Neal raised his head, perking up for the first time in over an hour. He'd been fiddling with the FBI pen he took from Peter's desk. Allegedly. Peter didn't quite know it was missing just yet.
He was sitting in the FBI conference room, surrounded by agents at the table. Reese Hughes and Peter were standing at the head of the table, the flat screen monitor behind them flashing images of people, places, things. Just as usual. Someone bad did something bad somewhere, and Peter and the FBI wanted to catch them.
Neal hadn't been paying all that much attention. These criminals didn't seem very hardcore and he'd lost interest more than forty five minutes ago. A bank had been robbed; Midtown Mutual. Well, that's not exactly true; it had been broken into, but nothing had been taken. Security caught the perpetrators: two teenage thieves trying to score big. The bank had been searched and accounted for, and labeled as untouched. Nothing had been taken.
Neal didn't quite understand why Peter and Hughes cared so much that two teenagers tried and failed to rob a bank, and he didn't know why the FBI was wasting their time on it. Neal had focused on twiddling the pen between his fingers. His back was stiff from sitting for so long and he longed to get up. Move around.
But then a face flashed across the screen and Neal froze. That face was hard to forget.
Feeling his heart beating a little faster, Neal tuned back into what Hughes and Peter were saying.
"—and fled the scene." finished Peter, pointing to the man on the screen, whose face had very nearly given Neal a heart attack. Neal suddenly wished he'd been paying attention. Peter clicked the screen again, but the image of the man was still burned in Neal's eyes.
Dark hair. Piercing black eyes. Deep toned skin and teeth stark white against his complexion. Neal put the pen back inside his suit jacket pocket and clasped his hands together.
What the hell was that man doing in New York?
Neal's looked up. Every eye in the room was on him. Neal cleared his throat as his eyes met Peter's. He seemed to have asked Neal a question.
"Sorry, what?" asked Neal.
Peter's eyes narrowed as he fought to roll them in irritation. "Is it too much to ask for you to pay attention? I asked you for your expertise," said Peter, saying the word expertise with the slightest bit of annoyance, "on this. Two kids try and fail to rob a bank. This ex-criminal, known by the alias Maverick, is left leaving the employee-only, secure hallway of a bank he robbed five years earlier, the heist that put him in jail."
"Well," said Neal slowly, leaning, closer to the monitor. "It was a planned failure."
"What?" asked Peter.
"I—I've allegedly done something like this," said Neal, still trying to get over his initial shock from seeing the man. "A two-man con. One man runs the con, breaks and enters and leaves with nothing. When they get away, the mark obviously checks to see what's missing. When the obvious isn't missing, as in the money in Midtown, they look… Elsewhere."
"They look elsewhere? For what?" asked Hughes.
"Something of greater value," finished Peter.
"And the second man is watching to see where they look. And just like that, he knows their most valuable items and how to get to them. It's a security check."
"But this is a bank," an agent piped up. "Money is the most valuable thing there."
"Not necessarily," said Peter. "True, money is the obvious score. But money takes up space and one person will have trouble carrying more than a few million dollars."
"I'd say check the personal vaults. People like to entrust their secrets in banks." said Neal.
Peter smiled. "Good work, Neal."
Neal didn't return the smile. He just shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Because although Peter knew who that man on the screen was, he didn't know what that man had done; what he was capable of doing. And he didn't know that that man had nearly murdered Neal not too long ago.
"Neal," said Peter, tearing Neal from his thoughts. Neal looked up and realized that the agents have left the conference room. He was sitting alone at the table. Peter had hesitated at the door.
"Yeah, Peter?" asked Neal, smoothly regaining his composure.
"You spending the night here?" asked Peter.
"No," said Neal, getting up from his seat. "Sorry. Lost in thought, I guess."
Peter looked at him skeptically. "Do you want to share any of those thoughts with me?"
Neal raised an eyebrow. "Not particularly, no."
Peter rolled his eyes. Neal muttered a casual 'goodnight' and gathered a file and his hat from his desk, making his way out of the building.
Neal hailed a taxi and spent the car ride in silence, staring out the window at the darkened streets, feeling like he was seeing that face in every shadow. And suddenly, he was diving back into his past, to the last day he saw that man.
And the promise that man made him.
"Neal, come on!"
Neal descended the last of the rungs of the ladder, hitting the ground gracefully, almost cat-like. It was hard to see through the darkness, but he followed Mozzie's voice.
"Over here!" Mozzie hissed, his impatience coloring his words.
"Sorry," apologized Neal. "I thought I was being followed." He looked arounda again.
"Were you?" asked Mozzie, and Neal could see the stark concern in his eyes.
"No," said Neal, though not entirely believing himself. "I don't think so."
"Good," said Mozzie, visibly relieved. "We don't have that big of a window, here."
Neal and Mozzie started their way down the sewage tunnel. It hadn't been used in years, but the odor was still present. Neal wrinkled his nose, adjusting his grip on the bag he was carrying. Mozzie was almost struggling to keep up with his pace, as his legs having to work twice as hard to keep up with Neal's stride.
Neal sighed, trying to see any light ahead of him. Mozzie had a flashlight, but it wasn't enough to see very far ahead. This tunnel led to a manhole in the alleyway behind Midtown Mutual, a bank in downtown Manhattan. It was his and Mozzie's mark.
It's been six months since Adler had taken every cent of Neal's income. Everything he had. Six months of Mozzie, Neal and Kate trying to figure a way to get it all back. To them, it seemed the only way to do that involved illegal activity. Of course, that was the more fun way of doing things too.
They'd spent close to two months casing this bank to find a way in. Although not glamorous, the sewage tunnel was the most inconspicuous way inside. The alley led to the back door of the bank. There was an incredibly high-tech security system on the lock, but Neal and Mozzie didn't have time to crack it. So..
That's where Kate came in.
She'd been hired at the museum four weeks ago, and had been working there since. She was inside now, waiting for Neal and Mozzie to give her the signal that they were out back.
"Sixty seconds," said Mozzie.
Neal was nervous. He could have sworn he'd been followed. He had that instinct in him; that gut feeling. He wasn't normally wrong. Neal had taken a different route to the tunnel, shaking off his tail—if he even had a tail—and was sure he wasn't followed all the way here. But even so…
Neal shook himself. He wasn't followed. He was just paranoid.
"Send her the signal," said Mozzie, as he stopped walking, and Neal nearly ran into him. Get a hold of yourself, he told himself. He sent Kate the text and he and Mozzie stood in front of the rusty ladder, waiting for her reply. Neal had to climb a few rungs to get his cell phone signal back. After a moment, she replied with a Go text and he and Mozzie nodded at each other. Neal unzipped the bag and handed Mozzie a uniform, and Neal slipped his own on over his clothes.
Neal climbed up the ladder, now in pitch darkness, only stopping when his head collided with the metal door. He swore under his breath.
"You okay, kid?"
"Fine," mumbled Neal. He reached up and pushed the metal plate aside and felt the cool, city breeze ripple through his hair. He lifted himself out of the hole, tossing the bag onto the ground. He offered a hand to Mozzie, who accepted it and Neal pulled him up. Neal scooped up the bag and Mozzie closed the manhole quietly. They approached the door, which was held up with a key card. Neal opened the door and took the key card, smiling. It was Kate's. Her innocent smile grinned up at him. He slipped the card into his jacket pocket and held the door for Mozzie.
The hallway they entered was dimly lit, with lights lining the ceiling in intervals. The carpeting muffled their footsteps. Neal and Mozzie made their way down, both donned in security uniforms.
"Third door on the left," whispered Mozzie.
Neal and he turned into the open doorway. It led down another corridor. High ceilings stood tall above them and the space felt open and empty; it was an ironic feeling for a building that held such value. A few employees passed them, but Neal only nodded, subtly greeting whoever walked by. If he didn't give them a reason to be suspicious, they wouldn't be.
Neal approached the next door, sliding the key card smoothly through the electronic lock and the door opened silently for him. They continued down the hallway, until they were stopped by a man walking down toward them. He was an employee, his name tag reading Roger Allen.
Keeping his composure, Neal nodded at the man, but maintained his brisk pace. The man's eyebrows kneaded together. "Wait," he said, and Neal and Mozzie reluctantly stopped and turned. "What are you two doing in this corridor? Security should be outside this hallway." he said, skepticism inching into his tone.
"Mr. Allen, how are you?" said Neal, taking the man's hand and shaking it. "We were called to assess an issue."
"An issue?" asked Allen. His eyebrows narrowed further and he shook his head. "There is no issue. I would have heard about it."
"I assure you," said Neal, "we were approached by one of your employees—"
"Oh, thank God!"
Neal, Mozzie and Allen turned to see Kate rushing toward them, out of the vault hallway. She was dressed in a pantsuit, her shirt cut a little lower than it probably should have been, and it wasn't something that went unnoticed by Allen.
"And who are you?" he asked, his gaze drifting a few inches lower than her face. Neal felt a protective anger course through him.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Allen, Sir," she said, a little out of breath. "I asked security to come and fix something for me." She said a little sheepishly.
"Fix something?" Unfortunately, it seemed that even a low-neckline wasn't going to distract Allen. "Miss, have I seen you here before?"
Kate lifted her name tag. "Melissa," she said, shaking his hand just as Neal had. "I just started a few weeks ago, but I accidentally locked myself out of my office and I didn't want to alert anyone," she said, a little ashamed of herself.
"Oh," said Allen. "Well I'm sure you only need one of these guards to help you with that," said Allen. He gestured to Mozzie. "You can resume your post outside, I'm sure."
"Absolutely." Mozzie nodded, and Allen extended his hand toward the door, as if leading Mozzie away with him. Without a second glance, Mozzie turned and left with Allen, leaving Neal and Kate alone.
Kate sighed, running a hand nervously through her hair. "What do we do now?" she asked, staring after Mozzie. "This plan doesn't work unless you both go into that vault together!"
"It's okay," said Neal, putting a hand to the small of her back, leading her down the hallway toward the vault. She walked with him, and Neal used her key card to get past the next door, looking casually around, assuring that he had no witnesses. "I can do it. We can't get as much with just me carrying it, but we'll get something."
"Kate," he whispered. "Trust me."
Neal suddenly pulled her to him and kissed her, cutting off her words. She melted into him, and they both seemed to forget about the heist for a moment. Neal pulled away and leaned his forehead to hers. "I've got this, Kate." He clasped her hands gingerly in his as an attempt to still her shaking fingers.
Neal stroked her cheek with his thumb, and kissed her again. Neal watched as Kate started back to her office, ready to perform the next phase of their heist. The easy part was getting Neal and Mozzie inside. The hard part was getting them out.
Neal continued on his way to the vault. He wasn't concerned on being seen. Kate turned off all the cameras and the vault hallway only had one guard. Neal and Mozzie had changed his schedule the week beforehand so they had a half an hour window where there would be no guard.
Neal made his way to the vault and knelt before the steel door. This lock was a Prism; difficult, but not impossible. Neal pulled on thin black gloves and took out his phone and headphones. Lifting his phone to the door, he slowly twisted the lock until he heard three faint clicks. He cracked it quite faster than he thought he would have.
Grinning to himself as the lock clicked, Neal pulled the door open, feeling his heart rush at the idea of walking into a room housing millions of dollars. There was no better feeling. To be surrounded by so much wealth…
Nothing was more perfect.
It was a small room, metal-plated walls and two single bar light on the ceiling. Shelves lined three of the walls, cash stacked high on all three. The room even seemed to smell like money. Neal smiled, feeling his heart jump in excitement. The fourth wall were small lockers for clients who entrusted their money or possessions of great worth to the bank. But none of this was what made Neal freeze. Someone was already in the vault.
For the same reason he was.
Neal stopped dead. The man before him was dark-skinned, with eyes so dark they must have been black. He was dressed in black. But that wasn't what froze Neal. In his right hand, he held a gun.
And it was aimed at Neal.
Neal slowly raised his hands. "Don't shoot," he said hesitantly, starting to inch backward.
"Shut the door." said the man.
"That's alright," said Neal, continuing to back away. "I think I'll just leave you to what you were doing, and be on my way."
"I said shut the door." The man cocked the gun.
Reluctantly, Neal turned and shut the door. He turned back to the thief.
"Who are you?" the man demanded.
"Obviously," said Neal, "just like you. A thief."
"That doesn't answer my question." The man's grip on the gun tightened, and Neal's heart thudded in his chest.
"You're wasting your own time," said Neal. "If you want to take the money, take it."
Suddenly, the man lunged at Neal, grabbing him around the neck and shoving him against the wall, pinning him. Neal gasped for air as the man started patting him down, looking for something. A moment later, he pulled out Neal's wallet and released him, and Neal fell against the wall. The man was incredibly—almost strangely—strong.
The man opened Neal's wallet. "What, no ID?"
"Never bring identity on a job," said Neal, out of breath. He slowly straightened.
"What are you doing here?"
"I told you," said Neal, massaging his neck. "I was here to steal some money. Why else?" Neal subtly moved closer to the door again.
The man laughed darkly. "What else? There are some things that are far more valuable inside a bank vault."
"So," said Neal slowly, still very aware of the gun aimed at him, "then take whatever it is that you want and go." Neal was still a good two feet away from the door. There was no way he could get to it before the man fired.
"I don't think I can do that." the man said. "You're a witness. You've seen my face. Heard my voice. That's a liability in my book."
The man moved closer and Neal backed slightly into the wall. "You can't kill me in here."
"And why not?" asked the man, the gun inches from his chest.
"Fingerprints. Gunpowder. This may be a bank vault but they will still hear a gunshot."
"Alright," the man said, lowering his weapon. "So then I'll just strangle you."
Neal involuntarily backed further into the wall. "That still doesn't solve the fingerprint issue."
"You know," said the man, taking a step closer to Neal. "I was wondering what you were doing at the bank so often."
Neal's eyes widened. "It was you? You were following me?" He hadn't been paranoid; he had been followed.
"You were a pretty crappy conman not to have noticed."
Anger stirred in Neal's chest. "I was a little preoccupied."
"Unfortunately, that was the mistake that will cost you your life." He grinned maliciously. "How would you like to be murdered?"
Suddenly, the lights in the vault went out. Neal shut his eyes. It was Kate's signal that he had sixty seconds before he had to get the hell out of the there. The lights flashed back on and the man looked at them, distracted. Neal took advantage of his confusion and dove for the door, pulling it open and running. He heard heavy footsteps following him just as the fire alarm sounded; that would have been Mozzie. He was still following the plan.
Neal sprinted down the hallway, but a hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him backward, throwing him to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the gate before them shut down to the ground. He and this man were trapped in the hallway. The gate was metal, the rungs too tight to escape.
Neal hit the ground hard, his shoulder striking the marble. The man was suddenly above him, his weight crushing Neal, and he hit Neal across the face. His muscles rippled, his force so strong Neal felt as if the man took a brick to his head. He hit him a second time. Third. Fourth.
Neal coughed, his nose broken and blood streaming down his face. He tried to move out from underneath the man, but his knee was pressing harshly down on Neal's chest, making breathing almost impossible. Neal groaned as the man hit him again, writhing under the man's vice-like grip.
It was Kate's voice. She was on the opposite side of the gate. She was supposed to be outside by now, but must have realized that Neal didn't make it out in time.
"K—" began Neal, but the man hit him again, and Neal's head whiplashed on the ground. His vision flickered.
"Stop it!" screamed Kate. She was yanking on the gate, desperately trying to get to Neal.
"Run!" yelled Neal as the man reared up for another hit, and Neal moved his head, so the man's hand struck the ground. He wailed in pain.
Neal pushed the man off of him, pulling himself to his feet, and immediately assessed the hallway. There was only one door. Head pounding, Neal ran to it and ripped it open, suddenly dizzy. He hit the side of the doorframe, his sense of balance completely off. The office he entered was windowless, and Neal's heart dropped. No windows meant no escape. Neal shut and locked the door, diving over the desk and tearing open the drawers, looking for a weapon, anything, through his blurry, almost double-vision. He wiped his face on his sleeve, staining it bright red. Neal heard the door rattle in its frame; it the man trying to get in.
Neal grabbed the phone and dialed a number he knew by heart. A moment later, a man answered on the other side of the line.
"Special Agent Peter Burke."
"Get to Midtown Mutual now," gasped Neal. The man pounded on the door, trying to break it down. "It's being robbed."
Peter must have heard the urgency in Neal's voice, and thankfully, didn't actually recognize it as Neal's voice. He said, "Who is this?" Neal heard him shout an order to someone.
"I work here," said Neal, the fear in his voice present. The alarm was still going off and Peter could hear it on his line as well. The thief pounded harder. "Please, he's going to… he's going to kill me."
Just then, the door slammed open, hitting the wall loudly. Three bullets fired from the gun and Neal ducked under the desk, the phone still pressed against his ear. Neal cried out as one of the bullets hit him in the shoulder. He grasped it and cringed.
"Is that gunfire?" exclaimed Peter. "Were you hit?" Neal heard him shout to someone, "Get a team to Midtown Mutual bank, now!"
"Give me the phone!" the man demanded from the other side of the desk. Neal didn't say anything, and kicked the desk as hard as he could, knocking it over, straight into the man. Neal dropped the phone and dove over the desk, knocking the monitor to the ground and it shattered. Neal ran past the man, back down the hallway and into the vault, stumbling over himself more than once. Things that were far away seemed to be right in front of him, a clear sign that he was severely concussed.
There were no security guards down this hallway yet. Mozzie or Kate would have done phase four of the heist; distraction. Neal could only hope that Mozzie's inner firebug was under control.
Back inside the vault, Neal scooped up the bag he originally brought. His shoulder was burning, dripping blood down his shirt. He was careful to watch it, make sure it didn't drop to the floor. If his DNA was found here, it would ruin everything. Tearing off the sleeve of his jacket, Neal quickly pulled it right around his shoulder, securing it with his teeth. His lightheadedness was getting worse, the concussion and blood loss taking it's toll.
Ignoring the agony in his shoulder, Neal started stuffing money into the bag. Ten thousand. Twenty. Fifty. One million. One point five million. His hands fumbled with the money, his body trembling.
Just as he zipped the bags closed, the man appeared again at the doorway of the vault.
"Hold it right there." demanded the man. Neal whipped around. The man was holding his side where Neal had hit him with the desk. Neal's heart pounded in his chest.
The man's gun was missing. He stood at the door with only his anger and pure muscle as a weapon, and yet it was enough to make Neal stay put. "The FBI is on the way," said Neal. "It might be a good idea for you to get lost." he sad, his breath shallow.
"You called the Feds?" he asked incredulously.
"Does that… Does that scare you?" asked Neal, backing into the shelf for support. He felt heavy.
The man laughed darkly. "Not much frightens me."
"Then why do you care?"
"The Feds are a pain. I don't have the time to deal with them."
"Well," said Neal, "then, as I suggested before, leave."
"Not before I take care of you."
Neal tried to blink away the blurriness in his vision, and calculate how long it's been since he called Agent Burke. He assumed it would take around ten minutes for the FBI to storm the gates. He spent maybe five packing the money. That left five more. There was only one way he was going to stall this man for that long.
Neal dove forward and tackled the man to the ground. The man hadn't seen it coming, and lost his balance quickly, his weight playing against him. He grunted as he struck the ground, Neal on top of him. But even with taking him by surprise, Neal was no match. The man tossed him aside easily, and Neal landed on his shoulder, crying out in pain.
Neal painfully pulled himself to his feet, stumbling into the wall next to him. Distant yells told him the FBI had arrived. They arrived much quicker than he'd thought. Neal pushed himself off the wall, but the man grabbed him around the ankle and slammed him down again. Dazed, Neal looked up and realized that he was right next to the shelf inside the vault. Grabbing it with both hands, Neal yanked as hard as he could. It tilted and crashed down, hitting the man hard. He fell back with a yell and Neal scrambled to his feet.
The man hit the ground, pinned underneath the metal, and swore viciously as it crushed his leg. Neal dropped the money-filled bag next to him. He started to step over the man, when the man caught his ankle.
"I am going to kill you," he spat.
Neal shook his leg free and wiped more blood off his face, and running down the hallway, falling against the wall with every few steps. Kate suddenly appeared at the gate.
"Security is still caught up with the fire, but the FBI is here!" she said as she pulled the gate open. She looked at Neal's face, and gasped. "Oh my god, Neal—"
"I'm fine, I'm fine." lied Neal. "Let's get out of here."
"—and he said he was one of your employees."
Neal froze, then grabbing Kate by the arm, he pushed her into one of the offices in the hallway, his head swimming a bit by the sudden movement. Neal grasped the door frame to keep his balance. They peered through the crack. Neal'd heard Agent Burke's voice, and he strained to see him. It only took a moment for Burke to walk into view.
"That's him," whispered Neal, cringing as his shoulder burned again. "That's Burke."
"Neal, we have to get out of here!" hissed Kate, tugging on his arm.
"Wait." said Neal. He wanted to be sure the man wasn't getting away.
"We found him, Sir! Pinned beneath a shelf." yelled an agent.
"Care to tell us what happened here?" asked Burke to the thief.
"I was set up!" the man growled painfully.
"Yeah, yeah," said Burke, nodding, watching another agent unzip the bag of money. "I hear that one a lot."
"I'm not kidding! This son of a—"
"You are under arrest. Anything you say can and will—"
"I was framed—"
And suddenly a gunshot fired, the bullet sailing inches from Burke's head. The agent dropped to the ground, and three other agents jumped onto the thief, securing his gun. He must have had it the entire time.
"Release the weapon!" a dark-skinned agent yelled.
"Got it, Jones?" asked Burke, pulling himself to his feet.
"Yeah," said Agent Jones. "You alright, Boss?"
"Yeah," said Burke, straightening his jacket. "Now we have you on attempted murder of an FBI agent. Fantastic."
Kate yanked on Neal's arm and pulled him out of the office.
They sprinted down the hallway, hindered by Neal's lack of balance, backtracking the way they came. They burst through the door outside and Mozzie waved to them. Mozzie jumped in the manhole, hurrying down the ladder. Kate pushed Neal toward it and followed him down. Neal winced as his shoulder strained to hang on to the rungs. His vision was only a blur now; he was losing too much blood.
"Neal!" exclaimed Mozzie, as he shined his phone light onto Neal's face, taking in the blood dripping down his skin.
"Moz," said Neal, shielding his eyes from the piercing light. "Let's get out of here," he said, and he started down the tunnel. His vision was graying out and he knew his consciousness was next. Kate and Mozzie grabbed him and helped him down. No one stopped until they were well over a mile away from the bank, and they exited out of a manhole in the middle of an empty parking lot to an abandoned warehouse. Neal painfully pulled himself up, exhausted, barely able to keep hold of the rungs of the ladder. He laid down on the concrete, the coolness soothing his shoulder and settling his spinning head.
"Neal," gasped Mozzie, taking sight of his face in the moonlight. "What the hell happened to you?"
Breathing shallowly, feeling as if the very earth was shifting beneath him, Neal said, "We weren't alone stealing from that bank."
"Someone was there," said Kate, her voice shaking. "Some huge guy, he was hitting Neal." She choked on Neal's name. "He wouldn't stop."
"Who was he?" asked Mozzie.
"I don't know," whispered Neal, his voice cracking. A sharp spasm of pain shot through him and he winced violently. "He—He shot me."
Both Kate and Mozzie's eyes found the dark bloodstain on Neal's shoulder. Kate covered her mouth with her hand. "Neal—Neal, we've got to get you to a hospital."
"Nowhere around here." said Neal, his voice firm.
"I called Burke."
"What?" exclaimed Mozzie.
"He was the only… the only FBI contact number I know by heart." Neal shut his eyes, suddenly hot. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He wanted everything to stop spinning.
"Why the hell—" began Mozzie, but Neal continued.
"I trapped the other thief," said Neal, his breath short, "and left a full bag of money next to him."
"You framed him," said Kate. "And you wanted the FBI to catch him."
Neal took a shuddering, painful breath. He tried to get up, but shifting even the slightest bit made him groan in pain. He fell back to the ground, clutching his shoulder.
"Mozzie," said Kate desperately to Mozzie. "Get the car!"
Mozzie stood without another word and ran to the car, parked a few yards away.
"Neal," said Kate, but her voice seemed so far away. She pressed both of her hands over the wound in his shoulder, making him cry out, his voice cracking. His breathing doubled and his eyes slipped closed.
The desperation in her voice made him crack his eyes open again. The pain had spread, and now consumed his entire body and his vision just mere blotches of color. "I'm sorry."
"No, Neal. Don't."
Neal didn't respond.
"Neal," she said, tears in her eyes. "Stop it, Neal."
The car pulled up alongside them and Kate called his name again, but Neal had already drifted off into oblivion.