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Five floors. Two basements. Seventeen miles of corridors. But where? I could find a broom closet and steal bag lunches and hold out a day or two, but that would be all. Or I could take hostages and try to argue my case, but I had never seen that kind of thing succeed. So I waited. The DPS guy in front of me on my right said, "Sir, you be sure and have a nice day now," and then he moved on past me, and his partner moved on past me on my other side, both of them just strolling slow, two guys happy to be out in the air, patrolling, varying their viewpoint.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Maybe not so dumb after all. They were doing their jobs and following their plan. They had tried to decoy me into a small locked room, but they had failed, no harm, no foul, so now they were turning the page straight to plan B. They would wait until I was inside and the doors were closed, and then they would jump into crowd control mode, dispersing the incoming people, keeping them safe in case shots had to be fired inside. I assumed the lobby glass was supposed to be bulletproof, but the smart money never bets on the DoD having gotten exactly what it paid for.

The door was right in front of me.

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It was open. I took a breath and stepped into the lobby. Sometimes if you want to know for sure whether the stove is hot, the only way to find out is to touch it. The woman with the perfume and the pale hands was already deep into the corridor beyond the open turnstile. She had been waved through. Straight ahead of me was the two-man inquiry desk. To my left were the two guys checking badges. The open turnstile was between their hips. The four spare guys were still doing nothing beyond it. They were still clustered together, quiet and watchful, like an independent team.

I took another breath and stepped up to the counter. Like a lamb to the slaughter. The desk guy on the left looked at me and said, "Yes, sir. Not a question, but like I had already spoken. He looked young and reasonably smart. Genuine DPS, presumably. The guy leafed through a book the size of a telephone directory and asked, "Would that be Colonel John James Frazer? Senate Liaison? Way to my left the four spare guys were watching me. But not moving. Partly because he had been briefed, presumably, and shown photographs, and partly because my Class A uniform included my name on a nameplate, worn as per regulations on my right breast pocket flap, exactly centered, its upper edge exactly a quarter of an inch below the top seam.

Or, eleven letters: Arrest me now. The guy at the inquiry desk said, "Colonel Frazer is in 3C You know how to get there? The guy said, "Sir, you have a great day," and his guileless gaze moved past my shoulder to the next in line. I stood still for a moment. They were tying it up with a bow. They were making it perfect.

Ian Sansom and The Bad Book Affair | Culture Northern Ireland

Action plus intention is the standard. They were waiting for me to prove my intention. They were waiting for me to step through the turnstile and into the labyrinth. Which explained why the four spare guys were on their side of the gate, not mine. Crossing the line would make it real. Maybe there were jurisdiction issues. Maybe lawyers had been consulted. Frazer wanted my ass gone, for sure, but he wanted his own ass covered just as much.

I took another breath and crossed the line and made it real. I walked between the two badge checkers and squeezed between the cold alloy flanks of the turnstile. The bar was retracted. There was nothing to hit with my thighs. I stepped out on the far side and paused. The four spare guys were on my right. I looked at their shoes. Army regulations are surprisingly vague about shoes. Plain black lace-up Oxfords or close equivalents, conservative, no designs on them, minimum of three pairs of eyelets, closed toe, maximum two-inch heel. Not like the two guys outside.

They were sporting four variations on the same classic theme. High shines, tight laces, a little creasing and wear here and there. Maybe they were genuine DPS. No way of telling.

The Suffocation of a Bad Affair

Not right then. I was looking at them, and they were looking at me, but no one spoke. I looped around them and headed deeper into the building. I used the E ring counterclockwise and turned left at the first radial hallway. The four guys followed. They stayed about sixty feet behind me, close enough to keep me in sight, far enough back not to crowd me. A maximum seven minutes between any two points. I was the meat in a sandwich.

What's Inside

I figured there would be another crew waiting outside 3C, or as close to it as they decided to let me get. I was heading straight for them. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I used some stairs on the D ring and went up two flights to the third floor. I changed to a clockwise direction, just for the fun of it, and passed radial corridor number five, and then four. The D ring was busy.

People were bustling from place to place with armfuls of khaki files. Blank-eyed men and women in uniform were stepping smartly.

The place was congested. I dodged and sidestepped and kept on going. People looked at me every step of the way. The hair, and the beard. I stopped at a water fountain and bent down and took a drink. People passed me by. Sixty feet behind me the four spare DPS guys were nowhere to be seen.

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  • They knew where I was going, and they knew what time I was supposed to get there. I straightened up and got going again and turned right into radial number three. I made it to the C ring. The air smelled of uniform wool and linoleum polish and very faintly of cigars. The paint on the walls was thick and institutional.

    I looked left and right. There were people in the corridor, but no big cluster outside bay fifteen. Maybe they were waiting for me inside.

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    I was already five minutes late. I stuck with radial three and walked all the way across the B ring to the A ring. The heart of the building. Beyond the A ring is a five-acre pentagonal open courtyard, like the hole in a doughnut.