There was once a girl who dressed in red tights and wanted to be a fashion designer. That girl grew up and got balls, though. Now she's a hardass CIA director and she wears black suits. She's had the same haircut for five years. The window of her office is scrupulously clean and overlooks roofs of other buildings. Her files are alphabetized.
That girl's been all over the world and she hasn't seen anyplace she wants to stay.
* * *
Pamela Landy really wishes people would stop calling her "Pam." She could really use some kind of sandwich with meat in it, but this is LA and everything's vegetable-crazy. And she's tired of hotel rooms, though this one isn't bad. The balcony looks out over the pool. The pool's lit up all light blue. You can't get that in New York in December.
She fingers the plain manila folder she's been clutching ever since she found it two days ago outside her apartment door. In plain handwriting (she recognizes it halfway) it says her name. Enclosed is a list of movements made by one Rick Stofer, aka Richard Stoffer, aka Rick Smith: murderer, rapist, and not-very-successful arsonist.
Stofer is also a member of two violent anarchist collectives, which was the CIA's interest. But they'd had lost track of him over the years; it's not as if anarchists carry social security cards. So three hours after the she had opened the plain envelope, she had been sitting on a plane to Los Angeles. Staring and flipping through, once and again, the plain black and white photos of Stofer talking on an expensive phone, eating at a restaurant, going into and out of a rather nice house. Accompanying that is a list of Stofer's movements, which for an anarchist are surprisingly orderly.
Six hours after that, she'd had him in custody. He had been surprised and cuffed in a coffee shop and damn if it didn't feel good. Nice, packaged American justice. At least till he goes to trial, but that isn't Pamela's problem right now. So she puts the envelope down on the coffee table and takes the bottle of Shiraz she's ordered from room service.
Outside it's just the least bit chilly. She sits spreadlegged on a lounge chair, balancing the bottle and glass in front of her. It's quiet enough that she can hear the TV going in the room next door; more than likely Cronin is watching his reruns of "Cheers."
"Amazing how you can watch that show," she says to Cronin under her breath, smiling a little. She doesn't watch TV a lot; too much paperwork. She likes to catch the red carpet shows on E! sometimes to see what the stars are wearing. Girls like dresses, even if they don't admit it anymore.
"Good work, Landy," she says to herself, not really feeling ironic that no one's there to hear it. She's chosen this after all: the hotel room, the stranger city, the man just out of reach. "Here's to you. Saving the neighborhoods of America, one domestic terrorist at a time."
After three glasses of the wine, the stars start to spin gently. (It's a badly kept secret of the Landy family that Pamela can't hold her wine.) She hears "Cheers" end and hums along with the ending, leaning back in the lounge chair and kicking her feet. And she must have kicked a bit too hard, because one of her $445 Jimmy Choo pumps goes sailing off the balcony toward the pool.
Pamela squeaks, actually squeaks, and lunges toward the railing, knocking the bottle onto the carpeted flooring. And either she's drunker than she thought, or there's a man standing below her balcony, arms held high in a classic surrender, with a leather shoe dangling from his blunt index finger.
He looks up at her, and for the first time she sees him smile. "Lost something?" he says.
* * *
There once was a boy who ... well, grew up to have a file. The file has a very bad picture of him and some names in it and that's all. The boy had a name and a family, probably. Probably had a dog. Grew up to kill people. That's all. Isn't it?
* * *
Even when he sits down on the lounge chair opposite her, he is always scanning the darkness beyond the balcony for ... something. He pays more attention than any other man she knows: attention to the conversation they are having, attention to his glass, and attention to whatever might be lurking outside.
And except for that smile, he doesn't smile again. Too busy looking around? Pamela doesn't know.
The conversation hasn't been easy. "You gave me the folder," she'd said, and he'd nodded and tossed her the shoe. Then as she'd stood there, he'd vaulted -- somehow -- up to her balcony and over the edge. Then she'd offered him a drink from the bottle on the floor which had miraculously not spilled. She'd managed not to babble like a crazy person as she'd gone and gotten him another glass. And now they sat there, staring at one another. Or -- she is staring at him, and he is partly watching her and partly watching the shadows.
"You want to know why I did it," he says quietly. "The pat answer is, I wanted to. I want to do right for awhile and see how it feels."
"Oh," she says inadequately. "Well --"
"I don't know if I'm bad." He begins to tap his fingers quietly on the stem of the wineglass and she remembers what Nicky had said about compulsive behaviors. "You can't tell me, or I'd ask you, am I bad? Am I wrong? What's wrong with me?"
The silence stretches between them. He is wearing a white t-shirt and she can see his pulse beating right above his collar. He has dark blue shadows under his eyes, and the light from the pool makes them look greenish, like he's half dead.
"Do you --" she starts to say, then falters. He looks at her, and she cannot read his expression. "Do you remember why you went to Treadstone in the first place? They must have recruited you from somewhere -- do you remember why you went?"
"If I could remember that, I'd never have to worry. Maybe I was corrupted to evil ends -- and maybe I went into it for the money." Then he smiles, sort of, and it's twisted and she wants to smooth it out. "I dream all the time. Used to be about my first mission, but I resolved that, so now it's just fragments of something else. Someone -- Conklin -- broke my brain like a baseball bat to a mirror. I don't know how. I just -- "
He breaks off, turns his head to look her directly in the eye. "You know, don't you?" His gaze is slightly disturbing, and she has the feeling there's a calculator behind his eyes, computing the odds on what she'll say. Figuring her out faster than she can even open her mouth.
"Not enough. They have names, dates, missions, that kind of thing, and there's some stuff on your training, but they don't say -- why. The why is the most important, right?" She's drunk and she's babbling, and this is not the advantage she thought she'd have.
"My name is David, right?"
"That's what it said."
* * *
It seems like every intention you have changes when you grow up. Suddenly issues get grey -- there's no resolving them. Like, what about a guy who murders for a living? Does he deserve redemption?
And what would you say about a woman who forgives him those crimes? Not a woman who loves him, but a woman who respects how he works at forgiveness? He's singleminded; he throws himself into it; she can't help but admire that.
* * *
There is another long silence and then he says, "You're right. It doesn't matter that much. I don't really know what matters."
"If you ever figure it out -- I'll find it for you." She means it too, hopes he can read it somewhere in the way she leans forward, almost but doesn't quite take his hand.
"Exchange of information?" He leans back in the chair, sets his glass down on the edge of the balcony.
"If you want." The question hangs in the air -- don't you want?
"I want -- " Abruptly he sits back up, gaze back out in the night. "I want the shadows to quit moving. I want to stop being followed."
"You want someone to watch you." Pamela knows the feeling of always being in charge and never being able to rest, but she doesn't have to do it all the time. "She -- Marie -- she watched you." In the dark, things like that are easy to say, and his startled glance confirms the truth of them.
"She did," he said. "She wasn't good at it, but sometimes I could -- I could sleep." He turns his head back to watch outside and Pamela decides. She stands up and he says, "Goodnight," without looking up.
"Come on." She tugs on his sleeve.
"What?" There's another flicker of surprise in his tone and she's glad there are surprises left for him.
"I -- "
"Don't worry, your virtue is safe," she says impatiently. "What she was good at, I'm not going to try. But what she wasn't good at --"
He says nothing, but stands up and looks down at her. She hurries on. "There's nothing out there -- but if there was, I'd see it before it came. Go in. Have a drink from the minibar. Go to sleep."
"What about Cronin?" Not surprising that he would know.
"Cronin will be dead until at least nine a.m. We have the day off tomorrow until the flight at two."
"I'm going to watch for you."
She expects him to say no, to laugh at the suggestion, but instead he runs a hand through his hair and wraps his coat around himself and says, "Thank you."
She spends the rest of the night in a chair, wrapped up in a blanket and watching him sleep. He is restless, gasping sometimes unintelligibly, and he clutches the covers like a child. She dozes for awhile, stares out the window. There is nothing there. At six-thirty he moans and his eyes fly open, instantly riveting on her where she sits with a view out onto the pool.
"Go shower," she says, not asking what the dream was. She's no Marie, to analyze him and dig into his psyche. "I'll get you some breakfast." She leaves him to it and pads down to the continental breakfast, loading up with bagels and croissants and coffee. But when she comes back the room is silent: he is gone. She sets the food down and waits for Cronin to wake up, gives him the extra bagels.
"Thanks," he smiles fuzzily. Cronin is not a morning person. "Sleep good?"
"Yep," she answers. "Just fine."
Notes: Some of you may be interested enough in shoes to wonder which Jimmy Choo pump I'm talking about. Voila!
feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org