copyrighted material 2011
Ethan Barak stood at the edge of the grave, the gaping hole in the earth waiting for its spoils. Ethan stared at the dirt, not lifting his head as the rain started to fall, as if even heaven itself wanted to hurry the process of burial. The rain coursed down his head and face, making the paths of tears where there were none. He felt nothing. No grief. No anger. Just an empty void¾as empty as the grave in front of him.
He could hear stirrings from the church and knew the funeral was probably over and the procession bearing the coffin would soon be here. The family his father had made after he’d abandoned Ethan and his mother would be in this very spot momentarily. Ethan knew his presence wouldn’t be welcome, but he still lingered a little longer. For just a moment he wondered if his father ever thought about him, ever regretted leaving him behind, or if Ethan was just a faraway memory that he didn’t like to think about. With a deep sigh, he pushed those thoughts away. None of those questions mattered now, and it was no use even thinking them.
He ran his hand through his dark rain-slicked hair, his normal mask of composure feeling vulnerable. Even if it had been his mother’s dying wish that he reconcile with this father, the opportunity to do so was gone. His father was dead and the reality was, he’d barely known the man and hadn’t cared to. He’d decided that, in the future, there might be a need to remedy that fact, but there always seemed plenty of time to come around to the idea of making amends. But the chance had been taken from him now. The grave would be satisfied once the coffin bearing his father’s body was here, the gaping mouth of earth covered over and closed once it was full. Ethan wouldn’t stay for that, even to watch from afar. He probably shouldn’t have come in the first place. He heard the heavy church doors creak open and he knew it was time to go. Shoving the piece of paper deeper into his pocket, he started to move away from the gravesite, his shoes making muddy squishing sounds as he tried to get to the edge of the small cemetery without being seen.
Once in his car, he brought out the piece of paper and stared at it again. The message was clear. There was no doubt that his father had been murdered and that it was because of Ethan. His jaw clenched as he read the words one more time. “On your head.” Whatever that meant, whatever they were trying to make Ethan pay for in his father’s blood, Ethan had received the message and was about to send one of his own. He was going to find the person who’d done it and make them feel the overwhelming pain he couldn’t.
He pulled out his cell phone and texted three words of his own. “Meet me. Now.”
Ethan slid into the booth, his eyes taking in the tired appearance of the man before him. His suit was rumpled, and he had a day’s worth of stubble on his face, as if he hadn’t showered or shaved in a while. “Harry,” he said, fingering the folder he had in his hand as he sat down.
Harry watched him carefully, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s dangerous to meet this way, Ethan. You know that. What’s this about?”
Anger tingled through his body at Harry’s words. “I think you know what this is about,” he said, struggling to control the tone of his voice. His fingers tapped on the table. “You made me a promise that my family would be safe. I just came from my father’s grave!”
Harry sighed. “Ethan, there was no way to predict that they’d go after your father, and really, we don’t even know for sure if his death had anything to do with your work for us.”
Ethan shoved the folder in his hands toward Harry. Harry raised an eyebrow, but slowly opened it. Upon seeing the first crime photo, he moved to shut it, but Ethan slammed his hand down, making it impossible for Harry to turn away from what Ethan had memorized. His father’s body had practically been gutted. Like a pig. And the note next to his head was framed in his father’s lifeblood as it had flowed from him. “What else would it be about?” he asked Harry, his tone low, the anger seeping through. “The note said, on your head. That’s a direct message.”
Harry glanced down at the photo, before looking away. “I’m sorry, Ethan.”
“Sorry? When I came to you, I wanted out. I wanted to give you all the names of the people I’d dealt with on the black market, and I wanted to give you the men who were about to sell enough nuclear materials to al-Qaeda that they could build their own dirty bomb. And what did you say to me? Stay in. Go undercover. Help us catch the big fish, not just the grunts. We’ll protect your family, you said.”
“You hadn’t spoken to your father since you were ten years old,” Harry interrupted, his voice rising for the first time.
Ethan slapped his hand on the table, the force of it knocking the crime scene photos to the floor. “That doesn’t have anything to do with it! You convinced me to stay in a little longer to help MI6 bring down the arms dealers running with al-Qaeda. And less than six months later, my father is dead.” He looked at Harry, gritting his teeth as he tried to control his emotions. “This is payback.”
Harry ran his hands through his hair. “Ethan, we had no idea that they were even looking at your father. I’ve spent the last two days trying to sort this out, to see if it had anything to do with our agreement. I just need a little more time.”
“I’m done.” Ethan bent to retrieve the photos, and pushed the file folder shut. “I’m going to find the men who murdered my father, and then I’m going to disappear. Please thank your bosses for me. They just made things a lot more clear.”
“Ethan, we can help you, just like we planned. Don’t throw away months of work. We know the deal we have been waiting for is going down in the next two weeks or so. We need your connections to find out the particulars. That’s all. Then we can do the rest.”
“Forget it.” Ethan stood up and leaned over the table. “You guys couldn’t keep up your end of the deal. I’m out.”
“What if this doesn’t have anything to do with MI6? What if this is something else entirely?”
“I know exactly what this is about, and I’m going to take care of it.” He took a step away from the table when Harry grabbed his wrist.
“Ethan, I know you’re angry, but please, think of the good you can do. We can seriously cripple al-Qaeda. We need your help to do that.” He dropped Ethan’s arm. “I’m going to call you, because I hope once you’ve calmed down, you’ll change your mind. But, regardless, you have my number. If you need my help, with anything, just call. I’m there for you.”
Ethan’s steps faltered a bit. He turned. “Thanks, Harry. I know you tried.” And with that, he was gone.