He was a twenty-five-year veteran well into his final lap before retirement, well into his middle fifties, the last echo of the old days. He was still tall, still fairly lean and athletic, but graying fast and softening in some of the wrong places. His name was Stuyvesant. Like the last Director-General of New Amsterdam, he would say when the spelling was questioned. Then, acknowledging the modern world, he would say: like the cigarette. He wore Brooks Brothers every day of his life without exception, but he was considered capable of flexibility in his tactics. Best of all, he had never failed. Not ever, and he had been around a long time, with more than his fair share of difficulties. But there had been no failures, and no bad luck, either. Therefore, in the merciless calculus of organizations everywhere, he was considered a good guy to work for.
"You look a little nervous," he said.
"I am, a little," Froelich said back.
His office was small, and quiet, and sparsely furnished, and very clean.
The walls were painted bright white and lit with halogen. There was a window, with white vertical blinds half closed against gray weather outside.
"Why are you nervous?" he asked.
"I need to ask your permission."
"For something I want to try," she said. She was twenty years younger than Stuyvesant, exactly thirty-five. Tall rather than short, but not excessively. Maybe only an inch or two over the average for American women of her generation, but the kind of intelligence and energy and vitality she radiated took the word medium right out of the equation. She was halfway between lithe and muscular, with a bright glow in her skin and her eyes that made her look like an athlete. Her hair was short and fair and casually unkempt. She gave the impression of having hurriedly stepped into her street clothes after showering quickly after winning a gold medal at the Olympics by playing a crucial role in some kind of team sport. Like it was no big deal, like she wanted to get out of the stadium before the television interviewers got through with her teammates and started in on her. She looked like a very competent person, but a very modest one.
"What kind of something?" Stuyvesant asked. He turned and placed the file he was carrying on his desk. His desk was large, topped with a slab of gray composite. High-end modern office furniture, obsessively cleaned and polished like an antique. He was famous for always keeping his desktop clear of paperwork and completely empty. The habit created an air of extreme efficiency.
"I want an outsider to do it," Froelich said.
Stuyvesant squared the file on the desk corner and ran his fingers along the spine and the adjacent edge, like he was checking the angle was exact.
"You think that 's a good idea?" he asked.
Froelich said nothing. "I suppose you've got somebody in mind?" he asked.
"An excellent prospect."
Froelich shook her head.
"You should stay outside the loop," she said. "Better that way."
"Was he recommended?"
Stuyvesant nodded again. The modern world.
"Was the person you have in mind recommended?"
"Yes, by an excellent source."
"Yes," Froelich said again..
"So we're already in the loop."
"No, the source isn't in-house anymore."
Stuyvesant turned again and moved his file parallel to the long edge of the desk. Then back again parallel with the short edge.
"Let me play devil's advocate, "he said." I promoted you four months ago. Four months is a long time. Choosing to bring in an outsider now might be seen to betray a certain lack of self-confidence, mightn't it?
Wouldn't you say?"
"I can 't worry about that."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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