Amanda - The Regulars of Amanda Lexie Part 8 - Short Story
J. J. Hanna © 2023
Earlier that day.
As a barista, I'd had my fair share of crazy mornings. From grumpy customers asking me to remake their drink four times because it still wasn't right, getting all the way to the store to open and then realizing I left my apron at home, having the espresso machine break down but not being allowed to close down the shop despite having less than half our menu items available, to just having my car get stuck in the snow the plows hadn't quite gotten to yet, I'd had bad days.
But this one ... This one took first place in the lineup.
There's something specific about the distance, the space, the anonymous friendship that defines the relationship between a barista and her regulars. We cross paths every day and never exchange pleasantries beyond the general small talk.
So when one of my regulars showed up at my apartment before I could even get to my car, it took me a second to realize why I knew her. But it took even longer for me to understand what she was saying.
"Amanda Lexie, I need you to come with me. Your assistance is needed in a federal investigation."
I blinked at her on my front step. Lucielle. White Chocolate Mocha. Fluffy pink steering wheel. Kind, polite, and ... a CIA agent? I stared at her badge, unable to fully reconcile this with my image of her.
"I... I have work. Can it wait?" I had to open this morning. As one of the few key holders for the store, I'd need to call Angela, my manager, and get her to go in instead or find someone else. But finding a cover at four in the morning was always nearly impossible.
"I'm sorry, Amanda. It can't."
"Okay, just let me call my boss—"
"I can't let you do that, either. Everything has to look normal for as long as possible."
"I promise it will look more normal if I call my boss."
"And tell her what? You've never missed work. Not even when you're sick."
"You've been watching me?"
"We've been paying attention. Please get in the car."
I eyed her SUV, still sporting the neon pink steering wheel cover. How could that be right? How could any of this be protocol? I put my hand on the door of my house. Why on earth had I locked it? I mean, I always locked it. That was the rhythm when you leave the house... But now I would have to fumble with a key to get back inside and away from... No. I was stuck.
I took a breath. Lucielle's hand was close to her hip, her arm tense.
"Why me, Lucielle?"
"We have reason to believe you are connected to certain high-profile criminals. I can't tell you any more than that until we're in a secure location."
My heart pounded in my chest. That was absurd. Me? Connected to high-profile criminals? I couldn't even pay my student loans. "Am I under arrest?"
"No. We just want your help. You're not in trouble. Please just come with me."
I took a breath. What choice did I have? I could hear my martial arts instructor's voice in my head. Don't get in the car. You get in the car and no one ever finds your body. He wasn't talking about FBI agents and cops though, right? She had a badge. She was alone, though. It looked like a real badge from what I could see.
"Can I at least call my lawyer?"
Lucielle took a breath. "You're not in trouble. But yes. Once we're secure, you'll be able to call your lawyer."
I don't have a lawyer. What do I do then? I glanced toward the stairs to the upper levels of my apartment complex. I could run. I wouldn't get far, but I could run. I could scream. That might draw some attention. I turned my gaze back to Lucielle. She had a small handgun raised. I put my hands up, terror gripping me. "Lucielle?"
"I don't want to hurt you. But I'm authorized to. We need you, Amanda. Please come quietly."
I slowly followed her toward her SUV, still running. She opened the back door for me. I'm insane. I shouldn't be here. What am I doing? I got in anyway.
It was a surprisingly short drive to Lucielle's workplace. I wasn't sure what to expect, frankly. When you think of a secret CIA base, you don't really have much to go on. I was trying to prepare myself for the likelihood of a creepy, abandoned office building or warehouse. A military base was not on my list of expected locations. I looked out the window as she drove, hoping a street camera would catch my face or a random store security system. No one else seemed to be awake yet. Why would they be? It was before coffee shops even opened.
Lucielle scanned her badge, leaned forward for a retinal scan, and then ushered me inside and guided me into a small room off a main hallway. The place may as well have been an abandoned office building. It was sparsely decorated, and highly secure. She had to swipe her badge to get into or out of every room. There was no way I would get out of here on my own. I silently prayed she hadn't lied to me.
"Thank you for your cooperation this far, Amanda. Really, I'm sorry for all the smoke and mirrors. But I need your help. We need your help. Over the last few weeks we've seen a spike in high-profile cybercrime activity originating from the district your store is in. You're there almost every day. You know people. I just need you to look at a few photos and tell me if you recognize anyone."
"That's it? I couldn't do that from my apartment or the store?"
Lucielle gave me a sad smile. "Unfortunately, no. This is a sensitive, ongoing investigation. If anyone saw, it would be putting you in danger."
I nodded, my nerves easing a little. Maybe things really would be okay. And once it was all over, I would be able to tell Angela what happened and I'd still keep my job.
"Can I get you anything before we begin? Coffee, or breakfast?"
"Yeah. Coffee would be good," I said.
"How do you take yours?"
The irony wasn't lost on me. "Vanilla latte made with light roast," I said quietly, stifling a yawn.
Lucielle nodded. "I'll be back. If you need anything before I return, just knock on the door." Then she was gone, leaving me in the sparse interrogation room. What had I gotten myself into?
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in any way. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events is unintended by the author.
J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her making YouTube videos and Online Courses about the publishing industry. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna and @jjhannaacademy to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up-to-date news on all things publishing. She also runs a freelance marketing business to help authors achieve their own goals. Learn more or hire her at Hanna Book Solutions.