home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



3Collegium

"So, we're agreed?" the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board asked.

Those around the table nodded. It wasn't that hard a call. For the second time in the past three months, President Durling had made it known, quietly, through the Secretary of the Treasury, that he would not object to another half-point rise in the Discount Rate. That was the interest rate which the Federal Reserve charged to banks that borrowed moneywhere else would they borrow such sums, except from the Fed? Any rise in that rate, of course, was passed immediately on to the consumer.

It was a constant balancing act, for the men and women around the polished oak table. They controlled the quantity of money in the American economy. As though by turning the valve that opened or closed the floodgate on an irrigation dam, they could regulate the amount of currency that existed, trying always not to provide too much or too little.

It was more complex than that, of course. Money had little physical reality. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, located less than a mile away, had neither the paper nor the ink to make enough one-dollar bills for what the Fed parceled out every day. "Money" was mainly an electronic expression, a matter of sending a message: You, First National Bank of Podunk, now have an additional three million dollars which you may lend to Joe's Hardware, or Jeff Brown's Gas-and-Go, or for new homeowners to borrow as mortgage loans to pay back for the next twenty years. Few of these people were paid in cashwith credit cards there was less for a robber to steal, an employee to embezzle, or most inconveniently of all, a clerk to count, recount, and walk to the local branch of the bank. As a result, what appeared by the magic of computer E-mail or teleprinter message was lent out by written draft, to be repaid later by yet another theoretical expression, usually a check written on a small slip of special paper, often decorated with the pictures of a flying eagle or a fishing boat on some lake that didn't exist, because the banks competed for customers and people liked such things.

The power of the people in this room was so stunning that even they rarely thought about it. By a simple decision, the people around the table had just made everything in America cost more. Every adjustable-rate mortgage for every home, every auto loan, every credit card revolving line, would become more expensive every month. Because of that decision, every business and household in America would have less disposable income to spend on employee benefits or Christmas toys. What began as a press release would reach into every wallet in the nation. Prices would increase on every consumer item from home computers to bubble gum, thus reducing further still everyone's real buying power.

And this was good, the Fed thought. All the statistical indicators said the economy was running a little too hot. There was a real danger of increasing inflation. In fact, there was always inflation to one degree or another, but the interest raise would limit it to tolerable levels. Prices would still go up somewhat, and the increase in the discount rate would make them go up further still.

It was an example of fighting fire with fire. Raising interest rates meant that, at the margin, people would borrow less, which would actually reduce the amount of money in circulation, which would lessen the buying pressure, which would cause prices to stabilize, more or less, and prevent something that all knew to be more harmful than a momentary blip in interest rates. Like ripples expanding from a stone tossed into a lake, there would be other effects still. The interest on Treasury bills would increase. These were debt instruments of the government itself. Peopleactually institutions for the most part, like banks and pension funds and investment firms that had to park their clients' money somewhere while waiting for a good opportunity on the stock marketwould give money, electronically, to the government for a term varying from three months to thirty years, and in return for the use of that money, the government itself had to pay interest (much of it recouped in taxes, of course). The marginal increase in the Federal-funds rate would raise the interest rate the government had to paydetermined at an auction. Thus the cost of the federal deficit would also increase, forcing the government to pull in more of the domestic money supply, reducing the pool of money available to personal and business loans and further increasing interest rates for the public through market forces over and above what the Fed enforced itself. Finally, the mere fact that bank and T-Bill rates would increase made the stock market less attractive to investors because the government-guaranteed return was "safer" than the more speculative rate of return anticipated by a company whose products and/or services had to compete in the marketplace.

On Wall Street, individual investors and professional managers who monitored economic indicators took the evening news (increases in the Fed rate were usually timed for release after the close of the markets) phlegmatically and made the proper notes to "go short on" (sell) their positions in some issues. This would reduce the posted values of numerous stocks, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to sink. Actually, it was not an average at all, but the sum of the current market value of thirty blue-chip stocks, with Allied Signal on one end of the alphabet, Woolworth's on the other, and Merck in the middle. It was an indicator whose utility today was mainly that of giving the news media something to report to the public, which for the most part didn't know what it represented anyway. The dip in "the Dow" would make some people nervous, causing more selling, and more decline in the market until others saw opportunity in stock issues that had been depressed farther than they deserved to be. Sensing that the true value of those issues was higher than the market price indicated, they would buy in measured quantities, allowing the Dow (and other market indicators) to increase again until a point of equilibrium was reached, and confidence restored. And all these multifaceted changes were imposed on everyone's individual lives by a handful of people in an ornate boardroom in Washington, D.C., whose names few investment professionals even knew, much less the general public.

The remarkable thing was that everyone accepted the entire process, seemingly as normal as physical laws of nature, despite the fact that it was really as ethereal as a rainbow. The money did not physically exist. Even "real" money was only specially made paper printed with black ink on the front and green on the back. What backed the money was not gold or something of intrinsic value, but rather the collective belief that money had value because it had to have such value. Thus it was that the monetary system of the United States and every other country in the world was entirely an exercise in psychology, a thing of the mind, and as a result, so was every other aspect of the American economy. If money was simply a matter of communal faith, then so was everything else. What the Federal Reserve had done that afternoon was a measured exercise in first shaking that faith and then allowing it to reestablish itself of its own accord through the minds of those who held it. Holders of that faith included the governors of the Fed, because they truly understood it all-or thought that they did. Individually they might joke that nobody really understood how it all worked, any more than any of them could explain the nature of God, but like theologians constantly trying to determine and communicate the nature of a deity, it was their job to keep things moving, to make the belief-structure real and tangible, never quite acknowledging that it all rested on nothing even as real as the paper currency they carried with them for the times when the use of a plastic credit card was inconvenient.

They were trusted, in the distant way that people trusted their clergy, to maintain the structure on which worldly faith always depended, proclaiming the reality of something that could not be seen, an edifice whose physical manifestations were found only in buildings of stone and the sober looks of those who worked there. And, they told themselves, it all worked. Didn't it? In many ways Wall Street was the one part of America in which Japanese citizens, especially those from Tokyo itself, felt most at home. The buildings were so tall as to deny one a look at the sky, the streets so packed that a visitor from another planet might think that yellow cabs and black limousines were the primary form of life here. People moved along the crowded, dirty sidewalks in bustling anonymity, eyes rigidly fixed forward both to show purpose and to avoid even visual contact with others who might be competitors or, more likely, were just in the way. The whole city of New York had taken its demeanor from this place, brusque, rapid, impersonal, tough in form, but not in substance. Its inhabitants told themselves that they were where the action was, and were so fixed on their individual and collective goals that they resented all the others who felt precisely the same way.

In that sense it was a perfect world. Everyone felt exactly the same. Nobody gave much of a damn about anyone else. At least, that's the way it appeared. In truth, the people who worked here had spouses and children, interests and hobbies, desires and dreams, just like anybody else, but between the hours of eight in the morning and six in the evening all that was subordinated to the rules of their business. The business, of course, was money, a class of product that knew no place or loyalty. And so it was that on the fifty-eighth floor of Six Columbus Lane, the new headquarters building of the Columbus Group, a changeover was taking place.

The room was breathtaking in every possible aspect. The walls were solid walnut, not veneer, and lovingly maintained by a well-paid team of craftsmen. Two of the walls were polished glass that ran from the carpet to the Celotex ceiling panels, and offered a view of New York Harbor and beyond. The carpet was thick enough to swallow up shoesand to deliver a nasty static shock, which the people here had learned to tolerate. The conference table was forty feet of red granite, and the chairs around it priced out at nearly two thousand dollars each.

The Columbus Group, founded only eleven years before, had gone from being just one more upstart, to enfant terrible, to bright rising light, to serious player, to among the best in its field, to its current position as a cornerstone of the mutual-funds community. Founded by George Winston, the company now controlled a virtual fleet of fund-management teams. The three primary teams were fittingly called Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, because when Winston had founded the company, at the age of twenty-nine, he'd just read and been captivated by Samuel Eliot Morison's The European Discovery of the New World, and, marveling at the courage, vision, and sheer chutzpah of the restless navigators from Prince Henry's school, he'd decided to chart his own course by their example. Now forty, and rich beyond the dreams of avarice, it was time to leave, to smell the roses, to take his ninety-foot sailing yacht on some extended cruises. In fact, his precise plans were to spend the next few months learning how to sail Cristobol as expertly as he did everything else in his life, and then to duplicate the voyages of discovery, one every summer, until he ran out of examples to follow, and then maybe write his own book about it.

He was a man of modest size that his personality seemed to make larger. A fitness fanaticstress was the prime killer on the StreetWinston positively glowed with the confidence imparted by his superb conditioning. He walked into the already-full conference room with the air of a President-elect entering his headquarters after the conclusion of a successful campaign, his stride fast and sure, his smile courtly and guileless. Pleased with this culmination of his professional life on this day, he even nodded his head to his principal guest.

"Yamata-san, so good to see you again," George Winston said with an extended hand. "You came a long way for this."

"For an event of this importance," the Japanese industrialist replied, "how could I not?"

Winston escorted the smaller man to his seat at the far end of the table before returning toward his own at the head. There were teams of lawyers and investment executives in betweenrather like football squads at the line of scrimmage, Winston thought, as he walked the length of the table, guarding his own feelings as he did so.

It was the only way out, damn it, Winston told himself. Nothing else would have worked. The first six years running this place had been the greatest exhilaration of his life. Starting with less than twenty clients, building their money and his reputation at the same time. Working at home, he remembered, his brain racing to outstrip his paces across the room, one computer and one dedicated phone line, worried about feeding his family, blessed by the support of his loving wife despite the fact that she'd been pregnant the first timewith twins, no less, and still she'd never missed a chance to express her love and confidence-parlaying his skill and instinct into success. By thirty-five it had all been done, really. Two floors of a downtown office tower, his own plush office, a team of bright young "rocket scientists" to do the detail work. That was when he'd first thought about getting out.

In building up the funds of his clients, he'd bet his own money, too, of course, until his personal fortune, after taxes, was six hundred fifty-seven million dollars. Basic conservatism would not allow him to leave his money behind, and besides, he was concerned about where the market was heading, and so he was taking it all out, cashing in and switching over to a more conservative manager. It seemed a strange course of action even to himself, but he just didn't want to be bothered with this business anymore. Going "conservative" was dull, and would necessarily cast away enormous future opportunities, hut, he'd asked himself for years, what was the point? He owned six palatial homes, two personal automobiles at each, a helicopter, he leased a personal jet, Cristobol was his principal toy. He had everything he'd ever wanled, and even with conservative portfolio management, his personal wealth would continue to rise faster than the inflation rate because he didn't have the ego to spend even as much as the annualized return would generate.

And so he'd parcel it out in fifty-million-dollar blocks, covering every segment of the market through investment colleagues who had not achieved his personal success, but whose integrity and acumen he trusted. The switchover had been under way for three years, very quietly, as he'd searched for a worthy successor for the Columbus Group. Unfortunately, the only one who'd stepped forward was this little bastard.

"Ownership" was the wrong term, of course. The true owners of the group were the individual investors who gave their money to his custody, and that was a trust which Winston never forgot. Even with his decision made, his conscience clawed at him. Those people relied on him and his people, but him most of all, because his was the name on the most important door. The trust of so many people was a heavy burden which he'd borne with skill and pride, but enough was enough. It was time to attend to the needs of his own family, five kids and a faithful wife who were tired of "understanding" why Daddy had to be away so much. The needs of the many. The needs of the few. But the few were closer, weren't they?

Raizo Yamata was putting in much of his personal fortune and quite a bit of the corporate funds of his many industrial operations in order to make good the funds that Winston was taking out. Quiet though Winston might wish it to be, and understandable as his action surely was to anyone with a feel for the business, it would still become cause for comment. Therefore it was necessary that the man replacing him be willing to put his own money back in. That sort of move would restore any wavering confidence. It would also cement the marriage between the Japanese and American financial systems. While Winston watched, instruments were signed that "enabled" the funds transfer for which international-bank executives had stayed late at their offices in six countries. A man of great personal substance, Raizo Yamata.

Well, Winston corrected himself, great personal liquidity. Since leaving the Wharton School, he'd known a lot of bright, sharp operators, all of them cagey, intelligent people who'd tried to hide their predatory nature behind facades of humor and bonhomie. You soon developed an instinct for them. It was that simple. Perhaps Yamata thought that his heritage made him more unreadable, just as he doubtless thought himself to be smarter than the average bearor bull in this case, Winston smiled to himself. Maybe, maybe not, he thought, looking down the forty-foot table. Why was there no excitement in the man? The Japanese had emotions, too. Those with whom he'd done business had been affable enough, pleased as any other man to make a big hit on the Street. Get a few drinks into them and they were no different from Americans, really. Oh, a little more reserved, a little shy, perhaps, but always polite, that's what he liked best about them, their fine manners, something that would have been welcome in New Yorkers. That was it, Winston thought. Yamata was polite, but it wasn't genuine. It was pro forma with him, and shyness had nothing to do with it. Like a little robot

No, that wasn't true either, Winston thought, as the papers slid down the table toward him. Yamata's wall was just thicker than the average, the better to conceal what he felt. Why had he built such a wall? It wasn't necessary here, was it? In this room he was among equals; more than that, he was now among partners. He had just signed over his money, placed his personal well-being in the same boat as so many others. By transferring nearly two hundred million dollars, he now owned over one percent of the funds managed by Columbus, which made him the institution's largest single investor. With that status came control of every dollar, share, and option the fund had. It wasn't the largest fleet on the Street by any means, but the Columbus Group was one of the leaders. People looked to Columbus for ideas and trends. Yamata had bought more than a trading house. He now had a real position in the hierarchy of America's money-managers. His name, largely unknown in America until recently, would now be spoken with respect, which was something that ought to have put a smile on his face, Winston thought. But it didn't.

The final sheet of paper got to his chair, slid across by one of his principal subordinates, and, with his signature, about to become Yamata's. It was just so easy. One signature, a minute quantity of blue ink arranged in a certain way, and with it went eleven years of his life. One signature gave his business over to a man he didn't understand.

Well, I don't have to, do I? He'll try to make money for himself and others, just like I did. Winston took out his pen and signed without looking up. Why didn't you look first?

He heard a cork pop out of a champagne bottle and looked up to see the smiles on the faces of his former employees. In consummating the deal he'd become a symbol for them. Forty years old, rich, successful, retired, able to go after the fun dreams now, without having to stick around forever. That was the personal goal of everyone who worked in a place like this. Bright as these people were, few had the guts to give it a try. Even then, most of them failed, Winston reminded himself, but he was the living proof that it could happen. Tough-minded and cynical as these investment professionals were-or pretended to be-at heart they had the same dream, to make the pile and leave, get away from the incredible stress of finding opportunities in reams of paper reports and analyses, make a rep, draw people and their money in, do good things for them and yourself-and leave. The pot of gold was in the rainbow, and at the end was an exit. A sailboat, a house in Florida, another in the Virgins, another in Aspensleeping until eight sometimes; playing golf. It was a vision of the future which beckoned strongly. But why not now?

Dear God, what had he done? Tomorrow morning he'd wake up and not know what to do. Was it possible to turn it off just like that?

A little late for that, George, he told himself, reaching for the offered glass of Moet, taking the obligatory sip. He raised his glass to toast Yamata, for that, too, was obligatory. Then he saw the smile, expected but surprising. It was the smile of a victorious man. Why that? Winston asked himself. He'd paid top dollar. It wasn't the sort of deal in which anyone had "won" or "lost." Winston was taking his money out, Yamata was putting his money in. And yet that smile. It was a jarring note, all the more so because he didn't understand it. His mind raced even as the bubbly wine slid down his throat. If only the smile had been friendly and gracious, but it wasn't. Their eyes met, forty feet apart, in a look that no one else caught, and despite the fact that there had been no battle fought and no victors identified, it was as though a war was being fought.

Why? Instincts. Winston immediately turned his loose. There was just somethingwhat? A nastiness in Yamata. Was he one of those who viewed everything as combat? Winston had been that way once, but grown out of it. Competition was always tough, but civilized. On the Street everyone competed with everyone else, too, for security, advice, consensus, and competition, which was tough but friendly so long as everyone obeyed the same rules.

You're not in that game, are you? he wanted to ask, too late.

Winston tried a new ploy, interested in the game that had started so unexpectedly. He lifted his glass, and silently toasted his successor while the other people in the room chattered across the table. Yamata reciprocated the gesture, and his mien actually became more arrogant, radiating contempt at the stupidity of the man who had just sold out to him.

You were so good at concealing your feelings before, why not now? You really thinkyou're the cat's ass, that you've done somethingbigger than I know. What?

Winston looked away, out the windows to the mirror-calm water of the harbor. He was suddenly bored with the game, uninterested in whatever competition that little bastard thought himself to have won. Hell, he told himself, I'm out of here. I've lost nothing. I've gained my freedom. I've got my money. I've got everything. Okay, fine, you can run the house and make your money, and have a seat in any club or restaurant in town, whenever you're here, and tell yourself how important you are, and if you think that's a victory, then it is. But it's not a victory over anyone, Winston concluded.

It was too bad. Winston had caught everything, as he usually did, identified all the right elements. But for the first time in years, he'd failed to assemble them into the proper scenario. It wasn't his fault. He understood his own game completely, and had merely assumed, wrongly, that it was the only game in town.

Chet Nomuri worked very hard not to be an American citizen. His was the fourth generation of his family in the U.S.the first of his ancestors had arrived right after the turn of the century and before the "Gentlemen's Agreement" between Japan and America restricting further immigration. It would have insulted him had he thought about it more. Of greater insult was what had happened to his grandparents and great-grandparents despite full U.S. citizenship. His grandfather had leaped at the chance to prove his loyalty to his country, and served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, returning home with two Purple Hearts and master-sergeant stripes only to find that the family businessoffice supplieshad been sold off for a song and his family sent to an intern camp. With stoic patience, he had started over, built it up with a new and unequivocal name, Veteran's Office Furniture, and made enough money to send his three sons through college and beyond. Chet's own father was a vascular surgeon, a small, jolly man who'd been born in government captivity, and whose parents, for that reasonand to please his grandfatherhad maintained some of the traditions, such as language.

Done it pretty well, too, Nomuri thought. He'd overcome his accent problems in a matter of weeks, and now, sitting in the Tokyo bathhouse, everyone around him wondered which prefecture he had come from. Nomuri had identification papers for several. He was a field officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, perversely on assignment for the U.S. Department of Justice, and completely without the knowledge of the U.S. Department of State. One of the things he had learned from his surgeon father was to fix his eyes forward to the things he could do, not back at things he couldn't change. In this the Nomuri family had bought into America, quietly, undramatically, and successfully, Chet told himself, sitting up to his neck in hot water.

The rules of the bath were perfectly straightforward. You could talk about everything but business, and you could even talk about that, but only the gossip, not the substantive aspects of how you made your money and your deals. Within those loose constraints, seemingly everything was open for discussion in a surprisingly casual forum in this most structured of societies.

Nomuri got there at about the same time every day, and had been doing so long enough that the people he met were on a similar schedule, knew him, and were comfortable with him. He already knew everything there was to know about their wives and families, as they did about hisor rather, about the fictional "legend" that he'd built himself and which was now as real to him as the Los Angeles neighborhood in which he'd come to manhood.

"I need a mistress," Kazuo Taoka said, hardly for the first time. "My wife, all she wants to do is watch television since our son is born."

"All they ever do is complain," another salaryman agreed. There was a concurring series of grunts from the other men in the pool.

"A mistress is expensive," Nomuri noted from his corner of the bath, wondering what the wives complained about in their bathing pools. "In money and time."

Of the two, time was the more important. Each of the young executiveswell, not really that, but the borderline between what in America would seem a clerkship and a real decision-making post was hazy in Japanmade a good living, but the price for it was to be bound as tightly to his corporation as one of Tennessee Ernie Ford's coal miners. Frequently up before dawn, commuting to work mainly by train from outlying suburbs, they worked in crowded offices, worked hard and late, and went home most often to find wives and children asleep. Despite what he'd learned from TV and research before coming over here, it still came as a shock to Nomuri that the pressures of business might actually be destroying the social fabric of the country, that the structure of the family itself was damaged. It was all the more surprising because the strength of the Japanese family unit was the only thing that had enabled his own ancestors to succeed in an America where racism had been a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

"Expensive, yes," Taoka agreed morosely, "but where else can a man get what he needs?"

"That is true," another said on the other side of the pool. Well, not really a pool, but too big for a tub. "It costs too much, but what is it worth to be a man?"

"Easier for the bosses," Nomuri said next, wondering where this would lead. He was still early in his assignment, still building the foundation for embarking on his real mission, taking his time, as he'd been ordered to do by Ed and Mary Pat.

"You should see what Yamata-san has going for him," another salaryman observed with a dark chuckle.

"Oh?" Taoka asked.

"He is friendly with Goto," the man went on with a conspiratorial look.

"The politicianah, yes, of course!"

Nomuri leaned back and closed his eyes, letting the hundred-plus-degree water of the bath envelop him, not wanting to appear interested as his brain turned on its internal tape-recorder. "Politician," he murmured sleepily.

"Hmph."

"I had to run some papers to Yamata-san last month, a quiet place not far from here. Papers about the deal he just made today, in fact. Goto was entertaining him. They let me in, I suppose Yamata-san wanted me to have a look. The girl with them" His voice became slightly awed. "Tall and blonde, such fine bosoms."

"Where does one buy an American mistress?" another interjected coarsely.

"And she knew her place," the storyteller went on. "She sat there while Yamata-san went over the papers, waiting patiently. No shame in her at all. Such lovely bosoms," the man concluded.

So the stories about Goto are true, Nomuri thought. How the hell do people like that make it so far in politics? the field officer asked himself. Only a second later he reproved himself for the stupidity of the question. Such behavior in politicians dated back to the Trojan War and beyond.

"You cannot stop there," Taoka insisted humorously. The man didn't, elaborating on the scene and earning the rapt attention of the others, who already knew all the relevant information on the wives of all present, and were excited to hear the description of a "new" girl in every clinical detail.

"Who cares about them?" Nomuri asked crossly, with closed eyes. "They're too tall, their feet are too big, their manners are poor, and"

"Let him tell the story," an excited voice insisted. Nomuri shrugged his submission to the collegial will while his mind recorded every word. The salaryman had an eye for detail, and in less than a minute Nomuri had a full physical description. The report would go through the Station Chief to Langley, because the CIA kept a file on the personal habits of politicians all over the world. There was no such thing as a useless fact, though he was hoping to get information of more immediate use than Goto's sexual proclivities.

The debriefing was held at the Farm, officially known as Camp Peary, a CIA training facility located off of Interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia. Cold drinks were gunned down as rapidly as the cans could be popped open, as both men went over maps and explained the six weeks in-country that had ended so well. Corp, CNN said, was going to begin his trial in the following week. There wasn't much doubt about the outcome. Somewhere back in that equatorial country, somebody had already purchased about fifteen feet of three-quarter-inch manila rope, though both officers wondered where the lumber for the gallows would come from. Probably have to ship it in, Clark thought. They hadn't seen much in the way of trees.

"Well," Mary Patricia Foley said after hearing the final version. "Sounds like a good clean one, guys."

"Thank you, ma'am," Ding replied gallantly. "John sure shovels out a nice line of BS for people."

"That's experience for you," Clark noted with a chuckle. "How's Ed doing?"

"Learning his place," the Deputy Director for Operations replied with an impish grin. Both she and her husband had gone through the Farm together, and Clark had been one of their instructors. Once the best husband-wife team the Agency had, the truth of the matter was that Mary Pat had better instincts for working the field, and Ed was better at planning things out. Under those circumstances, Ed really should have had the senior position, bul Mary Pat's appointment had just been too attractive, politically speaking, and in any case they still worked together, effectively co-Deputy Directors, though Ed's actual title was somewhat nebulous.

"You two are due some time off, and by the way, you have an official attaboy from the other side of the river." That was not a first for either officer. "John, you know, it's really time for you to come back inside." By which she meant a permanent return to a training slot here in the Virginia Tidewater. The Agency was increasing its human-intelligence assetsthe bureaucratic term for increasing the number of case officers (known as spies to America's enemies) to be deployed into the field. Mrs. Foley wanted Clark to help train them. After all, he'd done a good job with her and her husband, twenty years before.

"Not unless you want to retire me. I like it out there."

"He's dumb that way, ma'am," Chavez said with a sly grin. "I guess it comes with old age."

Mrs. Foley didn't argue the point. These two were among her best field agents, and she wasn't in that much of a hurry to break up a successful operation. "Fair enough, guys. You're released from the debrief. Oklahoma and Nebraska are on this afternoon."

"How are the kids, MP?" That was her service nickname, though not everybody had the rank to use it.

"Just fine, John. Thanks for asking." Mrs. Foley stood and walked to the door. A helicopter would whisk her back to Langley. She wanted to catch the game, too.

Clark and Chavez traded the look that comes with the conclusion of a job. Operation WALKMAN was now in the books, officially blessed by the Agency, and, in this case, by the White House.

"Miller time, Mr. C."

"I guess you want a ride, eh?"

"If you would be so kind, sir," Ding replied.

John Clark looked his partner over. Yes, he had cleaned himself up. The black hair was cut short and neat, the dark, heavy beard that had blurred his face in Africa was gone. He was even wearing a tie and white shirt under his suit jacket. Clark thought of the outfit as courting clothes, though on further reflection he might have recalled that Ding had once been a soldier, and that soldiers returning from the field liked to scrape off the physical reminders of the rougher aspects of their profession. Well, he could hardly complain that the lad was trying to look presentable, could he? Whatever faults Ding might have, John told himself, he always showed proper respect.

"Come on." Clark's Ford station wagon was parked in its usual place, and alter fifteen minutes they pulled into the driveway of his house. Set outside the grounds of Camp Peary, it was an ordinary split-level rancher, emptier now than it had been. Margaret Pamela Clark, his elder daughter, was away at college, Marquette University in her case. Patricia Doris Clark had chosen a school closer to home, William and Mary in nearby Williamsburg, where she was majoring in pre-med. Patsy was at the door, already alerted for the arrival.

"Daddy!" A hug, a kiss, followed by something which had become somewhat more important. "Ding!" Just a hug in this case, Clark saw, not fooled for a moment.

"Hi, Pats." Ding didn't let go of her hand as he came into the house.


2 Fraternity | Debt of Honor | 4 Activity