“It’s done.” Riley slumped down into the chair across from her boss’s desk without waiting for an invitation. She ignored the look of annoyance on his face. What was he going to do? Fire her? She was the best he had and he knew it. She knew what she could get away with.
“Riley Evans,” he said with a sigh, “Just the girl I needed to see.”
“Rick and Pam are a done deal. I want that promotion you promised me. You owe me, Frank.”
“You’ll get the promotion.”
“I sense a ‘but’ here? I don’t like when there is a ‘but’.”
Frank sat forward in his desk folding his hands as he looked at Riley with his serious expression. She hated the serious expression. It meant there was something on his mind she wouldn’t like.
“I’ll walk out that door right now if you don’t give me what you promised.” Riley indicated the back of the door which was partially opened. On opaque glass was black letting spelling out the letters C.U.P.I.D., the special top secret government agency for which Riley had worked for far too long already. She wasn’t sure what waited for her on the other side of that door but she’d put up with Frank’s B.S. long enough to know she was ready to make good on her threats. “It’s in my god-damned contract.”
Frank might have caved except he also knew how much Riley depended on that paycheck. She watched him suspiciously as he sat back to open his top drawer and pull out the little slip of paper with her name on it. She silently cursed under her breath for not signing up for direct deposit when she’d had the chance. She hated giving anyone power over her, especially one with morals as scrupulous as Frank.
“The thing is Riley. You have skills and we need that. And as I understand it, you need us as much as we need you.”
“Spit it out, Frank. What is it this time? You know I deserve that promotion. You’ve been dangling it in front of me for too long now. If there is a reason you’re holding back then I need to hear it so get on with it already.”
“Victoria has made unexpected progress this month.”
“Victoria,” Riley grumbled. Victoria had been a thorn in her side since the moment she walked through that office door. She was the only agent whose skill and tenacity even came close to Riley’s. “Victoria started a full year after I did and I’m better at what I do. I don’t care if she’s learned how to shoot hearts out her ass. That promotion is mine. You promised me.”
The promotion is yours as soon as you carry out this one last assignment,” Frank said with a sigh.
Riley laid her head back and stared at the ceiling as she tried to keep her frustration in check. Killing Frank, albeit satisfying as it may be, would not get her where she needed to be.
“I’ve heard that before.”
“I mean it this time. Handle this one and the promotion is yours. I will even throw in an extra bonus on top.”
That got her attention. She lifted her head to peer at her boss, trying to determine whether the asshole was telling her the truth this time. Unfortunate for Frank, he was a pretty easy read. He tugged at the neckline of his collared shirt, beads of perspiration on his forehead, both good indications that Frank was involved in something he didn’t like.
“Yes, and it should be important to you, if you value your career.”
“So what’s the deal Frank? Get into bed with the wrong bimbo again? Her husband threatening to end your existence once and for all unless you set things right in the world, starting with their loveless marriage?”
“No,” he said, clearly annoyed with her accusations. She nodded, noting that he didn’t exactly deny it either. As far as bosses were concerned, there were worse in the world than Frank but she sure as heck wouldn’t want to be married to the scum bag. She often wondered how his wife of thirty years had put up with him for so long. No doubt his profession had a little helping hand in that respect too. “Not this time.”
“Uh-huh,” she said completely unconvinced. “So what is it then?”
Frank got up and went over to a safe he kept hidden behind a picture frame. Riley rolled her eyes. The man was a walking cliche. But her attention was piqued. Most of the files ended up in the filing cabinets outside his office, under the not-so-great watch of his secretary, Betsy. Only the top tier, super important ones found their way into the safe. Someone didn’t want anyone to find out about this particular job. Whatever their reasons, Riley didn’t care. There were so many anti-C.U.P.I.D. protest groups nowadays that she had a feeling secrecy was going to start being the new norm anyway. The important part to her was the fact that top secret usually translated into top pay.
He slapped the file down on the desk in front of her and she reached over to take it. Before she could pick it up, his hand came down over hers. She felt her skin crawl at his touch.
“This is between you and me,” he said, “You breath a word of it to anyone else and there will be consequences. Dire consequences. Am I clear?”
“Crystal,” she said wrinkling her nose. She’d say anything to get her hand back.
His smell filled his nostrils. The man needed a bath and an entire stick of deodorant under each arm pit.
“One more thing.”
“I’m assigning you a partner to help with this case.”
“No, Frank. You know I only work alone.”
“Yeah, yeah, but this time you’re making an exception. Like I said, you have skills and it’s about time you begin sharing those skills with our less experienced agents. Just last week I handled five end-of-love cases all because new agents are screwing up.”
“That’s not my problem. No exceptions, Frank. Whatever this is, I can handle it. You know that. I don’t need help and I don’t train newbies. They’ll just get in my way.”
“I’m sorry, Riley, but it’s either accept the terms or I’ll have to give it to someone else.”
“Someone else?” she said raising her eyebrows and yanking her hand free from his. As if there was anyone else he could trust to carry out this mission. “Fine. Do that. Give it to Victoria for all I care.”
“Come on Ri. Don’t leave me hanging here. This one pays better than any job you’ve done for me before. You need the money. You need that promotion.”
“That’s not fair, Frank. I’ve earned that promotion. You can’t take it away from me just because I won’t make an exception.”
“Last time I checked, it was my name on that door, which makes me the boss. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
Riley got up to leave. One thing she refused to do was bargain, especially with the likes of Frank.
“Fine,” she said, feeling the weight pull down on her shoulders, “Have it your way then. No deal.”
“You walk out that door and I call Victoria right now with the good news.”
She spun around on her heels, ready to leap on the loser and pound some sense into him with her fists if she had to.
“You heard me. The promotion is hers. Victoria is willing to do a hell of a lot more to earn it.”
Riley felt her skin crawl again at the implication. She happened to know for a fact it was true. She’d already caught Victoria and her boss together once. It was an image she’d have forever burned in her mind despite all her attempts to erase it.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve after all I’ve done for you. After all I’ve done for C.U.P.I.D.”
“Don’t go getting all emotional on me now. You and I both know you need the money and I need you to help guide a wayward agent who happens to show great promise. You’ve got to help me out here, Ri, and I’m not playing games.”
Riley turned back to the door but when she went to grasp the handle, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She thought about Charlie. What would happen if she couldn’t keep the money coming? She shuddered and realized like it or not, Frank had her bent over with her pants down. She couldn’t afford to tell him no. If nothing else, her ego wouldn’t let her give slimy Victoria the upper hand.
When she turned back to him, he was smiling. Damn it if he didn’t know he had the upper hand, too.
She snatched the file off the desk and thumbed through it. Nothing about it struck her as particularly remarkable or difficult. She shrugged. There were probably a million and one questions she could ask about why this particular case warranted such extreme measures but she’d already wasted enough of her time in Frank’s presence and she was tired and in need of a hot bath and a bottle of wine.
“I’ll leave you to sign off on the paperwork with Betsy,” he told her, “And she’ll give you the arrangements to meet with Madison, the trainee.”
“Just this once,” Riley said forcing her blood to stop boiling, “because I don’t need no stinking sidekick.” She could almost feel the steam coming out of her ears like the Saturday morning cartoons she’d watched as a kid.
“Just this once,” Frank agreed. He put out his hand to shake which she did reluctantly. “And Ri, you won’t regret this. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Yeah, yeah” she said turning her back on him. “And don’t call me Ri.”