Monday mornings weren't for cowards.
FBI Special Agent Faith Malone eyed the pile of paperwork on her desk with disgust as she finished off her first Cherry Coke of the morning.
Faith rated her days by the number of Cherry Cokes she had consumed. Normal days? One. Busy days, or days when she was out late the night before? Two.
Days of utter madness called for three.
"Good morning, Faith. Good of you to come to work today."
Faith imagined, not for the first time, what it would be like to whack Special Agent Janice Estes across the face with her empty Coke bottle. Instead, she contented herself with picturing a small rivulet of blood trickling from Janice's nose. "Just like every day and twice on Sundays," Faith said without making eye contact.
"Oh? I thought you were out twice last week." A saccharine Southern drawl disguised her tone but did nothing to hide the venom in Janice's words.
Faith continued to focus on her paperwork. "Nope." Not last week. The week before had been another matter, but no need to bring that up.
Janice wasn't done, and Faith waited for the next dig. She still didn't know what Janice's end game was, but she refused to sink into a verbal sparring match.
"Malone!" The booming voice of Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Dale Jefferson interrupted whatever Janice had been about to say.
"Yes, sir!" Faith paused a second to scan her desk, attempting to memorize the placement of every file and sticky note. Her eyes bounced off the "Faith over Fear" paper holder—a gift from her sister—that had become a painful reminder of how weak her own faith had become. She grabbed her iPad and Apple pencil and walked to her boss's office.
"Close the door." Everything about Dale was...off. His tie was askew. His hair was mussed. His eyes were...Faith didn't know what this look was. Shattered? A cold dread trickled through her limbs.
"I'm calling a meeting in two minutes. The word is out, and we have to get on top of this."
"Sir? What happened?"
"This morning three separate attacks were carried out on agents from the US Secret Service Raleigh resident office."
The Secret Service? Who? How? Luke? Please, Lord, not Luke.
"Two agents were killed. Two wounded, one more seriously than the other. Both of the wounded were taken to the Wake Med trauma unit. That's all I have at the moment. The families of the agents are still being notified."
Faith tried to force sound from her throat, but all that came out was a strangled breath. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Who?"
Dale didn't hear her. "I'll give you the rest of the details in the briefing. We need to go. You have point on the investigation."
"I want to know who did this. Those Secret Service punks chap my hide on a regular basis, but there's not a one of them who it isn't an honor to serve with. Not to mention that if someone's got it out for the Secret Service, the FBI may be next." Dale grabbed his coffee and a folder from his desk. "Let's go."
Dale strode to the door and pushed it open. Faith tried to make her feet move, but her limbs were heavy with dread.
He paused at the door. "Are you coming?"
His Adam's apple bobbed twice before he spoke. "Jared Smith and..." Dale shook his head hard before continuing. "Michael Weaver."
Not Luke. Faith hadn't realized how disconcerting it was to feel both profound relief and gut-wrenching sorrow at the same time. Dale and Michael Weaver had served together in their early law enforcement days in Illinois. Most FBI agents despised their Secret Service counterparts, and the feeling was mutual. But Michael and Dale's friendship was well-known, and it was because of them that the local Secret Service and FBI agents worked well together. Most of the time.
"I'm so sorry."
Dale's face hardened. "I want to know what happened. You find out who killed him."