Chapter 16 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Chapter 16, in which a hapless Chet Brinker is told to back off. As always, comments are welcome.

Chapter 16

Chet Brinker’s months of doing little more than sitting in a chair while reviewing documents has produced a physique that is no match on the court for Bill Johnson’s daily regimen of early morning five-mile runs and afternoon squash. Game three of their match proceeds along the same lines as games one and two. Johnson’s brow is just starting to register the slightest perspiration, while Brinker is drenched. Johnson serves a high, slow shot that descends into Brinker’s quarter as it hugs the back wall after barely making contact with it. Brinker just manages to scrape the dying ball off the wall to return the serve. Johnson immediately takes control of the court just above the half court line and sends a backhand kill shot to the lower left corner of the front wall just above the tin. Brinker, still stuck against the back wall, concedes the point by barely moving. Johnson gathers up the ball and returns to the right quarter court, places his right foot in the service box, and waits for Brinker to get into position for another feeble attempt at returning service.

“Face it, Chet, the Cold War you grew up with is over. You’re lucky the documents from Baghdad are in English or, frankly, you’d be on the street.”

Brinker wipes his brow with the back of the sweatband on his wrist. He gets in position to return Johnson’s serve, and attempts once again to convince his immediate superior of the value of his recent discovery.

“The border control records should be in one of three spots in Tel Aviv. I’m betting we can figure out the thief from those records, but I guess the A.D. put the kibosh on that.”

“You’re not listening, are you?”

“Sure I am, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, right?”

“Who else have you talked to about this?”

Johnson serves. Instead of a high, soft shot, he unleashes a blast that reaches the back wall before Brinker can respond. Brinker lunges in a desperate attempt to at least push the ball to the front as it comes off the back wall. A clean miss. Brinker has lost count of how many times Johnson has served an ace in the last 30 minutes. They switch courts for Johnson to serve again.

“Rick Laurel. Why’s that?”

“He try to talk you out of it?”

Johnson blasts another ace past the diving Brinker. Brinker gets back on his feet and responds.

“He’s a good friend, so, yeah, he did.”

They switch courts again, and Johnson somehow lobs a soft serve that heads straight for the corner and dies at Brinker’s feet before he can figure out how to get his racket on the ball.

“Eleven zip. That’s three for three. You want more?” Johnson asks.

“What do you think?” Brinker responds, bent over with hands on his thighs as he tries to catch his breath.

“Chet, I’m not telling you this because you went over my head. I’m telling you this because I think you still have something to offer the Slavic section.”

Brinker straightens up.

“Thanks, Bill. I happen to agree.”

Johnson walks over to Brinker and gets right in his face. He speaks softly, menacingly.

“If you have any time off saved up, take it. All of it.”

Brinker leans back to put some distance between his face and Johnson’s.

“I haven’t taken a day off in a year.”

Johnson backs away, assuming a less threatening posture. He smiles.

“Look, Chet, that’s never a good idea. Take a couple of weeks off, at least. I don’t think the document review we’ve had you on has done you any good. We’ll see if there isn’t something else for you when you get back.”

“Is that an order?”

“If that’s the way you want to see it. Your vacation starts right after your shower.”

Johnson heads for the court’s door, opens it, stops, and turns around.

“And stay the hell out of Tel Aviv.”