Through the doorway to Frankie’s office, Adam could see part of Russell’s face. He was smiling at someone on the other side of the room, and Adam’s nerves wrenched still tighter.
What the hell was going on?
He mentally squared himself, strolled through the doorway, and found the small room crowded with blue and gold FBI jackets. Russell was seated in Rob’s usual chair in front of Frankie’s desk. A large, blond man, a stranger to Adam but instantly recognizable as the agent in charge, was taking up a good portion of wall real estate. And a woman—Jonnie—sat in the other chair facing Frankie.
Adam’s instinctive pleasure at seeing Jonnie was doused by the realization that something was very wrong—confirmed by Jonnie’s brief, troubled smile of greeting.
“Looky what I got,” Frankie said in that same tone of forced joviality. “I ask the FBI for a little help and before I know it, I’ve got half the profilers at Quantico taking up all the chairs in my office.” She pointed at Rob. “That’s my second in command, Robert Haskell. And I guess you already know Special Agent Darling.”
“No,” the blond man said. “I don’t know Agent Darling. I’ve heard of him though.” And clearly it was all bad. His smile was somehow more alarming than other people’s scowls.
Jonnie said, “Adam, this is Unit Chief Sam Kennedy.” She didn’t quite cough when she said Unit Chief, but the words did seem to stick in her throat.
And no wonder. Sam Kennedy was a legend. The kind of legend Special Agents in Charge told bad little subordinates who wouldn’t eat their vegetables. The Bureau’s very own Bogeyman.
He was also BAU, which was confusing. What was Jonnie doing with the BAU? What was Jonnie doing here at all?
Kennedy was dressed casually: a bulky sweater beneath the blue and gold FBI parka. It didn’t matter. He was one of the few people in the world you could try and try to picture stark naked and it still wouldn’t diffuse the threat.
“Sir,” Adam said.
“Agent,” Kennedy said. His blue eyes looked like ice chips. “I understand you’re attempting to single-handedly run a serial killer investigation.”
Adam looked at Russell. Russell raised his eyebrows as though in polite inquiry.
“No. That’s not the case.” He could feel Rob’s stare, and his face flamed as he wondered suddenly if it was the case. If it was the general opinion of the Nearby Sheriff’s Office that he had overstepped the boundaries. It had certainly been Rob’s opinion half an hour ago—and nobody was speaking up on his behalf now.
Kennedy said, “Sheriff McLellan, do you have a spare office where I can speak to Agent Darling in private?”
Frankie’s eyes met Adam’s. She looked sorry for him. “You can use our interrogation room. Third one off the main room.”
Adam turned. He couldn’t look at Rob. He left Frankie’s office and walked down to the room where he and Rob had interrogated Gibbs that morning—was it only that morning?—listening to the measured tread of Kennedy’s feet behind him.
He felt…well, mostly he just felt numb. Hollow. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He knew with complete certainty that he was about to be fired, and while he could see that he had made a series of missteps—starting with his failure to realize that Russell was a serious enemy—he still couldn’t quite grasp how he’d gotten into this position.
His mouth was dry, there was a block of ice in his belly, and he was desperately afraid that he might look like he was going to cry. He was not going to cry. He was not going to show anything if he could help it.
The door to the interrogation room closed. Kennedy said, “If you’ve got something to say for yourself, Agent, now would be the time.”
Adam turned to face him. He forced himself to sound crisp and unemotional. “Agent Gould and I were here in October on morgue patrol for the Roadside Rip—”
“I already know all this from Gould.” Kennedy cut in. “I want to know what the hell you think you’re doing usurping the authority of a local sheriff’s office and taking over their murder investigation?”
“I’ve done no such thing. We’re here to assist Sheriff McLellan at her request.”
“You’re here,” Kennedy said. “Your partner has been trying unsuccessfully to get you to involve the regional office so that the two of you can return to your own jobs and responsibilities. And you have steadily refused. True?”
Adam swallowed. “Not…completely.”
Kennedy laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. “Out of curiosity, which part of it’s not true?”
“We’ve only been here ninety-six hours. It’s not as though—”
“And an action-packed ninety-six hours they’ve been. There’ve been several search and rescue efforts, a second murder, a shootout with a domestic terrorist, and now you’ve started interrogating suspects in homicide cold cases.”
“Since you enjoy local policing so much, Agent Darling, I suggest you apply for a position with the Nearby Sheriff’s Office.”
Boom. Done. Quick, clean severing of head from body. He barely even felt it.
He stared at Kennedy. Kennedy stared back, hard-faced and unrelenting. He seemed to be waiting for something.
Oh. Right. Adam’s badge and gun. And probably his laptop too, come to think of it. He couldn’t seem to make himself reach for his ID. He was afraid his hand might shake. But it wasn’t just that. He had worked his entire life—the Bureau was his entire life—
Kennedy cocked an eyebrow. An ice cold bastard to the end. He spread his hands. “Nothing?” he asked. “That’s it? That’s the extent of what you have to say for yourself?”
Adam stared, noncomprehending. Wait. Was it not over?
He said, “I didn’t volunteer to come up here. Sheriff McLellan asked for our help, and that’s what I’ve been trying to provide. It’s a small office, they have limited resources, and yes, I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do. I thought that was why I was here.”
“Really? Agent Russell believes you’re here because you’ve formed a particular…friendship with Deputy Haskell. In fact, his words were gone native.”
Russell had been paying closer attention than Adam realized.
He said, “I don’t know what gone native means.”
“I notice that you’re not denying that you and Haskell have a relationship outside of your professional one.”
As Adam stared into Kennedy’s eyes he realized something totally unexpected. Unexpected, but possibly encouraging. Kennedy was gay. And he suspected that part of Russell’s antipathy for Adam was due to Adam’s orientation. It was the one sole point on which Adam had Kennedy’s sympathy—but it was a big one.
“Haskell and I did not have a relationship before I came up here. And I don’t know that our friendship will last beyond this assignment. That’s not why I discouraged Russell from dumping this case and returning to L.A. I thought from the first that the case was more complicated than it appeared. I’m now convinced that’s true.”
Kennedy was back to looking bored and impatient. “Yeah, yeah. You think you’ve discovered a serial killer. Two murders, an attempted staging of the body, and everybody thinks they’ve got a serial killer on their hands.”
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