Home > The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(2)

The Shell Game (Fox and O'Hare 0.25)(2)
Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg

Her cubicle was five feet wide, five feet deep, and framed on three sides by five-foot-high partitions that doubled as bulletin boards. She was sure that federal prisoners would be delighted to know their cells were roomier than the offices of the agents who’d arrested them. Not that she’d put anyone away yet.

Kate was twenty-eight years old and had graduated from the FBI Academy in Quantico just six months earlier. So far she’d only been assigned basic fieldwork, such as running background checks and interviewing witnesses on cases other agents were investigating. She was currently wading through low-level clearance applications, and when she felt herself nodding off, she snapped herself back with an Oreo.

“I bet that’s better than eating bugs,” said Cosmo Uno, popping up on the other side of the partition like a hyperactive mole.

Uno was 5′4″ and had to stand on a file box to peer over at her. His voice had the same pitch as a squealing smoke alarm, and when he started talking, almost nothing could stop him.

“I heard that when you were a Navy commando you were dropped into the Nicaragua rain forest and had to live on beetles and rainwater for two weeks while tracking drug smugglers,” Uno said. “Is that why you quit and joined the FBI? I don’t think I could eat a bug unless it was a Squiggly-Wiggly, which aren’t really bugs but jelly candy shaped like bugs. Have you ever had a Squiggly-Wiggly? Do they taste like bugs? I bet bugs are more crunchy than chewy, but you tell me.”

He rested his chin on the top of the partition, waiting for an answer.

Kate would have gladly spent a week in the rain forest, munching on beetles, rather than endure another minute in a cubicle beside Special Agent Cosmo Uno.

“Go away,” she said. “I’m busy on a very important case.”

She stared at her computer and pretended to be enthralled by someone’s job application for a State Department janitorial position.

“Is it true you’re trained to kill a man using any object within reach?” Uno asked. “I can see how you could kill me with those scissors or a pen, but could you kill me with a file folder? With an Oreo? With one of those Dr. Scholl’s inserts in your shoes? Is that how you got blood on your shirt?”

Kate glanced at her shirt. Sure enough, there was a red stain on her chest.

“It’s barbecue sauce,” Kate said.

“That’s what happens when you eat McNuggets for lunch. I told you not to eat McNuggets. Who really knows what’s in a McNugget? Could you kill me with a McNugget?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I’m willing to try.”

Something caught Uno’s attention. He lifted his head to look past her, gave a gasp, and abruptly dropped behind the partition. Kate turned to see Carl Jessup, the special agent in charge, striding toward them on his way to his office. He was a lanky, weather-beaten Kentuckian in his fifties who looked like he’d be more comfortable on a horse.

She bolted up from her seat and covered the stain on her shirt with her hand.

“May I have a word with you, sir?”

“Of course,” he said. “How are you settling in?”

“To be honest, I’ve been doing background checks for so long I feel like I’m a personnel director and not a special agent.”

“Security clearances are important work, Kate.”

“I know that, sir, and I mean no disrespect, but isn’t it time to put my FBI training and military experience to use on a real case? I’m ready and I promise I won’t let you down.”

He glanced at her hand on her chest. “It’s not necessary to take a pledge.”

She dropped her hand. “I was hiding a stain on my shirt.”

“Relax. Stains are okay. They give you character.”

“I don’t want to be a character. I want to be the best special agent you’ve got.”

“I know you do. I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m just waiting for the right case to come along.”

Nicolas Fox was heading north on the 405 in a rented Mustang convertible at precisely fifty-five miles per hour. The soft top was down, Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” played on the speakers, and the wind whipped Fox’s hair. He wore Ray-Bans and a charcoal gray Tom Ford suit with a bright white shirt open at the collar. There was a Bluetooth mike in his ear, allowing him to make hands-free calls. He looked like a young Hollywood agent on his way to close a big deal, and that wasn’t too far off the mark.

“I’m approaching the Marina Freeway overpass,” Fox said to the three people he was conferenced into via his cellphone.

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