We stepped off the elevator, which lead to another door that required a thumb scan for access. When it slid open, I saw a huge room before me, with eight or nine offices in a ‘U’ shape along the perimeter of the room, all with glass walls. I could see everyone, and most of them looked over at Holly and I when we entered.
Every office had two desks inside, facing each other in the center. Some desks had people at them, some were empty. It was a cozy sort of set up, even though the entire space reminded me a bit of a hospital room. In the center was a tech table, that’s surface was a touch screen computer. There were several screens along the walls, all displaying something different. There were also half a dozen clocks, all showing different times.
“Is this everyone?” I asked, having expected a cubicle room bustling with noisy, busy people.
“Yep.” Holly said cheerfully. “Everyone!” She called out, easily gathering everyone’s attention. “Let’s meet in the conference room so you all can get acquainted with the new recruit.”
There were several affirmations and Holly lead me off to the left, through a frosted door. Inside was carpeted with a long oval table and comfortable looking desk chairs placed all around it.
Holly sat down and I sat next to her, feeling my heart rate pick up. I hoped the team would like me. Seven people I didn’t know yet came in, all looking quite pleasant, with Jonas bringing up the rear.
“Okay everyone,” Holly said with a smile, clasping her hands in front of her on the table. “This is Penelope Foster, Toby’s sister.”
There was a chorus of “oh’s” around the room, followed by some sad smiles. I smiled tightly, not sure how to handle the sympathy, I was never very good at that, or being the center of attention like I was in that moment.
“Let me introduce everyone,” Holly said to me. “First, of course you know, is Jonas.” She gestured to the man who I knew as Jonas. I took the time to really size him up. He was typical, yet distinct at the same time. He had short but untidy brown hair, and hazel eyes. He was taller than average, and a bit narrow, but very muscular. His white shirt pulled across his chest and biceps, a touch too small. “Jonas is our Head Field Agent right now. He took the position over from- eh, we’ll discuss that later.” Holly fumbled a bit and I my eyebrows rose. I had a feeling there was a lot for me to learn.
I nodded at Jonas with a smile, and he gave a shy little wave. Holly moved on to the pale man sitting next to him. “This is Aaron Halpert, our Assistant Analyst.” Aaron sat about half a foot shorter than Jonas, and was average build. He had shaggy caramel blonde hair and gray-green eyes. He was dressed casually in a Big Bang Theory tee shirt and jeans.
He reached across the table to shake my hand, which I returned. “Pleasure to have you on board.” His voice was deeper and more rich than I expected it to be. “Your brother was a delight to work with. Very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, it’s very nice to meet you.” I replied, resettling in my seat.
“To Aaron’s right, we have Edward Lennon, our Head IT Specialist.” Holly introduced him, and I could tell immediately that he was a pretty chill guy. He was lounging back in his chair, but not in a forced way- a way that showed he was genuinely relaxed in his surroundings.
He had closely cut ash brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. He was very thin, almost too thin, but there was a bit of muscle on his arms. He looked like he spent all hours of his time on the computer, drinking red bulls. I admired that. He was dressed similarly to Aaron, with a tee shirt and jeans.
Edward waved like Jonas had. “Call me Eddie.”
“Next to Edward,” Holly said, forgoing the nickname. “Is Warren Lockwood, Head Analyst.” Warren was older than the rest, his hair a prematurely graying at his temples. He looked a little shy and uncomfortable, but gave a nod. He was dressed more formally like Jonas, in black slacks and a dress shirt. He had on black horn rimmed glasses that matched the non-graying parts of his hair. He had deep olive skin and light brown eyes.
Next to him was a young woman with a platinum blonde pixie cut who was introduced to me as Natalie, Warren’s sister. They had the same brown eyes, hers mostly hidden behind square purple frames. She was small, the smallest woman in the room. She reminded me a bit of Tinker Bell- and seemed just as fierce, so I’d never say it to outloud. “Natalie is Head of Accounting.” Holly told me. Natalie gave me a big smile and a salute from where she sat. She too was dressed businesslike in a light pink top, a gray pencil skirt, a black flats similar to my own.
I hoped her and I would become friends.
Next to her was a man- pen dancing between his fingers- in a navy blue dress shirt, buttoned all the way up and secured with a neon orange bow tie. I expected to see retro glasses with the nose of them taped up when I looked at his face, but he was actually very handsome- and lacking glasses. He had a straight nose, a chiseled jaw and a thin mouth. His eyes were light gray, his skin tan. His copper hair was slicked back in a Sean Connery – James Bond kind of way. “I’m Hugo Spier,” He spoke up charmingly, in an accent I couldn’t place, before Holly could. “I’m Head of Cyber Security.”
I smiled tightly at him. I had to say, I knew it was unfair to judge so soon, but I didn’t care for him.
The woman next to Hugo snorted and reached over to steal the pen from his hand. I was grateful, because it was a bit annoying. The woman tucked the pen into her blonde bun and turned to me with a smile. “I’m Padva Bok. I’m Head of Communications. I transferred from a company in Russia eight years ago. Ego here-” she jerked a thumb in Hugo’s direction and everyone laughed, including myself. Hugo blushed, but was still smiling. “-sometimes acts as my assistant, depending on who we’re dealing with.”
Padva was gorgeous. Her accent wasn’t terribly thick, but still present. She had very defined and prominent Russian features. She had porcelain skin and icy blue eyes. She was very fit, and I stereo-typically wondered if she’d ever been a gymnast. She wore a maroon dress and matching pumps, and her face was done up with a natural makeup look.
“Last, but not least, we have Felicity Otto, our Assistant IT Specialist.” Holly gestured to the young girl off to my left.
Felicity looked slightly embarrassed. “I don’t dress like this everyday. I just woke up a little while ago and I hadn’t had a chance to change before you came in…” She clearly wanted to make a good first impression, but she was wearing pink plaid pajama pants and Walking Dead tee shirt, her long burgundy hair thrown into a messy ponytail. Sleep still clouded her amber eyes.
I beamed at her. “I have the same shirt.” She beamed back, and we were instant friends. She reminded me a bit of myself, and a bit of Toby.
“Okay, now everyone can get back to what they were doing, if you like,” Holly said. “Penelope and I have just a little bit more to do.” Everyone got up and shook my hand on their way out, welcoming me to the team. They each made different comments about how great it was to have me, and how much they all adored and missed Toby.
There at Carnus, I felt more at home than I had in awhile.
Holly and I took a seat at the conference table once more, after the room had cleared out. “I know this all probably seems pretty overwhelming, but don’t get discouraged. You’ll get to know everyone closely. They’re all going to have a hand in training you. Don’t worry, they’re all really great, and trustworthy. You’ll be working closest with Jonas. He’ll be your partner of sorts, considering you’re going to be training to be a field agent like him, like Toby was.
“Speaking of, there are three other teammates you haven’t met; Ben Stokey, Owen Gillis, and Caroline O’Day. They’re all out on assignment at the moment, but you’ll have a chance to get to know them later as well. Any questions, so far?” She asked with a smile, clasping her hands in front of her again.
“Yes. What can you tell me about Toby?” I asked.
Her face softened, and she looked quiet endeared, but sad at the same time. Well, that makes sense, considering. “He was the best agent I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He worked with us for most of his time in the military, until they shipped him overseas, where he went MIA.”
It was startling to hear that my brother had been right here in town for years, when I’d been under the impression that he’s been overseas the entire time, except for when he was on leave. Why hadn’t he told me? Or was it ‘Classified’, like everything else? I felt a little hurt, but I understood, in a way.
“Why me, though? I’m not exactly military trained like Toby was.” I asked, unable to stop myself from wondering.
“Toby spoke so highly of you, always. His baby sister, Link,” I hated that nickname. Toby was the only one who could get away with calling me that.
It started when I was kid, everyone called me Penny- but Toby had to be unique, so he associated Penny to Abraham Lincoln- which he then shortened to ‘Link’. Hearing it from Holly brought back so many memories that I couldn’t help but smile and roll my eyes affectionately.
“He told us how you wanted to become a detective, how he tried numerous time to get you to join the military with him. I trusted his judgment. He told me that once you graduated, he’d like to offer you a job here, and I agreed. I wanted-want- to stick to my word. I hope that’s okay. I see a lot of Toby in you, Penelope. You’ve got the same fire in your eyes.”
I was always told how Toby and I could pass for twins, with the same chocolate brown hair and baby blue eyes. We took after mom in that way, with dad’s less distinct features.
“I see a lot of potential.” She continued and smiled fondly at me, reaching over and placing one of her hands on mine.
I didn’t know what to say. Here was someone who had more faith in me than anyone, beside Toby, ever had. “Thank you,” I said heartily. “I hope I don’t let you down.”
“You won’t. You’re a Foster.” She beamed at me, then leaned back in her chair, looking at her watch. It was 3:30 pm, but I felt as though the day had flown by. “I think we can call it a wrap for today. I know it’s a lot to take in. Come back tomorrow at 8 am, and we’ll get started on your training. 8am to 4pm, okay?” She asked.
“Sounds great,” I said, rising from my chair. “Stuff like this okay to wear?” I gestured to my outfit. Holly chuckled.
“Yes, we’re pretty lenient about the dress code around here, as you can see.” She smiled affectionately as she looked at the frosted door, knowing the team was beyond it. “Just consider us family.”
“I already do, really.” I replied sincerely. “See you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Holly nodded. “Oh, Penelope, one more thing.”
“Yeah?” I turn, my hand on the door.
“The only thing I ask is that you don’t tell anyone about us, this place. It is a secret agency. If it ever comes up with family or friends, we ask that you tell them you work ‘Carnan Incorporated’, okay? It’s our alias of sorts. Under the facade that we manufacture computer parts. You can say you work in the office. The flip side of your ID badge has all this printed on it.”
“Understood.” I smiled and exited the room.
“Carnan Incorporated?” Olger asks, scribbling away at her notepad.
“Did you ever have to use that cover?” Jacobs questions.
“Just with my parents, because I told them I’d gotten a new job.”
“What’d they say?”
“Mom was thrilled, happy I was starting a career. She was even happier because she thought it was an office. She was never very thrilled at the idea of me becoming a detective. She thought it was too dangerous, and she especially loathed the idea after Toby died.” I say, slowly tearing at the brim of my empty coffee cup.
“What about your father?” Jacobs says, quietly.
“Mom was celebrating, but he sat there- we were eating dinner at the time- and set his fork down, narrowing his eyes at me. I pretended I didn’t notice, and I acted casually. I couldn’t help feeling like he knew I wasn’t telling the whole truth. He just stared at me for a few minutes before mumbling a congratulations, then he went back to his dinner. After that night, things were never the same.” I feel sad, thinking back at it.
“When did you decide you needed to move out of your parents home?” Olger asks, finally setting her pen down in favor of sipping her coffee.
“Seven months after I started working at Carnus. I was moved out a week after I caught dad trying to break into my car.” I say, my chest tightening at the memory.
Read the next part!: Let Me Explain: Part Six