Zhostovo, Russia: November 18, 1984
I was quaking in my forty-six thousand dollar Brioni vicuña suit. This was not because of the sub-zero temperatures common in the region during that time of the year. No, my unstoppable tremors were the result of fear; the sort of fear that comes as a primal response to the knowledge that the next few moments may very well have been my last on this world. However, I could not afford the luxury of my fear at that moment. I remembered my training; the long months of examinations and briefings had primed me for that night. That night I was Alexander; a Soviet born Kazakhstani ambassador with ties to the Soviet Procurator General holding damning evidence of his treason. I would give up that evidence for a price—information concerning four Russian arms dealers who were smuggling American weapons and supplies to the Afghan front. Of course, my name and my so-called evidence were a complete lie. My real name was Falcon Fox, undercover agent for a top secret U.S. special intelligence initiative during the cold war.
I straightened my tie and adjusted the cuffs of my shirt. After a deep breath, I walked towards the club’s doorman. He was a hulking, mountain of a Russian mob enforcer. I flashed a cool smirk and produced my invitation card which I extended out towards him pinched between my middle and index fingers. He snatched it away from me with a look of suspicion on his scarred and stubbly face. After he had satisfied himself that I was not an immediate threat, he reluctantly stood aside and allowed me to pass.
The club itself was an eclectic work of western influenced eighties pop art. It was made entirely of gigantic ice blocks with Thunder Dome styled décor. Scantily clad male and female dancers dressed in post-apocalyptic garb sensually undulated to the poorly synthesized American house music as if they were auditioning for a Motley Crüe video. As I made my way through the club towards the private booths a new chill appeared in the air. I turned and saw her.
Svetlana was her name. She was as beautiful as she was cunning. I lost myself for a moment and stared at her as if I had never set eyes on a woman before. She strutted in my direction, over emphasizing each stride in her gate like a strung-out runway model. When she reached me, she put her right arm around my waist, curled her lip and spouted out in Russian,
“Do you have the micro-film, Alexander?”
I dug deep and produced that same cool smirk that I used on the doorman. I then muster my inner Russian and reply, “I’ve got it. Do you have my present, my dear?”
Svetlana slipped me a thick manila envelope. She gripped my arm tightly, leaned in close to my ear and whispered in Russian, “You know, I have a thing for American Men—Mr. Fox.”
I froze in place. She was onto me and it may have meant my death...
“Well, what do think?” Falcon asked as he lounged uncomfortably on the art deco, orange tweed couch in his marriage counselor’s office.
“Are you asking me what I think about the material in the journal or your grasp on the journaling exercise as a whole?” Dr. Carlisle responded with a slight tone of sarcasm.
“So—I take it we’re not making progress here, huh?” Falcon shrugged.
Dr. Carlisle sighed. “No, Mr. Fox—to be perfectly blunt, you’re side-stepping the purpose of the exercise completely. The idea is to let your past experiences remain in the past so you have room inside of yourself to enjoy the present and have something to look forward to in the future.”
Falcon rubbed his hands along his scalp where his hair line used to be and wished he were somewhere else. Apparently, that was his problem. The whole reason he was coerced into seeing a counselor in the first place was that he always wanted to be somewhere else. The pre-golden years were not being kind to Falcon Fox. He was not aging well. He had pictured himself reaching his sixties and gracefully transforming into some Sean Connery look-a-like, complete with a smoking jacket, commemorative martini shaker and a vaguely Scottish accent. Unfortunately, this was not how his retirement years had turned out. He was balding and weary looking with bags under his eyes large enough to carry groceries in. Although Falcon was not an obese man, his formerly athletic and muscular frame had morphed into a pudgy, middle-aged version of his former self. It was a self he was growing to hate. He had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a swollen prostate and a trick knee that sometimes buckled when he walked down stairs. Until he had reached his forties, his life had been a whirlwind of adventure, sex, admiration and the envy of his peers. Now, it was as if the fates, in an effort to balance the scales of happiness in Falcon Fox’s life, had given him his long overdue kick in the balls.
This had all been Maggie’s idea. It was what she referred to as, ‘a last ditch effort to save their marriage.’ She had moved out of the house more than a month ago under the advice of Dr. Carlisle who had speculated that since their cohabitation had become increasingly volatile, a trial separation might help to rebuild intimacy. Falcon felt this was probably one of the most ridiculous things he had ever heard in his life; second only to the good doctor’s assurance that she would remain a detached and unbiased professional. In his former work, Falcon had acquired a valuable talent for reading people. This skill was one of the primary reasons he was alive now to use it in civilian life. He could read Dr. Carlisle. Even if she would never admit it, she didn’t like Falcon—at all.
Dr. Carlisle was a young, attractive brunette with cold blue eyes fringed by expensive, fashionable reading glasses. Her toned figure was indicative of a gymnast or possibly a swim-wear modeling marathon runner. Whatever college sport it was that earned her the physique, it was obvious she had excelled in it. The framed diplomas and accolades on her wall were arranged in such a way as to promote optimum visibility in an attempt to affirm her intelligence and qualifications. The sharp, clean furnishings of the professionally decorated office appeared as if they had been arranged by a raging obsessive compulsive. There were no family photos, no quirky knick-knacks, no indications of a boyfriend and most assuredly no sign of a husband. The good doctor appeared to take great pride in the fact she kept her life free from anything she might have to clean up after. Falcon could also say with a high degree of certainty that she held great disdain for most men. She was not a lesbian; she simply hated any man with self-esteem and confidence. That type of man would only undermine her own self-appreciation and wouldn’t reconcile with her impression of the opposite sex as immature, jobless adolescents who lived in their parents’ basements until the trust fund checks cleared.
Dr. Carlisle adjusted her glasses and re-crossed her tanned, sinewy legs.
“Let’s talk about the trial separation—how are you feeling about this time apart from Maggie?”
Falcon tensed. “I think that it’s complete bullshit,” he said coolly.
“Why do you feel that it’s—bullshit?” Dr. Carlisle asked as she placed extra emphasis on the word.
Falcon bristled and leaned forward on the cushion. “Well—let me see. I think that it’s complete bullshit because we’re not in a trial marriage. I didn’t pledge my eternal love to a woman with the intent of just kicking the tires and seeing how she drove around the block. Maggie and I have been married for twenty-seven years; we have two grown daughters with grandchild on the way, a nice house in St. Michaels and a fucking Bichon Frise for God’s sake. We’re having a rough patch right now, but I’m sure we can work this out if we stick together—and by stick together, I mean together in the same house—not on some bullshit trial separation.”
“Okay...you know, many marriages survive for more than two decades. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s happy or successful,” Dr. Carlisle said as she massaged her temples.
“That’s funny; I thought longevity was the literal definition of a successful marriage,” Falcon sneered.
“Yes, it’s a common misconception. Otherwise, I suspect neither you nor your wife would be in need of my services, Mr. Fox.”
Falcon slumped back into the orange art deco tweed couch. It made his stomach churn to know Dr. Carlisle was right. He, most of all, desperately needed her help. Things with his wife were more than bad. They were one cross-eyed look away from divorce court. Livy, their oldest daughter was a grown woman with a budding career as an account executive at an IT consulting firm outside D.C.; she had a husband, a new house and a baby on the way. The youngest daughter, Chelsea had left home just a few years ago after obtaining her law degree from Georgetown, leaving her parents to become lonely, ill prepared empty-nesters. There was nothing left to tie them together any more. Falcon secretly wondered if that was what Maggie had been waiting for; perhaps she had been just killing time until there were no more reasons left to stay.
Dr. Carlisle’s lips twitched into a victory smirk.
“I know this is a difficult subject for you, but I think now would be a good time to pick back up on our discussion about the affair,” she said.
The affair—those two words together made the skin on Falcon’s ears burn with shame and dismay. During his career, Falcon had been involved in many indiscretions. He rationalized it mostly by telling himself it was part of the job; a necessary evil intended to maintain his cover or psychologically subdue a target. However, two years ago after his retirement, Falcon became involved in what was now toxically referred to as the affair. Beatrice was a childhood friend of Livy’s. Falcon could remember them playing on the beach and could still clearly hear them in his mind giggling together in Livy’s bedroom during their many sleep-over adventures. Beatrice had grown into a young, intelligent and attractive woman who apparently had a thing for older men. Beatrice’s advances were more than Falcon’s ego could resist and a passionate affair ensued. The relationship continued for two years without consequence until Beatrice began to want more than part time sex. Eventually she issued an ultimatum. Falcon refused and Beatrice made good on her threat to confess everything to Maggie. Over the following six months, everything in Falcon’s life had deteriorated.
“I don’t know what else to say—I don’t think my apologies carry much weight with Maggie. I’ve begged, pleaded, lost sleep and prostrated myself for so long now that I don’t know if she even hears the words that come out of my mouth anymore.” Falcon picked an invisible speck of lint from his pant leg.
“Maggie moved out; Livy will barely speak to me and I think Chelsea would legally divorce me from being her father if she could find a precedent.”
Dr. Carlisle scribbled something on her yellow note pad and stared at Falcon with mock empathy.
“And do you think that these are reasonable reactions?” she said.
Falcon paused for a moment.
“Yes—I guess I do. I’m a flawed man, doctor. I’m a flawed, weak, self absorbed old man who regrets the consequences of his actions more than his actions themselves. My only hope is the grace and forgiveness of my wife and my children.”
His eyes glistened as he spoke.
“Is that what you’re going to help us with, doctor—grace and forgiveness?”
“Of course I am, Mr. Fox,” Dr. Carlisle stuttered. “The purpose of these sessions has always been to bring a healing resolution to you and your family.”
Falcon stared back at Dr. Carlisle and imagined her testifying against him at his divorce hearing.
“Of course it is,” he said finally. “Of course it is…”
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