Silent Goodbyes

“Dude, you’re fine.” Geoff reassured Tristan between sips of lager.

“I just feel bad sneaking around, acting like I’m in it for the long haul when I’m planning on leaving, but I can’t say anything in case my background and stuff doesn’t go through.”

“Yeah, that’s quite a predicament.”

Fast Eddies was slower than usual for a Friday night, though it was still early. Geoff and Tristan came here every other Friday after work to unwind and shoot pool. The downstairs bar scene could get rowdy, but once upstairs pool was the focus. They sat on high stools around a circular table. Two of the twelve pool tables were occupied.

“When did you say you’d find out?”

“I should know by the end of the month.”

“And when do you leave, if you get in?”

“December 7th.”

“Crazy. Well, at least you’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”

Geoff was the only person from work Tristan would hazard to call a friend. It’s not as though they visited each other’s families during the holidays, but they did socialize occasionally outside of work. Geoff worked for the IT department setting up and maintaining structures for research databases and archives. He only had an associates degree from some community college in Maryland, but that’s how computer genius’s do it — no need for a fancy six figure diploma when you could do just as well with no formal education at all.

“The last week has been strange.” Tristan took a sip from his beer. He recalled seeing the Institute’s crest pasted on the elevator doors that afternoon. It is on all his envelopes and letterhead; The Institute’s motto “veritas vos liberabit” forms a cradle beneath the familiar shield, sword and serpent. Freedom through truth.

“Did you ever notice the Institute decal on the eleventh floor elevators?” 

“Yeah, dude. They’re kinda hard to miss. They’ve been there for seven or eight years.”

“That’s what Melissa said. At first she kinda laughed at me. She must have thought I was making a lame attempt at a joke. It seems like I would have noticed them, though.”

“Ha, she probably thought you were going to ask her out. I wouldn’t worry about it, there’s probably a million things I haven’t noticed about that place.” 

“I know, it’s just funny how you could go through your day to day tasks and not notice half the things around you. It’s like it’s only when you first arrive somewhere or are about to leave that you actually see the place for what it really is. This morning it was like I was moving in slow motion and I could suddenly see all the pock marks and divots in the walls, like the corners were somehow sharper and the carpets had more depth.” Geoff was almost finished his beer. Tristan could tell by the way he kept eyeing the active pool tables that he wanted to play a game.

“Ha. Tristan. I’m gonna miss these talks man. I guess that’s true, though, in a way.” He finished his beer with a final masterful gulp and stood up. “You ready for another?”

“Yeah, sure. Sign us up for an hour.”

“You read my mind.”

One day was all Tristan needed to take Lyddell’s offer. His parents were encouraging. His mother said she had felt he was getting stuck, but hadn’t wanted to nag, and it sounded like a wonderful new experience. His father thought it offered a great opportunity to develop a resume for a lucrative job in the private sector, but was wary of his son becoming a spook. ‘Just be careful not to stick your head in where it don’t belong,’ he’d said. Tristan reassured him that he would still be working some desk, shuffling documents around. His father reminded him that documents are often more dangerous than guns.

Tristan had dreamed of being a special agent running around in a Tom Ford suit, wielding a poison dart pen, saving a beautiful woman from an eighty story dangling death, all the while stupefying a Jean Reno looking villain with his particularly American wit. Of course, he knew, this was ridiculous. The C.I.A’s plan for him more likely involved him leafing through documents, classifying them according to subject and source, perhaps the occasional translation, but it was an exhilarating dream. The idea of being even indirectly associated with such heroism made it hard to say no. He could more than live with being the geeky technician who finds the key link in the intel and feeds it to the super-agent just at the right moment to help him trick the bad guy and save the day. Lyddell had said something about Tristan’s ‘particularly useful qualifications.’ Tristan couldn’t stop wondering what he’d meant. He didn’t consider himself exceptionally good at anything. He spoke Mandarin, but so did a lot of people. He was a competitive runner on the local road race circuit, but nothing compared to the elites, or even class-B elites. No, it had to be something personal, something that only he could do. 

Tristan enjoyed the clarity of his thoughts that came after three quarters of a dark ale. It was as if his thoughts needed to slow down a precise fraction in order to hit the sweet spot where nothing overlapped, nothing was skipped, everything was laid out in a sensible coherent order. 

He saw Geoff’s head breach the stairwell wall. He was deftly carrying a beer in each hand while cradling the rack of billiard balls on his forearms. 

“It doesn’t look like you spilled any.”

“I don’t think I did.”

“Bravo.” Tristan retrieved his beer and the rack.

“It’s all that typing, molded my forearms into perfect platters.”

Tristan laid out the balls and grabbed the triangle that was hanging from the light above the table. “I ran into Mary yesterday morning, in the elevator.”

“Oh, god. Did she get super close to you when she talked?” Geoff moved up close to Tristan to say this, practically kissing his cheek, as Tristan tightened the rack with his fingers. Tristan offered a disapproving chuckle.

Geoff was mocking Mary Kitteridge, their HR director. She had been bugging Tristan (and everyone else who gave her the slightest hint of acquiescence) for the last month to sign up for the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. She supposedly ran it every year, though she didn’t look like a runner by any means. Finisher medals and plaques lined her office wall. She possessed some habits, including bouncing from one foot to the other when giving presentations, and laughing idiotically at her own jokes, and the aforementioned close talking, which some of their colleagues found annoying. But she was not an idiot, she was just trying to be someone she wasn’t. Tristan recognized these as the kind of personality quirks that surface when an introverted person is forced to be extroverted as a requirement of their occupation.

“Well, what did you tell her?” Geoff spurred the conversation on.

“I said I still needed to see how I feel when I get up to the proper mileage; that I’d probably wouldn’t know until January at the earliest. She did her whole, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine, you’re faster than all of us,’ pitch, as if that would convince me.”

“Did she include the ‘I’m sucking through a straw while I laugh’ laugh to break the tension?” Geoff performed his own version. Tristan couldn’t help but laugh at that. They were both leaning on their pool cues, one trying to stop laughing, the other egging him on. 

“Yeah, she did. Now, go ahead and break, Mr. Rickles.”

Tristan ran track and cross country in college, and continued to compete in local road races, but had never run a marathon. He was aiming to do one next fall. Maybe New York. In October he’d run his first half marathon, and just started easing back into mileage. He didn’t think he could put in enough training to be ready for a good first marathon by March. 

Tristan became frustrated when talking to non-runners about running matters. They often thought that because the runner is faster than them, he is indestructible, or he can run any race at any time. What they didn’t realize was that by pushing himself to the limit and doing the training that made him faster he was actually becoming more vulnerable to injury. He thus had to be more judicious about the races he chose to do. It follows that a runner would prefer to race, that is compete, rather than just run to finish, so it wouldn’t make any sense for him to enter a race unless he knew he was prepared to do his best. Racing required proper training, which required a gradual build up and preparation, which he couldn’t even talk about with most non-runners. Tristan would get himself worked up in these situations, because he couldn’t say any of the things he was thinking. He would try to make it simple and tell them that a nagging injury has been hurting and he wanted to make sure it was healed before he committed to a race that was twice as long as anything he’s ever run. He’d add that last part in as a slight sardonic means of catharsis. 

The only reason he didn’t shut Mary down completely was that a less pompous part of him realized that it wouldn’t be horrible to run a marathon just to finish. He knew that finishing a marathon, regardless of how fast you run, is an accomplishment and an experience in itself. He could treat it like a super long easy run; as preparation for a later marathon, maybe even take some walking breaks. It’s not the way he imagined his first marathon, but it would be good to do something social with his co-workers. He knew he wasn’t good at putting himself out there. 

All this was out the window now. Anticipating his departure, he knew he couldn’t commit to anything, but he couldn’t withdraw either, without raising suspicions; jumpstarting the rumor mill. 

Geoff made a nice break, spreading the table wide and sinking two high balls. 

“But that’s the thing, I’m afraid she saw it when I hesitated, the moment of strategic reasoning in my eyes. You know? 

“Dude, no one sees anything in your eyes. You’re a rock man. Don’t worry about. It’s all in your head.”

Nobody but Christopher Lyddel, Tristan thought as he mulled over his options on the table. “Nevertheless, will you keep your ears open for me? Let me know if you hear any rumors floating around about me leaving. You know how these people gossip.” Tristan made his request as he leaned in to take aim at a cut shot into the corner. Just a little side spin. Good.

“Nice shot. Yeah, I can do that no problem.” Geoff took a sip from his beer.

“Thanks.” Straight shot to opposite corner. Tiny bit of top spin. Missed. “Damn, I always have trouble with the straight shots.”

“You and me both brotha.”

Tristan stepped back and took a large swill of his beer. He figured this ‘ongoing operation’ Lyddell referred to probably had something to do with his knowledge of Mandarin and Far East cultures, so chances were that he’d be translating intercepted documents, conversation or interrogations. Regardless of what his personal connection to the operation was, it seemed reasonable that he would be located in China or somewhere in southeast asia, so he decided that when the time came he would tell people he was going to work as a fact checker and market researcher for TransCanada and probably would move into a position working overseas with clients in the Far East.   

And then it came to him. The Chinese intern who had given him his first tour of the Institute had pointed out those decals. “The truth shall set you free,” he had said. Tristan had determined the literal translation from what remained of his high school latin education, “freedom through truth.” He remembered being drawn to that motto. It warmed his heart and provided him a sense of purpose when he’d begun working there. He knew he was still relatively ignorant to the ways of the world, but he was definitely more idealistic five years ago. 

Now, he thought, a more suitable motto might be, “fictio cedit veritati”, fiction yields to truth. That was the hope, at least; that is the reason they all got up and came to work in the morning. Truth was something understandable, somewhat measurable. Freedom was only connected to truth as a political state of being, and politics being as it was made radical freedom seem more than idealistic — approaching fantastic. To Tristan the only truly achievable freedom was metaphysical and this was not achieved through truth, but willful ignorance. However, the hope that someone might value the complex interconnectedness of facts over simple feel-good fictions: that seemed achievable, noble even in it’s arduous plausibility. This hope dimmed by an age of sound bites, yak-blogs and political spin, still survived as pit of glowing embers awaiting their proper kindling. 

“Tristan. It’s your shot.”

“Oh, my bad. I’m lows?”