Good job, Don had said. But I’m not so sure it was. There’s no second chances when I’m responsible for other people’s lives like that.
Looking at the half-empty bottle I’m holding, I can see there’s a corner of the label that’s wrinkled just enough for me to get my thumbnail underneath and start easing it away from the cold glass. The paper’s damp with condensation and comes away without much of a fight.
We’ve been sitting in my living room for maybe five minutes and Colby’s said nothing since I gave him a beer from the fridge. He’s good at that, sometimes. Other time it’s like he can’t help himself and he’s got to share every smartass comment that crosses his mind.
I’ve hit a patch of label that’s not going to come loose, no matter how hard I try. It sticks to the bottle like it’s superglued on, and all I’m doing is getting little bits of wrinkled wet paper on my pants. I give up.
“Hell of a day, man.” I sound about as tired as I feel.
Colby’s doing that thing where he just nods. He does it all the time when he’s listening to Charlie. I still can’t tell if it’s because he’s agreeing with what he’s hearing or if it’s his way of encouraging Charlie to just get to the end already, to the bit where it all starts to make sense.
“I don’t want to do that again.”
I didn’t even know I was going to say it till it was out there, but that’s okay; Colby’s still looking at the bottle he’s rolling between his hands as he asks, “Do what again?”
“Be responsible for Liz’s life – anyone’s life – in that way.”
“Which is why you’ll be good at it,” he says, eyes coming up to meet mine briefly before going back to staring at whatever is so fascinating about that damn bottle of beer.
Some days that drawl of his just gets under my skin. Specially when I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
“Because you worry,” he says in response to the glare he knows I’m sending his way, despite not looking at me. “It’s when a handler doesn’t worry about his asset that things go bad.”
His face twists slightly, so fast I almost miss it.
“That happen to you?” I ask.
“Look, David, you did good,” he says, as if I hadn’t said anything. “You kept Liz safe, and we got Pritchard. Any undercover op you can walk away from is a win. And next time you’ll do better.”
“But what if I don’t?”
It’s out before I can think, and that’s it, that’s what’s got me so worried. Not just that it nearly went wrong this time but that I didn’t know how to stop it going bad. If it happened again, I wouldn’t know what to do differently, except I wouldn’t let it go so far in the first place.
He’s looking at me now. “You telling me you did some driver’s ed theory and all of a sudden you knew how to drive a car?”
“That’s different – “
“It’s not,” Colby says. “You’ve still gotta learn. This was tough because Liz was learning too. Next time might be easier or it might not, but you’ll figure it out.”
I can feel my own head doing that Colby-nod thing while I work through what he’s saying.
“Yeah, or maybe you won’t, because your driving still sucks.”
Doesn’t mean he’s wrong about the rest, though. I’d forgotten how out of my depth I felt on my very first op because it didn’t go according to the textbook. These days, I can’t believe I ever expected it to. I guess this was no different from that, really; it was just a different sort of op.
I give him a quick salute with the bottle in my hand before taking a long cold drink. He doesn’t give much away, like always, but I think he’s pleased he’s finally gotten through to me because he raises his bottle briefly to me in return.
Or maybe he’s just hinting.
“Seems like mine’s empty,” he says in mournful surprise, and right now I’m just too damn grateful I’ve got him as my partner to kick his ass the way he deserves.
“There’s more in the fridge,” I tell him, and as he heads off in search, I find myself relaxing properly for the first time in days. I guess I didn’t do so badly after all.