Laura is the face in the misty lights
Footsteps that you hear down the hall
The laugh that flows on a summer night
That you can never quite recall
And you see Laura
On the train that is passing through
Those eyes, how familiar they seem
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura, but she's only a dream
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura, but she's only a dream.
Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
I knew Laura Bristow
He met her during a charity gala at the Smithsonian.
Jack’s assignment was to check in with one of his contacts, a low-level communications specialist at the Russian Embassy. Putting on a tuxedo to attend a party with a female operative on his arm was no great hardship. Evelyn Shields looked more than presentable in a loaner dress from the Agency and managed to waltz without stepping on his feet.
The debrief went smoothly enough. Mischa was full of gossip about who was in, out, up and down in the increasingly paranoid circles of power at the Kremlin. Jack intuitively filtered out most of it as self-serving garbage, but there was always the possibility that one or two nuggets might prove of use.
Once business had been taken care of, Evelyn begged off. She had a two-year-old at home and claimed that the shoes were killing her feet. Jack let her go with a smile, but noted that she didn’t have much future as a field agent if she couldn’t handle a pair of high heels. He lingered at the edge of the festivities with no reason to stay, but nothing to go home to either.
He went out for a smoke on the balcony. The lights of DC shimmered in the warm night air. Jack had seen all the great capitals of the world, but the sight of the Washington Monument by moonlight never failed to move him both esthetically and patriotically.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Jack turned around, prepared to endure a few minutes of small talk about L’enfante and why there was no J Street in Washington with some political matron who’d been temporarily abandoned by her glad-handing husband.
The woman was nearly as tall as he was. Even taking high heels into account, that meant at least six feet. She wore an off-the-shoulder green ball gown that emphasized her elegant neck. Long, brown hair cascaded down her back, which immediately set her apart from a roomful of elaborate hairdos.
Later on there would be time to mentally catalogue every detail, from the amused curve of her lips, to the prominent cheekbones, and the perfume that he’d never be able to forget, but what caught him off-guard was the fierce intelligence of those eyes.
“Cigarette?” he offered, assuming she would say no. There were rumors at Langley that it would soon be banned in all the government buildings. He knew it wasn’t healthy, but of all the vices available to a man in his position, an occasional Camel was the least dangerous.
“Thanks,” she said, with a smile that wasn’t the least bit coy. “That’s the problem with these dresses. No place to put anything.” Her voice was a dark and sultry as the night itself, drawing his eyes to the dress in question and more specifically all the places it clung to her body leaving little to the imagination. Taking a cigarette out of the case gave him a cover for the sharp intake of breath.
“I shouldn’t do it,” she continued with a lilt that Jack could only define as “naughty”. He handed her the cigarette and lit his Zippo while she held it between long, graceful fingers. “Bad example for the students.”
Jack tried to imagine those hands with their shiny, red nails, writing words on a chalk board in front a roomful of screaming brats. The disconnect must have shown on his face.
“I teach literature at Georgetown.”
He nodded, the schoolroom image changing to a lecture hall full of dissolute looking teenagers.
Everything about her exuded sensuality, from her luxuriant smoking to the way she moved in his arms on the dance floor as they exchanged names and Jack told Laura his well practiced lies about the exciting world of airplane part sales.
I loved Laura Bristow.
The next morning he provided his written report of Mischa’s intel, such as it was, and asked Arvin to initiate a background check on a college professor named Laura Roberts.
“Who is she Jack? You know the universities are rife with fellow travelers.”
Jack believed in the ideological struggle again the Soviet Union as strongly as anybody, but he already knew the battle was winding down. He hadn’t heard the phrase “fellow traveler” in years.
“A woman I met.”
Arvin’s eyebrows were eloquent in their curiosity. Jack kept his professional mask in place and allowed only the ghost of a smile to touch his lips.
“I’m thinking of asking her out and I want to go through proper channels. “
“This is wonderful news Jack, wonderful news indeed.”
Of course it was. Arvin and Emily acted as though his single status was an affront to God and these great United States. They’d wasted his time and that of several perfectly nice girls trying to play matchmaker.
“I’ll make sure this receives the highest priority. “
“Thanks, Arvin. I appreciate that.”
Arvin was as good as his word, producing a dossier 48 hours later, giving Laura Roberts a clean bill of legal and political health. Jack showed up at the back of her Coming Of Age Theme in World Literature Seminar with a bouquet to ask her out on their first date. The class started whistling and applauding. Laura burst into the most delicious giggles and agreed to have lunch with him.
Afternoon stretched into evening, which inevitably led to his apartment where he pulled her towards him, barely able to wait until he’d secured the locks to have his arms around her. He’d known and cared for many women, but the first time he kissed Laura changed everything. Her hands held his face; her mouth opened to him. So much passion and trust, while he was already betraying her with the lies he told on a daily basis.
Before he could make love to Laura, he wanted to tell her the truth, some version of it anyway.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Jack had broken the kiss long enough to formulate words, giving her the opportunity to unbutton his jacket.
“Are you going to tell me you're married?” she joked, moving on to his shirt buttons, seemingly amused and frustrated to find another layer of clothing underneath.
He held her hands firmly in his, determined that he would disrobe at his own pace once his said what he had to say.
“No. I’m not married. It’s just that…” How could he tell something he’d never needed or wanted to tell any woman. So much hung in the balance. “I…don’t… sell airplane parts.”
He waited patiently, wondering if he’d lost her with the first attempt to tell the truth.
“Thank god,” she sighed, freeing her hands so she could pull Jack’s shirt out from his waistband and start kissing his chest. “I was wondering how the hell we were going to talk about that for the next thirty years.”
They were married a month later.
I mourned Laura Bristow.
None of it seemed real. The police telling him about the accident. The fact that his wife was never coming home. Soon it seemed unbelievable that she had even been there at all. He’d remember bits of conversation or her laughter and think it must have been an illusion. If it never happened, then it couldn’t hurt so much.
He didn’t know when the drinking started or if it was ever going to stop, but it was another way to forget that her footsteps were never coming down another hall.
Being taken to jail was almost a relief. He could be alone with his sorrow and not inflict it on Sydney.
During the hearing, he found out who Laura was and what she had done. He’d been a dupe, and because of it good agents were dead. It felt like someone had branded him with a red-hot iron of guilt.
One by one, every emotion left him. The man who came out of prison felt nothing. There was no love, hate, fear, anger or jealousy. He was the perfect agent to work at SD6 and the perfect double agent to take their secrets back to the CIA because he didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything, especially himself.
No wonder Arvin had recruited Syd into SD-6. It was brilliant tactical maneuver, giving him leverage over his “friend” with the one person still capable of touching him on an emotional level, even if she didn’t know it.
He’d played the distant father for so many years, it was a shock to realize how much he still cared. He wanted to reach out, but it was too late. He could tell her the truth, save her from Sloane’s thugs, offer to get her out of the country, but he couldn’t repair the relationship.
Irina Derevko had taken so much from him, but the one thing beyond forgiveness was making him the man who’d lost the love of his daughter. Seeing her again was one of the most painful things he’d ever experienced, including torture on both sides of the electrodes.
She looked just as beautiful. Moved in her cell as though she had a whole dance floor to herself and smiled at him like she could make him fall in love all over again. Maybe she was right. Just looking at her made him feel…it almost didn’t matter what it was, just the fact that he felt anything in her presence was dangerous. He had to keep reminding himself that his wife had died in a car crash. This woman was a vicious killer who would do or say anything to save herself, whether it was playing on his feelings or Syd’s longing for the mother she’d never known.
Jack would kill Irina before he’d let her hurt Sydney again, but even as he planned her demise, he couldn’t help seeing Laura.
…But she’s only a dream…