There is such a thing as honor. We denizens of a world much debased and disdainful often forget the word. But ought we? For it still thrives, thrives despite disregard. Honor impeached can stir even the most jaded heart to irrational revenge. Yes, even in this post-modern, ultra-civilized world. And we, voyeurs, stare gape-mouthed in horror, for we do not understand honor however much it motivates our desire. Though it be a force of destruction, of torn and mutilated lives, we do not consider it. Such a little word but with vital import. No, it does not do to forget there is such a thing as honor.
Eighteen years ago Raymond was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for driving home from Tsosie’s Tavern past the limit in many ways. Driving down NM666 he topped a hill in the northbound lane heading south. He survived the collision through divine intervention. Nobody else did.
Raymond remembered nothing of that night. He woke in a hospital bed, craving whiskey, feeling nothing more than a vague sense of regret. Irrefutable evidence weighing against him, his public defender advised him to plead guilty. He had. He’d served eight of his twelve years. He was released a decade ago.
Eighteen years ago Derek Begay was as happy as a human can be. He had completed a doctorate at Cambridge University in radiogenic isotope research. He’d secured a prestigious post-doc position at Los Alamos National Labs, not an hour’s drive from his childhood home. And he’d been married to his soul mate for a year.
He’d met Nora while at Cambridge. His parents met her when she crossed the ocean with Derek two months before his post-doc position became active, four months before his first child was due. They were to spend the summer months searching for a home in Los Alamos while allowing his large family to become accustomed to Nora’s Manchester accent. Nora was taking the interruption in her own career, the extreme dislocation, and the awkward family scrutiny quite well, considering her advanced state of pregnancy. And Derek? No mere words could describe his elation.
The evening Raymond decided to drive British-style through the Navajo Reservation, Nora was being escorted home by her female in-laws after a fairly successful baby shower. Nobody had, that night, brought up religion, nationality, or skin color of the future Begay, at any rate. It had been rather enjoyable; and before leaving Nora had stated, almost intelligibly, that she was beginning to feel less like a square peg in a spherical universe.
Derek took the phone call in his mother’s kitchen much later. He was needed at the morgue to identify four bodies: his mother, his two sisters, his wife, and, by implication, his unborn child.
Eighteen years later Raymond Hernandez opened his door to a UPS delivery just as he finished lunch. He took the small box and tossed it on the kitchen table. It was addressed to him, but he assumed it was for his wife since he was expecting nothing. He went back to work without giving the box the least consideration.
In the intervening decade Raymond had built a successful dirt hauling empire. He had contracts with the city and county governments in Albuquerque. He worked with most area developers. He owned fifteen trucks and had over one hundred employees. And he had remained sober since his release.
There was never a sense of culpability associated with his accident; it’s very difficult for a man to manufacture guilt over what’s not remembered. Raymond did, however, feel the weight of a permanent debt that he labored to expiate. Debt to that poor family. Debt to society for giving him another chance. Debt to his wife.
That night the box remained on the table. His wife, dicing onions at the counter, announced that it was not her doing. So Raymond sliced open the cardboard. Inside, tightly wrapped in thick plastic, was an intricately beaded medicine bag. An owl’s eyes glared out of the plastic. Raymond sliced into the plastic, feeling incomprehensible anxiety. Raymond was neither religious nor superstitious, but intuition often made up for both.
On the back of the bag golden beads spelled out, “Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak.” Raymond didn’t understand the reference but took the threat, all the same. He untied the leather cords and removed a thick piece of antler. Incised in a spiral down its length was another quote in gold lettering. “Surely, O Smaug the unassessably wealthy, you must realize that your success has made you some bitter enemies?”
The feeling of trepidation crawling up Raymond’s spine began to tell on his face. His wife came to his side, frowning her consternation at the strange anonymous gift. Silently, Raymond removed a miniature husk doll. On the doll’s embroidered apron was yet another golden quotation. “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
Raymond’s eyes widened; he dropped the doll and bag as though burnt. As the bag fell to the table a tightly folded sheet of stationery bounced out. Unable to stop the fate that enveloped him, Raymond unfolded the paper. One word was written on it. “Revenge.” But the whole sheet was covered in a white powder that coated Raymond’s trembling hands.
In the ensuing investigation the package was traced to Sandia National Labs. The ricin that killed both Hernandezes within hours was from a store of bio-toxins kept by the Lab’s bioterrorism research division. One Derek Begay, a mass spectrometer technician, was implicated. Shortly before his arraignment he was found dead in his lab with a note clutched in his cold hand. It bore but one word. “Honor.”
©Elizabeth Anker 2021