Baxter hadn’t just chosen Toronto because it was easy to get there from New York. Two years before he’d done a job here that had loosely involved a shady banker named Seth Davis. It turned out he didn’t work for the same bank anymore, but he was still a big-money banker. A six-month-old article in a financial paper hinted hinted that he had changed employers due to his questionable practices, which was certainly not a surprise to Baxter.
Baxter made his approach one evening, catching Davis in the parking garage on his way home. It was a “hey aren’t you that guy?” thing, Baxter mentioning that someone had name-dropped Davis as a guy to talk to. They made plans to meet for lunch the next day because Baxter said he didn’t like the whole bank vibe. Baxter had spent close to four grand on the wardrobe for the meeting, just to put the hook into Davis.
The next day they had lunch at a sports bar. They sat in a corner with lots of noise and space between them and the windows, just in case Davis was being shadowed by any law enforcement. Baxter’s false ID would stand up to scrutiny, but not too much, certainly not any high-level official inquiries.
The conversation started cordial, and it wasn’t long before Baxter gave a yank on the hook. At first Davis was outraged of course, then terrified, and then he was in Baxter’s pocket. The next day, Davis would cash out the bearer bonds, accidentally recording the serial numbers wrong, and put the money in a numbered account out of the Caymans. His fee for this was $500,000 and a lifetime of silence and fear.
Flights were still grounded when Davis handed over all the account information, sweat beaded at his hollow temples, looking like he might never sleep again. It wasn’t Baxter’s concern.
Before he left Toronto he bought himself some casual clothes in a few different looks, jeans and dress shirt, cords and sweater, even some thrift shop duds so he could look down at heel. All this went into a new suitcase, a wheeled model he was very satisfied with.
Then he took a couple of trains to Detroit, where he knew a guy. One of his four IDs was American, so he used that to re-enter the country, but he continued to use the Canadian Gordon Duke day-to-day.
In Detroit he spent three days while a guy he knew by reputation, but had never met, made him several new sets of IDs. Faked credit history, library cards, the whole shebang, one set for Jerry Sumner, formerly of suburban Chicago and one for Jason Miller, from Orlando. After that, the last thing Gordon Duke ever did was buy a late-model sedan in the Motor City, and then that ID was torched as well.
Baxter left Detroit as Jason Miller and wandered for a while. He racked up thousands of miles on his car, keeping his head shaved and growing a beard. He cleared a cache in Atlanta and one in Dallas. He checked into an extend-stay hotel in Fort Worth, just so he could spend a week of afternoons using the gym. It was almost October, and it felt like years since he had taken care of his body. He could feel it growing weaker, and he hated the feeling.
From Texas he drove west, and after clearing a cache in Phoenix, he followed a whim and saw the Grand Canyon.
Standing above the massive gorge, taking in the stunning sight, he remembered all the places he’d been, the places he’d never had time to actually see. What was the point of going to Paris if you never even had a pastry at a sidewalk cafe, visited Notre Dame, saw the Eiffel Tower, for Christ’s sake.
It didn’t free him from looking over his shoulder, but it did remind him that he didn’t have to do anything anymore. He answered to no one. It was the first time in his life he’d had that freedom. He didn’t owe anyone shit.
He climbed into his car and drove to Vegas.
He dropped enough coin at the blackjack table that he got a deeply discounted suite. He ordered a high-end escort and when she knocked at his door he had a list of all the stuff he’d heard of but never had a chance to do. It was a long night, fueled by champagne and some zesty little uppers she had for just such occasions.
He drove to California and did the tourist two-step, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo, up to LA for Six Flags, Disneyland, Universal Studios, and then up to San Francisco just to say he’d been there. He’d visited countless cities with names you could barely pronounce, but he’d never seen the Golden Gate Bridge in person. He rode the cable cars, grinning like a fool. He had the best seafood he’d ever eaten while he gazed at Alcatraz. Along the way he cleared two more caches.
As the weather grew colder, he didn’t become more self-indulgent, but he certainly became more consistent about it. When he wanted to do something, he did it. He rented a cabin in Big Bear for a month and skied every day, going from Bambi-legged beginner to stone cold expert. He let his hair grow out to match his beard, and he fancied he looked a bit like a glamorous explorer. He dug a passport out of the lining of his suitcase and flew to Paris for December. It was freezing, the wind off the Seine wicked and bitter, but it was the only time he could ever remember (as an adult, anyway) actually noticing and enjoying the passing of Christmas.
He spent a season working a shrimp boat on the Gulf Coast, learning how to argue with competing fishermen in their native Vietnamese. He never missed New York City. He spent a month hiking and camping in Glacier National Park. He never missed DC.
But a year’s worth of adventure will wear a guy the fuck out, so in the fall of 2002 he opted to settle. Jason Miller rented a condo for a year in advance in Wyoming. He told people he was an author, writing a Western, and he was there to soak up the ambience. He occasionally drank and shot pool in local bars. He did road work, running every day on the quiet gravel streets near his home, even learning to do it in snow shoes, developing new muscles in new places. He bought books and equipment and taught himself to cook. He discovered Netflix and, in spite of the mail delays from living in the sticks, began to catch up on two decade’s worth of movies. The spy movies were awful. No one ever really showed how fucking scary it was, how boring it was, and how gut-wrenchingly unsettling that combination always, always was.
After Wyoming, the wanderlust returned, and Baxter went on a grand tour of Europe, finally seeing London, really seeing it, not seeing it through the windows of planes, cars, and trains. Finally seeing more than the airport and tunnels and shitty hotel rooms and safehouses. He saw art in museums, he went to the fucking theatre, he ate food that made his toes curl.
And along the way he occasionally cleared another cache. The income wasn’t enough to keep him from dipping into the principle, though, and he knew it was probably time to really settle down.
So, in early 2004, Baxter turned most of his millions over to a consistent mutual fund and lived on the interest. His last large chunk of change paid for a condo in the fashionable northwest corner of Portland, Oregon. The Rose City was big enough to be lost in, to stay lost in when it came to standing out, and it wasn’t a big city for intrigue.
He bought a treadmill and joined a gym and for the first few years he was faithful with his regime. He continued to cook for himself, and he watched people rotate in and out of his building, following booms in the software market and at Nike, or falls in the housing market.
After he’d been settled for some months, he realized just how much he was the fox in the hen house, and he began his ongoing, casual affairs with the women in the surrounding condos. He met them at mixers, at the condo society meetings, at the mailboxes, and he found out that they had one thing in common. They were facing life after forty and realizing there were a lot of things they hadn’t gotten to do.
One of them introduced him to video games, and he became a fan, owning every major console, playing catch up on the greatest hits, going online and getting trounced by hordes of aggro, adolescent fucksticks.
Another introduced him to weed, and he found that there was a youngish guy, Walter, who lived downstairs, and apparently his entire business was weed. Not just in the condos, of course, he tried to keep that to a minimum, but Baxter, in his special low key way, got him to talking once, and learned the ins and outs of the drug trade, should he ever decide to take that up. It was one of the few things he hadn’t picked up in his years as a spy.
He told everyone that he’d sold a business and was kind of twiddling his thumbs at the moment, and it felt more true every time he said it.
Before long, between the weed and the video games, his efforts at physical fitness became less and less important. Sure, he’d still jog through a movie and do some sit ups and push ups, but it was once a week, then even less, and then he couldn’t remember the last time he’d bothered.
And other than occasionally scoffing at the extra pounds he was packing around his waistline, he didn’t mind, not at all. He was happy. He’d gone from spending his entire adult life doing what he was told to appreciating just how much fun being self-centered could be. Years trickled by in a soft blur of housewife afternoon delight, multimedia entertainment, and delivered food. Life was good. Sometimes, he thought, drifting off to sleep, recognizing what it was like to fall asleep without worrying about jerking awake in the middle of the night, terrified, sometimes he thought life was just about perfect.
Then Falconer came to kill him.