Chapter 6 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Here's a draft of Chapter 6, in which we meet CIA agent Chet Brinker. Just couldn't help throwing a Nick Temple reference in there. As always, comments are welcome.

CHAPTER 6

Like the offices of men and women all over the world, Chet Brinker’s is an accurate if unfortunate reflection of the state of his career: small, dated, cluttered, a single, north-facing window, and as far away from the decision makers as one can get at the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The office’s limited floor space is littered with a constantly changing collection of boxes, each filled with meaningless documents seized during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the subject of his office comes up around the water cooler, it is referred to by his fellow workers simply as “the turkey farm,” a fact Brinker discovered when he happened to be within earshot one day about a year back. The walls of the turkey farm are adorned with maps of Russia – both Imperial and modern – and the Soviet Union, all in Russian, and all reflecting a world that Brinker once discussed with linguistic, social, and political fluency while dispensing critical analysis and advice to power brokers and clandestine operatives alike. Now the power brokers shun him, and the operatives have wiped him from their hard drives and personal memories. Why he still collects a paycheck is a mystery to many within Langley’s walls.

Chet Brinker, forty-something with the first sign of a middle-aged paunch, half-frames perched on his beefy nose, sleeves of his wash- and- wear white shirt rolled up, Jerry Garcia necktie loosened, sits at his desk. In front of him are two stacks of documents. After he briefly scans a document in the left-hand stack, he turns it over and adds it to the right-hand stack, each day, all day. Next to the stack of documents are the monitor and keyboard of an aging desktop computer. The flat screen monitor is the only upgrade his office has had in quite some time. Chet is convinced the powers that be acquiesced to his unending string of requests for the upgrade once they realized it would free up space for even more meaningless documents down there on the turkey farm.

Brinker takes his glasses off, rubs his eyes, stretches, and sits back in his chair. The door opens abruptly as fellow CIA employee (agent, as they both like to refer to themselves in civilian company is a stretch) Rick Laurel, short-sleeve shirt, khakis, and deck shoes, pokes his head in.

“Time for lunch. My treat.”

Brinker puts his glasses back on, and looks up at one of the few people in the Company whose loyalty to Chet has never faded.

“Just in time. I was about to go blind.”

Brinker gets up from his desk and heads for the door, less than two steps away. He stops and gestures to his friend.

“After you, buddy.”

The Langley cafeteria is beginning to buzz with the early lunch crowd. Brinker and Laurel each grab a tray, a clear plastic 16 ounce glass, and a set of silverware from the bins being constantly refreshed by the hardest working people in the entire building. They inch forward as their fellow government employees cast a too critical eye at the day’s selections.

“I don’t know how you can stand it, man. Nothing but document review, eight days a week.”

Brinker’s focus is on his lunch rather than is career for the moment.

“How about the chicken strips and fries, please?”

A cafeteria worker hands him a plate of chicken strips and fries.

“What’s that?” Brinker asks as his focus returns.

“The documents. Every day. I mean, come on, man. For more than two years now? I’ll take the French dip.”

The same cafeteria worker hands Laurel a plate with a roast beef sandwich and a small dish of au jus. Brinker and Laurel continue to shuffle down the line.

“Beats collecting unemployment.”

They both grab a small green salad from a selection of salad plates on a bed of crushed ice.

“Barely.”

Brinker, now focused on the upcoming iced tea dispenser, keeps silent for the moment. Laurel fills his glass with iced tea and grabs a slice of lemon and two sugar packets. Brinker, with extreme care, concocts his usual Arnold Palmer. He waits until his most important and most delicate operation of the day is complete before responding to his friend’s dig.

“No, it barely beats being in a coma; it’s miles ahead of unemployment. Actually, I don’t mind it. It’s not my first choice, but I keep my fingers crossed that I’ll hit on something interesting. Who knows?”

“I’ve got his and mine,” Laurel notifies the cashier as he pulls out his wallet. The cashier does a quick scan of the two trays and decides to rib Brinker about his usual choice of beverage.

“Hot day on the links this morning, Chet?”

“It was. Didn’t I see you out there triple bogeying the 10th?”

“Triple bogey? Nope, must have been someone else. Never triple bogeyed a hole in my life. Fifteen even, gents”

Laurel pays the clerk.

“Thanks, Rick.”

“No sweat. Let’s grab a seat.”

The two of them head for an empty table.

“I think the documents are starting to get to you. There’s gotta be something else you can do.”

They sit down across from each other at the end of a row of empty seats.

“I’m not exactly on everyone’s hit parade list around here.”

“Should’ve seen that Kiev mess coming.”

“I’ve taken to calling it the Kiev gambit. Sounds like something Nick Temple would do.”

“Fact is stranger than fiction, as they say.”

“That, my friend, is a fact. I think it’s going to be with me forever, or at least as long as they don’t fire me. No one wants to take a chance on me. Can’t say I blame them. Good jobs in the Slavic section are tougher to come by these days than they used to be.”

“Hang in there. Something’s bound to come up.”

“Four years of studying the Soviets in college and then presto! A career up in smoke because a few million people prefer freedom over tyranny.”

“Yeah. How unfair was that?”

“Someone needs to crank up the Cold War.”

“Haven’t you been reading the papers?”

“Not this cheap Putin imitation Cold War. The real thing. Nuclear arms race, proxy wars, loads of counter intelligence, maybe even throw the Berlin Wall back up just to make sure everyone’s paying attention.”

“Like I said, I think the documents are starting to get to you.”

Brinker stands up.

“I think you’re right. For instance, I forgot to select my dippin‘ sauce for the chicken strips. After the Arnold Palmer, the dippin’ sauce happens to be the biggest decision I’ll make all day. How could I forget a detail like that?”

Rick Laurel chuckles at the typically self-effacing humor of his friend and colleague, a man who threw away a promising career at the center of the world’s most important intelligence gathering agency by operationally challenging a man too far up the chain of command one too many times; a man who was forced to extract himself from a cover so deep in Kiev that his own government neither would nor could provide him any assistance; a man whose last brush with death would have unnerved more than 95% of the men and women who now considered him and aging joke. That man has managed to hold onto his good humor and selfless dedication in spite of the fact that his most important action for far too many days has been getting eight ounces of lemonade adroitly mixed into a glass that already contains exactly eight ounces of unsweetened iced tea.