Chapter 1 Death had never particularly interested Bob Ferguson as a subject of study. It was a fact in and of itself, without nuance. His religious instructionFerguson had gone to parochial schools and a Catholic collegetaught him to view death as a necessary passage, but the nuns, brothers, and priests who had instructed him tended to focus on either side of the gateway, rather than death itself. As a CIA officer assigned to the Agency's covert Special Demands team, Ferguson had had a great deal of experience with death; he had often been its agent and provocateur. Still, his relationship was purely professional; he remained neither intrigued nor moved by any aspect of the subject itself. The end of life was simply the end of life. The manner of its coming rarely interested him. Ferguson's nonplussed expression as the video played on the small screen at the end of the study bothered his host, CIA Director Thomas Parnelles. Unlike Ferguson, Parnelles contemplated death a great deal. It bothered him, especially in its most brutal forms, and particularly when it involved someone he knew. The fact that the death on the screen involved both was particularly upsetting; it had happened to a man who worked for him, and required justice, if not vengeance. Parnelles had known Ferguson for a very long timesince Ferguson was born, in fact. He had been Ferguson's father's closest friend, and on more than one occasion served in loco parentis when Ferguson Sr. was out of the country. Parnelles assumed because of these things not only that he knew the young man well, but that Ferguson shared his feelings on any matter worthy of having one. So the half smile on Ferguson's face, the completely unmoved expression that was characteristic of the young man, annoyed Parnelles greatly. He finally reached over and clicked the laptop key to end the video just as it focused on the dead man's battered skull. Unsure why the video had stopped, Ferguson took a sip of bourbon from the tumbler Parnelles had given him earlier. The liquor burned pleasantly at his throat as it went down. "Technical problems, General?" Ferguson asked. "There's not much more," said Parnelles. He flipped off the laptop, momentarily shrouding the study in darkness. When he turned on the light, Ferguson had the exact same expression on his face. "Are you feeling all right, Bobby?" "Never better." "North Korea was difficult, I know." "Change of pace." Ferguson tilted the glass. The bourbon was Johnny Drum Private Stock, a well-aged small-batch whiskey more distinctive than such standards as Maker's Mark or Jim Beam. That was one thing about Parnelleshe did not have standard anything. "Ordinarily, I would tell you to sit down for a while, and take some time off," said Parnelles. "More than the few days you've had. But this is a priority. This is important." "Not a problem." "After this, maybe you should take two or three months off. Lay on the beach." "I'll just get bored." Ferguson leaned forward, stretching his back and neck. "So Michael Dalton was killed in Puys, France, two years ago. Then what happens?" "Then we spend two years trying to figure out who did it." Parnelles took his own drink from the edge of his desk and walked over to the chair near Ferguson. He told himself he was seeing the younger man's professional distance, nothing more. "We foBond, Larry is the author of 'Four Feathers' with ISBN 9780765346414 and ISBN 0765346419.