CHILDSAVER © 2013 All Rights Reserved
The woman sitting across the table was young, maybe too young for what he had in store for her, but she was the best candidate he had seen and Michael Armstrong was beginning to tire. She was the twentieth candidate he had interviewed in the last two weeks and none compared to her. He had already spent an hour asking her questions, tough questions, that she answered without hesitation. Her remarks were unflawed, as Michael tried to journey into her mind, working to find a flaw, that one flaw that he so easily found in the others. So far, he had failed and that meant he may have found a suitable pupil.
Her age bothered him. She was maybe twenty-five at best, but she had a toughness that wasn’t present in the others, a determination that seemed to cascade through her eyes. Those eyes were what he noticed first. They absorbed more than her small facial features were allowed to show. Michael also noticed the veins taut against the smooth tanned skin of her arms. She was athletic, no question about it. The young woman’s answers to his questions about her athletic skills and her daily regimen had already confirmed it.
The drive was there all right, and so was the spirit. The question was whether she had the will and the ability to learn the business. Michael made a mental note of her beautiful features. They would soon change, a change that would be required for both of them to succeed in the business. She was determined and strong but she was still young and certainly not yet skilled in his line of work. A line of work that once in, you never leave. He had already explained all this, and she had agreed without hesitation, almost too quickly for Michael’s skilled senses but in the end, she appeared to be the one. Yes, she would do quite nicely.
Michael sat back in his chair and casually sipped his coffee. The air was crisp and clean as it always was in Boulder, Colorado. The cabin a few miles away high in the Rockies was waiting for them. He had figured it would be required for the next six months. That was the minimum time he had allowed himself for the training process. It was a very short time, but it was all he could afford if he planned to meet the deadlines. He had commitments to keep and these were not the type of people he could let down if he wanted to live long. At the moment, however, that was the last thing Michael worried about. He had too many other things on his mind.
Kim Kaufman focused on the endless stream of questions being fired systematically at her. Although anxious, she kept her level of concentration centered on the answers, a process she found quite easy at the moment. Her education in Computer Science and the rigors associated with her studies were paying off. Her determination didn’t hurt either. She could see that the man across from her was starting to relax, and so was she. Her instincts told her to be careful. This man was dangerous, more so than she realized, but that’s what she found intriguing about the whole interview. A position requiring skills she had never seen mentioned before in the classifieds. Skills she knew she possessed but had never really been given the chance to use. She once had considered going into the military, but it was too confining for her. The bureaucracy would have killed her and having to deal with a bunch of egotistical men playing soldier was definitely more than she wanted to take on. This man, on the other hand, was offering her a chance to get into the game. A game she had only seen played out on film. For entertainment. It wasn’t real. Now she was being recruited to play in the game by someone who was more mysterious than anyone she had ever met. Her senses should have been sending her alarm signals but instead she only felt excitement like she had never known.
Kim knew she was doing well and actually risked a smile. To her surprise, she received one in return. It appeared to be genuine, but she didn’t care, it told her she had the job or assignment or whatever you called a job in this line of work.
Michael had spent a great deal of time and energy developing an interview system which would allow him to screen the large number of applicants he knew he would have to see in order to find someone who met his rigid standards. Social media was the perfect venue to search for these unique candidates. He arranged the series of questions in a format that allowed him to weed out the rejects without being required to give up too much information. Many of the initial candidates did not even make it to the live interview. There was a point of no return he had set up in the system. It was a point he had crossed only once, and that was with this woman. If she was the right candidate, then he would move forward. If his instincts were correct, and so far they had been, he would have a new partner. If not, then she would not return from the mountains. He wasn’t worried about that at this point, however; there was plenty of time for discovery. He first needed her to agree to the offer he was about to make her. Hopefully one that would be too enticing to turn down. It was the moment of truth, and Michael didn’t hesitate. He made the offer watching the woman’s eyes as he did. He saw what he was looking for, if only for a moment. That look of excitement, the unconscious sparkle exhibiting approval.
She saw him react to her response to his offer and knew at once she had made a childish error but, hell, it was a lot of money, more than she had even dreamed of making. She chastised herself for letting him see her joy at the first offer. She probably could have asked for more but he had caught her off guard. The money was much more than she had thought he would or could possibly offer. Kim didn’t even try to negotiate. She knew it was too late. She just nodded her head and stated that the offer was fair.
“I’ll pick you up in two hours,” Michael commanded. “Bring only the bare essentials. That’s all you will require. I’ll tell you again that the training you’re about to receive will be intensive. This is your last opportunity to back out. Once we are in the mountains, there will be no turning back. Please think about that before you leave your home and your friends. I give you no promises on when you will be able to return. We have a lot of work to do and not much time.”
Kim nodded her understanding, stood, and left the cafe, leaving her new employer, or partner, or whatever you called him, alone at the table.
The walk to her rented apartment was only a short distance from the restaurant, and Kim took her time, unconsciously following the same trail she followed each day. She had just decided to change her line of work from that of a computer hacker to what? She really didn’t know, or did she? The thought bothered her. He had told her a lot, but not everything. She knew there was danger involved, spy kind of stuff, but that was it. She didn’t even know if she was working for the good guys or not.
It was a consideration she would have to ponder, maybe later, but not now. She had already made up her mind. She had a chance to add some excitement to her world, and she wasn’t about to die in Boulder, bored and alone, writing code for the business world. It would be more than she could bear. It is time to move to the next level. Excitement, travel, money, is there any more a girl could ask for? The guy, thought Kim, wasn’t bad either. Wasn’t bad, hell, I couldn’t find a man like that around town, and I've been here how long? Too long, was all she could think of as a response to her unspoken question.
She reached her apartment and opened the door, her cat immediately circled her legs announcing his desire to be fed. She looked down at him, and picked the weathered animal up into her arms.
“Sorry Willie, you’re back on the street again.” She carried the old war-torn cat to the steps and set him down, patting him on the head as she did. “I’ll see you when I get back,” she said, knowing in her heart it was the last time she would see Willie. For some reason it didn’t seem to bother her. He had been on the street when she had found him six months earlier and appeared to have been fine. He’d survive. He would have to survive, just like she had done. In a lot of ways she and that old flea trap were alike, no friends and nowhere to go. Only this time she had a place to go and was looking forward to the adventure. Kim walked back into the house, and closed the door behind her leaving the cat to the mercy of his instincts and the environment. The cat immediately walked to the front door and began its cry to be let in. It was to no avail. Kim was already packing her bags, preparing for her adventure with a man she didn’t know, but hoped to learn a great deal from. She smiled to herself. She could teach him a thing or two, and she planned to show him just how much as soon as she got the chance.