Tom Clancy – Op Center 5 – Balance Of Power

Tom Clancy – Op Center 5 – Balance of Power

Monday, 4:55 p.m. Madrid, Spain

“You were way out of line,” Martha Mackall said.

She was openly disgusted with the young woman standing beside her and it took a moment for her to calm down. Then she bent close to Aideen’s ear so the other passengers wouldn’t hear. “You were out of line and reckless. You know what’s at stake here. To be distracted like that is inexcusable.” The statuesque Martha and her slight assistant, Aideen Marley were holding a pole in the aisle near the front door of the bus. Aideen’s full, round cheeks nearly as red as her long hair, she tore absently at the moist towelette she clutched in her right hand.

“Do you disagree?” Martha asked.

“No,” Aideen said.

“I mean, good lord!” “I said no,” Aideen repeated. “I don’t disagree. I was wrong. Totally and completely wrong.” Aideen believed it, too. She had behaved impulsively in a situation that she probably should have ignored. But like Aideen’s own overreaction a few minutes before, this dressing-down from Martha was excessive and punitive. In the two months since Aideen had joined Op-Center’s Political and Economics Office, she’d been warned more than once by the other three staff members to avoid crossing the boss.

Now she saw why.

“I don’t know what you needed to prove,” Martha went on. She was still bent close to Aideen. There was anger in her clipped tone. ” “But I never want you doing it again. Not when you’re touring with me.

Do you understand?”‘” “Yes,” Aideen said contritely.

God, she thought, enough already.

Aideen had a flashback to a brainwashing seminar she’d once attended at the U.s. embassy in Mexico City. The prisoners were always dunned by their captors when they were at their weakest emotionally.

Guilt was an especially effective doorway.

She wondered if Martha had studied the technique or came by it naturally.

And almost at once, Aideen wondered if she were being fair to her boss. After all, this was their first mission together for Op-Center. And it was an important one.

Martha finally looked away-but only for a moment.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said, turning back.

Her voice was just loud enough to be heard over the powerful engine. “Tell me something. Did it ever occur to you that we might have been detained by the police? How would we have explained that to our Uncle Miguel?” Uncle Miguel was the code name for the man they were here to see. Deputy Isidro Serrador.

Until the women arrived for their meeting at the Congreso de los Diputados, the Congress of Deputies, that was how they were supposed to refer to him.

“Detained by the police for what?” Aideen asked.

“Frankly, no. That did not occur to me. We were simply protecting ourselves.” “Protecting ourselves?” Martha asked.

Aideen looked at her. “Yes.” “From whom?” “What do you mean?” Aideen asked. “Those men-was “Those Spanish men,” Martha said, still bent close to Aideen. “It would have been our word against theirs. Two American women crying harassment to policemen who probably do their own share of harassing. The policia would have laughed at us.” Aideen shook her head. “I can’t believe it would have gone that far.” “I see,” Martha said. “You know that for sure. You can guarantee it wouldn’t have.” “No, I can’t,” Aideen admitted. “But even so, at least the situation would have been-was “What?” Martha asked. “Ended? What would you have done if we’d been arrested?” Aideen looked out the window as the stores and hotels of Madrid’s commercial center passed by. She’d recently partaken in one of Op-Center’s computerized WaSP’S-WAR Simulation Projects-a mandatory exercise for members of the diplomatic staff. It gave them a feeling for what their colleagues had to endure if diplomacy failed. Casualties greater than the mind could process. That exercise was easier than this one.

“If we’d been arrested,” Aideen said, “I would have apologized. What else could I have done?” “Not a thing,” Martha said, “which is exactly my point-though it’s a little late to be thinking about it.” “You know what?” said Aideen. “You’re right. You’re right”dis” She looked back at Martha. “It’s too late.

So what I’d like to do now is apologize to you and put this behind us.” “I’m sure you would,” Martha replied, “but that’s not my style. When I’m unhappy, I let it out.” And out and out, Aideen thought.

“And when I get real unhappy,” Martha added, “I shut you out. I can’t afford charity.” Aideen didn’t agree with that policy of excommunication. You build a good team, you fight hard to keep it; a wise and effective manager understands that passion needs to be nurtured and channeled, not crushed. But this was a side of Martha she’d simply have to get used to. As Op-Center’s Deputy Director, General Mike Rodgers, had put it when he hired her, Every job has politics. They just happen to be more pronounced in politics.

He went on to point out that in every profession, people have agendas. Often, only dozens or hundreds of people are affected by those agendas. In politics, the ramifications from even tiny ripples are incalculable. And there was only one way to fight that.

Aideen had asked him how.

Rodgers’s answer had been simple.

With a better agenda.

Aideen was too annoyed to contemplate what Martha’s agenda was right now. That was a popular topic of discussion at Op-Center. People were divided as to whether the Political and Economics Liaison worked hard doing what was best for the nation or for Martha Mackall. The truth, most felt, was that she was looking out for both.

Aideen looked around the bus. She could tell that some of the people gathered around her were also unhappy, though that had very little to do with what was going on between the young woman and Martha. The bus was packed with people returning to work after the afternoon lunch break-which lasted from one o’clock to four-as well as camera-carrying tourists. A number of them had seen what the young woman had done at the bus stop. Word had spread very rapidly. The riders nearest Aideen were pressing away from her. A few of them cast disapproving glances at the young woman’s hands.

Martha remained silent as the brakes ground noisily. The large red bus stopped on Calle Femanflor and the two women got off quickly.

Dressed as tourists in jeans and windbreakers, and carrying backpacks and cameras, they stood on the curb of the crowded avenue. Behind them, the bus snarled away. Dark faces bobbed in the windows, looking down at the women.

Martha regarded her assistant. Despite the reprimand, Aideen’s gray eyes still had a glint of steel beneath her lightly freckled lids.

“Look,” Martha said, “you’re new in this arena. I brought you along because you’re a helluva linguist and you’re smart. You have a lot of potential in foreign affairs.” “I’m not exactly new at it,” Aideen replied defensively.

“No, but you’re new on the European stage and to my way of doing things,” Martha replied. “You like frontal assaults, which is probably why General Rodgers hired you away from Ambassador Carnegie. Our Deputy Director believes in attacking problems head on. But I warned you about that when you came to work for me. I told you to turn down the heat. What worked in Mexico is not necessarily going to work here. I told you when you accepted the position that if you work for me you have to do things my way. And I prefer end runs. Skirt the main force. Finesse the enemy rather than launch an assault. Especially when the stakes are as high as they are here.” “I understand,” Aideen said. “Like I said, I may be new at this type of situation. But I’m not green. When I know the rules I can play by them.” Martha relaxed slightly. “Okay. I’ll buy that.” She watched as Aideen tossed the tattered towelette into a trash can. “Are you okay? Do you want to find a restroom?”‘” “Do I need one?” Martha sniffed the air. “I don’t think so.” She scowled. “You know, I still can’t believe you did what you did.” “I know you can’t and I’m truly sorry,” Aideen said. “What else can I possibly say?” “Nothing,” Martha said. She shook her head slowly. “Not a thing. I’ve seen street fighters in my day, but I have to admit I’ve never seen that.” Martha was still shaking her head as they turned toward the imposing Palacio de las Cortes, where they were scheduled to meet very unofficially and very quietly with Deputy Serrador. According to what the veteran politician had told Ambassador Barry Neville in a very secret meeting, tension was escalating between the impoverished Andalusians in the south and the rich and influential Castilians of northern and central Spain. The government wanted help gathering intelligence. They needed to know from which direction the tension was coming-and whether it also involved the Catalonians, Galicians, Basques, and other ethnic groups. Serrador’s fear was that a concerted effort by one faction against another could rend the loosely woven quilt of Spain. Sixty years before, a civil war, which pitted the aristocracy, the military, and the Roman Catholic Church against insurgent Communists and other anarchic forces, had nearly destroyed Spain. A modern war would draw in ethnic sympathizers from France, Morocco, Andorra, Portugal, and other nearby nations. It would destabilize the southern flank of NATO and the results would be catastrophic-particularly as NATO sought to expand its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

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Categories: Clancy, Tom