Today's Reading

"That's why I don't base my fee on the complexity of the job," the Israeli says. "That's my secret. I base it on careful evaluation of the client."

"What kinds of things do you evaluate?"

"Everything. Net worth. Disposition. Presentation. You think inviting someone into my home is a liability. I see it as an asset."

"What's your evaluation of me?"

The Israeli's chair twists as he looks the tall man over.

"It would be cheaper for you to pay me than to wash my blood out of that suit."

"But that assumes I'm rational," the tall man says.

"I'm not counting on you to act rationally," the Israeli says. "I'm counting on you to act out of self-interest."

"Do you believe everyone acts out of self-interest?"

"Of course they do. If they didn't, the world would be complete chaos."

"You don't believe the world is chaotic?"

"I believe the world is a complex and interconnected machine, and that the people who can't see how the pieces fit together dismiss its elegance for chaos. But 'I' can see them. That's how I do what I do. That's why you retained my services instead of someone else's, and that's how I know you won't kill me."

"But what if I know something that you don't?" the tall man asks. "What if I can see pieces that you can't?"

The Israeli looks doubtful. "What pieces?"

"The kind of pieces that change the rules. The kind that make the machine run backwards. The kind that might result in people making grave miscalculations."

The Israeli sits up in his chair. He is no longer composed, and his tone grows conciliatory. "Look, man, if you don't want to pay me, that's fine. We can call it even. I mostly do this shit for fun anyway."

A moment passes between them, and then the Israeli's eyes drop to the tall man's hands. The tall man reaches into his jacket and removes a smooth, lithe handset. He authenticates, navigates, and then consummates the remainder of a sizable transaction.

The Israeli watches his client nod, turn, and leave. And it is not until he can no longer hear the hollow knock of the tall man's shoes along the hallway that he remembers to breathe.


CHAPTER TWO
THE BUBBLE

Deputy Director Vanessa Townes feels ridiculous addressing 470 seats when only 17 of them are occupied—a testament to how anemic her team has grown over the last five years as resources have been consistently siphoned off for other assignments. In an admirable effort to fill as much of the space as possible, her task force has distributed itself liberally among the first three rows of theater seating, but it is still the venue equivalent of a seven-year-old girl trying on her mother's wedding dress.

The main auditorium of the George Bush Center for Intelligence is colloquially known as "The Bubble." It's a seven-thousand-square-foot independent structure that, from the air, looks like a giant golf ball chipped into the rough. You weren't supposed to use The Bubble for meetings, but there were no other rooms available in Van's part of the building. And as the Deputy Director of Clandestine Services, she was pretty sure she could keep the whole thing on the DL.

It is to be a short meeting, anyway. The assortment of analysts, officers, middle managers, and assistants already know why they are here, but as their boss, Townes feels obligated to bring closure to the assignment they put the last five years of their lives into. And, if at all semantically feasible, to try to put a positive spin on it.

She raises the lid on her laptop, executes a key combination, and her screen begins projecting behind her. Her peers like to tease her for still lugging around a ruggedized clamshell, but the shattered Dell she displays on a shelf in her office allegedly got that way by stopping a Kalashnikov round when she was stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, forever serving as all the validation Van would ever need that the surface area of a handset is simply way too small.

"I know we're getting close to lunchtime," the deputy director begins, partially as a way to test the acoustics, and partially as a way to get everyone settled. Turns out projecting all of three rows without a mic won't be a problem. "So I'll go ahead and get started."
...

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