Special Agent Will Trent sat in the last stall of the men’s bathroom between gates C-38 and C-40 at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He stared at the closed stall door as he tried not to listen to a man availing himself of the urinal. Muzak played from the overhead speakers. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” At first, the song had reminded Will of his sort-of-new girlfriend, Sara Linton. And then it had played over and over again, at least sixteen times in the last five hours, and all Will could think about was jamming his fingers into a wall socket and electrocuting himself so he never had to hear it again.
There were many jobs with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that agents considered less than ideal—running background screenings for convenience store owners who wanted to sell lottery tickets, going undercover in bingo parlors to make sure old ladies weren’t being ripped off—but no assignment was considered more odious than having to police the men’s toilets at the busiest passenger airport in the world.
Sites all over the Internet listed the best bathrooms for male travelers seeking anonymous hook-ups. Hartsfield was always a prime location. Posters gave the best times for cruising, the type of guy to expect in which concourse, and the various under-stall contortions that were preferred at each location.
Will didn’t mind what two consenting adults got up to. He just wished they wouldn’t do it in public where kids could walk in. He usually spent the first half hour of every morning checking the cruising sites and anonymously posting that he’d seen a police officer staking out the stalls.
And still these idiots kept showing up.
Eighty-nine million passengers a year. Five runways. Seven concourses. Over a hundred restaurants. Twice as many shops. A people mover. A train station. Close to 6 million square feet of space that sprawled across two counties, three cities, and five jurisdictions. Seven hundred and twenty-five commodes. Three hundred and thirty-eight urinals.
This last bit of trivia was particularly galling, as Will was probably going to lay eyes on each and every urinal in the airport before he died.
All because he wouldn’t get a haircut.
The GBI manual called for agents to keep their hair at least half an inch off their collar. Amanda Wagner, his boss, had slapped a ruler to his neck a few days ago. Will was right on the line, but Amanda had never been one to let fact get in the way of her firm opinion. When Will hadn’t rushed to the barber, she’d assigned him to toilet duty until further notice. Amanda was going to have to wait a good long while. Sara liked Will’s hair long. She liked to stroke her fingers through it. She liked to drag her nails along his scalp.
Which meant Will was pretty much going to be the Samson of Hartsfield until the day he died.
A man walked into the bathroom. He said, “What I told her was, ‘You don’t like it, you can move out.’ ”
Will leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. Over the course of the last few days, he’d learned that a surprising number of people talked on their cell phones while they used the bathroom. One of the janitors had told Will that seven million people a year accidentally dropped their phones in the toilet. Will prayed this jackass would be one of them.
No such luck.
The urinal flushed. The man left without washing his hands. This was no longer shocking, either. In fact, Will had witnessed worse lapses in personal hygiene over the last two weeks than he had during his entire adult life.
Will pulled out his cell phone to check the time. The numbers glimmered, then the screen went blank. A marathon session of Minesweeper had drained the battery into the red zone. He would have to charge it during lunch, which was blissfully close enough to justify abandoning his post. The business travel rush had come and gone. Another morning without an arrest. Will hoped his good luck would flow into the afternoon. He was probably the only cop on the planet right now who was happy to post a zero in the win column.
Will stood up. His knees popped. He stretched his arms up to the ceiling in order to coax his spine into a position more conducive to walking. A spasm nearly doubled him over. He wasn’t built for sitting all day. He’d rather chase a chicken back and forth across a courtyard than do this. At the very least, it would give him some exercise.
Around ten every morning, Will usually had his second breakfast of a fried chicken biscuit. By noon, he was at Nathan’s ordering a slawdog meal. At two, he visited the pretzel stand, and at four-thirty, he grabbed an ice cream sandwich or a Cinnabon on his way to the parking garage.
If he didn’t die of boredom, he always had a heart attack to look forward to.
The stall door next to him opened. Reluctantly, Will sat back down on the toilet and waited. Lady Antebellum revved up over the speakers. Will suppressed a scream. He’d thought he had another thirteen minutes before the track cycled on again. The song pierced his eardrums like an ice pick.
And then a child whispered, “Please, I wanna go home.”
Will turned his head, though he could only see the wall next to him. There was something plaintive in the little girl’s voice that cut straight through. Will leaned down. He saw a pair of white Hello Kitty ballet shoes with pink trim. Impossibly tiny ankles in white tights. The man behind her wore gray Brooks running shoes. The hem of his tan cargo pants was high, showing white socks.
“Just go,” the man ordered. “Quickly.”
Slowly, the little feet turned. The bigger feet did not.
Will sat up. He stared at the stall door in front of him. Phone numbers of escorts, tips on the best strip clubs. He knew them all by heart.
The man said, “Hurry up.” He said something else, but his voice was too low for Will to make out the words.
Regardless, the little girl sniffed, which made Will wonder if she was crying. He also wondered why every hair on the back of his neck was standing at attention. Will had been with the GBI for fifteen years and learned early on that there was such a thing as a cop’s intuition.
Something wasn’t right here. He felt it in his gut.
Will stood from the toilet. He’d taped a Band-Aid over the automatic sensor to keep the toilet from flushing. He peeled back the strip and let the sound of a flush announce his presence.
There was a subtle change in the air, as if the man was suddenly on alert.
Will unlocked the stall door. His badge was looped on his belt. He slipped it into his pocket, not wanting to spook the guy. His Glock and holster had been checked with security, but his handcuffs were neatly stacked into the leather pouch at the small of his back.
Which hardly mattered. You couldn’t arrest a man for snapping at his daughter. Half the population would be in jail right now.
But still—Will sensed that something was wrong.
He went to the sink and held his hands under the faucet so the water would flow. Will waited, staring at the reflection of the closed stall. He could still see the man’s heels under the door. The running shoes looked new. The hem was torn at the back of the trousers. The man had used a stapler to tack them up.
Seconds passed. A full minute. Finally, the little feet went back to the floor.
The toilet flushed. Will waited. And waited. Eventually, the lock slid back. The stall door opened. Will glanced at the man, taking in the short brown hair, the thick black glasses, before returning his gaze to his hands under the faucet. The guy was wearing a green jacket that looked a few sizes too big. He was tall, almost matching Will’s height of six-three, but probably weighing in at twenty pounds heavier, mostly in the gut. He looked to be around fifty. There was no telling how young the girl was; maybe six or seven. She was in a flowered dress. The pink collar matched her shoes.