"Is that so? Well, thank you for informing me that I threw away a thirty-year career because I had a temper tantrum." "You should come to terms with that. I'll tell you something elseunless you find something equally important and challenging to do, you're going to get depressed" "I'm depressed now. You just made me depressed. Thanks."
"Sorry, but I know you. You were not as burned out as you thought you were. The Campbell case just got to you. That's okay. It got to everyone. Even me. It was the saddest, most depressing case" "I don't want to talk about that."
"Okay. But what you needed was a thirty-day leave, not a permanent vacation. You're still young" "You're younger."
"You've got a lot of energy left, a lot to give, but you need to write a second act, Paul." "Thank you. I'm exploring my options." It had gotten noticeably cooler in the room and on the phone.
"Are you angry?" "No. If you were here, you'd see me smiling. I'm smiling." "Well, if I didn't love you, I wouldn't be saying these things." "I'm still smiling." "See you in a few weeks." She said, "Take care of yourself." "You, too." Silence, then, "Good night." "'Bye."
We both hung up. I stood, went to the bar, and made a drink. Scotch, splash of soda, ice.
I sat in my den, my feet on the desk, watching the snow outside. The Scotch smelled good.
So, there I was with a Danielle Steel novel on my desk, an unpleasant phone call still ringing in my ears, and an ominous message from Karl Hellmann on my computer screen.
Sometimes things that seem unconnected are actually part of a larger plan. Not your plan, to be sure, but someone else's plan. I was supposed to believe that Karl and Cynthia were not talking about me, but Mrs. Brenner didn't raise an idiot.
I should be pissed off when people underestimate my intelligence, though in truth, I affect a certain macho idiocy that encourages people to underestimate my brilliance. I've put a lot of people in jail that way.
I looked at the message again. 1600 hrs, tomorrow, the Wall. Not even "please." Colonel Karl Gustav Hellmann can be a bit arrogant. He's German-born, as the name suggests, whereas Paul Xavier Brenner is a typical Irish lad, from South Boston, charmingly irresponsible, and delightfully smart-assed. Herr Hellmann is quite the opposite. Yet, on some strange level, we got along. He was a good commander, strict but fair, and highly motivated. I just never trusted his motives.
Anyway, I sat up and banged out an e-mail to Karl: See you there and then.
I signed it, Paul Brenner, PFC, which, in this case, did not mean Private First Class, but meant, as Karl and I both knew, Private F-ing Civilian.
Copyright © 2002 by Nelson DeMille
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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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