I Spy

I’ve traveled for many reasons over the years. I have traveled to explore, to relax, to learn, and for work. However, once I traveled as a spy.

Let that sink in for a minute. I was once a spy. I’m not kidding. I’m not writing a piece of fiction. Now, to be completely honest with you, I wasn’t caught up in the world of international espionage. Instead, I was used as a corporate spy. My mission was to spy on the opposition, make a full report of my findings and report back to my superiors. It sounded easy enough, but my mission was compromised and I paid the price.

The whole operation began long before I became involved. I work some for a travel company, and it was feeling threatened by a young upstart company that was full of new ideas and lots of promise. One of the upstart’s ideas was to essentially begin to steal business and employees away from my company. I was one of their targets, and they approached me about coming to work for them. Their first contact was via email, but they wouldn’t fully explain to me what they wanted, and asked that I meet for coffee. I agreed, and after the meeting I knew that they wanted me, and that they believed that it would be worth my while to switch my loyalties. They even wanted to explain it all further to me over dinner one weekend in Florence, Italy, and offered to fly me over at no expense to do so. I would be one of several people, they explained, that would be apart of the trip, and that there would be meetings, of course, but lots of free time and the occasional organized activity. If we were impressed, we could go to work, but there would be “no pressure.”

Being the loyal soldier that I was, I reported all of this to my handlers back at the company. They were fascinated by the intel that I had proved them, and they encouraged me to agree to the trip, with the understanding that I would tell them everything upon my return. Three months later, I was on a plane, headed for Italy.

I was met at the airport by one of their company representatives who drove me to my hotel. After I cleaned up a bit, I made my way downstairs and met the others who had been flown over for this special meal. We were given a walking tour of the city. We climbed to the top of the Duomo, and we saw David. We had a “discussion session” in which the company reps outlined all of the reasons we should leave our current employers and come to work for them, and we were given copious amounts of wine. Then, the penny dropped. The itinerary for the next two days was laid out for us. The next day would be mostly free, but the big event, the big build up, the wooing, the bribe, the whole reason we were there would happen that night. It came with a twist, though. Oh, these agents were good.   They slowly explained that we would be going to a well-known Italian cooking school, and WE would be making our dinner ourselves. Then we would be asked to sign along the dotted line and commit to a change in loyalty. It was going to be “fun,” they said. It was going to “show us how different” they were.

I was already growing tired of pretending I was having the time of my life. The fact is that it’s hard to pretend to be someone that interested in something when you really aren’t and you have to do it all day long.   In all honesty they were all so nice, and so invested in what they were doing. I really began to feel like I was taking advantage of their hospitality. After all, these people wanted to me work for them so badly that they were willing to spend thousands of dollars for me travel to the other side of the world. Quickly, I pushed these thoughts out of my mind.

That night we were transported to the school and we were divided up into four groups, each working on a different part of the meal. My team was going to be making a zucchini appetizer and the tiramisu that would be dessert.   We measured and mixed, and broke eggs, and added coffee. I have to admit that for a few minutes it was all fun, and the little guilty voice came back, and I seriously thought about my spy loyalties. Dinner  was authentically Italian, was amazing, and thoroughly satisfying. I ate it up and loved my tiramisu. I thought maybe I could be a double agent…..

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Then the last big sales pitch began. It was different this time than the night before. The previous conversation had been Disneyland, all smiles, and happiness. Now, it was dark, stern and serious. It wasn’t about our future, but young people’s. We were building lives, and we had to think of them. They were the only true option, they explained with a Protestant zeal, that was quickly assuming the gravitas of a badly produced Shakespearian tragedy and the circular logic of a cult leader.

Nope.  My loyalties were exactly where they should be – not with these folks.

As they talked I began to feel something….. unusual. It started out in my lower abdomen. At first, it was a small, slightly uncomfortable feeling, but it was quickly growing. It felt hard, and seemed to be growing in both size and pain. I thought, at first, that maybe it was horrible gas, but this was different. I excused myself to the bathroom, but it was wasted trip. I came back out and bottles of wine were being opened and everyone seemed to be celebrating the fact that they had gone to the dark side (or was it the light side, I was losing track of things in my state).

I was asked what I was going to do, and a horrible cramp grabbed my stomach. I tried to keep myself from doubling over in pain, and announced that I was going to take a taxi back to the hotel. I moved outside into the ice cold temperatures that had taken over Florence that winter, hailed a taxi and traveled back. By the time I had arrived, my body was beginning to shake, and was having a hard time regulating my core temperature. I was painfully cold. I moved upstairs, and filled the tub with hot water, and crawled in to soak, hoping that might help. It didn’t.   I drained the tub and stood up, and as I did, my stomach seized once more and twisted over and released one of the greatest explosions of vomit in modern history.

Again and again, I let it go into the toilet. Between the dry heaves with my chin resting on the toilet seat I tried to figure out what was going on with me. In my warped, sickly spy rattled brain, I knew there was only one logically solution. They knew, and they had poisoned me!

In hindsight, today, I’m more inclined to think that probably the fact that the tiramisu had a dozen raw eggs in it, might have played rather important role in what I was enduring, but at that moment eggs never crossed my mind.

The next morning, I learned that a few other people didn’t feel well, last night, but today they were fine. I however still felt nauseous. I was dehydrated, tired, and was in a very bad mood. I told the company reps about my night, and they didn’t seem too terribly shocked or concerned, which only made them more suspect to me. Then they began to tell me about all of the beautiful things I was going to see today on my guided tour of Tuscany that they had arranged for the group. The idea of sitting in a moving vehicle all day did not appeal to me, but they pulled out the oldest torture trick in the secret agent’s catalogue. No, not the chair with hole in the seat (a la Casino Royal), but rather something far, far worse. Peer pressure.

It started with one person telling me about how much I would be missing out on, then a woman walked up and started in. Finally, another man came up and actually started telling me that I would let the group down and that they would be disappointed if I didn’t make it. I gave in. I was a broken man.  I literally had nothing left in me.

We traveled to Sienna, and then to a farm for a lunch, which I couldn’t eat for fear of seeing it again, all over the farmer’s floor. When I refused, the farmer’s wife gave me an orange and told me to smell it to help with the nausea.

Me and my orange.  Only that orange understood my pain.  I was stuck in the caravan of psychological torture, that was meant to break me.

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After that I passed out somewhere on the road back to Florence. When I woke up, the car was at the hotel, and the rest of the group was going out for a glass of wine. I declined the invitation, and started back up to my room when I was stopped by one of the company reps, who had the gall to say to me, “It seemed like you weren’t really enjoying today.” Bear in mind that this was one of the three that had pressured me into going in the first place. I was done. I was done with him. I was done with being a spy. I was done with it all, and my “doneness” came out once again, all over the lobby floor.

Early the next morning, I packed my bag and snuck out of the hotel, and took a taxi to the airport. When I landed back in the States, I went from the airport directly to my doctor where a heavy dose of phenergan was prescribed. I sat down and began to write out my report to my superiors. It was honest and accurate, but omitted my bout with Italian food poisoning. It wasn’t what they needed to know, and it wasn’t what I needed to tell.

 

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Categories: Europe, Stories, Uncategorized

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One Comment on “I Spy”

  1. Laura
    May 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    I am laughing (AT YOU) out loud! I think this rivals your Grandmother post as my favorite.

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