He stoked the fire and asked her about redemption. His questions made her uncomfortable. It was unlike the boss to discuss such things. He was too open, too interested.
The fireplace was ancient. Paintings and artifacts ringed the room, each older than the next. A table stood in the middle of the floor. It seemed made of stone. She'd touched it once, just to see. It was solid and heavy and cold like the fireplace.
Why was he building a fire? The room was warm enough. He was an important man. Couldn't someone build it for him?
On went the questions. What sins can be forgiven? Is there ever a time when sins are too great and will weigh a man down forever? Is there forgiveness for someone who is not sorry? She ran out of answers and suggested he pray about it. He laughed. Given the conversation, it surprised her.
He left her in the room while he went to speak to the staff. Other than the blazing fire the room was silent. The boss returned, placed a pile of papers in the middle of the huge table, and left.
She waited for what seemed like an entire day, then another, and one more. She stared at the fire, touched the table again, walked around and studied the art on the walls. Some of it had been famously stolen. How had it wound up here? The carpet was worn, probably ancient too. That would explain why it hadn't been replaced. She had a lot of time to think.
Her eyes were drawn to the papers on the table. What was all of this about? She tried to see what she could see without disturbing the pile. Not much. A phrase, a notation, subtle strokes of a pen, and the edge of an official document. It looked like a report, the kind she'd seen before when the boss had caught someone guilty. If this was evidence of wrong-doing, it was a lot of it.
She knew better than to look. If she was caught peering into the secrets she'd be in more trouble than the subject of the investigation, but curiousity got the best of her. A little glimpse. That's all. She peeled back the top paper to reveal a name. She knew who it was. She'd known of this person's guilt for a long time. She was well aware of what he had done, but if it were humanly possible to unwrap a man's sins from him and pull them away, she would have. Compassion settled in her heart.
The door opened slowly and she had just enough time to move silently from the edge of the table and fake innocence. In walked the boss, and his men, and the accused, a spy turned traitor. Guilty as sin. All of them.
The spy looked deeply afraid. In cases like this, the boss and his men usually did not need an interpreter. Why was she here?
She watched the boss. He said things, important things, all the things. He nodded. He motioned. She began to consider what was happening. Why had he built the fire? Why did he leave her alone for so long with the evidence? Why did he ask her all those questions about forgiveness? She looked from face to face. Everyone in the room was guilty of something, herself included.
The deliberation continued. They were close to proving his guilt.
The boss must have built the fire for a reason, she thought. He asked me about sin. I am standing here with crimes written on paper and within my reach.
She was putting it all together in her mind. Suddenly, a sense of purpose moved her. She paused, stared directly at the guilty spy, leaned in, awkwardly grabbed the pile of papers, turned and shoved them into the fire.
The men were stunned. The boss moved toward her in a rage as she realized he hadn't intended for her to do that. But then why all of this? She was able to hold the men back for a short second, their shock and her suddenness acting in her favor. All of the papers went up in flames.
Now she was the guilty party. Two of the men held her arms while the boss faced her, speechless, angry, and worst of all, surprised.
"Why did you build the fire?" She asked the boss with uncharacteristic boldness.
He stared at her, unable to fathom why she would do this. She had misunderstood him completely.
She turned to the spy, certain they would share the same fate. He seemed as confounded as the boss.
She was sure the questions earlier meant he was thinking of redemption, forgiveness. She thought it was a set-up. He wanted to see if she would do it. But now she did not know. She only knew she had probably saved the spy, who was guilty, and condemned herself.
He wanted an honest answer. She wasn't a traitor. He knew that. Why would she do this?
"I thought you wanted me to," her voice shaking.
He paused for a long moment, just staring at her.
"Why?" He asked finally.
"Because," she answered quietly, whispering so the others wouldn't hear. "It was your name on the paper."