Chapter 10: Presidential Limo
Washington D.C.: 11:58 PM
You never know what kind of turnout will occur during a public presentation. There are roughly seventy people at the eastern end of the National Mall who are taking their seats. Visitors and delegates often meet at the East Front of the Capital Building. It is only natural to have our guest speakers situate themselves comfortably in such a fashion that would allow for easy transaction of speakers.
The public was not allowed inside the Capital Building outside of designated tours, a few guards smartly stand at attention at the front doors. When the President or foreign delegates are visiting it is customary to screen guests and have armed body guards keeping an eye on everyone. Washington DC has a policy regarding people not entering the general proximity of world leaders, if you enter their bubble and are not invited their body guards and military personnel will simply shoot you. No one important was supposed to show today.
The Capital Building is amazing. American Neoclassicism architect spans the magnificent building that started in 1793. It was not finished until 1819. Modern architect have been combined with traditional craftsman skills to create the marvel that easily matched any building built in ancient Rome or Greece. Known for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty", it is prized for its wedding cake cast iron dome. Fantastic artwork and statues such as the colossal statue Freedom greet visitors. A recent addition to the building boasts of the Capital Visitor Center.
Mike introduces April to a few scholars. Shaking his head in amazement he feels every particle in his body respond like it’s positively charged. Mike always feels both power and humbled in the National Mall in DC. She instantly connects to a writer from England who is a visiting fellow. April and her new friend, Mary Scarlet, instantly hits it off after he tells April that Mary is doing research on contemporary romanticism. Mary has a PhD from Cambridge and could talk for hours. She’s working on a new fictional book that has a dark character she likes to talk about. The story is about a modern day kid who is misunderstood by his community. He becomes the next biggest artist even though he is a loner throughout his life. Deep down Mike wonders if she’s the character in her book.
Mike sheepishly tells his wife, “We’ve been here for six months and I never have been in the Capital Building. Is that bad?”
April looks at me and answers, “Yes, let’s go in after this. I would like to get some more coffee.”
Mike wistfully says, “Enjoy the show. I will be back when it’s over.”
At the far end of the lawn there is a private table with refreshments under a beige tent. Everyone important has gathered and there seems to be two groups surrounding one table. The first groups make up the staff and visiting scholars from Congress. The second group had two staff workers from the Smithsonian.
Mike was expecting a few more people. He makes his way past the podium with the microphone to their table. Behind the microphone is a flat screen that the stage setters put up, right before the steps. It is normal to have a lecturer give visual images with whatever they are discussing. There are a few people he doesn’t recognize but his pace quickens as he sees a famous CNN journalist.
Mark jokes with the CNN Journalist and the Russian visiting scholar Irina, “…And that’s why the French lost the bid on the original architect design for the capital building.” Mark loves discussing DC’s history and you can see the passion pour from his eyes as he loses himself I his story.
“Michael, I would like you to meet some friends of mine, this is Susan Bishop.” He introduces Mike to the CNN journalist. For the second time today Mike finds himself not knowing what to say outside of hi.
Susan Bishop is a striking woman. She managed to get the image down of being a progressive independent female. She is 5’6 and has a stylish short dark hair. She knows how to get her way and her presence draws stories out of people and places. To put it simply, Susan has an Amazon presence that demands respect from all classes and people around the world. Her crystal blue eyes instantly scan the crowd and settle on Mike.
He squirms and tries giving a charming smile but it comes out more as a grimace.
“Hello, I’m Michael.”
He fidgets and looks for Mark for support. Mark rolls his eyes and nudges Marvin, another coworker from the adjacent office in the Jefferson building.
Susan smiles, her demure changes. She looks like the woman who reports the news every night. Everyone quiets down to hear what she says.
She says, “It’s nice to be here. I only have thirty minutes. There’s a conference occurring at John Hopkins University in a few hours, a panel will be discussing the current solar flare phenomena and its consequences on the global market.”
Mike instantly looks to see if the vice president’s daughter has shown up, she hasn’t. Everything seems to be in ready and the seats are quickly filling up.
Susan continues to captivate her us, “Did you guys know that there will be two suns tomorrow?”
We all say no and she continues, “The University will be addressing this through a panel discussion in which astrophysicists will give a full description of what’s going to likely happen. To make it short, the star Betelgeuse is losing its mass.”
Mark gasps and blurts, “Isn’t that the ninth brightest star? What are the implications of the gravitational collapse and earth?”
Susan Bishop looks at him in slight surprise and jests, “I guess you congressman and staff workers are smart after all! There isn’t supposed to be anything drastic. There will be two suns for a few days, no darkness or night. Maybe there will be a higher flux of solar flares and we will be able to see some pleasant atmosphere auras. Some say it could disrupt telecommunications for awhile but it won’t be a big deal.”
Getting a chuckle out of her audience she concludes, “Seriously, can you believe some people? There a few who take events like this and profit of the fear it can generate? It is not like the end of the world is coming.”
She bedazzles us with her inside knowledge, “America’s Most Wanted contacted me the other day. You won’t believe this. A low beat from the CDC stole some designer drugs and is selling it in DC.”
Susan excuses herself and heads to her camera man when he points to her phone with urgency. Media reporters and government staff set up the cameras and microphones in a spot in the shade near a granite wall. There was only one large tent and the stage. The audience was sitting on the lawn and it was sunny. There was no breeze. Two cops walk a young police dog near the back. The Asians from the Supreme Court Building have reappeared. As a group they snake into the Capital Building. It’s too bad they don’t stay to see the presentation. Mike looks down at his cell phone and notes the event will start in five minutes.
Mark leaves the little group at the tent and goes to where the visitors sit. He comes back with two people. To my amazement one of them is the redneck I met at Burger King, I think his name is Fred? Fred is arguing with a younger man who wears a disheveled business suit.
Mark looks a little bothered as he introduces the two individuals, “Michael, this is Kyle. Kyle works for the Smithsonian.”
Kyle ignores Mark and rudely walks to his coworkers. The redneck says something thing Mike can’t understand. Kyle responds by talking over Fred.
This isn’t cool. Mike doesn’t mind rednecks but this isn’ the time or place for someone with a non professional attitude. Mike wonders why someone doesn’t tell the man to sit.
The man in blue jeans and a flannel blurts, “For Christ sake Kyle! Let me have my grandson and I will leave you alone!”
Mike looks up in bewilderment. Mark comes back and rolls his eyes, “This isn’t the time for family drama. I would have expected more from the Smithsonian.”
Kyle’s phone rings and he answers as his father continues to belittle him in front of his peers. Kyle angrily tells his dad, “You are not important; I don’t care what you want.”
Kyle gets his desired results as his father spurts a few curses. Mark takes advantage of the moment and steps in.
“You folks obviously have some issues to resolve but this isn’t the place. We are about to have national coverage and the vice president’s daughter is coming anytime.” Mark reaches for the rednecks elbow and directs him to where the audience sits.
Kyle apologizes profusely to whoever is on the phone and the people around him. He is very embarrassed. His attention keeps on going back to his cell phone and back to Fred.
Susan Bishop walks back to our table with her camera man. She obviously missed everything and gives the redneck a peculiar look.
We hear the crowd murmur and look to First Street. Mark stops directing Fred and walks to the stage and microphone.
“It’s the vice president’s daughter. It is show time!”
Mark introduces the event while bringing people’s attention to the limo. Everyone at the table takes their designated places. Kyle still looks at his phone and begins to shake.
The dark blue limousine is about to come to a stop. Mike tries getting his first glimpse of the vice president’s daughter but the car window is to dark to see through. The limousine does not stop. Instead it picks up speed and turns around. Within seconds it’s gone.
Mark loses his professionalism. He blurts into the microphone, “What the hell?”
Mike is confused and takes a few steps forward.
The guest speakers are asking why the limousine kept on driving; Mike doesn’t know who to focus on first. The guards at the entrance of the building have gone inside but no one notices.
Marks phone rings. His voice cuts through the confusion.
Mike focuses on his words, “Michael! Director Maxwell wants us back at the office. It sounds urgent!”
Mark looks down at his phone and curses a second time, “Shit, I can’t hear you Maxwell, there’s too much static on my phone! If you can hear me we will be back there in five minutes.”
A second emergency announcement rings on thousands of phones in DC. Mike looks at his cell phone.
Alert DC Alert DC Tsunami threat. Precede Evacuation. Alert DC Alert DC
Mark looks at Mike in confusion and with much doubt. The audience stands and many point to the roof tops of the surrounding government buildings. Military snipers appear on top of the buildings but do not act menacing. Mike feels a sick ball in his stomach. He feels dread. The metal police barricades built in the road activate as they rise to attention. It’s not going to be possible for anyone to drive on the streets.
Mike blurts, “Are terrorists attacking?” He feels stupid as soon as he says it. People around him instantly go frigid.
Mark replies, “I don’t know. This isn’t how Washington DC acted when 9-11 happened.”
Everyone loses phone service. On the other hand Kyle did not lose his phone connection and is drawing attention. Kyle sounds frantic. Mike can’t help it, he begins to eavesdrop.
Kyle screams into this cell phone, “Seth I will be there in a few hours, please wait for me!”
Mike wants to ask what’s happening but as soon as he opens his mouth he’s interrupted.
The natural disaster siren for DC can be heard and felt everywhere as it fills the city. It sounds like a low pitch whine, almost as if an old world war two bomber flies over head. An electronic loop is built into the siren; it becomes louder than the people in the audience. Mike feels scared. There is much confusion. April is at Mike’s side. She too is scared. That’s when it starts to happen.
Mark swaggers on the steps. A second later he falls. Mike doesn’t understand what he’s seeing. Mike is about to ask Mark if he alright and if he could bring his wife to the office when he sees the stairs underneath him bubble up. The stairs behind them bulge like they are part of an escalator. The steps move upwards a few inches and just as fast moves downwards. The stage and microphone fall forward with Mark.
Mike feels a lack of space under his feet and falls. The ground feels like a cushion under the cement. He reaches out but can’t grasp anything as everything begins to rattle and shake. The tent encompasses majority of the audience as the poles holding the canvas collapse. People begin to scream as the city siren continues to send its message of doom.
Chapter 11: Lights out at Burger King
12:01 PM September 11, 2014
Juliet puts a smiley face on the cheeseburger she prepares. A couple of deft hand movements later and the cheeseburgers are done. If she was roll playing in Dungeon and Dragons she would have passed her dexterity roll perfectly! A yellow smiley face is imprinted on the burger, she puts pickles were the eyes are supposed to be. She made two burgers like this and puts special allergy stickers on them warning against onions. With any luck she could eat them for lunch if no one orders them. Worst case scenario, some stranger who doesn’t like onions will find themselves with a couple of smiley burgers.
The lunch shift just started. Her two bosses are out smoking a cigarette and will be back inside in a few minutes. They told her to watch the newbie’s. Only eight employees worked the undermanned shift and four of them were on their first week. There were not many people in the lobby. A few people on lunch break, a few college students, and a whole bunch of homeless people. Most people arrived after twelve and it was still quarter to noon.
One of the homeless people freaks her out. She sometimes wished they would leave. There’s a bunch near the entrance that eyeball people’s trays. She tells two of the newbie’s to work the lobby and to keep things in order. They keep on slacking and were not in the lobby. A nicer looking French man sells drugs to the poor and some middle class professionals in the far corner. She makes a note of him to tell her manager when they come back from wherever they are.
Two other newbie’s are helping her prepare food. One coughs a lot and shouldn’t be put on food detail. Preparing sandwiches is not hard. Everything being cooked has timers and bells. The tricky part is to make sure sandwiches are made the same and that food was made fresh. The two new employees are Sara and Dawn. They are on a work study program from high school that allows them to work at Burger King for half the day.
Behind the cash register is Tim. Tim is a long term employee. The other gentleman is Roger who is a retired professional who likes to work mornings. She does not understand why someone would want to work at a place like this if they didn’t need money. They had things under control. She wasn’t sure where the other worker was.
Juliet tries to have a conversation with Sara, “Do you roll play?”
Sara is startled, she can’t figure out how to put the lettuce on the chicken, “What’s that?”
Juliet instantly knows the conservation will not go anywhere and despairingly mutters, “It doesn’t matter.”
It’s obvious these teens prefer cooler activities. She decides to ask something else. She deftly wraps five burgers within ten seconds. Dawn can’t wrap one burger in a minute.
“Dawn, can you salt the fries?” She wonders why Burger King hires teens that don’t care about doing a good job.
She’s about to start working on another chicken sandwich when she notices the ketchup miss the burger patty. She tries again and watches as it misses a second time. The burger slides down the metal rail and falls to the floor.
Dawn screams and she looks up. Her vision tilts as she feels her whole body pitch to the left. Sara falls into Dawn whose hands reach out to grasp for leverage. Dawn’s hands miss the sides of the grease pit and fully emerge into the hot oil. The fries are boiling in the pit and the timer rings as the metal crate holding the fries lift up. Dawn screams louder.
Juliet feels her toes grip the hard tiles through her tennis shoes but it isn’t enough. She falls where Sara stood moments before. She feels food from the plastic containers fall on her as freshly made hamburger patties hit her in the face. Cell phones start a electronic chorus.
Over head lights flicker off and on. She hears something that sounds like a crash coming from the entrance followed by a boom. Windows instantly shatter as beams crash down around the entrance. She tries to squint through the patties as briefly sees the light dissipate around two homeless people near the entrance as her vision completely goes dark. One man has only one arm and the other has a card board sign saying the end of the world was coming.
She briefly wonders if she is hearing a siren in the background or maybe the ringing is coming from her own ears. She loses grip of her awareness as darkness comes crashing down.
A few minutes later
Juliet found herself somewhere else. She is not Juliet, she is Jasmine. She is a blood elf and was in the process of buffering her party. They were on a quest. There was a dragon up ahead. Her hunter has a keen eye for traps while looking for treasure and was also a thief. She needs some manna to cast a healing spell.
She heard a rustle and felt something hot shoot by her. The hunter is screaming and is on fire. The dragon wasn’t supposed to attack them at their camp!
Jasmine frantically scours her memory for a spell that could protect against fire. Wait, where was the priest? Where was the tank?
The rest of the party runs. The dragon eats the hunter. Fire is everywhere. She hears a feint noise that sounds like a siren. The smell of fresh blood hits her senses.
The dragon turns its eyes towards her. She looks deep into its amber pupils. She could piss herself but doesn’t. Teeth glimmer with blood while its tongue flickers in the air. Its eyes won’t leave her. She knows she has to strike or die. Finding strength she doesn’t know she posses she passes her fortitude check and leaps at the dragon. There’s no going back.
Right before her blade meets the dragon’s eye she hears a loud siren. She isn’t Jasmine. She wants to be Jasmine.
Something oily is on her face. She sneezes as she breathes in pepper from the beef patty. She can’t see. Her ears are ringing but she hears the siren. Her name is Juliet. She hears sobbing. She flings food off of her face and sits up. She’s surrounded by something that smells like food. She still can’t see but she can hear voices.
Is that Sara? She calls out, “Sara, are you there?”
She hears Sara’s young high school voice break the sirens repetitive loop.
“I’m alright,” and then more frantically, “What happened! I can’t see! I’m blind and I can’t see!”
Sara’s screams are met by other yelling. Suddenly over a dozen voices all try to talk at once. She can hear others cry. Juliet cannot pinpoint who or where they are. She tries to get up but ends up falling again. The ground hasn’t stopped rolling.
Unlike the beginning the tremors become slighter. The ground moves one way a few inches before it moves the opposite. As the ground shifts she hears cooking utensils slide on and clatter to the ground.
The ground stops moving a few minutes later. It’s very dark and she still couldn’t see. Others had cell phones which shed very little light in the darkness.
“Dawn, are you there?” Nothing but silence answers her question.
A minute later she hears Sara shriek, “Oh my God, I think I found her. She isn’t moving. Do you think she is dead?”
Juliet couldn’t help herself and answers, “If she isn’t answering she’s probably dead.” Sara didn’t try to be quiet as tears pour freely.
“Juliet, what do we do?”
Juliet did not know what to do. She screams out for her boss but he does not answer.
After a few minutes of intense crying something good finally occurs as one of the homeless people takes out a flashlight from of his pockets.
The light instantly becomes a symbol of hope. It came from the homeless vet who has one arm.
He calls out to everyone, “People, we have an emergency. We need to keep calm and get our wits together.”
A shrill female who yells, “My phone says a tsunami is coming!” Many people murmur.
Someone replies over the commotion, “Get a clue that was an earthquake!”
Others counter their phones say the same. No one can agree on what’s happening.
Juliet calls out to him; she stands near the cash register. There are a few Burger King Toys that have flashlights made in the plastic. The toys come from a new Disney cartoon. There were also matches and batteries near the toys.
The vet makes his way to her as he introduces himself, “I’m Harry, sorry to meet you under these circumstances. How can I serve you?” It’s obvious that Harry was once respected. She instantly feels herself trusting him.
Juliet doesn’t want to be scared. She decides the best course of action is to try to make things as best as it could possibly be. She does not look in the direction of Dawn. She knows the girl is dead but doesn’t know how to feel. The best thing is to keep busy and think of it later.
The cashiers are not behind the register. She doesn’t have time to find them. She calls out their names and is relieved when Rodger answers. He somehow made it the middle of the lobby.
“Rodger, help us find more flashlights.” He agrees and slowly makes his way back to them throughout the rubble.
Harry interrupts, “If you don’t mind, I have a plan after you hand out the lights. By the looks of things we are blocked in and there was an earthquake.”
He turns the flashlight to the entrance. Everyone around Juliet and Harry gasps as they see the carnage. The front entrance caved in. Unlike most Burger Kings the building was built in an old strip mall complex. There were no windows outside the ones at the entrance. The earthquake knocked out the supporting beams and completely blocked the entrance. Light is not coming into the cracks and they cannot see outside.
Harry reminds Juliet of a natural leader. She agrees to let him take initiative and is relieved that she doesn’t have to make decisions. She quickly shrugs off any responsibility of Burger King as she reminds herself she’s just an employee who makes minimum wage.
“The first thing we have to do is take inventory.” Rodger and Sara are near them and agree to help. The other homeless people and scared college students wait to be told what to do.
Harry continues his insights, “We need to determine who is healthy and who got hurt. How many people do we have and what are our resources?”
Juliet responds, “What do you mean by resources?”
She has a bruise on her right arm. Within seconds over half a dozen small light beams are turned on and people make noises of comfort and happiness as Rodger finishes handing them out. People have stopped screaming but many are still crying. For some reason people have a phone connection but can’t dial out.
Juliet shines her light at Sara and Rodger and asks them to help figure out the damage. Three of the homeless people know Harry and volunteer to help. The college students gather in a group and huddle away from the others as they urgently try to get their phones to work.
She makes sure to give them some extra flashlights and they thank her. They however are using the lights from their phones and many of them pocket the toys for future use.
Juliet looks around her surroundings more closely. She sees something that looks like a shoe. She shutters as she realizes it’s attached to a leg that isn’t moving.
She is about to walk forward when she feels something buzz in her pocket. She forgets she has her phone. Juliet jumps and almost hits her head on a pipe from the ceiling that is hanging haphazardness.
Light beams from the cheap toys show only a few feet in front of the people using them. She hears random gasps as people start to yell when their phones started began to function.
Her heart settles and she pretends the dead body isn’t near her. She puts Harry on hold as she frantically tries to call her mother. The number does not connect.
At least her phone was showing a few bars!
She only cares about her family and Burger King doesn’t exist. She tries calling a second time when a message pops on her screen.
ALERT DC ALERT DC TSUNAMI EVACUATION ALERT DC
People are sharing what they are seeing on their phones with people who do not have cell phones. Gathering supplies did not seem important if she could contact the outside world. Something new was entering her screen.
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY. STAY TUNED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION. STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND EMERGENCY PERSONNEL WILL SHOW SHORTY.
The message repeats itself. Juliet could feel her heart falter when she couldn’t connect online. After a few minutes the college girls start to cry. It is dark and cold in Burger King. Dust can be seen through her light beam making it hard to see details past two feet.
The ground stops rolling and things settle. The ground under her feet is slightly tilted. Before the earthquake the floor was flat. The Burger King building is within Union Station. Subway and an Asian fast food restaurant hug Burger King to its right and left. The entrance faces outside towards the parking lot.
As if things weren’t bad enough something starts to hiss like a snake to her left. It sounds soothing but wrong. Everyone goes quiet. The college students stop pawing at their cell phones.
It took her a second until she realized it sounded like compressed air. She is about to ask somebody for their opinion when she hears Harry yell.
“The gas is going to blow! Turn off the gas!”
Of course nobody moved. How could they? Juliet did not want to be here and closed her eyes. Maybe if she closed them tight enough things would get better. Maybe she could wake up.
Nothing happens. Harry moves forward. He shines his light at the grills and turns off all the gas valves. Juliet knew the noise is coming from the gas valve near the fries. There is a dead body near the fries. She looks down and notices the shoe. It’s Dawn’s shoe.
Juliet starts to cry again. She forces her arm out and shines the light at the fryer. The valve is to the right. She sees Dawn slumped on her stomach; she can’t see her arms or face. She doesn’t want to. She tells herself to be tough like her paladin.
She reaches past the body and flicks off the switch. The hissing instantly stops and people relax a little. Harry is at her side and doesn’t seem to be bothered with the dead body.
“Good job.” He briefly looks at what Juliet is looking at, “There is nothing you can do. Don’t look.”
Everyone quiets down while he talks. He looks at Juliet.
“Snap out of it. We need to take inventory. It might take first responders up to three days to rescue us.”
Juliet feels strength in his voice and stops the tears. She didn’t know if her parents were safe. It would be stupid for her to assume that they were hurt. Harry notes with a little satisfaction that the crowd in listening.
He continues, “We need to make a pile of everything we need. You girl, what is your name?” He shines the light into Juliet’s face.
For some reason she freezes and then responds, “My name is Jasmine.”
She hears a snort from Rodger but he doesn’t refute her. Harry doesn’t look at her name tag and is now pointing his light beam at the others. Sara isn’t around at the moment.
She didn’t want to be Juliet anymore. Juliet is weak and isn’t special. On the other hand the moment she said she was Jasmine she felt strength. Her paladin from World of War craft could handle any situation. Her right hand slips over her name tag as she puts it in her pocket.
She feels surer of herself as she continues to turn off the rest of the gas lines. She doesn’t remember who the other people are. They are faces within the shadows. They have no meaning.
Harry directs people with his light beam as he barks orders. He has the college students, Juliet who was now known as Jasmine, and a few homeless people gather resources.
Within minutes they were able to admire their handy work. 9 small toy flash lights, 3 cases of bottled water, 9 small water bottles, 4 match books, 13 triple AAA batteries, 1 heavy duty flashlight, and some random assortment of things that people thought would be important.
“Harry, what do we need to take inventory on besides this?” She hands a water bottle to each person.
The homeless man with the sign pipes, “The local emergency station WTOP 1500 am could help if we had a radio.”
Juliet has an idea, “Maybe there is something like a short wave radio in the manager’s office.”
Harry directs his light towards the way, “Lead. We need more things. Hey you, what’s your name?”
He points his flash light at one of the male college students who was trying to cajole one of the females. A few homeless people disappear from the lingering crowd but nobody notices.
“I’m Jack, what’s up?” He doesn’t seem to care about Harry.
“I need you to gather all the wounded and by the time we come back let me know who has what injury. I want three groups. The groups are to be regarding burns, cuts, and breaks. Can you do that for me?”
Jack agrees. Juliet directs them towards the hall and the back. There is a lot of rubble, much of the food that was waiting to be put in wrappers are scattered in plastic containers all over the floor. She almost trips and has a hard time seeing through the dust.
There is another body near the hallway. Part of the ceiling fell onto someone who she couldn’t recognize.
She tightly shuts her eyes and tells herself that a paladin would march right down the hallway and get the quest done.
Harry asks, “Jasmine, please slow down.”
After a second she realizes he is talking to her, “Oh sorry, I can’t believe this happened. How did this happen?”
They are at the end of the hallway and are passing the time clock she uses when she starts her shift. She is terrified of the dark and can’t stop shaking.
She hears muffled voices up ahead, “Which one do you have? I have chicken. Oh this is so good.” The voice is full of satisfaction.
Someone else answers who sounds French, “I have a hamburger; I will give you two hamburgers for your chicken sandwich.”
The second voice is shrill. She recognizes it as the homeless person who had the message on his chest. Deep down she falters and doesn’t want to deal with them.
Harry passes her without hesitation as he enters the room.
“Hey you guys, what are you doing?” Harry sounds neutral as he points his light into the smaller man’s face.
The man squints and turns around as he shovels as much of the sandwich as he can into his mouth.
The other homeless man smiles and tells Harry, “This is a great day! Look at the free food! Do you want a hamburger for a purple pill?”
The poor man flourishes a bag filled with sandwiches from the timed out counter. She sees the French man give a few pills to the homeless man.
Juliet feels rage as she softly accuses him without thought, “Those burgers are for the people who ordered take out! Put it back!”
The two men laugh hysterically and do not put the food down.
The Frenchman says, “Girl, wake up and smell the coffee! The end of the world came and this is all for free!”
His voice is sultry as he looks her up and down, “Hey, why don’t you sit on my lap little girl and I will protect you in this new world?”
She looks at the homeless person with the sign who is about to take another bite of the a sandwich she made.
She righteously screams, “You’re looters and don’t deserve that food!”
She feels what her paladin must feel when slaying a monster. Deep down she didn’t deserve to be here and she certainly didn’t deserve to watch this evil man laugh at other people’s misery.
Without thinking of the consequences she tears the hamburger out of his hands, “Get out of this office! Get back to the lobby and stop smiling!”
The homeless man with the sign on his chest shrieks, “Who do you think you are bitch!”
He lunges towards her. Juliet instantly freezes as she feels his hands squeeze around her neck. Her knees buckle and she can’t respond. Her vision starts to swim. She drops her flashlight and desperately claws at his hands. She feels him grip harder.
Harry simply says, “Enough of this nonsense.”
As fast as lightening he reaches out with his left arm to the man who is choking Juliet. His arm quickly darts underneath the bigger mans elbow and snaps the bone in one hit. Juliet feels the pressure ease from half her throat and is able to break free of the other hand by twisting towards her left.
Harry continues to execute the combination he learned in Korea. Stepping onto the homeless person’s right foot he kicks at the muscle above the knee cap. Next he strikes at the inside of the leg. The bigger man grunts in surprise as Harry finishes the combo by smashing his elbow into the guy’s temple. The French man drops his sandwich and backs up. The first man falls into a heap and cries while holding his arm.
Harry steps back from the fallen homeless person, “I don’t ever want to see you attack a woman again. Now get your ass into the lobby and do not cause any more trouble.”
The French man makes no gesture to help his fallen comrade. After a moment of crying the man with the broken arm gets up. The two bad men head back towards the lobby.
Half way back they hear a shrill voice menacingly threaten, “This isn’t over, and you better watch your back.”
Harry laughs. He starts to go through the manager’s office with Juliet.
It’s not a big office. The office has one desk for the manager, a black board for scheduling, ten lockers and a bench. There wasn’t a place to smoke a cigarette or a fridge. She quickly goes to her locker and takes out her bag. She doesn’t want to wear her Burger King shirt anymore. It’s too dark for Harry to see her nude so she quickly puts her casual shirt on. She throws her name tag into the shadows. She tells herself it’s not time for Juliet.
Harry draws in his breath as he makes a happy noise, “This is what I’m talking about. I found a short wave radio.”
He switches them on but all they hear is static.
“Shit, well at least we have one.”
After looking around the desks Harry finds a few more things of interest.
There’s a small fire extinguisher, a first aid kid and some shipping plastic and tape.
Juliet is confused about the plastic and tape, “Why those things?”
She points her flashlight at them to make it clear what she’s referring to.
Harry patiently explains, “We don’t know what happened. If its biological or radiation we will need to put as much plastic up as we can.”
Juliet snorts and tries to make a joke, “Past that rubble? I couldn’t even see the sunlight.” She reminds herself to be like her Paladin.
Harry looks at her back pack and tells her to come to him. He unzips her pack while explaining, “I’m going to need you to carry the first aid kit and some other things. You’re the official bag carrier and medic. Can you handle the job?”
It’s not exactly how she viewed herself as a Paladin but she shrugs, “However I can help.”
On the way out of the office she comes up with another idea, “Should we gather the remaining food and hand it out when it’s needed? I would hate a few people to eat all the food in one day.”
He looks at Jasmine with a little respect, “That’s a good idea. Let’s see what the physical damage is.”
She remembers there is another health kit in the employee bathroom, “I will meet you in the lobby. I know where another medical kit is.”
She isn’t afraid of the dark anymore and gets the kit. She briefly looks into her back pack. She has two health kits, her purse, pepper spray, and some extra clothes. She remembered being attacked by the homeless man and decided to put a butcher knife, used to cut lettuce, in her pack. She remembered seeing a bottle of whiskey in the manager’s office that Harry and the other homeless people over looked. She goes back and puts it her pack. She didn’t want to get drunk but if she was going to be carrying medical supplies she might as well have a disinfectant.
Juliet heads back to the lobby. Harry is a natural leader; he seems to have shrugged off the image of being homeless even though he is still wearing the same clothes. Everyone outside the one homeless person whose arm he broke seems to be appreciating his guidance. He had the short wave radio on the floor but it wasn’t working. Harry was confused and started to curse as he turned the box over and over.
One of the college females interrupted him, “I heard there was a lot of solar flare activity this week. Last year China lost millions of dollars in telecommunications due to solar flares, maybe it won’t work because of that?”
Harry mutters, “Maybe.”
He tells Juliet to help the injured. There are only sixteen people in the lobby. A whole bunch of lights face the center where everyone congregated. They managed to drag a few tables together. Three people had broken arms and ribs, eight people were cut on the face, chest, and arms, and one person could not remember his name. She is worried about the person who couldn’t remember anything. The man had a cut on his forehead and one eye is sealed shut. He kept on shaking like he was cold.
People were talking in hushed tones when things went bad to worse. She was cleaning someone’s cuts when they heard a large boom. A deep boom rattled the broken building.
Harry says, “That sounds like it might have been a gas line in Subway.”
No one knows what to do so nobody does anything. After doing as much as she could for the injured she feels a little hungry and enlists the help of Rodger to scavenge for edible food.
Twenty minutes later they have a pile of food that wasn’t ordered for lunch. 56 cheeseburgers, 29 hamburgers, 14 chicken sandwiches, 29 salads, at least a hundred chicken nuggets, and 16 fish sandwiches. They decided to not gather the fries from the fryer. She even found her two onion free burgers but decided to put them in her bag for later.
There are seven dead bodies. Harry is the only one who will touch them so he piles them away from the others. He would have preferred putting the bodies in the cooler but they couldn’t reach it. The ceiling caved in around it. Hopefully they wouldn’t be in here that long.
Chapter 12: Anti Hero
The leash becomes taunt. The leather’s course edge digs further as it lubricates his hand with his blood.
His vision starts to focus as his peripheral vision registers what is happening. He is downtown. An hour earlier dispatch told them to take Pixel to the National Mall. The canine did a splendid job in her highway patrol tests; of course they found no bad guys. His partner was impressed by his ability in having Pixel behave properly during the searching procedures.
They were having Pixel sniff out possible explosives and chemical agent’s downtown for her next assignment. The office decided to have an agent with some fake explosives meet somewhere on their route. The fake explosives had a slight mix of Ammonium Nitrate to trigger Pixels senses. On the route they were more than likely find a crack dealer and no real explosives, but that’s just the way it is in the city. They couldn’t afford to wait for a terrorist to attack so it was better to make a controlled environment to see how she works under pressure. Of course they didn’t tell him or his partner where it was going to happen and she was long past the training grounds at the K9 police facility.
Officers and canines have a few tricks up their sleeves when fighting criminals. Larry could direct Pixel by making the Tisk sound with his throat. Other commands in his arsenal range from directing her to pursue and apprehend, release and guard, defend and the list goes and on.
But what's happening right now isn’t part of Pixels training. He couldn’t believe what he sees. He wonders if it’s real.
A moment ago he told his partner he was going to wait outside of the Capital Building as the man needed to use the bathroom. They are on the West Front Terrace and were outside. Moments before they wrapped up a preliminary round by having Pixel sniff the crowd in front. He didn’t know or care why everyone was here. He just wants to do his job.
He didn’t lose his balance but instead watches in disbelief as everyone began to roll like they were on a boat in the middle of a lake. Pixel goes hysterical and won’t stop barking. His mind is having a hard time registering what's happening.
He can’t find his voice. Pixel continues to try to break free as a siren begins its endless wail. He couldn’t focus on his walkie-talkie and it seemed like it wasn't working.
He didn’t care about his hand or the blood congregating in his palm. What he sees is something out of a cheesy post apocalyptic movie.
The capital building sways. Chunks of marble and granite fall on people dressed in suits. He couldn’t help but watch as the cast iron dome shifts to the right and then the left. The sun shines brightly behind it and there are no clouds in the sky.
Larry needs to watch, deep down he knows this is ground breaking. History is in the making. His attention goes to the steps. Granite heaves and splits. People run towards the entrance.
Larry wants to scream ‘Don’t go inside! The dome is going to collapse! ‘
His partner is near the entrance. They make eye contact. There's a fierce determination in his partner’s eyes.
He mutters, “Shit, NO!”
Larry knew what his partner wants. It’s something Larry couldn’t be. His partner is a hero. He feels a slight urge deep down to run into the burning building but then his mind screams at him not to.
His partner sees him stall. His eyes go flat as he watches his partner sneer back at him in contempt. He doesn’t want to die today.
His partner flicks him off and disappears in the building. Fifteen or twenty people follow. He hears many freaks out about a tsunami coming but he thinks they must be mistaken. It’s clear an earthquake just occurred.
Pixel wants to go in the building. She is fighting with him. He doesn’t let go but instead keeps looking at what’s happening around them. It’s been about thirty seconds. Larry finds his strength as tremors slow. He reaches for his walkie-talkie but only hears static. He reaches for his cell phone and notes it’s turned on silent. It doesn’t work but there is an emergency message.
People are crying. Dust lifts from the ground. Many walls are destroyed. It gets harder to see what happening eyes level due to debris and dust. He sees his partner reemerge with something big and bulky.
Pixel wouldn’t hear it as she continues to move forward. This is her day. Larry knew Pixel wasn’t ready but it does not stop her. He finally finds his voice but it didn’t matter. The K9 leaps up the slowly rolling stairs and he is her puppet. His life is wrapped up in these dogs and he wasn’t going to lose her to this. They are at the entrance. His partner drags out something small. They didn’t need to say anything. His partner drops the half conscious body and looks him in the eyes for a third time.
“It’s better to be late than never show I suppose.” Larry didn’t need to explain himself to his partner. He didn’t care what he thought of him. Larry was scared and did not want to be here.
Pixel barks and he notices a few security officers helping people to their feet. It’s apparent much of the building is intact but the ground underneath them still hasn’t stopped moving.
His partner says, “I saw people run to the Rotunda. We need to get them out.”
Pixel darts forward. Larry will not go. He tries giving her a few commands but she wouldn’t listen.
They pass the entrance to the crypt. He knew he was going to die if he went forward so for the first time he pulls at the leash with all his force. Pixel instantly flies backwards and his partner curses.
Larry aggressively announces. “The dome is going to collapse. I’m not going inside there.”
His partner turns on him in righteous fury, “Shut up and do your duty. This is what we are here to do. To serve and protect.”
Larry is frustrated and wants his partner to see his point of view, “There’s no difference of helping people here or in there. Here has no roof about to collapse.”
They stop in the Brumidi corridors, the pillars did not look safe to be under.
His partner sneers, “Larry, you are a coward. Let me have Pixel then. The congressman and politicians are going to be in there, or on the second floor. They aren’t going to be in the crypt or in the old chambers. Come with me and be a good cop.”
Larry never liked his partner, “No. You can come with us and help others but we are not going in there. Ordinary people are just as important as world leaders.”
His partner snorts. A few military personal quickly pass and tell them to follow. A few security officers come out of the center room helping a congressman from Ohio. His partner doesn’t waste any time and runs into the chamber. Civilians from the outside are being stopped at the entrance and are being told they couldn’t enter.
A few highly armed groups escort senators and congressman out. One tourist who wears a flowery tourist shirt and khaki’s really wants to get in the chambers. The security personal allows his partner in but not the civilian. The man in the flowery shirt doesn't hear the guard.
He looks for his family, “Sharon where are you? Timmy, Amanda?”
He shrugs off the security guard while another guard dressed in a suit moves to his right. The other civilians stop as the guard upholsters his side arm.
Countless people are trying to ask government workers questions. Its evident security equipment and telecommunication gear is down. Security personal keeps pawing at their microphones in their ears. Larry could not see what's happening in the chamber and takes a few steps backwards. It took all his might to stop Pixel from running in the chamber after his partner.
The man with the flowery shirt continues to push past the security personal.
His voice gets more desperate as he yells over the security guards, “Amanda is in there! You need to let me in. My family was touring in the chamber when this started!”
He keeps pushing past the guards and didn’t take no for an answer.
The shot could be heard over the siren and echoes in the chaos. Everyone stops.
The man in the flowery tourist shirt puts his hand to his chest and looks down in disbelief after twirling from the impact. The civilians and Larry receive a clear picture as they see a red dot appear on his shirt. The man falls to his knees and the civilians quiet down. Within seconds the civilians move as one mass and rush past Larry to the entrance. Other civilians enter the hall not knowing what just occurred.
Larry did not want to be here. A sign points to the crypt. He wants nothing more to have a drink. He was still a cop and did not want anyone to see his weakness. After having a drink he will try to help as best as he can. The crypt is to the left of the dome and has a side hallway not open to the public which goes underground. Security personal did not care if he goes down there because he is a cop. He did not look twice for his partner.
Larry directs Pixel to the crypt and pauses only a moment as he looks around at his surroundings.
Murals from Constantino Brumidi are destroyed. Cracks appear everywhere in the building but the ceiling is still intact. Two pillars have already collapsed; which really scared Larry, in the adjacent hall way called the Hall of Columns, or so he heard a few guards mutter. He briefly felt sad knowing the Italian’s work depicting the elements would be never more.
He didn’t think twice in going down the steps to the crypt. Anything that would put him away from security personal shooting Americans would be nice. He makes it to the bottom of the steps and fishes the small alcohol bottle deep in his jacket.
Larry ignores both the blood on his hand and Pixel as he quickly opens the bottle and drinks the contents. For a moment he drifts against the wall and tries to not listen to the screaming coming from the floor above.
Larry did not think that anyone knew what to do and it was pure chaos. Pixel brings his attention back to the moment as she starts to whine. Shrugging, Larry decides it was fine by him to not go back upstairs for a few more minutes. Larry lets Pixel direct him. He is a little worried about Pixel’s search and rescue skills. Pixel briskly leads Larry down the corridor and starts to bark at the rubble.
Larry recalls seeing a group of Asian students dressed in blue. He felt a sick knot build in his stomach. A large part of the wall has fallen on the crushed group. Pixel darts forward and paws at the rubble.
Larry takes out his light and shines it through the settling dust. Sunlight streams from a few cracks in the wall. He pauses as the ground under his feet settles with the latest aftershock. The siren still cycles and gives Larry a migraine. He hears someone sob as he briefly looks at the ceiling.
Entire chunks of the ceiling fall around him. It’s only a matter of time before the building collapses. Larry hears a boyish grunt.
“OK, stay where you are, help is coming.”
Larry felt stupid as soon as he says this. Of course the Asian was going to stay still.
Larry didn’t need his flash light and lets go of Pixels collar. Pixel instantly goes to the rubble and digs as best as she can. Larry tells her to stay still and picks up a few blocks. It didn’t take long for him to find an Asian kid dressed in blue. Blood caked the kids frame. Outside of the blood and torn clothes he looks like a healthy nerd. The Asian teen starts to talk in gibberish and his words don’t come out right.
“Do you speak English? I don’t understand you.”
After wiping blood from the kid’s eyes from a cut brow, Larry realizes he doesn’t speak English. He reaches down and picks up the kid. There doesn’t appear to be any broken bones. The Asian looks back and howls when he sees his classmates buried in the rubble.
“Shit kid, don’t look.” He shoulders the kid who then reaches down and grabs a back pack in the rubble. Pixel isn’t looking anymore.
Larry sighs as he walks back up the steps. Everyone is still in the chambers. Larry tries to drop the kid but the Asian boy clings to him.
“I don’t have time for this. Get lost and be safe.”
He tries to unravel the Asian from around his neck. His hand really hurts and wouldn’t stop bleeding. He didn’t notice when the pain came.
Suddenly the ground pitches to the right as a new aftershock rocks Washington DC. Larry knows this isn't a safe place and wants to get out of the building. Most of the politicians have evacuated the premises. Maybe they made it the underground railway. Funny those politicians are allowed a private rail way the public can’t use. Many of them must have fled underground.
He couldn’t get the Asian off of him and sighs. He forgot to pick up Pixel’s leash but she obediently follows.
Minutes later Larry finds himself at the entrance. A whole bunch of first responders finally arrived and were pushing past both civilians and government workers. The entrance to the Capital Building looks like its bent sideways. Larry uncontrollably shakes as he thinks to himself he should be outside.
Apparently others feel the same way and the first responders start to evacuate the building. Larry has to pause a few minutes for the crowd to thin out. Larry knew from his disaster training seminars with FEMA that buildings get displaced from its shape, size, and stiffness. He already knew the roof was teetering and that wasn’t a good sign. According to his courses at FEMA, the grounds underneath the buildings are becoming liquefaction. In other words, the Pontiac River and Atlantic Ocean must have changed the properties in the soil and now the ground is unstable! Larry shakes his head in disbelief as he continues this thought.
But this is impossible. Places that are prone to earthquakes are likely to have this occur. Just like what happened in California and in Oregon a year before. Maybe these aftershocks are from the Madrid Fault? No, that was definitely an earthquake in DC.
Larry did not believe it’s a terrorist attack. It was time to leave the lobby. He wonders if the Cascadia Subduction Zone got affected through the North America plate and the Juan de Fuca plate. It would explain the connection between his home in California and what’s happening in British Columbia but it was a long shot.
Larry was glad his mother pushed him into getting A’s in the FEMA natural disaster courses for the police academy. He briefly looks up at the twisted door frame before leaving. He knew you were supposed to stay inside or get underneath something solid during a earthquake but he couldn’t wait to get out of the building.
Moments later he is on the broken steps leading to the front entrance. He blinks a few times and coughs. Smoke is everywhere. When he went inside it was dusty. Now various buildings are in rubble but it appears every three buildings are left untouched. Fire comes from many. A large boom could be felt from the distance. A new smoke plume appears a couple blocks down.
A black gentleman in a torn business suit comments, “That must have been a gas line. There’s going to a lot of that.” Larry sees the man has a name tag, his name is Mark. A white man appears near Mark with two women. The new man’s name tag reads Mike.
“Mark we need to get out of here. Let’s go and get to the office.”
Suddenly there is a dark hair woman who he recognizes as an anchor woman for CNN and her camera man. She’s instantly is in his face asking questions and making statements, “Get the camera on this officer. He is a hero! Look! He carried a child out of the building! Do you know what’s happening?” Larry can’t believe this.
He manages to mutter, “I think we need to get of the stairs and on solid ground. I don’t know what’s happening.”
As a group they pass the chaotically ruined stairs. The CNN journalist instantly starts filming the carnage around them.
Mark ushers the group and Larry doesn’t know what else to do but follow. He finally gets the Asian kid to let go who proceeds to follow behind everyone. Larry laughs when he sees the redneck he pulled over earlier. The redneck from Minnesota refuses to make eye contact. Other staff people and civilians are around but Larry doesn’t look to close. He doesn’t even know where they are going but anything is better than where he currently is. Pixel is quiet and his hand burns sharply and will not stop bleeding. He didn’t want to clean it at the moment. He just wants to have another drink. He didn’t feel like a hero and wishes the CNN journalist would shut up.
They pause on the lawn and as a group look up. Metal on metal could be heard as the Statue Freedom sways in the warm wind. It couldn’t handle the aftershocks. 9 million pounds of cast iron collapse in one final metal groan. The statue did not break, but rather the whole iron foundation and statue simply collapse. Everyone is quiet. Mark starts to cry. The CNN journalist busily films. He knew his partner and everyone in there was now dead or wished they were.
Chapter 13: Looking into Nothingness
Harry didn’t want to open his eyes for another second, in the darkness a second felt like ten minutes. He washes down the last of his cheeseburger with some water from a water plastic bottle. His mind takes inventory after the initial shock wore off.
The best thing to do in an emergency such as this is to keep a cool mind. The college girls were not calming down. The four students keeping to the light but are not communicating well with the others. Harry ponders the situation further.
Harry looks to where the dude sits who received the broken elbow. Deep down he knows he has to be cautious. He didn’t want to break the man’s arm but he had no right choking a woman. Harry is conservative and believes in tradition and respect. If this was the war he would have broken the guy’s neck. He wasn’t sure what to think of Samantha. He didn’t understand why she lied about her name.
If Harry didn’t know better he would have thought she was a spy, but he wasn’t paranoid.
He tells himself it’s his imagination. How many times did a buddy of his escape reality through lies or projecting themselves in a fantasy? Many times, especially when they get shot or experience trauma. She must be in denial. What’s up with her hair being so short? She seems brash but has a good character. She is the closest thing to authority here. I need her as an ally.
“Samantha, we need to do a second run and stock further. The things we got are good but we need more supplies. Jack, Rodger can you guys help?”
By directly talking to her he hoped to have the rest follow her as their leader. Rodger and the other Burger King employee agree.
He wasn’t expecting the college student’s answer when he asks Jack’s group.
Jack flippantly replies, “Why should I? The girls need me. Help is coming and we will be out of here within an hour.” The college girl with Jack does not stop crying and proceeds to dramatically run into the bathroom. Jack and her friends follow like simple sheep. Before Jack goes into the bathroom he looks back at Harry and politely demands, “Please leave us alone.”
Harry shrugs while muttering, “Figures. They are spoiled. They will come around in a few hours after they are done crying.”
Harry walks towards the homeless group. The man with broken arm is sitting away from the others. His back is away from the light. His friend isn’t around but that didn’t worry Harry. A few homeless people scavenge the floor for unwrapped food. They are obviously still hungry. Many of them cough profusely.
Looking over at the three homeless men near the center group he says, “Can you guys bring some tables together? We need to create a canopy of tables to prevent ourselves from getting hurt from falling debris. There doesn’t seem to be any stable support beams.”
Aftershocks could be felt every other minute. They shook everything for fifteen to thirty seconds.
One looks to him and says, “I think we can get a few.”
One of the old people who frequent Burger King despairingly mutters words that chill Harry. The old gentleman is dressed nice and obviously is someone important, “We are going to die.”
Rodger quickly responds, “Mathew, don’t say that. We will be fine. Think of your wife and grandchildren. They are waiting for us as soon as we get out of here.”
Mathew’s voice takes a hint of scorn, “How do you know? I need to get out of here!” Mathew bursts from the small circle of misshaped lights and runs to the entrance. He trips once but quickly gets back up. “Don’t you see? Everyone in here is going to die! We need to get out of here!”
People try to tell him to calm down. Mathew claws at the rubble at the entrance and after a few minutes give up. Harry clinches his right hand. He saw a soldier once freak out like this. He couldn’t help but remember.
It was 1949. A few years before, the Korean Peninsula was ruled by the Japanese. Since 1945 the allied powers divided the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel but the Forgotten War did not officially start until 1950. The northern territory had soviet troops; he was stationed in the South. It wasn’t like the movies. Both nations attacked each other like pirates; they called it ‘skirmishes’.
His unit was ordered to sabotage free elections by undermining local insurgents but in reality they hid in a hole for a few years. Someone in Washington DC thought free elections were not possible as long as communists fed ideology to rural villages and the only way to stop them was through cloak and dagger espionage. The public wasn’t ready for the war so they had to keep the mission quiet. His unit had a twofold objective. First, insert false documentations at specific locations to undermine soviet authority; second, patiently lay in ambush for any high level official near the Yalu River that may be carrying important military documents. It wasn’t about the Chinese, Koreans, or the Japanese in the beginning. It was about curtailing Soviet expansion.
Harry spent Christmas Eve in a poppy field his first year. His Christmas meal consisted of cold soup in his sweaty helmet. He was lucky and had a Hershey chocolate bar for dessert. His days were spent sleeping in a hole in the ground, always waiting. Intense training with the United Stated Military Academy didn’t prepare him for the armed conflict he was going to experience. His prayer was the Cadit Maxem:
Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.
Christmas Day sucked big time. A Korean child near a small fishing village shot the captain. His captain thought it would be safe to break protocol and wanted to get something special for the holidays. He didn’t even make it to town. While trying to be in the holiday spirit he got shot by a child who mistook his as an evil spirit. Many Koreans didn’t know who the enemy was, many did not understand what was happening. Everyone had to be considered hostile while contact with locals was supposed to be zilch. He had to drag his Captain back to the hole in the ground and watched in horror as his Captain got an infection and died by New Years.
Back then he had two hands. Harry reentered the moment as he watches the old gentleman bloody his hands on the rubble. No matter how hard he tried he wasn’t going make progress. His captain and war buddy couldn’t fix what happened either. They had no way to treat the old man’s hands if he got an infection.
He lost his hand when his unit blundered two years later. He was hiding in a hole and he saw very little action outside of what happened to his Captain. Periodically they would go on patrol and dig up land mines. They were not allowed to have alcohol or prostitutes. They were not allowed to go into the villages. Most of the time they saw carnage after it happened or knew something was happening when they saw smoke in the distance. Other times they would get shot at and would rarely see who was shooting at them. They did a lot of shooting back but only hit trees.
The Allied forces were tipped a convoy was entering their district and politicians in Washington DC wanted the convoys military documents. They had a very short window to assassinate the convoy and retrieve the data. The mission didn’t go as planned even though they succeeded in the mission’s objective. His unit was eliminated and he lost his left arm. He watched in horror as his war buddy tried to replace his guts in his stomach. His intestines poured onto the road. He never forgot the way his friend clawed at the air before he died. He was rescued by a Buddhist monk who mended his arm. The price to pay for freedom and democracy sometimes outweighs human life. Needless to say the documents he gave Washington helped start the cold war. Life is full of ironies.
“You need to stop. Maybe we can get a team of diggers to work on that. Please stop, you’re hurting yourself.” Harry looks towards the ceiling as the latest aftershock shakes the broken structure.
“As I was saying, we need to get some tables together to protect our heads. We need to make sure everything is turned off, and we need to stay calm.” Juliet and the others agree.
“We also need to do something with the bodies more then what we did. We can’t risk infection and rampant bacteria and viruses. Let’s go back to the Managers office and check it one more time. If someone can help me we can then put the bodies in there seeing as how we don’t have a freezer. Samantha, come with me please.”
Juliet has a hard time remembering to answer to the new name. She’s beginning to think twice about her decision but doesn’t know how to fix the lie.
Juliet stumbles through the rubble and cleans the hands of the gentleman who freaked out moments before. There was a lot of blood but it didn’t bother her, she felt disconnected to what was happening around her.
“Give me a moment to clean his wounds.”
Harry directs the remaining homeless and old people to gather the tables. He then has them remove rubble from the entrance. It was better to keep people doing things.
A few minutes later he was back in the Managers office with Juliet.
“I need you to go through all the lockers and everyone’s pockets. We need anything we can use.” Harry goes to the desk and looks at it more critically.
He didn’t care about the papers or the notebooks. Budget reports and utility bills no longer matter.
He mutters to Juliet, “If we weren’t locked inside here we could have shut off the main valves to the building. Sadly they are often located outside.”
He finds another set of heavy duty batteries and a small sewing kit that must have been used to mend employee uniforms.
“Did you find anything of use?” He’s ponders how to ask her about her name discrepancy.
“I found a bottle of Aspirin and a nice leather jacket that belonged to Dawn.”
Juliet puts on the jacket. It’s cold in the building and Harry thinks it’s more than likely going to get colder the later it gets. The jacket is going to become a high end commodity.
“Good, keep looking. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” Harry spies a Swiss army pocket knife at the bottom of the shelf of the desk.
Juliet feels dread and wonders if Harry is going to get perverted. She likes him though and instantly relaxes when she comes to the conclusion he was like a big brother, “Go ahead.”
Harry pauses for a second; he is done looking in here but doesn’t want Juliet to know. He paws through the desk looking like he’s searching for something.
“I know this is a terrible experience but why lie about your name? I saw the employee of the month picture with you in it, Juliet.” He tries saying this in the most innocent non threatening voice he can muster, “Juliet is a nice name. What’s up with you being Samantha?”
Juliet felt uneasy being put on the spot and blurts the first thing that comes to her mind, “It’s my middle name. I like it more. You can call me Juliet if you want.” Its good Harry doesn’t see her face. She blushes from embarrassment.
“Oh my God, you won’t believe what I just found!”
Juliet takes out a bat and a mitt, “Someone liked playing baseball.”
Harry smiles, “Nothing like some old fashioned baseball. Sadly I don’t think we need those things.”
Juliet shrugs and tosses the equipment back in the locker. She puts the baseball in her pack, “I always like baseball balls.” She didn’t know what she could use it for in the future but it didn’t matter. They hear someone yell in the lobby.
Harry instantly thinks the homeless man whose arm he broke must be up to mischief. Jacks voice could be heard. He is screaming at someone. It sounds like a fight. Harry reaches past Juliet and grabs the bat. They quickly make their way back to Burger King’s lobby.
It’s not the homeless man who attacked Juliet earlier.
Jack is furiously pummeling the French man. The girls are behind him and his male friends cower in the shadows.
“How dare you touch her? Who do you think you are?” His fists continued to rise and fall as he takes out his frustration on the man huddled in a heap in front of him.
Harry rushes forward and slams the bat on one of the tables that was moved to the center of the lobby.
When they were gone the people in the lobby were able to put five tables four feet above the ground by using other tables to brace them in a western log cabin fashion. By crisscrossing the tables they were able to be stacked, they were heavy enough to not move with the aftershocks.
“Stop,” Jack stops after hitting the man one more time.
“This dirt bag tried touching my girl friend in the bathroom.” Jack is about to kick the man huddled in front of him but Harry stops him.
Harry shines his flash light into the French man’s face, “Is this true?”
After a moment the man leaps up and runs across the lobby into the shadows while hollering, “No its not! She has extra sweaters and I’m cold! I hate you.”
It’s obvious he’s screaming at Jack and his friends, “You college students think you rule the world. I hate you and everything you stand for! How dare you hit me! I was cold!”
The crowd in the lobby mutters. Harry isn’t sure what to do.
Rodger curses from near the entrance as he shines his cheap Disney flashlight towards the center of the room where the supplies were, “What happened to the food?”
Harry spins towards where the supplies and sees that half of its gone!
Juliet yells not to happily, “Who took the food? We need the food!”
The homeless man with the broken arm laughs hysterically. Harry turns towards him but the homeless man does not have a light on and seems to be part of the shadows.
His shrill voice permeates the silence, “We took it. Come and get it if you want it.”
Harry is startled when he sees four homeless men band together where the shrill voice is coming from. The bad homeless man continues, “Harry we are disappointed in you. You are one of us. Stop this child like game and join us. It’s us against them. It’s always been that way. This is about survival of the fittest.” The four homeless men pick up random pipes and sharp instruments, their persona turned menacing.
Harry didn’t think twice before responding, “Oh, I see how it’s going to be. These people need me. It doesn’t need to be like this. Give us the food and we can talk about it. We are all Americans.”
The man with the broken arm shrilly responds, “It needs to be like this. We took half the supplies. Leave us alone and we will all get along.”
Harry looks at them with contempt, “I was never like you. Stay on your side then and don’t come asking me for help.”
The man who got beat up by Jack joins the armed group. Now they are six. The two other homeless men did not join them. He had the majority.
Harry asks, “Can you guys at least try to dig us out?”
The homeless man with the shrill voice answers, “Of course. We want to get out of here just like you. Just like you said, we are all Americans. We are not giving back the resources and if you try to take them we will kill you.”
With resolution Harry and Juliet say at the same time, “Fine.”
Rodger and Sara retrieve half of the supplies that are still in the pile. The college students decide to keep to themselves and want to go back into the bathroom. The older gentlemen gather bodies in hushed tones. Harry knew the bodies wouldn’t get contagious with bacteria for a few days but the psychological impact of corpses is going to be too much for the people in the lobby within half of a day. Within minutes the lobby is clear. Harry puts the rest of the food in a very large potato sack he finds near the fryer. He doesn’t want the other homeless people to take it.
He didn’t feel comfortable holding the bat so he gives it to Rodger and tells him to guard the supplies. He only has one hand and needs it for other tasks. Not knowing what else to do he goes back to the short wave radio he found and turns the knobs. Of course there is no response outside of static.
He spies the time by looking at Rodgers cheap imitation Rolex. It’s quarter after one.
Harry shuts his eyes and prays help comes. He doesn’t think Juliet and the others will last more than three days under the present circumstances. Water is going to be a big issue. His mind wanders back to the war, back to nothingness. What else does one do when waiting for rescuers?
There was one last thing Harry learned in the war. Victims from natural disasters often get hurt from outlier incidents such as being injured, drowning, or by fire. However the real threat was not going to come from the dead corpses or the rubble, but rather from fowl play regarding his fellow human beings. The only threat the dead will be giving stems from possible chronic blood infections as they decompose. A few days from now it will become dangerous. In a few days if left untouched they could have methane and other gases build around the decomposing flesh. Harry keeps one eye open while watching the homeless men who are armed.
Chapter 14: Journey to the Smithsonian
As far as Fred is concerned he’s in hell. The earth won’t stop shaking and pillars of fire rise to the heavens. Buildings crumble as many become either killed or seriously hurt. His subconscious keeps dredging up the song Highway to Hell from AC/DC but the siren stops his mind from going too far. He recalls his life on the walk and wants to make his past mistakes better. His catholic priest’s voice permeates his awareness, reminding him of why he is a good Christian. Fred ponders the significance of the event as he tries calling his wife for the hundredth time.
Fred believes in God and went to church almost every Sunday. That is, all long as he wasn’t working or fishing. Dead people couldn’t feel what he feels. He decides he isn’t dead or having a nightmare. Broken buildings, death, fire, the only thing missing was Jesus and angels coming down to earth. He wonders if this is the end of times and he’s having a bad dream.
Fred asks out loud, “Oh sweet Jesus, please save me.”
Fred looks over to his son and flinches. He doesn’t like the way the situation unfolded. Kyle manipulated him into coming down town to see him shine. Kyle never believed in Jesus.
He didn’t like his son, but he still loves him. He didn’t know what to feel or how to make things right. He decides it’s best to get his grandson and take Kyle back home. He wonders if Jesus will save Kyle. His mind fears for his wife and other children. He asks God if he will ever be able to fish. Did Minnesota get hit?
Fred digs out his crucifix which is on a gold chain. His wife gave it to him many years ago when they first met. He never would have known about Jesus if it wasn’t for her. He met her at church on Easter when he was 19 years old.
He no longer cares about Kyle’s manipulations; Fred figures all people who work in government treat their parents like crap.
“Kyle, I know we have our differences, but we need to get the baby and go home.”
Fred fidgets, deep down he prays Kyle won’t disagree. Kyle looks at him tiredly and with much distrust.
With very little acceptance he replies, “Sure. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Sorry. The baby is at the hospital. I have a nanny who is looking after her. They were supposed to be home around 6 pm.”
The military finally arrives, or at least a very small section of it. The group is about to pass the lawn off of the capital building when a most disturbing vintage catches Fred’s eye. He points it out to the rest of the group.
First Street at the juncture of Independence Avenue is no longer a complete road. The street is spilt in the middle. A large gap spanning roughly nine feet divided the street as a broken water line spews tons of water down a deep hole. As they watch a deep crack spreads further down the street. Cracks and crevices appear on the lawn as water bubbles from deep underground. The crack in the street grows as the earth separates the once intact asphalt. A few vehicles disappear into the depths.
Mark stops crying about the dome collapsing and now laughs while pointing to the street, “What are the odds of this happening? Why is this happening? How are we getting past this?”
He kicks at the loose earth near the side of the road. One of the visiting professors from England tries cajoling him. The visiting Russian professor steps in and wraps her arms around him. Mark doesn’t want to listen as he continues to step closer to the edge of the hole. Pixel starts to bark until she gets Mark’s attention. Mark walks away from the edge and pats her on the head as he stops crying and laughing. Larry doesn’t seem to notice or care.
Military vehicles stop across the street near the Jefferson building at the Library of Congress. They stall when they see metal barriers and the large hole in the road. Within moments the soldiers have a makeshift metal bridge spanning the gap and are running towards the capital building. The makeshift bridge is part of a heavy machine looking like its part of a larger vehicle. They don’t care the building just collapsed; it’s obvious they are on a mission. None of the soldiers glance at the group.
Over head new noises encompasses Washington DC. It’s the sound of military engines in helicopters. A dozen choppers appear in between the pillars of smoke and fire. Within seconds they land on the opposite side of the very large lawn. Military jets could be heard overhead but he couldn’t see them. The military snipers were no longer on the roofs or in the crowd.
Larry could have accurately told them what unit and division the rescuers were part of but he wasn’t saying anything. His face is pale and his eyes keep focusing beyond the group as he clinches and unclenched his left hand.
Both military groups merge and stop. Fred looks in amazement as he hears one soldier yell to another, “Who has jurisdiction here?”
The other soldier yells back he doesn’t know. A group of firefighters emerge from the rubble; both military groups quickly put together separate command centers. They are quick but aren’t communicating well. The firemen direct both units to the deflated building while they disappear back inside.
Susan Bishop breaks from the group and tries to intercept one of the soldiers but quickly gets told to leave the premises. No one wants a journalist in the way. She comes back looking a little depressed. Larry snaps out of his reverie and attempts to explain what’s happening. Fred doesn’t understand much of what he is saying outside of a few basic things.
Larry tells Susan and the news camera the chaos of the rescuers is part of the National Response Framework. The NRF is a new system of domestic policies geared towards fixing the communication gaps between state and federal agencies. Hurricane Katrina and the fall of New Orleans gave witness to the fact that government needs to fix the way she responds in natural disasters. The program is still being developed and apparently no one really has a clue where to start if things go majorly wrong. Most rescue organizations are told to only focus on one block, building, or public official. This makes it harder for first responders to get to everyone who needs them. This disaster is too large in scope, just as Katrina and New Orleans was too much. Larry rambles on about how FEMA training taught him America was not always prepared for disaster mitigation, especially when politicians and leaders only worry about being elected for short terms which means they don’t really care about what’s happening in the big picture. Government needs to put long term goals in place and too much time and resources are spent on spinning public images which are not real. Domestic disaster policies declare each State and City has to deplete local resources before the Federal government gets involved. Complete anarchy will often come about as some cities and states will respond positively and others will regress and act like their primitive ancestors. In other words, when it comes to natural disasters, States and local communities will be the back bone of America and it’s up to proper city managers and administrators to work with service workers and the community to put things back in order.
Of course there are some exceptions. Larry concludes with his personal opinion that there is too much friction and miscommunication between national agencies. He concludes with, “What happens if the chain of command is destroyed at the top? Who is going to give proper clearance and direction? Current Domestic policies include nonprofit organizations banding together for the community when a natural disaster occurs but it does little for first responders. In other words, the policy was good but it lacks real world practicality in that it did not prepare State and Local agencies for any epic natural disaster such as this. In my opinion they are doing the best they can and they are all heroes, but may God bless and help us all. I don’t think anyone is going to come and rescue us outside of what we are seeing. We need to evacuate Washington DC.”
Watching various military units, fire men and police officers not coordinate rescue efforts was giving credit to everything Larry declared for national television. Susan and her camera man are very happy someone with a uniform was telling them their opinion. Most of the time public employees such as cops remain quiet and don’t believe in whistle blowing. He was going to get in trouble for his thoughts and possibly fired but someone needed to tell the truth!
Fred looks down at his wrist watch and asks Kyle to explain what Larry just said. Kyle doesn’t want to be bothered as he busily talks to a few of his co workers. They are trying to get Kyle to go back to the Smithsonian because they were hoping it would be safer there.
Fred understands why they want to go somewhere familiar as he thinks to himself; people often go back where they are comfortable. During most natural disasters people will go back and live with their families and friends.
New public workers arrive. It’s been twenty minutes since the earthquake hit.
He didn’t know how the EMS ambulance made it to the lawn but paramedics are running towards the capital building. With them are a few CDC workers dressed in their white space suits.
Two soldiers break from the chaotic ordeal and pin point Larry as the group’s informal leader, “We need you to get these civilians out of here. Take them to the nearest evacuation center or come and help us. Get that camera off!”
One of the soldiers gestures towards the camera and Susan. The soldier doesn’t have much patience and keeps looking back over his shoulder to see what’s happening with his unit. For reasons Fred does not understand their telecommunication equipment was not working. A lot of people are barking orders and not much was happening.
Larry tells the group to follow him and Pixel. The soldiers tell them to hurry it up and proceed to tell others a similar message. They itch to get back to their unit and look wild eyed as another building a block away crumbles into a heap after a significant boom is heard and felt by everyone.
Fred follows the group thirty feet down the broken street before they find themselves not being able to move forward.
Fred watches as a bunch of people exit a building that has the homeland security emblem still intact near the front door across from First Street. The building looks like a solid grey block which isn’t too solid anymore. Cracked windows give testimony to many darkly tinged windows which were intact earlier that day. Fire comes from the left wing towards the section overlooking the Capital Metro Station. They couldn’t reach the Library of Congress due to the gaping hole in Independent Avenue and hoped to cross somewhere on First Street. The fountain at the entrance was not working. The military personal didn’t leave the makeshift bridge they used when they crossed the gap and the military vehicles rambled to another location. The street sign is still standing but it’s bent near the base. The gravel in the sidewalk rejects various metal pipes as the earth slowly shifts with more aftershocks. The aftershocks are becoming less severe. The ground making up the sides of the rift look unstable, almost as if water was destroying the soils composition. Pavement continues to crack at an alarming rate and not many trees are left standing. He sees a few phone lines snaking onto the road in the distance; they look like they may still be active. A few fires start where the wires touch the ground and buildings.
Kyle and his coworkers become excited when they start to head towards the direction of the Smithsonian.
Fred would have preferred to have dropped everything to find his grandson. He had to take comfort in the fact that his God would protect him and his family. It didn’t seem anyone else was spiritual in the group.
His heart stops when something cold and wet touches his hand. Looking down he sees the dog that searched his car earlier and feels instant relief. Dogs have a calming effect on him. He fondly scratches her behind her ears.
There’s a smaller hole in the middle of First Street. Across the street must be thirty to forty people.
Kyle is getting excited and tells his father, “If we make it across the street we can follow the metro line at Union station to the hospital. My office is the other way. We need to stop by office for a second for I can get my keys.”
Fred agrees to whatever he wants.
The people across the street have a large concentration of police officers and firefighters that are coordinating people and the injured into groups. Another thirty to forty people from surrounding buildings are congregating at the intersection. A few are trying to get the Capital Building but are getting redirected by soldiers. Fred notes no one has a clear plan of action.
He looks back and briefly sees the Washington Monument still stands. People often flock to places of symbolic importance when things go wrong.
One police officer carries a ladder to the hole in First Street. Another public worker who has a building engineer logo on his jacket carries a plank which he places over the ladder over the hole.
They quickly bridge the gap and cross over. A dozen more cross to their side.
Mark tries telling them the soldiers told them to leave but no one listens. It takes ten minutes as another dozen crosses over. Half way people start to rush and a few people in suits fall into the hole. People gasp but no one tries to help.
A few minutes later they cross the plank and reach the other street. Kyle and the other Smithsonian staff workers don’t acknowledge the other survivors as they quicken their pace and head of a separate direction. Fred pauses and thinks it would be better to stay with the police officer and dog but disregards the thought as soon as Kyle beckons him to follow. He says bye to the people who are going to go the Library of Congress.
They pass a few buildings that Kyle refers to as the National Mall.
Many public workers rush in between buildings. Small areas are cleared out which appear to be stable. Every block has its own ambulances, firemen, police officers, and public servants. Public workers and solders are telling everyone to follow marked road signs that direct the people to safe zones. Fred quickly gets the impression that safe zones and buildings are located in designated public high schools.
The group doesn’t listen to the evacuation plans as they continue to move towards the Smithsonian. Half the group decides to try to find their families and abruptly leave.
A few minutes later
For the first time in Fred’s life he was going to walk into a museum. He really wished he could have experienced the National Museum of Natural History in better circumstances.
Kyle was acting peculiar and for the first time in Fred’s life he wonders if Kyle is on drugs.
They pause at the base of the steps as Kyle tells him, “I can’t believe you never came to visit. This museum is great for we have over 500 million specimens of various natural and cultural artifacts. Dad, you are going to love the people I work with! Or at least you are crazy if you don’t for we get over seven million visitors a year who love the place!”
The two Smithsonian workers stop as the larger black man bursts out, “Are you nuts? Don’t you see what’s happening?”
The other staff worker intakes his breath as he tries quieting his friend, “This isn’t the time John.”
Fred can’t tell if he is American or a one of those visiting professors seeming to be everywhere.
Fred looks closely at his son for the first time since seeing him in a few years. He has been too wrapped up in driving for the last week to clearly see how his son shaped. He didn’t like what he saw. Kyle was always skinny but now he looks like a skeleton.
Sometimes a parent innately knows what’s wrong with their children.
John huffs while looking straight into Kyle's eyes “Get out of your hippy haze and wake up.”
Kyle doesn’t seem to hear him as he blurts out, “What happened to the iron ore rock? I always thought it was a large pebble for a sling shot. There used to be a rock from the mines in Upper Michigan on the front steps.”
The fourth staff worker tries telling John not to continue and they had better things to worry about but John doesn’t want to stop, "Kyle, you’re a junky and I hate working with you. After the presentation you were going to get drug tested. I only wish they did it sooner.”
Its obvious John wanted to say this for a long time. Fred could almost swear he feels rage emanating from John towards his son. He wonders when his son started drugs.
Kyle continues to point to where the iron ore stone once stood and says, “Look Dad, someone laid siege to the Museum when we were gone. We need to get my keys.”
More sobering he continues, “No John. I’m not nuts. What do you want me to say? Screw you for getting in my affairs. I will have your job eliminated within a week once this is all done and you can kiss my ass.”
John replies “Whatever.
He storms off in another direction. The other worker quickly follows him. Fred looks towards where Kyle is pointing and decides to think of this new information about his son later. He couldn’t handle all this. His mission was to save his family and get back to Minnesota.
Fred’s left hand grips his crucifix as he sees a massive hole in the front entrance.
Kyle doesn’t say anything about John as he repeats himself, “Dad, there was an iron ore stone from the Upper Peninsula here earlier. It came from Michigan.”
Fred was afraid to look into the gaping hole at the front entrance. He pauses as he watches his son nimbly enter the museum. Kyle did not appear to be functioning right but Fred is at a loss on how to fix it.
Fred lights his cigarette with his Bick, as he takes his first puff he sees a sign standing to his right. It shows a cigarette with a circle and an X through it. Fred laughs uncontrollably as he thinks of the irony of the sign.
He doesn’t feel anarchic but he can’t control himself as he blows smoke at the sign. Kyle bounces back through the door.
Kyle stops in front of him, “Dad, why haven’t you thrown out those cancer sticks yet? You know mom doesn’t want to live alone if you die from those.”
Kyle always believed in saying no to drugs.
He couldn’t ask for real, at least not until nightfall and after he gets his grandson. Fred sighs in resignation as he flicks the cigarette butt. No one was going to ticket him at the present time.
Kyle reaches for his left hand and he flinches as he feels his son’s hand feel clammy and cold.
“Dad, come on. You need to see where I work. It’s just splendid and the people absolutely love me.”
As if it was more possible, Fred’s gut clinches as Kyle continues his madness, “After I will get my keys and we can meet my wife for dinner. You haven’t met her, she’s amazing.”
Instead of shaking Kyle’s’ hand off, Fred grips it hard. He isn’t going to let go of his son no matter what. He decides he will take Kyle to a detoxification program when this is all over.
He smiles and prays to Jesus yet again. He never prayed so much in his life. With as much strength and love he can muster he says, “Yes son, please show me your office and then your family.”
He didn’t want to go into the museum but reminds himself that life was never fair and he has no choice.
Fred looks back one last time, he didn’t know if he was going to survive this excursion and wants to feel the sunlight one last time.
The first thing he sees is that they are still on Madison Drive. There’s a color code near the name of the street which directs people to rescue centers. People in small groups are stumbling towards the National Monument which is still standing proudly. There seems to be hundreds of people and if he didn’t know better a lot of national guards are running around. It was nice to see them be on the ball! Fred feels pride towards the National Guard and secretly wishes Kyle would have taken that direction. On the way they walked past two buildings to their left left called East and West buildings. To the right was Third and Fourth Street.
The Air and Space Museum caught his attention which was across the street and to the left. Half a space shuttle was jutting out of a section of the building he assumed would have been a cafeteria. Various staff workers and civilians were being rescued by more national guards. The National Guard unit has ropes going down one of the holes created by the shuttle. They were bringing up children. He then felt dread as he continues to look past the rescue operation.
The Smithsonian Castle looks like rubble. The building reminds Fred of a smashed aluminum can he sometimes finds stuck in the machines at the Coca Cola factory. No one was milling around the building as it smolders. The windows are broken and the walls appear to have caved inwards. Fire leaps into the sky, enshrouding his vision in smoke making it impossible to see anything past the raging fire.
A metro station is eerily quiet down the block; it’s the Federal Triangle Station. Fred is surprised to see no one leave or enter it. The side walk is torn up and the road in nothing better than rubble. Fred didn’t understand why the roads had holes in them but after crossing the one he did he didn’t want to know how far down it goes. In the near distance another building burns out of control. He briefly remembers his son told him it was the National Archives building when they were trekking to the Smithsonian.
The three blocks they crossed earlier told him it did not look good for Washington DC. There are a lot of fires and many people are hurt. There wasn’t any sense of order but there are a lot of people trying to help others who are stuck inside buildings. As long as they didn’t get in the way of anyone no one bothered them. Unlike the movies there were no riots or people hurting people on the streets. Fred was impressed by the way the people of DC carried themselves and wishes this was all a bad dream. A dozen people who look like tourists argue what they should do in the sculpted garden. Near the National Castle the Arts and Industries and Hirshhorn Museum are still untouched.
He turns around and follows his son into the crumbling building as he taps into his reserves. His son whistles the Snow White song the dwarfs sing as they go to work in the mines.
Fred thinks he sees some broken pipes jet from underneath where the ore stood but shrugs it off.
Chapter 15: Library of Congress
Mike doesn’t have a clean plan of action. His wife is by his side but looks miserable as she coughs and sneezes. Mike looks her over; his chest clinches as his blood pressure easily becomes 180/140. This is the problem with blood pressure. When the body goes through any kind of stress it can go up. It doesn’t matter if it’s good stress or bad.
There are two primary entrances used at the Library of Congress. Most visitors use the front entrance on First Street SE. The front entrance has a fountain and thirty three ethnological head sculptures on top of the first story windows facing the street. Each head represents a different ethic race. Mark flinches as one of the statue heads crumble as they walk up the stairs. The second story usually has nine busts on a portico but they are destroyed. Near our feet is the broken bust of Benjamin Franklin.
The CNN journalist lags behind as she films what’s left of the Neptune fountain at the base of the stairs. King Neptune sits with his four sons who are blowing conch shells while brandishing tritons. Near them is an assortment of turtles, frogs and serpents. The water stopped working. No one tells her and the camera man to hurry. During a situation like this if someone wants to follow they can, if they want to leave then there’s the door.
They can hear her professional voice follow us, “This is Susan Bishop reporting from the Jefferson Building across from the Capital Building. It is strangely empty on this side of the street. What we are looking at is the Neptune Fountain. This was once King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea and brother of Minerva. We are about to enter the Library of Congress.”
She looks over at her camera man and tells him to turn off the camera and tells her camera man to follow her up the stairs.
The group walks to the entrance. Mark sprints near the end and abruptly stops when he finds out its locked. He doesn’t want to be outside and starts pounding at the door. Mike lets go of his wife’s hand and puts his hand on Mark’s shoulder.
Mike says, “We need to find another way in.”
Irina gives her opinion, “Maybe we can go in the side entrance off of Second Street. There’s the researcher entrance.”
Mark resigns himself to the fact they weren’t going to get into the Library of Congress from this entrance. They are about to leave when Mark thinks he sees something in the recess of the shadows near the far wall. A lone security guard stares up at the Capital Building, or rather what was once the Capital Building.
Mark blurts, “Holy shit, you scared me.”
It’s a security guard named Berry.
Mike yells out, “Can you get us in the building?”
Irina adds, “We would really appreciate it if you let us in.”
She obviously tries using her looks while flattering him, “I am so scared, please be a hero and let us in.”
He snaps out of his daze and looks at our group like we are crazy, “Why would you want to go in there? It’s not any better in there then it is out here.”
Mark doesn’t care and neither does Irina. Mark whips out his identification card and says, “You see this ID? I work here. Let me in. Our supervisor wants us inside now.”
The security guard shrugs, “Whatever you want. I was told to keep the community out, not the staff.”
He opens the front door and steps aside. Mark and Irina rush in. The first thing we encounter in the Jefferson building is a security check point that screens for things that bad guys have. Normally we would have to taken out our personal belongs to be checked as we walk through metal detectors and get patted down. There are often two to four security guards greeting visitors and staff but today there is zero. Larry and Pixel decide to say outside with the security guard. The group hears a click as the security guard locks the door behind us.
Mark comments, “It’s nice to know our security guards are not abandoning their posts, I would have felt better with the police K9 in our group.”
April retorts, “He probably doesn’t have a family.”
Mark looks at Mike and rolls his eyes, “I don’t know, our security personal has a strong sense of duty. During Katrina in New Orleans the biggest issue with cops and firemen wasn’t them abandoning their posts but rather they couldn’t get to work because of the floods took out the roads.”
April doesn’t want to hear it as she responds, “I thought the police in New Orleans got in trouble for taking advantage of the situation. Didn’t they steal a lot of things like TV’s and cars from car lots?”
Mark sputters, “I don’t know. You’re always going to have a few bad seeds. This is the Library of Congress and people don’t do that here.”
Mike squeezes his wife’s hand while wishing she would stop arguing with Mark but she doesn’t.
She has to have the last say, “My husband told me the Library of Congress has a problem with people taking rare books by ripping off the book covers from the binding and selling them on e-bay when they get home. Didn’t you say people here don’t act like the people in New Orleans?”
Mark doesn’t want to argue anymore and changes the topic, “Let’s go. We need to get to our office.”
The Jefferson building is a big building. To our left is a corridor that leads to the Library shop and Graphic Arts Gallery. We were going to the right.
Our destination is a office within the Kluge Center. The Kluge Center is on the right wing if you’re facing the Capital Building on the second floor. We have the scholarly office and the copyright office on our wing.
The Bob Hope exhibit is on the way along with the Whittal Pavilion but we quickly bypass these rooms without looking in. Near the Bob Hope Gallery we find the path blocked. The earthquake took out the ceiling and there was no way to get to our offices from this direction due to the stairwell being past the Bob Hope Gallery.
Mark doesn’t want to admit defeat and counters the problem with a new idea, “If we go to the main chamber on the second floor we could use a side hallway to get to our offices. But we need to get the second floor.
There are no people around. No visitors, no staff and no security. No one connects the dots. Staff has been evacuated.
The group is back at the entrance and goes up the steps to the Great Hall. Statues of the Greek goddess Athena lie scattered on the floor in various broken chunks and fragments. The Library of Congress had many of these statues but not many of them are left standing.
Mark informs the group, “The path to the left has collapsed on this floor just as it did on the ground floor. The only way is to go to through the Main Reading Room.”
The Bible’s Galleries are located near the Main Reading Room and are intact. Ancient bibles are protected in unbreakable cases; one of them is one of four original Gutenberg Bibles. A few security guards are in the process of taking the national treasures somewhere else. They don’t bother the group.
One guard tells the group, “Sorry, you can’t go further. The ceiling collapsed and is blocking the way.”
Mark is curious, “Did the staff get out?”
The guards do not know. It’s just their job to remove the national treasures.
Mike and Mark decide they might find an open corridor on the second floor. They go up the stairs. The Library of Congress has many stairs and balconies. Corinthian balconies once bedazzled visitors as they entered the chamber. Large archways and sculptured marble give breathtaking visages that easily match any building found in both Italy and Greece. The second story is held by two columns that support the roof. The columns are still intact.
The roof is torn and broken in many places. Sunlight streams in the building seeing as all the windows were shattered. Many pillars are still standing but six have fallen. The left stair way has collapsed somewhere in the center. It’s a smooth break, only two steps destroyed.
The group walks up the right side which is still intact. Embedded in the Italian marble of the first floor is an emblem looking like the sun.
Mark acts like a guide, “The marble came from Verona and Sienna.”
A few of the twelve zodiac emblems can be seen.
Mark absently loses himself in a thought as he tells no one in particular, “What’s happening here could be no different than what’s happening in cities that were destroyed in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, Chili, and even California last year. Each place that experienced an epic natural disaster still stood and life went on. Sure, life got hard as countries went into deep recessions. Resources did indeed become scarce but the fact is life went on. It was cities that were destroyed, not the countries.”
Mike’s gaze drifts to the American flag which still stands near the entrance. He feels pride course through his veins as he looks upon the beautiful flag from above.
Mike says, “I hope the security guards put the other national treasures away. If looters get their hands on these artifacts then America might lose our national treasures forever.”
April catches up and nudges him out of my ponderings.
Mike looks down upon the chamber room one last time. Marble figures of Putti crumble under the stress of the newest aftershock. Italian Renaissance art symbolizing American life and culture in the early 1900’s was coming to an end. No longer did it represent the different occupations and skills that were once respected in America. Nor could Mike see its message of literary anymore. He knows only tragedy.
Mark tells someone, “This sucks. All the beauty of the place is being destroyed! You see that over there? It represents the different seasons.” Without looking I know he’s talking about the panels above the doorway Seasons, “It was made by Frank Benson. You see those sayings on the walls and ceilings? They came from the Librarian of the Library.” His voice chokes up as he starts to cry again. I’m amazed he has so many tears as I hear him continue, “My favorite saying is by Sir Philip Sidney, ‘They Are Never Alone That Are Accompanied With Noble Thoughts’.”
Irina responds, “I always liked the ones by Cervantes. My favorite is Sir Francis Bacon’s quote ‘knowledge is power.’ What are we going to do if we can’t make it to the others?”
No one answers her so Mike decides to say something, “I guess if that happens we will need to go to our families.”
She mumbles barely audibly, “My family is in Russia. How do I get to them?”
Mark adds after an uncomfortable minute of silence, “We can get you to the Russian Embassy if we can’t find anyone.”
Near the top of the stairs is one of America’s coolest murals. It’s the Minerva Mosaic. The majestic mosaic depicts a roman goddess of learning and wisdom.
Mike pleads with his eyes as depression sets in, he hopes Minerva would impart some of her wisdom. She doesn’t answer. Instead she holds something that looks like a proclamation or a scroll. She is the guardian of civilization.
Mark comments as everyone gazes at the mural, “Look at the owl. It’s perched to the right. The owl represents wisdom. That’s why I decided to work here. I love libraries and what this place stood for.”
Mike relates to what he’s saying. The CNN journalist stops filming near the balcony and joins us. She reads the inscription, “Nil invita Minerva, quae monumentum aere perennius exegit.”
Mark has a lot of longing in his voice as he responds, “Yes, it means she is always vigilant against her enemies. See the Nike figure? It’s a message about victory and peace. Minerva is about all the different fields of learning. I always loved coming here when I was a kid.”
April asks, “Do you think we will be ok?”
Mike tries being positive, “See the sun at the upper left corner? The darkness is receding and the light is coming in. We are going to have the same thing happen to us by the time this is all over.”
A piece of the ceiling falls and sunlight streaks in. The light beam goes straight to the mural and engulfs it in radiance. Colors shift on the mural and it looks like it’s coming to life, it literary glitters just as a diamond in light.
The group gasps, its kin to experiencing something holy. Just as fast the light dissipates leaving the group in the dark.
Marks comments, “Let’s continue shall we? There’s a side hall way that staff can use to get to our offices. We have to pass the Visitors Gallery that overlooks the main reading room.”
The main reading chamber looks awful. The floor to the chamber has imploded inward leaving all the chairs and desks under a ton of rubble. Nothing is left standing. Many people scream for help.
April and Irina gasp. April begs Mike to do something, “They are suffering! Please do something!”
Sunlight streams from a broken ceiling. The frame of the ceiling is still intact but there are many gaps. The missing ceiling reined a glassy death on people as they read. Eight statues overlooking the chamber remain intact. Seals representing each state are still firmly imbedded where they are supposed to be. On the other hand, the statue of Moses still stood but Newton was nowhere to be seen. Most of the painting were somewhere in the rubble.
Thankfully the people down below do not see our group. There isn’t anything we can do for them. There is at least thirty feet between our balcony and the floor.
We watch in horror as the ground floor shifts back and forth with new aftershocks. Each time it does this the furniture would roll over the bodies.
In the center of the room is missing. A massive hole beckons the surrounding furniture to enter its VIP hell. Dust picks up and blocks the groups view which is their queue to turn around.
Mark says, “Don’t look anymore. There isn’t anything we can do.”
The group proceeds to the private stairway reserved for staff. He tries using his electronic key card but it doesn’t work.
Mike gives up, “The electricity is shut off. No one is here. We have to leave. I feel safer outside then in here.”
Irina asks, “How do we get out?”
Mike answers, “Maybe we can get out the way we came in. These aftershocks scare the hell out of me.”
The group goes back track the way we came. While at the front entrance Mark doesn’t give up on finding the missing staff. The front doors are locked and the security guard doesn’t seem to be around, nor is Larry or Pixel.
Mark doesn’t want to lead, “Does anyone have any ideas? Sorry for bringing us in here.”
April makes a smart ass comment, “It looks like your super police are missing in action. Maybe he got lost in his car on the way to work.”
Mike and the camera man laugh. Something sounds like musical instruments coming from the right.
Susan tries taking the lead, “We might as well go where the music is coming from.”
Irina runs ahead about twenty feet and reaches the door before the others. Her door reads the Graphic Arts Galleries.
Looking a little confused she says, “The door handle is hot!”
The CNN journalist jolts “Don’t open the door!”
She’s too late. Irina attempts to open the door while dismissing Susan’s warning.
Flames reach for Irina. Mark screams, “Irina!”
She doesn’t have time to turn or answer.
April throws herself at Mike. Mark cries out as the flames shoot down the hallway towards them. It’s not the same cry as he gave at the Capital Building but its more heart filled. His cry sounds like a lover losing his significant other.
The CNN journalist works well under pressure. She silently directs the group into the Libraries Gift shop. It’s not a big room. The room is maybe about twenty to thirty square feet. Mike shuts the door as he feels the air in the corridor shift with the fire.
Mark cries out, “Why?”
The grieving Librarian goes for the window but they are sealed. He grabs handkerchiefs near the cash register. There are three windows. Two are small and one is fairly large. The large one won’t open but the small one’s do. Mark thrusts his hand out with the white handkerchief.
Mark shouts, “Help! Help!”
Mike feels the door which is getting extremely hot. Smoke enters the room from the crack at the bottom of the door. Mike sees some shirts marketing the Library of Congress and grabs a whole bunch of water bottles and puts over the crack.
Mike’s left hand feels like dead weight for a few seconds. He looks at April and says, “I love you.”
She replies, “I love you too.” She doesn’t know something is wrong.
The CNN journalist says, “We should look around for anything we could use.”
Berry replies, “We were stupid to come into the building. I want to go home!”
She shouts back, “Get a grip. Remember what it means to be a journalist.”
He quiets down. Mark won’t stop screaming for help. April walks over to him and gives him a wooden rod that’s part of children’s game set.
She says, “Put the cloth on this, maybe someone will notice!”
There are the basics; cards, journals, stationary. Various knick knacks were on the ground that once showed the library of congress from different perspectives. Nothing was broken outside of the glass knick knacks.
April calls out, “This is all children’s clothes and accessories. It’s pointless to look.”
Susan concurs, “The board games and puzzles can’t be used for anything practical.”
Berry laughs behind the counter, “I found a rare book. What should I do with it?”
He shoves a lot of money into his pockets and tosses the book to April who puts it in a backpack.
April finds some exotic coffee packs and half a dozen butane lighters. She decides to throw into two mugs after the coffee packs while muttering we were going to need a way to drink our coffee. Mike puts two umbrellas that show some very cool classical art on the sleeves into the tote bag.
Marks voice is growing hoarse but he doesn’t stop yelling for help. He yells with a new fervor as smoke enters the room.
Chapter 16: Smithsonian goes Prehistoric
Fred looks in amazement as he enters the Smithsonian. A large marble rotunda greets him with a life size elephant on top of a fake brown pedestal shaped like a rock with bushes. The elephant’s snout reaches for the heavens.
The rotunda is not destroyed but various balconies on the second floor are caving in. Security check points near the entrance have been abandoned. A dozen people are milling inside, dazed and confused. Kyle does not seem to recognize any of them. There doesn’t appear to be any casualties in the lobby.
Fred sees an Easter Island Head on the southeast wall among various totem poles and stone disks that are shattered in glass cases.
Kyle excitedly informs his father, “Most people don’t know, but the Smithsonian is a made up of a whole bunch of museums, nineteen to be exact. We also have a zoo and about a dozen research centers.”
Fred notes in displeasure that Kyle was still not caring what was happening and was talking like it’s a normal day.
His son continues, “It’s sad that no one back home wants to know what I’m doing. I was looking forward to seeing you so much. I work as a Human Resource Specialist or the OHR.” Without pausing he continues, “We need to go to the West Wing on the first floor, follow me.”
Fred is relieved they don’t have to go the second floor as he follows his son. They find the way is blocked with rubble and have to take a side route in a corridor called Early Life. A whole bunch of broken fossils are scattered on the ground. A sign says one of them is supposed to be over 35 million years old. Many rocks simply look like normal rocks with moss on them. Fred would never have known it was so old for he would have expected nothing less from rocks he sat on while trout fishing.
The next room is dubbed Dinosaur Hall. A fashionably designed billboard states they are entering a corridor called Blast from the Past. He stops dead in his tracks when he encounters a 40 foot Tyrannosaurus rex staring down at him. He almost pisses his pants as an aftershock jolts the dinosaur closer to where he is stands. For a moment he thinks it’s coming to life and is going to eat him. His son tells him the dinosaur is called "King of the Tyrant Lizards". In the middle of this room is a shattered pterosaur. A plate that is still standing firmly in place says it a Quetzalcoatlus. Its eggs are broken and scattered among the debris. Other dinosaur bones are around but he doesn’t know what they are and really doesn’t care.
A television monitor is still playing something near the back. Fred can’t feel but chilled as he watches a meteoroid collide into earth on the screen. It’s digital and reminds Fred of a high tech cartoon.
Kyle interrupts his thoughts, “Dad, can you stay right here for a minute? I will be right back.”
Before Fred responds Kyle bounces off while repeating himself, “Stay right here or in this wing. Give me five minutes. I don’t want security to bother you and I will be right back.”
Kyle is gone and Fred is alone. He takes out his cigarette and continues to walk down the corridor. It scared him that Kyle just left.
Fred can’t handle the television monitor telling him the earth was destroyed 65 million years ago when it seems to be happening right now. He takes a few long drags on his cigarette and tells himself that he needs to get another pack before he runs out.
Fred decides to continue walking down the corridor not knowing what else to do. Hie wishes he had a cold beer. He saw a few gift stores but doubted they would have cigarettes. He was also very much uncomfortable in stealing so that wasn’t an option.
Dinosaur Hall becomes Fossil Lab. A lost child stumbles to him while crying for his mommy. He tries to help but the child screams and runs the other direction towards a section called Ancient Sea’s. No security guards come to the child’s rescue. There’s ample light to see and the walls are still intact, Fred goes towards the opposite direction the child ran. He didn’t want to be accused of molesting a crazy kid when all he wished to do was help. It’s really hard for his to fathom that this was really happening. He kept hoping this was some elaborate trick.
A sign directs him to his left, the Fossil Mammals and a small snack shop.
Fred stops dead as he swears he smells something wrong coming from the direction of the cafeteria. He wonders if it’s wise to be in the building.
He is about to double back when he hears someone cry out to his right. An elderly woman’s voice can be heard coming from the direction of the bathrooms.
“Someone please save us! The door won’t open and we are scared! Some help us! I have my grand children with me! What’s happening? Can someone hear me?”
No one is around but Fred. Fred was never a hero but it didn’t take him long to realize he needs to do something.
Fred runs towards the bathrooms while yelling, “I’m here. I’m going to rescue you and your family! Stay calm!” His voice is soon lost as smoke detectors finally catch what he smells. The still air grates the sound of fire alarm sirens as the sprinkler system finally activates.
He passes through an exhibit called Ice Age but doesn’t take the time to see what’s on show. Human beings are more important to Fred then history and artifacts.
The elderly woman’s voice gratefully responds, “Oh thank you so much. We are so scared.” There are two bathrooms side by side. The women’s bathroom is to the left.
Fred responds, “Hold still, I will have you out in a jip.”
He first tries to open the door but it’s stuck. For some reason it doesn’t want to budge. Fred wonders if the earthquake shifted it a few inches.
The door did not look like it had a lock mechanism. He slams his body into it a few times but it doesn’t budge. He hears children cry in the bathroom as the woman tries to cajole them in soothing tones.
Fred pauses as he realizes it’s not going to open. He doesn’t want to break his shoulder but he isn’t about to give up.
“I will be right back. I need to find something to break the door down with. Maybe I can find an axe or something.” The elderly woman cries but says she understands. She tells him to hurry back.
Fred looks around but can’t find where they keep the fire extinguisher and axes. He runs back to the cafeteria while looking for anyone who can help. He runs into a couple who stumble out of the cafeteria and is about to ask them for help.
The guy interrupts him, “You need to get out here. A gas leak started a fire in the grill area in the restaurant. This place is going to burn!”
They run past him and are out of his sight before he can say something. He goes into the cafeteria. He needed to know how bad it was.
A fire is raging near the far side where the food is prepared. A maintenance worker appears to have gotten hit over the head by falling debris lies on the ground near the entrance. He sees a utility belt with some really nice looking tools.
Fred prays, “Please Jesus, let it be alright for me to take these tools to safe the trapped people.”
He reaches down and unbuckles the utility belt. He tries to not look at the dead body and quickly gets the belt off the still corpse. It’s a natural fit as he slides it around his waist. It’s better to have it securely on him for he could have his hands free. Fred feels comfortable as he fondly rubs a Phillip screwdriver. He loves his tools. He looks down and sees the workers name was ironically Phillip and says, “Thanks Phillip. You won’t need these anymore.”
He quickly returns to the bathroom. While scanning the door he tells them he is back and to be patient.
Fred expertly unscrews the first screw. He squints as smoke builds around him in a alarming rate. He was beginning to get a little nervous that he didn’t have the time to get them out of the bathroom.
He doesn’t want them to panic so he asks, “What’s your name? How many people are with you?”
She sounds old, maybe in her sixties or seventies, “I am Emily and I’m here with my three grandchildren. Two are here with me. The third I left with the dinosaurs. Did you see him? What’s happening out there?”
Fred started unscrewing the second screw. He decided to start at the bottom of the door. Within seconds it was out.
He hears something that sounds like a snap and boom. He looks back and sees that the fire has completely engulfed the cafeteria. Various chemical bottles were exploding. He looks back at the door and decides to ask about her grandchildren.
He tried keeping fear out of his voice, “What are your grandchildren names? I think I might have seen your other grandson earlier. He is fine but is scared.”
It wasn’t much different then fixing machines that get clogged from aluminum cans during his work shifts. The factory paid him big bucks to keep things working nicely so he wasn’t a stranger to unscrewing screws.
The older woman starts to talk about why she came to the Smithsonian with her grandchildren. Kyle pauses and looks over his shoulder. The fire was now in the fossil exhibit near the cafeteria.
He was down to three screws. Sweat pours from his brow and he needs to stop for a second to catch his breath. While catching his breath he sees a side panel tucked near an exhibit on Africa a few feet away. In the panel are a fire extinguisher and a water valve and hose. But more importantly was a blanket that protects people from fire the children could use if he got them out in time.
Fred focuses on the task on hand and within 30 seconds gets the remaining screws out.
“I need you guys to step away from the door.” They agree and Fred puts all his weight into slamming into the door with his left shoulder. It falls backwards without any effort. The elderly woman and two children burst happily out. They thank him as they beg him to tell them what happened. He tells them he doesn’t know.
“We need to get out of here now. Here take this blanket and drape it over the children’s heads.”
Kyle takes the fire extinguisher as he gives the blanket to the children. The water hose does not work. Kyle knows the earthquakes must have destroyed the water lines. The sprinklers were not working either.
Minutes later they are back in the rotunda. He sees Kyle coming down from the second floor as the woman and children thank him. The elderly woman is on a mission to find the third missing grandson and leaves Kyle and Fred.
Kyle looks very flushed while he keeps looking over to where he came from.
“Dad, who were they? Where did you get the tool belt from?”
Kyle didn’t seem to care about his Dad’s answer. He appeared to be looking towards the second floor.
“We need to get out of here. I got what I needed.”
He doesn’t make eye contact with Fred. A new aftershock rocks the building. Smoke is coming out from the area Fred just left. Fred asks Kyle if it’s time to get his baby.
Kyle points to where the iron ore rock from Ishpeming Michigan went. Fred looks to where Kyle is pointing. The iron ore rock exited the other side of the building leaving a second entrance. Fred shrugs as they walk out the opposite direction they entered. He sees Kyle is carrying a large back pack but doesn’t question what’s inside.
As soon as they walk out of the museum he hears something he never thought he would hear again. Kyle’s cell phone rings.
Chapter 17: The Brit and Jack
Larry didn’t think he was going to ever see the Congress folk again.
It was time for him to be a hypocrite, he knew First Congressional Liquor Store on First Street catered to many Senators and Congressmen and had a wonderful selection of booze. The Asian and the British fellow opted to stay with him.
The teen freaks him out, he keeps looking at Larry with adoring puppy eyes. No matter how he tries shoeing the kid away he wasn’t making process.
The British woman is hot. The security guard went back to watching the Capital Building in the shadows.
“Hey, you want to get some alcohol with me and have a drink in memory of Congress?” His joke is met with her blushing and brushing up to his side.
He smells her sweet flowery shampoo and finds himself wanting to know her a little better. He doesn’t focus on the fact she is shaking and scared. Or maybe he doesn’t care. He reaches for her and feels her respond to his touch positively.
With a thick British accent she says, “I would love to have a drink. I can’t believe this is happening. I just didn’t want to go in there.”
She continues to flatter his ego, “You look like a fine cop and you are so handsome. Will you help protect me? Shouldn’t we leave DC if a tsunami is coming?”
Her soft eyes and clear voice reminds him of what he missed in high school. He yanks Pixel’s leash and orders her to follow. He doesn’t care about the Asian kid. Pixel whines at the door. It’s obvious she wants to go with the others. He yanks the leash a second time and she becomes obedient.
“What’s your name? Don’t worry about things that might happen. We have enough to deal with at the moment.”
He tries not showing too much interest but fails miserably. It doesn’t dawn on him to think it’s wrong to hit on a woman and not to try to find his mother. He didn’t really like his mother and often blamed her for his own short comings. He sometimes takes his frustrations out on her when he is drunk.
“Mary, my name is Mary; it’s nice to meet you.” She feels warm. Larry can’t believe how his fortune is turning.
“I like Jack Daniels. What’s your poison?” She mutters it doesn’t matter as long as gets her drunk.
He smiles and redirects her to the platform the cops and firemen made earlier on First Street. The liquor store is across from Capital South and it doesn’t take long to get there. They only have to cross D Street and it’s still intact. A few homeless people are making a commotion in Subway but he doesn’t care. Tortilla Coast is on fire but the rest of the block seems stable enough.
He flinches as he watches a homeless man kick a man in the head who is wearing a suit. Laughing, the homeless man digs through the man’s attire and runs off with his wallet as the man cries. No one helps him. Other homeless people appear to be tearing up the fast food restaurant. They quicken their pace and cross the street. He lets go of Pixel who obediently follows him while he keeps on hand on his gun. Pixel doesn’t want to get involved with what happening in Subway. Another business is in the process of shutting their metal screens as a whole bunch of men who look they could be muscle builders wearily watch the homeless people in Subway. One of the men brandishes a shotgun. Larry hears him tell his crew, “If anyone tries to come in we kick their ass and save the building. This is our families dream and NO ONE will touch it as long as we stand!”
They are in front of a very small liquor store. A tree once stood proudly near the front entrance lies sprawled on the road. Branches from the roots brush upon the building as dirt smears the bricks. Larry pauses as he sees two body guards near the front entrance. A couple of dead homeless people lay at their feet.
He calls out, “I’m a cop. Can we come in?”
One body guard disappears for a moment. Larry takes his gun out as a few homeless men in Subway start eyeing Mary.
One of them lewdly comments, “Hey honey, how about coming in here and I will show you a good time?”
Larry chambers a bullet and menacingly answers, “Come and get it tough guy.”
The homeless man laughs and responds, “Not today but maybe tomorrow.”
Three others join him. Thankfully they aren’t armed outside of metal pipes and sticks.
The body guard reappears near his partner as a Deli sign falls to the ground, “Quick, come in.”
All four enter the liqueur store. The two body guards step back to their stations at the entrance. The broken tree prevents the metal shutters to properly close. It didn’t matter anymore because the electricity was not working.
It’s big inside. Four isles give testimony to a very sweet wine and liquor selection as the walls are full of many racks. Sadly many of the bottles are broken and Larry can very much smell the sweetness of the sugar in the wine going sour. Other smells aren’t as bad but Mary comments on how pungent the beer is. Pixel can’t handle the smell so he lets her take up post near the body guards at the entrance. A staff employee comes down the stairs holding a flashlight and a bag full of food. Sunlight streaks in from the entrance but only illuminates the first eight feet of the building.
It takes Larry’s eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark. The employee of the liquor store is very friendly as he says, “Senator, I have some munchies for you.” The employee beams with happiness as Senator O’Neil from New York thanks him.
“You’re a good man and I love this fine establishment. Isn’t that right Steve? The sandwiches are the best in DC!”
A third body guard comes out of the shadows and grabs a Twinkie and a ham sandwich from the bag.
“Yes sir. This place is splendid. We are going to need to leave as soon as you’re able.”
The body guard thanks the employee and grabs a coca cola from the ground. Pop bubbles over when he opens the can but he doesn’t seem to mind.
One of the body guards fires a shot without notice at the entrance. Everyone becomes quiet, after a moment the Senator replies to his body guard, “Have it your way. The end of the world has come and you still refuse to have a drink. Lighten up man!”
His body guard sobering answers, “Maybe tomorrow after we get you safely home.”
Senator O’Neil looks at Larry and introduces himself. He has a fifth of Southern Comfort as he sits on an upside down crate, his left leg juts out looking like its broke. He shares the bottle with the employee who thanks him. Mary instantly goes for peach vodka. It doesn’t take Larry long to spot an intact bottle of Jack Daniels. His first few gulps has a third of the bottle gone.
The Asian kid pokes around the rubble and finds a few water bottles. He puts three water bottles and a whole bunch of candy bars into his back pack. Larry watches as the boy goes behind the front counter and grabs a whole bunch of fish tackle, wire and hooks. For the first time Larry looks at the boy with a little respect.
The State Senator is reflecting on his life to the youthful employee, “So when I was your age I took a gamble and went to a community college. It was the best decision of my life. I earned I had a knack for politics so I got enrolled at Washington State University. It didn’t take long to land an internship which introduced me to the Senate.”
The youth is soaking up all the words and replies, “I am finishing high school. I took my GRE. My family is on vacation in Hawaii.”
The body guard in the shadows politely interrupts, “Sir, we need to get you to a hospital. If you start hemorrhaging around the break in your leg you could die. Can I least make a brace for your leg?”
Senator O’Neil answers, “You’re too good to me. Go ahead and make the leg brace. I will be able to leave in a few minutes. Until then let me enjoy having a drink with my new friends.”
The body guard scavenges the first floor for anything that could make a brace. The Asian kid who doesn’t speak English seems to understand what he’s doing and comes up with some heavy duty tape behind the counter. He gives the body guard one and puts the other in his back pack. He then whistles as he finds some batteries. Within a half a minute he has a portable game counsel making noises in his palms. It sounds like Mario Party.
Senator O’Neil continues his personal reflections, “When I was 21 I met my wife. She makes me so happy. We met at a wedding in July…”
Larry feels tipsy and decides he should rinse out his mouth with some water. He zero’s in on Mary who is silently crying. Her cell phone isn’t working as she keeps pressing numbers in hopes to connect with someone.
He steps nearer and feels ten feet tall and indivisible as he says, “You’re so hot. Will you go out with me when this is done?”
She smiles through the silent tears and says she likes her men built strong. Another shot is heard as Pixel barks.
Larry feels fortunate she doesn’t have family in America. It greatly increases his chances in being with her.
The liquor store employee tries being part of the Senators conversation, “I met my girl friend at lunchtime at school. She gave me her brownie when I forgot my lunch money.”
Senator O’Neil responds, “What’s her name?”
The employee whose name Larry did not hear excitedly fishes out a picture from his wallet. Shining his flashlight on the picture he shows it the Senator, “Her name is Emily Johnson.”
Senator O’Neil gives a warmth heart full laugh and tells the youth his girl friend has a beautiful name and face. His body guard finds all the necessary materials for a leg brace and proceeds to work on the Senators leg.
Larry is almost finished with his bottle of Jack Daniels and decides to put a second bottle into the kids back pack.
He tells Mary, “You never know when we will need to disinfect cuts.”
She buys into his excuse. He shoves a few pints of Vodka into his jacket. His hand isn’t burning as much as it did earlier. Nearby he spies a glass case all by itself. In it is a Chateau Lafite 1787. His heart skips a beat as he instantly recalls the moment he became a cop at the academy. His friends in California, who all died during the earthquake in 2012, bought him a fake imitation wine that represented Chateau Lafite 1787. It was the greatest day of his life. He wants the bottle!
Larry walks through the rubble and marvels the bottle is still intact in the glass case. As he’s reaching for it a new aftershock rocks the building. His left hand is in the glass case when he watches in horror as the glass panel cracks. Things went slow as he watched step by step the glass fell into his left hand which he didn’t pull out of the case.
A dull sensation spreads up his palm. He is too intoxicated to feel the glass. Instead he sees three inches of glass firmly imbed in his glove. He pulls back his hand and curses his luck. Everyone quiets down as he turns around and shares his new bloody trophy.
The Senator says, “That’s going to hurt.”
Mary rushes to his side. Like a bimbo she reaches out and plucks the glass from his hand without thinking of the consequences. Blood shoots out in an arc, he feels his vision swim and loses awareness. The Senator takes something looking like a pill and nods off after coughing.
A few minutes later
Something pokes into his back. He’s lying flat on the ground. Alcohol from broken bottles covers him in its stickiness. His head swims and he felt as if a hot iron is coursing in his blood. His mind takes comfort in the taste of Jack Daniels in his mouth. The State Senator is drunkenly singing this is the End of the World as We Know It. He attempts to sit up but can’t. His left hand refuses to support his weight. Pain shoots up his wrist and hand as his mind registers the moments before he went unconscious.
Larry sees his hand is wrapped in bandages. The body guard is helping the Senator to his feet. Mary and the Asian kid are at the front entrance with Pixel and the other two body guards. The store employee asks the Senator if he can go with him.
One of the body guards says no. He looks like he is about to cry. Mary tells the teen he can go with them. The teen isn’t interested and answers no and makes mention he should find his grandparents. He walks out the store. At the entrance he says he will wait for everyone to leave before he locks up. He doesn’t see the futile gesture will be in vain for as soon as they leave the homeless people will flood the store for the alcohol and food.
Mary sees Larry is awake and helps him to his feet. The Senator says bye as his body guards usher him out the building. One of the body guards helps the senator by letting him lean against his left side. Within moments they are gone.
Harry tries isolating the pain in his hand. He tells his group they have to get out of here before the homeless people get the nerve to come in. Within a minute they are on the street and the store in being locked up. Half a dozen people watch in silence. Larry doesn’t like the greedy look in their eyes. He forgot to pick up the bottle of wine and mourns his loss of the fabled Chateau Lafite 1787. He knows better to stay here though.
Pixel barks. Larry isn’t holding her leash. Before he can stop her she’s running back towards the library of congress.
He forgets about Mary and the Asian kid as he runs after Pixel. He doesn’t see as soon as he’s a block away the homeless people began to pummel the windows of the liquor store. Two to three run after the store clerk hoping to get his keys. Luckily the kid went running the other direction.
Pixel darts as quickly as a bullet. She’s over the board bridging First Street and is at a side window in the Jefferson building within moments. Larry groans as he heads back in that direction. He doesn’t bother to call out for Pixel. Someone in the Library of Congress is waving a white cloth out a window. No one helps.
Larry angrily takes out his gun when he gets back to the Jefferson building. He waves at someone he can’t see to step away from the window. He has to look good for Mary who is following him. If she thinks he is a hero then maybe he can hook up with her later.
Pixel suddenly appears at the window which has a frantic survivor gesture for help. Larry takes out his gun and gestures for Mark to step back. Larry opens fire on the window. The glass shatters with the third bullet. The group scrambles out the window and is greeted by an overzealous K9 barking in happiness. The Library of Congress burns in an inferno that would have made Dante Alighieri proud. It reminds Mike of the 14th century’s divine comedy, Inferno. The nine spheres of suffering found a new reality to play in and the Library of Congress was its playground. Larry reeks like alcohol and is humming This is The End of the World as We Know It.
His right hand still hurts from when Pixel made her leash taunt but it wasn’t anything compared to the pain in his left hand. It takes him three bullets to shatter the window. For some stupid reason the same people he left earlier come out. The building is obviously on fire but the dome still stands. He sees the Asian kid is still in the group.
Mark tells Mary that Irina is dead. They watch in silence as the Library of Congress burns. Mike says something about it reminding him of the Divine Comedy. Mike takes control of the group but he doesn’t seem to have much of a back bone with Susan who knows how to get her way. The camera man says he found a rare book behind the cashier counter and asks if anyone wants it. April simply tells him to put in the back pack.
Mike says they should try the metro at Union Station. He adds if things get worse they could always follow the metro tracks until they get out of DC. His wife wants to get to their house which is in Maryland. Mark says he will tag along until he can get home. Apparently he too has family in Maryland but seems torn because his apartment overlooks the bay. Mary wants to stay with them and he wants to stay with her. The CNN journalist and her camera man talk about having a van near Union Station.
Chapter 18: Final Showdown at Burger King
Juliet is at a loss and wants nothing more than to be home in front of her computer monitor. She draws imaginary designs at her feet with her cheap source of light which was meant for kiddo meals. Even though she isn’t cold, she can’t stop feeling chill. The air is staler as more hours pass; she never fathomed ventilation systems played such an important role in clean air. Rodger keeps coughing. At first she thinks he's suffering from allergies but then she too starts to get a little hoarse in the throat. An hour ago Harry came up with an idea of wrapping a strip of clean cloth around his mouth. She chose to listen but many did not. Her throat is getting slightly better.
No matter what they did or said, people were drinking and eating the food at an alarming rate. She became alarmed with this development 45 minutes prior when the college girls kept on using full water bottles to clean up in the bathroom. Some of the people in the lobby are very understanding of their plight but yet others are complete dicks or bitches. The college girls act like bitches.
The preppy girl had two sweaters on for some reason. One she was wearing and the other was wrapped around her shoulders, something to do with a sorority.
Deep down she wishes she could have a figure like of one of those girls but it wasn’t in her cards. Instead she gets teens, old people, a one armed homeless man, and her unfeminine body.
Not understanding her morbid fascination with death she briefly shines her light where Dawn died. She freezes when the light illuminates feet with no shoes.
“What the hell happened to Dawn’s shoes?”
She shines her light towards Harry and Rodger and gets their attention.
Harry sputters, “Who took her shoes?”
The Frenchman admits to taking the shoes. His rationalizations she didn’t need it anymore and he did. Juliet couldn’t argue due to the fact she is wearing the dead teens jacket. At the same time she hated the way the homeless men talked and how they justified their actions. Deep down she knew they would hurt her if they could. She reaches for the knife in her backpack but thinks twice about taking it out.
Her gut clinches as she feels fear radiate deep inside.
Trying to keep her mind of her current problem she tries small talk with Harry. Not knowing where to start she remembers the speed in which he broke the other homeless mans arm.
“How did you learn to fight? I can’t believe you broke that mans arm. Thanks for saving me earlier.”
She could tell his mind was somewhere else as he answers, “In Korea.”
She doesn’t know what to say outside of, “That’s neat. Is that near Vietnam?”
Harry chuckles, “No, it’s near China and Japan. I was a soldier back in the 50’s.”
Juliet does the math, “That makes you near 70 or 80?”
Harry replies, “Something like that.”
Juliet needs to see something outside of a destroyed Burger King in her mind’s eye so she asks, “What was it like?”
She’s only been accustomed to Iraqi and Vietnam vets. Even though she lives in a poor district she never had a reason to mesh with these types of people. She had a cousin who is in the National Guard but he’s currently stationed in Maryland. She never got along with him because he always wanted her to act more feminine.
Harry obliges her curiosity, “I did a lot of hiding and sitting on my ass.”
He didn’t want to talk about his primary objectives during the war, but he had no problem in sharing the basics. He continues, “We had a barrack made out of mud and bamboo when we weren’t searching for the enemy.”
Juliet gives a small noise of approval and deftly eats some very cold chicken nuggets. Rodger found a twenty piece and split it with everyone.
Harry continues, “It wasn’t nice. We had to change our barracks once. The South Koreans didn’t have plumbing like we do. Back in the day they had wagons called Honey Wagons which collected people’s shit near the sides of their houses. It was weird. The South Koreans used both people and animals to push the carts. They did this in all the villages. What sucked is we sometimes had to sit in rice fields surrounded by this because the villagers used it as fertilizer.”
Juliet is disgusted she wants to puke, “Could it be worse then what it smells like in here?”
Harry replies, “Yes. It wasn’t as bad as smelling dead soldiers that committed suicide though.”
Rodger decides to join the conversation, “What do you mean?”
Harry tells him, “The war was hard on us soldiers. We lost over 40,000 Americans. One of my duties was to help collect US soldiers who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge near Seoul. Within hours the fish and river life would eat their faces off. It was the worse smell ever.” Trying to make the subject a little lighter he adds, “When I was on leave I met a nice Asian girl who had a stream in her back yard. I ended up making a small irrigation system for her by redirecting the houses shit into a stream in the back yard.”
Juliet asks, “Did you ever kill anyone?”
She was done eating and thinks she should try to use the bathroom soon. The homeless people were keeping to themselves and the college students disappeared into the female’s bathroom.
She looks at Harry with amazement as she realizes he’s in better shape than her. She becomes sad as he reminds her of her grandparents. She looks at her cell phone and sees its 1:34 p.m.
It didn’t seem right. She would have bet her soul it was more like a day. She fondly remembers her families scheduled.
Her dad is a janitor at the hospital and she is very proud of what he does. She knew her mom was taking care of her younger brother at the apartment complex they lived at. They all lived near each other.
Her mind jolts as an aftershock rocks the tables around them. They had time to secure the tables in place and they no longer poised a threat. If anything else they took the brunt of the falling debris. The homeless people gathered 4 tables and were stationed as far away as they could be. That was fine by Juliet. No one knew what the college students were doing in the bathroom. She had a feeling they might have managed to take the bathroom stall doors of the hinges and did something with them.
That leaves the homeless men and older gentleman who are still trying to dig. She picks up a few sandwiches and water bottles and brings it to them.
Rodger asks Harry if he would ever go back to Korea. Harry tells him only a crazy person would go back and he was happy living in America.
Harry continues, “It was insane at the beginning of the war. The North Koreans had a whole bunch of Soviet-T-34-85’s which were heavy duty tanks for that day. They were kicking our ass. Jerry, who was Gunnery, managed to chip some of the tanks down using bazookas. “
Rodger must be a history buff for he can’t seem to get enough of Harry’s personal account; he interrupts, “Is that how you lost your arm?”
Harry pauses, “No, that’s for another story.”
He continues without mentioning or moving his hand any further, “I was already Korea a few years before the war broke out. I actually lied about my age when I enlisted into the military thinking it was my duty. I was always gifted with speed and good health, I rose through the ranks.”
Juliet tests her medic skills as she cleans out the cuts of the people’s hands that are digging. She ends up getting frustrated and pours half the alcohol bottle in their cuts in hopes it will kill the germs. She tries her best in applying ointment and a few Band-Aids but fails miserably. She decides to not have a drink and to safe it for people who need it.
Harries continues, “The first day of the war really sucked. I thought I was going to die for sure. My unit was under quipped and we had to be resourceful when the enemy tanks came.”
Rodger bustles like a child, “Please tell me.”
“Well, there we were, we had two M24 Chaffee’s; which are light tanks if you don’t already know, the KPA tanks blew them apart within minutes. Half the unit was shot to death as the Soviet’s superior tanks mercilessly mowed us down.”
Juliet can’t help herself, “Oh my God, how did you survive? Was it the bazooka’s you made mention if earlier?”
“We used anti-tank guns. We had to keep them at bay until the United Nations Command Reinforcement came. It was classic. I felt like the Texas Alamo but instead of ruins we had rice Pattie fields, the jungle and dirty villages everywhere. I will never forget the bazookas. I had to draw the attention away from enemy tanks as I hit their side armor. It was up to others to execute the final blow at the end of the day.”
Rodger and Juliet are entranced in the historical narration. Juliet loses attention for a brief moment, her current predicament drifts into nothingness as Harry paints a Korean landscape in the 1950’s. She isn’t paying attention to the homeless people.
Harry continues, “To be honest with you, I liked working behind the scenes. I never liked what I did but it had to be done. The North Koreans were assassinating all the educated people in South Korea. It was scary. Entire cities were losing their religious, political and educated people because the Communists wanted to win.”
His voice becomes very husky and hushed, “I had to kill people who were going to destroy American principles of democracy. These people often created illusions of being good South Koreans but in the real world they were spies and ruthlessly killed the good guys.”
Juliet pipes in, “Sounds like a lot of cloak and dagger stuff, I will be back in a second. I have to use the bathroom, or at least what’s left of it.”
She gathers her light but forgets to bring her backpack which she leaves with Harry and Rodger. Sara is digging with the other men and they seem to be making little progress.
She can Harry drone on with his war experience, “But that was a year before the war started, where was I …”
She briskly makes it past a few skewed tables that couldn’t be unscrewed from the ground. The aftershocks loosened many tables which made collecting them easy.
She hears the college students talking in hushed tones in the female bathroom but ignores them. There are two stalls, both doors are firmly attached. The first one doesn’t give; she assumes debris blocks it from opening. The second stall is free. I little amount of human feces is smeared on the seat. She is happy she remembered a water bottle and instantly understands why the college students are using the water. Trying to not use to much she does her best to clean the shit off of it.
There’s some toilet paper still in the stall. She doesn’t care if she leaves any of that for anyone. She hopes there’s still some soap left. Juliet places her light on top of the toilet paper roll and does her thing.
After a minute she is done but before she finishes a new aftershock rocks the bathroom. She is sitting and is glad nothing falls on her head. Her cheap Disney flashlight falls to the floor.
Juliet reaches for the light, while trying to balance on the stall and not get messy from the stuff on the floor. Her heart freezes as she thinks she sees something move in the other stall. She fears is a rat but after closer inspection sees it’s a shoe.Juliet is confused; it looks like Dawn’s shoes.
Dawn’s shoe moves a small fraction. Juliet reels with the knowledge that someone is with her in the bathroom.
She finds her voice as she zips her pants, “Is somebody there?”
Nothing but silence greets her question. The shoe moves another fraction of an inch.
Juliet reached for the handle of the stall and repeats her question, “Is somebody there? I can see your shoe.”
The Frenchman uneasily answers in a sultry voice, “I got some wonderful drugs. Do you want some for a blow job?”
That’s all she has to hear. He sounds evil and twisted. Juliet bolts for the entrance and screams for help. She hears the man curse as he whips his stall door open. He grabs her sleeve and proceeds to drag her into the stall.
Juliet didn’t freeze like she did earlier when she was getting choked. Just as her Paladin would do, she knees Seth in the groin with all her might. He lets go as he screeches in pain. Juliet runs out of the bathroom.
She hears the college students bar their bathroom door as Jack says, “Don’t let them in!”
Louder he screams, “Leave us alone! We aren’t hurting anyone!”
The girls sob uncontrollably. Juliet stops when she gets into the outer fringe of the lobby.
She screams, “The Frenchman creep tried raping me, he is in the bathroom!”
Rodger and Harry scramble past the tables.
Harry with much determination asks, “Are you sure?”
Juliet starts to cry as the implication of what almost occurred began to set in, “I’m sure. I hit him in the nuts; it’s the drug dealer who took Dawn’s sneakers!”
The homeless with the broken arm interrupts their communication not to kindly. His raspy voice chills Juliet more than the man she left crying in the stall.
“Don’t you see what they are doing? She didn’t almost get raped. They are trying to take us out one by one to get our supplies. Seth has are drugs! They want to take our drugs away from us!”
The man with the sign on his chest continues, “They broke my arm when I tried eating a cheeseburger.”
One of the homeless men with a metal pipe asks, “Andrew, what should we do? I don’t want to lose my drugs or go hungry.”
The raspy voice answers, “We take them out first.”
Juliet can’t believe what she sees, she wants to piss herself. As a group the thugs move like a small mob, they brandish make shift weapons. She freezes and doesn’t know what to do.
Two men swarm Rodger who simply drops his bat and screams for them to stop. They pummel him with metal pipes. The third or fourth hit she hears a something break. Rodger collapses like an inanimate object sinking in a river. The homeless man who did the killing blow is the man with the sign on his chest.
Two others try taking on Harry, one of which is Sam. Like a viper Harry strikes with something small and sharp, a glimmer reflects off what little light there is.
The knife connects with Sam’s throat. Blood spurts as a large arc sprays the two other homeless men who just killed Rodger. The second man doesn’t have time to respond as Harry kicks his knee cap. Juliet hears the impact make a popping sound. The second man drops to one knee, before he can mutter a word Harry jams the butcher knife into his chest. The man falls as he clutches the knife in disbelief.
The other two homeless men in the group do not attack but keep their distance. Even though they are bad guys they don’t want to take it to an extreme.
The homeless men and the older gentleman at the front door stay where they are but look at Juliet menacing. They weren’t part of any of this and were confused on why this is happening.
She hears Jack in the distance, “They are killing each other out there, try the cell phone’s again!”
The bathroom smells hits her. She twirls around and sees someone slide in the darkness but she can’t place who it is. She runs towards Harry who has two armed homeless men between her and them. She turns in mid step and runs towards the men and Sara who digs faster.
Two men circle Harry.
Andrew barks, “Take him out!”
The homeless man listens and lunges towards Harry with his metal pipe. Harry blocks the pipe with his forearm which takes the blunt of the damage. Twisting his arm around the pipe he disarms his enemy by throwing his weight counter to the momentum his opponent. This results in the homeless man with the pipe crashing into the man with the raspy voice. Before they could get to their feet Harry takes the pipe he just recently acquired and jams the far end into the face of the tripped man. A plopping sound can be heard as Harry ruthlessly tears the eye out of its socket with exact precision.
Harry drops the pipe and retreats towards the group at the front door. The man with the raspy voice scrambles on all fours towards the other two homeless men who are armed. They finally get their nerve while shouting insults.
Seth drifts to the armed group and silently hands them pills from his jacket. Right when things couldn’t get worse they get better. The rubble at the front entrance shifts as sunlight streaks into the lobby.
A K9 is barking and someone shouts, “We are here to save you, we are the National Guard! Is the Congressman safe?”
Juliet blinks as her eyes accustom to the light. For the first time she sees Burger King’s lobby illuminated since the earth quake struck. It was a disaster. She falls to her knees and can’t help but laugh and cry. A police K9 licks her in the face as someone in a military uniform helps her out of the building. The soldiers keep asking for a congressman but she has no idea what they want. A CNN journalist asks her for her story and she sees for the first time the earthquake’s magnitude destruction of the surrounding blocks.
The homeless people and Seth outside of Harry run down the street in the opposite direction. No one stops them.
Chapter 19: Fall of the Free Worlds Champion
There are a lot of hurt people near the street as Fred and Kyle leave the Smithsonian; the masses seem to be migrating towards the Presidential Park and the White house. They follow the crowd, Fred silently muses it’s like being part of a slowly moving blob that lacks dimension and order. Hundreds of injured adults and a few children cry from various emotional or physical traumas. The ones who aren’t crying try to help the others but to no avail. There isn’t any violence but a few individuals scream their frustrations to those who will listen, others redirect their anger to the National Guard and military personnel who don’t really know what to do. The National Guards in turn tell people to not sit on the lawn and to keep moving. He sees a lot of visitors and city workers. Many of the visitors are children who are part of school groups, the children look lost. The mass is near the front gates of the white house.
It’s smaller then what Fred thought it would look like. A black gate meets him. Cast iron bars show sixteen stars, lamps once adorned the tips of the fences but they shattered in the inside lawn. A road twines to a large white building, a tree lays in two in the middle of the road. Police officers are in the process of moving it. The white house sits in the distance. The front pillars have collapsed, Fred can’t distinguish where the entrance would have been. There are dozens of military helicopters in the lawn.
People ask for the President but no one has any answers. They need their symbolic leader. Some tourists from Texas say they should knock on the front door but others do not take them serious. One of the older men in the Texan group shakes as one of his wounds hemorrhage. His son tries to stop the blood from pouring on the street but the wound is too deep or maybe it hit an artery. Fred watches as the man gasps his final breaths.
Better to not ask questions if you don’t want the answers. He tries to stop and help but the crowd pushes him along.
He prays, “There’s nothing I can do. Please Jesus, be with these people in our greatest time of need.”
There is a large medical tent near the entrance of the Presidential Park. A child mistakenly brushes shoulders with Kyle which disturbs the backpack on his back. He twirls around and looks like he is about the hit the child. Fred wonders what kinds of drugs must be in that bag to make Kyle hold it so tightly. No one cares about his sons bag, all they want is for the President to open the front gates and safe them.
Fred knows he has to deal with the subject later but it still wasn’t the time. His son starts acting more paranoid and beckons his dad to follow him as soldiers with K9’s open the front gates to the White House. A limousine with Presidential flags roars down the street, many in the crowd murmur it’s the President. Kyle directs Fred away from the White House which looks more like a mini fortress. There are many soldiers dressed in battle gear that looks tough who just arrived. Military choppers are coming and going. People are saying President Stephen J. Andrews is still inside but things don’t make sense as the limousine drops someone off and just as quickly leaves. Whoever is in the limo is quickly ushered into a waiting military chopper which takes off, the man or woman has a jacket draped over their head. It’s not air force one.
They are on a street right in front of the gates overlooking a very large semi empty lawn when a large congregation of staff workers and officials come out a side entrance and head towards Air Force One helicopter.
Guards menacingly threaten civilians not to come close to the gate; many of them are on other side of the fence. A lone helicopter appears to be dysfunctional as the inhabitants quickly board another. Technicians are not having a good day as all electricity is cut off. Fred doesn’t understand why backup generators are not running.
Someone asks why no one is saying anything in the White house but no one has any answers that make any sense. These guards and security personnel did not want to help the civilians; it was their job to protect the people in the White house. For the first time Fred wonders if their government is going to do anything to help them. It doesn’t take much effort from Kyle to get him moving towards the reflection pool. Hundreds of people push them back to the crowd but close to the medical tent that’s swarmed by civilians. Fred sees the International Red Cross logo boldly imprinted on the side of the large tent.
The limousine stalls at the front gates as a new aftershock tears the road apart. Hundreds of people fall but no one is hurt as the street takes on new cracks. The front gate hinges creak and won’t budge any further as it firmly lodges the limo in place. People in the luxury car get out of the vehicle and head back towards the white house by exiting through the roof. None of the civilians are stupid enough to try to get past the guards. A half a dozen cops take up posts and block civilians from entering the South Lawn. Most of the lawn is submerged in shallow pools of water. The earth has sunk a few feet.
Fred stops following Kyle as he sees something he didn’t want to see. The president’s daughter runs to the Lawn and throws herself at a body bag which a few military officers are carrying to a waiting Air Force One chopper. Half a dozen soldiers salute the body bag. An officer drags her kicking and screaming into the Air Force One’s helicopter. Someone in the masses screams the president is dead. None of the soldiers or cops refutes the claim. Within moments Fred feels a drain as he realizes he’s seeing the President’s body bag.
Tears threaten to run freely. People near him howl like mad men. People start pushing and punching each other without mercy, within a minute it subsides. A man next to him asks, “Who is going to order an emergency declaration?” Other hysterical American’s say America fell and the terrorists won. Needless to say it appears his son is the only happy person. Air Force One picks up from the ground and zips into the horizon. Within minutes half the military personal and cops who were stationed on the South Lawn get into the waiting helicopters and leave. There are two military units left and a couple of dozen officers. Enough to make sure no civilians try to get to the white house. One military unit packs up their guns and proceeds to head towards the second to last chopper.
Kyle takes his hand; Fred is directed towards the Park, his mind refuses to process anymore information but they are stopped as someone screeches, “The president is dead and we are doomed!” The masses begin a new frenzy based on desperation.
A man takes out a bullhorn and screeches insanely into it, “Repent before it’s too late, the president is dead! God is coming to reclaim what is rightfully his! Repent for your sins!”
Someone throws a rock which knocks the doomsayer senseless. He drops the bullhorn; it doesn’t reach the street before someone else has it and booms, “DING DONG THE EVIL WITCH IS DEAD!” The Americans around him turn on him like a pack of wild dogs; he disappears in a storm of punches and kicks.
Fred and Kyle are near the edge of the crowd as people began to fight for the horn. A liberal female who must have been in her early 20’s gets a hold of it and yells, “People, stop this insanity, we need order! It’s all about peace!”
Someone can be heard yelling, “It doesn’t matter, the President is dead!”
Others scream their heated opinions but Fred can’t tell what they are saying. It looks as if thousands of people are jammed into one very small space. The last of the military helicopters take off as a few soldiers gather near the entrance. One of the soldiers whips out a military bull horn and breaks the civilians banter, “Cease and disperse. This is an executive order.
Precede to your nearest evacuation centers and await further information. I repeat. Cease and disperse.”
There‘s only a unit of soldiers left and a couple of dozen officers. The masses are getting braver and feeling abandoned. Fred finally is free of the congregation but remains in the outskirts. He understood what his fellow American’s were feeling and wants to be protected.
The civilian who has the bullhorn strikes fear into the masses as he yells, “It was a magnitude 9 earthquake! What are we going to do if a Tsunami comes?”
Thousands of people begin to shake and yell uncontrollably, Fred sees a very large group of people react negatively to the suggestion of a possible Tsunami.
The civilian continues in righteous fury, “Even though we don’t live in a subduction zone we just got hit by magnitude 9! What’s to stop a tsunami from coming and who is going to safe us now that the president is dead? Where is the vice president? It’s obvious the land in sinking which will allow the tsunami to destroy everything in its path!”
The military soldier with the bullhorn makes the mistake as he replies, “The vice-president is missing in action and the earthquake wiped out most of the people in command in the white house. Please cease and disperse immediately.”
The civilian will not ease up, “No, we have rights and we demand protection! Do your job and protect us! We are American citizens!”
Both groups continue to repeat themselves; Fred decides it’s time for a smoke break.
Even though the sun glares down at him he doesn’t think it’s a good day. He is very hot as he wipes sweat from his brow. There is a breeze but it’s very warm.
He only has three cigarettes left; his hands shake as he horridly drags on the cigarette. He feels comfort with the weight on hips with the new tools he found at the Smithsonian.
It wasn’t like he would ever get the answer he sought. Tensions continue to rise between the civilians and the officers; a couple dozen cops exit the White house and join their peers. They distribute rubber bullets swiftly. Large water tanks rolls up from behind the building. It is tragically sad when the vehicles falter as the grounds now has fissures in the lawn.
The officer with the bullhorn commands the civilians, “Disperse now.”
The civilian responds, “You have a responsibility to us, help us!”
Masses push forward. Psychologically it was if they sub consciously known they were not going to get hurt when the officers load rubber bullets and the water cannons.
Fred believes he sees a shift in the way the masses behave as they feel the need to express themselves. As a group they surge forward and rattle the gate between them and lawn. They are not calling for murder or revenge, but as a whole they plead with their government for security.
Fred forgets his cigarette as he crushes it between his fingers. There is a charge in the air and it radiates from the masses as it pulls at Fred’s awareness.
His fellow Americans has one heart, one pulse. He doesn’t care about Kyle for the moment as his feet propel him forward. He needs to be one with the masses. His mind becomes irrational in his fervor as the civilian with the bullhorn screams, “Let us on the helicopter! Take us with you!”
The remaining soldiers and officers have no choice but to rain rubber bullets upon the American people. Water follows, the velocity rips through large sections of the masses as people hit the rolling earth. The road buckles from the aftershock but it’s a rubber bullet grazing Fred’s left shoulder that knocks him down.
Sharp pain stabs into his left upper arm leaving him feeling like he just got branded.
His crucifix lifts upon his nose and he fears he is going to lose it. Nothing else matters as he grasps the cross with his left hand. Pain continues to radiate down his arm but he chooses to pray instead of becoming its victim.
Fred says out loud, “Jesus, please stop this madness. I promise if you save us I will go to church every Sunday and weekly readings on Wednesdays instead of fishing. Please save us and stop this madness.”
He feels something hit his right foot. Looking down he sees the bullhorn the civilian used.
It felt as if Jesus answered him. His crucifix has a passage from the Old Testament on the reverse side. His mother is Jewish but his dad was raised a Christian. He was raised Christian and was converted a catholic as a child.
He reaches for the bullhorn. He doesn’t know how to use it but it seems simple enough. He knew the man who had it previously would have not turned it off.
He says the only thing that comes to mind. It’s what’s on the reverse side of his cross.
Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wide man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth in this, that he understandeth and kwoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
His son snorts and laughs, Fred feels ridicules. His son pops something looking like a purplish pill.
But nobody else laughs. The sirens still wail but thousands of people have stopped the violence and the energy in the air has changed. Fred no longer feels a pull to rush to the fence and realizes it’s stupid to think there are more helicopters on the other side of the lawn.
The officer with the bullhorn orders his people to stop. He doesn’t have to because they did on their own. Everyone looks at Fred.
Fred says the next thing coming to his mind, “I’m scared. Can we please stop fighting?”
It’s eerily quiet outside of the noises of Washington DC being destroyed. The officer with the bullhorn responds, “We are sorry, we don’t know what to do. We are on your side. Shit, let them in. No one is left and the President is gone. Let them in.”
He lowers his bullhorn and the solders around him step aside. Thousands of people remain quiet as hundreds flood the lawn. The last helicopter does not work.
The officer says one last thing, “We are sorry. Technically we are supposed to nuke and destroy ourselves before ever giving up the white house or any American soil.”
Fred can’t help but ask, “Why is that?”
The officer sadly replies, “Because domestic policies under the Clinton Administration declared an executive order that we would destroy our own buildings and kill our own people before giving anything to the enemy.”
Fred doesn’t think of the consequences as he replies, “Well, it’s a good thing that we are all Americans and not the enemy.”
The officer laughs, “True enough. I give up. Have free access to the White house and do whatever you want. We want to go home and be with our families. God bless.”
He drops the bullhorn, Fred does likewise. He turns around and sees his Son look at him in bewilderment. He grimaces as he takes out his third to last cigarette.
His hands can’t stop shaking as he asks his son, “Where is the hospital?”
His son points back in the direction they came.
Kyle grips his back pack tightly as he begins to walk forward. They don’t make it ten feet before someone picks up the bullhorn Fred dropped.
He urgently informs everyone, “The River is gone and the bay is receding!”
A new urgency hits the people as people start screaming a tsunami is coming. To make things worse the wailing of the earthquake siren changes its message.
Kyle’s face goes pale, “That’s the tsunami warning. I heard it during their yearly testing’s and drills at the Smithsonian. We need to get out of Washington DC now!”
Fred looks at him and says, “Not without my grandson.”
At this moment a chorus of cell phones could be heard with a different tone. Fred’s cell phone isn’t working but then he’s from Minnesota and has a different provider.
Kyle gasps as he reads the message. He turns the phone around and in bold words Fred reads:
ALERT DC ALERT DC EVACUATION IN AFFECT ALERT DC
Kyle finally looks scared. He tells his dad, “The hospital junior is at has over a dozen stories and a helicopter on the roof. Let’s go.” Thousands of people disperse in all directions urgently but very peacefully