Chapter 15 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Chapter 15, in which Chet Brinker gets shot down by the Assistant Director of Central Intelligence. As always, comments are welcome.

Chapter 15

Cheryl Zimmerman’s office is well over five times larger than Chet Brinker’s. In fact, her office is larger than nearly every other office at Langley, a perk she has earned, a perk that came with her promotion to Assistant Director of Central Intelligence, the highest office occupied by a non-political appointee in the Agency. Her name is on the door, as they like to say, and given her ability to navigate the contrasting worlds of intelligence gathering and management, it is likely to stay there for some time. She is known as a tough, fair, exceptionally perceptive leader with the ability to bring 27 years of experience to bear in a way that renders disagreeing with her nearly unerring judgment pointless. She has survived brutal bureaucratic wars when others have either fallen by the wayside or been kicked to the curb. The secret to her longevity is simple: her first loyalty has always been to the laws she swore to defend, and in an organization known for too often playing by its own rules her steadfast insistence on adhering to certain bedrock principles has become almost legendary. Whenever there is a whiff of taint surrounding the Company, the powers that be call on Zimmerman to do whatever needs to be done to right the ship.

Brinker felt her wrath in the wake of the Kiev disaster, but only momentarily. She went to bat for him when it became clear that the Slavic section’s unilateral decision to pull the plug left him no choice but to employ whatever unorthodox means were at his disposal to survive and escape. Brinker misinterpreted her support as personal. It was anything but. She staked out her position based on her conclusion that the section leadership had allowed its decision-making process to be slowly ripped from its moorings. Brinker’s in-house exile, in her view, was an overreaction, but it could be justified by his own unwillingness to intervene during the section’s long, dysfunctional descent. Brinker’s failure was not, as most at Langley believed, allowing himself to get hopelessly mired in Ukrainian internal affairs. Rather, his failure was not speaking up as one poor decision after another was made by his immediate superiors. The taxpayers expect, and Zimmerman demands, more from experienced agents. That Brinker was not sacked immediately upon his return to D.C. was due to Zimmerman’s insistence that the section leadership be held accountable and that Brinker and the others on his team be spared. But now, with Brinker going over his immediate superior’s head, she at least momentarily questions that decision.

Chet Brinker, a file in his hands, approaches the reception area outside of Zimmerman’s office. The ADCI’s secretary sits at her desk. He announces his arrival with too much ceremony.

“Chet Brinker to see A.D. Zimmerman.”

“She’s in a meeting, but it should be over momentarily. Won’t you have a seat, Mr. Brinker?” she asks courteously.

Brinker sits in one of two stuffed leather chairs beneath the window to left of the secretary’s desk. As he makes himself comfortable, Bill Johnson comes out of the Assistant Director’s office. He is tan, in his mid-forties, with salt and pepper hair, and dressed in a gray suit with a black, mock turtleneck, all of which fits his well-toned, tall, physique.

Brinker, startled by Johnson’s sudden presence, immediately stands up.

“Look, Bill, I can explain,” he offers sheepishly.

Johnson approaches him and stands nearly toe to toe with him.

“Forget it. You’re losing it, Chet. To jump the chain of command on a cockamamie scheme like this, it’s at least poor judgment. You and me, squash court, right after your meeting.”

Chet smiles as Johnson turns to leave.

“I’ll be there. I’ll get creamed, but I’ll be there,” he calls after him in a vain attempt to interject a bit of levity into the awkward encounter.

“Damn right you will,” Johnson threatens over his shoulder as he strides briskly away.

Brinker waits until he is sure Johnson is out of earshot. He turns to Zimmerman’s secretary.

“Do you think he means damn right I’ll be there, or damn right I’ll get creamed?”

“I think he means both.”

Brinker laughs.

“I’m afraid you’re right.”

The phone on the secretary’s desk rings. She pushes a button on the phone and the Assistant Director’s voice can be heard on the speaker.

“Is Mr. Brinker here?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Send him in, and bring me a fresh cup of coffee.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She stands and addresses Chet.

“Mr. Brinker, the Assistant Director will see you now.”

She heads for the ADCI’s office door, knocks gently, and opens it, allowing Chet to enter.

“Wish me luck!” he says as he passes her.

Without responding, she closes the door behind him, and heads over to a credenza with a coffee service on it. She pours a cup of coffee, puts some cream in it, grabs a stirrer, and heads back to her desk. Before she can sit down, Brinker, stunned, comes out. In his hand he holds two pieces of paper.

He puts one of the two pieces of paper on her desk. 

“This is for my file.”

He keeps the other copy of the email request he made to the Assistant Director for what turned out to be a meeting of less than 30 seconds. The words “REQUEST DENIED” have been recently stamped across the middle of both copies in 48-point, red, uppercase letters.

“If anyone’s looking for me, tell them to check the squash court. And no need for an ambulance; the coroner will probably do.”

Brinker, still in a daze, slumps away.

The secretary shakes her head and returns to stirring the Assistant Director’s coffee. Zimmerman pokes her head out of her office.

“Get his file for me, everything we’ve got, no matter who has it.”