Pierce’s eyes sharpened and her expression turned eerie and malignant. She pulled the earbuds out of her ears and they clattered to the tile floor.
“Get the fuck out,” she growled.
“Pierce? My God . . . what the fuck are you doing?”
Layla’s gaze darted from the syringe to Pierce’s face. It would have been weird to stumble on anyone shooting up. But this was crazy. Pierce was an FBI agent and she was also one of the most revered and respected women in the Bureau. She was the kind of agent you heard about before you met her, the kind of agent people looked up to. And yet there she was, shooting up like a junkie in a safe house bathroom in Cairo.
Layla backed away from the door. Pierce rose from the floor with the slow deliberation of a drunk or convalescent and shut the bathroom door without taking her eyes off Layla. Layla turned and walked quickly out of the safe house, closing the door quietly behind her, as if it mattered. She rushed down the stairs and stopped at the sidewalk, then paced back and forth in a state of sheer, rising panic. She couldn’t breathe.
Finally, she put her face in her hands and whispered, What the fuck. What the fuck. What the fuck. The investigation was completely and possibly irredeemably compromised.
She took three deep breaths before climbing back up the stairs to the safe house door.
She knocked, and knocked again. Pierce didn’t answer. Layla kept at it for about five minutes before Pierce finally opened the door.
She looked unfazed by Layla’s glare. “We’ll talk at our next debrief,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“No, I . . . Pierce, I . . .”
Pierce started to shut the door. “Good night, Layla.”
Layla had always known Pierce as “Pierce,” the legendary agent, the hero of the FBI’s most dangerous operations. She had to dig into her memory to even remember her first name. “Ellen . . .”
Pierce’s eyes darted to her. She clearly noticed the effort toward a greater intimacy but she wasn’t having it. Layla’s use of her name only angered her.
She started to close the door again. Layla clenched her jaw in exasperation and pushed it to hold it open.
“Don’t piss me off,” murmured Pierce. The venom in her voice shocked Layla. “This is completely out of line. Leave and we’ll talk when we have our next . . .”
Layla leaned into the door with all her weight, and finally Pierce gave up and stood in the open doorway.
“Did you really just say ‘out of line’?” said Layla. She’d found her own rage. A derisive chuckle escaped her as she stood panting in the doorway. She wanted to scream at Pierce. But part of her also wanted to ask if she needed help. “Out of line,” she repeated again, dully. Waves of rage clashed against waves of confusion and doubt. She brought her hands up in a gesture of desperate supplication. “What . . . the . . . fuck . . . are you doing?” she said.
Pierce shook her head and stepped back from the door. Layla followed and closed the door behind them.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she asked again.
“Leave me alone,” Pierce said. She went into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and drank it thirstily before leaning against the counter. She looked pale, and Layla could hear her heavy breathing. “You shouldn’t have come here. We can talk tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Were you ever going to tell me you’re an addict?” Layla frowned as she thought about that for a moment. She thought of the times in recent weeks and months when Pierce couldn’t be reached. She thought of the time she’d been stuck in Bennett’s office, when she’d heard Mackey approaching and Pierce hadn’t answered the phone. Had Pierce been shooting up then? Had she been high? Had she endangered Layla’s life?
Pierce poured more water and placed the glass on the table. She sat and motioned toward the opposite chair. “Sit down, please. Just . . . for a minute?”
Layla took a breath and leaned against the wall. “I’d prefer to stand.”
Pierce looked like she was struggling to focus, to even sit up straight. She looked like she was going to be sick. “It’s a long story,” she said, almost in a whisper.
“Take as much time as you need,” said Layla. She noticed that Pierce’s fingers shook around the glass clutched between them. Was she nervous? Or was she high?
Pierce cupped her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. She sat quietly like that for half a minute. Finally, she looked at Layla and blinked as if she’d woken from a deep sleep. “Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not apologizing,” she said. “This isn’t really any of your business. But I’ll tell you...