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Burn After Reading
By the time you read this, my wife and your only sister will have been buried for two days now. Two days since you stood next to Gabby’s casket. I bet you looked for me in the crowd, but found an empty space where I should be standing. I was there Cynthia… just out of sight.
I can hardly bring myself to write this letter. My heart aches for my Gabby with every word I write. But you have every right to know what happened. You have every right to know it was my fault.
How? you might be thinking. The autopsy reports claim suicide. It is true, though, I am the one who dealt the hand that drove her to it.
First, let me tell you that you know nothing about me - the real me. Yes, my name is still David Booth, and my birthday is October 12th, but other than that, I am actually a stranger to you.
I work for the FBI, Cynthia. I work for a division that hunts down international criminals. Arms deals, art thieves, murderers, terrorists… anything you can think of. I am trained to go deep undercover and infiltrate the underworld of crime. I am very good at pretending to be someone I’m not.
I can get into a lot of trouble for telling you this. You can be in danger for knowing.
For the past two years, I’ve been hunting down a notorious ring leader of a group called The Troupe. They have their hands in every crime known to man, and they are near impossible to trace. But were able to corner one of the members. Thankfully, he was a greedy, sticky-fingered adolescent who was terrified of being thrown in prison.
He knew next to nothing, which we expected, but he did know they were planning on a mass drug auction out of Italy. The Butcher, the leader of The Troupe, he told us, was throwing a gala in three months for the cover for the sell. We had only three months to place me undercover. Even for FBI standards, that was cutting it close.
(I’m sure Gabby complained to you about my absences. Actually, I know she did. I had your and her phones tapped. Sorry.)
Maybe I should have seen the changes in Gabby those few times I was home. She looked stressed. Worn thin. I was so consumed with my job, I didn’t see her usually flawless nail chewed down to the quick.
“I’m going on a trip,” she told me one day over a quiet dinner, “Cynthia and I are going to Chicago for a ladies week.”
I nodded, relieved. I was just about to tell her that I would be gone on a business trip. Now I didn’t have to worry. Even though lying is in my job description, I could never tell a convincing one to Gabby’s face.
“That’s a marvelous idea,” I replied, not realizing she was lying right to my face. I should have had enough brain cells to call you to make sure all the travel plans were set, or to ask if you two needed anything. Because of that, you lost your sister.
To Italy I went. Somehow, my department had managed to intercept the buying party, and I was taking their place. My job was simple: go to the gala in the place of the Buyer, meet The Butcher, then activate the sensor that will be planted on my eye by blinking rapidly. Once the sensor was activated, the building would be flooded with S.W.A.T, and The Troupe would finally be taken down. I’ve done it thousands of times.
I’m not sure how they did it, but the Troupe had the Vatican Museums rented for the gala. Even the Sistine Chapel. I was amazed when I arrived. I would have loved to stay and look at all the works, but once the yellow rose that was attached to my jacket was identified by one of the members of the Troupe, I was whisked away to the damp basements.
Boxes upon boxes of treasures filled most of the rooms and hallways down below. I, and the large man guiding me to the meeting place, walked through a maze of priceless works of art for almost ten minutes before we reached our destination.
I was shoved into a large room with a low ceiling; a single uncovered bulb being the only thing keeping me from toto darkness. “Wait here,” the man ordered, opening his suit jacket to show me his pistol tucked into his belt.
Once the man left, I tried to gather my bearing. The room was dimly lit, and I blinked a few time to get my eyes adjusted. My left eye twitched, a signal that I had activated the sensor. I tried to contact the waiting team up above through my ear piece, but it wasn’t working so far below ground. I hoped they took their merry time before charging in.
I was surprisingly nervous in those moments, while waiting for the head of The Troupe to arrive. With a name like The Butcher, I knew he must not be a very patient or sympathetic person. From what we milked from the informant, this mysterious leader was vicious and final when it came to decisions. The Butcher would kill if they weren’t pleased, and use the victim as an example for any lesson they were teaching.
The door finally banged open, and the man that lead me down here entered. “You’re ‘The But - ?’“ I say before he shoved me against the nearest wall.
He yanked my suit jacket off, turning it inside out and running his hands along it. Looking for a wire, I suppose. He found nothing, and flung my jacket across the room and grabbed the front of my buttoned shirt. Buttons flew fell to the floor and rolled into the darkness and he tore my shirt open. Again, he found no wire, and started patting me down. Several uncomfortable minutes later, he grunted and stormed out.
I buttoned my shirt closed and was reached for my jacket when the door opened again. “What, gonna yank my trousers off as well?” I grumbled, not seeing who entered.
“Oh, not before a first date sweetie.” A woman’s voice replied from the shadows of the doorway.
I stiffened at the voice. A woman? The Butcher was a woman?
I turned away quickly to compose myself. I dusted off my jacket and pulled it on slowly. “Well lets get this done, and I’ll take you up on the offer,” I replied cooly.
The Butcher didn’t laugh though, remaining in the doorway. Remaining out of the light. I heard her heels click on the cement floor as she drew closer to my back. “Look at me,” she hissed, “turn around and let me see your face.”
I heard a gun load behind me, and the barrel pressed into my spine. My training kicked in, and I whirled around, twisting the weapon from her grasp. Once in my hand, I stepped back and aimed the gun at her head.
At Gabby’s head.
We both stepped back at the same time; our faces going slack with horror.
“David?” she whispered.
Oh god, her voice broke me. The gun slipped from my hands and I slammed my back into the wall behind me. All I could think of was that this was a cruel joke. There was no way my lovely, gentle wife was The Butcher. She rescues cats from a kill shelter, and lets turtles take their time to cross the road.
I said her name. I wanted to scream it. I wanted to say it with love, not hurt and confusion.
Gunshots in the hall made us both jump, and in one fluid movement, Gabby scooped the gun from where I dropped it and pointed it at me. Tears shimmered in her eyes. I knew right then and there that she would shoot me to save her own skin. I was silently willing her to.
The door was kicked open, and several dark shapes moved into the room. Red laser shone from the automatic weapons they all carried, and every single one was pointed at Gabby’s back.
I tried to tell them to stand down, but when my mouth hung open, nothing came out.
Gabby breathed heavily through her nose. “I’m going to prison for a long time for what I’ve done.” she said as a statement, not a question.
She bit her lip, then before I could say anything, she pressed the gun to her temple. “I love you,” she mouthed, before pulling the trigger.
This letter is not a plea for forgiveness, Cynthia. I don’t want it anyway. I deserve to live with my choices.
Every time I close my eyes, I see the moment her body crumpled to the floor printed on the inside of my eyelids. It keeps me from sleeping, eating, living. I feel like a prisoner in my own body. I’m caged with my demons.
I didn’t have the guts to stand beside you as they lowered the casket into the earth. I felt like my guilt was written across my face. The most I could manage was watching from the hill across the cemetery.
I’m a coward. And I’m sorry.
Burn after reading.