Rain poured, pounding against the side of the building, tinging off the windows of his apartment as Tyler sat up in bed. Soft white light, peeking through the breaks in his blinds, shined across the room, hitting Kara's alabaster skin as she lay next to him. This was the first time they hooked up and Kara did not leave fairly soon after. Tyler couldn't help but stare. Out of uniform, Kara Carlson was incredibly attractive, every mans' fantasy. She definitely did not fit the picture of a police captain.
Tyler inhaled deeply, then exhaled the blue-gray smoke from his cigarette. His mind was elsewhere. In the past few weeks, since returning from an assignment, Tyler had not just one, but four homicides land on his desk. As good as he was at shaking the trees, he hadn't gotten anything to shake loose on the case. The evidence was leading them nowhere. There was no forensics yet. The DNA markers had been corrupted at the medical examiner's office. As a task force, all any of them had to go off of was that the scenes were a virtual match for the next one and the last. Seven bodies, and the suspect so far was unnamed. All Tyler was certain of, was that this killer didn't make any mistakes, at least not the kind that he could find.
Watching the thing plumes of smoke dance up from the end of the cigarette burning between his fingers, Tyler could see images in front of him, mixing with his present. The past haunted Tyler. He carried it with him, he carried them with him, the faces of the dead. Tyler was haunted by the faces of the innocent as they lay on the ground, their cold, dead eyes, staring up at him with their last look frozen on their faces. Faces of the dead were frozen in time. They showed the character of the deceased, the fear in the faces of the deceased, and the desperation they felt in their last minutes of life. It was their stories that haunted the weary Tyler.
Tyler saw other faces, intermingling with those of the victims he encountered over the years. Intermixed with the faces of innocent villagers in Afghanistan, victimized by the Taliban, and those in Africa that was being cleansed by warlords, tortured, murdered, and mutilated, were the faces of the men whose lives he ended. Tyler liked hunting for the monsters but feared that somewhere, deep down, he was becoming one of what he hated the most, a monster. It was less than two days ago that he unleashed his hatred for those that would victimize the innocent, those that the world was truly better off without. While he believed in the system of justice, Tyler settled the score that his friend and mentor had with the Mendez Cartel.
It was simple. Mendez was a bad man and he ordered the chief's sons' execution. It could have ended there but they, the cartel, always want to make it personal. That was why he finally agreed to take the job. It wasn't the money. He turned down that part of the offer because Chief Johnson, while he was his boss, was his friend and a mentor. Taking the job was because the Mendez Cartel leader, no matter how much he believed in the system, had crossed a line that proved what a monster he was and that the world would be a better place without the savage of the youngest Mendez family member. Tyler was simply the man capable of bringing an end to years of death and mayhem in the notorious drug cartels' wake.
Much like the thing he was chasing now, the savagery was there in front of him when he closed his eyes. Tyler felt it, the emboldened power of an almost god-like feeling, that overcomes you when you reach out and end a life. In his time he had killed hundreds of men, albeit, mostly in battle. Since coming home he had been in a different kind of fight. Taking lives now was much messier than the clarity of war. Still, when it happened, he felt the same sense of grand responsibility every single time he played the hand of God. It was that terrible weight on his shoulders that kept him awake at night, the conflict between what needed to be done and the responsibility to keep that hidden, darker side of him, from taking control of his life.
Putting his cigarette out Tyler slipped out of bed quietly. The light shined off his muscular chest, showing the scars he still wore from the battles he was in. Slipping into his jeans and grabbing a tee-shirt, Tyler headed out of the bedroom quietly. He looked back one last time, at Kara, hoping that she would still be around when he got back.
It was after five o'clock when Tyler walked into St. Marks. He stopped at the pews as he dipped his fingers in the water and crossed his chest in the sign of the holy cross. St. Marks opened the doors early still, even in the current world that was so against Christian churches. He knew the priest at St. Marks, Father Frank Thomas, a good man by all accounts. Father Thomas was also an understanding man despite his affiliation with the Catholic Church. Father Thomas truly did not judge those that came to him for counsel or to confess their sins.
Tyler sat down in the booth. The confessional was a place he had been more in his later years, since coming back to the states, and somehow gave him solace. Besides the chief, it was where he could unburden himself of the things he was asked to do and relented to doing. In his time, Father Frank had helped him to see the righteousness even though Tyler, at many times, struggled to reconcile bast the guilt of it all. As he heard the door open to the second booth, he knew Father Thomas was there, probably after hearing the alarm at the door or watching him get into the booth on one of his many security monitors.
“Forgive me father, for I have sinned...” he stopped, as he rested his head against the wooden wall behind him.
“It's alright my son,” said Father Thomas. “When was your last confession?”
“Just a month ago,” answered Tyler. “Father, I took a life outside of the law. It needed to happen, father. He was a bad man. He was responsible for many crimes against the innocent, including the torture and murder of a D.E.A. Agent. I've engaged in premarital sex with a woman in my life. And, I've failed to stop a murderer that is running free after taking at least seven lives that we know of.”
“That's quite a list, my son. Are you trying to stop the murderer?”
“Yes,” answered Tyler.
“Do you care for this woman?”
Tyler answered him again, “Yes.”
“Well my son,” the priest continued, “Mendez was a rabid animal that needed to be put down and the way you took him out was an incredible piece of work. I absolve you of any sin in this case. You've done gods' work, my son.”
“Father, the murders, have you heard anything,” asked Tyler.
“No, not a peep. But I told you even if I heard them, if they came through the sanctity of confession I could not share them with you,” said the priest. “Now, why are you really here, Tyler.”
Tyler stepped out of the confessional and stood at the door until the salt-and-pepper-haired priest joined him. The two men hugged one another, the father comforting the weary-looking Tyler. They walked over to the pews and took a seat, sitting close to each other.
“Jesus, Tyler, you look like shit,” the priest told him.
“Fuck you Frank and that miserable collar you wear.”
Tyler never pulled his punches, even with Father Thomas. The two men went back a lot of years and were friends. Father Frank Thomas was also known in another life as Master Chief Franklin Thomas. The two men first met in Bahrain and had been close ever since their days in special operations. Master Chief Franklin Thomas was known as an infiltrator. He possessed the abilities and skills to get himself into any building, structure, business, organization, or group on the planet and had done so many times. It gave him an ability when it came to espionage activities and allowed him a great amount of flexibility when it came to smuggling people in and out of places. Tyler just happened to be one of those people.
“It's not like the good old days when we met. The world has gotten more and more complicated. These days it's almost impossible to tell the good guys from the bad,” expounded the priest.
“Tell me about it.”
“So, is Johnson still using you to keep the wolves at bay?” the priest asked, sitting with his hands folded in his lap.
“Only when he needs to. Nowadays, I'm assigned to the investigators' bureau,” explained Tyler, yawning into his hand as he spoke. “Sorry, I haven't been sleeping well.”
The Father turned sideways, looking sympathetically towards his old war buddy. He knew Tyler took things to heart, most times he took things to heart a little too much. From the look on his friend's face and the dark circles beneath his eyes, this was one of those times.
“So, you caught the Shawnee Combs case,” said Frank.
“Yeah,” Tyler hesitated. “How did you know?'
“I can see it in your eyes. How many others are there?” asked Frank.
“Four, just here. We know for sure there have been seven in the region. All of them over the past two months. Lately, its' escalating. Four of them have been in the past three weeks and we have little intelligence to work with,” he explained.
“That's a lot to bear, my friend. Trying to catch the predator out there while dealing with assassinating Mendez, and you wonder why you're having a tough time,” said Frank. “You've got to let go of Mendez. It was the right thing to do.”
“Maybe I just needed to hear it from you,” said Tyler, feeling a bit relieved that Frank saw the wisdom in it all.
“Why did you finally agree?”
Tyler didn't know how to tell his old friend that he agreed because Mendez was that evil. He didn't like lying to the priest, even if he was not the typical, run of the mill, man of God. Mendez was more than just about righting a wrong or settling a score. Tyler needed to feel like he had moved the needle in the right direction. In his own way, Mendez was a selfish decision that he knew could have been done much sooner. Waiting, Tyler knew, had probably cost many lives.
“You know why I did it,” announced Tyler.
“I do, but until you say it, out loud, you'll struggle with who you are for the rest of your life,” explained Frank.
Tyler looked down at his feet, listening to the father but hiding his reaction. He knew, of course, that Frank Thomas the soldier, and killer understood. Frank was the only other member of his operations team that had nearly the number of confirmed kills Tyler was credited with. They were cut from the same cloth and knew that sometimes, there was just work to do that was distasteful and even soul-crushing. Frank had gotten out of it before Tyler, in time to save what was left of his humanity. Tyler, for all his good deeds, still utilized the skills the government taught him, from time to time. He knew what Frank said was true. If he never admitted it out loud, to himself at the very least, he'd never come to terms with the fact that he enjoyed it.
“I know. I just don't have the strength to deal with it, not right now.”
“When you're ready, my son, he'll be there for you to unburden yourself. And, so will I,” Frank said, putting a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.”
“So, that's it, all is forgiven?”
The priest laughed, “Hell no, I've got some work in the kitchen from our dinner here last night. You could seriously use an act of contrition and I could use a hand old buddy.”
The two men laughed, for the first time since started talking, and Tyler followed his old war buddy to the back of the church, as they disappeared through the door behind the chancel. He could never say no to Frank, not in the old days, and definitely not now that he was a priest.
It was a little after nine before Tyler got back to his apartment. He walked toward his bedroom, fully expecting to find it empty. After trying several times to call Kara, he relented to the idea she had gone already. She was probably going to be upset with him for disappearing in the middle of the night. While he understood the irony of that fact, the first time she spends the entire night is the night he runs off in the darkness to go see an old friend. It was not what he would have imagined for the first time she didn't run off after they were together and he feared she would not understand.
Much to his surprise, her clothes were still scattered around the hallway heading toward his bedroom. He got excited, happily thinking that she hadn't left yet. Tyler called her name, “Kara!” as he walked from one side of his apartment to the other. Pushing his door open, she wasn't there. He stood there, curious, as he checked the rest of the room, not noticing that he wasn't alone. As hands covered his eyes from behind, Tyler's heart raced.
“Guess who,” instructed Kara, standing behind Tyler, wearing just a towel wrapped around her.
Tyler was relieved and pleasantly so. She didn't sound miffed about him not being there. She had even stayed. Turning to face her, he kissed her softly as he wrapped his arms around her.
“I thought you'd gone,” he told her.
“I kind of thought you were bringing breakfast,” she said, looking behind him toward his bed.
Tyler thought fast on his feet, especially when he was excited, and a half-naked, freshly showered Kara Carlson was more than enough to excite him. He smiled at her, tugging at her towel.
“I went to meet Father Thomas, he needed some help after the big chili dinner last night. But, if you get rid of this and put on some clothes, I'll take you out for breakfast.”
The two of them had gone to breakfast many times and it wouldn't raise suspicions if they were seen getting together in the morning, again. So she happily agreed, dropping her towel and grabbing her clothes. She stuffed her things from the night before in her bag as Tyler watched. It made Tyler curious, however, wondering what she was wearing to breakfast. She answered his curiosity, as she pulled out her gym clothes, tipping her hand that she had been planning on staying the entire night this time. Tyler smiled, like a kid on Christmas morning.
“What's that for?” she asked, giving him a slight jab to the gut.
For the moment, Tyler was just going to let it be. There were enough things in the world he had to worry about. Right then and there, he was just going to revel in the slight resemblance of normalcy in his life, knowing it wouldn't last forever.