This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ ELEVEN ╚
It was late, and Sam fumed.
He approached the Secretary's office door and ground his teeth behind closed lips as the security officers posted outside took his firearm and scanned him. They irked him, the Secretary's personal security. It felt like a breach of trust that he, Security Chief Holloway, was not their commander as well. When the officers were satisfied, he pushed roughly past them and rapped hard on the wood. The lock clicked and he burst through.
“And let yourself in, my door is open,” Adam remarked with faux pleasantness. His feet were propped up on his desk and his commex was clutched in his hand. Fumes from his electronic cigarette spiraled around his head in fantastic swirls and shapes. He reluctantly pulled himself forward to face Sam. “What is it?”
Sam pulled out one of the chairs in front of the Secretary's desk and sat down heavily. The chair protested with a loud squeak. “I think you know very well why I am here,” he rumbled.
“I might, but do elaborate. Seeing as how you are so very good at elaborating,” the Secretary sighed.
“Well, to start, your 'Praetorian Guard' outside seem extra obnoxious lately.”
A wide smile spread across the Secretary's face. “Ah. Then it would seem that you know your ancient history. So few people do nowadays.”
Sam snorted. “You mean do I know how the Praetorian Guard eventually turned on the emperor that they were sworn to protect? Then yes, I do.”
“A necessary risk in this business,” Adam replied levelly. “Let's just call it a division of power.” He stood slowly, leaning forward towards Sam with his hands on his desk. “A division at which you will continually chafe, and that I will continually enforce. This emperor will have his Praetorian Guard and you will be content with your place. So let's leave all that aside for the moment and come to the real point of your intrusion.”
The pose and tone were threatening enough to make even Sam recoil ever so slightly in his chair. He would not be cowed for long, though, and he shifted closer to the desk. “I'm here to talk about Miss McLean.”
Adam smiled again. “Ah yes, Miss McLean. Isn't she something?” he said. “Young, vibrant, sexy, very intelligent, and with a great appreciation for my fine wines.” A strange protective sort of sarcasm dripped in his voice. “Really, Sam, you ought to get yourself a woman like that.”
Sam squirmed. “I'll make a note of it . . . “
“Please do, and please also remember your place in regards to the aforementioned woman. Now,” Adam said, turning to the window and gazing down at the nighttime cityscape below, “what about Miss McLean?”
Sam remembered his purpose and his anger returned. “I was told by the mobile security division downstairs that you took Miss McLean to the Version Ghetto.”
“They told you that, did they?”
“Yes they did. And they also told me that an auto-tank opened fire while the two of you were right there. And that she was witness to a massacre.” Sam opened his hands with an incredulous gesture. “Is this true? Please tell me that it's not true.”
The Secretary regarded the large man with curiosity for a long moment before replying. “What if it is or isn't? What is that to you?”
“If I was to put myself in the shoes of an outsider,” Sam replied with rising ire, “and given you a completely objective assessment of your actions, I would have said that you were certifiably insane and had no business going any farther with this demented plan!”
Adam cocked his head. “But I don't pay you to put yourself in other people's shoes, especially outsiders,” he said. “What I pay you for and demand accordingly is a subjective voice of force. The hound dog doesn't question the master's intent, he merely does his duty under the assumption that his human has a plan. And right now, the hound is not trusting but resisting.”
Sam scowled. “Except that this hound is human. And he wonders if his human betters actually have that plan in mind when they do things like parade street violence in front of a woman. Where indeed is the sense in that?”
Adam stood silent for a long time, the vapors from his cigarette curling around his motionless hand. “There is a time and a place for everything, Sam, even the truth. The entire, sugar-free, violent and ugly truth. She refused to accept that what I had said was true, and so decided to show her instead. There is a balance, between telling her what she needs to hear and showing her that which will motivate action.”
“Motivate what action?” Sam asked incredulously. “Driving her away? Sending her packing into the arms of a group like Verité? They prey on people who know the truth, as you must be well aware. When that occurs it becomes a security issue, and when it becomes a security issue it becomes my issue.”
“Correct as usual,” Adam said with a nod, clapping with slow derision. “But I am focused on the larger picture here. She will come, wait and see.”
“And that leads me to my other questions,” Sam continued as if the Secretary had never spoken, “which are these: why have we given her a firearm and a top-level access key? We hadn't discussed those either but I let them slide. That was before. Now I am concerned that she will be like a child who has discovered fire for the first time.”
Adam scratched his chin. “Your point?”
“My point?” Sam's face grew red. “My point is that you're creating a dangerous situation that you will lose control of more quickly than you think possible. She will be a danger to herself and could become a liability to this entire administration.” He clenched his fists in his lap as he spoke and his breathing grew loud. “In short, with all due respect Mr. Secretary, I believe you are making a terrible mistake, and you are not helping me at all.”
It was a long moment before either man moved. Adam still stood between the desk and window with a serious expression on his face; the sarcasm was gone and he stared hard at Sam. Inexplicable thoughts churned behind his green eyes and his jaw worked back and forth. Finally he creaked back over to the desk and settled slowly back into his chair, his eyes fixed on his chief of security and his face a mask.
“Perhaps I may offer a critique?” he began.
Sam frowned. “By all means,” he allowed reluctantly.
“You may be looking at this whole project from the wrong angle,” the Secretary said. “Where you see danger, I see opportunity. Where you see a threat, I see hope.” He rubbed his palms together. “Have you ever tried to feed a chickadee from your hand, Sam?”
Confused, Sam shook his head. “I can't say that I have,” he grunted.
“It's a very small bird, but very innocent and in many ways quite fearless. Despite that, you still must work to earn its trust. It is a cautious creature.”
Sam waved his hand, impatient with the analogy. “Okay, fine, I get it.”
“Do you?” Adam queried. “To lure in the chickadee you must be very still and very very patient. You must bide your time and tempt it in slowly. It will only come to you in stages, and only if each stage has a reward or other proper motivator.”
“Get to the damn point.”
“The point is this: Annalise McLean is the one I want. She is the key piece to my puzzle, and I need her to accept all of this. However, I gain nothing by making her do anything, she must want to do it. In short, she must desire to come to me and must be passionate and complete in that desire.” Adam tapped the head of his cane with his fingers. “I have set the bait, I have put out the seed, and she must be the one to bite. I sent you to offer her a job that we both knew she craved and would never refuse. She accepted. I gave her a gun and just enough training with it to make her dangerous. I gave her enough security access to make her curious. I gave her a free enough rein to feel that she was not under twenty-four-hour surveillance and could do and say what she wanted. And I put her with Dr. Jarrod who can give her just enough information for me to build upon later.”
He rose to his feet again and continued. “I am drawing her in, Sam, and I am well aware of how unorthodox my methods may appear to you. But as I said, patience is the key. Each step must be either a reward or a motivator. I have rewarded and rewarded, and now tonight I showed her the motivator, as horrible as it may seem. If I have cemented in her mind the belief that our goal is noble and that we must work to avert another such awful encounter together, then I have succeeded. As far as I know, she now thinks everything I have told her is the truth.”
“Then I presume you fed her the same standard line about Verité and her parents?” Sam asked sardonically. “And you talk about telling her the whole truth.”
Adam's face darkened. “There is the truth, and then there is the truth,” he growled. “Do not test me.”
Sam shoved himself up out of his seat. “Regardless of what you decide to do, those are my reservations and I thought you should hear them. I realize she will need to be shown . . . things. But she is a woman.”
“So was her mother,” the Secretary said. “If you are implying that Miss McLean can't handle the heat in the proverbial political kitchen then I submit that you are sexist ass. Her mother was the strongest person I know and I see a great deal of the mother in the daughter. I think we will be fine.”
“Very well,” Sam said, peeved and unsatisfied. “But I will be keeping my eyes open.”
“You know?” Adam suddenly smiled. “That is indeed the difference between you and her. I want a technocrat as my successor, an objective fixer and pragmatist, someone without ambition or visions of expansionist grandeur. You are ambitious, she is not.”
Sam's face reddened and he stiffened. “Is that all?” he grunted.
Adam, a smile still stretched across his face, gestured to the door. “That is all. Have a good night, Officer Holloway, and remember: this is all a game. A serious game to be sure, but a game with pieces and moves and counter-moves and winners and losers. Right now I'd rather I was not obstructed whilst I attempt to win this round.”
Sam quickly crossed the space to the door, but he stopped once he reached it and turned partway. “When will you tell her about the Complex? If you ever do at all, which would seem likely at this point.”
Adam looked back to the window in thought. “The time will come. Patience is the key. The chickadee must be pecking seed right out of my hand before I spring that one. But I will make it work.”
“You know her security access key will let her into the Complex and its computer system if she happens to get curious enough to find it.” Sam's expression was laced with apprehension.
“Unlikely that she will ever have the chance before I let her in,” Adam said. “One would need prior knowledge of the numbering system to do that, and she has no clue. No, I think that worry is only the remotest of remote possibilities.” His tone suddenly went cold. “Good night, Mr. Holloway, and don't forget to lock up when you leave tonight.”
Sam slid out and the door clicked shut. The Secretary fell into his chair and heaved an enormous sigh, then tapped a button on his desk. A voice crackled from the speaker, asking him with whom he wished to speak.
“I need to talk to Neville,” Adam said curtly, “to make sure that there is still no number sharing between the Complex and the larger security system.”
“I can give you the answer to that,” the voice on the other end said. “No, we never have shared or ever will share numbers between the systems. Why do you ask?”
Adam sat silently for a long moment. His fist closed and hardened until his knuckles turned white. “I just don't need any surprises,” he said slowly. “I have a new person here with close to full security key access and I don't need them stumbling over anything by accident.”
“Unless they knew the number they were looking for in advance, then no,” the voice said reassuringly.
“Good.” Adam cut the connection with a tap. “I just wish,” he continued to himself, “that I could believe that completely.”
Click here to read Chapter Twelve!
Click here to read Chapter Twelve!