Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Country Hoppin'!

The title sounds like a line dance, but it's what I've been up to for the last couple months. Let's see if I can get everyone caught up.

After Geoffrey's death, I took my boss's suggestion and spent a couple weeks in New York with my college roommate Becky (or Becca as she is now known to all her snooty New York friends and colleagues). Since Becky was usually busy with her job as a fashion writer, I spent most of my time alone doing touristy things, like going to museums and shopping. The one outing Becky and I did do together was when she took me along to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.  Fashion was never my thing, but I'm always open to seeing parts of the universe I'm not normally familiar with. To make sure I looked my best, Becky first took me to Bergdorf-Goodman for a quick makeover, then we headed uptown to Lincoln Center. Nothing really exciting happened, except that I met a fairly disagreeable woman there by the name of Vastiana Boatswain. Becky informed me that she was some sort of self-made businesswoman from Seattle. She certainly seemed like a self-made bitch.

Anyway, none of this would have been of any consequence except that, once I got back to work, I discovered that her bodyguard is in our database as a person of interest. I brought this to the attention of my boss, The Colonel, and he thought that maybe I should pursue the lead. This was fine with me since I was going pretty batty hanging around with my mom. No offense to my mother, but I needed a distraction from my thoughts of Geoffrey. At one point, I thought I could exorcise the pain by writing a story about our little adventure in Ocean City, MD last summer, but the writing only enhanced my pain and I abandoned it. Hopefully, I'll be able to share that story, but not right now.

So with a new assignment, I was shipped off to Seattle with a new identity. This time I am Carla Verdugo, a temp working for Ms. Boatswain's labyrinthine corporate empire. The agency got me set up in a nice, little rented house near Holly Park and, when I'm not  grabbing lunch at the Pike Place Market or shopping around Westlake Park, I've been a happy little office drone. Actually, I've managed to befriend Ms. Boatswain's assistant, Hector, so I can get closer to Ms. Boatswain and her imposing bodyguard. It took me several weeks, but I've managed to finagle a plum assignment.

So now I'm dashing this post off before I have to get on Ms. Boatswain's private jet for a business trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Along with the woman herself, I'll be traveling with Hector and the bodyguard. My job is to function as a purchaser of Native American art, but I'm sure this is just a cover for something much bigger. I just need to find out what it is. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Goodbye Geoffrey

I just got back from Geoffrey's funeral. For security reasons, I can't go into details about his death, but I can say that he went out in a dramatic way and he saved hundreds of lives. It all started Labor Day morning when he received an urgent call from Ryan Mayhew. I didn't want him to go, but I knew he had to. This could be the moment we finally shut this nut down. A few hours later, as I was drinking my coffee at the kitchen table, Chester Schifflet came banging on the front door. This did not make sense.

He pretended to be looking for Geof and made some lame story about needing help with a busted radiator. His jittery behavior betrayed him, but I tried to play it cool. Maybe too cool, because as soon as I turned my back, he threw a duffle bag over me and dragged me to his car. After a few hours of torture, he got zero out of me, but I eventually saw my moment and subdued him. I have a few burns and bruises, but I'm still intact. Chester is in a secure location.

Sad to say, Geoffrey wasn't so lucky. I hope to be able to tell his story one day, because his efforts were truly extraordinary, just as I always knew he would be when the moment came. I just prayed it never would. No body was found, but I was able to identify some body parts. These were cremated, as per his will.

The funeral was held in Geoffrey's home town of Richmond, Virginia. I drove his beloved Trans Am down there. I always thought the car was a gaudy, clunky joke, but on the drive down, I felt like I was letting go of an old friend. Well, maybe not a friend, but a tangible memory. A physical remainder of Geoffrey's carefree spirit.

The funeral was very nice, as was his family. They did not know exactly what he did (no relatives of any field agents do), but they knew it was potentially dangerous. Apparently, Geoffrey sought out danger his whole life, whether it was street racing as a teen or becoming a Navy SEAL, he always fed on danger and risk. His parents and sister seemed resigned to the fact that he might end up dead before his time.

His younger brother Tim was the exception. As he was driving me home to Bethesda after the funeral, he unloaded on me. It started when I chose to use the word "selfless" in describing Geoffrey's actions.

“Selfless, eh?" he barked at me. "No disrespect, but I don’t see it that way. It’s exactly what he wanted. To go down in a blaze of glory. Never mind how we felt. I know my parents put on a good show today, but this is killing them. No parents want to see their kids go before they do. It’s one thing if it’s God’s will or something, like a disease or a flood. But to throw yourself into harm’s way…damn show-off.”

I couldn't argue with him. Perhaps he is right. Maybe all of us in this business are a little selfish, seeking thrills we would never experience in ordinary, civilian life. Is it fair to our friends and family? Maybe not. Somebody has to do the dirty work, though, and thankfully there are those who crave the risk. Whatever. I'm too exhausted to think about it.

So I'm back living with my mom again. Poor woman doesn't know what to make of me, especially since she thinks I work for an investment firm setting up branch offices around the country. Surely, I could settle down by now. I have to wear long sleeved blouses for awhile until the wounds heal. That's a bitch with the heat and humidity. In fact, this endless rain we're having in Maryland reflects my whole mood this week. It's like some dark spectre has descended on the whole state.

Worst part is, I'm on administrative leave, so I can even track down the elusive Mr. Mayhew. My boss, affectionately known as The Colonel, shut me down during a debriefing on Tuesday. There I was, practically a year after my last big failure, having to answer for another botched undercover mission. Last time, I was responsible for the death of one of our targets. This time, I was responsible for the death of one of our own. Okay, I wasn't really responsible, but it felt that way nonetheless. The Colonel was surprisingly sympathetic, but he was not going to budge on the imposed R and R. He suggested I contact my old college roommate, Rebecca. She's working in New York now and he thought I should go visit her. It's unbelievably creepy how he knows more about my personal life than I do.

I told him I'd think about it. Might not be a bad idea. Connect with someone from the past. Someone who knew me before the Navy. Before Iraq. Before this cloak and dagger crap. Seems like a million miles away now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Damnation Alley

I have a message for the Carribbean and the Gulf states: We don't send our blizzards down to you; don't send your damn hurricanes up to us!

The last week and a half has been a shaky experience, quite literally! Just as we were hearing the first news on Hurricane Irene heading for the east coast, we get a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rolling up from Richmond, Virginia and sending its shockwaves as far north as Canada. People say they always remember where they were when a earthquake hits, and I can certainly attest that I will never forget my location during this one. I just happened to be sitting on the toilet in Geoffrey's trailer. Not the most expansive bathroom in the world, I was knocked off balance and slammed into the rattling shower doors. I ended up on the floor in a tangle of panties and shorts with one foot wedged between the toilet and the vanity and the other foot between the toilet and the wall. It took me a minute to realize that I had just experienced an earthquake since I had never felt one of this magnitude before. We do get the occasional tremors on the east coast, but nothing like this.

I eventually pulled my dignity back together and hopped on the Interwebs to see what was going on. Turned out everyone was okay and life quickly got back to normal, if you could call my current life normal. The leader of the group we've infiltrated, Ryan Mayhew, has become increasingly more agitated and aggressive. His rants are more vicious and his normal cool is slipping into jittery insecurity and paranoia. Geoffrey tells me not to be too concerned, but I think Ryan is on the tipping point. He's going to make a move very soon. I feel it in my bones. Trouble is, he's extremely tight-lipped about what his plans are. At least, he's tight-lipped with Geoffrey and me, which makes me think he's already on to us. I've been pleading with Geoffrey that we should simply shut this guy down now with what we currently have, but Geoffrey doesn't feel that it is enough.

"We need for him to show his whole hand," Geoffrey tells me. "So far, it's all bluff and bluster."

In the midst of all this tension, Hurricane Irene came knocking on our doorstep last weekend. Given my pensiveness, I decided to head further inland and spend the weekend with my mom. Geoffrey didn't want to leave his trailer, so he stayed behind and toughed it out. The storm was pretty rough even in Bethesda, but no major damage and my mom's power never went out, so we felt pretty lucky. I was a little uncomfortable seeing my mom after such a long separation, but we fell right into our old routines and had a pretty pleasant weekend. The threat of the storm probably made us more tolerant of each other.

The weird part was being away from Geoffrey. He's been my tent pole through this whole assignment (that sounds a little dirty now that I read that over). This was the first time we had been apart in months, and I got the sense that maybe he wanted me to go away for awhile. Perhaps I've been leaning on him too long and he's feeling some strain. When I drove back to Centreville on Monday, I made a silent vow to show more courage in his presence. My first test came when I discovered that he had no power or water.

He said that the storm was a wild ride, but he'd been through worse. Having no power and living on bottled water was a bit of a hardship. He had taken the precaution of filling the bathtub with water ahead of time so we could flush the toilet. By Wednesday afternoon, we finally had power and I could get back to communicating with the outside world.

So here I am, still a little shaken but with clean hair and a clean body and fresh food in the refrigerator. Life should be getting back to normal and I should be looking forward to the Labor Day weekend, but something's still a little off. Something wicked this way comes, I just know it.

P.S. - Kick some Falcon butt tonight Ravens!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Queen of the Trailer Park

When I was a freshman in high school, I had a major crush on a boy who will remain nameless on the very off chance that he might stumble onto this blog. He was a sophomore and a wide receiver on the football team. I was on the gymnastics squad and, in the early part of the school year, we both trained outdoors. My training really suffered because I was forever daydreaming about that beautiful hunk in the tight spandex pants. Of course, there was no chance at all that we would ever hook up. I had my sturdy little gymnast body and he had a girlfriend with much more to offer in the chestal region. God, how I pined over that boy, spilling my guts into my journal night after night.

As the school year progressed, I slowly got over the guy, eventually resigning myself to the fact that it just wouldn't happen. Once I came to that realization, life seemed a whole lot better. I suddenly woke up to all the other things in my life that I enjoyed so much (e.g., my friends, going to the movies, the camraderie of my gymnastics squad, etc.) and got on with life as most teenagers do. I even got asked out to some dances, although the boys were never worth taking seriously. Once I was feeling better, I wrote in my journal less and less, until I finally stopped altogether.

This is my roundabout explanation for why I haven't been posting as much in this blog as I used to. Originally, I needed the blog when I was in Las Vegas, all alone and in over my head with a very strange assignment. When I returned home, I continued out of habit and because I needed to vent about my strange life with my mother. Then I was alone again on my new assignment on the Eastern Shore and feeling pretty depressed.

Fortunately, Geoffrey came along. He is my partner in this assignment and, dare I say it, my partner in personal matters as well. It's amazing how much another person can stabilize you when you are feeling so adrift. Geoffrey's a little older and more experienced in field work, so he gives me confidence. The past few months have been so blissful with him that I haven't felt the need to write lately. In fact, I fear I might be too complacent.

Geoffrey and I have been living in his trailer in Centreville. I gave up my apartment in Chestertown and quit my job at the bar since the commute was more hassle than it was worth. My boss, Prune, was understanding, but I knew he was chagrined to see me go. I think Geoffrey wasn't so keen on me quitting either since it was a good cover, but with our targets living further south, I just didn't see the point in driving up to the bar five or six nights a week.

Also, it's given me more free time to volunteer my services to the home grown terrorist cell we are monitoring. I've been doing research for them on various plots in the works. Our leader, Ryan Mayhew, will not disclose which plot we will eventually put into action or when. He's a master manipulator and paranoid as hell. It's a little creepy to be this close to people like Mayhew, but just like the Vegas job, I've learned to detach my true self from the role. Geoffrey has helped me to hone that skill even more. I hate to entertain the thought but I almost feel like Geoffrey and I could find the right balance of work and personal life.

We managed to get away for about a week on sort of a holiday, although it started out rather strangely. A few days before July 4th, Geoffrey received an odd text from his younger brother who's been spending the summer in Ocean City between semesters in college. His girlfriend had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and he wanted our help. The situation was indeed strange and I think it may be best if I save it for one of my short stories, but the experience shed some light on the bizarre sightings I had of the creatures in the white van. I'm hoping that, after the events in Ocean City, they won't be back to bother me anymore.

Since we were down in Ocean City, we managed to find a vacant room and spent a few extra days there. It was nice to forget about our crazy lives and jobs and just be a couple for awhile. Driving down Coastal Highway in that ridiculous black Trans Am of his, my head resting on Geoffrey's shoulder, I felt like I was in college again with my first real boyfriend and the world was still a brightly wrapped box filled with exciting possibilities.

Now  I'm back in Centreville, playing Carla, Queen of the Trailer Park, but it's fine. I removed the orange streaks from my hair after the Orioles made complete fools of themselves in Boston a couple weeks ago. With the NFL on the verge of signing a new collective bargaining agreement, I'm ready to put Ravens purple in my hair and watch some football!

I also have a birthday coming up this weekend. Never mind how old! I've given up on counting. I'm just looking forward to Geoffrey's surprise for me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Always Saturday

In typical Maryland fashion, the promise of spring was drowned in days of rain and now we are rushing headlong into the stifling heat and humidity of a premature summer. Those glorious days of dry, cool weather that we characteristically associate with April and May were crammed into one week early in the month. Okay, I should stop bitching. At least it isn't snowing.

I'm afraid I've been in a horrible funk for the last few weeks. My job has lost its novelty and now I feel like I'm just serving drinks and killing time. The jokes from the regulars are as stale as the beer stains on my T-shirt, and there's nothing to stimulate me mentally. I've become lazy and feeble minded. The other day, I stepped on a scale that was on display in a store. I couldn't believe I had put on 11 pounds! Even when I was wallowing in Las Vegas, I worked out five days a week. For the last month or so, I haven't even practiced my yoga, which at least keeps me limber and toned. Geoffrey tried to console me by saying it suited my cover, but I can't stay on top of my game if I'm overweight and sluggish. It could get me killed.

So I've been trying to rally myself, but it's a struggle. I can't ignore how unhappy I am in this interminable assignment. The longer days and sunnier weather makes me yearn for times when I was truly happy, even if the emotions are just a trick of memory. You know those times, when everything just seems so perfect your heart aches. Songs can make me feel that way sometimes. The first time I remember it happening was when I was seven or eight. I was playing at a friends house. She had an older brother who was listening to an alternative rock station. They were playing Always Saturday by Guadalcanal Diary. I was too young to fully appreciate the lyrics, but there was something about the music and the singer's voice that filled me with a weird feeling I can only describe as melancholic happiness. I wanted to live in that song forever, holding on to the feeling, but of course it ended and the outside world of Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake on the TV encroached.

God, where did that come from? I guess I'm just sick of the people I have to associate with right now. Chester's girlfriend Amber miscarried her baby. I was at Chester's house when it happened and had to help her through it. Not an experience I care to revisit.

She hadn't told Chester about the pregnancy yet, so this was all a big surprise to him. The next day, Amber visited me at the bar. She had some bruises on her face. I finally got her to confess that Chester had knocked her around a little after I left. Not really sure what was going on in that twisted head of his. Apparently, he was mad that she hadn't told him about the pregnancy and even more mad at Amber for losing the baby. Either he thought she did it on purpose or she wasn't strong enough to bear his child, I don't know. I was about to go over to Chester's house and kill the little bastard, but Geoffrey talked me down. We still needed the creep, no matter what I thought of him. I had to be a good soldier and let it go.

I was so tempted to call The Colonel and ask him to reassign me, but that would shoot my career right down the toilet. I haven't earned the right to pick and choose my cases yet. Maybe I never will. As it is, Geoffrey and I have worked our way into the inner circle of this strange cult of Ryan Mayhew. They have multiple terrorist plots in the works. Everyone is assigned specific tasks related to each plot. No one knows too much about each plan and no one knows which plan Mayhew will ultimately command us to carry out. He says this is for security purposes. He's paranoid as hell, but given the fact that Geoffrey and I have already infiltrated his little clan, he has good reason to be. So far, Mayhew has had me researching the price and availability of various chemicals and mechanical parts online. Lucky me, I'm now an accomplice to a crime.

Anyway, with all this going on, I had to make a change. My dreary apartment, which suited me just fine when the winter weather was equally dreary, seemed hopelessly cramped and depressing now that the sun shines for 14 hours a day. I needed a little space and someone to prop me up, so I moved in with Geoffrey. Yes, his trailer is pretty small, but there is a little land around it, so I can sit outside on my nights off and watch the stars. I even planted a little flower garden along the side of the trailer that faces the sun most of the day. It feels sort of like a home, and I have a man next to me in bed every night.

Every day doesn't feel like Saturday yet, but maybe Friday afternoon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Between the Holidays

It's been a strange couple of weeks. Not that you would know it from any outward appearances, but emotionally, I've been all over the map. It started with Easter weekend, which actually turned out to be very nice, thank you very much.

When I arrived at my mom's house, I was relieved to see that Mr. Huggins wasn't hanging around. We went out for a little dinner, and then stopped off at the neighborhood beer and wine shop to pick up a couple bottles of moscato. During the course of the night, we consumed said bottles of wine and talked about so many things. In vino veritas, as the saying goes. I unloaded all my negative feelings about mom being with my old high school principal, how I couldn't stand his insufferable daughter, and my general lamentation about losing the family feeling we once had. Surprisingly, mom understood it all and kind of agreed with me. She also pointed out that nothing was ever going to be the same now that Dad was gone and I had to accept change even if I didn't like it. It all sounds so trite and simplistic as I summarize it here, but these were things I couldn't accept and needed to hear. Despite my headache the next morning, I did feel better.

Easter was fun. Mr. Huggins broke out Dad's old charcoal grill and cooked a leg of lamb that mom had marinated the day before. It was a pretty spring day until late in the afternoon when a thunder storm rolled in. Mr. Huggins brought the lamb in from the grill just in time before the heavens broke open. The food was delicious, and I felt much more comfortable with our new family than I did last Thanksgiving.

Easter Monday I was back at work. Geoffrey started bringing Chester and Ryan around to the bar. Ryan finally admitted to his having a little group that meets secretly at Chester's house. After several days of beer fueled conversation, Ryan finally relented and said we could come to the next meeting. Things are moving ahead.

Of course, this week was all about Osama bin Laden. I felt a certain amount of relief that we had finally taken him out, although I couldn't bring myself to cheer and wave flags. Counterterrorism is a nasty business, and killing people, even ones that deserve it, isn't exactly like winning the Super Bowl. Besides, I know first hand that there are still threats to this country. A strain of virus has been killed, but the disease marches merrily on, and we have to keep doing our jobs. Still, I'm glad we didn't have to face the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with bin Laden still out there.

As soon as the news broke, good ol' Chester had to start his conspiracy rants. "Why can't we see the body? Kinda convenient that they buried him at sea, don'tcha think?" "DNA tests? That's as phony as Obama's birth certificate!" "Obama bin Biden is just creating a distraction so people won't talk about what a rotten job he's doing!" On and on. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, the boy doesn't know how much he doesn't know.

It's wearing me down, listening to all this crap day after day, and I can tell it's wearing on Geoffrey. He's the consummate pro, but he's also human. That easy swagger feels more forced than it once was. He also snaps at the most insignificant things, like when the mailman didn't close his mailbox lid all the way and his mail got slightly damp from the rain. I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable around him sometimes.

Then, in the middle of my shift yesterday, he calls me and asks me to move in with him. It's not like I haven't been spending time at his place, but it still felt out of the blue. He rationalized that, since Chester and Ryan lived closer to him, it would make more sense for me to be living in Centreville rather than Chestertown. I don't think that's the real reason, though. He's feeling adrift and he wants someone by his side. I was hoping he would be my rock through this assignment. Now I think he wants me to be his. I told him I'd think about it, and the disappointment spilled through the phone. I don't know what to do.

Anyway, I can put that off for a few days because I'm going home to see my mom for Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day everyone! 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Is it Easter Again Already?

I'm about to hit the road and head down to Bethesda to spend the Easter weekend with my mother. I had every intention of avoiding her this Easter, but last week when one of my Twitter friends (@maddjudd) asked me to "Say hello to your momma," it gave me pause. I know I'm all conflicted about her relationship with Mr. "Call me Brad" Huggins, but that isn't really her fault. That's something I have to deal with. Meanwhile, she's still family and, at this point, I have damn little family to lean on right now. Maybe it'll be good for me to put Carla Puckett in the closet for the weekend and go back to being Angie for a few days, especially after this past week.

On Sunday, Geoffrey (a.k.a. Hank) and I went down to Chester Schifflet's house on Kent Island for his cook out. Good thing he had a nice deck because his back yard was a swamp after all the rain we had on Saturday. Sunday, however, was bright and crisp and beautiful. Can't say the same for the company. We spent the afternoon drinking cheap beer and eating burnt burgers-from-a-box while Chester's friends "entertained" us with crude jokes and narrow-minded opinions about how to fix the world's problems (or at least the tiny scrap of world they choose to acknowledge).

Geoffrey has a much easier demeanor when it comes to this sort of thing, so he did most of the socializing. I spent most of my time with Chester's girlfriend, Amber, who seemed even more quiet and reserved than usual. At one point, she looked like she was on the verge of tears, so I corralled her into one of the spare bedrooms where we could talk privately. It turns out that Amber is pregnant with Chester's baby, but she hasn't told him and is not sure she wants to have it. She knows that Chester and his best friend, Ryan Mayhew, "are planning something big" in the next few months, and she fears for what will happen to him. Amber doesn't want to bring a child into the world just when the father may be dead or in jail. The poor girl cried on my shoulder for about an hour. Unfortunately, I didn't know what to tell her. I'm against abortion as a rule, but I don't want another racist loser coming into the world either. What's more, I had to know what this "something big" was all about so Geoffrey and I could stop it. That meant getting closer to Ryan Mayhew.

After I had managed to get Amber calmed down with promises to get her help, I walked into the living room where Geoffrey was already engaged in a passionate conversation with Mr. Mayhew himself. They were having a "scientific" discussion about racial purity and how certain races have genetic imprinting that predisposes them to bad behavior like violence, lack of industriousness, and criminal tendencies. Geoffrey's deep brown eyes blazed with intensity as he wowed Mayhew with a hate-filled diatribe so unlike the real Geoffrey I know. It chilled me to the core. Between Amber and Geoffrey, I was emotionally drained. I just wanted to go home.

Geoffrey returned to his old perky self as we headed up to Chestertown in his growling Trans Am, but I knew this performance had to eat at him. The next couple of days, he was still out of sorts and Tuesday night, he got completely hammered at the bar. I offered to drive him home and I spent the night there. We were up until dawn as Geoffrey unloaded about his divorce and missing his kid. Playing duel roles in the same body had taken its toll, and he was beginning to regret ever entering this profession. I was beginning to have doubts as well. Despite telling myself that I would never have romantic notions about being a counterterrorism agent, I had romanticized it all the same. What I didn't factor in was that I would have to play people I would otherwise throw mud on if I saw them on the street. Once you fall into these roles, you can't help but wonder how much of these characters are really you.

Anyway, I asked Prune if I could have off this weekend and now I'm heading home to forget all this for awhile. I know my mom will not like the orange highlights I put in my hair. People in Bethesda are mostly Nationals fans, but the customers at the bar in Chestertown are mainly Orioles fans. I thought the orange streaks might give the struggling team some luck, but so far the results are mixed.

I'll let you know how the weekend went. In the meantime, here's some Easter humor from my favorite comedian, Patton Oswald: