“Because an aging veteran just retired, to be replaced by a dangerously unqualified youth, no more than a babe in arms.”
“Really, Gregory, this place just won’t be the same without you. But then, I’m sure you’ve got big plans for retirement, dontcha?” Bryan winked, as if in on a really good joke and not being part of a system that was forcing a man out of his livelihood after 37 years of dedicated service.
Gregory tried to smile as he accepted the middle-manager’s weak handshake. “Yeah, it’ll sure be somethin’ else,” he said.
He had already turned to leave when Bryan called, “Oh Gregory? Can you pack up your desk today? We’ve got your replacement coming in this afternoon.”
Gregory, open-mouthed, couldn’t find an acceptable answer. His shoulders slumped slightly as he walked back to his workspace. He stared at the trinkets and knickknacks, the “Exemplary Service” plaque he’d been given 6 years ago, and felt his heart break.
There was a knock at a door. He stood, joints creaking, to answer it. His whole career sat in a photocopy box where he had been sorting through files, decades old.
Behind the door was a woman, a girl really, cheeks unmarred by a single sun-kissed wrinkle. Her tight-fitting clothing would have been, in Gregory’s youth, scandalous, something from a film you could only see behind a curtain in a shady building on the outskirts of town. Now it was expected business attire.
“Excuse me,” she said, “Is this room 408?” Gregory blinked at her.
She smiled and thrust out her hand. “I’m Genevieve. I’m the new Data Security Analyst.”
Apparently today was a day for unwanted handshakes. Gregory participated, grudgingly. “So you’re my replacement.” He was practically growling. This—this child, this girl—was supposed to protect the integrity of the data for the CIA?
The suggestion was ridiculous on its face. Without him, this place couldn’t survive. They seriously thought this little piss-ant could fill his shoes?
“Oh!” Genevieve said. “So nice to meet you. Seems like a nice office.” Her pleasantries grated. She leaned in the room, sizing it up. His room.
“How many years experience you got?” Gregory couldn’t hide the snide anger in his question, but the young woman didn’t seem to notice. She brushed past him, left smears in the dust on his desk as she trailed her fingers across the plastic wood grain.
“I graduated from Cornell three years ago, and I’ve been working with Lockheed since,” she said. “Do you think I could get an office plant? A little one, maybe?” Gregory could see her frou-frouing up his Spartan office. She’d probably be adding lounge chairs and pink lace by Tuesday.
“I’ve never had a plant,” Gregory said. He snorted. Three years. It was nothing. “I hope you can handle this job. It’s not like building a game of Tetris on your calculator.”
She turned and stared at him, suddenly cold. “I’m sure I’ll handle it just fine. They wouldn’t have hired me if I weren’t qualified, would they?” Her lips pressed into a thin line, and she looked much older.
“Thank you for showing me the space,” she said. “I’m going to get settled.”
Then, without a trace of hesitation, she picked up the box containing Gregory’s whole career and dropped it into his arms. The plaque jangled to the bottom.
Genevieve pulled out the faux leather desk chair and sat down. Gregory was flabbergasted. He was being dismissed. By practically a babe in arms.
He shifted the box and glared at the girl. She didn’t even give him the satisfaction of noticing his displeasure. He stood and left the office where he’d defended his country from invasions, foreign and domestic, for nearly four decades.
He handed over his security badge and left the building for the last time.
Gregory scowled. Now he had plans for his retirement.
The CIA would be in danger, all right. They’d learn just how dangerous it was to get rid of Gregory Blunt—he’d see to it personally.