NEW YORK CITY
Most people who met Andy Fisher on the job would never believe he’d been in love. They wouldn’t even think it was a possibility—past, present, and certainly not to come.
This was not to say that Fisher wasn’t good-looking, or attractive. He had an athletic build and a pleasing face, even if work often caused it to prune up into a scowl. He was generally quick-witted and occasionally funny, and on closer inspection proved to have few outstanding debts and a full set of straightened teeth.
There were some flaws: Anyone trying to gaze into his azure blue eyes generally had to do so through a haze of cigarette smoke. And to kiss his lips, they would generally have to pry a coffee cup away. But these were likely to be seen as eminently fixable, if they were viewed as flaws at all.
The more one knew of Andy Fisher, however, the higher the caution flags flew. For one thing, he was an FBI special agent. And special in his case meant special.
All field agents for the Bureau were, literally, “special,” but in Fisher’s case the adjective was not merely a product of union negotiations or civil service posting requirements. Fisher held a unique position within the Bureau. Officially, he headed an agency subunit in charge of investigating high-tech crimes; unofficially, he was a one-man problem-solver for the head of the Bureau, who though he liked Fisher’s results was sufficiently horrified by his methods to keep him at least one supervisor removed at all times.
Fisher’s job meant that he traveled often, kept ungodly hours, and bulged in unlikely places even when wearing a custom-tailored suit.
Or would have, had he owned such a suit.
But it was the aforementioned scowl that was the real problem for any potential lover. For Fisher, despite his excellence as an FBI agent—and his track record indicated that he really was excellent, despite his unorthodox methods and the litany of complaints from those who tried to supervise him—was a full-blown cynic. And a sarcastic one, to boot.
True, cynicism was a common trait in twenty-first-century America, where anyone over the age of five could not only artfully debunk the latest statement from the White House but identify at least three private interest groups who would increase their donations in the next election cycle because of it. But Fisher was a particularly hard case, even for the FBI, which had investigated Santa Claus for Communist affiliations during the reign of J. Edgar Hoover. (The file remains sealed.)
This did not hinder his work product. Fisher was not a vitriolic cynic, fortunately, and his habit of looking at a thing five or six times before drawing a conclusion was an asset to an investigator. He could even cite philosophical underpinnings for his approach, mentioning Aristotle or Descartes or Heidegger when appropriate, which fortunately it rarely was.
But his general distrust of all information—authority, too—hampered him in social settings. As for human relationships, it was alleged by some supervisors who knew and loathed him that he had not been born, but rather sprang directly into being full-formed. They held that no mother could have raised such a child.
Those of a more religious and philosophical bent swore that while he was in fact human, he suffered from a soul blackened by skepticism and disrespect. They believed the cigarettes he pretended to smoke were actually a cover for the fires of hell smoldering within his chest.
Fisher would have objected immediately to such a theory: What proof was there that he had a soul? No one in the Bureau could offer any such proof, not even the chaplain, who on more than one occasion had been reduced to muttering “Even God makes mistakes” after an exchange with the Bureau’s most special special agent.
But Fisher had once been in love. And as great a mystery as this might seem, it would be easily explained by meeting Katherine Feder. For if there was one person in the world capable of loving someone as skeptical as Andy Fisher, Kathy was that person.
She was not gorgeous. In a certain light, with certain clothes, she could easily be called pretty, but Kathy was not a model. In photos she tended to look awkward, a little too skinny or a few pounds overweight, her hair just slightly off or too perfectly arranged.
Meeting her in person was a different matter entirely. In person, her essence shone through. Five minutes with Kathy was enough to liquefy any heart, even one made of igneous rock like Fisher’s. Ten minutes might be enough to make the devil leave hell and follow Mother Theresa.
Describing why this was, however, was difficult. Fisher, with all his gifts, could not have done it. The things that made her personality shine—her generosity, her good humor, her easy laugh—when examined separately seemed common enough. Her honesty, tact, and goodwill were somewhat rarer, yet certainly not unknown. Her respect for others, her genuine concern for strangers as well as friends, her ability to make whomever she was talking to feel as if he or she was the center of the universe were rarer still, but not extinct.
The fact that she was tremendous in bed—again, an extremely admirable quality, one certainly appreciated by Fisher, but one that was not completely without peer, even in Fisher’s experience.
It was the combination of all these things and more that made Kathy special. Yet at the same time she was not a Hallmark card; there was a toughness about her, and a touch of skepticism, without which a character like Fisher would never have been attracted to her. She was, in many ways, the perfect match for him—sweet where he was sour, soft where he was hard, yet unlikely to wilt under the brunt of his glare.
The relationship had begun, as many things do, in college. It had extended on afterward, even as Fisher became an FBI agent. And then it had failed, suddenly and ingloriously. It was an implosion rather than an explosion, but it was violent and tortuous nonetheless, with multiple attempts at reignition, until finally a pale of darkness settled in, and there was nothing left but ashes.
The failure of their relationship still hurt, though it was by now several years past. And so when Fisher checked his e-mail queue that night and spotted the familiar address, he felt a pang under his ribs.
Indigestion, he would have sworn.
He looked at the address a moment, wondering if his memory or eyes were playing tricks—if perhaps he had misremembered the address or if his eyes were confusing a letter. But the address was her name, with the middle initial, at AOL, and there was no mistake.
His finger hovered over his BlackBerry, poised to delete. Then it backed off.
He moved the cursor up and down the screen, uncharacteristically indecisive.
Maybe it was the fact that he was in New York on Bureau business as a representative at a security conference. He’d always had a complicated relationship with the city.
In the end, he did what many men would do: He left the message unread, and went down to the hotel bar to have a drink.
It was a decision he would regret for the rest of his life.
Copyright © 2012 by Jim DeFelice