The aroma of greasy food and coffee hovered over Johanna and Lucy, The Wild Stallion slammed with LA businessmen and high school students grabbing lunch in the warm first week of September. The booths were dressed in slacking green vinyl, worn with memories and good intentions against the scratched wooden floors installed 20 years prior.
Although having apologized to Johanna more than once for sleeping through breakfast hours, Lucy had effectively hidden the bags under her eyes as well as her sleep deprivation with makeup and nice clothes.
The brunette split apart her grilled cheese, looking up to her mother. “This is where I usually meet with Natasha. I’m pretty sure every novel I’ve ever published has been pitched at this table.” She waved with her fingers as she spotted a familiar waitress over Johanna’s shoulder, Shelby Cryer having worked her way through college practically off of Lucy’s tips alone.
“I remember her,” noted Johanna through sips of soda, lipstick rimming the the plastic straw as she lowered the glass from her mouth. “Fierce little thing. Makes sense your books do so well. She probably kills for the best deals.”
Lucy softly laughed, tearing off a piece of her sandwich. “She’s amazing, trust me.”
“And, she knows?”
“Hard for her not to, don’t you think?” questioned Lucy in mild response.
The two held gazes for a moment, Johanna letting it go as she cut into her hamburger. She didn’t agree with it, but there wasn’t much she could do about the situation.
She’d lost her control over her daughter the moment she turned 18.
“Has Phoenix changed much?” Lucy forced the conversation over the silence that had formed between them, using her straw to rustle the ice cubes in her glass.
Johanna shrugged softly, “Not really,” she replied. “Still dry, still one color.” She grinned at the expression her daughter had, only shaking her head. “No, it’s all the same. Everyone asks about you at the VFW.”
Lucy laughed warmly, “I’ll have to come visit soon.”
“After this whole FBI deal, right?” question Johanna. “It could change things, don’t you think?”
The brunette’s eyebrows furrowed as she chewed, setting down her lunch. “What do you mean?”
“Your penname, sweetheart. Don’t you think your involvement will blow your cover?” There was evident concern in her voice, watching Lucy. “Now that they have your computer-”
Lucy shook her head softly as she took another sip of her drink, “We don’t have to worry about that.”
“It’s not an issue,” Lucy said, with a tone of finality.
Johanna’s eyebrows lifted slightly, “So we don’t have to worry about them taking you to court?”
“No, but they wouldn’t have a case even if they tried. It’s all circumstantial evidence. I can pass any polygraph and there’s no evidence on me at any scene because I never was. I’ve not touched foot in any of these cases they’re bringing.”
“No, you only stuck your pen in them.”
Lucy fell quiet, looking down to her plate as she thought of every time her mother voiced her disapproval on her publishing. “They got me through college,” she defended without any sense of a question.
“Mom, come on,” Lucy interrupted. “I barely see you these days, I don’t want us to argue.”
Johanna eventually nodded, checking her watch as she finished her iced tea. “Speaking of, I’ve got to get back to Phoenix. It’s the first week of school, I don’t think they would take too kindly to me not being there.” Picking up her bag from the vinyl next to her, she put it on her arm as she started to get up. “All things considered, I’m glad you’re going to be okay. Keep me updated, all right? I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer. I just needed to see you.”
“It’s fine, Mom,” said Lucy as she stood to hug Johanna tightly. “It means a lot that you came at such short notice.”
“Of course.” Johanna held out Lucy at arms length, admiring her for a moment. “Are you sure you won’t have any more trouble?”
Lucy only smiled, “Never sure, only convinced for the mean time.” She kissed her mother on the cheek, squeezing her hand before letting her go. “I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“Love you, Lu,” Johanna said before turning over her shoulder, keys in hand for the car parked outside of the diner. She waved before going out of the glass walled building, heading out of sight as Lucy sat back down in the cushioned booth.
The author ran a hand along the back of her neck, closing her eyes for a moment as she settled back into the vinyl.
However, when she looked up, her calm expression flattened into sheer annoyance.
“Oh, come on,” Lucy muttered as she found Vance Deveraux walking directly at her.
Deveraux only smiled, hands pocketed in his jeans and undeniable riffs in his biceps underneath his shirt. “Afternoon, Hamilton.”
“What do you want?” she replied in question, faking a sickly sweet voice as she folded her hands, resting her chin on her knuckles. “Just come for the burgers like you came to Sage’s for the coffee and not attempt to ruin my life?”
Vance held half a smile, giving a soft shake of his head as he took a seat across from her. “Matter of fact, I do like their burgers.”
Lucy rolled her eyes before catching Shelby’s attention, holding up two fingers briefly as she motioned to the new arrival. “So,” she posed idle chatter between sips of soda, “they don’t have a cafeteria at the FBI?”
“Oh they do,” replied Vance as he leaned back against the vinyl that was still warm. “I just didn’t feel like wasting such a wonderful day.”
“Other than not having slept in hours?”
One of Deveraux’s eyebrows lifted, “You have any evidence for that claim?”
“About as much as you do,” Lucy retorted with a smile, tearing off a piece of her sandwich. “Do the drones eat with you in the lunchroom?” she asked mockingly, amused with herself as she watched his expression shift against her comments.
“As much as I would love to give you government details on the inner workings of the FBI’s cafeteria,” said Vance, “I hate to say I’m not at liberty to release that information.”
Lucy’s nose scrunched slightly, “Does that mean you actually have drones in the lunc-”
“We both know that’s not what I’m here to talk about,” the agent interrupted with a stronger pressure in his voice.
“Ah,” Lucy expressed with a subtle smile as she set down her food, “so there is indeed a reason you’re here. Imagine that. I’m so used to you being the one stalling.”
“We’re running out of time for you to make your snarky remarks, Hamilton. There’s a crisis-”
“Crisis?” questioned Lucy as she set her forearms against the table, a sense of smugness in her voice. “Did you not like my newest manuscript or something? You know, one of the many that you took illegally from my possession with a fake warrant?”
“What part about Stanford Law doesn’t make sense to you?” Lucy went on without letting him scrape a response out from the bottom of a barrel that had been long empty. “Not only did you steal in an attempt to get evidence, but if you were to have found anything, you made it useless because it was taken under false pretenses. Did they not train you at Quantico? Because all you’re doing is sending your career into a downwards spiral while you try to takedown mine.”
“I don’t care if I ruin my career,” Vance quickly shot as his gaze was laser pointed on her, “but I’m going to find out what the hell you’re up to.”
Lucy jaw clenched slightly, “I’m not up to anything, Agent. I just exist, all right? I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“But you’re the reason other people have gotten hurt, are you not?” Vance lowered his voice, leaning in towards the author. “Your books aren’t just books and I know it. So even if I can’t explain it, you’re attached. You know what happens, and you just sell it. What about Emily Morrison? You knew what happened to her and you knew who did it, yet Eliza paid the price for it. She was taken and kept for 5 years because you did nothing. And she’s not the only one, Lucy, no she couldn’t possibly be the only one.
“Every book you’ve ever written is a real cold case with real killers never caught. And you know what? Any person hurt by the killer that you didn’t turn in, is on your hands. You may not have physically stepped foot on any of the crime scenes, but you have red in your ledger.”
Lucy’s expression never changed, staring directly at Vance. “And you’re so perfect?”
“No, I’m not. I’m the reason the director of the FBI’s son - one of my best friends - is dead along with the rest of my black ops teams. I’ve made mistakes, but I’m trying to make up for it. I’m doing what I can, so why aren’t you? Why do you get a free pass in life? A nice house in Malibu and solace, bathing in the money of victims-”
“Free pass?” Her face had fallen into darkness, pain and anger hinting in the back of her eyes. “That’s what you think my hellstorm of a life is? Newsflash, Special Agent,” she said harshly as she grabbed her bag from the seat next to her, standing up from the slacking vinyl, “you don’t know anything about me or what I go through.”
Vance grabbed Lucy’s wrist before she could leave, looking up to her as he stayed seated in the booth. “Are you killing people?’
“No,” Lucy replied as she slowly pulled her hand from his, “no I’m not.”
Then why did she feel so guilty?