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The Cursed Sculpture Job

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Summary: A very old and very valuable artifact comes to the attention of both the FBI and the Leverage crew, and that doesn't bode well for the people they'll be going up against.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Non-BtVS CrossoversGreywizardFR1518,100062,33126 Nov 1026 Nov 10Yes
Disclaimer: 'Leverage' belongs to John Rogers, Chris Downey and Dean Devlin, I think, and 'White Collar' belongs to Jeff Eastin. Neither of them belong to me in any way, shape or form. More's the pity.

Category: Non-Scooby-verse crossover. This story will involve what are probably semi-AU versions of both 'Leverage' and 'White Collar.' I'm not deliberately making any major changes to either show's history, but I'm not going to be worrying overly about adhering to either one's canon, either.

Time Frame: I’m playing with the various time frames here, so this story is set anywhere you want to place it in 'White Collar's first season prior to episode eleven, "Home invasion," and anywhere you might like in Leverage's second season prior to episode eleven, "The Bottle Job," since Nate is still sober and on the wagon.

Spoilers: None intended, but I'm expecting you have at least some basic knowledge of the characters involved if you're reading this story.

Character Bashing: None, whatsoever.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: This was written for catyuy for her successful bid in the April 'Support Stacy' on-line story auction held at Majik's World of Fan Fic.

As usual, "word" indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

Nathan Ford's apartment
Boston, MA


"Hey, guys, what's going on?" Parker asked with an exceedingly bright smile as she entered Nate's living room, which the group was currently using as their headquarters and general meeting room.

Her greeting was just a little *too* bright, Eliot decided as he looked over at the cat-burglar/jewel thief with more than a little bit of suspicion in his eyes from his position sprawled on the large comfortable couch where he'd been watching a replay of Manchester United's loss the previous night on Nate's sixty-five inch plasma TV.

"What do you want, Parker?" he asked bluntly, since trying to use subtlety with the blonde safecracker would be a complete waste of the time and energy of each of them.

"You didn't rip off another drug kingpin, who's trying to kill you again, did you?" he followed up his initial question with a narrow-eyed frown as he remembered how annoying and persistent that last batch of goons had been, when their kleptomaniacal teammate had 'inadvertently' – to use Sophie's description of the incident – walked off with two of the drug lord's most highly prized and, of course, extremely valuable, Mayan ceremonial masks in the course of their caper.

"No, I didn't!" the blonde immediately responded indignantly. "And even if a really cute diamond bracelet and matching earrings might have slipped and fallen into my pocket while I was walking through Bostonian Jewelers, they wouldn't have any reason to think it was me, anyway!"

"Okay then, pretty lady," Hardison smirked from his position in the equally comfortable lounge chair, where he was both watching the game with Eliot and simultaneously idly hacking into one of Pratt-Whitney's databases while also listening to the pretty blonde's somewhat rambling denial of Eliot's question, "what is it you stopped by to ask us to help with?

"'Cause you've got that 'I'm gonna ask you for a big favor' expression on your face," he elaborated as he grabbed his bottle of Orange Crush and took a big gulp.

"Oh, okay then," Parker smiled with a relieved expression as she heard his explanation. "But I think Nate and Sophie should be here, too, 'cause Nate doesn't like not knowing what's going on when we're doing stuff, and Sophie might know more about the thing I'm looking to collect, and she might also have some pointers to help out," she added with a thoughtful expression.

"'Cause I really wouldn't want to die in unrelenting agony trying to get it, if those legends about the Dragon's Teeth being cursed really turn out to be true."

~~~

FBI Field Office
26 Federal Plaza
New York, NY


"Neal, what can you tell us about a guy named Andre Yasshaloff?" Special Agent Peter Burke asked as he set down two carriers filled with labeled cups of coffee for his White Collar Crime Unit members as they sat around the conference table and waited for him to begin their briefing.

"Andre Yasshaloff, better known as 'Andy' to his friends, is a very rich, very high-end Belorussian art expert and antiques dealer, who's become a favorite of a lot of the ultra-rich jet set over the past few years, who also has a well-deserved reputation of dealing in ancient, very valuable and hard-to-get artifacts," Neal Caffrey immediately answered with a small smile of self-approval at his answer before taking a sip from his own personalized cup Peter had handed him. He wasn't sure how Peter had managed to get his hands on any of the extremely scarce and highly coveted Peruvian blend Neal craved so much, but he definitely appreciated the senior agent's efforts and success in doing so, he reflected to himself.

"Although I should point out that no government agency – foreign or domestic – has ever been able to come up with proof about any of his 'alleged' dealings," he added a moment later.

"He's also handsome, charming, smart, extremely arrogant, very well-connected, extremely ruthless, a complete sociopath, and people who cross him or piss him off have a habit of disappearing and not ever being seen again," the FBI's 'resident art consultant' added as he leaned back in his chair.

"All in all, not exactly the kind of guy you want to tangle with, without a very good reason for doing so and without lots of very competent, high-level backup."

"Why, exactly, is the Bureau interested in this guy, Peter?" Special Agent Clinton Jones asked, an expression of focused interest on his face as he looked over at Peter.

"Some interested parties in the CIA have let us know – purely in the interest of inter-agency cooperation and in the interest of upholding the principles of international cooperation and justice, mind you," Peter replied with a sardonic expression on his face that belied his words, "that they have very strong, but as-of-yet unspecified, indicators that Yasshaloff is connected to an international smuggling ring which has been quite conclusively linked to several terrorist groups, and that he's been helping them raise operating funds by auctioning off antiquities stolen from various archeological sites around the world."

"And the fact that Yasshaloff is currently in New York would indicate that your sources think he's going to be making contacts to either auction off or possibly deliver some potentially valuable artifacts in the very near future in order to raise money for these terrorist groups, right, Peter?" Neal casually noted with an expression of mild curiosity on his face.

For a fleeting instant before the seemingly disinterested look slid into place on the younger man's face, Peter thought he'd glimpsed something he'd never seen before on the other's face – a mixture of cold rage and hatred

And after seeing that look, Peter made a note to speak with his associate/parolee privately, immediately after the meeting. Neal was trying just a little too hard to not appear overly interested in this case, he thought to himself – which meant that he needed to find out exactly what was going on, and exactly what sort of interest Neal had in Yasshaloff.

Mostly, so that whatever problems Neal might possibly have with Yasshaloff wouldn’t suddenly show up in the middle of the operation and possibly compromise either his team's safety or the operation itself.

And also because he didn't want to see Neal putting the younger man in any sort of situation that might endanger him.

~~~

Nate's apartment
Boston, MA


"So, Parker, what is it you want to steal, why do you want to steal it and, if Eliot and Hardison heard you correctly, why would you think that you might possibly 'die in unrelenting agony' if you did steal it?" Nate asked in an conversational tone of voice as he settled himself down in one of the overstuffed chairs in the lounge

"Well, I was talking to an old friend of mine who I ran into while I was taking a walk through Bostonian Jewelers on Tuesday, like I was telling Eliot and Hardison earlier," the team's resident cat-burglar began her explanation with one of her typical bright smiles as she curled up at the other end of the extremely comfortable couch Hardison was currently sprawled on, after casually pushing his feet out of the way to give herself some room to sit, "and she was telling me how some friends of hers, who she works with sometimes, were trying to get back two really ancient sculptures which had been stolen from a private collection that belonged to some old philanthropic foundation that some of their friends work for, but that she couldn't try to retrieve them for them since she was already busy working on getting back some other things that had been stolen from their collection last year, too, after the foundation's old board got blown up by terrorists.

"So then, she asked me if I would do her a really big favor and look into trying to get these sculptures back for them, because they're really important to this foundation's new board for some reason, and Gwen has always been really, really nice and she's helped me out once or twice when I really needed some help, so I told her I'd check it out and see what we could do to help her get them back," Parker concluded her somewhat long-winded clarification of her earlier statement with another of her brilliant smiles as she glanced around the room to see the effect her explanation had produce among her teammates.

"Uh, Parker, by any chance, would this friend of yours whom you mentioned meeting be Gwen Raiden, my dear?" Sophie asked with the slightest bit of a thoughtful frown marring her features as she quickly ran through her mental rolodex of people who might match the general parameter of Parker's description.

"Yeah," Parker nodded enthusiastically, "that's exactly who it is. How do you know her, Sophie?"

"We've run into each other a time or two over the course of the past few years," the brunette admitted thoughtfully, as she unconsciously chewed on her lower lip while memories of them and the other members of their group being chased by a band of irate Slovakian gang members flitted through her mind.

She had to admit, though, that helping Michael Westin expose and bankrupt that band of child sex-slavers and setting them up to take the blame for that Russian mob boss's murder had been a more than worthwhile caper. Those pigs would never be able to kidnap another child again, she reflected as she smiled to herself, and her share from that job had been quite agreeable, too, even without considering the warm glow that ensuring that a group of international child molesters had been put out of business permanently produced.

Of course, Gwen being mixed up in whatever sort of heist was Parker was intending meant that whatever these sculptures might be, they were also exceedingly valuable since Gwen never bothered with minor scores. And there was also the fact that, in addition to her professional skills, she had impressed Sophie as a fairly moral person when they had worked together previously, so she didn't really think that she might be setting Parker up to take a fall for her.

So, since they didn't have any caper they were working on at the moment, she saw no reason for them not to at least help Parker look into possibly acquiring these items for her friend.

"She was a quite charming girl, I must say," Sophie added with an approving smile. "And since she's friend of yours, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't try to help her."

After all, she reflected to herself thoughtfully, anyone who collects ancient and valuable objets d'art usually has more than just one or two lying around the house.

"Exactly which sculptures did your friend ask you to check into, Parker?" Nate continued questioning the blonde as he considered the information she'd provided them, his initial inclinations to agree bolstered by Sophie's comments. "And by any chance, did she happen to mention where they were or what the name of this foundation that she said she's supposed to be trying to retrieve these sculptures for?"

"Yeah, Gwen said that they're a pair of Mitanni carvings called 'The Dragon's Teeth' that date from around 1425 BC," Parker immediately answered Nate's question. "And she said that some guy named Andre Yasshaloff was bringing them to New York for an auction he was overseeing sometime next week.

"And I think that the people her friends were helping out worked for something called the Sineya Foundation. They're located somewhere in England, near London, I think," she added helpfully, with a small frown as she considered the information Gwen had passed on to her.

"This Yasshaloff really isn't someone we want to mess with unnecessarily, guys," Eliot commented as Parker finished her explanation. "He's an upwardly mobile kneebreaker who got his start selling drugs and weapons in Gdansk about ten years back, after he hacked his previous boss's head off with a hatchet. Since then, he's graduated to stealing museum quality artifacts from archaeological sites and selling them to wealthy collectors around the world," he added.

"Already on it, big guy," Hardison grinned as Nate glanced over in his direction, while his fingers danced across his keyboard. "Give me a minute, and we'll know as much about this foundation as its board of directors do.

"And probably a lot more than them, in fact," he then added with a self-confident smirk, "'cause these people almost certainly don't have anyone *nearly* as good as me working for them."

"Good to see you're as modest as ever," Eliot commented wryly as he waited for his friend to grab whatever information was available on this foundation, so that they could make a well-reasoned evaluation of whether this foundation was even worth their effort considering helping.

"Hey man, I'm just calling it like I see it," Hardison told him with a mixture of outrage and indignation. "Would you like being compared to some high school kid who just won the local Golden Gloves championship?"

"Depends," Eliot shrugged casually. "Muhammad Ali was the 1960 Golden Gloves Heavy weight champion and the Olympic Gold Medal just out of high school, and look how well he made out."

"And hey, Parker, you never did tell us why you thought you might possibly die in unrelenting agony if you try to steal these 'Dragon Teeth' things," Hardison pointed out as he glanced over at her while his fingers continued dancing across his keyboard.

"Oh, that's 'cause several years back, there was this art dealer I know who was telling me a whole lotta different stories that he'd learned when he was kid back in Syria, about how everyone who'd ever tried to steal the Dragon's Teeth from the temples they were kept in usually died horribly in all sorts of different ways," she told him with a vaguely uncertain look on her face.

"But since I'm not an unbeliever looking to defile their holiness by using them in profane rituals, I don't think I really have to worry about dying, 'cause I'm really just stealing them for someone else, and they're the ones who would need to worry about whether they're going to die in unrelenting agony, because they're the ones who would be defiling or profaning the Dragon's Teeth, right?" she conclude brightly.

Everyone else present just exchanged looks, shrugged and shook their heads with bewildered amusement and started discussing what steps they would need to take to determine how best to go about acquiring their partner's newest target.

~~~

FBI Field Office
26 Federal Plaza
New York, NY


"Okay, Neal, exactly what kind of problem do you have with Yasshaloff?" Peter asked as he turned away from an evaluation of the Worth Street traffic half a dozen floors below to frown at the younger man currently sitting in the chair facing his desk.

"What do you mean, Peter?" Neal asked. The one-time forger and art thief was radiating an air of utter and complete innocence as he looked up at his friend – an appearance that was almost certainly a complete fabrication, given what he knew of his younger coworker, Peter reluctantly silently admitted to himself. And yet, somehow the thought that Neal was most likely still at least semi-active in his former craft didn't bother him quite as much as he thought it should, the senior agent acknowledged in a rare flash of self-assessment.

"C'mon, cut the crap, Neal," Peter half-growled at the other man as he shook away the moment of introspection. "I think you know a lot more about Yasshaloff than you told us back there in the conference.

"And I also think that part of it – a big part of it – is some kind of personal grudge or vendetta you've got against him," he went on. "I saw something in your eyes when I mentioned his name that concerns me, Neal.

"I need to know what your problem with this guy is, so I can make sure that whatever it is, it doesn't compromise whatever operation we put together, and so I can sure that everyone involved isn't going to be put in any sort of danger," he went on as he explained the reasons for his questions.

"Come on, Neal," he coaxed. "You know I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important.

"And if it should involve any sort of undertaking that might possibly be considered as having violated any U.S. laws, I most likely won't remember whatever it is you're gonna tell," he offered.

"Well, at least as long as they weren't any *major* laws, at least," he added with a half-smile.

"No, it's nothing like that, Peter," Neal shook his head in denial of his friend's most likely only half-joking suggestion.

"This goes back to something that happened in Europe almost eight years ago," he began to explain as his face shifted to reflect a combination of loss and an almost all-consuming anger – something Peter couldn’t recall ever seeing on the younger man's face.

"Does the name Grigory Romanov mean anything to you, Peter?" Neal asked.

"Yeah, he was an art expert who lived in Turin, Italy, for most of the '90's, I think, and according to some people who know what they're talking about, someone who was a real old style gentleman. He was also reputed to be one of the best forgers in the world. From what I can recall, he allegedly specialized in reproducing 14th through 17th century paintings," Peter answered. "I don't remember him ever being brought up on any sort of charges, though, let alone convicted of anything.

"And then, if I'm remembering things correctly, he dropped out of sight a number of years back, under somewhat mysterious circumstances," he concluded his mini-soliloquy.

"Does this thing you've got against Yasshaloff have anything to do with Romanov's disappearance?" he asked, his ever-attentive mind quickly evaluating all of the various facts he already possessed and incorporating Neal's earlier reaction to Yasshaloff's name to determine the most likely conclusion.

"Yeah," Neal admitted, nodding his head as his eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment and he stared at something that only he could see.

"I was living in Genoa back in the late '90's and as it happened, various circumstances caused me to run into Greg, and after a couple of incidents where things got a little too close for comfort and a little bit of discussion, Greg decided to take me on as an – apprentice, I guess you would say," Neal recounted as he revealed part of his previously unknown background, and Peter felt a bit of warmth flow through him at this show of trust his coworker was giving him.

"He told me once, that he thought that I showed 'sufficient indications of both fledgling talent and the behavior of a gentleman' that it would criminal not to tutor me in how to best express that talent," he grinned with obvious happiness at the memory that accompanied the quote he had just repeated, before his face shifted and a look of anger replaced it.

"It was a couple years after he took me on when Yasshaloff showed up at Greg's home one afternoon. He wanted Greg to do some work for him – I'm not sure exactly what; I wasn't around when it happened, 'cause I was out delivering some of his work to a customer, and Greg told me what happened later," he noted, "but he refused to have anything to do with Yasshaloff.

"He'd heard before this about Yasshaloff's reputation for how he did business and how he treated people he thought might stand in his way, and Greg told him that he only did business with civilized people and that he thought Yasshaloff was most certainly not a gentleman. Greg told me later, he told Yasshaloff that he thought he was nothing but a barbarian looking to loot a civilization that his betters had created and who would slaughter anyone who got in his way, and that he would have absolutely nothing to do with him," he continued on with his story as Peter listened, fascinated at this glimpse into his friend's earlier life.

"Anyway, to make a long story short, Greg and Yasshaloff kept on arguing, Greg continued to refuse to do any sort of work for him, tempers started getting short from what I heard, and it ended up with Yasshaloff storming out of Greg's place yelling about how if Greg wouldn't do business with him, then he wouldn't be doing business with anyone, anymore," Neal recounted with a frown.

"It was a couple weeks after that Greg just disappeared from sight," he added. "He went out one night to see a potential client about a job, and he never came back.

"And I *know* that Yasshaloff killed him, Peter," Neal stated with unshakable certainty as he looked up to meet his eyes. "He had Greg killed because he refused to do any work for him, and because Greg told him he wasn't anything but a barbarian and a murderer.

"And I'm not going to let him get away with Greg's murder any longer, Peter. He's not going to walk away from his crimes, this time. Not if I can do anything about it."

"Uhm, Neal, you do remember that I'm an FBI agent, don’t you?" Peter immediately replied with a frown of disapproval. "I can't just let you do anything you want to this guy, especially since Washington wants us to keep a real close eye on him to see if he's doing anything illegal, so we can bust him.

"If I should find out you're doing something illegal, I'll have to arrest you," he pointed out as Neal glared up at him with an expression combining both hurt and disappointment.

"So, you better make sure that I don't get even a hint about anything you might be doing," Peter finished up with a smirk before he then turned and walked out into the corridor.

~~~

Eddie's Bar and Grill
E. 91st St.
New York, NY


"Well, Nate, I have to say it's certainly been a while since the last time I heard from you," Peter said as he took a seat across the booth from his old friend and slid his cup of coffee onto the table.

"Yeah, it has been a while, Peter," Nate agreed as he nodded a greeting and took a sip of his coffee. "I think the last time we talked was about that insurance scam Alan Hardesty and his pals were trying to pull on that armored car robbery. That was right before Sam died and I left IYS.

"Things kinda went down the tubes after that," he noted more quietly as he glanced down into his cup, as memories of his lost child briefly flitted through his mind.

"Elizabeth and I both tried to contact you after you and Maggie split up, but you never returned any of our calls," Peter said quietly, as he took a sip of his own coffee.

"Yeah, I remember," Nate nodded. "I didn't want to talk to anyone about anything, back then. I really was a mess, for quite a while before I finally woke up and decided to take back control of my life."

"Well, it's good to see you're not letting a tragedy like that destroy you, Nate," Peter said with a small smile of support.

"What exactly is it that you're doing nowadays, that you called and said you wanted to talk to me about?" he then asked.

"Well, the group I'm working with now deals with people who are usually suffering under a lot of pressure, a lot of weight, because of bad things that have happened – either to them or to their family," Nate half-smirked as he began the spiel he'd decided to use with his old friend. "We help ease that pressure by providing those people with some leverage they don’t have on their own.

"Actually, we're in New York right now to represent some of those people I described. Two of my associates are meeting with an old friend of theirs right now, to help us set things up so we can set things right," he went on with a small smile.

"I figured, as long as I was in town, I'd check in with you, for old times sake, and see how you and Elizabeth are doing. I also thought I'd mention that their old friend is someone who's recently begun working with you…"

~~~

Barking Dog restaurant
Third Ave and E. 94th St.
New York City, NY


"So, you see, Neal, we were hoping you might be able to help us out with this little problem that's come up on this – assignment we've been working on," Sophie said as she smiled warmly at him from across the table in the outdoor patio they were seated at and gestured to herself and Parker.

"Exactly what is it you think I can do for you, Sophie?" Neal asked casually as he absently considered whether he should order the St. Louis style toasted ravioli or the grilled breast of chicken with the smoked apple barbecue glaze. The fact that she'd called him last night to arrange a lunch meeting with him today had been a bit of a surprise, considering that virtually none of the people he'd spoken with last night or this morning had heard anything about any scams linked to her for the past few years, with the general consensus being that she'd retired from the game.

"And since when did the two of you start working together?" he asked as he gestured towards the beautiful brunette grifter and the gorgeous blonde cat-burglar seated on the opposite side of the table from him. "The last I'd heard about you, Parker, you were still only working solo jobs, and the word on the street was that you've pretty much retired, after you made some unidentified big score, Sophie."

"Well, you see, Neal, we're trying to help an old friend retrieve some sculptures that were stolen from a friend of theirs," Sophie began explaining, but she was cut off by Neal's immediate headshake.

"Sorry, ladies, but I can't help you," he said. "I'm sure you already know who I've been working with, Sophie, and I've got to tell you – I'm sorry, but I'm really not all that interested on taking a chance on screwing things with the FBI and going back to prison, just to help you get a couple sculptures back as a favor for your friend.

"If this was something really big and I could find some way to even begin to justify it to Peter, then I'm be more inclined to help, but as it stands, I've got say, 'No,'" he told them with a regretful expression.

"Oh pooh!" Parker exclaimed as she gave him an unhappy frown of disappointment.

"That's not very helpful! And we can't find anyone else who's available right now and who's good enough to make the replicas we need, Neal!" she said.

"Yes, Neal, Parker's right," Sophie chimed in. "We need to get these replicas done quickly, because the real items are going to be going up for auction in three days time.

"If we haven't gotten them back by Thursday, then Yasshaloff will have sold them to one of his clients, and we'll have to start things all over again."

"Wait a minute!" Neal said, his eyes abruptly focusing on Sophie. "Andre Yasshaloff? The kneebreaker who used to work out of Kiev a few years back?" he demanded.

"Yes," Sophie nodded her confirmation of their mark's identity. "But dear Andre has elevated himself a good bit since then. He's managed to establish himself as a bit of an art expert over the past several years, as well as someone who can acquire unusual and exotic items if the money's right, and he's here in New York to auction off a number of items he's either had stolen from various archeological digs or which he's acquired from other people.

"Why do you ask?" she inquired, her curiosity prompted her friend's abrupt reversal in demeanor.

"Because this changes the situation we were discussing completely," Neal smiled at the two women, as he settled himself more comfortably back into his chair.

"So, exactly what is it you ladies need me to do?"

~~~

Eddie's Bar and Grill
E. 91st St.
New York, NY


"Nate, this is crazy talk! I'm a senior FBI Special Agent, remember? I can't let you have Neal – or anyone else – fabricate a couple of fake sculptures for your people to swap for the real things!"

"Who said I'm doing anything like that, Peter? All I was asking was, what would you be able to do if you got a very reliable tip that a couple of the sculptures that Yasshaloff was offering for sale at this auction he's holding this coming Thursday afternoon were counterfeits? You'd at least be able to pick him up and hold him on suspicion of forgery while some reputable experts examined the pieces, right?"

"Yeah, I could probably do something like that, if I thought the tip was valid. But if this hypothetical tip we're discussing should turn out to be wrong, then this office would be in some major hot water, as far as Washington is concerned. Rumor has it, Yasshaloff has some powerful friends in D.C., who have the ear of several Bureau bigwigs."

"I understand your concerns, Peter, but if the sculptures should turn out to not be authentic, then those same friends you mentioned would probably immediately start wondering whether anything they might have purchased from Andre was authentic, and I think they'd probably be more concerned about verifying their legitimacy than worrying about whether Yasshaloff's happy. Right?"

"Good point, Nate. Okay then. So, if by some chance, you should happen to hear anything about any of these statues Yasshaloff's auctioning off might possibly not be the real thing, be sure to let me know, okay?"

"You got it, Peter."

~~~

"Peter, you said that the CIA told the Bureau that Yasshaloff was coming to New York because they suspected him of helping to supply funding and/or weapons to various terrorist groups around the world, right?"

"Yes, Neal, that's what they said when they told us that he was coming to New York. Why are you asking?"

"Oh, I'm just checking, that's all. Theoretically speaking, what would happen if it turned out that Yasshaloff wasn't just helping these groups get funding, but that he was actually also trying to smuggle possible weapons of mass destruction into the country?"

"If something like that turned out to true, then Yasshaloff would be in a much more serious situation than he would be in, if he were just channeling monies to terrorist groups. Homeland Security would probably jump in with both feet, and Yasshaloff would probably end up in Guantanamo or possibly some even less enjoyable vacation destination overseas. Not that I'd be all that upset to see something like that happen to a fine, upstanding guy like Andre, mind you."

"Yeah, I thought that something like that is what would probably happen. If he actually were doing something like that."

"Is anything going on that you're not telling me about, Neal?"

"Lots of things, Peter. But nothing that you need to know about."

"That's good to hear. I think."

"And there's definitely nothing going on that you'd want to know about, either."

"Why does that statement not reassure me in the least?"

"Probably because you're very good at what you do, and you know I'm just as good at what I do."

***

"Hey, Mozzie, remember that stuff we were talking about the other day?"

"If you're possibly referring to an item that, if the government found out that a mere citizen had possession of, would most definitely get that person a very long and most likely very unpleasant stay in a high-security federal prison, then, no, I have no idea whatsoever it is you're talking about, Neal."

"Good. I need two small empty, preferably used, containers that would be used to transport something like that thing we never talked about as soon as you can get hold of them, and I definitely need them within the next twenty-four hours."

'You realize, don't you, that if you're planning to use these things which we never discussed and which I don't know anything about, in the manner I think you are contemplating, and the person you're planning on using them against finds out that you're involved, then he will undoubtedly put out a contract on you and anyone else involved in this thing that we have never discussed and, most especially, have never even considered actually doing, right?"

"Guess I'll just have to make sure that he doesn't realize I'm involved, then."

"All right. It's your funeral, Neal. Possibly, literally."

***

"Hey, Sophie. You can pick up those things we discussed tomorrow afternoon, after one o'clock. They'll be pre-packaged in a large packing crate."

"Thank you, Neal. It's so good to be dealing with another professional – aside from the others, I mean. Far too many people nowadays have no real sense of professional responsibility."

"I know what you mean, Sophie. Although it does make it a lot easier to take advantage of them."

"True. Oh well, we'll be by tomorrow afternoon, then. And thanks again."

"No problem. See you tomorrow."

~~~

The Blandon Building
New York City, NY


"So , Parker, you can get these things in and get back out with the originals without any problem, right?"

"Pfft!" the blonde gave a snort of disdain at Hardison's questions, as she adjusted the navy blue coveralls she was wearing – a pair which matched the ones Eliot was wearing – to fit a bit more comfortably. "You've got to be kidding me, asking me that, Hardison!

"This guy Yasshaloff's using a Blankovitch Series 1230A security system with a Ningbo Yongfa series 3A vault," she informed him, her voice filled with a mixture of scorn and contempt. "I could break into that in my sleep! In fact, I'm almost insulted that he's still using something as ancient as that to store his goodies in!

"In fact, the only thing that really gives him any halfway decent security, at all, is the building's alarm system," she noted. "And that's a Schlesinger Mark XII system, which really isn't all that much of a challenge, either!"

"I wouldn't complain all that much about him not using the most up to date stuff available , Parker," Eliot commented with a small shrug as he checked out the movable tool chest holding the equipment they'd be carrying in with them. "It just makes things that much easier for us.

"Hey," he added as he glanced over at Nate with a small grin, "if you want a challenge, maybe once we're done with this job, we could look into breaking into the White House.

"Just to see how hard it would be," he added dryly. "That could be pretty interesting. Right, Nate?"

"Really?" Parker gave a small squeal of delight upon hearing Eliot's suggestion. "That's a great idea, Eliot!

"Could we, Nate? Please?" she asked as she spun around to look at their team leader with a hopeful expression.

"NO!" Nate's, Sophie's and Hardison's answers were immediate, loud and quite forceful.

"Oh, rats!"

***

"All right then, ladies and gentlemen – and you, too, Eliot – poor ol' Andre is about to find out that that this vault of his really isn't very reliable," Hardison smirked as he tapped the 'Enter' key to initialize the script he'd written following Parker's instructions.

A moment later, the hacker's tap into Yasshaloff's suite's security system cameras showed several of the 'security guards' relaxing inside the various rooms jumping to their feet and heading towards the innermost room, in an effort to foil the robbery allegedly currently taking place.

After searching in vain for any sort of disturbance in or around the vault, the guards reset the system and headed back to their customary positions.

"You want to do the honors this time, Parker?" Hardison asked with a grin, after the group had been watching the scene for approximately ten minutes following the system reboot.

"Sure," Parker nodded with a pleased smile, as she leaned forward and tapped the designated key, before leaning back in her chair as they watched the preceding scenario play out again.

It only took another two false alarms before the guards shut off the system in disgust and began calling the alarm company.

Sophie answered the call Hardison had rerouted on the fourth ring.

"Addison Security Systems. How can we help you?" she inquired with a bored Brooklyn accent.

"Okay, okay, I hear ya, I hear ya," she stated in an indifferent, nasal voice after a moment, as her earphone echoed with the outraged complaints of Yasshaloff's chief security minion. "We'll send two of our best people over, right away, all right? They're just finishing up with another problem in the area, so they should be there in about twenty minutes or so."

Hanging up with a satisfied smile, she turned and gave her teammates the go-ahead.

As Parker and Eliot were heading out the front doors, Sophie could hear the blonde whining, in a tone of voice more suited to a cranky five-year-old, "C'mon, Nate. Can't we at least check the White House out?

"Just a little bit?"

"NO!"

~~~

"Something wrong, Eliot?" Parker asked as she noticed her partner in crime frowning as he closed the hidden storage cabinet door inside the tool chest they were using to conceal the sculptures they'd rescued from Yasshaloff's vault.

"I'm not sure, Parker," he shook his head as he began wheeling the chest out of the reinforced room Yasshaloff had selected to use as his antiquities storeroom. "The sculptures your friend gave us to replace the ones we grabbed are a little bit heavier than the originals.

"It's not by a lot – probably less than a pound and a half weight difference – so I don't think anyone will really notice," he told her, "but for a pro like you and Sophie have been telling this guy is, that's a big mistake.

"I can think of a number of reasons for doing something like that – and none of them are nice – but none of them would apply to a guy like you and Sophie described to us," he shook his head in perplexity. "He must have his reasons for him to do something like that deliberately, but I think we should tell the guys about it, and make sure it's not gonna come back and bite us in the ass, later.

"Especially since the auction for those things is tomorrow night."

~~~

Eddie's Bar and Grill
E. 91st St.
New York, NY

The next night


"Hi, Nate. It's so good to finally see you again," Elizabeth gave the mastermind one of her brilliant smiles as she leaned in kiss him on the cheek. "Peter said you were looking better than the last time we saw you, and I'm glad to see he wasn't exaggerating in the least."

Turning to smile at Sophie and the other team members seated around the table, she held out her hand as she introduced herself.

"I'm Elizabeth Burke, and this is my husband, Peter," she said, indicating him with a tilt of her head as he settled into the chair next to her. "And from what Peter's said, you already know Neal," she went on as he took the chair on her other side.

"I'm delighted to meet you, Elizabeth," Sophie gave her a genuine smile as she shook her hand and began introducing the rest of their team. "I'm Sophie Devereaux, and this is the rest of our little group: Parker" – the blonde gave Peter and Elizabeth a small smile and a short wave of her hand in greeting – "Alec Hardison" – the hacker smiled a bit self-consciously as he mumbled, "Nice to meet you guys," – "and this is Eliot Spenser." Eliot merely nodded acknowledgement of Sophie's introductions, and didn't say anything at all as he settled back into his chair.

"We all work with Nate in his new – endeavor," she added, the least bit enigmatically by way of explanation.

"Well, whatever it is you're doing, I have to say it's done wonders for him," Elizabeth confided as she glanced over their old friend again. "When Sam died, he just went to pieces. It seemed like he just didn't care about anything at all. He's clearly doing much better, now.

"So whatever it is you people do, I think you should keep on doing it," she declared with a smile before she turned her attention back to Peter and Nate.

"All right, Neal," Peter said as the waitress headed back to the bar with their drink order and he finally turned his attention to his younger semi-protégée. "If it's not too much trouble, I'm sure we'd all appreciate hearing an explanation for why it is that a team of Homeland Security agents raided Andre Yasshaloff's condo last night and dragged him out in handcuffs and leg irons."

"Why would you think that I'd know anything about that, Peter?" Neal asked, a look of mock surprise and outraged innocence on his face as he did so. "Haven't your FBI street contacts told you anything about what happened?

"All I've heard from the word on the street is that Homeland Security uncovered some sort of dangerous contraband hidden inside some of the sculptures he had brought here for auction," he stated.

"But I would have thought you would have heard a lot more than that from your Homeland Security contacts," he followed up with a small, pleased smile.

"I have," Peter reluctantly admitted with a resigned sigh. Glancing around at everyone at the table, he then said, "This is highly restricted information, but from what I gather, everyone here probably knows a lot more about this case than most of the agents who actually made the arrests, so I'm pretty sure that no one will say anything about it to anyone else, right?"

Seeing the various nods at his clearly rhetorical question, Peter then elaborated on his earlier statement.

"From what I've heard, based on a fairly reliable tip our office received and forwarded to Homeland Security," – here, he paused to take a sip of his beer as he glanced over at Nate, who stared back at him with the same innocuous expression Neal wore – "they sent a team to check out some of the various artifacts that Yasshaloff brought into the country and found that two of the sculptures in his vault each had a small lead-lined container concealed inside them.

"And when their lab boys checked out the containers, they found very faint traces of powered plutonium inside each of them. And since something like that could be used to make a dirty bomb, they grabbed him and took him into custody for further questioning," he said with a small smile of satisfaction.

"Yasshaloff, of course, swears to high heaven he didn't know anything about any containers being hidden inside the sculptures, and insists he's being framed," Peter noted as he then glanced over at Neal, who stared back at him with a completely ingenuous expression on his face, "although, given his background of being a known weapons dealer, and the fact that no one can seem to find any trace of any other sculptures resembling the ones that he insists that he brought into the country, Homeland Security doesn't seem much inclined to believe him.

"So, if he really was framed, then whoever it is who might actually be responsible for what Yasshaloff says must have happened did a very good job of covering their trail. Not that anyone is really looking very hard for proof of his story," he noted with a shrug.

"So, Peter, it sounds like you're saying that an extremely dangerous man, an internationally known weapons dealer with a long, established history of violence, and one who is also believed to be a potential terrorist, has been taken into custody and the authorities are satisfied with everything they've accomplished and are ready to close the case?" Nate summarized his friend's evaluation of the current situation.

"Yes, that pretty well sums it up," Peter agreed with a satisfied nod. "And as far as the Bureau is concerned, the higher-ups think that Yasshaloff is either trying to act as though he's delusional, in the hopes that he can cop an insanity defense, or else he really is nuts.

"Either way, he's not going to be around to cause any more problems for anyone for a very long time to come."

~~~

"So, how's it feel?" Peter asked, as he joined Neal in staring out at the throngs of people moving along the street below the window of Peter's office.

"How's what feel?" Neal asked as he accepted the cup of coffee Peter was offering.

"Knowing you successfully managed to frame Yasshaloff, in a way that he's never going to be able to get out," Peter replied, calmly enough that Neal half-lifted one eyebrow in curiosity. "And that you not only framed him without him even realizing you were after him, you used the FBI and several other government agencies to take him down as hard as possible."

"Well, hypothetically speaking, Peter," Neal replied, after a moment's pause, "supposing that someone had successfully accomplished something like that, I'd guess that I'd expect that person to be feeling quite pleased with themselves for putting a scumbag like Yasshaloff away so that he couldn't hurt anyone else again."

Several moments passed before Peter spoke again.

"So, hypothetically speaking, how are *you* feeling, Neal?" he quietly asked

"Kind of drained, actually, Peter," the younger man replied, after a moment's careful consideration. "But pleased at finally being able to square things with that bastard for what he did to Greg.

"And maybe, just a little bit empty, too," he admitted after another moment's further reflection.

"And now that Yasshaloff's been taken care, there's a sort of void inside me, where I used to plan what I was going to do to him, once the opportunity presented itself," he elaborated a bit, an expression of mild surprise at that admission momentarily passing across his face before disappearing so quickly that, if Peter hadn't been watching his protégé so intently, he might have missed it.

"I'm sure Greg appreciates everything you've done for him, Neal," Peter said, hoping to find the right words to console his friend. "That's not something just anyone could do, which I'm sure you already know.

"There are a lot of people who are going to go to bed a lot happier tonight, knowing that he's going to spend the rest of his life in a ten by ten foot cell," he noted.

"You know," Peter mused, as he put his arm around Neal's shoulders, to lead him out of the office, "Yasshaloff supposedly had a *lot* of money hidden away in various bank accounts around the world. Something like that could buy an awful lot of high-priced legal advice – maybe even help him get out of prison, eventually.

"It'd be a real shame if something happened to all that money, and it disappeared before Yasshaloff could get access to it," he commented idly.

"Yeah, it would, wouldn't it?" Neal agreed with a nod.

Peter kept his smile to himself as he noted the intensely thoughtful expression on Neal's face as they entered the elevator.


FIN

The End

You have reached the end of "The Cursed Sculpture Job". This story is complete.

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