"Maybe you should, "Stuyvesant said. "This could hurt you. There were six guys who wanted your job. So if you do this and it leaks, then you've got real problems. You've got half a dozen vultures muttering told you so the whole rest of your career. Because you started second-guessing your own abilities."
"Thing like this, I need to second-guess myself. I think."
"No, I know. I don't see an alternative."
Stuyvesant said nothing.
"I'm not happy about it," Froelich said. "Believe me. But I think it's got to be done. And that's my judgment call."
The office went quiet. Stuyvesant said nothing.
"So will you authorize it?" Froelich asked.
Stuyvesant shrugged. "You shouldn't be asking. You should have just gone ahead and done it regardless."
"Not my way," Froelich said.
"So don 't tell anybody else. And don't put anything on paper."
"I wouldn't anyway. It would compromise effectiveness."
Stuyvesant nodded vaguely. Then, like the good bureaucrat he had become, he arrived at the most important question of all.
"How much would this person cost?" he asked.
"Not much," Froelich said. "Maybe nothing at all. Maybe expenses only.
We've got some history together. Theoretically. Of a sort."
"This could stall your career. No more promotions."
"The alternative would finish my career."
"You were my choice," Stuyvesant said. "I picked you. Therefore anything that damages you damages me, too."
"I understand that, sir."
"So take a deep breath and count to ten. Then tell me that it 's really necessary."
Froelich nodded, and took a breath and kept quiet, ten or eleven seconds.
"It's really necessary," she said.
Stuyvesant picked up his file.
"OK, do it," he said.
She started immediately after the strategy meeting, suddenly aware that doing it was the hard part. Asking for permission had seemed like such a hurdle that she had characterized it in her mind as the most difficult stage of the whole project. But now that felt like nothing at all compared with actually hunting down her target. All she had was a last name and a sketchy biography that might or might not have been accurate and up to date eight years ago. If she even remembered the details correctly. They had been mentioned casually, playfully, late one night, by her lover, part of some drowsy pillow talk. She couldn't even be sure she had been paying full attention. So she decided not to rely on the details. She would rely solely on the name itself.
She wrote it in large capital letters at the top of a sheet of yellow paper. It brought back a lot of memories. Some bad, most good. She stared at it for a long moment, and then she crossed it out and wrote UNSUB instead. That would help her concentration, because it made the whole thing impersonal.
It put her mind in a groove, took her right back to basic training. An unknown subject was somebody to be identified and located. That was all, nothing more and nothing less.
Her main operational advantage was computer power. She had more access to more databases than the average citizen gets. UNSUB was military, she knew that for sure, so she went to the National Personnel Records Center 's database. It was compiled in St. Louis, Missouri, and listed literally every man or woman who had served in a U.S. military uniform, anywhere, ever. She typed in the last name and waited and the inquiry software came back with just three short responses. One she eliminated immediately, by given name. I know for sure it 's not him, don't I? Another she eliminated by date of birth. A whole generation too old. So the third had to be UNSUB .No other possibility. She stared at the full name for a second and copied the date of birth and the Social Security number onto her yellow paper. Then she hit the icon for details and entered her password. The screen redrew and came up with an abbreviated career summary.
From Without Fail by Lee Child, Copyright © May 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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