Caleb leaned back against the wall in one of the corners of the party’s meeting room, watching GICA Agents talk to each other. The room was large and spacious, fitting at least sixty or more people. The sunlight peered through the curtains and assisted the lamps that hung on the wide ceiling. There were tables set up for people to sit and talk with each other. The people were dressed formally, in suits and dresses. A party he of all people would never think he’d be in.
He lifted the glass of red wine to his lips, eyes sweeping over the crowd until they landed on a large group of people lounging on nearby sofas. In the middle of the group was a tall man dressed in a crisp suit, his light hair combed away from his face. Caleb recognized him almost immediately. Roma Chernov, Agent 241. Wow, I never thought I would see him.
His friend, Ray, had told him stories about the GICA’s top agent before. Ever since he’d started working at the GICA - Global Investigations of Criminality Agency - he’d been gushing about the man, constantly telling stories about what great feats he’d pulled off, how many criminals he’d caught. According to Ray, Roma Chernov was practically a legend in the GICA. And now, Caleb was standing in the same room as him.
Wonder if I should say something, he thought as he watched the man. He tilted his head, catching a glimpse of what looked like a forced laugh. Caleb brushed it off and figured that Roma didn’t really want to be there. The man looked tired, as did most of the others. It was the evening, after all.
A part of him wanted to go greet Roma and introduce himself. But he looked pretty busy already. Caleb could meet him another time if given the chance. The guy was probably busy like he was now.
Still, he watched Roma silently from his corner, cocking his head to the side to observe him. He could see more and more people join the man’s group as the minutes went by. Just how popular is this guy? It’s like he’s a celebrity or something. Despite himself, he couldn’t help but feel a pinch of envy.
Roma lounged on one of the many sofas across the room, a glass of wine dangling from his fingers. A woman in a tight black dress sat next to him, leaning over as she laughed at something he said.
Roma glanced at her and gave her a brief smile. When she flashed her teeth back, he caught a glimpse of lipstick smudged on her teeth. Lovely.
“I cracked the case in two weeks,” a man, Brian, was saying, puffing out his chest like the claim was impressive. “Better watch out, Chernov. I might surpass you one day.”
As if. Roma laughed and raised his glass. “We’ll see.”
He glanced at his watch as the ‘conversation’ continued. It was still relatively early. He’d have to bear these people for at least another hour. He suppressed a groan, forcing his face into a welcoming expression before continuing the conversation.
Caleb watched Roma from his place by the wall, tilting his head. He looks annoyed.
He didn’t blame Roma. He wasn’t a big fan of large crowds either.
As he continued to watch, he took notice of the way Roma rolled his eyes whenever he turned his head away from the other agents. It was like he was trying to hide it from them. He saw little ticks in the man’s eyebrow or from the corners of his ‘smile’. Now that Caleb was getting a better look at him, he came to a realization.
He’s forcing himself to smile. Or better yet - maybe even worse - he was forcing himself to enjoy company he clearly wanted nothing to do with.
I should stop staring. He looked somewhere else, not wanting to be thought of as a creep or a spy looking for a target.
Time went by and he finished his drink. He looked around for the round table where the food was kept as he began to grow hungry. He spotted it on the other side of the room. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. It was definitely time to eat something. Caleb moved away from his corner and began to make his way to the tables of food. Maybe I’ll be lucky if they have a chocolate fountain.
“Caleb!” A friendly voice came from behind him.
Caleb perked up immediately, stopping in his steps, recognizing the voice of his friend, Ray. He whipped around with excitement in his eyes and smiled at seeing his friend. “Ray!”
The young man came to him, arms spread wide. He was a good three inches taller than Caleb, dressed in a casual dress-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, showing his tanned skin. His black hair was combed - rare, for him - but there was stubble on his jaw that told Caleb he’d forgotten to shave before leaving for the party.
“Took me long enough to find you. Hiding or something?” Ray slapped Caleb on the shoulder, grinning. “Man, it’s great to see you again. We haven’t met in the flesh since I left the police academy. You finally passed the program, huh?”
Caleb grinned. “Took a while, but yeah.”
“Took an extra year,” Ray teased, pushing his glasses further up his nose. “But hey, you’re finally here. And you managed to get accepted into the GICA. Pretty impressive. How’d you get in?”
“Paid my way in,” he joked. “I took a shot by sending in a resume with all the information for my education and training. Then there was the actual training. Physical test, eye test, the usual.”
“Yeah, yeah. The usual stuff.” He shrugged. “Well, congrats. Now you’re at the GICA’s annual party. Time to meet some important people. How about I introduce you to some? You can’t spend the entire party standing in corners by yourself.” He winked.
“Way to ruin my fun.” He laughed, then glanced back at the table. He figured it would be best to meet some people in the GICA. Maybe even make a couple of friends. He looked back at Ray with a smile. “Guess it wouldn’t hurt if I met a few people.”
“Great! You should meet Roma.” He scanned the room, then pointed at the man. “There he is. Hey, Roma!”
Across the room, Roma glanced up. A scowl flickered across his features before quickly disappearing, replacing itself with a smile. He raised his hand in greeting.
“C’mon,” Ray said to Caleb, starting towards the man.
Caleb followed Ray, catching a glimpse of the flickering scowl and how quickly it had been replaced with a smile. A forced smile. It was obvious, even as he and Ray went over to greet the man.
Roma stood as the men approached. He eyed Caleb up and down, resisting the urge to scoff. His face was still young, his green eyes bright and round. His hair, black and wavy, was unkempt and messy, like he hadn’t bothered to fix it before coming.
He’s practically a child.
“This is Caleb Jean,” Ray began, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Kid’s new. Just got hired a few weeks ago.”
Roma held out his hand to Caleb, putting on a warm smile, although it looked a tad bit forced - too friendly to be genuine. “Pleasure to meet you.” He spoke with a light Russian accent, like it has faded after years of living in America.
You can stop forcing that smile of yours, is what Caleb wanted to say. But instead, he smiled slightly, kept his mouth shut, and shook Roma’s hand. “You too, Mr. Chernov.” Now that Caleb was closer, he could see the finer details of Roma’s face. His eyes were gray, light and cold, matching his smooth, ivory skin. There was a faint scar over one of his eyes - it looked like it had faded over the years. Caleb wondered briefly how he’d gotten it.
“You’re awfully young to work for the GICA,” he said, drawing away. “You must have connections.” There’s no other way.
Caleb’s eyebrow twitched. “No connections, Mr. Chernov. Just a resume and a good pinch of luck.” He nodded to Ray. “Worked my way up alongside this guy right here.”
“We trained at the same police academy,” Ray explained, as if Roma actually cared. “I graduated before him, though. He was seriously good - best sniper in our class. Combine that with his hacking skills, and bam.” He motioned to Caleb. “Perfect agent right here.”
Roma gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I’m sure.”
Ray turned to Caleb. “Roma’s the top agent here. Perfect role model, this guy. Listen to him and you’ll do great.”
I’ll pass. “Can do.”
“I’m impressed,” Roma said. “People of your caliber usually aren’t brave enough to approach an agency as big as the GICA. You must have a lot of confidence.” He smiled. “Don’t be too disappointed if they let you go after a month or two.”
Caleb gave a tight smile, feeling mildly annoyed. “Don’t be surprised if I stay longer than you think and pass you up as the greatest agent.”
Roma’s eyes instantly narrowed. Regardless, he kept on his smile, laughing slightly, although the sound felt tense and forced. “We’ll see.”
A young woman approached the group. She tapped Roma on the arm, giving him a smile. “Mr. Chernov,” she purred. “You’re being missed.” She pointed behind her with one long, painted nail, at the group of people gathered by the window.
He fought the desire to slap her hand away. “So I am.”
“We’ll leave you alone, then,” Ray said with a laugh. “Come on, Caleb, let’s go find some food.”
“Finally.” Caleb nodded, giving a mock salute, and then turned on his heel to walk with Ray without so much of another look to Roma.
Roma watched him go, narrowing his eyes slightly, noting that the younger man hadn’t bothered to say goodbye. None of the usual A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Chernov, or Thank you so much for your time.
He won’t last the year, Roma thought, returning to the group of men and women by the sofas.
Caleb spent the rest of the meeting talking with a couple of other agents alongside Ray. It wasn’t long before he had forgotten about his meeting with Roma and spent his time having fun and making new acquaintances.
After the party, Caleb stepped onto the elevator, pressed the first-floor button, then went to lean against the wall with a tired sigh. He slouched his shoulders, allowing himself to relax. He planned on going home, getting comfortable, and then ordering some food as an extra celebration for his acceptance into the GICA. He thought about inviting Ray but the guy was busy flirting with some agent he’d been introduced to, Jenny.
The elevator let out a soft ding as it stopped on one of the floors. The doors slid open, and Roma stepped in, reading something off his phone. Seeing that the first floor had already been selected, he went to the wall farthest from Caleb. He barely spared the young man a single glance.
Caleb noticed Roma entering the elevator, but said nothing. He was tired, and Roma probably was, too. A conversation wasn’t the best idea.
Roma completely ignored Caleb as the elevator made its way down, reading the email he’d received from the Chief during the party. He can’t let me relax, can he? Apparently, his partner for the Havoc case had been selected. He hoped it was someone competent this time - someone who would stay out of the way and allow Roma to do his work.
As if I even need a partner. He was perfectly capable on his own. Dragging some inexperienced plebe behind him would only slow him down.
As the elevator doors opened again, Caleb exited and headed for the exit. He noticed that it was raining, and mentally cursed. Seriously? What a pain.
Roma followed close behind, slipping his phone into his pocket. Instead of going around the young man, he stopped. “Move.”
Caleb glanced back at him and moved over to let Roma through, glaring at the man’s back when he was walking away. Jerk.
Roma brushed past Caleb without another word, heading for his car across the parking lot. He slipped inside, brushing the rain from his coat, and started the engine.
Caleb watched Roma for a moment, then looked away and waited for his taxi. He twisted the ring on his finger as he waited. He looked around, noticing Roma’s car pulling out of the parking lot, then watched the man’s car race by, brows raising. It looked new, with a fresh coat of black paint. A car Caleb never thought he’d ever lay his eyes on. But now he worked with someone rich enough to actually afford it?
Soon enough, his taxi arrived and he was given a lift to his home, anticipating the next day and whatever awaited him when he stepped into the building once again.