Read Time: 6 mins | Serial Fiction | Part 6 | Read from the beginning.
Officer Sutherland could be trusted to play his role. His colleague, who answered to more sinister forces, would have needed some persuading. As they escorted me to a more secluded spot in the park, I saw Michael doubling back to where we had parted ways. Sutherland’s orders were to bring me to the Mansoor residence, preferably alive. I could sense his reluctance, but the other officer was already counting his chickens.
Under less pressing circumstances, I would have been willing to pursue a more conciliatory course of action, and the officer would probably have survived. Michael had returned, and the odds were now decidedly in my favor. Three to one, but the officer never knew this. A heavy blow was delivered to the back of his head, and he was out. Officer Sutherland assured me he would take care of the rest, as I handed him Michael’s firearm. My insinuation was quite transparent.
We needed to return to the safety of my home. They had found me too easily, and I wondered if I had been careless, or perhaps Michael had tipped them off. Perhaps I was just getting old, and paranoia was a natural part of the process.
“I saved your skin back there. I believe that according to your creed, you owe me.” Michael said as we ran to my car.
“Unfortunately, that is not a part of our creed. But I do owe you my profound gratitude. Thank you.”
“Will you at least tell me the entire truth about my family?”
“Even at the pain of death, I cannot tell my secrets, Michael.”
“You would die to protect these evil men?”
“All men are evil. This is the nature of the world. You choose which degree of malevolence you could tolerate. If this isn’t the path for you, then I suggest you return to Denzel, do your dirty deed, and rot in a dank prison cell the rest of your days.” I was a bit harsh, but he had been nagging like a child, and I was exhausted.
He shook so violently I was afraid the gun he still held in his hands would accidentally go off. Michael had a conscience; a weakness that would be remedied with time. There is no right or wrong in our line of work. Just boundaries of reasoning.
“I couldn’t kill Reza.” He blurted.
“It takes a lot to kill a man.” I tried to be reassuring.
“But I beat the shit out of him and stuck about a foot of rebar where it shouldn’t be. An eye for an eye, right?”
“That’s fair, after what he’d done to you”
We drove in silence for a while, navigating the backroads, avoiding where I thought discerning eyes would be looking for me.
“For what they did to your wife and daughter; will they deserve what’s coming?”
Michael was seeking an answer that would make him feel better. It didn’t work that way, unfortunately. Once an act had been premeditated, all prerequisite justifications for committing the act would have been met in one’s mind. Reza was guilty of the most heinous act against young Michael. What my apprentice was questioning was whether the punishment he handed down was appropriate. That was a cross he would have to bear on his own.
“Yes. I know the two men who ordered the hit on my family. Reza’s brother applied himself to my daughter before they beat her to death. My wife: they pushed in front of a train. It made the three o’clock news two weeks ago.”
“That was your wife?” He asked.
“An eye for an eye.” He whispered.
My mind began to replay the events of that day in full detail. What the world didn’t know is that I was made to watch this happen. The act was performed for maximum impact. The entire fraternity was placed on notice, all because of one man’s attempt to control the narrative of his past. Ambitious men had no loyalty, and it created a host of problems in our line of work. It was just another detail of our calling, which Michael would have to learn to navigate.
“As per our creed, I must give you one more chance to change your mind. This is a life altering decision. If I take you to my home, it now becomes yours. If I take you under my wings, you surrender your all to me, until I renounce my position. Your life, will be forever linked with mine.” I quietly pulled to the side of the road, near a wooded area, and he dropped the window and stuck his head out.
He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the fresh air. “No. I know that I have seen too much to walk away now.”
“This life can be unforgiving.” I confirmed his fears.
“Don’t I know it?”
It was unfair what I was asking of him, but he still had a chance to change his mind. The odds were, he would say yes. The bigger certainty was what would happen should he say no, as forces beyond my control would make him disappear. I am sure he had already deduced that.
“I am all in Mister.’ he said after a while. “Does that mean, that I can know your real name now?”
“You’ve known it for more than an entire day. I am the Innkeeper.” I smiled.
The truth was, we were men with more aliases than the days assigned to our lives. I was all things to all men. Back at my home, I introduced Michael to my granddaughter and her young friend Anabelle, then we retired to my study for a chat.
“This is a nice place you have here.” He sat on my desk and placed his feet on my chair. This generation lived ass-backwards.
“This is a temporary hideout. My real home I vacated when my wife and daughter were murdered. The police searched it earlier today. Then around lunch, some special friends of Reza, did their own detailed search of the premises.”
“How do you know this?” He asked as he walked around fingering everything.
I turned on the television in my study and directed his attention to the screen.
“They weren’t even trying to hide from the cameras, were they?” He quietly observed.
“Men who have learned to dwell in the shadows do not fear the light. Every living thing casts a shadow. And if it does, it can be killed.”
“There is only violence in your world. Why would you even bother to start a family?”
“I had left this world behind a long time ago. Before you were born.”
“Then how did Mr. Mansoor find you?”
The kid was good. Perhaps it was pure dumb luck, but he had maneuvered the conversation superbly.
“It was a personal favor. Collateral damage isn’t a part of our world. Denzel had crossed the line.”
“Why wasn’t he punished?”
“A life for a life. Him saving yours, meant he had fulfilled an obscure, unwritten code among criminals.”
“My family were killed so that I could live?”
“Denzel spared them all. But the damage had been done.”
“Please. Tell me what happened to them.”
“Not until you take your oath.” I sat down and retrieved a small folder.
Michael gave a loud, exaggerated sigh as he slumped into a chair and pulled his cap down over his face.
“I will need you to stay here, and look after the girls, and Ms. Naomi as well.”
“You want me to babysit?” He seemed so shocked by my request.
“Yes. It would give you time to review this folder.”
“It is about your family.”
He grabbed the folder and opened it at once.
“Where will you be going?”
“I need a short nap as it’s going to be a long night. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Without looking up from the folder he asked, “How does one sleep at a time like this?”.
“Horribly.” I said under my breath.
YOU CAN READ THE PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THIS SERIES:
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE
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