View from the Top


The conference was international, exclusive, and only slightly less than top security. Mornings were devoted to the Factual track: the latest intelligence on various terrorist and criminal groups, new technology in weaponry and surveillance. Afternoons were concerned with Tactical, and they spent their time discussing ways of allotting limited manpower and money, arguing over the relative merits of drawn-out negotiations against charging in with guns blazing, and comparing organizational structures and efficiency. Evenings were supposedly free, but they were filled with semi-official networking, interagency boasts, and complaints about pig-headed interference in their affairs by mayors, movie stars, and bleeding-heart liberals.

The current session was at none of those times. Its subject had no official name, and as many unofficial ones as there were agencies represented by the gathering in Captain Dobey's hotel room. The FBI called it "enmeshment." The CIA, scorning the Bureau's paltry three syllables, called it "failure of personnel objectivity." Dobey himself, chewing angrily on his cigar, called it "those damn pansies they keep recruiting," and Major Cowley, tiredly rubbing the bridge of his nose, referred to the entire problem only as "unfortunate."

If they couldn't name it, however, they could certainly describe it. "The number of times I've radioed that pair on stakeout, with no answer for over a minute, and then they tell me they'd 'stepped 'round the corner for a leak'..." Cowley shook his head and finished his scotch. Beside him, Waverly poured him another and then added the bottle's last half-inch to his own glass. "Mr. Solo doesn't even have the decency to come up with a halfway-reasonable excuse like that," he countered, aggrieved. "Tries to tell me the equipment must have been faulty. 'Micro-circuitry gone a little too micro.' Hmph."

John Gibbs leaned forward on his elbows from across the table. "We've simply got to find a way to put a stop to this. It's worse still in my situation. At least in your agencies, gentlemen, the...situation...doesn't threaten organizational integrity. But if the rumours I've been hearing about Burnside are true--"

"It's the same in the OCB," Beckstead interrupted. "You put a man under cover and give him one link to the real world, and he'll cling to it like it was his mama."

"But he's not Caine's mother. He's his boss, not-- It's damned irresponsible, that's all, and it's dangerous. We've got to stop it."

"We know that," growled Dobey. He stubbed out his cigar with an angry twist and lit another. "The question is, how? For Christ's sake, if one of them so much as stubs his little toe, the other's no damn use for a week. I tried splitting them--"

"And they said they'd resign, didn't they?" Cowley shook his head.

"They've already done it once. I wouldn't care if they did it again, except Hutchinson's family has enough money to make any stink they like, and his cousin's on the City Council. Damn."

"They think we don't know, you know," added Beckstead wryly. "They think they're so good at undercover work--" Castillo quirked a look at him, but didn't say anything.

Waverly emptied his pipe into the ashtray and shook his head. "I almost called Mr. Solo into my office last week. 'Mr. Solo,' I wanted to say, 'stop seducing every woman in sight. It's discomfiting to the office staff, not to mention compromising to security, and you're not fooling me in any case.'"

Dobey pointed his cigar at Castillo. "Yeah, I remember you complaining about Crockett last year. He still pissing you off, pretending he isn't flirting with his partner?"

Castillo drew his finger through the wet circles left on the tabletop by their glasses. "Sonny's all right," he said quietly. Gibbs sniffed, reaching for the last of the gin. "You'll have to tell us how you control him," he said; but from across the room Cowley's restless eyes stopped, and stayed on the lieutenant for a long moment.

Beckstead pushed his chair back. "The hell of it is..." he began, and then let the sentence trail off. "What?" demanded Waverly, backed up by Gibbs. But Beckstead traded a meaningful look with Dobey, and sat back while the captain finished his point for him.

"The hell of it is," said Dobey into the room, and a glum silence fell even before he'd completed the sentence, "that you've gotta admit...that at least they're getting some."

-- THE END --

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