Neal and Mozzie arrived in NYC on a cold day in early February. It was snowing hard, and there was already several inches on the ground.
“Smell that?” Neal exulted.
“You mean that stench of vehicle exhaust, underlaid with a tantalizing hint of stinky garbage?”
“Mozzie, where is that romantic streak of yours?”
“I left it back in Paris.”
Shivering in their inadequate coats, they took a cab to Brooklyn, to one of Mozzie’s few remaining safe houses. A former warehouse, it was decorated like an oriental brothel, with lots of red and gold and folding screens with dragons on them. It was so Mozzie, Neal had to smile.
“It’s not much, but until you get the keys to June’s place, this will do.”
“I’m appreciative, Moz.”
“You will, of course, provide me with the wine to which I’ve become accustomed,” he said, lighting stick incense. “Call the Suit. Let him know we’re here.”
Peter was delighted to hear from him. “Where are you staying?”
“El will want to see you both. Come to dinner tonight.”
The Burkes still lived in the townhouse, but why would they move? It was a terrific place. Neal and Mozzie arrived at seven with wine.
Elizabeth hugged them without reservation. “So nice to see you!” She winked at Neal. “Good to know reports of your death were greatly exaggerated.”
Neal met his namesake, a fussy kid who wouldn’t sit still and was then put to bed. “He missed his nap,” El explained, “and he’s cranky. He’ll be in a much better mood next time you’re here.” She directed them into the dining room. “Sit. Dinner’s almost ready. Honey? Can you open the wine?”
“None for me,” Neal said. “I’m sticking with water tonight.” Moz looked at him like he might be sick. “Been overdoing it lately.”
“Can one ever drink too much wine? I’ll have yours.”
“And I’ll have beer,” Peter said.
“More for me,” Moz said happily.
Satchmo, the Burke’s yellow lab, took his usual position between Peter and Neal, knowing one or both of them would slip him tidbits. El noticed. “Satchmo, stop begging.”
The dog dropped his head but otherwise didn’t move. He knew just how far he could go when it came to table scraps.
It was as if no time had passed at all. Conversation flowed easily, and Neal was reminded of all the meals they’d shared when he’d worked with the FBI. “Where are Diana and Clinton these days?” They were agents he’d grown fond of while acting as Peter’s CI.
“Diana and the baby returned to Washington.” Peter sneaked a piece of steak fat to Satchmo, who took it discreetly. “She met someone last year—another agent—and they’re talking marriage. Clinton is still at White Collar. He’s become my right-hand man. Knows when to push me and more importantly, when to back off.” He laughed. “I suspect he learned that from you.”
“So you’re still running White Collar?”
“I like it. I get out in the field more than my predecessor, but being in the office most of the time lets me get home at more reasonable hours.”
“I like that a lot,” said El, “and so does little Neal.”
Slumping comfortably, he clasped his hands on his chest. Sometimes he very much wanted the life the Burkes had, but he knew it appealed to him mostly because he’d never had that kind of stability. Maybe he never would.
Peter slipped Satchmo another tidbit. “I made an appointment for you with the lawyer Friday at two. I’ll pick you up. I’ll need to verify your identity before you can get what she left you.”
The rest of the evening, they talked about safe topics, like Neal’s first word (“Mom”), the sights of Paris, and which beer was the best. Peter still insisted it was Fisler, his long-time favorite. Then they remembered June, toasting to her memory. Even Mozzie choked up when Peter played one of her songs.
In a cab on the way home, Neal said, “Our lives are about to change again.”
“Keeps things interesting.” Mozzie dabbed at a spot on his pants. “You’re moving back into the apartment, aren’t you?”
“I was comfortable there, and that balcony is killer.”
“Great view of the skyline.”
“Are you interested in living in the mansion?”
“Maybe.” He looked thoughtful.
The meeting with June’s lawyer was relatively short and virtually painless. Neal walked out with a folder full of paper, detailing her holdings and bank accounts, and the keys to the mansion. After thanking Peter for his help, Neal went directly to the place on Riverside and let himself in.
The furniture had been covered with dust cloths and all food removed from the massive gourmet kitchen and pantry to avoid attracting mice. He strolled through the house, casually matching items against the list he’d been provided. He didn’t expect anything to be missing, but he’d give Moz the task of doing a more complete inventory later. He’d love it.
After visiting the wine cellar in the basement, he finally went up to the top floor and unlocked the door to what had once been his home. It was just as he’d left it. June hadn’t changed a thing.
Afternoon light flooded the inviting space through the wall of windows and skylights. The balcony was half a foot deep in snow, and the table, chairs, and loungers that were out there in fine weather had been stored for the season. None of the furniture here had been covered. His bed was neatly made and looked ready to be slept in. All his books were still on the shelves in the cozy living room. The dining room table, where he had spent so much time with Moz and Peter and others, was still the focal point of the place. The fridge was empty, but bottles of wine were still on the counter, and there were dishes and silverware in cabinets and drawers.
He went into the huge walk-in closet and all his clothes were still there, including the suits June’s husband had worn before he died, that she’d given to him. In the bathroom, the things he’d left behind were still in the medicine cabinet.
He moved back in later that afternoon.