I didn’t know Edmond Garner. But his murder was the big story on the local news on television that night. I couldn’t speak to whether or not he’d done something that created a motive for his being killed, but it seemed bizarre that an investment banker had been the victim of an assassination. Sure, lots of people made grim jokes about killing bankers in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, but as far as I knew, Garner’s murder was the first time it had happened.
I thought about the word “first” while mulling over the killing. Was this the first time it had happened, or was I so drunk until a couple of days ago that I had missed an earlier Wall Street killing? I considered another possibility with the word “first”—if Garner’s was the first of its kind, would it be the last? Was his the first in a series of assassinations of Wall Streeters? And what difference did it make to me, anyway? I didn’t know any titans of finance, and I certainly wouldn’t be asked to help the NYPD investigate.
I defrosted and ate a couple of slices of my leftover pizza, while watching Chinatown and wondering at the tragic outcome: The hero, Jack Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes, loses the woman he’s trying to help, and one of the other characters says, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” A phrase that said “this is an impossible situation, you’ve lost, and you need to move on.” I channel-surfed a bit and fell asleep on the couch as I waited for Harry to make an appearance. At least, I think I fell asleep. . . .
I found myself standing on a beach, the waves breaking below me and then rushing up the sand toward my bare feet but stopping inches short of my toes. The sun was setting and the sky was red with a beautiful, end-of-day glow. It made me think of the old adage: Red sky at night—sailor’s delight. Looking around, I realized two things: I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know the black man standing next to me. He was tall, slender, and wearing a well-cut, light-gray suit and a dark blue tie. His dark skin was without wrinkles and stretched smoothly from his cheekbones to his solid jawline. He could have been anywhere from twenty-five to forty years old.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“I’m Harry,” he said. His voice was deep and firm. “Your wife told you I was coming.”
He interrupted me, saying, “Jack Tyrrell.”
I grunted in response.
“I know almost everything about you,” he continued.
“Really?” I packed as much sarcasm into the short word as was possible.
“Yes. For example: I know when, where, and how you were shot and how Maggie died.”
“What?” I spun around, looking at the red evening sky and then back at him. I struggled with the possibility contained in his words. “Are you serious? Did you witness her killing?”
“Yes, in a way,” Harry said quietly.
His soft, steady tone was unnerving. “What does that mean?” I repeated in shock.
“It means, ‘Yes,’ I am completely aware how she was killed, how you almost died in the same incident, and your feelings of guilt.”
His calm demeanor and large, unblinking brown eyes made me angry. Or maybe it was his pronouncement that he knew about Maggie’s death and my guilt. I gazed out to sea and watched the ocean toss wave after wave onto the sand. How could I be on the beach? How could I hear the surf and smell the salty air? I had fallen asleep on my couch—how could I be here? I was struck by a thought so overpowering I couldn’t believe it.
“Are you . . .” it was impossible to say the words, but I tried again, “are you . . . ?”
“No. But I work for Him.”
“Are you taking me somewhere?”
“No, I’m going to send you somewhere.”
“Wherever the Chairman wants you to go.”
“The Chairman . . . ? Is he . . . ?” I couldn’t phrase my question. Instead, I timidly pointed toward the sky.
“Yes.” Harry nodded. “I work for Him. I’m your Supervisor.”
I found it hard to breathe. I walked around in a small circle, ignoring the tide line and the surf coming over my feet. “You work for . . . Him? And . . . I work for you?”
“We—you and I—both work for the Chairman. I’ll be the one conveying His plan to you.”
“Do I get to meet the Chairman at some point?”
“Everyone meets the Chairman eventually.”
“Could I . . . could you tell me what His plan for me is?”
“You’re going to right wrongs.”
“Have you ever read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?”
“I saw the movie. The one with Alistair Sim. Does that count?”
“Yes. Do you recall what the ghost of Jacob Marley says to Scrooge?”
“Something about three spirits, Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of —”
“Yes, but before that, Scrooge is shocked at Marley’s suffering. He doesn’t think it fair. Scrooge says: ‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ and Marley’s ghost becomes very upset and shouts: ‘Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.’”
I was breathing even harder now, “Are you telling me that mankind is my business?”
“It’s the Chairman’s, mine, yours, everyone’s—it’s the only true business there is.”
“And now my job in this business is to right wrongs?”
“Yes. Jacob Marley also tells Scrooge that ‘It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.’ ”
“But I’m not dead . . . am I?”
“No, you’re alive. Maggie interceded with the Chairman to give you this chance before you die.”
“Why didn’t the Chairman give me this chance before taking Maggie?”
I stopped walking in a circle. “What the hell does that mean? Are you saying I had this chance and I blew it?”
Harry replied evenly, “The Chairman has given you many chances.”
“Have you come to me before?”
“No. But some of my colleagues have. The Chairman doesn’t give up easily—even when dealing with someone as obstinate as you.”
“Why didn’t He make me see the light?”
“That’s not how it works. We all have free will; we all choose how we live. You chose not to recognize my colleagues, and you chose not to listen to their messages.”
“Do I have a choice now?” I asked bitterly. “Can I choose not to work for the Chairman? Are there other options?”
“Yes, you can choose. You can always choose. Your options are: Work for the Chairman or continue to live a miserable life.”
I scanned the almost-dark sky and the phosphorescent surf rushing over the sand. “If this is my miserable life, I choose this.”
“This isn’t your life. Your life is empty, lonely, corrupt. You take no action to help anyone. You do nothing, but wait and brood. You haven’t got the slightest sense of the Chairman’s presence.”
“So, if my choice is to live this way, I die and go to hell?” I asked bitterly.
“Yes, if you choose to continue your life as you have.”
I pounced on this: “In that case, is it really fair that hell is one of my choices?”
“The Chairman is always fair. And your choice is fair, because it’s your choice. Have you ever read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis?”
“What the hell is this, an English-lit class?”
For the first time in our conversation, Harry smiled. It was a tiny, Mona Lisa smile, almost imagined but definitely there. “Lewis wrote that ‘All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find.’”
After a long pause, I said, “I’m exhausted.”
Harry smiled a bit more, “Talking about choice and Hell tends to have that effect.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling a tiny bit, too. “That C.S. Lewis quote ’Those who seek find’—does that mean that I can avoid going to Hell?”
He nodded. “If you seek.”
I sighed, staring at the ocean’s dark horizon against the less-dark night sky.
Finally, I said, “Okay, what does this righting wrongs job involve?”
Harry stepped next to me. “You have an excellent skill set for what the Chairman has in mind,” he said. “You are a combat veteran and a former U.S. Marshal. Your experience will be put to use in helping people—victims—that the law enforcement community isn’t able to assist.”
“How the hell am I going to accomplish what the NYPD or the FBI or any other agency can’t? I’m not Superman.”
“You will receive direction from me, something the police and federal agents don’t get. The Chairman will make sure you have the resources you need to solve cases and help people.”
“Why doesn’t the Chairman help these folks directly? Couldn’t He do it quick and easy?”
“He could, but then you wouldn’t have the opportunity to help them.”
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