"You used the past tense, Ted," Bryson said. "The implication being that you believe Ive lost it."
"I simply meant what I said," Waller replied quietly. "Ive never worked with anyone better, and I doubt I ever will."
By temperament and by training, Nick knew how to remain impassive, but now his heart was thudding. You were the best we ever had, Nick. That sounded like an homage, and homage, he knew, was a key element of the ritual of separation. Bryson would never forget Wallers reaction when he pulled off his first operational hat trickfoiling the assassination of a moderate reform candidate in South America. It was a taciturn Not bad: Waller had pressed his lips together to keep from smiling, and to Nick, it was a greater accolade than any that followed. Its when they begin to acknowledge how valuable you are, Bryson had learned, that you know they're putting you out to pasture.
"Nick, nobody else could have accomplished what you did in the Comoros. The place would have been in the hands of that madman, Colonel Denard. In Sri Lanka,there are probably thousands of people who are alive, on both sides, because of the arms-trading routes you exposed. And what you did in Belarus? The GRU still doesnt have a clue, and they never will. Leave it to the politicians to color inside the lines, because those are the lines that weve drawn, that youve drawn. The historians will never know, and the truth is, its better that way. But we know that, dont we?"
Bryson didnt reply; no reply was called for.
"And on a separate matter, Nick, noses are out of joint around here about the Banque du Nord business." He was referring to Brysons penetration of a Tunis bank that channeled laundered funds to Abu and Hezbollah to fund the coup attempt. One night during the operation more than 1.5 billion dollars simply disappeared, vanished into cyberspace. Months of investigation had failed to account for the missing assets. It was a loose end, and the Directorate disliked loose ends.
"Youre not suggesting that I had my hand in the cookie jar, are you?"
"Of course not. But you understand that there are always going to be suspicions. When there are no answers, the questions linger; you know that."
"Ive had plenty of opportunities for personal enrichment that would have been far more lucrative and considerably more discreet."
"Youve been tested, yes, and youve passed with flying colors. But I question the method of diversion, the monies transferred through false flags to Abus colleagues to purchase compromisable background data."
"Thats called improvisation. Its what you pay me forusing my powers of discretion when and where necessary." Bryson stopped, realizing something. "But I was never debriefed about this!"
"You offered up the details yourself, Nick," said Waller.
"I sure as hell neveroh, Christ, it was chemicals, wasnt it?"
Waller hesitated a split-second, but just long enough that Brysons question was answered. Ted Waller could lie, blithely and easily, when the need dictated, but Bryson knew his old friend and mentor found lying to him distasteful. "Where we obtain our information is compartmented, Nick. You know that."
Now he understood the need for such a protracted stay in an American-staffed clinic in Laayoune. Chemicals had to be administered without the subjects knowledge, preferably injected into the intravenous drip. "Goddamn it, Ted! Whats the implicationthat I couldn't be trusted to undergo a conventional debriefing, offer the goods up freely? That only a blind interrogation could tell you what you wanted to know? You had to put me under without my knowledge?"
"Sometimes the most reliable interrogation is that which is conducted without the subjects calculation of his own best interest."
Copyright Robert Ludlum 2000. All rights reserved.
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