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FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia
Quantico is cop Valhalla. They say good cops go there when they die. Every day you solve crimes, make arrests, study hard, work out, do target practice, and at the end of the day you get together with your fellow agents in the boardroom, swig back some beers, and laugh. Hardly nobody gets hurt, nobody locks their doors, everyone knows the rules, and the bad guys always lose.
â€”Note pasted on a bulletin board, Jefferson
Â Dormitory, FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia
Iâ€™m FBI. More beef!
â€”Apocryphal incident in New York between
an FBI agent and a deli sandwich maker.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Hogantown covered twelve acres on the sprawling Academy campus, nestled between copses of pine, maple, and dogwood. The most crime-ridden town in America, possibly on Earth, Hogantown used to look small and quaint, like a backlot movie setâ€”Hoganâ€™s Alley. Now it was an entire town with real apartmentsâ€”for role-players and directorsâ€”and real stakeouts and real-time, year-around crime taking a month or more to solve and Âinvolving multiple classes of agent trainees. The town had a functioning drug store, AllMed, and a good-sized Giga-Mart that was a favorite hangout for Marines.
Hogantown employed fourteen crime scenarists who surveyed the goings-onâ€”alongside teachers and directorsâ€”from hidden walkways. It was the worldâ€™s biggest training center for law enforcementâ€”even larger than the Gasforth complex at Bramâ€™s Hill in England.
Crime and terror had been good to Hogantown.
Invisible flame shot along his arms and legs and up his neck to his jaw. William Griffin gritted his teeth to keep from screaming and clutched his pistol with two spasming hands. Ahead, angular and black against the gray concrete walls, the slammer wobbled on its drop-down carriage like an old dentistâ€™s X-ray machine. This was Agent Instructor Pete Farrowâ€™s last word on screw-upsâ€”a quick, sharp blast from the shoot houseâ€™s microwave pain projector.
Farrow had just blown the last of his meager reserve of patience.
William jerked off his helmet and stepped away from the test track. Still trembling, he lowered his weapon and switched off his Lynx. There was blood in his mouth. He had bitten halfway through his tongue.
Hogantownâ€™s Rough-and-Tough had just gotten him killedâ€”for the third time.
â€œMr. Griffin, you are a pissant.â€ Farrow came around the corner of the observation deck and descended the metal stairs into the shoot house with quickstep precision. He stood six and a half feet tall and weighed in at two hundred and thirty pounds. With a bristle-fuzz of blond hair, a dubious squint, onyx eyes, and a face that seemed always on the edge of a cruel grin, Farrow looked more like a Bond villain than an FBI agent.
â€œSorry, sir.â€ William had been second in a team of four going into an apartment. All his partners had been virtual. They had waltzed through the rooms with precision and then there had been gunshots and smoke and confusion. Dripping red letters across his visual field announced that he had taken two in the chest and one in the head. To emphasize the point, Farrow had unleashed the slammer.
Even before the pain, the simulation had been so real that William could still feel the acid in his gut and the sweat under his body armor.
Farrow took Williamâ€™s Glock and with the click of a hidden switch removed it from the grid of computer tracking and control. â€œYou heard shots. You saw Agent Smith go down. Then you saw Agent Wesson go down. Then you saw a miscreant come from behind the fridge.â€
â€œThere was a child.â€
â€œThe murdering SOB was right in front of you. The child was not in your line of fire.â€
â€œIâ€™m not making excuses, sir.â€ He could barely talk.
Farrow hitched up his pants. He had the kind of buildâ€”barrel chest and slim hipsâ€”that precluded getting a good fit anywhere outside of a tailorâ€™s shop. â€œYour squeeze and firing patterns are daggers, same height, all in a row, just fineâ€”whenever youâ€™re shooting at a target. Otherwise, youâ€™re a complete, balls-to-the-wall pissant. Have you ever gone hunting, Mr. Griffin?â€
â€œYes, sir,â€ William said, his shoulders falling about as low as they could go. â€œI mean, no, sir.â€
â€œYour daddy never took you hunting? Thatâ€™s a disgrace.â€
â€œSir, I do not understand what you mean by â€˜pissant.â€™â€
â€œLook it up. A useless, insignificant creature. It means youâ€™re not worth your native clay. It means in a situation of self-defense, with clearly defined antagonists whose mission in life is to put you down like a mangy dog, you cringe. To me, specifically, it means you have buck fever. Put anything living at the end of your nine mil and you start to shake like a cup of dice. Your teeth click like castanets, mister.â€
â€œYes, sir. I would like to try one more time, sir.â€
â€œSon,â€ Farrow said, his face an ominous shade of pre-heart-attack red, â€œthis shoot house consumes twenty-five thousand watts of electricity. I will not waste any more of our nationâ€™s valuable energy. I brought you here this late to see whether you could acquire your live target skills if we subjected you to a little less peer review. You have not done me proud. Nobody gets through the Academy without passing Rough-and-Tough.â€
â€œI need one more chance, sir.â€
Farrow stood with hands on hips, the perfect figure of fitness and power. â€œBuck fever, Griffin. Some people just cannot kill. Your father was a Marine, right?â€Â
â€œNavy Seal, sir.â€
â€œDid he ever talk to you about killing people?â€
â€œDid he ever kill people in the line of duty?â€
â€œHe did not talk about it, sir.â€
â€œI know for a fact that as an FBI agent he has killed three people. How does that make you feel?â€
William swallowed. At times, Griff had been hard on his familyâ€”irrational fits of anger, silent drinking, and one awful night, wailing and shrieking long into the morning. His mother had grabbed Williamâ€™s shoulders, pulling him back to keep him out of the den. He had so much wanted to comfort his father.
William had been nine years old.
Griff had sung an awful song in the den, twenty years ago, the words slurred by a pint of Johnny Walker: â€œBullet to the thorax, cried the Lorax. Bullet to the brain, what a pain. Bullet to the gut, then youâ€™ll know whatâ€™s what, and mister, youâ€™ll never be the same, all the dead are in your head, not the same.â€
Had Special Agent Erwin Griffin killed a man that day?
William had spent five years in NYPD and not once had he drawn his weapon while on dutyâ€”and he had been grateful for that. He closed his eyes and recalled Griffâ€™s face on the morning after that bout, puffy yet still hard, a face that had once again learned how to hide what was inside, to tamp down the hopefulness that it could not get any worse.
After Williamâ€™s mother and father had finalized their divorce, Griff had moved to Washington state. He currently worked out of the Seattle Field Office.
William felt like he wanted to throw up. â€œFor my fatherâ€™s sake, sir.â€
Farrow did not look pleased. â€œLast chance, Griffin. One more bout of buck fever, and the blue is not for you.â€
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