Bill felt the hot water wash over his sore calf muscles. He gasped as his waist slipped below the waterline. The hot liquid and air jets relaxed the day’s tension and soreness. Bill closed his eyes, laid his head back on the deck, and struggled to stay awake.
Garcia’s voice was barely perceptible over the sound of the water jets. “Stay with me, Bill. You can relax after we talk.”
Visions of the day’s events at the island came rushing into Bill’s mind, and he sat up. The evening air blew against his tired chest and shoulders.
Garcia asked, “For what?”
Bill could feel the tears pooling in his eyes. “If I hadn’t acted out, Alice might still be alive.”
Garcia reached over and squeezed Bill’s shoulder. “That wasn’t your fault. Alice was in a position to shoot down the drone. Whoever operated the craft had her in their crosshairs before she squeezed her trigger.
“I’m actually more concerned with your reaction to Chuck. How can I know you won’t kill him if I let you talk with him?”
Bill looked up at the darkening sky. “I don’t know. I mean, I want to say I won’t, but what if he tries something? I know deep down inside I want him to try something so I can kill him.
“Everybody keeps giving me advice about the new me, but I’m not sure anyone really understands.”
Garcia propped his elbows on the deck and checked his watch. He held up his finger, “Hold that thought.”
Frank appeared from the stairs with four rum runners. He put two down for each of them and then left.”
Bill said, “I’m not a heavy drinker.”
Garcia smiled, “Neither am I. Consider these virgins, well, almost virgins.”
Bill took a swallow, and the fruit juices wash over his throat in a cold, sweet liquid with just a hint of rum.
Garcia put down his glass, let out a sigh and said, “This isn’t a new you. It’s who you are. I understand you had this vision of yourself as a quiet, everyday guy who worked in finance. You’re still that guy.”
Bill interrupted, “I’m still that guy even though I killed five people?”
Garcia nodded, “True. Taking a life does change you, but how you chose to react to it comes from your heart. I’m probably one of the few people that can understand how you feel. I know what it feels like to do something you never thought you were capable of doing.”
“Please tell me it’s not that coffee story about your dad that Harold warned me about.”
Garcia scowled, “No. This story is about me during the second gulf war. I’ve never shared this with anyone.
“I volunteered to slip into Syria. We knew there were terrorist camps, ties to smaller groups, and some of those had ties to Al Qaeda. My assignment was to find any leaders, report my findings, and if possible, eliminate the targets.”
Bill’s eyes widened, “You were an assassin?”
Garcia replied, “A soldier, we were at war.”
“But you work for the CIA?”
Garcia took a sip of his drink and then said, “Remember, this is classified.”
Garcia continued, “I was on the outskirts of a small eastern Syrian village. Do you remember John the Baptist from the Bible? The guy who ate locust and honey?”
Garcia said, “Well, I was living on MREs and bugs. I had crawled around so long in the dirt I thought I was going to turn into a snake. We had good intel on a leader trying to create a new cell called ISIS. It was early, so taking out anyone could collapse their effort.
“There was a shepherd who could come and go from the town without question. He had no love for the men who had invaded his village. The terrorists had taken many of the younger girls and put them in a building where the men stayed. Pedophilia is big with these guys.”
Bill scowled, squeezed his glass, and finished off his first drink.
Garcia kept talking, “The shepherd told me an Al Qaeda leader was coming to town to meet with the leader of the terrorist cell. With us taking Afghanistan, Iraq’s collapse, and Syria’s government in shambles, they thought they could move part of their operation to Syria.
“The building where they stayed was in the middle of town, but I was lucky because the meeting was supposed to happen in the middle of the night. As soon as it got dark, I made my way to the edge of the village. The shepherd’s family hid me in their house and gave me some clothes to wear to blend in better. I used their home as my new base of operation until it was time for the meeting.
“My plan was to scout the building where the terrorists were meeting. I would confirm who was there and then paint the building’s side for our bombers. When I arrived at the end of their street, I knew I had a problem. The terrorist had planned their location well. There was an apartment building across the street, a clinic with a small section for overnight patients next door, and several residences.
“I moved in closer to see how many people were in the nearby buildings. As I walked down the street, I could hear the girls screaming from inside the terrorists’ structure. A young boy sat next to the entrance of the terrorists’ house with a blanket over himself, huddled up crying.
“A guard approached me and told me to get away, so I hurried down the block and slipped out of sight. I had a choice to make. If I called in the bombing and took the terrorists out, it would also kill the children being raped inside. It might also kill some civilians in the surrounding buildings. I still didn’t have any ids, but I had enough. If I did nothing, the nightmare would continue for the kids, and the terrorists would completely take over the town once Al Qaeda agreed to join them.”
Garcia finished his second glass. “The screaming of adults replaced the screaming of children. We dropped one five-hundred-pound bomb on target. The clinic received some damage, but fortunately, those beds were empty. The apartment building was old, and the shockwave caused a partial collapse. Three residents perished, but the rest were rescued.”
Bill asked, “What about the terrorists and kids?”
Garcia watched his fingers as they played against the bubbles in the water, “Nobody survived in the house.”
Both men sat there quietly. The jets turned off, and Bill pushed himself out and sat on the edge of the hot tub with his legs dangling in the water. Garcia followed suit.
Garcia said, “You know, at first I told myself I was a hero. At least that’s what everyone else told me, so I believed it to make myself feel better. But, at night, when I was alone in my bed, I could still hear the screaming. I finally had to face the fact that I had caused the deaths of innocent people.”
Bill interrupted, “They weren’t innocent. They were terrorists.”
Garcia looked into Bill’s eyes, “And some were children, rape victims, mothers and fathers in bed with their families thinking they were safe. I started to question whether I was as much of a terrorist as the people I was hunting.”
Bill said, “That’s not you.”
“You’re right. That’s not who I am. I analyzed everything about that mission for months. If I had walked away, things would have been worse, not only for the villagers but the surrounding area. I realized that sometimes we don’t have a choice between good and evil. Sometimes, the option is about the best long-term outcome to an already bad situation. I wanted to shorten the suffering, even though I temporarily added to it.
“That experience brought me to God and Jesus.”
Bill asked, “Blowing people up brought you to Jesus?”
Garcia’s mouth curved down slightly. “No. the need for forgiveness brought me to him. It doesn’t matter how good your reasons are for killing someone; it’s not our right to take somebody’s life. However, some of us are created to do that so that others don’t die.
“The feeling of taking innocent lives was still more than I could handle. So, I started reading the Bible. I had remembered some stories I heard during mass as a kid. I read about David and Sampson. I saw how God used them and gave them grace because God had put them on earth to do brutal, violent acts to save Israel.
“If God is the same no matter the century, and if Jesus really brought about forgiveness for all humanity, then it made sense that all of that would apply to me.”
Bill put up his hands, “Okay, you can stop there. We attended church every Sunday and had daily devotions at the orphanage. I have to be honest. I have yet to see any evidence of God.
“I asked for parents. I believed for parents and got nothing. If He exists, where’s the family? Not only that, God let Lori and our baby be murdered. I have yet to see evidence from this God I was raised on.”
Garcia answered, “Let me leave you with this thought. Are you missing God because he’s not answering the way you think He should answer, or is it because He’s done nothing in your life?”
“Oh, He’s done something alright. He’s given me this raging personality that can make bashing in skulls seems as enjoyable as a day at the beach.”
Garcia said, “So, you do believe God exists.”
Garcia grabbed his towel and stood up. He looked down at Bill and said, “Just think about what we’ve talked about. You have a brother who loves you. Joshua thinks of you as a son. Evidently, Carol is interested in being more than just a friend if body language is any indicator. Don’t destroy the blessings in front of you for the darkness around you.”
Garcia turned on his heel and headed down the stairs without saying goodnight. Bill lifted his legs out of the water and laid on his back. The stars formed a canopy across the black sky. The cold ocean breeze washed over his body, and he threw his towel over himself to stay warm.
Bill spoke to the night, “If you’re there, could you give me some sort of sign? I only see death, lies, and secrets. I just want to know I’m going to be alright, and I’m not alone.”
Carol’s familiar voice spoke from across the deck at the stairwell. “You’re not alone, baby.”
She cleared the top of the steps. Bill could see she had changed into a pair of black shorts and a white t-shirt. Bill had a tough time taking his eyes off her.
Carol laid down next to Bill, “You can blink now.”
Bill asked, “How did you know I’d be here still?”
Carol replied, “Let’s just say a little spy told me.”
Bill slipped his arm around Carol and threw the towel over her. The warmth of their bodies made Bill sleepy. He could feel himself relaxing.
Carol whispered near his ear, “Don’t give up the faith. Your life is not about death. It’s about living.”
Bill sat up, “What? Why did you say that?”
Carol’s eyes widened, “What’s wrong?”
“Did you hear me praying?” demanded Bill.
Carol answered, “No, I just heard you ask God to tell you that you aren’t alone.”
Bill rubbed his face in the palm of his hands. He asked, “What made you say my life isn’t about death?”
Carol took his hands, “I thought you might still be upset about Alice, and something inside me told me to say it.”
Bill hugged her. She smelled like a field of flowers, and Bill nestled his face into the crook of her neck, and before he could stop himself, he let his lips gently kiss her silky dark skin. He released Carol and sat up.
Bill said, “I, uh, I’m sorry. I don’t know what, um.”
Carol interrupted, “It’s alright.”
Bill kissed her fingers and then stood up and offered Carol his hand. She held it and raised herself off the deck. The two held hands down to their cabins. They hugged goodnight and went into their separate rooms. Bill turned on the satellite television and stared blankly at the weather channel.