Dear Captain Awkward,
I work in a highly classified sector of the security field. It’s so classified that my job doesn’t technically exist. I don’t have a family or friends outside of work. I have teammates, I have a director, I have a mission, and that’s basically it. If I die on the job, no one will ever know or come looking for me. If I fail at my job, lots of people could die. This letter probably has zero chance of actually making it to you, but things have been chaotic here and I desperately need some outside perspective, so I’m hoping it will get out there before security protocols kick in.
My organization has a former employee in custody. He was a spy sent to infiltrate us. He did a great job of that, befriending and mentoring me and other younger members of the team and saving our lives multiple times. He and I grew very close, and were on the verge of starting a romance, maybe. And then his cover was blown, and he showed his true colors. He murdered fellow agents in cold blood. He nearly killed two of our teammates, one of whom is still suffering lasting brain damage as a result. He kidnapped me and tried to force me to help with his mission, all the while telling me he was in love with me and cared about me.
Our boss is holding onto him in solitary confinement in a secure facility, in the hopes of using him to gain insight into the organization he works for, with the deal that if he gives us intel, he stays alive and in our custody (rather than be turned over for trial and probable execution). He’s told my boss that he is willing to cooperate, but he will only talk to me. My boss let him stew on it for a long time, but recently we needed information, so I got sent in to interrogate him. It was just as creepy as you’d think, with him acting all glad to see me and concerned for me and making personal comments. I felt like Clarice going to visit Hannibal Lecter.
I don’t believe a word he says, but so far his information checks out and I know there are going to be more visits to his creepy murder cave in my future. I try to keep everything strictly business, but his jovial tone and fake concern are making me seriously bug out every time I have to interact with him. I’ve begged my boss to send literally anyone else to talk to him, but we’re stretched very thin and my boss is always pretty great at the whole “I’m counting on you” fatherly thing with his big blue eyes and his manly shoulder-grab of concern. I fall for it every time.
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I guess my question is, is there any way out of this that I’m not seeing? We don’t exactly have an H.R. department. And if not, how do I keep my shit together during and after our visits? They don’t make a bleach strong enough to remove the taint of interacting with him, and I always feel poisoned for days every time I have to talk to him. He’s been hinting about having information that’s personally important to me, but he won’t just out and give it to me without me going on more visits. I honestly don’t care what he has to say, and I don’t want to take his bait. I just want this to be done and over with.
The Lambs Aren’t Screaming, But I Totally Am
The Jack Crawford School of Murderer Management is not an accredited institution of higher learning for a reason. Does the practice of sending protégées to meet with monsters for “the greater good” ever end well for the protégée? You are within your rights to put a stop to this, immediately. Just because this dude says he will only talk to you, doesn’t mean that’s true (it gets lonely in solitary), and whatever benefit your organization can possibly get it is unethical to keep giving your abuser and kidnapper access to you as Plan A for getting it. I’m not an expert on military discipline, so I don’t know the consequences of countermanding a direct order or if that’s a choice you are prepared to make, but at very least I would encourage you to register, formally and in writing, that you are carrying out these meetings under protest and that you’d like someone else to take over as soon as possible.
If you do end up carrying on with these meetings, can you take someone else into the room with you, so you feel less alone and you have a witness to anything he says? I assume these meetings are being electronically monitored, as well, but he might chill out on the personal comments if literally faced with another unfriendly face.
Having registered my objections to you having to keep doing this, I have some tips for getting through it and for being good to yourself afterward if you end up still doing this.
1. Have a written plan. Write down your questions in advance. It gives you something to repeat in a monotone if he goes off script into personal territory, and makes it less likely that you’ll slip and divulge the personal tidbits about yourself that he wants.
2. End the interactions as soon as he says something personal, and send someone else the next time. Enforce those boundaries strictly.
3. Schedule a workout right afterward. Run or kick box or bike or climb out your frustrations, so you aren’t carrying all of that stress inside yourself.
4. Schedule something else self-caring after that workout. A nap. A good meal. A massage. Something pleasurable to reward yourself and remind yourself that you are free and will be okay.
5. Take advantage of whatever mental health services are around. Your trusted friend and mentor who you loved and looked up to turned out to be evil, betrayed everything you knew about him, killed people you knew, tried to kill your friends, and kidnapped you? And you have to deal with him on a regular basis at work? Holyyyyyyyyyyy crap, please talk to somebody about that.
6. Keep asking your boss what his endgame is. This is not sustainable, and will not end well.
7. Ask your other colleagues for help. Maybe you can all spread out the job of interacting with Mr. Scary. Don’t lie and say you can handle it if you can’t. Let them help you.
8. Ask for more….money? Vacation time? More assignments that are what you want to be doing? Basically, if your boss is going to pressure you to do this thing at great personal cost to yourself, ask for some tangible reward to offset it and to acknowledge that you are going above and beyond.
You are smarter and better than this dude in every way. You caught him and exposed him, and because of you he can’t harm the world at large anymore. That is a great thing you did, and doing it does not obligate you to be his last, lingering victim. Take care of yourself, okay? You will not be letting the world down if you decide that he’s someone else’s problem from now on.
Jennifer Peepas is a Chicago-based filmmaker and film teacher. She answers questions from non-fictional characters at her blog, CaptainAwkward.com.