The Commission

Chapter 3

"What do you know about Prentiss Scott?" Peter asked Mozzie from the park bench at their signaled meeting place.

"Financially? He's clean, as far as I know. Runs his businesses himself, unlike most people of his class—he has so many holdings he must work like an animal."

"FBI intelligence told me that pretty easily," Peter said dryly.

Mozzie nodded and threw a sunflower seed at a pigeon. "You want the margin notes. He has a small but high-stakes interest in art and rare artifacts. The art is legal, the artifacts maybe slightly marginal. Though I can't imagine how he convinces people to sell him pieces like a Rembrandt or a Picasso that belonged to Gertrude Stein and has never hung in a museum."

"How do you think he does it?" Peter pursued.

"I don't know. People seemed to genuinely like the guy before he dropped off the grid. Hey, you, calm down, there's enough for everybody," he admonished a squirrel dashing for a seed.

"We're thinking an illness he doesn't want to be made public, either because it would weaken his business standing or he is too debilitated to go out," the FBI agent said, sharing the suppositions that were the only result of a surprisingly fruitless investigation.

"I can't help you there right off the bat," Mozzie spread out his small hands. "Neal's the one who gets inside people's heads better than I do, and he's the one you're investigating, I suppose. I can tell you right off, Suit, he's not in con mode."

"I agree with you," Peter said.

Mozzie looked at him sharply. "Then—you're investigating Prentiss Lloyd Scott, the last of the self-made billionaires and noted philanthropist? You name the good cause, there's a fund with his name on it." He leaned over. "Did you know the primate wing at the Bronx zoo is the Prentiss Lloyd Scott primate wing? Those are probably the most comfortable bonobo chimps outside of the Goodall Institute, and I hear he and Jane are friends."

Mozzie evidently had placed Scott in his "save the world" compartment rather than "filthy rich potential mark" mental category.

"Mozzie, focus. He's a good guy – I get that. Maybe a little too good?" the agent suggested.

It took little to engage Mozzie's penchant for conspiracy theories.

"I never thought of him that way," the thief said with interest. "But again, he's from Neal's world, well, his sometimes-world. I don't hobnob with the upper crust so much. You want me to ask my contacts?"

"Yes, I do," the FBI agent said with difficulty, knowing that such a request often meant biting off more than he could chew. "No B & E, nothing –"

"Nothing illegal," Mozzie finished in a bored tone. "But I have to tell you, Neal's in some artist phase right now. I'm sure he's just going over there to cozy up to that Picasso or one of Scott's other works of art. That's what Neal tells me he's been doing, and he comes home smelling of turpentine and then sketches in his book for hours when he's not looking at things with his artist eyes."

He scattered another handful of seeds. "Neal did this exact same thing in Barcelona when he got into Gaudi. It was like he was in a trance. He's not in a place to be the inside man for investigating Prentiss Lloyd Scott." His tone softened. "Give him this, Suit. He's not breaking any rules and Neal needs to create."

Peter shook his head. "I can't put my finger on it, Moz. Maybe I'm going crazy, but my instincts–"

"Make the blood of the average crook run cold at the mere mention," Mozzie finished theatrically but with a sincere shudder. "Fine, I'm along for the ride as long as you keep your instincts away from me."

Peter looked at him piercingly.

"Stop that, I tell you!" the small man recoiled.

"Does Neal like men?" Peter asked suddenly.

He was gratified to see that, true to form, Mozzie was not surprised by anything. "No idea."

"How can you not know?" Caspar protested. "You guys are so close it's like you're talking in your own language when you're together."

"You misunderstand a friendship between criminals. We still live by Don't Ask Don't Tell—not just about this subject, but about everything, especially anything personal. Thieves tend to have a private place locked away that is at the center of everything they do. Sometimes they've lost it and are trying to find it, or maybe they do heists because they want to arrange to be in that place forever."

"Like your island getaway," Peter supplied.

"Yes, actually. So maybe I do have the answer to your question about Neal's preferences."

The FBI agent started on his bench. This wasn't in the file. "Something happened on the island?"

"Other than his usual beautiful women, no, I don't think so." Mozzie chuckled and then his face became serious. "Neal and I share something, but it isn't always personal information. We both want a home. That's our Holy Grail."

"Because you grew up in an orphanage and he grew up in Witness Protection," Peter leaned back, relieved that his Caffrey file wasn't missing something crucial. "I've never been able to grasp why the bond between the two of you was so strong."

"Lots of men who grew up without a father or without a home probably share a similar thing, but for those of us who grew up in the system, we have a name for this bond. It happens when you find in another person – someone anyone of any age—who gives you that personal sense in an impersonal institution. We called them Homers."

The small criminal chuckled and ate a few sunflower seeds himself. "I've seen guys defend this person in their life more violently than prize possessions or girlfriends. The Homer can remind them of their birth-sibling, or maybe it's the person who trades to give them an extra dessert or defends them when they have nightmares and wake up crying."

"Do these 'Homers' tend to be … sexual partners?" Peter asked delicately.

Again Mozzie was unperturbed. "No, actually. Never, that I know of. You see, it would be all wrong, mixing home in with sex. And believe me, I have seen all sorts of things in the orphanage—"

Peter interrupted him hastily. "So if Neal is spending a lot of time with Prentiss Lloyd Scott, does this mean the he's a Homer for Neal in some way?"

"You thought Neal was sleeping with him?" Mozzie finally understood, and then reflected for a moment and a crafty glimmer flitted into his eyes. "Actually, it is possible under certain circumstances. In prison, two Homers can become partners, but they both have to find that same thing in each other. I hear these partnerships tend to be very strong."

Peter paled. He never wanted to ask Neal how he got through prison, in that sense.

Mozzie laughed lightly. "Oh, Neal was someone's Homer in prison, all right. He never told you?"

Peters eyebrows inched up his forehead as if of their own accord.

Mozzie continued deadpan, "A 6' 5", 350-pound functionally illiterate dyslexic with three counts of homicide must be his type – not billionaire art collectors."

"What a relief," Peters said uncertainly.

"I don't know his real name. He goes by Gator because he's from the Everglades. In prison, so I've heard, a lifer automatically has first choice, shall we say," Mozzie said delicately. "And he was one of the leaders at the maxiumum-security facility – by all accounts quite a terrifying man. Gator fixed on Neal first thing, called dibs and everyone else had to be hands off."

Mozzie took in Peter's rapt attention. "Looking the way Neal does, you can imagine there were some – disappointments. I believe several of Neal's would-be suitors met with accidents until the hands-off message stuck." He turned to face Peter, all joking aside. "Somehow this hardened killer was able to see what a rare and wonderful person Neal is, what we see in him." He gestured to the FBI agent at the adjacent bench.

Peter felt odd at being lumped in that group.

"And that this person must not be harmed by the prison experience. Gator took Neal under his wing."

"So this is like a 6' 5" murderous June?" Peter grasped, seeing the same protector qualities in Neal's generous landlady.

"Exactly. He protected Neal even from himself. All Neal had to do was talk with him in that way he has – when he makes you feel –"

"Like you're the only person in the world for that moment. Like you're in the middle of this warm, bright spotlight. Yes I know," Peter said.

Mozzie looked curious for a moment. Then he continued, "Gator still writes to Neal at one of his PO boxes. When I say 'writes,' I use the term loosely. Neal and I have a game where we act out what we think these letter say over a glass of wine."

Neal's best friend then said more seriously, "He's made me promise that Gator will get presnts on Christmas, his birthday, and his D-Day -that's what they call the day the doors close on you forever, D meaning Death-as long as the big man lives, should something happen to Neal. If he has a will somewhere, I'm sure it says the same."

Peter expelled a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Well, that's quite a story. There's so much I don't know about Neal," he said with a twinge of jealousy.

"Maybe you should ask him sometime, instead of me," Mozzie suggested with a smile around his lips. "He's pretty close-mouthed about these things, but I always assumed that you and Elizabeth were like a two-person Homer for him."

"Oh." Peter forgot the concern that had brought him to the park for a moment. "That's really nice. If I could explain the whole thing to Elizabeth in a story without the prison bitch subtext, I'm sure she would be touched as well."

Mozzie shook out the rest of the seeds for the pigeons. "if Neal is dating this guy, he'll say sooner or later. You know how he's about love—no apologies. But I don't get why that would be a big deal. Believe me, he's dated much shadier ladies who do not care about the plight of the bonobo chimp."

"I know Elizabeth told you that I did a background check on her when we started dating," Peter said sheepishly. "So you know I'm not above doing that for potential partners of my friends as well."

"You did it for Suzette!" Mozzie exclaimed.

"Of course, Diana is like family. So is Neal," Peter said. "They're people I want to keep safe."

Peter got to his feet with the usual sensation after a meeting with Mozzie—full of too much information, suspecting half of it wasn't true and the other half either censored or seen through a paranoid lens. Still, nothing he'd learned helped him shake the feeling that Neal was somehow getting in too deep with the wrong guy.

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