Hot, late afternoon air rustled through the kibbutz. Duma Zadoc cautiously flipped a switch and smiled as the old water pump started up with a functional dm, rewarding her afternoon's efforts. She wiped a forearm across her forehead, replacing sweat with grease, and kneeled to her final task. Methodically, she began to cinch down the bolts of the pump housing, a diametric pair at a time to ensure even pressure. She cringed as the first of the fourth pair turned too easily and the head of the bolt sheared off. With an uncharacteristic show of disgust, she threw the wrench down. The bolt head popped loose from the jaws of the wrench and rolled crazily across the floor. Duma stood up with hands on hips and watched with dismay as droplets of water began to seep from the seal near the broken bolt. As she tried to decide whether to attack the lodged remains of the bolt this afternoon or wait until tomorrow, a strange noise suddenly rose above the sound of the clattering pump. It came from the nearby orange grove, a mixed roar and hiss.
Terrorists! thought Duma and the image of her mangled infant flashed before her eyes. Thirty-five years as a sun-toughened sabra gave her the instincts to react Godly and quickly, quelling any hint of desperation. She raced from the pump house for the alarm. She punched the button starting the klaxon's howl, then ran the forty metres to the attack shelter and stood at the door assisting the children and then older kibbutz members who streamed inside.
Despite the sound of the siren and the hubbub of voices, Duma kept an ear tuned on the original sound. She had realized that there was something unorthodox about it. Unlike an incoming mortar round, this noise had got quieter and there had been no deadly, thumping explosion.
She wandered away from the shelter towards the orange grove. She heard the noise again, faint but growing in volume. Although the sound sent a chill down her spine, something told her there was no immediate danger. She squinted up towards the direction indicated by her ears, but saw no sign of the source. She followed the indicated trajectory as the noise reached peak intensity and then vanished. At the same time she saw a puff of dust arise just beyond the barbed wire fence of the compound.
Duma crawled through the fence and paced back and forth in the area where the dust had kicked up. She half expected to find an unexploded shell casing. Instead, she saw absolutely nothing. Puzzled, she crossed the fence again. As she headed back into camp, she waved an 'all clear' sign at a compatriot, and the klaxon faded away. She decided the broken bolt in the pump housing could wait for another day.
Two more weeks were absorbed in the intensive routine of monitoring developments at the Soviet launch site at Tyuratam. Isaacs spent rare moments with Danielson discussing the seismic project. There seemed to be no flaw in Danielson's analysis, but they could not contrive a reasonable explanation for her data. The photomontage of the suspect latitudes provided by Martinelli showed nothing of interest. The routine was interrupted by a phone call.
Isaacs hung up the telephone and glared at the opposite wall of his office. He clinched his teeth, rhythmically rippling the prominent muscles over his jaws. The call had been simple. Kevin McMasters's secretary requested that Isaacs report to the office of the Deputy Director immediately. The secretary's voice was briskly formal, as that of the second in a duel, announcing his man's choice of weapon. It suggested the black mood of the official who had given the order. Isaacs instantly recognized the root of the problem; indeed, he had expected the call. His bid to eliminate two more of McMasters's outmoded pet projects had succeeded. McMasters could not counter Isaacs's arguments, but he would find some way to strike back, his vindictive urge whetted by defensiveness over his role in the fate of the FireEye satellite and the orbital confrontation to which that had led. Isaacs had no clue to McMasters's target, something not immediately subject to objective scrutiny, but he was certain that the ploy was about to begin.
He stood up and faced the window for a moment, hands clasped behind his back, unconsciously rocking up and down on the balls of his feet. Then he turned abruptly and walked briskly out of his office.
'I'm going to see McMasters,' he announced to Kathleen.
She nodded, confirming her deduction.
Isaacs used the stairs to ascend two flights and then paced a long hallway and half of another before turning into the suite of offices commanded by the Deputy Director for Central Intelligence.
The secretary looked up at his arrival and arched an eyebrow.
'He'll see you in a moment — won't you have a seat?' Without the protective anonymity of the telephone receiver, she seemed pleasant and proper, giving no hint of reflected animosity.
Isaacs replied, 'Thank you,' curtly, but remained standing, fidgeting tensely. For five minutes his irritation grew, but then he made a strong conscious effort to calm himself. Obviously, McMasters designed this childish trick, requiring him to cool his heels, to put him in a rash state of mind. He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, glanced at the secretary and settled into a chair.
In the next ten minutes he catalogued most of the projects which commanded his direct attention. Tyuratam continued to be the central concern, particularly planning sessions to suggest strategies when the launch occurred. He glanced at the calendar on his watch, June 2, seven weeks since the first laser was destroyed and the Soviets had begun their crash programme on the second. Launch was anticipated in two or three more weeks. Surely, there was no ground for attack there where everybody was pitching in on the common goal. They had not spent time on Mozambique and still remained uncertain about the origin of the arms cache. Could that be a weak point? Their lack of progress on some back burner problem? He attained a controlled state of mind, yet was unable to fathom where McMasters would elect to apply pressure.
The intercom on the secretary's desk buzzed, and he heard the low fidelity rattle of McMasters's voice though he could not make out the precise words. 'He'll see you now.'
This tune Isaacs caught a note of excitement, a school child announcing a fight on the playground. Despite the imminent confrontation, Isaacs found this droll. He maintained a serious face as he opened the door to McMasters's office, but just before he stepped through he looked back over his shoulder and gave the woman a broad wink. To his satisfaction, this incongruous act on the part of a respectable, if beleaguered, high official of the organization caught her by surprise. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open slightly. Isaacs closed the door behind him.
Several steps took him to McMasters's desk in the middle of the spacious room. The DDI sat erect, but with eyes focused on the folder on his desk. A hint of pot belly spoiled his medium build. At fifty-nine, short, wavy, salt— and-pepper hair covered his head, the waves shorn short on the side. His face was an elongated rectangle, with pale green eyes that receded into the surrounding folds, giving no access. His aquiline nose suggested the refinement evident in his compartment. He had a habit of holding his chin high so that he literally looked down his nose at people to whom he spoke.
Now he raised his gaze to Isaacs and spoke in a measured, cultured voice, 'What — is — this — bull — shit?'
The epithet was delivered slowly, poisonously, reinforced by the contrast to his excessively proper demeanour.
'Sir?' Isaacs said, taken aback despite himself. McMasters picked up the folder in front of him and gestured with it.
'With the fate of this nation and the free world at stake, you have deliberately chosen to squander the time of yourself and others and the resources of the Agency in an absurd wild-goose chase after earthquakes that follow the stars! We are not here to do astrology, Mr Isaacs.'
Isaacs caught a glimpse of the folder. It was labelled QUAKER, the code name for the strange periodic seismic signal. His mind whirled and locked like a magnetic computer tape searching for the appropriate data strip. He felt a certain relief. He was involved in a number of areas of immediate importance where McMasters's interference would have been disastrous. Apparently, those were safe for a moment. Yet McMasters had chosen shrewdly. Isaacs would be hard put to objectively defend his interest in the bizarre seismic signal which Pat Danielson continued to study when she could spare the time from Tyuratam. There was not the slightest hint that it represented a danger in any way. Nevertheless, his career-honed instinct warned him that to neglect the signal with its true nature still unknown would be foolhardy.
He started in a calm tone, 'That signal is unprecedented,
McMasters interrupted him coldly.
'We operate in an environment awash with information, some of it unprecedented and most of it trivial. If we are to maintain our precarious hold on freedom, we must be ruthless in our drive to focus on the crucial and ignore the rest. This is no time to idly follow pet fancies. The monitoring of seismic signals is not even this Agency's business. I must question your competence in choosing to mobilize the resources of the Agency to chase such a chimera.'
The bald personal attack on his judgement stirred Isaacs's anger. Tension crept into his voice.
'Sir, we are in full agreement on our goals. We must select the important elements from a flood of information, but my record demonstrates that I am effective in doing just that.'
He had stressed the 'my' and McMasters's ears tinged with red at the riposte.
Isaacs extended a vigorous forefinger at the report on the desk and continued, 'There is something profoundly disturbing about this seismic signal. Of course, there is a chance that it is insignificant, but I don't believe that is the case. I believe we must pursue this thing until we understand it.'
'You believe?' McMasters spoke with anger and mockery. 'On what basis? Is there a clear and present danger to the nation?'
'Not clear and present. You can't expect.' Isaacs began hotly.
'Is there any hint of the slightest bother to anyone, anywhere?' McMasters interrupted.
'Not yet, but...'
'Your concern for this trivial matter is foolhardy.'
Isaacs suffered the second interruption and gritted his teeth.
McMasters continued, 'You occupy a position of great authority and the Agency can ill afford such lapses. I order you to desist totally in your pursuit of this matter. I will draft a memo summarizing your ill judgement. If there is any repeat performance, I will be forced to place that memo in your file and report your case to the Director.'
Isaacs recognized this as part bluff. His record was good and McMasters could not impugn him. recklessly to the Director without endangering his own position. Still, the Director's reliance on McMasters for advice on internal affairs was well-known. McMasters, in turn, used his favoured position adroitly. Isaacs was aware that McMasters could influence the Director in a manner which could damage Isaacs professionally, and worse, could interfere with important Agency operations.
Isaacs gestured with his hands at hip level, tense fingers spread, palms facing each other, an aborted, instinctive reaction to his desire to clutch and shake the object of his frustration.
'For god's sake!' he shot. 'You're taking me to task for doing my job the best I know how.'
'Perhaps your best is not good enough,' McMasters replied sharply.
Isaacs raised his arms and eyes towards the ceiling in dismay. Then he brandished a weapon-substitute finger at the older man.
'We both know the real reason for this confrontation,' he said, louder than he intended. 'The root of it is not my competence, but yours. You're irritated because I managed to scuttle some of your outdated programmes.'
'Don't raise your voice to me,' McMasters responded with surprising volume. 'My competence is not the issue here, whatsoever.'
Outside in the anteroom, the secretary smiled slightly. To this point the conversation within had been entirely muffled. The latter outbursts did not carry clearly through the soundproofed door, but their tone was clear. The two distinguished gentlemen were, indeed, at each other's throats.
As if aware of this monitoring, McMasters lowered his voice, if not the level of his irritation. He continued, glaring at Isaacs.
'Your suggestion borders on insubordination. You are not improving your position.'
Isaacs, on cue, lowered his tone.
'This discussion is ridiculous. We both want what is best for the Agency. You know I acted in good conscience when I argued against your programmes. You are doing neither us nor the Agency a service by threatening to interfere with me in general and a potentially critical area in particular.'
'I am threatening nothing,' McMasters responded. 'I am simply carrying out my assigned duty which is to see to it that the Agency functions in the most efficient possible manner. I am putting you on notice that your unilateral authorization of worthless projects and disrespect for this office will not be tolerated. I repeat you are to terminate the operation regarding this insubstantial seismic phenomenon.'
Isaacs calculated quickly. He was in a no-win situation, with no chance of talking McMasters out of his vindictive position. He had little beyond his intuition to justify the effort he had authorized to understand the queer seismic waves. The expenses involved were small, but still a finite dram on Agency resources. He did not want the project to come up for a full-scale Agency review as McMasters could easily arrange. In such a case he would be forced to rank the seismic project below a goodly number of others. Even the Director, through no malice, was likely to suggest a 'compromise' in an effort to quell disagreements among his subordinates. His best hope would be to lose only the seismic project and prevent McMasters from lopping off any other projects. He would be no better off than now, but the disagreement between himself and McMasters would have been aired widely, and that could only lead to other trouble. He had little practical choice but to accede to McMasters.
Isaacs stared down at the man before him.
'All right,' he conceded, 'both of us stand to lose if you insist on dragging our personal disagreements before the Director, but I won't risk Agency programmes being gratuitously interrupted for the sake of exposing your machinations.'
'You'll abandon your investigation of this seismic folly?' 'Yes.'
'You understand that this is an order carrying the full authority of my office?'
McMasters eyed him for a moment, then snapped,
'You are dismissed.'
Isaacs promptly whirled and strode out of the office. He resisted a temptation to slam the door behind him. The secretary half expected another wink. Instead he treated her to the sight of his back as he crossed her office and disappeared down the corridor.
In his office, Kevin McMasters wrote a brief note to his secretary, attached it to the file before him and dropped the file in his 'out' box. His gaze lingered on it, and he smiled a small, self-satisfied smile.
That afternoon Pat Danielson was one of a handful of people to receive the following memo:
Due to a reordering of priorities, active investigation connected with operation code name QUAKER will terminate effective immediately. Please act promptly to deliver to central inactive files all material relevant to Project QUAKER which is in your possession.
It was initialled by Isaacs.
Danielson reread the two sentences with confusion and disappointment. She still had no inkling of what caused the strange signal, but she was captivated by it and had spent long hours wrestling with it. Only yesterday she had spoken briefly with Isaacs about it. They had expressed their mutual frustration that no solution had been devised, but his interest showed no sign of flagging, and he had expressed satisfaction with her work. Stunned by the surprise terse note, she was now assailed with doubt. Was her enthusiasm for the project misplaced? The signal a trivial curiosity? Even worse, was it through an inadequacy on her part that progress towards understanding had come to a halt?
Without pausing to analyse the propriety of her actions, she logged off the computer, slammed her notebook shut and strode off towards Isaacs's office, the memo crumpled in her hand.
Kathleen looked up in mild surprise when Danielson appeared in her office and announced stiffly, 'I'd like to see Mr Isaacs.'
'He's in the middle of a conference call. Do you want to wait until he finishes to see if he has the time? It may be fifteen or twenty minutes.'
Danielson was taken aback by the roadblock.
'Oh, well, yes. Yes. I would like to wait,' she finished in a strong voice. She looked around and sat briskly in one of the office chairs.
Kathleen recognized the wrinkled memo. After a moment, she nodded at it and spoke in a friendly tone.
'Is that the problem?'
Danielson looked at the slip of paper. She sat back in her chair and brandished the memo at Kathleen. 'It was such a surprise. I'm a bit upset.'
'Not my place to stick my nose in,' Kathleen said, 'but I can give you a little insight. That's nothing against you.'
'I'd like to think so, but I've done the most work on it, spent every spare minute since I got back from Boston, and to have it cancelled.. I was afraid...'
Kathleen leaned on her forearms. 'Do you know about the tiff between Mr Isaacs and McMasters?'
'There's some scuttlebutt. I haven't paid much attention to it,' Danielson smiled in self-deprecation. 'I don't operate in that league.'
'Who does?' Kathleen smiled in return. 'But sometimes some of us get caught up in the battles.' She turned serious. 'For some reason McMasters has it in for Isaacs. Bob, Mr Isaacs, is always having to tiptoe around him. It's too bad. Mr Isaacs can be pretty ferocious when he's worked up, but he really is very sweet.'
'I've enjoyed working with him,' Danielson admitted. 'He takes everything very seriously, but he's reasonable.'
'Well, he won't toady to McMasters, and McMasters took a dislike to him early on. I don't know the details, but McMasters is behind the cancellation of that particular project. As I say, it's nothing personal against you, I'm sure.'
'I'd like to believe that.'
'Do you still want to see Mr Isaacs?'
'Yes,' Danielson said thoughtfully, 'I think I still would.'
'Well, you're welcome to make yourself at home, but I've got to finish this briefing paper.'
'Oh, please go ahead.'
Kathleen turned back to her keyboard. Danielson watched her fingers rap the keys and then began to think about Project QUAKER. The project fascinated and haunted her. She also wanted very much to please Isaacs with her performance. How frustrating to do your best, she thought, try to gain some appreciation and be thwarted by something beyond your control, in this case interference by McMasters, some high muckety-muc I haven't even met.
She recognized the cord of tension, strong and familiar, the ambition to go her own way played against the need to satisfy another authority figure, no stranger at all. She slipped into a reverie, her thoughts drifting to her childhood, dim memories of the tragic, premature death of her mother in an auto collision with a drunk. Her father, a chief petty officer in the Navy, giving up the sea he loved to take a desk job, trying to be both father and mother, while she tried to be wife and daughter.
She had worked hard to do well in school, at first to protect him from further disappointment, but then more to satisfy her own drives. She had been only dimly aware of the degree to which he lived his life through her, of her irrational guilt that his situation was somehow her fault, of her own repressed resentment that she had to be strong for him, that she could never, for even a brief moment, set all her burdens on his broad shoulders. In hindsight, she saw how the seeds had been slowly planted for the bitter row that still tainted their relationship years later, despite their love for one another.
She was finishing high school and planning to join the Navy as he wished, but she aimed for, insisted on, sea duty. He wanted her to follow his path, but was too tradition-bound to countenance women on shipboard, particularly his own kin. Years of repressed feelings erupted. He called her headstrong and ungrateful for his years of sacrifice. 'It's not my fault that your wife died,' she shouted in return, and suffered immediate remorse.
In the aftermath of their fight, she had spurned the Navy and gone to UCLA to study engineering. Now she found the work for the Agency stimulating and enjoyed the notion that she played an important, if small, role in the strategic balance of power in the world. Still, during those low points like the present, she could sense her father looking over her shoulder.
Her head snapped up as Isaacs's voice came over the intercom.
'Yes, sir,' replied Kathleen, glancing at Danielson. 'Do you have time to see Dr Danielson? She's waiting here.'
Isaacs appeared quickly in the doorway.
'Pat, please come in.' He held the door for her and gestured her to a chair. 'I'm sorry that was so impersonal,' he pointed his chin at the note still wadded in her hand. 'I was too busy to get around, and it did have to be in writing anyway.'
'I didn't mind that,' she lied a little, 'but I was shocked.'
'It was sudden, a decision from upstairs.' Isaacs looked at the young woman, wondering how much of the real problem he should reveal to her.
Danielson searched for words that would not seem too bald an appeal for approval.
'I couldn't help wondering, if I had made more progress, if I had isolated the source of the signal, would that have kept the project alive?'
Isaacs spoke thoughtfully.
'Perhaps. Unfortunately, we can't answer that, since we didn't find the source.' He noted the look of discomfort that passed over her face and hastened to add reassurance. 'Please don't feel responsible for this. You did some very good work to get as far as you did. You can't blame yourself for getting bogged down. It turned out to be a problem with no simple resolution, and you had lots of other things to do the last two or three weeks.'
He disliked the tone of those words. By weaselling around the real issue, he made it sound as if she might shoulder some blame for not working quite hard enough or being quite bright enough. He sighed mentally. If this young woman had a future in the Agency, she might as well learn the ropes.
'Pat, let me level with you. Unless you had showed that this was a new Russian weapon aimed at the Oval Office, the project would have been killed. The decision really had nothing to do with the project itself. It was strictly politics.'
Danielson was relieved to hear these words from Isaacs, but as her potential guilt feelings receded further she found anger in their place.
'But that's so unfair! I worked hard on that project. Why should it be cancelled?'
'Maybe not fair, but logical in the scheme of how things really work around here.'
'I don't understand.'
'If you want to get things done, you have to fight for what you think is right.' He pointed a finger at her. 'Just as you're doing right now.'
She met his gaze straight on. He continued. 'The fact that I use the word fight means that somebody holds opposite views, and they're going to be fighting back. I push for what I think is right and get pushed back. You lose some skirmishes to win the battles. I'm sorry that this skirmish was particularly important to you personally.'
Danielson glanced at the closed door to Kathleen's office.
'I guess I see.'
Isaacs was quick on the uptake.
'Kathleen told you about me and McMasters,' he stated flatly, then laughed gently as Danielson looked surprised. 'Kathleen knows everything that goes on around here. I would have been disappointed if she hadn't bent your ear a little out there.
'McMasters is old school, losing his touch and very defensive about it. I've had to challenge him on occasion and he doesn't like that. Frankly, I don't think he likes me. He may resent the fact that my grandfather wore a yarmulke. Who knows? The feeling is fairly mutual. In any case, let me give it to you straight out. He killed Project QUAKER out of spite because I killed some of his projects. Simple as that.'
The fire was in her eyes again.
'I don't think that's so simple. I think it's wrong.'
'Wrong. Yes, I think it was wrong, too, but you're not looking at the bigger picture. If I let McMasters get his way here, I can get other more important things done more efficiently.'
'But I don't see how he can get away with this — this obstructionism.'
'For one thing he's not a total loss. He's effective al keeping up the day to day affairs of the Agency, as long a tricky strategic questions aren't involved. If nothing else he keeps the Director from meddling in the details so w< can get our job done. We all have our strengths ant weaknesses.'
'But how can you write QUAKER off as unimportant? Doesn't it worry you that we don't know what that signal is?'
'You misunderstand me. I am worried about that signal. I'm sorry as hell McMasters cancelled it. But we don't really have any proof that it's important. That's why he picked it. And there are other projects of proven merit that can proceed without his interference.'
Danielson sat, looking angry and unconvinced.
Isaacs wondered how much other reaction was righteous indignation and how much resentment at not being allowed her own way on the project. Did she betray some inflexibility in the face of interference? She would have to learn to get along if she wanted to move up.
'How did you come to work for the Agency?' he asked. The change in topic and tone caught her off guard.
'I beg your pardon?'
Isaacs folded his hands and leaned on his forearms. 'I was thinking about your future in the Agency. That got me to wondering what brought you this way in the first place.'
Danielson gave him a long look, wondering what was on his mind. She did not reveal her inner thoughts often, but as her boss, maybe Isaacs had a right to be curious about her underlying motivation. He did seem sympathetic. She was in a mood to talk and succumbed to that.
'It's funny you should ask.' She relaxed back in her chair and looked at her hands then up at Isaacs. 'I was thinking about that while I was waiting.
'Like anyone, I suppose I had a mixture of emotional and logical reasons. I had a desire to serve my country. My senior year I interviewed a bunch of Orange County firms, and the Agency, mostly out of curiosity. They ended up offering me a stipend to go to graduate school and a job when I got my degree. That appealed to me.' She laughed briefly. 'If some of my fellow graduate students at Stanford had known I was funded by the Agency, they would have gone wild.'
'Hotbed of radicals, eh?'
'Well, you know, that's the time of life for feeling that way. I guess I was raised differently.'
Isaacs leaned back in his chair. 'It's been a long time since I looked at your file. You were raised by your father, if I remember correctly.'
'Since I was five. My father has been a big influence on me, for better or worse. He was Navy. I suppose the Agency is my way of carrying the flag.'
'Nothing wrong with that. We're all here for that reason in one form or another.' He regarded Danielson for a long moment.
'Do you plan to make a career in the Agency?'
'I haven't any thought of quitting.'
'Not the same thing. Right now you're down in the trenches, working hard, trying to please everyone.'
Danielson wondered if he had been reading her mind as she had daydreamed in the outer office.
'You have three choices,' Isaacs continued. 'You can continue doing what you are doing. You can move up. Or you can do something else. You ought to think about it. The Agency would love to have you right where you are, hard-working, productive, underpaid, forever. If you want to get out of that slot you need to set your sights.
'I've been watching you. Your work on Tyuratam has been first rate. You didn't crack QUAKER, but your insight about the trajectory would have escaped a lot of people. That showed a rare gift for breaking out of established channels of thought. You have the talents necessary to get ahead. I'd like to see you do it. But it's a big challenge.'
'I'm not sure what to say. I appreciate your support. I do have some vague ambitions,' she laughed quietly. 'But I haven't been actively coveting your job.'
Isaacs smiled with her and thought about the special toughness of mind needed to get ahead in the Agency. He wondered whether any woman could make it in this male bastion. Pat Danielson had some of the necessary qualities. A patriotic upbringing and a workaholic nature got her through graduate school, brought her here, and kept her here. Did being an only child of a single parent give her that extra edge, or portend a problem as yet unseen?
This time it was as if Danielson read Isaacs's mind.
'I know I have a built-in handicap,' she said. 'I don't see a lot of women in charge around here.' Isaacs nodded thoughtfully.
'No woman has ever risen to the level of a Deputy Director. You couldn't hope to in less than a decade even if you were the President's daughter-in-law. But if, as a woman, you have any desire to aim at that level, you'll have to be particularly resourceful at setting your goals and working towards them.'
He leaned up on his forearms again.
'You wouldn't be crazy to decide there are better things to do with your life.'
'Better things,' she mused. 'I haven't found anything better.'
Isaacs picked up a pencil and fiddled with it. He looked up at her. 'Nor anyone?'
Danielson understood his line of thought and found it irritating, despite her original willingness to get a little personal.
'If you don't mind my saying so, that's a bit chauvinistic. Are you worried someone will turn my head, and I'll run off to the suburbs to make babies?'
'I'm sorry. It does sound that way. But even if I denied my culpability there are people in the Agency who will raise that kind of argument. Fact is, they'll hit you both ways. If you don't get married, they'll suggest there's something wrong there.'
'So I need to snap up a quick husband and continue to labour in the trenches until the powers that be, present company excepted, stamp me with the seal of approval.' Her irritation waned to be replaced by bemusement. 'Somehow, even with all the emphasis on security, it never occurred to me that the Agency would have any interest in my love life. They don't check up, do they?'
'No,' Isaacs laughed. 'Not without special cause. They turn up a few tidbits of everybody's past during the security check. Yours couldn't have been too sordid: you're here.'
Danielson wondered if Allan was in the file. Allan with the blond hair, golden tan, easy smile. Peter Pan with surfboard. He was probably still on the beach.
Isaacs detected her pensive look and switched gears.
'I've managed to get off the point. I just wanted you to know that I think you have a future with the Agency, if you want to work for it. One thing you'll have to learn is that hard work alone isn't all there is. You will always have to do a little getting along by going along. The art is to make the most judicious choice of what to give and what to get. I had to make a hard choice with QUAKER. I hope we'll find that I chose correctly.'
Danielson looked at him seriously. 'I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me like this. I'll try to give some thought to exactly where I'm heading.'
'If I can give you any more bad advice,' Isaacs smiled, 'give me a call.'
Danielson smiled good-bye and let herself out. Despite other pressing duties, she spent the remainder of the day glumly divesting herself of any involvement with Project QUAKER. She gathered up a number of files and voluminous personal notes. The better part of an hour was required to transfer several analytical computer programs and extensive sets of data onto master storage tapes and to delete all active files from the computer memory. Despite Isaacs's attempt at explanation, she drove home that evening thinking that she knew what a miscarriage would feel like.
That same evening Isaacs sat in his living room looking at, but not perceiving, the early evening television news. He loosely supported a half-consumed drink on the arm of the sofa where beaded moisture slowly soaked into the velveteen. The coaster on the side table went unused. The cook made final preparations for dinner and from upstairs the bass from his daughter's stereo carried subliminally. The townhouse perched over a two-car garage off a steeply sloping Georgetown street. Inside it was furnished in a refined, tasteful way. In his wry moods Isaacs estimated he could afford between a quarter and a third of it. The person responsible for the lion's share came bustling in, discarding her purse and jacket. His wife, Muriel, was a dark-haired, slender woman, attractive, although a bit long in the face. She had some money of her own and, more important, a successful, politically oriented law practice.
She came in alternately damning a recalcitrant senatorial aide with whom she was forced to have dealings and crowing over the successful completion of another case in which an out-of-court settlement had saved their client the embarrassment of a court appearance. She elaborated on these developments in a keyed-up, stream-of-consciousness flow as she mixed herself a drink at the bar and sat alongside her husband. As she chatted, Isaacs half-listened, nodding and responding with appropriate monosyllables on occasion. Muriel realized he was down and covered for him for a while, but finally inquired.
'You're quiet tonight. How was your day?'
Isaacs smiled tiredly at his wife, then looked down at his drink. He sat up and tried belatedly to brush some of the collected moisture off the sofa arm.
He smiled again, more genuinely, at his gloomy forgetfulness.
'I shouldn't let him get under my skin. McMasters outflanked me this afternoon. A petty move on his part, but I had to put aside a potentially significant project which is only in the early stages. One of my young people was pretty disappointed. She'd put a lot of good work into it.'
'Can't you go over his head?'
'No, it's not that kind of thing. He put me on the spot before enough evidence was in to make a rigorous case. That's one thing that bothers me, though. Now we won't know. If it is serious, it'll catch us by surprise later.'
'I don't suppose you can continue surreptitiously?'
'You've got too many clients who spend their lives going back on campaign promises. No. It would be hard to do and hell to pay if I got caught. He gave me an order as a senior officer. Even if it's stupid, I'd be putting my job on the line and jeopardizing a lot of programmes of proven importance. The Director would rule against me unless I had an overwhelming motivation for my insubordination.'
Muriel grimed and raised her glass in a mock toast. 'So you're going to eat it?' He returned the gesture.
'I can assure you I've already done so in my most humble and cooperative way.'