Tristan walked through the Marriott’s marble walled lobby and passed the front desk to the restaurant bar. There were only a few open tables. Two men were at the bar. The room decor made Tristan think of cigar smoke and poker dealers with green visors. The walls were a mix of dark wood tones and billiard green. Shiny dark leather couches and love seats were scattered around the room. An occasional classical still life painting with a gold filigreed frame signified the lounge’s claim as a hideaway for the cultured class. Tristan was already nervous about the uncertainty of this meeting, and the sweat stains spreading from his arm pits only served to compound the anxiety. The atmosphere put a final flourish on his perception that he was out of place. He headed toward the bar to wait.

“Hello! Tristan.” A man at one of the glass tables to his right wearing a slim gray suit called his name and waved him over. The man was handsome in a way that was immediately forgettable: Light brown hair, angular symmetrical nose, average sized indifferent eyes, middle aged but passable as late thirties. He stood to shake Tristan’s hand and gestured for him to take a seat.

“Hello. It’s nice to meet you.” Tristan took the seat opposite the man. “Mr. Dryden said you two were college buddies?” He impressed himself with how collected he sounded, though he was sure his handshake was clammy.

The man chuckled to himself, “Yeah, right. Tell me I don’t look as old as that guy? Look, I don’t know what he told you about me, but whatever he said it isn’t true. My name is Christopher Lyddel. I am a recruiter for the Central Intelligence Agency. That is not classified. I don’t know why Dryden feels the need to lie. He sure loves playing spy games. However, for your protection the subject of our meeting is classified. Are we clear?”

Tristan nodded. He wondered why, if the conversation was classified, they were meeting in public. They could have just as easily used an empty conference room at his office, or a bench down by the Potomac. Was it part of the design, to condition him for a certain response, and if so, which part was the lie?

“Are you going to order?” Tristan asked.

“I’m not going to have anything. This won’t take long. You can order, but you’re cleared to take the afternoon off.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that.”

“I can assure you it won’t be a problem.”

“I’ve just got so much work backed up, so…”

“I truly doubt that. I’ve heard a lot about you, and procrastinator was not mentioned. You do seem remarkably earnest, as they said. I had a feeling you would fit right in.” He leaned back and gazed across the room. A boyish grin took over his face. “You know, my wife says I’m always getting these hunches, that I’m like a woman in that way. Good intuition.” His gaze fixed on Tristan, he leaned forward bringing his hands together to signal his shift to a more professional tone. “It’s a must have in this line of work. Intuition that is, not a wife. Of course you can’t prove anything with hunches, but it sure does help you to sift through the nonsense. You know something about that, I’m sure.”

Tristan wasn’t sure what knowledge Lyddell was referring to, but he was impressed with his communication skills. Tristan already felt like putty in his hands.

“We’re gonna have to train that out of you. That open-book face of yours. I will remind you of that look ten years from now, all puzzled, like a lost puppy trying to figure out what I want — what I know.”

“Was it that obvious? I thought I had a pretty good poker face. In fact I just broke up with my girlfriend over it, or well, she broke up with me, I guess it was sorta mutual, anyways…”

“It’s okay. I’ve heard a lot of strange confessions. Yours is light-weight by comparison. Let’s wrap this up, shall we? Let me be perfectly clear. We are not offering you a job. Okay? There is no guarantee, but what we are willing to do is give you an opportunity to use your skills and experience to serve your country. I can’t tell you much more than that at this time. You will have to go through the necessary protocol, background and such, but that won’t be a problem, right?”

Tristan thought, I haven’t even said yes yet, and he’s acting like it’s inevitable. “Well, I’ll have to think about it. This is a lot to process right now.”

“I know. Take your time. I understand this is a major life decision. That being said, we would appreciate an answer soon.”

“I think I’ll need to know a little more about what your plan for me is, and what the process entails before committing to anything.”

Mr. Lyddell’s face hardened from friendly casual buddy into full on law enforcement mode. “I don’t have a plan for you at all. I’m just the messenger. This is how these things work: It’s a need to know basis. You’re going to have to work on your negotiating tactics too. All I can tell you about the job is that if you pass all the tests and training (and more tests) as we expect you should, then you will be assigned to an ongoing operation for which you have particularly useful qualifications. This type of recruitment call is very unusual. People usually come to us, or we pick out some high scoring recruits from branches of the military, and there are the occasionals we seek individually for very specific reasons. You are one of the latter. As for the process, you can find most of the information on our website. You will be trained as a core collector for clandestine services. We will try to fast track the training as long as you perform well in the simulations.”

Lyddell shifted during his address from no none sense cop, to casual buddy, finally settling somewhere between the two in what felt like fatherly advice. Tristan was amazed by how much each posture affected his psychological state. He wondered what it would be like to be on the offensive side of the conversation instead of the vulnerable recipient. 

“All right, I’ve got to run, here’s my card. I look forward to hearing from you. Order the clam chowder. It’s very good.” He got up and headed toward the door. Tristan looked at his card. It had his name and a single email address in raised lettering below the seal of the IRS. 

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot.” Lyddell turned at the door and returned to the table. He put a hand on Tristan’s shoulder and spoke only loud enough so he could hear. “If you do decide to continue this process, don’t go spreading it around. Tell your parents, sure, but if you have to tell something to friends or coworkers, tell them your joining the Air Force, to see the world or something. It’ll be your first lie for our country!” He whispered this last part in Tristan’s ear with a sense of glory that belied the solidarity he felt with the men and women of the CIA.

The nobility of secrecy, Tristan thought as Lyddell walked out the door.