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!