The Cost of Friendship
It had been such a stupid thing to do, and Neal had been so sure that he was right. That was one of his greatest failings; the knowledge that he was always right. That had led to him being caught by the FBI in the first place; caught by the man who had become a friend – a good friend – over the past few months and who now lay bleeding, maybe dying, in his arms.
It had seemed such a simple case: Someone was forging security bonds and Neal had recognized the work as that of George Jackson, a knowledgeable but fairly harmless forger that Neal had had dealings with in the past. Following a lead that Peter was unhappy about, Neal had once again taken a little shortcut that had slipped past the law and procedures that Peter held so dear. Using his own contacts Neal was able to track Jackson to a warehouse in the old shipping district and, of course, he had dragged Peter along since he was unable to travel 2 miles without Peter or some other FBI agent glued to his side... and of course it could not wait until Peter had checked the lead out, or got a search warrant or backup. No, they had to go right away, and Peter had listened to Neal; he believed him when he said that Jackson was just a small-time forger with technical talent who was quite harmless. Unfortunately, before they had time to get out of the car, the bullets had started to fly and Peter had been hit.
Since most of the bullets were clustered over the driver’s side of the windscreen it was a miracle that Peter was still alive, but that would not be the case for long if Neal did not get him medical help, and soon.
The car had been surrounded and both men dragged out by a rough-looking party of men. Peter had not protested, and it was then that Neal realised that his friend had been injured. Neal had tried to reach Peter, but a gun shoved into his face had effectively stopped him and he had been pushed along until they were both locked in a large old-style meat freezer. The only saving grace was that it was not turned on, so at least they would not freeze to death. The down side was that Neal only had his penlight and the meager light offered by the small, thick window in the door to see by, and what he could see of Peter was not good.
Neal had frantically torn off his own shirt, ripping it up to make some rough pads and bandages for Peter’s wounds, but he could see that blood was still seeping through the shoulder wound and, without an exit wound, he knew that the bullet was still in there. Peter needed medical help and he needed it now.
Feeling totally helpless, Neal jumped up and began frantically banging on the door. He was totally shocked by the attack as he was sure that Jackson had never, ever been violent, so he had no idea who these new people were that Jackson had got himself involved with. The view from the small window was virtually useless as age and dirt had all-but covered it, but Neal spat on his side of the window and wiped it with his jacket sleeve, and he could then see people moving around in the warehouse. He could also see that no one was paying him any attention. He swallowed hard as he realised that the men outside were packing up the warehouse quickly and efficiently and soon they would leave, and judging by the lack of attention they were giving their prisoners, Neal had a sinking feeling that they would just be left to die in the meat freezer.
Neal threw a frightened look back at Peter; he was sure that his friend would not last the night without medical help, and he wondered in a flash of side thought how long it would take for him to die of thirst or starvation.
“Neal?” questioned a weak, husky voice, and Caffrey quickly made his way back to his friend’s side.
“Hey there Peter, how you feeling?” Neal asked overly-loud, trying to sound more upbeat than he actually felt, but Peter’s next words drained the colour from his face.
“How bad?” the injured man gasped, feebly picking at the makeshift bandage, weakly struggling to lean up and look at his injured shoulder.
“What?” Neal questioned, trying to act as if he didn’t understand while trying to ease Peter back down, but seeing the hard, knowing look Peter threw at him, he slumped in defeat and answered honestly. “It’s not good, Pete,” he confessed. “You’ve taken two bullets... one to your shoulder and another nicked your neck. The neck wound’s really more of a deep groove and I’ve managed to stop the bleeding, but the shoulder one is... bad. I can’t get that one to stop bleeding, so you need to stay still, really still,” he finished, gently resting a hand on Peter’s other shoulder before moving to pull the fumbling fingers away from the bloody bandage.
“What else?” Peter gasped, knowing there was more and knowing it was not good, judging from the shadowed look in Neal’s eyes.
“It looks like they’re packing up fast and moving out, and I don’t think there’s much chance of them taking us with them.”
“Damn,” Peter said, as he seemed to slump in on himself. “I’m sorry Neal, so damned sorry I got you into this,” he stated quietly, guilt filling his pained expression.
Neal was astounded and blurted out, “You’re sorry! It was my idea to come here; I was the one who said that Jackson was a pushover and we could deal with it, and I didn’t let you call for backup... wouldn’t wait... and, and now look at us!” He paused, then confessed, “I don’t think they’re here because of the security bonds either; it looks like there are weapons boxes out there... lots of weapons.”
“Weapons...? Damn, this is worse than I thought.” Peter tried to shake his head as if to clear his mind, then grimaced as pain flared. Gasping for breath, he pushed Neal’s outstretched hand aside and continued, “Neal, don’t take the blame for this mess. I understood the risks and I didn’t have to come here with you. I thought this was an easy arrest as well; I should have insisted on backup, not you... you’re just trying to get an easy 4 years.”
“Peter,” Neal begged, really concerned about his friend’s agitated state, “please stop moving... it isn’t doing you any good.” He again rested his hand on his friend’s uninjured shoulder to keep him from moving.
The injured FBI agent ignored Neal’s concern and grabbed onto his arm, gasping in sudden fear, “If I don’t make it, tell Elizabeth... tell her that I love her.”
“Damn it, Pete,” the other man hissed, snatching his arm away as if burned, “you’re not going to die; you can tell her how much you love her when you next see her. I won’t let you die... not here, not now.”
“How the hell are you going to... to stop it?” Peter shot back, again trying to sit up, but the pain of his injuries prevented him from succeeding and he again slumped back in defeat.
“You just watch me,” snarled Neal, who jumped up and rushed to the door, starting to attack it with a vengeance, yelling at the top of his voice. After several long, exhausting minutes however, he slumped against it, his anger and strength spent, knowing that no one was going to come and rescue them. The men outside continued to pack the boxes of weapons and put them into several vans. They looked like army-issue – long, heavy boxes – and Neal realised that there was quite an arsenal in the derelict old warehouse. He wondered where they had come from.
"Feel better?" Pete asked as he watched Neal slide down the door in defeat and rest his head on his knees, his whole body shaking.
"I am so sorry," Neal gasped, looking up, and Peter was surprised by how much torment his friend was actually in.
"Neal, you’re not to blame for this," the FBI agent said gently, wanting only to ease the other man’s suffering. "I knew going in that this is a part of the job.” He gave a short laugh, and pressed his hand harder against his weeping wound as the pain ripped into him. Finally he gasped out bitterly, “You should have stayed in prison, Neal... it would have been safer.”
Neal looked at Peter and didn’t answer; after all, what could he say except that Peter would not be here now, wounded and dying, if he had stayed in prison.
Suddenly the door sprung open and Neal, totally unprepared, fell backwards out of the doorway to sprawl on the floor, but a hefty kick to his body had him scrambling back towards Peter, to protect him in any way that he could – with his body, if necessary.
The man who stood in front of them looked totally out of place in the grimy, derelict warehouse. He wore an expensive suit and had slicked back hair; he looked more like a stockbroker, with his false smile that never reached his eyes. Behind him stood a smaller man, one who Neal recognised and addressed.
“George Jackson, you’re keeping high class company now?”
“Needs must, Mr Caffrey, needs must.”
“I never thought you were a killer,” Neal snarled at him, and all saw the way the man winced and shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
The well-dressed man laughed and stated, his eyes suddenly going from cold to icy, “No, Jackson’s not a killer, Mr Caffrey, but I am.”
“So you’re planning on killing us,” Neal confirmed, moving to shield Peter again.
“Well that’s one way of solving my problem. Jackson here is very good at, um... producing the right documents for my little business, but unfortunately you recognised him and can now track him to me.” He rested his hand on the smaller man’s shoulders and squeezed – hard – causing the other man to gasp and reach up in pain for the hands on his shoulders. “It was very careless of him to continue his little side venture, and one we will talk about later.” It was obvious that it would include some more pain for the little forger.
“Please... no, Mr Blane,” Jackson begged, then his eyes got huge as he realised what he had said but Blane just laughed again, totally unconcerned that Caffrey and Burke now knew his name. He roughly pushed Jackson out the freezer door, to be caught and dragged away by one of his men, his protests and pleas floating uselessly back to them.
Blane looked back at the two men before him and finally said, “Now, what to do with you?” He pursed his lips, as if actually considering what to do with them, then finally removed a gun from his pocket. “I was just going to shoot you both, but you’ve been quite troublesome and I don’t see why I should waste the bullets when this,” he motioned around the freezer, “will do the job for me... but I’m not a totally inhumane person.” He smiled at them both, but again it never reached his eyes as he continued, “I’m going to give you a choice, Mr Caffrey.” He efficiently removed all the bullets from the gun except the one in the chamber, as he finished, “You have one bullet but several choices; you can either end your friend’s suffering and wait for your own long drawn-out death, or you can end your life and let your friend bleed out... which I feel will be sooner rather than later.” He cast them a look of mock sadness and Neal had never wanted to hurt someone has much as he wanted to hurt Blane.
Not getting a reply, Blane shrugged his shoulders and, turning, strode from their tomb, stating just before he tossed the gun back at Neal and closed the door, “I wouldn’t waste it on the lock if I was you, Caffrey, as the door will be chained outside.... After all, I don’t want you to waste your one bullet in the vain attempt of trying to escape.” The sound of his laughter drifted back at them as the door clanged closed and darkness once again descended within the freezer.
“I really don’t like that guy,” Peter said firmly, though his voice sounded weary and exhausted. He slipped back onto the floor and into silence.
“Pete!” Neal cried, rushing over to his friend’s side just in time to see him succumb to unconsciousness. Leaning back on his heels, Neal wondered if it was not for the best, as he had no idea how they were going to survive this.
Time ticked by as Neal kept watch over his friend and occasionally moved to check the movement outside the small window as the group loaded their convoy of vans and finally left the warehouse. True to his word, Blane never gave their tomb a backwards glance as he entered his car and drove off. Neal repeated the number plate of Blane’s car until it was fixed in his mind; it was a number, name and face he was never going to forget until the day he died... which could be today, his mind tormented. He clutched the gun tightly and slowly went over his options again.
He could not stomach the thought of using the gun on his friend, not if he was honest with himself, and like Blane had said, it would be useless to use it on the door as he could see the lock that had been used on the outside.
Slowly he slid down the wall of the freezer, ignoring the cold chill that flashed through his body as the realization settled in his gut: He was going to die, and so was Peter and there was nothing he could do. He would give his right hand to be able to ensure his friend’s freedom.
He paused. Giving his right hand would not be of any use in saving them, but giving his ankle and foot.... He gazed down at his trouser leg, slowly pulling it up to reveal the small square box of the tracker that had been fixed around his ankle since he had left prison.
It had a two-mile range and if it stopped working they would come looking for him, starting at the last position of the tracker. He licked at suddenly dry lips and wondered if he could shoot the tracker off. It suddenly looked like a very small box, and he knew that to do this he would have to hold the gun right next to the box; the force of the bullet could do damage to his leg... it might even cripple him and leave him with a limp, or worse, for the rest of his life.
He glanced across at Peter and remembered that this was his best friend... and Elizabeth, what would happen to her if her husband died? He knew how deeply and devotedly she loved her husband, and she had been so kind and accepting of him. He knew that Mozzie would be screaming at him, yelling for him to think of himself and wait, there was always a chance he might be saved, but he knew that Peter’s time was limited, very limited, and this was the only way that he could assure that help would arrive in time to save him.
He moved over and reassured himself that the bandages on Peter were still in place and doing their job, then needing the courage of contact if he was going to do this, he leant with his back against Peter’s still body and raised his leg with the tracker on. He changed position slightly, until he was able to get a clear shot without directly hitting his foot, and placed the gun against the small box, angling it so that the bullet would move away from his ankle. He gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the gun’s retort was so loud it filled the whole room and vibrated through his head, blanking out all else until the smoke from the destroyed tracker finally hit his throat, causing him to cough roughly. He blinked several times, unable to believe that it had worked and the tracking device now lay in pieces, the plastic casing scattered across the room, except for the thick strap that was still attached to his ankle. He blinked, surprised that it didn’t hurt more, and as if that was the acknowledgement it needed, the pain burst from his lower leg and he cried out, instinctively reaching for it. His seeking hand instantly becoming slippery with blood that was slowly but steadily pumping from his injured leg.
He knew that he had to stop the bleeding and wished that he had thought to prepare a bandage before he had shot himself. Even as this thought registered, he realised that he was about to pass out so, with great effort and using his own blood, he wrote the number plate of Blane’s car on the dirty floor, before slumping unconscious next to Peter’s still body.
Waking up was the most painful thing that Neal had ever done and he honestly did not want to do it, so he pushed it aside and tried to slip back into unconsciousness, weakly protesting the gentle hand that took hold of his and trying to ignore the voice that was calling his name.
“Neal... Neal, please, wake up, I need you... to wake up now.” It was a gentle voice and the thought that Kate was calling him made him open his eyes to blink, squinting at the bright light that flooded the room.
Light! Bed! He was no longer in the small tomb-like freezer. He started up, only to cry out in pain and slump backwards as his body protested his sudden movement. He noticed that his left leg was raised high above him on a complicated pulley system, swathed in bandages from thigh to foot, only his toes peeking out.
“Neal.” A hand reached out and touched his face, drawing his attention away from his raised leg.
He looked over, frowning in confusion when it was not Kate he saw but Elizabeth, her eyes red from crying, and his heart stuttered to a stop as he gasped in sudden fear, “Peter?”
She gave him a watery smile and said, “He’s in recovery. It was touch and go for a while, but they’re confident that he’ll make a full recovery, thanks to you.” She squeezed his hand again. “Neal, I am so grateful,” she began, but had to stop as tears once again graced her eyes. She took a deep breath, then continued with the information that she thought was important to him: “You’ve broken your ankle in two places, and torn your ligament quite badly. They had to operate to pin it and stop the bleeding.” She paused and squeezed his hand once more. “You’ll be here for quite a while, but the doctor will be able to explain it better. Also, Agents Cruz and Jones want to have a word with you, but they had to leave – something about a number plate.” She paused again, and then asked in disbelief, “Did you write the number down in your own blood?”
Neal frowned, then stammered, “I... I think I might have.”
Suddenly, as if remembering her duty, Elizabeth stated firmly, “I’d better get a nurse, you just rest there.”
He nodded weakly, suddenly feeling very drained, and he was asleep before she’d left the room.
The next time Neal opened his eyes he felt a lot more rested and awake. His leg was still suspended above the bed, and he had been moved to a larger room and was resting nearer the window.
“It’s about time you woke up,” a voice groused near him. Looking across the room he saw Peter, his bed raised up slightly, allowing him to rest comfortably against the pillows.
“How’re you feeling?” Neal asked, surprised by how weak his own voice sounded.
“Me?!” Peter questioned in surprise, looking at the dressing on his chest before he replied, “I’m fine. It’s you that had them all worried.” Seeing the confused look Neal threw him he continued, “By getting a...” he quoted in the air as he said, “...raging fever.” He paused as he remembered his own fear as he had watched his friend being rushed back to intensive care, before he hurried on, unwilling to examine his own emotions, “Poor Elizabeth was more worried about you than me, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.” Seeing the anxious look in Neal’s eyes he laughed and offered magnanimously, “Don’t worry, she did enough to make sure I knew she still loves me best.”
“Elizabeth is a wonderful woman,” Neal began, but was stopped by a nurse coming in and seeing him awake. The next few moments were spent answering questions while she checked his vitals, then the doctor was there and Neal began to realise just how concerned everyone had been; apparently there had been the very real threat of a blood clot and the fever had not helped. By the time the doctor left, Neal was left in no doubt that his decision to shoot off the ankle tracker had nearly cost his life, and that it was going to be a long, slow recovery.
He lay quiet for a while, taking in what the doctor had told him, and for a while Peter also stayed silent, allowing him to digest what he had been told.
Finally Burke cleared his throat and said, wanting to distract Neal, “Lauren will be in later to get your statement. She told me that they found us both bleeding and unconscious in that damned warehouse freezer, and it scared the life out of her. She actually admitted that.” Peter looked quite gleeful as he added, “That has to be worth a coffee or two when we get back to the office.” Turning serious, he continued, “They were able to catch up with Blane and his little gang; they were leaving the city, but once they stopped Blane in his car, they found Jackson in the trunk. He was quite willing to assist the FBI in their investigations, as he was very concerned that he would be Blane’s next victim.” Peter paused, then said with great feeling, “The number plate really helped, but I think we all would have preferred it if you’d just used the pen and paper in my pocket, rather than your own blood.”
Neal looked slightly abashed as he admitted, “I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time; I had other... er... concerns.”
Peter nodded. “Nevertheless, you did a good job Neal; you helped stop an international gun-running ring that the ATF have been after for years, and you more than likely saved poor Jackson’s life.” He smiled a bit at that, then sighed as he added, knowing what was really upsetting Neal, “Every time I leave the house, I can’t guarantee coming home. That’s what my job is, and I know that and accept it as the price I might have to pay for doing what I believe in.”
“It’s a hell of a price to pay,” Neal said with feeling. “Have you considered a desk job?” Although he said it jokingly, both men knew there was little humour behind it.
“What, and not get to work with you day in and day out...? Would I miss that?” Peter joked back, before he added awkwardly, “Thanks for saving my....”
Before he could finish, Neal broke in firmly, “Please, don’t thank me. It was bad enough when Elizabeth...” he paused and added embarrassedly, “...well, you know.”
“Yeah, but look on the bright side,” Peter went on.
Neal knew that he would have to bite, so he asked with resignation, “What bright side?”
“You won’t have to wear the tracker for a while, as we know where you’ll be for at least the next six weeks.”
Neal suddenly found that he had the strength to toss his pillow across the gap that separated him from Peter, catching the FBI agent neatly on the face, and both men were still happily bickering a short time later when Elizabeth arrived to visit them.
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