Another day, another bomb threat, and another suit ruined by dog hair.
It’s official, Mega. Curt thought to himself as he picked up the lint roller yet again. You’re in a rut.
That day’s mission- if it could be called a mission- brought a sense of deja vu with it. Curt Mega, and the rest of the Secret Service Canine Unit, had received a report of suspicious activity. This time it was at a train station, but the unit had been called to airports, schools, casinos, and just about every Congressman’s home. This morning the van ride smelled a little less disgusting than usual, and Curt worried he was beginning to get used to the smell of dog. Or maybe it was the fact that the window was rolled down so that Digs, the massive German Shepard assigned to Curt, could stick her head out the window.
When they reached their destination, all of the men would leash up their dogs and enter the critical site. And Curt would watch Digs put her pointy-nose to the ground and sniff up and the down the track. They didn’t find anything, which wasn’t unusual. The dogs had only detected the smell of drugs twice since Curt started there, and both times the whole unit went out to celebrate after. Curt sipped from a bourbon in the corner of the table all night, taking part in playful arguments over which dog had barked first. It was fun and yet still horribly boring.
It was this boredom that forced Curt to plan an escape route. He gave Digs an extra pat on the head before leaving her in the kennel that day. The shepard just licked his hand, unaware that it might be the last time. Curt left the kennel triumphantly, but found himself wishing he had Digs with him as he strolled into his boss’s office. He needed all the support he could get with what he was about to request.
“I want a transfer.”
Cynthia looked up, barely visible behind the cloud of smoke she’d just breathed out. “Me too, but the position was already filled by that jackass Eisenhower.”
Another one of Cynthia’s great jokes that left Curt unsure if he was supposed to laugh. He just sat down in the chair across from her and continued his plea. “I can’t do canine anymore. I’m, um, I’m allergic to dogs.”
“You’re allergic to dogs?”
“It’s been three months and you just fucking realized you’re allergic to dogs? Maybe you should stay out of the field.”
“Cynthia, I know I screwed up, and I’m sorry, but I didn’t join the secret service to do some summer dogwalking job. Do you really want me holding a leash for the rest of my career?”
Cynthia laughed humorlessly and pointed her cigarette at him. “Let’s get one thing straight, Mega. You are not holding any leash. This department change is me putting you on a leash after that Copenhagen disaster. If your buddy Carvour didn’t leave a fake German passport in his jacket, we’d be at war with all those Hans Christian Andersens. Do you understand me?”
Curt knew she wouldn’t be happy, but he was somehow never prepared for whatever Cynthia threw at him. He tried to just focus on whatever references she was making, and the intonation of her voice, like he was listening to someone talk on the radio. Then he realized whatever she said had ended in a question, and he nodded.
Maybe nodding hadn’t been the right thing to do. Cynthia took another drag of her cigarette, face still unhappy. “And yet, you’re still in my office.”
“Right, I’ll see myself out.” Curt got up and brushed more fur off his jacket, heading towards the door. But before he could put his hand on the knob, the sound of Cynthia chair’s swiveling in his direction interrupted him.
“Mega, we have been picking up signals on that first bug in Bella Manor. You clearly have the right instincts, and maybe you can handle more than just following Scooby Doo around.”
Curt let himself smile before he turned around to reply, face neutral.
Cynthia was already fishing through some documents on her desk. “So, let’s see if we can waste your talents elsewhere.” She stamped something in red ink on the top of some paper and then folded it up. “How does... paperwork sound?”
Terrible. “Sounds great.”
“Then I’ll put in your transfer request. But if you come in here in three months to tell me you’re allergic to ink, we’re gonna have a problem.”
And now, after two months of paperwork, Curt found himself in a different kind of rut. The kind of rut that makes routine maddening and any action that isn’t life-threatening like watching paint dry. His days consisted of filling out reports on other, luckier, agents and their great accomplishments. While they were blowing up buildings, he was filling in the hole they left.
But in some ways, life still remained exciting for Curt. He had a brief flirtation going with a man in the mailroom. Not just any man. Michael from the mailroom. He was loud and liked baseball and always smelled like he’d just taken a shower. Unfortunately, these were the only details Curt had been able to gather through their conversations over coffee. Yet he found himself falling anyway. He started to get hungrier, or maybe he realized how hungry he'd been this whole time, and with that hunger came boldness. One Monday he reached out and patted the other man’s hand. Not only did Michael not shrink away from the contact, the following morning he placed his hand over Curt’s and pressed down right before they parted.
Curt sat there in the break room for another few minutes, not moving his hand from the table. He stared at his own knuckles, the light brush of hair over them, the birthmark near his wrist, and wondered what was so special about this hand, that someone else had decided to touch it.
And then he thought, Holy shit, I need to get laid, and drained the rest of his coffee.
He had yet to meet that need, but other developments occurred, all of them confined to their time at work. Michael from the mailroom became Mikey from the mailroom, and babe when they had the room to themselves, and then became the fascination of Curt’s workday. Curt slipped into old habits, and began to think of the whole thing like a mission that only he had the notes for. He would shave every morning and wear a suit that had been washed enough times over to lose the smell of dog, smirking in the mirror afterwards like he’d picked out the perfect disguise. He would read the baseball section of the newspaper like it was enemy blueprints. He learned to be in the right place at the right time, to post up in the break room just after nine. Or to stand by the printer during the mail run every day.
Perhaps the element that felt the most like a mission was the high stakes. Curt had to be sneaky, because he knew his job, or even his life, was at risk. Curt didn’t consider that Michael might also recognize those stakes until the day he stopped by Curt’s desk, the usual paperwork he was passing on absent from his hands. He was uncharacteristically quiet, hands in his pockets instead of enthusiastically waving hello.
Curt took a deep breath like the ones he'd used to take before storming into a warehouse, and tried to be charming. “Something wrong, babe? Did the Mets lose again?”
“I can’t risk my job for a little bit of fun, alright?” Michael said abruptly. He stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“I just, I can’t lose this job.” Michael repeated.
“I understand.” Curt said, because he did understand, because he was living it too. He’d open his newspaper to the baseball section, but that didn’t mean he missed the headlines about mass layoffs of “suspect” government employees and the “homosexual blackmailing” that the Reds were apparently up to. It wasn’t a good time for someone to be touching his hand in public.
It was Curt’s hand unconsciously twitching at the memory of being held that snapped him back into reality. Michael was still there, and he was still talking.
“So you won’t tell anyone?”
Somehow mistrust that hurt worse than being dumped. Curt ran a hand through his hair. “Jesus, Mikey, I’m not going to-”
“And that’s just another thing, I’ve been thinking, and I think maybe you should just call me Michael from now on.”
“Okay.” Curt said. He blinked a few times and then looked back up. “Goodbye, Michael.”
“See you, Curt.”
So much for an office fling. Curt had thought. And as soon as he realized that “a fling” to him these days meant someone just touching his hand, he was already scrambling for a drink.
“I’m fine,” he assured Barb a few minutes later when she caught him drinking at his desk. And for good measure, he added, “Fuck Eisenhower.”
Barb had clanked her coffee mug against his flask. “Yeah, fuck Eisenhower!”
Curt laughed then because he knew she didn’t fully understand, and then cried later, alone, because no one could fully understand. The rejection hurt but failing his “mission” stung him deeper. Sure, Michael had been fun to talk to. But it was the moments he wasn’t there that mattered more to Curt. The space labelled “Michael” in his head that all of his negative thoughts were forced to edge around, or be kicked out all together. Now that space was just a dot, and work was boring again, and nothing mattered.
When Curt was called into Cynthia’s office the next day, the misery (or the hangover) must’ve shown on his face, because his superior immediately commented on it.
“Mega, you look dead. Is paperwork really that bad?”
“Yes.” Curt replied flatly.
“Well, you’re in luck. I might not be ready to give you a second chance, but someone across the pond is. A request for your presence in some mission overseas just came in. All the information is in here.” She tossed a manilla envelope into his lap. Curt clutched it to his chest instantly.
“Oh my god, thank you, Cynthia. Thank you-”
Cynthia blew smoke in his face and Curt recoiled. “Jesus, stop making that horrible sound.”
Curt coughed weakly. “Thanking you?”
“Yes, that. I think I’m allergic to it. Now get out of my office before I tell Her Majesty you can’t make the flight.”
Curt didn’t need to be dismissed twice. He realized while walking down the hallway that this was probably the first time he’d left Cynthia’s office with a grin on his face. Despite his relief, he was still nervous as he sat down at his desk and opened the envelope. After how this last “mission” with Michael had gone, he was clearly out of practice.
But the chance to return to what he was meant to do was intoxicating. And, he thought wistfully as he skimmed over the name Owen Carvour in the briefing, he always did work better with a partner.