Thank You For Your Service

Mr. Yin found him. Somehow, years later, Mr. Yin had tracked him down. Samuel refused to talk to him, screamed at him to go away. He even threw a book at him, which missed and went sailing through the glass door of his apartment. Eventually Mr. Yin had left, saying “Fine, if you won’t do it, I’ll have to do it myself. Someone has to save these people.”

Samuel drank heavily that night, a rare occurrence. He had spent his life since that time working very hard to forget what he had done in the name of saving people. He spoke to doctor after doctor, got medication after medication. Finally he realized it was something he would simply have to live with for the rest of his life. He stopped taking medication, stopped going appointments, and simply moved on, pretending like his past was nothing more than a terribly vivid dream. And the illusion worked for a very long time.

But not tonight. Mr. Yin had come and all of the memories came flooding back – the guilt, the fear, the glimmer of hope that he was helping. That glimmer that was so nurtured by Mr. Yin, who only wanted to help people, make people better.

The booze and the past mixed together in a volatile swirl of painful memories. Samuel staggering to the door to make sure that Mr. Yin was truly gone, then collapsed in a heap on the sofa. He dreamed of scalpels and blood and screams of terror and mercy, all images that seemed to skip across his mind’s eye like a glimpse of a television show while someone was flipping the channels.

***

Samuel awoke the next morning covered in a sticky sweat, a thundering ache between his ears. It was still dark as he hobbled to the bathroom to take the shower, leaving the light off to protect his pounding head. He stripped off his damp clothes, leaving them in a heap next to the toilet, and stepped into the shower to wash away the previous night’s misery and terror.

He made his way through his morning routine, slowing shaking off the feelings from hours earlier. After dressing himself, eating breakfast and swallowing some aspirin Samuel grabbed his keys to head across the lawn to the main house. The calm of his routine comforted him.

The smell is what hit him first – a metallic, wet smell. And the eerie calm of a usually bustling house was unsettling. There was no noise – only that smell.

Cautiously walking into the kitchen Samuel was surprised that Rosita was not there busily preparing breakfast. Normally she would be sautéing and baking and humming softly a Latin lullaby she learned as a child. Today she was nowhere in sight.

Vaguely aware of a tingling sensation on the back of his neck, Samuel ventured up the stairs. He considered for a moment yelling to see if anyone was home but thought better of it. Though his employers hired him as their butler under the agreement that he not be “stuffy” Samuel still thought it would be inappropriate to shout. No, a quick walk up the stairs would be much more acceptable.

The smell was becoming overwhelming. It was slightly salty, organic smell that was familiar and uncomfortable. And yet Samuel could not place it. Rounding the corner into the master bedroom, he found nothing. Following the odor once more he found room after room hopelessly empty.

Until he reached the upstairs playroom. He froze momentarily, overwhelmed by pungent odor escaping the cracked doorway. His perfected even demeanor broke for only a moment.

“Good lord, what is that smell?” he said quietly as he covered his mouth and nose with his hand. He gagged slightly and his eyes watered. Taking a moment to compose himself, mentally chastising himself for his moment of weakness, he swung the play room door open. As unprofessional as it was, Samuel leaned over and vomited on the carpet.

***

A quiet morning in the bank was rare. Today seemed like a pleasant surprise as Rebecca was able to take off her coat and set down her purse before being accosted by the needs of the compliance department: this customer structured their deposits to avoid reporting; that customer refused to supply information. While she loved her job she was grateful for the reprieve she knew that the longer the peace lasted the worse it would be when it ended.

And end it did. Almost as soon as she had the thought the monitoring software the bank used to detect potentially illegal activity began throwing alerts. The alerts were coming so feverishly that Rebecca barely had time to read a few words before the next one came through: “sanctioned country”, “unusual activity for account”, “excessive dollar amount.” The warnings ran the gamut from a simple new account warning to notice about potential terrorism. Rebecca had never seen anything like this.

She stood for a moment, mesmerized by the flurry of alerts that had slowly eased and were now flashing on her screen. Totaling 163 alerts for a single transaction Rebecca thought there may have been an error in the system. She set her coffee on the desk and sat down, subconsciously bidding farewell to her quiet morning.

***

Dinner was delicious, as usual. Rosita, though sometime a bit surly, was a delightful chef. Meals were an event for her, and while she usually didn’t actually eat with the family, she did spend meal time talking and laughing, making sure everyone had enough to eat, positive that no one was telling the truth when they said they were full.

Tonight was a special night. Ryan had been recruited by a top college to play lacrosse on a full athletic scholarship. Emma was chattering about the boy she likes – to no one in particular, and Charlie and Monica were quietly but happily debriefing each other on the events of their days. Samuel sat on the patio taking it all in, wondering at how he went from foster child to military surgeon to butler to family member.

The Marlins welcomed Samuel with open arms. They needed a butler, someone responsible but not formal. Samuel didn’t wear a formal suit, called his employers by their first names, and participated in just about every family event. Two years after he started working form them, Charlie and Monica built an apartment on the property and insisted Samuel move in. It was a gorgeous three bedroom flat and the Marlins refused to accept rent from him. This life was not what he had imagined, nor did he think he deserved it.

Especially after Korea. The Korean War had been particularly traumatic. After spending the years after his mother’s death fighting through foster home after foster home and group home after group home, signing up for the military seemed like a great idea. Sure he might go to war, but he would have structure, a family, and could learn a lot. He wanted to be a medic and the military agreed to train him.

They shipped him overseas as part of a MASH unit. Samuel learned everything from assisting the doctor to actually performing surgery. At 21 years old he was putting soldiers back together as best as he could to send them to actual hospitals for real surgery.

And then he met Mr. Yin. Samuel was sitting vigil in the early hours of the morning with a patient, watching him sweat and shake with fever, knowing that he was septic and that there was very little he could do about it. Penicillin could be difficult to come by, and this poor kid’s body was so damaged it was a miracle he made it to the MASH unit alive at all.

Mr. Yin came in so quietly he startled Samuel. He sat down next to Samuel and watched as the life slowly drained from the broken body before them.

“It is a pity, is it not?” Mr. Yin asked.

“Excuse me?” Samuel replied.

“This war is cutting down such young men. They’re dying needlessly.”

“Hmm.”

“And it’s a horrible waste as well. I mean, wouldn’t it be grand if something good came out of all of this? If there was some honor in this young man’s death?”

“What are you talking about?” Samuel was curious where Mr. Yin was going. He seemed so profound.

“Around the world people are dying without ever being in war. Children, just like this one, are perishing because their own bodies are betraying them rather than their governments,” Mr. Yin ventured. He had targeted Samuel because of his young age. But he had unknowingly struck a nerve with Samuel.

Samuel’s mother passed away from genetic degenerative kidney disease and could not get an organ match. His father died in a car accident on the way home from her funeral. Organ failure, Samuel reasoned, was the entire cause of the loss of his family. He didn’t even think about the drunk driver who killed his father.

“How is this kid’s death going to help anyone else?” Samuel asked, somewhat bitterly.

“Well, is there any part of this boy’s body that is not damaged?”

“Yeah. His lungs managed to survive this carnage.”

“He can’t use those lungs after he leaves this world. Wouldn’t it be something if someone else could?”

Samuel sat silently for a long time. He was pondering the implications of Mr. Yin’s question. When he finally went to answer Mr. Yin was gone. He had left as quietly as he had come in.

As the sun came up Samuel pulled the sheet over the young boy’s lifeless body. He called the coroner and cleaned up and organized the charts from the night before. Samuel noticed a small card sitting on the corner of the desk, the handwriting careful. The note simply said: Thank you for your service.

***

Rebecca reviewed every single alert before bringing the matter to her boss. She wanted to make absolutely sure that there was no mistake, and she wanted to put a hold on the funds. After her review, however, she was more than sure of what she was seeing.

“Alan, do you have a moment?”

“Sure, Rebecca, what’s up?”

“I’ve got something, and it’s not good.”

“Let’s see what you’re looking at.”

She showed him her review, the fact that it was a new account being funded by a huge amount of money wired from a country that the United States was not allowed to do business with. It was incredibly unusual that the funds actually made it to the US at all. The pattern of events was unbelievable, and this matter was something that needed to be brought to the authorities immediately.

Alan called the direct line of the IRS field agent for their district, Maria Santangello. After hearing the situation she reacted with much more urgency than Alan expected.

“I’ll be there in an hour and a half with a subpoena. Please have all information related to this transaction and the account copied and ready for me. Do not release those funds.” She hung up the phone and Alan and Rebecca looked at each other in shock. Whatever was happening was big.

Upon her arrival Maria was direct.

“Thank you for preparing this, Alan. I cannot tell you much because it’s an active and ongoing investigation. We have a team working on a situation and this is a huge break. We’ve never had a person’s name before. What was his name, again?”

“Samuel Cain.”

“And how much was wired into the bank account?”

“Approximately $673,000.”

“Thank you. You’ve done good work here,” Maria said, taking the stuffed manila envelope and rushing out the door.

***

“Mr. Yin, I can’t keep doing this.”

“What do you mean, Samuel. You have helped so many people.”

“Yeah, but at what cost? You keep pushing me for more and more. If the kids aren’t dead what exactly do you want? I’m not even 100% positive the last one was going to die and I did it anyways. I’m not doing this anymore. Find someone else to be your predator. I’m not stealing these kids’ organs anymore.”

“I thought you wanted to save lives.”

“Yes, save them, but not at the expense of others. You’re a monster, Mr. Yin, and I want nothing more to do with you. Here is your damn blood money back. Do not come back here or I’ll have you arrested.”

“You’re making a mistake, Samuel.”

“Get out!”

As Mr. Yin left he left a card on the corner of the desk, just like every time he had come before. And just like every time it read: Thank you for your service. Samuel threw it in the garbage.

***

The police entered the open front door quietly, guns drawn. Maria was in front in full tactical gear. She came up the stairs and froze. Samuel sat on floor in the doorway between the play room and the hall, tears staining his face and vomit on his shirt. He stared at Maria helplessly, hands open in his lap as if he didn’t know what to do with them.

They held each other’s gaze for a moment before Samuel slowly turned his head and gazed back into the room. He looked longingly then lowered his eyes and shook his head. He looked like a ragdoll.

Maria rounded the doorway and saw the gruesome scene in the play room. Five bodies were laid in a row, elbow to elbow, face down. There was blood everywhere. It had pooled underneath them, crawled along the carpet. It had sprayed from where their throats had been slit. And then there were the holes.

Each person had a giant hole in their back where less than perfect incisions had been made. Their lower organs had been removed. Kidneys, livers, spleens, all gone. Connective tissue and veins hung out of their gaping wounds, grasping for what they once were anchored to. The killer didn’t bother closing them up. He clearly had no intention of their survival.

They even murdered Rosita. She lay right there next to Monica, the straps of her apron entangled in the untethered viscera of her missing body parts. Maria hoped that their deaths had been swift.

“What’s your name?”

“Samuel Cain.”

With several men pointing their guns directly at Samuel, Maria knelt down.

“Samuel, did you do this?”

Samuel looked at Maria as if she were not there. He could barely comprehend what he had been asked.

“Samuel?” Maria asked again.

“Of course I didn’t do this! These people were my family! I could never do this to-” Samuel’s shouts were cut off by the radio attached to Maria’s shoulder.

“Maria, we’ve got blood soaked clothes in the guest house bathroom.”

“Samuel Cain, you are under arrest. Please stand up.”

The color drained out of Samuel’s face as the blood rushed in his ears. He couldn’t remember much about the previous night after Mr. Yin had left. Glimpses of hospital beds inside dirty tents, rusty instruments and blood soaked sheets flashed through his mind. The shine of a scalpel catching the over head lamp. The gasp of a patient taking their last breath. The small and dingy cooler tucked under the desk. The card. These images flashed through his mind as they had done the night before. But one image kept coming back.

The card. The card. Samuel saw it over and over again on the corner of the table. Maria was now holding him, helping him to his feet. She asked if Samuel had anything in his pockets, to which he just shook his head.

Maria reached into Samuel’s pockets. As she pulled his wallet out of his back pocket a card fell to the floor. She picked it up and examined it.

“This looks like currency. Do you know where this is from?” Maria asked Samuel. He looked down and felt the world fall away from him.

“That’s a North Korean won.” Samuel nearly choked on the words.

“Why is it taped to this card?” She asked. She showed him the card, flipped it over. There, on the back, scrawled in careful handwriting: Thank you for your service.