The criminalistics floor of the LA field office was seemingly calm, but in conference room B, it was a completely different story. Coffee cups littered the massive oak table as the watches of the last standing agents flipped to 3 a.m., Vance and his team fading fast under the early hours of the morning.
Each agent had been assigned a different novel of Lucy Hamilton’s, published and unpublished, in a desperate attempt to find something - anything - they could pin on the author.
The bags under Deveraux’s eyes were deepening at the rate the FBI were tearing apart Lucy’s life, the agent’s tie long gone and his stress undeniable. No one has said a word to him from hours, and for good reason.
He was slowly losing his mind, and they could all see it.
“Report,” Vance suddenly said, running a hand along his jaw as he looked up from his own computer baring all of Hamilton’s files and photographs.
A varied selection of eight agents aimlessly glanced to each other, all of them hopeless and nearly asleep in their dismantled suits, slouched in office chairs with a mass amount of information that no one could solve.
“Report,” repeated Deveraux when he received no eye contact and low mumbles. “Anyone, literally anyone. I need something.”
“Mariner’s Tale takes place in Florida, Hamilton’s never been.”
A young brunet agent itched the side of his nose idly, post-it notes sticking out of nearly every page of the book he had been assigned. “Takes place well before she was born.”
“Only went to Vegas once when she was five,” said Holloway as she motioned to Aftermath with a cramped hand. “Linked case was ten years after that.”
“All I’m hearing is a whole lot of nothing-”
SSA Phillips appeared in the doorway of the conference room in civilian clothes, having been roused by an irritated call from Ramos an hour before. Marina, in jeans and an FBI Academy pullover sweater, had her arms crossed over her chest and depressions under her eyes. “And because you have a whole lot of nothing, you also have no case against Lucy Hamilton aka Stella St. Laurens. From this point on, we will no longer be looking into her. However, I want every case that has been linked to her novels to be reopened and investigated under the information provided through her works that didn’t appear in the real case. I want this under wraps,” Marina looked to Deveraux directly, “and I want Lucy Hamilton to be left alone. She is no longer a suspect, but a instead potential consultant.”
Vance opened his mouth to defend pursuing Hamilton as a criminal, only to find Phillips glaring intently at him.
“I want all of you to go home immediately,” Marina announced. “Keep your asses home until eight, I don’t want you passing out on me. We’ve got a big day coming and there will be double shot coffees for all of you when you get here.” She motioned over her shoulder, “Now get the hell out of here.”
Deveraux stood alone as agents began to filter out, dropping their research on Lucy into the recycling as they packed up the rest of their files. He shut his eyes, a heavy sigh escaping his lips.
“Sorry Deveraux,” the young agent Holloway said as she was the last of the team to leave, mahogany hair swept into a neat chignon as her professional attire had begun to wither. “Maybe your girl has some secret power.” Patting him once on the shoulder, she left the conference room with her case folder tucked under her arm.
Vance remained quiet, leaning on the conference table with his palms on the wide oak table and stress in every feature.
“Give me it.”
Turning around, Deveraux found Phillips standing behind of him with a stony expression. “What?”
“The flash drive, Vance, give it to me.” Marina regretted allowing him to dive in so deep, even that she let him off of his punishment. Hones would have her ass if he found out.
Vance pulled the thumb drive from the side of his laptop, wrapping his fingers around it without holding the tech out to his superior. “Phillips-”
“No, you don’t get to make excuses. You had no right to take her files, let alone a fake warrant.” Marina slammed a document that had been faxed to her not an hour before, “You must be an idiot if you think a Stanford Law student would fall for a fake warrant, Deveraux. You’re lucky she’s not pressing charges for false seizure.”
“Ma’am, none of this makes sense-”
“What doesn’t make sense is you going around me and stealing a renowned author’s work, one who could easily make a statement to the press and ruin the good graces we’ve built at this field office. I know you’re new to LA, but we’ve just come out of a rut with the public and if you screwed this, you could’ve ruined us.” Marina reached forward, snatching the flash drive from Vance’s hand, anger written all over her face. “You’re so lucky, Deveraux. Do not forget that.”
Vance bit the inside of his cheek, gaining the same feeling he had when Director Jones had belittled him. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Forget what Hunter said, forget about Lucy, all right?” Marina lowered her voice, her knuckles practically white as she clutched the thumb drive. “You need to leave her alone. You should be glad I’m not pulling you from the case.” She backed up towards the door, her jaw tightened. “Go home,” the SSA said stiffly before walking out.
Vance’s hand had clenched into a fist, using every ounce of his will to keep from slamming it against the oak. This couldn’t be it. He couldn’t let it go.
But Phillips needed him.
Marina headed back towards her office, glancing behind her as she shut the glass door with lowered blinds. She took out her phone without hesitation, opening her messages to the most recent strain to Lucy Hamilton.
She let go of a deep sign, running a hand along the curve of her face as she set her phone down on her desk. Marina shook her head softly, her heart jumping as a heavy knock sounded on her office door.
Philips lifted herself off her desk with relief, crossing the impersonalized office and opening the door.
Ramos’ eyebrows were raised as Marina pulled the latch free, curious. “Rough night?”
Marina motioned for Ramos to come in, shutting the door behind him. “More like rough night catching Hamilton at Hunter’s place.”
The special agent sighed, his eyes shutting briefly. “She’s asking for it at this point.”
“We promised her dad we’d watch out for her,” Marina said, folding her arms over her chest. “I doubt allowing her to be a suspect in a case would be seen as watching out for her.”
“Hey, we’re doing fine,” Ramos countered. “You just stopped it from going any further, it’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine, including Lucy.”
“I shouldn’t have let Deveraux try this at all,” said Philips.
“He’s a hard ass. It was better for you to let him have us around instead of pushing him go behind our backs, because you know he would have.” Ramos sat on the arm of the sofa in Philips’ office, arms folded. “Man’s got tunnel vision.”
“Did we ever find out who called in the tip?”
Ramos only shook his head with a soft shrug, “Phone booth. There’s no way of knowing. Could’ve just been someone who was actually scared. All the locals knew about Emily Morrison going missing, and aside from what we’d prefer, Lucy’s books are popular. There are intuitive people everywhere.”
“Not quite as intuitive as Lucy,” Marina countered.
Ramos laughed with little heart, “No one’s as intuitive as Hamilton.”
“Fair enough,” Philips said with a sigh. “But you know that he’s not going to give up on her.”
“Of course not, it’s not in his nature.”
“He gave up on Tyler quick enough.”
Ramos shook his head, “It’s better he doesn’t know about him. Lucy, too. She doesn’t need that, not now.”
“Then what does she need?” questioned Marina, a neat eyebrow arched.
“She needs us to keep her safe, like we always have.”