Katherine had seen them many times, at international airports, with their mountains of cheap luggage, their faces merging worry with bewilderment with exhaustion, their children slumped, fathers clutching handfuls of red or green passports that set them apart from blue-passported Americans.
They were immigrants, immigrating.
She’d seen them departing from Mexico City after a bus from Morelia, or air transfers from Quito or Guatemala City. She’d seen them in Managua and Port-au-Prince, Caracas and Bogotá. Everywhere in the world she’d gone, she’d seen them.
Now she is one of them.
Now this is her, curbside at the airport in Frankfurt-am-Main. Behind her is a pile of eight oversized mismatched suitcases. She’d seen such gigantic suitcases before in her life, and had thought, Who in their right mind would ever buy such unmanageable, hideous luggage? Now she knows: someone who needs to pack absolutely everything, all at once.
Strewn around her mountain of ugly person-size suitcases are carry-on bags and a purse and two computer bags and two little-child knapsacks, and, on low-lying outcroppings, jackets and teddy bears and a Ziploc filled with granola bars and fruit, both fresh and dried, plus brown M&M’s; all the more popular colors had been eaten before Nova Scotia.
This is her, clutching her family’s blue passports, distinct from the Germans’ burgundy, standing out not just because of the vinyl colors, but because locals don’t sit around on piles of hideous luggage, clutching passports.
This is her, not understanding what anyone was saying, the language incomprehensible. After a seven-hour flight that allowed two hours of sleep, spent and hungry and nauseated and excited and fearful.
This is her: an immigrant, immigrating.
She’d begun by taking Dexter’s family name. She’d acknowledged that she no longer needed her maiden name, her professional name. It would be easier to navigate bureaucracies, to live in a Catholic country, if the husband and wife shared the same name. She was already giving up the rest of her identity, and the name was merely incremental.
So she is someone she’s never before been: Katherine Moore. She’ll call herself Kate. Friendly, easygoing Kate. Instead of severe, serious Katherine. Kate Moore sounds like someone who knows how to have a good time in Europe. For a few days she’d auditioned Katie, in her mind, but concluded that Katie Moore sounded like a children’s book character, or a cheerleader.
Kate Moore orchestrated the move. She froze or canceled or address-changed dozens of accounts. She bought the luggage. She sorted their belongings into the requisite three categories—checked baggage, air-freight, sea-freight. She filled out shipping forms, insurance forms, formality forms.
She managed to extract herself from her job. It had not been easy, nor quick. But when the exit interviews and bureaucratic hurdles were cleared, she endured a farewell round of drinks at her boss’s Capitol Hill house, which Kate was both relieved and disappointed to discover was not noticeably larger, nor in much better condition, than her own.
This, she tells herself again, is my chance to reinvent myself. As someone who’s not making a half-assed effort at an ill-considered career; not making an unenergetic, ad hoc stab at parenting; not living in an uncomfortably dilapidated house in a crappy unneighborly neighborhood within a bitter, competitive city—a place she chose when she shipped off to her freshman year at college, and never left. She’d stayed in Washington, in her career, because one thing led to another. She hadn’t made her life happen; it had happened to her.
The German driver turns up the music, synthesizer-heavy pop from the eighties. “New Wave!” he exclaims. “I love it!” He’s drumming his fingers violently against the wheel, tapping his foot on the clutch, blinking madly, at nine a.m. Amphetamines.
Kate turns away from this maniac, and watches the pastoral countryside roll past, gentle hills and dense forests and tight little clusters of stone houses, huddled together, as if against the cold, arranged into tiny villages surrounded by vast cow fields.
She will reboot herself. Relaunch. She will become, at last, a woman who is not constantly lying to her husband about what she really does, and who she really is.
# # #
Katherine didn’t know how to react. So she decided on the default, deflection via ignorance. “Where is Luxembourg?” Even as she was asking this disingenuous question, she regretted it.
“It’s in Western Europe.”
“I mean, is it in Germany?” She turned her eyes away from Dexter, from the shame at the hole she was digging for herself. “Switzerland?”
Dexter looked at her blankly, clearly trying—hard—to not say something wrong. “It’s its own country. It’s a grand duchy,” he added, irrelevantly.
“A grand duchy. You’re kidding.”
“It’s the only grand duchy in the world. It’s bordered by France, Belgium, and Germany,” Dexter continued, unbidden. “They surround it.”
“No.” Shaking her head. “There’s no such country. You’re talking about—I don’t know—Alsace. Or Lorraine. You’re talking about Alsace-Lorraine.”
“Those places are in France. Luxembourg is a different, um, nation.”
She redirected her attention to the cutting board, the onion in mid-mince, sitting atop the counter that was threatening to separate entirely from the warped cabinetry beneath it, pulled apart by some primordial force—water, or gravity, or both—pushing the kitchen over the brink from acceptably shabby to unacceptably crappy plus unhygienic and outright dangerous, finally forcing the full kitchen renovation that, even after editing out every unnecessary upgrade and aesthetic indulgence, would still cost forty thousand dollars that they didn’t have.
As a stopgap, Dexter had secured C-clamps to the corners of the counter, to prevent the slab of wood from sliding off the cabinetry. These clumsily positioned clamps had caused Katherine to bang her hand, causing her knife to slip, the blade sliding silently into the meat of her left palm, bathing the mango and cutting board in blood. She’d stood at the sink, a dishrag pressed to her wound, blood dripping onto the ratty floor mat, spreading through the cotton fibers in the same pattern as the rug that day in the New York hotel, when she should’ve looked away, but didn’t.
“And what makes it a grand duchy?” She wiped the onion-tears from her eye.
“It’s ruled by a grand duke.”
“You’re making this up.”
“I’m not.” Dexter was wearing a very small smile, as if he might indeed be pulling her leg. But no, this smile was too small for that; this was the smile of Dexter pretending to pull a leg, while being dead-serious. A feint of a fake smile.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll bite: why would we move to Luxembourg?”
“To make a lot of money, and travel around Europe all the time.”
“You’re going to make a lot of money? In Luxembourg? How?”
“It’s the private-banking capital of the world. And I just got offered a lucrative contract from one of those private banks. Plus I won’t even need to work that much.” Both of them had at one time been ambitious. But after ten years together and five with children, only Dexter sustained any modicum of ambition. Most of what remained was to work less. Or so Katherine had thought. Now apparently he also aspired to get rich. In Europe.
“Can you tell me about the place? Because I obviously could’ve been wrong about what continent it’s on.” Once Katherine had begun this lie, she’d have to play along with it fully. That was the secret to maintaining lies: not trying to hide them. It had always been disturbingly easy to lie to her husband.
“It’s rich,” Dexter said. “The highest per capita GDP in the world. Also, it’s . . . um
. . . it’s small. A half-million people. The size is Rhode Island–ish. But Rhode Island is, I think, bigger. A little. The capital is also called Luxembourg. Eighty thousand people live there.”
“Eighty thousand? That’s not a city. That’s—I don’t know—that’s a college town.”
“Yes. But it’s a beautiful college town. In the middle of Europe. Where someone will be paying me a lot of money. So it’s not a normal Amherst-style college town. And it’s a college town where you won’t need to have a job.”
Katherine froze mid-mince, at the twist in the road of this plan that she’d anticipated ten minutes ago, as soon as her husband had uttered the question “What would you think of moving to Luxembourg?” The twist that meant she’d have to quit her job, permanently. In that first flash of recognition, deep relief had washed over her, the relief of an unexpected solution to an intractable problem. She would have to resign. It was not her decision.
“So what would I do?” she asked. “In Luxembourg? Which I’m still not convinced is real. You have to admit, it sounds made-up.”
She had never admitted to her husband—had barely admitted to herself—that she wanted to quit. Now she would never have to admit it.
“You’ll live the life of leisure. Learn tennis. Plan our travels. Study languages.”
“And when I get bored?”
“If you get bored? You can get a job. Washington isn’t the only place in the world where people write position papers.”
Katherine returned her eyes to her mangled onion, and resumed chopping, trying to sublimate the elephant that had just wandered into the conversation. “Touché.”
“In fact,” Dexter continued, “Luxembourg is one of the three capitals of the European Union, along with Brussels and Strasbourg.” He was now an infomercial for the goddamned place. “I imagine there are lots of NGOs that could use a savvy American on their well-funded payrolls.” Combined with a recruiting agent. One of those unfailingly cheery H.R. types with creases down the front of his khakis, shiny pennies in his loafers.
He reached into his pocket, and unfolded a sheet of legal-size paper. A spreadsheet, the title luxembourg budget across the top. Katherine found the bottom line, a net savings of nearly two hundred thousand a year—euros? dollars? Whatever. She’d long ago reconciled herself to being broke, forever. But it was looking like forever was, after all, finite.
“This is it, Kat.” Dexter walked around the deteriorating kitchen counter, put his arms around her, from behind, changing the whole tenor of the conversation. “It’s different from how we’d imagined it,” he said, his breath hot against her skin. “But this is it.”
She lay down her knife. A farewell to arms. Not her first.
They had discussed this seriously, late at night, after wine. Or as seriously as they could, late, tipsy. They had no idea whether it would be difficult to arrive in another country, but it would definitely be easy to leave Washington. They still yearned for adventures they thought they’d missed; still thought it was possible. Or never allowed that it was impossible.
“But Luxembourg?” she asked. The foreign lands they’d imagined were places like Provence or London or Paris, maybe Prague or Budapest or even Istanbul. Romantic places; places where they—places where everyone—wanted to go. Luxembourg was not on this list, not on anyone’s list. Nobody dreams of living in Luxembourg.
Dexter kissed her neck, ran his hand down her stomach, below the waistline of her skirt, which he began to gather up in fistfuls. The children were on a play date.
# # #
The street turns gently and then ends abruptly, just like most European streets. In the States the streets are long and straight, extending for miles, dozens or scores or hundreds of blocks. But the French don’t even have a word for the idea of a city block.
The buildings are gray or tan or putty; the sidewalk is paved in light gray concrete, the street in dark gray asphalt. The cars are shades of silver and gray and sometimes black; the sky a sodden slate. It’s a colorless landscape, washed out by rain and the expectation of it, designed and constructed to match the weather.
They wander the warren of narrow cobblestoned streets of Centre, dipping up and down along the natural contours of the medieval fortress-city. They walk past the monarch’s palace, cafés with outdoor tables, a broad plaza with an outdoor market.
Through the thin rubber soles of her shoes, Kate feels all the ridges and valleys of the hard stones underfoot. She once spent a lot of her life walking uneven streets in unfamiliar cities; she once had the footwear for it. She even spent time walking these very same cobblestones, fifteen years earlier, when she’d had younger feet. Now, she’d be needing an entirely new collection of shoes, to go with her new everything else.
The children are marching dutifully in front of their parents, engrossed in a typically esoteric little-boy conversation, about Lego hair. Dexter takes Kate’s hand, here in the middle of town, in the liveliness of a European main square. They settle at a brasserie. In the middle of the crowded leafy place, a ten-piece band—teenagers—strikes up a cacophony. The scene is reminiscent of the many Mexican cities where Kate had once loitered: the plaza ringed with cafés and tourist shops, all the generations of residents—from gurgling newborns through gossiping old ladies, clutching each other’s arms—gathered around a bandstand, the amateurs playing local favorites, badly.
The long, far reach of European colonialism.
Kate spent the most time in Oaxaca’s zócalo, a half-mile east of her apartment next to the language school where she was taking advanced lessons, mastering dialects. She dressed as other women like her, in long linen skirts and peasant blouses, bandanas to tie up her hair, revealing a small—fake—butterfly tattoo at the base of her neck. Using a string bag to tote fruit from the 20th of November market. Hanging around cafés, drinking Negra Modelos.
One night, a few tables were pushed together, with a German couple and a few Americans plus the requisite young Mexican men who were always hitting on the women—they threw a lot of darts in the dark, but occasionally hit a bull’s-eye—when a good-looking, self-assured character asked if he could join. Kate knew who he was; everyone did. His name was Lorenzo Romero.
He was more handsome than she’d expected from his pictures. When it became clear that he was there to talk to Kate, she could barely contain her excitement. Her breath came short and shallow, her palms began to sweat. She had a hard time concentrating on his jokes and innuendo, but it didn’t matter. She understood what was going on. She allowed her blouse to fall open. She touched his arm, for too long.
She took a sip of beer, stealing her nerves. “Cinqo minutos,” she whispered, inclining her head toward the street. He nodded his understanding, licked his lips, his eyes eager.
The walk across the plaza lasted forever, cigar smoke and marijuana, slangy drunken English and the cackling of grandmothers. Under the trees, away from the streetlamps, couples were shamelessly groping.
Kate couldn’t believe she was doing this. She waited impatiently on Independencia, alongside the cathedral, in the shadows. He arrived, and came in for a kiss.
She shook her head. “No aquí.” They walked silently to El Llano, the park where there used to be zoo, now a derelict space, scary for Kate by herself. She smiled at Lorenzo, and walked into the darkness. He followed, a predator coming in for the kill.
She took a deep, deep breath. This was it, finally. She turned around a thick tree trunk under a heavy canopy of leaves, and waited for him to follow, slipping her hand into the inside pocket of her loose-fitting canvas jacket.
When he came around the tree, she nuzzled the nozzle into his stomach and pulled the trigger twice before he had any idea what was happening. He fell limp to the ground. She fired once more, to the head, to be sure.
Lorenzo Romero was the first man she’d ever killed.
# # #
Kate stands alone at school, resting her umbrella so low that her head is touching the striped nylon, the aluminum ribs sitting on her shoulder, trying to safeguard the few undrenched portions of her body. Everything below the waist is soaked, squishing, unsalvageable.
Sheets of big, heavy drops are flooding from the dark, dense sky, pounding the concrete, thrumming the grass, loudly splattering in the deep puddles that pool in every dip or swale, crack or crevasse.
The mother groups are neatly divided by nationality. There are the self-sufficient groups of blue-eyed Danes and blonde Dutch, of high-heel-wearing Italians and ultra-healthy Swedes. The intermingled English-language groups dominated by pale Brits, with chunky Americans and ever-smiling Australians and aggressively friendly Kiwis. There are the hyper-insular Indians, and the utterly unapproachable Japanese. Individual roving Russians and Czechs and Poles, hoping to attach themselves to Western Europe, ingratiating, firm-handshaking, trying to get invited to join the EU, ignorant—willfully?—of the universal futility of trying to get invited to anything, ever.
There are even a few men scattered around, not talking to one another, each in his own independent orbit of strangeness.
It is now raining even harder. Kate wouldn’t have guessed that was possible.
# # #
“Hi,” Katherine said, walking into Joe’s office first thing in the morning. This one syllable was the full extent of her preamble. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that I’m resigning.”
Joe looked up from a report, grayish pages output from a dot-matrix printer that probably sat on a Soviet-made metal desk somewhere down in Central America.
“My husband got a job offer in Europe. In Luxembourg.”
Joe raised an eyebrow.
“And I thought, we might as well.” This explanation was a gross simplification, but it had the benefit of being honest.
Joe shut the folder, a heavy blue cover adorned with a variety of stamps and signatures and initials. There was a metal clasp at the side. He closed it, and looked up.
“Dexter does electronic security, for banks. There are a lot of banks in Luxembourg.”
Joe gave a half-smile.
“He’s going to work for one.” Katherine was surprised at the amount of regret she was suddenly feeling. With each passing second she was becoming increasingly convinced that she’d made the wrong decision, but was now honor-bound to follow it through.
“It’s my time, Joe. I’ve been doing this for . . . I don’t know . . .”
“A long time.”
The regret was accompanied by shame, a convoluted shame at her own pride, her inability to reconsider a bad decision, once made. “Yes. A long time. And honestly I’ve been bored, for a while. This is a great opportunity for Dexter. For us. To have an adventure.”
“You haven’t had enough adventure?”
“As a family. A family adventure.”
He nodded curtly.
“But really, this isn’t about me. Almost not at all. This is about Dexter. About his career, and maybe making a little money, finally. And about us living a different type of life.”
Joe opened his mouth slightly, small grayish teeth peeking out from under a bushy gray mustache that looked like it had been pasted onto his ashen face. For consistency, Joe also tended to wear gray suits. “Can you be talked out of this?”
For the preceding few days, while Dexter had been gathering more practical details, the answer would probably have been yes. Or at least maybe, possibly. Then in the middle of last night Kate had committed herself to making a final decision, had sat in bed and wrung her hands, bolt-upright at four a.m., agonizing. Trying to figure out what she wanted. She’d spent so much of her life—all of it, really—considering another question: what was it that she needed? But figuring out what she wanted was an entirely different challenge.
She came to the conclusion that what she wanted, now, began with quitting. Walking out of this office forever. Starting an entirely new chapter—a whole new book—in which she was a different character. She didn’t want to be a woman without any job, without any professional purpose; but she no longer wanted to be a woman with this job, this purpose.
So in the overcast light of an August morning, the answer was “No, Joe. I’m sorry.”
Joe smiled again, smaller and tighter; less of a smile, more of a grimace. His whole demeanor shifted, away from the midlevel bureaucrat he usually appeared to be. “Well then.” He moved aside the blue folder, and replaced it with a legal pad. “You understand there will be a lot of interviews?”
She nodded. Although quitting wasn’t something people discussed, she was vaguely aware that it wouldn’t be fast or simple. She’d never again set foot in her eight-by-eight office, never again walk into this building. Her personal material would be sent to her.
“They’ll start right now.” Joe flipped to a blank page. “Please”—he flicked his hand, demanding and dismissive at once, jaw tensed and brow furrowed—“shut the door.”
# # #
“Have you seen her?” the Italian asks. “The new American?”
Kate takes a sip of her café latte, and considers adding some sort of sweetener.
She’s having a hard time remembering if this Italian is named Sonia or Sophia or, in a one-of-these-things-does-not-belong type of way, Marcella. The only name she’s confident in is the elegant British woman, Claire, who chatted for fifteen minutes but then disappeared.
It doesn’t occur to Kate that this question can be directed at her, because she herself is the new American. As a way of underscoring her not-answering, Kate studiously looks around the table, for coffee-sweetener options. There’s a small ceramic container of white sugar cubes. There’s a glass pourer of brown sugar—or, rather, brownish sugar; this doesn’t look like the stuff you use for baking brownies, which Kate has done twice in her life, for school fundraisers. There’s a steel pitcher of steamed milk, and a glass carafe of unsteamed.
Kate had once been very good at remembering names; she’d once religiously employed mnemonic aids. But she’s now been out of practice for years.
If only everyone could wear nametags, all the time.
There’s a squat plastic container of cardboard coasters featuring a baroque coat-of-arms, with a lion and pennants and maybe snakes and a sun, and a castle turret, plus gothic lettering that she can’t make out because from where she sits it’s upside-down, this highly stylized black lettering. So she doesn’t even know what language it is that she’s unable to read.
There’s a steel napkin-dispenser, the napkins themselves those little tri-folds that manage to be both flimsy and sturdy at the same time, which seems impossible, but is not. Kate has found herself repeatedly wiping snot from Ben’s little nose with these tri-folds, which are everywhere; the kid has a cold. And she hasn’t come across those handy pocket packets of tissues that you can buy at virtually any genre of retailer in the United States, in gas stations and convenience stores and supermarkets, in candy shops and newsstands and drugstores. The drugstores in Luxembourg apparently sell only drugs. If you asked for tissues—if you could ask for tissues—the stern-looking woman behind the counter would probably laugh at you. Or worse. They are very stern-looking, all the women behind all the counters.
There is, of course, an ashtray on the table.
But what is not on this table is artificial sweetener; there’s never any artificial sweetener on any table. “Artificial sweetener” is not something Kate has learned how to say en Français. In her mind, she forms a French sentence that translates from “Is there a thing to put in coffee like sugar but different?” Is the word for sugar masculine or feminine? The difference would change her pronunciation of the word for different. Or would it? With which noun should that adjective agree? Is different even an adjective?
But “Is there a thing to put in coffee like sugar but different?” is, Kate fears, simply too retarded-sounding, so what the hell does it matter how she pronounces the final consonant sounds of different/differente? It doesn’t.
“Kate?” The Italian is looking directly at her. “Have you seen the new Americana?”
Kate is stunned to discover that she is the one being addressed. “No.”
“I believe that the new American woman does not have children, or at least none who attend our school, or she is not the person who is bringing the children to school or collecting them,” pipes up the Indian. Kate is impressed with how many words this woman uses to communicate her ideas.
Kate can’t help but wonder what these women said about her, two weeks ago, when she arrived to the first day of school. She looks around the café-bar in the large low-ceilinged room in the basement of the sports center. Upstairs, the children are taking after-school tennis lessons from Swedish coaches named Nils and Magnus. One is very tall and the other medium-tall; both can be accurately described as tall blond Swedish tennis coaches. All the tennis coaches here are Swedish. Sweden is six hundred miles away.
“Kate I apologize if I already asked this so please forgive me if it seems rude but I cannot remember if I asked: for how long are you planning to live here in Luxembourg?”
This is sort of hellish. Kate wants to excuse herself, get up and walk away, disappear.
This is one of the many aspects of expat life that she finds herself ill-equipped for: making pointless small talk with strangers.
But Kate is determined to try. She needs friends, and a life, and this is how you acquire those things: by talking to strangers. Everyone is a stranger, all on equal footing in strangerhood. The defining signifiers in the place you’re from—family, school, experiences—those things don’t matter here. Everyone starts from the same scratch, and this is it. Sitting with strangers, making small talk.
“How long?” Kate asks herself for the hundredth time. “I have no idea.”
# # #
The message light is blinking. But first the children need to be settled in front of the television. In Washington they’d never seen a single episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants; they don’t know it exists in English. What they are watching is Bob l’Eponge. A French invention.
And the groceries need to be unpacked. There’s a to-do list magnet-attached to the fridge. There are nineteen items on the list; they have crossed off fifteen. They have procured notarized copies of passports and birth certificates and marriage certificate, and applied for residency permits. They have opened bank accounts and insurance policies, bought mobile phones and small appliances and Ikea’s frozen meatballs. They have bought a used station wagon with an automatic transmission and under fifty thousand kilometers. It took a few weeks of online browsing to find such a car, a time frame that corresponded precisely to the period when they didn’t realize that the word break meant station wagon.
Kate turns on the German oven. The dozen options on the dial include the likes of Ober-Unterhitze, Intensivbacken, and Schnellaufheizen. She loves the sound of Intensivbacken, so she uses that setting for everything.
She drops a bottle of peach nectar, shattering on the stone tiles, sending not only chunks and shards and slivers of glass everywhere, but also sprays and drips and puddles and pools of thick, sticky juice. This takes her fifteen minutes to clean, on hands and knees, with paper towels and sponges and the cheap vacuum that came with the rented furnishings; their shipping container of belongings still isn’t due to arrive to the port of Antwerp for another few weeks.
It is impossible to overstate the extent to which she hates what she’s doing.
Dexter has no idea. None of the husbands knows what their wives do every day, during the six hours when the children are in school. The cooking classes and language lessons, the tennis instruction and, occasionally, the affairs with tennis instructors. Meeting everyone for coffee, all the time. The gym. The mall. Sitting around playgrounds, getting wet in the rain. One playground has a gazebo, where they can get less wet when it rains.
Dexter doesn’t know any of this, about her life in Luxembourg. Just as he didn’t know how Kate had spent her days, back in Washington, when she was doing something completely different from what she claimed.
A half-hour passes before Kate remembers to push the message button. “Hi, it’s me. Sorry, but I’m not going to make dinner.” Again. This is becoming tiresome. “I have a six o’clock call, then an eight. Home by nine thirty. I hope. Tell the boys I love them.”
The washing-machine alarm buzzes just as Kate cuts a tomato in half. She sets the tomato down on a piece of paper towel. When she finishes folding the laundry, the tomato’s juices have bled onto the towel, radiating along the fault lines of its fibers, dark red tendrils reaching out, grabbing Kate’s consciousness and dragging her back to that hotel room, a man lying on the floor, blood oozing from a crater in the back of his head, seeping into the pale carpet in the same pattern as this tomato’s juices, on this paper towel.
And finally the children are asleep. Kate sprawls on the sofa, flipping channels, Italian game shows and Spanish soccer matches and bleak BBC dramas and a limitless assortment of programming in French or German. She turns on one of last season’s HBO shows on iTunes, the laptop hooked up to the television via thick, multipronged cords, digital-media life support.
She hears the laughter of teenagers spilling out of a bar a block away, the high-pitched squeals reverberating on the cobblestones. She catches strains of English. These are little expat kids, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, smoking Marlboro Lights and drinking Red Bull–vodka concoctions until they throw up in the foyers of the small apartment buildings that surround the pubs, whose Portuguese cleaning ladies arrive to work at seven a.m., their first order of business to examine the nearby foyers, towing an industrial bucket on steel casters with a mop sitting upright in the wringer, cleaning up teenagers’ vomit.
The final item on the to-do list is underlined: Make a life.
# # #
“Nothing else?” Joe asked. “You sure?”
Katherine struggled to keep her breathing even. This could be about that thing that happened in Barbados, which hadn’t been entirely authorized. Or about the missing file on the Salvadoran goons. Or it could be nothing more complicated than Joe didn’t trust her. But most likely it was about that hotel room. For the past five years, Katherine had been convinced that it would come back to haunt her. To take revenge upon her.
Or it could be about nothing other than protocol.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sure.”
Joe stared at her. She summoned the courage to stare back. Chicken, across a conference table. Five seconds, ten. A half-minute of silence. He could wait forever. This is what he did for a living. But so could she.
“Okay then,” Joe said. He glanced at his watch, scrawled a note. “I.D. on the table.”
Katherine removed the lanyard from her neck, hesitated, set it down.
Joe walked around the table to Katherine, his hand extended. “This is where you go tomorrow morning, nine a.m.” She looked at the paper, still not understanding that this phase was over. Things always end more suddenly than expected.
“Ask for Evan,” he said.
“So that’s it.” Joe smiled, extended his hand again, this time for a shake. “You are no longer an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. Good luck, Katherine.”