"Clandestine Service Sub-Director Thompson jiggled a stack of papers to get the attention of the man behind the desk. “Warren, this is your new partner, agent Steve Hammond. Steve just completed agent training.”
“I was second in my class,” Steve volunteered.
Sub-Director Thompson gestured toward the man. “This is Warren Pace, the most senior field agent in the CIA. You’ll learn a wealth of information from him. Some of it might even be helpful.” Thompson indicated the many framed awards and citations on the wall behind Warren. “He was the lead field agent in discovering and foiling the plot to assassinate the president in 1971. He’s uncovered four moles over his career. He infiltrated organized crime groups including the FFA, the PLGA, and the Bazlani Radicals.”
“Very impressive.” Steve stared at Warren, who didn’t look up. “That’s why I requested Warren as a partner. He’s a legend! Infiltrating a foreign security service posing as a Bohemian accordion prodigy bent on personal revenge due to funding cuts to the arts? That took guts!”
“It took more than guts,” Warren replied without looking up. “It took the hearing in my right ear. You know how much feedback an amplified parade accordion can generate?”
Steve nodded somberly. “You gave your hearing in the service of your country.”
“I’ve given more than that,” Warren growled.
Sub-Director Thompson forced a chuckle. “Our greatest living field agent has some areas of weakness—he isn’t much of a teacher. If you have questions, ask Stu, here.” Sub-Director Thompson gestured at the man sitting across the aisle from Warren. “Or Helen,” he instructed, indicating a nearby woman dressed in a dark pantsuit.
“When will I receive my first assignment?” Steve asked, eagerness in his voice.
“Whenever Warren gives it to you,” Sub-Director Thompson replied, striding away.
“Gosh, this’s so exciting!” Steve spun in his new office chair, then opened desk drawers before turning to Warren. “Mr. Pace, sir, I’m so flattered to be partnered with a living legend! I’m going to learn everything I can from you, and won’t let you down.”
“Let it rest, Steve,” Stu advised from across the aisle. “First, you’re talking to Warren’s deaf ear. Second, Warren ain’t that great. Yeah, he’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know, but he’s also forgotten quite a few really important things, too.”
Steve frowned. “Are you implying …”
Helen interrupted. “Yeah, Warren’s a bit senile. He’s been an agent for over fifty years. Being assigned as Warren’s new partner isn’t exactly a good thing, okay? Better hope you paid attention in agent training.”
Steve’s face reddened slightly. “I don’t think the two of you should be disparaging Mr. Pace like this. And right in front of him, too!”
Stu and Helen laughed. “Warren!” Helen called. Warren didn’t look up. “See? He only hears what he wants to—and that’s damn little. So take your own notes and be prepared to correct and contradict him.”
Steve shook his head. “I couldn’t do that to Mr. Pace. He’s a genuine hero.”
Stu’s voice hardened. “We’re just telling you the truth, Steve. Ours is a dangerous occupation. Don’t live in fairytale land.”
After lunch Warren stopped at Steve’s desk with a paper in his hand. “Time to go on your first mission, kid. I’ve been ordered to take you with me.”
“What is that?” Steve asked, staring at the paper. “A letter from the Director?”
“No,” Warren replied, turning his good ear toward Steve. “It’s an e-mail from a foreign station chief.”
“You printed out an e-mail just to bring it to me?”
Warren frowned. “Look, kid, don’t lecture me about wasting paper, okay? I have a problem reading computer screens after an injury in the line of duty.”
Across the aisle, Stu guffawed. “In the line of duty? More like from being so old!”
Warren stared at Steve, waiting for a response, unaware of Stu’s interruption.
“I’m ready,” Steve stood. “Do I need to put on my suit coat?”
Warren gestured for Steve to sit. “First, do some research. Go online and find the newest information about cracking passwords.”
“Right, will do,” Steve replied, plopping back down. “Don’t we have people for that?”
Warren scowled. “We do, but I need you to search, for purposes of security.”