Chapter 22:


Max Caliber

When the casket was finally lowered into the ground, we threw Dahlia’s in. He had told me long ago that it was his favorite flower of all the other. He spoke of the intricate pattern of the flower as if it was mesmerizing. The sharp distinct color variety told of its diverse application. How fickle they were yet rewarding it was to finally see them bloom. For all of Mikey’s rather straight and simplistic mannerism. His love for Dahlia’s was always the strangest thing.

The funeral was held a week after that night. A week after he passed away before I could ask for forgiveness. Seeing the earth being closed off again, reminded me. I saw glimpses of that night. The blood-covered countertop and the raw emotions on everyone’s face.

Oh, how I wished I was strong enough to shoulder this burden. Strong enough to hold my head up and look the others in the eyes today. Strong enough not to cry then and not to cry now. But sadly, I’m but a man.

When the funeral finally ended, I stood there, before the grave. All the others had left. His family is long gone. Albert had consoled and taken his sister home. Even some others I didn’t care enough to remember their names. They all were gone, and it was only me. I needed to be alone to be able to say this to him. I needed my final time with Mikey.

“Who gave you the orders to die. I don’t remember telling you that. Huh, answer me,” I grumbled to the tombstone. I knew well what I was saying, how morbid it sounded. But I just had to work through everything on my own.

“Nothing to say for yourself. So be it. I’ll do all the talking while you listen. I hope you could do enough to at least follow this last order from me. My final wish,” I said and grabbed at the edges of my pants pockets. I wanted to fight them back, but they fell either way. Streaking down my face.

“You were a miserable bastard to your core. Never once really showing your true face. You always took your own path and never once tried to put yourself before others. But even with all that you were the best friend I could wish for. We might have met during deployment. But it felt like we knew each other far longer than that. Thank you. Thank you, Mikey,” I said as I went down onto my haunches. I rested my hand down on the fresh dirt and remained silent.

I have no idea how long I stayed there for. But all I knew was when I got up I needed to do something. I needed to do it now. So, reinvigorated with this new drive. I set out and stormed out of the graveyard, only to see Yusuke waiting at the entrance for me.

“Hey Reinhard,” he said solemnly and played with his lighter like always.

“Yo, Yusuke,” I greeted. Knowing I didn’t have time for this but for everything he had done. I could at least give him this little bit of time of day.

“Was the ceremony beautiful at least?” he asked. He was always earnest and had the aura of someone who genuinely cared.

“Yeah, it was. Think it gave everyone a chance to accept that he was gone. You know, saying goodbye nicely and formally,” I replied.

“That’s great to hear. Listen, I know this isn’t the time. But I have to ask. The offer is going to take it?” he asked. I knew this was why he was here. But for some reason, the audacity to ask me this now, rubbed me the wrong way.

“Learn some tact,” I scolded with disgust. “But no, I won’t be taking you up on that offer. I hope you can understand.”

“I do, but then hear this. I’ll look past everything you’ve done. The warehouse, the lab and burning down your house,” he said. I heard the words and began to leave. I knew exactly what he was going to follow up with. But I didn’t care, because I knew he would let it all go for the sake of being even. For being the better man.

“But if you ever step out of line like that again. I’ll be certain to put you behind bars. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” he asked. Putting emphasis on the understand.

“You know damn well you’ll have to kill me. I won’t be caught,” I replied as I took my leave.

“I wouldn’t be so certain. I know you, Reinhard. I know how to get to you,” he warned. The words made a smile creep up on my face as I turned around one last time to face him.

“Catch me if you can, mister Kurosawa,” I said laughing.

He didn’t reply and I didn’t need a reply. We both knew what this brief exchange meant. It would not be the last time we meet. In fact, the next time I’ll very much be his opposite.

But I didn’t let that stop me from my goal. I climbed into my car and took to the road. I had no solid home to return to. Instead, I’ve spent the last week bumming at the pardoned Albert’s place. Or I was spending the nights in the back room of the café. I could have gotten a hotel room, but I didn’t feel like I could truly deal with everything that had transpired. Not in a place, I couldn’t say was owned by someone I knew. I wouldn’t feel right. As if I was staining something that never would belong to me. Like borrowing underwear and returning it dirty.

While at these places I tried my best to seem composed. Maybe a little dejected but never distraught. But once I was left alone. That was when I was consumed by my feelings. This was how I came to terms with everything and that final goodbye at the grave. There I left behind my old self. A version of me that was torn between two sides. I left that shell with Mikey. Because that’s the me he knew.

Now I was a new me. One that had reconciled the gap between the two sides of me and brought them together. Never again would I lose myself quite as I did. Yet, I would also never again care as I did before. Completely in the middle, neither one nor the either.

This newfound sense of self and goal drove me forwards. I made my way to the place of my final declaration. It would not be Albert’s house. For that, I left to him. Never again would I lay my burdens upon him. Never again would I step into the direct family life like that. Coming into someone’s home I like peeping into a part of their souls. And I had no right to peruse like that again.

I was also not going toward Smolinski’s café. That was a place of work. So, while I was there. I needed to work. It was a place to test my tempered steel in ways I never planned to. So, that would also not suffice for what I was aiming to do. I needed someplace that Mikey’s presence could be felt. Someplace I had never been but felt inclined to visit. There was only one place I could say that fit that description.

When my car rolled to a stop on the sidewalk. It stopped in front of Margarette’s house. I had never once been here, but I knew all too well that Mikey had been. Here he left a part of him for this woman. To that would I make this declaration. This binding oath will be made here, now.

I climbed the stairs and knocked firmly on the door. While I stood and waited for her to answer. I wondered what the best way would be to approach this. Do I tell her what I aim to do? Do I ask for her permission or do I simply stop myself from saying anything? Accepting the quiet life for myself. Binding myself to the suburban life instead. Focusing on rebuilding.

“Oh, Reinhard. It’s only you,” she greeted with a sniffle of her nose. She had been crying at the funeral and it seems she didn’t stop until a short while ago.

“I have something to tell you,” I started. With giving it no further thought I decided to simply talk. If she would understand did not matter. But I needed someone to hear this. That I could be held accountable for my decisions.

“Okay,” she said with a voice as soft as a cat’s tail. My heart ached knowing I robbed this woman from Mikey. Also, that I sent Mike away from her too early.

“I’m going to clean up this town. I’m going to burn whatever little life I had left to get rid of this town’s filth. I’ll make myself a villain so large that even they will fall to me. I’ll throw away everything so that what happened to him will never happen to anyone again. Because the people that caused the situation will be gone. The environment that caused these people to do this will be gone. Then at the end, I’ll be gone. Everyone and everything responsible for Mikey’s death will be gone,” I ranted like a lunatic. She didn’t even let the words hang for a second in the air. She stepped out of the doorway and pulled me close. Taking me into her warm embrace.

“You’ve been unjustly blaming yourself for his death. It wasn’t your fault. So please. I’ve forgiven you, now forgive yourself,” she said. It was a mother like. As a child, I began to cry again and pulled her closer.

“How could you forgive me so easily. I took him away from you. I took him away from everyone,” I rebuked tantrum-like.

“Stop that now. It wasn’t your fault. He died trying to save one of his friends. He died not wanting once to disappoint his best friend. His death was not in vain. It wasn’t some noble act either. He simply died. Don’t go tie meaning to something that was simply a tragedy. Don’t sully his memory with this kind of talk,” she lectured. My head was being squeezed tight into her. My ear was so close to her, that I could hear her fighting back the tears. This woman was truly wonderful and too kind to be of this world.

“I can’t. I can’t sit and be idle. I need to do something, otherwise, the guilt will consume me,” I admitted.

“The do what you must. But don’t throw away your life simply because someone close to you lost theirs. It’s them that passed away. Don’t be so eager to join them. They’ll wait for you and be all the more glad that you lived a full life. Instead of ending it short,” she silenced me. This woman was now cradling me like her child. She talked a hole into my head. I no longer felt the need for action. Instead, I wanted to be still. Be still and truly accept everything. I had no idea how long that would be. But when I finally did come to terms with everything. I think I’ll be strong enough to carry any weight.

“Thank you,” was all I could choke out. It was embarrassing but this was too much to keep locked up inside.

After that day. I spent the next following months rebuilding my life. I got myself a new home. I held my job with Smolinski, in fact, he paid me quite well. In exchange, I shouldn’t rat on him about his warehouse full of weapons. He told me he was out of arms trading and was slowly but surely selling his stock with no plan to restock. Things finally seemed to return to normal. That was until a promise made in desperation was called upon. A promise was long forgotten.