An excerpt from
Jay Patterson limped from the Washington Monument towards the Lincoln Memorial. He wore jeans and a torn white cotton shirt—a red necktie wound around his right thigh served as a tourniquet. Glancing behind him, he thought he saw a park ranger walking quickly in his direction. Patterson veered left before the Reflecting Pool and crossed Independence Avenue, then traveled southeast along Ohio Drive. He slumped under the cherry trees near the Tidal Basin, the Potomac River directly before him and the Jefferson Memorial behind him. Perspiring and breathing hard, he wiped the sweat from his brow and, with bloodshot brown eyes, surveyed the sky.
Black thunderclouds boiled up from the horizon, throwing the Potomac and the Jefferson Memorial into deep shadow. A jagged line of lightning etched the sky like a crack in a windowpane, light drops of rain hitting the grass in the small clearing where he’d taken refuge. Patterson had dictated his latest report on President Herbert Chase Hastings into his phone, but the screen was cracked and he couldn’t access the Send icon to upload what he’d learned about the controversial resident of the Oval Office to his website at NewzTracker.com. He stabbed randomly at the shattered glass.
“Damn,” he muttered, as he lay back in the grass to catch his breath. He had found the information on President Hastings he’d been searching for, and with several states in the Union debating in their legislatures as to whether to secede or not, what he’d discovered might save the country or cause it to fragment forever. If the latter happened, there would be no Lincoln to bring it together again, no Reconstruction, no appeal to the better angels of our nature.
He loosened the tourniquet for sixty seconds and then tightened it again. His mind played back images he had recorded from around the country. Political protests against the current administration raged in major urban centers, causing President Hastings to activate the Loyalty Militia, formerly the National Guard, to patrol cities like Nashville, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and dozens more. Hastings’ children had been accused of doing business with a foreign power hostile to American interests, but the president had rejected such reports as substitute news.
He imagined empty control rooms of TV networks and news bureaus since all the major news feeds were based on algorithms. Newsroom staffs were at home, huddled around the wall screens in their living rooms, or else sitting in churches, praying that God would spare their side of the political conflict—and crush the opposition in retribution. Even members of the newly formed Congregation of the Heart were gathered in their cinderblock cathedrals across the country, praying for . . . . actually, Patterson didn’t know what they were doing. Were they praying to a higher power? Themselves? President Hastings? The fledgling denomination, if it could be called that, had figured prominently in some of his reports, but he still hadn’t totally figured out the psychology of its flock. Hell, he didn’t even know what he himself believed anymore, and pulled a worn black leather Bible from his dirty suit coat. It was true— there were no atheists in foxholes. Agnostics like Patterson, perhaps, but not atheists. He flipped through the pages, sighed, and thought he heard the hoof beats of four extremely angry horsemen galloping down the Mall, but that was either distant thunder, or the agonizing pain in his leg was causing him to hallucinate.
Even now, tens of thousands of immigrants from Mexico were attempting to cross the border, hoping that at least one-half of America would welcome their starved and bleeding bodies into North America. Two-thirds of those storming the southern border were being shot on sight, turning the Rio Grande into a river of blood.
He recalled a scene of a civilian state militia in Montana cleaning out big-box stores of hardware, guns, and food, although they already had plenty of MREs in their bunkers. Wearing camouflage fatigues, they grinned at the cameras as if to say, “We told you fifteen years ago this day was coming, and damn if society isn’t collapsing just like we said on the reality shows.”
A burly man in his forties stopped, faced his invisible audience, held up his middle finger and cried, “Rally the red! The Real Right shall cleanse the earth!”
Patterson grimaced. The weekend warriors had been right, but for the wrong reason, and it was doubtful that they would ever figure out what was really happening.
He had watched events unfold from cities around the world: Moscow, Tehran, New Delhi, Pyongyang, and Beijing. Countries were on heightened nuclear alert. If the two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old experiment in democracy failed, the country would be ripe for attack. Maybe President Revtushenko of the newly reconstituted Soviet Union would realize that he finally had first-strike capability. By the same token, leaders in capitals across the globe believed that Hastings was so self-obsessed and unsystematic in diplomacy and statecraft that he might use the great rift within his country to get his nukes airborne as soon as possible in a September surprise. Indeed, the president had threatened to bomb Pakistan for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to his own military advisors. He was a maverick when it came to diplomacy and statecraft, and the doors of missile silos around the world had opened for the first time in decades. Would mushroom clouds soon create hideous blossoms over the homeland? The United States State Department was playing a high-stakes poker game, but no one knew whether the man in the White House dealing the cards was, in fact, a narcissistic nincompoop, as his now-fired Secretary of Homeland Security reportedly referred to him in a meeting that was thought to be safe.
Air Force One had taken off from Wright-Patterson, destination unknown. No press was aboard, and the nation wondered if the president was going abroad, flying to NORAD headquarters in Cheyenne Mountain, heading to his home in North Carolina, or had resigned. C-SPAN had been off the air for two days, and rumor had it that both Houses of Congress had met in closed session before members returned to their districts. Most buildings in D.C. were empty. Was anyone in charge of the federal government?
Patterson stood and made his way into East Potomac Park, dragging his injured leg across the golf course and driving range. The bullet had passed cleanly through his muscle, and yet his thigh was singing with pain. He collapsed again, grimaced and said to himself, I used to be considered an elite athlete, so surely I can muster enough energy to stand up and drag myself to safety. Although he struggled, he was able to stand to his feet and, with excruciating pain, began to navigate to safety. He was vulnerable out in the open, and the stakes were too high to allow himself to be caught.
“No pressure,” he said out loud. “It’s only the fate of the world that hangs on a few hundred words I want to share with my readers.”
He tapped the damaged glass on his phone repeatedly with his thumb—a curious lethargy was settling in, and he knew he had only a minute or two of consciousness left. Suddenly his screen vibrated, the haptic response indicating that he had stumbled across the Send icon.
The thunderclouds were closer, and a heavy rain started falling. Patterson slumped to the ground, barely conscious. Would his story make it to NewzTracker? If it did, would anyone be listening?
As the downpour raged, Patterson’s mind closed down, falling into a lucid dream state in which he saw himself at home again with his African American/European father and his Latino mother. They lived in the Southwest section of Atlanta, Georgia, where gangs dominated the neighborhood.
“Jay! Come on, it’s time to go!”
“I’m coming, Dad!”
Once in the car, Jay’s dad becomes serious.
“Jay, I need to know how you’re doing in staying away from the gangs at school. It worries me.”
“Dad, they don’t mess with me. The toughest guys in the neighborhood treat me like I’m a celebrity. In fact, they come to my games and hold up homemade signs that read ‘The Puma from the Projects!’ My problem is that they want to hurt anyone who tackles me!” Jay giggles. “I don’t hang out with them. When I see them on the streets, I do stop and chat. I don’t ignore them or put them down. Dad, you’ve got to know I have street smarts, and I am the top wide receiver in Atlanta. I can negotiate the streets.”
“Okay, son, I’m glad you feel you have the situation under control. I know you’ve had fights in the past with gang members. Remember the punctured lung? I believe in you, Jay. One day you’re going to be the most celebrated wide receiver in the NFL, and even gangbangers are in awe of someone who can rub a sub-4.4 fourty! Just remember you have a wonderful future, son. “
Jay struggles to wake from the dream, and then he clearly hears his father’s voice . . . .
“Son! Listen to me, son. You’re going to be alright, Jay. It’s not your time yet. Just hang on . . . hang on . . . .