The pilots ducked into the jet, smiled, gave a brief hello, and crouched into their own seats in the cockpit. There was no door or screen separating them from the passengers, but they still came over the intercom system to announce instructions. “Good afternoon and welcome to your flight to the beautiful Mediterranean, the home of the Parthenon and Plato; Greece. Our time in the air will be around twelve hours so I recommend getting plenty of rest as we chase the past.”
'Greece?' thought Chris. He wanted to ask, but as soon as the pilot's brief speech ended Klaus pushed his head back and closed his eyes, Johnykin slipped on headphones, and Frank opened up a laptop. It was for the best. They wouldn't have answered, anyways.
They were in the air almost as fast as they had boarded the plane; another benefit of private aircrafts. The turbines hummed smoothly, Chris was ignored, and even with his previous nap Chris was out after watching the sky pass by for less than thirty minutes.
Chris remembered waking up once to awkwardly use the bathroom that was a door just behind his own seat and then stumbling back. It was pitch black outside the windows and everyone was out so he did the same when he sat down again.
The next stretch of sleep was marred by nightmares. Falling off rooftops, bullets zooming overhead, death. All his worries brought into a visual fright with no ending except a punch in the arm.
Frank woke him up. It was still dark. “Eat something. We'll be landing soon.”
“Already? I slept that long?”
“Eat,” said Frank again.
“What are you serving? Chicken or fish?” asked Chris.
Frank just pointed to Chris's bag. He’d forgotten about the mysterious pre-packed bag with supposedly food and who knows what else waiting inside. Chris unzipped it. On top was a laptop identical to the one Frank still had out in front of him. Also clothes, his Super suit, and to the side a plastic bag full of pretzels, granola bars, an apple, two bottled waters, and a turkey and cheese sandwich.
After the mystery was solved, Chris looked up to see what the other half was up to. Johnykin and Klaus quietly finished their nutritious meals with full ignore mode on. Then the pilot spoke again, “We're starting the descent. Please stay seated and fasten those safety belts.”
Chris gobbled down his sandwich and jumped on the pretzels as the plane began to lean to the left and nose down.
They left Athens International Airport as quickly as they did SFO. Another customs agent with a pen hardly made them pause on their way to a new, but identical black SUV. Their driver didn't say a thing after a quick, “Welcome to Greece,” and sped them out onto the connecting highway.
Chris wasn't sure what to expect looking out the window, little cottage houses, marble pillars, elegant water fountains. These weren’t real expectations he realized, just clips from movies of an imaginary ancient place. The highway resembled many he drove on back in California. Industrial buildings sporadically popped up, but mostly it was agriculture or land waiting to be developed into something more.
Chris could also tell from the passing scenery that their general direction was north. A border patrol posed only the slightest slow down before more commercial buildings sprouted up on the sides. Eventually they hit the first distinctive town, Oinofyta, and were just as quickly passing it. Another similar town came up, but with nothing new to add. The same highway continued on and on. The only new revelation was a lake. Chris imagined the beaches and relaxing; the way he should be seeing Greece for the first time.
The somewhat varied scenery didn't last and soon more agricultural fields streaked past the windows. Chris told himself to stay awake and take in the new experience, but the monotony won out and he was still exhausted. Compounded with the silence of his fellow passengers, Chris dozed off.
Chris didn’t need a punch in the arm to wake up this time. Saltwater air cleansed his sinuses along with a violent sneeze. Johnykin whispered, “Bless you,” while continuing to gaze out on to Alexandroupolis.
Off the main freeway, the low speed limit gave them an easy view of the streets. Mopeds puttered in every direction or were parked up on sidewalks at small shops. Beyond the Greek mixed with small amounts of English peppering the buildings and signs, to Chris it felt like a slightly more glamorous Monterey.
Soon the driver brought them along to a street looking out over a harbor. Small personal boats crowded the water space, but before they could get in a good look the SUV stopped.
Chris tried to peer around Johnykin to see their destination. All he could make out were glass doors on a simple concrete building that could belong anywhere.
Klaus stepped out first and the rest of them followed eagerly to stretch their legs even for the short distance to the hotel lobby. Chris looked up into the afternoon sun to barely make out the rest of the structure. A few balconies wrapped around the concrete on the upper levels and a sign read ‘Hotel Erika.’ Nothing fit the exotic forms in his imagination. The driver hurried along in front. He spoke to the receptionist in Greek to speed up the process and then directed them to their rooms.
Four keys for two rooms, the driver handed a pair to Klaus and Johnykin and the other pair to Chris and Frank. Klaus and Frank led the way into the neighboring rooms and Johnykin and Chris followed inside. The room was modernly furnished; a flat screen TV, earthy tones, brushed metal fixtures, and thankfully two beds. Frank tossed his bag on the bed closest to the door, then flipped on the TV and surfed for sports.
Chris had enough of the waiting game. “What are we doing here? I mean, no one has said anything and last I checked this is not Syria.”
“Are you serious?” said Frank. “Do something for yourself. Why are you still expecting someone to just come up to you and tell you everything? I don’t give a shit if you’re quitting or not, but you need to do your job still. You want someone to take care of you like a baby. It’s fucking ridiculous.”
“I don’t want to be treated like a baby. I just want some kind of communication. Like an adult.”
“Then be an adult and open the damn laptop in your bag. If you weren’t sleeping the whole flight and ignoring everyone during the drive you would know that’s where the mission log is. Shit. Just cause you’re asking questions doesn’t mean you’re actively doing something. You can find this crap out on your own.”
Frank turned away and watched a replay of an old soccer game. Chris pulled the laptop out violently and slammed it as best he could on to the cushioned bed. He didn’t know who he was angry at, but more than ever he felt out of place.
As soon as the laptop booted up a mission log appeared on screen with instructions outlining everything that had happened so far and what was ahead. The trip to Greece was a diversion. The long car ride to Alexandropoulis, along with the moderately priced hotel, was Erik’s idea to show some type of cost savings. In Chris's mind, it was completely contradictory to the private jet they took over.
Skipping ahead, Chris saw the meeting point in Syria; Aleppo. More information would be sent or relayed directly from another team member upon arrival. After having no clue where exactly Aleppo was, Chris decided to read the log completely. They had one more long, car ride ahead. A seventeen hour trip to Gazientep, Turkey began at 0600 tomorrow.
Chris pulled out his phone to see if he had a signal. He wondered how much it would cost to make a call back home. Even though it would probably piss her off, Chris texted Sadie. It was a long piece. He imagined Sadie waiting patiently for the words to hit her phone, but then again she wouldn’t just be sitting around waiting for anything. Chris’s mind jumped away from the pretend back to his present actions and panicked. Could they send text messages right now? Frank didn't say anything and had to have seen him typing. Chris double checked the report. Nothing. Whatever, he thought a little too late anyways.
According to his phone, local time was just after five p.m. Dinner and more sleep appeared to be the schedule on tap. Chris moved his eyes slowly across the room. Stupid Frank sitting and watching the stupid TV. Curtains moved gingerly from the breeze outside. They probably had a balcony. Chris walked over to check it out. Frank attempted to ignore him, but kept everything in his peripheral vision. The balcony faced out into the sea. They were only on the second floor, but the slight elevation allowed an amazing scene.
It wasn't the Italian Riviera or anything as spectacularly wealthy. It was the sea under beautiful conditions with a smattering of small sailboats rocking gently center stage.
“Quit gawking at the seagulls. If we want to eat, we need to order room service now,” said Frank from his bed, eyes still stuck on the TV.
Chris stayed put for a minute longer, but that was all his stomach could take. He spun his way back in through the curtains while looking for a remark from Frank. It was pure nonsense and a childish ruse to get a laugh out. Frank fell for the idiotic stunt in days past, but wasn't so susceptible now. Chris ambled over to a desk with the menu.
“Hmmmm,” he said.
“Oh my God,” whispered Frank.
“The tiganita looks good, it says fried zucchini for an appetizer. Oh man, they have lobster. I bet it's fresh as hell. I'll order you the fried squid.”
“Stop playing around. Order two appetizers, two lobsters, and some water.”
“We're in Europe. Wine is required with dinner.”
“Not tonight. I don't want to deal with you being anymore of an ass. Remember, we have work tomorrow.”
“You're an ass.”
“Fuck, Chris! Take the hint and shut up!” Frank sat up and gave the moment a second before he jumped off the bed and flew out the door.
Chris snorted at Frank’s tirade out of the room as if it would relinquish all responsibility. But Frank's exit made Chris think. He didn’t realize how rocky things had gotten between them. Or maybe the pressure of the mission was getting to Frank, thought Chris. But Frank always handled pressure a thousand times better than Chris ever did. He was taking things too lightly, but he couldn’t help but joke about it. Chris ordered the meal; maybe that will help.
A half an hour later Frank walked in with the room service. The smell was maddening. Chris planned an apology but could only think about the aroma of light batter next to the pungent garlic butter. Frank set the tray down and both men jumped into the meal without a pause or comment.
The lobster was fresh as hell and was gone first. Then they went between slices of bread drenched in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and bites of country salad. After nothing was left they sat with their eyes still on their plates.
“I’ve been an ass,” said Chris.
“Asshole,” said Frank.
“Asshole,” said Chris. “We haven't seen much of each other. I didn't mean to ditch you for Johnykin at the game. I don't like what we're doing here. I’m not made for this, but I need to take it more seriously. It’s just Sadie is so upset about me dying. I don't want to die either. I don't want you to die.”
“Where are you going with all this?”
Chris didn't know. He spewed out practically nothing that followed a logical path. “I want to be friends again after I quit, without saying it so lamely.”
“Well that was lame. Try again.”
“I...” Chris waved his arms up and slapped them down on his knees. His eyes opened wide in an effort to communicate the difficulty of thinking after gorging on a delicious meal. “I quit.”
“Shit. You're giving up already?” said Frank.
“I can't do this job,” said Chris.
“I meant the apology. I know this isn't the best place for you. Especially when you keep pulling stupid shit.”
“Then why did you drag me here.”
“I didn't drag you. We needed a job and I saw an opportunity. I extended it to you because that's what friends fucking do. I didn't make you do shit. You chose.”
“How could I choose anything when you drove up to my house and picked me up.”
“You got in the car. You could've said no anytime. You can't blame me if you're not happy with this.”
“It's not just that. We were supposed to be IT guys. We were supposed to have safe jobs, not Chuck Norris kill a thousand bad guys’ jobs.”
“Then why did you save that little kid? You put yourself out there and got both of us swept up in the Supers' jobs. I didn't do that.”
“It was an accident. I couldn't just let her die.”
“No it wasn't. You chose to do what you did. Just like you chose to be in this room right now. Stop putting that on anyone else but yourself. You're not a little baby.”
“And I choose to quit. I'm not going to do this anymore.”
“Then why didn't you stay behind? If you're really gonna quit, then do it. This isn't X-Tech. You don't put in a two weeks' notice. If you're done, you're done.”
“It's not X-Tech, but I owe Johnykin and you one more time.”
“You don't owe me shit.” Frank was about to leave again.
“Yes I do owe you shit, because when this is over, like I said, I still want to be friends. I want to hang out at barbecues and workout and see our kids grow up together. I'm not going to forget everything because of some stupid job.”
“This job isn't stupid.”
“To you it isn't and that's why I'm here. But it’s stupid for me. I can be killed for doing nothing and that is very stupid.”
“It's not nothing! We're here to help people; to fight for them.”
“I don't fight to help people. I'm not a soldier or Super or whatever.”
“Well, I am.”
“Then keep on fighting. Do what you're supposed to do and die for what you're supposed to.”
“I'm not going to die here. We're not going to die here.”
“What? Come on Frank. I know you're tough, but we can die out here. Klaus almost died. It might even happen to them. I don’t know.”
“That was an accident. He's fine.”
Chris saw everything winding down into the clumsy details that inevitably blurred the bigger truth. He pulled at his hair to draw out time to think. “Again. This isn't my role. If it's yours, then that's great. That's why I'm here for a little while longer, to support you guys.”
“We don't need your fucking support.”
“Okay, but you were right. It was my choices that got me here. It's my choice again to stay for one more if you like it or not.” Chris knew that was the best he could end it with. He stood from his chair, awkwardly stepped around Frank, and walked out of the room.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish