Nick Bryson had known fanaticsfriendlies and hostiles bothand he found comfort in Wallers very ambivalence. Bryson had never felt hed fully had the measure of Wallers mind: the brilliance, the cynicism, but mostly the intense, almost bashful idealism, like sunlight spilling through the edge of drawn blinds. "My friend," Waller said, "we exist to create a world in which we wont be necessary."
Now, in the ashy light of the early afternoon, Waller spread his hands on his desk, as if bracing himself for the unpleasant job he had to do. "We know youve been having a hard time since Elena left," he began.
"I dont want to talk about Elena," Bryson snapped. He could feel a vein throbbing in his forehead. For so many years she had been his wife, best friend, and lover. Six months ago, during a sterile telephone call Bryson had placed from Tripoli, she had told him she was leaving him. Arguing would do no good. She had clearly made up her mind; there was nothing to discuss. Her words had wounded him far worse than Abus blade. A few days later, during a scheduled stateside debriefingdisguised as an arms-acquisition tripBryson arrived home to find her gone.
"Listen, Nick, youve probably done more good in the world than anybody in intelligence." Waller paused, and then spoke slowly, with great deliberateness. "If I let you continue, youll start to subtract from what youve done."
"Maybe I screwed up," Bryson said dully. "Once. Im willing to concede that much."There was no point in arguing, but he couldn't stop himself.
"And youll screw up again," Waller replied evenly. "There are things we call sentinel events. Early warnings signs. Youve been extraordinary for fifteen years. Extraordinary. But fifteen years, Nick. For a field agent, those are like dog years. Your focus is wavering. Youre burned out, and the scary thing is, you dont even know it."
Was what happened to his marriage a sentinel event, too? As Waller continued to speak in his calm, reasonable, logical way, Bryson felt a rush of different emotions, and one of them was rage. "My skills"
"Im not talking about your skill set. As far as fieldwork is concerned, theres nobody better, even now. What Im talking about is restraint. The ability not to act. Thats what goes first. And you dont get it back."
"Then maybe a leave of absence is in order."There was an undertone of desperation in his voice, and Bryson hated himself for it.
"The Directorate doesnt grant sabbaticals," Waller said dryly. "You know that. Nick, youve spent a decade and a half making history. Now you can study it. Im going to give you your life back."
"My life," Bryson repeated colorlessly. "So you are talking about retirement."
Waller leaned back in his chair. "Do you know the story of John Wallis, one of the great British spymasters of the seventeenth century? He was a wizard at decrypting Royalist messages for the Parliamentarians in the 1640s. He helped establish the English Black Chamber, the NSA of its time. But when he retired from the business, he used his gifts as professor of geometry at Cambridge, and helped invent modern calculushelped put modernity on its track. Who was more importantWallis the spy, or Wallis the scholar? Retiring from the business doesnt have to mean being put out to pasture."
It was a vintage Waller rejoinder, an arcane parable; Bryson almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. "What did you have in mind for me to do? Work as a rent-a-cop at a warehouse, guarding T-beams with a six-
shooter and a nightstick?"
"'Integer vitae, scelerisque purus non eget Mauris jaculis, neque arcu, nec venenatis gravida saggittis pharetra. The man of integrity, free of sin, doesnt need the Moorish javelin, nor the bow, nor the heavy quiver of hunting arrows. Horace, as you know. In the event, its all arranged. Woodbridge College needs a lecturer in near-eastern history, and theyve just found a stellar candidate. Your graduate studies and linguistic mastery make you a perfect match."
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