December 1 through December 5
Special Agent Jim McLeary sat alone aboard a forty-seven foot trawler docked in a private slip near the back of a secluded Miami marina. Beside him, a tiny fan buzzed inside a slide projector at the edge of a folding table cluttered with bullets and loose change. He held a cheap flip phone in one hand and a .45 caliber Kimber with a satin silver finish in the other, staring through bloodshot eyes at the lighted image of his wife and twin sons cast through the projector lens toward a free-standing screen.
He was a month shy of fifty. His six-foot frame with broad shoulders, slender waist, and a thickset chest disguised the fragile persona hiding in refuge behind the cobalt blue eyes of a man who’d seen his life come undone in a series of bad decisions and misguided efforts to resolve them. Ravaged by the cumulative effects of an FBI career spanning more than twenty years, Jim McLeary had traveled to the dark side and back, confronting hardened criminals from all walks of life. Outside the FBI, he’d learned to cope with his share of problems, and for the most part, he’d embraced a day-to-day existence he neither loved nor loathed but had learned to accept for what it was.
He pressed the carousel projector’s slide-advance button and watched the specter of his twin sons fast-forward ten years from a preschool picnic to a summer swim tournament in a crowded Virginia suburb. Blessed with their mother’s angelic face and radiant smile, his fraternal sons had worn a badge of unstoppable determination, unyielding in their quest to win their respective heats and earn their father’s admiration.
The slide’s time stamp read 1995, a chapter in the life of Jim McLeary etched with emotional scars; a time governed by a call to duty from a belligerent unit chief—and a wife who’d abandoned him.
He rubbed the stubble on his chiseled jaw with the gun’s front serrations on the black matte slide, inhaling the odor of light machine oil impregnated in the carbon pores.
He placed the flip phone on the table and reached for the metal trash can heaped with newspaper clippings, unsolicited IRS correspondence, and a rumpled copy of the King James Bible. He pushed the Bible aside and retrieved a yellow sticky pad with a note scrawled in pen beneath an unlisted phone number for Seth and Brian McLeary. He tore the ragged square of paper and crumpled it in his hand. Then he stood up, snatched the phone, and sat down. An act of indecision he’d repeated twice before, pacing with the gun in one hand and the phone in the other.
The past was history, the present uncertain, and his future up for grabs when his stronger half convinced himself to open the mangled note and dial the stupid number.
The line rang several times before he heard a prerecorded message from a voice he likened to his own. He tried to speak, but the words sank in a trough of emotional quicksand. Despite the countless rehearsals and the steadfast determination to make a positive change in his life, he froze in his own mental torpor and hung up.
He tossed the phone on a sofa cushion and advanced the slide projector until the last photo of his sons passed across the lens, followed by a sheet of white light that blanketed the screen, depicting what remained of his life from the sequence of historic images stacked neatly inside a rotating tray.
Disillusioned, yet sober in his humble surroundings, he pinched a single bullet from the clutter of .45 caliber cartridges on the folding table. He pressed the fat, copper round in the empty chamber and closed the match-grade slide on the five-inch barrel with a left-hand twist. He held his life in his own hands, a power he both revered and feared. Despite his shortcomings, he’d done what he could for his boys, finding solace in the notion his sons would thrive without him.
Alone in his thoughts, he had a decision to make, perhaps the last decision he would ever contemplate. For what he’d failed to accomplish as a father, met with equal downfall in his marriage and career. Wracked with guilt and the ensuing doldrums from a life of solitude and lost resolve, he sought refuge the only way he knew how. In his mind, the scales of indignity and hope teetered back and forth, rising and falling with the slow, methodic rhythm of a large vessel’s wake rolling through the low-rent marina.
He squeezed his hand around the gun’s rosewood grip, his fingers pressed against the double diamond texture. He cocked the hammer and brought the loaded weapon to his head, squaring the Lasergrip sights at his temple. For the third time in two days, he crept closer to the rim of a rocky ledge, staring down at the cavernous void, prepared to take his final step from a life he would surrender in a violent discharge of expanding gas behind a two-hundred and thirty grain bullet capable of shattering his skull like a porcelain vase.
With his free hand, he slid a quarter off the table and sat upright, shoulders back, chest out—his right index finger resting on the gun’s four-pound trigger.
He flicked the quarter with his thumb, launching the coin into the air, where it wobbled in a shallow arc before clanging off the teak-wood floor by his feet, bouncing and spinning until it settled on George Washington’s head.
What Jim McLeary failed to decide on his own, fate had chosen for him.