Washington, DC, 14 years ago.
“It was amateur hour. I…just thought it through, and then…I didn’t. The guy was a piece of shit…” Michael was four days clean, in a dopamine-depleted depression.
“No shortage of them…But you recognize, Michael, that you have a problem?”
It was humiliating to admit it, but he was responsible for his actions. “I do.”
“Step one, they say, Michael. Step one.” Mr. Hale looked at the legendary Michael Turner. There was upside to this, but it gave him no joy to see the man so defeated. “No changing the past, Michael. And I’m not going to rub your nose in it. But you have to clean yourself up. And if it was alcohol, Michael, you’d be…absent.”
He was lost in his thoughts. All that training, all the patience he had honed into a weapon in its own right. Michael lost his temper, put three in the guy’s chest, and hit the road with the guy’s stepson.
“Thank God for what, Michael?”
He laughed and shook his head. “I had everything set up, but then…Thank God they were on the body so fast. I almost forgot about it. Can you believe that?”
Mr. Hale thought about what the younger man had said. “I’ve never been one for drugs or drink. But Michael, I have been there…when everything falls apart but you somehow connect on the Hail Mary, the one detail that saves your bacon. It’s as though you were planning on making the mistake, Michael…Well, at least we’re both here to laugh about it.”
“Who’s laughing? I’m one step…I’m out of moves, Sir.”
“Come on, Colonel. You don’t need to call me ‘Sir.’ And, not even close, Michael. Do I look like the guy who’s going to push your button?…I’m done with that part of the business, Michael.” He permitted the younger man to digest this piece of news. “You’re done with that part of the business, too. If you can behave yourself, you’re going to pasture, not a hole in the ground. You’re a civilian now, so let’s get to work.”
If this were two civilians, he would have asked a half dozen questions. But Mr. Hale had said everything he needed to know: He was bailed out, and now, had a new master. And as those went, from what he knew, Michael had just gotten lucky.
“You understand, Michael?”
“I’m not happy about it. But the fact is, Michael, as assets go, you came cheap. Lucky thing those boys didn’t run into any trouble with the body…” he said to the broken man seated before him. It wasn’t the homicide that ended Colonel Turner’s career but abusing his authority and putting the “ambulance crew” at risk. “You might be an asset, Michael, but I hope you’ll someday be a friend. I mean that, son.”
He didn’t show it, but Michael’s brain had just snapped to attention. He was about to hear the cost, and, based on the conversation so far, his own name about a hundred more times.
“You’re going to get clean. That goes without saying, Michael. And you’re going to fix some of this. You were right about the kid. Jack. He’s right where he should be…He’s the reason you are still alive. But I’m going to require you to make amends, Michael. That family is your responsibility now.”
That was odd. Michael’s face tipped Mr. Hale off.
“Michael…We scramble a lot of eggs and squeeze a lot of toothpaste. But we can fix some of it. And I’m going to require that you do that.”
“I understand.” He didn’t. Mr. Hale could tell.
“It’s not a punishment, Michael! This is how you heal. And you need healing! That ‘piece of shit’ was a father. He took care of his family. And you were right. That Jack, he was prison-bound. And now he’s going to be an asset for his country. That’s a win. But the little one? What’s he going to be, Michael? A failure before he even starts?…He needs help, and his mother isn’t up to it.”
It was “the little one,” Tom, that set this all in motion. Michael had tried to use the boys’ mother for access to her employer which wasn’t just unnecessary, it was foolish. But they got to know each other, and she inadvertently tipped him off to Jack’s situation: street smart, book smart, great athlete, and headed toward a life behind bars if he didn’t wise up. Two possession charges weren’t a big deal, but a brutal assault put him in a whole different class of juvenile offender. Rather than take the asset and run, however, Michael got closer to the wife. And that’s how he discovered the ugly truth of their family. He decided to eliminate what he understood to be the source of everyone’s problems, including his. But he was “followed by helicopters” fucked up. After several days of setting up the stepfather’s disappearance like the professional that he was, Michael changed the plan at the last minute. It was bad. He covered his ass by taking off with the teenager so that it looked as though the stepson had been pushed too far. He was never found because Michael deposited him in one of several secret training centers where future violent offenders were honed into the tips of Uncle Sam’s spears.
Michael was too lost in his own head to filter himself.
“The younger brother. That’s how I knew the guy had to go. Knocked the kid’s front tooth out…Linda said it was an accident, defended the asshole. There are no ‘accidents’ in a family like that…”
“I am curious about one thing, Michael…Did you fall in love with the mother? Linda?”
“…As though there was some way…Just ridiculous…”
“That explains how this turned into a ‘crime of passion’…It’s funny, Michael, in a sad way…All the things we see and do…the power we wield…But a pretty woman we can’t have, and…here we are, Michael.” The younger man could tell by the delivery that Mr. Hale wasn’t mocking him. He understood. Some part of it, anyway. They both reflected on what was just said. “…But Michael, I think I see what you’re thinking here, that they are better off without him. And they are…They will be…because you’re going to see to it, Michael…Now, get yourself well, and let’s start looking to your future.”