Bella loved the French Quarter. There were no real street poles beaming a lot of light down on you, but every building had these tiny lights that illuminated just enough. And, during the day, you could see all the different colors of the houses. She didn’t know exactly where to go to visit the Michaels, but they had a home on Bourbon Street, and it was painted in rich jewel tones, as well as on the inside as outside, from what she had been told. And on the walls on the outside were stone Ms.
Her family had visited the Michaels. Not her, and to be honest, she was really nervous about it. She had heard that the family was ruthless. Then again, the Cullens thought of themselves as good and righteous and now that she had a different view of things, she knew it wasn’t that way at all.
Not everything had been bad. There were good times, such as playing baseball while younger and visiting family in Alaska. It had been terribly cold, but it had been a lot of fun because after every match there would be hot cocoa waiting with her name on it.
Even learning how to pickpocket on the Strip in Las Vegas were fun day trips. The fun changed, however, when something went wrong during a mission and they had to leave Grant behind. The family then went to dark for a few months and during that time, nothing was the same anymore and Bella was to move in the shadows at all times, not to step out in the light.
She was so good at it, that even she forgot she existed at some point. Uncle Garrett changed all that.
If only he had prepared her for dealing with yet another crime family. Bella hated politics. Dealing with other criminals and making sure everything would end positively meant politics. Negotiating.
She would have loved to have learned some diplomatic skills. Then again, being a diplomat and political sucked anyway.
But it was still the best decision to buy her home in the French Quarter. Bella merely hoped that the Michaels would be agreeable. “Oh, this is it,” she said as she pointed to the building. It was not heavily painted in jewel tones, it was more earthy on the outside, big windows and big doors. It was a Creole Mansion like her home, but then twice as big, if not more.
Bella liked seeing the balconies filled with flowers and that was something she’d like to do as well in a later stage. Maybe instead of flowers grow herbs and strawberries and other types of food. But that meant that she’d have to stay in New Orleans for a longer period of time and she wasn’t sure if that was going to happen right now.
“I’ll follow your lead,” Neal smiled at her before laughing upon seeing the look on her face. “What? Your family has history with them, not me!”
She rolled her eyes at him as she walked towards the open gate and peered into the courtyard. It was freakishly empty, devoid of people but with furniture out. To her right, there was a huge bell so she decided to ring it to see what would happen.
It took a few minutes before the younger brother appeared in the little passageway. “Wow, who died?” He was slightly taller than Neal and likely closer to Bella’s age, but she couldn’t be sure. He looked at them with an inquisitive look on his face before realizing he’d seen Bella before. “You.”
“Hi,” Bella smiled at him. “I’m Izzy Sheppard, this is Neal Carter, can we come in? Talk?”
“You’re a Cullen, and you lot cost us a lot of money.”
Bella nodded, understanding what he was saying. “I was, and I’m here to make amends, can we please come in and talk to you and your family?”
He sighed and nodded. “I’m Cole, come on in,” he said as he stepped aside to allow Bella and Neal to enter the courtyard. “Whatd’ya mean, you was?”
“I’ll explain,” she smiled at him. “Can you call your brother?”
Cole nodded. “Nick! Myriam! We have visitors!” He called out as he looked up to the balconies over the courtyard. Like Bella had expected, the home was bigger than it looked from the outside. The inside was painted in rich jewel tones, emerald green, topaz yellow, ruby red, from what she could identify of the colors. Like her home, the balconies were made out of wrought iron railings, looking absolutely beautiful and in every corner there were candelabras. It was almost as if they had stepped back in time. It looked antique, but it was beautiful.
Nick and Myriam soon emerged from one of the rooms upstairs and made their way down the stairs towards the courtyard, and Nick immediately recognized Bella. “You have a lot of nerve coming back,” he said as he straightened himself up, a menacing look on his face, causing Neal to take a step in front of Bella. “You and your family cost me a lot of money!”
“I know,” Bella said calmly. “I’m here to rectify that, make amends. I was only doing what I was instructed to do, even though it was a shitty move. But things have changed and I wish to talk to you about that.”
“Have a seat,” Myriam smiled kindly as she took Bella’s hand to pull her away from Neal and towards the comfortable looking couches. “I’m Myriam Michaels, I’m Nick’s wife.” Myriam had neatly cut brown hair, dark brown eyes and she looked simply stunning in that white dress she was wearing, complimenting her olive skin.
“Izzy Sheppard,” Bella replied as she sat down next to Myriam. “That’s Neal Carter, he’s with me.”
“Oh, but we all know Neal Caffrey,” Nick said as he eyed him. “Looking good for a dead guy.”
“Thanks,” Neal smiled brightly as he made his way over to one of the chairs next to Bella, to make sure she was safe.
After Nick and Cole sat down too, Bella told her story. Everything. The Cullens. How she left. Why she left. The Volturi. “When we were in New Orleans and you got the short end of the stick, I fell in love with the city and I bought a house here.”
“Oh! That house on Dumaine? Practically next to the Voodoo Museum? I always wondered what was going on in there!” Cole said brightly. “That was your doing?”
Bella nodded, a smile on her face. “It’s a beautiful place, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Anyway, I hope that it’s alright with you if Neal and I live there. We won’t get into any trouble or find marks here in the Quarter,” she said as she looked at Myriam, then at Nick and then realized Nick was looking at his wife. So Bella had been right, Myriam was pulling the strings in this family. “And to make up for what I did to help my family, I’ll happily pay you the money owed and offer my services.”
Both brothers looked at Myriam with an ‘I don’t care’ kind of look on their faces before Nick spoke. “I believe she’s telling the truth. Matches up with a lot of recent activity we’ve discovered and what Cole found with his friends on the internet.”
Myriam nodded as she smiled at Bella. “Fuck that. We have enough money, your family has no honor and that’s the most frustrating event from that job we allowed them to do here. And they want you dead? For leaving them? What kind of a shitty family is that?” She exclaimed, shaking her head. “No, you don’t have to pay us back. Instead, I want to offer you our resources and ourselves to go after your family. Set them up real good and put them away for years and years to come. How does that sound?”
Bella was surprised to hear that. “Huh?” That didn’t quite sound intelligent but she really didn’t know what to say about this.
“We took a chance with the Cullens all those years ago. Everyone’s heard of them, what they do, what they’re capable of, and we were merely curious if all those rumors were true,” Nick said as he leaned back in his chair, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. “We’ve been planning on going after them for years but never found a reason good enough other than ‘because we can’.”
“Because we can,” Cole nodded. “We already have a plan and people on retainer.”
“I can’t believe it’s that easy,” Neal said as he scratched his head. “If something is too good to be true, it’s usually is.”
Myriam let out a breath. “We pride ourselves in honor and kindness. We do things for the rush, and we are very good at taking revenge,” she motioned around them. “Look at this place. We don’t have to pull off jobs, we’re set for life. But we want to. And the Cullens are on our bucket list.”
“But I am a Cullen,” Bella piped up.
“Honey, you introduced yourself as Izzy Sheppard. You may have grown up with the Cullens, but you’re no Cullen. You know what they did and still had the balls to come here, ask for forgiveness and if it was going to be a problem if you lived in the Quarter,” Myriam put an arm around her and smiled widely. “And if Neal fucking Caffrey chooses to hang out with you, you’re alright in my book.”
“Besides, it’s always fascinating when a family wants a relative dead,” Nick quipped, earning him a stern look from Myriam. “What? It’s true!”
“But first things first. You’re a hacker. Otherwise you couldn’t have had them escape New Orleans like that. What’s your handle?” Cole asked, curiosity on his face. “I’ve been dying to know.”
Bella scowled. “I’m going to retire the name, I’ve used it for a long time now and I’m starting to get noticed.”
“Come on, what is it?”
“It’s not important.”
“Bel— Izzy, you said you’d share everything,” Neal coaxed her. “I’m pretty sure your secret is safe with these people too.”
“But I’m retiring shitface, I only need to—”
“Shit!” Cole cried out. “You’re 5h1tF4c3? I always thought it was a dude! I always imagined having a drink with Shitface, play some pool and shit like that but you’re really him?”
Neal had this big goofy grin on his face, beaming with pride. “That never gets old.’
“I never purposely revealed my gender. But if I want to fully be free from the Cullens, it’s a name I have to retire,” Bella replied. “Please tell me you’re Mingus.”
“No,” Cole shook his head. “I’m Tr0uble.”
“Yes, yes you are,” Nick nodded.
“I’ve heard of you, seen your work,” Bella smiled. “I like your stuff!”
Bella nodded. “The schematics and code you posted for bricking a physical pc in a few seconds was amazing, got a real kick out of that, and I included some of your other code on my tablet for when I hack things on site like security alarms and whatnot because I couldn’t figure something out.”
“Oh, don’t flatter him,” Nick rolled his eyes at her. “His ego is big enough already.”
“But it’s true! His code helped me, a lot,” Bella replied with a nod, seeing Cole’s smile growing bigger and bigger. “I’m more of a code girl instead of a gadget girl so yeah. With you sharing your inventions so openly, I took advantage of that, sorry.”
“Oh no, that’s why it’s out there, I have more ideas in my workshop, all fully functional but didn’t want to share that. Wanna see?”
“Uh, no, sorry, I’m still a little shocked how you want to help a complete stranger,” Bella said as she ran her hand through her hair. “And I’m not sure if I should accept the help.”
“I get that,” Myriam nodded knowingly. “You don’t know if you can trust us, and that’s a good thing. You don’t believe we’re not doing this out of the goodness of our own hearts—”
“Which we aren’t, we simply enjoy taking down assholes,” Cole added.
“Nobody sends hitmen after their own flesh and blood and gets away with it. You need a crew, Izzy, and we can help you out with that. Again, we already have a plan, and we already have a crew, and feel free to make any changes,” Myriam continued, shooting an annoyed look towards Cole, who shrugged in return.
Neal wasn’t sure what to think. He had thought going to the Michaels had been a bad idea after what Bella had told him about them, but here they were, being the complete opposite. They were… normal. To be honest, he’d never met other conmen and women who were this upfront in the first meeting, which made him believe that the Michaels were truthful.
Then again, it could be a ruse, too.
“Tell you what,” Myriam said as she looked at Bella. “We’ll write down the plan that we have, give you the names of our crew, and if you like what you see, you can hire us to help you. I mean, I think your next move was to find a crew anyway, wasn’t it? This way, if we betray you in anyway, you can withhold payment.”
“Okay, that sounds good,” Bella said after thinking it over. “I’m sorry, it’s just—”
“I understand, cherie, don’t you worry,” the other woman smiled kindly. “I’ve been where you are, right in that exact same spot, many many years ago. There’s no honor amongst thieves, that’s true, but that’s not how we work, and after what you’ve told us, that’s not how you work. Not sure about your man, though.”
“I’ll be good,” Neal replied, slightly offended. “Do you honestly think she’d allow me to stick around if I weren’t?”
“Well, yes,” Myriam replied as a matter of factly. “You’re eye candy. I’d do you in a heartbeat.”
Neal’s face broke out in the stupidest grin.
“Down boy,” Bella told him playfully. “I can assure you that Neal’s on his way to become an honest conman.”
“Good to hear,” Nick replied. “So do we have a deal then? We offer you our services, work with you with the plan, and if it fails, you won’t have to pay us.”
“Sure,” Bella shrugged. “What do I have to lose?”
“Great!” Nick was ecstatic. A wide grin on his face. “To protect our potential employer from those who will eventually come to New Orleans to kill her, I’d like you to have one of my trusted men to keep you safe.”
“But I am safe,” Bella replied sheepishly. “My house is protected, we both know how to shoot a gun when needed.”
“Ah, but when you go out, you’re going to need a shadow. Don’t worry, he works discretely. You won’t even see him.”
“Anyone I know?” Neal asked curiously.
“Doubt it,” Nick replied. “Which is why working with us will benefit you taking your revenge, Izzy, it’s likely your family hasn’t heard of the players either. Your family won’t know what hit them. However, what we need from you is a list of who’s who, and what they can do so we can anticipate and see where we can put our assets in play.”
“Uh, yeah, sure, I can do that.”
“Cole will pick it up tomorrow.”
Bella wasn’t quite sure what had happened as she and Neal walked home. For some reason she had a very bad feeling about the Michaels and maybe, just maybe, she had made things worse. “Do you think your friend Mozzie knows about these people?”
“He might, why?”
“Well, you trust him, so…” Bella shrugged. “I don’t know, I feel weird about this. It’s too easy. I can’t believe it’s this easy. So I’d be really happy to get a second opinion from someone you know and trust, and, for a third opinion I might ask Mingus.”
“You trust him?”
“Not completely, but he seems to be knowledgeable and he knows a lot of hackers, seeing as Cole is one and I know his handle… Yeah, Mingus might know about them.”
“We’ve got a plan then,” Neal replied as he pointed at a pastry place. “Binge on pastries?”
“Ohh, pastries,” Bella cooed agreeably. “Let’s get a bunch of them, and maybe a good bottle of wine from that liquor store next to it.”
Once they got back home, they settled on the couch in the reception area, turned on the TV on low and Bella pulled her laptop in to her lap as she bit down on a pastry. “Mozzie first?”
Bella nodded as she booted up her phone software and finished chewing her first bite. “If he does know the Michaels and know that they’re in New Orleans, do you think Mozzie can keep it to himself?”
“Don’t worry, he won’t tell Peter,” Neal laughed as he poured them a glass of wine. “And if he wants to come over, I can ask him to stay in New York to keep an eye on Peter, to make sure that Peter’s not looking into you.”
“What makes you say he won’t look into you?”
“Mozzie will likely tell him I’m still in France,” Neal shrugged. “And even though I’m now a new man, on paper, doesn’t mean that Peter won’t move heaven and earth to prove that I’m Neal Caffrey again. Or arrest me for those crimes again or whatever. Not that I think he will. He just wants to see me, I suppose. Maybe a day trip to the Big Apple?”
“If you want,” Bella replied as she dialed Mozzie’s number. “Just know that I won’t come with you,” she stuck out her tongue to him.
“I’m feeling popular, this is the most amount of times you’ve called me in a short amount of time, Neal.”
“Sorry, Moz,” Neal apologized. “I’m looking for some intel.”
“I could just come to you, it’ll be like old times.”
“Maybe once this is all over, I really would like you to meet Shitface.”
“Still not saying her name, are we?”
“Just respecting her rules,” Neal smiled at her and Bella let out a sigh of relief and continued to eat her pastry. “Anyway, have you ever heard of the Michaels family?”
“Of course,” Mozzie replied. “They’ve been around quite some time and in our world, too. It started off with their great-great grandfather or something. I hear that there are pockets of them all over America.”
“What’s your take on them?” Neal reached for a beignet.
“The only family that I’ve ever encountered was when I was in Michigan. Michael Michaels was one of the bigger players, sort to speak. Hard ass. Didn’t appreciate his children very well, and last time I heard of him was after he got killed under suspicious circumstances. They never found out who did it. Oh, and there’s a family down in New Orleans. They’re alright. Bit whimpy if I must admit.”
Neal let out a snort. “And why’s that?”
“Because they work in the grey area! You and I it’s black and white. We steal pretty things for it being pretty and if we get bored of it or don’t use it as a secret stash, we sell it off through a fence. These guys steal for fun, making our lives a lot harder by exposing security flaws in museums and whatnot. They might be out of the game. I’m not sure. I’m not sure if that counts for all of them though. Where are you?”
“Okay, well, if there’s a Michaels family there, you need to be careful with them. They don’t hesitate to stab you in the back. If you’re in New Orleans, you’re in luck because they’ve gone soft. They’d rather help the helpless, be like Robin Hood or something.”
“Much like Shitface.”
“Ha, she’s just rebelling. Her true colors will show in time.”
“I don’t think so, Moz.”
“We’ll see, my friend, we’ll see. Don’t allow her to make you go soft if she’s not rebelling. You can’t lose your edge.”
“I know, I know, you went to France after you died because you needed a fresh start.”
“Don’t change who you are, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Thanks, Moz, you were very helpful.”
“Yeah, please stop treating him like a small child, thanks,” Bella said annoyed before she disconnected the call and looked at Neal. “What? You’re okay with this? With him questioning what you’re doing?”
“He’s just concerned.”
“He’s trying to control you now that you’re not dead,” Bella countered kindly. “He’s acting like you’re a child, but you’re a grown man. He forgets you’re in your early thirties.”
Neal barked out a laugh. “Great to know I pass for early thirties still.”
Bella then realized she didn’t know how old Neal was. Carlo had put 30 on his passport. Neal didn’t know how old she was, either. “Just how old are you?”