The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer

1





It’s Vegas. This city was built for people to come and shake out all their bad decisions. All their… curiosities.

Noah wove his way through the casino hall, sidestepping for a waitress balancing an overloaded tray in one hand. He smiled. She smiled back.

His friend James spun and watched her walk away, whistling as he stared at her long legs encased in sheer black stockings. Her skirt ended at the tops of her thighs. More than a few guys were breaking their necks to watch as she sashayed down the casino hallway amid the whirs and jangles and frantic chimes pouring out of the rows and rows of slot machines. Even some of the guys at the blackjack tables turned to look at her.

She glanced back and met Noah’s gaze again. She winked. A slow smile unfurled over her perfect face.

“Dude!” James grabbed at Noah’s arm and almost walked backward into one of the pillars lining the hall. Noah grabbed him with both hands, steadying him before he fell into a crowd of Japanese tourists. “She smiled at you, man. Go back there! C’mon, go on. You definitely have an in!”

Noah shook his head. The rest of their group slowed to a tipsy halt, forming a loose bubble around Noah and James. They were practically carbon copies of each other: seven guys lurching toward middle age with mostly flat stomachs and most of their hair still on top of their heads. They were all dressed the same, even: khakis and a polo, but some of the guys had left behind their sport coats before dinner. They were the ones wearing the fanny packs around their waists.

“Go on!” James tried to push Noah after the waitress who had simply smiled at him, a gentle flirtation after he’d stepped aside to ease her way.

He wasn’t kidding himself. There was no way a woman like her—gorgeous, with a perfect body, and young enough to make him uncomfortable—would ever want him chasing her down.

“I think the night is over,” Noah said, spinning James and propelling him toward the elevators. The group laughed and followed, the just-past-drunk, ambling stroll of men at midnight in Las Vegas. “We’ve got an early morning. C’mon.”

James groaned. “Why do they have this conference here?” He threw his head back and trudged toward the elevator bank. “Why can’t they have this conference in…” His eyes slid sideways. He grinned. “In Des Moines. Somewhere boring.” Noah knuckled his friend’s hair as James laughed.

All one thousand of them were there, spread across the tenth through twenty-fifth floors of the hotel. God bless the government and its bulk room discounts. Where should the Federal Bureau of Investigation put the special agents who attended the largest annual FBI conference? All together, like sardines in a can. No one could quite figure out whether the conference was a mini vacation or a horrible tease. Agents had to attend a week’s worth of sessions, lectures, and breakout workshops, each of them putting together their own thirty-hour-long conference schedule. Nights were theirs… as long as they badged in every morning on time. More than a few agents overslept each morning, hungover and destroyed from a night out on the town. If an agent was late two days in a row, they were sent home, and from there, it was a short trip to the doghouse—or worse. Maybe the whole conference was a test of character.

Whatever it was, the conference was Noah’s week away from home—Des Moines, Iowa—and a chance to reconnect with his friends from the academy. James had been his roommate way back when, and now he was chasing bank robbers in Southern California. Gary was running the white-collar crime squad out of Philly, while Pete and Carl were chasing right-wing terrorists in Seattle.

Everyone else was in a major field office, while Noah had somehow landed in the Des Moines resident agency—a satellite of the larger Omaha field office—and stayed, like a farmhouse dropped by a tornado. He was the assistant special agent in charge of Des Moines now. Technically, that meant he outranked all of his friends. Even if it was only Des Moines.

Everyone had done well. Everyone was at that comfortable point in their careers: close enough to the middle to settle in, far enough from the beginning to have shaken out the kinks and the nerves. Far enough away from retirement for that to still be a distant thing, something relegated to when the knees began to act up and the gray hairs were multiplying.

The elevator doors slid open, and the guys piled in. They leaned against the mirrored walls, laughing about the evening, reminiscing over the dinner they’d spent way too much money on, remembering the women they’d seen out in the casino and on the Strip. Everyone’s eyes were glassy. Their shoulders were starting to droop.