The kinds of turbulence people leave behind when they pass through the waters of our lives differ in wild ways. There are those wakes which die out soon, unnoticed when they reach land, and those which make a brief series of rapid spectacular splashes against the rocks, disappearing soon after.
There are wakes though, from which the waves seem to keep rolling in forever. Steady lapping but little splash. A watery hush near our toes as we stand on the shore. It was the latter kind for Eric Engström, and the waves of memories kept rolling in with their hypnotic rhythm, but Eric wouldn’t allow himself any distraction from his purpose.
The creaking of the slightly loose antique wood slats of his office chair usually supplied him with a strange sense of peace. Today the sound was mournful. The chair was a gift from Cam.
Reporters speculated as Eric channel surfed and attempted to quash the whisper of the lapping wakes, like ghosts at his feet. A popular local investigative journalist held her microphone like a scepter, interviewing a homicide detective near the crime scene. Eric stopped there.
The detective had confirmed the murder of a young unidentified Caucasian male around thirty. Because the body had been found slumped against a brick wall in an alleyway with two small caliber entry wounds in the back of his head, he declared it an execution-style killing.
“Probably a drug deal gone sideways.” The detective walked away.
What followed was the reporter’s dry, scripted, obligatory appeal to members of the viewing audience with any knowledge of the crime to come forward.
The request only added to the feeling of emptiness Eric was left with. He knew with certainty that no viewer would call in. He also considered it unlikely the police would identify the body anytime soon, if ever.
Cam was short for Cameron, but even Eric didn’t know his actual given name. Cam had hated it, which was fine with Eric. He hadn’t needed the young man’s life story to work with him. They both lived and worked in an America off the books.
Three years of training Cam, of grooming him to take over his slot in the business, saw Eric turn forty-nine, almost ready to retire to his modest beach home in Mexico at age fifty.
Unfortunately, Cam was dead now, and Mexico would have to wait.
Overnight, Eric became responsible for the welfare of Cam’s young wife, her two daughters, and their dog. He wasn’t legally obligated to care for them, though being their benefactor was the only decent thing to do.
The waves kept lapping.
It would be easy enough to become angry, but Eric learned a lifetime ago that anger is a choice. He chose reason instead. He would take care of Cam’s family, though it would cost him dearly.
He’d watched Cam as he gained knowledge, skill and confidence. The young man already possessed the necessary toolset for the job when chance fastened their two lives together.
Eric’s mind rolled back to a bitterly cold wintry evening, three years past. Road trips were one of his favorite things. Dark bars were another. Fourteen-hundred miles from home, he settled in behind the perfect table in an establishment he’d never been to before, nursing a decent bottom shelf malt liquor when his fascination with Cam began.
Eric stayed seated as a young, skinny bartender cut off drinks to three rather large customers who objected strenuously, pounding the bar, showering other patrons with peanuts and pretzels as they scrambled to get out of the way.
Only Eric noticed the bouncer beforehand, standing in the shadows. He’d watched the young man glide past the paralyzed bartender, taking the trio down as effortlessly as drawing breath. He wove himself through them like a ribbon, before they knew he was there.
With incredible precision, Cam managed to change their priority from being confrontational to planting their faces on the polished pine floor. Before shuffling them out the door with a quiet but convincing warning, he’d noticed Eric calmly watching him, and winked. Eric tipped his bottle.
A day over schedule, Eric stayed to return and risk an overture, which turned into a long talk after the bar closed. The next morning Cam turned in his notice, and less than three weeks later he uprooted his family and moved to New York City.
Only time and dedication were needed to mold Cam into Eric’s deadly image. Normally, such a feat might have been difficult with two such different personalities. Eric was reserved. He enjoyed solitude. Cam was more than a bit gregarious, but Eric knew how to build upon his protégé’s raw potential.
He communicated well with the younger man, treating him with genuine respect, and early in the training Eric eased back, giving Cam space to grow. The young man did not disappoint. He excelled, but in his rapid evolution a weakness was exposed. He was soft. He was too nice for his own good.
Theirs was a hard business for hard people who couldn’t afford to allow their guard to drop, and Men like Eric and Cam could never afford the luxury of outside friendships. Their work required a special mindset. Existing in a constant state of maximum alert could be draining. There was no middle of the road, a fact which prompted Eric’s own decision to plan for early retirement.
Math made Eric’s head hurt, and he’d been at it for several hours now. Though all the figures he arrived at amounted to estimates, he didn’t live in a complete vacuum where young girls were concerned. He felt confident that his best guesses would prove accurate.
The mortgage. Clothing allowances, groceries, transportation and education. There would be dental and medical bills. There would be all sorts of hurdles to come of the kinds which prevented him from ever desiring marriage or children of his own. Shouldering the burden of a family wasn’t for everyone, but the responsibility was his now all the same, though by proxy.
He contacted Kate Patterson, an accountant friend he knew from high school, who set up a de facto trust fund for the young widow and her children. Kate would see to the arrangements and administer the payments each month as a favor to Eric.
Reaching across the desk his hand felt weak, as if the crushing weight of a piece of paper was almost more than he could bear. He slipped the cashier’s check for the first month into the envelope along with a note which read, “The government has no knowledge of these funds. Do not report them,” and signed, “A friend.”
His shoulders hunched forward as he fought back a deep sob. In his thirty years as a professional he hadn’t shed a tear for anyone, friend or foe. He wasn’t about to adopt the practice now. Uncontrolled emotions were a treacherous liability.
Sealing the envelope was hard, as though a piece of his life was being sealed inside of it. It was difficult for him to reach out in trust to help a person he didn’t even know. Would she be sensible with the money he was giving to her? Money is congealed time, and the small paper ark in his hand contained a lot of his.
Eric never met Leena. He saw pictures of the girls and had been invited to their home for dinner. Declined. He adhered to a strict policy—no family contact. He’d seen videos of them on Cam’s cell phone. Scenes of a devoted husband and father, but no images of Leena. Cam never made her description less than glowing. “Beautiful, vivacious and intelligent.”
None of my business, Eric told himself, though it would be tough for him to take if he discovered her to be an unkempt harpy. He realized it was a strange, sexist notion to have at such a point. Beautiful or not, intelligent or not, Leena Kidwell did not deserve to lose her partner, nor the girls their father.
He’d made sure Cam’s final instructions to Leena were delivered. The kid read the letter to him a year earlier. “If you’re reading this, I’m no longer alive . . .” The instructions directed her to exercise caution, to stay out of sight for a time and live her life in a quiet fashion. Cam warned her to avoid filing a missing person report and followed that with a pledge of his undying love. It ended with an apology for leaving her and the girls, along with a plea for her forgiveness.
Pulling on his long coat, Eric left his apartment and walked to the corner, slipping the envelope into the postbox. There would be many more envelopes to follow. Kate would take care of the checks, and Eric would take care of business.
He crossed the street, walking the two miles downtown, stepping over bits of paper and trash to turn into the alley and stand next to the red brick wall where Cam took his last breath. The crime scene was less than a day stale, but his visit was a risk he had to take. Cam disobeyed a direct order and allowed a mark to live, and his poor decision came back to bite them both.
Instead of following through as ordered, Cam took pity on the man he’d been assigned to eliminate and told him to run. Worse, he lied to the bosses and confirmed the kill. Word got out though. It always did.
Somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody else twenty-five-hundred miles away saw a dead man walking, talking, and laughing with a prostitute.
Having reasoned the situation out days earlier, Eric knew how to act. He’d personally recruited Cam and trained him, which made Eric responsible for Cam in the minds of Eric’s bosses. When the order came down, he didn’t have any viable way out, other than to obey.
A trip to Las Vegas eliminated one problem, and a lonely walk last night eliminated the other. The first problem only cost him some airfare and a little time. He didn’t want to know the cost of Cam’s death, but it would be revealed to him in time.
“I’m sorry about the double-tap, kid. I had to comply. At least I didn’t let you see it coming.” Eric felt his fists tighten within his pockets, “If I’d refused, they would have killed me on the spot, then killed you and your mark. With me dead, they probably would have found out about Leena and your girls. I knew you wouldn’t want that.”
Two .22 hollow points delivered with a sound suppressor to the back of Cam’s unsuspecting head. Textbook. Clean.
“I’m sorry about this, kid.” The wind picked up and Eric fastened the top button of his overcoat, “I wish I’d never approached you, but I did, and I’m going to make all this right by you. I’m going to keep your family safe. I swear.”
Taking a deep breath, he scanned the city skyline, permitting the beauty of its lights to wash over him. The sound of paper skittering over the pavement, pushed along by the winter breeze caused him to pull his coat tighter.
The waves were no longer lapping at his toes, and he hoped soon, they would fade into the sand.
D.V. Bennett lives in southern Washington State, enjoys spending time with his family and training in martial arts. He has a day job, but writing is what keeps him up nights.