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New York—Two months later—Present-day.

DRESSED IN BLACK, JOHN PROFIT stood beside the altar and checked his watch, poised to start the service on time. He stroked the stubble on his chin, staring out at the crowd.

"I never thought you would die like this, Dad," he whispered.

John couldn't even see the steps in front of the altar with the sea of flowers covering them. He took in a deep breath, the soothing aromatic scents of lilies and roses filling his lungs. He glanced at the flickering candles on the candelabrum next to him as rain pounded the tile roof.

Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out.

Lightning crackled and the church doors flew open. Dozens of people pushed inside, avoiding the showering rain from the dark thundering clouds outside. A biting wind swept in, bringing with it a metallic tang from the fresh rain.

He nodded at the crowd gathering in the grand foyer, the overflow from some forty rows of dark-stained pews filling the church to capacity. Not many more would fit. Some latecomers closed their umbrellas while others unbuttoned their coats or loosened their scarfs.

From his vantage point, the stone pillars seemed to stand guard, forming a circle at the entrance. The columns boasted classical architectural lines, spiraling upward, leading onlookers to behold the magnificent dome mural—a heavenly tribute to God. Would they guide dear old Dad to a better place? John wasn't sure. His dad had always been more a man of science than faith. Just like him.

Heads of charities, police, firefighters and city council members sat, waiting patiently for the funeral to begin. Even the mayor had made it a point to attend.

A bell clanged. The deep knell reverberated throughout John's body. He turned and faced the cross, gazing up with furrowed brow.

"Why do you hate me?" The words came out louder than expected.

With his back to the congregation, he pulled a flask from his jacket and snuck a drink. When he stuffed the container away, a crumple in his pocket piqued his curiosity.

John pulled out an unfamiliar parchment. He unfolded it and read.

ANTARCTICA REMAINS UNRESOLVED. DON'T TRUST ANYONE. TG

"TG? What the hell is this?" John swayed and took a deep breath, trying to think through his inebriation. He patted the flask in his jacket, tempted to take another drink. Better save some for later.

A hand rested on John's shoulder. He crammed the paper back into his pocket. John swung around to a man with a greying goatee who led him to sit in the front row. Organ music flooded the church, punctuating the start of mass. The people rose when a procession of two altar servers followed the priest down the aisle.

All the talk of healing and love from the priest conflicted with John's feelings of loss and desertion deep inside. He fidgeted in his seat, squirming with a grimace. The words of the readings and the rituals rang hollow. Why, God? He suffered through the rest of the service and until it came time for him to address the room.

John stood, his tousled brown hair hanging in front of his eyes. After a sharp breath, he climbed the stairs to the pulpit, stepped up and adjusted the microphone. Get it over with so you can move on. The two disciples depicted in the stained glass on either side of the room seemed to glare down at him, pale and dull from the overcast sky.

"Thank you to everyone for coming," John started. "It's ss-stuffy in here, I know, so I promise to keep this brief." He cleared his throat. "What would my father say if he were here? He would tell you to live life," he said, his voice rising an octave. "We are all too often consumed in the rat race that we neglect our family or our friends. Ssss-sometimes, when life seems hard and cold, we miss the warmth and love all around us." His words brought him zero comfort, but he pressed on. "My father would say 'Stop.'" John paused and stared down at the gathering. "'Stop and take a look.' My father would tell you to revel in the beauty and wonder—of creation." His voice ebbed, the whiskey catching up with him. It's warm in here, he noted, loosening his tie a bit.

"David Profit was a great man, a beacon of light in dark times. David—my father—was a leader, an innovator." A warmth and lightheadedness poured over John's body, the alcohol coursing through his veins like venom from a snakebite. He clenched the pulpit and closed his eyes.

Help me, God. Please.

The finality of his father's death sank in. He let out a soft sob and hung his head. John opened his eyes and stared at the two wet splotches that landed on the wooden surface in front of him. He wiped a knuckle at the swelling in his eyes and forced his attention back to the audience, looking for a distraction from his emotions. A man wearing a patriotic tie caught his eye. The man's gaze focused on John.

"Tom?" He narrowed his eyes at the person who stood behind the back row of pews.

John touched his pocket and heard the note crumple.

"Mom—would have been proud of what you accomplished—your outreach to impoverished nations, the countless charities—indeed, we are all proud. But now you're with her in a better place."

A few of the assembly craned their head to follow John's line of sight, but the vast majority bought the adlib.

His gaze washed over the crowd and when he glimpsed to the back of the church—the man was gone. John pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. His shoulders drooped an inch or two.

He lowered his head and stared at the pulpit. You're dead, Tom. It couldn't have been you. Get it together, Profit. John swallowed hard, trying to rein in his emotions.

When he raised his head, John caught sight of the man weaving behind the pillars. His heart beat faster. Is that a scar on his face? Behind a pillar... Gone again.

"I—I'm sorry..."

A touch on John's arm made his heart skip.

"You did good, Mr. Profit." The priest patted his back.

John managed a faint nod. He drew in a deep breath as the priest helped him to his seat.



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