Mike Erikson turned down the street toward his car. It was Friday and he was the last to leave work for the weekend. He worked relentlessly establishing a support network for the Muslim community over the past three months. All for his best friend Ahmad. Michael wondered how he had come to this point in his life. He was working longer hours than ever, organizing groups and protests and funding. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat down to a meal with his family. With his beautiful wife and his three kids. He imagined Thomas and Rebecca being there, too. He considered them family. He glanced down at his watch as he strode across the street. The last remaining rays of sunlight glinted off the glass pane before he could read the time: 7:48. If he hurried he might be able to enjoy dinner without sticking it in the microwave.
A slight breeze poured through the street, and Mike buttoned the remainder of his coat. New York was in limbo—that time between winter and spring where it can’t decide quite what it wants. Right now it was teetering on the edges of winter, ready to tip into full-fledged spring. Just teetering, though, and Mike quickened his pace to escape the brisk chill. A few people joined him in his after-hours stroll to his car. He took comfort knowing he wasn’t the only man on the block putting in extra time.
He reached his car and fumbled for his keys. The wind subsided into a quiet still. Mike heard nothing in the deserted parking lot. The absence of sound made him pause. He looked up.
“Excuse me?” Mike dropped his briefcase and turned toward the voice.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you come up,” Mike said. He looked at the stranger. A man, near his own age. Dressed in a business suit and holding a small briefcase. His eyes were covered by a pair of sunglasses. “Can I help you?”
“Are you Michael Erikson?” the stranger asked.
“I go by Mike. Michael is my son.” He smiled at the stranger and reached out to shake his hand. The man took it, his hands rough and his grip firm.
“Yes, Mike. I must have just missed you in your office. I’m with the Charity Fund Committee and wanted to let you know before the weekend that your funding has been approved.”
“That’s wonderful news! If I can get your information I’ll get a hold of you this weekend so we can—“
“That won’t be necessary. Everything you’ll need—paperwork, contacts, zoning guidelines—they’re all in here.” The man extended his arm holding the suitcase, and Mike reached out to grab it. “If you have any questions you can contact the committee directly.”
Mike felt the weight of the case in his hand. Lots of papers in this little guy. So much for my free weekend. “Thank-you, thank-you so much for catching up with me,” Mike said. “I’m sorry but I didn’t get your name.”
The man had turned to go. He paused and said something, but the wind returned and carried his words away from Mike’s ears. The stranger waved a goodbye and the frigid air forced Mike to fetch his own briefcase and retreat to his car.
Like a kid at Christmas, Mike couldn’t wait to open his new present. He unhinged each clasp separately, taking in this monumental moment. The months of hard work had paid off. The community was behind the mosque and the Muslim community center. His dear friend Ahmad, after years of persecution, could have a place all his own. He took a deep breath and opened the case.
Mike’s eyes raced wildly. “What the hell—” He took in the shiny metal inside, the canister, and the clock.
Three. The papers on his desk. He hadn’t submitted his request for funding yet.
Two. The door. The handle. Where is the handle?
One. His wife. His beautiful wife. His wonderful family. He could never have wanted—