A portion of this is real, a portion is fiction - I shall leave it to the reader to decide which.
My first essay into posting writing of this sort - constructive criticism would be appreciated.
Musings on a Spanish day
Despite the history of these lands, there is a peace to the Mediterranean sun on a warm afternoon. Whether in Greece, Malta, Italy, or Spain, where I find myself these days on the balcony of an apartment in a small town, there is something about summer days here which lead one to reflection, to a quiet drink, looking over the waters and placing life in perspective. Twenty years ago I would have considered this a short break, somewhat boring, perhaps a chance to re-charge, but eagerly awaiting the next phone call and trip to the airport for a new job. These days? I'm happy sipping my wine, musing over the years, and ignoring the outside world for a time.
I'm not in the Game anymore, but I still watch the bits that show about town, and see the players and catch the hints of what is going on behind the scenes. It's funny how many of us gravitate to the places where it's warm. With the exception of some of the Russians, and the Viking-blood, it seems no one hangs out in the cold by choice. Go to Berlin? Few of the retired guys there. Valletta in June? You can't swing a cat without hitting a guy who used to have a different name.
Which brings to mind six cold months I spent in Oslo long ago, waiting for a meeting or a warm day, neither of which ever came. I think it was that one that made me finally swear off skiing as a recreational pursuit.
That's a story for another time, though. Here I can sit, I can ponder, I can reflect on what happened through the years. I can see the old players, like me, wandering about getting a meal or a drink; or the newer members of the club, in town trying to ferret out that tidbit of data from a random "this guy might know."
It makes me laugh now, seeing the varied molds in their early genesis. The former military, all confidence and awareness, placing themselves just so as they check out the opposition. The academics, recruited from some college and following the tradecraft checklist they so recently memorized, because that's how it's done. Even the rare "grey man," barely noticed in the landscape as he or she drifts in and out like a stage hand, making a change in the background while the audience is focused elsewhere. I try to note these particularly, knowing their identity may be valuable to my own safety down the road. And, I can laugh at it all, because it seems only yesterday I was one myself, sure in the knowledge that I was serving the right cause, and every day was a new step towards victory.
The waiter brings me another tinto, and I reflect more on the years, the changes to the world and our place in it. I wonder how many of the tourists here really catch the currents beneath? How many of them pick up a hint, the hairs on the back of their neck telling them something is going on that they aren't catching as they enjoy their two weeks holiday and let's not forget to tip the maid tomorrow?
The end of the cold war was a huge shift. So many former workers on either side, now looking for a paycheck and some form of relevance. Ronin got it close, with the shift in the shadow game, but the aftershocks continued far past that decade. Much of what we did moving from the pages of fiction, or things only discussed in closed inquiries, to the subject of news feeds and 140-character speculation on what "really" happened.
Then, with the "Global War on Terror," we had a boom - at least on the western side. From famine to feast overnight, so many of us back in the game as "private contractors," with bigger paychecks and seeing some real results. Only to watch the administrations piss it away because they didn't comprehend the end game. The Reds (even decades after the Wall came down, I still think of them that way) had their own struggles, but equal opportunities with the rise of organized crime, and then the return of the Bear wearing a new skin. But it was a solid decade of real work, and fewer bean-counters fussing over your expense report at the end of the day; I think for a lot of us it was the most rewarding time we had in our semblance of a career path.
The other benefit of these lands is the scenery. The beaches are beautiful, and the women who walk them so nonchalant in their own appeal. Even an old man can sit in the sun and smile and wish. But I digress...
Nowadays it seems it's all private companies. Some of it is corporate espionage, a mixture of prestige and one business trying to get past the other in the competition of data, predictions and insider trading. Most of it is honestly just another front, a way for a government to play the same old games without worrying about legislative inquiries or unwanted revelations. For every Snowden or Manning, there are a hundred more secrets that will never see the light of day, another small group of people who will read a news story and laugh to themselves because the true background will never hit the press.
From the few who know, in those private conversations in a dark corner or late-night walk, I always get asked about the wet-work, the bloody side of the business. Sure, the violence has a place. There are nights where a knife flashes in a brief light, or a muffled gunshot ends a problem and shifts the game ever so slightly. The sort of thing attributed to "a robbery gone bad" or criminals fighting amongst themselves. But just as often the move comes from a new asset revealed or seduced, from a compromised pawn who never knows his place, or from the quiet tumble of a network collapsing to cover one loss. We spend far more time with a subtle nod of the head acknowledging a win in a cafe than we ever do at a funeral in the rain.
There are worse ways to retire, worse things than enjoying the sun and an occasional conversation with an old friend or foe. Worse fates than being a "he used to" in the conversations and nods of a younger generation.
But I can't deny it would be nice to have the phone ring once more, to hear a voice saying "We need a favor, there's no one else we trust for this one." Maybe, just one more time, to do more than watch the Game...