The rookies, Jacob and David settled back eagerly to listen. The other three men exchange glances that were hesitant.
“If I have to pick it, all the little details will come out,” Edward warned, repeating Alexa’s words to him when she’d wanted his voice telling a tale.
The three senior men frowned, shifting uncomfortably. All the stories contained failures on their part. They’d been new to Alexa’s way of doing things and accidents had happened.
“I traveled with Safe Haven.”
Five heads turned to Billy in shock. Even Edward hadn’t known.
Billy leaned back against the wall and began rolling a smoke. “I took a mission to find someone and bring her to her father.”
Now there was complete silence and no one looked away as a distant scream confirmed Alexa’s location.
“I was told it would take years and it has. I needed it to,” Billy explained without embarrassment. “By the time I make it back, the girl I want will be old enough, safe enough, for me.”
“You’re from Safe Haven?” Jacob questioned, stunned. “And you didn’t tell anyone?”
“I told the only person I need to,” Billy replied without getting defensive. “She told me to decide on my own about revealing it.”
“Why now?” Edward asked curiously.
“Because she’s sick,” Billy answered, glancing around as if for confirmation. “She needs us to be together and we can’t if there are secrets this big. I feel bad for keeping it so long. I’m sorry.”
Billy’s humbleness drew a groan from the corner. “I wish you hadn’t said that.”
They all looked to Mark, who shook his head.
“Guess I should mention something too, then. I, uh. Well, I killed the President. It’s what I was in the slam for.”
The door opened and Alexa came in, pale and unruffled in the firelight. She closed the door and removed her clock. “As you were,” she ordered when the silence stretched out.
Heads went back to Mark-even Billy, who had thought he held the largest of their private torments, their secrets.
Edward motioned to Mark, “Can you say that again?”
Mark cleared his throat. “I killed the president.”
Mark ignored the surprised mutters and scowls. It was only the second time he had ever spoken the words and liberation was still a new, exciting emotion to be controlled.
“Why?” Jacob asked. Mark was the one he admired the most in this group.
It was what each of them, except for Alexa, wanted to know and the silence hung while he searched for the words.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of it all restarting,” Mark stated. “At that time, I didn’t think there was any way it could be better and I was so angry! The people I worked for were destroying the world and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Then the war came and the president was gone. Replaced by succession and yet, it wasn’t going to be different. The next puppet was going to stand on the backs of those who came before, and keep ruining everything. And I had the thought that if there wasn’t a president anymore, then maybe that could change.”
Mark peered at Alexa, who was still removing things from the cloak she’d hung up.
“I was a secret service agent on the new president’s detail. I smothered her while she slept.”
“You’re talking about Marsha Binton,” David exclaimed. “She was next in line for the presidency when Carter died.”
“Yes,” Mark confirmed. “She wanted to make slavery legal-especially males. She said we were a danger to everyone.”
“She wasn’t wrong,” Alexa pointed out.
“No,” Mark admitted, glad when Alexa came over and sat down close to him. “But I’m a man. I couldn’t let that happen. She had to die.”
Alexa placed her hand over his and gently told him,” Murder is wrong. You murdered her. That was very bad.”
Mark’s head dropped and Alexa squeezed in comfort. “We’re all killers here, of one kind or another. You spent years locked up in payment for that crime. Do you feel like you’ve been punished enough?”
Alexa sighed tolerantly. “Then so you shall suffer more. No one here can forgive you until you forgive yourself.”
“How can I?” Mark demanded. “I murdered her!”
“Yes, and would you do it again?”
He shook his head. “Never. She was only a pawn. I would have gone higher and found those in charge of pulling the strings. And I would have murdered them.”
“That would have been an act of the bravest kind,” Alexa corrected. “Take off the head, my pets. Without a head, the threat is no longer a threat.”
Alexa glanced around. “Does it bother you to know this about him?”
All the heads shook. Each of them had their own weakness, their own failures to atone for. Edward especially understood.
“Good. Murder, like all other things, has a place in the world. If he had removed the head, he would be a hero. Because he cut off a tooth, he was a convict. The line between hero and convict can be that thin, but there is a line. We will attempt to always stay above it, but when we have to, we will abide by our own guidelines instead of those around us. Nothing will keep us from this mission.”
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