Confidence Lost - Chapter 1

New York City… Seven years later…

“Count me out.”

Peter Burke looked at Neal Caffrey incredulously. “Are you serious?” Briefly Peter wondered if the man sitting in front of him hadn’t been replaced by a body snatcher. “You’re honestly telling me you’re not the least bit interested in being part of an assignment involving the private art collection of one of the wealthiest, most powerful billionaires in the world?”

Neal was silent for a moment as he gave off the general impression that he was deep in thought. “Yeah, I’m not the least bit interested,” he said nonchalantly.

A quick glance around the office confirmed Peter’s suspicions that the rest of his team was as baffled as he was by Neal’s abnormal disinterest in a case that was seemingly right up his alley. “May I ask why the uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm? This is usually the kind of case that has you chomping at the bit, and has me worrying about all the extra paperwork I’ll have to file just to keep you out of prison afterwards.”

The former con artist sighed and leaned back in his chair before he started ticking off his reasons on his fingers. “One, anything of value attached to Wayne Enterprises has top of the line WayneTech security covering it. It’s practically impenetrable for normal, run-of-the-mill criminal elements. You’d have a better chance of breaking into Fort Knox with one hand tied behind your back. Two, if someone is targeting the Wayne collection they’re going to be coming in hot and heavy. There will be big guns, perhaps a meta or two, and maybe even a small army if they have the budget for it. The organized crime rackets from Gotham City aren’t especially known for their subtlety. A few federal agents flashing their badges won’t be intimidating anybody.”

“And three?”

Neal looked pointedly at Peter. “And three, Bruce Wayne funds Batman Incorporated. Have you forgotten about that little detail? It was only earth-shattering news a few years ago. With the value of this collection, there’s a pretty good chance that Mr. Wayne’s called in a favor from the cape and cowl set to look after his investments.” Neal leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms across his chest, and shook his head. “Frankly… I don’t even see why the FBI is even bothering with this. Isn’t this an example of that whole wasteful spending thing the government is supposed to be cracking down on?”

Peter pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Regardless of your professional opinion, Neal, the FBI is on the case. There are several pieces in the collection that are being actively targeted by criminals on our watch list and Bruce Wayne himself has personally requested that we have one of our best operatives test his security for weaknesses.”

“So send in your best operative.”

“I’m looking at him.”

From the expression on Neal’s face, one would have thought that Peter had just asked him to have a root canal without anesthesia. Finally, the younger man capitulated. “Alright, alright, I’ll do it. However, I want it on the record that I’m doing this under protest.”

“Duly noted. Now get out of here. You’ve got a week to figure out how to steal something priceless out from under Bruce Wayne’s nose.”

Normally a quip like that would’ve rewarded Peter with one of Neal’s cheeky, confident, kid-in-a-candy-store grins. Not today, though. Neal looked practically grim as he put his hat onto his head and stalked out of the conference room. Special Agents Diana Barrigan and Clinton Jones watched him as he left, then turned their attentions to Peter.

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Peter?” Jones asked with undisguised concern. “Clearly Neal is still out of sorts after Kate’s death. I’ve never seen him like this.”

“I understand your concern, Jones,” Diana said. “But this assignment will be good for him. If he’s left to brood with nothing else to occupy his mind, he’ll just start focusing on finding on Kate’s murderer, and you know what’ll happen then. We don’t need him running off half-cocked and looking for revenge.”

“You’ve both got your points,” Peter said somberly. “Neal is clearly not being himself, so it might affect his work with us, but to just force him to take time off to grieve Kate’s death gives him too much time on his own to get himself into trouble. I personally requested this specific assignment for Neal because it is something he can work on that’s well within his comfort zone, but it’s still a controlled environment where we can keep our eyes on him.”

Peter rose up from his seat, pulled out a set of folders from his desk drawer, and handed one each to the two agents before him. “In the mean time, you two know your tasks regarding the investigation into Kate’s death. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet a Mr. Grayson about the security surrounding the display of Bruce Wayne’s art collection.”

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Author Notes:

Welcome to Chapter 1. Whereas the Prologue (set seven years in the past) rewrote the ending of Red Robin #12, this chapter starts off where the end of Season 1 of White Collar left off. So essentially this is a rewrite of Season 2.

The End

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