“Shall I call you Val then?”

She made a face. “What else would you call me?”

“Agent Taber,” a tall, slender man said as he walked by. He smirked as if he knew what would follow.

“Fuck off,” she said, pulling a file from his hands. She glanced at it and then looked back to me. “You’re the intelligence analyst? Lisa Lindy?”

“Liis,” I said, cringing. I had never gotten used to correcting people. “Like geese but with an L.”

“Liis. Sorry. I hear you got fast-tracked.” Her voice was laced with sarcasm. “I call bullshit, but it’s not really any of my business.”

She was right. Being a female federal agent who specialized in languages had all but rolled out the red carpet for my transfer, but I had been instructed not to mention my specialization to anyone unless I had approval from my supervisor.

I looked over at the office of the supervisor. It was even more barren than my desk. Getting any approval from an empty office would prove to be difficult.

“You’re correct,” I said, not wanting to get into specifics.

It was pure luck that Squad Five had needed a language expert the moment I’d decided to leave Chicago. The stressed discretion meant there was likely an issue within the Bureau, but assuming wouldn’t have helped score a transfer, so I’d filled out my paperwork and packed my bags.

“Great.” She handed me the file. “Title Three for you to transcribe here. Maddox also wants a FD-three-oh-two. The first email in your inbox should be from the welcome wagon, and the next should be an audio file from Maddox. I went ahead and brought you copies of the FD-three-oh-twos and a CD until you get used to our system. He wants you to get started right away.”

“Thank you.”

Title Threes, known to Hollywood and the general public as phone or wire taps, made up a large portion of my function at the Bureau. Recordings were created, and then I would listen, translate, and write a report—also known as the infamous FD-302. But the Title Threes typically given to me were in Italian, Spanish, or my mother’s language, Japanese. If the recording were in English, the OST—the squad secretary—would transcribe it.

Something told me that Val thought something was off about an analyst interpreting a Title Three, because curiosity—or maybe suspicion—was flickering in her eyes. But she didn’t ask, and I didn’t tell. As far as I knew, Maddox was the only agent who knew about my true purpose in San Diego.

“On it,” I said.

She winked at me and smiled. “Want me to show you around later? Anything you didn’t get to during the orientation tour?”

I thought about that for half a second. “The fitness room?”

“I know that one. I frequent there after work—right before I frequent the bar,” she said.

“Agent Taber,” a woman with a tight bun said as she walked by.

“Fuck off,” she said again.

I arched an eyebrow.

She shrugged. “They must love it, or they wouldn’t talk to me.”

My mouth pulled to the side while I tried to suppress a laugh. Val Taber was refreshing.

“We have a squad meeting first thing in the a.m.” She pondered that for a moment. “I’ll show you the fitness room after lunch. It’s sort of off-limits between eleven and noon. The boss likes to focus,” she said, whispering the last bit and making a show of putting her fingers to one side of her mouth.

“Twelve thirty,” I said with a nod.

“My desk,” Val said, pointing to the next cubicle over. “We’re neighbors.”

“What’s with the stuffed bunny?” I asked, referring to the gangly white rabbit with Xs sewn on for eyes, sitting on the corner of her desk.

Her slight triangle of a nose wrinkled. “It was my birthday last week.” When I didn’t reply, her face screwed into disgust. “Fuck off.” A grin slowly stretched across her face, and then she winked at me before rounding the corner to return to her desk. She sat in her chair and turned her back to me, opening her email on her laptop.

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.