He died on a Tuesday morning, less than twelve hours after he allowed himself to be taken to the hospital. He was sick, and he knew it. The only thing left to do was to make sure his sister got into a cab and went to the airport. He didn’t want her to see him pass away.
But in life, he was something else completely. A devout husband. A loyal friend. He was precise, and thorough, and could tell you the amount of money in his bank account at all times, down to the penny. This was an organized man. A man who researched every purchase he made. And a man who would give you the shirt off his back.
He left nothing to chance. His cellar in the basement of his modest home in France was filled with some of the finest wines and whiskeys. There were bottles from friends and colleagues and family—bottles that would make the finest vintner in France blush with envy. But he was never afraid to open these bottles. He was proud of his collection and would open a bottle for any occasion. Dinner with his wife was an occasion, as well as lunch alone. Wine was meant to be drunk, he always said. Whiskey was for sipping.
The man, some referred to as Lou, was also the keeper of secrets. A man so thorough and precise that he disguised a safe for his wife’s’ jewelry by building a fake power box in his basement, with running wires and all. It was this box, discovered by his visiting sister during the final week of his life, that held the most secrets. And it would be this box that would lead to the ruin of an entire family 4000 miles away.
If it were only money and jewelry in the fake safe, no one would have looked twice. But it was money, jewelry, and a gun. The gun suggested violence. There was also an envelope. Inside the envelope were 54 American dollars and a note. The note read as follows:
I’m writing to you now because I can’t keep lying to my wife. She has been so good to me over the years. My rock. My constant. My love. She has been faithful and true, and my wall of common sense when I get too worked up to make good decisions. So I feel like I owe her the truth before things with my body become too unbearable. I don’t want to take any lies to my grave.
You and I have been through some things. Most of those things have been good. We have been on the right side of intimate and swore that we saw Heaven in each other’s embrace. But we have also grown distant and estranged. And that is why I must end this charade and come clean with my wife.
As you know, I am sick. I’ve kept it hidden for as long as I can, but my legs are becoming useless. The very fact I use a walker now betrays any type of charade I might have tried. My wife continues to astound me with her kindness. And while I understand and respect the vows we shared almost sixty years ago, I am still in shock when she has to help me after I use the toilet or make a mess of myself. Too much information, perhaps, but I need you to understand where my heart lies. And knowing you as I do, I’m sure you understand completely.
This letter does not come without some regret, however. Regret in how I must end this. Not being able to tell you any of this in person is a bit frightful. I feel like a coward. A man who won’t assume his responsibilities, but has convinced himself he’s doing the right thing. I guess I’m a coward in that way. I face my problems, but only in a way I choose. All of this is to say; I hope you can respect my wishes and disappear from what remains of my life.
In the beginning, when you and I were simply young men and women frolicking in beds because we couldn’t get enough of each other, our naked bodies were the only thing that mattered when we were together. But as time moves on, and we learned about each other in the way that two like souls can, we became something more. Something deeper on a deeper level. It became clear to me that maybe you were the one for me. I know we’ve had similar conversations about all of this before, but I feel compelled to restate all of it while I still have my faculties. You know me, everything in its place, so to speak.
All of this is to say that I have completely removed you from my will. You will get nothing from my estate or me. And you will have nothing to say about it. I trust you will respect my wishes and let this letter be the very last thing we say to each other.
Yours in memory only, Lou
The envelope with the note and the money was underneath the gun. There was no mailing address or postage on the envelope. Just a blank, sealed envelope underneath a.30 caliber pistol. That combination is what raised the very first questions when Lou finally passed on that Tuesday morning, and his wife began going through his things. She knew of the fake power box because he had told her. He had told her most things, but the envelope with the strange letter suggested that she did not know as much as she thought. The husband she took care of in the last moments of his life had more to tell her from beyond the grave.
“What are the questions going through your mind?” Daniella asked.
“What do you think they are,” Jocelyn replied. They were at the small kitchen table, steaming hot coffee sitting in front of them both. Through the large double window above the sink, sunlight streamed in, warm and inviting. The tension in the room was thick, oppressive.
“I’m hurt, of course. But I also don’t understand any of it. I mean, he didn’t even send the letter.”
Daniella blew on her coffee, sipped it, and then set it back down. “How do you want to remember him?” she asked.
Jocelyn thought this was a brilliant question. She smirked at her longtime friend. “I want to remember the man that was good to me. The man that never hurt me. My husband for almost sixty years.”
Daniella looked out the window, put both hands around her coffee, warming them, and then stood up. “Do you think you should just destroy the letter?”
“I think it’s the best solution, but I won’t do that. I won’t be able to sleep a single night until I know what this all means. Who is this woman? What did she do to him? And why did he not send the letter?”
“And the gun?” Daniella asked.
“I’ll leave the gun in the safe. If Lou felt like having it in there was a good idea; then it was probably a good idea.”
The rest of the morning passed with simple pleasantries and small talk. The two old friends enjoyed an early lunch and said their goodbyes. Then Jocelyn was alone with her thoughts, and her empty house, and the ghost of a husband she may not have known at all.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, 4430 miles away, in the small town of Grabling, Virginia, Detective Will Pence was pinned down by gunfire from across the street. What had started as a routine investigation of a robbery turned into a violent active shooter situation that Fox News would have been proud to splatter across their outlets.
Will felt the last bullet ring past his head. Felt the hair on his head sizzle with electricity. If he had raised his head an inch to look over, he would have had his skull ripped open. With a sudden quiet in the air, Will wondered where the gunman had gone. He waited another thirty seconds before peeking over. There was smoke in the air and a woman rolling on the ground twenty feet from him, bleeding from her arm. She was alive. She could wait. Where was the shooter? And where was his backup?
He crawled along the low planter, keeping cover from the last known location of gunfire. In front of him was an archway that led into the ice cream shop. To his right was a water fountain and some restrooms. A badly damaged body lay in the entrance to the ladies’ room. It was a woman, destroyed by gunfire, with bullet holes riddled across her chest and neck. Will knew she was dead, and better for it, he decided. Will gave another peek around the planter and saw that all was quiet. He situated his pistol in his hands, took several deep breaths, and then moved out of cover towards the shop entrance.
From inside the ice cream shop, Brian Kalick and Stuart Baird were holding each other’s heads in their hands. They were breathing heavily and bleeding badly from several wounds on their bodies.
“We need to kill ourselves,” Brian said through harsh, ragged breaths. “We can’t let them take us in. I can’t do jail, man.”
Stuart shook his head against his friends and cried. “No No No,” he said. “My mom is gonna be so sad.”
Brian gave him a violent shake before pulling Stuarts’ face close to his own. “Don’t be a pussy! Your mom won’t want you to go to jail. She’d want you to go out like a man!”
Stuart pulled away from his friend and stood up. His legs were weak, and he had lost so much blood. He stumbled towards the door, dropping the rifle from his hands as he went. Brian knelt on the ground, watching his friend walk towards the door. Towards their oblivion.
Will saw the boy drop his rifle as he walked towards the door. He put three bullets into the boy’s chest and watched him collapse to the ground, tears streaming down the boy’s cheeks. Behind the fallen boy, Will saw another young man on his knees. He saw the young man raise his rifle to his face and pull the trigger. Will only had time to scream before the boy’s head exploded in a red mist. The tears came fiercely. Will collapsed to the ground and wept.