Lexi vs. The Assignment
Pressing my feet to the floor for leverage, I pushed off, lifting my legs and holding back a giggle as I spun in a slow circle, deciding that I didn’t even care if I looked childish. I was especially in need of a little stress relief at the moment. Knowing the meeting I’d been called to by my supervising director would begin precisely at 2pm, as scheduled, I made sure to begin my conference room chair spinning time at 1:50.
Being late when you worked for the National Intelligence Agency was a major sign of disrespect, and new agents, such as myself, needed as many points in their favor as possible.
Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the fact that spinning resulted in dizziness, and therefore prolonged recovery time. Thus, when I spotted two figures entering the room, I thrust my hands outward to grab the thick wooden table and stop my trajectory, but even when I was stationary, I had a hard time orienting myself. So I planted my feet on the floor and blinked rapidly, standing straight and staring in the general direction of the two fuzzy figures before me.
“Agent Dupont,” rasped a husky voice.
The slight scent of coffee filled the air, announcing the presence of my direct supervisor, Senior Agent Jenkins.
“Sir,” I replied quickly, pressing the soles of my feet harder into the ground to keep myself from toppling in my stilettos.
“Are you alright?”
Once my vision cleared, my muscles tensed when I realized his glare was close to burning a hole in my forehead. Standing up a little straighter, I nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” he said, nodding towards the petite woman beside him. “You know Director Haddock.”
My eyes widened and my pulse quickly heightened once more. Director Jessica Haddock was the newly appointed head of the National Intelligence Agency. After fifteen years, she had retired from field work and taken a position as a behind the scenes director of undercover operations. So far, her teams had been instrumental in the containment of twenty high profile threats to national security.
Gulping, I nodded. “Director Haddock. What an honor.”
I expected her to be quietly questioning why I couldn’t stand up straight, but instead was surprised to find her eyes twinkling with amusement and her lips pressed together to keep her from smiling.
“Dupont is it?” she asked, reaching up to push back her dark bangs from her forehead.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, resisting the urge to pat down my own black curls, which I’d managed to wrangle into an updo this morning. “Lexi Dupont.”
“How old are you Agent Dupont?” she spoke, her gaze slowly taking in my business casual appearance, from the pointed toe heels to the skinny fitted black pants to the black and white striped button up shirt.
I made a mental note to add more color to my work wardrobe. “24, ma’am.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “So you’re straight out of the academy, then?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “Graduated six months ago.”
Her eyes flashed with concern and she pursed her lips as she turned her head to face Jenkins, the volume of her voice dropping, but I could still hear her words. “She has no field experience, Jenkins. Are you sure about this?”
Jenkins’s eyes darted upwards to study me. Director Haddock’s concerns were completely valid. Despite the trainings and simulations we were put through in the academy, real life fieldwork was an entirely different game. Still, everyone had to have their first time eventually, and I’d earned Jenkins’s respect as an agent. And one of these days, he was going to like me as a person as well.
“She’s rough around the edges,” he admitted to Director Haddock, “But she’s the best we have in terms of reading body language and determining if people are lying. And in this particular situation, her youth is actually an asset.”
I had no idea what he meant by that, but he was complimenting me, so I held in a smile.
“If you trust her, then so do I,” Director Haddock nodded before turning her gaze back to me. “Agent Dupont, take a seat. We have important matters to discuss.”
A little disoriented by the sudden shift in mood, I sunk into the nearest spinning leather chair and folded my fingers together on top of the table. Jenkins turned on the room’s projector and dimmed the lights and I blinked to adjust my vision as a picture of a man popped up on the screen directly in front of me.
“Do you recognize him?” Director Haddock asked.
I stared at the picture, taking a moment to respond. The man in question was tall and elegant looking, with a head of thick brown hair with streaks of gray and icy blue eyes that caused me to inadvertently shiver. If I didn’t work in intelligence, I might not have known who he was, but I’d seen his picture floating around the office enough in the past few months to have a pretty good grasp on his character. He had been linked to a whole slew of criminal activity, from distribution of illegal narcotics to arms deals, but as of yet, no one had been able to concretely prove his involvement. He was one elusive bastard.
“Daniel Stafford,” I replied. “Head of Stafford Enterprises, which is the front for a national crime syndicate.”
“Correct,” Director Haddock nodded, her dark eyes carefully watching my expressions. “We’ve been trying to pin him down for years,” she continued, “But as you’ve probably heard, it’s like he’s always one step ahead of us. So we’ve come up with a new plan. We call it Code Blue.”
I parted my lips to ask the obvious question, but before I could speak, the door opened and a man about my age entered. He flipped his shaggy black hair backwards to reveal deep brown eyes as his lips stretched into a crooked smile.
“Hello,” he nodded at me, before doing the same to Director Haddock and Jenkins. “Sorry, I’m late.”
“Hello, Evan,” Director Haddock smiled warmly. “You’re right on time. We were just about to brief Agent Dupont on Code Blue. Would you like to do the honors?”
“For sure,” he grinned, plopping down in the chair beside me. He swiveled to face me and stuck out his hand. “Evan McIntire.”
Frazzled by his quick entrance into the situation, my handshake was a little limp as I responded. “Lexi Dupont.”
“Charmed,” he grinned, before accepting a clicker from Jenkins and pressing a button purposefully until a tiny red dot appeared on Daniel Stafford’s forehead. “Code Blue is an operation designed to take down the Stafford crime family.”
“And how do you plan to do that?” I raised my eyebrows.
He grinned even wider. “I’m so glad you asked, Allie. See, so far, our problem has been that we don’t know anything about his whereabouts until after his crew has managed to pull of some major criminal activity. So this plan is designed to get us into his mind by getting close to someone who has full access to it.”
“Who?” I asked, wondering why my body was reacting as though this were a ghost story.
My eyebrows shot up. I knew Daniel Stafford had a son; he was the head of a crime family after all, so it was only natural to assume that he was married with children. But I guess I always imagined that his son was too young to be valuable and using a child in any way – even to take down a criminal – seemed morally wrong. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Why not?” Evan looked surprised. “Stafford has plenty of right hand men who manage his operations, but it’s more than likely that even they don’t know everything. But if he can’t trust his own son, who can he trust?”
“So you think Stafford’s son knows the details of all of the family’s various operations?” I said, slowly piecing together where this conversation was headed.
Evan nodded. “Yes. Which is why we think targeting him would be the most effective way to learn more about the family’s plans in general, and hopefully collect enough hard evidence to finally put them away.”
“Ok,” I nodded, “But where do I fit in to all of this?”
“That, my dear,” Director Haddock spoke from the head of the table, her eyes twinkling at me as she smiled. “That is the fun part.”
That sounded ominous. But I stayed quiet as Evan pressed another button and the picture of Daniel Stafford was replaced with the picture of another male.
An extremely hot male.
His black hair was tousled atop his head, his jaw sharp and his lips set into a straight line. Dark sunglasses sat on the bridge of his nose and his hands were shoved in the pockets of his jeans as he stood on a sidewalk and waited to cross the street. He was tall, from what I could tell, with broad sloping shoulders and he held this sexy confidence in his stance that I found slightly intimidating, even through the photograph.
“Meet Max Stafford,” Director Haddock spoke, her lips twitching to keep from smirking at the fact that I had momentarily stopped breathing. “Daniel’s son.”
I blinked rapidly, acutely aware that I was checking out the son of a nationally wanted criminal. Licking my lips and clearly my throat because they were both suddenly very dry, I sat up a little straighter. “I thought he’d be…. taller.”
Director Haddock didn’t say anything, but the upwards quirk of her eyebrow indicated she wasn’t buying my bullshit for a minute.
Evan, on the other hand, was smiling so wide I thought his face was about to crack in half. “He’s 22 and a senior at Ridgewood University. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to get close to him.”
“And when he says ‘should you choose to accept it’, he means you don’t have a choice,” Jenkins cut in.
“Noted,” I nodded, before realizing what I’d just agreed to. “Wait, sorry, could we back up for a moment?”
Director Haddock leaned forward, her expression neutral as she gazed at me and spoke in an incredibly calm tone. “Lexi, we’re asking you to go undercover.”
I blinked. I mean, I had assumed that’s what they wanted, but actually hearing the words was a little startling. “I see.”
She sighed. “Senior Agent Jenkins might have come off a little harsh. You are by no means required to accept this assignment, but if you say no, we’re back to square one in regards to trying to catch Stafford.”
Chewing on my bottom lip, I pondered that for a moment. I’d never been undercover before. Hell, I’d never even been in the field before. But here I was, being asked by the Director of Undercover Operations to be the field agent in a case meant to bring down the biggest criminal mastermind in the country at the moment.
That wasn’t intimidating at all.
“Why me?” I asked softly, genuinely curious as to why, out of the plethora of more qualified field agents, they would choose someone with no experience whatsoever.
“A number of reasons, actually.” It was Jenkins that spoke this time, his hands laced together atop the table and his mouth set in its ever present disapproving line. “Firstly, your lack of field work is actually an asset in this case. Although we go through a great deal to make sure the identities of our agents remain uncompromised, Stafford does have connections in high places and it is entirely possible that he could recognize someone who has been in the field already. Seeing as you are inexperienced, it is guaranteed that he would have no idea who you are. Secondly, you are one of the youngest agents we have, which means your presence on a university campus will be more natural. And lastly, you scored the highest in your class in guttural instincts and reading body language, both of which will be assets when dealing with Stafford’s son, who is more than likely trained to be highly aware of his actions.”
Well, that was a lot to take in.
Nodding slowly, I weighed the pros and cons. On one hand, I was absolutely scared shitless. On the other, there wasn’t ever going to be a right time to go into the field, so I might as well start somewhere.
“Alright,” I sighed. “I’ll do it.”
“Fantastic,” Director Haddock grinned. “Evan, let’s get her prepped.”
Evan was smiling enthusiastically, and immediately began to speak quickly. “The plan is for you to enroll as a student at Ridgewood University. We’ll put you in some of Max’s classes so that you can develop a relationship with him. We want you to get as close to him as possible. Hopefully, you’ll be able to figure out whether or not he actually knows anything about the family’s criminal activity and maybe even be able to discover when they plan to do something illegal next.”
I nodded along, pausing I considered how to phrase my next question. “When you say get as close as possible…are you asking me to seduce him?”
Evan’s eyebrows shot up, but Director Haddock, who looked surprisingly amused, was the one who answered.
“No, Lexi,” she smiled softly, “We would never force any of our agents to engage in any sort of physical relationship with the subject of an operation. Get as close as you feel comfortable. If that means just friends, then so be it. Just keep in mind that it’s likely that he would tell you more if you were romantically involved. He won’t tell you anything if he doesn’t trust you and my guess is he was probably raised to trust very few people.”
“Understood,” I nodded, deciding starting off as friends was probably the best way to go. That plan could change if I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with friendship. “When will I be starting?”
“Classes begin in two weeks,” Evan explained. “It’s last minute, but we should be able to get you a room in a dorm room. I can’t promise you won’t have a roommate. If you do end up sharing, just remember that as far as anyone else is concerned, you’re just an average college student. We will inform some of the higher administrators about your presence, but other than that, even the professors and staff will be unaware.”
“We’ll create a backstory for you,” he went on when I nodded, “We’ll have you pick somewhere you’ve been before so that you can speak about it as if you’ve actually lived there when you’re asked.”
“What if he wants to meet my family?” I asked, wincing slightly at the word. My parents had both died in a car accident when I was sixteen. After that, I was shipped off to live with my Aunt Polly until I was old enough to go to a university. It was during my first year that I was recruited for the agency. My lack of familial attachment was a huge bonus in their eyes.
There was a pause and I glanced at Jenkins, who looked decidedly uncomfortable, seeing as he knew about my past. He must have filled in Director Haddock, because she reached out to grab my hand in a comforting gesture.
“We’ll deal with it if it comes to that,” she assured me, “For now, try to keep the focus on him.”
I nodded and lifted the corners of my lips into a smile, changing the subject before things got to heavy. “What is he studying?”
I crossed my fingers in my lap and hoped for something moderately easy.
“Economics and Math.”
Math had never been my strongest subject. I enjoyed it well enough, but struggling to keep up with higher level courses while I was simultaneously attempting to bring down a major crime syndicate seemed a little overwhelming.
“Any chance I can petition for another agent to do my homework for me?” I asked hopefully.
Director Haddock laughed. “I know it’s not ideal, but if you’re never doing your homework, it will look suspicious. Besides, maybe he’ll be struggling and you guys can help each other out. Or maybe he can tutor you.”
I glanced up at the picture of Max still projected on the screen and decided that being tutored by him might not be such a bad thing.
My inappropriate thoughts must have been broadcasted across my face, because Director Haddock was smiling knowingly when I looked at her again, so I cleared my throat and smiled widely. “Alright, sounds good.”
Jenkins spoke up. “Evan will be your handler for this operation. If you need anything, refer to him; he’ll take good care of you.”
I looked at Evan, who shot me a boyishly charming smile.
“This will be fun,” he promised.
“It’s not supposed to be fun,” Jenkins cut in, his gaze on me fiery, causing me to shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Remember, this operation could lead to the takedown of one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. You two do your jobs.”
“Yes, sir,” we said at the same time.
Sighing heavily, Jenkins lifted himself from his chair and left the room, citing that he had another matter to attend to.
“I don’t want to scare you,” Director Haddock said, “But Senior Agent Jenkins is right. We’ve been hunting Stafford for years and this operation could be a major turning point. There’s a lot riding on you two, so be smart and be careful. If Max is anything like his father, he’s clever, cunning, and ruthless and he’ll be able to tell whether or not you’re being genuine. Be on your guard at all times.”
We both nodded. There was a pause before I asked the question I’d been wondering about since the beginning.
“Why Code Blue?”
Director Haddock’s lips stretched into a grin and she held out her hand to Evan for the clicker. With the push of a couple buttons, a new picture of Max appeared on the screen. This one was a close up where his face was unobstructed by sunglasses. That same charming smile lit his face and above it sparkled two of the most piercing blue eyes I’d ever seen in my life.
“That’s why,” Director Haddock said matter of factly.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Understood.”
“Don’t let him distract you from the bigger picture, Lexi,” Director Haddock warned, “But remember that you are allowed to enjoy yourself. Which I imagine won’t be too much of a chore, given the company and the setting.”
I fought back a blush, wondering how I could possibly be charmed by a guy I hadn’t even met.
“So what do you say?” Evan grinned, “Are you ready to go back to school?”
I couldn’t help but return the smile as I nodded wholeheartedly.