I shook my head and then unzipped my headphones case before placing them over my ears. After connecting them to my laptop, I opened the unlabeled white binder and pulled a CD from a plastic sheath before slipping it into the drive.
As the CD loaded, I clicked New Document. My pulse fluttered as my fingers curved over the keyboard, ready to type. There was something about a new project, a blank page, that gave me a particular enjoyment that nothing else could.
The file indicated the two voices speaking, their background, and why we’d sought a Title Three in the first place. San Diego’s Squad Five was heavy in organized crime, and although it wasn’t my preferred field of violent crime, it was close enough. When desperate to leave, any door would do.
Two distinct deep voices speaking Italian filled my ears cupped by the headphones. I kept the volume low. Ironically, inside the government agency that had been founded to unveil secrets, the four-by-four cubicles weren’t conducive to keeping them.
I began to type. Translating and transcribing the conversation were only the first steps. Then, my favorite part came. It was what I had become well-known for and what would get me to Virginia—analysis. Violent crime was what I loved, and the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico, Virginia—also known as NCAVC—was where I wanted to be.
At first, the two men in the recording stroked each other’s egos, talking about how much pussy they had each procured over the weekend, but the conversation quickly turned serious as they discussed a man who seemed to be their boss—Benny.
I glanced at the file Val had given me while I typed, getting only a quick glimpse into how many points Benny had made in the mafia game while being a decent player in Las Vegas. I wondered how San Diego had stumbled onto this case, and I wondered who was doing the groundwork in Nevada. Chicago wouldn’t have much luck whenever we had to make a call to that office. Whether gamblers, criminals, or law enforcement, Vegas kept everyone very busy.
Seven pages later, my fingers were itching to start my report, but I went over the audio again to check for accuracy. This was my first assignment for San Diego, and I also had the added pressure of being known as an accomplished agent in this specific area. The report had to be impressive—at least in my own mind.
Time had gotten away from me. It seemed like just half an hour had passed before Val was eyeing me over the short partition between our cubicles, this time tapping her nails on the ledge.
She mouthed words I couldn’t hear, so I pulled off my headphones.
“You’re not turning out to be a very good friend. Late for our first lunch date,” she said.
I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.
“Sorry doesn’t put a greasy cheeseburger in my gut. Let’s get moving.”
I walked with her to the elevator, and Val pushed the button for the ground floor. Once in the parking garage, I followed her to her two-door black Lexus and settled in while watching her push the Start button. The seat and steering wheel adjusted to her specifications.
“Nice,” I said. “You must get paid a lot more than I do.”
“It’s used. I bought it from my brother. He’s a cardiologist. Asshole.”
I chuckled as she navigated out of the property. After passing the building next to the entrance gate, she waved to the guard, and then drove to the closest burger joint.
“Don’t they have burgers at the office?”
Her face twisted into disgust. “Yes, but Fuzzy’s Burgers are the best.”
“Not fuzzy burgers. Fuzzy’s Burgers. Trust me,” she said, turning right.
Then, she made a left before jerking her wheel into the parking lot of a quaint burger joint with a homemade sign.
“Val!” a man called from behind the counter as soon as we’d walked in. “Val’s here!” he yelled.
We barely made it to the counter when the man tossed a small round object wrapped in white paper to the woman in a pristine white apron standing at the register.
“BLT with cheese, mustard, and mayo,” the woman said with a knowing smile.
“I’ll have the same,” I said.
We took our trays of food and found an empty table in the corner, near the window.
I closed my eyes and let the sunshine pour down on me. “It’s weird that the weather is so beautiful, and it’s barely March.”
“It’s not weird. It’s glorious. The temp has been higher than average for this time of year, but even when it’s not, it’s perfect. Everyone would be happier if the world had San Diego’s weather.” Val dipped her golden curly fry into a small cup of ketchup. “Try the fries. Dear God, try the fries. They are so good. I crave them at night sometimes when I’m alone, which is more often than you’d think.”
“I don’t think anything,” I said, dipping a fry into my own small cup. I popped it into my mouth.
She was right. I quickly grabbed another.
“Speaking of, do you have a guy? Or girl? I’m just asking.”
“Did you? Have you ever?”
Val cackled. “No! Have you been in a relationship?”
“It’s not complicated at all actually.”
“Listen,” Val said while chewing the first bite of her burger, “I’m a great friend, but you’re going to have to open up more. I don’t care to hang out with strangers.”
“Everyone is a stranger at first,” I said, thinking of my stranger.
“No, not in the Bureau.”
“Why don’t you just open my file?”
“That’s no fun! C’mon. Just the basics. Did you transfer to move up or move on?”
“Perfect. Keep going. Do your parents suck?” She covered her mouth. “Oh my hell, they’re not dead, are they?”
I squirmed in my seat. “Um…no. I had a normal childhood. My parents love me and each other. I’m an only child.”
Val sighed. “Thank Christ. I might as well ask the next offensive question.”
“No, I wasn’t adopted,” I droned. “Lindy is Irish. My mother is Japanese.”
I glared at her. “You only get two offensive questions on the first day.”
“I graduated with honors. I was dating a guy. It didn’t work out,” I said, tired of my own story. “No drama. Our breakup was just as boring as our relationship.”
Val puffed out a laugh. “You were dating an agent?”
“Even worse. How did you live with him for that long? How did he handle coming in second place for that long?”