2:34 PM, April 8, 2019 / Location: Cincinnati FBI Field Office
"Kid, take a look at this." The senior FBI Agent, Roy Russel, motioned for his younger protege, Quinn Hunt, to join him at one end of a long table in the well-lit conference room they occupied, buried within the Cincinnati FBI field office.
Spread out over the table were a variety of files and photos. The case that the pair of FBI Agents were investigating—Quinn's first, since being newly minted into the Bureau—had a variety of documents and photos laid out in a loose sequence in chronological order. It formed a story. It formed a sequence of the specific events and circumstances that led to some unlucky motherfucker getting shot in the face. One unfortunate thirtysomething named Rufus Milan.
The case itself seemed nothing special; a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist met his end after pissing off the wrong person with his ramblings. Presumably. The only reason the case was in the FBI's jurisdiction was that the dead guy had been involved with a known hacker group on their radar.
The act had gone down in front of a high-end security camera, the stills from which had just come in that morning to join the rest of the table sequence at the end of the table where Quinn's older mentor had motioned to her to join him.
It looked like an open-and-shut case. Guy got shot in front of a full compliment of security cameras, in broad daylight, ensuring that the whole ordeal was played out in perfect detail. In a bad neighborhood, no less—plenty of opportunities for the guy to get capped if he mouthed off to the wrong person.
A perfect entry-level case for Roy to integrate Quinn into the field office workflow.
As she approached her mentor, she profiled the man who had been assigned to integrate her: Medium height, balding, slightly overweight despite an active lifestyle. A short, wiry, salt-and-pepper beard. Grey suit and tie to match. He was in his late forties. The man screamed 'old white FBI guy' from a mile away, having been in the lifestyle for many years—he was basically as 'old school' as you could get with active field agents these days.
Quinn on the other hand, was what the older agents and office staff referred to as 'the generation Z new blood.' Twenty five years old, newly minted into active fieldwork. Very short dark hair; she was often mistaken for an effeminate dude at first glance, and a serious bit of muscle mass didn't help. Wore a dark suit with a very muted color palette. Liked women; pretty open about it, but didn't advertise it. Reserved but not shy. In fact, Quinn had a sneaking suspicion that her reservedness was one of the winning ingredients to her being selected at graduation—others her age had the unfortunate habit of shoving their opinions up other people's asses.
Kinda like the dead conspiracy theorist guy. Presumably.
As she arrived at the end of the table with the new security footage stills, Roy looked up at her curiously. He gestured indistinctly at the photos on the table.
"Tell me, what do you notice about these security stills?" Roy asked. Quinn picked up on the intonation, clearly he knew something he was expecting her to pick up as well. He moved aside for her to get a little closer.
She looked downward at the strewn photos;, looking them over in order. Pretty standard sequence of events. Quinn had already watched through the video, so these photos were merely a play-by-play: Street corner. Suspect walks into view of the camera, looking over his shoulder, clearly being pestered by someone behind him. Dead guy walks into frame holding up a flyer, and gesturing to it wildly. Body language clearly indicated wholesale lunacy. Suspect pulls out a gun, some model of Glock or another. Pop, guy's dead before he even has a chance to react. Suspect then books it out of frame. All captured in crystal clear detail.
Really high detail. In a low-income neighborhood, where commercial establishments could barely afford rent for their storefronts.
Enlightened at this revelation, she looked back up at Roy, who's mouth curled into a bit of a grin.
"I see it," she stated, maintaining a professional tone. "Security camera is extremely high-end. Very expensive, given the neighborhood."
"Good," Roy replied, nodding. "In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd wager that this camera is probably the only high-end security camera for blocks."
Quinn thought for a moment. Drawing on the things that were beaten into her at Quantico, one of the most prominent lessons was the motto 'there's no such thing as coincidences.'
"So, dead gu—err, Mr. Milan, just happens to get shot in full view of the—presumably—only high-end security camera in the area." She paused for a moment. "This footage was meant to be found."
"Yep," Roy replied. "Someone wanted us to see what happened, as if we ourselves were there to witness it."
"Why do you think that is?"
Roy shrugged dismissively. "No idea. But someone wanted us to know that this guy," Roy gestured to a photo of the suspect. "-shot this guy," he finished, by then pointing to the dead guy. He crossed his arms and looked back at Quinn, a single eyebrow raised. "So then, Trainee. What are the next steps you would take?"
Quinn drew a breath; the corners of her eyes pulled in, as she put together possiblities in her head. After a brief moment, she formulated her thoughts into words. "First," she started, "I'd approach the storefront owner. Figure out how and why they came into posession of such a high-end security camera."
"Oh?" Roy asked; a combination of surprise and mild disappointment. "You'd start off with the camera? Not trying to identify the suspect based on facial recognition?"
Quinn swallowed. She was confident this was the right course of action; but this was her first assignment, and she didn't want to screw it up. And it was always safe to assume that more experienced personnel saw and knew more than she did. She picked her next words very carefully. "We have a clear view of his face. We can run him through the database at any time. It will take a while to run, anyways." She pointed to the flatscreen on the wall that sat paused with the high definition footage from the security camera. "May I rewind it to about forty-five seconds into the clip?" Roy nodded, but a brief downward twitch of his eyebrows told Quinn she'd lost him as to where she was going with this. No worries, she hadn't been confident she'd spotted what she think she saw before; but with the new revelation that the scene had clearly been staged to an extent, she figured it was worth a second look.
She thumbed the flatscreen's remote, and wound the footage back to the forty-five second mark. "When we were watching this earlier, I thought I caught a subtle glance at the camera by the suspect. I didn't give it too much thought at first, but given what we know now I'd like to point it out."
Roy paid full attention to the large TV. "Go."
Quinn hit the play button. It was right as the suspect was looking over his shoulder; he was slowing down, while being yelled at by the victim.
There. An almost imperceptible glance upwards in the direction of the camera, then back at the approaching victim. Then a bit of hesitation as he slowed to a stop at the edge of the camera frame. Pulls out a gun just as the victim walks into frame, then came the fatal shot. He was waiting until they were both in frame. He was making sure it was all caught on the camera.
"Huh," Roy huffed, scratching the back of his head. "I'll be damned. Didn't catch that the first time." He turned to Quinn, grinning. "Not bad, Trainee."
Quinn nodded. A short silence was her cue to continue. "So," she explained cautiously, "he knew the camera was there. The framing of the shot, the look up at the camera. No such thing as coincidences, right?"
"Right. Not in our line of work."
"So, how did he know the camera was there?"
"He could have seen it out of the corner of his eye."
She gently shook her head. "I don't think so. I might be wrong, but I don't remember seeing that camera at the crime scene."
"Right," Roy said again, his eyes glazing over as he remembered. "Only reason we knew that camera was there was by canvassing the storefront."
"So how did he know it was there?" Quinn asked again. Roy thought for a moment before shrugging again.
"That, Trainee, is a very good question," Roy replied, taking on a bit more serious a tone. He nodded to himself. "I see where you're going with this. The more I think about this camera, the more it seems like a weird piece of this puzzle."
"That's my thesis," Quinn confirmed. "The high-end camera is out of place. Why does the store owner need such a high-end camera? How did he afford such a camera? How did the suspect know the camera was there, when it's so well hidden?"
Roy sighed heavily. "Shit."
"What do you think it means?" Quinn asked, hoping her mentor might be able to shed some insight.
"It means, kid, your first case just got a hell of a lot more complicated."
The ride back to the crime scene wasn't exactly a long one, but it wasn't exactly short either. Just long enough to have plenty of room for either an awkward silence or unrelated conversation.
And Roy loved unrelated conversation. He could be professional and stay on-topic when needed, but in situations like this—where nothing else case-related was up for discussion until they returned to the crime scene—he would absolutely invade your personal life and get to know you as a person. He had done so since the very first day Quinn was on the beat with him a month ago in the lead up to their first case together.
Quinn knew he meant well. If she had to guess, it was a combination of ingrained FBI interrogation practices, and just straight up wanting to know the person he was working with as well as he could. She could appreciate that.
"So," Roy said as they turned the corner out of the field office, a sly grin suddenly on his face. "How did your date go?" His tone had changed from that of a professional mentor to that of a buddy wanting to know what his friend had been up to the night prior.
He was, of course, referring to the spectacular failure of a date attempt that she had embarked upon the day before; a seemingly lovely girl she had met at the coffee shop on the way to the FBI field office. In any other circumstance, Quinn would have had the mind to tell him to mind his own business, but she felt she owed Roy at least some answer. He had correctly deduced the morning before that the pep in her step was because of a potential romantic encounter later that evening.
Roy meant well enough. He didn't seem to give two shits that she swung for the same team. Didn't seem to be in it for the 'I have a gay friend' card, either. He just seemed genuinely interested to know more about his partner's personal life. Quinn didn't like to stereotype, but older generations in Roy's age bracket still steemed to have a higher-than-average amount of people who negatively viewed such things.
Not that Quinn paid much mind to her detractors anyways. Assholes.
"It went fantastic," Quinn answered Roy dryly. "She at least managed to almost finish her drink before she found an excuse to leave."
"I take it this happens somewhat often," Roy chuckled, keeping his eyes on the road. Quinn groaned inwardly, which Roy somehow seemed to notice. "Chin up, kid. Everyone's got their perfect match out there. Some people just take a bit longer to find them than others."
Quinn sarcastically fake-checked her watch. "Any day now."
"So what happened?" Roy asked, as they rounded another corner onto the main stretch of road they needed to travel.
Quinn breathed out slowly, resting on the passenger door windowsill, watching the people and buildings they passed by. "No idea. Maybe I should start filming my dates, so I can watch it after for any subtle clues I missed."
"Hah!" Roy barked, genuine laughter that was probably a lot louder than he intended given the acoustic confines of the car. "Was that a joke? I'll be damned." He glanced sideways at Quinn, fighting a grin. "So much for my working theory."
"Your 'working theory?'"
"Yeah," he replied. "As to what you're doing wrong. I was going for 'no sense of humor' but I guess that's off the table."
"Thanks for that," Quinn grumbled.
"So it had to have been something you said. What did you say to her?"
"Are you trying to solve my dating life right now?"
"I'm an FBI agent. Solving things is what I do."
Quinn shook her head exasperatedly. "Bechdel, give me strength."
"Never mind." Quinn decided the only way out was to try and flip the tables. "What about you? Your wife. Elizabeth, I think you said her name was?"
Roy smirked. "Don't ever let her hear you call her that. It's 'Ellie' or 'Mrs. Russel.'" He frowned. "And come on, don't be like that. I'm your mentor, for work and non-work related purposes."
Quinn sighed. The table-flip attempt had failed. She didn't really like socializing about her personal life all that much, but she supposed she didn't really have too much to lose. Who knows, maybe Roy would actually have some sort of insight for her.
"Fine," Quinn answered. "Why do you think it was something I said?"
Roy frowned, picking his next words carefully. "Well," he began, "don't take this the wrong way, but you have a particular... way of speaking."
"You haven't noticed?" Roy asked, risking another sideways glance away from the road in front of him. "You, uh... you talk more like a miliary person."
"Explain," Quinn retorted, genuinely confused.
"Well not completely," Roy quickly answered defensively. "I know you haven't served. But certain words you use, and your short and to-the-point way of speaking, really resembles how someone from the service would come out talking."
Linguistic pattern recognition was a good skill to have as an FBI agent, so Quinn decided to take Roy at his word on this. "I... never realized I spoke that way."
"So that's why," Roy stated, circling back around to his original suggestion. "That's why I think it might be something you said. Or, how you said it. I don't know." He shrugged. "Just a thought."
What Roy didn't know is that he might not be particularly wrong on that assessment. Of course, she hadn't served in any of the armed forces branches. It actually had been an option early on, but ultimately she had decided on the 'noble career path' of an FBI agent. No; what Roy had unexpectedly picked up on might have been a result of the fact that her father had served. And he had raised her single-handedly, getting transferred to a desk job due to him being the sole guardian.
At least, he had been, until—somewhat ironically, given the nature of this case's victim—he got dishonorably discharged and became a bit of a raving conspiracy theorist himself. Quinn briefly wondered how much homework Roy had done on her.
"My dad did," Quinn finally said. She realized she failed to make the connection for him. "My dad served. He was my guardian. I prrobably picked it up from him."
A smug look of 'hah-I-was-right' flashed across Roy's face, before shifting to a look of concern.
Shit. She let slip that he was her guardian. As in, past-tense. Something like that would normally slip by unnoticed in normal conversation; but to a senior FBI field agent, it was a glowing fuck-up of a freudian slip.
"Was," Roy replied carefully, confirming Quinn's worry. He seemed to battle inwardly as to whether or not he should push on. Ultimately, his curiosity seemed to win out. "I... take it he's not around anymore?"
Quinn appreciated that her mentor had shifted to a more respectful tone. Based just on that, she decided to give only a light and polite warning shot, to indicate that this particular avenue of conversation was a sore point, not yet ready to be explored. "Nope. Maybe one day you can pry that out of me, but for now let's leave it at that."
Roy nodded respectfully. Thankfully they were approaching the sidestreet they needed to turn down to be at the crime scene, so it proved to be a perfect point to cease the small talk anyway.
Quinn was not exactly an open book, but for those that bothered to ask it was acceptable to discuss most parts of her life. However when it came to her father, that was one particular quirk of her life that she played close to the chest.
Her father had become a raging anti-government conspiracy theorist and wound up getting dishonorably discharged from the Army. She did have to give her father some credit though, he wasn't too upset at her then turning around and going to work for the government. Quinn wasn't sure of the exact details that got him booted out, but that wasn't even the most shameful part of why she refused to talk about it.
Part of what really excluded this particular topic of conversation for her was that he had done something that got him put in prison when she was a teenager. He remained absolutely adamant that he was innocent. Claimed he was being 'set up', and that it was all 'part of the conspiracy.' He was honestly a bit of a nutter at this point, but in all honesty Quinn had no ill-will towards him. She even went and visited him once a month, to check in and make sure he was okay. Sure, the relationship was a bit strained, kind of impossible to avoid that if your parental guardian was in the slammer. But for what it was, it was a relatively normal father-dater relationship. All things considered. Even if her childhood had not been normal. At all. Weird survival training and all that.
What really made the topic of conversation off-limit was that she had applied for schooling with the intent on becoming FBI, intending to find out for herself if her father was really innocent or not and try and get him freed if it was the former. And for that, she felt a weird sense of shame.
Quinn realized she was smelling smoke. She snapped out of her hazy stare out of the passenger window, and shot a look further down the street at where their destination was.
"Fuck me, for real?" Roy exclaimed, slamming his fist on the steering wheel as they ground to a halt in traffic; the road ahead of them was completely blocked off by fire trucks and firefighter personnel. The entire block was courdoned off.
Quinn ignored that. What she was paying attention to was the storefront. The storefront that had provided the security camera feed for their case. The one that they were, in fact, on their way to re-interview the store clerk at again. The new lead in their case.
The store was engulfed in flames.