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Scott Galloway stared out of his office window into the cold sunlight of a June morning in Vilnius, Lithuania, a small country situated between Belarus and the Baltic Sea. Two years in the diplomatic outpost had gone by far more quickly than he had anticipated. He had made a difference in the lives of the people working at the embassy and in the quality of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Lithuania. But for the past two years, his personal life had been on hold.
He zipped up his leather toiletries case, put it and his laptop in his small carry-on bag and paused for a moment. He slowly perused his office and the photo of him that hung alongside those of the U.S. president and the secretary of state, which brought a smile to his face. Then, he shrugged and headed out the door and down the corridor to the exit, where the embassy staff had lined up to tell him goodbye.
"We'll miss you, sir," one of the embassy officers said. "You made this place come alive."
He didn't give the statement much credence. If he had brought life to the place, it must certainly have been dead a long time before he got there. "Thank you, Aggie. You've been of immense help." Although the comment lacked veracity, it was bound to inflate her already oversize ego. But the next ambassador would have to deal with her.
"I hate to see you go, sir," an older man, a native of Vilnius, said to him. "They said I was too old to work and they were going to fire me. I don't know what I'll do now."
"I left a letter recommending you to the next ambassador, so don't worry. You're one of the best workers here." He patted the man on the shoulder and was about to depart, when the elderly janitor, Misha, pressed something into Scott's hand. "It's from my mother. She's a hundred and one. Since you came, it was the first time she'd tasted caviar in forty years. She gave me this to give to you."
Deeply touched, he thanked the man. "Give your mother my love and my humble thanks."
A young-looking man ran toward him, seemingly out of breath. "This just came, sir." He handed Scott a letter marked personal. He recognized the handwriting of Helga Wilander, the woman he'd befriended en route to Lithuania when he'd first arrived. He put the letter inside the breast pocket of his suit jacket, waved to the staff, got into the waiting limousine and headed for the airport. His first tour as United States ambassador was behind him. He exhaled a long breath, sat back and contemplated what he imagined was his future.
Remembering the envelope that Misha had given him, he opened it and gasped when he saw the six-by-eight-inch Russian icon of Mary, painted on silver and set in an old hammered silver frame. He looked at it for a long time, put it back in the envelope, wrote the old man's name on the envelope and put it in his briefcase. It was probably the most valuable object that Misha owned, and Scott vowed to write and thank him as soon as he was settled into his new job.
An airport attendant ushered him into the VIP lounge, where a waiter immediately placed a tray with coffee and assorted sweets in front of him. He would have appreciated fruit, any kind of fruit, since that was the one thing that was hard to find during the long winter months in Vilnius. The embassy got fruit from the States for special occasions, but only rarely. He couldn't wait to sink his teeth into some blueberries. The woman who sat facing him in the lounge smiled, and asked if he would like company.
"No, thank you," he said, not sure why such a good-looking and seemingly wealthy woman would be on the make in an international airport. Just the place to find a wealthy man, to make a seemingly innocent connection or to engage in covert espionage, he thought.
He gave the woman his most rakish smile, and when she didn't back off, he said, "Nothing would be more enjoyable, but I have to hand in this report immediately after I land, so I'll be working for the next ten hours solid."
She pursed her lips in what appeared to be a pout. "Not even time out for an itsy-bitsy drink?"
He let a grin float over his face. "A guy's got to work if he wants to eat. Thanks, I'm going to get started on this work."
If she hadn't pouted, he might have thought he'd misread her, but he hadn't. She was a plant, though he couldn't imagine why. He opened his laptop and got to work. Later, when she didn't board the plane in either first or business class, he knew he'd been right in his assessment. His experiences over the past two years had been a great teacher, reinforcing his conviction that you couldn't accept women at their word, sometimes not even at their behavior and definitely not based on looks. Nowadays, sultry smiles, perfectly shaped bosoms and swinging hips barely got his attention.
He smiled to himself, though he was not amused. The last time he'd misjudged a woman's intentions, she had handed him one of the most painful lessons of his life. He'd fallen for a girl his freshman year in college, only to learn that she was very different than what she seemedespecially after she was arrested and expelled from school. But he quickly got over her. However, Louise Fiske was a different story.
For months, she'd sworn that he was the only man for her. But when he needed her, she'd let him down with a resounding thud. After agreeing to accompany him to a fraternity social where he was to receive a prestigious award in his senior year, she inexplicably disappeared. Concerned for her safety, he ended up missing the awards ceremony. How was he to know that she'd been leading him on, and was secretly dating another guy? Now, years later, he remembered those lessons and swore that he'd never make those mistakes again, and he'd kept that promise.
A heavyset middle-aged man took the seat beside him in first class, whispered a prayer and almost immediately took out some photographs from his briefcase. A smile covered his face as he gazed at the pictures.
Scott hadn't planned to initiate a conversation with the stranger, but curiosity prompted him. "Your family?" he asked the man.
"Yes. For the past year, I've been working as a construction engineer in Vilnius. I couldn't leave the job, so I've never seen my infant son. I can't wait to get home. I have twin daughters, too," the man went on as if the floodgates had opened up. "They're my life. We thought we couldn't have any more children due to my wife's ageshe was thirty-five when we married, which is usually not good news if you want to start a family. But this little fellow is healthy, and I thank God all the time." The man shook his head as if amazed by the miracle of it. He handed Scott the photograph.
"I resisted getting married, but I'm happier than I ever thought I'd be. You got kids?"
Scott stared at the photograph and handed it back to the man. "Not that I know of. I've been so busy with my career that I've let some important areas of my life slide. But when I get home, I'm going to put first things first."
"You're right. I said I'd make my first million before I was thirty-five, and I put living on hold," the man said. "Money is necessary, but it won't buy any of the things that make me happy. Go for it," the man said. "Life is short."
Scott could no longer bear to look at the expression of pure joy on the man's face as he gazed at the pictures of his three children. Scott took pride in his accomplishments, since he was by any measure a success. But he needed more, a different kind of fulfillment. For two years, he had retired every evening to his personal quarters, taken off the diplomatic mask and settled into a loneliness that he couldn't escape. Sure, he was satisfied with the choices he'd made, but not with the sacrifices.
He lifted his glass to his seatmate. "Thanks. Here's to a good life."
The man took a sip after the toast, but a quizzical expression soon spread across his face. "I appreciate your goodwill, but why did you thank me?" the man asked.
Scott savored the glass of wine, held the glass up and drained it. "The people I meet in my line of work are chasing somethingdreams, money, status, promotions, women, whatever," he said. "But you stuck with your values, found what you need and recognized it when you got it. That's rare. I hope to do the same."
Ten hours later, when the plane landed at Reagan National Airport, Scott had decided he was going to give himself one year in which to settle down and start a family. He realized it was a tall order, but he also knew that his bosses wouldn't give him more than a year between overseas assignments. He had no intention of spending another year wearing Brooks Brothers suits with shoes that shone like glass, working five, and sometimes seven, days a week, making certain that his face bore just the right expression as he carefully watched every word he uttered, only to be rewarded with lonely, celibate nights.
Where would he start? Of the women he knew and liked, he couldn't see himself sharing his life with any of them. A State Department chauffeur and car met him at the airport and took him to the Willard Inter-Continental hotel, where reservations had been made for him. He usually didn't require that kind of luxury, but it went with the job.
After checking in, he went to his suite. There, he dropped his bag near the door and headed for the kitchen, where he knew he'd find some fresh fruit. When his superior at the State Department had asked his preference for a hotel, he'd said he didn't care where they put him up so long as he found plenty of fresh citrus and berries in the refrigerator. He washed a handful of blueberries and savored them.
Home. How sweet it is, he thought.
He resisted the temptation to go to bed at three in the afternoon and telephoned Judson Philips-Sparkman, his closest friend since the age of five.
"Attorney Philips-Sparkman speaking."
"Man, half of that name is enough. Saying the whole thing is a damned tongue twister."
"Scott! Where the hell are you? Aren't you due back soon?"
"I am, and I'm here."
"What? When? You mean you're in D.C.?"
"I'm at the Willard in a nothing-left-to-the-imagination suite. The plane landed about two and a half hours ago. How's Heather? You two getting along all right?"
"Heather's fine, and of course we're getting along. If you mean at the office, we've easily worked that out. She has clients, and I have clients. We consult with each other, offer and give advice, but we don't interfere in each other's cases."
"That's good. Is her office as big as yours?"
Laughter seemed to roar out of Judson at the question. "Truthfully I'd give anything to say no, but they're exactly the same size. I furnished mine to suit me, and she did the same in hers. By the way, when I try to help her out, she gives me a hard time. I hope she does the same when you meddle in her business. How soon can you get over here?"
"I want to hand in my report the day after tomorrow, so I can probably get there late Friday afternoon."
"Why not spend the weekend with us? Check out of the hotel, and I'll pick you up, say, at three-thirty. How's that?"
"Works for me. Give Heather my love. See you Friday."
Since he didn't have any casual clothes with him, he decided to walk up to F Street, where he bought two pairs of jeans, half a dozen T-shirts and a pair of Ree-boks. All he wanted was a chance to soak up some sun, be himself with his friends and leave the ambassador behind. After checking in with his father and younger brother, he showered and crawled into bed for a nap.
He awakened around six-thirty and called his grandmother, whom he had spoken to while en route to the hotel. "Hi, Nana. How about going out to dinner with me tonight?'
"As long as you feed me Maryland crab cakes. I love Italian and French food, but you know I love my crab cakes."
"You're on. I'll be there in an hour."