Desc: Drama Story: Do you want what you get, or get what you want in life?
This is a different one for me. No cheating. No elaborate plots. Just a story of appreciating what you have. I've been told that happiness is not having everything you want, but wanting what you have. And there is more than one way to betray someone, so here's a story about that.
Edited by my good friend NonetheWiser, who, as usually, takes my drivel and makes it readable. The man truly has the ability to polish a turd and make it shine!
It does start with a funeral. Sorry Ohio – I hope it makes up for that.
We watched the casket go into the hole, sinking slowly out of sight to where, presumably, the conveyer belt took it to the ovens. Somber music played, Bach Suite No. 6 I think, I wasn't really paying that much attention. Strangely, I suddenly wondered why Mike hadn't taken care of the music himself. He was an organized guy – he had to be, details were everything in his life – so why hadn't he sorted this out? Or, maybe he had? Maybe we were listening to his selections. If that were true, I didn't know him as well as I thought.
I glanced at Jo, who was holding my hand tight. She glanced back at me, sensing the movement of my head. She gave me a "bit lip" smile. One of those ones where you want to show support but don't honestly know what to say– you just want to show your concern. You are just there.
I smiled back at her, the kind of smile you give to say, "It's ok. I know you are here. Thanks".
I looked around the room, marveling at the small turn out. There were three other high school friends, four from college, three people I couldn't place, four people I knew I'd never met and a cousin that I had met once whose name I could never remembered. And his mother, of course. With her new – well, new to me – husband. Mike's Dad had died twelve years ago from a sudden heart attack. No warning, no expectation. He'd been an active man, playing golf, jogging, even playing raquet ball. He'd played me and I wondered if he got any exercise out of it because he'd planted his feet firmly in the middle of the court and never moved, knocking the ball around all over the place, making me run like a humming bird on speed. And then one day he was just gone. Mike returned for the funeral. He didn't even stay for the wake – he was away on a plane. I got a breezy excuse about "Something on the boil I can't leave" and he was gone. But that was Mike. Never in one place long. Never at rest – always moving. Always watching around, checking things out, making internal calculations. He was my best and oldest friend, but did I really know him? There were frequently time where I kind of doubted that I did.
His mother had remarried four years later, and it seemed to be okay with Mike. We'd talked on a flying visit and he said he was ok with it. I was glad his mom had found companionship again. She and my mom still did a yearly trip to visit the big malls in Chicago, and still occasionally had coffee. Well, that's what I was told anyway. Jo knew – she even went with them on occasion.
The pastor said a few words, something about "going to a better place." I almost snorted at that, but Jo gripped me harder at that moment. She knew me. She knew what I thought and what I would have expressed had we not been at a funeral. I'd have said something like, "No, not only is there no lights on upstairs, there is no upstairs. This is all we have. We aren't going to a better place. We are just ending." Or something like that. Either way, I'd have challenged it. But this was Mike's funeral and my kick at that particular groin would have to wait for a more appropriate time.
The funeral ended, and we walked out of the crematorium, nodding at the people we knew, and me doing some unabashed staring at the people we didn't. One women of the four I didn't know caught my eye, smiled at me, and I could see her turn to the people she was with, murmur something to them and then break away to come towards us.
Jo had seen her too, and stopped. The woman approached us and said, "Mr. Tramell? Might I bother you for a moment? You must be Jo Tramell, yes?"
Jo glanced at me and nodded.
"You look just like your pictures. It's so nice to finally meet Mr. and Mrs. America."
Jo and I looked at each other again, not sure how to react to this.
"I'm sorry, I have the better of you. I'm Madeline Walsh. I used to ... work with Mike."
I stiffened. What Mike did was never entirely revealed to me. I had some clue about it – I couldn't not, after the youth we'd had -, but no details. Never details. None. Mike was very careful about that. He told me he was a troubleshooter for an oil company, hence all the zipping around the world he did, but we – Jo, me and his parents – knew that was bullshit. I knew what Mike did for a living, at least I was pretty sure on the broad strokes. We had planned it together, growing up. It's what we always wanted to be.
I should back up, since I'm going down a path and into details that you have no context for. So let me change that. Here goes.
I'm Jake Tramell. The woman holding my hand is my wife, Jo. We've been married for 22 years, getting hitched when we were both the grand old age of 23. Which makes us, you guessed it, 45. We met in college. Mike was the year ahead of us and was my oldest friend in the world. Our parents had been friends for years; they'd even bought land together and split it and then built their houses so the backyards abutted. My dad was often away – he was an officer in the diplomatic service and he was often gone for a couple of days at a time, jetting around the world. I found out when I was older that he was actually a bagman. When you hear about the 'diplomatic bag' in spy novels, well, he was the guy who carried it. It sounds exotic but it's not. Dad would drone on about how he literally got on a plane, flew somewhere, touched down, got in a car, drove to either a consulate, an embassy, or in some of the really poor and small countries, the personal residence of the ambassador, drop a bag off, pick up another one and get right back in the car, straight back to the airport and on another plane. He never looked in the bag, and he wasn't supposed to. That was it. No spy missions, no exotic women, no shootouts or martinis. Just lots of air travel and no time to see the locations. But he made a living and he was happy and so was mom, for the most part. And the airmiles. My god, the airmiles.
As I said, Mike was a year ahead of me at college. I was studying languages with a minor in history. Mike was also doing languages and a minor in athletics. We were preparing ourselves. Oh, yes we were. No question. I'll get into that more a little later.
So this Madeline Walsh was standing in front of us, looking us over, appraising us. Neither Jo nor myself had said anything yet, so I figured it was about time.
"'Worked' Ms. Walsh? I wasn't aware that Mike 'worked' at anything, besides getting a tan and learning about expensive hotels". It was my attempt at levity, and frankly, it was a pretty poor effort.
She smirked. That same knowing smirk I'd seen on Mike's face more than once, when I'd attempted a joke.
"Oh he worked alright. I think you'd be surprised at how hard. When he worked, he put his all into it."
"What can we do for you, Ms. Walsh?" asked Jo, in her clear contralto. Her accent was mid Boston, but cultured. She enunciated every word, a habit for which our kids and I teased her mercilessly. However, as she pointed out, at least one of had to sound cultured, because otherwise we'd all be mistaken for rednecks, or, even worse, Republicans.
"I just wanted to meet you. Mike had some pictures of you and your family in his office. He called you Mr. and Mrs. America. 'The reason for all we do' he'd say. I can see him saying it now..." she said, wistfully.
I was obvious to me that there was more to her the relationship with Mike than mere co-worker. I re-examined Madeline Walsh – obviously just moving out of her prime, late 40's I'd guess. Not quite 5'9, slim, blond hair that was in a bob, and obviously bleached. Bright eyes, well applied makeup. I tried to remember what I'd read about being observant and looked her over some more.
She saw me doing it and suppressed a smile.
"Oh, you need to be less obvious Jake. I can call you Jake, can't I? I feel like I know you. Mike talked about you guys a lot."
I nodded – what else could you do when it's asked like that?
"Am I that obvious?" I asked, wondering how she'd answer.
"Totally. We are taught to suppress the obvious. You learn do it over time. When you get good, it's quite subtle. You make excuses to examine something specific – 'oh, that's a lovely ring, can I see it?' and when they do, you get to examine their hands. To be honest, it's very tedious having to always act that way. It's easier to be obvious."
"Should you be ... you know, saying stuff like that? I thought you guys were never supposed to reveal ... well, anything?" asked Jo.
She knew what Mike had been. Or what we suspected he'd been. He'd never acknowledged it, but I knew. Hell, we'd both worked so hard to get that job. The fact that he'd never confirmed or denied it meant he was obviously involved in the security services. I didn't know if he was NSA or CIA or something else. I just knew he did hush-hush shit, and went all over the world and sometimes had stories to tell ... I knew because it had been what we'd dreamed of.