The first floor of Consolidated Industrial Audits Services’ Virginia Beach headquarters contained the auditors and support staff needed to provide world-class auditing services. The other three floors contained the true purpose for the building: the logistics, administrative, and quartermaster departments of MCIU-5, the elite counter-intelligence unit of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Agent Clarke, MCIU’s top operative, had never spent any time on the first floor. In fact, in the fifteen years he had been with the agency, he had both entered and exited the building via either the helicopter pad on the roof, or the pneumatic tubes that fed into the basement elevator bay.
On this particular Tuesday, however, Head of Section had given Clarke specific orders to report to the front company on floor one. Something vaguely akin to anxiety coursed through Clarke as he took the elevator ride down. Mandatory retirement age of 47 still loomed ahead of him, so it couldn’t have been that. Is working on the first floor what happens when people retire? The thought forced a wave of perspiration.
Such worrying was pointless. The agency would never keep discharged personnel that close to HQ. It was a security risk. Probably. It was far more likely that some agent of TOOTH—Terrorists Organizing Outside The Hemisphere—had infiltrated the Audit Firm in a gambit to launch a direct attack on MCIU’s base of operations. It would be incumbent on Clarke to identify the offending party and eliminate them. It certainly wouldn’t be the furthest he had ever travelled for an assignment, but he would take it on without complaint, all in the service of country.
The occupant of the auditor’s corner office of the first floor jaunted toward the elevator as Clarke exited. “Mr. Clarke… I’ve been expecting you.”
Clarke cleared his throat, trying to expel from his consciousness the memory of the last time he had heard that specific series of words. At that moment, Clarke had an electromagnet attached directly to his glands, and Dr. Quotient was ready to turn the blasted thing on. Not the most pleasant memory Clarke had of that particular moment, to be sure.
“Yes, I was ordered to—”
“Uh-huh,” the head bean counter nodded enthusiastically, immediately corralling Clarke back into his office. “Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Glenlivet 25, if you have it,” Clarke remarked off-hand. “If not, one highball Absolut Crystal Pinstripe Black, pre-chilled.”
“You’re ordering top shelf liquor during a business meeting… on a Tuesday morning?”
Clarke frowned. “I may be a little bit out of my depth here. Water…?”
The bean counter nodded approvingly.
“Also in a Highball, with a lemon twist and three olives. Very cold. No ice, please.”
The bean counter’s nodding ebbed in enthusiasm. “Can we get a couple of bottles of water in here?”
One of the other workers moved to bring them the drinks.
“Now, why we’re here…”
“Who do I have to kill?” Clarke asked.
“I’d prefer you kill no one, but I understand you’ve gone at most two days without killing someone, so we’ll try to move quickly.”
Another office worker brought in two bottles of water. Clarke fumbled his way through trying to drink it with any degree of elegance, but it was just as tentative as his non-murdering. The structure of the liquid’s container baffled him.
“Naturally, there have been budget cuts across all intelligence services over the last year… That’s led to some belt tightening.”
Clarke would have spit out the water, had he successfully taken a sip of the beverage. “Let me tell you something about the spy game, my friend. It absolutely relies on men who can act independently of any other consideration. I’ve worked under those circumstances for a long time, and I’m not going to—”
Another employee brought the auditor a large, bulging file. It landed on the desk with a thud that reminded Clarke of the brief life of Maximillian Czar’s Polatron missile.
“No one’s interested in changing how you do your business, we just need to make sure you’re a little smarter with the Treasury’s funds.”
Clarke rose from his seat. “I’ve never been spoken to this way, and I’m not about to start now.”
“If you do not submit to this audit of your operational expenses, you’ll be suspended from field duty.”
Clarke turned around.
The audior continued. “I don’t find you attractive, Agent Clarke. Your normal methods of sidestepping procedural oversight by means of seduction will only embarrass the both of us.”
Clarke sat down again.
The bean counter opened the file and began reading. “Now, first thing’s first, on your last mission, you lost your Beretta 418.”
“I did not. I threw it at a TOOTH agent. He then fell off a plane, presumably to his death.”
“Yes, but that’s a six-hundred dollar expense that the agency is not able to re-coop.”
“Yes, but I killed an evil do-er, and got the agency a new jet…”
The bean counter looked further down on the report. “The upkeep of that jet is prohibitive. How about these… seven…teen?…vehicles you’ve totaled.”
“Fourteen thousand… Sorry, that’s fourteen billion dollars of damage to public property. I’m assuming that’s tied to the totaled vehicles…”
“All in the service of a grateful country.”
“Okay,” the auditor stopped another report. “You spend six-hundred thousand per… Month? On beluga caviar, and some of that liquor you thought I had sitting around the office. If you order some of the cheaper roe, that would go a long way—”
Clarke slammed his hands on the desk and rose once again from his seat. “Enough! I quit! Life is too short to eat second-tier caviar. I’d rather die in the poor house than continue under these circumstances.”
After he stormed out of the office, the bean counter activated an intercom on the desk. “I’m three for three on these auditing sessions. Send the next agent down, please.”