September 2nd, 2012, CIA Training Facility ‘The Farm’, Virginia
Fitz stood on the hood of a Humvee watching his recruits through binoculars. He and his vehicle were perched on a rocky cliff above the collection of future agents running silently through the woods in the early morning mist. He lowered the Steiner M830R’s from his eyes as a short but muscular, dark-haired man approached him.
“You think he’s actually got a chance, sir?” the stocky man in his mid-thirties asked, extending a cup of steaming coffee up to his superior.
“Not if I have anything to say about it, Epstein,” Fitz replied, accepting the mug of hot liquid with a smile.
“Yeah, I was getting a bit worried you might have been going overboard with the praise. I didn’t think you wanted it to be too obvious.”
The senior agent stopped blowing on the coffee and laughed. “I needed the boss to think I cared and I wanted those other recruits to really hate that hillbilly right out of the gate. He needs to be everyone’s target, not just mine. It’ll make it easier and much more believable when he washes out or something else happens.”
“We’ll see, sir. His bio said he was very likeable and resourceful.”
“I really don’t give a shit. Anyone can be broken,” Fitz said looking at Epstein over the edge of his mug. He took a sip and squinted at his assistant. “Uh oh, I feel a ′but’ coming on.”
Epstein nodded and raised an eyebrow. “But, you do realize you’re messin’ with the Chief’s pet project, don’t you? He did score well...”
Fitz sighed, set the coffee on the hood of the Humvee, and jumped down from the front of his vehicle. He jabbed a hand behind him toward Cole and said, “I don’t care how many tests they run, he’s a mistake and I am going to make sure it never happens again! For that matter, I knew Annalisa long before she became my boss. Hell, I trained her. It was a sad day at the Company when they promoted that conniving bitch to Director!”
Agent Lou Epstein grimaced. “She’s still the Chief, sir.”
“On paper, maybe, but as far as I’m concerned she’s as big a mistake as Hitchens. Another experiment, just like some politically correct bureaucrat hiring another weakass woman to take a man’s job, all to fill a quota. The CIA is not a goddamned social experiment to make the downtrodden and women feel better about themselves! It’s to protect this country at all costs.”
Epstein narrowed his eyes. “Sir, I thought she got the job because she saved you and those soldiers’ lives? At least that’s what got her the attention from the brass.”
Fitz spun around and jammed a finger in Epstein’s face. “No, she got me shot and nearly killed! That’s how I ended up here. Annalise was just lucky she got brownie points and eventually her cushy new job instead of losing her head! That would have been what happened in the past. Her touchy feely shit’s gonna get people killed I tell you, just like that redneck fool down there.”
“Well, I don’t give a shit what you think, Epstein, if you really want to know! Now please, go piss off somewhere, I have a show to watch!” Fitz turned with a growl and lifted the binoculars to his eyes once more. “Thanks for the coffee.”
Fitz grinned as Epstein stormed away.
Cole knew something was amiss when two male recruits jogged up on either side of him and matched his speed. They grabbed him by the arms and pulled him off to the side of the trail and into the woods. The other recruits snickered and continued to run by. Cole did not fight; he wanted to see what they wanted.
“Hey, convict, why don’t you cut the shit? We all know you don’t belong here,” said the man Cole recognized as recruit Biltmore. “You said it yourself.”
“Well, I give it some thought to all that and if I do this here thing right, I can make my family proud of me one day. This is my one opportunity and if’n I don’t take it, I know I won’t get another’n,” Cole replied between breaths.
The second recruit laughed. “Jesus, you don’t even try to hide it, do you?”
“Hide what, brother?”
“Brother? I’m not your brother you moron,” the recruit shot back. “You’re not even trying to hide how backwoods you really are, are you? Are your momma and daddy related? I bet they are...”
Biltmore smacked the man on the bicep and grinned as he walked around to Cole’s opposite side. He watched Cole bend over and place a hand on each knee to take a breath. “Yates, there’s no need for all of that, is there, Cole, my hillbilly friend? You are about to, um, how do you guys say it out in the sticks? High tail it out of here, right? Even a good ’ol boy like yourself can tell when you’re not wanted.”
Cole kept his eyes open, examining his two opponents for potential weaknesses. He noted Biltmore’s left shoe was untied and he spotted recruit Yates’ jogging pants were a bit baggy on him. “I guess you didn’t hear what I just said, huh?” Cole asked smartly.
“No, and I really don’t care. What I do know, however is that I think you are full of shit. You can’t expect anyone to believe a word of that bull Agent Fitz said about you,” Biltmore said with a smirk. “We all know you are only in here because you saved the Chief’s little brother. The Company can make up any reality they want and right now, they want you for some reason. God knows what. Regardless, everyone here knows you’re just going to end up in the damn desert overseas with Special Activities and get you or someone else killed.”
“What are you guys so afraid of, really? What is it about little ol’ me that scares you so bad?” Cole asked, standing upright. He let his hands fall loose to his sides and set his feet shoulder width apart, left foot forward.
Yates stepped up to Cole and got in his face. “Noticed anything, bumpkin?”
“What?” Cole asked, glancing at Biltmore as he slowly moved out of his peripheral vision.
“No one’s come looking for us, yet. You don’t think that’s a little strange?”
Cole had already noticed this area was one of the few spots on The Farm where there were no cameras. He understood well why he was here.
“Uh oh, I think ol’ bumpkin here just had himself a thought. I almost believe I saw it spark up between his ears. Did it hurt?”
“You know, you didn’t answer my question.” Cole narrowed his eyes and stared into Yates’ two green orbs. He noted the man shrank a little as the emotion drained from Cole’s face. “You both should walk away, I won’t say it again.” Cole saw something flash in Yates’ eyes and stepped to the side. He stomped his foot down on Biltmore’s loose shoelace as his opponent sailed by. The recruit lost his balance, diving face first into a large muddy puddle. Yates turned to avoid Biltmore. Cole grabbed the startled Yates by the top of his pants with his right hand and pulled them to the ground. In the same fluid action, he placed his left hand on Yates’ back and pushed, sending the man forward, tumbling over Biltmore, and into the same dirty puddle of water.
The other recruits, making their second lap around the trail were now returning to the spot where Biltmore and Yates dragged Cole from his morning jog and were wondering what had transpired. They began to laugh and point as they spotted the two angry men flailing about in the mud all alone.
Cole was well down the trail continuing his run.