The Commission

Chapter 2

Prentiss Scott walked into his secure viewing room with a shirt in his hands.

"I see you have been a busy in my absence," he said to the Neal with paint on his hands standing before a canvas with a frown on his face.

His guest turned around the picture he'd been working on, revealing a couple of circles and lines. "Busy doesn't necessarily equal productive," Neal said miserably.

"Well, at least your sartorial exploits seem to have been more successful," Prentiss said, brandishing the shirt. "And there's no way you could have entered my dressing room without Tomas giving youu safe conduct into his domain. Though I must say: gray with a lavender stripe is a bit daring for him. He likes the classics."

Neal laughed. "We did finally bond over clothes. I'm sure that he counted everything after I left, but we had a very entertaining conversation about the correct placement of pleats. And we both agreed this would suit you."

"I'd trust Tomas' recommendations about clothing and most other things any day," Prentiss said, draping the shirt over an abstract sculpture and settling himself in a chair. "He's dressed far better men than I. And what makes him such a good butler is that he understands that what I really require is someone to keep me from slipping below a certain standard." The billionaire twisted his mouth.

He pressed the discreet metal device clipped to one of his shirt buttons. "Tomas? Bring us tea and sandwiches. We'll eat with the Rembrandt, please."

The would-be artist sat down gratefully at the table in the viewing room. "I've been eating here quite a bit myself. I hope you don't mind."

Scott smiled. "From what I understand, you slept here the last two nights while I've been away. Don't worry—I don't mind at all. I'd never do anything to get between an artist and his inspiration."

The butler wheeled in a cart and the older man and younger man exchanged a humorous glance at the outright suspicion Tomas still displayed for the new fixture in the room holding his employer's most valuable art.

Neal bit into one of the sandwiches that regularly appeared with the butler, who carried all the delicious things made by some unseen cook or cooks in that huge apartment. He knew better than to ask exactly where his host had been. There were many lines that the ex-con sensed from the beginning he should not cross with Prentiss Scott. So far, he'd been adept at avoiding them. They talked about their usual subjects, which were always a pleasurable mix: a lot about art, but their conversation ranged across several topics for over an hour.

Suddenly Scott froze with his hand on the teapot. "That's really quite amazing," he said with real admiration in his voice.

Neal grinned. "I knew I couldn't fool you for long. I'm actually really surprised it took you an hour to realize that the Rembrandt was a forgery. I owe Tomas fifty bucks."

"And it's a cunning one, at that," Scott continued, still scrutinizing the painting.

"How did you know?" Neal asked. "Patina was wrong?"

Prentiss shook his head. "I suddenly had the oddest sensation, that's all. Externally it's perfect. You're an even better criminal than I imagined." He cast a glance that was anything but perturbed. "But it's as if someone that I know well and see every day like Tomas, as if an identical twin of his appeared out of nowhere and was going about his duties for some time before I realized that the insides weren't right. Yes, I have a gift for sensing the interior of things, much like you." He directed one of his penetrating looks at Neal's eyes. "Now really, should I be afraid that you're not systematically substituting your masterpieces for my masterpieces?"

"I never carry anything in or out of your apartment, Prentiss," Neal protested, opening his hands in a frank gesture. "Except this," he pointed at the palm-sized sketchbook he used to ferry his ideas back and forth from the Park Avenue mansion. "And I'm positive that Tomas manages to leaf through that for contraband every time I'm here."

"I noticed you carry nothing. I notice everything," Scott said.

"Not much gets by me either," Neal risked. "This tea is different than usual. In fact, it's not commonly available in the States. You were in Asia, Singapore, I'd guess. I know you have a business there and the flight that I took on my one visit was actually very comfortable in first class, which would explain why you don't seem tired after such a long journey. " He waited to see if his observations would be taken as an imposition by this extremely private man he'd been spending so much time with for a couple of months now.

Prentiss laughed. "Yes, I went to Singapore, as I sometimes must to give a face to all of my holdings," he said, making the grimace Neal now expected whenever his physical aspect came up. "Prentiss Lloyd Scott isn't to be trifled with, and sometimes he needs someone to remind his employees of that. Otherwise there's so many of them scattered across the globe they'd all be helping themselves to the till."

In the new opening between them Neal observed, "It always does surprise me to hear you refer to yourself in the third person."

"Don't worry, it's not my version of the royal we. For the past several years Tomas and I have been playing with this Lloyd Scott fellow as if he were a Ken doll. An immaculately dressed, financial genius Ken doll. 'What would Prentiss Scott be doing this time of year?' we ask ourselves. And then we plot the bare minimum of social appearances to avoid rumors of my own death. As you know, it's thankfully very easy to conduct business from one's home and thus I have the luxury of trading shares while sitting underneath a Rembrandt of questionable provenance in excellent company."

"You're an attractive man." Neal began saying what he'd wanted to express all this time. "There's really no reason to stay inside unless you want to."

"You haven't met Prentiss Lloyd Scott," the older man said with quiet force. Then he pressed his wireless intercom to call the butler. "Tomas, bring us something wonderful from the wine cellar. No, no," he reacted to the voice in the hidden ear piece, "I think we need a nice, rich red to feed the blood. Wouldn't you say?" he asked in his normal voice of the painter at his table.

"Sounds great," Neal replied with his best smile.

The wine arrived and for a moment Neal was distracted by the velvety treasure he held in his mouth. "I'm not sure which part of me this is feeding but it's a meal in itself. Thank you, thank you for everything," he said.

"However, I am quite confident that you will be able to find him," Prentiss said, continuing his earlier thought. "I'm quite anxious to see this Scott follow after so long, and you're just the man for the job." He held up his glass.

"I'm not sure why you have faith in the person who's been painting the same canavas over and over for two months," Neal observed. "It's not that I can't sense what needs to be on the canvas. I feel it inside. But I can't make it rise to the surface and come out. This is one of the worst feelings I've never had." He leaned back and ran a hand through his hair.

"Your unfamiliarity with impotence is noted," Scott said with a playful smile. They shared a naughty laugh. "But I just had an inspiration of my own. Have you ever heard about Edwin Henry Landseer and his unusual ability? We're not talking a sexual gift."

"I know him to be an English painter and not very interesting at that," Neal answered. "What's this special talent of his?"

"He could paint two different pictures—o ne with each of his hands at the same time. Apparently he was quite a phenomenon in this sense. Though, as you say, probably neither of the canvases was very compelling."

Neal shook his head. "I'm having trouble with one painting."

"No, I believe there's something to it," the older man leaned forward. "Supposedly, your dominant hand engages one part of your brain and the other hand accesses something else—your subconscious, perhaps. They do these sort of exercises for people with brain injuries or to study of how memory works," he continued. "It's a proven fact that doing two tasks simultaneously makes them come out differently."

Neal sat up excitedly "I see whiat you're getting at. While I'm trying and failing to paint the portrait in my head, my other hand might have something interesting to say about it in a different way. Let's try it."

Scott called for another easel and canvas and then sat down in a chair in front of the painter. "I think I'd make a fine specimen for one of your hands," he declared, "while you go about your business with the other."

With the wit and kindness Neal so often found within this enigmatic host of his, Prentiss distracted Neal from what either of his hands was doing by talking about Singapore and some of the more amusing people he dealt with at his business.

"Tomas packed my lucky shirt and jacket, so there's no way anything could have gone wrong," he said. "The hardworking international playboy always makes a good impression."

Neal set down both of the brushes he'd been struggling with. " I don't really think it matters what you wear to these engagements. You could probably show up in a sack—it's the force of your personality that gets things done."

"Am I such an ogre?" Prentiss asked, half in jest. "That must be why a telephone call is enough to keep most of them in line most of the year."

"No, I mean, it's your style —I admire it," Neal said a sudden urgency. "Prentiss, look around you. This apartment is amazing and it doesn't have to be. It could be a mausoleum worth millions. You have this wonderful way of putting things together, and I'm sure that that translates to your business as well. You have taste in what ever realm choose to enter. I wish I still did." He finished on a bitter note and looked tentatively over at the man that might be becoming his friend.

"I'll remember that," Prentiss said softly. "That was quite an homage. So if you think you know me so well, then put that Prentiss down with paint. I'm not sure he's still there anymore, but if he is, I miss him.'

Neal switched what he had been doing with the two brushes, and began trying to paint his host with his dominant hand. He suddenly wanted so much to be able to show his host how he saw Prentiss Lloyd Scott as one and the same with the man sitting in front of him, united with some inner thread to his own character he'd somehow dropped. His art had never done anything so meaningful as help heal someone, and he felt that if he painted Scott just right, he might be able to help Prentiss break out of the strange disconnect that existed between the man and his reflection.

The forger trying to be an artist painted and Prentiss sat with him, existing together in a companionable silence for the rest of the evening.

"So he took a little vacation—to Prentiss Scott's apartment," Jones said. "Add another factoid to your Wikipedia entry on Neal Caffrey and call it a day, boss."

Everyone on their team had noticed Peter's abstaction during the two-day leave their confidential informant asked for for the first time in the years he'd been working with the FBI.

Diana chuckled mischievously. "If I didn't know any better, I think that you were so concerned about Neal's habits for a different reason. Jealousy, perhaps?"

Peter held up his hand. "No, Diana you're right." A querying glance when around the table. "This is about my concern for Neal. My instincts aren't telling me that he's going to commit a crime; they're telling me he's in danger for some reason."

He furrowed his brow while he tried to pinpoint what his famed instincts were telling him. "How much do we know about this Prentiss Lloyd Scott?"

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