Tom, surprised that he was being offered an “out,” hesitated for only for a second.
“No, I’ll go. If I don’t, the rest of the family will wonder why I didn’t show up and that could lead to complications.”
“Fine. It’s your funeral if things go wrong.”
The meeting with the family was a regularly scheduled event. Not only was it scheduled; attendance was required. He straightened his tie and jacket, exchanged one last glance with his concerned companion, and left the building by a back door.
A half an hour later, Tom pulled up in front of a wrought iron gate supported by a ten-foot high stone wall. The video camera hanging from the gatepost swung in his direction as he reached out and pushed the button on the intercom that connected to the house. The gate slowly opened. Whoever was on duty on the other end of the camera had confirmed Tom’s identity and his right to admission.
Moments later he entered the house. There was no need to be told where to go—he was, after all, related. He greeted the others as he always did when these meetings were called. The words sounded normal, the gestures from cousins, uncles and from those who had “married” into the family, concealed no malice that he could identify. Nevertheless, Tom could feel the electric tension in the air, like the oppressive stillness before a storm.
Do they know? Does someone suspect that I betrayed the code, that I broke ranks?
He thought the word betrayal because the world would judge his actions as such, but he knew in his heart that a much greater betrayal had marked the life that had been, until recently, his only world.
His uncle sat enthroned at the head of an enormous teak conference table. The light coming in from the French doors behind him created an aura that wrapped itself around the old man. The position was deliberate, planned and posed. His face was like granite, his thoughts unknowable and inviolate. As was his privilege, Tom took his place to the right of the current family patriarch.
At precisely the hour assigned for it, the meeting began. As expected, the head of the family took the lead.
Everyone present knew to what the old man was referring.
“Two houses were raided this week…”
“…As was the warehouse…”
“Someone’s been nosing around the offshore accounts.”
The news was grim from every point of the table’s compass. Over the past several weeks, the noose around the family’s neck had inexplicably and inexorably been tightening.
They don’t know, or they wouldn’t be talking so freely…
The muffled beeping of a cell phone interrupted Tom’s thoughts and brought a startled silence to the table. For anyone to dare to call when the inner circle of the family was meeting could only mean more bad news. Without a word, the old man pulled the phone from his pocket, listened, then broke the connection. Slowly he turned toward Tom. If there were feelings behind that stony, expressionless face, the business at hand took precedence over them. All eyes followed those of their don. Something tangible, but as yet unidentifiable, had taken possession of the room. Instinctively, the others waited for the capo, the head of the family, to personally deal with the specter that had suddenly raised its ugly head at his table.
No one saw the gun. From that close, the bullet couldn’t miss even though the silencer slowed its progress. It missed the wire of the tiny microphone taped to Tom’s chest, and plowed through several vital body parts.
Jesus, I tried to put it all right. I wish I had known you sooner …
As the life drained from his body, Tom’s second-to-last thoughts focused on the conversation with the FBI agent who had offered him an escape from this very possibility.
…It’s your funeral if things go wrong.
Was this right or wrong? The recording of the discussion around the table would help to convict those present. There would be no time for the gun, or his uncle’s fingerprints, to disappear before federal agents came charging through those French doors. Humanly speaking, things had gone wrong for Tom, but whatever happened from this moment on would help to make things right.
Tom’s last thoughts were of his new family, now gathered and waiting to meet him.