“Are you a relative Sir?”
Sokolov looked down at the nurse, wondering whether it would be easier to tell her the truth or slit open her throat where she sat, safely cocooned by screens and paperwork. He banished the thoughts as quickly as they came; he had fought so hard to control his emotions, but knowing he was so close had brought them back to the surface.
“Nyet. He was a friend to my father. I have come to pay my respects.”
The nurse hesitated, probably consulting some long list of rules on what constituted a permissible relation. He leaned in closer, resting his hands across the counter top, so that his blue eyes were level with her own.
“Please. It would mean a lot to me.”
Sliding across a plastic badge emblazoned with a large red V, she scrawled his details on the logbook and buzzed him through the heavy gate. This place was nice. Sokolov had seen his babushka once in a place like this when he was a child. He remembered watching his father count out notes to the orderlies to ensure his mother’s bedsheets would be changed at least once.
Dragging a chair across the linoleum floor, it’s legs kicking up a racket, he stopped next to an old man. He stood there, for a long while, looking out the tall window at the park beyond. Kids were playing, laughing. If the old man noticed him he didn’t say anything.
Sokolov sat finally. And still neither spoke. An orderly ambled by, his rubber-soled shoes squeaking as he came and went at a dismissive wave from Sokolov.
“They told me you were released. Protocol.”
A lifetime of cigars and hostile meetings had given him a voice like ground cement. Two gnarled hands knotted in his lap, the yellowed fingers testament to his resolve to disobey his doctor’s requests he quit smoking.
“This is nice. You are dying well.”
Gravel chuckled, hacked and sputtered.
“I ain’t dead yet kid.”
“Only the happy die young, yes.”
“Good. Only the good die young,” Gravel corrected. “I would have thought you’d pick up a bit more English than that in Leavenworth.”
Sokolov glared at the old man, his hands balling into fists of calloused knuckles.
“I could kill you right here old man.”
“You have every right to be angry son.”
“My parents. They are dead. You lock me in a cage, and forget about me for ten years!”
“I never forgot about you.” Gravel kept his voice even. Calm. “Even after I left the agency, I kept tabs on you.”
“For why, old man?”
“Your parents were killed.”
“This I know!”
Gravel looked around, but his neighbours were either deaf, sleeping or both. Sokolov was gripping the arms of his chair.
“They were killed,” Gravel continued, “by the KGB.”
“This is all lies.”
“Why don’t you let me finish? And then you can snap my neck and get your recompense.”
Sokolov huffed, shrugged his shoulders. But eventually he crossed his arms, sat waiting like a patient child who was anything but.
“Your dear father was a handler for the local station chief. He ran a small ring of spies. Low-level turncoats in a couple of the nearby defence contractors. He followed the great communist ideals. A true zealot. But your mother, oh boy, she had other ideas.
“When she brought you over here, she had no plans to let you go back home. She tried to trade her husband’s secrets for your safety. It would have gone fine as well, except for your dear papa. His chief found out and gave him a simple out. Kill the traitorous wife, and give you up to the School.”
Sokolov tried to interject, but Gravel held up a hand. Not yet. Let the old man peddle his lies. Sokolov fingered the blade nestled in his jacket pocket.
“Your mother, she came to me, panicked, caring only about you. She knew what happened to young boys in those camps; all trace of humanity stripped away, trained to be perfect little killers who obeyed orders. And this, my dear boy, is where my conscious was blackened.”
Gravel turned stiffly in his chair, old bones creaking and aching.
“With his cover blown, all the intel she had was worthless. Your mother had no chips on the table anymore, so the agency walked away. No deal. No greencard for you. I was told to burn her, leave her in the wind and forget I ever even met her. God knows I could have. Should have, what happened to her next.
“I took you.”
Sokolov drew his chair closer. His anger was being eaten away by curiosity. His hands trembled, but he knew no more whether it was anticipation of ending this monsters life or learning of his own.
“My mother? Papa?”
“Moscow had them executed. Eventually. It’s a three month journey by boat back to the motherland, we know she was alive when they boarded.”
“I couldn’t get you into WitSec. No family would take a Russian kid. It was leave you on the streets to freeze, or put you in the system.”
“They were your only options?”
“I don’t get many choices in my line of work. I was told to leave you to die in a gutter for christsake! Three square meals and a new name. That was all I could give you.”
Gravel turned back to face the window. His tale was told, and now he only had one more person to confess to when he got to those pearly gates.
“She’s not dead.”
The words caught him off-guard. He turned to face the young man, now in his late twenties. He had grown up behind bars. Knew only treachery and violence.
“Excuse me son?”
“My mother. And father. They live. Back in Russia. They worked hard, proving themselves loyal. And when they finally rejoin the ranks, and search for their son. Where do they find him? Rotting in an American jail cell.
“All these years, trapped. The KGB was not trying to kill me. My parents were trying to save me. And you, old man, you denied them their child.”
The blade slipped silently between the third and fourth ribs, and Gravel finally paid for his sins.
Prompt originally posted by saltnotsugar on reddit and received 2 upvotes.