Today's Reading

Dinner, as usual, was all about Marcy. She barely ate. Instead, she speed-talked about all that she'd seen and done at the National Zoo that day with her grandparents. Marcus quipped she should be a correspondent for Animal Planet, but Marcy thought that was ridiculous. She was going to be a veterinarian—"the best one in the whole wide world." Marcus had no doubt.

After dinner they played a compressed, one-hour version of Monopoly. Marcy cleaned their clocks. She bankrupted her grandmother in less than twenty minutes, and Carter and Marcus weren't far behind.

A bit after nine, Maya took the girl upstairs for a bath and bed. Carter brought Marcus a mug of hot coffee and a second round of cookies, fresh out of the oven. Marcus began to decline but instantly thought better of it. Who was he kidding? Maya's cookies were simply irresistible, and he caved to temptation.

"How are the ribs?" Carter asked as he settled into his favorite over-stuffed chair and lit up his beloved pipe.

"Better," Marcus said, patting his side and wincing. "Well, not totally better."

"Still tender?"

"A little."

"But you're running again?"

"Five miles a day—just so I can eat Maya's cookies."

Carter chuckled and puffed away. "And how's Pete?"

"Pete's Pete—what can you do? But at least his arm is healing nicely."

"You two still having breakfast on Sundays?"

"Every week."

"Well, give him my regards."

"Will do."

"And tell him to come with you to church tomorrow."

"I ask him every Sunday."


"And he's always got another excuse—he's a stubborn ole coot."

"Is it my preachin' or Maya's singin'?"

"Let's just say it ain't Maya," Marcus replied. "Beyond that, I plead the Fifth."

"Fair enough," Carter laughed as the cherry-scented smoke swirled about his head. "So tell me about this new job. You happy with it?"

The two men had barely seen each other in the last several weeks, much less had a chance to catch up on all the latest developments in Marcus's suddenly very different life.

"Bit of an adjustment, you might say, but I think it'll be a good fit."

"But the State Department?" Carter asked. "I don't really picture you at State, son."

Marcus shrugged. "Well, you know, it's not just State—it's DSS." Carter, a D.C. native, would know he was referring to the Diplomatic Security Service. "It'll be sort of like my days in the Secret Service, but maybe not as much travel and hopefully not as much stress."

The moment Marcus said it, he wished he'd put it differently. It wasn't a lie. Not exactly. But the truth was far more complicated. His job at DSS was real, but it was just a cover. The fact was, he had just been drafted into the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Washington, D.C.—16 November

Marcus got up early and went for a run, past the Capitol and down the Mall.

When he got back to his apartment, he showered, dressed, and headed to Manny's Diner, just a few blocks away. Pete wasn't there yet, so he grabbed a booth, ordered coffee, and began reading the Washington Post.

By twenty minutes after nine, Pete still hadn't arrived. When Marcus checked his phone and found no text messages or emails from him, he began to worry. Just as he was about to call Pete and read him the riot act, however, a woman he'd never seen suddenly dropped into the seat across from him.

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