Morning clung to Los Angeles with hopefully warm air, the FBI Field Office bustling with agents and coated in the scent of strong coffee.
Vance Deveraux practically stormed through the Criminal Investigations floor, holding a mass of papers under his arm as he bypassed multiple coworkers and walked directly into Phillips’ office.
Marina quickly looked up from her laptop, her work phone against her ear. “Deveraux-”
Dropping the file onto the senior agent’s desk as he ignored the nearly horrified look on her face, Deveraux didn’t speak. His expression alone could move mountains.
“Let me call you back,” Phillips begrudgingly said into the phone before hanging up. She folded her hands, turning in her chair towards Vance. “What is so important you think it’s necessary to burst into my office?”
Vance remained deadly silent as he dropped his marked up copy of Endless Alabaster on top of it all.
Marina didn’t seem to understand, looking up from the novel to Deveraux. “Is this FBI book club?”
“No, this is enough for a warrant.”
“What are you talking about? Stella St. Laurens doesn’t have anything to do wi-”
Vance had to disagree. “It has everything to do with the case, ma’am. This book is a guideline for what happened to Emily. It matches Neil Hunter to a T.”
Marina hesitated, “I’m confused.”
“I received an anonymous call yesterday from someone who knew this book and had heard of what was happening on the news with Hunter. They said the correlation was too outstanding to overlook and I read all of it. It. Matches.”
Phillips finally reached out, picking up the copy that looked mauled despite being freshly bought the afternoon before. “She’s a New York Times bestseller, I don’t see how she could be involved in a national case without someone noticing.”
“Someone did notice,” Deveraux counter with a pain in his side as if he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “Look at the dedication.”
Marina played along, sighing internally as she opened up the hardcover to one of the first pages. “For…Emily.” She bit the inside of her cheek, softly shaking her head. “Emily’s a very common name-”
“Young girl gets kidnapped on her way to the park to see a friend, held in a basement for years. She attempts to escape, is murdered on her way out. It’s Emily’s story. It has to be.”
Supervisory Special Agent Phillips flipped through the pages almost absently as she scanned, “Deveraux, this is so unorthodox-”
“The basement is described to almost exactly what we have photographs of from Hunter’s home,” Vance told her as he leaned his palms on her desk. “It’s a complete story, Phillips. It says where, when and how she dies.”
“It’s a book-”
“Please just give this a chance, ma’am. This is the only break we have,” he begged. “If we can figure this out, then it’s a family given closure and a man finally put away forever.”
Marina ran a thumb along her bottom lip, setting down the book. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want to send a team out in the woods behind Hunter’s home, following the directions of the novel, in attempt to find Emily Morrison’s body.”
“Vance, come on-”
“Please,” he quickly said. “Give this a chance.”
Phillips watched her younger agent for a moment, studying the desperation in his features. “What about going to St. Laurens first?”
“No one knows who she is.” Vance took the book back, flipping it to the back jacket of Endless Alabaster. “No picture.” He went on the moment he saw her hesitancy, “It’s a pen name. She doesn’t exist outside of her publications.”
“Have you called the publisher?” Marina questioned, still curiously leafing through the notes Vance had pinned throughout the book.
“They have a contract, they can’t release her real identity,” Vance replied. “They could only give me the number of her agent, but she also wouldn’t say.”
Phillips cleared her throat slightly, “I’ll get you a warrant to take to St. Laurens’ agent. I will also send out a team to the woods to look for Emily’s body.” She set the book down on her desk, leaning back in her chair. “You have until the end of the day to tell me whether or not this book is a real lead. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, practically grinning as he backed out of her office with a gleam in his eyes as if he finally had a chance at redemption.
WhatADo Associates was struck by an afternoon glint of the sun, lunchtime traffic rumbling outside as its employees worked tirelessly. Although a load of hopeful manuscripts had arrived at the company, they hadn’t anticipated a small fleet of black cars flanking the building at 12:03 p.m.
Vance led in a group of agents through the glass doors, pulling off his sunglasses as he removed his badge from his suit pocket. He walked directly up to the front desk, tucking his glasses away. “Special Agent Vance Deveraux, FBI. I need to see Natasha Archer immediately.”
Almost paralyzed by fear, the receptionist motioning shakily towards the elevator with wide eyes behind her lenses. “Sh- she’s on the fifth floor,” she stammered. She had yet to be posed with the proper way to handle the situation.
“Thank you,” Vance said with a clipped tone, turning for the elevator as he and four other agents walked through the crowd that had stopped to gawk at the movie-like scene. “I want two of you to stay in the hall, block the office while we talk to Archer.”
The helping agents glanced to each other as they stood behind Deveraux, questioning his authority as well as how he manage to drag his ass out of the hell that the Director had put him in three months prior.
In the brief moments that the doors were closed and the agents were carried upwards, Deveraux’s mind was racing with possibilities of what would happen the moment they opened Archer’s doors. If St. Laurens really had a reason to hide her name, there had to be something more sinister behind it.
A ding sounded overhead, the elevator coming to a smooth stop and releasing the FBI onto the fifth floor of WhatADo Associates. Two agents peeled off as Vance went for the end of the hall, the others still at his side as he practically rushed the door.
Deveraux idly kept a hand on his gun, the warrant poking out of his suit pocket as he exposed his belt. He motioned with two fingers before leaning up against the door of Natasha Archer’s office, one hand on the knob and the other clutching his standard issue weapon. Nodding once, he opened the door swiftly. “FBI.”
He had no means to treat the situation as such, but the pit of his stomach told him to deal with it as high stress.
The blonde in a fashionable suit jumped, dropping her pen onto the floor as she looked up, hair sweeping down in front of her face. Quickly brushing it away from her brown eyes, she held a questionable yet startled look. “Can I help you?”
“Yes…” she hesitantly replied as she scan the three agents. “Who are you?”
Vance walked a little closer, releasing the heavy hold on his gun. “I’m Special Agent Deveraux, I’m here on behalf of Stella St. Laurens.”
Natasha remained quiet for a moment, adjusting herself in her seat. “What about Miss Laurens?”
“We need to know who she really is,” Vance told her directly.
“She’s a private person, I’ve agreed not to release her identity. I imagine you’re the man I spoke to on the phone last night?” Natasha, an extremely successful woman for her age, crossed her arms lightly. “I’m sorry but you’ll need a wa-”
Deveraux pulled the folded piece of paper from his suit jacket, holding it out to her with a flat expression.
Natasha lightly sighed, looking over the paper signed by LA judge French. “All right, fine. Her name is Lucy Hamilton. An incredibly bright woman, remarkably private.”
“Can we get an address?” Vance questioned almost sharply, feeling as if he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Even I haven’t been to her house, agents,” Natasha said as a counter. “Like I said, she’s private.”
Vance watched the publicist carefully, eyes slightly narrowed. “That doesn’t mean you don’t know where she lives. We need an address now or we can hold you on obstruction charges.”
Natasha closed her eyes briefly. “She lives in Malibu.” She scrawled down an address as she spoke, knowing that Lucy wouldn’t be too thrilled with her. “Check the ocean if she doesn’t answer the door instead of busting into the house. She’s likely out on the water. Her dog Alex will be there with her and he won’t hurt you as long as you don’t hurt her.”
“Let me ask you one more question.”
“I don’t think I really have a choice,” Ms. Archer replied with a flat tone. “So what is it, your majesty?”
Vance’s jaw tightened lightly from a lack of appreciation for her sarcasm. “Is Lucy Hamilton a murderer?”
Natasha’s eyebrows shot up, “God, no. She would never hurt a fly.”
Deveraux only nodded his head softly, leaving Archer’s office once he took the piece of paper from her neatly manicured hands.
As Vance headed down the hallway back towards the elevator, his fellow agents joined him with questionable looks.
“Do you really think she’s a murderer? The author?” asked Agent Carson, her hair neatly pinned up. “My wife loves her work. A psychopath couldn’t write like her. I don’t think she’s a killer.”
“Well,” said Vance, “we’re about to find out.”