The Third Man / FW
AN: I hope you enjoy the story. It's all written. Ten of the fifteen total chapters are still in beta, but they all exist. So, for better or worse, it's all going to get published on time.
This starts right where my first Covert Affairs story, "Take 2 Before Breakfast", ends.
The Third Man
Chapter 1 – Relaxation is a myth.
7:12 p.m. Monday, Day 1: Getting it back together.
With the Corvette washed and back in storage, the Golf filled with gas, and permission from Langley to stay at Auggie's apartment instead of the safe house now that the two missing terrorist cell members were accounted for, Annie was ready to collapse. She didn't want a beer. She didn't want a drink. She just wanted something soothing like chamomile tea or even a glass of warm milk. Better yet, she'd settle for the feeling of safety and peace that couch time curled up with Auggie would bring. She watched him sort his clothes, some for laundry, some to be hung back in the closet and said, "Let's just do them all. Wash or dry clean as appropriate. I want to wash the bad parts of this weekend off everything."
"Okay, I'm easy, but this still needs to be sorted into - "He was interrupted by Anne's civilian phone ringing. She looked at Danielle's face on the display, sighed and answered it saying, "Dani, I'm just fine -"
It all came out in a rush. Danielle gushed without pausing for anything, "I know you were in Carlisle at the Corvette show with Auggie you are blond have a pink vest and that gun and I saw the picture in the paper and it's you and I've been worried sick are you okay?"
"Yes, both Auggie and I are just fine."
"What happened? This time you can tell me every single detail. It wasn't a mission; it was on the TV news on every single channel, so it can't be classified. It was an attack in a restaurant not a mission, and you were there and you have to tell me what happened before I explode!"
"Dani, first things first -"
"Annie, what went on? How much of what I'm reading in the paper is right?"
Unable to get a word in, Annie relaxed and decided to wait her out. Eventually her sister stopped and waited. Apparently she couldn't handle the silence because she said, "Annie? You're there. I hear you breathing. Annie, come on, talk to me?"
"Are you ready to listen?"
"Yes! … Yes ... look, I'm sorry, I was just so frustrated. This whole thing broke on the news on Sunday morning about the time I got up. We turned on the TV, and the story was all over it. Then in the paper this morning, I see your picture, at least I'm pretty sure that's you in the pink vest I gave you, and you are holding a gun. The story says a blonde-haired woman who wishes to remain anonymous shot and killed two terrorists that staged a deadly blitz attack on a restaurant with shotguns. Chloe and Katia saw the picture and about lost their minds because they knew it was you. I had to tell them they couldn't tell anybody it was their Aunt Annie. I've left about a hundred messages and texts and you haven't answered any of them. Was that you?"
"Can I come see you, please? I can be there tomorrow morning."
"If you can come in late Thursday night we can have a long weekend together. I'm supposed to be back at work on Monday. But, I'd like that. I really want some big sister hugs. Life has been pretty rough since you were here."
"Annie, it was seriously rough then. You were in the hospital recovering from being shot twice in the chest. Nobody would tell me anything. I couldn't even stay at my own house. I know it happened in my kitchen. I'm so glad you are okay and that we weren't there. But from the pictures you sent, the house is back to normal."
"It's all been fixed. You can't tell it ever happened."
"But it could happen again. Where can I stay?"
"No, it can't. You are as safe as you ever were to stay there during your visit. But I don't want to talk about it on the phone. You just get here. I'll arrange to tell you what you need to know about that, and everything you want to know about the restaurant and anything related to it. I promise. But I won't do it over the phone."
"I'll be there Thursday night, probably late. I already have a tentative flight schedule figured out." She paused, and then continued, "How are you and Auggie?"
"We are doing great. He was with me all weekend. Right there for me every second. We will talk more when you get here. Right now, I need to call my boss and make some arrangements. "
"Okay, I'll e-mail you a copy of my itinerary as soon as I have it finalized."
"Great. I'm looking forward to it. Love you, Dani. Give my love to the girls."
"Love you too, Annie. I'll tell the kids. They really miss their Aunt Annie."
"I miss them too. Got to run. Bye."
She ended the call and sighed. Auggie came over, and she welcomed a hug. She snuggled against his chest and said, "I need to call Frank and Joan."
"I want to go to Frank's Wednesday and Thursday. I really want a debrief from him. This is one of the few actions I know I can tell him about in detail. I also want to go into the DPD and talk to Joan tomorrow morning."
"I want to get her permission to take Danni into one of the civilian briefing rooms and tell her the story of the restaurant, the take down today that she hasn't heard about on TV yet, and I want to brief her on why Lena isn't a threat. I need to do it there to impress on her that it's really classified, and I need you to be there with me when I do it. I desperately need to re-establish my credibility with my sister, and I think the only way to do it is to take her into Langley and level with her. You are the two people on the planet that keep me sane. I can't lose either of you." She paused briefly and added, "I need Joan's permission to do all that - especially the Lena part."
Auggie was rubbing small circles on her back right where he knew it would relax her the most. He slid his arms back around her and said, "I know."
They stood there for a minute when Auggie said, "Would you like me to give you a massage. I think I can get you so relaxed you won't be able to move."
To Annie that sounded wonderful. Auggie gave the best massages on the planet. He could rub the tension right out of her with his magic fingers. She knew he loved to do it, especially when she was as strung out as she was right now. "I'd love that. Let me call Frank now; it's one of the times he's reachable. I'll call Joan in the morning. Then I'm all yours."
"I'll go get the stuff ready."
Annie picked up her personal phone and selected Frank's number out of her 'recent call' list. He answered on the first ring, "Ms. Walker, I've been expecting your call. You want to come in for a debrief on yesterday, this morning, and a refresher session?"
Frank's directness and knowledge of things he shouldn't know about, like 'this morning,' used to put her off. Now she expected it, so she gave it right back to him, "Arrive tomorrow evening late. Stay in usual room. I'll be ready to go first light Wednesday. I'd like to train Thursday as well if you have an opening."
"That works as long as you don't arrive before nine PM tomorrow."
"I'll plan to be there right at ten. I need to bring anything other than my usual stuff?"
"The equipment in your locker plus what's in your usual duffle will get it done. Might want to bring a couple of extra pair of jeans and shirts. Bring your nineteen, twenty six, and your checkbook - I have a new gun for you to try that I'm pretty sure you are going to like."
"Oh, what is it?"
"Springfield XDs. Pocket size, well maybe not quite pocket size for you, pistol in forty five ACP."
"I've read about it. Has it been out long enough to be debugged?"
"This one has. I have it all tuned up, XS Big Dot sights on it and ready to go. If you try it and don't like it, I'm okay with that, but I think you will."
"I'll try it, but I really like the guns I have. I'll arrive after nine PM. See you at seven in the assembly room?"
"Yes. See you then." The call ended.
Annie took a deep breath. Frank was a fantastic teacher, and he had a unique training facility, but she always felt a little pushed when she talked to him on the phone. In person, to her at least, he wasn't as intimidating because she could see him. On the phone, without the depth of communication sight gave her, he almost had her holding her breath. She supposed the fact that he was one of the deadliest men on the planet might have had something to do with that. She had mixed feelings about another gun. She wasn't sure what this new one would add to her capabilities, especially since it was a relatively light polymer framed pistol shooting the powerful .45ACP cartridge, but she was willing to try it based on Frank's recommendation. A little 'pocket thunder' couldn't hurt in the right situation. She made a mental note to research the gun before she saw Frank on Wednesday morning.
Annie saw it was 'only' 8 o'clock. She reasoned Joan was still in her office so she tried the number off her encrypted company phone.
Annie decided not to be put off by the clipped answer; she knew her name was displayed on Joan's phone. She pressed on, "May I come in and see you in the morning?"
"My sister's visit Friday through Sunday. I want to bring her into a civilian briefing room Friday morning and read her in on enough so that she knows the person that shot me in her kitchen is no longer a threat. I also need to tell her the whole story about the restaurant and this morning. I need to do that with you in the room. She already knows from her visit to the hospital that you are my boss. Joan, I need to reestablish my credibility with her. She's one of two people that are my anchors in this world. She was last here when I was recovering from being shot."
"I'll make time for you at eight. Bring Auggie with you. I have a favor to ask of you in return."
"I want to arrange a nine o'clock meeting in the media briefing room for the whole department. It just happens everybody is in town and will be in the office tomorrow morning. I want to have you tell your story, in detail, related to both the terrorist attack in the restaurant, and your take down of the two terrorists this morning. I want them to hear the whole story from the time you left Carlisle till you were back on the way to Gettysburg."
"As a training session?"
"As a learning experience. It's one of the few things an Agent has done that can be told to the whole department. Only the fact that it was you that did it is classified and we'll never keep that a secret in the department anyway. I want to do it now because I want them to see your face before you have a chance to reduce it to an emotionless diatribe. Will you do that for all of us?"
"Thank you. At this point, nobody in here but Stu and his guys know you were the shooter. I'd like to keep it that way until I ask you to stand up and give us the talk tomorrow morning."
"No problem. ... I'd like to return to my original question. May I bring Danielle in?"
"Yes. Do you have a picture you can e-mail me so I can arrange for gate clearance?"
"Yes, I'll send it in the next 5 minutes."
"Okay. Consider it done. You know where to bring her in, right?"
"Have a good evening, Annie." And she ended the call.
Auggie had been listening and said, "That went pretty well."
"It did. I don't mind talking to the department. I wonder if Joan is trying to promote having more of them carry a gun when they are off duty?"
"I don't know. She might be."
"We'd have been in terrible trouble if I hadn't had at least the little Glock. I'd have grabbed you and tried to get out the back of the restaurant, but I don't think we'd have made it. We'd have been in position to be hit by the two shots they took before they got to where I could take them down."
"Let your brain process it over night. I'm exhausted. How about we do warm milk and try for some shuteye?"
"I thought you said you had a better idea?"
"Uh ... that could fit in too ... better than warm milk."
"Definitely." She got up, took his hand, and said, "I'm in. Let's go get sleepy."
6:00 a.m. Tuesday, Day 2: Waking up.
She sees him rise effortlessly up through the van window, AK47 pointed at her chest. Her chest spasms from the memory of being shot. Oh God. This was a big mistake, a fatal error of judgment. She knows she won't survive a rifle shot. She fights to survive, but her arms can't respond fast enough to raise the leaden Glock. She's off balance from the sprint down the bank from the road. Then the muzzle flashes, and she braces for the final excruciating pain -
"Annie, Annie, wake up, it's a dream. You're safe," she heard as Auggie's voice made it through the haze of her nightmare. She gradually pulled herself away from the vivid images in her imagination as reality set in. The scene from her dream faded, and she knew from the dim light that it was morning. A moment later, she realized she was wrapped tightly in Auggie's arms and soaked with sweat. Her body, not yet caught up with her brain, struggled to get free even as she understood what she just experienced wasn't real. She heard the concern in Auggie's voice and forced herself to relax. "Annie," she heard him say, "... yes ... that's it. You are safe. You are home. We are in our own bed. I'm right here," as he tried to comfort her for the third time since they went to bed.
She took a shaky deep breath, held it until her lungs hurt, and then let it escape in a huge sigh of relief. She felt Auggie's breathing slow and his grip relax as he sensed her return to the present. He asked, "You back with me?"
It took all her will power to get out, "Yeah. Give me a minute to purge that from my brain." She felt his arms relax as he moved back just a bit to give her some space, but he maintained the light contact he knew she needed to keep her grounded in the here and now. He waited for her to work her way out of the terror he knew she'd experienced in her dream.
He eventually relaxed his grip enough to tenderly stroke her arm and use his fingers to see her face. She felt his fingers take a 'look' at her. He completely ignored the fact that she was dripping wet and had soaked the sheets. "Thanks, Auggie. How long this time?"
"A couple of minutes for the worst part. You were in the throes of a nightmare for quite a while. I'd have preferred to back off and let you come out of it by talking to you, but that wasn't going to happen this time."
"That was twice in one night. I need to stay at Danielle's so you can get some sleep."
"Three times actually, but I don't think you really woke up after the second one. And don't even think about sleeping alone till you get through at least three consecutive nights without a screaming thrash happening."
Annie raised her head and saw from the clock that it was about ten to six. She knew she had to move if they were going to make it into the DPD in time for her morning meeting with Joan, and she wished she had some time to prepare for the meeting with the department afterwards. She was not sure that follow-up meeting was a good idea. She wasn't a fan of blowing her own horn, even less since she joined the CIA, and still less when it came to telling others how she had killed people. Three people this time.
She shook her head, rolled over, ignored how wet and sweaty she felt, and offered Auggie a good morning kiss that was returned with both love and tenderness, but not pity. She was so grateful he realized she didn't need or want pity. However, it was time to move if she wanted a shower, and she desperately needed a shower.
She asked, "Auggie, you want to wash my back?"
Foolish question as it turned out.
8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Day 2: Langley
Their morning shower and the familiarity of the drive to Langley with Auggie helped to settle her nerves. The routine of the check in through the gate took the edge off her anxiety about having to tell a room full of people how she killed three people in two days. The guards are stone faced, but Annie thinks she sees a flicker of recognition in their eyes. She realizes they see her sometimes for days in a row, then not for days or months. Then with no notice, she shows up again for a day, or days, weeks or months. She knows they are supposed to be robots, unmoved by human feeling, objective assessors of all who enter and leave. But she also knows that, if it were her, she'd wonder where that person had been, what they'd done, and how it made them feel, but there is never any communication. She's supposed to be a robot too, not supposed to feel all hollow inside after she wins a fight with the bad guys. She feels her 'face' almost slip. Wonders if they can see the damage from last weekend. Probably not. She's given up trying a smile. It has the same effect as smiling at a fence post, or a palace guard. No response, nothing. She made herself a promise: if one of them ever does crack a smile or show even the tiniest flicker of recognition, she will return it.
The car parked, she and Auggie made their way to and through the door of the DPD. It has only been 4 days since we were here the last time, but it feels like a lifetime. What was it I read, that it wasn't the miles, it was the condition of the road? The last 4 days have certainly been some rough road. Pot holes, boulders, washboard and sharp corners. And highwaymen. Don't forget the highwaymen.
Last night wasn't so great either... well the sleeping parts of it weren't anyway.
Auggie pulled her out of her daydream when he said, "Hey, we're here. I'm going to head for Tech. Ops. to see Stu."
"I'm going to check my desk, and then I suspect Joan will be after us." She turned and walked toward her desk, Auggie went in the direction of his desk. Finally alert and in the moment, Annie saw the usual early morning activity. A few people chatted over their first cups of coffee. Others stared intently at a computer monitor. Some were in earnest discussion with abbreviated but energetic gestures. There were also a few staff members who had already isolated themselves in a room full of activity, oblivious to everyone around them, as they chased an elusive thread in search of new intel - as Annie wished she were doing at that moment. Right now she'd give a lot for the peace of a few quiet, safe, days translating documents.
At her desk, Annie set down her coffee, switched on her computer and, before she could do anything else, heard Joan in the background, "Annie, Auggie, a word please."
Annie heard the 'please' but didn't confuse it with a request. It was an order, plain and simple. She looked up, returned Joan's look, nodded, picked up her coffee, and started out on a course to intercept Auggie. She spotted Auggie, coffee in hand, on his way from Tech. Support. As she expected, he stopped and waited for her to catch up at their usual meeting point. She brushed his hand, he took her arm, and they moved toward the stairs up to Joan's office.
"She didn't sound pissed," Annie observed.
"That could be an act. She was steaming on the phone after you took down those two south of Carlisle."
"Not so much on the phone last night."
"My experience, it's a good idea to assume she's not happy."
Just in case, Annie knocked even though the door was open. Joan looked up, and while she didn't exactly smile, she had a pleasant expression when she said, "Please. Come on in. Take a seat."
Annie let go of Auggie's arm. They both found their usual seats on Joan's couch. Joan came around her desk, a good sign, usually, to sit in the chair near them. She had a couple of sheets of paper and her phone in her hands. As she approached the chair, she looked over at them with what looked to Annie like a pleasant expression. Who are you and what have you done with Joan Campbell?
"Welcome back, for part of the day, anyway. Annie, you look like you had a rough night. How are you doing?"
"I remember two bad episodes during the night. Auggie said there were three. I woke up all wet, thrashing. Auggie helped me to get my mind straight and back to sleep. I'll be okay. I just have to work through it."
"Are you up to giving the talk I asked for this morning?"
"I need to add, I have some info you haven't seen. I'd like to include it in the briefing."
"You remember the video camera you saw in the restaurant office, the one Agent Rossabi said didn't work, but he got the hard drives anyway?"
"Yeah, I remember it, right over the desk on the office wall."
"He sent the video segment yesterday and called first thing this morning. They checked the hard drives out of due diligence and found out there are four cameras in the restaurant. The owner had them put there without telling the staff because she thought some of the staff were allowing friends and family to leave without paying their bills. Not a lot, but enough to result in a significantly reduced profit and less revenue than they should have had based on the supplies they had to buy."
"Really? Did they see anything useful on the other cameras?"
"Oh yeah. The video segment of interest to us from each camera arrived yesterday. I gave it to Stu and spent some time with it. Between three of the four cameras, pretty much the whole attack after they came in past the hostess station is caught on video, and the fourth camera caught the customer getting shot in the entry way as well as their approach to the restaurant doors."
Annie said, "Wow. I'm really glad Rossabi took the hard drives and didn't rely on the broken camera. Otherwise we'd be looking at that video on YouTube."
"I plan to show the video at the department meeting today. Do you want the video before you talk, or after?"
"May I see the video before I decide?"
"Sure. Stu edited it for us. The action part, from the time you see them through the window until it's all over and you ask Colonel Abbott to take over, takes less than a minute and a half. But I have some other things I want to go over first."
"Annie, why did you go after those two in the van instead of just running? You were gaining on them; there was no way they were going to catch you after they crashed. You were outnumbered, way out gunned, and in open country. That is not a tactical advantage."
"There were three reasons I thought the odds of succeeding were on my side. First, they were likely injured; at the very least severely disoriented from being in that van while it did one-and-a-half rolls and a half twist. I saw it rolling in my mirror - it wasn't a gentle experience. Second, I could approach from their blind side, and I did. I came up behind the van. No windows. Third, I could see before I left the 'Vette that I would have a good position to shoot from. When it went down, I was prone on a steep bank with just my head and arms over the top. I was steady as a rock in that position. There was no way I was going to miss a man size target at ten to twelve yards, or even twenty yards with that shooting position. And no way were they going to get the first shot. I'd do it again."
"I understand all that, but -"
"Joan, these were known terrorists. I expected them to be well armed. Auggie and I had discussed it, and they were. There was no way I could leave them there to prey on the innocent people living in the area. They'd have murdered with impunity to get what they needed to escape. I couldn't let that happen any more than I could let the two attack in the restaurant and not try to take them down."
"Okay, I can see your point, but realize you are taking on very risky situations."
"Joan, compared to going after Lena, everything about this was a walk in the park."
"I understand, but, going after Lena was as close as one gets to living through a suicide mission, so I'd hope this was a walk in the park by comparison."
Joan checked her notes, then continued, "Next subject: Guns and missions. Your job is getting intel. Auggie told me one time you had figured out your job was manipulating people for information. You were one hundred percent right when you said that. You are also capable of much more than most operatives. I don't want to lose you to the Black Ops people. You have shown you are remarkably good at the bigger picture, better than I'd have ever thought when we first met. You are incredibly cool under fire; your real time assessment skills are some of the best I've seen, and you are able to react with skill and precision. That said, your one-in-twenty million language skills and your even more rare ability to think strategically, on your feet, under pressure, as you did with Kalid Ansari, sets you apart. You have the potential for missions that others can't even dream about. You are simply too valuable to go to the dark side. You are so much more than a blonde thug with a gun who can kill if she has to."
Annie gasped but said, "Thank you. I'm glad you appreciate me for more than my warrior tendencies." She paused and said, "I'll leave the mission value assessment to you, but I can tell you I don't want to be a part of anything resembling an assassination team. I don't want to be assigned to kill people. That isn't what I signed up to be. If that were where I was headed, I'd resign. I can always get work as a translator. Always."
She paused to get her thoughts straight, and Joan stayed silent. Annie continued, "Lena was a special case. I was both uniquely qualified and highly motivated to go after her. It was unprofessionally personal. I wanted her dead. But the rest of the time, all the other times, I was literally defending myself. I'm okay with defending myself. I'm really glad Rossabi got me that permit. Until we are sure there's no third man, I'm going to feel positively naked without a gun on me."
"You can't carry on duty inside the US. You can carry off duty. That's it, Annie."
"I know, but I don't have to like it."
"That brings me to my next subject. I have a video screen capture play back of the pursuit software and a video the State Police took driving as fast as they could down the road where you led the van on that chase. We also have the recording of the phone conversation during your escape and evasion effort to outrun the van. The Tech Ops guys had to speed up the State Police video, significantly by the way, to synchronize it to the real time computer and the GPS tracking data as well as the voice tape that happened in real time and then put it all together on a video. Watching that video with the computer displays and your conversations with Stu is way beyond scary. Right up there with the 'Bullet' chase on steroids gone rural. I'm planning to play that during the department meeting as well.
"Annie, you were flat out flying down that road at impossible speeds. I showed the video to a former F1 driver this morning. He played it through twice and said he wasn't sure he could go any faster. Where did you learn to drive like that? And don't tell me The Farm, because I know it wasn't there."
"Ice racing in Sweden, driving on the Autobahn in Germany - and driving in performance road rallies all over Europe. I loved the performance rallies. I used to ace the performance segments. My navigator wet her pants once."
Joan laughed at that and said, "I've no doubt. Your driving skills are seriously impressive. I should have known. You did really well at the farm, and you did mention your experience in the Ferrari, but that tape is something else. I think the driving course at the Farm must have been boring for you."
"It was. But I didn't want to show up the instructor, politically incorrect, bad timing, whatever."
"Auggie, did you know you were going 125 over the top of a sharp rise two hundred yards before that hard right turn, and almost 80 mph when she entered that bootlegger turn?"
"No, I didn't, but the smell of rubber was incredibly intense."
"How are the tires?"
Annie saw her chance and said, "About eight hundred dollars worth that need replacing."
"Let me see if I can at least pro-rate them. Do you know how old they were?"
"Basically brand new. We've had them for five months and about four hundred miles. We don't drive that car very much."
"Okay. Provide me with the purchase receipt for the tires. It should have the car's mileage at the time of purchase, a phone picture of your odometer, and I'll see what I can do." She paused, looked at the paper in her hand, and then said, "Okay, I have two more things. Guns to make available to you on assignment and how you learned to shoot like that." She paused. When Annie didn't say anything, she added, "Gun first. Any thoughts?"
"When I'm overseas, I pretty much use what I can pick up on the scene. It's usually too risky to my cover to be caught with a gun. So far, I've been able to get what I need on my own. However, there may be times I need to bring a gun, and in that case, the Glock twenty six, or an M&P Shield, both work fine. So does a Glock nineteen, but only if the weather is cold enough to wear clothes that conceal it. I would also probably use a SIG P-two thirty eight."
"I have a P-two thirty eight myself. You ever shoot the P-nine thirty eight, its nine millimeter twin?"
"Yes. Piece of cake. Compared to a Kahr CW forty five, or a three fifty seven Snubbie, it's a walk in the park. But I don't think it's reliable enough yet - they need a couple of years to get the bugs out like they did with the P-two thirty eight."
"Okay, that's pretty much what I expected, but I wanted to be sure we were on the same page. Now, we need to talk about your off-book trips to Frank's gun fighting school. Don't deny it, I've talked to Frank. He won't lie to me. He might not tell me everything he knows, but he won't lie in response to a direct question. I know you are heading out there tonight and plan to be there all tomorrow and the next day."
"How did you find out?" Her eyes darted to Auggie who remained expressionless.
"Not relevant. But it wasn't from Auggie."
"What do you plan to do about it?"
"I want to have The Agency pay for the training that you have been getting for free."
"I like it better when I'm completely free to work on what I want to work on, or what Frank thinks I need to work on. Frank knows my capabilities better than I do -"
"Did you know Frank says he only has four students that shoot better than you do? All male, all in Special Operations, Seal Team 6, and Delta Force."
"No. Joan, I would never ask him anything like that. It's not a competition to me. I just try my hardest to learn what he is trying to teach me. But please don't change the subject."
"I wasn't, I'm just really proud of you and wanted you to know how good you are; because I don't think you appreciate that."
"Okay, but I still don't want to be forced to do specific training by you or anyone else. I've learned the hard way the program at the Farm is totally inadequate. If I'd had only that training, I don't think I would have had a chance at anything but torso shots in the restaurant, and they were wearing vests. It would have been a much different outcome. But I don't see you deciding to offer training in fifty foot running head shots. Frank did."
"You are right, I wouldn't have, but I would now. Let me get to the bottom line here. I'll pay for whatever training you want, or Frank recommends, as long as you agree to also do specific training I might ask for."
"You have a deal if you will put that in the contract with Frank so I can see it? In writing?"
"Yes. I said it. I'll do it. I will also pay him for the training you have already had, including the ammunition you burned, which, I was astonished to learn, was over twenty thousand rounds in the last year."
"I have no trouble going through a thousand rounds in a two day session. I'm going to be there tomorrow and the next day, I'll probably go through five hundred rounds or more each day. Three times that if we practice with full auto weapons."
"Why do you practice with sub-machine guns?"
"Because the bad guys have them, and if that's what I pick up to defend myself, or whatever, I need to have the expertise to use it without thinking about it. I don't shoot any one of them very much, but there is quite a variety of them out there - and some of them, like the MP5, are easy to shoot yourself with if you aren't careful. It takes several sessions to get the hang of one. And the round count goes up fast at a six hundred round-per-minute rate of fire."
"What's the issue with the MP5?"
"The muzzle is only about an inch ahead of the front pistol grip if it doesn't have a suppressor or a flash hider on it. That puts your front hand almost in front of it. I like that gun better with a suppressor on it, or at least a flash hider."
"That makes sense." Joan paused, and continued, "That covers what I had on my agenda. Would you like to take a few minutes to review the videos from the restaurant and the chase before the meeting?"
"Yes. Definitely. I have two questions."
"What is your agenda for the meeting; will you say something first? And can I have the video of what happened in the restaurant and the chase on a DVD to show Frank for a critique while I'm there tomorrow, and to show Danielle when she is here?"
"Yes, you can take the DVD with you to review with Frank, and you can show it to Danielle while I'm there. Don't give either of them a copy of it."
"I won't. I understand. Thanks."
"No problem. You deserve that. So does your sister. We were hard on her when she was here, while you were in the hospital, then we took you to a safe house to recover. She couldn't visit the safe house so she returned to California." Joan paused, and then continued, "Now, back to the meeting. I'm going to give a short speech first. Other than you, me, Auggie, Stu, Barber, and two of his guys, none of the people in the meeting know that it was you that took those guys down. Stu, Barber, and the other two have been told not to tell anybody it was you. I'm going to tell the department about the event in general terms, tell them I've arranged for the shooter to brief them, and then introduce you as the shooter. Are you okay with that?"
"Yes. That will keep them from mobbing us before the meeting starts. Will Arthur be there?"
"I don't know. I invited him." She paused, looked down at her notes, and then said, "I have some things I need to do. I'll see you in the main conference room in half-an-hour?"
Annie and Auggie stood up with Joan. Annie said, "Joan, thank you for this meeting."
Joan offered her hand and said, "Annie, you are an incredible asset to this division. You drive me plumb crazy sometimes, but your intentions are always the best, and I can live with that. I want to do everything I can to help you take care of yourself and continue to be of value to the CIA."
"I don't know what to say, so I'll just say thanks. That means a lot coming from you. Now I need to get out of here and get my head straight."
Joan chuckled to herself as Annie and Auggie left her office, then returned to her desk.
Annie and Auggie left the meeting with Joan a little stunned. To say it went well was in the contest for understatement of the century. It was a big departure from their usual meetings with her; at least it was for Annie. Where was the usually curt, abrupt, short-spoken Joan? The one that issued ultimatums, gave orders and didn't negotiate? Annie came to a full stop at the top of the stairs that lead down to the bullpen. She stopped Auggie who turned towards her with an obvious question, but didn't say anything. Annie said, "Auggie, she is still our boss, but did you get the feeling that she now considers me more like a real agent as opposed to a prematurely released problem child trainee?"
"Yes. She has talked with me like that when we are alone, sometimes, and I know she respects my skills, but she definitely met you halfway on every issue where there was contention. She did that all the way through the meeting. I can't remember her ever being that complementary to anybody, including me. She obviously has a completely new level of respect for you, but don't think it means she won't get pissed now and then. She will. But that's just how she is."
"This is good news?"
"Yes, I think so. But it's also notice that she's going to hold you to a higher standard of performance."
"How? In what way? What should I do different?"
"Nothing different. Just be you. She's going to expect you to decide the tough calls, the hard choices, in a way that comes out for the best. Don't let it worry you and don't think about it. You pretty much do that all by yourself. You have since the first day you were here. You didn't ask for permission to go after Staz; you just did it."
"That wouldn't have ended well if Ben hadn't saved me."
"I know, but it was still the right thing to do. And with your skill set today, it might have ended well even without Ben. Annie, you are, to me, and I think to Joan, an elite agent. You aren't afraid to put it all on the line when you know you are right, and you have the skill and judgment to make it work. Your handling of Khalid, setting him and his father up to kill one another, was brilliant. You made that call on an impromptu basis, under pressure, in real time, in the field. I was right there with you and it never occurred to me. Or Eyal as it turns out. Nobody gets them all right, but you get it right way more than most."
"Auggie, thank you. I think that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my performance as an agent."
"No, actually it isn't, but know this: there is no covert officer I hold in higher professional regard than you. I'm in love with you, but my regard for you as a Covert Officer was set way before we got together."
"Auggie, you will have me all emotional here in a minute, but thank you. It means so much more from you than anyone else." Annie let him know she was going to move with her hand, then started down the stairs and said, "Now I really need to get in front of a monitor. I need a quiet place to watch this video from the restaurant, and to see Stu's video of the chase as captured on the pursuit software, the state trooper video, and the tape of the open phone. Uh ... Don't want to do that on my desk with an audience. Will you let me use that desk in your Tech Ops area where the monitor isn't visible through the glass doors?"