Neal opened his eyes.
His surroundings slowly came into focus. His head pounded, his shoulder ached. Neal knew it should worry him that his vision and hearing were a few steps behind; the clear signs of a concussion.
He felt groggy, his head spinning. He knew what happened. He knew Maverick and Allen had taken him, and he knew why. He just didn’t know what he was going to do about it.
He briefly remembered his head slamming against the concrete when Maverick threw him down. The back of his head started pounding incessantly as if he’d just reawakened the pain with the memory.
It was cold and hard to see. Neal’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim lighting. Of what he could see, the room only housed some tall, metal shelving holding old, ratty cardboard boxes. The air was musty and damp. It was a warehouse. A warehouse that hadn’t been maintained in years.
Neal didn’t see anyone. He listened intently, but there were no voices. Were Allen and Maverick nearby?
Neal tried to move but he was tightly secured to a rusting metal chair. Immediately, he focused his attention on what was binding his hands behind him, hoping they were handcuffs. Handcuffs were easy.
Unfortunately, they weren’t handcuffs. They must have been rope or wire. Neal struggled briefly against them but whatever it was began to cut into his skin, and Neal ceased the effort with a wince.
Officially giving up on escaping, Neal breathed hard, trying to slow down his heart. He’d be fine. He’d find a way out of this. He always did. It wasn’t the first time he’d woken up in the throes of a criminal with a grudge and he made it out of those alive. He just had to be patient.
As more silent minutes ticked by, and the very quiet was crawling over his skin, Neal wondered just what Allen and Maverick were after. It had to be something priceless, something incredibly valuable. Allen and Maverick were messing directly with the FBI now, which wasn’t usually something normal criminals try to do. Kidnapping an FBI consultant was not their brightest move. Especially kidnapping Peter Burke’s consultant.
Neal thought about Peter. Surely, by now, Peter figured it out. From when Maverick said, “You took something from us five years ago,” and his mentioning of how he and Neal ”met again," it wasn’t hard to deduce. Neal wondered how Peter felt. Would he be angry? Well… no, Neal committed that crime five years ago, before he started behaving (for the most part). The real problem was if Peter could overlook it.
If Peter was angry, it would be because Neal didn’t tell him about it now. In retrospect, Neal probably should have told him. He should have listened to Mozzie. Hell, he should have listened to his own gut instinct. Yes, Peter would have had to cover some things up, leave more details out of Neal’s file to keep him from going back to prison, but those consequences seemed so much lighter than the ones he was going to have to pay now. The chill of the metal chair and the cut of the wire binding offered a promise that suddenly made jail feel like a nice spa day. He shivered, yanking at them again, eyes scanning the room for an escape that he couldn’t see.
Almost as if to mock his thoughts, Neal heard footsteps. Neal stiffened and locked his eyes on the shadow approaching from between the shelves, narrowing his eyes into a glare. Allen suddenly walked into view. Shadows painted his face, giving him a ghostly appearance. He grinned sickly.
“Ah.” said Allen, noticing Neal looking at him. “Awake, already, Mr. Caffrey?”
Neal said nothing. He lifted his gaze to Allen. He wasn’t going to show any emotion to the man, denying him the satisfaction.
“Not in the mood to talk?” asked Allen. When Neal didn’t say anything, Allen went on: “Let me tell you how this is going to work. You’re going to tell me where you hid the drive, and you’ll live.”
Not having the slightest clue what this “drive” might be, Neal shifted the conversation, doing his best to stall. “You don’t negotiate well. Whether or not I tell you anything, we both know you’re just going to kill me anyway.”
“Because if you don’t tell me,” said Allen, drawing out the words in a cold voice, “you’ll die slowly.”
Neal swallowed, doing his best to keep his fear out of his expression. This guy was certainly missing a screw or two, and Neal didn’t have to use that much imagination to figure out how he would plan to kill him.
“I’m going to ask you where it is, now.” said Allen firmly, his eyes drilling into Neal’s. “This is the first time I’ll ask, and your first chance to tell me. So, where did you hide the drive?”
Still intent on stalling as much as he could, Neal only cocked his head and smiled his most charming smile.
But stalling or not, Neal didn’t have anything to say. What drive? What was Allen even talking about?
“That’s fine.” said Allen, the menace in his voice a moment ago suddenly absent. “I know Maverick was looking forward to your withholding. I think he’ll be a bit more convincing than I am.” Allen gave Neal his own charming smile. “He doesn’t like you very much.”
Neal felt ice slide down his spine. He swallowed hard, doing his best to keep the fear out of his voice and expression. “Then we share the same opinion of each other.”
Allen smiled at him, amused. “So brave, Caffrey. So very brave, so composed. I’m sure it won’t take Maverick long to take care of that.”
Neal hid his fear behind a choked laugh, his mask expertly slipping back over his features. “He can try.”
Allen cocked his head. “You’re much cockier than I thought.”
“And you’re much more of bastard than I thought.”
Allen’s expression shifted ever so slightly. Neal glared at him, holding the man’s gaze. Allen’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Careful, Caffrey,” he said in a low voice, the amusement gone once again in the blink of an eye. “You are playing with fire. If I were you, I’d give up the drive before one of us loses our patience.”
Allen held Neal’s glare for a moment longer, then walked away, disappearing somewhere Neal couldn’t see. Once gone, Neal let out a breath and fussed with his restraints again, his movements even more jerky and desperate.
Neal couldn’t give Allen or Maverick an answer. First of all, he didn’t take the drive. And what drive? Neal assumed they meant flash drive or hard drive. What kind of drive could they be trying so hard to get?
Regardless, telling them he didn’t have the drive and never did would be far worse than telling them that he did have it. If they knew he didn’t have it, he would be completely irrelevant. Disposable. They would kill him instantly.
But who did have the drive? Who else knew about it?
And what did it do?
Maverick suddenly entered the room with heavy footsteps. Muscles rippled across his arms in a sickening way. He was just as menacing as Neal remembered seeing him in the bank vault five years prior. Neal swallowed hard, halting his attempt to escape the restraints, working desperately to keep the mask on his face airtight.
“This makes two times that you’ve screwed me over.” said Maverick. He stood in front of Neal and stared him down, as if calculating him. Then, he smiled and circled Neal, in much the same unsettling way that Allen had. He grabbed Neal by the shoulders with abnormally strong hands. Neal tensed, his heart racing, wishing desperately that Maverick couldn’t feel it.
“I’ve had a lot to think about while I was in prison.” Maverick went on. “Five years to think, and ninety percent of those thoughts were of who put me there.” Neal was still as Maverick released him and continued his slow circle around the chair, like a vulture around its prey. Maverick came full circle, however, and stopped in front of Neal, pushing back the sleeves to his shirt. “But the payback you so richly deserve is going to have to wait. Because unfortunately we need you alive for the next few minutes.”
Neal swallowed hard, taking an unsteady breath. He pressed involuntarily back in the chair, shifting his gaze around the building, desperately wishing the FBI would come storming in right about now.
“So,” Maverick said, “where’s the drive, Caffrey?”
Neal didn’t say anything.
Anything he said would get him killed.
“Tell me now,” said Maverick, impatience sinking into his tone, “and I’ll kill you quickly.”
What a deal, thought Neal with dark sarcasm. But since Maverick seemed to be waiting for Neal to say something, Neal opted to stall. “How quickly?”
Maverick’s eyes narrowed.
“Because,” Neal went on, “I really think—”
His words were snatched from him when a heavy fist crashed into his temple.
The force of the hit snapped his head to the side, tearing a yell from his throat. Pain erupted behind his eyes, his headache from before now agonizing. His vision flickered with the punch for a terrifying second. He gasped, blinking profusely, trying to hear over the rushing in his ears. The world fell back together in pixels and Neal breathed hard, squinting at the brightness of the room.
“Where’s the drive, Caffrey?”
The words were far away. Neal blinked again, heavily pulling his head up. If he didn’t have a concussion before, he sure did now.
Anything you say will get you killed.
The next hit caught him in his midsection.
Neal choked as the air was shoved out of him, doubling over in the chair. He felt something crack under the knuckles and pain radiated from his abdomen. As soon as he caught his breath he groaned, pain pulsing with every move of his chest.
Neal just breathed hard, doing his best to control the pain. One hit from him did this?
Before he could catch his breath enough to speak, another fist caught him in the same exact place, breaking the cracked ribs and making him cry out. Agony coursed through him and Neal clenched his teeth, breathing shallowly.
“Where’s the drive, Caffrey? The longer you make me wait, the less you’ll stay intact.”
Neal yanked hard at the restraints, shutting his eyes against the pain. His head was still screaming, the pain competing with the agony that was his ribs. Part of him wanted to lie to the man, give him a fake location, buy himself time, but another, stronger, part, argued, the manhole from the alley leads here. Peter will find it. Eventually. You have to hold them here. Or no one will find you until it’s too late.
“I’ll give you credit, Caffrey. Most people cave by now.” came Maverick’s voice from far away.
Another fist hit him, this time to his temple again. This time he knew his vision whited out and he blinked rapidly, the room spinning dangerously in his eyes. Something hot and wet trickled down his face. “I…” He coughed, his vision doubling so much he had to squeeze his eyes shut for a few seconds. “...don’t know what you’re talking about,” Neal finished unevenly.
“I need a location, Caffrey,” Maverick said firmly, slamming another fist into Neal’s abdomen. Neal cried out, agony riding him in waves.
The pain was blinding, radiating throughout his body now. He could see Maverick preparing his fist again, hear a garbled demand from the man over the blood rushing in his ears. Desperate, Neal opened his mouth to try something else, a lie, a fake location, anything, but another fist caught him in the abdomen once more, with enough force to throw the chair backward. He landed hard on his back, groaning. Black encroached on his vision.
Just as Maverick reared back for another kick and Neal braced himself, something yanked Maverick back.
“Enough!” It was Allen’s voice, breaking through Neal’s daze like a voice from underneath water. Relief coursed through Neal’s veins and he sank into the chair, trying to catch his breath. “I need him alive, you idiot! What part of that don’t you understand? If he dies, you don’t get paid!”
Maverick let out a huff of annoyance. “Fine.”
Neal felt a presence at his side and Maverick coughing a laugh above him. He didn’t even have the energy to flinch. “Ah, now that’s what I call payback. This is fun.” Maverick suddenly yanked Neal’s head back and Neal couldn’t hold in a cry. “Don’t worry. We’ll try this again in a little while. Consider this a sample of what you’ll get the longer you hold out.” Then he stood. “Don’t get any ideas. You’re not going anywhere.” Maverick dropped Neal’s head unceremoniously and stood.
Neal’s vision flickered again and darkened as Maverick walked away. Shutting his eyes, breathing slow, halting breaths, Neal slipped away and couldn’t help but agree.