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The thing I hate about the future is that it's so freaking unpredictable.
I know, I know-that's not something you usually hear from a psychic. I get it. But it's a fact. Yep. It's a stinky, irritating, frustrating, annoying fact that the future is far less predictable than even I like to admit.
Still, as much as I may whine about how hard it is to nail down what's coming up in the next few months for a client, it's always supercool when something that I say will happen . . . actually does.
I suspect that the reason the future is so nebulous-even for those of us well practiced at predicting it-is that destiny itself isn't a thing that's set in stone, and on some levels, that's pretty counterintuitive.
I know that most people who believe in psychic ability might think the future itself is a direct path forward-like a paved road. The truth is that the future looks and feels a bit more like a flowing river with lots of twists and turns, surprise tributaries, calming pools, a few beaver dams, and even some waterfalls. All that energy hinders our innate intuitive ability to predict it with a hundred percent accuracy, and sometimes even telling people what their future holds allows them to change it on the spot, much like paddling a little more on the left will steer your canoe to the right.
The fact that the future is so malleable is, quite frankly, why I perform readings in the first place. I like to think that I'm allowing people to make informed decisions about what's coming up and am giving them the opportunity to alter course if they'd like.
Sometimes a course can't really be altered very much, if at all, and I have no idea why there are such distinct exceptions to the rule. Some destinies are simply set, and there's no opportunity to alter the outcome. That's the part that's most frustrating-when I get the rare client who seems to be set for an end that has no alternative.
It's even more frustrating when it happens on a case I'm working. Yeah, that's the part I haven't mentioned yet-along with doing private sessions for clients, I also do a little consulting work for the Austin FBI cold-case division.
My work with them is strictly on the down-low-I mean, can you imagine if it got out that the FBI had a psychic on the books? There'd be mayhem. Madness. Governments would topple, heads would roll, chaos would reign, villages would be pillaged, and innocents everywhere would suffer. . . .
That enough sarcasm for you? Good. It's pretty eye-roll worthy for me too.
Anyway, as I was saying, most cases I work on, we get results. I wouldn't say in any way that I'm solely responsible for solving the various cold cases that come our way (we've got some amazing agents on our team), but I would (proudly) declare that I'm a valuable asset, and I do contribute to the investigations. We have a great track record, so the results speak for themselves.
In fact, it's those results that led me to my earlier comment on being frustrated when nothing I seem to say or do alters an outcome. You see, it was because of those stats that I was asked to an early January morning meeting with my boss, Brice Harrison.
Brice is not only my boss; as the Austin bureau's SAIC (special agent in charge), he's also my husband's boss. And as long as I'm confessing how tricky my relationship with him can be, I should probably mention that Brice is also my BFF's husband. (How's that for convoluted?)
Now, when Brice and I first met, we maaaay have clashed a weensy bit. Sort of the way Godzilla clashed with Tokyo . . . Ahhhh, good times.
Whatever. We got over it and discovered a bit of respect for each other, and then we discovered that we genuinely liked each other. Since those early days, Brice has had my back on more than one occasion, even when his job was on the line, and I think of him like a brother, so there's not a lot I wouldn't do for him.
"No way, Brice. No way am I doing that!" I yelled after he pitched me his proposal that early morning in his office. (What? I said "not a lot I wouldn't do . . . ," not "nothing I wouldn't do. . . .")
"Cooper," he said, lacing his fingers together on the desk to regard me with steely, stubborn determination. "You can't say no to this."
My eyes narrowed. "I think I just did."
"Yeah, but you need to take that back and say yes."
"No," I repeated, just to show him I could.
Brice sighed loudly and shook his head. "Do you give Dutch this much of a hard time?"
"Only when he says something stupid." Wagging my finger, I dropped my voice to add, "Abby, you can't say no to this really dumb thing I want you to do."
Brice chuckled before he cleared his throat and focused intently on me again. "It's not dumb. It's an honor. I mean, what could be better for your reputation than an invitation from another bureau for you to come out and lend a hand on some of their toughest cases, while teaching their agents how to become better investigators by helping them develop their own intuition? Seriously, what could be better?"
I rolled my eyes. "Oh, gee golly, Brice. I don't know-maybe something like getting punched in the face."
Brice sighed. "Come on, Abby. It's an honor. It really is."
I sat forward in challenge. "An honor to go where I'm not wanted to teach a bunch of reluctant, skeptical Neanderthals to use their own intuition-something they don't even believe they have-to solve cases? I think not, sir. I think not."
"I never should've mentioned the part where the agents threatened to quit if you showed up, huh?"
"Not your best sales pitch," I told him, crossing my arms over my chest.
Brice rubbed his temples. "For the record, Candice told me to leave that part out too."
"You should listen to your wife, Brice. She's smarter than you."
"That's true. But I wanted you to know what kind of an environment you were walking into. I wanted you to know that you'd have to win those L.A. bureau agents over just like you won these guys over." For emphasis, Brice waved in the direction of the open cubicle area behind me, where the seven other agents who made up our group sat.
"See, the problem with that logic is that when I came here to Austin, I had you and Dutch on my side. From what you've just told me about this proposed assignment, I won't have anybody in La-La Land who's going to be on my side when I get there."
"You'll have Whitacre," Brice reminded me. "The way I heard it, he practically had to beg Gaston to let him borrow you for a couple of weeks." Greg Whitacre was the Western regional director for the FBI. Bill Gaston was the Southern regional director, and the fact that these two had come up with this scheme to loan me out made me think it'd been conceived over a round of golf during the last Big-Brass-Shield convention. It irked me that I was being passed around like a goody bag.
"Is Whitacre going to be there the whole time?" I demanded.
"Probably not," Brice replied. He knew there was no lying to me. "But he'll be there at the beginning and his presence alone should keep the other agents in check."
"Until the second he leaves and I'm given the cold shoulder, no one comes to my classes, and I'm assigned to the broom closet to shuffle through case files, and any leads I hand off to the agents won't be followed up on."
"Yep," Brice said, tossing up his hands. "That's probably exactly how it'll go. You'll have two good days followed by twelve days in hell, but still, Abby, you have to go."
"Why? Why do I have to, Brice? I'm a consultant. If I don't want to work for you, I don't have to."
"That's true," he said. "But part of our budget is approved by people with a much higher pay grade than even Gaston's, and if two of the four regional directors like having a psychic on the books, then the part of our budget that gets earmarked for your hourly rate doesn't get slashed and I can keep you employed by the FBI."
"I can live without the FBI," I said flatly. I liked the paycheck from this consulting gig, but I didn't especially need it.
"I'm sure you can live without us, Abby, but the real question is, can we live without you?"
That gave me pause.
Brice sat forward and laced his fingers together again. "The thing I know for sure is that you've saved lives since you've come on board with us. Actual lives, Abby. There are men, women, even children, alive today because you got involved in a case that brought a murderer to justice. You've also given closure to dozens of families that've been denied it for years because the cases of their loved ones went cold. If I lose you to budget cuts and politics, knowing you could've saved even more lives and provided even more closure . . . that would haunt me the rest of my career."
Shit. He'd brought out the big guilt guns. It was my turn to sigh. I dropped my gaze to my lap, scowling fiercely. "You play dirty," I muttered.
"Gaston needs you to do this," Brice said. "Politically, it needs to happen."
I lifted my gaze. I realized he'd just given me a hint to what was really at play here. The real clue was the word "politically." "Someone wants me off the books," I said, feeling out the ether. "Someone with clout who has something to gain by having me removed from this bureau. A senator? Congressman?" It suddenly dawned on me that the game was much bigger than I'd realized.
Brice's lips pressed into a thin line. It was all the verification I needed. "You can't say no."
"Then let Dutch come with me," I said.
Brice shook his head. "I can't allow that."
"Why?" I wasn't backing down. I needed Dutch.
"Because the last thing I'd do to you is send your overprotective husband into that den of wolves to kick up a lot of testosterone, which would only cause problems between our branch and theirs. You go in solo, kiddo. Sorry, but that's the deal."
I glared at Brice. He'd backed me into a corner, and I wasn't much liking it. "Fine. Then I'm taking Candice."
"No," Brice said before I'd even finished speaking his wife's name.
"Oh, come on!" I yelled. "Why can't I take Candice?"
"For almost the exact same reason I won't let you take Dutch, except that the body count would probably be higher."
I couldn't resist a smirk even though we both knew it was probably true. Candice was super protective and I was glad for it. "What if I can't solve any of the cases they're gonna make me work on?"
"You have to solve at least one," Brice replied. "There's no walking away from this, Cooper. You have to pull out a valuable clue that these guys either have not seen or have overlooked. It's what you do best, and you've gotta bring your A game to California and stay until you help solve at least one of their high-profile cases."
My jaw fell open. "You're kidding," I said to him. He'd never handed me a case and told me I had no other option but to solve it.
"Unfortunately, I'm not. If you don't prove yourself as a valuable asset, then we'll lose you. We need Whitacre to go to bat for you. To do that, he's got to have something that he can point to. Something that makes him look good."
I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair, considering Brice's statement. And then I did what came naturally to me-I looked into the ether again and checked out a little more of what was really going on. "Someone's pissed," I said. "Someone powerful is personally pissed off at me."
Brice shrugged noncommittally.
"Why?" I asked. "What've I done?"
"You exposed an injustice," Brice said simply. I had a feeling Gaston had told him to keep the political details to himself.
I peered again into the ether and expelled a small gasp when I saw the truth. "Skylar," I whispered. Months before, I'd worked on the case of a death-row inmate wrongly convicted of murdering her son. I'd never dreamed I'd make a powerful political enemy for doing the right thing.
"Lots of heads rolled," Brice said-his way of telling me I'd hit the nail on the head. "Lots of money went to the settlement. It cost someone their political clout, and they have powerful friends who're now making waves."
I lifted my chin defiantly. "Screw them," I said. "If the FBI wants to fire me, that's fine. I can work for you guys off the books and no one has to know. You can send Dutch home with a case file here and there and I can have a look. I'll even do it for free."
"That's very generous of you, but you should know that it's not just your name and reputation on the line here, Cooper. All of us who've gone to bat for you, who've insisted on working with you, we're in the line of fire too."
My shoulders slumped and I turned to look behind me. There were seven agents at their desks, not including my husband, Brice, or Gaston, whose reputations could be called into question. All because they believed in me. Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Brice and said, "Okay, then."
"It's not like I have a lot of choice here, Brice. You need me to play nicey-nice with the L.A. bureau? Fine. I'll do it. But I get an expense account."
"You do," he agreed. "Seventy-five dollars a day not including hotel or your hourly rate."
He said that like he thought it was a generous offer. "Gee, Brice . . . the timing on this is a little awkward, but I think I need to inform you that my hourly rate just went up."
My boss raised an eyebrow. "It did, huh?"
"Yep. Inflation. You know, a gallon of milk is getting crazy expensive these days."