and you don't get to frame other agents."
"Can you let go of my hand now?"
"Okay," he snapped, "I get it."
He wasn't meeting Peter's eyes, which meant he'd probably stopped trying to pull the wool over them. Peter let go. In one motion Neal released his seatbelt and was out of the car; before Peter could open his mouth he'd slammed the door shut and started for a coffeeshop.
He counted to a hundred, hoping the place didn't have a back exit. Paused at ninety to text Lauren -- "My fault. It's sorted." -- and started again more slowly. He'd just reached ninety-nine and three quarters when Neal reappeared with a tray of four coffees.
"That our alibi?" Peter asked, taking the nearest cup while Neal rebuckled his seatbelt. It was empty.
"You drank yours before we started back," Neal explained serenely, and took a sip from his own cup. "You need both hands for the wheel."
"Right." Fair enough, he conceded silently. He put the cup back with the others. "And who were our two friends?"
"They're for Lauren and Ruiz." At Peter's raised eyebrows he deflected with a gesture to the steering wheel. "I think they'd prefer them still warm."
He started the engine and glanced out at the traffic, then back. "Are we good?"
"The coffee's good," Neal temporised, looking out his own window. Peter waited and he looked back: "Let me deal with Ruiz."
"Um," he started.
He studied him to be sure. Guessed, "And the Benjamin Franklin effect?"
"We don't call it that," Neal said, the slightest of smirks tracing his lips.
He rolled his eyes and pulled out. This one he'd call a draw.
The Dying Man Scam
The scammer pretends to be dying of cancer and needing someone to help settle their affairs. Relies on sympathy for the sick.
Neal was wearing sunglasses at breakfast.
"It's not even sunny," Peter said.
Neal tipped them up and flashed him a blinding grin. "They suit me."
"Uh huh," he said. "Hangover?"
"Peter," Neal remonstrated, as if offended he might think he couldn't hold his liquor -- but didn't deny it.
"Come on, you can recuperate in the Taurus."
"What, no coffee?"
He looked regretfully at the Italian roast, but he'd already checked his watch. "We've got an appointment," he said, and started out, knowing Neal would follow him when he tossed over his shoulder, "At the Gugenheim."
"Ooh," Neal said, but didn't catch up with him until halfway down the stairs. Peter wondered if he'd been tidying something or texting someone, especially when he said a little breathlessly, "Is it the Hockney exhibit?"
"You could say that. The Hockney exhibit website has been hacked--"
"You know I'm not a digital native."
"--To display a picture of a knee--"
"Hack-knee," Neal decoded approvingly: "very a propos."
He cast a startled look back on his way out the door. "You think his work is hackneyed?"
Neal rolled his eyes. "Of course you like Hockney."
"Millions of people do."
"Millions of people like seeing a swimming pool, cleverly figuring out it's a Hockney, and thinking they're instant art experts."
"Oh," he said, walking around the car, "and that's different from Monet's water lilies how?"
Neal leaned his folded arms dramatically on the bonnet as Peter unlocked the door. "You're asking me the difference between a water lily and a concrete box full of chlorinated water."
"Seriously, you don't like Hockney?"
Neal shrugged elaborately. "There's art I don't like."
They opened their doors and got in, Peter teasing, "I bet that wouldn't stop you forging it."
"Trust me," Neal said in disgust, "I've never copied a Hockney."
His face was flushed. Peter cocked his head -- Neal wouldn't blush lying to his grandmother on her deathbed -- and noticed the carefully steady breathing. "How did you get out of breath walking down a few flights of stairs?"
"I'm not out of breath," Neal would have said indignantly, if a full-scale coughing fit hadn't interrupted.
He waited it out, which gave him time to identify the scent of Strepsils. "Right," he said when Neal had sheepishly recovered, "out of the car."
"What? Peter, no--"
"I don't want your germs, the Gugenheim doesn't want your germs--"
"It's just a cold--"
"--My team doesn't want your germs: no-one wants your germs. Go back to bed, Neal."
"Go. Don't make me late."
Neal climbed out with a slowness half reluctance, half exhaustion. Peter watched him trudge back inside, then drove away.
For half a block. Then he stopped, one eye on his rear view mirror, and called Jones.
"Hi. Neal's just taken the most convoluted way imaginable to get himself a sickday."
"I guess he's not the type to admit he's under the weather."
"No, and he knows I know it. Can you be down here for a bit and keep an eye on him for me?"
"Already on my way," Jones said.
He grinned to himself. "Thanks. Keep out of view of the windows, I just want to know if anyone comes visiting."
He made his appointment, bagged all the flyers of knees their prankster had switched out for the official pamphlets and the exhibit information cards -- there weren't that many swimming pools -- and arranged for copies of the security tapes. If any of the paintings had been switched, the forgeries were good enough to fool the gallery's experts, but he'd have to bring Neal back to have a better look at how it had been done anyway.
He'd just got back to the office when Jones called. "He's just caught a cab. You want me to follow?"
He blinked -- Neal knew he'd be checking the tracking data -- then smiled. "That's okay, I know where he's going. I'll see you back here." Slipping his phone back in his pocket, he stopped at Diana's desk. "Okay if I call Christie for a favour?"
She looked startled, but quickly put two and two together. "Neal's going to hate this, isn't he?" She handed over her phone with relish: "Speed dial one."
He went to Neal's apartment again the next morning and found him sketching over a bagel.
"No sunglasses," he noted approvingly, and poured himself a coffee. "The hospital must have fixed you right up."
"And fantastic service," Neal said with a slightly plastic grin. "I don't think I've ever been met at the door of the ER before."
"Working for the FBI has its perks," Peter said equably.
"I have been escorted out by security," Neal admitted.
"Just the once?" He savoured the coffee and Neal's faux-wounded look. "Who were you trying to meet?"
"Well, I was hoping for Doctor Suharto -- I've been meaning to get her recipe for lemon meringue pie -- but Doctor Leithfield was really very lovely." He pushed his sketchpad across the table: hand-drawn plans of the Gugenheim complete with not one, but two plausible entry routes.
Peter liked it when his deflections were so profitable for the FBI. "You do this from memory?"
"Bittorrent. And it turns out John Mattis doesn't know that every file you create in a Microsoft application gets your registration details attached."
Peter grinned back at Neal's smug satisfaction. "And you said you weren't a digital native."
The Love Scam
The scammer pretends to be in love with you. Relies on desire and loneliness.
He'd just put the garlic bread in the oven when he heard the door open. "I'm in the kitchen, hon," he called.
"Hi, hon. Can you get me a vase?"
"Sure. Happy client?"
She appeared with a dramatic bunch of pink lily things. "Actually, they're from Neal." She handed him the card that had come with them. "We had the strangest conversation." On the card she'd written, He's bugged them. How shall we play it?
Strangulation. Definitely strangulation. El looked like she'd give him an alibi. Possibly she'd prefer him to give her an alibi. He decided to play it by ear, for now: "What kind of conversation?"
"You're going to want some of that wine," she said, and finished arranging the flowers in the vase he'd retrieved, while he poured two large glasses. She pointed out the bug, small and well hidden inside one of the flowers -- she must have been searching for it. He added to the list of reasons he loved her.
She gestured a question -- take the vase with them to the table? -- and he nodded grimly. "So," he said when they were all in place (he pictured Neal and Mozzie at their own table, hunched together with headsets), "I'm sitting down. Does he want you to run away with him?"
"Not exactly," she said, her tone a plea for patience belied by her flashing eyes. "He, um... well, essentially he asked if I thought you might ever be interested in him."
"He-- Interested in--" He reminded himself this was being listened to, potentially recorded, and focused his spluttering. "Firstly, I love you. Secondly, I love my job. Thirdly, I love the -- very occasional -- moments when I don't have to be thinking about Neal Caffrey. Fourthly," he added a little belatedly, "it's a con."
El gave him an obviously look, but said for the bug, "I don't know, honey. What could he possibly hope to achieve?"
"Ruin my career and get assigned to someone he can twist around his little finger," he said promptly.
"He respects you too much for that."
"Blackmail me into letting him go myself."
"And that," she said sternly. She added, because the bug had to make you wonder, "He wouldn't do that to you, he knows it'd kill you."
"He should know I'd never get involved with someone I was working with."
"He does," she said. "He knows nothing's going to happen while the anklet's on, he just wants to know if there's any chance afterwards. Otherwise he said he'd just forget it. Or if it bothered me at all."
"Oh, why should it bother you?" he muttered.
"He really seemed anxious not to cause any trouble or awkwardness."
Simply wanting to throw Peter off his game? He took a breath to get his expression right and said, "You really believe him."
El played along easily. "I... didn't at first. But he was so... Neal, you know: treating it like he was talking about the weather, like it didn't matter. He really convinced me." A wry gesture added, Until I found the bug.
Strangulation was too good for him. He eyed El speculatively; she met his gaze with just a meaningful flicker to the bug. Right, then. "Oh, God," he said, as if something terrible had just occurred to him: "you didn't tell him about that dream, did you?"
She sucked a smirk off her lips. "Do you mean the one on Sunday or the one you used to have when you were chasing him?"
He was pretty sure she knew where he was going with this. "Okay, that one doesn't count. Putting him in handcuffs was my job."
"I'm pretty sure your job's never involved cuffing him to our bed," she replied promptly. "Relax, honey, of course I didn't tell him."
"Good. Because it was just a dream." He twirled his finger -- Go on -- to bely his words.
"Honey, I think we both know it's more than just a dream. No," she said quickly, as if to forestall his protest, "I know you'd never do anything to hurt me -- or your career. But that whole alpha/beta dynamic you've got going with him--"
"Keeping him in line is my job," he pointed out for the record.
"Yes, but once it isn't your job, don't tell me you wouldn't enjoy... well, keeping him in line in a more safe, sane and consensual environment?"
He cocked his head at her. He knew why he knew the jargon. Why did she know the jargon? But she just smiled serenely back at him, and he put the question aside for later. "Okay," he conceded, "but that doesn't mean he would. Handcuffs, maybe, if only to show off how quickly he can get out of them, but anything else? He's not into pain."
"Yeah, getting pistol-whipped isn't the same thing as getting whipped by someone you trust."
"He's squeamish. You should see him at a crime scene."
"Honey," she reproached him, "dead bodies really aren't the same thing as blood play."
They were possibly taking this too far. He should definitely have planned an endgame. Fortunately at that moment her phone rang.
She glanced at the screen. "It's Neal," she said with credible puzzlement, and answered it: "Hello?"
Peter made himself lean back in his chair as he listened.
"Yes, he's right here."
"Oh. I see."
"Yes, of course. You're right, it's for the best."
"No, of course I completely understand. Of course."
"No, no, there's nothing to worry about." She sounded appropriately sympathetic, but when she hung up she mouthed a gleeful, Yes!
Peter fought his own grin. "Cold feet?"
"He's been thinking it over some more and realised that even the hint of a scandal could get you in trouble," she quoted.
"Like I said."
"So he thinks he should just move on."
"It's a shame," she said, passing him the pepper grinder. "I'd have enjoyed watching you."
"I bet you would." He pondered the pepper. How was he meant to inhale this stuff, grind it over his face? It sounded painful anyway. Instead he pinched his nose and said, "I think I'b going to sdeeze."
"Oh. Oh dear, it's the orchids. I'm sorry, I should have remembered. I'll take them out to the trash."
"Ndo, what if he cobes over and sees--"
"Don't be silly," she said on the way to the door. "I'm not having you sneezing all evening just to avoid hypothetically hurting his feelings. You finish getting dinner ready, I'll be back in a moment."
When she came back he hugged her in sheer relief. "He bought it?"
"He was very persuasive," she said, the memory making her smile.
Sternly she added, "But I want a proper apology from him."
"You and me both. Give me a week."
He spent two days acting as if nothing had ever happened, while Neal did the same. It would have been longer, but on day three Neal was undercover in what should have been (they so often should have been) a routine intel-gathering exercise, when, "Hey, what's that?" was the last thing they heard in the van before the audio cut out.
"Go go go!" Peter shouted. They were in a bad position: it took them three minutes to get into the meatpacking plant, and as soon as he was in he knew there must be an exit they'd missed covering. "Caffrey's our priority," he said. "Spread out, find him." He had to be here. Taking him would have slowed down the escape too much.
It was Peter who found him: wrists roughly duct-taped and hooked over a heavy meathook, legs kicking helplessly for purchase. "Hang on, Neal, I've got you," he said, and dashed for a packing crate, wondering if it was so wrong to be wondering how he could turn this to his advantage.
Neal didn't say anything, but he stopped kicking.
The crate gave Neal the solid footing he needed to take the pressure off his lungs, but when he tried to get off the hook his legs gave under him. Peter was already scrambling up with him, holding the hook still, lifting him off it, and helping him to sit down on the crate. Neal didn't waste time then pulling the duct tape off his mouth and gasping for air.
"Yeah," he said with his flash of a smile. The fact that his breathing was under control again almost distracted from the fact that he'd actually forgotten his wrists were still taped together. "Thanks."
Definitely wrong to take advantage, Peter decided, and dug out his pocket knife to slice the duct tape. Neal stilled under his hand and looked at him sideways when he stepped back to let him finish ripping the tape off his wrists.
Um. Whoops? "We should see if we can find out where they've gone."
"Peter," Neal said as if he hadn't spoken, eyes on the ball of duct tape he was rolling between his hands -- "please tell me you know about the bug."
"Sure," he said lightly, "we all heard them make you, don't worry about it. Come on."
"No, Peter, that's not..."
But by the time Neal had caught up, Peter was busy with his team. He managed to keep busy for a good ten minutes before it was time to head back to the office. "How are your wrists?" he asked on the way to the car: he'd seen Neal twitching his arms.
"Not bad. Apparently duct tape spreads the weight pretty well."
"I'll have to remember that," he joked, against his better conscience. But it wasn't as if Neal hadn't been misinterpreting his motives for the last ten minutes anyway.
He opened his door; Neal sagged against the bonnet. "Peter. I... was approached with an opportunity, but only if I could convince them I could still fool you."
He shut his door again and folded his own arms on the bonnet. An opportunity. "Go on."
Neal looked away, down, and nervously back up. "Well, there's not that much I can fool you about these days. So I told El I was in love with you and gave her the flowers." He stopped there, because it wasn't a conversation with Neal if Peter didn't have to force that last bit of information out of him, with a hard stare if nothing else. "Which... might have been bugged?" he said as if the truth would be contingent on Peter's reaction.
"So your friend could judge for himself just how fooled I was?"
Definitely a man, then. He'd have to decide later what he thought about a stranger listening in on that. For now he got out his cell. Neal looked nervous, but it wasn't until Peter said, "Hi, honey, have you got a minute free?" that he started mouthing puppy-eyed pleas.
"For you, honey? As much as you want."
"Neal's got something to say." Neal's head was in his hands.
"I'll just put you on speaker." He set the phone on the middle of the bonnet and folded his arms again.
Neal looked up with his brilliant smile, but at Peter's look he deflated. "Elizabeth," he said soberly, "I need to apologise to you."
"Oh?" she prompted.
"When I talked to you last week... it was a con. The flowers were bugged. I was using you to get to Peter, and I'm really, really sorry."
"Hmm," she said. "Why?"
"Someone offered me an opportunity--"
"No," she interrupted, "that's... well, not obvious, but it's the only thing left. I meant why are you sorry? Why did you change your mind?"
Neal opened and shut his mouth. Peter straightened in interest as he rubbed his neck. "I, uh..."
"We were playing along," Peter reminded him. "We had you half convinced, don't tell me your friend wasn't."
"You knew there was no chance Peter was actually going to tie you up and start cutting you," El added.
"And you knew your friend didn't just want to know if you could fool me, he also wanted to know if you would."
"Or she," Neal said weakly.
Oh God, it was Alex. Of course it was Alex. He supposed that was better than a complete stranger, but what was she up to now?
El finished smoothly, "So why did you call it off?"
"Because," Neal said from beneath hands half raking, half tearing at his hair, "you had me half-convinced and I didn't want to actually hurt either of you, and it was you who spotted the bug, wasn't it? I swear I'm sorry and I'll never underestimate you again."
"You mean you'll never try to con her again," Peter corrected.
That got him a hurt look. "Peter, I promise I've learnt my lesson."
"Yeah," he said. That wasn't a promise.
"Peter?" El asked.
He picked the phone back up, switching it off speaker. "You've got me."
"If he did promise, he wouldn't keep it, would he?"
"Shall we forgive him anyway?"
"That's such a strong word," he pointed out while Neal looked at him hopefully.
El laughed music in his ear. "Dinner tonight?"
"We'll pick you up," he agreed, and when he'd hung up told Neal, "You're taking us to dinner tonight."
Neal had the sense not to make the obvious quip. Instead he gave a matter-of-fact nod and spent the ride back to the Bureau arranging for reservations somewhere that sounded Italian and expensive, while Peter made plans to find out what Alex was up to this time.
The baiter pretends to be a victim and sucks up the time and resources the scammer would otherwise spend on real victims. Relies on the scammer's need for one last big score.
Four months after Neal's tracking anklet had come off, and very nearly the same length of time after he'd hopped on a plane to Gibraltar, an email arrived on Peter's phone to enliven a dull evening stakeout:
How're things in the Big Apple? Never thought I'd say this but holidaying in Florence gets old after a while. That job offer still open? NC
"Oh, how sweet," Diana said, leaning over his shoulder as he reveled in a smirk, "he thinks you don't know David Harvey's in Paris."
"No, I'm pretty sure he knows exactly who tipped off the French about that heist he had planned at the Musée d'Orsay. And he knows I can do this," he added, opening the full headers to get the originating IP address.
"Oh, come on, it's got to be spoofed!"
"Nah, it's Yahoo," he said, copy and pasting it into the IP registry search. "If he wanted to slow me down he'd use Gmail. Here we are: cybercafe, fourteenth arrondissement."
"It's the middle of the night over there," she started. Peter paused in the middle of dialling to raise his eyebrows at her, and she laughed. "Okay, fair point."
Neal answered on the first ring: "Hi, Peter."
"What's wrong, Monsieur 'Arvey, too short on cash to buy yourself a burner?"
"Gesture of good faith?" Neal suggested.
"Uh huh. Be in my office by close of business tomorrow and I'll give you the same deal I gave you last time."
"That's not the same offer you gave me four months ago."
"Pity you didn't accept it four months ago, then."
"Okay," Neal conceded, "but no anklet."
"Exactly the same deal I gave you last time."
"Peter, come on--"
"Take it or leave it."
"Ten mile radius."
"Oh Neal," he said fondly, "I'd love to debate this, but did I mention I've already forwarded those headers to the French police?"
There was a brief silence -- possibly a subvocalised merde -- and then a click.
Peter forwarded the headers.
"Oh, boss, you're nasty," Diana said approvingly. "Hey, do you think we can use that as leverage with the French? They give us the files on this bastard -- who by the way has terrible taste in television -- and we guarantee Monsieur Daveed 'Arvey stays out of their hair for four years?"
That sounded very much like a win-win, he agreed, and said, "Let's wake them up and find out."