I fed her one of her own lines. "I'm doing the best I can, and that's all you can ask from somebody."
She smiled. "Well, all right, then, Poppa. Just as long as the best you can do puts all As on your next report." About a block from the school I gave Jannie and Damon their hugs - so as not to embarrass them, God forbid, in front of all their cool-ass friends. They hugged me back and kissed their little brother, and then off they ran. "Ba-bye," said Little Alex, and so did Jannie and Damon, calling back to their brother, "Ba-bye, ba-bye!"
I picked up Little Alex and we headed home; then it would be off to work for soon-to-be Agent Cross of the FBI. "Dada," said Little Alex as I carried him in my arms. That was right - Dada. Things were falling into place for the Cross family. After all these years, my life was finally close to being in balance. I wondered how long it would last. Hopefully at least for the rest of the day.
NEW-AGENT TRAINING at the FBI Academy in Quantico, sometimes called "Club Fed," was turning out to be a challenging, arduous, and tense program. For the most part, I liked it, and I was making an effort to keep any skepticism down. But I had entered the Bureau with a reputation for catching pattern killers, and I already had the nickname Dragonslayer. So irony and skepticism might soon be a problem.
Training had begun six weeks before, on a Monday morning, with a crew-cut broad-shouldered SSA, or supervisory special agent, Dr. Kenneth Horowitz, standing in front of our class trying to tell a joke: "The three biggest lies in the world are: 'All I want is a kiss,' 'The check is in the mail,' and 'I'm with the FBI and I'm only here to help you.'" Everybody in the class laughed, maybe because the joke was so ordinary, but at least Horowitz had tried his best, and maybe that was the point.
FBI director Ron Burns had set it up so that my training period would last for only eight weeks. He'd made other allowances for me as well. The maximum age for entrance into the FBI was thirty-seven years old. I was forty-two. Burns had the age requirement waived for me and also voiced his opinion that it was discriminatory and needed to be changed. The more I saw of Ron Burns, the more I sensed that he was something of a rebel, maybe because he was an ex-Philadelphia street cop himself. He had brought me into the FBI as a GS13, the highest I could go as a street agent. I'd also been promised assignments as a consultant, which meant a better salary. Burns had wanted me in the Bureau, and he got me. He said that I could have any reasonable resources I needed to get the job done. I hadn't discussed it with him yet, but I thought I might want two detectives from the Washington PD - John Sampson and Jerome Thurman.
The only thing Burns had been quiet about was my class supervisor at Quantico, a senior agent named Gordon Nooney. Nooney ran Agent Training. He had been a profiler before that, and prior to becoming an FBI agent, had been a prison psychologist in New Hampshire. I was finding him to be a bean counter at best.
That morning, Nooney was standing there waiting when I arrived for my class in abnormal psych, an hour and fifty minutes on understanding psychopathic behavior, something I hadn't been able to do in nearly fifteen years with the D.C. police force.
There was gunfire in the air, probably from the nearby Marine base. "How was traffic from D.C.?" Nooney asked. I didn't miss the barb behind the question: I was permitted to go home nights, while the other agents-in-training slept at Quantico.
"No problem," I said. "Forty-five minutes in moving traffic on Ninety-five. I left plenty of extra time."
"The Bureau isn't known for breaking rules for individuals," Nooney said. Then he offered a tight, thin smile that was awfully close to a frown. "Of course, you're Alex Cross."
From Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson. Copyright © 2003 by James Patterson. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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