Harold reached the street just in time to see John's figure disappear from his sight. Yet, the ongoing echo of gunshots were telling him that, even down on his knees, John kept on fighting. Harold was exhausted and totally in shock, both from what John had just done to protect him, and from the gunshot wound. He was dying inside, in his body and in his soul. The sound of every shot coming from the rooftop echoed in his chest as if they were aimed at him. John, his friend and partner, outsmarted him and walked to a certain death without hesitation, without a blink, because all that mattered to him was Harold's life.
The day he recruited John, Harold had just been looking for a partner in his secret enterprise of saving the irrelevant numbers, someone who had the field skills that he himself lacked – and if at all possible, a little more accommodating than Mr. Dillinger. Harold had known from the start that Mr. Reese was a good pick. Despite their different characters, they would make a good pair, and not just because John was bringing donuts every morning.
But never had Harold meant for things to end like this. He hired John to save lives, not to sacrifice his. And certainly not in exchange for Harold's.
He was leaning against the pole of a bus stop, his eyes glued to the rooftop of the building on the other side of the street, oblivious of everything else around him. He was unable to move, unable to think, barely able to stay conscious. John's words kept echoing in his ears, reverberating all the way to his bleeding heart.
Told you, I'd pay you back all at once, that's the way I like it.
Sometimes, one life, if it's the right life, it's enough.
Harold knew he should leave. If John was by his side, instead of trying to save the world over there, he would grab him by the arm, and drag him to safety. Harold would have given anything to be unceremoniously dragged away by an angry Mr. Reese while being lectured about the little regard he seemed to have for his safety.
But Harold couldn't get himself to leave. He just couldn't leave John. He also had not a single ounce of energy left to move from where he was.
He knew it was coming, and yet he was still filled with the worst of horror when he saw the missile tear the sky and fall on the building where he could still hear the echoes of the gun fight a minute ago. The building collapsed, and so did Harold.
Dazed and confused, Harold woke up in a hospital room, surrounded by nurses, noise and monitors. He didn't care. He had learned to live with physical pain for six years now. What was a little gunshot wound? He barely paid attention to any of the things happening around him anyway. All his thoughts still circled around the rooftop where he had last seen John, where he had seen a missile fall, and destroy the whole building. Part of him was still in denial of what he had witnessed.
How could the world continue to spin, look so normal?
Part of Harold wanted to believe John was still alive. But the fact that John wasn't by his side at this very moment, at the hospital, to look over him, was enough to tell him John was gone. Precisely because Harold knew that John would stay by his side until his last breath.
Barely standing on his feet, Harold left the hospital and went to meet with Agent Terence Beale. John's former CIA boss was having an early lunch in a small diner in Midtown. Harold slid into the seat opposite him and stared at him coldly, channeling the menacing Mr. Egret as best as he could despite his weak state.
Beale frowned and quickly surveyed the diner and the street through the window, trying to see if the intruder had brought company with him.
His gaze finally returned to Harold. "Do I know you?" he asked coolly.
"You don't," Harold said calmly. "But you knew my partner."
He slid a thin folder across the table. Beale pushed his plate aside and peeked inside the folder, where Harold had put a picture of John, along with incriminating documents from the operation Desert Rain that John had uncovered while helping a number.
"I know the CIA stole his body from the morgue. I know you'd rather pretend nothing happened and that John had been dead all along. I also know that John would say he doesn't care, but see, Agent Beale, I care. John died saving the world, saving me, and I think he deserves better than being swept under the rug by his former employers."
Beale listened in silence, holding Harold's gaze.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"I want the CIA to give John a proper burial, and the appropriate memorial ceremony for the hero he was. After everything he's done for you, this is the least you can do."
"And if I don't?"
Harold pointed at the folder in front of Beale. "If you don't, I'm sure Maxine Angelis, the New York Journal's ambitious reporter, will be delighted to hear about Operation Desert Rain."
"And before you start planning my murder, Agent Beale, be assured I took my precautions. If anything were to happen to me, the story would find its way to Ms. Angelis' desk."
A short smile of appreciation brushed Beale's lips.
"But I know you will make the right decision," Harold added.
"He was a good agent," Beale said. "I've been saddened to hear about his recent death. But I was glad to learn he didn't die during that mission in China. It probably doesn't change anything now, but I never agreed to that mission. I've always appreciated him. More than a good agent, he was a good man, and those are too rare in our profession."
Harold nodded. "Good men are too rare anywhere," he said in a low voice.
And men of John's fiber were even more exceptional. John was too much of a good man for his own good, always putting other people's lives, Harold's life, before his, until it ultimately cost him his life.
A lump in his throat, Harold started to get up, but Beale gestured for him to sit down.
"So, what was your business, you and John? Saving people?"
Harold's heart sank. Beale's past tense reminded him that indeed it was over. For John, and thus for himself.
He readjusted his glasses. "Something like that."
"Whatever it was, it seemed it did him some good. When our paths crossed last fall, he seemed… happier – more alive, for lack of a better word – than when he was in the CIA."
And yet now he was dead. Unable to speak, Harold nodded shortly and quickly left the diner.
A couple of days later, Harold watched Shaw and Lionel share a meal, while he remained hidden, outside, unable to join them. He was relieved to see them both alive and well. Detective Fusco seemed to have recovered easily from his stab wound. Harold had been following him all the way from the precinct with the intention to meet them. He wanted to tell them that he was done with the mission, and that he'd be leaving soon for Italy. He wanted to explain that he couldn't do it anymore, that the weight of too many losses was too much for him to carry, and it was time for him to retire. He meant to thank them for their help and wish them well.
But now that he was there, watching Lionel and Shaw sitting opposite each other in that diner, with Bear at their feet, he couldn't make himself go in. He didn't have the strength to break the news to them. He didn't have the strength to be with them without John. He couldn't go in and reunite with his friends. Not without John. The simple sight of Lionel, Sameen and Bear, reminded him too much that John wasn't there anymore. Seeing the three of them, all brought into the team by John himself, made his absence even more striking.
Unable to bear it any longer, Harold turned around and disappeared.
Agent Beale kept his promise and, a few days later, an official ceremony in John's honor was held at the Cypress Hills National military cemetery. With a heavy heart but some small solace of having done what he could to honor his fallen friend, Harold booked a flight to Rome for the next day.
To be continued...