The raging sea crashed distantly in the night, an Atlantic breeze sweeping over Malibu’s sandy shores. A single porch light remained on, the private patch of land in comfortable silence other than the incessant clicks of a laptop and the snores of a golden retriever.
The Hamilton deck swing swayed, Lucy sitting with one leg pulled underneath her as she stared at the fluorescent screen littered with Times New Roman font. Alex was sprawled out next to her, his head rested in her lap as he slept peacefully.
Lucy, dressed plaid sleep shorts and a gray Stanford Law pullover rolled up to her elbows, idly tapped at her keys as she sipped a glass of red wine. Her phone had been powered off to void her of any distractions as she worked through the final chapters of the roughly titled book revolving around the life of a woman poisoned by her youngest son, while the husband was locked away for it.
Yawning against the time displayed on the bottom right of her laptop screen, Lucy’s hair was falling messily from her bun as she looked down to Alex. She softly pet behind his ear, the massive yellow dog beyond comfortable on the cushioned wood. “You’re a mess,” she warmly said to the sleeping beast, soon returning her watery-blue eyes to her document that had seemed to build itself in a matter of a week. “And so am I.”
Lucy jumped in her seat, riling Alex awake on accident. “Dear G-” she cut herself off, having nearly knocked her laptop off of the swing armrest as she found Agent Deveraux walking around the back porch towards her. “What are you doing here?”
Vance, a navy zip up covering his arms as he kept his hands pocketed in his jeans, looked as innocent as he could be as he motioned towards the house with his chin briefly. “I knocked up front but when you didn’t answer, I had a sneaking suspicion you were out here. I did expect night surfing, to be honest.”
“Only on Wednesdays,” Lucy replied without hesitation as she noticed Alex hadn’t barked at the FBI agent’s arrival. “Was our tousle at the cafe this afternoon not enough for you, Agent? Or have you managed to find the nonexistent evidence that I’m a murderer?”
He took his hand out of his pocket, holding a thumb drive in her view as he remained at the bottom of the porch. “I wanted to show you something.”
“Oddly vague.” Lucy used her hand to motion towards herself, setting down her wine glass with her free hand. “Let’s see then.”
Vance didn’t make an attempt to move Alex from his spot, instead going up the stairs and around the other side of the swinging bench. He crouched slightly, plugging in the flash drive as Lucy clicked away her document off of the screen.
Neil Hunter’s face popped up not a moment later as the file opened a recording from the LA County Jail.
Lucy’s expression flipped almost immediately, “What is this?”
“It’s Hunter, reading your book.” Vance put a hand on Lucy’s shoulder when she made a move to get up, keeping her on the swing. “No, I want you to watch it.”
“Night weighed heavily over the forest, light of the house blocked by a blanket of trees that would keep his secrets, his demons. Oliver steadied his breath, dirt caking his overalls and blood painting his sleeves. The warm fog leaving his lips hovered like a shield, protecting him from what he’d done for only a moment until it wisped away into oblivion. He looked up to the sky, as if it would bring comfort to his sin. By God, let her be the last.”
Hunter seemed to stumble through the words, a bewildered look on his face as the last line fell from his lips. He looked up towards the camera, watery eyes finding an unseen agent across the table from him. “How did she know that?”
Deveraux reached forward, stopping the recording. “Now why would he say a thing like that?” he asked quietly, incredibly close to Lucy. “He’s talking about you, Hamilton. He wants to know how you knew, and so do I. So now’s your last chance to tell me what’s going on.”
However, Lucy remained quiet.
“The police found a body in the forest behind Hunter’s land,” said Vance as he remained crouched next to her. “Exactly where your book said it would be. I don’t know about you, but that seems a little odd, doesn’t it?”
“You still don’t have a case,” Lucy replied without looking over to him.
“Maybe not, but one of your other novels might have something more tangible.” Vance reached into his jacket pocket, holding out a folded piece of paper. He shut the lid of her laptop as she quickly unfolded the letter, watching Lucy’s expression shift.
Lucy’s head turned towards Deveraux, “A warrant?”
“For your laptop under probable cause,” reiterated Vance.
“Fine,” she replied as she practically shoved the laptop at the special agent, “fine, take it.”
“Oh, don’t worry. You can keep the laptop.” He pulled the flash drive free from the side of the computer, holding it up slightly. “I’ve got everything I need. Your compliance in appreciated, Hamilton.”
Lucy held up her hands, the warrant resting in her lap. “Go ahead then.”
“Just like that?” asked Deveraux with an arched eyebrow as he stood up.
“It’s not like I have anything to hide.”
Vance’s jaw clenched as Lucy rose from the swinging bench, her laptop under her arm. “If we find anything out of the ordinary, we’re going to take you to court.”
“Good thing I’m already a lawyer,” Lucy retorted haughtily as she went through the glass with Alex right behind her, shutting the blinds in Deveraux’s face. She ran a hand along her face as she set her laptop on the kitchen counter, walking through the house. Swearing under her breath, her attention snapped to the front door as the bell sounded throughout the beach house. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Nearly growling, Lucy rushed to the door and swung it open with enough force to break the lock if it had been latched. “What-”
Johanna Hamilton’s eyebrows raised at the velocity of her daughter’s voice, standing on the front porch with a small suitcase and a surprised look. “Is that how you greet your mother?”
Lucy’s expression immediately changed, relief crossing her as she brought her mom into a hug. “I thought you cancelled this week because of school.”
“I couldn’t wait,” Johanna replied warmly as she squeezed Lucy, her hair the same shade but cut six inches shorter. “What’s got you so riled up?” she questioned as she went into the home as Lucy offered it. “Did it happen to be that boy sneaking out the back of your house?”
“Trust me, sneaking was the last thing he as doing,” grumbled Lucy as she shut and locked the door behind her mother. “That was Agent Deveraux.”
“FBI making house calls?”
Lucy pet Alex’s head as he shifted back and forth from her and Johanna, unsure of who he could get the most attention out of. “Only when they want something.”
“How true.” Johanna hesitated, sitting down on the sofa in the living room. “Did he get what he wanted?”
“He thinks so,” Lucy answered as she poured two wine glasses in the open kitchen not too far away from her mother. “He took all of the files on my laptop, and before you say anything, he had a warrant. A fake one, none the less, but I’ll let him have his glory for now.” Bringing both glasses, she handed one off to Johanna as she sat in the settee across from her. “Sweetheart,” Johanna said lightly after taking a sip of the sweet red, “I know that the pressure must be strong on you, but you can’t tell anyone-”
“I know, Mom,” interrupted Lucy in a soft voice, “I know.”
“They haven’t released anything about you to the public,” Johanna noted with slight hope. “But there’s been insinuation by an SSA at the FBI that there’s a possible connector to multiple murders around the country.”
Lucy was making her way through her third glass of wine with no trouble at all, shaking her head as she lowered the glass from her lips. “They can only insinuate because they don’t have a case.”
“I knew you shouldn’t have published,” Johanna said almost miserably. “I knew someone would catch on. You should’ve just kept the stories to yourself. This could ruin the family-”
“Mom,” Lucy eased, “there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
The room seemed to swell around the two, the air sticky as it felt hard to breathe. The clock on the wall ticked into oblivion, Alex’s steady huffs warming as he was laid across Johanna’s lap.
“Have you been sleeping?”
Lucy looked up from her wine, having lost her thoughts in the maroon liquid. “What? I, uh, not really.”
“Get some sleep, honey. We can catch up tomorrow, we’ll go to breakfast.” Johanna motioned with the half empty glass towards the loft, “Go on. The bags under your eyes are getting deeper than my Louis.”
Cracking a smile as she stood, she took her glass to the sink and exchanged it for her laptop before moving towards the staircase. “I bought you that bag.”
“Yeah,” defended Johanna with a laugh, “and it’s not supposed to be a role model.” She patted Alex’s side, whispering for the golden retriever to go with Lucy.
“Love you,” Lucy called over her shoulder as she went upstairs with Alex close behind.
Johanna has started to make her way to the guest room on the first floor, glancing upward as she repeated what her daughter had said.
“Make the bed, Al?” Lucy requested in a warm tone, looking down to him as she reached the open loft.
Alex moved immediately, leaping onto the messy bed and beginning to pull the sheets to the proper corners of the queen mattress.
Lucy softly laughed to herself, stretching her arms after setting her laptop onto its designated space among the mess on her desk before taking a spot next to the retriever. Lucy glanced over her shoulder mildly as she listened for the patter of her mother’s footsteps, scratching behind Alex’s ear with salty fingertips. She leaned over from her perched position on her newly made bed, grabbing the pair of sneakers waiting on the wood flooring.
Alex tilted his head, watching Lucy curiously. He knew what time it was, and she wasn’t supposed to be putting on her shoes.
“You’ve gotta stay up here bud, okay?” the brunette told him in a soft voice, standing from the beckoning mattress. “Don’t go bug Mom. She knows you always sleep in my bed.” Lucy gave the retriever a knowing look as she fitted a maroon ball cap over a mess of hair, on the move to grab an ambiguous zip up hoodie. “Don’t give me that look.”
Resting his head down on the bulky duvet with eyes still on his owner, it was evident that Alex was judging her.
Lucy begrudgingly replied in a guilty sigh as she pocketed her cell phone, heading towards the loft stairs. “I’ll be back soon, I promise.” She cautiously went down the blond wood steps, listening between motions for any sign that Johanna would reemerge from the guest bedroom.
She knew she was an adult, but there was nothing quite worse than being reprimanded by parents for something you knew you weren’t supposed to be doing.
With careful footwork, Lucy made her way silently across the open living room and hastily out the front door, but not without snagging her keys on the way. She shut the door behind her slowly, wincing at the all knowing click of the door handle it settled back into place. She mumbled a convincing noise to herself, silently praying Johanna hadn’t heard with her bat like hearing.
The Malibu night greeted Lucy once more, thoughts of Vance Deveraux on her mind as she moved past her Jeep and headed for the nearest bus stop.
Lucy’s adamant studying on Vance has only made him more of an enigma than before.
Despite knowing the ins and outs of his extensive basketball career through high school and during his undergrad at Michigan State University, his loving parents, graceful French roots and utter determination to graduate at the top of his class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, she didn’t know what made him tick.
Flashes of their encounters greeted her subconscious as she stepped onto an eco-friendly metropolitan bus, blips of their time together - often fueled by Vance’s frustration and Lucy’s quip - buzzing like flies around her.
Using her phone efficiently as well as absent mindedly, Lucy paid her way onto the fluorescent lit vehicle and took a lone seat in the front sector. Her eyes flickered to the time at the top of her cell phone, impatience revealing itself in the light shake of her left leg as it was draped over her right.
Deveraux had slammed into her life so forcefully that it was hard to remember what it was like before he was there.
Lone surfing, constant clicks of keyboard and coffee. Lots of coffee.
But what was a typical day now that an FBI Special Agent had bashed in the doors of her cozy Malibu life?
It was constant anxiety, balled up inside of the writer every moment of her day and in every place she went. Another potential house siege or being dragged into an interrogation room, perhaps?
She was no longer quite sure of anything, other than that Vance Deveraux was on a mission to expose something she’d worked so hard to bury.
But she was on a mission as well - one potentially more invasive than his.
The transport bus pulled to the side of the dark road just beyond that of an LA suburb, it a quiet, middle-class neighborhood lined with weeping willows and a dusty sky.
Lucy hauled herself up from a poorly padded seat that had seen its fair share of horrors, wishing a soft goodnight to the driver as she took the three plastic steps out into the mild summer warmth of the night. Glancing both ways before crossing the street, she pocketed her hands in her hoodie with awareness in every feature.
Not once had she stepped foot in the patch of two story craftsman style houses, but she knew where she was going.
She always knew, even if she didn’t.
Although more trained at sea habits, Lucy’s legs carried her hastily through the suburban neighborhood along the patchy sidewalk, indirectly hidden by the hazy street lamps towering in the ever growing darkness. Dark hair billowed behind her, the soft wind brushing against her face as she made her way down the row of out-of-place houses for the typical beach lifestyle Los Angeles staple.
Lucy stopped shy of a gleaming black mailbox pegged at the curb, hesitant eyes falling on the hauntingly dark home marked with yellow crime scene tape. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth idly, toes daring to touch the asphalt driveway as her heartbeat remained frighteningly calm. Blue eyes glanced around cautiously, no house lights on along the lone street.
And in one swift motion, she ducked under the warning tape.