"Nick Bryson, my main man!" exclaimed Chris Edgecomb, bounding from his seat at a computer monitor. Born in Guyana, he was a lithe, tall man with mocha skin and green eyes. Hed been at the Directorate for four years, working on the communications-and-coordination team; he fielded distress calls, figured out ways to relay information to agents in the field when it was necessary. Edgecomb clasped Brysons hand warmly.
Nicholas Bryson knew he was something of a hero to people like Edgecomb, who yearned to be field operatives. "Join the Directorate and change the world," Edgecomb would joke in his lilting English, and it was Bryson he had in mind when he said it. It was a rare event, Bryson knew, that the office staff saw Bryson face-to-face; for Edgecomb, this was an occasion.
"Somebody hurt you?" Edgecombs expression was sympathetic; he saw a strong man who had been hospitalized until recently. Then he continued hastily, knowing better than to ask questions: "Ill pray to Saint Christopher for you. Youll be a hundred percent in no time."
The Directorates creed, above all, was segmentation and compartmentalization. No one agent or staffer should ever know enough to be in the position to jeopardize the security of the whole. The organizational chart was shrouded even to a veteran like Bryson. He knew a few of the desk jockeys, of course. But the field personnel all operated in isolation, through their own proprietary networks. If you had to work together, you knew each other only by a field legend, a temporary alias. The rule was more than procedure, it was Holy Writ.
"Youre a good man, Chris," Bryson remarked.
Edgecomb smiled modestly, then pointed a finger upward. He knew Bryson had an appointmentor was it a summons?with the big man himself, Ted Waller. Bryson smiled, gave Edgecomb a friendly clap on the shoulder, and made his way to the elevator.
"Dont get up," Bryson said heartily as he entered Ted Wallers third-floor office. Waller did anyway, all six feet, four inches and three hundred pounds of him.
"Good Lord, look at you," Waller said, his eyes appraising Bryson with alarm. "You look like you came out of a POW camp."
"Thirty-three days in a U.S. government clinic in Morocco will do that to you," Bryson said. "Its not exactly the Ritz."
"Perhaps I should try being gutted by a mad terrorist someday." Waller patted his ample girth. He was even larger than the last time Bryson had seen him, though his avoirdupois was elegantly sheathed in a suit of navy cashmere, his bull neck flattered by the spread collar of one of his Turnbull & Asser shirts. "Nick, Ive been tormenting myself since this happened. It was a serrated Verenski blade from Bulgaria, Im told. Plunge and twist. Terribly low-tech, but it usually does the job. What a business were in. Never forget, its what you dont see that always gets you." Waller settled weightily back in the tufted-leather chair behind his oak desk. The early-afternoon sun filtered through the polarized glass behind him. Bryson took a seat in front of him, an unaccustomed formality. Waller, who was normally ruddy and seemingly robust, now looked pallid, the circles under his eyes deep. "They say youve made a remarkable recovery."
"In a few more weeks, Ill be as good as new. At least thats what the doctors tell me. They also say Ill never need an appendectomy, a side benefit I never thought of." As he spoke, he felt the dull ache in his lower-right abdomen.
Waller nodded distractedly. "You know why you're here?"
"A kid gets a note to see the principal, he expects a reprimand." Bryson feigned lightheartedness, but his mood was tense, somber.
"A reprimand," Waller said enigmatically. He was silent for a moment, his eyes settling on a row of leather-bound books on the shelves near the door. Then he turned back and said in a gentle, pained voice: "The Directorate doesnt exactly post an organizational chart, but I think you have some inkling of the command-and-control structure. Decisions, particularly ones concerning key personnel, do not always stop at my desk. And as important as loyalty is to you and to mehell, to most of the people in this goddamned placeits coldhearted pragmatism that rules the day. You know that."
Copyright Robert Ludlum 2000. All rights reserved.
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