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Veronica has just completed the second week of her internship with the FBI in Quantico, VA. After hopping on the train to New York City for a three-day weekend with Piz, she notices something odd.
A middle-aged man is overly anxious and drinking heavily. She’s immediately reminded of the Bureau’s mantra: “If you see something, say something.” But what has she actually seen? And is it really that suspicious?
Logic tells her to pay him no mind. But with three hours to kill on board, that’s easier said than done.
Read the First Chapter
MY SECOND week as an FBI intern in the woods of Quantico, Virginia, was a marked improvement over the first. And the best part? Spending a glorious holiday weekend (Memorial Day) with Piz in New York. Just two crazy kids out painting the town. And not just my first trip back to New York since Dad and I vacationed there last summer, but my first train trip as well.
Even after my friendly, Monday morning brush with AD Mueller (okay, did they really not tell her anything?), I was still anxious about seeing Dad’s buddy, SAIC Agent Robinson, in class. Whether he said anything to Mueller or not, I owed the man a solid. Melanie, Nicole, and I were all nervous as kittens (Melanie sat on the aisle, just in case she had to throw up again), but Agent Robinson never said a word. Not to any of us.
In fact, I’d say Week 2 Agent Robinson was a tad more agreeable than the Week 1 model. He was still a hard ass. But you might say he was a kindler, gentler hard ass.
The week started with a series of lectures on profiling and FBI case histories. Sadly, nothing on Area 51 or who really killed JFK (the truth is out there, people). Midweek, we spent more time on another of the gun ranges (slowly working our way up to rifles).
We also had our first few encounters with the NATs, which stands for “New Agent Trainees.” You know, future FBI agents. It could also mean “Never Associate or Talk,” since there’s a strict “no fraternization” policy with the NATs. Which only seems to work one way, since they like to make life difficult for us whenever they get the chance. It’s like being right back in high school. Agents are the seniors, the NATs are the freshmen, and we’re the lowly middle schoolers visiting for summer camp. Very bottom of the totem pole. But at least we get to leave campus.
They’re also supposed to be a shining example to which we should aspire. Which is all the more difficult when they tell us to get coffee, schlep paperwork, or grab one of them a donut. All in good fun, of course, because that’s exactly not what we’re there to do.
You can spot them a mile away, which makes them easier to avoid. As you can imagine, they all wear the exact same outfit: dark blue polo shirt (that says “FBI Academy” across the left breast) and khaki pants. It’s like walking into in a big box electronics store. Except that they’re all armed with fake orange guns that they have to carry around. That’s one of the more unique parts of their training: they have to get used to packing at all times. Nicole will fit right in.
And, of course, there’s our resident mystery woman back at the hotel, Polina. I actually had an interesting conversation with her on Wednesday night. I’d come in late (of course) and went to the hotel bar for a quick bite. As usual, she was on her way out, and apparently just stopped by to say hello. I say “apparently” because she didn’t say much else.
“So, VeroniKA Mars,” she said in an almost teasing manner, “going to New York to see the boyfriend this weekend?”
Still loved the way she said my name. In addition to the sexy Russian accent, she always had this “come hither” tone to her voice. At first I thought it was because of Dad, but after he left, I noticed that she used it with everybody. I also wondered how she knew that Piz was in New York, but then it really wasn’t any kind of big secret.
“Yeah, heading up there Friday night,” I told her, careful to leave out mode of transportation or any other details she wouldn’t already know.
“Love New York,” she replied wistfully. “Been many times. But never stay too long, you know?”
Actually, I didn’t know. But before I could pry any further, she got up and gave me a quick wave. “Have fun if I don’t see you.”
I wondered for a moment if she was actually a Bureau plant there to test us and get information. If that were the case, though, would she be so obvious by being Russian? But then if you still fell for it, wouldn’t that say even more about you?
After that whole game of mental round robin, I had to remind myself that we were only interns. I’m sure the Bureau only performs such tests on actual agents. At least, I think so.
Also, just for the record, still no update from Dad regarding his fate with Neptune’s criminal justice system. Insert sarcastic remark here. Cliff tells me I should get used to this. It may be several more weeks, months even, before we hear anything definitive. At least, that’s what we’re hoping. As I said before, the longer it takes, the better Dad’s chances. The waiting and not knowing doesn’t make it any easier, though. I still couldn’t help but repeatedly remind myself that it was all my fault.
Where was I? Right. Good week at the Bure, train to New York, weekend with Piz. So, somehow I managed to wrap everything up and make it to the station in time to catch the evening hobo run headed to the Big Apple.
Melanie was still at the Bure working late (as usual), but she had her own big plans for the evening. She and Jared were having their first official date and she’d promised to keep me informed via texts. Lo and behold, he actually asked her out! No more stalking on her part. Also, major props to me for discovering that her parents had failed to block texting on her phone. And for showing her how to send and receive. All the kids are doing it these days.
They were trucking up to the AFI theater in Silver Spring for the Spielberg festival. Definitely a late night (wink wink, nudge nudge). I told her if she ever made it out to LA, I’d take her to Spielberg’s mom’s restaurant.
She had to get back, though, because her parents were coming to visit for the holiday weekend. She had everything planned out on a spreadsheet. I was surprised she was willing to risk the Friday night date — especially the trek to Silver Spring — but like I said, Jared had asked her out. So, torpedoes be damned.
Nicole, on the other hand, let it be known to one and all that she was also going up to NYC for the weekend. Only she was taking the family jet to live it up with her hip-hop star-to-be boyfriend. He may have been a rapper, but technically, he still worked for her father. So try as she might, she’s not really all that far removed from what I left behind in Neptune. I tried to save a few bucks on travel expenses (not to mention time) by hitching a ride, but she was a bit cagey when I floated the idea.
This being my first experience with rail travel, I can’t say I was disappointed. Think of it like a big passenger jet that never leaves the ground, but the windows are a lot bigger. Plus, they have curtains (as opposed to shades) for when the sun goes down. The general interior and seats are pretty similar: you’ve got reclining seats with fold-down trays, overhead storage, and narrow aisles big enough for just one person at a time. Plus there’s first class for the high rollers, and coach for the little people. And the bathrooms are just as tiny.
I learned later that European trains have foot petals for flushing, where we have a button which is both more easily accessible, and requires less coordination. Score another major point for American ingenuity.
I called Piz just as soon as I got settled in my no-frills coach seat. Mostly to let him know that I was safely on board, but really to confirm that I was, in fact, on my way. After everything that happened last weekend, I was anxious to make it up to him. As a show of good faith, I’d even left my laptop behind. Talk about commitment.
I’d promised him an entire weekend of undivided attention with no distractions. Not even the twenty-seven chapters on criminal profiling Agent Robinson had assigned (“strongly suggest that you read by Monday” were his exact words). Lucky me, I had a grand total of six hours’ travel time. Fourteen chapters on the way up and thirteen on the way back. Perfect.
“So, you get everything squared away for the weekend?” Piz asked. Translation: So, will I really have your undivided attention like you promised?
Yes, I happily reassured him. Then I mentioned the reading assignment and my plan to get it done. Not to make him nervous, but as an example of how I wasn’t going to let anything interfere this time. Not even that.
I could tell he’d much rather it was him on the train for three hours. But we’d agreed to take turns visiting, and occasionally meet in the middle. We were both looking forward to future meet-ups in Philadelphia (on the whole, I’d rather be there), which marked the halfway point. But we had to meet up at the top of the Empire State Building first. Ah, romance!
After talking a few minutes about the potential dryness of my reading assignment, Piz offered this optimistic nugget: “Well, if you get too bored, there’s always people watching. I’ll be waiting at Penn Station when you get here.”
Then before I could even answer he added for the umpteenth time: “Oh, and make sure you get off at Penn Station in New York, not Newark.” I could understand the confusion between the two. He was scared to death I’d get off at the wrong one. Not an insurmountable problem, mind you. But one that would certainly get our long weekend off to a bad start.
Another big change from all that time dating Logan: I knew Piz would be there when I arrived. Not a single doubt he’d be waiting right on the platform the second I got off the train. Definitely one of the good ones.
Luckily, the train wasn’t very crowded and I had plenty of room to stretch out. I was sharing my coach-class car with a good handful of other passengers. With my back up against the window, I had a pretty clear view of just about everyone. Perfect for people watching. And, truth be told, easy distractions.
I’d noticed a few of my fellow travelers on the platform just before we boarded. But I hadn’t paid too much attention to them until after Piz made that comment.
Just two rows back was sharp dressed Gordon Gekko (didn’t get all their real names, so I’m going with nicknames here), complete with starched shirt, grey suspenders, and red power tie. Only thing missing was the hair gel. Had his laptop open and a Bluetooth earpiece (douchebag alert). He spent the first twenty minutes calling people and saying, “Guess where I am? I’m on the train!” Hey, it was my first time, too. But I didn’t need to announce it to the world. Was really glad when he finally ran out of people to call.
A few rows up was Lydia Deetz, but with better hair and more fashion sense. Early twenties, black hair, heavy black eye makeup… well, basically black everything except for her skin. Which was pale white (of course). And her lips, which were blood red (double of course). Looked like a Goth Bettie Page. Or was a vampire.
Her body language spoke volumes, but she never said a word. Very guarded, clearly not interested in talking to anyone else. Not that I could blame her. She kept her headphones on the whole time, too. Only they weren’t the little earbuds like mine, but the big, noise canceling kind like Piz uses when he’s broadcasting. Either she has a heavy appreciation for music, or she’s just seriously antisocial (duh). Or both.
Back towards the rear of the car, close to the bathrooms (take note, this’ll be important in just a minute), was a middle-aged (forty-two) woman named Janice Overman. And yes, that’s her actual name. No nickname for this one. Though I could have easily thought of a few. She was also dressed all in black, but in a more sensible way than Lydia Deetz. She had short, lavender hair and was… let’s see, how do I put this politely? Plus-sized.
I can tell you all about Janice. She lives in a cute little two-bedroom condo with her little dog, Dagoo. He’s a little white terrier (with some black, on the face and tail), by the way. And she carries him practically everywhere. Except on her trips to New York, of course. He’s just like her own little baby. Now Janice just l-o-o-o-v-e-s Broadway and takes the train at least once a month to see a show. I could go on (seriously, I could), but you get the idea.
I know all this not because of my amazing Sherlock Holmes-level powers of deduction (which are pretty impressive, mind you), but because, unlike Lydia Deetz (and me, to be honest), Janice told everyone within earshot her entire life story. Talk about over-sharing. It was like seeing Facebook performed live.
Right across from her was a young Minister, Rev. Jonathan Kwon. That’s his actual name, too (thanks, Janice). He was easily late 20s, early 30s, and Asian-American. Judging by the last name, I’m guessing Korean maybe? I couldn’t even say what denomination, either. And to be honest, it’s really not that important. He wore a collar, but his suit was grey and not black. Episcopalian maybe? I’m sure Janice got the full scoop, but I didn’t overhear all of it.
I just know he wasn’t Catholic, because after a few minutes, his very pregnant wife, Kelly, came back from the bathroom (see?) and sat next to him. They clearly knew each other in the Biblical sense. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all night.
You know how they say pregnant women have that certain glow? Well, she could have lit up all of lower Manhattan. Rev. Kwon was definitely blessed.
He asked if everything was okay, and she assured him she was fine. This is pretty much what they did the whole trip. I’m no expert, but I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that this was their first child. May he be a masculine child.
Janice spent a lot of time talking to Kelly Kwon (good superhero name). Janice asked when she was due, if she knew the gender, if they had a name, and on and on and on. I’m sure they got tired of the endless questions (Lord knows, I did), but they were beyond gracious and never let it show. If I thought it would’ve helped, I’d have given the Mrs. my headphones.
But the one passenger that stirred my curiosity the most was a middle-aged man just one row up, Senator Joseph Paine. From the way I was sitting, I had a semi-decent view (yes kids, this will also be important later). He had that slick politician-slash-TV evangelist look: graying hair neatly combed beneath a sports cap that had clearly never been worn before, gold wire-rimmed glasses, and looked extremely uncomfortable in casual clothes.
Since we’d just left DC, I went with politician. Maybe even a Congressman from one of the smaller states. And that fact alone made me even more curious. He was already on the train when I boarded, so I didn’t get to see if he went around kissing hands and shaking babies before he took his seat. When I originally sat down across from him, he actually moved up a row. Do I offend?
But that’s not the only thing that made me suspicious. First off, he’d been drinking (seemed to have a good stash of tiny liquor bottles) and already had a pretty good buzz from the moment he boarded. Granted, it was after five, but who gets drunk for a train ride? Was he that nervous? Torn up about something? Or just an early start on the weekend?
Second, he kept checking his phone. Was he waiting for an important message? Keeping tabs on an important bill? He was wearing a watch, so I figured he wasn’t checking the time. And even if he was, that still would have made me question. It was three hours to New York. We weren’t going to get there any faster.
But the thing that really had me puzzled was that he was wearing a lightweight, tan jacket. At the beginning of June. When it was 87 degrees out. That didn’t make complete sense (unless he thought it would be chilly on board because of the A/C, so maybe it did). Plus, his collar was messed up in the back, hanging halfway out, with the tag sticking up in the back. I guessed that he’d left home in a hurry.
Okay, maybe a little bit of Holmes-level deduction there.
I didn’t discount the possibility that he could have been an agent and this was all a test. In fact, anyone else on the train could have been an agent, including Mrs. Kwon. Only two weeks into the program and I’d already learned to be increasingly paranoid.
Remember, you’re just a lowly intern Veronica. Seriously.