Most Fridays for Ben Wyatt were pretty relaxed. At the end of the week, everyone in the office was ready for the weekend and usually decided not to tackle any new cases. Sometimes they would cater in lunch or go grab a beer after leaving work just early enough for the boss not to nice their absence. They’d laugh, they’d talk, and then Ben would hop on the bus back to his apartment. Yes, most Fridays were pretty chill.
This was not one of those Fridays.
Ben pressed himself against the wall as though the solid mass would swallow him up. His gun was pointed down, but his finger flirted with the trigger in case someone suddenly appeared around the corner. Gunshots and shouting filled the hollow concrete building he found himself in on this tense Friday night.
It would be easy to say it had started off as any Friday, and it had at first. Ben woke up, he got dressed, he hopped on the bus. Everything after that was about as abnormal as it could get. When he got to the office, he was immediately whisked away to a secure room, told to put on his bulletproof vest, and grab his gun. They would stake out that day with the hopes of going in that evening. It was a case he was familiar with, but not one that he expected to be wrapped up so quickly. There must have been a breakthrough overnight.
“Agent Wyatt!” A voice called. Ben’s head snapped up to see his friend and colleague, Chris Traeger appear around the corner. He was dressed identically and carried the same standard-issue handgun. Ben raised his eyebrow at the man who, for whatever reason, looked entirely too happy for someone in an active crime scene.
“Good?” Ben asked. Chris nodded. At that simple signal, Ben untensed. His shoulders relaxed, his chest dropped, and he felt his muscles ache at having been so highly strung for the past few hours.
“What a Friday,” Ben mumbled, rubbing his shoulder ruefully as they walked out of the abandoned warehouse. He saw flashes of blue lights and heard shouting from the cars the criminals were being led into.
Chris laughed in his good-natured way. “Want to grab a beer?”
“I want to go to bed!” Ben retorted though he smiled back at Chris to show that he would absolutely be up for getting a beer. They walked a little bit away from the area to where their dark black car was waiting. Some other agents filed over that way and got into cars. A beeping noise came from Chris’s waist and he grabbed his phone from his belt.
“Well, looks like we’ll have to wait a little bit for that,” he said, frowning over the text he had received. “Barkley wants us back at the office ASAP.” He typed a reply as he and Ben got into the back seat of the car.
“Why?” Ben asked, relaxing against the leather seat. Usually, after a stakeout and takedown, Director Barkley let the agents go home and rest, unless they needed to debrief. But, as far as Ben knew, neither he nor Chris were central to this mission, so a debriefing seemed odd when everyone else was poised to go home.
Chris just shrugged, as Ben expected. It wasn’t like Barkley to spill every detail through a text. He turned his head out the window and watched as the streetlights made shadows dance across the car. He wished it had been a usual Friday. But, nothing was usual when you worked for the FBI.
Director Jen Barkley was a beautiful woman who always wore a smug look on her face. Whenever Ben met with her, he worried she was about to take his job and then laugh as she offered him a janitorial position. The idea that she was ever in the field seemed so absurd to Ben, but only because she likely would have scared every agent she ever worked with. She commanded the respect of everyone in a room. Her voice was deep and booming, even in close quarters with only the three of them there.
Barkley was waiting in her office when Chris and Ben got to the building. They took their seats and Barkley stood, papers in hand.
“Pack your bags, boys. You two are moving,” she told them. Ben sat a little straighter. Moving could mean anything, but he was hoping it meant a promotion.
“Really? How exciting!” Chris replied in his usual cheery voice. “Where to?”
“We need new bodies on the Newport case, people who haven’t been directly involved,” Jen replied, handing each agent a crisp docket of paper that outlined their new job responsibilities. “Things are getting a little dicey.”
“Newport case?” Ben asked, flipping through his stack of papers. “That’s the small-town mafia one, isn’t it?” Jen nodded. “But we specialize in trafficking. Murders. Gangs.”
“We don’t think this is much different,” Jen explained as she sat back down and folded her hands over her grand wooden desk. “This whole case started out as money laundering, but we’ve found evidence of foul play that could be connected back to the estate. We’ve also received word that the youngest kid, Bobby, is planning on running for city office.”
“So he can influence the government in some way?” Chris asked.
“So his father can influence the government,” Barkley corrected. “Bobby’s dumb as a post. We don’t believe he has any idea of what happens in the family. He’s just a pawn they can use to get what they want.”
“Alright, sounds like it’s all settled, then.” Chris smiled and glanced over at Ben. They were old buddies and close partners. It was hard not to become close to the guy you spent your day job dodging bullets with. This would be an interesting change of pace. “When do we ship out?”
“Tomorrow,” Jen replied with a wicked smirk. “So pack up. You’ll be heading to Pawnee, Indiana. Little crappy town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It’s all in your briefing folder, but you’ll be the new city auditors, sent from Indianapolis to help the city with a budgeting problem. That should get you close enough to the government to monitor the Newport campaign, but keep you far enough away from the estate to keep suspicions off of you.”
Ben nodded and glanced down at the packet once more. Pawnee, Indiana. That would be quite the change from the nation’s capital.
He looked up at his boss. “Alright, we’ll be here tomorrow ready to go.”
There were reasons Ben had left his Midwestern home of Minnesota: small and cold. Of course, DC could and absolutely did get cold, but it wasn’t the kind of biting chill that would have him under every blanket in the house. And, of course, DC was big. He liked the city, he loved the opportunities there. In his hometown, everyone knew who he was whether he liked it or not. In DC no one knew him nor did they care. He was another fish in the sea, a cog in the machine. He could do his job and do it well, but not have to worry about whispers and stares every time he went to the grocery store.
He imagined Pawnee was very similar to the town he grew up in. Everyone knew everyone else, there was no way of escaping judgment from every single person you met on the street. Perhaps that was what drew the Newport's to this dumpy little place in Indiana. They were able to know the town’s business while revealing what little they could about themselves and making up the rest.
Ben gazed out the window at the trees that passed him. As they whipped down the nearly empty two-lane highway at a comfortable sixty-five miles per hour, he vaguely remembered the scenes of empty highways in years past, but he was so used to the bustling four to six-lane highways that surrounded his new home city. And there was always something to look at; a monument, some houses, a mall. Here, in the middle of Indiana, there were just trees and the occasional farmhouse visible from the road.
It felt like no time at all before they were pulling up to a small hotel on what was considered the main road in Pawnee. There were no sidewalks and few buildings, but the driver insisted this was close to the center of town. The inside of the hotel was small and Ben noticed the old floral wallpaper peeling in places. But, on the bright side, the person at the front desk greeted them with the cheery midwestern charm he had anticipated.
“Let’s get settled and then we can head over to city hall,” Chris suggested as they walked down the hallway to their rooms. They would be bunking separately, but next to each other. Of course, there was no telling how long they would be there. Hopefully, Ben thought, it wouldn’t be too long.
“Do you really think we need to go in today?” The drive had exhausted him. They’d gotten up at the crack of dawn and driven 10 hours and he would much rather go to bed and deal with everything tomorrow.
“I told you to take some power naps!” Chris replied. Ben did his best not to roll his eyes. His colleague took these ninety-second power naps that seemed to keep him as energized as anything. He couldn’t just drink coffee like the rest of the tired human race.
“Not really able to sleep in a car,” Ben told him, and that wasn’t exactly a lie. He sighed as they reached their doors. “Alright, I’ll meet you in the lobby in fifteen. But I don’t want to stay long.” Chris agreed and they used their keys to enter their rooms.
The hotel room was grey and impersonal. A king bed was the center of the room with a drab floral print comforter that clashed with the different colored, but equally as drab wallpaper. There was a TV, a desk, a chair, a small refrigerator, and a nightstand, all of the usual hotel amenities. To his right was a door which led to the bathroom and, after throwing his suitcase on the bed, he went in there to wash up.
Fifteen entirely too short minutes later, he was out in the lobby with Chris. Ben would have vastly preferred his sweatpants to the dress shirt and tie he was wearing now, but he supposed that Chris was right to get them down to the city hall. Then at least the first day of their mission wouldn’t be completely lost.
Their driver had left the car and then hitched a ride to the Indianapolis airport. Ben slipped into the passenger’s seat, allowing Chris to take the wheel since he seemed much more awake. They pulled out of the parking lot and onto the “main” street, though Ben still wasn’t entirely convinced this could be at all considered “main.” Then, they started to pass more buildings. They were not the multistory towers Ben was used to, but at least they were relatively close together. It was the typical Midwestern main road: gas stations, some city services such as a library and school, and an abundance of bars.
They pulled up to the town hall, which was far nicer than Ben had anticipated. It had at least four floors and had people milling about on the front steps. Pawnee might have been a small middle of nowhere town, but it definitely looked like the townspeople took pride in their home.
The two men were out of the car and into the building in just a few minutes. Both commented on how nice to was to not have to pay for parking. The lot next to the city hall was free, or at least appeared to be, with just a few spots reserved for the handicapped and high ranking city officials.
Pawnee’s city manager, a white-haired balding man named Paul, showed the pair to their new office. “We just are so excited to have you join the team,” he went on as they walked the marble halls. “This town needs to take a look at the budget, but I’m afraid everyone’s too invested to think objectively.” Ben glanced over at a picture of a Native American tied up awaiting execution. He quickly averted his eyes, though a puzzled expression lingered on his face. The city manager paid no mind.
“Here we are.” Paul opened a door which led to a nice looking office with two desks. “I hope this will be alright.”
“It is so perfect!” Chris exclaimed as though he had been given his dream home. “Just perfect. Ben and I will do fantastic work in this beautiful-looking office!”
A bashful smile appeared on the city manager’s face, as though he had personally built the office for the two of them. “Why thank you,” he replied.
“Paul!” They hadn’t been in the room for a whole minute before a blonde woman came bustling down the hallway and straight into the office. All three turned to look at the woman who was short but carried herself with the confidence of someone three times her height. Her face was set in a deep frown and she was waving a stack of papers around in annoyance.
“Yes, hello Leslie,” Paul greeted dryly, a shadow forming across his face. “Leslie, these fine men are our new city auditors. Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt.” Leslie did not look impressed. She opened her mouth, but Paul quickly said, “Please be kind.”
She closed it again, as though reconsidering. With a swallow, she lowered the papers and stuck out a stiff hand. “Leslie Knope,” she said. “I’m the Deputy Parks and Recreation Director and I--”
“Leslie Knope!” Chris Traeger said immediately after she told them her name. “Chris Traeger, great to meet you.” His smile was bright and he shook her hand vigorously, taking her by such surprise she seemed to forget what she was about to say.
“Ben Wyatt,” Ben introduced awkwardly, managing to slip in and shake the woman’s hand. Leslie returned the greeting and spun to face Paul.
“I have a budget right here,” she declared, thrusting the stack of papers at him. “The Parks Department is on top, I also did the rest for fun. There.” She turned and glanced at Ben and Chris before looking back at Paul. “No need for auditors from the state.”
“I wish it were that easy, Miss Knope,” Paul replied, sighing as he reluctantly accepted the papers. “I’ll have them take a look at this, but there will likely have to be cuts.”
“You did budgeting for fun?” Ben asked. Who in the world was this woman? Ben had originally majored in finance back in college so he knew a thing or two about budgeting, but it certainly wasn’t something he thought of as a hobby.
“Yes,” Leslie shrugged. “This is important to me. What’s important to me is also fun because then I can make a difference and make sure no one loses the money they need.”
“That’s fantastic!” Chris cheered and even Leslie cracked a smile at the praise. Ben noticed that a smile suited her face much better than a frown. In fact, it looked like the woman really had to try to look displeased. Being happy seemed so natural.
“We’ll take a look,” Ben said, returning himself to his usual skepticism. “But I’ve seen the budgets and, well, we’re looking at quite a few deep cuts.” He’d looked at the paperwork in the car and even a quick glance told him just how bad things were in Pawnee. The city needed a lot of help.
Leslie’s frown returned and Ben felt strangely bad for making her upset again. Before she could speak, however, Chris interrupted. “But don’t worry, we’ll take a good hard look at all of your suggestions!” He told her, walking sideways a little in the hopes of getting her out the door. “I’m sure everything will be just fine! We’re going to do our absolute best, after all.”
She didn’t seem to buy the party line, but just pursed her lips and walked away without another word. Paul let out a long breath that neither Ben nor Chris knew he had been holding.
“That is Leslie Knope,” the city manager said, shaking his head. “She’s a firecracker, let me tell you. And she knows her way around a budget. She’s going to give the two of you a run for your money. Always does.”
Great, Ben thought as he took the stack of papers from Paul and sat at his desk. Now he had to solve a case and deal with an overzealous city employee. Paul left the room and he and Chris exchanged glances. Neither had ever worked on a case where they went so deeply undercover, and neither had ever dealt with a person like Leslie Knope. Between the Newport's and fighting over the budget, this was going to be a very interesting mission.