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.

“I was just…I lost track of time. I’m sorry.”

“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.”

“Fuzzy burgers? That doesn’t sound appetizing at all.”

“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.

“Val’s here!” a woman echoed.

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.

Val turned to me. “Disgusting, right?”

“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.”

I shook my head.

“Did you? Have you ever?”

“Kissed a girl?”

Val cackled. “No! Have you been in a relationship?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Oh. It’s complicated. I gotcha.”

“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.”

“Is your dad a ginger?” She smirked.

I glared at her. “You only get two offensive questions on the first day.”

“Continue,” she conceded.

“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.”

“How long?”

“Was I with Jackson? Seven years.”

“Seven years. No ring?”

“Kind of,” I said, making a face.

“Ah. You’re married to the job. Betty Bureau.”

“So was he.”

Val puffed out a laugh. “You were dating an agent?”

“Yes. He was SWAT.”

“Even worse. How did you live with him for that long? How did he handle coming in second place for that long?”

I shrugged. “He loved me.”

“But you gave back the ring. You didn’t love him?”

I shrugged again, taking a bite. “Anything I should know about the office?” I asked.

Val smirked. “Changing the subject. Classic. Hmm…what you need to know about the office. Don’t piss off Maddox. He’s the Assistant Special Agent in Charge.”

“So I’ve heard,” I said, brushing my hands against each other to wipe off the salt.

“All the way in Chicago?”

I nodded.

“It’s justifiable gossip. He is a huge, gigantic, enormous asshole. You’ll see tomorrow morning at the meeting.”

“He’ll be there?” I asked.

She nodded. “He will tell you that you’re worthless as an agent even if you’re the best of the best just so he can observe your performance when your confidence has been crushed.”

“I can handle it. What else?”

“Agent Sawyer is a slut. Stay away from him. And Agent Davies is, too. Stay away from her.”

“Oh,” I said, processing her words. “I don’t see myself engaging in interoffice relations after the debacle that was Jackson.”

Val smiled. “I have firsthand knowledge of both…so you should stay away from me, too.”

I frowned. “Is anyone here safe to hang out with?”