This is fanfic, but you can read it even if you haven’t watched the show. I’ll post a new chapter every Monday and Friday; there are seven chapters. The story is complete, so you can enjoy it without wondering if I’ll ever finish it. 🙂
“You keep looking at me,” the man at the bar in the black leather jacket said, cradling a whiskey with long, slender fingers.
Neal smiled. “Heard your accent. You’re American.” He moved over next to him. “And if I’m not mistaken, you’re from New York City.” This close, the guy had eyes as green as Neal’s were blue. He stuck out a hand. “Neal.”
The man let go of his drink long enough to shake. His hand was damp from the condensation on the glass. “Harris. You know New York?”
“Lived there many years. Been in Paris long?”
“A year. Doing the starving artist bit, taking some classes at the American University.” He downed the remainder of his whiskey.
“Any good at it?”
“Which part? Starving or art?”
“You look healthy enough.” The man was lean but not skinny. Neal glanced at his Charles-Hubert mechanical watch. He’d fallen in love with it the first time he’d seen it. “I’m meeting a friend, but he’s running late. How about I buy you a drink or two, and we talk a while? Reminisce about Central Park and which place has the best pizza.”
“That’s easy. Brothers in Queens.” Harris looked him over. “You don’t look like a pizza kind of guy.” He ran two fingers under the lapel of Neal’s suit jacket. “Expensive. I would have guessed your favorite meal was caviar and champagne.”
“I like that, too.” He grinned. “How about that drink?”
They moved to a corner table, and Neal bought the next round. “Starving artist, huh? Tell me about it.”
After the first couple of minutes, Harris relaxed, and the conversation improved. He liked plays, and Neal discovered they’d seen a lot of the same shows. Harris was about ten years younger than him but knowledgeable and intelligent. Chatting with him was giving Neal a lot of pleasure. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his old home.
“Favorite New York museum?”
Harris didn’t even have to think about it. “The Met. How about in Paris?”
“You expect me to say the Louvre, but it’s always so crowded. I prefer the Musee d’Orsay. They have a lot of fine pieces.”
“Did you hear? Someone stole a nice little Monet from them a few days ago.”
“Huh.” Neal eyed Harris’s empty glass. “Another?”
Neal’s phone buzzed with a text. Delayed. Will meet you at your place later. M
“How does someone pull off a robbery like that when security is so good these days?” Harris sipped his fresh drink. “I’d think it would be damn near impossible.”
“All security systems have holes someone smart can crawl through.”
“Yeah? But then what? You’d have to find a buyer, and something like that would draw a lot of attention.”
“And a lot of money.” Neal swirled the liquor in his glass. “Anyone who could pull that off would already have someone lined up. Or maybe the thief isn’t selling it at all. Maybe he did it for the challenge.”
“Just to see if he could?” Harris laughed. “That would be rather brazen, wouldn’t it?”
Neal smiled and drank. Harris was a good-looking guy, with his green eyes and black hair, and there was something sensual about him that attracted Neal. When Harris spoke, he leaned forward, his body language inviting Neal in, and spoke in a low, smoky voice. If he’d been female, Neal would have been all over him.
Harris was gazing at the amber liquid in his glass. “But say he sells it. How much could he get, do you think?”
“Do you remember which painting it was?”
“Le bassin auxnymphéas from the Water Lilies series.”
“One of his most famous works. It was auctioned in May of 2015 for $54 million.”
“I remember. Caused quite a stir.”
“Were you at Sotheby’s that night?”
“Uh, no. Too rich for my blood. The thief wouldn’t get that much, would he?”
“Depends on how badly the hypothetical buyer wants it.”
Harris narrowed his eyes. “It sounds like you know what you’re talking about. You in law enforcement or something?”
“Writing a book about a master con man.” He wasn’t, but it helped explain his specialized information. “Had to research art thefts, fences, and the black market.”
“I wouldn’t think that kind of information is easy to find.”
“Some of it’s on the internet. The rest I picked up here and there by talking to people.” Neal liked Harris’s hands. They looked capable of creating paintings of significance. They were clean, ringless, the nails neatly trimmed, the skin smooth and without blemishes. “What would you do with that kind of money?”
“Pay off my school loans. Get a nicer place. Right now I’m sharing an apartment with three other people. Peace and quiet is hard to come by.” He chuckled. “Or maybe I’d up and disappear for a few years. Travel and see things and paint.”
“I did that a couple years ago.”
Harris raised a questioning eyebrow.
Neal clarified. “Disappeared.” Not only disappeared but faked his own death.
“And you landed in Paris.” Harris grinned. “Good place to end up.” He bent lower and gazed at Neal from under his lashes. “But maybe this isn’t the end?”
Oh, that sultry, sexy voice. It did something to Neal’s insides, and that surprised him. In fact, the way he was responding to Harris in general was causing him mild concern. “I like Paris.”
“But you miss New York.” He looked pointedly at Neal’s Varvatos suit. “The tie clip is vintage but that suit isn’t. You’ve got money. Where’d you live back home?”
“Manhattan. Riverside Drive.” He missed that apartment. Hell, he missed June, his landlady. Time and time again he’d been tempted to send her a message, saying he was okay, but so far he’d resisted. If you’re going to vanish, no one can know. He’d broken that rule once already. He couldn’t risk it again, much as he trusted her.
Harris nodded as if he’d expected no less. “And here?”
“The Marais.” The six rooms had been a bargain at $1.8 million.
“Fuck.” Harris breathed out the word, impressed. “You must be a hell of a writer if you can afford to live there.”
“Still working on my first book.”
“Family wealth then, huh?”
“Something like that.” He’d relived that last heist too many times. He refused to think about it again. Things had gone exactly as planned, but the people—the life—he’d left behind haunted him.
Standing, he removed bills from his wallet and tossed them on the table. “Thanks for the company, but it’s time for me to leave.” Throughout his conversation with Harris, he’d hardly noticed where he was. Now the murmur of others talking and laughing, and the thick smell of booze and sweat and dampness, assaulted him.
Harris lounged, legs spread, jacket open over a green tee the color of new spring leaves. “I’ll walk you home. You’re a perfect mark in that fancy suit.”
“Where do you live?”
“That’s across the river on the Left Bank, which is the opposite direction of where I’m going. Don’t bother.”
Harris rose, removed a pen from an inner pocket, took Neal’s hand in his, and wrote on his palm, his hair nearly brushing Neal’s nose as he bent to see what he was doing.
Neal caught the scent of vanilla. “You smell like cookies.”
Harris glanced up, eyes twinkling. “Does it make you want to eat me?”
An unexpected rush of heat went through him, but before he could think of an appropriate response, Harris was putting the pen away and sinking back into his chair. “Call me. We’ll do lunch.”
“And you’ll do me?” The words popped out before he could stop them. What the hell?
Harris laughed low in his throat. “Don’t get your hand wet, or you’ll lose my number.”
Neal read it off his palm, memorizing it easily. “Oh, I’ve got your number, Harris.”
The Marais apartment, close to Hotel Murano and the Cirque d’Hiver, was on the fourth floor. Neal took the elevator and went inside. Mozzie, his long-time friend and partner in crime, sat at the large wooden dining table, a glass in front of him and a half-empty bottle of something red in his hand. Round wooden beams marched across the high ceiling, giving the white-walled space a feeling of warmth.
Mozzie poured. “You’ve been walking the quaint cobblestone streets. Restless?” New York City or Paris, Mozzie loved his wine. Or rather, he loved Neal’s.
Neal got another glass from the kitchen and joined him. Moz filled it. “Thinking.” About Harris, about his visceral reaction to the young man.
They sipped. He couldn’t hear the sounds of the street. The newer windows were an effective barrier between the apartment and the city. The small green space across from the building also helped.
“The reason I didn’t show up was because I was sharing a hookah with Jabir.” He plucked at his plaid, short-sleeved shirt. “Sorry about the reek.”
Mozzie’s fashion sense had not improved after moving to Paris, and Neal found it comforting. “And?”
“The underworld is abuzz with wonder at the Monet heist. Various names were tossed around, including yours. It seems the news of your demise has not been universally accepted.”
Neal was surprised. “It’s been almost two years, and we’ve kept a low profile. How could anyone think I’m still alive?”
“You were a legend, and legends live on.” He delicately smacked his lips. “There’s nothing like French wine.”
“Especially when it costs $300 a bottle.”
“And worth every penny.” He held up the glass. “Look at that color! And the bouquet is scintillating. But speaking of money, I hope you’re rethinking that ridiculous idea of giving back the painting. I know you did it to see if you still could, but we need the money.”
“Seven million isn’t enough?” They’d split $15 million after the last job, and even taking into consideration the homes they’d purchased and their admittedly extravagant lifestyles, that still left a reassuring amount in their accounts.
“It never lasts, Neal. I have a buyer who will give us $50 million for that painting. Corrupt businessman in China with too much money and a desperate need to parade his status to friends. I could arrange a safe hand-off. No one would suspect Neal Caffrey stole that Monet. Well, they might suspect, but they’ll never know. Besides, if you want to buy that island you have your eye on, the mattress has to get much thicker.”
At mention of the island, Neal smiled. A five-hundred acre parcel off Belize near the coral reef, it was partially developed with the remains of a resort that would take little to again become a going concern. Or he could make the island totally private and spend his days painting and his nights cruising the dive bars. But was he ready to give up his life in Paris? Some days that sounded appealing, and other days… he stole a Monet.
“I could buy it today. It’s listed for only five million.” After the whiskey with Harris and now the wine, his head was spinning.
“And that would leave you with what, a mil from the original seven?”
“Less,” he admitted.
Mozzie snorted and upended the bottle, claiming the last couple inches. “With your taste in clothes and food, that wouldn’t last you a year. Face it. You need this sale, and as I am in the midst of restoring my empire, so do I. Let me arrange it.”
“What about Peter?”
“What about him?”
“He’s visited the storage locker, thanks to you dropping by that night and pointing him in the right direction. He knows I’m alive, and he probably suspects I pulled this job.” Special Agent Peter Burke was the one person he’d tipped off about his death being a ruse, and he still didn’t regret it. Neal had been his CI for several years, and they’d become friends. Best friends.
“So what? The FBI has no jurisdiction in France. He can talk to the local police, but nothing will come of it. You’re Neal Morrisey, reclusive millionaire, and you have the papers to prove it. We’re buried as deeply in Paris as two semi-wealthy people could be. Few have seen you, much less talked to you.”
“Paris has traffic cams, too. If they search the footage around the museum, they may see my face. I visited the place several times before hitting it.”
“Everyone in Paris visits museums, but you wore a hood during the robbery. If we missed shutting down any of the cameras, security will only see an unidentified male stealing one of their treasures. They didn’t even glimpse your hair. You worry too much.” He got to his feet. “You took too long to pull this job. Your self-confidence is lacking. But that’s a subject for another day. The wine’s gone, and I’m going home. Think about selling the painting. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
Neal locked the door securely after Mozzie and wandered around the apartment. The place had come furnished, and every room was full of books. He chose one at random and continued to the bedroom, where he stripped and got into bed with The Thirty-Nine Steps by Hannay.
He had a hard time concentrating, though. His thoughts veered between Peter and Harris, and he finally gave up, turned out the light, and closed his eyes.
If anyone knows about evading arrest, it’s Neal Caffrey, Peter whispered in his mind.
Shuddering, he dove under the covers and pulled a pillow over his head. “Shut up, Peter.”
Harris went home to a two-bedroom apartment near the American University. He shared it with three other students, two of them female, one of them male. He didn’t dislike them, but he hated being in such close proximity. There was no privacy, and food was always disappearing from the small kitchen. He’d learned to eat out or bring stuff home and cook it immediately. Forget about keeping liquor in the place; it vanished instantly.
After a quick piss in the cramped bathroom, overflowing with underwear thrown over the shower stall and makeup crowding the limited counter space, he crept to the bedroom he shared with Ron, who was from Chicago. Ron had a guest, and they were energetically exchanging DNA in his bed. Picking up his pillow and blanket, he returned to the couch in the living room, where two kittens were dozing head to tail.
“Sorry, guys.” He dropped the pillow on one end of the sofa and shook out the blanket. The felines darted off. It wasn’t the first time he’d slept there, but as always, he vowed it would be his last. The cushions stank of stale beer and possibly urine, and he bunched his shirt up under his nose to block the smell.
“I hate this,” he muttered, burying his head in the pillow. That, at least, smelled like him.
This was not at all how he’d pictured his time in Paris. He’d imagined bar crawls with people smarter than him, fabulous food and drink, and getting laid by men with seductive French accents.
He’d gotten laid, and some of them had had accents, but in the end, they weren’t much different from the men he’d have gotten into bed with in NYC. He hadn’t traveled across an ocean, and spent a good deal of his parents’ money, to find more of the same.
Neal was different. He wore suits. His hair was expensively cut. He screamed sophistication and money and privilege, and Harris wanted a piece of that. He wanted it bad. There was nothing virtuous about living hand to mouth with three other people doing the same.
He rolled onto his back, and a foot connected with something soft. “Sorry, cat.” The girls had brought the kittens home a month ago. The landlord didn’t allow pets. It was only a matter of time before they were discovered, and everyone was kicked out. Housing was at a premium in Paris. The place would be rented by the end of the day they landed on the street.
He wondered what Neal’s apartment was like. Big, he guessed. Close to everything, clean, safe. Probably had security. Anyone could approach their door, no questions asked.
The guy hadn’t struck him as gay, but while they talked, uncertainty had arisen. Bi maybe? Questioning perhaps? Neal was in his mid-thirties. That was late to be exploring sexual orientation, but still… there’d been a connection.
Harris hoped he called.