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.
"Oh, I'm not involved any more. Been retired for four years now. Well, I say retired," she said, doing the glance to heaven that people do when they are contradicting themselves, "but you are never completely out I suppose. On the other hand, I don't really want anything to do with that world any more, and being a bit blatant about it is the best way to stay out. Security risk you see. Can't be trusted not to blab."
She gave us a huge smile. I judged it to be genuine. It looked genuine. But then, was anything genuine with these people?
"I do have something for you. It's a letter. We all ... we all write one. Mike actually had two. I already gave his mother the one to her. It's intended to be sent - well, you know when. Most people will never know what happened, and I don't think we ever will, to be honest. The letters are vetted, because they have to be. Can't have classified stuff in there."
She rummaged around in the huge bag she held on her arm. Jo nudged me and nodded at the bag. It was a Michael Kors. I've no doubt it was expensive and I'd be hearing about it later. Jo had a thing about expensive handbags. We have the largest collection of top end fakes this side of the continental divide I think, all courtesy of Mike. It had even got to the point where Jo would send him texts with images of the real bags she wanted, and Mike would find them wherever he was. We'd get a package a few weeks later with the best fake in it money could buy. Now I think about it, I wonder if any are genuine?
She pulled out a large letter envelope, the kind you normally use for internal memos. It was folded flat, but unsealed. She offered it to me and I took it and thanked her.
She glanced back at her group who were waiting patiently by a blacked out town car.
"I'm sorry there wasn't more representation at the funeral. They won't allow active agents to go to these things. Too much chance if the ... individual was compromised – and lets face it, if he's dead, he more than likely was – that the funeral is being observed to see who might be an associate. Just so you know, there was an internal gathering, and there were a lot of people there. Mike touched a lot of lives inside. Hell, he saved a lot us at one point of another. He was a popular guy. And you are a thing of legend because of it. If Mike did it for you, what were you like? To be honest, we've all seen your file, and I'm sure you know it doesn't make for that exciting reading. Professor of dead languages at Northwestern University, three kids, two twins, married twenty plus years, own your house, published three non-fiction books and two adventure novels, under a nom de plume. You have it all. The American Dream. You've worked hard and been rewarded in the American way. It's not hard to see why Mike felt the way he did.
"You know, he used you as his scale, to take measure of the things we had to do, and how we had to do them. He'd hold up your picture and he'd say, 'If we do this, can I look these people in the eye and tell them, and will they approve?' If he didn't think you'd understand or approve, he would tell the team to 'find another way'. That's not to say we didn't cross that line on occasion – we did, but sometimes there is no other way. Sometimes there is no good way at all."
She looked off into the distance again, then pulled herself together and gave us another smile. This one didn't reach her eyes.
"Well, I have to run. It was nice meeting you. It's a shame we never got our hooks into you, Mr. Jake Tramell. You'd have fit in nicely I think. Mike was right though; I think you were better off out. It certainly seems like you've made a life for yourself. It was nice to meet you Mrs. Tramell. I love your shoes, by the way."
And then she was gone, back to her group, who were by now looking at watches and shifting foot to foot and all the other small things people do when they are impatient and being held up.
Jo and I looked at each other. It was like a whirlwind of knowledge had passed through us. This Madeline Walsh –if that was even her real name - knew us, knew things about us, but we knew nothing about her.
I opened my mouth to say something, thought better of it and said instead, "Are you as disturbed as I am that there is a file on us with those people," I nodded to the car, that was just pulling away. "On us? Who'd want to check up on us?"
Jo smiled – the first genuine one I could guarantee of the day – and said, "Oh I don't know. Maybe they know about my second life. Josh always said I was Supermom. Maybe they've broken my secret identity."
I smiled back, nodding. Then I thought of Mike and I stopped smiling. Jo noticed and linked arms with me, pulling me towards the car.
"Come on you. I know its Mike's ... ending. But don't be too maudlin. Lets go to the reception and remember him. We probably knew him better than any one except his mother. Let's go tell some stories, drink some toasts and be glad we knew him. You know that's how he'd want it."
I nodded. She was right. That is what he'd want. And he'd have insisted on bringing out the Goldschläger, Mike's drink of choice for celebrations. He made all sorts of jokes about gold plated turds, due to the gold flakes suspended in the liquid. We'd do some shots in his honor. I was already wincing. Those shots were my kryptonite. Three of them and I'd be hung over for days. But, so be it. He was my best friend. Time to raise a glass.
I sat in my easy chair, looking alternately at my glass of Jack Daniels Single Barrel and then at the envelope in my lap. It was late. I'd done a bunch of research already on my latest project – I had four interns doing a new translation of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and I was running the project and double-checking their work. Aramaic was a tough language to translate, and some of the Hebrew scrolls also had tricky passages, written in a vernacular that was hard to understand, not having the cultural context to make sense of them. There are already so many mistakes in the Bible from bad translations made in the middle ages. The reality is that the translation in many bibles from the original Hebrew/Aramaic to modern languages is similar to the awful Japanese to English translations of user manuals in the 1970s.
They are literally that bad. Imagine reciting the bible with a terrible Japanese accent and you start to get the idea.
I wasn't really expecting any huge change in wording or meaning, but hope springs eternal. You never know what might have been mistranslated in the past. For all we know, one of the commandments might actually be "Thou Shalt commit adultery", as one of the misprints in the Victorian era had advocated. Of course, that version would have gotten very bad reviews from many people calling themselves Anonymous on certain parts of 21st century erotic literature websites.
I'd finished my work, and Jo was in bed. She'd gone up earlier as usual. When we'd had young 'uns in the house, we had a balanced schedule– I'd work late at home, and get up late (hey, if you are the professor, you often get to set the class time), and she'd go to bed earlier, watch one of her reality shows then go to sleep and get up early to get the kids off to school.
Even when the kids were grown and gone, as the last of ours, Josh, had just done, we'd never really changed this. So here I was, it was 11:30, I had a drink – and the bottle, in case I needed more fortification – and was staring at the envelope.
I still didn't know why I hadn't read it yet. I mean, it was probably a last will and testament of sorts for Mike. But for some reason I was nervous. I had no idea why, but I was. I felt like this would be his last communication with me, and I guess I thought that the longer I delayed reading it, the longer Mike wouldn't really be dead and gone. It was illogical, but it made sense of a sort to me.
I took a sip of the JD – I like the Single Barrell because it is just smoother; I prefer my hard liquor to be smooth, not sharp. Mike and I had disagreed on this mightily. Mike was all scotch single malts, with their peaty tastes, and I was all refined blends like Jameson, Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. He used to laugh at me, and would bring me expensive bottles of Scotch when he came to visit, always with stickers on them from the duty free at one far-flung airport or other. He was always trying to 'educate me on the finer things of life' and I'd retort that I already had the 'finer things in life, and she was sitting upstairs in bed, watching Sister Wives or something else equally stupefying.' And he'd laugh and pour a shot and do a toast to Jo - in my case very definitely my better half.
I sighed, knowing that Jo would be exasperated if she were here – she'd already made it clear that she thought I was "on the verge of retardation" (she had such a way with words, did my Jo) for not already opening it and reading it. She'd said that if I hadn't read it by the weekend, she'd open it for me and read it aloud over breakfast.
That was Jo. We were married so long, we had become like two sides of the same coin. I knew her and she knew me, and we were extremely comfortable. The kind of comfort that comes from years of experience, with seeing the best and worst in each other, and dealing with it - together, accepting it -together and moving on - together. No, moving forward. Not on. That sounds like we would just give up when the going got tough, and we didn't do that. We tried to change each other for the better when we could we could, and accept the remaining flaws when we could not.
That didn't mean she couldn't mightily piss me off. My god, that woman could make me angry with just a look. And she knew it, and at times, delighted in it. Oh she'd apologize for it the next day – and mean it too – but sometimes she just couldn't help herself. She could be moody, she would constantly interrupt me, and she just didn't take seriously some things that needed to be taken seriously. In other words, Jo was a female; the archetype of the species.
But then I wasn't perfect either. I was sloppy and lazy around the house in terms of doing chores. I was good at fixing things and getting jobs done, but when it came to the every day tasks, I was just lazy. I'd let them mount up – not loading the dishwasher till I ran out of cups or plates, for example. It was enough to drive her up the wall. I was bad about tracking money and expenditure and I was often more a friend to the kids than the parent I should have been. Jo would take the kids to task and I'd be behind her making mouth movements with my hands and making the kids laugh and totally devaluing the points she was making. It was immature. In other words, I was a male.
But we worked. She took no crap from me and I loved her for it. She accommodated my foibles, my love of Star Trek and the fact that I completely fluent in Klingon (I was a dead languages teacher, after all!), even if she rolled her eyes dramatically when I trotted it out.
The fact is, we just loved each other. We didn't live a fairy-tale life – no marriage is like that and any one who tells you theirs is either is lying or doesn't have a real understanding of what a truly deep relationship is. With a deep relationship, you learn where the abyss' are in your spouse, and what to do about them – when to confront them and when to leave well enough alone. You can't fix everything and there are occasions when you just need to be wise enough to let the other person deal.
We'd had our ups and downs, encountered and dealt with a miscarriage, identity theft, a car accident that broke Jo's leg in three places, a lawsuit over our children when the twins had beaten the crap out of a boy who wouldn't leave one of them alone. It wasn't all plain sailing – Jo had been laid off twice, when the companies she worked for folded. Once she was promised the position of chief counsel and then had it retracted at the last minute after she had pointed out that one of the established VPs had made comments at a company Christmas party that were probably incorrect, certainly racist and most definitively actionable. He was pissed she'd done it at the table, and even more angry that he'd been brought to heel by a woman, even though she was a lawyer. And there went her chief counsel position. She was entirely in the right, but it remains a man's world at that level.
So yeah, we'd had ups and downs.
But we loved each other. Through thick and thin, even when we were mad at each other; even when were didn't speak to each other for days; even when there was the yelling that comes with passionate views. She was mine and I was hers. There was no other way for it to be. We made each other better. I – the academic – softened her lawyer's instinct for being harsh. She – the rational lawyer – helped settle my occasional irrational traits like stubbornness and self-importance.
We had been like that since we were introduced – by Mike of all people – at college. I had made decisions about my future and walked away from long held goals because of her. And when I watched Mike go right ahead and do everything we'd planned to do together – well, I won't say there weren't nights when I was pissed off about it. A bad argument with Jo, a few Southern Comforts and I would be looking at old photos of me and Mike growing up and my resentment would come bubbling to the surface. He was off gallivanting around – whatever gallivanting actually was – being all mysterious, meeting women in casinos and saying "shaken, not stirred" and I was a junior professor, spending my time in classes, trying to get disinterested people to get the right conjugation in Latin. It wasn't fair. It had never been fair.
But she was Jo. My other half. So there wasn't any other way it could be.
And that brings us back to the present and the envelope.
With a sigh, I put down the drink, took a deep breath and opened it.
Out came four pages of hand written letter. I was surprised. Mike was all about technology and gadgets. He'd come home with a new phone or camera or watch or something and I'd make cracks about "what did this one do? Does it summon a spy satellite when your press this button?" and he'd roll his eyes at me and say again, patiently, "Look, I work for an oil company, Jake. What the hell would I need a spy satellite for?" It was a game – he knew damn well I knew what he did, but he'd never admit it. He never protested too vociferously that he wasn't involved in some kind of intelligence unit, but he never ever confirmed it. Madeline Walsh was the first time we ever really had confirmation.
I looked at the letter, adjusted myself into a slightly more comfortable position on the padded chair, put on bifocals – we all get old! – and started to read.
So, yeah. Gone. Sorry about that. I know I always said we'd sit around in San Diego someday, watching the sun go down and drinking some decent scotch (and whatever that crap is that you drink), and I'd write my memoirs. But I guess something came up. I am sure I would have liked the other plan better. Oh, well.
In case you were wondering, no, I'm not about to go into details here. You wouldn't appreciate or understand half of what I could say anyway. I don't mean that as a put down old friend. It's just that this stuff requires a ton of context, and you don't have that, nor should you. It's honestly not that interesting and too much of it is pretty petty anyway. In the same way I wouldn't know what the subtleties of a Klingon insult are, you wouldn't get a lot of this.
But yeah, I do have things to say. Better get on with it. I'm writing this in San Paulo, in Brazil. I'm in a high rise, overlooking one of the shantytown cities. San Paulo is such a concrete example of the haves vs. the have not's. The haves live in the tower blocks, with guards and security fences, and everyone else lives down there, building whatever life they can. It's about as unsexy as it's possible to be, to be honest. I know you think my globetrotting life is exotic, but most of the time, the things I see just remind me of how good life really is at home.
So, do you remember us growing up? Sure you do. I'm pretty sure you were thereJ.
Remember the small A-Frame between our houses?
Of course I did. We'd grown up in the outskirts of the city of Rockford, in Northern Illinois. Our fathers were old friends, and had bought property together, 3 acres of woodland, with a creek running through the middle of it. Mike's dad was an architect, and he'd designed both houses that the two friends built, on opposite sides of the land. Between them was the creek, winding through the woods, that would often overflow its banks during the brutal winters. Far back from Mike's house, there was an A-Frame two-room guesthouse. It was there when the property was bought; no one had a clue who'd built it, but the kids claimed it as our own. We'd have sleep outs in it, build fires in a brick circle and make smores and, when we were older, drink contraband beers, always being sure to remove the evidence later. My younger sister, Tina, would sometimes join us. Mike was an only child – I never did find out if there was a reason for that.
We were together constantly, brought together by parents, and location and mostly shared interests in spy shows and movies. Since my dad was in the diplomatic service, we used to pretend he was away on missions and was a spy, and all our games revolved around that concept. Dad didn't help that conceit either. He'd come home and give us 'missions' – he'd have hidden something and set up clues for us to find and follow. We imagined we were being trained for something.
It was all we wanted to be when we grew up. James Bond, Our Man Flint, The Man From Uncle. We read everything we could find and watched everything our parents would let us and decided early on that a life of derring do – I wasn't sure exactly what that was either, but it sounded good. Something to do with swashbuckling, perhaps? -, danger and excitement would be our future.
When Mike broke his arm, when he was twelve, I was the one that rode in the ambulance with the medics. We'd done it trying to swing across the creek, and of course, the rotting branch of the dead tree broke and down went Mike, yelling the whole time. We only realized he'd broken his arm when I slapped him on the back, laughing at the spectacle of him covered in mud as he'd climbed out.
We'd write stories and create cover identities for ourselves, and spend the entire day pretending we were the people in our made up story, and we would nit pick holes in each other's stories.
We were both on the debate team at school, and you can just imagine what that was like. When we were together, we were unbeatable. But when put on opposite sides, we'd tie each other up in knots using word play and irrelevant arguments. I remember one time we spent the whole debate trying to get each other to laugh. I won, when I had to retort to a particularly compelling argument he'd made about carbon footprints or something, and I just opened my mouth, and instead of arguing, I dropped my pants and mooned him and the entire debate team. It got me suspended for a week, but that particular story is still told in hushed tones at the school.
We discovered girls, of course, when we got older. We did diverge a bit when it came to the fairer sex. Mike wouldn't let anything get in the way of his dream – girls were objects to be desired, chased after, wooed, taken, and then moved on from. I ... well, I wasn't made like that. I tried a few times, to be like Mike, but after the third girl ran from me crying at the school lockers after I dropped her and got ready for the next one, well, I just couldn't do it any more.
That's not to make Mike out to be some kind of lothario or arrogant dick around women. He never used and abused. He never treated any one badly or led a girl on. In fact, it was partly his ability to treat every woman equally that was his problem, I think – all girls were equal in his eyes. He didn't just date the tall hotties, he dated every girl. He wanted to try them all – none got in too close; his control was awesome to watch. He was always up front about who he was, and never led a girl on to believe he was in love with them. I think he took to heart the lessons of love them and leave them more than most would. Perhaps the examples of episodic television, where you'd see a guy with one women one week, and another the next, may have influenced him more than me. Who knows?
The man just loved women. All of them. Repeatedly. It was inspiring to watch. In some ways James Bond really had nothing on Mike LaPetus. Mike was the real deal. – a player with class. You don't see many of those these days.
And me? Well, I was more of a relationship guy. I just didn't have the energy to chase women like he did. I would date a bit, find a girl and that would be it for a few months, till the relationship ended naturally, as at that age, most relationships should.
Mike was a year older than me. When he graduated and went to college, I was lost for a year. We had been like the two musketeers. Yes, I know there were three. Or four, if you count, d'Artagnan but we were like the two musketeers. We complimented each other. Mike found some languages hard, and I didn't; I found calculus hard, and he didn't. We tutored each other. There was never a question that we would room together and when I hit college a year later, and we did.
I know I'm making it sound like some kind of bromance thing, or some thinly disguised homosexual relationship, but it was never like that. Never. It was more like we were brothers that rarely fought. We got accused of the gay thing a few times – it tended to happen a lot when Mike broke up with a woman, because he'd prefer me to be around. He had this theory that women wouldn't go off on him as badly if I was there. Instead it got us branded as closet queers by some girls. Mike would laugh loudly and then say "If we were, he could do way better than me". I remember the first time he did it, I said, "Hey. What exactly does that mean? I'd make a better gay man than you?? What?"
He'd laughed and tried to explain that I was a 'more attractive man than him to the same sex," and I'd gone on a whole "How the fuck would you know?" thing, and it all ended up with us going to gay bar and seeing who got hit on first.
I still don't know if that is a good thing or not.
Anyway, I did ok in the women department, right up till I met Jo. Mike introduced us at a party. He was interested in some cheerleader – of course it was a cheerleader. Mike couldn't go for the ordinary, oh no - and he needed me to make a foursome, so I could accompany the girl who was hanging out with Mike's prey. I was pissed at the time. I didn't want to be taking what I thought were his cast offs – he'd done that a couple of times before and I had made it clear that I wasn't interested in that unless I was interested, and if I was, I'd make the clear to him. He understood and backed off, but I thought he'd done it again.
So my first impression of Jo Bean, wasn't great. She wasn't that impressed with me either. We'd apparently got a bit of a reputation – more Mike than me – but I was guilty be association so I was a reputed womanizer too.
Now I don't mind a bit of swagger. I don't mind having a bit of a reputation. And it wasn't like I was a virgin, not since Pauline French, in my senior year of high school. She'd educated me in the ways of the horizontal mambo, made it clear she had her eyes on the horizon, and we'd had a hell of time learning, and then she'd bade me farewell when the year was up and she zoomed off to New York to go study fashion or something. Last I heard, she was married to some author named Bob, who had a thriving career writing smutty stories on some website or something.
Anyway, I knew my way around a woman's body and didn't need a map or have to ask directions. I was a man of the world. Or so I thought.
Jo was a revelation to me. That night, we went from not really being that interested in each other to drinking competitions against each other. She did win (although barely) and we woke up the next morning in bed together. Don't get me wrong, neither one of us was up to sex the night before, that much was very clear. And it was embarrassing and awkward, until she just started laughing, saying, "God knows what my grandmother would say about this. She'd say," - and she put on some exaggerated New England accent -, "Now, dear, if you are gonna do that, at least get his telephone number, and the first name of his mother. And don't forget to leave with all the clothes you came with."
We just laughed and laughed, and made breakfast and laughed some more, and I did some impressions of my paternal Grandfather, who is as red-necked as they come, even though he'd been on the beaches at Normandy, and some how she never left the small apartment that Mike and I shared. He never showed up by the way. I'm guessing he got lucky with the cheerleader. He never boasted about his conquests, and I never boasted about mine – it was weird that way, because once I was married, he did nothing but tell me about his exotic adventures. He said once he felt it was necessary, so I could "live vicariously through him."
The first time we had sex – the fifth date by the way – it was explosive. I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was. She had experience too – that much was obvious – but it was more just her unbridled enthusiasm that was attractive. I've always believed that enthusiasm for anything – be it sex, writing, rifle shooting or train spotting – makes you better at it, and more interesting to be around while you are doing it. Jo had that. Now I'm not that much of a man of the world, despite the experience I had and the airs both Mile and put on – the number of women I'd been with, well, you'd need to take your shoes and socks off to count them all, but it wasn't past 20 – but I had been around at least little bit, and I could tell she was something special. To be clear though, even if it hadn't been great, I'd still be with her because she was the whole package. But as it happened, it was great. We just fit together. Same appetites, same desires, same lack of embarrassment for asking what we wanted. It was just great.
Jo was going to be lawyer. A corporate lawyer, who did pro bono work. Hell, she was every bit as idealistic as I was in those days. Even though we were the same age, she has skipped a year along the way and was a year ahead. There was no doubt she was going to graduate with honors and go on to pass the bar. And she did. It was expensive, but her parents helped out with 50% of the costs, and she got a part time job while I got a full time one, once it became clear what my future was likely to be.
Whatever. Hearing from Mike was titillating, listening to him tell about some of the dangerous sex he'd had, doing it in the Dead Sea (sounded painful, to be honest), or trying to do it in public in Saudi Arabia, but not be noticed doing it, since it was a flogging if you were caught doing that there. But I never really looked at Jo as second best because of his stories. She was always first best. It wasn't even a question. Mike had his life; I had mine.
Remember all the training we did? For our glorious careers as spies to be! They were good years, Jake. I look back and think it was so much better than trying to go for football glory or any of that stuff. I don't regret a second of it. At least I didn't then.
We had both wanted to be spies. Desperately. That's all we dreamed of. We had our careers planned out – we'd be a team, working together and cutting a swathe through the enemies of America and democracy. I laughed - we were such naive idealists. All the movies and TV shows were so black and white – there were good guys and bad guys, and the good guys did good things and stopped the bad guys from doing bad things. Mike and I were good through and through. We knew it and the world had just better watch out. Bad guys, you are put on notice. Jake and Mike are coming.
We were so full of it. Looking back it was all so ridiculous. Except, for Mike, it wasn't. He actually went and did it.
I know my father was involved. Mike showed up at our house a few times during his last year of college. He was going out into the world a year before me, and by then I was with Jo, so much of my time was being spent with her. But I knew he'd been to see my Dad a few times, and I'm pretty sure it was Dad who introduced him to the people he needed to be introduced to. Dad would never confirm it either, but I was sure of it.
Jake, now I know better. It wasn't at all what we thought it was. Honestly, it's just not. It's mostly low-grade gossip mongering, setting people up and burning them. There are moments, but the real point here is this. I got to do it, and you didn't.