Now, before my first tour abroad, I wanted to say good-bye to Professor Lang. I hadnt spoken to him since that lunch, although Id seen him on TV and read about him in the papers quite frequently over the previous year. Lang had been in great demand since September 11, because it was easy to spin his no- nonsense view of the worlds dangers as somehow predictive of the events to come.
I met him in his office, which I was upset about after coming all the way from D.C. We chatted about world events and drank tea from a small samovar. The Lang I had known had a certain joie de vivre and a cutting sense of humor. These traits had apparently disappeared. He had a slightly wild look in his eyes now, as if hed come a bit unmoored. He spoke as if everything hed ever said had been vindicated, and he came off as pompous. But his considerable charisma was still there, and somehow it was even enhanced by his new sourness.
Eventually, Lang got quiet, and I said, "I wanted to say goodbye, because Im about to go abroad on my first tour with the ."
"You decided not to go into intelligence?" he said.
"It didnt seem quite right for me."
He looked down at his tea. At first, I couldnt believe hed accepted my cover so easily. Then I decided he knew perfectly well what the truth was, but he understood the proper response was to play dumb. This almost professional attitude made me wonder if he did have some connection to the Agency after all.
The final few weeks before my PCS (permanent change of station)
to involved packing, shipping my car and house hold goods
overseas, and dealing with various other logistical matters. Officers on
their way abroad usually checked into a hotel for the last week or two
before they left, since their apartments were packed up or leased out by
then. But I moved into Williams house. William and I drove to Headquarters together every morning, and he used the car rides to give me
last-minute pieces of advice on everything from tradecraft to dealing
with the slightly difficult woman who was going to be my COS.
Williams wife offered to make a big breakfast for anyone I wanted to have over on my last morning. My friends Suzette and Danny from my training class came, and an older officer I worked with on the desk named Finn. I didnt invite Lenny, my college roommate who was also living in D.C. at the time. Lenny, like some of my other old friends, refused to believe my cover and constantly insisted that I worked at the CIA. This would have been too awkward around my Agency friends, who would have felt like their own covers were being jeopardized.
After the breakfast, William drove me to Dulles. He parked in an airline-employees-only lot close to the terminal, flashing an ID at the guard. He flashed the ID again at security and went with me to the gate. Instead of saying anything when we got there, he squeezed my shoulder, nodded, and walked away.
I slept on and off during the first part of the flight, then woke up with a jolt when we touched down in . During the second leg, my mouth was dry and I couldnt get back to sleep. I checked my watch over and over again. It felt like entire days were passing. When we finally arrived in , I was disoriented and not as alert as I wanted to be.
An Agency admin officer named Phil met me at the gate and hustled me past customs with a wave to an army officer. The half- airconditioned airport terminal was sticky and suffocating, but nothing compared to what hit me when we walked outside. It felt like diving into a pool of heat. My clothes were soaked by the end of the ten second walk to the car.
Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury USA.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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