By – V. J. Willis Jr.
Mary and I sat quietly at our table. Nothing had been said since the waitress took our orders. Five minutes of silence felt like hours, but I just did not know what to say to comfort Mary just then. Equally, I was not sure what I wanted to hear from Mary either. She reached across the table and slid her soft and smooth hand under mine. Guilt flooded me because I did not feel like this was the time or place to feel the wave of emotion that flooded through my body. I looked into her eyes and realized she was feeling the same. Words weren’t really needed just then.
I felt obligated to say something, but what? Just then the waitress showed up with our orders. Mary reluctantly moved her hand away from mine to make way for the food. My heart leapt, and I wanted to grab her hand back before it could get out of reach. But the practical side of me realized I should not.
We ate quietly. When we were finished, Mary once again reached for my hand. I slid mine under hers. Mary is not a petite woman, and I am a bit larger than average. I examined her hand in my larger one. Its size and delicacy fascinated me. I was studying it when she said, “I feel a sense that we were meant for each other too.” I was in full agreement, but the boldness of her comment took me by surprise momentarily, until I remembered Mike said that Mary was “a bit outspoken and something of a mind reader”. I quickly recovered and said, “I couldn’t agree more, but a sense of guilt over my feelings for you made me hesitate to say anything. I know it’s silly, but I kept feeling as if I were betraying Mike.” Mary looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Want to hear something hilarious? Mike has commented more than once about how you and I would hit it off like two peas in a pod if we ever met.” I felt my entire body relax and gratitude toward Mike filled me.
“On another subject”, Mary added, “What are your feelings about whether or not we should continue on with this mess with Al?” “We don’t have any choice,” I said without hesitation. “This is already in official channels. I have a small team of three of us on this, with more agents on standby. What concerns me is that we have discovered the corruption reaches the upper levels in so many organizations. We have no reason to believe that the FBI has been spared. I have to be extraordinarily careful about who I keep in the loop on this. My boss and his boss are the only ones that I can be sure of.”
Just then Mary’s cell phone rang. It was the hospital. The ICU nurse said that we needed to get back to the hospital right away. I left enough money on the table to cover the bill and the tip. We hurried to the car and didn’t pay much attention to speed limits. “What did the nurse say?” I asked Mary. “All she said was that we should get down there right away; nothing more.” As soon as we parked, we both jumped out of my car and ran quickly to the elevator. I am convinced that elevators always go slower when you are in a hurry.
As we reached the ICU ward, Mike’s nurse was waiting for us at the door. “He’s regained consciousness, but his vitals are crashing quickly. We’re trying everything we can, but it doesn’t look good.” she said. Mike was still in the same position as the last time we had seen him, flat on his back. Mary went to his right side. I went in behind her. Mike’s eyes were closed as she walked hesitantly up to him. “Mike, we’re here.” she said. He very slowly opened his eyes, looking at both Mary and I in one glance. The start of a smile began to work its way over his countenance. We could tell the pain was too great to let it last very long. He took a deep breath, like someone about to go underwater. The monitor next to him showed a flat line, accompanied by an ominous steady tone. The nurse jumped to the other side of Mike. Mary and I stepped quickly back. A middle-aged doctor stepped in where we were and started shouting orders. Another nurse and another doctor appeared out of nowhere. They injected syringes into his IV and shocked him with the defibrillator three times. Immediately after the third attempt you could see the hope drain from the medical team’s body. Their shoulders sagged. The lead physician turned to the ICU nurse and pronounced the words Mary and I least wanted to hear. They were the words that robbed the hope from our souls. “Time of death . . .” The rest we never heard because the whole room went dark for us as the impact of his words washed through us like the storm surge of a hurricane. “Why?” was the only word that left my lips. Everyone around me thought I meant: Why had God allowed Mike to die like this? But, my “Why?” was about how come at least two thugs had beat Mike to the point that it cost him his life.
Granted, Mike’s role in this particular case was over. Did they consider the need for Mike over, making him a loose end to be dealt with? But, surely they realized that Mike’s value as a future asset would ensure his safety. That left one distinct possibility. He wasn’t supposed to be killed. Someone had messed up, being overzealous in the process. If that was the case, there would be hell to pay. Aside from what I had planned for them, my thoughts were that they had now become loose ends. Bad guys don’t like unnecessary murders happening. It leaves them too exposed. Oh sure, they wouldn’t hesitate to murder if they deemed it necessary, but even then, plans about a cover up took time and much effort to put into play. And, in this case, Mike’s murder might backfire and cause Mary to decide to put the brakes on their scheme. No, this was definitely as mistake. It was the sort of mistake that would cause heads to roll. If I didn’t find Mike’s murderers soon, the matter would be taken out of my hands.
As all this was rushing its way through my thoughts, I noticed the weight of Mary’s body collapsing against mine. I held on tightly, not wanting her to completely fall to the floor. I guided her over to a nearby chair. It wasn’t the first time I had seen someone die. I suspected it was Mary’s first time. Even though my best friend had just died, and that fact hit me hard, I knew that I had much to do to bring a sense of justice to my own soul. The agent side of me kicked in. “I want a full autopsy performed. I want to know definitively if Mike’s death is a direct result of the assault. He was a witness in a federal investigation. The FBI will be assuming full control in this matter. The doctor and nurse both nodded sadly; well aware that this was personal, and not just professional, for me. For the first time in my career, I truly didn’t know which way to respond.
(Watch for The Jury Pool – Part 9 for the conclusion)