ARRESTING ANNA: TWO
Nate slept on the flight back to DC, in the cab on the way to his apartment, and most of the rest of Sunday, and was seriously considering napping at his desk on Monday when his partner sat down across from him and said, “So. Vegas.”
Nate yawned. He’d been tired when he’d met Lucy at the casino which was probably why he’d said yes; he’d been too exhausted to fight off a determined four-eyed redhead in a twin set. He smiled now, thinking about her taking off that twin set, folding everything as she went, obsessing over the bedspread and trying not to chicken out–
“Okay, that’s terrifying,” he heard Carter say, and he straightened in his desk chair.
“What?” he said, trying to focus.
“You smiling at nothing,” Carter said. “Hell, you smiling at anything.”
“I’ll restrain myself,” he said and thought of Lucy saying, “I’m usually very contained. Restrained even,” and smiled again.
“What the hell happened in Vegas?” Carter said.
Lucy happened, Nate thought, and said, “Nothing. Complete waste of time and money.”
“I don’t mean the job. I already know that’s a disaster. Sabrina said you disappeared on Friday night. And now you’re smiling.”
“I was tired. I went to bed.”
“Anybody we know?”
Nate turned to look at him. “This is not like you.”
“The job was a bust, but you’re not searching for reasons why?” Carter shook his head. “This isn’t like you.”
He had blue eyes Nate noticed for the first time after working with the guy for five years. Lucy would not approve. Good.
Carter looked stern, which was par for Carter. “Just tell me you didn’t sleep with Sabrina.”
“I did not sleep with Sabrina.” I slept with Lucy. Several times. I would do it again.
“Good,” Carter said.
“Because Fairfax is heading in that direction and I do not need two people fighting over a soulless blonde while I’m trying to work with them all.”
“I’m pretty sure she sold hers for that last promotion.”
“She’s a very competent agent.”
“Exactly,” Carter said. “She’s competent. Not brilliant, not insightful, not intuitive. Yet she leapfrogs over six other people to nab the new opening. I don’t think she slept with Madeline to get it. So why?”
Nate thought about it. “Why do we care?”
“I think something’s going on here, and she’s part of it.”
“Something’s always going on here. Art fraud usually. What did you have in mind?”
Carter shook his head. “Four agents fly to Las Vegas on a solid lead and get nothing? Especially you. You always find something.”
“Not if there’s nothing there,” Nate said, exasperated. “So no.”
“Yes,” Carter said, so uncharacteristically close-minded that Nate paid attention.
He rubbed his forehead. “Okay, look, I’m still jetlagged, so I’m not thinking clearly. Let’s start at the top. In general, what do you think is going on?”
“I think somebody on the team tipped off the courier, and either he didn’t deliver or he had somebody else deliver.”
“We don’t even know what he was delivering.”
“We know he was delivering it to Barrett on Saturday. And we know everybody who met with Barrett on Saturday, twelve people. So Milo and I have been looking into those twelve people and three of them have connections to art.” Carter flipped the projector on and aa surveillance photo from his computer flashed on the screen of an extremely thin, raddled-looking twenty-something male. “This is Steven Starkiller, real name Phil Beams. He’s selling Barrett his original Warhol because his career tanked, probably because of the stupid stage name he chose. He theoretically delivered it in case that was about nine by twelve inches.”
“Could be anything,” Nate said.
“But probably not a Warhol.” Carter tapped his track pad and up came your standard white bread, paunchy, middle-aged businessman. “This is Michael Anderson. He’s trying to sell Barrett a set of coins. The case he carried into Barrett’s office was about nine by twelve.”
“And why do we think it might not be coins?”
“Big case for six coins.”
“So we got nothing.”
“And then there’s this chippie,” Carter said, and a new photo flashed on the screen and Nate sat up.
Red catseye glasses with rhinestones on the corners. Crazy red hair caught back in a clip. Green sweater set with red trim. Sensible black flats that were not visible in the photo but that he knew were there.
Carter looked over at him. “We don’t have her name yet, or what she was doing there, but she also carried in a nine by twelve wood case and left without it. She wasn’t registered at the hotel, and Barrett provided the car to and from the airport, so tracing her is difficult, although Milo’s on it.” He frowned at Nate. “Do you recognize her?”
“Yes,” Nate said. “She picked me up Saturday night.”
“She picked you up.” Carter sat back. “Did she know you were FBI?”
“Didn’t seem to know, didn’t want to know.” Nate stared at the picture which did not do her justice. You had to see Lucy move, listen to her talk, to understand why–
“Maybe she’s just a great actress,” Carter said. “What’s her name?”
Nate sighed. “I can tell you everything I know about her in five seconds: she’s very bright, very verbal, very limber, and very hungry after sex.” Which she’s also ravenous about. Maybe when they tracked Lucy down, he could bail her out for conjugal interrogation. “She played me?”
“You really didn’t pick up any signs she was hinky when you were with her?”
“I was tired and then there was no blood in my brain,” Nate said. “Not at the top of my game.”
“Okay, what’s her name and where does she work?”
“I don’t know. She has a tattoo of a maple leaf on her butt and a lust for Snickers.” And me, Nate thought, pretty sure that all that sex she’d goaded him into hadn’t been part of anything except a quest for orgasm. “The only thing she was carrying was a brown leather bag. She took condoms and a change of underwear from it. Pretty sure it didn’t have dodgy art in it.”
“You didn’t get her name,” Carter said.
“She said she wanted cheap, anonymous sex.”
“And you said, ‘Sure’?”
“She was compelling.”
“She doesn’t look compelling.” Carter looked back at the screen. “She looks like somebody’s aunt.”
“She works with a woman named Magnolia,” Nate said, dredging up details from his fogged memory.
“You got her co-worker’s name but not hers.” Carter was sounding exasperated now.
“I wasn’t interrogating her, Cart, she suggested we have sex, I got a room, we had sex.”
Carter sighed. “I guess you can’t get much out of a woman in an hour if you’re breathing heavy, too.”
“Not an hour,” Nate said. “We got to the room a little after midnight and left for breakfast at seven-thirty.”
“You were with her for over seven hours.”
“Some of those I slept,” Nate said. “Or tried to.”
“Okay.” Carter pulled a yellow legal pad out of his desk and picked up his pen. “You are now being debriefed. Start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened.”
“How about I just tell you everything she said,” Nate said.
“Because while I respect you as a colleague and a partner, I am not about to start talking dirty to you.”
Carter looked at him for a long moment. “Lotta sex?”
Nate thought of Lucy, blinking at him as she insisted she wasn’t a virgin. She’d been right, too. “Copious amounts.”
“Start at the beginning,” Carter said.
“She came up to me at the roulette table and said, “This is either going to be a really embarrassing moment or your lucky day.’”
“I’m going to go with ‘really embarrassing moment’,” Carter said. “Only a lot longer than a moment.”
“Yes, I can see that now,” Nate said and tried to remember what she’d said next.
An hour later, the rest of the team had been read in and were staring at Nate with varying degrees of disapproval and admiration.
“That kind of stuff never happens to me,” Milo said.
“Be grateful,” Nate said. “What have you got?”
Milo showed him a very bad photo on his laptop, pretty obviously from an airport surveillance camera. “Is this your girl?”
“Woman,” Nate said automatically. “In her thirties somewhere.” He squinted at the photo. “That could be her. That could be a lot of people.”
“Ben thinks it’s her. He watched her come out of the office. We caught a break. She got off a direct flight from New Jersey. It had 220 people on it, but only eighty-four were female. Narrowing it down to any between twenty and forty years of age, we have fifty-two. Pulling up fifty-two drivers licenses—you’re welcome—only four of them were redheads. Of course, she could have changed it or lied to the DMV, but as a place to start . . .” Milo changed the image on the screen to four driver’s license photos.
“Third one,” Nate said and Milo blew the image up.
“Anna Jones,” Milo said. “Ben thought so, too.”
Lucy peered back at him through catseye glasses, blue this time to match the twinset she was wearing. The photo had that mug shot quality the DMV was noted for, and Lucy started balefully at them, looking like a librarian in a snit. “That’s her.”
“Cute,” Milo said, as if he wasn’t sure.
“If you like women in glasses,” Fairfax said from where he was slouched at the other end of the table.
“I like girls in glasses,” Milo said.
“I saw you talking to her,” Sabrina said to Nate. “She seemed . . . odd.”
“She wasn’t odd,” Nate said. “But she did stand out in Vegas.”
“So this woman,” Ben said, “picks you up out of the blue, and you didn’t find that suspicious?”
“No,” Nate said. “I find it completely believable that I’m irresistible.”
“Everybody finds that believable,” Sabrina said, smiling at him, and Fairfax rolled his eyes.
Milo cleared his throat. “Anna Jones works at a small private art library that is also a museum. It has no major art works and is used mostly for education.”
“Do you have a list of museum employees?” Nate said.
Milo tapped the keyboard again. “Yes.”
“Is there a Magnolia on there?”
“Yes.” Milo smiled. “Magnolia Vincenzo. She’s their IT department. There’s a picture. She’s kind of goth.”
“A goth Italian Magnolia.” Ben looked at Nate. “You are now part of a Robert Altman movie.”
“Well, the librarian bit explains the sweater set,” Sabrina said.
“I don’t care about the sweater set,” Nate said, trying not to remember Lucy peeling her sweater off and flashing her well-filled white bra. “What was in the case she dropped off?”
“Let’s go ask her,” Carter stood up and put on his jacket.
“We’re going to New Jersey?” Milo said.
“Nate and I are going to New Jersey,” Carter said to him. “You are going to find out everything about the Mikkelson library and Anna Jones.”
Nate stood and picked up his own jacket, trying to feel depressed about a three-hour road trip to New Jersey, but it wasn’t working. He felt a keen desire to talk to Anna-Lucy.
“I could come along,” Sabrina said. “You know, you should have a woman with you when you interrogate a woman.”
“If there’s a strip search, Nate’s been there,” Ben said.
Nate frowned at him. “Why are you so grumpy?”
Ben winced. “Hangover. Sorry.”
Carter shoved in his desk chair. “Sabrina, you’re on Steven Starkiller.”
“Oh, god, why?” Sabrina said.
“Ben, take Michael Anderson.”
“Boring,” Ben said, “but still better than Steven Starkiller.”
“Fairfax, find out all you can about Michael Mikkelson, the head of the museum.”
“Yep,” Fairfax said.
“Everything ever known about the Mikkelson Museum and Nate’s one-nighter,” Milo said. “On it.”
Carter shrugged on his jacket. “We’ll be back in the office tomorrow. At least one of us will still be employed.”
“Cheap threats,” Nate said and followed him out the door.
The museum meeting was well into its second hour, which meant that Anna was tired, bored, and not paying attention to her new boss, much like the other seven people around the table except for Teresa, Mr. Mikkelson’s secretary, who had evidently been handed over to Rankin along with the keys to the storeroom. She was taking notes like mad, which made no sense since absolutely nothing noteworthy had happened so far. Maybe she was writing a letter to her mother, explaining that the guy she’d been banging in secret was now free since he’d dumped the librarian to whom he’d been swearing eternal fidelity for two years, and that librarian had gone to Vegas and slept with an exciting stranger, so now was the time to get Grandma’s wedding dress out of mothballs.
That’s when her mind began to wander. There was so much else to think about it.
Like, if she ever met Charlie again, maybe she could convince him to really debauch her. She’d looked the word up and it meant ‘excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures’ and they’d had a lot of sex, so they might technically be debauchees, but she felt somehow that she still had that vanilla label on her somewhere—
Magnolia kicked her under the table and she straightened from her slump and tried to look alert as Rankin droned on, clearly in love with power and himself and much less attractive now that he was turning out to be such a dork. Jason, although admittedly still attractive, was much less so now that she knew the true emptiness that lurked inside his husk of a soul.
Charlie, on the other hand, was growing almost godlike in her memory.
Not that she was ever going to see Charlie again. This was her life: Charlie was gone forever and Jason was glowering at her from Rankin’s right hand, trying to position himself next to power and probably dominate her, which was never going to happen. Even when she was sleeping with him, he couldn’t dominate her, so now that she knew he was cheating scum, he was out of luck. And cheating with Teresa, who let her leopard print bra strap show whenever possible? Really? There wasn’t a hope.
The really sad thing was that Jason and Rankin were both basing their power trips on a third-rate museum in New Jersey, so they really were dim bulbs. Possibly a step up from Mr. Mikkelson, whose main virtue was never doing anything, which made it easy for the staff to work around him, which meant that things actually got done. Rankin did not seem to have that virtue, Anna thought, as he droned on in the background, sounding like an adult in Charlie Brown movie. He was looking like one of those guys who wanted to control everything, which would be a nightmare.
Maybe she could quit and marry for money. Her mother’s trust fund wasn’t going to last forever, and while she liked living in the pool house, it wasn’t what you could call adult living. Charlie looked like he had money but he might just have been very well dressed. She was no good at judging wealth from appearances. On the other hand—
Magnolia kicked her again and she looked up to see everybody looking at her.
“What?” she said.
“I asked you a question, Miss Jones,” Rankin said sternly, looking like a Ken doll high on authority.
“Oh, sorry.” Anna sat straighter. “My mind wandered.”
“You’re in a meeting, Miss Jones.”
“I know. That’s why my mind wandered. What was the question?”
“You just flew to Las Vegas and spent the night. Why was that expenditure necessary?”
“You will have to ask Mr. Mikkelson. He was supposed to go but then he had his heart . . . incident—” She looked in question at Magnolia, who shrugged—“and I got a courier letter with a plane ticket in my name and instructions on how to open the safe to get a package out and to deliver it to John Barrett in Las Vegas at the Crystal Dome casino. So I did. Then I flew back the next day.”
Rankin looked at the papers in front of him. “I’ll check with Mr. Mikkelson.”
“Great,” Anna said.
“But you haven’t turned in your expenses,” Rankin went on. “I need you to be more efficient–”
“I didn’t have any expenses,” Anna said. “There was a car waiting for me when I landed that took me to Mr. Barrett, and the same car returned to the casino the next morning and took me back to the airport. It was all very well arranged, probably by Mr. Barrett.” Catch Mikkelson arranging a car for her.
“And what about your meals and lodging?” Rankin said, with the sort of petty triumph small people got from catching others in mistakes.
“I spent the night with this guy I picked up in the casino, and he paid for the room and fed me Snickers and screwdrivers and then a really massive breakfast the next morning, so that was all covered.”
Rankin stopped and stared for a moment. It was the twin set that made people think she was boring, Anna thought. I really should go shopping. Although if she needed different clothes to get respect, it was possible the clothes weren’t the problem. Definitely different underwear. Something lacy. There must be lace that didn’t itch. Something—
Magnolia kicked her again.
“I’m sorry,” Anna said, looking back at Rankin, who’d evidently said something else. “I’ve explained what I was instructed to do and why there were no expenses. I don’t see a problem.”
“You were on a business trip,” Rankin said. “You risked the security of your mission by having sex with a stranger.”
“Is he kidding?” Jimmy from accounting said across the table to Mark from exhibits.
“Doesn’t sound like it,” Mark said.
“Excuse me,” Rankin said, clearly trying squelch the ranks.
“My mission,” Anna said, enunciating clearly, “was finished when I handed the box to Barrett. The guy I slept with asked me no questions about my work, and I left with everything I’d come with.” Possible awkward use of verb there. “There is no way I risked anything.”
“Well, sex with a stranger,” Bridget in maintenance said. “That was clearly foolhardy.”
“He was a perfect gentleman,” Anna said. “And the man made sure I came my brains out multiple times all night. Best sex of my life. No regrets.”
“Still dangerous,” Bridget sniffed.
“One of the many reasons it was so headbangingly good.”
Jimmy frowned at her across the table. “I thought you and Jason were–”
“I found out Jason was doing Teresa so he dumped me,” Anna said. “I was completely free to have sex three times with a guy who was really hot. In fact, I felt compelled to.” She looked at Rankin who was looking at Teresa who was looking at Jason who was looking at Anna. “Can we move on from my private life now?”
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously,” Rankin said.
“Nobody is taking this seriously,” Anna said. “We’re all waiting to see what you actually do, not what you say.”
The buzzer on the outside door rang, and Teresa went to get it.
“Do you value your job, Miss Jones?” Rankin said, his face stormy now.
“Uh,” Mark from exhibits said, raising his hand. “If you’re threatening to fire Anna, I wouldn’t. We’d never get anyone with her knowledge for the pittance we pay her.”
“Yep,” Jimmy said. “Our Anna is irreplaceable.”
“No one is irreplaceable,” Jason said, paying back “the best sex of my life” crack.
Anna considered it. Maybe if she got fired, she could get a new life. That could be good. Look at all the good stuff that had happened when she got a new lover, albeit one night only. “Up to you,” she told Rankin. “You’ll owe me two weeks’ severance, of course, and there’s a lot of work on my desk that nobody else here can do, but—” she shrugged. “You’re the boss.”
She smiled at him, and he glared back, caught.
He couldn’t fire her, she knew. If he’d been learning the ropes with Jason and Teresa all morning, he knew she was an essential rope. Jason might be tired of her personally, but he knew damn well she was necessary because the bastard was good at his job and valued competence. That was probably how he’d ended up with Teresa. A woman who could wrangle Mikkelson was probably even more of a turn-on than an art–
“We’ll talk later,” Rankin said, trying to sound ominous and just sounding like he was backing down.
“Sure,” Anna said, and then stopped because Teresa was back, looking a little wide-eyed.
“The FBI,” she whispered, her voice harsh with tension.
Then she came the rest of the way into the room, followed by two tall, broad, serious-looking guys with restrained hair who looked good in suits, the first one with Children of the Damned blue eyes and the second one—
“Charlie?” Anna said.
“Lucy,” he said, not smiling but she could hear it in his voice anyway. “I missed you.”
“I looked up debauchery,” Anna said. “It means ‘excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures.’ So . . .”
“So we’re good,” Charlie said. “I have some questions.”
“As Charlie or the FBI?” Anna said, well aware all eyes were on her now.
“Oh, both,” Charlie said.
“If you’re done,” the other suit said repressively to Charlie and then turned to Rankin. “I’m Agent Carter Archer and this is Nathan Miller.” He showed Rankin his identification without stopping. “We’re looking for Michael Mikkelson.”
“He’s been hospitalized for a heart condition,” Rankin said, expanding to fill his new role as an equal to an FBI agent even as he sent Anna the fisheye. “I’m in charge as of this morning.”
“And we’re going to need to talk to Anna Jones,” Agent Archer went on.
“Anna Jones,” Charlie said, looking at her.
“Nathan Miller,” Anna said. “Am I under arrest?”
“No,” Charlie said. “But let’s talk.”
Across the table, Magnolia pointed at Charlie and said, “That’s him?”
“Yep,” Anna said.
“Oh my god.”
“Charlie,” Anna said, “Meet Magnolia.”
Charlie smiled down at Magnolia. “Thank you very much, Magnolia.”
“Oh my god.”
Charlie looked back at Anna and jerked his head toward the door, and she gathered up her blank notepad and pen, and went to join him.
“You can call me Nate,” he said, when she reached him, and it was so good being close to him again that she smiled up and said, “You’ll always be Charlie to me.”
“Wait till we finish with the questions,” he said. “You may never want to touch my mini-bar again.”
“Oh. My. GOD,” Magnolia said.
Lucy’s, no, Anna’s office looked a lot like her, Nate thought. Organized but full of random stuff, colorful but clearly cataloged and useful. There were no whimsical plaques or small stuffed animals or pictures of friends thumbtacked to the shelves.
Lucy-Anna sat down behind her massive desk, her twinset black with tiny pearls on the borders this time, and cleared away the Chinese take-out cartons. “Fortune cookie?” she said, offering him a small waxed paper bag.
“I really don’t want to know,” Nate said and sat down across from her.
Out in the hall, Carter was on the phone with DC. With any luck, Milo was clearing Lucy of all wrongdoing, and he could apologize for their suspicions by taking her to bed. However, with his luck, Milo had just discovered she was head of a massive art fraud ring and he’d have to petition for conjugal visits.
She put the bag down. “So, Charlie–”
“No,” he said, making his voice stern to keep temptation at bay. “Charlie and Lucy stay in Vegas.”
She frowned at him. “Why?”
“Because you are a suspect, Miss Jones, and sleeping with a suspect would get me fired.”
She nodded. “That would be bad.”
She thought for a minute and then said, “So we have a conundrum.”
“We can’t have sex while I’m a suspect, and once I’m not a suspect, you’ll go away and we won’t have sex. That seems tragic.”
“There might be a window between those two states,” Nate said, giving up. “Have you ever had sex on this desk?”
Lucy smiled. “Nope.”
“Let’s pencil that in after you’re cleared but before I leave,” Nate said, and her smile widened—damn, she had a great smile–and he thought about kissing her senseless, and then Carter came in and caught him smiling back at her.
“No,” Carter said to him.
“It’s all right, Agent Archer,” Anna said, now looking prim and chaste in her pearl-edged twin set. “Agent Miller has explained to me that there will be no depravity until I’m cleared of any wrongdoing.”
“I’m sure she’s innocent,” Nate said.
Carter looked at him. “She’s the granddaughter of Carlo Barilla.”
Nate looked at Anna, descended from a mob hitman. “You didn’t mention that in Vegas.”
“It didn’t come up,” Anna said. “Grandpa’s dead now,” she told Carter. “So I am obviously not part of any criminal enterprise he might have taken part in. Especially since he was a hitman. I mean, he didn’t organize any enterprises, he just removed people to order. Also he went to prison when I was sixteen and died four years later, and that was thirteen years ago, so I’m not seeing the relevance.”
Carter sat down. “The FBI sees the relevance, Miss Jones.”
Anna frowned. “You think I’m a hitwoman?”
“We’re investigating art fraud as part of money laundering, a favorite mob pastime. You delivered a package to a prime suspect.”
“So now I’m a semi-prime suspect?” Anna said. “A minion? I would never be a minion. Grandpa was a contractor, not a minion.”
“It doesn’t bother you that he killed people?” Carter said.
“I loved Grosse Pointe Blank,” Anna said. “Look, I figure that anybody he killed was already part of a large criminal organization, so it was more internal management than large-scale murder. Also, I was a child while he was doing all of that, so I didn’t even know until I was sixteen and he went to prison. My mother worked really hard to make sure I was never part of any of that, so I just played along. We’re the Joneses, not the Barillas. We are very respectable, and we never do anything outside the law.”
“The sweater sets start to make sense,” Nate said.
“My mother buys them for me,” Anna said. “For every birthday and Christmas since I was fifteen. I have thirty-seven of them.”
Carter blinked. “Good to know. About the package you took to Vegas–”
Nate sat back and watched Carter get to know Lucy. Mostly she was Anna, but every now and then, something in the conversation caught on her frontal lobe and she veered in a new direction. He watched Carter’s eyes narrow, probably because he was thinking she was hiding something, but two hours into the interrogation, Carter had stopped narrowing because it became clear that while Anna was clear and organized, Lucy was a lateral thinker; something caught her attention and she went sideways, thinking out loud.
The thing was, Nate thought as he listened, her sideways always still connected to the subject at hand. Not directly, but whatever thought governor Anna-Lucy had, it kept its focus on the problem.
He heard Carter sigh in exasperation.
“Maybe if I took over,” Nate said.
“You shouldn’t even be working on this,” Carter snapped.
“On the contrary, I’m your expert on this. I speak Lucy.” Carter opened his mouth and Nate said, “Wait a minute. You think she’s scatter-brained. She’s not. She just thinks in patterns and you think in straight lines. You want a straight line between the package she delivered and who’s behind it. She doesn’t know who’s behind it, but she’s just told you she’s being followed, that the museum’s acquisitions are mostly second-rate, that the old head Mikkelson ignored the day-to-day operations, that her ex-boyfriend is the only person who has access to Mikkelson’s records, and that the new head is a dumbass who could turn out to be a useful idiot. You can’t channel Lucy into a straight line, you have to map the patterns, follow the laterals. Also, I don’t like it that she’s being stalked, and we should do something about that.”
“Who the fuck is Lucy?” Carter said.
Anna held up her hand.
Carter looked from her to Nate. “I don’t want to know. Can you investigate her laterals without taking her lateral?”
“What?” Anna said. “Oh, no sex? He already told me that.”
“Let me find out who’s following her,” Nate said. “That may have nothing to do the Vegas thing, but we can’t just let that go.”
Carter shook his head, but Nate went on.
“I think she’s a nexus. I think Mikkelson sent her to courier the package because nobody would suspect a librarian. I think we weren’t the only ones watching. I think the people watching her don’t know that she knows nothing. I think she’s ground zero for whatever comes next, and we should be there when it shows up.”
“There’s no way you think she knew what was in that package,” Nate said.
“I think she could easily have known what was in that package,” Carter said. “I think she could probably run a money laundering operation while doing her nails. And I think you’re biased and compromised.”
“Thank you,” Anna said, and they looked at her. “For the thing about me being competent. I am, but nobody seems to recognize it. They just profit from it. It’s nice to be noticed.”
Nate looked back at Carter. “Let me find out who’s stalking her. I can take a leave of absence, if you want. The very least she deserves is protection–”
“I can protect myself,” Anna said. “I know you don’t believe me, but I can. There’s no point in risking your career when there’s no need.”
Carter closed his eyes, which was a sign that he was giving up. “You have twenty-four hours,” he told Nate. “But work from DC. Do not sleep with her. Try to remember she’s a suspect, a good one, and that your entire relationship with her might have been a ploy.”
“I don’t ploy,” Anna said. “I like things simple and direct.”
Carter looked at her. “Don’t fuck my partner.”
“Absolutely,” Anna said. “I won’t touch him until the window opens.”
Carter looked back at Nate. “Do I want to know what window?”
“No. And I’m not going back to DC yet.”
“Nathan,” Anna said, and Nate met her determined eyes. “You will go back to DC and keep your job, and the FBI will find out I’m innocent, and then you and I will resume our quest for non-German-Shepherd debauchery.”
Nate sighed. “I’ll buy the Snickers.”
“Actually not my favorite,” Anna said. “That’s just what was in the mini-bar.”
“All my illusions, shattered.” He stood up. “If you decide you need help, call me.” He handed his card across the desk to her, and she took it and smiled reading it, and he wished Carter was at the bottom of the ocean or at least back in DC.
“Thank you very much,” she said, and then Carter dragged him out of her office.
The last thing he saw was Lucy with her chin in her hand, smiling at his card.
Nate insisted on following Anna-Lucy to her parking garage—“Great,” Carter said, “now she has three stalkers”—staying far enough behind her so that she didn’t see him. She was carrying her brown leather bag again, probably still with condoms.
Unfortunately, they were much too far behind when the guy with the gun stepped out from behind a concrete pillar just as she hit the button on her key and her car beeped and flashed its lights.
“Anna Barilla,” he called.
“Nope, Anna Jones,” Nate heard her say as she stopped. “Have you been following me?”
“Get in the car, Anna,” he said.
“If you want money, I have some,” she said and began to dig into her purse, as Nate ducked around the cars in the next row, trying to get a clear shot.
“I don’t want money, get in the damn car,” the guy said, and then Anna pulled a gun out of her bag and shot him in the stomach.
Nate ran for the guy to kick the gun away, but getting gut shot had evidently made him lose interest in aggression: he had his hand over the wound and was gasping. Nate called for an ambulance, searched the guy for his ID, bagged his gun, and then walked back to Anna, whom Carter had disarmed, suddenly a lot more interested in Anna than Lucy.
“That was a center mass shot from twenty feet away facing an armed antagonist in bad lighting while surprised and without pausing to aim,” he said. “Want to explain that?”
“Luck?” Anna said.
Nate shook his head, angry now. He’d been swearing this woman was an innocent and now he looked like an idiot. “Try again.”
“My grandpa was a big fan of center mass.” Anna stuck her chin in the air, defiant. “But only if I was threatened. He also told me never to get in a car with anyone who was armed. There was really nothing else I could do.”
Nate looked at Carter. “I’m not going back to DC.”
“Neither of us is,” Carter said. “The cops are going to want to see us. Couldn’t you just have said ‘no’ in Vegas?”
Nate took a step closer to Anna, repressing his anger. “You and I are going to have a very long talk.”
“Whatever you say, Charlie,” Anna said.
“That’s ‘Agent Miller’ to you,” he said. “Get in the damn car.”