What a beautiful late August morning this is. I loved being here this weekend. A fantastic way for a couple of spies to spend their time between missions, Annie thought as she headed out of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, along Route 11 towards the Middletown diner. She and her boyfriend, fellow spy Auggie Anderson, were enjoying a very relaxing weekend trip to the Carlisle Corvette show in Auggie's fantastic '67 427 roadster. About time we did something fun. She chose surface streets instead of the interstate to the next off ramp just because it would be more relaxing to drive 45, listen to the burble from the exhausts and feel the warm fall air on her face and in her hair. We really needed a break and some time away from Langley and all the stress of being CIA agents, spies. This last year was incredibly stressful for both of us. Her hand unconsciously reached up to touch her chest where the scars of the two bullet wounds still showed several months after the best cosmetic surgery The Agency could provide. This one-on-one time with Auggie was a visit to an oasis in the burning desert that had been her life for the previous 18 to 20 months.
They had dated – been exclusive – for four months now. Their jointly submitted Close and Continuing paperwork had been approved by Joan Campbell, their boss, as expected, but contrary to office rumors, they had only been lovers for the last two weeks. Since, in fact, the evening Annie had persuaded Auggie to come on the trip. It had been the need to get away, spend some quality one-on-one time that had gotten Annie to investigate and find out about the Corvette show in the first place. It seemed like it would be the perfect getaway for them and the perfect time to take their relationship to the next level. Though, as it had turned out, the next level had been only a few minutes away.
Her memories were interrupted by a traffic light and a horn that honked, apparently provoked when a car didn't execute a left turn fast enough for the late model 'Vette that was behind it. Annie just shook her head barely perceptibly. Annie drove at the speed limit in the 45-mph zone so the wind noise didn't prevent conversation. Auggie was still uncharacteristically silent; Annie glanced over and got a warm feeling seeing him next to her about as totally relaxed and carefree as she had seen him other than when he was asleep. She loved to watch him sleep.
The morning was warm enough already that Auggie wore a polo shirt. He sat with his head back while his hair blew in the air that buffeted around the windshield. The side pipe exhausts made their characteristic burbling noise as the engine effortlessly propelled the car with a promise of major thrills just a few ounces of accelerator pressure away. He had enjoyed her colorful descriptions of the scenery, places and people they passed on the trip, often chuckling aloud at a particularly pithy remark.
Annie sat, relaxed and in no hurry to go anyplace, behind the wheel of "their" 435 horsepower sportscar. She savored the aftermath of their two uninterrupted nights together out of reach of almost everybody they knew, including her sister in California, and looked forward to a life time with Auggie. She's not sure he's all the way 'there' yet, but she sure is. She just needs to be patient; he'll get there; she's sure of it.
Then she remembered why it's 'their' sports car and couldn't help a chuckle and a bit of a grin. Auggie had given her the car before he left for Africa. He'd intended for it to be hers, title transferred, and all. That didn't go so well. She couldn't afford the sales tax on the appraised value of the car to transfer the title, and he couldn't afford to pay the gift tax on giving it away, which was going to be 45% of the value of the car less $13,000. In other words fifty grand – more or less. The red tape involved shocked both of them. But, bright, capable people that they were, they looked into the law and their options. Auggie couldn't drive, couldn't give the car away, didn't want to sell it and still was attached to it, anyway, so they agreed he would change the title to a collector car. It would remain in his name, but she would pay the collector car license fees and for insurance that would allow them to drive it to car shows and collector car events only. It just didn't make sense to use a 45-year-old car, with parts that were somewhat rare and expensive, as an everyday commuter car, regardless of how hot it was. They had agreed to share the cost of a storage rental so the car could be parked inside and be reasonably unlikely to be stolen. They had also shared the cost of a high-end car alarm system that disabled the car. She had the only keys. All this flashed through her mind when she looked at how much Auggie enjoyed the ride in their car. He seemed to especially like the wind and the exhaust noise.
This trip had been good for her in other ways as well. It had been a very intense time in her life with Auggie gone, then back, hurt and angry. Their tentative steps toward each other had been interrupted by several hairy missions: the time with Simon, her lover, that ended with Lena's savage attack on them both. Simon was dead; Annie was recovering from being shot twice in the chest and a second attempt to kill her by Lena.
The recovery from the shooting was ended early when she went rogue with an incredibly hairy, almost suicide, mission to Russia to get retribution and terminate Lena before she could spill all she knew to the enemy. She'd succeeded, but the outcome would have been very different if the man next to her hadn't also gone totally rogue and organized her very unorthodox rescue by the Mossad agent, Eyal Levine.
Then there had been all the gun training, both formal at the Farm and off-book at Frank's.
After Stockholm, Auggie had taken it upon himself to arrange for Annie to be trained to elite levels as a gun fighter by an instructor known as 'Frank' to only a few of the most elite warriors on the planet.
Frank. Just the name almost made her exhausted. The man was a merciless task master, but she'd been really lucky to have access to his training. It absolutely would not have happened except for Auggie. At some point, in the part of his past that he couldn't talk about, and she knew she wouldn't ask about, Auggie had done something that earned him free gun fight training with Frank for life. Since he was blind, he'd talked to Frank and persuaded him to transfer his offer to Annie. It hadn't been easy, but Frank had called up one night and agreed.
Auggie had broached the idea to her when she was on the first day of a 2-week decompression ordered by Joan after a particularly intense mission. He said this was the chance to have training from what he considered the best gun fighter there ever was, and she'd said, "sure."
But when Auggie had said, "you don't have enough information to make a decision yet."
She had asked, "Okay, what do I need to know?"
Over the next few minutes, he had detailed what sounded like a very rugged course in gun-fighting; Auggie emphasized it was not a shooting course; it was a gun fighting course that went far beyond her advanced training at the Farm. She wouldn't see any bull's eye targets; she would seldom shoot when she wasn't moving, and she would be expected to be able to dive on the ground, roll over, crawl, shoot one handed with either hand, shoot two handed, shoot running forwards, backwards, sideways, and at the same time some of the targets would be moving. And there would be distractions: explosions, sounds of gunfire, loud speakers blaring at her, sirens going off, and she was still expected to focus and shoot.
She would need loose fitting heavy jeans and a heavy cloth long sleeved shirt, gloves (with the tip of the trigger finger exposed on both hands), elbow, knee, and shin guards, and a light helmet, like a horseback riding helmet. Oh, and a gross of foam ear protectors because the training was too strenuous to wear ear muffs. She'd come home bruised and exhausted after every session, but better at surviving gunfights.
It had sounded better and better to Annie as he described it. Sort of like the gun fighting analog to Auggie's hand-to-hand Krav Maga training which was based on brutal efficiency in disabling or killing the opposition as quickly as possible. Auggie's philosophy was if you can't stop them with the first blow, distract them. Ripping off an ear, crushing testicles, poking out eyes, biting off a nose, were all mentioned as reasonable distractions. Auggie's training had undoubtedly saved her life multiple times, so she'd thought, why not go for this Frank guy's training? And she did.
Frank had taught her to hit all sorts of targets under almost impossible conditions, but it took a lot of training time, a lot of ammo, and the healing of a lot of bruises, scrapes, cuts and scratches before she showed even the beginning of competence by Frank's standards. Frank encouraged her to participate in IDPA or IPSC matches, but to intentionally not do well enough to stand out. Annie remembered the big grin on Auggie's face when she said, "that sounds like a heck of a lot of fun. Plus, trust me when I tell ya, winning gunfights, shooting the bad guy before he shoots me, is way better than losing them."
As her training progressed, she developed incredible respect for Frank. She realized she owed Auggie big time for getting her into a training program that was reserved for only the elite from Seal Team 6, the operatives from the blackest of the black ops part of Langley, and the elite from some other organizations she didn't know the name of, and didn't want to. There was never more than one student at a time. It would have been too dangerous to be in the same pit doing this with another student, and most students didn't want their faces associated with this type of training. With decompression time off, holidays, and weekends, she had spent over sixty ten hour days with Frank so far, and she knew she wasn't done. She had lost count of the rounds fired at his range. So many that Frank had insisted she replace the recoil spring in both her Glock 26 and Glock 19 twice already. She stayed at the site in a small cottage he reserved just for her because she was just too tired to drive back and forth an hour each way after a day of training. Plus, more often than not, there was a night session where she trained to gunfight in the dark or low light conditions. She always went alone – Auggie said it was not a good idea for him to be there, didn't offer an explanation, and she knew better than to ask.
One of the stranger training exercises involved shooting at foam balls about the size of a human head. He'd stick the foam balls in some light cloth bags so the hits could be seen. He gave her bullets tipped with colored marker that would rub off so she could tell the holes from one exercise to the next. Then he had them move about as fast as a man could jog moving up and down toward her, away from her, across her path, and at various angles traveling level, ascending and descending - the object had been to hit them at least twice with three shots at various ranges from almost touching to as much as 75 feet. She had no problem agreeing it would be a useful skill to be able to do that but remembered how discouraged she'd been when it took her almost 50 shots to hit the first one moving crossways at 25 feet. She'd spent maybe 3,000 rounds of Frank's reloads working on that skill set from all positions and angles of movement before she was finally able to do it with some degree of certainty with the same Glock 26 that was currently punishing her right kidney. She could get hits with the Glock 19 and the little SIG P238, but something about the Glock 26 just worked for her. Frank said it was just a good match for the dynamics of her hands and arms. If she pulled the trigger as fast as she could for two shots they would hit within an inch of each other at twenty-one feet. If she slowed down, the shots spread out to six to eight inches apart at the same distance. The gun just worked for her, and she could conceal it with the proper clothes, which was why she was putting up with the lump in her kidney.
Frank insisted she had to pack all the time, even at home, to get to the point where it was second nature. He said she'd sometimes be packing where just having the gun would get her thrown in jail for a long time (yeah, DC was her immediate thought; Auggie's family home in Glenco, IL was another, if she ever got to visit). In any event, by using a Virginia address where she received all her mail, she had obtained both Virginia and Utah concealed carry permits that let her carry, off duty, in something like 37 states. Frank had also worked with her on a selection of guns that would cover pretty much any situation. But Frank had also said not to depend on any of them too much as she'd probably be using whatever she could pick up in the field at the time. She recalled that was exactly what she'd had to do so far. As far as Annie knew, Joan didn't know about her time at Frank's, but she wouldn't be surprised if Joan could tell her when every training session had happened. Joan, her boss at the CIA's Domestic Protection Division, didn't miss much and apparently had sources Annie didn't even want to know about.
She snapped out of her memories of gun training, prompted by the lump in her back, and glanced fondly over at Auggie for a second. He moved, reached a hand over to pat her thigh, and said, "I love you too."
How did he do that? She wondered for maybe the 100,000th time. She said, "according to the GPS we only have 4.6 miles to go."
He sighed and said, "Don't hurry, this is incredibly pleasant - maybe we should drive 35 all the way home."
"Can't do that," she said, "we both need to be back in the office first thing tomorrow. I'm leaving for Rome later in the week, but I don't want to think about that right now. I just want to soak this up and save it for recall when I'm bored to tears in a hotel room in some hot, miserable, dusty place waiting for a contact to maybe show up. Or not."
Auggie sighed again but nodded his head slightly.
This trip worked for her in a lot of ways in addition to how much closer she and Auggie had grown. For the first time in months, she slept through the night – didn't have nightmares: the nightmares that related to when she was shot by Lena and to when she shot Lena in the chest in Russia and killed her. Her time in the Russian prison and the escape were brutal and intense. The nightmares that woke her, dripping wet and shaking, scared Auggie. Just the thoughts of Lena led to a surge of panic and she quickly slammed them back into their box in her head. Not going to go there, not today, maybe not ever, she thought, before admitting to herself the CIA shrink would insist on dragging her through it again, sooner or later, one way or another. And if she was honest with herself, which she always was, she admitted she needed the sessions.
She felt the gun in her lower back. Still. She decided she would take it off and put it back in her purse for the trip home, or change to a different gun and holster that was more comfortable to sit in. She had a small selection of them in the trunk but would have to find a stall in a ladies room to make the change. She had considered the SIG P238 for this morning. It was much thinner and lighter than the Glock, and one of her favorite guns (the whole concept of a favorite gun being sort of foreign but growing on her), but she liked the firepower of the Glock 26 being full 9mmP instead of .380Auto. She also liked the additional ammo capacity: 11 for the 26, 7 for the P238. The P238 was her favorite mouse gun, but not her favorite gun. The Glock 19 got that award, but it was too big for her to carry unless she could wear winter clothes.
As it was, she was wearing what she called comfort fit jeans with a CrossBreed MiniTuck holster at five o'clock with the gun set as low as the holster would adjust. A colorful T-shirt with a picture of Auggie's car on it was tucked into the waist band to pad the holster a very little bit. A long decorative vest which hung down a good 4" past the holster with her arms raised over her head, concealed the holster. Running shoes completed her wardrobe. The gun wasn't tiny, but it was really well concealed considering her slim build. Before, she would have dressed differently, but Frank had shown her the Falia Photography YouTube video and introduced her to websites by women who carried every day. Studying those web sites combined with input from the women instructors at the Farm, she had found she could tailor her clothes to hide guns under about everything except a bikini and still look good.
Frank said she should carry a spare magazine, and she did, but it was in her purse. It rested in the bottom of her purse, but under a flap so it wouldn't show and could be easily retrieved if she needed it. He also said if she was in enough of a fight to need the spare magazine, she would probably be in real trouble if she was alone without backup. That thought made her shiver, and she pushed it back to prevent it ruining the moment.
As her attention returned to the present, she saw the lumber yard she was told about on the right, and sure enough, about a half mile beyond it on the other side of the road was the sign for the Middletown Diner. She pulled into the left turn lane at the intersection while the light was still green and completed her left turn while taking advantage of the car's stiff suspension to make the turn with less margin to oncoming traffic than one might think prudent, but she liked it just the same. She made a mental note to give the car a bit of a workout on the long 270-degree onramp she'd seen they would take when they merged onto 81 South.
The sudden turn got Auggie's attention though. He lifted his head and remarked, "Getting a bit restless behind the wheel, Walker? Try to keep it shiny side up, at least until I get some of this famous breakfast we've been hearing about."
Her reply was to make a face, crank the wheel hard right and press hard on the brake as the car almost broad slid into the parking lot and forced Auggie to grab for the prayer bar.
"Uh, yeah, right. Are we driving in the front door?" Her reply had been to swerve into a parking spot in the middle of the lot with a bit more verve than one normally uses when parking; but the car just seemed to want that sometimes.
"You win," he said, trying to brace himself against jerks he couldn't anticipate. Then muttered, "You should have tried the coffee in the Motel room."
"Yeah," she admitted, "I should have tried it. I get my coffee, nobody gets hurt. Anyway, we're here."
"Oh yeah, definitely an arrival," he replied with a grin. "I think you are enjoying 'our' car."
They responded as one and exited the car. They left nothing in the passenger compartment because the top was down; the registration was in her purse, but when she picked up her purse, she activated the ridiculously expensive alarm system before dropping her keys in. That should keep the car from being stolen, and the three guns in the safe in the trunk secure, or at least make it more difficult to take them, she thought.
As they turned toward the restaurant door, Annie saw Colonel Abbott get out of his perfectly restored dark maroon '61 Roadster. The Colonel was an old friend from her military brat days that she'd gotten reacquainted with just the day before. Looking at the car Annie thought that if 'they' didn't have the one they did, that would be a really good year to have. The styling was unique in the car's series with a trunk that looked like a preview of the coming Stingray design, but with the long graceful front hood and flowing fender line that tied it to the earlier models. Colonel Abbott, it turned out, had known Auggie, too.
He smiled in her direction, waved, and headed off on an intersecting course. When he was close enough, he said, "Good morning, Annie. Auggie isn't this a fantastic top down day?"
"Good morning to you, sir," Auggie replied. "And it definitely is a top down day."
Annie said, "Bring on the bad hair day, I love the feel of the wind in my hair. It's going to be a great drive back to DC." Then, looking at the slight pink on her arms, she added, "I think it's going to be a sun screen day for blondes as well."
Colonel Abbot asked conversationally, "What brings you two here this lovely morning?"
Annie said, "Coffee. Breakfast. In that order. We are famished and need to get started back to DC."
He looked thoughtful for a moment then said, "I'm meeting a long table full of colleagues and retired colleagues here for our bi-monthly breakfast this morning. Would you mind if I introduced you to a couple of my friends? They knew your Dad, Annie, maybe, probably, better than you did, and they have heard me talk about you, Auggie - some of your exploits have made it into the class's lecture notes. And I think a couple of them might recognize you."
Annie looked at Auggie; she knew that this sort of thing made him very uncomfortable, but he somehow knew she was looking at him, and, sensed her unspoken question. He squeezed her hand and said, "Colonel, I'm okay with that as long as it's not too many of them. And, if you would, please don't let them take pictures of us."
The last caused the Colonel to glance around to make sure nobody was within hearing and said, "So you are still in the game? And Annie's in it too? Okay. Got it. No problem."
Annie recalled meeting him quite by accident at the car show. She had seen this trim, fit, silver haired man with the military posture in the distance, and her heart had almost skipped a beat. He turned slightly, and it was then that she knew it was Colonel Abbot, father of the girl who had been her best friend, Betsy Abbott, before they moved out of Moscow. She hadn't seen either of them since. He was coming their way, and when he saw Auggie, he stopped like he was seeing a ghost. Then he looked at her, and his eyes opened wide in surprise. He had literally started jogging towards them with a smile on his face.
"Auggie, someone from my past, Colonel Abbott, the father of a onetime best friend is approaching, jogging in our direction, and I think, from the way he reacted, he knows you too."
"Colonel Abbott was a legend in Special Forces," Auggie said squaring up his shoulders, "He was my mentor; stopped to see me at Walter Reed. I wasn't very good company then. I owe him an apology and a bit of an update."
Auggie had barely finished when the colonel arrived, slowing to a stop with the coordination and balance of a much younger man. Annie knew he had to be at least as old as her late father, maybe older.
The colonel saw Annie's look of recognition, gave them a big smile of genuine pleasure, and said, "Captain Anderson and Annie Walker. Seeing the two of you holding hands makes my whole decade. How are you both?" Auggie resisted saluting but offered his hand which the colonel shook with gusto. Then he turned to Annie and received a big hug.
Annie's voice shook a little when she said, "Uncle Fred, it is so good to see you. You look wonderful." as he hugged her. She saw Auggie react to the "Uncle Fred", gave his hand a squeeze and said, "His daughter Betsy and I had lots of sleep overs." Suddenly, she remembered she hadn't seen or heard from Betsy in ten years. She kept a hand on the Colonel's arm but backed away a half step before she asked with some trepidation, "How is Betsy?"
To Annie's relief, he looked happy and said, "She's doing really well. She made it through college with a degree in languages, married a banker, has three kids, and loves being a housewife."
"How is Aunt Barbara?"
"She's doing really well. We're both healthy and enjoying the heck out of retirement. She's going to be really upset to have missed you. She's down visiting Betsy, driving back early Sunday morning. How about you?"
Annie replied, "I'm working in acquisitions at the Smithsonian, making use of my language skills and minor in art history." She could see the flicker of doubt about her story as his eyes shifted back and forth between her and Auggie.
"Auggie, you are looking great," he said looking away from Annie for a moment. "What are you up to?"
"Same as before," Auggie replied then added, "Can we move someplace quieter and less crowded to continue this? This is a total surprise, I'm really glad it happened. I want to talk to you if you have the time, but maybe we can find a table and a soda?"
Annie and the colonel both looked and simultaneously saw a suitable location that also had some sun shade. The colonel nodded at Annie, and she said, "I see a place that should be about perfect, Auggie, we'll head over there,"
When Annie brushed the back of Auggie's hand, he lightly took her elbow and allowed her to lead him while he held his white cane to alert passersby to his condition.
Colonel Abbott saw their quiet familiarity with each other, the seamless way Annie and Auggie interacted, their comfort in each other's space, and correctly guessed they were a couple. He wondered at the fate that had put two of his favorite kids together but figured he might not have a need to know. They got to the table, and Annie offered to go get some beverages. Auggie asked for a diet cola, the colonel for the same. Annie left to get the beverages at a soda stand maybe a hundred yards away.
When Annie was out of ear shot, the colonel turned to Auggie and asked, "Is she read in?"
Auggie replied, "She knows everything about me. Everything. I know everything about her, at least since I met her. We have no secrets."
The colonel sighed and stated, "She's covert too," as he had deduced must be the case.
Auggie started to object but the colonel had said, "It's okay, Auggie, I'm not surprised. I've known her father, Colonel Bart Walker, for 35 years. He was a hell of a good soldier but with more than usual rogue tendencies. He could go out of the box better and more successfully than anyone I knew. He ended up in class rooms like I did, but in his day, he was almost as good as you." Then he added, "I knew Annie during her feisty high school years. She was something else. You could use her as the definition of independence. By then she was already reading, writing, and speaking 4 or 5 languages like a native: accents, colloquialisms, the whole nine yards. She was like a human sponge for languages. I mean she could pass for French in France when she was 15, and they are genuinely hard to fool. But in spite of that, and getting all A's in school, she wasn't an academic in any way shape or form. She ran track, but she quit the team after beating the crap out of one of the male star track team members who didn't understand the meaning of NO. She and my Betsy loved to act. They were always making up plays. I heard she took some theater classes in college." He paused and then added, "I always admired her for all of that and envied her language skills. Her high school French teacher said he couldn't teach her anything; she was constantly correcting him on colloquialisms, and when he checked she was always right." Then, he added quietly, "She'd make an almost perfect spy if she wasn't so good looking, so I'm not surprised at all to find her with you."
Auggie cleared his throat and feeling a bit uncomfortable said, "Colonel I need to apologize for how I acted when you visited me in Landstuhl and Walter Reed…"
He didn't get any farther before Colonel Abbot interrupted saying, "Auggie, no apology required. You were going through a special kind of hell; if you hadn't lashed out you wouldn't have been human. And I have to say, seeing you here today, I'm so very happy you have your life together. You probably still have some bad days, I do, but it's pretty clear you've got Annie who would be on my list as the catch of a lifetime, and I'd bet you're in a job you love. That makes me proud just to know you. In some ways it's an even greater accomplishment than your actions before that day."
Auggie was almost overcome by the man's words and couldn't say anything for a few seconds, so he put his hand up, and Colonel Abbott responded with a Hi-5.
Auggie started to say, "About Annie-"
"It's okay, Auggie, say no more. I understand, and besides, here she comes."
As she approached, Annie said with a smile, "Colonel Abbott, are you telling my boyfriend all my childhood secrets?"
Colonel Abbott said, "Of course! But only the good parts." Then looking with some fondness at the two of them he said, "So I need to catch up with both of you, I can't believe I found two people I know at this show, and they are in love. This is a first." He was rewarded by a blush from Annie who shot an adoring look at Auggie and got a hand squeeze and a grin in return.
They had spent almost 2 hours catching up; at one-point Colonel Abbot gave Annie Betsy's number, and Annie surprised herself at being willing to call her former best friend. So, while the colonel and Auggie caught up on people Annie didn't know, she had called and spent twenty minutes catching up with her old best friend and Barbara. They all had to deal with some tears, but they also understood coping with being ripped apart. As Annie discovered, Betsy and her family were living about a two-hour drive from Annie, and, before the call ended, Betsy and Annie agreed they would get together. They hadn't set a date because Annie's travel schedule was so erratic, but Annie knew the next time she had a couple of days of decompression coming she was going to boycott Frank for Betsy and some girl time. Oh yeah!
When she rejoined Auggie and the colonel they were getting ready to proceed on their separate ways but had exchanged cards. Annie gave him her Smithsonian business card as well. He took it but she noticed he didn't spend much time looking at it.
Just before they parted Colonel Abbott gave her another hug and whispered, "Be safe," and added, "Your Dad would be so proud of you," in her ear. She looked at him, hid her understanding behind a completely convincing look of innocence, saw he had figured out her real job, but added, "No worries, Uncle Fred, I've never been attacked by a single piece of art work."
She hadn't confirmed his suspicions but had concluded he'd figured it out early in the conversation because he hadn't asked a single question about her Smithsonian employment - he knew it was irrelevant.
Rather than being uncomfortable that someone else outside of the agency knew her real job, Annie knew that her secret was safe with Colonel Abbott.
Annie came back to the present as they approached the front door of the restaurant. The colonel held the door for them, and they all went into a sizable entry way, a space between the outside doors and the inside doors common in snow country. There were windows between that area and the main dining area in the restaurant. As they passed through the entry way Annie looked over the restaurant through the windows. Pushed subconsciously by her acute situational awareness, she was already almost prepared to choose a place to sit that would give her as much command over what might come in the front door as was possible, given occupied tables and the circumstances.
As they came through the final door into the restaurant, their nostrils were assaulted by mouthwatering breakfast smells, almost to the point of being overwhelmed. Annie knew instantly this was a real country breakfast place. She smelled bacon, ham, coffee, and saw trays loaded with huge omelets, toast, thick slices of bacon, diced potato home fries, and of course biscuits and gravy. The food was going to be both good and more than she could possibly eat on her own. She loved this sort of meal but only allowed herself to eat them infrequently. They had a long drive ahead, and she didn't want to stop, but she looked forward to eating her fair share of a hearty meal. Besides, it smelled good enough, and looked good enough, that she was practically digesting herself while they waited for the hostess to work her way to them.
Annie turned to Colonel Abbott and said, "Uncle Fred, we'll get a table and then join you for a couple of minutes after we order - I see where your friends are sitting."
He said, "See you in a few," and gladly headed off through the archway to their left to join his companions.
As she watched Colonel Abbott head away from them, Annie turned to Auggie, squeezed his hand and said, "I am glad he didn't ask to sit with us. I'm enjoying our time together so much that I just don't want to share you with anybody, at the moment. "
Auggie squeezed back just as the hostess approached them and said, "Good morning!" and then asked in a pleasant sunny voice "Two for breakfast?"
As the hostess gathered a couple of menus, Annie spotted an empty table on the other side of the glass window wall that separated the dining area into a main restaurant and an annex, part of which was taken by a long string of tables pushed together for the meeting of colonels. Annie requested to be seated at that table saying, "We know some of the military guys and would like to sit near them."
The hostess looked up from her seating chart, took in Annie's gaze and said, "No problem. Let me check that it's ready and we'll be good to go."
Once they were seated, they took a few minutes to study the menu and make up their minds. There was no Braille menu, so Annie read the selections to Auggie and in a relatively short time they had made their choices. Looking at the passing trays of breakfast being delivered; it was obvious to Annie the portions were huge. She shared that with Auggie, and they decided to split a western omelet. Auggie decided he'd ask for a side of warmed up salsa as well. Just about then the waitress returned with their beverages, and when their order was taken, they each took a sip of the coffee, made sounds that confirmed it was good coffee, and Annie said, "Shall we get this over?"
"Yes," Auggie replied. It was a bit of a struggle to repress his annoyance at the need to share Annie with others on their trip together. On the other hand, he was so proud of her, so happy to be with her, the fact that she was accepted by all she met, and was so highly regarded by Colonel Abbott, made him very happy.
They got up and, with Annie acting as sighted guide, made their way around the end of the long table to where Colonel Abbott was waiting for them with a welcoming smile.
Auggie hadn't known his reputation preceded him at the War College. Colonel Abbott introduced him to the men in the immediate vicinity as, "The Captain Anderson," and evidently, he'd picked them because they had already heard of him. It turned out some of them had his exploits worked into their class curriculums at the War College. Auggie was more than a little embarrassed by the sincere accolades from these men but held up well.
Standing next to him, Annie was so proud of him that she could burst but concerned for him as well. She was ready to haul him back to their table at the first sign that it was too much for him to deal with.
For his part, Auggie fought the urge to run and, in the end, did himself some good by accepting their praise and good wishes.
Then Colonel Abbott introduced Annie as Bart Walker's daughter. To a man they all stood up to say hello and shake her hand. She recognized a couple of them as people she'd met years ago in countries far from here. She was amazed to hear the good things they had to say about her late father and had a hard time not getting emotional about it. A couple of them made a joke to her in Russian, and she answered them in perfect Russian, others in French, some in Portuguese, one in Turkish, and finally an oriental gentleman smiled and spoke to her in Chinese. He mentioned the name of the brave man Annie had recruited and thanked her. She was frightened at the breach of security but didn't see a flicker of understanding in any other eyes, so she answered in the same dialect, "Thank you, but please say no more." He nodded, and she turned to Colonel Abbott who was studying her impressed yet again by her incredible facility with languages.
She saw the look but figured it was time to end this. She thanked him and said she saw their breakfast had arrived, and would they please excuse them? They did, very politely offering their cards. Annie couldn't refuse them and asked if they would wait a minute while she got some of her own. She retrieved her Smithsonian cards from her purse and passed them out to a somewhat doubting audience, but they didn't say anything. All in all, it was a fun experience meeting these people and hearing the good things about her dad. She'd had no idea about his professional career other than when he taught at West Point.
Then, semi in jest, just as they were turning to leave, one of them asked Auggie if she was a chip off the old block. Auggie stood up straight at the unexpected question; they could see his lips trying to form an answer, and suddenly the questioner was embarrassed, but then Auggie just said "You have no idea," and nudged Annie to get them out of there. She did.
Little did he know they would know for certain she was indeed a chip off the old block in less than sixty seconds.