ONE

 

Sunny Hands returned the holstered pistol to her purse, signed out of the indoor shooting range, and headed for her Jeep’s corner of the parking lot. Like every other Special Agent for the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Sunny’s job required her to carry a weapon and submit to regular qualifying tests. But at Quantico, Virginia’s massive Russell-Knox Building, which housed four other US investigative agencies besides the Air Force’s OSI, nobody practiced as much as Sunny.

Three times a week she fired seventy-five rounds at the paper targets. Every week, month after month. She’d barely qualified with her Sig Sauer nine-millimeter at special agent training school in Glynco, Georgia the previous winter. That was reason enough to perfect her technique and prepare for the next test. But a bigger reason for her dedication to the range was the way Sunny felt when she held any semiautomatic. After thousands of times firing one, her grip was still shaky. When she squeezed the trigger, tiny muscles twitched in her hands.

The reason was psychological. Each time her hands wrapped the Sig Sauer’s stainless steel frame, Sunny pictured her dead father’s face. Images of his blood often returned as well, and sometimes a chilly memory of his skin temperature. At five years old, the realization came slowly, but the finality of his stone-cold flesh had shocked young Sunny to the deepest part of her soul.

She could never forget.

Most worrying, despite the recent months of extra practice, repetitive cleaning and handling, visits with a shrink, the extra guidance and teaching she’d received at Glynco, her gun-shyness wasn’t getting better. Hitting paper human torsos had become slightly easier, Sunny scoring more hits last month than any previous. But not once had she conquered the anxiety, never winning the regular battle with her jitters.

She hadn’t fired a single shot in confidence.

Sliding behind the wheel of her Jeep Grand Cherokee, she reminded herself again--almost a daily prompt--that most local cops and federal agents never fired a weapon on the job in their entire career. With only average luck then, she’d never need to actually fire her Sig Sauer at someone. Maybe never even draw.

But that message wasn’t helping her problem, a career situation she needed to fix. She loved solving puzzles, figuring and explaining the often obscure, sometimes clever, and always risky behavior of criminals. While the whole macho cop-thing about guns and gunfighters left her nonplussed, to say the least, an investigator’s work and rewards were less than satisfying if she wasn’t part of catching the bad guys. In the field. As a kid, she’d enjoyed Sherlock Holmes stories, not James Bond, but both worked the streets, not a desk.

And for that, Sunny would always need her Sig Sauer.

She slipped the Cherokee into reverse and checked the rear-view mirror before backing out of her space. Whoops.A familiar man blocked her path, his hands on his waist, the elbows jutting out. The man was U.S. Air Force Colonel William Seager, ‘Billy’ to Sunny, although they hadn’t re-established what to call each other since he’d become her commanding officer last month.

They hadn’t spoken in twomonths. Not since she’d turned him down forcefully for a dinner date. Actually, the bastard had hinted that his recommending Sunny for agent school in Glynco last year had earned him at least one night in her bed, not just a steak dinner.

Sunny was still angry about it. Her teeth started to clench.

The man had been insultingly arrogant.

On a hunch, she lifted the cell from her black leather Ralph Lauren and opened a special app. When she scrambled out of the Jeep, Sunny reinstalled the phone in her purse and left the handbag’s top open. The macho stance Billy had taken behind her car a minute ago--feet apart, hands akimbo--had given her a good idea what was coming.

Maybe she could turn Billy’s conceit into an opportunity.

“What’s up, Billy?” she said. “Did you take a look at my idea about that missing autocannon? Think I figured out where they stole it.”

He edged closer. “I did look, and it’s interesting. I think we should have dinner tonight and discuss it--seriously.”

Though Sunny thought his blue eyes bright and happy, the colonel an intelligent and good looking man, there never had been a time when she would have said yes. First he was married, then separated, and now … well, she had an even easier out.

“You’re my CO, Billy, and I’m not dating the boss.”

He clowned a sad, droopy mouth. “Why not?”

“Bigger trouble for you than for me. You know I’m right.”

“Some things are worth the risk.”

He leaned closer. Sunny shifted her purse directly between them. “Not going to happen. Sir.”

“That’s a shame. But really, tonight I’m only suggesting dinner.”

“I know. Tell me about the missing autocannon,” she said. “Any new info?”

“No.” He pouted about the change in subject.

“Any leads other than mine about where the weapon might have been taken?”

Billy shook his head. “We don’t even know what state.”

“Did you read the whole proposal? If my theory is right, the autocannon was removed from the train in Arizona. Let me go look--my first field assignment.”
“Your idea has potential, I admit. But the center pivot point would have to be incredibly strong--a tough set-up to build in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.” 

He hadread her report. “There’s an access road to bring in equipment. You’d need good calculations to find the center, carefully measure the radius, but centrifugal force would do the heavy work. A few thick chains with weights to anchor them, even a big construction vehicle. Maybe a bulldozer.”

He smiled with his eyes, almost a twinkle. “Come on, Sunny, have dinner with me tonight and explain.”

“Stop with the dinner. Give me a chance to be a real special agent. In the field.”

Even in the humidity of a Virginia summer, Billy’s smile evaporated. “I read the reports from Glynco, Sunny. I know why you’re at the firing range three times a week.”

“You told me yourself most agents never fire their weapon,” she said.

“Yeah, but you have to be ready and capable. Most special agents were cops first. They’ve spent years on the street and know criminals. They smell trouble. So far, your crime knowledge comes from books.”

“My criminal science texts and Elmore Leonard novels were pretty good teachers.”

“Funny. But nothing can compare with experience. You’re too naïve about bad guys.”

“How am I going to get in trouble in the middle of the desert?”

“I don’t know. But it’s two strikes against you for a first field assignment right now, the poor weapons performance and lack of experience.”

“I passed the firearms requirement, Billy. And how am I going to getexperience?”

“Sunny, this isn’t just anyinvestigation. The people who stole our GAU-8 are ruthless, violent criminals. Possibly terrorists.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because anybody else would be afraidto steal a U.S. Air Force weapon of mass destruction--a Gatling-type, automatic cannon that can blow up thousands of people in a few seconds. They’d worry how violently the US government would come after them.”

“So assign me a partner with serious street creds. I saw the Phoenix office had a retirement last week. Special Agent Walker needs a partner.”

“OK, you can go to Arizona, search the place. If you have dinner with me tonight.”

The heat started behind her eyes, flowed quickly throughout Sunny’s almost six-foot-tall body. “No. And if you don’t stop this, I’m going to report you.”

“How about a baseball game?” he said. “The Nationals are in town.”

Adrenaline added to her temperature. “Nice you found out how much I like baseball. Also a touch creepy. One more time, Colonel Seager. No dates with my CO. Zero.”

“But it wouldn’t be--”

She waved him off.“No. You’re threatening our friendship. You were married or just separated. It was always no dating between us, Billy. Plus, I have a boyfriend. You met him at the Christmas par --”

The Washington Postreporter?”

“Yeah. Jordan Scott.”

“You and him are still a thing? I heard he moved to California, The Los Angeles Times.”

Sunny frowned. Billy wasn’t a bad guy. Good with dogs and waiters, two must-pass tests for Sunny. But the fact he’d learned about her love of baseball and Jordan’s new place of employment seemed a little too aggressive. She’d been feeling guilty about the phone in her purse, but not anymore. “What do you meanyou heard? How did you hear about Jordan leaving the Post?”

“Office grapevine.”

“You’re asking around at the agency about me. My boyfriend?”

Truthfully, Jordan wasn’t much of a boyfriend anymore. He’d told Sunny about the new position forty-eight hours before leaving town. They’d offered him a contract with a signing bonus. Like a star pitcher for the Dodgers. The way Sunny saw things, he’d tossed her for a pay raise. And that was only one week after she’d actually considered having a baby with him. That night, at least, she’d been in love.

Not that she’d said anything. Lord.

“I wasn’t snooping,” Billy said. “I overheard some women talking.”

“Who?”

“I don’t remember. The conversation was a while ago.”

“So I’m a frequenttopic of office gossip, am I?”

“No. Not really. You’re tall and pretty. Of course people have their eye on you.”

“Shut up, Billy. Sir.”

“Remember I’m your commanding officer.”

“That’s why I said sir.”

“I’m serious. Your tone was disrespectful.” 

She offered the colonel her best scowl. “Ok, but repeatedly asking me out after I’ve said no is also disrespectful. Worse, actually.”

“Baloney. Persistence shows I have interest. Respect.”

“The hell it does. Now I’mserious, Billy. Coming from a commanding officer, your repeated suggestions and requests are harassment.”

“Oh, stop. It’s your word against mine anyway.”

She lifted the phone from her purse. “Would you like to hear yourself asking me out? Three times, at least.”

He swallowed. 

“I bet OSI’s Chief Master Sergeant would enjoy listening,” she said, “especially when you linked my field assignment to dinner tonight. She’s sent out three memos this year alone on office dating and sexual harassment.”

Billy’s bright blue eyes dulled.

Sunny placed the phone back in her purse. “Relax. We’re still friends. No complaints or reports from me.” She smiled at him. “But maybe I could make that trip to Arizona see if I can find--?”

Billy’s mouth dropped. “Blackmail?”

“Such a harsh word,” Sunny said. “Could we call it extortion?”

 

 


Submitted: April 10, 2019

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