Field Study #1
Missing Scene/Continuation from 2.07 – Prisoner's Dilemma.
Can be either a Stand Alone story or seen as a small part of my Steps Series.
Watching Caffrey studying the "White Bored" exhibit had been as fascinating as the exhibit itself, even more so if Bancroft was being truly honest with himself, for the simple reason that it was unexpected. He had read up on the younger man, seen the case files, read the numerous reports about his alleged crimes and, more recently, Hughes's own reports and thoughts on the younger man's work over the last year. He knew the other man would be a charmer, you couldn't be a con man without knowing how to smile and make people trust you, but the fact that he found himself falling ever so slightly for that charm had come as a surprise. He and his partner Allen had only been separated for 6 months and, more importantly, with over 30 yrs experience in the Bureau, he had figured himself immune to the charms of a felon, fully capable of seeing the criminal underneath the smile and nice clothes. Instead, he found himself seeing something else and he wasn't happy with the fact. The other man's file had numerous references to Kate Moreau and the only hints of male lovers were all linked to jobs, which, he knew, had to be considered with a large amount of salt.
"I'm not sure this fits with the FBI's policy against racial profiling and inclusion, do you?"
Caffrey's voice jerked him from his internal musings and he gave a slight smile, as if he had been paying attention the entire time. The board in front of them was covered in a crude but basically accurate drawing of the Taj Mahal and the words, "Going to the ends of the earth for our employees!" scrawled underneath. "I don't think our Indian agents would appreciate the joke."
Neal chuckled and shook his head. "No."
"Have you ever been to India?" Bancroft asked, falling into step as they moved on to another display. He laughed as he caught Caffrey's quick glance at him, "What? I'm just asking a question." The look annoyed him and he felt himself instantly go on the defensive. He was an FBI agent, the other man was a felon – he was well within his rights to ask questions.
"What does my file say about it?" Neal asked, smiling slightly.
Bancroft shrugged. "I don't have it memorized. I never specialized in White Collar Crimes, so I've never cared that much about you." Mentally cringing, he watched the other man's expression neither falter nor show the least bit of hurt or wounded pride.
Neal's smile widened before he turned away and began to read the placard in front of the next display. "Okay, we'll go with that non-answer."
"So have you ever been to India?" Bancroft repeated, curious how the conman would answer him if pushed.
"According to Interpol and the Indian CBI, I have been suspected of visiting the country several times, including Agra once."
The agent studied him for a long moment before asking, "Is that the sort of BS answer Burke lets you get away with?"
Neal remained silent for a long moment. Then, nodding in the direction of another board, said, "I like this one better. I've always thought the phrase 'breaking down silos' was just begging to be turned into a motivational poster."
Bancroft tried to remained annoyed at the cheeky grin and smugness, but many years working with CI's had taught him that it was all part of the package with most, the thin veneer that covered a host of issues. And, if the reports he read were correct, Caffrey had more than his fair share of issues. Shaking his head mentally, he forced himself to stop analyzing and simply enjoy the day. And, if he was brutally honest with himself, the view. "Breaking down silos is suppose to aid in communication," he commented, moving closer and looking at the drawing.
"But people feel more comfortable within their group," Neal commented, "they learn to work together and it can be more productive. If you constantly move people in and out, you're never ahead of the learning curve." He grinned. "That's why it can be so hard to break into a new crew for anything more than a single job."
The agent laughed. "Good point." Despite his resolve, he found himself smiling back as the full force of Caffrey's smile was turned on him. For the rest of the exhibit, he couldn't help but wonder if that smile was real or veneer and why he even cared.
Stepping out into the early evening, Bancroft glanced at his watch before turning to the younger man. "I'm getting hungry – interested in grabbing something to eat?"
"I'm always interested in trying new restaurants," Neal said with a nod. "What's good around here?"
Bancroft smiled. "If you don't mind casual British pub food, there's a great place about two blocks from here."
"I could do with some fish and chips," Neal said. Then, smiling mischievously, he added, "I never spent much time in England."
"At least not according to Interpol or Britain's police force?" Bancroft asked, motioning down the street toward the restaurant.
Neal laughed. "Not according to me, either."
"OK, I'll take that at face value then," he said with a firm nod. Walking comfortably next to the other man in silence for a long moment, he finally asked the question that had been hovering on his tongue. "Is that what Burke would do?"
Neal glanced at him, confused for a moment. "What? Take what I say at face value?"
The agent nodded. "Watching you two work today and then work together … separately was fascinating. He clearly values your opinion." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a subtle shift as the other man's features looked genuinely happy and thought, for a moment, that he finally saw the true Caffrey underneath the veneer before he shifted again and was once again covered.
The other man went silent for another few steps before saying cautiously, "Peter and I have a unique relationship. He chased me for four years, sometimes only a step or two behind me because he knew me so well. Then … after prison, when we started working together and I got to know him beyond just the FBI badge chasing me and he understood that I was more than just a guy he was chasing." He smiled, not looking at the other agent and said, almost to himself, "He trusts me."
The words hit the older man wrong suddenly and he said, "In as much as he can trust a felon and professional conman." If he had thought about the reaction of those words on the other man, he would have said that he expected Caffrey to nod, agree with him and acknowledge the imbalanced relationship and the impossibility of actual trust between them.
Neal never broke stride, his face never flashed any sort of emotion as the words hit home and instead he simply said, pointing to the small neon lit Union Jack in a front window, "Is that the restaurant?" He smiled, adding, "Looks good." Opening the door as they came to it, he awkwardly got in the way for the briefest of seconds, pivoting before finally figuring out where he needed to be standing in relation to the agent to allow them both to pass. "Sorry," he said, laughing again and gesturing inside. "I was expecting the door to open the other way, like driving."
Bancroft laughed. "That's just the roads."
The other man gave a small, embarrassed shrug, "Like I said, little experience in England."
"Are you from England originally?" Neal asked after they had placed their orders. He glanced around the small dark paneled pub and the cricket game being shown on the flat screen over the bar, "Or do you just like the atmosphere?"
"My mother is British," the agent said. "Her job took her to Bermuda, where she met my father who is an American. My time was split between here for school and Bermuda, where they still, live for vacations and summers and greater London when she worked there. We'd also go visit my maternal grandparents and family often, of course." He smiled and drew a triangle in the air, "The Bancroft Family Triangle."
Neal raised his glass and toasted, "To triangular trade."
The reference took the other man by surprise and he laughed, "Exactly." He toasted back and took a sip. "I took an entire class one time on Colonial Economics. I'm not sure if it was the subject or the teacher but it was horrible." He threw the comment out, not really expecting Caffrey to pick it up and run with it. But, fifteen minutes later, the conversation winding down as their food arrived, he found himself surprised again. "How did you learn so much about economics?" he asked as the waitress disappeared.
Picking up his fork, Neal flashed a very quick smile. "Oh, you know us felons – we're all Renaissance Men." Then added, in a more serious, straight tone, "College, the same as most people."
Bancroft smiled back. "Of course." The meal passed easily and Bancroft found himself mentally slipping into the same fascinated study of the man in front of him that he would if he were on safari and Caffrey was a new type of animal to be watched, admired and catalogued by asking careful questions and noting the answers. He also noted the little things that gradually filled in the picture forming in his mind of the conman – how he smiled at the waitress and how she smiled back, how the two girls at the bar kept glancing his way despite him giving them only the barest of encouragement and how his eyes were almost never still unless they were firmly on him. Otherwise, they darted around, taking in the entire restaurant and filing it away as if it could be useful. The younger man wasn't uncomfortable with silence, but more often than not was able to lob questions back to pick the conversation up again.
"That was excellent," Neal said, folding his napkin slightly and laying it next to his plate. "I'm glad you suggested it. I'll have to remember this place next time I'm in the neighborhood."
Bancroft nodded. "It was, but I would think if you're in the neighborhood again, people will be chasing you. I'm not sure if they do take out here." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. It wasn't that Caffrey's face showed any reaction, but he felt it had been a cheap blow after what had seemed like a nice meal between two equals. That, he realized, was exactly why he had said what he did. A gentle--or not so gentle--reminder to the other man and himself that they were, in fact, not equals. It was something he had learned in the last few decades on how best to treat CI's – never let them forget their place in the hierarchy.
Neal simply smiled and reached for the check. "Here, let me get it."
"No," he said, shaking his head. "My suggestion, my treat. Plus, since I'm traveling here, I can expense it. I'm sure they owe you a meal as thanks for what you did today, too."
Neal laughed. "OK. If you're sure – I appreciate it. I don't eat out that often – my per diem tends to get used up fairly quickly with transportation, phone and just basic groceries."
Bancroft smiled, reaching into his pocket. "And I'd say dry cleaning."
Neal laughed and shrugged. "What can I say?" Taking a sip of his drink, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Bancroft fumbled in his pockets and then stood up to search his coat hanging on a hook outside their booth.
Sitting down heavily, the agent looked at Neal for a long moment before saying, "I'm really sorry but I've lost my wallet."
Glancing up, Neal looked concerned. "Wow, I'm really sorry. Do you think you left it on the counter when you bought your ticket at the Powell?"
The other man stared into space for a moment. "It's possible. I took it out then and remember putting my credit card back in the slot …"
"We were talking about where to start," Neal provided helpfully. "I bet that's what happened – you got distracted looking at the map and we were talking …" He smiled. "Give them a call and I bet it's there waiting for you." Reaching into his own pocket, he pulled out two $20s and a $10, "In the mean time, I guess I'll get dinner after all. Luckily, it's the beginning of the month."
Bancroft blanched. "I'm really sorry, Caffrey, but don't worry – I'll pay you back tomorrow. I'm sure you're right and it's at the Powell. I don't remember putting it back in my pocket now that I think about it."
Neal nodded, "I'm sure." Double checking the bill amount, he tucked the money underneath and motioned for the waitress. "Ready to go?"
The agent nodded, his mind still clearly on the lost wallet. "Sure."
As the cab stopped in front of June's fifteen minutes later, Neal quickly paid the cab and then turned to the other man and held out three folded $20s. "Here, you can't be walking around without any cash and with no cards."
Bancroft stared at the money for a moment before taking it with an embarrassed smile and nod. "Thanks. I'm serious about paying you back tomorrow."
Neal smiled. "Monday, unless you're planning on working tomorrow."
Bancroft sighed. "You're right and The Powell isn't open on Sundays."
"Don't worry about it – you're an FBI agent, I trust you." Sliding out of the car, Neal waved. "Thanks again and I'll see you Monday." He watched the cab drive away, wondering if he should feel a bit more guilty at the thought of the agent without cash, cards or ID for a couple of days. It had been a spur of the moment lift, no rhyme or reason to it other than to goad the agent as payback for the dismissive comments.
Knocking on Peter's office door mid-morning on Monday, Bancroft said, "Morning, Burke."
Peter looked up and smiled, gesturing the other man inside, "Morning. Thanks again for your back up Saturday." He motioned toward the office chair, "I know it was a bit unusual, but …"
Bancroft waved a hand. "It worked and that's all the details I need." He glanced down for a second, "I was actually looking for Caffrey. Do you know where he is?"
The other man chuckled, "I always know where Neal is, in theory at least. He was heading down to records to get some files on an old case he's working on. He thinks it's connected to another string of minor embezzlements that the department closed last year and the two were just never linked up." He studied his boss for a moment before asking, "Did you need him for something?"
"He's an interesting character and you two certainly work well together," the other agent said in way of an answer.
"Neal is a very valuable asset to the department," Peter said formally, wondering if there was some sort of problem with the weekend's case. "We've seen our closure rate go up at least five percent since he came on board."
"And you trust him?"
Peter laughed and sighed. "That's a more complicated question. Do I trust him to give 110% to the job? Yes. Do I trust him to watch my back and the backs of everyone on my team? Absolutely. Do I trust him with a bunch of pretty, shiny, untraceable objects that have caught his eye? Eh … depends."
At that, Bancroft laughed. "Like most CI. You can trust them to always look out for their own self-interest first."
"No, it's not that," the other agent said firmly, shaking his head. "Well, to some degree, yes. But to a bigger degree, at least when it comes to the job, to the division, no." He studied the other man in front of him for a moment before saying, "In my experience with Neal, if you try to treat him like any other CI, expect him to fit that mold, you're doing him a big disservice and wasting his talents." Peter smiled. "He's probably the smartest person I know and while I may not trust him not to lift a painting from the Met, I'd trust him with my grandmother's Monet."
Bancroft nodded silently for a long moment before standing up. "I'm going to be out of the office for the rest of the day, but could you please give this to him?" Pulling an envelope out of his breast pocket, he passed it over to Burke. "We both wanted to see the "White Bored" exhibit on Saturday and I accidently lost my wallet. He ended up paying for dinner and then loaned me some money to get me through the weekend. I wanted to pay him back as soon as possible so he's not short. I'm sure his budget is stretched thin."
Peter took the envelope. "Dry cleaning bills will get you ever time." He tapped it on his desk. "I'll make sure he gets it."
"Did you ever find your wallet?" he asked.
Bancroft shook his head. "No, but The Powell is still looking. I had it there and then it just disappeared." He shrugged., "Probably picked up by the next person in line. I didn't have much cash, but it's more the hassle factor."
Peter nodded. "I'm sure." Pointing toward the envelope, he said, "I'll make sure Neal gets this."
"Thanks." Bancroft shook his head slightly. "Interesting fellow you've got there. I wouldn't mind picking his brain and getting to know him better."
Peter laughed. "As long as you treat him like an individual person and not just a tool that you're using, he'll be more than happy to talk." He smiled, "He can be a bit of a show off and likes to impress."
"I'll keep that in mind. There's actually a seminar next month down at Quantico about CI's. Maybe you two would like to come down and be part of the panel discussion?" Staring off into space for a moment, Bancroft nodded. "I'll speak with Hughes about that if you're interested. It'll add a different perspective to the discussion."
"We'd both be happy to participate," Peter said. "Talk to Hughes and then he can let me know." Watching the other agent walk out of his office, Peter stared at the envelope for a long moment and then slowly shook his head and turned back to the computer.
"I was right," Neal crowed, stepping into Peter's office with three file folders.
"You're brilliant," the agent said dryly, trying not to smile. Sliding the envelope over, he said, "And this is your reward."
Picking up the envelope, Neal raised an eyebrow. "You're paying me now? And in cash? Is it under the table money?"
Peter laughed. "Payback from Bancroft. He's out of the office today and wanted to make sure you were paid back as quickly as possible. He was somehow under the impression that you'd starve otherwise."
Neal grinned, pocketing the money and tossing the envelope back onto Peter's desk. "We went to the "White Bored" exhibit and he lost his wallet, so I ended up buying and then fronted him some money for the weekend."
"He told me," Peter said, then looked sternly at Neal. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that missing wallet, would you?"
Not bothering to even try to hide his grin, Neal shook his head. "I have no idea where it is." After he ditched it in the restaurant's bathroom, wiped clean of prints, it could honestly be anywhere.
"Did you know where it was after it went missing?"
Neal laughed. "Would I do something like that to a man who reminded me at least four times in two hours that I was a felon? He said I couldn't be trusted and implied I should remember my place."
Peter sighed. "Do we really have to have a conversation on why we don't pick FBI agents' wallets, Neal?"
He grinned and shook his head, "No."
"Then don't do it again."
Neal laughed, walking back out of the office.