“Got four shots off that memory card,” Weistler said with a big butt-smacking grin.
Townsend nodded. He’d pulled and switched the card from MeiMei’s camera in case Aphra somehow managed to re-acquire. Hadn’t peeked until he handed it over to Monsoon. Now the whole thing was done and he could get rid of these assholes. “And they all came out all right?”
“Weeelll,” Weistler drawled. “Yes and no.”
Well good, Town thought. Or not. He said, “So ‘Yes’ sounds good.”
He glanced across the featureless lounge in the White House basement they’d grabbed to debrief him, hoping for a hint from the Monsoon. But the big Irish was ignoring him, watching that stupid POTUS show on a microwave-sized TV set. No clues there and The Weaseler was being a dick about it. But now he had a manila folder and was pulling out four eight by ten color glossies. He handed all but one to Town, holding the other one up and adjusting his glasses for a good look. “They’re all damn good, but I like this one best.”
Townsend casually picked up the glossies and fanned them for a look. And fell into a personal interior abyss.
The first one showed Aphra, naked, giving him the finger. In the second one she was bent over, looking back over her shoulder with a feral grin as she shot him the dark side of the moon. The third one was her and that redhead fire freak, also nude, wrapped all around each other and obviously taking their own portrait in a full length mirror. He sat and stared. thinking what we always end up thinking about reversals of that magnitude.: No way. No motherfucking way.
Weistler held up the fourth print, which depicted the two women in a much spicier embrace on a bed, Aphra holding the camera up for a shot at the mirror. “I want a couple of blow-ups of that one and a dozen wallet-sized of the squat shot,” he said.
Townsend just sat, staring, his mind racing. How many camera/bugs had the bitch had down there? He was wracking his brain for a way to turn this around and couldn’t come up with jack.
Weistler leaned forward and laid on a confidential tone, “So what’s it like porking a dyke, anyway?”
Townsend stood and moved up to where his thighs touched the desk, leaned forward with his fists on the top and spoke to the weasel in a way that imparted a faint, chilly hint of the real fears and menace of The Field. When he recoiled with a sickly smile, Townsend said, “Pretty much like your mama, except she won’t swallow after it’s been in her ass.”
Monsoon turned from his fascinated/appalled view of the POTUS show and roared with laughter. “That’s telling him, Townie.” He was breaking the tension between the other two guys, and moving to defuse what he knew must be starting to eat Townsend up. “Look, you think you got problems? Check out the guy I have to re-elect. Mugging with George Clooney like he’s Bill fuckin’ Cosby or something.”
Sure enough, on the little screen Barak Obama lolled at ease in his host chair, inviting intimacy and confidence from his guest. Clooney nodded appreciation for the applause following his last mot, then asked the host of the POTUS Show, “So what did you spend your stimulus package on?”
“Stimulants.” When the laughter died down Obama added, “What, didn’t you read my book, George?”
“Holy Motherhumpin’ Macree,” Monsoon moaned as he switched off the set and threw the remote across the room. “I keep thinking he’s crossed the line, then I start thinking there’s no such thing as a line anymore.”
He stood up and heaved around the room for awhile, puffing about the hated show his boss was drawing top ratings with. Townsend watched as he shook it off and turned back to the matter at hand. He lumbered across the floor and pulled up a leather-like ottoman to dump his ruddy bulk right in front of the faux Morris chair where Townsend sat, and leaned in like the dutchest of uncles. “Look, whatever sort of emo framistan you were stupid enough to jam into this thing…”
“And, honest injun here, I can’t blame you much,” Weistler stuck in from where he lounged with his weejuns on the pristine upholstery of a GS-12 class sofa. “She’s the five alarm hot sauce, no two ways about it.”
“Not so much that…”
Monsoon guffawed. “Well, apart from that.”
Townsend slogged on into it. He’d committed himself, for some reason he didn’t completely understand, to playing this completely straight: total debrief, no cover, no chaser. The only one who’d had anything to tell him about Life After Megagasms had stressed that: truth brings truth, lies bring lies. Take the chance and you’ll reap the harvest. Not the best advice to a professional spy, but he didn’t sense even an ounce of bullshit around that Loris babe. So here goes:
“She was like… like a colleague. A peer. Nobody else really understands what I’m doing. There’s nobody to talk to about it. She’s like… I don’t know… like somebody I played with in college but now I’m a Yankee and she’s a Red Sock, but we can talk in a place all the fans and assholes don’t know about. That make sense?”
Weistler gave Monsoon a searching look, drawing forth a shrug, then a rueful grin. Then, “That makes a lot of sense to both of us, actually. What are we going to do, tell our wives what we did at the office?”
“If you could rent a hall big enough for all your wives.”
“I’d have to look around for one big enough just for Erin these days.”
“Somewhere inside that mound of lard there’s still the sylphlike lingerie model, trying to eat her way out.”
Townsend was still on the edge of his chair, leaning forward in a dark tension, but realized that the vaudeville was for his benefit. And was surprised to realize that he appreciated it.
“Look, kid,” Monsoon rumbled. “There’s no shame in getting faced by Beyonce, there. Aside from the obvious, you’re a rookie, she’s an old timer.”
“Same age as me.”
“But she was grifting intel in her teens, Town,” Weistler cut in. “Working top-level exec parties, clubs. Doing vice callouts to get next to top CEO’s and mid-managers. Guys who run conglomerates. Are they stupider than you?”
“And what were you doing in your teens?” Monsoon asked.
“Dunking forty-three points in the Tri-State final,” Weistler answered the rhetorical question. “Pitching three games in the College World Series. Playing bass with The Fugknuckles, I believe they were called. Laying waste to sorority row.”
“Then you get almost like, tapped in to the Agency.” Monsoon scowled. “After college. We should probably be recruiting little gamesters out of grade school. Running Spy Scouts camps like the gooks.”
“Instead of getting the job because of my old man’s network of admirers and envious loathers? Find out I’m not the right timber from some lez bimbo?”
“Who also has a bit of a parental shadow behind her, it might interest you to know. Difference was, her mom taught her Trade, wanted her in The Life.”
“Just on some other side,” Weistler snickered. “She probably runs into people all the time, old Panthers with their berets turning grey telling her what a great organizer her mama was.”
“Not to mention what a come-to-Jesus great fuck.”
“And she probably runs into them as little as she can.”
“Like I said,” Townsend said quietly, “Overlook a few obvious differences and we’re the same thing. Karmic teammates or something.”
“For one thing,” Weistler said straight-faced, “You’re both wild about pussy.”
Monsoon saw Townsend about to stand up and walk out and spoke quickly but with an authoritative warmth. “Hang on, kid. Gimme a minute more, okay? You shut up, Jerry.”
Weistler shrugged and leaned back to see what riff his colleague would roll out this time. He was actually surprised for a change.
Monsoon paused, looked Townsend back into his chair, then hiked his a little closer and spoke right into his face. Talking like a man who’d taken off his official hat for a minute. Townsend slumped back and listened.
“Let me ask you a question, Townie. Why the screaming, shitting, wall-kicking, paddywacking fuck did we start a war in the Middle East?”
Townsend warped out on that one a minute, then shifted into Dudley Dooright. “So the terrorists wouldn’t win? To make the world safe for Monday Night Football? To preserve our way of landing on aircraft carriers?”
“I’m being real here.”
“Okay. I guess I’d say what anybody not stupid enough to repeat what we told them would say: Oil.”
“So show me the oil,” Weistler chuckled. “Show me why we’re paying billions to rebuild Shithole On Sandgrit over there while they’re pulling bejillions in petroprofits.”
“I thought we agreed one of us would shut up,” Monsoon growled, then returned to Townsend. “You’re not that dumb. You probably figure it’s all about some wheels within wheels hidden behind gears and guts down in the Beast. Nothing to worry your pretty head about because you’re an action figure. The Jimmy Bond ninety percent of the agency really want to be but can’t cut the mustard.”
“I’m getting to that. Let me tell you from a pretty damn unique insider perspective why we jumped off our personal jihad against Islam. Let’s take a closer look at George W. Bush.”
Great, Townsend thought. First I get the “thinking with your johnson” smirks, now I’m getting some old nutcutter’s history lesson. On the other hand, maybe that’s what it calls for.
“One thing pretty unique about Dubya,” Monsoon went on in his armchair lecturer mode, “How many presidents had fathers who were presidents? You’re looking at a guy who made it to the most powerful position in the world and was still falling short of his old man’s accomplishments. And Senior made it pretty clear he thought Junior was Howdy Doody. How could he possibly top the Pop?”
Townsend was jolted out of any lull in his attention at that point; staring at Munson as though he’d just morphed into a guru channeling Dr. Phil and Dr. Ruth.
“He didn’t make his Dad’s marks at Yale, was the joke of Skull and Bones, zippo military record, screwing around baseball instead of the Company. Second rate blowby right down the line. But there was one thing his father failed to accomplish.”
Townsend almost whispered. “Take out Saddam.”
“You got it,” Monsoon nodded as if to a dull student finally picking up on the picture. “You talk to anybody who was around the Oval back then. Anybody who’ll give a straight answer–and lotsa luck finding that–and they all know it: Georgie came into office already committed to going after Hussein. He’d been dreaming about it through the whole Clinton Scare and he hit the ground running.”
“Shit, that almost makes some scary kind of sense.”
“The only mystery is how he sold the sane, grownup world that such a reckless action was necessary to take care of a guy who didn’t even make the Top Ten Dangerous Asshole Dictators list. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after blowing my life working in top-level politics it’s that it really comes down to personalities. You just can’t go back and examine the political parameters and components of the times and explain a Bonaparte or Alexander or Hitler or Bolivar. They’re pretending to now, of course, revisionizing history to get rid of bronze Paul Bunyans and Elvises that make them feel inadequate, but I’m telling you: things happen in this world because of diseased personalities, not graphs and flowcharts.”
“And you get down to it,” Weistler said, almost to himself as he examined Monsoon’s thesis, “It’s generally over something stupid and petty.”
“Napoleon too short,” Monsoon nodded. “Hitler too scrawny and Jewish-looking. Duke’s fucking the French king’s wife. Chancellor snubbed the Premier at a state dinner. Chief of Secret Police is impotent. The professor’s parents tossed out his teddy bear. All explanations that bear no explanation. Most times nobody even has a clue what’s going on. And as little as we understand politics and economics, Christ knows, it’s lore of the savants compared to what we know about psychology.”
Townsend took a slow pan of these power players, Monsoon regarding him like a kindly uncle–which would have creeped him out except there was that gnawing feeling of gratitude again–and Weistler highly impressed but curious as to how he’d take it. He licked his lips, looked over their heads for a moment. Then said, “It’s been frustrating.”
Monsoon nodded, pleased with the outcome. “I can see how it would be. And now this. And just maybe your old man’s lingering fingers had something to do with you sucking a goose egg down there? Look. You’re too young to be frustrated. That’s one of the privileges of age and experience.”
Weistler laughed, but kept that curious eye on him.
“I think things are different now.”
“Know what?” Monsoon leaned back, regaining distance. “I was sort of picking up on that. God knows what went on down there, but I’m hoping it does you some good. Here’s what I’m suggesting: don’t let your hardon for your old man make you burn down the world.”
He didn’t squirm or flare behind that. He’d already figured out what the older man was saying and was filing it away in places that seemed to have been recently prepared to accept it. What he said was, “Thank you very much. For everything. Next time I’ll do better.”
Weistler laughed and Monsoon filled in the bassline with his own jolly rumbling. “Next time is the New This Time,” he said.
“You hear a fat lady singing?” Monsoon asked him.
“If so, I hope it’s not Erin,” Weistler tossed in. “She could shatter the plate in Yankee Stadium.”
“You said this thing ties into this whole Maya bullshit? And the little chink is still after some way to make sense of it? And that splib rugmuncher is still after it? Well then…”
This time the gratitude threatened to break out in a tremor, so Townsend was very careful when he nodded gravely to the corrupt old machinators and said, “Thanks, you guys. I won’t let you down.”
“Good. See if you can tape the dirty parts this time out.”