Sergei Zorkaltsev pushed his aching body forward along the Florida shoreline. He wondered which master he would serve—his family honor or his selfish desire to follow his dreams. Those paths led in different directions, unlikely to converge. The choice was splintering his soul.
He had started his day in America like most days at home in Russia—he ran. Some days it was a short run, just to stay fit. Some days it wasn’t the exercise, it was the mindlessness running could provide. It helped him to forget the cruelty of life. Today, torment consumed his mind.
He was becoming a very different person than the man he thought he would be. He didn’t like that person. He thought about his reasons for the inhumane actions he was about to take as his running shoes pulled him along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It saddened him to realize he could no longer focus on the future so clear to him, so exciting, when he graduated from the university just eight months ago. He now knew the act of revenge he was here to satisfy would leave an indelible stain on his life. But to walk away from his duty would leave him equally tarnished. At twenty-three, his life was over.
A debt of honor had to be paid. He had not thought about what would happen to him afterwards. He never wondered, as he trained and planned, if he could change the direction of his life again when his task was complete. But now that he was here those thoughts consumed him. When he was done, could he find a way to forget he had become a killer? He knew the inertia of the plan now commanded the situation. It had begun. The reasons were valid. He would proceed. With conflicted resolve and his exercise completed he stepped into an outdoor shower at the edge of the beach.
Eighteen months had passed since his father had been murdered. When he looked at his father’s lifeless form he had known his life had changed. As the mourners filed through his parents’ modest home he realized the family income had ended with his father. It was now up to him to support his mother and himself. With only his senior year at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnical University to complete he would have to drop out of school.
As the sadness of the day darkened his home, a well dressed visitor arrived. The black limousine rolled down the dirt driveway and a man had delivered the news that his father’s employer would pay the expenses to allow him to complete his schooling. His mother would be cared for by an unknown pension. As silently as he arrived, the man had disappeared, but he was true to his word.
It was a week to the day after his graduation from the five-year magistr program as an agricultural engineer that the same man had visited him with two very different gifts—the identity of his father’s killer, and the opportunity for revenge. He used the word “vozmozhnost.” He was told the man who put a bullet through his father’s heart was an infamous American Intelligence agent, an assassin known only as The Ram, because of the brutal and sometimes crude methods he used to kill. The stranger told him he would provide the training and resources to allow him to hunt down his father’s killer.
This time, the man had waited in the automobile while he packed a few pieces of clothing. Without telling her where he was going or what he would be doing, the boy gave his mother a farewell kiss.