“Now wasn’t that easy?” Midge said with a sneer as Brinkerhoff handed over the key to Fontaine’s office.
Brinkerhoff looked beaten.
“I’ll erase it before I go,” Midge promised. “Unless you and your wife want it for your private collection.”
“Just get the damned printout,” he snapped. “And then get out!”
“Si, senor,” Midge cackled in a thick Puerto Rican accent. She winked and headed across the suite to Fontaine’s double doors.
Leland Fontaine’s private office looked nothing like the rest of the directorial suite. There were no paintings, no overstuffed chairs, no ficus plants, no antique clocks. His space was streamlined for efficiency. His glass‑topped desk and black leather chair sat directly in front of his enormous picture window. Three file cabinets stood in the corner next to a small table with a French press coffeepot. The moon had risen high over Fort Meade, and the soft light filtering through the window accentuated the starkness of the director’s furnishings.
What the hell am I doing? Brinkerhoff wondered.
Midge strode to the printer and scooped up the queue list. She squinted in the darkness. “I can’t read the data,” she complained. “Turn on the lights.”
“You’re reading it outside. Now come on.”
But Midge was apparently having too much fun. She toyed with Brinkerhoff, walking to the window and angling the readout for a better view.
“Midge . . .”
She kept reading.
Brinkerhoff shifted anxiously in the doorway. “Midge . . . come on. These are the director’s private quarters.”
“It’s here somewhere,” she muttered, studying the printout. “Strathmore bypassed Gauntlet, I know it.” She moved closer to the window.
Brinkerhoff began to sweat. Midge kept reading.
After a few moments, she gasped. “I knew it! Strathmore did it! He really did! The idiot!” She held up the paper and shook it. “He bypassed Gauntlet! Have a look!”
Brinkerhoff stared dumbfounded a moment and then raced across the director’s office. He crowded in next to Midge in front of the window. She pointed to the end of the readout.
Brinkerhoff read in disbelief. “What the . . . ?”
The printout contained a list of the last thirty‑six files that had entered TRANSLTR. After each file was a four‑digit Gauntlet clearance code. However, the last file on the sheet had no clearance code‑it simply read: manual bypass.
Jesus, Brinkerhoff thought. Midge strikes again.
“The idiot!” Midge sputtered, seething. “Look at this! Gauntlet rejected the file twice! Mutation strings! And he still bypassed! What the hell was he thinking?”
Brinkerhoff felt weak‑kneed. He wondered why Midge was always right. Neither of them noticed the reflection that had appeared in the window beside them. A massive figure was standing in Fontaine’s open doorway.
“Jeez,” Brinkerhoff choked. “You think we have a virus?”
Midge sighed. “Nothing else it could be.”
“Could be none of your damn business!” the deep voice boomed from behind them.
Midge knocked her head against the window. Brinkerhoff tipped over the director’s chair and wheeled toward the voice. He immediately knew the silhouette.
“Director!” Brinkerhoff gasped. He strode over and extended his hand. “Welcome home, sir.”
The huge man ignored it.
“I‑I thought,” Brinkerhoff stammered, retracting his hand, “I thought you were in South America.”
Leland Fontaine glared down at his aide with eyes like bullets. “Yes . . . and now I’m back.”