Written for Gail for the "Five Things" meme.
Disclaimer: People, places, events, etc belong to DPB. No profit or infringement intended.
1. Webb passed a travel agency on his way to work every day. One morning, he collected the brochures from the stand closest to the door. He was in and out in thirty seconds. He congratulated himself silently on his speed, the fact he was able to get out without having to respond to conversation from one of the three attractively coiffed travel agents sitting behind expansive walnut-hued desks.
Back in his office, Webb spread the brochures out on his desk. Bermuda. Vietnam. China. Costa Rica. Egypt. France. He fingered the glossy brochures, reading the text slowly. "You will then travel by air-conditioned coach from Lille, in the north of France to Paris, where you will enjoy a day in the most romantic city on Earth. Enjoy a spectacular lunch of crepes at a world-renowned restaurant, walk the halls of Versailles on a private guided tour that'll take you into rooms not commonly seen by tourists. Finish the day with dinner at a cafe in the beautiful Place de Vosges." There was a 1-800 number at the back of the brochure: "Call now! Travel agents are waiting to take your reservation!"
Webb's last vacation had been right after he graduated from college. He'd taken a 14-day jaunt of Southern Spain that had started in Madrid, detoured to Toledo, swung down to the coast to Gibraltar and then back up to Valencia, finishing in Barcelona. He'd kept to himself on that trip, not really making eye contact or talking to the locals. He ate quickly in cafes, and planned each day efficiently and was only satisfied when he could mark "Accomplished" on his check list. He bought no souvenirs, sent no postcards. Nearly twenty years later, he couldn't remember a damn thing about the day he spent in Granada or anything at all about Seville.
Webb's passport was filled with stamps from various countries he'd visited in the last five years. In fact, there were so many stamps, he'd recently had pages added to the back of the passport. His most recent trip had been to Venezuela, where he'd posed as an American oil executive looking to make a deal with PDVSA. He'd been in and out of Caracas in twenty-four hours. It never occurred to him to stay an extra day, to learn more about the city. There was always another plane to catch, another city to breeze through, another language to speak. He'd stop telling people about the countries he visited because invariably, if he mentioned Peru, they'd ask him about Machu Picchu, or the Taj Mahal if he talked about India. He didn't know how to explain that he literally bounced from hotel room to hotel room, that staying to explore an extra day might be the difference between life and death.
One of these days, Webb thought with some regret as he closed the brochure and filed it at the bottom of his right-hand desk drawer, he wanted to walk the halls of Versailles without looking over his shoulder, without his hand resting on the butt of his gun.
2. The postings for job openings were push-pinned to a board in the hallway right outside of the small break room, and when he thought no one was looking, Webb would stop and look over the jobs. As always, he had a cover story ready if anyone asked: he had a friend who was interested in a job at the CIA, but because he had a wife and two small children, this friend was only interested in desk jobs based in D.C.
He didn't really look at any of the National Clandestine Service positions or anything that came under the heading of "Analytical." Instead, he'd focus his attention on the support positions. He'd heard rumors that those jobs had very little travel, that the hours were eight to five, work rarely needed to be taken home, but more importantly, the risk of being shot was negligible. No foreign language proficiency was required for most of the postings.
When he saw a position he might be interested in, Webb would mentally note the requisition number, and then go back to his desk, and look it up online. Occasionally, he'd even print out a copy of the job duties and requirements, ostensibly to review them and then put his name in for consideration.
He now had a stack of about twenty of these job descriptions now, going back two or three years, and in all that time of collecting, he never applied to a single one.
3. "Thanks for your help, Webb. I really appreciate everything you’ve done to make this case easier for me, but especially for finding that witness for me. It’s made all the difference," Rabb said as he gathered up his files and put them away neatly in his briefcase. Webb stood up. It was nearly six o'clock. The halls of the CIA were quiet and it had been a long time since lunch.
"You're welcome," Webb said.
"Let me know if I can return the favor," Rabb said. He snapped the briefcase close, the brass locks clicking with conviction.
"You know I will," Webb said. His stomach was growling audibly. Rabb looked up in surprise.
"Even spooks have to eat," Rabb said. "Gotta keep your strength up." He grinned boyishly.
"I know. I will." Webb thought about going to his favorite dark pub, the one just down the street. He always ordered the same thing -- a greasy hamburger, fries, and a beer -- and he always had the same waitress. He also always ate alone. He always convinced himself that it was so much that he didn't have any friends, it was that he wasn't in DC that often, that explaining why he was gone 90 percent of the time would take too much effort and compromise his cover. It was better to eat alone, he thought, because then he didn't have to worry about saying something he would regret later. After all, what few relationships he'd had in his life had always fallen apart because he could never tell enough lies to convince the other person that he was telling the truth. But Rabb was different. There was no need to hide anything from Rabb because Rabb already knew everything Webb couldn't tell anyone else.
"I was planning to pick up a sandwich from that new place across the street," Rabb said. "Do you want to join me?"
Webb inhaled sharply and then he said, "No, but thank you for you asking."
Some habits were hard to break, no matter how much you wanted to.
4. "I'd like to meet your mother," Sarah said. She reached across the linen tablecloth, the candlelight catching the gold glint of the bracelet on her left arm. She smiled and Webb shifted in his seat.
"You've already met my mother. Haven't you?"
Sarah frowned. "Not since you and I started dating, no."
"I think it's too early for that kind of step," Webb said evenly. He reached for the bottle of wine and poured himself another glass. "How is the food?"
"Delicious. As always. And too early? Clay, we've been dating for more than six months now."
"My mother's out of town."
"She'll come back." Sarah lifted her chin defiantly. Webb reminded himself that one of the things he loved about Sarah was her stubbornness. Or was it her strength? Some days, he wasn't quite sure what it was about Sarah that kept bringing him back to her.
"It may be a while."
"How long is ‘a while’?" The exasperation undercutting Sarah's voice was evident. "Come on, Clay."
"I haven't met your parents."
"That's different. My father's dead and my mother and I are barely speaking. You, on the other hand, tell everything to your mother. She's your confidant, your best friend, the person who comes before everyone else in this world, including me."
Webb put the wine glass down and brushed his hand across his eyes. "Yes," he said softly, "I know. I'm sorry."
"I want to meet her."
"Okay," he said. "Next week. Saturday." He smiled reassuringly and Sarah relaxed. Six months into their relationship and he prided himself on the fact he could still lie convincingly to Sarah, but it was getting harder. He desperately wanted the two most important women in his life to meet, but he knew the moment they came face to face with each other, the decision would be made for him, and he'd have to let one of them go. Peyton Webb never would stand for being second in his life, and he knew Sarah wouldn't settle for anything but first.
5. On his third day of unemployment, Clayton Webb walked to the non-descript building just down the street from his apartment. The white lettering on the door read "Maria L. Parmer, MSW LICSW." He opened the door slowly and stepped inside. The carpet was a deep plush, and his shoes left imprints. The walls were painted a soothing but incredibly annoying beige, the crown molding was white. The furniture was soft, full and inviting, and a non-threatening collection of magazines lay on the coffee table. The receptionist behind the desk looked up and smiled a welcome at Webb.
"Hello," she said, her voice several tones above high C. "Can I help you?"
Webb looked down at the white business card he held in his hand. Ms. Parmer came highly recommended by the CIA's counseling service, and he had a nine o'clock appointment. He knew everything he told this woman would be held confidential, that she would just listen to what he had to say. He knew he needed to be here, that he needed to talk to someone who wasn't involved in any way with the wreck his life had become, but as he stared at the business card and then back at the receptionist, he shook his head. He couldn’t imagine sitting in a chair in front of this strange Maria Parmer, telling her how he’d lost his edge and all for a woman.
"I'm sorry for bothering you," he said. He cleared his throat. "I've come to the wrong place."
He turned and left. On his way out, he tossed Maria Parmer's business card in the trash can. He'd come this far on his own, he could keep going on his own. Alone was how Clayton Webb had always done things at the CIA; he saw no reason to change that now.
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