Neal Island

Of Rhythm and Blues, Part Two

Title: Of Rhythm and Blues
Author: eldorah
Artist: embroiderama
Beta(s): rose_of_sharon1
Rating: PG13
Characters/Pairings: Peter Burke/Elizabeth Mitchell, June Ellington, Neal Caffrey, Mozzie, Matthew Keller, Reese Hughes
Warnings: None
Spoilers: Through the end of Season 5 (This AU contains canon elements of Neal’s family history, which we receive various bits of info about throughout different episodes and seasons.)

Summary: When Peter Burke, well-to-do talent agent of both his billboard topping wife, Elizabeth Mitchell, and the legendary soul singer, June Ellington, finds raw talent unlike any other in the form of a young man recently relocated from the Midwest, he must find a way to gain the young man’s trust while helping him share his talent with the world.

Art Post | Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Mozzie downed the last half of his Bailey’s Irish Crème in one gulp. He wasn’t sure why he came to this place anymore, since it seemed like every night, Matthew Keller was the only winner. The man didn’t even have real talent as far as he was concerned – he only knew how to work a crowd, molding his set into what he knew would earn the most money instead of concerning himself with producing music that would challenge him or make him better. It was like a giant con designed to make maximum profit off minimal effort, and while it was well known within his circle that Mozzie didn’t mind cheating the rules every now and then, he suspended his opinion on that when it came to music. Intellectual property laws aside, music was something deeply personal, meant to share one’s inner thoughts and feelings and to reward a listener by making them feel something in return. Besides, Keller lacked a certain grace and majesty that Adler’s was once known for drawing out, and his posture, one of Mozzie’s biggest pet peeves, was abysmal.

Idly, he remembered back a few years ago when he and June would come here each Thursday evening to enjoy the show. There had been many talented duelers then. The sound of Chopin, Beethoven, and the like would fill the air, graced with an occasional original score, and Mozzie and June would sit back with their coffee and just enjoy. When Matthew Keller first came on the scene a few months ago, his style was new and edgy. It was fun for a while, but then his sets became repetitive and it seemed that Mozzie could hear the same damn thing on any radio station in the city. He craved individuality in his music. However, it seemed that the rest of the regular population had been captivated and Matthew’s tired, monotonous act subsisted.

As the bald man stood up to leave, he noticed a rustling in the back of the room. Someone he hadn’t seen before was making his way up to the front of the stage, clumsily but with some purpose. He looked to be but a young kid, no more than twenty, and his clothes suggested that he did not frequent this kind of upscale place. Curious, Mozzie flagged down his favorite waitress, Gina, to order another Irish Crème, and then sat back down. He supposed he had time to watch one more round, even if he was doubtful this adolescent would offer his ears any reprieve.

The kid bounded up the stage steps and placed his guitar and hat on the ground. Then, he sat down at the old Steinway and looked Keller directly in the eye as Adler gave them the signal to play, exuding an almost extortionate amount of confidence.

The young man went first, choosing to start out with a mellow song with a fairly complex melody that Mozzie had never heard before. He at first wondered if it was another pop number like Keller often chose to play, but based on the looks of the other faces in the crowd, he suspected that maybe it was an original. It was beautifully poignant, and as the notes filled the air, they invoked a surge of despondent emotion that took the bald man off guard. He hadn’t expected this at all.

On stage, the young man’s blue eyes were closed as he allowed himself to get lost in the music. His posture was less than perfect, but Mozzie could excuse that this one time, as it was evident the young boy was completely lost in the piece. His fluid movements that mirrored the rhythm of the song indicated he was playing from someplace deep within his heart. Too quickly, his turn was over, and as the kid’s deft fingers slid over the final notes, the bald man was pleased to see that some people were already tossing some money in his fedora.

Keller retaliated with a swifter cover of a current punk rock song, a charade that caused the young boy across from him to look repulsed. Matthew had a look of defiance plastered across his face, clearly shaken by the raw talent the kid had exuded but certainly not about to give up. Keller oversold the performance, rocking his head back and stomping at the pedals, and despite his exaggerated theatrics earned some money from the typical following. Mozzie sat and absently drummed his fingers on the table, waiting patiently for Keller’s turn to be up so the dark haired young man could go again. In what felt like an eternity, the punky melody finally ceased.

The newcomer immediately chimed in, this time with a much, much faster paced song with a syncopated beat and a harmony in the melody that added a familiar flair of blues or jazz. The crowd began clapping along, and soon Mozzie found his own loafers stomping in time as well. Again, the music guru didn’t recognize the song, so he had to believe it was an original, and now, he was truly impressed. The kid smiled a huge, white-toothed grin the whole time while looking directly at Keller as the crowd ate up each note, a silent challenge to the veteran’s throne, and by the time he finished the number, his fedora was overflowing with dollar bills.

Keller looked ticked. It wasn’t often his opponents forced him to show real talent anymore, and Mozzie thoroughly enjoyed watching him seethe. In retaliation, he chose his own original score, perhaps the only one the bald man ever considered liking. The familiar tones soon filled his ears, but in Mozzie’s opinion, even though it was an original it still lacked a level of depth that good music should possess. The crowd, however, was elated to hear one of Matthew’s own tunes, for it happened so rarely, and soon his jar was overflowing as well.

In his final attempt, the new kid whipped out a pure classic. When Mozzie heard the upbeat notes of Le Piccadilly by Satie, he was sure that this young man was something special. The boy’s fingers seemed to float over the keys, mastering the complex and lively melody with such ease that Mozzie thought that he must be a prodigy. In the back of the room, a few of the older couples had cleared tables away and begun dancing, and in the front, newfound fans were rushing forward to place dollar bills in his fedora.

Partially because Keller’s jar still looked ominously full and partially because he had been so unexpectedly blown away, Mozzie fished a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and walked up to place it in the black fedora. For the briefest of moments, the boy broke his concentration to acknowledge the bald man, and his young eyes widened in disbelieving gratitude when he saw how much he had given.

In that moment, Mozzie could tell that this kid wasn’t here just because he wanted to have fun or to show off. This kid was here because he had nowhere else to go, and that notion broke the older man’s heart.

Thanks in large to Moz’s contribution, at the end of the round Vincent Adler declared the young man the winner. When asked his name, he charismatically teased that he never gave away all his secrets before he collected his things and scurried off the stage. Thoroughly intrigued by this mysterious young musician, Mozzie quickly hurried out after him after throwing a twenty down on the table for Gina.

Stepping out onto the busy street, he immediately caught sight of the fedora floating away from him through the crowd. It had been a while since he had tailed anyone like this, but the kid surely needed someplace to go and Mozzie knew just the place.
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Maybe it was just his nerves on edge at the first time being in this new city, but it felt like Neal was being followed. His impromptu stint at Adler’s had gone better than he ever would have dreamed, but he couldn’t revel too long. He needed to find a place to sleep tonight.

After walking a few blocks from the coffeehouse, Neal found a relatively well-lit park. Quickly, he hopped the chain link fence and then walked over to the swing set and sat down. He hadn’t actually counted his earnings yet, but he wanted to see how much was there. Deciding that his concern at being followed was just his nerves, he took a few deep breaths to settle down and soon he felt much more at ease. He had just pulled out the wad of cash from his backpack when a figure appeared next to him, startling him.

“Hey kid,” an older bald man with glasses said. He was dressed a little too nicely to be creeping around a park at night, “I’m the guy from the coffeehouse.”

“Yeah,” Neal acknowledged, suddenly recognizing him as the man who gave him the hundred dollar bill, “I’m not giving you your money back.”

“Keep it,” the older man said succinctly as he sat down on a swing, his short legs barely touching the woodchips below.

“What’s your angle?” Neal eyed him curiously.

“Would I be wrong to think you are in need of a place to go tonight?”

Neal remained silent, unsure of whether or not to trust this eccentric man.

“Listen, kid, I saw how talented you are. I know someone who might be interested in hearing you play,” the older man probed.

“I don’t have a lot of money,” Neal said defensively, “I can’t pay you.”

“You don’t need to,” the bald man said sincerely, “Just trying to find myself a new partner.”

At this, Neal looked up. “Partner? What do you do?”

We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” Mozzie began to quote.

Neal stared blankly back at the man, not quite understanding what that meant.

“Listen, I have connections,” the man replied curtly, “And you need to read more. You need a place to stay tonight or not? I don’t have all night.”

Neal thought about it a moment before replying. The man seemed harmless. Strange, but harmless, and after all, where else was he going to go?

“Sure,” Neal said, “What’s your name?”

“You can call me Mozzie,” the older man replied as he stood up to leave, “What’s yours? Nice evasion back at Adler’s.”

Neal was silent for a moment, unsure of how to answer. The name Neal still felt so awkward on his tongue, void of meaning and memories. But the name Danny brought back such a terrible clenching feeling in his chest.

“I don’t know why you are here, but I’m not going to rat you out or anything. The mind-controlling bureaucrats who rule our fair land may or may not know my real name either.”

At this, Neal smiled. It’s not that he did anything wrong, per se. But he didn’t want word of his presence in New York to get back to WitSec.

“Neal,” the boy replied awkwardly. It was the first time he had introduced himself using his true name, and it felt oddly liberating. “My name’s Neal.”

Mozzie smiled wordlessly and then abruptly took off out of the park. After catching up, Neal walked beside him in silence for what felt like forever, all the while alternating between excitement and homesickness. This city was nothing like his home, and it both thrilled and frightened him. Finally, they stopped in front of a house bigger than any Neal had seen in his life.

“You live here? It’s like a palace from a novel.” Neal stated in awe.

“Ah, so you do read. Don’t get too excited, I just rent the epilogue. June is the owner, but she’s asleep by now. You can meet her in the morning,” Mozzie explained as he let himself in and then stepped aside so that Neal could follow.

The place was absolutely grand, with incredibly high ceilings and decorated with enormous works of art. Mozzie led him up two flights of stairs to third floor, where he unlocked another door into his apartment. This space was also gorgeous, with an open floor plan that had access to a beautiful outdoor terrace, and boasted an impressive collection of both books and wine, as well as a bird’s eye view of Manhattan.

“This is amazing,” Neal said, stunned.

“It’ll do for now,” Mozzie replied, looking around the place, “I’m going to go get some sheets for the couch. You can make yourself at home.”

The bald man then disappeared around a corner, only to return a split second later.

“And don’t try anything funny, this place has cameras,” he added tersely before disappearing again.

Snickering at the man’s comment, Neal sunk down into the red leather sofa, allowing its glorious softness to encompass his body. He hadn’t been inside of a real home since his mother’s in St. Louis, and it felt amazing to be able to relax in something other than someone’s passenger seat.

As he let his eyes close just for a moment, Neal thought absently that he was going to like Mozzie. He was strange for sure, but he seemed genuine and sincere.

By the time Mozzie returned with the sheets, Neal was already fast asleep.
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Peter groaned when his phone rang, awakening him from his slumber at what he considered an unnatural hour on a Saturday morning. Beside him, Elizabeth stirred as he clumsily reached out to his night table.

“This is Burke,” he slurred, still stuck in a somnolent stupor.

“Hey, Suit,” the distantly familiar voice on the other line said, “I have a favor to ask.”

“Mozzie?!” the talent agent replied, suddenly wide awake as he shot up in bed, “What the hell? It’s eight in the morning on a Saturday!”

“No time for pleasantries, Suit – “

“That wasn’t a pleasantry.”

“Semantics. Listen, I met a kid last night at Adler’s. He is really good.”

“The dueling piano house, really? You woke me up this early on a Saturday because of someone at the dueling piano house?”

“I repeat, he was really good! He blew me away.”

Peter sighed in annoyed exacerbation. “And you’re a musical expert?”

“I’ve been around the block a time or two, yes.”

“Define around the block.”

“I’d rather not,” Mozzie said cryptically, “Listen, will you meet with him?”

“No, Mozzie. This is my first free weekend home with Elizabeth in a year. I will not meet with him.”

“Meet with who?” Elizabeth murmured next to her husband in bed.

“Mozzie found some kid at Adler’s last night that he thought was decent –“

“Not just decent – a prodigy!” Mozzie yelled into the phone in the background.

“And he wants me to take a listen to him,” Peter finished.

“What could it hurt, hon?” Elizabeth said, sitting up, “Maybe he is a prodigy.”

Peter shot his wife a look of disbelief before returning to his conversation. “We’re busy this weekend, Mozzie. Maybe some other time.”

“She wants you to listen to him, doesn’t she?”

“No.”

“Yes, she does.”

“No, she doesn’t.”

Yes, she does.”

“This conversation is over.”

“He beat Matthew Keller.”

At this, Peter silenced. Matthew Keller was slated to be the next up and coming star for Reese Records. It wasn’t common knowledge just yet, but another talent agent who had been in the business for years, Garret Fowler, had just cut him a deal. Fowler was a seedy man, and Peter didn’t care much for him. He had felt the same about Keller on the single occasion he had met with him.

“He beat Keller?” Peter repeated.

“I may have helped…” Mozzie trailed off, “But he did.”

Peter sighed. He always got roped into these things.

“Fine. Bring him by the house this afternoon and I’ll meet with him.”

“Why don’t I just bring him by the studio?”

“How do you even know where that is?”

“Never mind. Thanks, Suit! We will see you later,” Mozzie finished quickly before hanging up. Peter put his phone back on the nightstand and then fell back heavily on his pillow beside Elizabeth.

“How do I always get into these situations?” he asked rhetorically.

“You’re a good man, Peter Burke,” Elizabeth said, sliding her arm around him.

“This is why I don’t tell people what I do. They start to use you for your job. Just like neighbors, who use me for my tools.”

Elizabeth giggled. “Just listen to him, hon. He may be better than you expect.”

Sighing, Peter curled into Elizabeth’s embrace, trying desperately to cling to what was left of his peaceful Saturday morning.

“For Mozzie’s sake this kid had better be good.”
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Neal awoke, startled, to a knock on the door, disoriented and unsure of where he was. Then, the memories hit him like a truck – the huge mansion, the quirky bald man, the park, Adler’s, long hours with strangers on the road, fedoras… He forced himself to stop here, unwilling to dive any deeper into the memories of his past few days.

Pulling himself up off the couch, Neal saw that Mozzie was out on the terrace making a phone call. He couldn’t make out what the man was saying, but it appeared he was arguing with whoever was on the other end of the line, and he was flailing his free arm wildly in the air.

The knock on the door sounded again, and Neal hesitantly shuffled over to open it. He nearly fell over when he saw who it was.

“Hi, I’m June,” the jazz queen said, holding a tray of biscotti and three mugs of coffee, donning a brilliantly white smile, “You must be Neal.”

“Yes, I am,” the young boy said, quickly stepping aside to let her into the apartment, “I – just – wow – I can’t believe… Mozzie said… I had no idea – It is such an honor to meet you, I am such a huge fan.”

The legend beamed in response. “Thank you, it’s always so nice to see fans coming from the younger generation. I hear you have quite the talent yourself.”

 “I just mess around here and there,” he said, his face reddening, “But I grew up listening to you. My mom would play your music all of the time.”

June smiled and was about to say something just as Mozzie burst in from the terrace.

“Oh good, you’re awake, kid.  I see you have met the lovely June,” Mozzie said, beaming.

“Yes, you didn’t tell me the June who owned this place was June Ellington.”

“Semantics,” Mozzie said, waving his hand in the air, “Listen, I got you an appointment with that guy who might be interested in your work. His name’s Peter, and we are meeting him later this afternoon at his place. He’s a little stuffy, but his wife is perfect.”

“Oh excellent,” June said, still smiling, “Will Elizabeth be home?”

“I am sure she will be,” Mozzie replied.

“Give her my regards and hellos, please,” June said with a wink.

“Of course, of course, my lady,” Mozzie responded.

“Now does Peter know Neal’s style?”

“No, I only told him I met him at Adler’s last night.”

“Good, good. He will be pleasantly surprised if he is expecting a Keller.”

“Precisely,” Mozzie said, pointing his finger in the air to accentuate the point, “Now, how should we dress him?”

Neal was starting to feel like he wasn’t even in the room as his two new city friends carried on about him.

“He looks to be the same size as Byron,” June said as a slight glisten formed in her eye, “Let me see what I still have in the closet back there.”

The legend disappeared only to return promptly with three suits in her hands.

“I’m not really a suit kind of guy,” Neal said sheepishly, and Mozzie and June looked at him quizzically.

“Honey,” June probed with a convincing smile, “You are going to look dazzling.”

So Neal conceded, because how could he say no to June Ellington, and in the end the trio chose a dark grey combination with a maroon skinny tie.

“This is for luck,” June beamed, pulling a tie clip out of her pocket and pinning it on, “My Bryon always wore it at my shows.”

Mozzie stepped back and looked in the young kid’s direction. “You’re missing something,” he said concernedly.

“A plan?” Neal said, only half in jest. This all seemed like it was happening so quickly.

“No one needs a plan. ‘The best laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry’.”

“He’s missing this,” June said, ignoring Mozzie’s quote and picking up the fedora that young man had unceremoniously tossed aside in his tired haze last night.

Neal took it and smiled, and then flipped it suavely onto his head, tilting it at just the right angle.

“Now you’re a star, Dino,” Mozzie said, with a grin, and June agreed. “Let’s go meet Peter.” Continue to Part Three!
I am really enjoying this AU. I love how Mozzie became friends with EL and that he still frustrates Peter no matter what the situation. : )

Edited at 2014-10-11 08:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I am so glad you are enjoying it! I do hope you enjoy the rest of it as well! :)