Rain fell in ropes and wind shuttled through them, webbing the city in its ephemeral weave.
With umbrellas in bloom, tourists flocked to the Capitol steps. Journalist Jill Lewis peeked out through a side door at the crowd. Sightseers on tiptoes wobbled for glimpses of senators. A faithful few marched on the fringes, wigwagging protest placards high. Visitors aimed cameras, hoping to capture an important face in their lens. A Brownie troop pranced down the steps in a crooked line. “Stay together,” their leader ordered. Media neophytes with sun sticks and video cams jockeyed for position while reporters clutched microphones. Like Jill, they longed for words worthy of history books.
Jill pressed her forehead against the door. To pass time, she entertained herself with a game she had played as a child; she dreamed up stories to match the people she watched. From out of nowhere, a dark, hairy arm reached over her head and slammed the door. Whoosh! The door flew open. Jill was catapulted into the April drizzle. Before she hit the slippery concrete, the arm hooked her, snapped her back like a fish on a line, and slammed her against the wall. Without so much as an apology, the arm’s owner bolted into the crowd.
“Jerk,” Jill muttered.
Digging in her purse, she found a pair of oversized sunglasses and slid them onto her nose. Jill prayed no one would recognize her but had barely ventured a dozen steps when someone did.
“Hey, Jill. Jill Lewis! Over here!” The animated voice belonged to Dan Peek, an ambitious intern from the Gazette. “What’s a hotshot reporter like you doing out here with the wannabes?”
Jill’s umbrella shot up, blocking her from the bigmouth’s view. Unfortunately, she couldn’t swing it around soon enough to hide from curious onlookers. She turned back around and shot Dan an exasperated look.
Dan skulked away, mumbling apologies, as tourists gawked at Jill. Some even asked, “Who is she?” An occasional segment on CNN or Fox and the networks did not a household face make.
Suddenly the double doors of the building swung open, snapping everyone’s attention to the front entrance of the Capitol.
Bodyguards baring chests like concrete barriers burst through the doors and funneled pathways through the mob for the lawmakers. Distinguished senators appeared next, smiling and waving; some paused for obligatory handshakes and photo ops.
After a while, two security guards stepped up to lock the doors. Jill groaned. “Where is he?”
Her afternoon wasted, Jill decided to return to her office to try and salvage the day. Navigating puddles down the steps, she looked up just in time to see a plaid umbrella soar over her head. Ducking the plaid blur, she watched helplessly as its owner grappled for it in the wind, stumbling in his pursuit. Hands reached out from every direction to catch his fall, but the man tumbled downward. He slammed Jill’s shoulder and almost took her with him down the steps.
Jill watched the man regain his equilibrium a few steps below, but she still wobbled. Arms flailing, she found an anchor—the arm of a bull-faced man with a crew cut.
“Thanks,” Jill began, but the man jerked his arm away. Then to her surprise, he reared it back and shoved her. Tumbling backward, Jill wailed as her head smacked hard into the concrete.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” a bystander yelled on Jill’s behalf. He and another guy quickly lunged for the attacker.
Undaunted, Crew Cut grabbed the stray umbrella and swung it like a bat, keeping the challengers at bay. In the scuffle, his boot rammed savagely into Jill’s knee, its sharp point puncturing it.
Jill screamed but was quickly silenced when a whack intended for her defenders crashed across her face. Dazed, she caught sight of the skull and crossbones tattoo on Crew Cut’s forearm.
Two police officers arrived on the scene just as Crew Cut slivered into the crowd. One cop took off after him; the other helped Jill to her feet.
“I’m Officer Ware of the U.S. Capitol Police.” He tipped his hat. “Your name please?”
“Ms. Lewis, would you like to sit down? Do you need any medical attention?”
“No, uh, thank you,” Jill said as she looked over her bleeding knee.
A woman stuffed a wad of tissues into Jill’s hand. Jill thanked her and used the tissues to blot the blood that dribbled from her knee. Another lady emptied ice from a Coke cup into her husband’s handkerchief and gently pressed it onto Jill’s purpling face. A man opened a bottle of water and insisted she take a sip.
The other police officer returned, huffing and puffing. “I lost him.”
“Go talk to the other witnesses, I’ll finish up here,” Officer Ware ordered. He flipped his pad open. “Ms. Lewis, can you give me a description of the man who attacked you?”
“He was a large, bull-faced man. Dark eyes and skin, with a crew cut. His arm was muscular and hairy, dark hair. Oh, he had a large tattoo on the inside of his right forearm.”
“What kind of tattoo?”
“A skull and crossbones.”
“Now, tell me what happened.”
The second officer stepped up in time to hear Jill’s account of the incident.
Afterward, Officer Ware looked to him for verification.
“Her statement matches most of the eyewitness accounts,” the other officer confirmed.
Jill raised an eyebrow. “Most?”
“A couple of people suggested that when you grabbed his arm, he thought you were attacking him.”
“But he was at least three times my size.”
“When somebody grabs you, for some it’s just a natural reflex to strike back.”
Jill stiffened. “You think it was self-defense?”
At this point, Officer Ware stopped writing. “Not necessarily. I’ll file a report. If you want to come down and look at some photos, here’s my card.”
Jill snatched the card. “Thanks a lot.”
Officer Ware flipped his notebook closed. “Thank you, Ms. Lewis. If anything comes of it, we’ll—”
A voice suddenly squawked over the radio dangling on his belt. “All officers in the vicinity of the Capitol, do you read? Over.”
Ware yanked his radio and replied, “Ten-four. Officers Ware and Bonner.”
A static voice garbled the information. “We have an 11-8, a possible 914 H on the sidewalk below Capitol. All officers report at once. Over.”
The two officers gave Jill a parting nod and dashed down the steps.
Hobbling after them, Jill grabbed her cell phone and dialed her editor. Rubric’s voice boomed through the telephone line. “I’ve been waiting for you to call. What did Senator Brown say?”
“Quick, get a photographer over to Capitol Hill.” Translating the police codes, Jill told him, “A man just collapsed on the sidewalk with a possible heart attack.”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know yet, but if he’s a senator, we’ve got our front page story.”
“And if he’s a tourist?”
“Bury him on the back page.”
“Then what do you suggest for a headline?”
Her attention distracted by the commotion below, she pushed through the wall of rubbernecks to the front and gasped. Sprawled out on the sidewalk was the victim.
“What is it, Jill? Answer me!” Rubric hollered.
“Somebody’s giving him CPR,” Jill said and inched closer for a better view of the victim.
“The senator . . . Senator Brown.”