Beep, beep! Beep, beep!
Red neon lights greeted me as soon as I cracked open my eyes, illuminating my otherwise dark room. My alarm clock continued to blink in my face, 5:00 a.m., until I slammed my hand down on top of it to silence it. As much as I didn’t want to, I pried myself away from my warm bedsheets, flipped on my lamp, and headed for my closet.
As soon as I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, butterflies filled my stomach. It wasn’t just any day. It was the big day. I was going to receive the FBI medal for Meritorious Achievement for being a part of a huge drug bust in New Mexico, where my team took down Carlos Reyes, one of the biggest drug cartel leaders on this side of the border.
My hands slid down the sharp crease in my navy-blue slacks as I checked myself out in the mirror.
“Hair, check. Lipstick, check. Keys, check. Coffee?” I mumbled to myself.
I scurried into the kitchen adjacent from my bedroom and quickly turned on my Keurig. As soon as the water started to rumble, I realized I didn’t have any more K-Cups.
“Fuck,” I groaned.
Instead, I grabbed my coat, phone, keys, and purse, and scurried out of the door. Once at work, I grabbed a coffee and a bagel with honey pecan cream cheese. I knew it wasn’t the healthiest decision, but I didn’t care. I threw my purse down on my desk across from my co-worker and looked at the load of case files piled up on my desk.
“Great. Just great,” I mumbled.
“Hey, McKinney. C’mon. The ceremony starts in fifteen minutes,” my co-worker Agent Bobby Carter told me.
I nodded. “Coming, Carter.”
I took a quick bite into my bagel and washed it down with a splash of hot coffee, then headed down to the auditorium so I wouldn’t be late for the ceremony. My unit chief walked up to the podium and smiled at all of us who were seated in the crowd.
“Good morning, everyone. As you all know, today is a very special day. We are here to present the task force team who handled Operation Oracle with the FBI medal for Meritorious Achievement. After nine months of dedicated undercover work, the team was able to bring down Carlos Reyes, who was the head of the Merlindo Cartel in New Mexico.”
He paused as cheers and claps filled the room. “Today, we thank Agent Joseph Castillo, Agent Evan Berry, Agent Walter Henson, and last but most certainly not least, Agent Savannah McKinney for their professionalism, their bravery, and their dedication to making the United States a safer place.”
Everyone in the room stood to their feet to give us a standing ovation. I was never one to seek the limelight, but recognition for all our hard work did feel good. The four of us walked up to the stage, got our medals, and shook hands with the chief.
“Thank you, sir,” I told him.
“Why don’t you say a few words? After all, it was your leadership that got the team to victory,” he told me.
I reluctantly nodded as one hand gripped the podium while the other rested on the medal. I looked out onto the crowd and squinted my eyes under the bright lights of the stage. I’d never liked public speaking. Here goes nothing, I thought to myself.
“Um, good morning everyone. I-uh hadn’t expected to make any type of speech today, so this will be short. I’ve never been a woman of too many words, but I would really just like to thank these three men, standing here with me today, for their bravery. I’d also like to thank the ones who aren’t here with us today. Two men and one woman lost their lives in the process of trying to make the U.S. a safer place. Let us please take a moment of silence for them.”
After a few seconds passed, I started up again. “Going undercover was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done with my life. You infiltrate someone else’s world with the hopes of bringing justice to the forefront in the end, but never know if you’ll make it to see it happen. It’s exciting. It’s nerve wracking. It’s our duty to the United States of America. Thank you.”
After the ceremony, I went back to my desk in an attempt to finish my bagel with one previous bite in it. As soon as I unlocked my computer to officially get my day started, the chief walked over to my desk.
“McKinney, I’d like to speak with you in my office.”
I nodded and huffed at the same time. I had no idea how anyone thought I was going to be able to get any work done if I was never at my desk long enough to do any of it. As soon as I walked into his office, I saw Deputy Director James Shaw in there, and he was already seated. I immediately started to get nervous.
I cleared my throat. “What did you need to speak with me about, sir?”
“Have a seat, Agent McKinney.”
I took my seat next to the deputy director and crossed my legs.
“I’ve asked Deputy Director Shaw here today because I want to talk to you about your performance here at the bureau. But before I start, I’d like to once again congratulate you on your medal today.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“How long have you been here, McKinney?”
“Um, almost four years.”
“And how many undercover task force teams have you been on?”
“Well, the Operation Oracle was my first one, officially.”
“And you led that team, correct?”
“Yes, sir. I did.”
The room went silent, and I could feel the moistness forming in my underarms. “With all due respect, sir, am I missing something?” I asked hesitantly.
“Do you enjoy what you do for the bureau and for the American people?”
“Yes, I love what I do.”
Deputy Director Shaw looked at me. “A position in a special internal affairs unit for a sting operation, Operation November in Chicago, just opened up, and we feel you are the best fit for the job.”
“Yes, Chicago,” he said, handing me a piece of paper with the job announcement on it. “They need someone like you on their team, Agent McKinney.”
“How long is the assignment, sir?”
“There is no time limit, but we want you to get in and out as swiftly and as accurately as possible.”
I nodded. “And when would I have to give you my decision?”
“We’d like it by close of business today,” the chief chimed in.
I exhaled loudly. “Wow, today? That’s short notice.”
“The team is in dire need of help from somebody with your level of expertise, Agent McKinney. We need you to decide so we can let the Atlanta region know.”
I nodded again. “If I accept, when would I have to report?”
I sighed inside my head. It was already Tuesday. Short notice was getting shorter and shorter.
“If you accept this, we will take care of your relocation fees. The regional agency in Atlanta will brief you on everything you need to know as soon as your plane lands.”
My mind was racing. I didn’t know if I was ready to go on another undercover mission. I was one of the younger agents at the bureau and was still trying to find my place in all of it, but if they wanted me, I knew I couldn’t turn it down.
“I’ll do it.”