Something moved across the face of the waters. The fifty-year-old turned his grizzled face into the breeze, eyes closed, savoring the presence. He was dressed in woolen robes, the baggy mitznefet upon his head and secured by a gilded band, and his greying beard reached down to the gilded plaque of stones upon his chest, beneath which his heart fluttered in anticipation of the rite to come. Beneath the robes he still wore his silk suit pants and the cotton undershirt, though he had replaced leather shoes and black polyester socks for simple sandals. He could hardly imagine what his friends and business associates could say if they saw him, Julian Coen, printer and publisher, dressed as he was and standing here.
He opened his eyes and stared out across Long Island Sound at the morning lights of New York City. Dawn had not yet begun to break over that new Salem. It is time to begin the ceremony.
Hart Island was difficult for most to access at the best of times. It was not public land, but owned by the Department of Corrections, and visitors were allowed only rarely, and never past a certain area. Beyond that marker, prisoners toiled for pennies a day at the greatest mass grave in the United States...secret hands working on a sacred project of which they knew nothing.
Striding ahead, he strode over the buried but not unhallowed dead, stacked like cordwood in the earth beneath his feet, and up the little path that might have been a game trail - except there was no game on Hart Island. He had a flashlight in one hand, but chose not to use it, following the path by half-light and memory. Passing through the thin trees which autumn had stripped of their leaves, he came to the place. It did not look like much; just another of the island's ruins, blocks of tumbled stone laid out in a rough square to mark the boundaries of some old house. In one corner was a square block of paler stone with a rusty iron ring set into the middle of it. In all of its years as a prison, a fort, and finally a cemetery few had ever stumbled upon this sacred place, and none had guessed its true purpose.
Bending down and cursing at his years, the publisher set aside the flashlight and struggled with the heavy door to the sanctum. With much gasping and sweating, he managed to lift the stone aside, revealing a steep flight of stairs downward into the dark earth. The old man took a minute to catch his breath before descending, and that was when he heard the cold mechanical click from behind him.
The man stood before him in a dark suit and tie, not black but one of those dark greys that seems to drink in the night and become a part of it. Jutting shoulder pads gave menace to what was a slender figure, the breeze snapping the sleeves of his trousers around too-thin legs. The gun in his right hand was a flat, black thing. Unconsciously, Julian lifted his hands. The man with the gun smiled, and the metal teeth glinted in the pre-dawn glow. As if in answer, he raised his left hand - and Coen gasped at the figure burned into that hand. The stranger smiled wider at the publisher's reaction.
"Danke schön," the man said. "For this." A crack rang out.
Coen did not remember falling, only the sudden pain and heat as the bullet tore through his neck. He stared upwards at the dwindling stars. A leeching cold was working its way through his body from the terrible wound, and his neck and back were already wet with blood. He did not see the stranger disappear into the sanctum, but he knew that must be where he was going...and what he would be doing. Even as he lay dying, he knew he must get a message to those who came after him. With supreme effort the old man reached for the heavy black flashlight, mouthing the words of the shema, though nothing came from his lips but a bloody froth. On the glass of lens, in his own bulb, he drew out the symbol...