William was in trouble. His departure was not going as smoothly as he had expected. He stood facing the airline attendant in an absolute panic. Trying not to reveal any of that anxiety, he merely blinked twice and asked, “What do you mean you don’t have room on the plane?” He swallowed hard, his mind racing through potential solutions to this dilemma. Finding none, he blinked again.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Warner, the plane has been overbooked,” The attendant, who was half his age, spoke while typing feverishly into the computer and not noticing that William was beginning to sweat. “Wait, we may have something for you in first class.” William looked around, out of habit, to see who might be watching or listening to this exchange. “Yes we do. It looks like your lucky day. We can upgrade you free of charge. Unfortunately you will have to settle for an aisle seat,” she said with a well-rehearsed smile.
William did not feel lucky as she handed him his newly printed tickets and his other travelling papers. The plan was to blend. First class was not blending. Searching his brain for alternatives and finding none, he took the papers, made eye contact and managed his own fabricated grin. As he boarded the plane, William clutched his computer bag tight up against his chest. When he walked into the first class area, some of his anxiety lifted. Maybe he would enjoy this unexpected luxury. His current profession didn’t usually lend itself to such perks. He had been successful in his business by trying to look like everyone else.
William Warner was not like everyone else. He had changed his name countless times over the last thirteen years. He had worked for seven separate government agencies in three different countries. In many ways, he resembled a Russian nesting doll. He housed many different personas in various levels of disguises and when you peeled away one mask, another was revealed. While he did not often transform his outward appearance, the label of whom he pretended to be changed frequently. Today, he was William Warner, travelling from America to Amsterdam on business with a return ticket that he never intended to use. This flight was to be his swan song.
Pretending as though travelling first class was routine, he calmly walked over to his seat and kept this level of composure as he placed his bag on his lap. A giant portion of his work sat heavily on his knees. Inside the green, non-descript cloth bag was a computer that kept secrets not even William could keep track of. His life had become a giant entangled spider web, and the solution to all its intricacies was inside this very ordinary looking bag. The key to his pending departure from his convoluted life was all the information on this computer; information that could take down countless politicians and leaders and promised to provide him a healthy early retirement. William had spent his life gathering and selling secrets and he knew that his time left unexposed was numbered. He needed to disappear, before the world knew some of the mysteries he had managed to conceal for so long.
Glancing around to register his new surroundings, William did a double take when he looked at the seat next to him. The woman sitting in the seat by the window was stunning. She pretended not to look at him as he stared longer than he should have. Turning deliberately, she smiled and held out her hand with a confidence that at once rattled and disarmed him. “Hi, I’m Althea. It looks like we will be sitting together for the next seven hours.” He shook her hand and was surprised at her strength. So much so, that he almost forgot what his name was supposed to be.
“I’m…Bill. It is nice to meet you,” he replied, caught in her lively eyes. She was younger than him by about ten years and in remarkable shape. As his eyes quickly darted around her body, she released his hand and smiled.
“What do you do Bill?”
“I sell toys actually.”
“Toys? That’s interesting,” she said with a look that seemed to back up that statement.
“I’m just a kid at heart,” he replied trying to sound spontaneous even though he had repeated that line thousands of times before. “And you?”
“I’m an athlete actually, and a coach I guess.” Again, William’s eyes explored her impressive figure confirming her profession. “I don’t race as much as I used to, but I still keep in shape.” This last statement informed William that his roving eyes and thoughts had been discovered.
“You are a runner? I run a little myself,” confessed William, which took him by surprise. He didn’t often reveal real facts about himself. He was breaking his own rules.
“Yeah, what do you run Bill?” She inquired with a touch of sarcasm, this time using her eyes to explore his body.
“You know 5ks, the occasional 10k. I did a half marathon once.” He replied feeling embarrassed about his lack of commitment to his own physical well-being. He wasn’t out of shape, but was nowhere near her level of fitness. In an attempt to change the subject, he added quickly, “Are you a professional runner? You make your living off of races?”
“I do, or at least I used to. I was actually in the Olympics, twice. Since then I’ve been sort of living off of name recognition,” she responded with a sort of humble confidence.
“You were in the Olympics? Did you win any medals?” He spontaneously asked and then just as quickly added, “Oh, sorry to pry.”
“No worries Bill,” she replied with a tone that seemed to welcome any question. “I have one gold, one silver and three bronze medals.” She added with a smile that made him feel fourteen again, “not that I’m bragging.”
He felt like he was on a date, it was a feeling that unnerved him. As confident as he was as a dealer in government secrets, this woman seemed to have returned him to adolescence. He scoured his brain for a witty response, but was interrupted by a very perky flight attendant who announced the airplane’s pending takeoff. The flight procedures allowed William to regroup. He had let his guard down, which was something that in his business usually ended badly. One of his rules was never engage personally with anyone; always keep it on a business level. He reminded himself of this as he stole another lengthy look at the way Althea was stretching out her long, muscular legs.
Within 24 hours, he would be exposed as a double agent, selling American intelligence to two separate government agencies. Both agencies had also been manipulated by William as the information given, had already been leaked and wasn’t as useful as promised. His payments had already been received and the extra information that he held in his lap secured his future. He just had to be certain that this knowledge ended up in the right spot. There was enough evidence against William to convict him of treason in at least two countries, maybe three.
Shortly after takeoff, William and Althea struck up another conversation. The topics ranged from movies that they both adored to role models they had. William was surprisingly candid and often found that he was speaking without thinking. Again, this was an activity that was dangerous for him. He even allowed himself a glass of gin, breaking yet another self-imposed rule. Drinking was forbidden as it put him at risk. Maybe it was the wider seat, maybe it was his pending retirement, but probably it was his beautiful companion seemingly soaking up every word that he was uttering that caused him to throw caution to the wind.
“What did you just say?” She asked with the attention of a hawk narrowing in on its prey. “Did you just imply you work for the government?”
“Did I?” he choked on his third gin and tonic. “That is not what I meant.”
“You are very interesting Mister…” She paused for his last name.
“Warner,” he replied. Then, with a wink, he blurted out, “at least that’s what it says on my passport.” He regretted that quip immediately. This woman was having an inexplicable effect on him and he was unable to keep himself guarded. Not knowing what else to do, he quickly excused himself to go to the bathroom in an attempt to pull himself together. As he got up, his computer bag fell to the floor. He picked it up and left it on the seat next to him. In the bathroom he splashed water on his face and engaged in a series of breathing exercise to calm his nerves. He looked at his watch. They would be landing in less than two hours.
When he returned to his seat with his composure regained, he was shocked to find Althea asleep. He took a moment to gaze at her before he sat down again. He watched a movie on the in-seat TV and tried to focus on his plans after the plane landed. Within an hour after touching down, he would be in a car further muddying his trail. He would then need to hide out in a small village for an undisclosed amount of time, as he would soon be garnering a lot of press. Maybe it was the alcohol or the spacious seating arrangement, but soon he was sleeping with his headphones on, movie playing, computer bag secured on his lap, yet another one of his many personal rules broken.
He awoke to Althea gently nudging his shoulder. “Wake up Bill. We are approaching Amsterdam!” She smiled at him and playfully added, “You look so sweet and innocent when you sleep.”
“I am sweet and innocent,” he lied, feeling a little more confident than he had earlier in their conversations. “Thank you for waking me. I need to travel a bit further after this and I need to be a little more alert. It has been quite a pleasure traveling with an Olympic athlete,” he added taking the opportunity to admire her physically once more before departing the plane.
“The pleasure was all mine,’’ she added leaving him with the impression that his gaze was welcome. “Have fun selling toys,” she said with a wink. He wasn’t sure what to think of that wink, but decided to ignore it. The flight attendant, who was now a lot less perky, interrupted again; this time for landing information. William who was fighting every impulse he had to give this woman some sort of contact information, was relieved for the intrusion.
After the plane landed without incident, Althea and William made their way out of the plane. As they were walking down the ramp, she handed him a small folded note.
“What’s this?” he asked with that feeling of an awkward schoolboy returning.
“For you. Maybe you can call me sometime. I will be in Amsterdam for the week. I might be looking for something fun to do and since you are a kid at heart, I thought maybe we could set up a play date or something,” she said her confidence brimming. “Put it in your pocket so you don’t lose it.” As his cheeks began to glow, William did as he was told.
“Will do,” he said as they stopped for a moment.
“Until then.” She walked backwards away from him holding his gaze for a moment before turning around with a small flourish. He watched the gracefulness and beauty of her form as Althea hastened her gait down the hallway. A smile spontaneously filled his face and he patted the note in his pocket. Suddenly, reality returned to his head like a flood of fluid to the brain. He looked at his watch and realized he was on a tight schedule. He needed to grab his luggage, empty a security box and make his getaway.
On the way to retrieve his bag, William began to feel uneasy. In his line of work it was always important to listen to his innermost voice. This time it was telling him that something was wrong. Using the sixth sense that had on many occasions saved him from less than favorable outcomes, he began to pay attention to his surroundings. William picked up the pace. He was keeping an eye on the people around him and there were at least four people watching him. He knew this airport well and knew where the closest exits were. As he began to walk faster, he pinpointed two gentlemen that were clearly following him. To be sure he moved over to the carousel and waited for his bag. They held back, clearly observing. Why wasn’t Althea here? Other passengers from the plane were waiting. Why wasn’t she? Why didn’t she have luggage? He reached into his pocket and removed the note. Staring at it, William began to sweat. He knew what he would find in inside. He knew what the note would say.
Instead of opening the note, William quickly dropped his shoulder down releasing his computer bag. Taking a deep breath, he unzipped the bag. Staring back at him, was a strange computer, not the one he had put in the bag. The beautiful woman sitting next to William had just stolen a wealth of information from him. He paused enough to blink twice and take a deep breath. Then he unfolded the paper. Inside was a quote that he recognized, “You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well-known everywhere in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him.”
Grinning, William put the note back in his front shirt pocket. “Moliere. How cute,” he whispered to himself and then took another deep breath. He was trying to maintain composure. He had pulled it off. His computer, full of all sorts of information, was now going exactly where he wanted it to go. The CIA would soon be following a convoluted and calculated trail that would lead about as far away from him as possible. He laughed to himself and thought that sending a gorgeous gold medal winning Olympian had really been a valiant attempt. He was almost thrown off his game.
He identified his suitcase as it traveled around the conveyer belt. The two men were still lingering. Losing them would be easy. First he grabbed his suitcase, then sauntered over to some mid-level airport security and reported the pair as suspicious. As he was retrieving his other computer out of the lock box, he watched as his two “friends” tried to keep an eye on him while negotiating with the airport officers. He had less than a minute head start, but it was all he needed for his final departure.