DON’T LOOK AWAY
The thought flashed through her mind, like it did every time she was personally called out on a case. So far, it hadn’t happened. But today could be different. Considering she and her partner were heading out of their jurisdiction, by special request, and given where the victim had been found, this really could be the day. As a rush of nervous excitement shot through her, Ronnie took a deep breath to disguise it from Daniels.
She should have known his mind was still a few steps back. In her pants.
“You know, just in case you forgot, partner, I’m here for you in any old way you need, including giving testimony about how much of a woman you are.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Cut it. We’re past that shit.”
“I know, I know,” Mark said, his voice low. No longer laughing. “Can’t say I don’t think about it, though.”
“Stick to your strippers, Daniels. One freebie a life is all I give.”
Her words weren’t exactly true, since she still occasionally had a sex-only date with an old lover, just as a mutual stress reliever. But Daniels didn’t know that. Nor would he. Because though he laughed and mouthed-off and flirted with her, deep down she knew—had always known—that he’d never stopped thinking about what had happened between them that October day in 2017. The entire world had changed in one sweep of the minute hand on a clock and they’d fallen into each other’s arms to sob over the horror of it. They’d reached out to grab anything that felt human and alive. She’d needed a pair of arms around her shoulders and he’d needed a pair of legs around his waist and they’d both needed to fuck away the reality of the day.
It was a miracle their partnership had survived the crazy, unexpected sex in the squad car. Maybe if she hadn’t fallen right out of public hell into personal one, with the discovery of just how much she and her family had lost in the tragedy, it would have been a problem. But because of that, Mark had segued right into concerned partner and friend, so they’d skipped the whole we-had-sex-and-what-are-we-going-to-do-about-it bullshit.
Ronnie was incredibly grateful they’d moved past it, and wouldn’t let anything happen to disrupt their partnership again. Not even Mark’s seemingly inexhaustible need to try to get under the skirt of any woman in his line of sight.
Besides, if she ever did take him up on it, he’d probably back up so fast his ass would come out his stomach. No way would Daniels risk their working partnership, not when it was so good, the pair of them having the highest case-closing percentage in the precinct.
“This is weird, like science fiction weird.”
She thought for a minute Daniels was still talking about them. But seeing the way he’d craned forward in his seat to stare out the reinforced windshield, she knew what he really meant.
Because it was weird. Surreal, almost, to drive into what had once been a bustling, traffic-laden area overflowing with tourists and politicians, buses, dog-walkers—and see no pedestrians. No cars. No vending trucks hawking ice cream or cheap souvenirs of the good old U.S. of A. made in the good old Republic of China.
Now there were primarily military vehicles and soldiers. Bulldozers and front-end loaders buzzed around the dozen construction sites dotting the entire area surrounding the reflecting pool. Overlooking all was a long, raised, enclosed, horizontal tube through which thousands of tourists passed every day, making the pilgrimage. A bunch of them were in there now, looking like bug-eyed fish in a tank as they stared through the Plexiglas while slowly rolling along the flat people-movers.
Science-fiction-like indeed. Sometimes, she still couldn’t quite believe this wasn’t a post-apocalyptic dream from which she’d awaken to find the country she’d known early on the morning of October 20, 2017.
Slowing for her turn, she spared a glance ahead and up, unable to prevent a gasp at the close-up, head-on view of the Washington Monument.
Her stomach rolled and rebelled. Her whole body clenched and she blinked several times to convince her brain she could handle it. She’d seen the structure as it was being rebuilt, catching glimpses of it out of the corner of her eye from across the Potomac when she went down to Virginia to visit her mother. She just hadn’t been this close in so long. Not since that day.
Here…this was the place where her world had died. Everyone had one particular place that tortured them about 10/20. This was hers.
It was beautiful, though, she had to concede that. Tall, straight, inspiring. Ringed by American flags and fronted by a big, new bronze plaque from yesterday’s ceremony, it was brilliantly pale against the cloudless, blue summer sky.
The structure proudly proclaimed that monuments could be rebuilt and America could not be kept down. As the organizers of yesterday’s patriotism-personified Independence Day event had hoped, the simple obelisk was a vibrant symbol of all that was right with this country.
Still, she hated it. Loathed it with every fiber of her being.
She had to look away, concentrating on the site coming into view as she turned left onto State. It was a cement monster, rising out of the barren ground, encircled by scaffolding and surrounded by bulldozers and other heavy equipment. Taller on each end, with months worth of work still to be done in the center, it gave the appearance of an enormous, open-jawed beast, ready to snap up and devour anything above it, from a low-flying plane to an entire nation’s dreams.
The east side—the only portion of the structure not completely destroyed in the blasts—was farthest along. Congress had decided to repair and re-build from that point, rather than demolish what was left of the famous landmark and start from scratch. They said it was to maintain a link to the historic past. Personally, Ronnie figured seeing the last of it torn down would have been bad for public morale or something like that.
Whatever the reason, when all of this was finished, the east wing would be the famous one, the historical one. Not the west wing.
“It hurts to look at it,” Daniels whispered, sounding serious for a change, almost wounded.
She nodded silently, understanding his reaction, and mirroring it. Because even after almost five years, seeing the decimated remains of the White House, where the president of her country had died, was still painful beyond imagination.
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Genre - Thriller
Rating – R
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