Note: It's not supposed to be Kaiden from Mass Effect. I just liked the name.
"Well, we finally have your assignment, Kaiden," said Aliza.
I tried not to betray my excitement. "Where will I be going?"
"Drumroll, please....you're headed for Sydney!"
I was surprised and thrilled. Sydney! Never had I, an LA boy and an orphan to boot, dreamt I'd get assigned so far away from home. I was happy to be out of LA and even happier to be out of the States. After two weeks' training each in Miami, Montreal, and four weeks in London, respectively, I was thrilled to finally be getting my assignment.
"Thanks, Aliza. You couldn't have given me better news. Sidney, that's awesome!"
"Your flight leaves in three hours. Say goodbye to everyone, pack up your stuff, and off you go."
"Thanks again." I shook hands with her. "No, really, thanks for everything, thanks for all the help."
She beamed. "Not a problem."
I stopped by and said goodbye to Gerard, my temporary partner while I had been in London, and then stopped by the Director's office. After making my rounds, I hailed a cab outside the building to my hotel. I was back at the airport with plenty of time, and got onto what was to be one of the longest flights of my life. By the end of the 28 hr flight, I was thoroughly worn out.
I got off the plane at Sidney, finally, I hadn't been told if anyone was going to meet me or not, but I didn't worry. Having been through three offices, I knew someone would call me or make arrangements. I got my baggage and moved to the front of the terminal. And indeed, as I walked through the terminal I saw a man with a sign held up saying "Kaiden Alenko." I made my way over to him.
"Agent Alenko?" he said as I approached. I nodded.
"I'm Ted, the driver. I'm here to take you to the office. Is this all of your stuff?"
"That's it." Truthfully I didn't have much. I had spent my trainee money mostly on suits. I had started out very poor and started work with only two suits, but since then I had increased my inventory somewhat. I also owned one suit that was of substantially higher quality than the rest; that was the one I was wearing.
Together we loaded my two bags into the car, and I got into the passenger seat (the other side! I had gotten used to it in London but it still always took me a moment of mental checking. Ted drove, of course.
"So, welcome to Sidney. Ever been here before?"
I shook my head. "Hell, no. Until two months ago I'd never even been out of the States."
"Sidney's great, you'll love it." And he proceeded to actually be a pretty good tour guide, telling me of the sights of Sidney as we drove through.
The office was downtown and it was a very impressive, ultra-modern building. We pulled up into the garage.
"You can just leave your bags here, Agent Alenko. I'll get them to your hotel, you can get them there."
"Why, thank you, Ted."
"Just take the elevator up to the 8th floor. They know you're coming." I nodded, and did so, just carrying my laptop case with me.
The elevator opened on the 8th floor to a large square-ish area. In the center were cubicles and around the sides were rows of smaller offices, big enough each to put two people comfortably in. I assumed this was where the agents sat, and as I turned out, I was right.
"Hi!" I heard, and turned to see a rather attractive young woman, around my age, greeting me. "I'm Rebecca, one of the admins here. You must be Agent Alenko."
I smiled. "Please, it's Kaiden."
"All right, Kaiden. Welcome to Sidney! Boss wants to meet with you right away. I'll take that and put it in your office." She took my laptop case and set it beside her cube. "Come this way."
She walked me down the hall to one of the corner offices, which, as it turned out, were much larger than the others. Rebecca knocked on the door.
"Come in," said a rather cultured English voice from inside.
Rebecca opened the door. "Sir? Kaiden Alenko is here. From London?"
"Ah, right on time. Escort him in, Rebecca."
She smiled at me. "When you're done, just come out and see me, OK?"
"Sure, and thanks."
I went inside and shut the door behind me. I turned to see a large, very well-dressed man standing up behind a desk. He was probably twice my age, or just a little short of it.
"Kaiden!" he said. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Charles McMasters, the Director of the Sidney office."
"Nice to meet you, sir."
"Have a seat, Kaiden."
"Thank you, sir." And I sat down.
"Now, Kaiden. I've been reviewing some of your work in your training. You come highly recommended. And you also did very well in your schoolwork. I'm glad to have you here in Sidney."
"Thank you sir. I'm thrilled to be here."
"Let me tell you a little bit about how I run my office, Kaiden." And for the next twenty minutes or so, he did so, and I listened closely. If this was to by my home for a few years, I needed to learn.
Finally he wound to the end. "Lastly, Kaiden, I'm going to put you with Matt, one of our senior agents here. Matt has been with the company about fifteen years, but he has only recently transferred to Sidney. However, he's a good agent and will be able to teach you a lot."
"Sounds great, sir."
"Go on and get to work -- Rebecca will take you to meet Matt."
"Will do, Mr. McMasters."
He grinned. "Oh, and Kaiden? It's Charles."
"Thank you, Charles."
I headed out and was instantly intercepted by Rebecca. "This way, Kaiden."
Following her down the hall, I was taken to one of the side offices. Currently it was empty, but there were signs that the other desk was occupied. The chair was pushed back, and there was a half-empty coffee cup on the desk, as well as a notepad with some scribbles on it.
"This is Matt's office. You'll be moving into here. Make yourself comfortable. Matt should be back soon."
"Thanks, Rebecca." I took my seat, setting down my laptop. I turned on the PC, and when it booted up, signed on to my account. Checking my e-mail, I found my friends in London had sent me a e-mail. I responded to them.
"Hello, Kaiden," I heard from the doorway. It was an American voice, very dry and laid-back. I turned and stood to see my new partner.
Matthew was probably in his late thirties, well-dressed, but with a sort of casual air about him, as if he had just tossed his clothes on. He had somewhat weary dark eyes and dark hair but an honest smile.
"Hi. You must be Matt," I said, extending my hand to shake. He took it and shook it firmly.
"Welcome aboard. Let's get right to work."
THREE MONTHS LATER
Matt and I were flying home on the plane together, tired from our weekend of escort duty. Truthfully it had been rather fun, since the lady we were escorting and her associate cared little for propriety and refused to let us sit and simply guard them. Instead, we were expected to dance with them, and party with them, eat meals with them, etc. But of course that was partly what had made us so tired.
Carmella, the lady's assistant and secretary, had taken a very strong liking to me, and Aria, the lady, was clearly head over heels in love with Matt. They had known each other for a long time. Matt wasn't so easily swayed, though, and I was very much aware that I was on the job and my performance was being evaluated. So as strong as Carmella had come onto me, and as much as I had wanted it, I resisted.
Now we both sat, in our own thoughts. Matt was the first to break the silence; he must have been thinking of the same thing.
"I'm really surprised you didn't give in to Carmella."
I chuckled. "Yeah, well, I was tempted."
"So why didn't you?"
I glanced at him. "We were working. Besides, you're my partner, but I'm still new and I know you're also supposed to give a report on me to the Director. I don't need the phrase 'can't keep his dick in his pants' on my permanent file."
He laughed, but didn't say anything.
"I notice you're not denying it. Besides, what about you? I could have sworn Aria was going to drag you into bed. What is up with you two anyway?"
He shrugged. "She and I go way back."
"I'm surprised you two aren't an item."
"Not really sure about it -- she's a great girl and all but..."
"I get it. Never mind."
Matt had been married before and it had ended in a bitter divorce, I knew. Our jobs took most of our time, and outside relationships rarely worked for long. I didn't know much about her but I knew he'd grown up with her, sort of childhood sweethearts. They had been married five years and he'd now been divorced for five years and from what I heard the divorce had been beyond acrimonious. I guessed this was a big part of why he didn't succumb to Aria -- caution and wariness.
"What about you?" he said. "I don't exactly see you getting into any relationships. Hell, I don't even see you chasing women."
I hesitated before answering. Matt and I were still getting to know each other -- we'd only been working together three months, though those three months had done a lot to cement our friendship already -- but I instinctively took a long, long time to trust anyone.
"I don't know. I mean, I chased, and caught my share of girls in college, but I just don't seem to have the time or the inclination these days."
"Really?" he said with raised eyebrow.
"Yes, really. Not everyone is in life for the chicks, you know."
He rolled his eyes. "Not what I meant."
"I know, I was just kidding." I paused. "If I tell you the truth...well, it's just too much trouble, honestly, to maintain any kind of a relationship."
"Well, you maintain a relationship with me. Granted, it's a different kind of relationship, but still. And your coworkers...?"
"That's different." I grinned. "Even the boss is lower-maintenance than most women."
"True!" he laughed. "I guess I can see your point."
"I'm not really one for the casual sex, I guess."
"What about a long-term relationship?"
I shrugged. "What's that? Never had one. Never felt inclined to try."
"Honestly, maybe you just haven't found the right person."
I shrugged. "Possibly. Oh, look, we're arriving."
The plane landed on the tarmac at Sydney. We gathered our one bag each, and our suit hangers, and headed out into the bright sun of Australia. It'd been nice to visit Tokyo for a day or two, but it was nicer to be back home.
"What are you doing for dinner?" I asked.
"Don't know, probably take-out. You?"
"Want to go to Tattersall's?" Tattersall's was my favorite club, and we often went there late at night -- they were open day and night, 24/7.
"Sure. Let me go home and get changed, and I'll meet you there -- say around 10 PM?"
It was shortly after 8 now, and I nodded. "Of course."
I also headed home. I had put a down payment on a home on the beach, way beyond my means, but I rarely spent money on anything else and was determined to live in the manner I liked. I had faith in my youth -- I was only twenty-five -- and my ability to work for a good long time and make the money I needed.
As I showered and unpacked my bags, I reflected on what Matt had said about not finding the right person. He was closer to the right track than he thought. It wasn't that I hadn't found the right person so much, though, as that I wouldn't let them find me. I was so careful with even the least of my emotions that girls looking for more than sex were turned off -- they only found a cold and distant man, not willing to give anything of myself. And truth be told, I liked it that way.
I had grown up an orphan on the streets of LA. I had lived in an orphanage, and a fairly good one as they go, most of my life, but the experiences of my youth had indelibly stamped my soul and I really never trusted anyone but one person, a local pastor who had been very kind to me, the way pastors are really supposed to be. It was he who had helped me with my scholarship and college loan applications, and it was because of him I had been able to qualify for the position I was currently in -- an international government investigator. I, and Matt, worked for a coalition of governments. More than that is unimportant for this story, but my grades had been such that I was aggressively recruited, and I had never thought of going anywhere else.
The first person I had begun to put my faith in had been Matt, and that was difficult for me even though I knew it was necessary. I knew one needed to trust their partner, and moreover, I really wanted to. So, Matt and I had become close friends, as close of friends as I could have ever hoped for. Sometimes I was afraid of him finding out how much he had come to mean to me. He was my first real friend, and that at age 25, as corny as that sounded.
All that went through my head as I changed into slacks and a loose button-down shirt. Tattersall's was not a place where you ever went dressed casually in jeans, and I rather liked that. It was all part of my campaign to make myself over into a gentleman. I wanted people to look at me and never ever be able to see where I came from.
I got back in the Mureno and drove out to Tattersall's. It was only a ten-minute drive at this late hour, and arrived around 9:30 or so.
Going inside, I waved to the bartender. "Hey, Jimmy, how's it going?"
"Good to see you, Kaiden." He waved back. Many was the late night I had spent here, nursing a glass of wine and working on learning a new language (my degree was in linguistics, and I always tried to improve) or even just sitting and watching the park out the window.
I took my customary seat by the window. When the single waitress came over, I smiled at her. "Hi, Carol. How are you tonight?"
"Oh, I'm fine, Mr. Alenko. Yourself?"
"Very well, thank you."
"What can I get you?"
"I'll take a glass of the burgundy, but I've got a friend coming, so I'll hold off on the order for now, all right, Carol?"
"Sounds good, Mr. Alenko. Just signal when you're ready."
I sat back, relaxing, looking out the window. The pianist was playing a soft, moody tune, as was the norm here, and I began to feel Tattersall's working its magic on me. I came here because it felt more like home than any place, ever, in my entire life. When I came here, I dropped my guard, and became more like myself, the true me, that I rarely let show. And funny enough, I didn't mind, even afterward, that I had done so.
Carol brought back my wine and I swirled it lazily in the glass. I had been stationed in London for a week before I came here, and my temporary partner there, Gerard, had taught me a bit about fine wines and how to savor them. I wasn't anywhere near his level of knowledge, but I rarely drank beer, and I found wine to be much more palatable.
I waited around twenty minutes before Matt came striding in. My seat had a commanding view of the whole downstairs floor of Tattersall's, and I saw him before he saw me. I had a chance to get a good look at him.
He was dressed in a sportscoat and casual slacks, showered and cleaned and freshly shaved even. He was a handsome guy, and I reflected that Aria probably would have preferred to spend the evening with him tonight. Oh well.
Matt was about eleven years older than me, and had been with the Agency for fifteen years. He had started right out of a four-year college, as opposed to me, who had done some graduate work and obtained a master's degree before I joined. On his face I could sometimes see the years reflected. I had guessed about his ex-wife before anyone had ever told me. He'd been shocked, and he'd laughed wryly when I told him it was more or less stamped on his face. I was good at reading faces, perhaps from schooling mine so often.
He saw me, and raised a hand in greeting. I gave a small gesture to Carol, who nodded, and began making preparations to come to us.
Matt sat down in front of me.
"Hey, man, hope you haven't been waiting too long."
I shook my head. "No big deal, don't worry about it."
He rolled his eyes. "Aria called. She wanted to make sure I got back in all right."
"Man, she really has a thing for you, huh?"
"Well, I guess you're lucky."
"What do you mean, you guess?" Just then, Carol came over, and we placed our dinner orders.
"I'll just take the house special, whatever it is, sweetheart," I smiled. She returned the smile with one of her own. "As you wish, Mr. Alenko. Mr. Paxton?"
"Hmm. I think I'll try the shrimp and sirloin combo, Carol. Make the steak medium."
"Sure thing -- I'll let Jimmy know, gentlemen." She whisked away and was back with Matt's drink and my refill. She wrote nothing down, never did, and in three months of my coming here, had never made a mistake in my presence.
"So." Matt sat back. "You were about to explain your comment."
"Which comment was that?"
"The 'I guess you're lucky' comment."
I mused. "Well, please don't take it the wrong way. Aria is a lovely, beautiful girl, and any man would be happy to have her. It's just that..."
"You're not any man."
"Yeah, something like that. Not that she's pursuing me anyway! But you know, I kind of pick on you to give in and date her, but honestly, I kind of sympathize with you, too. If a woman chased me that aggressively, I'd run for the hills."
He chuckled. "Yeah, I've noticed that about you."
I shrugged. "I have a problem with...intimacy."
"Really?! No way!" He pretended to be shocked and I rolled my eyes at him.
The food came then, and we sat and ate and talked for other things for a few minutes. Afterward, I suggested some pool. On the second floor Tattersall's had a sort of lounge, with pool tables and a reading area. We headed up. I waved to Jimmy -- he knew I always paid on the way out, and besides, he had my credit card on file. The few times I walked out without paying, I had left instructions for him to charge it and to always take a 20% tip. Tattersall's was well worth it.
Upstairs we easily found an empty table. That was another thing about Tattersall's - it was never crowded. It was one of those places you wondered how it stayed in business.
Matt was a bit of a pool shark, and the very first time we had ever played, he had taken me for twenty bucks. Now I refused to bet against him, but I still played against him as often as I could. I was competitive and ambitious to a fault, and while I endeavored not to be a sore loser, I still wanted to win.
I laughed at some joke or other that he said, and he looked at me funny. "What?" I said.
"Come on, tell me what. Don't act like a woman."
He grinned, shaking his head. "Just...you act so differently here. I mean, you're laughing. You never laugh at work. Here...you're almost normal."
"Thanks," I said sarcastically.
"No, I mean it. You're relaxed. And laid-back."
I sighed. "I know. I like it here a lot. If they had an apartment, I might almost consider moving in, except I like my house so much."
He smiled. "I might not mind. You're way more likable here."
He beat me in the game of pool, as he always did. I wasn't hoping to beat him yet, but improve to the point where I had a hope of it.
"Well, we can go in late tomorrow. I guess we should call it a night."
He considered. "I'm not ready to yet. How about a beer, or sorry, something like it? Come on over to my condo."
"Sure, I'd love that. I'll follow you home."
I stopped by Jimmy on the way and paid my debt, and, waving goodbye to Carol, headed out. I followed Matt to his house. On the way I stopped and picked up a case of Sam Adams -- I knew that's what he liked, and it was palatable to me, too.
I pulled up at his condo. I had been here once or twice before, though not often. Once a suspect had broken into my house and come after me -- I had dealt with him, but he had smashed two windows and I crashed at his house on the couch for the night, since the alarm system was useless until the company repaired it the next day. Another time was much less dramatic - we had stopped by briefly after a case.