Chapter 09

The first three days of being in New Orleans were spent getting supplies and clothes, make the building more homey and personal while Neal and Bella grew closer together. Ever since their talk, Neal had been more in her personal space and she didn’t mind him being there.

She hadn’t had a lot of boyfriends in the past, her family never seemed to like the guys she brought home. Instead, she had picked up random guys in bars if she wanted to get her rocks off. There had been Jacob as somewhat of an approved boyfriend, and he and Neal were day and night. It wasn’t as if she and Neal were boyfriend and girlfriend, there wasn’t a label, just interest and curiosity at this point, but Jacob had been possessive from the get-go and not in the nicest of ways. Neal’s presence around her was protective, loving, safe.

And now that she experienced him more up close, he smelled really good.

She really couldn’t wait until they both couldn’t keep their hands off of each other and find out what he was wearing underneath that shirt and jacket, or even what held in his jeans. Bella had to tell herself to feel, she had explained to Neal that she had had a few bad experiences and that that was the reason that she had switched off for that side of her.

Much to her surprise, he was alright with that and would give her all the time she needed.

On the fourth day of being in New Orleans, Bella decided to set up her computer for business. Installing everything from the backups she had taken with her, and checked on her laptop how well her capital worm that she had unleashed less than a week ago had performed. It was even better than she’d hoped for. There was enough to pay for a crew, and quite well, and to buy everything they needed for the job.

While her computer was installing, she activated a script that allowed her to walk away while the OS and all the other software she needed were being installed. She then took her laptop and headed to the kitchen where Neal was making lunch, and it was smelling so good. “I said I’d make lunch.”

“Yes, you did,” he nodded. “But, you’ve been cooking for the last three days, when we weren’t having food in New Orleans, and I thought I’d do it today.”

“Thanks,” she smiled as she took a seat at the kitchen island and placed down her laptop. “Would you like to call Mozzie to tell him you’re no longer in France?”

Neal looked up from his cutting work. “Without telling him where I went?”

“Preferably. Unless you want to invite him to join us to think of a great way of taking down my siblings.”

“He’d freak out if he learned who you are. The person, not just the hacker,” Neal said after a moment of silence. “Best to keep him in New York, but I’d love to talk to him, yeah.”

“I’m more worried about the CCTV your Suit has access to, I don’t want him anywhere close.” Bella booted up the software that allowed her to make calls anonymously, Mozzie’s phone number was saved in the address book and dialed his number. “Have fun,” she placed the laptop next to Neal on the kitchen counter so Mozzie could hear him clearly.

Neal?”

“Heya, Moz, how are you doing?” Neal said chipper as he continued cutting up the vegetables.

Yeah, good.” Mozzie replied. “Hey, it’s good that you’re calling, I could use your help with something, are you alone?”

“Are you?”

Of course I am! The Suit and I aren’t attached at the hip like you were and I’m not looking after baby Neal and Teddy!” Mozzie countered, sounding slightly hurt. “No, this is about our bakery.”

Neal let out a snort. “Your bakery, Moz, I signed it over to you.”

Details. It’s ours. I was thinking about turning it into something else. A children’s daycare. We’ll teach the kids how to pickpocket and everything!”

“Worst idea ever,” Neal laughed. “What do you need help with?”

Are you sure you’re alone? This isn’t being recorded or anything?”

Neal looked at Bella, who quietly sat at the kitchen island. “She’s out, she showed me how to use this thing on her laptop and left, she needed to buy something.”

Okay, good. Hey, do you happen to know her name? Shitface is a terrible name.”

“I do,” Neal replied with a nod as he continued to cook. “But I’m not going to tell you.”

She’s a great hacker, I always thought she was a guy. I’m actually in awe of her, the things she did? Legendary. Seems like she’s wasting her talents now.”

“Or,” Neal looked at Bella. “She finally can do whatever she wants and that includes semi-retirement, can you blame her?”

I would have done more with her skills.”

“Aren’t you the one who always said that with great power comes great responsibility, Moz?” Neal laughed, shaking his head. “But what about Shitface? Did Peter tell you something?”

Neal, as much as I think she’s a legend and currently wasting her talents, she’s dangerous. She can do so much damage and destroy you and everyone you’ve ever loved with a single click of a button.”

“I know, that’s what she’s offered me, to destroy me and she did,” Neal replied, looking up at Bella again. “And she also gave me my life back by doing so. I trust her. No matter how much she dislikes Suits, she won’t do anything to harm him, because he’s my friend, and so are you. She’s not malicious in any way.”

And what if you do something stupid and she wants to take revenge?”

“Moz, come on.”

You want to know why she’s a legend? Why most hackers in the community are afraid of her? She can get through almost any security system and firewalls that are in place. At one point she disrupted the traffic lights and bridges in… what was it… Chicago?”

“It’s funny how you love The Vulture and you’re afraid of Shitface.”

It’s the Vulture who’s warning me about Shitface. Shitface is a legend, but she’s also insane and dangerous.”

Bella hadn’t done anything remotely malicious with her hacking since she left the Cullens, and even so, she would always try to be nice about it. The two things that Mozzie mentioned about her were true, the first ability he mentioned was for ease of access and escape, and the second one was to make sure her family could make a clean getaway. Sure, she bricked several computers and servers back in the day too, but that was noob-level shit. Mozzie made it sound like she was evil enough to hack hospital servers and control someone’s heart monitor or something. Or pacemakers.

Well, she could, but just because she could, didn’t mean she should and would. However, it came with the territory. Shitface kept her safe.

“The Vulture is just as dangerous, Moz, and you don’t hear me talk to you about her,” Neal replied as he walked over to Bella with the laptop and placed it on the island before pulling her into his arms. “It’s funny how last week you said I was safe with her.”

You are! And you’re not!”

“I appreciate your concern, Moz.”

She could land you back in prison.”

“She won’t,” Neal said as he rubbed Bella’s back, who was now shaking out of frustration and anger. “She’s not just a hacker but she’s also a brilliant con artist. As smart and talented as they come. You’d be impressed by her. She’s funny and has a completely different outlook on the game than you and I do. And it’s beautiful. I know that you’re afraid that something will happen to me, you’ve always looked out for me, Moz, and you still do. You don’t have to be afraid you’re getting replaced either. I do want you two to meet one day, perhaps after we’ve finished what we’re about to do.”

Bella sighed happily as she relaxed into Neal’s arms. Oh, she was used to be called names or people not being too happy with her, but for some reason this hurt. Mozzie was Neal’s best friend. Well, no, it made sense now. Mozzie was afraid she was going to take his place. But it still wasn’t nice, and certainly not from someone who was supposed to know better.

What are you going to do?”

“Something. Will let you know if we need your help.”

Something big?”

“Maybe,” Neal replied. “But you don’t have to worry. We’re both more than capable of pulling this off and she’ll never replace you. Oh, by the way, we’ve left France.”

You left? Where did you go to?”

“Somewhere, you know. I’ll tell you once we’re done and once Shitface believes that our Suit is a good guy.”

All this secrecy because of the Suit?! The Suit is alright!”

“Don’t be calling the kettle black, Moz, I remember quite well how you were in the beginning towards Peter,” Neal countered. “Anyway, I have to finish lunch, she’s coming back soon. Talk to you later, Moz,” Neal disconnected the call and pulled Bella closer to him. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“No, I understand,” she replied as she looked up to him. “It’s not nice to hear, but I understand. He’s worried about you, that’s all. It doesn’t help that The Vulture is whispering in his ear. She’s a hypocrite, but yeah, it’s basic competitiveness, and I’m not going to stoop to her level to give you information about her that you can relay to Mozzie. I’m a nice person.”

“Yes, yes you are,” Neal smiled at her and softly kissed her lips before releasing her. “Am I good to continue to make lunch?”

Bella nodded as she took her laptop and sat back down again. “I know that we still need to make a plan, but seeing as we’re not going to involve Mozzie, we need a crew, and I think we should make a list of who we want and then see if they’re willing to help.”

“Sounds good.”

“And after lunch we’re going to the Michaels.”

“Who are they?”

“The biggest criminals in the Quarter. We’re just going to say hi and tell them we’re no threat to them. Offer our services, one time for free, and we’ll be good.”

“I’ve never heard of them.”

“And I had never heard of you, and you never heard of me.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because you lived under a rock,” Neal stuck out his tongue to her. “But why would you want to check in with them?”

“I need to make sure that we’re good with them,” Bella replied with a sigh. “My brother made a promise to them when they had a job here. In exchange for allowing the family to fuck someone up, Edward promised them that the family would do a job for them as a thank you for being allowed to pull off a con, in addition to money and a share of the loot.”

“And?”

“Never make deals with a Cullen, they’re not honest,” Bella ran a hand through her hair. “The Michaels didn’t get anything, so, I’m going to have to tell them the whole story and then offer my services, free of charge, and hope that they’ll allow us to stay here. They know what I look like as I ran into the brothers while I was cleaning up my family’s mess. It’s only a matter of time before they realize we’re right under their noses.”

“Are we?”

Bella nodded. “Their compound is on Bourbon Street.”

“So you like living dangerously, huh?”

She shook her head, laughing. “No, I fell in love with New Orleans. With this house. I just hope that they are the forgiving type. It’s not like we’re here to eat the cheese off their bread. I’m a hacker and we can easily go elsewhere if we want to pull off a con. The Michaels don’t piss in their own backyard either, but from what I understand is that they know everyone who’s in the Quarter that can pose a threat to them. And I want to make sure we’re not a threat to them.”

“Courtesy call then, sounds very archaic.”

She shrugged. “This is New Orleans. Isn’t everything old and dated with a flair of romance and mystery?”

“It doesn’t sound safe, Bella,” Neal said as he stirred the vegetables in the pan. “You don’t know them, and neither do I.”

“The worst they can do is tell us that we have to move. And then we’ll do that within the time they’ll permit us. It’d be a terrible thing to do because I really love this house and this city, but it is what it is,” Bella replied as she checked her messages on her laptop. “I only know about having to do this because of my family. Seeing as you and I aren’t a family and we plan on taking down them down… who knows? They might want to help us instead.”

“You’re insane,” Neal laughed as he plated up lunch and brought it over. “But if you think this is a wise move, then let’s do it. If all fails, at least we’ll have scoped out their place and —”

Bella put her hand over his mouth. “No. We don’t steal from other professionals unless they’re bad guys who do bad things and we don’t know they’re bad guys who do bad things. Just that my brother likely pissed them off.”

“Still cleaning up their mess then.”

“I want to live in peace, not to have to look over my shoulder all the time, do you? Making friends with them might benefit us too, against people who hate Neal Caffrey even though you’re dead, and the Volturi.”

“Okay,” Neal nodded. “After lunch.”

“After lunch,” Bella agreed as she took a bite of her food. The way Neal cooked was almost as if you were eating in a fancy restaurant, even plated beautifully, with care and precision. It was the complete opposite of how Bella cooked. Her food tasted good, but it was more home cooking than restaurant grade. If it fit on the plate, it fit. If not, not. And no set way to plate up either.

“We need to see if Myka Morgan is still in the game,” Neal said after they ate in silence for a moment, lost in their own thoughts. “For your list of potential people to form our crew? Myka is drop-dead gorgeous and a grifter, works with NLP.”

“Neurolinguistic Programming?”

“Yes.”

Bella thought for a moment before adding Myka on the notepad. “You worked with her before?”

“Yeah. Seeing as you haven’t heard of me, I figured your family hasn’t either, and it’d be a good thing to pick people who they don’t know, makes things a lot easier. Mozzie will know how to get in touch with her, if she’s still in the game,” he replied before laughing when he saw Bella’s face contort in disgust. “Don’t worry, she likes the girls.”

She smiled then. “Oh, so you’ve tried?”

“Of course! I wanted to see if she was interested in a threesome with Kate and I.”

Kate. Neal had told her about Kate, of course. About his life with Kate before getting caught by Peter, and about what happened afterward. How she died. How he felt about Kate, and had felt. It had sounded as if it had been an unhealthy relationship. Obsession. Which he admitted, but they had an epic love, and Bella hoped that she and Neal wouldn’t end up that way.

He had learned from his past and Bella was done with indulging people by rolling over and accepting jerks. She wasn’t a new Kate to Neal, she knew that. So that was good. Maybe it was time to remove the breaks on her self containment. She didn’t need to be afraid with and of Neal.

“A threesome?” she got off her chair and grabbed her empty plate to put in the dishwasher. “You want to share all this?” she teased him as she motioned to her body with her free hand. “Because I’m not sure I want to share all of that,” she moved her hand towards his body with a devious smile on her face. “And to talk about a threesome before we even enjoyed each other’s bodies? Ha!”

“I didn’t— I didn’t mean to— uhh, no. No to sharing. I want you all to myself,” Neal said flustered. “Threesomes are overrated.”

“Uhuh. They can be hot, though,” Bella winked at him as she put her plate in the dishwasher and wiggled her ass in the air before turning around, smiling widely. “So, ready to go?”

“You’re mean and you’re evil. Who are you and what have you done to Bella?”

She moved over to him, put her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Let’s go to the Michaels… and then we can have some fun… if you’re up for it,” she said as she dug her hands into his hair and pushed her body against his while he was still seated.

“How about that first… them later?”

“Patience,” she laughed and kissed him again. “Come on, the sooner we do this, the sooner we’re back here.”

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