An entry into the challenge “That Sunshine Smile.” It could be there for many reasons.


To Live With One’s Self


By K. Corris



Lee locked the door behind him, and let out a long sigh as he dropped his overnight bag on the floor.  It was a successful ONI mission, and he was none the worse for wear.  Just tired, and he wanted a shower and a bite to eat.  Opening his freezer door, he grabbed one of the frozen dinners he kept there only for times like this.  After setting the timer on his microwave, he picked up his bag and threw it on the bed. He stripped naked and walked into his bathroom and the shower.  Ah, that hot water streaming down his body sure felt terrific.  He was glad he had taken Chip’s advice and invested in that massage showerhead.


When he was done toweling off and running a brush through his dark wet curls, he threw on shorts and a shirt, grabbed his dinner, a fork, and a cold beer, and headed out to his deck.  He didn’t pay much attention to what he was eating, he just wanted to try and relax. Sleep would come later.


It hadn’t been a particularly dangerous mission, but he kept his guard up just the same.  Got the evidence and got out quickly, no problems.  But that wasn’t the part of the mission that was bothering him.   It was what he had seen, and what, if anything, he should do about it that was on his mind. He had immediately given a quick verbal report of the mission as soon as it was completed, but still had the lengthier and more detailed written report to do. Should he include it?   


You didn’t usually get too friendly with your other ‘colleagues’ in this business, but you certainly did remember them if you were both involved in the same mission.  Lee had been assigned to this one alone, and so was surprised to find another former agent, Mark Waters, already ‘involved’.  They had worked together several years ago.  Lee had been sent in to find Waters after he disappeared on a mission, and had been able to find and free him from where he was being held.  They then successfully completed the mission.  In the brief time they had worked together, Lee had considered him a competent and loyal ONI field operative. He was surprised to hear a year later that Mark had left ONI, and it was rumored but not verified that he was now working for the CIA.


This time, Lee had been ordered to stake out a warehouse that calls from the cell phone of a Navy lieutenant had been traced to.  The logistics lieutenant was suspected of collaborating with another person to arrange to have yet another shipment of missing arms diverted somewhere to be sold to terrorists.  Lee had been assigned to find out if the missing shipment was in this warehouse so it could be tracked.  But during his surveillance, concealed in the bushes across the way, he was surprised to see Mark Waters enter the warehouse.   At least he was reasonably sure it was Mark, even if it had been a few years since he had seen him.


He had intended to stay hidden there observing until dark, and then see if he could break into the warehouse. But his curiosity eventually got the better of him.  Lee stealthily crept across the road to the back of the warehouse.  The windows in the back were a little too high up, but after stacking up a few broken skids he was able to peek in.  He couldn’t see any people, but there sure were a lot of crates stashed in there, and just the right size to pack automatic rifles in.  Using his cell phone camera, he took several shots.  He worried being so near the back door, so he quickly got down and went around to the side.  The windows were the same height here, but one was open and he could hear men talking and he could smell cigarette smoke.  There was a light on too, so he figured this was an office of some kind.  They were arguing over a price but didn’t discuss any merchandise. He could hear four separate male voices, two Americans and two speaking heavily accented English.  Lee quickly pushed a button on his cell phone and the conversation was immediately transmitted to a recorder at ONI. He thought he recognized Mark’s voice, and the words of the other American led him to believe it was the Navy lieutenant.  Mark wasn’t saying much, and Lee couldn’t figure out which side he was on.  Was he working undercover for the CIA, or had he turned double agent?  Or was he in league with the lieutenant or the foreigners for another reason?


Lee couldn’t see in the window, so he just held his arm up and aimed his cell phone up towards the window and the voices and snapped several pictures from different angles.  Afraid he may have been seen or heard, he quickly made a dash around to the back and into the woods there.  He found a tall sturdy oak tree near the edge and climbed up onto a lower limb.  He had a good yet camouflaged view of the back door from here, but no one came out looking for him.  He waited there, hoping the meeting would break up before it got too dark for him to see clearly or to take any more pictures.  The flash would surely give him away.   Soon, three of the men, both of the Americans and one of the foreigners came out.  They stood near the back door, exchanging handshakes.  Someone said something funny, and while all three threw their heads back laughing, Lee saw his chance to get a couple of good shots.  No one saw the flash.  Lee waited for a while after they left, but the fourth man never came out. 


Lee’s orders were specific.  Get the proof and get out. ONI didn’t want the transaction stopped, just documented.  They were after bigger fish.  Was Mark one of them? 


Lee took another swig of his beer, and leaned his head back against the deck chair and closed his eyes. He mentally went through everything he had seen and heard again, for the hundredth time.  Of course he would mention the fourth man in his report, he had to. But to even suggest it might be Mark, to possibly ruin a good man’s reputation with speculation?  He knew how this game was played, and what the consequences to even an innocent man would be. And he wasn’t 100% sure it was him.  He knew that even the mildest inference of the possibility it was him would ruin Mark’s future and his career.  He’d be branded a traitor.  And Mark had a family that would share that shame.  But he had certainly seen agents turn before, and this could be the missing piece ONI needed to blow this smuggling operation out into the open.  Lee wanted what every other red blooded and patriotic American wanted, all acts of terrorism stopped at any cost.  But what if Mark was trying to do exactly that, but from a different angle?


He went over his orders again. Finding the shipment so it could be tracked was the basic goal.  Finding and documenting the lieutenant there with it was icing on the cake. What to do, what to do.  He thought of calling Admiral Nelson for his advice, and then decided against it.  The fewer people who knew about this the better, especially if he made the wrong decision.  And he knew what the Admiral would tell him anyway.  Spill the beans and let the pieces fall where they many, and stop worrying about it.  Just do your duty and be done with it, don’t look back. But something about doing that this time just didn’t feel right to Lee.  Suddenly, he had an idea.


While he had transmitted the pictures directly to ONI, they were also still on his cell phone. He downloaded them to his computer and enlarged and clarified them.

He studied them all carefully, almost down to the last pixel.  The man certainly bore a close resemblance to Mark, but he was no longer too sure it was him.  There was no way to study the voice recordings, they weren’t recorded on his phone, and he had nothing to compare them to anyway.   Lee sat back, still wondering what to do.  But in his heart, he already knew.  He had always known.


He finally wrote his report, leaving out any of his suspicions and just including the hard facts. Let the ONI analysts come up with their own conclusions and verify CIA involvement if they believed it was Mark.  He’d followed his orders, to a T.  He signed and faxed it over to ONI on his secure line.


Lee grabbed another beer and headed back out to his deck, feeling a huge weight being lifted from his shoulders.  He leaned back in his chair and sighed, and only then did he truly begin to relax.  He was momentarily startled by a beautiful sea gull landing on the deck railing next to him.  The bird looked right at him, cocked its head, and actually winked at Lee before he took off and soared away into the blue sky. Lee laughed and couldn’t help but feel it had been an affirmative sign of some kind. His face lit up with that beautiful sunshine smile of his.  May be he hadn’t done the right thing by ONI standards, but he had done what he felt was right, and done the only thing he could live with.   


The End

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