LANCE ALMOND WAS FEELING PARTICULARLY grumpy this evening, his patience all but exhausted by the continual pain in his joints and the intermittent throbbing from the welted scar on his lower back. I'm getting too old for this, he thought. At thirty-four, he was still relatively young, but had endured enough stress and physical pain for someone twice his age. He had the scars and wounds of a grizzled war veteran, but had never fought in an armed conflict or even served in any of his country's armed forces. The services he performed for his country were strictly on a clandestine basis, without any formal recognition or congratulatory thanks from his peers or superiors. Only one or two people ever knew what his assignment was, and he had to trust them implicitly. His life was in their hands, because even the slightest misstep or hint of betrayal on their part could end his life by any number of his formidable and lethal adversaries. Caution, like a shadow, was his constant companion. It was an emotion forever engrained in his psyche; the paramount result being a practical yet effective paranoia that continually forced him to size up any and all circumstances concerning the type of operational and tactical situation that he was about enter into. In his business, this was commonly referred to as your tradecraft. Patience begat caution and cautious diligence had saved his life on more than one occasion.
In the inner circle of the U.S. intelligence community, the man whose code name was the Lynx - a tailless cat almost impossible to catch - was considered one of the best field operatives in the Central Intelligence Agency. His I.Q. was thirty points over the median, and his physical prowess was like that of a mountain lion - quick, fast, and powerful. A carnivore who stalked his prey until just the precise, opportune moment, when he would seemingly emerge out of thin air and pounce upon his unsuspecting prey.
At 6'1" and 180 pounds, Lance Almond wasn't an imposing physical specimen, but his lean, willowy body was cut and chiseled from years of doing isometrics and running several miles a week. He found isometrics to be an extremely practical resistance exercise in his line of work, as he could perform them virtually anywhere without the use of equipment. His running regimen kept his cardiovascular system in excellent condition, allowing him to flee from his pursuers when the need imposed itself. He graduated from Princeton University in the top 2 percent of his class, and was a member of the track and field team. His specialty was the 400 meters, an event that proved to be an excellent training ground for the physical rigors of his future career in clandestine operations.
On the busy streets of Washington D.C., just a few blocks south of the White House, a tactical surveillance operation was being played out. It was a sophisticated exercise of tracking and pursuit, with an additional twist thrown in to heighten the challenge.
This would be the recruits' last exercise, the culmination of six months of extensive training in hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, physical and psychological conditioning, and most importantly, the art of detecting and eluding skilled surveillance. Their ability to do this, and each one's uniqueness in doing so, was known in intelligence circles as their tradecraft, each agent's own individualistic methodology in conducting his or her operations.