One of the benefits of holding a tenured university professorship was that by juggling classes and effectively using teaching assistants, the professor could free up enough time for some much needed weekday angling. Brenton Michaels hardly moved as he worked a brush pile, slow-rolling spinnerbait in search of one of the lake's larger fish --- hopefully a bass, either the black or the white variety, which were occupied with chasing the shad through the shallows around boat docks and riprap, suspended in the medium depth water along the deeper drop-offs. He'd caught a nine-pound black bass in the same spot the year before: nowhere close to a record but large enough that he'd bragged about it. And the passing months had only allowed the fish in this reservoir to add weight and length. But that wasn't really the point. If at the end of the day he came off the lake without a nibble, it would still be worth it.
The lake remained placid as he floated the bait, and for the first time in two hours he glanced at the sonar. He'd angled every fishable section of these waters and could recite depths and brush pile and buoy locations by rote. He hadn't used instruments in years, at least not on this lake. But today he had a feeling that the fish weren't in their usual spots --- that they'd gotten as used to his tricks as he had to theirs. The possibility tested his belief that the act of fishing was its own reward, and that made him consider firing up all his expensive gear for the first time in a long while. But the purist in him won out and he released a deep sigh and started to pull back on the line.
A moment later the muffled ring of his phone interrupted the silence. In a brief flirtation with spite he considered not answering it. But there were few who knew the number, and of those, none that he wanted to tick off. He rummaged around in a canvas bag that, in addition to the phone, held sun block, his shoes, and the largest Snickers bar money could buy.
After looking at the phone's display, he groaned before answering the call. "You do realize that interruptions like these can lead to the misshaping of malleable minds, don't you?" he asked.
The question resulted in the briefest of pauses on the other end before Abby, with her customary aplomb, said, "Your sophomore sociology class is up one flight of stairs and thirty-two steps down the hall. At the end of that minor odyssey is a midsized lecture hall, where at the moment Maureen Kellogg is lecturing a group of students who look a lot more interested than they usually do when you're actually up there doing your job. So I think it's safe to say that if you're involved with school in any way right now, it's a school of fish."
Brent smiled into the phone. Then he took in a deep draught of moist air, suspecting that his next question would pull him away from the pristine water.
"What's the emergency, Abby?"
"Emergency?"his admin asked.He could hear the sound of her rapid-fire typing in the background.
"If it keeps me from pulling in a ten-pounder, then it better be," he said.
Abby didn't answer right away, but when she did so it was with a brevity Brent had come to expect.
"Okay then," she said.
The next sound to hit Brent's ear was silence again, for she'd ended the call. When fifteen seconds later she answered his call back, he could imagine the smug smile on her face.
"Department of the Humanities. How may I direct your call?"
"Okay, what is it?" he asked.
"But it doesn't qualify as an emergency,"she said."Not enough to let the big one get away."
"You got a call from the Pentagon. They want you for a consult."
The boat sat motionless on the calm water as he digested that. He'd rested the fishing rod across his knees, with the line following the curve of the boat beneath the surface where the neglected bait seemed content to do what it had done all afternoon, which was nothing.
"Oh," he said.
Calls to consult for one government agency or another, while not frequent, happened with enough regularity to render them unsurprising, and didn't even get him too excited. A request from the Pentagon, however, was a different matter. In the past fifteen years—after he'd achieved sufficient accolades to be recognized as one of the top experts in his field—he'd received two job offers from someone associated with the Pentagon. A shiver of excitement always accompanied signing his name to a nondisclosure agreement labeled Top Secret. He also knew that was why Abby had called, even knowing the message could have waited until he was off the lake.
When after several seconds it became apparent that his admin was content to allow the silence to continue as long as it would, the professor said, "Can you give me the broad strokes?"
He could imagine the look on Abby's face, pleased that she'd vexed him. She waited a little while longer before giving him the information.
"Colonel Jameson Richards," he repeated. "I don't think I've worked with him before."
"I got that impression too,"Abby said."He wants you in Washington tomorrow."
"Did he give you any idea what the project is?"
Abby chuckled. "Yeah, the Pentagon's all warm and fuzzy now. They like to talk about super secret stuff over the phone."
Brent smirked. "You know what this means?" he asked.
"You mean besides the fact that I'm going to have to scramble to find people to cover your classes again?"
"I love you, Abby."
"I love you too, doll."
Three hours later, Brent had his bag packed and was on his way to the airport.
Excerpted from THE ALARMISTS © Copyright 2011 by Don Hoesel. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House. All rights reserved.